Forty-four years is a long time and a lot has changed since the last Catholic ran for president. Early in his campaign, John Kerry opined that the question of a Catholic politician’s adherence to church teaching had been settled by John F. Kennedy in 1960. As has become more evident in succeeding months, Senator Kerry’s education in Catholic teaching and practice is gravely deficient. He is not entirely to blame for that. Last year, when pressed by a reporter on how he could square his unqualified support for the unlimited abortion license with his being a Catholic, Kerry finally gave the testy response, “It’s the bishops’ problem, not mine” (see FT October 2003). That made a kind of sense. Bishops say, rightly, that they have a responsibility for the spiritual welfare, even the salvation, of those in their care. John Kerry and a host of other politicians—mainly but not exclusively Democratic—respond by saying, in effect, “How come now you are suddenly so concerned about my soul? For years and years I took the positions I take now and was considered, as I considered myself, a Catholic in good standing. Now all of a sudden bishops are saying I should refrain from or even be refused Communion.” Some politicians who say that are, I expect, feigning surprise and indignation; others are genuinely confused.
When in 1960 JFK assured the Baptist ministers of Houston that his Catholicism would have no bearing on his public conduct, bishops and other leaders in the Church privately winced but most held their tongues. So eager were Catholics to have one of their own in the White House. Since then it has become sadly evident that JFK did not let his Catholicism have much bearing on his private conduct either, and the magisterial authority of the Houston settlement of “the Catholic question” has been greatly diminished. In 1960 the Catholic question entailed few policy specifics. Aid to parochial schools and a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican were minor disputes compared with what was to come. What was to come was, above all, the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. Now again it is being confirmed that Roe is the most important event in our political culture of the last half century. That should not surprise. Church teaching, divine law, natural justice, clear reason, and partisan politics converge in the claim that it is intrinsically evil, it is always and everywhere wrong, to deliberately take an innocent human life.
A growing number of bishops are now accused of meddling in politics. Once again, old canards are circulating about whether Catholicism is compatible with American democracy. Some Democrats express the belief that all this will work to the benefit of Kerry and other pro-abortion politicians, permitting them to depict themselves as courageously resisting ecclesiastical authority. That is possible. After the two-year media storm over sex-abuse scandals, Catholic bishops are typecast, and not as heroes. Moreover, bishops who attempt to impose a measure of discipline are regularly asked if, their denials to the contrary notwithstanding, they are not being partisan since the discipline falls mainly on Democrats. They can correctly respond that the Democratic leadership is responsible for that party being locked into an extremist don’t-give-an-inch commitment to the unlimited abortion license. The truth is that most bishops, like most Catholics, are by disposition and history Democrats. Not so long ago, the old saw was true that Irish Catholics—and not only Irish—received, along with their baptismal certificate, a union card and enrollment in the Democratic Party. That, too, was changed by Roe and its sequelae. Today, the official position and actual leadership of the Republican Party is in agreement with Catholic teaching on the moral imperative to protect unborn children. The Democratic Party, by way of sharpest contrast, permits, at least at the national level, not one hint, not one iota, of dissent from the lethal logic of Roe.
It did not have to be this way. It is deeply troubling when, in our kind of democracy, the two major parties are so starkly polarized on the great moral question of human dignity and human rights. The last time that happened was in the mid-nineteenth century over the question of slavery, which is not a happy precedent. It is more than arguable that, if the bishops had done their duty, as many of them are now doing their duty, back in the 1960s when “liberalized abortion law” was being agitated, we would not be in our present situation. If the bishops and other Catholic leaders had then made clear in no uncertain terms that the Democratic Party’s dalliance with abortion on demand would precipitate a direct confrontation with the Church and the potential alienation of millions of Catholic voters, it seems likely that Democratic leaders would not have permitted the party’s capture by radical pro-abortionists. As improbable as it seems now, in the 1960s the Democratic Party was much more anti-abortion than the Republican. But many of the traditional party leaders were pushed aside by the 1972 “McGovern revolution,” which assigned the party’s future to its extremist factions. Nonetheless, I think it probable that the bishops could have made a difference if back then they had spoken as some of them are now, at long last, speaking
“Democrats Expel Catholics”
I remember long and melancholic conversations with the late Msgr. George Higgins, the last of the great “labor priests.” He was the Catholic chaplain, so to speak, to the AFL-CIO during the years of George Meany and Lane Kirkland. Higgins, who died in May 2002 at the age of eighty-six, spoke in tones of gratification laced with bitterness about his years of struggle to prevent the AFL-CIO from unqualifiedly endorsing Roe. With the succession of John Sweeney, another Catholic, that battle, too, was lost. George Higgins didn’t have to wait for baptism; he was genetically a Democrat. I pressed him on whether organized labor, with its huge Catholic membership, could not be moved into the pro-life column. Not a chance, he said. There was the McGovern factor, and the teachers unions, especially in New York. Moreover, the bishops would not risk a direct confrontation with labor and the Democratic Party. The best that could be done, he said, was a holding action that prevented organized labor from enlisting unqualifiedly on the other side. He lived long enough to see the collapse even of the holding action. George Higgins and I disagreed, for the most part amiably, about many things, and such was his devotion to the Democratic Party and organized labor that I am not at all sure whether, if it came to it, he would have supported such a confrontation with the Church. But he was poignantly aware that things could have turned out differently.
We are inclined to forget the state of the abortion question before Roe v. Wade. Joseph Califano, in his just-published memoir Inside: A Private and Public Life (Public Affairs, 512 pages $30)recalls the madness of the Miami Democratic convention of 1972. I was a New York delegate and well remember how the party’s radicals pressed for a resolution supporting legalized abortion. The move was turned back at the last moment by leaders, including McGovern, who knew that voters were overwhelmingly opposed to such a position. Even McGovern wasn’t prepared to be that radical. Only a few months later, in an act of “raw judicial power” (Justice Byron White), the Supreme Court wiped off the books of all fifty states every law protecting unborn children. It is not true, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and others have claimed, that Roe only hurried along what was already happening in the country. As was evident in elections and referenda in several states, public sentiment was moving against legalizing abortion. One can only speculate about what might have happened if bishops, in the immediate aftermath of the Court decision, had addressed Catholic Democrats in the forceful way that some are now doing. Some were vocal back then. A few years after Roe, when Senator Ted Kennedy and others led the party to an unqualified endorsement of the decision, the St. Louis archdiocesan paper carried the headline “Democrats Expel Catholics.” (Today’s archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond Burke, was among the first out of the gate in the current round of holding Catholic politicians accountable.)
Califano writes about Miami: “As I watched and listened, the convention was moving the Democratic Party from the harbor of economic issues like full employment and health care for all into the turbulent seas of cultural revolution likely to infuriate and alienate many middle-class Americans who had been the backbone of the party from Roosevelt through Johnson. How will they react, I wondered as I stood on the podium, to the effort of many delegates to establish cultural issues like abortion rights and gay liberation as litmus tests for what constitutes a national Democrat?” Such is the history to keep in mind when current critics of episcopal censures complain that they are weighted against Democrats. Had bishops been more assertive earlier, it might have prevented what Califano and others saw happening to the future of the Democratic Party. But again, it must be acknowledged that the leaders of the party with whom the bishops might be expected to have greatest influence were being rapidly displaced by the McGovern revolution.
Bishops, like most people, are often dilatory and strongly disposed toward avoiding controversy. The Catholic sensibility, as has often been noted, is not that of a dialectical either/or but of an analogical both/and. A bishop’s job rating is determined, in very large part, by his success in keeping everybody on board. This is called “the ministry of unity,” and there is a great deal to be said for it. But now episcopal hands are forced by a presidential candidate who says he is Catholic and who publicly, persistently, and defiantly rejects the Church’s teaching on the greatest moral-political question of our time. The stakes are high for the polity of the nation, but much higher for the polity of the Church. The latter is the polity that must be of preeminent concern to the bishops. Over the last several decades, and especially after the last two years of scandal, their credibility and authority have been severely battered. Wounded though they are, some bishops, maybe most bishops, know that they cannot be perceived as defaulting once again—as many did with respect to sex abuse—on their solemnly sworn duty.
No Moral Equivalence
In the present and admittedly messy circumstance, it might be suggested that their solemnly sworn duty involves, first of all, the spiritual welfare of those in their care. This entails the clear and uncompromised teaching of the faith, and correcting those who misrepresent that teaching. They have no choice but to address the public scandal and confusion created by prominent Catholics who publicly and persistently reject the Church’s teaching without apparent consequence. A bishop’s duties are internal to the life of the Church, although they obviously have external effects, including in electoral politics. Understandable concern about external effects must give way, however, to a bishop’s awareness of his responsibility qua bishop. He is the shepherd, the pastor, the teacher, of the community entrusted to his care. The presidential and congressional elections of this year are important, to be sure, but not nearly so important as the testing of the Church’s integrity in not compromising the moral truth with which she is entrusted or her responsibility for the souls committed to her care.
Different bishops are responding to the test in different ways. It is, as of this writing, uncertain whether the committee of the bishops conference charged with coming up with a proposal for a uniform response will report before the elections, and it is not unlikely that any such proposal would encounter serious disagreements among the bishops. In any event, bishops have to act now. The worry is expressed that different responses will give the impression that the bishops are not united. I am not so sure. Each bishop is the appointed teacher in his local Church, the diocese. The truth about questions of great importance has not always been well served by the assumption that the bishops must speak “as a body” through the conference. If there is agreement on what the Church teaches about the intrinsic evil of taking innocent human life in abortion, embryonic research, and euthanasia, the pastoral application of that teaching, relying on the grace of office and prudential judgment of bishops, may vary from place to place.
What is truly troubling is that some bishops are fudging the Church’s teaching by suggesting, for instance, that there is a moral equivalence between abortion, capital punishment, the war in Iraq, and a host of other disputed questions. That is false, as anybody knows who has read with care the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the November 2002 doctrinal note from Rome on participation in political life, or the U.S. bishops’ own statement “Living the Gospel of Life,” issued in 1998. A few bishops have said that they would not use the Eucharist as an instrument for pressing politicians who publicly and persistently reject the Church’s teaching. Other bishops correctly point out that, from the beginning of the Church, immoral actions have had consequences for communion. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, for instance, quotes the words of Justin Martyr from the second century: “No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true . . . and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.” Chaput also quotes St. Paul who “reminds the people who are not living their lives according to the gospel of Jesus Christ and yet receive the Eucharist that they bring judgment on themselves.” Guarding the Eucharist from profanation, and souls from incurring divine judgment, is a responsibility that goes back to Christian beginnings.
There is also Canon 915 in the Code of Canon Law: “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Canon lawyers agree that the “those” in the first part of that canon would seem to be limited to cases where there has been some kind of judicial process and public declaration. On the other hand, hundreds, if not thousands, of politicians, both Democratic and Republican, and at all levels of government, would seem to qualify as “others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin.” It is a grave sin to knowingly, publicly, and persistently reject and encourage others to reject the moral law that it is intrinsically evil, always and everywhere wrong, to deliberately take innocent human life. This, bishops must more effectively communicate, is not a “sectarian” Catholic teaching but a moral law obliging all. To say that an unborn child is not entitled to legal protection is comparable to saying that poor people or black people are not entitled to legal protection. It is worth noting that many who are now so harshly critical of the Church cheered when, in the civil rights era, the archbishop of New Orleans excommunicated supporters of racial segregation.
“Whose Side Are You On?”
The situation of John Kerry—to take but the most obvious example—is significantly different from that of Mario Cuomo who, when governor of New York, made a speech at Notre Dame explaining why, although he did not reject the moral truth about abortion, he could not impose his convictions in the absence of a moral consensus supporting the protection of the unborn. His argument was made vacuous by the fact that he did nothing to build such a consensus—as he did, against great opposition, in opposing capital punishment—and the fact that he assiduously solicited and benefited from the support of pro-abortionists. Kerry, who has a 100 percent approval rating from pro-abortion organizations, also on partial-birth abortion, has repeatedly and publicly taken his unequivocal stand with NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, and other groups that have stridently declared for decades that they view the Catholic Church as their number-one enemy. The question for Kerry and others similarly situated is inescapable: Whose side are you on?
Receiving Communion has everything to do with communio. It is not simply a matter of participating in a religious ritual but of declaring oneself in solidarity with Christ and his Church, as Catholics believe Christ constituted his Church. It is not a matter of having a problem with one or another of the Church’s teachings. Many thoughtful Catholics do, and pray for the grace of a more perfect communio. To paraphrase Newman, a thousand problems do not add up to a rejection. A bishop cannot with integrity pretend not to notice public and persistent rejection, or pretend that it has no consequences for a person’s communion with the Church. A person may believe he is acting in good conscience, and the Church teaches that even a wrongly formed conscience must be obeyed, but public rejection requires public response. Some bishops have said that offending public figures should be refused Communion, others that they should refrain from communing, until the rejection that impairs their communio has been remedied. Priests on the spot, unless under direct orders from their bishop, are rightly reluctant to deny anyone communion, since they cannot know for sure the state of the person’s inward disposition.
One bishop has said that not only pro-abortion politicians but also anyone who votes for a pro-abortion politician should refrain from communion. This is highly problematic. It would seem to ignore the distinction between an act and the intention behind the act—what in traditional language is called the difference between material and formal cooperation in a wrong. It is not hard to imagine a circumstance in which an unquestionably pro-life voter might vote for a pro-abortion politician despite that politician’s being pro-abortion. In fact, one does not have to imagine. Just this spring, pro-lifers President Bush and Senator Rick Santorum successfully urged support in the Pennsylvania primary for the pro-abortion Senator Arlen Specter in order to maintain control of the Senate and the possibility of advancing pro-life legislation. It would be an obtuse indifference to political and moral realities to suggest that Catholics who voted for Specter with that intention in mind impaired their communio with the Church.
Forty-four years after JFK at Houston, Catholicism in America is confronted by a historic moment of truth. The question is, as John Paul II has repeatedly stressed, whether, in contending for the culture of life, the Church will have the courage to be a sign of contradiction or will retreat into being a sign of conformity. The analogical sensibility of both/and is sometimes in necessary tension with the dialectical either/or. The Church as James Joyce’s “Here Comes Everybody” depends upon there being a here here. If communio is not defined, it cannot attract and will not be defended. In view of the negligence of so many bishops in the past, one can understand John Kerry’s response of last year, “It’s the bishops’ problem, not mine.” No longer. It is the bishops’ problem, to be sure, but their problem is to make clear, as they did not make clear in the past, that it is also John Kerry’s problem, and the problem of numerous other public figures who wrongly thought, perhaps because they were wrongly taught, that Communion can be detached from communio.
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Afterword: At their Denver meeting in June, the bishops did adopt, with only six dissenting votes, a succinct statement, “Catholics in Political Life.” Noting that abortion is “always intrinsically evil and can never be justified,” the bishops state that those who knowingly, freely, and consistently support abortion on demand are “guilty of grave sin and separate themselves from God’s grace.” The examination of conscience required before receiving Communion “includes fidelity to the moral teaching of the Church in personal and public life.” In relating to Catholics in political life, the bishops commit themselves to teach, counsel, and persuade. The decision to refuse Communion in certain cases rests with individual bishops who may “legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action.” In the intense deliberation, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver and Francis Cardinal George of Chicago were among those who, supported by a written intervention from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, provided distinguished leadership in turning back minority proposals to delay a statement by consigning the task to the bureaucratic processes of the bishops conference. Following the vote, Roger Cardinal Mahony issued a statement reiterating his position that pro-abortion politicians are welcome to receive Communion in Los Angeles. Theodore Cardinal McCarrick of Washington offered a distinctive interpretation of the statement, saying that the message is that the battle over abortion “should be fought not at the communion rail but in the public square.” But, of course, the whole point of the statement is to address the necessary connection between Communion and communio. Some observers deplore the outcome of the Denver meeting as a splintering of episcopal unity; others view it as a welcome, if belated, sign that bishops are prepared to assume leadership as teachers and pastors in their local churches. Many bishops, we are told, welcomed the more free and open deliberation at Denver, which was in sharp contrast to meetings in which bishops are closely tutored in processing the preprogrammed positions of the USCCB leadership and staff.
How Are We Doing?
“How is First Things doing?” The question is regularly asked wherever I go, and I am glad to answer that, all in all, we’re doing reasonably well. Of course, I think not only of the journal but of the various activities of the Institute on Religion and Public Life that surround, support, and inform what appears in these pages. This is written at the end of a week of back-to-back meetings. First the annual gathering of the editorial boards, then a day with Francis Cardinal Arinze and forty-five Christian and Jewish theologians in our Dulles Colloquium (named of course, for Avery Cardinal Dulles), and, finally, another working session of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT).
A Nigerian, Cardinal Arinze is head of the Vatican’s congregation for worship, and he formerly led the pontifical council for relations with world religions. It was a day of scintillating exchanges, ranging from Christian unity to liturgical reform, and with a particular concentration on the future of Christian-Muslim relations. Cardinal Arinze is a thoughtful, personable, devout, and utterly persuasive man, and I expect that everyone there was thinking that when the time comes, as it inevitably will come, for a new pope, it would be a great thing for the Church and the world were the choice to fall on Francis Cardinal Arinze. Of course none of us has a vote, which is probably just as well.
ECT continues its work on a new statement with the working title “The Universal Call to Holiness.” It is not easy; not only because of differences between Catholics and Evangelicals but also because of differences among Evangelical and Pentecostal traditions on questions such as baptism, election, perfectionism, and other matters entangled in generations of controversy. But we are confident that, as we have been able to produce statements of uncompromising honesty on long-aggravated questions such as justification and scriptural authority, we will be led to success on this one as well. The pioneers of this project—Cardinal Dulles, Chuck Colson, J. I. Packer, and your writer—know that we may not be around for many more years, and so we are pleased that a number of younger scholars have joined us, assuring, we hope, the future of ECT’s mission for generations to come.
While First Things involves many things, when people ask how First Things is doing, they are usually referring to the journal and, more specifically, to circulation. While modest outside funding can be obtained for other projects, FT struggles to pull its own weight. But the news is good. By the end of this year, it appears we will have an average monthly circulation of over 31,000. One might think that very small in a country of almost three hundred million people, but it has always been a relative handful of people who are serious readers. When it comes to circulation, we never quite know to what FT should be compared. There are the more political magazines, such as the Nation, which has surged this year to 160,000, no doubt reflecting anti-Bush sentiment on the left. National Review is fairly close behind with 127,000, while the Weekly Standard and the New Republic, both very influential within the beltway, are somewhat over 40,000. In terms of intellectual challenge and breadth of interest, FT is in some ways more similar to the New York Review of Books and Commentary. The former remains fairly steady at 82,000, while the latter is down to a little under 18,000.
Among somewhat comparable religious publications, we’re well behind America, the Jesuit weekly, which has a circulation of 45,000, and a thousand or two behind Christian Century, the voice of oldline liberal Protestantism. The first was founded in 1909 and the second in 1884, so they have a century’s lead over FT, especially in institutional subscriptions. They got into thousands of libraries many years ago, and libraries tend to be reliable renewals. Our subscribers are almost all individuals, which makes this a good occasion to again urge readers, and academics in particular, to get libraries to subscribe. After FT, and in order from 28,000 to 11,000, are Crisis, Commonweal, Catholic World Report, New Oxford Review, and the fine Evangelical literary-intellectual publication, Books & Culture.
Readers of First Things (ROFTERS) are extraordinarily loyal. The rate of “first renewals” is over 80 percent and the “renewals of renewals” over 95 percent. Veterans in the publishing industry tell me the latter figure is astonishing, perhaps unprecedented. It almost defies the mortality rate, which holds steady at 100 percent. Of all the current circulation data, the long-term renewal rates are the most important and the most gratifying. I am frequently asked whether FT is self-supporting, and the answer is in the negative. Ours is a very lean operation and we rely on more than a little help from our friends. In that connection, the annual appeal, sent out shortly before Christmas, is critically important. Last year, the response to the appeal was the largest ever, and we’re hoping to do better this year. It is still a relatively small percentage of readers who respond to the appeal. If you have responded in the past, please think about increasing your contribution. If you haven’t, please do so this year.
So how are we doing? Reasonably well, thank you. And I do mean thank you. At the editorial board meeting this year, we went back to look at the statement of purpose in the premier issue of March 1990, and asked ourselves whether it still represents what we have been doing, are doing, and intend to do in the future. We concluded that, while we might fiddle with a phrase or two, the answer is definitely in the affirmative. (You might want to check out that editorial statement, “Putting First Things First,” on the website, old.firstthings.com) After stating our goals in some detail, we acknowledged the difficulty in fulfilling them and invoked a familiar story. Once in Chelm, the mystical village of East European Jews, a man was appointed to stand at the village gate watching out for the coming of the Messiah. After some time, he complained to the village elders that his pay was too low. “You are right,” they said. “The pay is low. But consider: the work is steady.”
Keeping Rogue Science Rogue
There has been a lot of tongue-biting by pro-lifers in connection with the most recent report of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Reproduction & Responsibility: The Regulation of New Biotechnologies. The report is formally unanimous, but a flurry of “personal statements” appended to it reveal the very sharp differences between members of the Council. Indeed, the differences are so very sharp, and members offer such conflicting interpretations of the report, that one has to wonder about the claim that it reflects a consensus.
Some pro-life leaders have publicly criticized the report, but most are holding their fire, in large part out of respect for Council members who signed it, such as Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon, Alfonso Gómez-Lobo, William Hurlbut, Gilbert Meilaender, and the chairman, Leon Kass. As is the way with statements aiming at consensus, ambiguities abound, allowing for contradictory interpretations. The techno-optimists, led by James Q. Wilson, suggest the report opens the way to the more expansive use of human embryos in stem cell and related research. William Cardinal Keeler, chairman of the Catholic bishops’ pro-life committee, protests that the report does precisely that. The Council recommends banning research on embryos older than ten to fourteen days. According to the Keeler statement, “The decisive fact is that human life is a continuum from the one-celled stage onward. Any cutoff point after this event is arbitrary—providing no principled reason not to extend the time limit for destructive research, once the precedent is established. We should not start down this road, but explore ways to discourage research that attacks any human life.”
In principle, the pro-life signers of the statement do not disagree with that. They point out, however, that proposals to ban all embryo research are, at present and in the foreseeable future, politically blocked. Moreover, they note,researchers have already started “down this road.” The Council’s recommendations would limit and regulate what is now unlimited and unregulated. It is important to note that—despite the spin put on it by some Council members—this report does not fudge or retract earlier positions taken by the Council; for instance a permanent ban on cloning to produce children and a four-year moratorium on cloning for embryo research. The Council also calls for a ban on, inter alia, producing embryos with human sperm and animal eggs, and vice versa; implanting human embryos into animals; buying, selling, or patenting human embryos; and conceiving a child whose father or mother is a dead embryo or aborted fetus.
Such things sound bizarre, and they are, but they are being done or are on the edge of being done. There are rogue technicians, driven by hubris and greed, who are willing to produce babies-to-order by any means. The Council’s purpose, in part, is to make sure they continue to be rogues, to prevent them from turning their activities into a lucrative industry. In a joint statement in the appendix, George and Gómez-Lobo write, “We are among the members of the Council who favor protecting human life from the very beginning by banning the use of living human embryos at any stage of development as disposable research material. Until this becomes politically feasible, we support efforts to accord as much protection as possible by limiting the number of days beyond which the law tolerates deliberate embryo killing. It is important to understand that the Council’s recommendation here is not to authorize embryo-destructive research up to a certain limit. It is only to prohibit such research beyond a certain limit.”
Is this a morally permissible—although eminently debatable—prudential judgment or is it cooperation in a great evil? I am inclined to believe it is the former, while having grave reservations about the wisdom of participating in a consensus statement representing a consensus so very thin and so very subject to dishonest manipulation. Keep in mind that the policy declared by President Bush in August 2001 covered only government-funded research. Under other auspices, the exploitation of embryos in stem cell and related research is unregulated, and Harvard and other institutions are devoting huge resources to establish their morally odious leadership in this area. The Council’s recommendations would not make lawful anything that is now unlawful, and they would make unlawful much that is now lawful. Once now-unregulated research is firmly established in practice, it is argued, it would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to regulate it after the fact.
Reproduction & Responsibility contains other complicated proposals that require finely honed moral discernment and prudential judgments. But on the question of setting a ten-to fourteen-day limit on using embryos for research, a rough analogy suggests itself. If you negotiate with terrorists who you have every reason to believe will kill ten hostages, and you get them to agree to kill only three and let the others go, what is the accurate moral description of what you have done? Have you condoned the killing of the three, or have you succeeded in saving the seven? Such are the hard questions posed by our brave new world. An alternative, of course, is not to negotiate with terrorists. Are you then complicit in the killing of all ten? There are circumstances in which one can do nothing about a great evil except bear witness against it. Some of the Council members mentioned above are, I believe, acting in a way consonant with the teaching of Evangelium Vitae in trying to limit a great evil while working toward eliminating it. I have enormous respect for their moral wisdom and integrity. I hope they have done the right thing in signing on to Reproduction & Responsibility.
Anti-Semitism and False Alarms
Although repercussions may extend far into the future, we can now get a measure of critical distance from the extraordinary religious and cultural moment that is Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and the responses to it. One welcomes, therefore, the reflection of David Berger of Brooklyn College, writing in Commentary, “Jews, Christians, and ‘The Passion.’” Berger gets off on the right foot by noting, as have many others, that people generally take from the film what they bring to it. “Despite its powerful cinematic effects, this is a film whose capacity to move depends in large measure on the viewer’s ability to identify with Jesus of Nazareth for reasons that are not presented in the film itself. If you come with love and admiration for its hero, and all the more so if you come with faith in his divinity and his supreme self-sacrifice, every lash, every nail, every drop of blood will tear at your psyche.” Berger, as a Jew, did not bring such beliefs to the film and therefore left it “curiously unmoved.”
He is moved, however, to deplore Christian literalists who defend the film as being faithful to history and the gospel texts, as well as Orthodox Jews who defend such literalism and the film more generally. Christians who took high school classes to see the film with all its brutality are guilty of what is “perhaps, indeed, a form of child abuse.” Berger does not say outright that the film is anti-Semitic but observes, “No filmmaker who actually cared about avoiding anti-Semitism could have produced anything resembling it.” He does not believe that the film “was made with the conscious purpose of fomenting hatred against Jews.” He is exercised that the film does not abide by guidelines issued by the Catholic bishops conference for presenting the passion, although he knows full well that the bishops did not sponsor and had no control over the film. Berger expresses sympathy for the judgment of another Jewish critic who said, “The solid bridge of trust Jews thought they had with the Catholic Church now lies exposed as merely a drawbridge, readily placed in raised position when it is most needed.”
Perhaps Berger fails to appreciate that Catholics viewed the film in order to witness and enter into the suffering and death of their Lord, not to check out its conformity to episcopal statements on Jewish-Christian relations. It seems more than likely that, in viewing the film, even those with a long-standing commitment to Jewish-Christian dialogue had Jesus, not Jews, on their mind and, despite the film’s nonobservance of dialogical protocols, were deeply moved. In his judicious conclusion, Berger writes, “If amity is to prevail, traditionalist Christians will have to force themselves to understand that reasonable people have grounds for genuine concern about this movie, that its critics do not necessarily hate them, and that some like them very much indeed.” He also urges Jews to be patient with evangelical Protestants, whose political support is so crucial to the safety and well-being of the State of Israel.
It is true that critics of the film do not, as Berger says, necessarily hate Christianity and Christians. It is also true that many of them apparently do. Among the critics in the major newspapers and magazines who wrote from a specifically Jewish perspective, the film was repeatedly and venomously attacked as pornographic, as an exercise in sado-masochism, and, in several instances, as a “sacred snuff film.” Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic used the film as an occasion to repeat what can only be described as his standard rant against the grotesque absurdity of Christianity and the fools who believe it. The Anti-Defamation League gave us to understand that American Christians are latent anti-Semites who are only waiting for an excuse, which The Passion provides, to go out and kill Jews. The amity for which David Berger and all of us must hope will likely survive the shock to Christians in learning that many Jews have nothing but fear and loathing for their religion and, by extension, for them. At the same time, the relish with which prominent Jews indulged the teaching of contempt for Christianity and Christians bears witness to the Jewish sense of security in this overwhelmingly Christian society. Hysterical allegations to the contrary, such Jews obviously do not believe that Christians want to do them harm. And they are, thank God, right about that.
One long-term consequence of attacks on The Passion will be, almost certainly, a general discounting of the charge of anti-Semitism. The next time the ADL and others raise the alarm about anti-Semitism, the response of most Christians and many Jews is likely to be dismissive. “Ah yes, that’s what they said about The Passion, isn’t it?” Animus will have to rise to the undeniably explicit level of swastikas painted on synagogues for most Americans to acknowledge that, yes, on the far margins of society there is still such a thing as anti-Semitism. The debasing of concern about anti-Semitism is a pity. As we see in Europe today, anti-Judaism, frequently in the form of modern anti-Semitism, still poses a threat to which we must be alert. Unfortunately, and largely as a result of Jewish reactions to The Passion, most Americans will be inclined to believe that every alarm about anti-Semitism is a false alarm.
To Be American
It hardly seems like all of eight years ago that Samuel P. Huntington gave us The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. September 11, 2001, gave that prescient book a sense of immediacy that is not likely to wane for a long time to come. The book introduced most readers to worlds of culture, religion, and politics to which they had not previously given much thought. Huntington’s new book, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (Simon & Schuster, 320 pages, $27), may be just as prescient—it is certainly just as bold—but it will be an easier target for critics.
That is because most of its likely readers think they have thought about the challenges he addresses, and they hold positions on these questions that fit into familiar partisan disputes. It seems the lines are pretty well drawn on, for instance, immigration policy, affirmative action, multiculturalism, and economic and cultural globalization. Many who have made up their minds and do not want to think again will blithely or angrily deride the book as an exercise in anti-immigrant, nativist, and chauvinist reaction. Those inclined to ad hominem attacks will not be able to resist the cheap pleasure of depicting Huntington, whose ancestors came over in the early seventeenth century, as a nostalgic advocate of restoring an American WASP hegemony that is irretrievably, and happily, a thing of the past.
The thoughtful reader should not be taken in by such utterly predictable attacks. Who Are We? explores old questions in fresh ways and is a treasury of arguments and data that cannot help but make us think anew about what it means to be American. Huntington says he writes as “a patriot and a scholar” and leaves no doubt that a patriot is one who identifies with a national tradition that was present at the American creation, was consolidated after the Civil War, and was unchallenged until the 1960s. “All societies,” he writes, “face recurring threats to their existence, to which they eventually succumb.” But the American ending can be postponed by a determined effort to restore national vitality and identity. In the large picture of history, “the American nation is a fragile and recent human construction.” Of course history is unpredictable, but “the greatest surprise might be if the United States in 2025 were still much the same country it was in 2000 rather than a very different country (or countries) with very different conceptions of itself and its identity than it had a quarter century earlier.” We have less than twenty-five years? It sounds alarming, and some will dismiss it as alarmist, but the more one ponders the argument the more one is inclined to the conclusion that it is, at the very least, not entirely implausible.
A Culture, Not a People
Our national identity is defined by the American Creed (e.g., the Declaration of Independence) and, much more importantly, by American culture, which is indisputably Anglo-Protestant. “The Creed was the product of the distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers of America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Key elements of that culture include: the English language; Christianity; religious commitment; English concepts of the rule of law, the responsibility of rulers, and the rights of individuals; and dissenting Protestant values of individualism, the work ethic, and the belief that humans have the ability and the duty to try to create a heaven on earth, a ‘city on a hill.’” The important thing, Huntington emphasizes, is Anglo-Protestant culture, not Anglo-Protestant people. It is precisely the achievement of Anglo-Protestant culture that it has largely eliminated ethnicity and race as factors in belonging and achieving. If anyone doubts that for four centuries Anglo-Protestant culture has defined American identity, simply ask what America would be if it had been settled not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics. The answer? “It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.”
Throughout the argument, Huntington surprises with claims, impressively backed by documentation, that cut against what everybody knows about America. For instance, he says it is at best a half-truth that this is “a nation of immigrants.” Almost half (49 percent) of the present population of the U.S. is descended from the people who were here in 1790. That is hard to believe in New York or Boston or Chicago, where most of the people who write books about America live. We also forget, says Huntington, that periods of massive immigration are the exception and not the rule in American history. Since the “reform” of immigration law in 1965, we have had the longest sustained period of massive immigration in our history.
Noteworthy, too, is the book’s treatment of the origins of the Creed. Other nations were formed, and are still formed, by conflicts between distinct peoples and cultures. Former colonies, for example, justify their claim to independence on the principle that it is wrong for one people to be ruled by another people. With America it was very different. In terms of race, ethnicity, culture, religion, and language, Americans and the British were one people. A different justification for independence was required; hence the Creed. Louis Hartz and a host of other scholars are wrong, Huntington contends, in claiming that America’s origins are in the “liberal,” “Lockean,” or “Enlightenment” thought of Europe. America was America before Locke was born or the Creed devised. “Scholars who attempt to identify the American ‘liberal consensus’ or Creed solely with Lockean ideas and the Enlightenment are giving a secular interpretation to the religious sources of American values.”
The Triumph of “Pluralism”
Immigrants in the past were, for the most part, eager to be assimilated into America’s Anglo-Protestant culture. That was the famous “melting pot.” The de rigueur metaphor today is that of a cultural mosaic or tossed salad. Back in 1915, Horace Kallen first challenged the idea of a coherent American identity, promoting the idea of “cultural pluralism.” Kallen’s day has come around at last, according to Huntington. The bulk of the book is a detailed examination of the ways in which American identity is being rapidly deconstructed: by neoconservatives of an imperial bent who proclaim America to be “the universal nation”; by transnational business leaders for whom the global market trumps American interests; by intellectual cosmopolitans and other moralists who teach that patriotism is a vice that must yield to allegiance to “humanity.” On all these issues there is a wide and widening gap between elites and the overwhelming majority of Americans who remain strongly committed to the American identity and its attendant patriotic virtues.
Working, however inadvertently, in tandem with these elites is uncontrolled immigration, mainly from Mexico. Even people who think of themselves as pro-immigration say that the U.S. must be in charge of the immigrant flow. One of the great merits of the book is in demonstrating the myriad ways in which immigration, legal and illegal, is wildly out of control, and has been for decades. Organizational leaders claiming to represent Mexican immigrants make no secret of their goal to achieve a demographic, cultural, and even political reconquista of large regions of the U.S. taken from Mexico in the 1830s and 1840s. The Latino, mainly Cuban, takeover of Miami, turning it into a Latin American city, is not all that different, says Huntington, from what is happening in many other cities. Next to oil, remittances sent back to Mexico by citizens living and working in the U.S. is that country’s largest source of wealth. The U.S. government has largely acquiesced in letting the Mexican government certify immigrants for government benefits in this country. Our schools promote bilingualism and multiculturalism at the expense of American identity. The top fifty colleges in this country do not require even one course in American history. In a survey of the top fifty-five colleges, 40 percent of seniors could not say within a half-century when the Civil War was fought.
More than seven million Americans are “ampersands,” and the number is growing fast. An ampersand is someone who is at the same time a citizen of the U.S. and of another country, usually with a primary attachment and political allegiance to the other country. Rather provocatively, Huntington suggests that many American Jews belong in this category. The question of “dual loyalty” to Israel and the U.S. is, to say the least, controversial. It is a question with a very particular and, for the most part, disreputable history. If it is addressed, it should be addressed with the seriousness and nuance it deserves, and not simply mentioned in passing as a circumstance comparable to, say, a U.S. citizen who values more highly his citizenship in the Dominican Republic.
The decisions before us, says Huntington, are stark: Will America be cosmopolitan, imperial, or national? He sums up his case this way:
Cosmopolitanism and imperialism attempt to reduce or to eliminate the social, political, and cultural differences between America and other societies. A national approach would recognize and accept what distinguishes America from those societies. America cannot become the world and still be America. Other people cannot become American and still be themselves. America is different, and that difference is defined in large part by its Anglo-Protestant culture and its religiosity. The alternative to cosmopolitanism and imperialism is nationalism devoted to the preservation and enhancement of those qualities that have defined America since its founding.
Huntington has clearly made his decision and is confident that almost all Americans outside the abovementioned elites agree with him, as will become increasingly evident politically when more people realize what is happening to their country. Who Are We? will, I expect, be widely read and debated, and deservedly so. A University Professor at Harvard and one of the country’s more influential intellectuals over more than thirty years, Samuel P. Huntington cannot be easily ignored. Many will lament that he is making respectable anxieties and arguments that have, in recent history, been at the margins of our public life. Others will be mightily encouraged that, at last, someone of indubitable standing has had the courage to say the obvious. My own response to the book is conflicted. I am pleased to be an American patriot, and have given a large part of my life to explaining the singularity of the American experiment. I believe that Huntington’s depiction of the “Hispanization” of the country is excessively dour, while I agree on the need to bring immigration under American control. So I find myself in substantial agreement with most of his argument. Among the seriously problematic parts of Huntington’s case, however, is his understanding of “Anglo-Protestant” culture.
They Know They Are Americans
It is beyond dispute that America’s constituting culture and institutions are Anglo (meaning English, Scottish, and Welsh) and that, with very few exceptions, those present at the creation were Protestant. More than that, they were dissenting Protestants of various stripes, which has everything to do with the strong streak of individualism and skepticism toward authority in the American ethos. There is, however, an unnecessary in-your-face problem with equating “American” with “Anglo-Protestant.” If one wants to revitalize “American” identity, it is not smart and it is not true to tell Germans, Italians, Poles, Jews, Filipinos, and a host of others that, if they really want to be Americans, they must become Anglo-Protestants. And, incidentally, there is no point in reinforcing the Hispanic view that all non-Hispanics are “Anglos.”
It does not detract from the decisive Anglo-Protestant contribution to acknowledge that American identity is also the cumulative and continuing experience of all who understand themselves to be American. While the idea of our being a nation of immigrants may be exaggerated—Huntington notes that, from 1820 to 2000, the foreign-born averaged “only” slightly over ten percent of the population—what most Americans understand by America is inseparable from immigration. It may be that half the population is descended from the people who were here in 1790, but the other half is not. An effort to revive American identity by equating America with “Anglo-Protestant” will meet with understandable resistance from many millions who are neither Anglo nor dissenting Protestant but who know that they are Americans and are confident that they have brought to the American experience more than exotic cuisines and ethnic color.
The question of whether American identity must be explicitly described as Christian is considerably more complicated. Against the eager celebrants of a multicultural and multireligious mosaic, Huntington notes that non-Christians—people of other religions or no professed religion—”are tiny minorities.” He quotes Irving Kristol, who says, “Americans have always thought of themselves as a Christian nation, equally tolerant of all religions so long as they were congruent with traditional Judeo-Christian morality. But equal toleration never meant perfect equality of status in fact.” Christianity is not legally established, “but it is established informally, nevertheless.” This, says Kristol, is a reality Jews must learn to accept.
Huntington writes, “Americans are still a Christian people, as they have been throughout their long history.” After an extensive discussion of history and survey research, he concludes, as have many others, that the last half of the twentieth century was the beginning of a fourth “great awakening,” making America more emphatically Christian than it has been since the late nineteenth century. “The proportion of Christians in America rivals or exceeds the proportion of Jews in Israel, of Muslims in Egypt, of Hindus in India, and of Orthodox believers in Russia.” As for what I described twenty years ago as “the naked public square,” Huntington believes that it is fast changing as religion becomes more publicly assertive, and both the political culture and the courts become more accommodating toward that assertiveness. Such facts of life are fiercely resisted by the aforementioned elites who, Huntington suggests, are engaged in a futile defense of the naked public square. Without calling for it in so many words, he anticipates an intensified populist rebellion against those who, as Marxists used to say, control the commanding heights of culture.
The Catholic Question
The Christian particularity of American identity is somewhat disguised by the Creed and by what some scholars call the American civil religion, and many have permitted themselves to be taken in by the disguise. Huntington writes, “While the American Creed is Protestantism without God, the American civil religion is Christianity without Christ.” He means that the Creed is Protestantism and the civil religion is Christianity, but, whether for reasons of politeness or of ideological secularism, many Americans maintain the disguise by not mentioning God or Christ in public. Huntington is well aware of what would appear to be the great exception to his definition of American identity, namely, the Catholic Church. It is communal rather than individualistic, hierarchical rather than democratic, and it values adherence rather than dissent. But all that was yesterday, according to Huntington, and it explains the long history of anti-Catholicism that, quite understandably, claimed that Catholicism was fundamentally un-American. But at long last, and with a great assist from the Second Vatican Council, Catholicism has surrendered and we now see “the transformation of a Roman Catholic Church into an American Catholic Church.”
The Catholic Church, writes Huntington, has accepted the fact that it has become “another denomination.” “Catholics are proud of their American identity, the Americanization of their church, and its emergence as a central and influential institution of American society. For understandable reasons, however, they do not like people referring to the ‘Protestantization’ of their religion.” But becoming Protestant, suggests Huntington, is the necessary price of assimilation. “Progressive” Catholics who welcome the displacement of the Catholic Church with what conservatives deride as “AmChurch” will be encouraged by Huntington’s description of what has happened. More orthodox Catholics, such as Francis Cardinal George and David Schindler, will ruefully agree with it, deploring as they do the degree to which the Church has been taken captive by an essentially Protestant culture. I am convinced that the struggle between Catholic identity and Huntington’s version of the American identity is far from over. Within the Church, younger priests, theologians, and lay leaders are vigorously challenging the idea that the “success story” of Catholicism in America is that Catholics are now just like everybody else. The current, if belated, efforts of bishops to discipline public figures who defy church teaching is among the evidences that the Church has not entirely resigned itself to being only “another denomination” or a religious organization with a Roman franchise for serving a niche market among American spiritualities. The tensions between what the Catholic Church claims to be and the sociological dynamics of American individualism and voluntarism are real and ongoing, and they have not been resolved in favor of the spiritual marketplace of Huntington’s dissenting Protestantism. Not yet. Please God, not ever.
The Strong Foundation
Huntington’s patriotism is a jealous God. He is gratified by a survey showing that 91 percent of Americans are “extremely” or “very” proud to be American. As he is gratified by another survey that asked, “How important is being an American to you, where zero is not at all important and ten is the most important thing in your life?” Forty-five percent of respondents chose ten; another 38 percent chose a number between six and nine; 2 percent chose 0. The most important thing in your life? More important than your family? More important than your allegiance to Christ and his Church? If those questions had been asked, the responses would likely be very different. But it is troubling that Huntington is encouraged by the suggestion that a near-majority of Americans say being American is the most important thing in their lives. That is not patriotism. That is idolatry.
Nonetheless, Who Are We? is a book to be read and debated. Assuming the desirability of America’s survival, it sets forth with admirable lucidity why the survival of this or any nation requires a robust national identity, and why identity necessarily involves a widely understood distinction between “we” and “they.” Huntington makes a convincing case that our out-of-control immigration practices (they hardly deserve to be called policies) are seriously threatening the national identity. He persuasively argues that the American Creed is dependent upon American culture and that at the heart of that culture is religion. He exposes with appropriate relish the dangerous fatuities of business, political, and intellectual elites who preach a gospel of globalization that presumably makes national identity obsolete. For all this we owe him. But it is a mistake, both rhetorical and substantive, to so elevate the constituting and continuing importance of Anglo-Protestantism. Rhetorically, it invites resistance to his argument from those who are not and do not want to be Anglo-Protestants. Substantively, it obscures the reality of a national identity sustained and significantly reshaped by a diverse people living out their commitment to an American experiment that was, to be sure, begun by Anglo-Protestants, but by Anglo-Protestants who laid a foundation strong enough to bear the weight of unanticipated multitudes whose lived experience, in unending romance and quarrel with the normative beginning, is the American identity.
While We’re At It
• This is a true story. At least the Seattle Times says so. Two lesbians living together decide they want a baby, so one gets pregnant with the help of sperm from a gay friend and a daughter is born. The two women break up and, after a while, the mother marries the gay friend. Now, with the help of the ACLU and gay activist lawyers who know that a gay man cannot go straight, the other woman goes to court to claim parental rights on the grounds that she was living with the mother when the mother became a mother and is, therefore, also a mother. As of this writing, she and her attorneys expect to prevail. Andrew Sullivan would no doubt point out that such confusion and heartbreak would be avoided if we had same-sex marriage. Then the two lesbians could simply have obtained a divorce before the one remarried, and well-established rules would apply regarding visitation rights and other claims on the child. In short, this situation would be, in Mr. Sullivan’s favored phrase, virtually normal—it being assumed that virtual normality is about as much normality as our society can manage.
• Many, many years ago I wrote In Defense of People (1971), the first book-length critique of environmental extremism. It was provoked, in significant part, by Paul Ehrlich, he of the “population bomb,” who predicted in 1968: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines—hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” In subsequent books, Ehrlich predicted that by the 1980s “mankind will enter a genuine age of scarcity” in which “accessible supplies of many key minerals will be facing depletion.” In fact, the world’s food supply has tripled and key minerals are available in greater abundance than ever. Reviewing Ehrlich’s latest book, One with Nineveh, Ronald Bailey writes, “Naturally, Mr. Ehrlich has won a MacArthur Foundation genius award and a Heinz Award for the environment.” (Teresa Heinz Kerry, chairman.) “So why pay him any notice?” asks Bailey. In Greek mythology “the prophetess Cassandra makes true predictions and no one believes her; Mr. Ehrlich makes false predictions and they are widely believed. The gloomier he is and the faultier he proves to be as a prophet, the more honored he becomes, even in his own country.” That puts it very nicely. What provoked me about Ehrlich, and also suggested the title of my book, is that he sees people, and especially poor people, as the enemy. Way back when Jesse Jackson was pro-life, he spoke about LBJ’s war on poverty being replaced by a war on poor people. Paul Ehrlich was and is among the chief propagandists for that war. The chilling thing is that he and those who lionize him seem to want his predictions to come true. It is a disposition that is at the heart of the darkness of what is aptly called the culture of death.
• “Now it’s their turn to get it,” some might smugly observe. If, that is, they even knew about the brutal ethnic cleansing currently being carried out by Albanian Muslims against the Orthodox Christians in Kosovo. Remember Kosovo? That was when Sandy Berger, President Clinton’s national security advisor, boasted that U.S. power is on the side of Islam. It is true that many Serbian Orthodox sided with the now defunct regime of Slobodan Milosevic when it was engaged in ethnic cleansing, but that in no way mitigates the tragedy and injustice of what is happening now. Muslim fanatics have destroyed or vandalized more than a hundred Orthodox churches and dispersed or killed thousands. Lawrence Uzzell writes, “Some of these churches had been places of Christian worship since the fourteenth century, jewels of medieval architecture treasured by art historians worldwide.” The goal of the Albanians, says Uzzell, is a purely Albanian Kosovo free of any Serbian presence, even of memories of that ancient presence. “It’s as if a Palestinian state were to win control of Jerusalem and then start demolishing every architectural relic of Judaism.” The ineffective NATO command is transferring patrol duties to the even more ineffective UN administration, which passes them on to the totally ineffective, and sometimes complicit, local police. Kosovo, readers will remember, was one of those successful “humanitarian interventions.” Among policy makers here, it is frequently recalled with pride. Only the people left behind have been forgotten. Lacrimae rerum.
• Now I’m in for it. Please, hold off on the protests and let me explain. A long and generally fair story in the New York Times on Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) says that I “confided” in the reporter, Laurie Goodstein, that there are aspects of Evangelical culture that Catholics are uneasy about, such as “the overly confident claims to being born again, the forced happiness and joy, the awful music.” No, I’m not going to complain that I was quoted out of context, although of course I was. The context was an interview of well over an hour, and publishing it all would have taken up a large part of that Sunday’s paper. Ms. Goodstein asked about tensions between Evangelical and Catholic religious cultures, and I offered an extended list of such tensions, including the items quoted above. The “overly confident claims” sound to many Catholics like the sin of presumption, while Evangelicals intend what they call “blessed assurance” or, if they are Calvinists, “the perseverance of the saints.” The seemingly forced expressions of happiness and joy (I should have added “seemingly”) reflect an Evangelical accent on the subjective and experiential, as distinct from the Catholic accent on the objective and sacramental. As for awful music, Catholics know that Evangelicals have no monopoly on that, but I had just been to an Evangelical rally in which the worship (or was it entertainment?) was an emaciated-looking young man with an electric guitar working himself into a frenzy with ten minutes of a loud and escalating screech, “Jeeeesus, I love YOU!!!” There is awful, and then there is really awful. But, mind you, all this was in the context of describing to Ms. Goodstein the stereotypes that Evangelicals and Catholics commonly have of one another. Don’t get me wrong. I love Evangelicals. Some of my best friends are Evangelicals. Evangelicals are swell. (Chuck Colson, can you help me out here?)
• “That’s how the communion crumbles,” is an Anglican play on an old saying as various jerry-built arrangements are made for bishops from Africa and Asia to assume oversight of traditional Anglicans in North America who are protesting what they view as heretical innovations, most recently the consecration of a gay bishop in New Hampshire. Something similar is happening in the Church of Sweden, where candidates are refused ordination if they do not go along with the ordination of women. Bishop Walter Obare, the presiding bishop of the Lutheran Church in Kenya, has indicated his readiness to ordain men in Sweden who he says suffer under a liberal “oppression” and “persecution” that has contributed to the fact that “historical Protestantism is rapidly crumbling” in countries such as Sweden. In a sharp exchange of letters, K. G. Hammar, Archbishop of the Church of Sweden, stated in no uncertain terms that any priests ordained by Obare would belong to the Lutheran Church in Kenya, not to the Church of Sweden. Of those in Sweden who object to the ordination of women, Hammar says, “We seem to have reached the painful situation where the wish for some to stay together is no longer as strong as the need to stress one’s own perspective.” If Sweden persists in its policy, Obare wrote in response to Hammar, “I must with other Lutheran bishops take upon myself the heavy and historic burden to heed the call of oppressed Lutheranism in your church and to ordain bishops and pastors in the Church of Sweden on the basis of emergency legitimacy set forth in the Lutheran Confessions. As Lutherans, we must also understand that this kind of calling comes from the Head of the Church himself. Who dares disobey him?” Obare refers to women’s ordination as “this Gnostic novelty [that] is now obviously claiming, not only autocracy in the Church, but also tyranny, since it cannot tolerate even minimal coexistence with classical Christianity.” Dr. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), to which both churches belong, invited the two bishops to a meeting aimed at working out their differences. Hammar flatly refused, saying, “I do not want to give the impression that there is anything to negotiate.” That response probably did not surprise Bishop Obare who wrote in his letter that he and “many other Lutheran colleagues” fear that they are witnessing in Sweden and elsewhere “the rise of a secular, intolerant, bureaucratic fundamentalism inimical to the word of God and familiar from various church struggles against totalitarian ideologies during the twentieth century.” Noting that Anglicans are having similar problems, Kyrkans Tidning (Church News) asked LWF’s Noko, “Are we witnessing a growing disintegration of the worldwide church, giving us a more liberal northwestern part and a more conservative southern?” Said Noko, “No. There is no such geographical line. And this is not a specifically African issue.” One might suggest it is more of a theological line, with Africans being less inhibited in asserting that Scripture and the sixteenth-century confessional writings are normative for the ordering of the Lutheran communion.
• Add two more books to the long and dreary list of tracts against the authoritarian and undemocratic ways of the Catholic Church. They are of slight interest, but in reviewing them Christopher Caldwell of the Weekly Standard arrives at an interestingly phrased conclusion: “But it is hard to see how democratic reforms can arrest the crisis in Western Catholicism. For what can ‘religious liberty’ mean in the context of a doctrine? In free societies, dissent gets expressed through ‘exit’ rather than ‘voice,’ to use the economist Albert O. Hirschman’s terms. The less doctrinaire a parishioner, the more likely he is to find his preferred spiritual product elsewhere. So the democratic world may offer the Church a hard choice—between growing more reactionary or dying. Perhaps the Church’s real arrogance was to assume at the time of Vatican II that it had the standing to open a dialogue with modernity. The Church could never command that non-Catholics listen to it; all it could do was expose its faithful to the siren song of democracy, capitalism and sex.” For those to whom the democratic world—read: liberal culture—is the default position, “reactionary” is the irresistible word. But one can also envision the Church in her restored integrity providing an attractive “contrast society” for people wearied by the discontents of liberal culture. That does not mean that the Church is countercultural, although at times she must be against the world for the world. The Catholic genius is always for the world, proposing a “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31) toward the realization of the best to which the culture aspires. “Arrogance” is not the right word, but the Holy Spirit who guided the Council did not expunge in the bishops a human capacity for misreading “the signs of the times.” This is notably evident in Gaudium et Spes, the constitution on the Church in the modern world. What was new in the constitution, and therefore what caught attention, was the very hopeful (optimistic?) depiction of the modern world. I once asked a bishop who had played a major part in drafting the constitution whether the document was not marked by a certain naïveté about the modern world. After a moment’s thought, he said, “Perhaps.” He then quickly added, “But, if so, it was an evangelical naïveté.” I have no doubt about that. A careful reading of Gaudium et Spes shows that the doctrinal tradition is uncompromised and the necessary cautions against worldly optimism are not absent. Contra Caldwell, it was not wrong to assume that the Church had the standing “to open a dialogue with modernity.” What other religious institution had or has a better claim to such standing? And it is obvious that the Church cannot “command” that non-Catholics listen to it or, for that matter, compel Catholics to listen. Yet Caldwell makes an important point. It was not “all it could do,” and in fact it was far from all it did do, but it is true that at the Council the Church did “expose its faithful to the siren song of democracy, capitalism, and sex.” Inadvertently, of course. It is a risk that comes with reading the signs of the times. And with believing that, if you are nice to the world, the world will be nice to you. A measure of what can look like evangelical naïveté may be unavoidable, however, in a community that tries to be faithful to the one of whom it is said, “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” That assumes, as Gaudium et Spes did say, although many did not hear it—perhaps because they did not want to hear it—that the world cannot save itself.
• A Pentecostal pastor robbed five New England banks before being caught and sent to jail. John T. McNeil, the prosecutor, remarked, “What I find most interesting about this case is that even though this was a man of God who was devoted to the church, he was involved in some pretty sophisticated bank robberies.” Pastor Russell Saltzman of Forum Letter takes umbrage, seeing this as a slur on the capabilities of clergy. Touchy, touchy.
• Emmet Kearney takes me to task for saying that a survey showed that “only 21 percent of [college] administrators knew that the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom” (While We’re At It, February). He notes that the survey question asked them to name any First Amendment right, and 79 percent named a right other than the freedom of religion. Mr. Kearney is right: that is much less worrying.
• A good many conservatives think that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is a good example of the kind of thing government has no business doing. It may not have changed minds but it blunted complaints when President Bush appointed Dana Gioia the chairman of the NEA. Gioia is a distinguished poet and has a way of winsomely engaging those who disagree with him, as many do. He was also our Erasmus Lecturer last year and we are looking forward to publishing his text, which, we are assured, is undergoing final, final revision. With Gioia in charge, the administration has even increased, modestly, the NEA’s $139 million budget, which is about the budget line for paper clips in government agencies thought to matter in Washington. But of course the NEA matters greatly to many people in the arts. John Rockwell, a critic at the New York Times, is deeply ambivalent about the new management at the NEA. He doesn’t exactly call for a return to the tumultuous times of Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” Chris Ofili’s “Blessed Virgin of the Elephant Dung,” or the late Robert Mapplethorpe’s “X Portfolio,” which celebrated the nuances of anal intercourse, but Mr. Rockwell does seem to miss the good old days. Rockwell’s reflection is titled, “Help for the Old and Safe, Neglect for the New and Challenging.” He notes that Gioia is promoting traveling Shakespeare companies to do live theater in small cities, schools, and military bases, along with touring groups performing jazz and other American masterpieces. Rockwell writes, “This is all well and good. Really it is. But it does provoke some questions.” When he has to assure the reader that he “really” thinks this is all well and good, the reader may suspect he doesn’t really mean it, and it turns out he doesn’t. Gioia says his program is a “win-win” approach to the arts, to which Rockwell protests: “But what happened to multicultural disdain for dead white European males? If touring Shakespeare is such a win-win deal, just how does transgressive, transsexual, multiracial, confrontational performance art ‘win’?” How indeed. Thus, according to Rockwell, does Gioia neglect “the new and challenging.” One might respond that Macbeth is a great deal more challenging than Mapplethorpe and, as for the latter being new, pornography goes way on back. Rockwell complains, “Rich people support major arts institutions disproportionately, and rich people are mostly conservative.” It is true that a disproportionate amount of financial support for the arts comes from rich people. It probably has something to do with the fact that rich people, generally speaking, have more money than poor people. As for rich people being “mostly conservative,” however, one has to wonder whose patronage made the likes of Serrano, Ofili, and Mapplethorpe rich. Adolescents of all ages who would prove they are artists by behaving badly and shocking the grownups also want to be rich. They understandably grouse that not enough money goes to support the “transgressive, transsexual, multiracial, confrontational performance art,” but such bad behaviors would not abound without a lot of people paying for them. And some of what Mr. Rockwell and others deem “new and challenging” may, it is quite possible, some day be recognized as art worth preserving as part of the American heritage. Of the NEA approach Rockwell writes, “Certifying masterpieces and making them available to all is not inherently evil.” That is a magnanimous concession. Evil perhaps, but not inherently evil. Then comes an even greater concession: “Edgy art was made long before public arts support became a reality in this country; not all rich patrons are conservative.” So it seems the new and the challenging are safe after all. And all without taxpayers being forced to pay for being insulted by the antics of those who hold them in contempt. It may not be entirely a win-win approach, and it may not change the minds of those who think the NEA should be abolished, but the direction taken by Dana Gioia holds the promise of preserving and sharing a heritage of proven achievement, to which the work of those who outgrow their captivity to “the new and challenging” may one day be admitted.
• On April 23, 1993, after having fasted for several days, which was a regular part of his spiritual discipline, Cesar Chavez died in his sleep. Rees Lloyd, a reader who served as an attorney for Chavez for twenty years, writes to tell me about his personal experience of Chavez’ deep and vibrant faith. At his funeral in Delano, California, fifty thousand people joined in processing along the hot and dusty roads, and a message from Pope John Paul II was read at the service. Chavez was, of course, a hero of monumental proportions to the Mexican-American farm workers he organized. But he was also much celebrated by others. California, for instance, has a Cesar Chavez Day. Mr. Lloyd includes the poignantly telling observation that it is a paid holiday for government workers. For the farm workers it is another day in the fields.
• Rivers of Gold is the story of the rise of the Spanish empire. Publishers Weekly scolds the author, Hugh Thomas, for insensitivity to the cultural “other.” The review includes this: “Indeed, readers free from colonial prejudice will be surprised to find themselves also written out of history: ‘Who can doubt now,’ Thomas asks rhetorically, ‘that the Spanish were right to denounce the idea of religion based on human sacrifice or the simple worship of the sun or the rain?’” Presumably those who are free from colonial prejudice are open to, or even harbor no doubts about, the merits of a religion that sacrifices human beings to the gods. But then, as the reviewer notes, Mr. Thomas has become ever more conservative, even to the point of serving as an adviser to Margaret Thatcher, and we know how narrow-minded she was about human sacrifice.
• I have from time to time been critical of Alan Wolfe, Boston College’s man on religion and public life and contributing editor at the New Republic. So I’m not surprised when, in a recent article, he refers to “the small and sectarian journal First Things.” One might, very delicately, observe that the New Republic is almost as small and is a great deal more sectarian, if sectarian means narrowly preoccupied with partisan politics. Although I expect that by “sectarian” he means religious. Wolfe is reviewing books on atheism in America and, as a self-described nonbeliever, wishes that some of the authors were less fervently religious in their atheism. He is more sympathetic to Doubt: A History by Jennifer Hecht because “Hecht is the rare doubter who can simultaneously disagree with people of faith while granting them respect and taking their ideas seriously.” That is obviously how Mr. Wolfe would like to think of himself. And in his books, such as One Nation, After All and The Transformation of American Religion, it is how he claims most Americans think. Religion and nonreligion, he writes, “raise first questions about the world that deserve heated exchange.” But such questions must be kept safely distanced from our public life, and he indulges himself by whacking the Bush administration for violating that liberal dogma. “Whatever our differences over faith,” Wolfe writes, “Americans belong to a common political community in which, assuming that we will continue to live together, we must find ways of talking to each other not just past each other.” I am resigned to living together with Alan Wolfe but confess that it would be a great deal easier if he followed the example he says is set by Ms. Hecht in granting others respect and taking their ideas seriously—notably the ideas of those who disagree with Mr. Wolfe’s belief that liberalism trumps truth and that, therefore, “first questions” must be banished from public life. Contra Mr. Wolfe, first questions—as in “We hold these truths to be self-evident”—are the foundation and not the enemy of the continuing American experiment. He says we must find ways of talking to each other and not just past each other. I am talking to you, Alan.
• The Weather Underground was a particularly nasty part of the radicalisms that emerged from the 1960s. Shooting cops and that sort of thing. Now they are examined in a documentary, “The Weather Underground,” and it is reviewed by Johnny Zokovitch in a recent issue of The Catholic Peace Voice, an organ of the Pax Christi movement. “This provocative film should give members of the peace movement and those who espouse nonviolence reason to pause and engage in a bit of self-examination. While many activists then and now would criticize the violence of the Weather Underground, we must recognize and pay serious attention to the depth of their commitment—a commitment that would not allow these young people to be satisfied with the often choreographed, low-risk protest that so often passes for dissent in our country. While disagreeing with their use of violence, we who espouse nonviolence as a force for social change must be challenged by how much these young people were willing to sacrifice and how drastically their lives were disrupted by their opposition to a government steeped in the evils of militarism, materialism, and racism.” If the ends are so admirable, the pacifists of Pax Christi are given “reason to pause and engage in a bit of self-examination.” Might not noble intentions and “depth of commitment” justify just a little mayhem and murder?
• A reader sends me an old copy of The Lutheran Witness from May 1961, which carries a story on my installation as pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Brooklyn. The report says, “This church offers weekly Communion to colored and white people at the same altar rail.” The reader wonders whether this was written in approval or in order to warn potential visitors. In any event, it is good to remember that it was thought worthy of note at the time. Conservatives too often play to stereotype as the stupid party by refusing to acknowledge that, amidst the encircling gloom, there are undeniable instances of moral progress.
• I have a measure of respect for people who remain aloof from politics, and I have a number of friends who never vote because, they say, “It only encourages them.” There are more important—much more important—things in life than politics. That being said, I get a mite impatient with people who seem to think it a mark of political sophistication to say that our political system only gives us a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. There are even purists in the pro-life movement who say there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Kerry and Bush: “Neither of them is going to repeal Roe v. Wade.” That’s true, of course, but there are things to be done on the way to the hoped-for repeal of that odious decision and the lethal logic behind it. And it is arrogantly obtuse to ignore the fact that President Bush has done some of those things and will likely do others. This past April he signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, making it clear that an attack on a pregnant woman is an attack on two people. Last year he signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act that outlaws one of the most manifestly brutal forms of child killing. Yes, its implementation is being blocked by some courts, but that only underscores the importance of Bush’s efforts to get federal judges who understand themselves to be servants and not masters of the law. In 2002, Bush signed the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, which ensures that every infant born alive—including those surviving an abortion procedure—is considered a person under federal law. Has that saved many lives? Probably not, but it is crucially important because it establishes in law that whether or not a baby is a person does not depend on whether the baby is “wanted” by a woman and her abortionist. And anyone who thinks that establishing that is not important has not read the reasoning of Roe v. Wade. President Bush has also strongly supported a ban on human cloning, arguing that life is not a commodity but a creation. Babies must not be manufactured for research or body parts, nor “designed” to customer specification. In one of his first acts in office, he restored the Mexico City Policy that had been put in place by Ronald Reagan and then rescinded by President Clinton. That policy means no federal money for organizations promoting or performing abortions in other nations. One could list other initiatives of this president in strengthening families, encouraging adoptions, supporting abstinence for young people, and other issues closely related to the moral vitality of our society. To pretend there are no substantive differences between the candidates in this presidential election is simply dumb. (Lest we jeopardize our tax exemption, a note to whoever at the Internal Revenue Service has the happy job of reading FT: the above is not an endorsement of President Bush. It is a service to our readers in clarifying issues. We readily recognize that people may, for reasons they deem sufficient, vote for his opponent.)
• It has been a long time since I have so enjoyed an intellectually ambitious work of theology. “Enjoy” is exactly the right word, since joy is at the heart of David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite (Eerdmans). Those familiar with Hart’s writings in these pages will not be surprised to learn that the book is not always light reading. Despite the convoluted word games and superfluity of neologisms, however—he is, after all, engaging the postmodernist exertions of the likes of Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault—delight is the theme of Hart’s Balthasarian argument about human desiring and the beauty of God. For further details, see the review of the book by Geoffrey Wainwright in the March issue of FT. Herewith an excerpt from the book (with the author’s permission) in response to those who, in the tradition of Nietzsche, would escape from dead and deadly Apollo to the delusory delights of Dionysius. In that tradition, it may be recalled, the crucifixion of Christ is construed as Christianity’s repudiation of the earthly and fleshly, to which Dionysian intoxication is the alternative. But the wine of Dionysius, says Hart, makes human fellowship impossible, being but a brute absorption into anonymity and violence. Hart writes: “In fact, if I may be permitted an excursus, it is conceivable that a theological answer to Nietzsche could be developed entirely in terms of the typology of wine. After all, the wine of Dionysus is no doubt of the coarsest vintage, intended to blind with drunkenness rather than enliven whimsy; it is fruit of the same vine with which Dionysus bridged the Euphrates, after flaying alive the king of Damascus, so that he could conquer India for viniculture (so we know from Plutarch, Pausanias, Strabo, Arrian, Diodorus, Siculus, and others); and of the same vine for which Lycurgus mistook his son Dryas when driven mad for offending the wild god, causing him to cut Dryas down for ‘pruning’ (as Homer and Apollodorus report); the vine that destroyed the pirates who would not bear Dionysus to Naxos (so say Homer, Apollodorus, and Ovid); it is the wine that inflamed the maenads to rend Pentheus limb from limb, led by his own mother Agave (as Euripides and others record); the wine repeatedly associated with madness, anthropophagy, slaughter, warfare, and rapine (one need consider only the Dionysian cult at Orchomenus—with its ritual act of random murder—and the story of the daughters of Minyas—frenzy, infanticide, cannibalism—from which it sprang). The wine of Christian Scripture, on the other hand, is first and foremost a divine blessing and image of God’s bounty (Genesis 27:28; Deuteronomy 7:13; 11:14; Psalms 104:15; Proverbs 3:10; Isaiah 25:6; 65:8; Jeremiah 31:12; Joel 2:19; 3:18; Amos 9:13–14; Zechariah 9:17), and an appropriate thank offering by which to declare Israel’s love of God (Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:5–10; 18:12; 28:14; Deuteronomy 14:23; 15:14; 18:4); it is the wine that ‘cheers the hearts of gods and men’ (Judges 9:13), to be drunk and shared with those for whom nothing is prepared on the day holy to the Lord (Nehemiah 8:10), the sign of God’s renewed covenant with his people (Isaiah 55:1–3), the drink of lovers (Song of Solomon 5:1), and the very symbol of love (7:2, 9; 8:2), whose absence is the eventide of all joy (Isaiah 24:11); it is, moreover, the wine of agape and the feast of fellowship, in which Christ first vouchsafed a sign of his divinity, in a place of rejoicing, at Cana—a wine of the highest quality—when the kingdom showed itself ‘out of season’ (John 2:3–10); the wine, again, forsaken with all the good things of creation, when Christ went to his death, but promised to be drunk anew at the banquet table of his Father’s kingdom, and from which—embittered with myrrh—he was forced to turn his lips when on the cross (Mark 15:23; Matthew 27:34); the wine, finally, whose joy is imparted to the Church again, and eternally, with the fire of Pentecost (Acts 2:13), and in which the fellowship of Christ and his flock is reborn with every celebration of the Eucharist. Of course, Nietzsche was a teetotaler and could judge the merit of neither vintage, and so it is perhaps unsurprising that his attempts at oino-theology should betray a somewhat pedestrian palate.”
• Pastor Russ Saltzman of Forum Letter comments on John Mason Neale’s translation of the Palm Sunday hymn, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” composed in Latin by the ninth-century St. Theodulph of Orleans. He notes that almost all hymnals omit one verse of Neale’s fine translation:
Be thou, O Lord, the rider
And I the little ass
That to the Holy city
Together we may pass.
The language sounds rude to contemporary ears, but the verse should not be offensive to those familiar with G. K. Chesterton’s marvelous poem, “The Donkey.”
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
• It seems that groups of ROFTERS (Readers of First Things) are sprouting all over. Here is a letter from Kevin Wainwright, a Presbyterian chaplain with the 30th Brigade, North Carolina National Guard, stationed in Iraq. He explains how FT has been “a vehicle of God’s grace” among the soldiers there and includes a picture of eight of his men—with Father W. Kelly, a Catholic chaplain, in the middle—holding copies of FT. If you’re interested in starting a ROFTERS group, probably closer to home, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Here are some new ROFTERS contacts. For a complete list, visit the ROFTERS page on [our website->old.firstthings.com].
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Lesbian custody battle, Seattle Times, May 6, 2004. Paul Ehrlich as the reverse Cassandra, Richard Bailey, Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2004. Albanian Muslims slaughter Orthodox Christians, Christian Science Monitor, May 20, 2004. Laurie Goodstein interview with RJN on evangelical culture, New York Times, May 29, 2004. Lutheran Church in Kenya, Letters of Obare and Hammar, plus Kyrkans Tidning, April, 22, 2004. “Emerging Church,” Nicotine Theological Journal, April 2004. Reply to Caldwell on Vatican II, New York Times Book Review, May 2, 2004. Pilfering Pentecostal, Forum Letter, June, 2004. NEA under Dana Gioia, New York Times, February 13, 2004. Prejudiced reviewer, Publisher’s Weekly, April 12, 2004. Alan Wolfe on a small, sectarian journal, New Republic, April 12, 2004.