It wasn’t the fact that a pope visited Israel that made John Paul II’s visit
to Israel so awe–inspiring—but that this Pope visited
(George Weigel, “Holy
Land Pilgrimage: A Diary,” June/ July). Every comment
made by Pope John Paul II was followed by a political interpretation
on the level of his support for this or that Israeli or
Palestinian political position. The Israeli press can’t
seem to take religion of any sort as anything other than
“politics by other means,” and as the meeting of the three
religious leaders showed, Islam is not yet ready to admit
even the slightest religious seriousness of anything other
As an Orthodox Jew, I was a little worried about the Pope’s potential influence
on the mass of Israeli secular youth. John Paul II’s legendary youth masses,
his intellectual honesty and frail dignity, are things that the mass of our
youth do not witness. These are children to whom religion is represented by
the government–run Chief Rabbinate—a sort of Department of Motor Vehicles with
rabbinic ordination. Although there are many good people working in the Chief
Rabbinate (including the present two Chief Rabbis), essentially their job is
to administer religious services such as marriage ceremonies in much the same
way that the DMV gives driving tests. We have to do it, it’s annoying but not
really painful, and once it’s done (assuming we drive well) we don’t have to
see them again. And of course the fanatically secular press distorts any good
that does come out of this government agency.
Needless to say, Israel’s secular youth are so far from any religious thoughts
or desires that only year–long trips to Tibet or India bring even the slightest
spiritual longings. My fears of mass conversions of Jewish children to Catholicism
were unfounded. I am certainly happy that these teenagers are still somewhat
in the Jewish fold of course, but am just a bit disappointed that no religious
feelings came to the surface.
The Pope’s influence in this country, though, was great. The Israeli press
and the Israeli people didn’t quite know what to make of this man. Here was
a seventy–nine–year–old world leader who quite clearly was giddy with excitement
over his presence at the holy places. Here was a public figure who you saw and
felt was here not only as the leader of the world’s billion or so Catholics,
but as a private man deeply moved and thankful to commune with God on holy ground.
Here was a religious man with the dignity and intellectual seriousness of that
legendary group of Eastern–European born Orthodox rabbis (born of the same generation
and geography as the Pope) who with their mere presence rejuvenated Judaism
Certainly, the Pope’s unscheduled return trip to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
for private prayer was as moving to me as it was confusing to the government
ministers responsible for his trip. That a man should return to pray when he
clearly didn’t “need” to (“need” having only a political meaning) was startling
to these wholly political people.
The most fascinating part of the trip to me was the silence that has reigned
in the Israeli press and political world since he left. No comments on whether
his Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial speech was good enough or not; no mention
at all of his symbolic recognition/nonrecognition of Israeli/Palestinian sovereignty
I take this uncharacteristic Israeli silence as an embarrassed silence. Maybe
in the end they did get it—maybe after witnessing the politicized religious
leadership and amoral political leadership in this country; after following
the immoral leadership of the current American President—the dignity of this
Pope showed that bastion of Israeli atheism that God can be served with seriousness
of purpose and humbleness of person.
In the ultimate irony, Pope John Paul II’s visit to Israel may be the signal
event that ultimately rejuvenates Judaism and Jewish practice in this Jewish
George Weigel’s “Holy Land Pilgrimage: A Diary” is a moving account of what
is undoubtedly one of the most significant papal events of this Jubilee year.
Not only did the author faithfully reflect the intentions and impetus behind
this historic papal visit in the midst of the incessant media chatter, but he
seized the many opportunities provided by that very chatter to transform them
into teaching moments. Very much in imitation of the humble pilgrim he set out
That John Paul II is a communicator par excellence is confirmed by Weigel’s
description of that “week of icons”—those unforgettable images of the Pope in
Bethlehem, at the Dehaishe refugee camp, at Yad Vashem, and at the Western Wall
now indelibly etched in our collective psyches. In an age when public figures
relentlessly exploit photo opportunities, that “week of icons” presented the
world with a different “iconographic atlas” of a land that is at once scarred
The strange argument of Professor Robert P. George (“A
Clash of Orthodoxies: An Exchange,” June/ July) that
secularism “possesses no resources for answering the question
‘Why should I respect the rights of others?’” requires an
answer, because it contradicts thousands of years of worldwide
It cannot be denied that from the dawn of history, before the existence of
any of the world’s religions, humanity discovered and applied the moral principle,
“Do not to others what you would not have others do to you and your loved ones,”
which is the basis of all civilization.
It is called enlightened self–interest, based on human reason and experience.
West New York, New Jersey
Thanks for Robert P. George and the second wave of his assault on secular orthodoxy.
Far from being fallacious, his arguments are cogent, concise, and directed at
the most dangerous ideas of our time. However, he does make a historical mistake
that may be nothing more than that; then again, it may also expose the danger
of privileging natural reason over revelation.
Near the beginning of the article he alludes to the existence of something
he calls “traditional morality” and its “condemnation of abortion, suicide,
infanticide of so–called defective children, and certain other life–taking acts.”
Towards the end, he names a few exponents of this tradition: “The philosophies
of Plato and Aristotle, as well as the thought of the greatest Roman jurists.”
These thinkers, he says, “clearly (though not unmixed with error) affirm the
nature and value of the human person.”
Let us focus first on Plato and his most important text, the Republic.
In it he has Socrates endorse both infanticide and abortion. Of infanticide,
and the eugenic program it is meant to promote, he says: “The children of inferior
parents, or any child of the others that is born defective, they’ll hide in
a secret and unknown place, as is appropriate.” Exposure as the common method
of infanticide in antiquity will be familiar to readers of Oedipus Rex.
Plato’s meaning becomes clearer when he recommends the following course of
action for leaders who have conceived unplanned children: “They should be careful
not to let a single fetus see the light of day, but if one is conceived and
forces its way to the light, they must deal with it in the knowledge that no
nurture is available for it.” When we consider these passages alongside others
just as chilling, and when we remember Plato’s antipathy to the family—something
he hopes to undermine with his program of sexual lotteries—it is difficult to
see what his morality, “traditional” or otherwise, has to do with the noble
arguments of Professor George.
What about Aristotle? He recommends infanticide for the deformed, as well as
abortion for population control. Neither should we forget his infamous theory
of natural slavery: “Any human being that by nature belongs not to himself but
to another is by nature a slave; and a human being belongs to another whenever,
in spite of being a man, he is a piece of property, i.e., a tool.” No one who
considers some humans tools can claim to recognize the nature and value of the
As for the Roman jurists, their attitude toward slavery was contradictory.
Although they sometimes considered slaves humans, more often they treated them
like any other piece of property. When someone killed a slave, for example,
the problem in their eyes was rarely how to react to a moral transgression;
rather, they debated how the slave’s owner should be compensated—in money, just
as if any other piece of his property had been destroyed.
This same attitude toward the human person is also evident in the power of
life and death that they granted the paterfamilias. Most scholars agree that
until the Christianization of the Empire this power permitted fathers to expose
unwanted children. Like Plato and Aristotle before them, therefore, the greatest
Roman jurists seem to have measured the value of dependent persons according
to the value they had for others, rather than the value they had in
Has Prof. George made a merely historical mistake? Before adducing these exponents
of “traditional morality,” he suggests that “Jewish and Christian thinkers find
in revelation the confirmation, but not the root, of their philosophical affirmation
of the nature and value of the human person.” The root of this affirmation,
we are to infer, is the natural reason available to all. Without revelation,
it seems, committed thinkers could affirm the nature and value of the human
person on their own. But if that were true, why didn’t thinkers as committed
as Plato, Aristotle, and the greatest Roman jurists do just that? Why, on the
contrary, do they never mention a right to life—a right possessed by all human
persons, no matter how weak, infirm, or dependent they may be?
Prof. George himself provides the answer. “I’m worried,” he writes, “about
our natural human desire to be free of the moral duties we owe to others—particularly
the weak, the infirm, and the dependent.” This desire tempts us to credit “a
distinction between ‘persons’ and human nonpersons”; but the same desire tempted
Plato to credit his utopian dream, Aristotle the notion of a natural slave,
and the Roman jurists a mercantile understanding of human beings.
Ironically, some of their thoughts, taken to logical extremes, could have produced
a respect for all persons. Aristotle’s natural teleology, for instance, can
be used to accord potentially rational animals the same moral status as actually
rational animals, just as more rigorous thought about the peculiar status of
freedmen in Roman society might have provoked a juridical recognition of the
inconsistency, not to mention injustice, of slavery. We must recognize, however,
that the ancients, for all their wisdom, never took their thoughts to these
extremes; instead they chose other thoughts taken to other extremes—too often
to the degradation of the weak, infirm, and dependent.
Revelation must therefore be more than a “confirmation” of natural reason.
Among other things, it is a remedy against the regrettable temptations of natural
reason and those who exercise it (more often than not the strong, healthy, and
independent). As often as revelation confirms natural reason, then, it must
also guide it. As a result, Jewish and Christian philosophers should consult
reason and revelation together, not as one discovering and the other confirming,
but as both informing one another.
Patrick Lee Miller
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Robert P. George replies:
Mr. Tomasin asserts—indeed, he says it “cannot be denied”—that “from the dawn
of history, before the existence of any of the world’s religions, humanity discovered
and applied the moral principle, ‘Do not to others what you would not have others
do to you and your loved ones,’ which is the basis of all civilization.”
This is ludicrous. True, prophets and holy men in many of the world’s great
civilizations have proposed something like the Golden Rule. Still, “from the
dawn of history” that great and true principle has more often than not been
ignored, disregarded, and even mocked.
More to the point, however, is the fact that from ancient times down to the
present, shrewd calculators have had no difficulty identifying occasions on
which it is plainly in their short–and even long–term self–interest to do things
that violate the rights of others. So the question arises: What, on secularism’s
premises, is the moral reason for people to respect others’ rights when
they could get away with doing otherwise—perhaps even going undetected? Self–interest,
however “enlightened,” is not an answer.
I am grateful to Mr. Miller for his generous praise of my argument. He is concerned,
however, that I make a “historical mistake,” and perhaps something worse, in
giving too much credit to ancient thinkers for important insights into the nature
and value of the human person.
When I said that Jewish and Christian thinkers find the philosophical affirmation
of the nature and value of the human person (though not unmixed with error)
in the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, as well as in the thought of the
greatest Roman jurists, I was not trying to hide or excuse Plato’s apparent
teaching in the Republic about abortion and infanticide or Aristotle’s
erroneous (though also much misunderstood) teaching about “natural slaves.”
Particularly with regard to Plato, however, we should bear in mind John Finnis’
warning against “reading dramatic explorations of the foundations of ethics
as if they were political manifestos or treatises.”
At the same time, we should recognize, as does Finnis, the “incompleteness
of Plato’s appropriation of the implications of his own radical grasp of human
equality in substance and in right.” The same can be said for Aristotle, Musonius
Rufus, and others. Mr. Miller is entirely right to remind us of this incompleteness.
Let us not forget, however, that the ancient thinkers, like all thinkers, were
working in a cultural context. While they were able to overcome some of the
prejudices and moral misunderstandings prevalent in Greek and Roman culture—hence
their greatness—it is hardly surprising that they did not manage to overcome
them all. The point I wish to make is that, where they failed, the injustices
and other evils that they accepted and sometimes even endorsed were inconsistent
with fundamental premises of ethical understanding that they themselves had
identified and brilliantly articulated. It is in these fundamental premises
that contemporary Jewish and Christian teachers find common ground with Plato,
Aristotle, and the Roman jurists—ground they most decidedly do not share with
orthodox secularists, whose thought is rooted in the teachings of Hume, Nietzsche,
Bentham, Marx, etc.
It is worth bearing in mind that Jews and Christians themselves, even with
the profound benefit of biblical revelation, have struggled to overcome misunderstandings
and prejudices that led, for example, even the greatest medieval theologians
to support the death penalty for heresy. And, of course, even as late as the
nineteenth century many orthodox Christians were blinded by prejudice and misunderstanding
from seeing that the Golden Rule pronounced by Jesus himself is simply incompatible
with the practice of slavery. The struggle goes on today with other issues.
Although I did not make the historical mistake Mr. Miller thought he found
in my comment, I must say that I am impressed by his suggestion for conceiving
the proper relation between reason and revelation. Reason and revelation should,
he says, “inform” one another. I think that’s right. Pope John Paul II, in the
opening sentence of his encyclical letter Fides et Ratio (“Faith and
Reason”), captures the thought quite beautifully: “Faith and reason are like
two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” God
has given us both “wings.” Let’s use them.
Michael Novak’s description of capitalism in his article “The
Godlessness that Failed” (June/July) is, in my opinion,
superficial at best.
Mr. Novak asks: When did capitalism, the kind that provoked the anti capitalism
of Marx and others, arise? Mr. Novak suggests that this capitalism was a new
system, involving invention and enterprise, and it “applied imagination
and practical intelligence to creating new goods and services not provided by
earlier systems, agrarian, feudal, and mercantile.”
I would like to suggest that the capitalism that began the process of dehumanization
of economics and society, and led inevitably to anticapitalism, was permitted
and promoted by the imaginative development of a new economic person,
i.e., a fictitious, artificial economic person created by government,
namely, the limited liability corporation.
The modern form of the corporation, according to Britannica Micropaedia,
took form “gradually over the first two–thirds of the nineteenth century in
Great Britain, the United States, France, and Germany with the passage of general
incorporation laws.” This timing coincides with the early stages of the industrial
revolution whose humanitarian abuses inspired the various forms of socialism.
The Britannica continues: “By the final third of the nineteenth century
the last legal obstacles to the corporate form were removed and the ensuing
period (approximately 1870–1910) saw an unprecedented expansion of industrial
production and the concomitant predominance of the corporate form.”
Although governments have intervened from time to time to check their grossest
conduct, these government–created artificial “persons” increasingly dominate
national and international economies.
For the supporters of globalization by multinational corporations, the cry
is for ever–increasing efficiency, as if ultimate efficiency in the production
of information, goods, and services, organized on a worldwide scale, were the
final goal of humanity.
But efficiency is the enemy and exterminator of human values. Even a small
corporation that tries to operate with compassion and responsibility to its
employees and community is seen to be weak and “inefficient” and is an easy
victim for any shark corporation.
Family farms are inefficient; wipe them out! Mom and Pop stores are inefficient;
wipe them out! Japanese rice farmers are inefficient; wipe them out! French
farmers are inefficient; wipe them out! When and if (God forbid!) the multinationals
and globalizers finally achieve their worldwide ultimate efficiency, there won’t
be a human value left.
Yes, Mr. Novak, the Godlessness of communism failed; but Godlessness lives
on in the phenomenal power and success of government–created artificial modern
corporate inhuman “persons.”
I am not anticapitalist. Indeed, the limited liability corporation is useful
and even necessary for the accumulation of capital for large projects. Leaving
aside the consequences of the overwhelming raw impersonal power of multi–multibillion–dollar
enterprises, I suggest you examine the proposition that efficiency is usually
achieved by the sacrifice of human values.
Robert C. McCarthy
Buchanan Dam, Texas
Michael Novak replies:
Efficiency is, to be sure, no alpha or omega. And inefficiency has its charms.
(I recall complaints at Vatican II about how slow and inefficient the Curia
was; when someone asked John XXIII how many people work at the Vatican, he replied,
But in addition to Mr. McCarthy’s own argument in favor of the limited liability
corporation, it is worth some attention that the same laws (or analogous laws)
protect churches, universities, libra ries, museums, and many other limited
And I can’t think of any virtue, even love, that is not subject to abuse, and
each needs to be practiced in due measure and in the right way, at the right
time. Without efficiency, I don’t see how worker productivity—and hence workers’
recompense, and hence universal affluence—would rise and spread its benefits;
or how prices would come down, making higher quality more widely available to
Socialism was not a reaction solely to the alleged abuses of capitalism (these
are usually measured without comparison to those of feudalism or socialism),
but also to liberty, personal responsibility, and modernity. Socialism was
an atavism, a longing to be ruled by authority.
I share James Nuechterlein’s instinctive reaction to mass protests, both past
and present (“The
Politics of the Id,” June/July). But his dismissal of
their positions as mere “hate” is not simply too facile,
it is disturbing and ultimately dangerous. While “mass protest
politics” is indeed dangerous, the evolution of protests
into mass protest politics is not the fault of the protesters.
Rather, the fault lies with our elites, and in particular
with our intellectuals, who allow themselves to become too
closely linked with the vested interests of the times.
The emotional commitment that drives protesters is the necessary fuel that
powers the periodic changes that are required to renew free societies. When
events clearly demonstrate that moral wrongs and ethical lapses are on the increase,
and huge numbers of people fall deeper into poverty while a relative few reap
huge benefits, the production of emotional fuel is guaranteed. Where and how
it will burn is another issue altogether.
Our elites, and conservative intellectuals in particular, have utterly failed
to recognize, much less address, the daunting problems posed by the massive
supranational corporations, foundations, and nongovernmental organizations now
emerging on the world stage. Such entities are of a form and scale never seen
before, and most of the concepts necessary to deal with them will probably take
on a new form, but that is no excuse for hiding behind the status quo.
Do not expect the sources of the requisite emotional fuel behind the protests
to also provide the engine, controls, and mission definition. That is someone
else’s job. And don’t expect it to be easy or safe.
Thomas J. Rath
James Nuechterlein is highly critical of public demonstrations, mass protests,
and “street politics,” particularly as manifested recently in Seattle and Washington,
D.C., where thousands assembled to express opposition to and anger about the
practices of institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO). Such assemblies,
Mr. Nuechterlein feels, are “a form of insanity,” and are “the enemy of democratic
persuasion.” Strong, even fighting words. They certainly evince an aristocratic
disdain for the common people (except, as he allows, when they focus their demonstrative
will on issues such as—surprise!—abortion). But, more importantly, Mr. Nuechterlein
makes claims about the proper modes and methods of democratic debate that deserve
In America, our political culture makes us largely spectators, bystanders,
and television watchers. Even in presidential elections—presumably a supreme
democratic moment—a mere 50 percent of “We the People” vote. How rare and unlikely
it is for most people to come together in public forums to engage in political
speech or action with flesh–and–blood friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens.
Where do the “deliberative democratic politics” that Mr. Nuechterlein speaks
of take place? (One hopes the answer is not television programs such as Capital
Gang or Meet the Press.) Is that deliberation meant to include ordinary
Whatever the weaknesses of demonstrations like those highlighting the dangers
posed by the WTO (and the weaknesses were certainly distorted by media coverage
of the event), the protests represent an important, instructive departure from
the typically passive relationship most of us have with government intended
to be “by, for, and of” ourselves. Real–life, face–to–face involvement in issues
affecting everyone has become so exceptional that we are not even aware of its
absence. The WTO protesters opened a window onto a different sort of relationship
toward what goes on in our world, a relationship where active, personal involvement
and belief in the power to make a difference have not died. Mr. Nuechterlein
tries to close that window, grumbling, “How noisy and uncouth!” What makes him
so sure that “street politics” are inferior to “sitting in front of your TV”
Invoking Al Capp’s S.W.I.N.E. (Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything),
Mr. Nuechterlein takes a swipe at late ’60’s activists. Given the politics of
passivity and our current sense of impotence over influencing events around
us, perhaps it is better to be one of the pigs than one of the C.O.W.S.—Consumerist
Onlookers Watching Silently.
James Nuechterlein replies:
Thomas J. Rath defends radical protests on the grounds that they are concerned
with genuine issues that have not adequately been addressed by intellectuals
and politicians, and that events like the recent riot politics of Seattle and
Washington, D.C., reflect the “emotional commitment” necessary to fuel “the
periodic changes that renew free societies.” But radicals always believe that
the system is inadequately responsive—that’s what defines them as radicals—and
so, by Mr. Rath’s lights, we are (justifiably) doomed to a politics of perpetual
radical protest. I, for one, am glad that’s not the way our politics normally
Gary Shapiro’s bottom line—better S.W.I.N.E. than C.O.W.S.—strikes me as analogous
to telling a teenager who has been spending too much time alone in his room
that he would be better off joining a motorcycle gang. If the alternative to
passivity is what went on in Seattle and Washington, give me passivity every
In “Conservative Confusions”
(May), James Nuechterlein performs a great service by
clarifying the deeper divisions within American conservatism
exposed by John McCain’s brief hour in the sun as a conservative
reformer and viable presidential candidate. But when he
tries to refute McCain’s claim to the mantle of both Theodore
Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, Mr. Nuechterlein loses sight
of the very idea that inspired his article: that conservatives
are on the move—and they are headed toward the political
American political moderates—a category in which I would place Senator McCain—are
made, not born. Moderation is seldom a lifelong calling. Instead it is a seizing
of a moment—sometimes lasting for years and other times only the duration of
a particular political battle—when partisan figures move to the center, either
from the right or the left, in order to achieve a great end.
McCain should have earned a lot of credibility by declaring his admiration
for Theodore Roosevelt. But few Republican voters today care enough about the
history of the early twentieth century to notice the flaws in Mr. Nuechterlein’s
depiction of TR. The Bull Moose platform of 1912 may have been a “sweeping program
of federal regulation and . . . social welfare.” But had TR been elected on
that platform, he would have paid no more attention to it than other Presidents
have to promises made by the conventions that nominated them. The platform was
the price TR paid to fuse together his own constituency of Republicans and urban
reformers with the new intellectuals of the Progressive movement, like Herbert
Croly, who preferred TR’s proven record as a reformer to Woodrow Wilson’s more
TR saw in the passions of 1912 a historic opportunity to moderate Republican
conservatism and progressive radicalism by incorporating both into a single
third–party movement. Likewise, his earlier presidency was a textbook example
of political moderation: defusing a dangerously polarized society by giving
new professional, middle–class elites the chance to effect those specific reforms
in conservation, food and health protection, and labor relations for which strong
public support existed.
McCain’s moderation balanced the same kind of activism on tobacco, campaign
finance, and supply–side fiscal caution against his traditional Republican suspicion
of centralization and economic intervention. The gloss that McCain added to
that improvised, circumstantial, but nonetheless authentic moderation was to
imitate Ronald Reagan’s easy shuffling off of promises to religious conservatives,
although McCain did so not with Reagan’s bonhomie, but with a feistiness authentic
to his own personality.
The McCain and Bill Bradley moderate candidacies of 1999–2000 may both be harbingers
of the future.
Robert M. Calhoon
Professor of History
University of North Carolina, Greensboro
James Nuechterlein replies:
First, about Theodore Roosevelt. Professor Calhoon says flatly that TR, had
he been elected in 1912, would have ignored the left–wing platform on which
he ran. But that platform was simply an extension of the programs Roosevelt
had earlier proposed to Congress in 1907–08, the last two years of his presidency.
The Bull Moose platform represented TR’s own convictions, and was not simply
“the price [he] paid” to cobble together the Progressive movement. The TR of
1912 was no “moderate”—he was, in any reasonable depiction of his political
context, a persuaded man of the left. There is no reason not to suppose he would
have tried to implement the Bull Moose platform.
This suggests the larger problem of Prof. Calhoon’s position: his wonderfully
vague use of “moderate.” A moderate, in Prof. Calhoon’s lexicon, is someone
not too liberal, not too conservative—someone, that is, who does or proposes
things Prof. Calhoon approves of. But a definition that can take in positions
as disparate as those of Theodore Roosevelt, John McCain, and Bill Bradley (and
maybe even Ronald Reagan) is no definition at all.
Charles Colson unfairly deprecates Roe, Casey, and other Supreme
Court privacy rights rulings as taking “the rights of self–government
away from the people” (“Modernist
Impasse, Christian Opportunity,” June/July). Rather,
those rulings expanded liberty and extended protection from
the tyranny of temporary or permanent majorities or pluralities.
Mr. Colson and Evangelicals and Catholics Together may approach social problems
one way, but vast numbers of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and naturalistic
humanists seek alternatives that are ethical, responsible, value–affirming,
Americans for Religious Liberty
Silver Spring, Maryland
After I read Richard John Neuhaus’ “Blaming
Bob Jones” (June/July), I thought a little clarification
of the situation of us Catholics in the South might be in
I think George W. Bush’s people played on the fears of many Baptist and other
Protestant denominations to paint John McCain as a pro–abortion liberal. The
idea that Bush’s appearance at Bob Jones University did not reinforce anti–Catholic
opinion in the South is, in my humble opinion and to use Father Neuhaus’ own
words, “bogus.” While liberal elitism may be the enemy of both Catholics and
evangelicals, I don’t count on that to reinforce our bonds. I live with my family
and practice medicine along the North Carolina–South Carolina border. There
are a lot of good people here, but there is also a lot of anti–Catholicism.
We are considered a cult by many and dubious Christians by a great many others.
This has nothing to do with the theology of justification versus good works.
It stems from long–held prejudices that get reinforced and catered to by visits
to places like Bob Jones University.
Stephen J. Candela, M.D.
Whiteville, North Carolina
I had the same reaction as your Richard John Neuhaus (While
We’re At It, June/July) to Father Regis Scanlon’s attack
in the New Oxford Review on Hans Urs von Balthasar.
As Fr. Neuhaus rightly points out, Balthasar never claims
that Hell is—as an ascertainable, assertible fact—empty
(or for that matter occupied). His sole claim is that the
Church’s liturgy obligates all believers to hope for
(which does not mean the same thing as “expect,” still less
“count on”) universal redemption, a liturgical obligation
grounded in 1 Timothy 2:1–4.
I would add only one point to Fr. Neuhaus’ own nuanced reaction: without a
life spent praying for the salvation of all persons in the next life,
love of enemies is impossible in this life. Notice how St. Paul’s exhortation
to Christians that they love their enemies (Romans 12) comes immediately after
his rapturous paean to God for His wondrous ways: “For God has consigned everyone
over to disobedience that He might have mercy on all” (11:32).
Odd, too, how the advocates of a populated Hell never seem to put themselves
there, as Balthasar occasionally points out (with perhaps a wry smile as he
does so). St. Paul makes close to the same point when he says, again in Romans:
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for
at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself” (2:1).
But the contemporary writer who has best explained this connection of love
of enemies and the possibility (again, not likelihood) of universal redemption
is, for me anyway, not Hans Urs von Balthasar but the French Jewish mystic Simone
Weil, who says in Gravity and Grace: “If someone does me an injury I
must insure this injury not degrade me; and I must do so out of love for him
who inflicts it, so that he may not really have done evil.”
It probably goes without saying that the promptings of our hearts go in just
the opposite direction, as Weil would be the first to acknowledge: “When we
hurt others we are transferring to them the degradation which we bear in ourselves.
That is why we are inclined to hurt people—as a way of deliverance.” This natural
inclination to strike back sets up a conflict in the “foul rag–and–bone shop”
of the heart, one that we all recognize: between what we ought to do (love our
enemies) and what we feel like doing (take our hurts out on others). This conflict,
Weil notes, can be resolved only in the Cross: “The false God changes suffering
into violence. The true God changes violence into suffering.” That lapidary
formulation captures the essence both of Balthasar’s theology . . . and of St.
Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
Edward T. Oakes, S.J.