Your editorial statement “The Marriage Amendment” (October 2003) rests on two premises: 1) the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and 2) the belief that the federal government should sanction this definition and have the power to confer benefits based upon it.


In regard to the first premise, the word “union” needs to be unpacked. As a working definition I will assume you mean a committed relationship based upon a profound love, wherein the mutually beneficial actions in which two people engage, be they emotional, sexual, or financial, are recognized to be exclusive to themselves. I thus identify a certain level of love as the defining characteristic, not its manifestations (although the manifestations which do exist would have to be in accord with that love). Sex and procreation cannot be the defining characteristics of marriage. If you say they are, you not only exclude gay people, but all couples who do not want or cannot have children.


You repeatedly imply that the basis for same-sex union is an interest in sex. After noting that “there are a few gays who express admiration for traditional marriage and say they simply want to be included in its benefits” you reply that:



They are not excluded by others; they are excluded by their identity as gays. To be homosexual is a condition; to be gay is a decision. Some say no other decision is available to them, but that is not true. Sexual temptations, like other temptations, can be resisted.

Of course, sexual attraction is a major factor at the beginning of any romantic union, but, as I’m sure you’ll agree, as a relationship progresses it becomes transformed into an expression of love. Lust apart from love disappears. I can assure you, based on my own experience and the observation of close friends, that this phenomenon occurs in homosexual couples. Being a homosexual is a decision, but not to give in to a sexual temptation—rather to deeply love someone of one’s own sex.


If you agree that a committed relationship based on a certain level of love is at least a cardinal characteristic of marriage, what is the basis for making the requirement that this relationship be between a man and a woman? The only answer I can find in your statement is that it promotes social order by containing “the unbridled sexual activity of the human male.” The premise behind this argument is that it is a legitimate function of the state to engage in preventative measures to dissuade immoral behavior which will have deleterious consequences, e.g., producing unwanted and unloved children.


This bring me to the second premise of the statement. Should the government be concerned with preventing and/or punishing immorality per se, or only preventing and punishing the harmful consequences to innocent victims, e.g., children? I would say the latter. From the state’s point of view, marriage is a contractual agreement which it has a vested interest in upholding (as it does all other formal contracts). Is there any other basis of the state sanction of marriage? If there isn’t, why can’t the contract be between persons of the same sex? I can’t see how it is the state’s business to sanction any aspect of an agreement other than its formal contractual elements.


Bruce Marr

Brooklyn, New York



The Roots of Nihilism



Many thanks to David B. Hart for his exquisitely written, magisterial article, “Christ and Nothing” (October 2003).


If I may nuance the article’s thesis: to posit nihilism in the ancient world is not free of a certain anachronism. Should one nonetheless seek to uncover the roots of nihilism in ancient Greek thought, one would need to unearth them in atomistic materialism (regarding Nietzsche), or in Protagoras (regarding Hiedegger’s pseudo-ethics of “authenticity”). Contemporary nihilism is rightly linked by Mr. Hart to the absolute primacy of freedom of choice (and not freedom of determination, though that is another story). Culturally, this freedom is being played out in terms of materialistic Epicureanism in one form or another (utilitarian, hedonistic, etc.).


Mr. Hart attempts to escry the roots of nihilistic dialectic in Platonic dualism. Although I think that he grants too much to Nietz-schean animus and Heideggerian historico-epistemology on this point, the Platonic physical universe is indeed portrayed as one of deceptive illusions. But to label the relationship between act and potency as “dialectic” would seem to overlook the whole point of these two meta-physical principles, which must be understood in the light of final, and not merely efficient, causality, if one accepts Aristotle’s claim that potency is in view of act. As for the alleged Neoplatonic nihilism, even if one were to grant it, it would be in terms of the Pseudo-Dionysian apophasis regarding God which has borne perennial fruit in mystical theology. Both the rejection of teleology and ersatz mysticism are unmistakably at the root of Nietzscheo-Heideggerian nihilism.


When Christ meets Pilate, the focal point is indeed the question of truth, as evidenced by the divinely noble affirmation: “I was born and came into the world to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). But the philosopher cannot help but be reminded of Socrates before his accusers. Mr. Hart’s reflection could be enriched by stressing the striking proximity between revealed truth and philosophical truth, especially in their “happy marriage” in Aquinas. The divorce occasioned by Luther and the Reformation is clearly at the root of contemporary nihilism. Nietzsche’s hatred of religion was something of a reaction to the harsh reprobating God of his Protestant youth, and Heidegger eventually became a nondenominational Protestant after leaving the Catholic Church, since he did not see the former as in any way incompatible with his nihilism. The Reformers created hostility between faith and reason where there had been harmony, thus incarnating the voluntarism and nominalism (duly noted by Mr. Hart) in a worldview whose clearly nihilistic theological consequences were the doctrines of positive reprobation, the sacramental Real Absence of Christ in the Eucharist, total depravity, etc.


May these reflections be received amicably as buttressing Mr. Hart’s theses, since that is how they are intended.


Mark J. Barker

Assistant Professor of Philosophy

University of Saint Thomas

Houston, Texas





David B. Hart replies:



I thank Professor Barker for his letter, which deserves a longer reply; here I can offer only a few technical observations.


Regarding my “anachronism”—I never posited nihilism in the ancient world tout court; a truly pre-Christian nihilism (in the special post-Jacobian sense of the word) is unimaginable. Rather, I summarized a certain hermeneutical narrative regarding the remote causes of Western thought’s “nihilistic terminus,” ironically agreed with aspects of it, and inverted its central claim. I agree with many Catholic philosophers (especially the remarkable Erich Przywara) in seeing within even the greatest of the classical syntheses certain (tragic) ambiguities for which only Christian theology could provide the solution. Antique wisdom was an enigma to itself until the creator God revealed Himself within it; and that enigma returns as nihilism—stripped of all metaphysical ornament—when philosophy is detached again from theology by that rather sordid catastrophe “modernity.”


Also, it is perfectly correct, when addressing the Aristotelian understanding of act and potency in the “sublunary” world, to speak of “dialectic” (with a particular Hegelian acceptation), precisely because potency is “in view of act.” What arises and perishes enjoys only an imperfect, fleeting liaison between hyle and morphe, and must die each instant to be born anew. Unlike, say, astral intelligences, mutable beings exhaust their potency only when they cease to be, and death is the price they pay to “become what they are.” Such is the lot of all that dwells here below, between arche kineseos and telos, and between form and the chaos of the “infinite” (apeiron).


It is in Christian metaphysics that a different model emerges. Gregory of Nyssa, for instance, in the fourth century, first offered a coherent account of a positive infinity—that of the transcendent God—which allowed him to understand becoming as the effect of the relation between finite beings, created ex nihilo, and the infinite being of God; and further to understand the proper “measure” of becoming not as the finitude of form, but as the eternal epektasis—the “stretching-out”—of the soul into this infinity. Thus the “rhythm of becoming” is not that of fatedness towards death, but of a perpetual ecstasy towards and into God (not dialectic, as Przywara might say, but analogy). From such metaphysical revolutions would be born, in time’s fullness, Thomas’ language of the actus essendi subsistens.


Professor Barker’s understanding of Dionysius the Areopagite is extravagantly inaccurate (would that I had the space to show him).


I am a firm believer in the happy marriage of philosophical and theological truth. Otherwise, I would not see the divorce between them as so ruinously wicked.


And it may be comforting to blame the Reformers for modernity, but voluntarism and nominalism were fruits of late Catholic scholasticism, partly in accord with a venerable tradition in the interpretation of Augustine (curl up some idyllic afternoon with Gottschalk’s writings if you doubt it). Nihilism comes of the failure of all Christian culture to live in obedience to grace; all Christians are responsible for it, and for struggling against it.



When to Sustain Life



Wesley J. Smith identifies some worrisome developments in contemporary bioethics, including proposed changes in the legal definition of death (“Waking from the Dead,” October 2003). He rightly points out that patients such as Terry Wallis may wake up even after long periods in a persistent vegetative state, although most such patients do not. The persistent vegetative state poses difficult decisions for physicians and families. Many physicians, including many of us who are Christian, feel no such difficulty in generally opposing the use of feeding tubes and intravenous fluids in patients who are terminally ill. It might be unethical to withhold these interventions from terminal patients if they were effective in prolonging life; but they are not effective. Nutrition provided by medical intervention (as opposed to patients eating and drinking what’s offered to them) has not been shown to prolong the life of patients in the terminal conditions in which it has been studied, such as end-stage cancer and dementia. And patients in whom we refrain from inserting tubes and needles for food and fluids do not “endure agony.”


I would expect a Christian medical ethic to recognize that our life on earth is limited and that at the end of our natural span there might be a time beyond which attempts at further prolongation of life by medical means are likely to increase rather than limit suffering. It is not given to us to take our own lives before their natural end; but what warrant from religion does Mr. Smith have for seeking to delay that end to the uttermost extremity at a time when it must be soon upon us, come what may?


Feeding tubes and IV needles have their uses, but subjecting patients at the end of life to them is simply wrong, except in carefully chosen situations where the chance (no more than a chance) of gaining a short period of time by their use is worth their associated discomforts and possible complications. Physicians who practice among patients with terminal conditions have the experience and perhaps the wisdom to decide when feeding tubes and intravenous fluids ought to be used; just as they make decisions about any other medical intervention. Virtuous physicians who are sensitive to patients and families will make such decisions together with them and will usually do so in harmony. Mr. Smith contrasts the unconditional love of Terry Wallis’ family with the sterile intellectualism of bioethics. Medical decisions at the end of life, carefully and prayerfully made together by patient, physician, and family, will reflect unconditional love. Families who are misled by Mr. Smith into demanding supposedly life-prolonging medical interventions when such interventions are more likely to do harm than good will have opted for sterile intellectualism.


Thomas S. Huddle, M.D., Ph.D.

Division of General

Internal Medicine

University of Alabama at Birmingham





Wesley J. Smith replies:



Dr. Huddle’s letter is about oranges when I wrote about apples. My article was primarily concerned with the care and treatment of cognitively disabled patients, the dominant bioethics dogma that such people can be dehumanized and denigrated as “nonpersons,” and the consequences that could flow therefrom. I did not write about the treatment of patients who are actively dying.


In his letter, Dr. Huddle quickly affirms my concerns and then quickly pivots to other issues. In doing so, he implies unfairly that I am a vitalist who believes that everything possible should always be done to keep the body functioning, and, indeed, that I advocate such a course to my readers. But there is nothing in my article specifically, or my work generally, to support such a conclusion. Indeed, I am a vocal supporter of hospice and have been a hospice volunteer. The hospice philosophy is explicitly not vitalistic.


I readily acknowledge that if a patient is actively dying and the body is shutting down, providing food and fluids may be medically inappropriate. In those circumstances, it should not be provided. That is not the same thing at all as depriving someone of nutrition and hydration or other medical treatment based on a value judgment about the “quality” of their lives. Nor is it the same thing as refusing wanted life-sustaining treatment based on physicians’ values or those of bioethicists as opposed to the beliefs and values of the patient/family, as would occur if futile care theory became standard medical practice.


It is ironic that Dr. Huddle opines that we should leave these decisions to the doctors. But not too long ago that paternalistic attitude often resulted in patients hooked up to machines against their will rather than their being allowed to go home and die natural deaths in their own beds. These abuses led directly to the patients’ rights movement, hospice, and the legal requirement that physicians obtain informed consent or informed refusal prior to commencing treatment. Now that the emphasis in health care has reversed from keeping people alive at all costs to increasingly advocating withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining care, it would be utter folly to return to the bad old days where doctors made the decisions instead of patients or families.


It seems to me that a doctor’s job in these difficult situations is to tell the patient and family straight-up the expected burdens and potential benefits of the treatment being considered. If the treatment is going to cause suffering, tell the unvarnished truth about its extent and duration.


The doctors should also, of course, make recommendations to patients and obtain second opinions for them. But in the end, value judgments about the quality of life and whether the burdens of staying alive are worth holding back death for a time belong to patients and families—not to a medical system that is growing progressively impersonal, utilitarian, and resource-deprived.



Jewish Orthodoxy Today



Alan Mittleman (“Fretful Orthodoxy,” October 2003) states that many Modern Orthodox Jews on college campuses are unsure of what they believe and why, due to a lack of intellectual intensity within the community. “Familism, solidarity, youth groups, institutional loyalties”—in his opinion, and mine, too, often substitute for theological engagement.


I am, however, dubious about several of Professor Mittleman’s other observations. He presents Rabbi S. R. Hirsch’s mid-nineteenth-century views on Judaism and Western culture as a successful accommodation with modernity in its time. Whatever the merits of Hirsch’s theology, it was not really tested until the third generation began to attend university in significant numbers. As an expert on the work of Hirsch’s grandson, Isaac Breuer, Prof. Mittleman should know better than most the desperate intellectual debility Breuer diagnosed, and sought to reverse, among his peers a hundred years ago. The state of German Orthodoxy did not improve substantially until the aftermath of World War I brought an influx of old-style Orthodox scholars from Eastern Europe.


Prof. Mittleman laments the passing from the scene of my revered mentor, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, “the Rav” par excellence for American Orthodoxy. Until fairly recently the Rav’s major talmudic and theological writings were either unpublished or relatively inaccessible. If our younger generation misses his physical presence, his work is increasingly available, vigorously disseminated by his best students, and quoted and popularized to the point of trivialization. His absence is not the primary factor in the present crisis.


By and large, young Orthodox students are not interested in articulating and defending their beliefs because, like their parents before them, they are preoccupied with their professional training and social lives. Rabbi Soloveitchik used to say that the besetting vice of the middle classes is complacency, and he definitely did not except the community that placed him on a pedestal. With the waning of blatant discrimination in the workplace, and the promise of unlimited acceptance in American society, typified by the “Lieberman moment,” one takes it for granted that Orthodoxy can be maintained without the need for extraordinary intellectual heroism or self-sacrifice. Having offered social and intellectual compromises to the Zeitgeist, and relying on the benign live-and-let-live neutrality of the naked academic quad, it comes as an unpleasant surprise when supposedly superficial compromises undermine resoluteness of belief without bridging the gap between Orthodox Judaism and the liberal environment, and when trust in genial tolerance does not confer an exemption from hostile confrontation. One may be dissatisfied with such mediocrity without despising those who are resigned to it.


It has become customary to ascribe all shortcomings of Modern Orthodoxy to the increased influence of so-called “right-wing,” traditionalist Orthodoxy. I can’t understand how Prof. Mittleman can blame the failure of some Modern Orthodox Jews to know what they believe and why on the encroachments of the “right.” If students who gain admittance to, and matriculate at, Ivy League colleges are insufficiently schooled in the challenges posed by contemporary historical scholarship or prevalent ideology, this is not the result of single-minded concentration on the canons of traditional talmudic discourse. If they are tempted by regnant sexual mores, it is probably not for surfeit of full-blooded piety. When a distinguished Modern Orthodox intellectual like David Berger calls for fidelity to fundamental Jewish doctrine on the part of Orthodox rabbis and laymen (as recently discussed in these pages), he is not disparaged by the “right” but by liberal theological voices in the community.


Modern Orthodox spokesmen are rightly disturbed and embarrassed by the inadequacies reported in Prof. Mittleman’s article. A few decades ago that would not have been the case. Defection on the way to Americanization was common; vitiated practice and invincible vagueness about belief and conviction were not a cause for alarm but the best that could be achieved under unpropitious conditions. If we are disinclined to regard such debility with equanimity, that may be a tribute to the higher standard of commitment associated with the impact of a more strenuous Orthodoxy. From my perspective that is a good thing.


Shalom Carmy

Yeshiva University

New York, New York





Alan Mittleman replies:



I am grateful for the response of Professor Carmy to my article. He speaks as a committed participant in the Orthodox world. I am, at best, a concerned participant-observer. I take it that my analysis is sound, since he seems to agree with my basic point that sociology cannot indefinitely substitute for theology. Intellectual “debility” cannot be accepted with equanimity.


Prof. Carmy does take issue with some of my judgments, such as my affirmation of Samson Raphael Hirsch as a model for cultural engagement. (I have also heard objections to this point from several Orthodox friends.) They are right to point to the fragility of Hirsch’s synthesis. A permanent adversarial identity (“sociology”) helped to keep Hirsch’s intellectual work (“theology”) alive. Nonetheless, I would say that an intellectual milieu that was capable of producing such internal critics and continuators as Isaac Breuer did have theological stature.


I suggested in my article, without really developing the point, that “right-wing” Orthodoxy or “fundamentalism” was part of the problem of Modern Orthodoxy’s debility. Prof. Carmy objects to this. To state my point more fully here: Ultra-Orthodoxy provides a model for a very strong, Torah-centered Jewish life of indisputable authenticity. It does not require an intellectual engagement with contemporary culture. On the contrary, it shuns such engagement. To the extent that Modern Orthodox youth seek to emulate or embody aspects of Ultra-Orthodoxy, they will also deemphasize the engagement with contemporary culture.


Finally, lest there be any doubt, I am far from “depising” those who are resigned to “mediocrity.” I don’t think that pious people who do not, for whatever reason, rise to the challenge of theology are mediocre, nor do I despise them. I hope that my article did not imply condescension or contempt. Nothing could be further from my intentions.



War, Peace & Jean Bethke Elshtain: A Continuing Exchange



The unfair—indeed, quite offensive—criticisms lobbed at Jean Bethke Elshtain’s Just War Against Terror by Stanley Hauerwas and Paul Griffiths (“War, Peace & Jean Bethke Elshtain,” October 2003) reminded me of Friedrich Nietzsche’s warning in Ecce Homo that the more humanitarian our values become, the more monstrous will be world politics. The authors’ bizarre lucubrations on her book sounded more like a collaboration between Tertullian and Gore Vidal, with sectarian ecclesiology joining forces with supercilious anti-Americanism, than like an honest confrontation with Professor Elshtain’s argument. Although one would never know it from reading their review alone, her book is in fact a careful and painstaking analysis of how classical just war theory must now bring its analytical powers to bear in today’s transformed setting of Muslim-motivated murder by terror.


Readers of Prof. Hauerwas’ recent Gifford lectures, With the Grain of the Universe, are already familiar with his postmortem attempt to read Reinhold Niebuhr out of the Christian fold by the vulgar expedient of declaring him not really a Christian to begin with, a sleight of rhetorical hand uncomfortably reminiscent of the infamous “Cadaver Synod” convened by Pope Stephen VI in 897, when this rancid pope put on trial for heresy the mummified corpse of his predecessor, Pope Formosus, and excommunicated him.


For that reason, I suppose it should come as no surprise that the authors have adopted for their screed the faux-magisterial tone of a privately promulgated motu proprio, arrogating to themselves an authority they do not possess—except in their self-anointed role as arbiters of Christian ethics. Hazel Motes, the preacher-protagonist of Flannery O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood, wanted to start a “Church of Christ Without Christ.” To judge by his books, Prof. Hauerwas would seem to prefer a “Church of Christ Without a Church,” unless it be perhaps a “Church of One”—with himself as both infallible pontiff and lone communicant.


Readers of this periodical are also already familiar with Prof. Griffiths’ earlier criticisms of the American “adventure” (his arch word) in Afghanistan, which resulted in the overthrow of the Taliban regime there (oh, and what a catastrophe that was to his hopes for a non-consumerist, abortion-free culture!). So again it comes as no surprise that the authors would sneer, using their collective soi-créant magisterial authority, at church-state separation and gaze longingly on the mirror-image polity in Muslim nations ruled by sharia (Islamic law). Such a topsy-turvy view might make sense inside Professor Hauerwas’ idiosyncratic one-man, one-church ecclesiology; but in Mr. Griffiths, a professor of Catholic Studies, mind you, such a view beggars the imagination, especially in the wake of Dignitatis Humanae, Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, which explicitly forbids Catholics to countenance state coercion of religious belief. Surely the authors have heard of the two million dead (most of them Christian) in Sudan, the grenades lobbed into a church in Pakistan during worship services one Sunday, the riots against Christians in northern Nigeria because of Christian opposition to the imposition of Islamic law there, the bombing of churches in Indonesia, the beheading of a Christian in Saudi Arabia for converting from Islam to Christianity, and on and on. But then again, Gore Vidal recently said that the fate of Iraqis under Saddam Hussein’s Arab-fascist boot was not his concern, so why should the fate of persecuted Christians get in the way of a little America-bashing by these spokesmen for Christian pacifism?


Prof. Elshtain is certainly right that their critique descends into the risible when the authors suggest that the civilized nations send out a posse to arrest Osama bin Laden (with what S.W.A.T. team culled from the Dogberry Constabulary, might one ask—Duke University’s campus security patrol?).


But these two magisterial professors move beyond the risible and into the downright morally grotesque when they invidiously contrast our nation’s First Amendment freedoms, especially the free exercise of religion (which James Madison called “the luster of our country”), over against the fierce persecution of Christians in Muslim countries. So much for solidarity with the suffering members of the Body of Christ.


For examples of authentic criticism, as opposed to their frivolous carping, one could quite legitimately fear that the Bush Administration’s headlong rush into war against Iraq might leave the United States saddled with an American West Bank for the next forty years. One could similarly regard the President’s tax cuts as a foolish indulgence at just the time when the government needs money to defend the country. And one can surely recognize that there is an inner sadness, even despair, that drives our consumerist culture and economy at just the time when it is precisely self-sacrifice that we most need.


But to make those concessions would be to start to draw distinctions—precisely what Jean Bethke Elshtain does so masterfully in Just War Against Terror. I suspect that is the real reason why Messrs. Hauerwas and Griffiths found her book so offensive to their sensibilities: it challenged them to think outside of their comfortable binary world, a world where morality is an algorithm, the Sermon on the Mount a foreign-policy manual, and moral dilemmas are whisked away with a few slurs on a writer and thinker who can recognize a complex moral problem when she sees one.


Edward T. Oakes, S.J.

University of St. Mary of the Lake

Mundelein Seminary

Mundelein, Illinois



One can only regret that in their assault on Jean Bethke Elshtain, Stanley Hauerwas and Paul Griffiths chose to vent their spleens instead of offering a serious and thoughtful pacifist critique of just war arguments about terror. Had one of my students turned in such a poorly reasoned diatribe, I would have pointed out the fallacies and made him rewrite it.


An example will suffice. According to Messrs. Hauerwas and Griffiths, “[W]hen America sees states organized on principles it doesn’t like (this is what Elshtain means by ‘failed states’) it should remake them by force (if necessary) into states organized on principles it does like.” What Elshtain actually says is that when a state is unable or unwilling to undertake the first duty of any state anywhere—to uphold justice—then other states may be justified in intervention. We see then that Hauerwas and Griffiths have translated a claim about justice into a claim about what some people happen to like. So far as I can see, there are only two possible justifications for such translation. The first is to maintain that “I like X” is all that anyone ever means by saying “X is just”—in other words, to debunk justice itself. It is hardly imaginable that Hauerwas and Griffiths would take this line, because they would be hoist with their own petard; their arguments against the justice of Elshtain’s position would reduce to “We dislike Elshtain’s dislike of what we like.” The second possibility is to present evidence that Elshtain is lying—that although there is such a thing as justice, she speaks of it only to mislead. Here the problem is that they have no evidence to present; in its place they offer a series of mind-reading exercises like the one at hand: Elshtain is lying. How do we know she is lying? Because she says A when she means B. But how do we know she means B? Because she is lying.


“Either mendacious or culpably blind,” thunder Hauerwas and Griffiths; “ideology masquerading as dispassionate analysis.” Who is it again that they are shouting about?


J. Budziszewski

Depts. of Government and Philosophy

The University of Texas at Austin



There was a time when Stanley Hauerwas, carrying on the mission and message of his teacher, John Howard Yoder, had to be taken seriously as a Christian moral theologian. The ecclesiology of resident aliens, the narrative ethics of the gospel stories—these were important contributions to Christian moral reflection. One could disagree with the conclusions, but even Hauerwas’ violent pacifism and anti-Americanism could be considered and forgiven, along with his charming Texan profanity, as regrettable, even offensive, but still not overly harmful.


That time is past. With the review essay of Jean Bethke Elshtain’s Just War Against Terror, coauthored with Paul Griffiths, Hauerwas has stepped over the line. It would have been one thing to take on the issues of just war vs. Christian pacifism with this sort of argument: “With Elshtain we agree that world terrorism with its 9/11 declaration of war on the U.S. must be stopped. We also share her passion for the many innocent victims of terrorist regimes such as that of Saddam Hussein. However, since those who live by the sword die by the sword, we believe that Christ calls his disciples to other means by which world terrorism must be stopped and evil regimes such as that of Saddam Hussein must be overthrown. Therefore, much as we share Elshtain’s concerns, we cannot agree with her solution. Here is a better way.” Just this past weekend I had exactly such a conversation with a prominent Anabaptist ethicist. I disagreed, strongly, but I fully respect and honor both the person and the high moral idealism of the stance taken.


Professors Hauerwas and Griffiths do nothing of the sort. In fact they do not even acknowledge the new post-9/11 reality as the context for Elshtain’s book. This results in a grotesque mischaracterization of her position as a mere apology for the Bush Administration’s presumed war mongering and imperialism. This distortion and the denial of the war by terror as something to which the American President must respond if he is to be faithful to his oath of office represents a colossal moral failure on Hauerwas’ and Griffiths’ part. One wants to scream in protest, “Don’t you even care about Saddam’s victims?”


Their review comes off as yet one more exercise of abstract moral equivalence—“Yes, they are bad guys; but we are just as bad”—that has become the common parlance of the anti-American left. This is not innocent; it is not harmless. It has its parallels with the moral equivalency appeasers of fascism and communism in the previous century. The end results are similar. Terror goes unchallenged; human lives are sacrificed on the altar of political ideology and partisanship.


What is so galling about this is that Elshtain painstakingly points out that the reason America is hated by the terrorists who struck the World Trade Center on 9/11 is no secret requiring deft sociology-of-knowledge speculation about elaborate schemes of victimization. They have told us very clearly. Furthermore, for Hauerwas and Griffiths to ignore the careful self-critical discussion in Elshtain’s book on the criteria for American conduct, appealing to the highest moral standards of the nation’s own laws and spiritual resources, is itself scandalously immoral.


In this review, Prof. Hauerwas leaves the community of civil, respectful discourse, not to mention the community of Christian discourse, and becomes a mere mouthpiece of the ideological left, a careless spewer of hateful rhetoric. I for one am terribly saddened; I can no longer take Hauerwas seriously as a responsible moral theologian. He is of course free to hold and express his political views. All I ask, Stanley, is that you please stop invoking the name of Jesus in connection with your political ideology and opinion. To suggest that this is the sort of thing that must characterize Jesus’ counter-polis of peace and shalom in a world of violence and hate is to mock us and mock our Lord.


John Bolt

Professor of Systematic Theology

Calvin Theological Seminary

Grand Rapids, Michigan



I turned with interest and what I hope is an open mind to the “exchange” between Jean Bethke Elshtain and Messrs. Stanley Hauerwas and Paul Griffiths on the subject of Elshtain’s new book, Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World. I simply wanted to read an intelligent analysis of the arguments for or against the current administration’s “war on terrorism.” But quickly, I was put off by the shallow America-bashing and the strident, condescending tone of the Hauerwas/Griffiths piece. Toward the end of their analysis, these gentlemen opine that the work is “not a book whose argument should convince anyone thoughtful.” Thoughtless me, but I must confess I was far more convinced by Ms. Elshtain’s multi-layered, clear, and cogent arguments than by the distressingly clichéd anti-American animus of Messrs. Hauerwas and Griffiths. Although they make some substantive points, their glaring disregard of human rights abuses except those committed in America or by Americans betrays a far greater degree of ideology and bias than anything that Elshtain had to say in her own response. If this exchange is any indication of Elshtain’s grasp of history, her moral clarity, and her sharp logic, I look forward to reading her book.


Leah Lebec

East Hampton, New York



In response to Jean Bethke Elshtain I would like to dispute the viability of her acceptance of John Paul II’s thoughtful contention that “democratic civil society is the political form that best speaks to the dignity of the human person.” While it can be argued that a defensible constitutional democracy should be marked by common respect for rights as a normative goal, numerous public choice scholars have convincingly (I think) demonstrated that democratic civil society has often metamorphosed into a form of majoritarianism that endures as an instrument of plunder. Consistent with that view, numerous liberal theorists have suggested that liberalism (within the context of western democracies) should be seen as a vehicle that constructs people for the benefit of the state, not the state for the benefit of people. It is surely possible that such a society is profoundly inhospitable to human dignity, which respects freedom of conscience and the freedom to manifest unpopular but deeply held beliefs.


I would also dispute Professor Elshtain’s claim that the American story is one in which dissidents use principles embedded in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to fight unjust practices. Doubtless those claims were true of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, et al. But in our postmodern age those principles have become increasingly malleable in the hands of individuals and groups committed to their view of human progress. Such malleability distances us from any consensus on the meaning and content of embedded principles. Moreover, an examination of America’s history reveals numerous examples of resorts to embedded principles as a way of expanding injustice. The asserted separation of church and state, for example, has been used to entrench anti-Catholic and anti-Irish bigotry in an effort to prevent Catholic schools from receiving state funding. Taken together, the historical record and the advent of postmodern hermeneutics inescapably imply that “embedded principles” can constitute grounds for reifying (as well as fighting) unjust practices.


Harry G. Hutchinson

Professor of Law and Director of Graduate Studies

Wayne State University Law School

Detroit, Michigan



It was with dismay and regret that I read Stanley Hauerwas’ and Paul Griffiths’ response to Jean Bethke Elshtain’s book. I see no careful and critical thought in their rather knee-jerk response to the use of justified force. They couch their argument against Elshtain conveniently in “America as empire” terms; but while this tactic contains a smidgeon of truth, it remains just that—a paltry excuse for the failure (unwillingness?) to contend with the history of Christian moral thought. One wishes for more than overblown rhetoric (“this new imperialism”; “nothing more than window-dressing for a passion to impose America upon the world”) to undergird the authors’ radical critique of “Constantinianism.” Their approach fails to engage the width and breadth of the Christian moral tradition. One wishes for a critique of governing authorities that is not merely stuck in apocalyptic analysis. Clearly, for Hauerwas and Griffiths, matters of public policy are not worthy of serious Christian moral critique; they engage instead in a series of snide comments regarding America as empire and Christians who disagree with them as stooges of the current administration.


When the authors complain that in order to assume America’s presumed duty to the world “thirty or so invasions and nation-buildings on the Iraqi model would be immediately required,” they are blowing smoke. The problem is not thirty; rather it is that the “nonviolent” position fails to wrestle with the policy complexities of any one dilemma. Hauerwas and Griffiths cannot link just war principles to any situation in history. For to do so would be to expose the retreatist foundation of their argument: “Let the world do the dirty business of defending its borders and dealing with criminal behavior; meanwhile, let’s build radical Christian communities and be prophetic.”


Further, it is utterly presumptuous—and false—to insinuate, as the authors do, that Paul Ramsey would oppose a war on terrorism. In fact, Ramsey’s position is easy to tease out from his writings. On justifying force, he cites the Good Samaritan as a model of Christian charity by posing the intriguing question: “What if the Good Samaritan were to happen upon the crime itself while it was being committed?” Would nonviolence be the best response? No, argues Ramsey—and here he sides with St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, for whom self-defense was immoral—that it is the very nature of Christian charity to protect the innocent third party by rendering incapacitated the offender, using proportionate means. When the authors suggest that nonviolence is the authentic way of expressing Christian faith, they avoid the ugly truth that nonviolence sometimes may be an immoral response to social evil. There is a “peace” that is immoral. For my part, I would rather be an innocent third party in Elshtain’s world than in that of Hauerwas and Griffiths.


J. Daryl Charles

Visiting Fellow

Baylor University Institute for Faith & Learning

Waco, Texas



With respect to the attack by Stanley Hauwerwas and Paul Griffiths on Jean Bethke Elshtain’s Just War on Terror, I have to say that it is an entirely unfair critique that fails to meet the most essential criteria of hermeneutical charity—the criteria of close reading and fair representation.


Professor Elshtain has ably responded to Hauerwas’ and Griffiths’ specific criticisms, and I would like to reinforce aspects of that response. First, Hauerwas and Griffiths claim with respect to the naturalistic fallacy that Elshtain wants to have her cake and eat it too. They cite, as evidence of Elshtain’s approval of fact/value dichotomy, her claim that “there is no substitute for the facts. If we get our descriptions of events wrong, our analyses and our ethics will be wrong.” While this quote does affirm a relative distinction between fact and value, it certainly does not affirm an absolute distinction. In fact, by claiming a tight correlation between description and evaluation, and the necessity of thinking them through together, Elshtain presents a realist position acknowledging the inevitability of reciprocal influence. Far from being a rhetorical ploy to convince readers of her moral pellucidity, and far from being an underhanded strategy to ascribe to her descriptions more moral gravity than they deserve, such a claim reflects clarity of thought and utmost care in the effort correctly to name things and to provide a basis for reflexive critique of one’s own and others’ false namings.


Second, in their effort to reveal the supposedly ideological masquerade of Elshtain’s thought, Hauerwas and Griffiths claim that “her values are almost entirely in accord with those of the Bush Administration’s National Security Strategy.” This seems to me to verge on libel. In a recent interview in the journal Books & Culture, for instance, Elshtain claims that affirming the justifiability of war in Iraq, according to the criteria of the just war tradition, requires that the actual prosecution of the war and the future activity of the U.S. in Iraq be under constant review. She hints, I believe, at the possibility that there may be significant reasons for critique of the Bush policy as it has actually played out since the formal declaration of the war’s end in May.


Thirdly, Hauerwas and Griffiths write that Elshtain’s views on the burdens of U.S. power amount to a foreign policy in which the U.S. will attempt to make over every other state that is not organized by “principles it doesn’t like” according to “principles it does like.” Again, libel. Elsthain goes to great lengths in this book and elsewhere reasonably to defend the moral superiority of democratic values on the grounds that those values reflect, better than other systems of governance, the dignity and equality of all individuals.


Lastly, Hauerwas and Griffiths charge Elshtain with lack of insight with respect to her use of the just war tradition in critical thinking about the war on terrorism. In fact, in the spirit of Augustine and Aquinas, who devoted their intellectual and spiritual gifts to discerning and articulating the relevance of the life of faith and the Christian tradition within the crush of this-worldly experience, Elshtain has committed her career and person to being a public Christian intellectual. As such, she seems to me to have deliberated honorably and faithfully, more so than many others writing on the contemporary scene, over how the resources of the Christian tradition, and the tradition of just war specifically, can speak to both the horror and promise of our present moment.


Michael Kraftson-Hogue

Chicago, Illinois



One of my favorite aspects of First Things is the thoughtful exploration of ideas and frank exchange of opinion. In “War, Peace & Jean Bethke Elshtain,” Stanley Hauerwas and Paul Griffiths deviate from the normally respectful challenge of others’ views by indulging in character assassination.


As I read their article I was stunned by the multiple occasions of personal attack (“Such a depiction is either mendacious or culpably blind”) in the place of argument.


I also found two other characteristics of this article troubling: first, the assumption that American values are not to be admired but treated as pathologies, and second, that only unthinking readers would be convinced by Elshtain’s book. This reveals more about Hauerwas and Griffiths than about the book they were reviewing.


Mark Pike

Campus Minister

Ball State University

Muncie, Indiana



The Stanley Hauerwas/Paul Griffiths “review” of Jean Bethke Elshtain’s Just War on Terror is one of the most appalling hatchet pieces I have ever read. In particular, the ideological equation of Elshtain and Osama bin Laden is repugnant. Fortunately, Elshtain acquits herself admirably well in her own defense.


All I can say is thank God Hauerwas is a pacifist and not a military officer. His “take no prisoners” recklessness is a lot less dangerous in his ivory tower than it would be on a battlefield.


Bob Morrison

Arlington, Massachusetts





Paul Griffiths replies:



Well, it seems that Stanley Hauerwas and I touched some nerves and provoked some rhetoric whose elevation exceeds even that of our own. Is that a good thing? It’s hard to say. The intensity of the responses shows at least that some (like me) find this issue fundamentally important, which is good. But many of the letter writers were hard pressed to find evidence of thought or argument in our response to Ms. Elshtain; and I too find it difficult to find evidence of either in most of the letters. This shows, no doubt, a failure of communication on both sides, which is not so good. Perhaps I can improve things.


Many of the writers object to the polemical rhetoric of our piece. This is a difficult one. I like pointed, direct, and colorful argument, especially when we’re blessed with an instrument as rich in polemical vocabulary as the English language. But I also acknowledge that many don’t, that sensibilities differ. I am sorry for offense caused to those with tender sensibilities. However, those who use the elevated rhetoric of insult themselves (Edward T. Oakes, John Bolt) seem hardly in a good position to criticize others for using it. Myself, I wish that we could recover the argumentative habits of the eighteenth century and the fourth: Is there any jolt of intellectual pleasure in today’s anodyne public prose to rival that of Gibbon’s footnotes on Augustine in the Decline and Fall or Augustine’s excoriations of Donatists and Pelagians? The issues on which we engaged Ms. Elshtain matter deeply; we should argue about them as though they did.


Some (Mr. Bolt, Ms. Lebec, Father Oakes, et al.) want to know whether we care about those murdered en masse by dictators. I do. As all Christians must. But our first duty as Christians is to mourn and lament such deaths, not to use violence in response to them. It should be obvious that caring for the innocent sufferers of oppression does not by itself entail supporting the use of military force to remove their oppressors. Prudence and careful thought should intervene between the one and the other. My disagreement with Ms. Elshtain was (in part) over whether enough prudence and thought had been exercised. It’s hard to see much acknowledgment of this need for prudence and careful thought in those who accuse us of lacking compassion just because we don’t advocate or support particular military interventions.


Mr. Pike, Fr. Oakes, and others want to know whether I think all American values pathological. No. But I do think pathological the American realities mentioned in the original response: unrestricted abortion; more than one percent of the population in prison; inequalities between rich and poor now rivalling those of the (last) Gilded Age; rampant consumerist individualism; and so on. Is it relevant to pay attention to these pathologies when we’re using military force to export what we are? Yes, without a doubt. It’s surprising that First Things readers, especially, should need reminding of this. Hasn’t this journal devoted much intellectual energy to exploring just these pathologies?


Mr. Kraftson-Hogue doubts that Ms. Elshtain’s commitments with respect to the strategy informing U.S. foreign policy are almost entirely in accord with those of this administration’s National Security Strategy. Well, yes, they are: the example Mr. Kraftson-Hogue cites shows only that there may well be disagreements between the Bush Administration and Ms. Elshtain on points of policy implementation. But, of course, the National Security Strategy is precisely that—a strategy, not a series of recommendations as to particular policies, much less as to the implementations of such policies. It is at the level of strategy that Ms. Elshtain’s views are fundamentally identical with those of the Bush Administration. I ask Mr. Kraftson-Hogue to read The National Security Strategy of the USA (2002) together with Ms. Elshtain’s book, and then to ask himself whether our original claim is correct.


Mr. Charles and others want to know whether we’re interested in serious Christian moral analysis and critique of particular public policy questions. Yes, I am. That’s what I was offering and what I think Ms. Elshtain was not offering. Serious Christian moral analysis requires that the first point of reference be the Church and the first question be, What should the Body of Christ do in this situation? Any other procedure tends toward idolatry of the state, something to which a majority of the letters seem sadly subject.


A number of the letters seem to think that the position Mr. Hauerwas and I argued requires pacifism. But it doesn’t. I am not a pacifist—on this Mr. Hauerwas and I differ. I do not, however, think that I had sufficient reason to judge the ius ad bellum criteria satisfied in the case of Afghanistan or Iraq (for an argument to this effect see my essay in FT, April 2002, an argument that subsequent events and discussion have given me no cause to withdraw or modify). I am far from alone in so thinking.


Mr. Bolt, Fr. Oakes, and others suggest that our piece implies moral equivalence between the United States and the Taliban’s Afghanistan or Hussein’s Iraq. But it doesn’t. The truth is more complicated and interesting. In some respects the U.S. is much better than those states, and in some much worse. And since the two cases differ one from another, the respects in question also differ. To think that there are only two possibilities—moral equivalence or clear U.S. superiority in all significant respects—is, well, lacking in nuance.


Mr. Budziszewski at least offers an argument. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good one. He claims that we misrepresent Ms. Elshtain by transforming her claims about justice into claims about preference. But this is not so. The relevant opposition is between rival understandings of justice (sharia vs. U.S. democratic constitutionalism, let’s say). Ms. Elshtain’s formulation (injustice vs. justice) obscured this, and we put things as we did in order pointedly to reveal the obscurantism. A tad subtle, perhaps, but there it is. To say that a sharia-ordered polity is unjust (“failed”) because it’s not much like a democratic polity qualifies only as exclusion-by-stipulative-definition. Not a very respectable tactic for a philosopher.


Fr. Oakes’ style really has gotten the better of him. I recommend a good dose of George Orwell’s prose and a cold compress for his fevered brow. He thinks I can’t recognize a complex moral problem; I think he’d have trouble telling a hawk from a handsaw even when the desert winds blow around Baghdad. He certainly seems to have forgotten that the Church flourishes under persecution, and that it is, to put it mildly, not obvious that life in the U.S. is better for the Church than life in the Soviet Union, the Taliban’s Afghanistan, or Baathist Iraq.


A point that informs much of this debate is the significance given to the United States. The truth is that America is neither as interesting nor as important as most contributors to the debate seem to think. American Christians would do well to think first about being Christians and only then—a very long way behind—about being Americans. That it seems shockingly sectarian to say so only shows how deeply the fascination of the U.S. has entered into the Christian soul.


I’m grateful to Ms. Elshtain for prompting this discussion, to First Things for permitting it, and to those who have taken the time to write letters for furthering it. I’ve found it instructive, and I’m especially thankful that the editors of First Things find it possible and (I hope) useful to permit such a debate to take place in their pages. Such a thing is rare in these times of hardened positions and sloganeering as a substitute for thought.



Stanley Hauerwas replies:



In Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World, Jean Bethke Elshtain wrote in support of the foreign policy of the Bush Administration after September 11, 2001. Paul Griffiths and I responded in kind; that is, we challenged sharply the assumption that the descriptions constituent of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy should be accepted as a given. Perhaps some of the sentences in our review were “too sharp,” but if they were it’s only because we hold Jean Elshtain in such high regard and we were disappointed that her book did not at least raise some of the fundamental questions we think need to be raised about the justice of the war on terrorism.


For example, Mr. Kraftson-Hogue rightly says that the position of Just War Against Terror is a realist position. But surely there are tensions between just war reflection and political realism. One would have liked to have seen Professor Elshtain explore some of those difficulties. The issue can be put very simply, as Mr. Charles suggests, in terms of Paul Ramsey’s work.


Ramsey tried to save Reinhold Niebuhr’s realism by employing just war reflection (this is the primary project of Ramsey’s The Just War, which has happily just been republished with a foreword by me). It is still an open question whether Ramsey’s project was a success. If, as Ramsey argued, just war is the form charity takes to permit coercion, then Niebuhr’s resort to a lesser of two evils argument to justify war cannot be consistent with just war reflection.


Accordingly, we would have welcomed Prof. Elshtain’s reflections on why she assumes the description “war on terror” is one consistent with a just war logic. Who is the enemy? Under what conditions do they know they can surrender? Why should the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq be understood as a continuation of a war on terror? Those are the kinds of questions we would have liked to have seen Prof. Elshtain explore rather than simply assuming the description “war on terror” makes sense. Those who came to Jean Elshtain’s defense rightly admire her. We also admire her, but we think she’s deeply mistaken in her understanding of how just war reflection should discipline the American war on terror.



Jean Bethke Elshtain replies:



I am more grateful than I can say to those letter writers who recognized the cruel, even slanderous, nature of the Hauerwas/Griffiths collaboration. To say that I was shocked when I received their “review” is to understate the matter. I don’t understand the viciousness of the “pacifist” temperament in practice—at least in this instance. I quite agree that we should all be grateful that neither Griffiths nor Hauerwas are military men if this example is characteristic of their approach to enemies—as I have clearly become by their own reckoning. At least just war lays down rules of restraint. Apparently when one has anointed oneself arbiter of who is and who is not really Christian, no restraint need apply. The Hauerwas/Griffiths collaboration reminds me of nothing so much as the violent ideologies of no restraint characteristic of so many self-styled revolutionary movements historically—the “if you want to make an omelet, you’ve got to break eggs” mode of arguing.


As to the remarks of Harry Hutchinson: I suggest that Professor Hutchinson come down from the high ground of theory to the ground of everyday life. With the number of mass graves uncovered in Iraq now up to 262, it seems rather clear what a state that assaults human dignity in the most violent ways looks like. As a member of the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy, I am regularly horrified at the systematic policies of rape, violence against political and religious opponents, and other egregious actions carried out in so many places on our fragile globe. My many contacts in other societies are perplexed (to put it mildly) by American theorists who condemn American society as lacking in “freedom of conscience and the freedom to manifest unpopular but deeply held beliefs.” What society might this be? Those who came out of the underground movements in Eastern Europe understand. Those who fought apartheid and paid with prison sentences, or worse, understand. Those standing up to policies of rape and the use of child soldiers for capricious killings in Sudan and Congo understand. To depict American society in this way—whatever the “public choice” theorists are writing—is ludicrous. Sometimes it seems as if the freedom to “manifest unpopular but deeply held beliefs” is equated to such beliefs triumphing. But freedom doesn’t work like that. You can manifest your beliefs but you cannot guarantee that others will agree.


On the point of using principles “embedded” in our Declaration and Constitution to spearhead dissent—it was precisely the Frederick Douglasses, Martin Luther Kings, and Elizabeth Cady Stantons I had in mind. I admit that I do not quite understand where Professor Hutchinson is driving with the rest of his comments. That bigots historically have tried to manipulate “embedded principles” in order to justify their bigotry goes without saying. Fortunately, they can be, and have been, opposed by those who point out the ways in which they are distorting such principles. Surely Prof. Hutchinson doesn’t believe we would be better off without those principles. One uses the principles—such as free exercise—against those who push nonestablishment so far that it erodes free exercise. I shudder to think what a fight against unjust practices would look like in the absence of normative principles. Perhaps Prof. Hutchinson believes a “postmodern hermeneutics” that pulls the rug out from under “embedded practices” is a better route for the defense against unjust practices. If so, we should be told what such a politics would look like in practice. I suspect it would be one in which the unpopular ideas, with no principles to repair to in order to prick people’s consciences and remind them of the “better angels of their nature,” were trounced completely, as well as one in which the most ruthless triumphed and in which the still, small voice of reason was silenced altogether.



George Lindbeck Replies to Avery Cardinal Dulles


In reviewing The Church in a Postliberal Age (October 2003), Avery Cardinal Dulles focuses on what he calls the “Lindbeck project”—put forward most fully in The Nature of Doctrine (1984)—taken as a whole rather than on the particularities of the book itself. This is all to the good as far as I am concerned, for I have long been waiting for him to put his comprehensive assessment of the project into print. The review reads like a request for a public response, and for that I am grateful.
Before responding, however, I should mention that James Buckley, the editor of The Church in a Postliberal Age and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of Loyola in Maryland, is in effect a coauthor of the book. He has woven those of my shorter writings he selected out of many into a remarkably unified whole by means of extensive interpretive comments. He did this work without any input from me: I did not even know which writings and organizing themes he had chosen until the page proofs arrived. To my shame, however, I never read them, and thus it is I who am responsible for the editorial failures Cardinal Dulles cites. The most egregious, the failure to correct the consistent omission of fide from sola fide Christi in an article of that title, happened long before Buckley’s watch when I condensed and rewrote an essay which I first published, as a footnote indicates, in a German version (which, not surprisingly, is free of this error). Cardinal Dulles does not blame anyone by name, but it should be made clear that it is I, not Buckley, who am at fault.
Turning now to my reply to Cardinal Dulles, I shall, except for thanking him, bypass the “many aspects of the Lindbeck project” about which he says he is “enthusiastic.”
What Cardinal Dulles criticizes is not so much my cultural-linguistic view of religion as the associated regulative (or “grammatical”) understanding of church doctrines (or “dogmas,” in Roman Catholic usage). He thinks that my stress on their intrasystematically regulative role makes it doubtful that they also function propositionally; or, in more conventional terms, he suggusts that the emphasis I place on truth as coherence with other beliefs obscures the primacy of truth understood as correspondence to objective reality. He concludes that “Lindbeck’s own program concedes too much to postmodern relativism.” This indictment, I shall argue, is a mistake, but as I am in part responsible for the misunderstandings which occasioned it, I shall not blame the Cardinal, but simply seek to clarify the confusions that have led him astray.
As I have already indicated, Cardinal Dulles suggests that the chief reason for what he regards as my relativism is that “for Lindbeck, the truth of Christianity . . . is predominantly intrasystemic.” He then goes on to say, as if this were a consequence, that “[Lindbeck] refrains from saying that God is in Himself triune or that the Son of God is really a divine person.” This apparent implication is, I suspect, stronger than he intends. We know each other well enough so that I do not take him to imply that I have mental reservations about these affirmations when I recite the Nicene Creed on Sunday or defend Chalcedon against its detractors. Rather, the fault with which I am charged, as I interpret it, is that my project either appears or is relativistic despite my intentions to the contrary. Cardinal Dulles writes in reference to my treatment of “the missionary enterprise” that “the rhetoric of Lindbeck, if not his actual thought, seems to undercut” what I want to say. Most of his criticisms seem to reflect a similar doubt as to whether the problem is with my “rhetoric” or with my “actual thought” (i.e., theories), but their cumulative effect leans towards the latter.
Thus, to illustrate, Cardinal Dulles appears to think that I doubt the following: “In agreement with Lindbeck’s editor, I [Dulles] do not see the cultural-linguistic approach as antithetical to the propositional. If we are to worship, speak, and behave as if the Son of God were himself God (as Lindbeck rightly affirms), is it not because the Son really and ontologically is God, whether anyone believes it or not? By inserting the homoousion in the creed, the Council of Nicaea was indeed laying down a linguistic stipulation; but more importantly, it was declaring an objective truth.” Moreover, Cardinal Dulles seems to suspect, though he does not assert, that I neglect the point Polanyi argues against Wittgenstein “that we cannot intelligently debate about linguistic rules unless we are conjointly aware of the subject matter to which the words refer. To substitute grammatical debates for debates about the things meant is to obfuscate the necessary connection between meaningful language and reality.” From this obfuscation it follows, Cardinal Dulles concludes, that “Lindbeck seriously undermines, if he does not dismiss, the propositional truth of dogma.” This he apparently equates with the propositional truth of Christianity. I take this to be the core of the complaint that Lindbeck “concedes too much to postmodern relativism.”
Given the conventions governing book reviews, Cardinal Dulles is precluded from citing chapter and verse in support of this indictment, but I shall try to fill this gap by discussing three difficulties that have led many readers to conclude, as he does, that I undercut “the propositional truth” of the faith. The first difficulty attaches to the self-involving character I attribute to religious truth claims in general and Christian ones in particular. This, to be sure, is not a problem for Cardinal Dulles, though it is for many others, but why this is so needs explanation. He is not among those who find the virus of relativism in my contention in The Nature of Doctrine that a sentence such as “Christ is Lord” becomes a “first-order proposition” capable of “making ontological truth claims only as it is used in the activities of adoration, proclamation, obedience, promise-hearing and promise-keeping which shape individuals and communities into conformity to the mind of Christ.” To deny this contention is to suppose that those whose assent to the truths of the faith is, in Newman’s sense, purely notional and not at all real are nevertheless uttering first-order propositions, truth claims about the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, when they recite the creed. Such a supposition implies, in turn, that propositions are verbal formulae or, perhaps, Platonic ideas rather than, first of all, beliefs, judgments, acts of the intellect, as medieval Aristotelians and many modern thinkers maintain. Cardinal Dulles like myself, if I understand him rightly, is on the side of the medievals supplemented by Newman in reference to the sentence just quoted. If so, however, I find it puzzling that he doubts that I, like him, “do not see the cultural-linguistic [regulative] approach as antithetical to the propositional.” Why does he not take at face value my claim that the version of the regulative approach to doctrine which I utilize is compatible with “the modest cognitivism or propositionalism represented by at least some classical theorists, of whom Aquinas is a good example”?
The answer to this question appears to lie in a second source of difficulties, my rhetorically motivated but also, as time has shown, conceptually confusing tripartite division of truth. Cardinal Dulles is one of many who have been misled, and so I shall here simply summarize a mea culpa and a clarification first published fifteen years ago (see my “Response to Bruce Marshall,” The Thomist 53 [1989] 403-6). I there agree that it is confusing to speak, as I do in The Nature of Doctrine, of three kinds of “truth”: categorical, intrasystematic (coherentist), and ontological (correspondence). This trichotomy can be innocently employed. It does no harm and may be helpful sometimes to speak of two other kinds of “truth,” categorical and intrasystematic, that are necessary in order rightly to affirm the ontological truth of, for example, Christus est Dominus. First, in the absence of appropriate categories and concepts, Christ’s Lordship is misconstrued. That Lordship is unlike any other: it involves, most astonishingly, the suffering servanthood of One who is God. Unless this is in some measure understood, “Christ is Lord” is false: it predicates the wrong Lordship of Jesus Christ. Nor does this proposition correspond to the reality affirmed by faith unless it is also, in the second place, intrasystematically “true,” that is, coheres and is consistent with the whole network of Christian beliefs and practices. In the light of these clarifications, the tripartite division of “truth” implies neither relativism nor lack of objectivity.
Yet even if the trichotomy is in some circumstances harmless or perhaps even helpful, it is also dangerously confusing. Categorical adequacy and intrasystematic coherence are “truth” only equivocally. Properly speaking, they are necessary though not sufficient conditions for truth in the third (but primary) sense of correspondence. My original discussion of the matter refers in passing to the distinction between conditions for truth and truth itself, and is thus technically free of error. But the references are tangential and fail entirely to advert to the related and decisive distinction between the justification of belief (for which categorical and intrasystematic “truth” are conditions) and the truth of belief (which is a matter of correspondence). Because of these deficiencies, it has been easy to suppose that the second, intrasystematic kind of “truth” is an alternative to rather than a condition for propositional or ontological truth. When this happens, readers falsely conclude—with delight in the case of postmodern relativists, but, more to my liking, with sadness in the case of Cardinal Dulles—that “for Lindbeck, the truth of Christianity . . . is predominantly intrasystemic.” A corrected formulation, in contrast, simply notes that special attention to the intrasystematic (and categorical) conditions for affirming ontological truth is inseparable from a cultural-linguistic perspective on a religion such as Christianity. It most emphatically does not imply that the realities which faith affirms and trusts are in the slightest degree intrasystematic. They are not dependent on the performative faith of believers (as if, for example, Christ rose from the dead only in the faith of the Church), but are objectively independent.
The remaining and third difficulty is definitional. To define official church doctrine, as I do, in terms of its intrasystematically regulative functions is to exclude ontologically propositional uses. Thus instead of saying that the Lindbeck project “seriously undermines . . . the [ontologically] propositional truth of dogma,” Cardinal Dulles could have gone further and said that the project by definition entirely strips dogma of such truth. The insertion of “by definition,” however, provides an escape for him as well as for me. He could have added, if he was so inclined, that stripping dogmas of ontological reference by definition relocates rather than abolishes affirmations of the propositional truth of the faith. These affirmations are not to be looked for in the regulative, dogmatic uses of the Nicene Creed, for example, but rather in its more basic use as the Church’s liturgically central and communally and individually self-involving confession of faith. The ontological truth claims of the creedal confession of faith remain existentially foundational and are also chronologically prior to its becoming dogma in 325 and 381.
This makes it possible to agree with the substance of Cardinal Dulles’ statement that “[b]y inserting the homoousion in the creed, the Council of Nicaea was indeed laying down a linguistic stipulation; but more importantly, it was declaring an objective truth.” Formally, however, it would be better to say from a doctrine-as-regulative perspective that the linguistic stipulation protected (not “declared”) objectively true affirmations. This is not an unprecedented suggestion. Newman among others can be invoked in favor of this regulative rather than declaratory role of official doctrine. As I read him, he includes the insertion of the homoousion in the creed among those “exercises of reasoning [which] indeed do but increase and harmonize our notional apprehension of the dogma” but add little to our real assent, “and if they are necessary, as they certainly are, they are necessary not so much for faith as against unbelief.”
One final comment: Cardinal Dulles infers that I am “postmodern” chiefly from my use of Wittgenstein and Geertz. That use, however, was heuristic rather than probative and could be entirely omitted without materially affecting my argument. The influence of John Henry Newman has been considerably greater although I rarely mention him: he is not a favorite among the postmoderns whom I am also, I admit, trying to address. In the secondary literature, furthermore, the legitimacy of my reliance on Thomas Aquinas has been much more discussed than has my relation to any modern, much less postmodern, author. On that point as well as many others I treasure Cardinal Dulles’ opinion, but I hope he will be able to agree that at least “postmodern” and “relativist” can be dropped from his list of criticisms.



Avery Cardinal Dulles replies:



At the end of my review I expressed the hope that George Lindbeck could amend his cultural-linguistic theory to give greater attention to the capacity of religious language to disclose the reality of God. I am gratified to find that in his response he shows a great willingness to move in this direction without forfeiting the strengths of his present position.












Ave Maria


When we were born, our awestruck mother smiled.

God gave her love to give the wondering child.

And later, seeing such a little one,

We feel her endless grace and pass it on.



Robert Greer Cohn




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