The Public Square
Ticking Crime Bomb” is a troubling article in the Weekly Standard by hard-nosed Princeton criminologist John J. DiIulio. While crime statistics have dipped recently, demographic and other forces are building for a big explosion in the near future. What to do? The best single answer, says DiIulio, is religion. “Why religion? Two reasons. First a growing body of scientific evidence from a variety of academic disciplines indicates that churches can help cure or curtail many severe socioeconomic ills. For example, a 1986 study by Harvard economist Richard Freeman found that among black urban youth, church attendance was a better predictor of who would escape drugs, crime, and poverty than any other single variable (e.g., income, family structure) and that churchgoing youth were more likely than otherwise comparable youth to behave in socially constructive ways. Likewise, a study by a panel of leading specialists just published by the journal Criminology concluded that, while much work remains to be done, there is substantial empirical evidence that religion serves as an insulator against crime and delinquency.’ And we have long known that many of the most effective substance abuse prevention and treatment programs, both in society and behind bars, are either explicitly religious or quasi-religious in their orientation. Second, religion is the one answer offered time and again by the justice-system veterans, prisoners, and others I’ve consulted. With particular reference to black youth crime, for example, it is an answer proffered in recent books by everyone from liberal Cornel West to neoconservative Glenn Loury, Democrat Jesse Jackson to Republican Alan Keyes.”
DiIulio is a strong proponent of incarceration. He notes that from 1985 to 1991 the number of juveniles in custody increased from 49,000 to nearly 58,000, and he believes that 150,000 will have to be incarcerated in the years just ahead. He is all for getting tough against those whom he calls the “super-predators,” but getting tough is not enough. “Some of these children are now still in diapers, and they can be saved. So let our guiding principle be, Build churches, not jails’”or we will reap the whirlwind of our own moral bankruptcy.”
Affirming religion because of its social utility is, to say the least, theologically problematic. It is, in fact, a kind of blasphemy. Ignoring the social utility of religion, on the other hand, is myopic. The months and years ahead will see increasing public policy interest in enlisting religion in tasks of social reconstruction. There will be the usual altercations about the separation of church and state, but the extreme separationists are now playing defense and have to count on the courts to preserve a part of all they have lost in the political forum. This trend toward a more flexible and generous understanding of the free exercise of religion in public is to be warmly welcomed.
At the same time, it is not too early to caution those who care most of all for the integrity of religion that there are real dangers in becoming entangled with public policy. While government’s affectionate embrace may have its pleasures, we do well to keep in mind the maxim that the Queen’s shilling is followed by the Queen’s command. Or, as one pundit put it, “the shekels come with shackles.” One way to avoid the government regulation and control that can stifle the very dynamics that enable religious institutions to do so many things so well is to make sure that the shekels go not to the institution but to the people who choose the services of the institution. For example, education vouchers to parents who can then redeem them at the school of their choice.
“Build churches, not jails” is a fine idea. Government can help that to happen. Not by getting into the church-building business, but by: 1) getting out of the way and letting churches do what they do best, and 2) providing vouchers, tax credits, and other measures that enable people to meet their needs in the way they think best. In education, health care, housing, and other needs, almost everybody almost all the time knows what is best for them and their children. And those who don’t, except in the case of criminal behavior, have the right to be wrong. We do not need the government to build churches. We do need a government that makes it easier for people to build their lives with the help of the institutions that command their trust. When that happens, both religion and the public good will be better served than either is at present.
Few people have written so imaginatively about the relationship between law and religion as Harold J. Berman, for many years at Harvard and now at Emory. His little book The Interaction of Law and Religion (1973) had a strong bearing on my own thinking about these questions, and since then he has produced important tomes on law, revolution, reason, and morality in various cultures. When Harold Berman speaks, it pays to listen.
DePaul Law Review has published the annual lecture of the Center for Church/State Studies in which Berman addresses “Law and Logos.” This is an ambitious effort”some would say too ambitious”to set forth a “Christian jurisprudence” that encompasses a trinitarian understanding of human nature and law, offering a legal basis for the emerging global community. This is heady stuff. Talk about global community triggers in some hearts fibrillations of utopian excitement, and from others it evokes dismissive grumblings about globaloney. Berman goes so far as to identify with the twelfth-century enthusiast Abbot Joachim of Fiore in anticipating a coming “age of the Holy Spirit,” and takes more seriously than some of us are able to the “Declaration of a Global Ethic” that was drafted by Hans Kung for the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions.
As utopian fevers rise with the approaching Third Millennium, anyone thinking about providentially guided historical dispensations should be inoculated by the reading of Norman Cohn’s splendid The Pursuit of the Millennium (1970). Immunity to millennial fanaticism, however, does not require that one deny the ways in which something quite new is happening to bring the entire world into more intense and complicated interaction. In communications, economics, and interreligious relations, there are hints of an emerging something that might be called a global society, perhaps”stretching the point somewhat”a global community. The undisciplined excitements of a Hans Kung and the ludicrous pretensions of the Parliament of the World’s Religions should not blind us to the fact that world-historical change does happen, and that such change may be part of God’s unfolding purposes in time.
In this context, Berman’s “Law and Logos” is a suggestive contribution. The three main schools of jurisprudence (positivist, natural law, and historical) must, he says, be reintegrated in the world that is emerging, and that requires a shared set of assumptions and aspirations that can only be described as religious. A similar intuition, it might be noted, informs John Paul II’s cautious but persistent efforts to create a new conversation among world religions. Both caution and persistence are required if reflection on these questions is to be prevented from launching itself into the stratosphere of never-never-land futurism. In thinking about the common human future, Berman seems to suggest that we must make a decision between the particular and the universal, whereas I would argue that it is through the particular”more specifically, through Christian truth claims”that we more surely understand the universal.
Berman writes: “Blood and soil still command far greater loyalty than our shared transnational economic, political, and cultural interests as well as our shared transnational religious convictions. We must make a decision in our minds and hearts concerning these historical alternatives. It is not simply a matter of what we prefer. It is a matter, first, of what is historically destined, what corresponds to the purposes for which human life was, and continues to be, created on this planet.” We would do well to brace ourselves for much more talk along these lines in the years ahead, and we can be sure that most of it will not be so temperate as Harold Berman’s argument. There undoubtedly is a decision to be made. But the decision we are called to make, I expect, is not between the particular and the universal but whether these are in fact the “historical alternatives.” Huge questions, these. Those interested in their further exploration might find it worth a trip to the library for Harold J. Berman’s “Law and Logos.”
In a wide-ranging interview in Ireland’s Sunday Business Post , Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), is pressed on the question of women’s ordination. After all is said and done, doesn’t it make women second-class citizens in the Church? asks reporter David Quinn. It is a great error, responds Ratzinger, “to think priests are first among Christians and everyone else is second class.” If we must speak of status, it is determined by holiness, and the great majority of the saints are lay people. Moreover, in the New Testament “you can see that for the Lord priestly service entails being in the last place, not the first. This is the opposite of power and privilege.”
Ratzinger allows that the reasons why the Church is not authorized to ordain are not self-evident, but it is finally a matter of obedience. “It must be pointed out first of all that we are not building Christianity out of our own ideas. The Church is given out of the will of God, and the will of God is in turn a gift to the Church and it determines our will. We must be in communion with the will of the Lord. Decisions of the Lord can at first seem inexplicable to us. We must follow his way before we can begin to understand. The Pope is obliged to obey the Lord’s will. The Lord’s will is visible in the New Testament and in the tradition of the Christian life and he has shown that men and women have different gifts which are shown in different ways but are equal in dignity. We have to reflect more on why the Lord decided so, but we cannot simply treat the Church as a sociological construct and change it according to our will.”
Quinn asks if it is possible that someday this decision could be reversed, to which Ratzinger responds, “It is impossible because it is part of the deposit of faith.” But maybe a different pope will view the matter differently? Ratzinger says, “There are certain things the pope cannot do if he is to be obedient to the will of God, and this includes allowing the ordination of women. The Church’s magisterium [teaching office] is not like a government which can overturn the decisions of its predecessors.” But in the making of such decisions shouldn’t the Church be more open and democratic? “I think,” says Ratzinger “we must reflect more on what democracy in the exercise of authority would mean. Is truth determined by a majority vote, only for a new truth’ to be discovered’ by a new majority tomorrow? In the fields of science or medicine such a method of arriving at the truth would not be taken seriously. A democratic magisterium in that sense would be a false magisterium.”
Quinn wonders whether Ratzinger and this pope are not trying to impose uniformity on the Church. Not uniformity but unity, says Ratzinger. “It is very important to distinguish between the two.” Unity is not just a vague ideal but must be based in the truth, “and that truth cannot be relativized. It has an objective content and it is one of the tasks of the Church to teach what that content is.” Then, with an eye toward some Catholic ecumenists, “It is odd that sometimes those who search most ardently for unity with other churches overlook the need for unity within their own church.”
While some depict him as the hard-nosed Panzerkardinal , Ratzinger is a very gentle man, almost infinitely patient in engaging opposing arguments. Key to his thinking is the connection between understanding and faith as obedience. “We must follow his way before we can begin to understand.” Overlooked in many discussions of women’s ordination is the fact that the Catholic position is one of self-limiting modesty. There may be good reasons for ordaining women, we may earnestly want to ordain women, but the position is that the Church is not authorized by her Lord to do so. A close associate of the Cardinal’s put it to me this way: “Even if one takes the position that we don’t know whether or not the Church is authorized, it means there is uncertainty. Does anyone really believe that the Church can or should ordain in doubt?”
Addressing the question in the London Tablet , Fr. Avery Dulles takes a similar tack: “As a final consideration favoring the Pope and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, one might consider where the burden of proof must lie. To me it seems clear that the presumption must be on the side of tradition. Even if it were shown to be probable that the whole tradition had erred, that probability would not clear the way to ordaining women, for the sacrament of holy orders could not be properly conferred unless its validity were certain. In view of the arguments given, I do not see how one could obtain certitude that women could be validly ordained to the priesthood.”
Dulles notes that John Paul II has many times, and most recently on September 3, 1995, emphasized that the Church’s inability to ordain women is entirely separate from the Church’s strong affirmation of the equal dignity of women. Dulles comments: “He called for the full involvement of women in the various areas of the Church’s life, including theological teaching, liturgical ministry, and pastoral care except in those tasks that belong properly to the priest.’ To accomplish this integration while reserving the priestly and episcopal office to men is one of the major tasks confronting the Catholic Church in the coming generations.”
The Martin Luther King, Jr., Plagiarism Story , edited by Theodore Pappas, has been published by the Rockford Institute (Rockford, IL, $10), and has renewed, here and there, the discussion of the gap between Dr. King’s public and personal lives. In these pages, I have frequently referred to Dr. King in admiring tones, and just as frequently we get letters asking whether I don’t know this or that about his personal life. Yes, I know. I was not an intimate of Dr. King’s but I knew him fairly well, and I still admire him, with an admiration marked by deep ambivalence.
There is now no dispute about the fact that Dr. King plagiarized much of his doctoral dissertation at Boston University. And, for all the overheated language of his little book, Pappas establishes that much of the prestige media tried to hide or belittle King’s wrongdoing, while some academics tried to disguise plagiarism by reference to “creative borrowing” and similar euphemisms. In addition to his plagiarism, which was not limited to the doctorate, it has been public knowledge for a long time that Dr. King was something of a philanderer. Does this mean he was not a great man? In his splendid book, The Southern Front , Eugene Genovese speaks of King as a “constructive historical figure” and adds, “Great men, more often than not, commit great sins.” There is a measure of truth in that, but historical greatness does not excuse grave sin, as I expect Genovese would agree.
I have read all the major books on Dr. King and the movement that he led, and the best, in my judgment, is the late Ralph Abernathy’s When the Walls Came Tumbling Down . The book was savaged by reviewers and soon went out of print, because it sometimes showed King in a unflattering light and, perhaps more important, because it made clear the utterly bourgeois intentions of the original civil rights movement. But Abernathy knew Dr. King better than anyone, and his account rings true.
The greatness of Dr. King was in his articulating with unparalleled public effectiveness the truth that the only American future that is socially sustainable and morally acceptable is a future of “black and white together.” And the truth that people should be judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” That his own character was deeply flawed is a judgment that cannot be denied. But he was a friend, a leader of genius, and one of the most impressive human beings I have known. He has now faced a judgment infinitely more important than ours, and I pray it is a judgment of mercy. Meanwhile, his name is rightly held in public honor, not as a model of Christian sanctity but as a representative of the belief that “the American dilemma” of black–white relations is not beyond hope. In the face of mounting separatisms and counsels of despair, both black and white, that is a belief to be carefully cherished.
In June of 1994, the American Medical Association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs issued an opinion that permitted the “harvesting” of organs for transplant from living infants with anencephaly (see Gilbert Meilaender, “Second Thoughts About Body Parts,” page 32 in this issue). The idea, and the practice, is that doctors and hospitals would target anencephalic babies; not waiting for the infants to die, but killing them by a timetable that permits snatching the functioning organs from their still live bodies. (Or does “body snatching” apply only to the dead?) Worse, if there is a worse, the Council’s opinion seemed to endorse a “higher brain function” criterion for determining candidates for organ harvest, thereby opening the door to the medically sanctioned, time-tabled killing of whole classes of patients: coma victims, those with severe mental disabilities, and a good many of the dying whose organs may be in demand.
After three requests from the AMA’s House of Delegates for reconsideration, the Council at last reversed its opinion in December of 1995. The driving motive may have been fear of something like an insurrection in the AMA. Although they were defeated, two proposals to limit the Council’s power”one from the Young Physicians Section and another from the Utah delegation”reached the floor of the House of Delegates. The Council, however, gave scientific reasons for its reversal: imperfect diagnostic tools for the determination of anencephaly and lack of proof that anencephalic babies lack consciousness.
Any defeat of the forces bent on turning doctors into active killers is to be applauded, as is any affirmation of care for patients put at risk by the flaccidity of current medical ethics. The cited reasons for the Council’s reversal, however, leave untouched, and may reinforce, the disturbing notion that medically determined “higher brain function” is the right definition of human death. The pressures and temptations to “harvest” the organs of still-living patients are powerful, and it is widely agreed that effective regulation is almost impossible under that definition of death.
Chicago’s Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, addressing the AMA House of Delegates at the same December session in which the Council reversed its stand on anencephalic infants, reminded the AMA members that medicine is a vocation. Some doctors “have succumbed to the siren songs of scientific triumph, financial success, and political power,” and have thus allowed medicine to grow “increasingly mechanistic, commercial, and soulless.” To “renew their covenants” doctors need to remember that they have “moral obligations” far beyond their legal or contractual ones.
The AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs knows that one point of medical ethics is the protection of patients from the activities of unethical doctors. What apparently is not fully understood is that the protection of patients requires the protection of doctors against those who would make them agents of death. Every doctor faces hard cases and, in consultation with families and others concerned, knows that there is a time when dying must be allowed to take its course. There is a very big difference between such cases and the killing of a living patient, even though some ethicists seem eager to fudge the difference. The Ramsey Colloquium (FT, February 1992) got it right in setting out the imperative “always to care, never to kill.” That is no less true when caring means simply alleviating pain and being with, waiting with, the dying. When there are organs that are in demand the thought arises, almost inevitably, that the dying might yet do some good by dying a little sooner. The AMA reversed the decision that doctors should act on that thought in one limited case, but it is by no means evident that the AMA has recognized the evil of the thought itself. Medical ethics is about protecting patients by controlling unethical practices, but the understanding of what is ethical is dangerously pliable unless it is understood that the constituting mandate of medicine is always to care, never to kill.
“How and Why the Catholic Church Engages the Body Politic.” That’s the title of a detailed address delivered at Colorado College last fall by Mark Chopko, general counsel to the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC). Published in the December 7, 1995 issue of Origins , the address invites a careful reading, and not only by Catholics. Mr. Chopko is a gifted lawyer, but he is a lawyer, and it is therefore not surprising that his reflection is marked by an intense concern”one might almost say obsession”with protecting the Church’s tax exemption. This requires, in his view, the repeated assertion that the political positions of the USCC can in no way be called partisan. “The fact of the matter is,” he says, “because of the diversity of the Church’s agenda, it becomes increasingly difficult for people to categorize Catholics. What the bishops offer is a set of values and principles as well as broad experience in dealing with those in need. In brief summary, what the Church affirms and promotes is human rights, and it denounces and condemns violations of those rights.”
“The fact of the matter” is by no means so evident. So many commentators have pointed out that the “diversity” of USCC positions is overwhelmingly on the side of the Democratic Party that one risks being tedious in mentioning it again. And it should be noted that this “fact of the matter” is highlighted chiefly not by conservative critics but by liberals who consistently praise the bishops for their opposition to the Republican insurgency. Note also in Mr. Chopko’s statement the swift move from the positions embraced by “Catholics” to the positions defined by what “the bishops offer.” On a great host of disputed questions in the political arena, it is suggested that Catholics take their cue from the bishops. Survey research and voting analyses show that this is contrary to “the fact of the matter.” But the question is whether the Catholic laity should march in political lockstep with the bishops. It requires a high order of old-fashioned clericalism to answer in the affirmative.
Mr. Chopko’s exposition is enlightening on several scores, but there is a deep incoherence at the heart of it. On the one hand, we are told that the bishops have a distinctive vision of the just and humane society, while on the other we are told that it is a good thing that “it becomes increasingly difficult for people to categorize Catholics.” If the bishops are effectively communicating their distinctive vision should it not result in Catholics being distinctive? Now “the fact of the matter” is that the bishops are not effectively communicating their vision, and the further “fact of the matter” is that that vision is hardly distinctive, being, with a few very important exceptions, the conventional wisdom on the Democratic left. Mr. Chopko suggests that “the diversity of the Church’s agenda” has the happy result of Catholics being pretty much like everybody else. That, one might protest, is a very high price to pay for protecting the Church’s tax exemption. Happily or otherwise, relatively few Catholics, and relatively few Americans, embrace the USCC position of being liberal Democrats on everything except abortion, euthanasia, and school choice. One might conclude that tax exemption is effectively protected by the ineffectiveness of the bishops in promoting “the diversity of the Church’s agenda.”
On the distinctiveness of the bishops’ agenda, there is another illuminating passage in Mr. Chopko’s address. He says that the agenda “highlights” sixteen issues. “I list them, as the statement does, alphabetically: abortion; arms control, arms trade, and disarmament; capital punishment; communications; discrimination and racism; economy; education; environmental justice; euthanasia; families and children; food and agriculture; health, AIDS, and substance abuse; housing; human rights; immigration; international affairs and the United Nations; refugees; regional concerns: Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia; violence; welfare reform.”
That’s a long list, and under each of the sixteen “highlighted” issues (actually, we count twenty on his list) are numerous policy specifics. A careful reading of the bishops’ 1996 statement on “Political Responsibility” comes up with a count of more than fifty policy specifics on which the bishops take a position. The bishops have repeatedly said that abortion is their number one priority, and it does appear first on the list”but only, as Mr. Chopko notes, because it comes first alphabetically. If abortion were designated as “unborn children” or “protecting the unborn” or “respect life,” it would presumably be way down on the list. Of course, what Mr. Chopko calls the bishops’ “values and principles as well as broad experience” can be extended to taking a position on almost everything under the political sun. But does anyone believe”do the bishops believe”that they have competence or a distinctively Catholic contribution to make on these many disputed questions? On farm support? On the UN budget? On organizing cyberspace? On government housing programs? On the effectiveness of welfare experiments? And on and on and on.
The vaunted “diversity of the Church’s agenda” lends a measure of moral support for a beleaguered liberalism in the political arena, and the inclusion of a few issues that offend liberal sensibilities may effectively confound IRS definitions of partisanship. The end result, however, is not a vision of leadership but a catalogue of liberal Democratic prejudices joined to what other liberals view as a few Catholic moral hang-ups. In addition to the tragedy of undermining the credibility of the bishops, this political agenda is profoundly discouraging to those Catholics who believe that some questions, such as abortion, deserve more than a merely alphabetical priority. “How and Why the Catholic Church Engages the Body Politic” is a very important subject. Now that their lawyer has addressed it from the angle of preserving liberal respectability and protecting tax exemption, one hopes that bishops will take up the task of addressing that subject in the light of Catholic doctrine. If or when they do so, they will find ample sources to draw upon in the social teaching of John Paul II, which, in starkest contrast to the statements of the USCC, is more interested in the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith than in the next election.
“The intellect of man is forced to choose,” claimed William Butler Yeats, “perfection of the life, or of the work.” The Canadian novelist Robertson Davies (who died on December 2, 1995, at the age of eighty-two) did a great deal of very fine work. But if he had ever been forced to choose between Yeats’ stern alternatives, he would have decided without hesitation for life: a rollicking life, a boisterous life, a life, one might say, that strove always to be larger than life.
Davies was in fact an eccentric of the kind we don’t see much anymore” primarily, I think, because it takes so much real effort to create a genuine character with which to face the world. Most of us seem unwilling nowadays to pay either ourselves or the world the courtesy of that much exertion. Of his undergraduate strolls around Oxford adorned with a walking stick, broad-brimmed hat, and monocle, a 1937 student magazine declared, “Unless someone pretty desperate comes along, Robertson Davies looks like being the last of the real undergraduate figures.’“ From the beginning to the end of his long, enjoyable life, he never ceased to be a figure.
Without the work to back it up, however, there is something a little false, a little prissy, about eccentric character. Davies was certainly a character. But he could afford to be, for he was a worker as well. In 1990, he delivered for the Institute on Religion and Public Life our annual Erasmus Lecture (published as “Literature and Moral Purpose” in FT, November 1990). It was a typical Davies performance: a literary stroll so charming that the listeners hardly noticed the extent to which they had been brought around to share the lecturer’s sensibility. Davies had real learning”his first work was a significant study of boy actors in Shakespeare”and he had the charm and skill to wear his learning well.
It is on his novels that Davies’ reputation ultimately rests, though novel writing was for him almost an afterthought following his earlier careers in journalism and the theater. After a successful undergraduate career in Oxford’s dramatic society, Davies worked as a stage manager at London’s Old Vic theater before returning to Canada. Working for a newspaper in Ontario, he created and popularized the social commentator “Samuel Marchbanks,” a distinctly Canadian curmudgeon. (Davies was also an inveterate practical joker: he once wrote a hilarious piece for a Canadian magazine accusing himself of plagiarizing from Marchbanks.) Though successful in journalism, he never found quite the success he sought in the theater, and in 1951 he turned an idea for an unproduced play about an amateur production of Shakespeare’s Tempest into Tempest-Tost , his first novel. The rest, as they say, is history. Eleven novels followed, at least three of which made him a perpetual candidate for the Nobel Prize: the Dickensian Leaven of Malice , the Jungian Fifth Business , and the Rabelaisian The Rebel Angels .
Whether or not he actually deserved the Nobel Prize is a question I leave for other heads to ponder. In his later years, as the head of Massey College, a graduate school at the University of Toronto, Davies found the ideal reward for his lifetime of work in Canadian letters and the ideal setting for his large character. The thought that there will be for us no more of his novels”with their high Anglican squabbles (Davies was received into the Church of England in the late 1930s), their deep knowledge of human foibles, and their real love for humankind”is a sad one. So, too, is the thought that there will be for us no more of his jokes, his charm, and his style. Our loss is the angels’ gain.
A lot of you”and I mean a lot”have still not sent us names of family members, friends, and associates who should be FT subscribers. We will check the names against our subscriber list, just in case some are closet subscribers who have not let on to you that they go in for such high-class reading. To the rest we will send a letter saying that you suggested we get in touch and offering them a free sample issue. Think of how grateful they will be to you.
So how come, a seminarian wants to know, there is no mention of poetry in my discussion of preaching in Freedom for Ministry , especially since I frequently employ poetry to homiletical ends. A good question to which I have no good answer. But I’ve tried to make amends; for instance, in these pages by warmly recommending Chapters Into Verse , the two volumes, one on the Old Testament and one on the New, edited by Robert Atwan and Laurance Wieder, and published by Oxford. It is a collection demonstrating that the dearth of good religious poetry is a recent and, one may hope, temporary thing. The presence of poetry in the sermon points to the excitement of language that is compact, concise, and crafted to say just this and not that. Of course, the words of the homily surrounding it may suffer by comparison, but I think they more often benefit from a borrowed excellence. This is brought to mind by a seminarian’s question, and by the coming Pasch that celebrates Israel’s salvation that issued in resurrection light to the gentiles, and by brousing in the works of the eccentric, maybe mad, Ezra Pound who in the “Ballad of the Goodly Fere” has Simon the Zealot reflecting on his mate who was and ever is. I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men On the hills o’ Galilee, They whined as he walked out calm between, Wi’ his eyes like the grey o’ the sea, Like the sea that brooks no voyaging With the winds unleashed and free, Like the sea that he cowed at Genseret Wi’ twey words spoke’ suddently. A master of men was the Goodly Fere, A mate of the wind and sea, If they think they ha’ slain our Goodly Fere They are fools eternally. I ha’ seen him eat o’ the honey-comb Sin’ they nailed him to the tree.
In Kenosha County, Wisconsin, they are clearly defining obscenity down. District Attorney Robert Jambois has been trying to hard to get a conviction against stores selling really dirty videos, but in case after case he is foiled by jurors who apparently take pornography in stride. On one jury, Nancy Rains and another woman were the only ones who had not visited an adult (read adolescent) video store. An elderly woman, Ms. Rains said: “I did think the video was too long and I can’t believe they had us watch it for so long. But they had to prove the video met all the criteria of obscenity and I don’t think they did. At the beginning of the video I was very embarrassed. There were some scenes that were pretty sad . . . like two men on one girl. But we all thought that for the video to be abnormal and obscene it had to involve kids or animals.” Thus spake Middle America. The notoriously correct Milwaukee Journal Sentinal is not happy with the acquittals but certainly does not want to be perceived as supporting censorship. Feminism is something else. The editors write, “Among the Academy Award-winning scenes was one showing men urinating on a woman. It was a stupid’ movie, said one juror, adding that some of his fellow jurors could hardly keep themselves from laughing. Perhaps those individuals would like to change places with the woman.” But what if the woman enjoys that sort of thing, and is paid the minimum wage to boot? DA Jambois is determined to go ahead with further prosecutions, despite the apparent unavailability of jurors who do not patronize porn shops. “I was quite astonished,” said Jambois, “because certainly two-thirds or three-fourths of the people I know haven’t gone out and watched these videos. Not that I know of anyway.” Now that Times Square is being cleaned up, might Kenosha be next?
At the Washington Dulles Airport Hilton Hotel, the National Fatherhood Initiative will hold a summit on religious communities and the advancement of pro-family change on Friday, May 17. For information call Jeffrey Trimbath at (717) 581-8860.
I used to go to a lot of movies. I don’t anymore. We even thought of running movie criticism in FT, but that didn’t work out, not least because the long production time of a monthly makes it difficult to stay even within hailing distance of au courant. But for some reason, I don’t know why, I went to see Ian McKellen’s Richard III . I should have stood in bed, as we used to say in Brooklyn. The movie sets the play among British royals and nobility in the Hitler-haunted 1930s. Let Terrence Rafferty of the New Yorker take it from here: “The Fascist regalia seems oddly beside the point. The notion that Richard is a vicious thug certainly isn’t a fresh insight, and the swanky costumes and decor ultimately create more distractions than revelations: for most of the movie, you can’t help wondering whether this Richard, in his battlefield death scene, will have to cry out, My kingdom for a jeep!’ (He doesn’t, but the scene is plenty silly nonetheless.) The obtrusive ingenuity of the theatrical concept gives the whole spectacle a preening, self-infatuated quality”an inexpressive veneer of chic.” Rafferty goes on in this vein, concluding with this: “The new Richard III is as unnaturally proportioned as its hunchbacked central character, who, by his own description, is: Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time / Into this breathing world, scarce half made up, / And that so lamely and unfashionable / That dogs bark at me as I halt by them.’ This movie is so misshapen it could make basenjis howl.” I didn’t howl, but what I found so very disagreeable was the way, from the opening monologue to his violent death accompanied by Al Jolson’s “I’m Sitting on Top of the World,” Ian McKellen wants the audience to know that he despises this silly little melodrama by that Shakespeare fellow. Without the slightest evidence of any warrant, Mr. McKellen presents himself as so very superior to this vehicle in which he has deigned to exhibit his theatrical talents. But enough on that. I am going to try to see Sense and Sensibility . The most sensible people are raving about it. Who would have thought it, suddenly Jane Austen is popping up everywhere. Yes, I know, Miss Austen would never dream of popping up anywhere. But the revival of her work is a heartening thing. Manners, character, virtue, who knows what’s next? Michael Medved, call your office.
During the latter years of the Cold War, an invaluable institution was Keston Institute, founded and still directed by Anglican priest Michael Bourdeaux. Keston assiduously kept track of religious persecution, and religious collaboration, under the evil empire, and was stalwart in the defense of religious and political prisoners. In a recent issue of the Tablet , Canon Bourdeaux writes, “It is time, I believe, for the churches themselves to conduct a major self-examination of their role in relation to the churches of the former Soviet bloc. The World Council of Churches promised to do this, but did not follow through with it. Among those involved should be the former British Council of Churches, the Baptist Union, the Collegium Russicum in Rome, and dozens of others. These are pages of twentieth-century church history which must one day be written.” Exactly. And when that self-examination gets underway, we have handy a little list of institutions in the U.S. that warrant most particular scrutiny. The purpose is not recrimination but the honesty, and maybe repentance, that is prelude to renewal. It is admittedly a hard truth, but no matter how delicately put, it is the truth that on the two monumental moral challenges of our time the church-and-society curia of the mainline/oldline churches were on the wrong side. The case of abortion is obvious. As for the evil empire, these churches did not cheer on the Soviet Union but they did belittle its evil, they did consistently oppose almost every political and military measure to resist it, and they did cheer on its extension in Cuba, Nicaragua, Angola, and elsewhere. A generation or two from now, God willing, there will be as much moral clarity about abortion as there is today about slavery, and the mass terror and killing that was at the heart of communism will no longer be in dispute. Then, one hopes, the painful history of the moral default of the oldline churches will have been internalized, serving as a cautionary tale for ages to come.
Ronald Reagan appointed Jack Matlock ambassador to the Soviet Union, and he served until 1991. Reviewers are heaping praise on his book Autopsy on an Empire (Random House), an account of the collapse of the USSR. The Right Venerable George F. Kennan of the Princeton Institute for Higher Obfuscation joins in the praise in a very long commentary in the New York Review of Books . Two things are very odd about his review. There is not a hint of the fact that Kennan opposed as reckless and counterproductive every Reagan measure that Matlock says contributed to the triumph over communism. Second, in all of Kennan’s rambling about the factors that brought about that happy consummation, there is not one mention of John Paul II and the Polish struggle that almost every scholar recognizes as the beginning of the end. Fifty years ago Kennan wrote the famous “X” article in Foreign Affairs , setting forth the doctrine of containment. Prof. Kennan undoubtedly knows a lot, but to judge by his reflections on the end of communism, he has learned little.
Abingdon Press (Methodist) puts out a “Leadership Insight Series” that includes this book on starting a new pastorate. I haven’t read the book, but printed across the cover is this piece of wisdom, “A moment of insight is worth a lifetime of experience.” I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like a candidate for the top ten dumbest sayings that ever got said. Also from Abingdon, Christian Weddings: Resources to Make Your Ceremony Unique . Why on earth would you want to do that? Thanks to Abingdon, insights are coming fast and furious this afternoon.
Acrimonious is the word used to describe some of the exchanges at a forum where film critic Michael Medved urged Jews to take a stand against Hollywood’s degradation of our common life. The forum was held at the Jewish Community Center in West Orange, NJ, and this account is from the MetroWest Jewish News . “If Jews don’t speak out against this, it lets others believe those films somehow reflect Jewish values, Medved said, noting that, for the first time in movie history, the production chiefs of all ten Hollywood studios are Jews.” Jeffrey Lyons, Medved’s cohost on Sneak Previews, and the other panelists strongly disagreed. Lyons said that “Jews don’t speak in one voice and are, therefore, stronger than groups that do.” Victor Gold, who is on the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, said that movie makers are in it for the buck, and there’s nothing wrong with that. “Al Capone did not become Al Capone because he saw Scarface as a boy,” said Gold. “I believe in the free market of ideas.” Once again, there crops up this curious argument that, while good films and good books elevate people, bad films and bad books do not debase them. Medved, in our judgment, has the better part of the argument. Of course Jews do not speak with “one voice” on this or much of anything else. But the reality is that many Americans perceive a disproportionately prominent, even dominant, Jewish role in the production and defense of cultural pollution. Disagreeing with Medved, Rabbi Azriel Fellner of Livingston, NJ, said that the idea that Jews contaminate culture is anti-Semitic and, were Jews to speak out as Medved urges, “all [we would be] doing is ratifying the very thing we shouldn’t be ratifying.” But Medved is not saying that Jews should make a public issue of Jewish culpability in Hollywood’s cultural crimes. He is saying that it is not a good thing for Jews and it is not a good thing for America that Jewish voices are, with few exceptions, conspicuously absent in current expressions of concern about Hollywood’s part in the degradation of our common life.
Thanks to Regnery for reissuing Marvin Olasky’s Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America ($14.95
paper). Anyone involved on any side of the abortion controversy needs to know this book. Today, some who are “moderately pro-choice” are beginning to acknowledge that a question of great moral moment is at stake in abortion, and to suggest a Lincoln-like approach to its gradual reduction, or even extinction. Olasky was there long before them. Except that he, like the anti-abortion reformers of the last century, recognizes abortion as a great evil to be passionately resisted. Among the merits of this history is its underscoring of the fact that “the good old days” of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century were not that good for unborn children or for women pressured to “get rid of” unwanted pregnancies. Step by step, those who understood the evil of abortion achieved what seemed to be a secure consensus on protecting children and helping women in trouble. That was among the securities shattered by the 1960s. Olasky’s argument will not be welcomed by those who reject what they disdainfully dismiss as an “incrementalist” approach to saving human lives, but the story told in Abortion Rites provides ample reason to give careful thought to his conclusion: “What, then, are the uses of history for the pro-life movement? The adage those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it’ states the problem backwards as far as today’s movement is concerned. The goal of today’s pro-lifers should be to repeat a nineteenth-century past in which abortion was successfully fought by moderate means under conditions that were spiritually far from ideal. Mature opponents of abortion a century ago did not say all or nothing’ and thus save lives. Most did not demand that abortion be legislatively designated as murder, but worked for penalties that were sustainable in public opinion and in the jury box. Most appreciated the educational impact of anti-abortion laws but did not expect much in the way of enforcement, and instead concentrated on ways to provide women with alternatives to abortion. Many had great stamina because they were not laid low by a sense of failure when, despite their efforts, many unborn children died. They rejoiced that, in a fallen world, many were saved. So should their successors.” One might add that, unlike today, in the nineteenth century the elite institutions of society did not militantly champion unlimited access to abortion as a “right,” or suggest that such access is essential to the fulfillment of women. Which is by no means to say that Olasky is wrong, but only that the task is more difficult today.
The problem with gangsta rap and black “leaders” like Al Sharpton, writes Glenn Loury, is that they teach young blacks to despise, frighten, and extort white people. The result is “to ensure that bad people of both races will find each other, the better to keep conflict alive.” Loury proposes an alternative: “The truth is that whites do not need to be shown how to fear black youths in the cities; instead they must be taught how to respect them. This means that effective, persuasive black leadership must show whites a disciplined, respectable black demeanor. That such comportment is consistent with protest for redress of grievance is a great legacy of the civil rights movement. But more than disciplined protest is necessary. Discipline, orderliness, and virtue in every aspect of life will contribute to the goal of creating an aura of respectability and worth. Such an aura is a valuable political asset and the natural by-product of living one’s life in a dignified, civilized manner.” Overcoming the accumulated disadvantages, says Loury, is not just “a black thing, which you wouldn’t understand.” Other groups in America have been victimized and disadvantaged and have overcome. This is not ancient history; it is happening today. Loury concludes: “A prominent civil rights leader teaches young blacks the exhortation: I am somebody.’ True enough, but the crucial question then becomes: Just who are you?’ The black youngster should be prepared to respond: Because I am somebody, I will not accept unequal rights. Because I am somebody, I will waste no opportunity to better myself. Because I am somebody, I will respect my body by not polluting it with drugs or promiscuous sex. Because I am somebody”in my home, in my community, in my nation”I will comport myself responsibly, I will be accountable, I will be available to serve others as well as myself.’ It is the doing of these fine things, not the saying of any fine words, that proves that here is somebody to be reckoned with. A youngster is somebody not because of the color of his skin but because of the content of his character.”
Home delivery of the Times here means that you get on Saturday the extra ten pounds that the rest of the country gets on Sunday. So one adds an hour to the usual fifteen minutes allotted to the village voice that bravely bears the ominous responsibility of telling the world what to think about, and how to think about it. It is not necessary to read it, of course, but bad habits are hard to break. The Times is pathetically eager to be ten minutes ahead of history. Our friend Hilton Kramer, editor of the New Criterion , was for years the top culture writer for the Times . He tells how at the weekly editorial meeting the boss editor would inevitably ask with a sense of urgency, “So what’s new?” After years of this, one week Hilton decided to answer, “There’s absolutely nothing new this week.” Without missing a beat, the editor came back with the excited response, “Is that a trend?” Jokes aside, I was going to say something about the paper this Saturday morning. The op-ed page is loaded with heavy-duty ponderings about history. Regular columnist (in the sense that he appears there regularly) Frank Rich writes about Bill Gates and the computer revolution and deplores people who are indifferent to the high-tech transformation of reality. If such people were properly informed “they would discover that digital ignorance offers no protection from a future that will arrive whether we want it to or not.” This is the future as threat to be warded off by information. Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper’s , has a piece that offers a different take on the future. Reflecting on a new government study, he deplores the ignorance of history exhibited by high school seniors. No wonder, he says, that millions of Americans believe in the inspiration of the Bible and sightings of intergalactic aliens. Ours is a parlous state in which “the adherents of one or another of the ancient superstitions wage their furious assaults on what for the last two hundred years has been known as the spirit of the Enlightenment.” (Apparently UFOs now qualify as an ancient superstition.) “Against the vivid cries and promises of transcendence,” Lapham writes, “we have little else with which to preserve and extend the work of civilization except the voices of experience.” So we have to do a better job of teaching history. “Defined as means rather than an end, history defends the future against the past.” Past is bad. Future is good. Except for the past two hundred years of Enlightenment that taught us how to defend the future against the past. How charming in its witlessness is the simple faith of a liberalism untouched by the voices of experience. Finally, essayist Cynthia Ozick has a piece offering some sensible thoughts on the extremisms that are pulling Israel apart. On the religious right there is millenarianism that embraces the doctrine of “Forcing the End,” of radical action intended to hasten the Messianic Age. On the secular left is the equally dangerous conceit that an apotheosized “peace process” will tame human nastiness and bring the Middle East a thousand years of tranquillity. “Utopianism,” says Ozick, “is false politics and intoxicated history.” The future is neither a threat (contra Frank Rich) nor an innocent promise that needs to be protected from the past (contra Lewis Lapham) but a tomorrow mysteriously shaped, for better and worse, by what we do today. Ozick’s message is: Be very careful. That is sensible advice for the op-ed page of the Times . Is this a trend? On the basis of experience, one may be inclined to doubt it.
The Dutch Lutheran Church, which has about twenty thousand members, resolved in solemn assembly to allow the church blessing of gay relationships. The same assembly called for a theological study of notions such as wedding vows, fidelity, and blessing. Act first, think later. The Humanistisch Verbond (Humanist Society) decided three years ago to bless gay bondings. It has about sixteen thousand members. Some in Holland may be inclined to think, Why bother with the Lutherans when you can get the real thing?
We were wrong. The Interfaith Alliance does so have a telephone. That new organization of what some have called the Radical Religious Left is even sending out fund solicitations to combat the “Radical Religious Right.” Dr. Herbert Valentine, whom the letterhead describes as a chair and who is former moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA, declares, “I am a minister of the Gospel”a person of faith who gets angry when the language of religion is used to cloak an agenda rested in hatred and intolerance.” We might point out that a well-rested agenda is better than the weary reaction of the Interfaith Alliance, but we try not to give offense. Fully seven of the nineteen worthies on the letterhead are listed as “former” or “emeritus.” There is one Unitarian, two rabbis, and a Catholic bishop (an auxiliary of Baltimore whom we will not embarrass by naming). They claim to be convinced that Pat Robertson and his minions are engaged in a campaign of hatred and intolerance to do nothing less than overthrow our democratic form of government. Apparently the rascal has admitted as much, for they quote Robertson as saying, “Democracy is the next-best government.” Mr. Robertson probably said that, meaning that the best government is the direct rule of God, but for that we must await the Kingdom of God. By the same trickery one could depict Winston Churchill as the enemy of democracy. After all, he did say, “Democracy is the worst form of government known to man.” Of course he added, “Except for all the others that have been tried.” But then, what’s a little mendacity and hysteria if it will serve to rouse liberalism from its coma? “Will you join us,” the letter asks, “in saying enough is enough’ to Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and their fellow extremists?” It’s nice of you to ask, but no thank you. (Especially considering that they probably count us among the fellow extremists.) Listed on the letterhead are Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning of the Episcopal Church and the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches (NCC). Bishop Browning is on record as a champion of the quest for unity among Christians, and the NCC, established to advance ecumenism, has in recent years talked about the importance of reaching out to evangelicals. Obviously, that does not include uppity evangelicals who actually want a voice in how the country is run. The letter underscores, “As deeply committed men and women of faith, we cannot be silent when political extremists try to seize for their own narrow purposes the language and symbols of religious faith.” It’s a touching thing to see the political moderates bestir themselves to come out of retirement and, eschewing any appeal to the language and symbols of religious faith, break their silence in calling us to return to their broad purposes that have served the country so well. Remember that these are people who have had to endure one disappointment after another, not the least being George McGovern’s declining to run again. It no doubt takes a deeply committed faith to keep going.
The name Harvey Cox is indelibly associated with his book of thirty years ago, The Secular City . In a recent issue of the Nation , the flagscow publication of the left, Cox, a popular professor at Harvard Divinity School, has an article titled “The Transcendent Dimension” with the accompanying slug, “To Purge the Public Square of Religion is to Cut the Roots of the Values that Nourish Us.” In 1975, when Peter Berger and I launched the “Hartford Appeal for Theological Renewal” that called for a restoration of the transcendent, Harvey Cox was on the opposing side in a debate we held at the National Council of Churches. In 1984, however, he did review my The Naked Public Square very favorably in the New York Times Book Review and I owe him for that. In the Nation article, Cox rages against “the religious right” and all its works, accusing it of, inter alia, reinstituting “child sacrifice” by cutting welfare payments. But he also uses arguments associated with those awful “neoconservatives” to both caution and bolster the left. For instance, this: “Given that most of their arguments are flimsy and theologically ill-grounded, religious right-wingers could be easily refuted if secular liberals would stop attacking them simply because they are (allegedly) religious. That gets us nowhere. That is why, unlike some other progressives, I am dead against trying to keep religious conservatives out of the political debate. The tactic of exclusion is self-defeating. It has already pushed other dissenters into dark musings about chemical fertilizers, panel trucks, and public buildings. Rather, let us welcome religious conservatives into the sphere of political discourse. After all, it should hardly be surprising that in a country where 90 percent of the people say they believe in God, some religious language will be heard in the public square. Progressives have begun to realize that to purge the public square of religion is to cut the roots of the values that nourish our fondest causes. To stifle religious dissent would muffle one of the few remaining institutions that mediate between individuals and the towering, impersonal structures that envelop them. To rule out religious imagery is to ignore a discourse that at its best can speak out powerfully against greed, ennui, and coldness of heart.” FT is grateful for all its readers, even when they do turn arguments to opposing purposes (thereby, not so incidentally, refuting the frequent charge that those arguments are but a thin disguise for partisan designs).
July 4, 1995 was “liberation day” for fifty-two-year-old Myrna Lebov. That’s how her husband, George Delury, described the day on which he helped his wife commit suicide. Delury and his wife lived on the Upper West Side, and when the story hit the papers he was immediately declared a hero by the Hemlock Society and other celebrants of the culture of death. Now Delury has been charged with assisting a suicide after evidence came to light that he had for months been pressing his wife to kill herself because she was a burden to him. The Manhattan District Attorney released a diary in which Delury, an editor, detailed his daily frustration at having to attend to his wife’s toilet needs and counter her belief that she still had a life worth living. The diary, which he entitled “Countdown,” is eerie reading. “Sheer hell,” the entry for May 1 reads, “Myrna is more or less euphoric. She spoke of writing a book today. She’s interested in everything, wants everything explained, and believes that every bit of bad news has some way out.” But finally Delury convinced her that the only way out is death. On July 4 she drank a mixture of antidepressants, water, and honey that he had prepared for her. Shortly before her death, Delury looked ahead to what he envisioned as her inevitable deterioration and wrote, “Just taking care of the physical shell of a loved one for years is not a life I want to live.” It is not the life he wanted for himself. She had to die. The Delury story is a window into the grim dynamics disguised by the chatter surrounding “death with dignity.” Undaunted by these revelations, the Hemlock Society declared that the story only proves that doctors should be allowed to help people die in a professional manner. The New York Times editorially seconded the Hemlock Society, writing that “a sensible and c