The Limits of Globalization

M. A. Casey ( “How to Think About Globalization,” October 2002) accurately portrays the secular elite’s inability to appreciate the depth of influence that religious cultures maintain over the actions of individuals, including those who were responsible for the horrors of September 11, 2001. He also notes correctly that hostility to globalization is often motivated by religious beliefs, and that Islamic radicals are not off base when they regard globalization as being antithetical to their idiosyncratic concept of righteous faith. This in no way justifies their violence, of course, nor is this a case of globalization’s individualist, consumerist, and utilitarian culture picking on Islam alone. Globalization is equally dismissive of all traditional cultures—Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, tribal.

It should be noted, however, that Islam is not hostile to economic or cultural globalization per se, for Islam—like Christianity—perceives itself as a global faith, and an all-encompassing one at that. Traditional Islam is entrepreneurial (Muhammad was a merchant before he became a prophet), although the Qu’ran, like the Bible and, as Mr. Casey states, Pope John Paul II, warns against immoral business practices. Additionally, Islam has superimposed its values on a variety of pre-Islamic cultures from West Africa to Southeast Asia. So it is not that radical Islamists object to making money in faraway places or homogenizing the world. They just want it to be their pockets that swell rather than those of non-Muslims, and their worldview that prevails rather than that of Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

It should also be noted that Mr. Casey falls prey to his own Catholic and Western bias in at least two places.

Near the end of his essay, Mr. Casey writes of the need for Muslim nations to develop “clear boundaries between the public and private domains.” He says that modern Muslim nations have, to varying degrees, repeatedly done so as part of the process of statecraft. But isn’t the fact that Muslim nations have done this a primary complaint of the world’s Osama bin Ladens, who see the infidel’s manipulative hand behind such compromises? Islam, unlike Christianity, never developed an inclination toward church-state separation, summed up by the Gospel of Mark’s exhortation to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Perhaps this is because Islam achieved great political success very quickly and saw no need during its formative years to make compromises to insure its continuation as a movement. A critic might say that quick success breeds arrogance in religious cultures just as it does in the world of business and politics. A believing Muslim, of course, would say no division ever developed because God’s domain is indivisible, and to approach it any other way is heresy.

My point is that it is no more realistic to ask traditional Muslims to develop clear boundaries between public affairs and private devotion than it is to ask traditional Catholics to cede moral authority to the state on abortion. We have the right to demand that Muslims do so if they wish to reside in the democratic West, but we do not have the right to demand that they change on their home turf. Mr. Casey is calling for reform within a religion where the problem element (according to my bias as a non-Muslim, Western rationalist) fervently believes that Islam is a reform movement, that is, a corrective to Judaism and Christianity, which for various reasons are deemed to have strayed from Abraham’s pure monotheism.

Lastly, Mr. Casey calls John Paul “an unbiased observer” on the issue of globalization and religion. That’s Mr. Casey’s bias unwittingly showing through, and it undercuts his arguments-just as not recognizing that our views are merely our own humble views and not some universally accepted objective reality prevents us from fully understanding views with which we disagree. John Paul may be described as an intelligent, sensitive, caring, and authoritative observer, but he is no less biased than an Economist editor. All mere mortals possess preferences and opinions. We are all subjective beings.

On a global basis, the failure to recognize that others understand reality differently than we do, or to acknowledge that no matter how secure in our position we may be we are acting on faith alone, could end up being the West’s fatal conceit (as it has been for a succession of cultures now deceased). Physical survival may require that we try to kill radical Islamists before they succeed in killing us. And globalization is by no means the sole cause of today’s religiously inspired violence. But unless the purveyors of globalization recognize that the religious vision remains intact for most of the world’s population, and until they attempt to understand the values of that vision, they will forever be in the dark as to why the excesses of the free market are despised by so many-sometimes violently.

Ira Rifkin
Annapolis, Maryland

Michael Casey replies:

Grateful as I am for Mr. Rifkin’s response, I think he has misunderstood me on two important points.

First: there is a difference between the dangers posed by the “global” claims of Islam on the one hand and globalization on the other. As I said in my essay, the danger with globalization is not so much homogenization as the universalization of a certain form of instrumental rationality with an impoverished concept of the human person. The danger posed by Islam in its historically militant form is that of the establishment of a world empire and the imposition of a religion by force of arms. I know it is fashionable (and for some people, psychologically satisfying) to treat globalization as simply the latest form of “Western imperialism” and to juxtapose it with genuinely imperial forces in the world, such as militant Islam. But it does not really advance our understanding of these two quite discrete phenomena and the challenges they pose.

Second: in echoing the claim others have made about the absence of clear boundaries between public and private domains in Islamic countries, I was making a different point than the one Mr. Rifkin thinks I made. It is not a matter of privatizing religion—to the extent that globalization in its present form insists on this, it is part of the problem. Instead, it is a matter of strengthening the development of mediating institutions between the individual, the family, and the tribe on the one hand, and the instrumentalities of the state on the other. What is needed is a stronger sense of society as something separate from both the private realm and the realm of the state. This is an argument not for the fragmentation of life and faith, but for extending their integration into a different mode of human interaction. The possibility of democracy in Islamic countries—and its long-term future in the West—depends on our capacity to expand ourselves in this way. With sincere respect to Mr. Rifkin, his difficulty on this point may be related to his difficulty with the idea that we are able to rise above ourselves and our interests and take a view of things that is substantially, if imperfectly, unbiased.

Mr. Rifkin’s view seems to be that globalization is one of the causes of Islamist violence and terror. Tracing the causes of atrocities such as September 11 and October 12 in Bali was not really my intention. The editors gave my article a title that faithfully reflects its purpose: how to think about globalization—in particular, how to think about globalization in relation to religion, and after September 11. Terrorism has its own particular causes and they are not always easy to understand. For this reason, we have to be careful not to confuse excuses with causes. Globalization has certainly provided a lot of people all over the world with a good excuse for smashing things up. Whether it is really the cause of their desire to do so is another question.

The Nature of Capitalism

Leszek Kolakowski’s use of moral terms to define capitalism shows that even in condemning socialism he still cannot fully shake the Socialist mindset that permeates academia ( “What Is Left of Socialism,” October 2002). He writes:

Ultimately, capitalism is human nature at work-that is, man’s greediness allowed to follow its course—whereas socialism is an attempt to institutionalize and enforce fraternity. It seems obvious by now that a society in which greed is the main motivation of human acts, for all of its repugnant and deplorable aspects, is incomparably better than a society based on compulsory brotherhood. [Emphasis added.]

I agree that capitalism really is human nature at work, but only Marxist materialists reduce the definition of human nature to “man’s greediness.” As a proponent of capitalism living in a basically capitalist society, I have engaged in countless “human acts” this week, and I can think of none (okay, maybe one or two) that were motivated mainly by greed. Can thankfulness, cruelty, piety, anger, pity, lust, whimsy, vanity, duty, pride, love, etc. not motivate human acts in capitalist societies? Or must I, as a proponent of capitalism, go to church greedily, read bedtime stories to my children greedily, send money to Lutherans for Life greedily, go jogging along the river greedily, root for the Packers to beat the Bears greedily, clean the garage greedily, build a fire in my fireplace even though it is sixty-five degrees outside greedily, and read the same book of English Romantic poetry for the fiftieth time greedily? If so, how would socialism deal with such pervasive greed? By taking away my fireplace and running shoes?

Even though it only amounts to a minor point in his article, Dr. Kolakow­ski’s moral critique of capitalism—that it allows greed to go un­checked—betrays the mindset of the academic left because it imputes to capitalism the function of religion. It is like criticizing the U.S. Postal Service for delivering too much hate mail, but then reluctantly acknowledging that “for all its repugnant and deplorable aspects” our postal system is better than systems that censor the mail and deliver it late. Capitalism, like the postal service, is not a religion, and so it neither can nor should measure up to the moral demands placed upon it by disillusioned Marxists seeking a new way. For such religious seekers, capitalism is not large and pretentious enough to fill the moral void left by Marxism’s demise, but no other major religion is cramp­ed and narrow enough to focus entirely on greed, class, and power struggles as the essences of the human condition. My motivation in writing this letter (apart from all-consuming avarice) is to suggest that Dr. Kolakowski look neither to capitalism nor to the ghost of socialism but somewhere else for, among other things, “a statement of solidarity with the underdogs and the oppressed, as a motivation to oppose Social Darwinism, as a light that keeps before our eyes something higher than competition and greed.”

(The Rev.) Peter A. Speckhard
Faith Lutheran Church
Green Bay, Wisconsin

The Complicated Orthodox

Lawrence Uzzell’s “Russians and Catholics” (October 2002) is a particularly insightful article on its subject. And it is always good to see Orthodox issues discussed in First Things. With so much misunderstanding on both sides, these issues need to be aired in the public square.

Certainly Mr. Uzzell has expressed cogently the irony—not limited to Russians but common to many Orthodox—that “it is not the traditionalist Orthodox clergy who are most drawn to Rome but the progressives: the tiny minority most sympathetic to the World Council of Churches, radical liturgical reforms, and modernist views on issues such as birth control. What the progressives hope to see is just what the traditionalist Orthodox fear: that a reunion of Eastern and Western Christianity would not reverse modernism in the West, but simply spread it to the East. They may well be right.” Indeed, they may.

This goes a long way toward explaining why there is not—among Greek, Russian, Romanian, Syrian, or even American Orthodox peoples (many of whom are converts to Orthodoxy)—much widespread enthusiasm for ecumenical rapprochement with the West. Pope John Paul II may well wish that the Church could breathe with a second (Eastern Orthodox) lung to strengthen and heal what he sees as its ailments. But the Orthodox most ready to reach out to him are those who have a proclivity toward the same ailments. This is mirrored, interestingly, on the Roman Catholic side: those most averse to rapprochement with the East seem to be those ultramontane and highly conservative—and sometimes schismatic—groups that work toward reversing what they see as the abuses of Vatican II.

The dichotomy is reflected, on the Orthodox side, by the seeming ambivalence of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, when, to a Western audience
expecting more of the irenic ecumenical talk for which he was noted, he spoke instead of the difference between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as being “ontological.”

Of course Westerners, and especially Roman Catholics, must not mistake the utterance of the Patriarch as equivalent to that of the Pope. It is not. While the Pope may speak unilaterally with an authority binding on his whole church, no single bishop or patriarch within Orthodoxy has such authority or such a voice. Only a conciliar decision of the whole church can make such authoritative and binding pronouncements. This is precisely one of the “ontological” differences between the two churches and surely one of the most difficult to bridge.

From the Eastern side of the divide I can only concur heartily with Mr. Uzzell’s critique of Orthodoxy’s frequent failure to manifest its true universality and catholicity and to boldly proclaim its mission to the whole world. Ethnicity has been the bane of Orthodoxy for centuries. Here in America the Orthodox churches have not escaped this bane, and, with their multiple ethnic jurisdictions, they often present, more than anywhere else, the appearance of fractiousness and aloofness that is utterly alien to Orthodoxy’s deepest nature as the catholic Church of Christ.

Certainly there have been notable Orthodox hierarchs in this country and abroad, many of them Russians, whose vision of Orthodoxy and its catholic mission was a resplendent one. One has only to think of St. Tikhon, one-time archbishop of America and later patriarch of Moscow; or of the wonder-working Saint John Maximovitch, late archbishop of San Francisco. These were noteworthy for their readiness to reach out to the West and to the world to share their Orthodox heritage and vision. Both were further noted for their willingness to welcome into the embrace of Orthodoxy and to restore to it those ancient liturgical rites of the West (now largely abandoned by the West) whose Orthodox provenance in the first millennium is a fact of history. The presence of Western-rite Orthodox congregations in the U.S. and elsewhere is a tribute to the catholicity of their vision.

Regrettably, the Russian Church today seems to exist under men of lesser and narrower vision, men who sometimes see their task in the West as little more than a chaplaincy to the Russian emigration. (Or the Greeks to the Greeks, etc.) To the extent this is true, it is a betrayal of the universal and catholic mission of Orthodoxy. If Orthodoxy truly believes what it proclaims, and if it acts on what it believes, it would-fearlessly, generously, and with ardent apostolic love-open up its treasures of life and holiness to the whole world, East and West, revealing itself to be the radiant and beloved Bride of Christ. Instead Orthodoxy too often acts like a frightened old woman hiding and hoarding her silver spoons.

(The Rev.) James M. Deschene, Prior
Monastery of Christ the Saviour
Providence, Rhode Island

Lawrence Uzzell replies:

Sadly, Father Deschene’s image of a frightened old woman is all too apt. I thank him for formulating more eloquently than I some of the concerns about the Moscow Patriarchate that a fair number of our fellow Orthodox have shared with me privately. Far from being too traditionalist, the current leadership of the Russian Church is not traditionalist enough—all too ready to subordinate the universal vision of first-millennium Orthodoxy to modern ideologies such as nineteenth-century nationalism or twentieth-century statism. Moscow needs more candor and less servility from us Orthodox in the West—for example about its preferences (dictated by secular politics) for Muslims over evangelical Protestants or for liberal Anglicans over Roman Catholics.

But it is not only we Orthodox Christians who fall into the trap of uncritical, romantic euphoria about Russia. From the publications of some American Protestant groups one would never guess that the Rus­sian Baptist Union has a collaborationist history somewhat similar to that of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Vatican has proved too willing to play along with the “divide and rule” tactics of repressive legislators in Minsk and Moscow, failing to defend vigorously the religious freedom of non-Catholic minorities. American Jewish groups have been too meek about Vladimir Putin’s brazen meddling in the factional dispute between Russia’s two leading rabbis—yet one more proof that Putin rejects the basic concept of a robust civic society independent of state control.

To Fr. Deschene’s words about St. Tikhon and St. John Maximovitch I can only say “Amen.” We Orthodox already have readily available a tradition that is truly catholic rather than xenophobic; we just need the cour­age to tap into it.

The Real “Last Respectable Prejudice”

I don’t take issue with Kenneth Woodward’s claim that Catholics still suffer bias in the U.S. ( “The Last Respectable Prejudice,” October 2002), but he’s wrong that they are the “last” respectable prejudice. That would surely be the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) and its members. Many, especially on the very conservative, evangelical side of the Protestant spectrum, go so far as to deny that Latter-day Saints are even Christians. And Mr. Woodward himself, especially in his articles in Newsweek, has contributed to this atmosphere of ignorance and bias.

Physician, heal thyself.

Marc A. Schindler
Spruce Grove, Alberta
Canada

Kenneth Woodward replies:

Mr. Schindler’s letter reinforces one of my points, namely, that when it comes to the maintenance of group identity, the only rivals to American Jews in their sensitivity to prejudice, real or imagined, are the Mormons. In light of recent events, one might also mention American Muslims. Like the Muslims, Mormons see their religion, through later revelations, fresh scriptures, and God’s final prophet, as both an improvement upon and a replacement for the religions that preceded theirs. Obviously, these claims do not make for irenic relations with adherents to those religions they have improved and replaced.

Whether or not Mormons should be regarded as Christians is not a matter that the LDS magisterium can decide unilaterally. The differences between orthodox Christianity and the Latter-day Saints are so wide and so deep that I know of no Christian body that recognizes the Latter-day Saints as Christian, just as I know of no General Authority of the LDS who recognizes the spiritual legitimacy of non-Mormons. Indeed, I know of no journalists writing for secular publications who have or would abet what would amount to a confusion of realms for their readers. On the contrary, what gives the LDS its unique identity are precisely those beliefs and rituals that set it apart from orthodox Christianity—and from all other religious traditions. That is what Mormons are taught, and I should think that Mr. Schindler, as a Mormon, would be proud of that uniqueness.

As for his reference to my articles on Mormons in Newsweek, I find it odd to be sandbagged in one publication for what I have written in another. Unfortunately, he does not cite where I have erred in my Newsweek coverage of his church. Perhaps he refers to my last cover story on Mormons (dated, fatefully, 9/11/01), for which no Mormon General Authority was willing to sit for an interview. Afterwards, I received a very complimentary note from the LDS Public Affairs Department in Salt Lake City, though I am aware they also published some criticism of the article for consumption by the faithful. That alone indicates how much Mormons-and they are hardly alone in this-need to cultivate a private sense of victimhood in order to maintain their separate identity even as they publicly campaign to be accepted as Christians. You can’t have it both ways, and I do not see why any serious Mormon would want to.

More Meanings of Marriage

John Witte, Jr.’s discussion of “The Meanings of Marriage” (October 2002) provides a useful history of the cultural and legal history of marriage in the West. Particularly apropos is his suggestion that the states need to give greater consideration to the marital laws and traditions of various faith groups. However, an otherwise excellent essay is marred by his slighting of the biological meaning of marriage as well as some confusion between “family” and “household,” or a refusal to make a proper distinction between them.

A household is simply any number of individuals related voluntarily, biologically, or otherwise, who live together under one roof. A family, however, has a natural, biological definition and minimally requires the marriage of a man and a woman, whose sexual relationship normally produces offspring. Other members of the family may include others related either by blood or by a legal arrangement such as adoption. A family may compose a single household, or it might be composed of several households. But there is a considerable and highly significant difference between a family and a household (e.g., two men rooming together whether homosexual or not) that does not have as its basis the sexual relationship of a man and a woman upon whom the species depends for its survival.

Professor Witte, it appears, wants to be open to all kinds of meanings of marriage, which is, of course, possible, as long as those meanings are limited to cultural and legal definitions of the institution. This ignores, however, the evidence that in all human cultures the biological function of marriage, i.e., sexual relations and procreation, is fundamental to the meaning
of marriage. Edward Westernack’s groundbreaking study ( The Future of Marriage, 1970) demonstrated that marriage has a “deep biological foundation, as applying to a relation which exists among many species of animals as well as in mankind. . . . Quite frequently true married life does not begin for persons who are formally married or betrothed, or a marriage does not become definite, until a child is born or there are signs of pregnancy.” Indeed, the biological function of marriage is so central to its meaning that Dana Mack and David Blankenhorn can write: “If we were to define marriage across cultures, we could presume the institution to carry no other universal purpose than the establishment of legitimacy of birth” ( The Book of Marriage, 2001).

Disappointingly, Prof. Witte emphasizes the cultural and legal meanings of marriage at the expense of the natural and biological. For example he writes, “Ideally, marriage also enhances the life of the child, by providing it with a chrysalis of nurture and love” (emphasis added). It would, however, have been more accurate if he had written that “minimally, whatever the cultural and legal definition, marriage is designed to care for children born of the sexual union that is at the core of the meaning of marriage.”

James Rober Ross
Lexington, Kentucky

Non-Jews and the Holocaust

The Polish students at Richard John Neuhaus’ seminar in Krakow take umbrage that although millions of non-Jewish Poles “were killed in the Holocaust,” their deaths are ignored ( “A History of Their Own,” Public Square, October 2002). To the students’ disappointment, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. examines only the extermination of the Jews, allegedly ignoring the millions of non-Jews murdered by the Nazis.

Father Neuhaus’ students’ complaint reflects a misunderstanding of the meaning of the term “Holocaust.” Contrary to the students’ assumption, the word is not an umbrella term that encompasses all crimes committed by the Nazis. It is limited to the Nazi persecution of the Jews, culminating in the Final Solution, the systematic extermination of the Jewish people.

The Nazi persecution of the Jews requires a distinct term because that persecution was distinctive. Of all the peoples of Europe, only the Jews (and to a lesser extent the Gypsies) were slated for physical annihilation. No other religious or ethnic group faced this fate at the hands of the Nazis.

This is not to deny the enormous suffering that the Nazis inflicted on peoples other than Jews. The Nazis apparently intended to reduce Slavs such as the Poles to the status of helots. They took steps to execute their plan by, for example, murdering Polish intellectuals and other leaders. However, while the lot of the Poles during World War II was unquestionably miserable, the Nazis never intended to bring about a Europe without Poles. In contrast, the Nazis sought and came very close to achieving their goal of a Europe free of Jews.

These facts are so well known that it is hard to take at face value the students’ concerns as described by Fr. Neuhaus. Their concerns reflect either enormous ignorance of the most elementary facts of the Second World War (which seems unlikely) or what seems more likely—Fr. Neuhaus’ claim to the contrary notwithstanding—classical anti-Semitic resentment against perceived Jewish dominance and exclusiveness. From that perspective, Fr. Neuhaus’ report is profoundly discouraging.

Howard Gootkin
New York, New York

It was with much distress that I read in First Things the comments of a Polish student of Richard John Neuhaus who had been a visitor to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Father Neuhaus reports her puzzlement that the Museum has failed to recognize the millions of non-Jews exterminated by the Nazis, and then adds his own editorial parenthesis implying rather that the Museum has refused to do so.

Most visitors to the Permanent Exhibition find quite another picture. An entire section of the fourth floor (where the exhibition starts) is entitled “Enemies of the State,” and tells of the persecution of groups such as the Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), Communists, Social Democrats, pacifists, and dissenting clergy. On both the Museum walls and monitors, text and pictures give vivid evidence of the horrors awaiting Freemasons, political dissidents, homosexuals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses as well. Words on the wall note that “after 1939, Czechs, Poles, and Slavic people from the Soviet Union were stigmatized as racially inferior” and therefore considered to be threats to the German nation. One can see police mug shots, triangular patches differentiating various inmate groups in the camps, and other artifacts that mutely tell of their sufferings. Within a short distance, a large section of the exhibition is given over to “The Terror in Poland,” with photographs of Roman Catholic priests and other civilians being rounded up and shot by the Nazis. The final portion of that part of the fourth floor and a section of the third floor address experimentation upon, and the subsequent deaths of, mentally and physically disabled men, women, and children deemed “unworthy of life.” Monitors and artifacts on the third floor further witness the murder of vast numbers of non-Jews. In a section on the prison camps one finds the story of the death of over three million Soviet POWs, along with the sufferings of untold numbers of men and women from all over Europe who were put to forced or slave labor, often being worked to death.

The second and final floor of the Permanent Exhibition presents the story of rescue and the aftermath of the Holocaust. The texts in these sections tell of the risks taken by non-Jews such as those in Zegota, the Polish Council for Aid to Jews. Photographs and a wall listing the names of thousands of identified rescuers (the largest number of them from Poland) testify to the courage of those who disregarded the danger to themselves and reached out to their Jewish brothers and sisters. Extending the Museum’s attention to rescuers, the 2002 calendar, distributed to over 180,000 members, featured such heroes.

Five years ago a temporary exhibit in the Concourse told of the courage of Fr. Jacques Bunel, the Carmelite priest who paid with his life for giving shelter to three young Jewish boys in his school in Avon, France. An exhibition on Oscar Schindler was displayed twice, and an extensive special exhibition on escape through Shanghai centered on “the Japanese Schindler,” the diplomat Chiune Sugihara.

The Museum’s scholarly journal, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, regularly offers articles about the Gypsies under the Third Reich and its allies, the mass murder of Armenians in Turkey between 1915 and 1923, the genocide in Rwanda, and the mass murders in Cambodia under Pol Pot.

Visitors to the Museum learn that although Hitler’s foremost obsession was the complete extermination of Jews as a people, the Nazi regime persecuted and carried out the mass murder not only of six million Jews, but eleven million human beings.

Peggy Obrecht
Director of Church Relations
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Washington, D.C.

Catholics Against Vouchers?

Richard John Neuhaus attributes anti-voucher sentiment largely to anti-Catholic bigotry ( “While We’re At It,” October). I beg to differ. According to exit polls, two-thirds of Catholic voters in California and Michigan voted against school voucher initiatives in 2000. And twice in the 1980s voters in predominantly Catholic Massachusetts handily defeated proposals to remove the anti-voucher language from the state constitution.

Father Neuhaus’ argument may have made some sense in the nineteenth century, but not today when four-fifths of Catholic parents are content to have their kids in public schools.

Alec Randall
Aspen Hill, Maryland

RJN replies:

I wrote of “the long and dreary history of antireligious (mainly anti-Catholic) discrimination in education.” As for today, I referred to “the formidable forces defending the status quo, notably the teachers’ unions.” That most Americans, including Catholics, who do not have children in the catastrophically failed schools of the inner city are happy with their public schools is good news for the enemies of parental choice.

To Pledge or Not to Pledge?

Richard John Neuhaus ( “Political Blasphemy,” October 2002) makes reference to “Paul Kurtz’s American Humanist Society.” It should be pointed out that there is an American Humanist Association, founded in 1941, but no “American Humanist Society.” Further, Paul Kurtz has not been associated with the AHA for more than twenty years.

As for the religious phrase added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 by pious politicians, we wonder how our country managed to get through World Wars I and II without it while our principal adversary in both conflicts invoked the deity with Gott mit uns on its soldiers’ belt buckles.

Edd Doerr
President
American Humanist Association

The “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance has troubled me since I was first asked to recite it as a child, and it continues to trouble me more than it does Richard John Neuhaus. I think the interpretation of the phrase as a statement of “patriotic pride”—asserting, rather than beseeching, God’s providential care—remains more natural and more widespread than Father Neuhaus’ reading. The sacrilege of identifying God’s interests with the nation’s has been markedly (though by no means singularly) present in the United States of America.

Unlike the editors of the New York Times, I am not bothered by Fr. Neuhaus or anyone else taking “under God” as a statement of public moral aspiration. The freedom of religion includes the freedom to bring religious values and prescriptions into public life. But it seems to me that requiring others to profess such an aspiration—even on so small a level as a schoolchild’s Pledge—is precisely what the freedom of religion (in particular, the freedom of conscience) cannot support. Those who are fervently convinced that religion should be expunged from American politics may have to live under laws based on values they abhor; but they should not be obliged to daily declare such values their moral aspiration.

Finally, precisely because the deity of the Pledge is a semi-generic civil god rather than a particular one, I suggest it is not worthy of much defense. The government’s aim should be to accommodate the essential religious practices (both public and private) of all Americans as best it can-not to enforce the public symbols of a civil religion belonging to everyone and no one.

Joel Hafvenstein
Cambridge, Massachusetts

RJN replies:

“Paul Kurtz’s American Humanist Society” is a generic reference. I am sorry to learn about his disassociation from Mr. Doerr’s organization. “Under God” is an acknowledgment that America is under God’s judgment and, we pray, His protection. It is also an always needed call to devotion in the hope that, as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.” Does anybody but Mr. Doerr think it suggests a Divine guarantee of military victory?

To Mr. Hafvenstein: Nobody should be required, and nobody is legally required, to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Conscientious objection may bear the price of social disapproval, but that enhances its moral significance. The conscientious objector has no right of veto power over the nation’s formal expression of its self-understanding. I expect almost all Americans think the God referred to is the Father of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.

The Truth About Canada

Re: “For a people in whose history the most significant thing that has happened is the establishment of the right to get in line to see a doctor . . . ” ( “While We’re At It,” October).

I was stung by this criticism of my country and would like to point out that, even if most Canadians are unimpressed, our history contains much that is glorious, even heroic. In particular, I am referring to the evangelization carried out by the Jesuits (who did not seek to destroy native culture) and to the missionary work of such great saints as Marguerite Bourgeoys and Marguérite d’Youville, to mention just two among many. The city of Montreal was founded in 1642 not to conquer, enslave, deport, or even to profit from the Aboriginals, but as a charitable enterprise of evangelization which included the founding of the second oldest, and still functioning, hospital in North America (that is, north of Spanish Florida). Canadian confederation in 1867 was founded on, among other things, agreement between Protestants and Catholics to respect each other’s rights and liberties, including public schooling in Protestant and Catholic schools as chosen by the parents. While things have tended to go downhill since then (including the Quebec bishops giving up Catholic schools for reasons that have never been well explained), there is much for Canadians to be proud of and with which to identify.

Nicholas Newman
Université de Montréal
and Hôtel Dieu
Quebec, Canada

RJN replies:

Please. I was reporting what Canadians said about their history. As one born and reared in Canada, I agree that there is much more to be appreciated, and am sorry that so many Canadians appear not to know that.

Articles by Various

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