The Public Square


There are hot buttons and then there are nuclear triggers. In the latter
category, it is commonly thought, is the question of evangelizing Jews.
When, however, the Southern Baptist Convention last summer reaffirmed
that there is a Christian mission also to Jews, the reaction from Jewish
leadership was generally muted. Most Jews seemed to understand that
of course that’s the position of Baptists and of others who
take seriously the universal mandate to share the Gospel of Christ.
There were a few complaints about the Baptists “singling out” Jews for
evangelistic attention, but that complaint failed to understand that the
Baptists were responding to Christian theologians who had singled out
Jews as being exempt from the otherwise universal need for the Gospel.
If the view gained ground that Muslims, for instance, could be saved
apart from Christ, one expects that the Southern Baptist Convention
would formally reaffirm the Christian mission to Muslims.



The same question is again agitating our British cousins. “We’re Jews,
we don’t have to apologize for the Holocaust,” says David Brickner,
international president of Jews for Jesus. His group had put up
advertisements in the London Underground: “Jews for Jesus—why not? After
all, Jesus is for Jews.” This elicited a strong reaction from the
Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), which issued a press release
reporting that it “has threatened to expel any of its three thousand
members who attempt missionary activity.” The Archbishop of Canterbury
approved, insisting that Christians “respect the integrity of other
faiths.” Paul Mendel, director of CCJ, declared, “You have to be either
Jewish or Christian. If you try being both it doesn’t go down well.”



Richard Harvey, the U.K. director of Jews for Jesus, disagrees. “If you
had been there at the first Easter event and had been saying the same
sort of thing to the disciples, ‘Hold on chaps, you must respect the
integrity of Judaism as a living religion,’ then the Church would never
have got started in the first place.” The liberal Tablet
comments: “Shame and silence should overcome every Gentile at the memory
of how centuries of Christian anti-Semitism finally led to the genocide
of the concentration camps. But what blame can be attached to those
Jews who wish, with sensitivity, to speak to their own people
of their belief that Jesus (whom they call Y’shua) is indeed the longed-
for Messiah?”



At the international headquarters in San Francisco, David Brickner has a
plaque that reads: “Jews for Jesus, established a.d. 32, give or take a
year.” He defends his organization against the charge of employing
offensive methods. “We don’t want to be offensive, but people take
offense at the message, and that we can’t help. I’m controversial as
soon as I say: I’m a Jew and I believe in Jesus.” Brickner says the
organization contacts Jews through the mail, offering a course on
Christianity that takes people step by step, depending upon their
interest. It is, he says, tactful, sensitive, and nonthreatening, giving
people “a chance to say yes or no at each stage.” The Tablet
comment concludes: “Is this a mission with a hard-sell evangelical edge?
Or is it responsible and respectful evangelism?”



Of course the Southern Baptist resolution is not limited to Jews
evangelizing other Jews. Like the 1994 declaration “Evangelicals and
Catholics Together,” it assumes that Christians are to be evangelizing
one another, and everybody else. There are different readings of the
connections between Christian anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, but it is
doubtful that Christian Gentiles, who may rightly be overcome by
“shame,” should also be overcome by “silence.” The Jewish-Christian
dialogue of the last thirty years, in which some of us have been
strongly engaged, must be counted as an enormous blessing that is
unprecedented in the two thousand years of tortured history shared by
Jews and Christians. But such dialogue is shallow and dishonest if it is
premised upon a protocol of silence about the most important difference
between us, namely, our answer to the question, Who is Jesus?



Most disappointing in the reactions of some Jews and Christians to the
Southern Baptist action was the claim that it violated the American
understanding of religious pluralism. This is to elevate civil religion
above the divine covenant that, however ambiguously, binds Jews and
Christians to one another. We need always to be reminded that genuine
pluralism does not mean pretending that our deepest differences make no
difference. Rather, pluralism is engaging our deepest differences within
the bond of civility and, above all, love. The Archbishop is right to
say that Christians must “respect the integrity of other faiths.” It is
precisely the integrity—that is to say, the truth—of Judaism that is
foundational to Christianity. In Jesus the Jew, as Pius XI declared
against the Nazis, “We are all Semites.” The question is whether, as
Christians believe, it is through Jesus the Christ that the promise is
fulfilled that Israel is to become “a light to the nations.” St. Paul
reflects in Romans 9–11 that this argument may go on until the End Time.
It must go on—with sensitivity, with intelligence, with respect, with
love. No matter how great the sense of shame or how strong the
temptation to silence, faithful children of the God of Abraham, Isaac,
Jacob, and Jesus have not the right to terminate the argument
prematurely. We cannot casually agree to disagree, for it is in the
honest exploration of both our agreement and disagreement that we are
most securely bound to one another.



The Real Threat to Religious Freedom

What, do you suppose, was the evil that the Founders had in mind when
they adopted the First Amendment’s Religion Clause with its “free
exercise” and “no establishment” provisions? How you answer that
question, contends Douglas Laycock of the University of Texas Law
School, will largely determine where you come out on a host of church-
state questions. Historically and at present, there are basically two
answers to the question. The first is that the evil the Founders had in
mind is that human beings suffered for their religious beliefs and
practices. The second answer is that the evil is that religions imposed
suffering on human beings.



In a powerfully argued article in the Minnesota Law Review,
Laycock endorses the first answer, and analyzes why so many contemporary
jurists assume the rightness of the second answer. He traces thought
about religious freedom from the wars of religion during the Reformation
era up to the present. He allows that there is some truth in both of the
above answers, but the basic reality is that the threat to religious
freedom was and is posed by the state. “But there is far more truth in
the first account; it was the state that had the power to persecute.
Religious pronouncements had no effect without the temporal power of the
state. Interdicts and excommunication had no effect on those who had
already repudiated the interdicting or excommunicating authority. Even
under the various Inquisitions, where the church may have been most
culpable, power to inflict temporal punishment was reserved to the
state. This reservation of state power was often a bare formality, but
it left ultimate authority in the state, so that the Inquisition was
effective where the secular ruler proved cooperative. The form and vigor
of the Inquisitions varied sharply over time and place, often in
response to local law and politics. Sometimes the state took the lead
and the restraining influence came from the church. For example, it was
Ferdinand and Isabella, and not a pope, bishop, or religious order, who
invigorated the Spanish Inquisition and appointed Tomas de Torquemada,
the most infamous of the Inquisitors General. The Spanish Inquisition
was always subject to the Crown, and only secondarily to the Pope; the
Kings of Spain always appointed the Inquisitors General and had
effective power to secure their resignation.”



The state, Laycock notes, often engaged in religious persecution for
reasons that were secular rather than religious. He draws a parallel
with the reasoning of jurists today who say that it is not a persecution
of religion if the burden imposed upon religionists is incidental rather
than intended, as when the governmental measure in question is the
result of “neutral and generally applicable laws”—laws enacted for
secular reasons but with the effect of suppressing a religious practice.
“One of the most famous Reformation examples might itself be described
as a neutral and generally applicable law if adjudicated today under the
Free Exercise Clause. In Henry’s England, it was treason to question the
validity of his second marriage. This prohibition was based on the
strongest reason of national security. If his second marriage were
invalid, the children of that marriage would be illegitimate; the claim
of illegitimacy would challenge their right to the throne and threaten
civil war over the succession. This particular form of treason was
committed by stating a core Catholic belief, but the law applied to
everyone and was stated in religiously neutral terms.”



Any straightforward reading of the Religion Clause leaves no doubt that
it, like the entire Bill of Rights, is intended to protect the people
from the government, not the other way around. And yet so many persist
in the belief that the purpose of the Religion Clause is to protect the
government from citizens who are religious. Why should this be?
Laycock’s answer is, in my view, convincing: “In part it is because
those who hold that view have misread history. They have blamed too much
on the church and too little on the state. In part it is because they
have thought that their preferred secular ideologies were inherently
different from religion, and that religion is uniquely susceptible to
the temptation to intolerance and absolutism. I think that they are
wrong on each of these points. The First Amendment constrains Congress,
not churches, and this is no accident. The amendment was aimed squarely
at the problem the Founders sought to solve. During the Reformation and
today, it was and is governments that punish people for religious
beliefs and practices. The most common motives have changed, the
alignment of factions has changed, but the central evil has remained the
same.” The Constitution was written and ratified by people who believed
that the concentration of powers is necessary to effective government,
and, at the same time, were keenly aware that such a concentration
threatened human liberty. Therefore those powers must be divided and
constrained. Therefore the Bill of Rights, and therefore, most
specifically, the Religion Clause.



Protestant Regress the Formula for Catholic Progress

Writing in Commonweal, Peter Steinfels, senior religion
reporter for the New York Times, describes what is now a very
tired scenario: “A church that is democratic, egalitarian, open,
embracing, tolerant, innovating, lay-led, diverse, and affirmative of
American values is pitted against a church that is autocratic,
hierarchical, dogmatic, discriminating, clerical, monolithic, and
committed to a European past.” This is in the course of reviewing a book
from Sheed & Ward, Laity, American and Catholic: Transforming the
Church
, which interprets a 1993 national survey done for the
National Catholic Reporter (NCR also owns Sheed &
Ward).



The book’s viewpoint, writes Steinfels, also “informs Call to Action, We
Are Church, the Association for the Rights of Catholics, Catholics Speak
Out, Corpus, and any number of other groups on the Church’s left.” It is
also the outlook “that ripples through the American news media’s
approach to Catholicism.” The authors of the book think things are going
swimmingly for the “progressive” cause. Problems such as the pope’s
claim to doctrinal authority are “in tension with the American temper
and the very thing the U.S. Constitution was written to restrict,” but
such problems, the book suggests, are passing remnants from the bad old
days of Catholicism. Steinfels describes the book as “naive history in a
triumphalist mode, without shadow or irony.”



He is surprised that one of the authors is Dean R. Hoge, a Presbyterian
sociologist at Catholic University, who has written insightfully—also in
our pages—about the dramatic decline of oldline Protestantism. What Hoge
sees as causes of Protestant decline he here seems to hail as signs of
Catholic renewal. The study of mainline Protestants, and adult
Presbyterians in particular, concludes that it is “likely that their
children will be even less committed to Christianity or to the church
than they themselves. . . . Few of their children will rebel, for there
is little to rebel against; they are more likely to be marginally
involved in church life or to drift away.” Steinfels notes that the
Protestants studied are in “a church that ordains married men and women;
does not condemn contraception, abortion, or remarriage after divorce;
is inclusive in its criteria for membership; prides itself on affirming
American values; and emphasizes democratic decision making and the
laity’s right to participate in congregational spending, selecting
pastors, and determining official church positions. In other words, a
church that has long since institutionalized the kinds of concerns that
Laity, American and Catholic highlights as crucial to American
Catholicism’s future.”



Steinfels concludes his devastating critique on a note not untouched by
defensiveness: “One of the drawbacks of the stark, good-guys-versus-bad-
guys framework informing this book is that it encourages an atmosphere
where merely to raise these qualms immediately qualifies one as a
‘restorationist.’ That is positively silly-and intellectually
counterproductive. The historian who looks back may shake her head in
wonder at how the ideological commitments that made these scholars
highlight one set of very real issues became blinders that kept them—and
many others in their camp—from examining so much else.”



Ah, that very conservative fear of being called a conservative. A future
historian may shake his (male or female) head in wonder at how a very
thoughtful reporter feels it necessary to insist, in the midst of the
shambles, that he is against restoration. It all depends on what is to
be restored. Recall that the driving force of renewal at Vatican Council
II was ressourcement, which is undoubtedly a kind of
restoration. Despite the limping conclusion (he is writing for
Commonweal, after all), Steinfels has nailed the mindlessness
of a progressive insouciance that thinks it a good thing that, in the
words of one author, younger Catholics “place a higher priority on being
good Christians than they do on being good Catholics,” when “good
Christian” is indistinguishable from the cultural liberalism promoted
by, for instance, the National Catholic Reporter.



Beyond Suspicion


Many years ago, like about thirty, some of my “Commonweal
Catholic” friends were much embarrassed by the popularity of Bishop
Fulton J. Sheen. That many people took him to be the public face of
Catholic intellectuality was deemed something of a scandal. I recall one
academic deploring most particularly the bishop’s television excursus on
the errors of Sigmund Freud, which he concluded with the derisive
declaration, “Freud is a fraud.”



In those days, Freud was for almost all intellectuals and those who
aspired to being intellectuals an untouchable icon of a world come of
age. Today one might argue that Bishop Sheen was just a bit ahead of
time. Until recently, the establishment of the allegedly avant-garde
rested on the three pillars of Marx, Darwin, and Freud. Outside the
cult-like corners of the prestige academy, Marx is in ruins, Freud is
crumbling, and Darwin is beginning to totter. The entire modern
sensibility that was built upon the “hermeneutics of suspicion” (Paul
Ricoeur) is now collapsing in the face of a relentless suspicion of
suspicion as the key to whatever truth is available to us mortals.



Many thinkers have contributed to the demolition of Freud and
Freudianism in the past decade. Paul Vitz, a psychologist at New York
University, has not received the credit he deserves for a number of
studies demonstrating Freud’s dependence upon, and perversion of,
Christian narratives in constructing his ersatz religion. Deservedly
celebrated is Frederick Crews of the University of California who, in
the New York Review of Books and in his book Skeptical
Engagements
, has been smiting Freudians hip and thigh, no doubt
putting many psychoanalysts back on the couch to dream of the days when
their declining business was viewed as a science. But now comes what may
be the definitive tour de force by John Farrell of Claremont McKenna
College. Freud’s Paranoid Quest (New York University Press, 275
pp., $34.95

) is, quite simply, one of the most intellectually
scintillating, persuasive, and elegantly argued books that I have read
in a long time.



The book is about much more than Freud. Farrell begins with Francis
Bacon and Descartes and works his way up (or down) through all the
mental benchmarks of modernity, from Hume and Rousseau through
Nietzsche, exposing the essentially paranoid structure of the
methodology of suspicion. For many moderns, Kant was a place of refuge,
but Freud, the “master of suspicion,” invaded that sanctuary as well.
Farrell writes, “The aim of Kant’s transcendental turn was to sacrifice
immediacy of knowledge of the external world for certainty within the
domain of the subject. Within this transcendental domain, the subject
gives its own law to nature and to its own will. It was an inward
migration intended to establish an unshakable autonomy. Freud upsets
this intention by introducing within the enclosed kingdom of the Kantian
subject the same division and distance that separate it from the outside
world. Opening this new and ungovernable territory, the unconscious,
Freud established an internal Other which, as he stated, showed reason
that it was not the master of its own house.”



Bacon created the role of the scientist as hero, the bold adventurer
who, abandoning the comforts of tradition, mythology, and, above all,
religion, dared to face the naked truth. It is in that tradition of
scientific heroism that Farrell locates Freud. “With the revelation of
the Oedipal code, Freud becomes the final hero, the hero who could
unmask himself, asserting a paranoid version of psychology in order to
display his own ‘narcissistic’ character and to enjoy the triumph of
that attractively disturbing irony. The effect was not solely one of
destruction: Freud’s aim was to complete the transition to modernity by
reintegrating the broken fragments of tradition in a comprehensive
psychological myth, with himself at the center. Freud thus gave a most
convincing performance in a role which, since Rousseau, has dominated
the scene of modernity: the role of the first honest man. The division
between heroic analyst and pathetic analysand is fully prefigured in
Rousseau: pathetic in the doing and heroic in the telling seems to be
the motto of the paranoid intellectual. Freud even claimed to believe
that the discovery of psychoanalysis had deprived him of his ability to
lie.”



In Goethe’s Faust, the epitome of the modern hero declares, “In
the Beginning was the Deed.” In Freud’s mythology, the deed was the
primal crime in which the sons of the primal father liberated themselves
from the idealism of narcissistic enthrallment in order to attain the
reality of action. All must be destroyed and cursed in order to be free
from destruction and the curse that rests upon lesser mortals. In Act
One of Faust, just before entering his pact with
Mephistopheles, Faust declares:

My curse I hurl on all that spangles

The mind with dazzling make-belief,

With lies and blandishments entangles

The soul within this cave of grief!

Accursed, to start, the smug delusion

Whereby the mind itself ensnares!

Cursed, brash phenomenal intrusion

That blinds the senses unawares!

Cursed, what in lying dreams assures us

Of name and glory past the grave!

Cursed, pride of ownership that lures us

Through wife and children, plow and slave!

Accursed by Mammon, when his treasure

To deeds of daring eggs us on,

For idle self-indulgent leisure

Spreads a luxurious divan!

Cursed by the balsam of the grape!

Cursed, highest prize of lovers’ thrall!

A curse on faith! A curse on hope!

A curse on patience, above all!



Farrell comments: “In this famous passage, Faust again reenacts the
Enlightenment’s annihilation of traditional, religious, and metaphysical
culture and at the same time curses the results: the mind recognizes
itself as a slave of ‘make-belief,’ of ‘smug’ self-delusion; it
recognizes the phenomena of the natural world as no more than a source
of distraction and confusion; and, given these recognitions, heroism,
family life, love, even greed and intoxication lose their allure, nor
can the Christian virtues offer consolation. Such is the disenchantment
of the modern world. Faust’s curse does not arise out of mere
psychological distress. It expresses the causes of that distress, and,
indeed, it seeks to master them by embracing the impoverishment of the
world with a destructive movement of the will. Its desperate hope is to
set itself above destruction by a more total destruction. As Faust so
Freud.”



But I must stop. The problem with a book like this is that you want to
quote the whole thing. Farrell’s argument is the more effective because
he regularly pauses to state, with generosity and fairness, the
objections that might be raised to his thesis, and then proceeds to
answer such objections in a way that is almost always convincing.
Freud’s Paranoid Quest is a remarkable achievement. The
question raised is whether the entirety of the “modernity project” did
not get off on the wrong foot by assuming that suspicion is the key to
knowledge. The modern premise was that nothing can be accepted as true
if it can reasonably be doubted. And of course everything, including the
reason that doubts, can reasonably be doubted, if one is determined to
doubt.



As Farrell trenchantly argues, all such reductive logic turns upon
itself. The relentlessly suspicious cannot sustain their trust in
suspicion. Paranoia is, among other things, a stratagem for avoiding
that self-destruction by designing oneself as the grandiose hero who,
against a hostile world, possesses the explanation of explanations that
survives every doubt and denial. The great modern exemplar of this all-
encompassing ploy is Cervante’s Quixote, whom Farrell employs
to brilliant effect. This paraphrase and a few quotes do not do justice
to the intricacy and elegance of the argument. The only thing for it is
to read the book, which, as you might have surmised by now, I warmly
recommend.



While We’re At It

• “We Are Church” is the conglomeration of leftist Catholic groups
set on getting a million signatures to protest the oppression of a
sexist, racist, phallocentric, eurocentric, authoritarian, etc. etc.
church. Sister Maureen Fiedler is the national coordinator of the
effort. (I take perverse pleasure in one reporter’s comment on an
encounter I had with Sr. Maureen on a network television program:
“Neuhaus Romed while Fiedler burned.”) She has sent a letter to Catholic
schools suggesting that teachers enlist their students to get signatures
for the protest, asking each signer to contribute one dollar. “Local
groups that do the work receive 60 percent of the funds they collect!”
For the mathematically challenged, she adds: “Collecting 1,000
signatures and $1,000, for example, means that your student group will
earn $600 for local programs!” Apart from the unseemliness of exploiting
children for her partisan games, this ploy does little to enhance the
credibility of a signature campaign that is supposed to demonstrate
massive discontent with church leadership. “So the kids in your school
are really mad at the Church?” “Shucks no, we just needed new basketball
jerseys.”

• To those of us not reared on computers,
“http://old.firstthings.com” mostly looks like what happens to our copy
after the printers take a long lunch at the local rathskeller. But the
junior editors here at the journal—who were fed bits and bytes with
their baby food—insist that I mention it, as it is apparently the
Internet address for our new First Things web site. Put together by
Christian Leadership Ministries, the site has a very attractive design
and seems quite simple to use. It already contains the complete text of
the last four years of the journal, and we’re working on setting up the
first two or three years. (Back in those days, before the flood, we used
“dedicated typesetting machines,” which seems to make difficult
translation into formats Internet users can access.) The site offers an
easy search engine, an issue-by-issue browser, and lots of opportunities
to subscribe to the journal. You can even submit letters to the editor
by following the on-screen menus. First Things is not about to become
some sort of on-line hypertext. Our primary aim remains putting out as
fine a magazine as we can manage, and the web site will run a month
behind: an issue’s text not appearing on-line until that issue has been
replaced on the newstands by the next issue. But easy electronic access
to the many fine articles we’ve published over the years is a service
we’re glad to provide for our readers.

• This might have been an interesting idea. Taking note of the end
of the century, the New York Times Magazine asked a passel of
notables to speculate on what the world will be like a hundred years
from now. Richard Rorty, the country’s number one celebrity philosopher,
is apparently the only one who thinks religion might still be around. In
his scenario, the country fell under a military dictatorship early in
the twenty-first century and the Dark Years continued until 2044 when
the Democratic Vistas Party, a “coalition of trade unions and churches,”
toppled the regime and ushered in an era of egalitarian fraternity (or,
as some insisted, “siblinghood”). Writing in the year 2096, Rorty says:
“In the churches, the ‘social gospel’ theology of the early twentieth
century has been rediscovered. Walter Rauschenbusch’s ‘Prayer against
the servants of Mammon’ (‘Behold the servants of Mammon, who defy thee
and drain their fellow-men of gain . . . who have made us ashamed of our
dear country by their defilements and have turned our holy freedom into
a hollow name . . .’) is familiar to most churchgoers.” While socialism
as the state ownership of the means of production was discredited in the
twentieth century, the egalitarianism of Rorty’s utopia is maintained by
fellow-feeling and a pervasive altruism. While America is much reduced
in power and prosperity, “our chastened mood, our lately learned
humility, may have made us better able to realize that everything
depends on keeping our fragile sense of American fraternity intact.”
There is something touchingly conservative about Rorty’s vision. Walter
Rauschenbusch was the father of Rorty’s mother. Grandpa saw the future
and it works! Rorty is a famous josher and I expect he is having us on.
Or maybe not.

• The toy doberman snaps again. Frank Rich of the Times
witnessed the thirty-five thousand Promise Keepers gathered at Shea
Stadium and did his homework by reading the Nation, which
featured PK as its hysteria of the week. “Particularly ominous,” says
Mr. Rich in tones most ominous, “are the many ideological and financial
links between the PK hierarchy and organizations that are pushing the
full religious-right agenda of outlawing abortion, demonizing
homosexuals, and bringing prayer and the teaching of creationism to
public schools.” In short, PK is conservative! He notes that PK is
supported by “James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, the powerful, radio-
driven theocratic crusade that is to the right of the Christian
Coalition and has twice its membership.” The article in the Nation
that Mr. Rich has been inhaling in the course of his investigative
journalism notes that PK has thousands of “cells” in local communities,
just like you-know-who used to have cells. The article concludes: “Now,
mobilizing hundreds of thousands of men into a disciplined,
hierarchical, nationwide, grassroots formation with significant military
connections but a subtle presentation, Promise Keepers poses a new
challenge. Its promise may be our peril.” “An army PK most certainly
is,” writes Mr. Rich. “Its preachers sound more like generals and hard-
charging motivational cheerleaders than clergy.” The toy doberman is all
aquiver with the frisson of another anticipated assault. The fascists
are coming! The fascists are coming!

• I won’t go into detail, but if I don’t mention it I’m sure to be
asked why not. For the detail, see Michael Fumento’s “Politics and
Church Burnings” in the October Commentary or, if you really
want the full story, write the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD)
at 1521 16th Street NW, Washington D.C. 20036. The long and short of it
is that the big to-do last spring about the rash of black church
burnings turns out to have been pretty much of a hoax. “Terror in the
Night Down South,” screamed Newsweek, along with countless
other media. Now the sources mentioned above—plus the Wall Street
Journal
, Associated Press, USA Today, and others—have
looked into the facts and found that the crisis was made up by folks who
parlayed white guilt about racism into a very profitable thing. In the
lead, once again, was the National Council of Churches (NCC), which
established a Burned Churches Fund that has reportedly taken in more
than ten million dollars and is still counting. Readers may remember an
item in these pages some while back that described the sorry plight of
the racial justice office of the NCC, which lost its director because
there was no money for basics such as travel expenses. The office was,
for all practical purposes, closed down. Happy days are here again,
thanks to the Burned Churches Fund, and the NCC can’t hire staff fast
enough. Since the money isn’t needed for rebuilding churches, and since
money is so wondrously fungible, the NCC has embarked on an ambitious
program to educate Americans about their racism. Other groups, including
the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Christian Coalition,
and the American Jewish Committee, did not distinguish themselves by
rushing to join the NCC-led panic. Moreover, the Institute on Religion
and Democracy is worried about some of the people who headed the NCC
effort and are now in charge of the loot. Don Rojas, for instance, is
the administrator of the Burned Churches Fund. Mr. Rojas has over the
years worked as a propaganda officer for Marxist-Leninist dictatorships
in Grenada, Czechoslovakia, and Cuba, and is a great supporter of
Minister Louis Farrakhan and the notorious anti-Semite Leonard Jeffries
of City College in New York. (IRD, as you might expect from its name, is
awfully stubborn in its belief that churches should not promote the
enemies of religion and democracy.) Hundreds of churches, black and
white, burn or are burned every year. It’s a very bad thing. The good
news is that many thousands of Americans responded generously to the
appeal for funds, as usual. The bad news is that some religious leaders
are not above setting off false alarms and exploiting fear and guilt in
order to raise big money. Also as usual. The devilishly delicious twist
in this case is that the money raised by exploiting white guilt feelings
will be used to generate more white guilt feelings. When you’re on to a
good thing, why stop?

• Thirty years ago, the late and indisputably great Paul Ramsey
wrote a little book titled Who Speaks for the Church? It was a
critique of the presumption of the World Council of Churches that it
represents the Christian voice in the public square. Under the title was
the author’s name, “Paul Ramsey.” Paul enjoyed pointing out that one had
only to read the cover to get the answer to the question posed by the
title. Now Delacorte Press, in advertising Jim Wallis’ The Soul of
Politics
, has gone Ramsey one better. At the top of the ad: “Who
Speaks for God?” Directly underneath: “Jim Wallis.” Now that’s reaching.
Wallis is the editor of Sojourners magazine, a leftist
publication that has recently joined the “Beyondist” movement so
brilliantly launched by Dick Morris and exemplified by Bill Clinton
(“beyond left and right, beyond liberal and conservative,” etc.). The ad
describes Wallis as “probably the most prominent, controversial
evangelical pastor today.” Considering that he speaks for God, it is no
more than his due.

• It is, all in all, a remarkable achievement. The six-part PBS
series, With God On Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right,
is an unusually fair and informative account of the history of
conservative religious activism from the emergence of the “neo-
evangelical” movement following World War II to today’s insurgency led
by groups such as the Christian Coalition and the Family Research
Council. Viewers of a certain age will enjoy meeting again such anti-
Communist crusaders as Fred Schwartz and Billy James Hargis, once such
prominent figures on the far right. Produced by Calvin Skaggs, the
series has a perhaps unprecedented ideological range of philanthropic
sponsorship, from the Bradley Foundation on the right to the John D.
MacArthur Foundation on the left. One might infer from this that the
country is not so polarized as some think, but the opposite conclusion
is probably closer to the mark: Both right and left assume that a fair
presentation of the facts will obviously serve their ends. The series
can be faulted on several scores. The fundamentalist-evangelical story
line is not so self-contained as the series suggests. More attention
should have been paid the crosscutting influences of what was happening
in other parts of the religious world, notably oldline Protestantism and
Catholicism. Largely absent also are the several transmogrifications of
what is meant by “conservatism”—from Taft Republicanism to the several
worlds of neoconservatism and the part played by conflicting attitudes
toward Israel. And it is not at all clear why Michael Horton, noted foe
of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” is pertinent to the story. But
let me not quibble. Only so much can be covered even in six hours.
With God On Our Side is probably the best thing television has
ever done on the conservative Christian insurgency in the political
arena. The series leaves it to the viewer to decide whether “the
religious right” is a frightening invasion of the aliens or an instance
of citizens seeking redress of just grievances and, along the way,
rejuvenating the American democratic experiment.

• Predictably, not everyone was so taken with the series. Writing in
the Nation, Alyssa Katz says, “The historical perspective the
series offers is invaluable, but its parade of evidence amounts to media
junk food, best consumed for the guilty pleasure of staring a fearsome
beast in the eye from the safety of invisibility.” At the same time, she
learned that “evangelical Christians consider themselves a minority
oppressed in a nation that was founded to provide religious freedom.”
She adds, “It’s a view well worth listening to. . . . When secular
America openly broke away from traditional Christian values in the
sixties and seventies, political involvement by conservative Christians
became, in retrospect, inevitable.” That’s the Nation, mind
you.

• If you like what you’re reading, do not selfishly keep it to
yourself. Please send us a list of family members, friends, and
associates who should be reading FT, and we’ll send them a sample issue.
Giving you full credit, of course. Why not do it soon? Like right now.

• Attention is turned to Christmas, and to Christmas shopping. Brace
yourself for the usual rush of articles and editorials deploring the
“commercialization” of Christmas. Of course anything can get out of
hand, but, all in all, I think the commercialization of Christmas an
excellent thing. People are giving gifts, permitting themselves to be
generous, even a bit extravagant. It is hard to think the world would be
a nicer place in the absence of this flurry of friendliness. Despite the
catechetical deficit in contemporary Christianity, I expect most people
are more or less aware that it all has to do with God’s extravagant gift
of the Redeemer. Except for the people who put out the major mail order
catalogues. I shop regularly from the catalogues sent by the
Metropolitan Museum, the Smithsonian, and the major museums in places
such as Boston and Chicago. In recent years I’ve been struck that they
are almost all devoid of art or other gifts that are explicitly
Christian. There is a lot of Jewish, and quite a bit of Egyptian,
Chinese, and Inca stuff, but very little that is Christian. Yet these
catalogues are clearly designed for Christmas giving in a country that
is over 94 percent Christian. I am sorry, but it has to be a very
deliberate decision on the part of those who manage the museum art
business. I know it is not because there is not a great demand for
Christian art. The Metropolitan Museum gift shop has over the years had
some fine medieval Christian reproductions. They do not appear in its
catalogue, and on at least two occasions when I have asked at the shop
the answer was that such items were so popular they could not keep up
with the demand. But of course all they have to do is order more. Most
remarkable is the catalogue of the Collections of the Vatican Museum,
sent out from Roanoke, Virginia. If there is anywhere in the world where
one might expect to find fine reproductions of Christian art, it is the
Vatican Museum. In fact, this elegant catalogue offers, among many other
items, Etruscan jars, tapestry fireplace screens, Roman coins, crystal
vases designed by Raphael, and a head of Apollo, but Christian art is
conspicuously absent. Call it a conspiracy or call it a coincidence, but
the clear result is to keep Christ out of Christmas. It appears these
big museums, too, have a perverse inhibition about commercializing
Christmas, so their catalogues pretend it is simply a “holiday season”
that, for some reason or another, happens to come toward the end of
December each year. It is dumb business and leaves one wishing that
people would get serious about commercializing Christmas.

• It really is an encouragement. Wherever I go, as well as in
letters, people tell me how much FT means to them, how they use articles
in discussion groups, send them to friends, and goodness knows what
else. (Again, feel free to copy away, as long as no money changes
hands.) I am also impressed by the number of people who say they save
back issues for reference. In that connection, you might want to look at
the ad for the neat little back-issue organizer (see page 44). Each one
holds a year or more of issues and, let’s face it, that stack of FT on
the coffee table is getting to be a bit much, or so a reader in
Cleveland has been complaining to his wife for at least a couple of
years.

• The politicizing of everything is the bane of this unhappy age.
David Norbrook of Magdalen College, Oxford, reviews a new slew of books
that aim at “contextualizing” and “historicizing” Milton’s Paradise
Lost
. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Norbrook
is not unsympathetic to the argument that Milton’s work was importantly
influenced by his republican propensities and his hostility to the
restored monarchy. But there is ever so much more to it than that, says
Norbrook: “And there are possible dangers in restricting Paradise
Lost
too exclusively to Restoration contexts. For Milton, it would
have dignified the banality of the restored monarchy far too much to
equate it with the fall of man; rather, recalling the genuine tragedy of
the Fall would prevent a shrunken pessimism from reading a particular
disaster as the end of all responsibility. That universalism certainly
contrasts with the celebration of difference in recent cultural
politics. For Milton and other republicans, it was courtly society that
nurtured a destructive, competitive individuality, with the ‘naked
majesty’ of a common humanity becoming alienatingly ‘besmeared with
gold.’ Paradise Lost worries at the origins of humanity as a
species. Its sublimity centers on its ability to wrench us out of a
human perspective so that we can view ourselves from the outside, and
ask with the stupefied serpent: what on earth has God wrought?”

• The curmudgeonly but kind Dr. Theodore Dalrymple relates his
encounters with the dregs of society in his column, “If symptoms persist
. . . ,” in the London Spectator. “I see quite a number of
patients whose character undergoes a regular change, mainly for the
better, as they enter my room and for the worse when they return to the
bosom of their family. There are not a few of them who suffer an
irresistible urge to strangle their wives, especially when no one who
could stop them is looking: though, as their wives invariably point out,
‘they don’t do it all the time, doctor.’ Continuous strangulation is
rather difficult to conceptualize.” Dalrymple is bothered by the growing
number of people who say they can’t help doing what they do, and
deplores the fact that this is now “official medical doctrine.” He cites
an article on “myths about the treatment of addiction” in
Lancet, the British medical journal, written by two researchers
at the University of Pennsylvania. “One reason why many physicians are
unsympathetic towards the addict is that addiction is perceived as being
self-afflicted,” they write. “However, there are numerous involuntary
components in the addictive process. Whether the drug is taken can be
influenced by external factors such as peer pressure, price, and, in
particular, availability.” But of course, now that they mention it,
almost nobody takes drugs that are not available. Dalrymple comments:
“Mind you, I don’t blame the authors for this: after all, the pressure
upon academics to publish in reputable journals nowadays is as
irresistible as the urge of husbands to strangle their wives.”

• The opinion of the moment, or maybe of the last ten years, is that
H. Richard Niebuhr was a deeper thinker than his more famous brother
Reinhold. It’s a subject that comes up from time to time in the talk of
intellectuals of a certain training (and certain age), and I go back and
forth on it. Certainly Reinhold had a greater influence on my early
formation, but I confess that I reflect more often on arguments made by
H. Richard, and his lapidary summaries of whole schools of moral and
theological thought stick stubbornly in the mind. Maybe he was lapidary
to a fault, refining things so elegantly that the rough edges of truth
got lost. More often his elegance served incisiveness. For instance, the
well-known description of the religious liberalism that gained
ascendancy in the late nineteenth century and ruled so long. It was, he
said, centered in a belief that “a God without wrath brought men without
sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a
Christ without a cross.” For several years I used his Christ and
Culture
as the text in a moral theology course at St. Joseph’s
Seminary here in New York. It provides a wonderfully neat typology of
different approaches to the church-and-society question, much like the
“models” approach developed by Father Avery Dulles on other questions.
But I finally realized I was spending so much class time arguing with
the typology that I was neglecting the subject at hand, so this year I
dropped Christ and Culture, reluctantly. So what, the impatient
reader asks, got Neuhaus off on H. Richard Niebuhr? The answer is the
welcome appearance of H. Richard Niebuhr: Theology, History, and
Culture
, edited by William Stacy Johnson and published by Yale
University Press. The book is 230 pages of previously unpublished
essays, lectures, and sermons, an unexpected feast for those who have a
cultivated taste for Niebuhr. Included is a little reflection he wrote
shortly before his death in 1962. Maybe you, too, will find it a
graceful provocation: “Sometimes everyone who has taught through spoken
and written words needs to look back on his activity with the question,
What has been the intention of my work? Not, What did I intend? I always
intended something very specific—to gain clarity or give some clarity
about this point or that—to satisfy my curiosity about some puzzle—to
understand some relationship. I have had and have intentions but what
does all the work taken together intend? This is Kierkegaard’s question
in Point of View for my Work as an Author. . . . What was the
intention behind all my intentions, the fundamental intention which I
represented rather than willed, the thing to which I was committed
rather than committed myself? In unbelief I call that intention fate—
what was I fated to do—in confidence I call it divine governance.”

• Among endangered species in need of protection is the village
atheist. Society magazine serves the intellectual ecology by
publishing Allan Mazur, a specialist in “biosociology” at Syracuse
University. His article, “Science Three, Religion Zero,” asserts with a
confidence wondrously uninhibited by learning that religion has been
done in by the Copernican revolution, evolutionary theory, and
historical-critical consciousness. The end of religion, says Mr. Mazur,
is also evident in the fact that clergy engage in an “ecumenicalism”
that acknowledges “that their neighbors’ religions have their own
validity.” Religion may have some vestigial influence in pressing
“smallish disputes” in the public arena, but it is irrelevant to the big
questions. “Religious groups sometimes win when they engage in everyday
politics, but science persistently wins the major wars.” I guess we
might as well pack it in.

• I reviewed Paul Johnson’s latest offering, The Quest for God:
A Personal Pilgrimage
(HarperCollins), for a daily and was
generally favorable to his idiosyncratic but intriguing account of his
Christian, and very Catholic, faith. Other reviews have run the gamut
from raves (Norman Podhoretz in Commentary) to scathing
ridicule (I-forget-who in the Spectator). One of the more
curious is Ian Buruma’s treatment in the New Yorker, which is
basically an exposï¿1⁄2of Johnson’s political and ideological gyrations
over the decades. Buruma concludes with this: “But what I find
particularly irritating is that these yearnings for discipline are
presented as calls for freedom and democracy. In the conclusion to his
book Johnson tells us what the love and worship of God is all about: ‘to
turn our minds, and if possible our bodies too, away from earthliness to
perfection, from doubt to certitude, from the self to goodness, and fro m
the flesh to the spirit.’ Perhaps this is true of the worship of God.
But if it is democracy and freedom we want we would do better to turn
those propositions precisely the other way around.” Now if I got this
right, Mr. Buruma believes that democracy and freedom are advanced by
turning our minds, and if possible our bodies too, away from perfection
to earthliness, from certitude to doubt, from goodness to the self, and
from the spirit to the flesh. There are no doubt many people who believe
that, which helps account for the currently unhappy state of democracy
and freedom.

• St. Ann’s was a nice little parish church, says Helen Hull
Hitchcock, and then it had the misfortunate of being renovated. For
Catholic churches, being renovated usually means running into the
demolition program set forth in Environment and Art in Catholic
Worship
, a 1978 tract of doubtful authority that is treated by some
liturgical experts as magisterial teaching far outranking papal
encyclicals. Statues, stained glass, kneelers, and tabernacles-all must
go in order to “facilitate interactive worship.” This presupposes the
interaction is between us very splendid people rather than between God
and human beings in all their neediness. Father Avery Dulles once
mentioned that he spoke in one of these renovated spaces and noted a big
banner on the front wall, “God Is Other People.” He said he very much
wished that he had a magic marker with which to put a strong comma after
“Other.” As for St. Ann, Mrs. Hitchcock says it “has been expensively
gutted, stripped, and transformed from a place of distinctively Catholic
worship to a ‘communal gathering space’—a multifunctional meeting room.”
She continues: “The justification for the literal iconoclasm in Catholic
churches could hardly have been more clearly expressed by Cromwell’s
Roundheads after they had systematically beheaded every image in the
Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral or smashed all the stained glass windows at
Canterbury, although Cromwell’s soldiers were undoubtedly responsible
for destroying far fewer sacred images than the liturgical ‘experts’ who
imposed their views of renewal on the Catholic churches across America.”
Now it must be admitted that Catholic, and not only Catholic, churches
frequently had an awful lot of schlock. “Environment and art in worship”
is a very important subject. Critics of the liturgical and aesthetic
experts sometimes confuse sacred space with cluttered space, and popular
piety with vulgarity expressed in artistic trash. At the same time, Mrs.
Hitchcock is right about the stripping of the altars that aims not at a
cleaner or purer form but at a radically different understanding of
worship itself. Among clergy the question is asked, What’s the
difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? Answer: You can
negotiate with a terrorist. Having given up on negotiating, many are now
in revolt against the alleged experts. One voice of intelligent revolt
is Adoremus Bulletin, published by a new liturgical society
that can be reached at P.O. Box 5858, Arlington, VA 22205 (703-241-
5858).

• Some consider him one of the most learned men and probably the
greatest theologian of the century, and I am not disposed to argue the
point. Shortly before his death, Hans Urs von Balthasar was made a
cardinal by John Paul II. “One evening during Balthasar’s final days on
earth, he remarked to a few friends who, having overcome his natural
shyness, were holding a party in his honor, ‘If you, my friends, are
happy, then I must be happy too.’ He said this without design and
without affectation. I was struck by the extraordinary simplicity of
faith in a man endowed with such a vast and astute intelligence and a
heart capable of receiving and mitigating the most searing anguish.”
That is from Hans Urs von Balthasar: A Theological Style
(Eerdmans), written by his friend Angelo Scola. I do not have a terribly
long list of people from this century whom I eagerly look forward to
meeting in the inn at the end of life’s road, there to engage in
theological conversation over a leisurely dinner and good cigar, but
Balthasar is near the top of it. I expect, though, that he and Karl
Barth are already hard at it, and won’t mind if I just listen in.

• From Ecumenical News International: “For the first time
in history, Swiss churches, including the Roman Catholic Church and
Switzerland’s main Protestant churches, have joined forces with
environmental groups to launch a petition calling on the Swiss
government to take urgent action to combat global warming.” Of notable
firsts there is no end.

• He has a dream. Reinhard Frieling is director of the Institute for
Inter-Confessional Research and billed as one of Germany’s leading
Protestant ecumenists. The following is also from Ecumenical News
International
, reporting on a talk by Frieling at Paderborn
University: “‘Peter was no pope, and the Pope is not the only Peter,’
Frieling said, referring to the claim of the Roman Catholic Church that
the popes are the successors of St. Peter, one of the disciples of
Jesus.” (Ah, that St. Peter.) Of the pope, Frieling said, “My
dream is of a servant of unity who, perhaps as president of a council,
recognizes a reconciled diversity of the churches, who promotes dialogue
and reconciliation rather than giving audiences and reaching final
decisions. I dream of a pope who allows open communion and tells
Catholics that they have fulfilled their Sunday duty by taking part in a
Protestant or ecumenical service.” In his dream, Catholics are allowed
to be Protestants, but apparently they would still have a Sunday duty.
There are no doubt those who think that might be an improvement on the
current state of Catholic discipline.

• “Out of the Whirlwind: Claiming a Vision of Progressive
Christianity.” We had mentioned earlier this national conference at
Trinity Cathedral (Episcopal) in Columbia, South Carolina. According to
news reports, “nearly one hundred” people showed up. Progressive is
today’s word for liberal, and it appears that participants huffed and
puffed mightily to put some life into the poor thing. James Adams, for
thirty years rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.,
presided, as inegalitarian as that sounds. “Here we are, a group of
ninety people, gathered to talk about transforming an institution, the
Church, that has a 1,900-year history of oppression and exclusion,”
announced Adams. It sounds like the kind of thing that should be killed,
not transformed. But, considering the transformation the group had in
mind, that may be a distinction without a difference. In the opening
sermon, the retired Episcopal bishop of Atlanta, Bennett Sims, preached
on Mark’s account of Jesus healing a blind man. “We know that it was not
the faith of the Nicene Creed that made him well. That fourth-century
formulation actually may make some people ill,” Sims said to laughter.
“This is not to despise the Nicene Creed,” he added. Of course not.
“Though there are better ways to frame it without sacrificing
orthodoxy,” the bishop added. And this is just the group to do it. Dr.
Frederica Harris Thompsett, academic dean of Episcopal Divinity School,
asked, “How do you speak out in a post-Nicean way in a Nicean church? It
probably means asking questions. The biblical prophets did.” The
prophets were famous for asking questions. That’s no doubt why the
symbol for Jeremiah is a question mark. Andrew Getman of Washington,
D.C. urged participants not to be nasty to conservatives. “Unless we can
hear a conservative brother as someone who needs an arm around his
shoulder and to be listened to, then that hurt can turn to violence.”
Which, being translated, means, Don’t provoke the animals. Not everybody
was happy with the meeting. Gene Robinson, assistant to the New
Hampshire bishop, said, “I’m not so sure that the $500 or so we each
spent getting here might not have been better sent to the Lambda Legal
Defense Fund, which is fighting for us on gay and lesbian marriages.” On
the final afternoon, after extended small-group discussions, chair Adams
offered a rousing call to arms: “I don’t even want to identify what we
have in common, because that would be divisive.” One is reminded, for
some reason, of the old question: What do you get when you cross a
Jehovah’s Witness and a Unitarian? Answer: Someone who goes around
knocking on doors with nothing particular in mind. “Out of the
Whirlwind: The Still, Small Sound of Expiring Air.” But a measure of
sympathy is in order. The basic mistake of the convenors was to think
that people would pay their way to a conference promoting “progressive
Christianity” when expenses are covered for attending denominational
meetings that do much the same thing.

• Evelyn Smith was minding her own business. It is a very small
business, that of renting her two duplex apartments. A devout
Presbyterian, she refused to lease to unmarried couples. The ever
vigilant state charged her with illegal discrimination and took her to
court, where the California Supreme Court ruled against her appeal to
the free exercise of her religion. To rub in the point, Ms. Smith was
fined $45

4 and ordered to inform prospective tenants about (a) her run-
in with the state housing commission, (b) how her claim of religious
freedom was rejected, and (c) how she now pays homage to the
government’s policy of “equal housing opportunity.” Writes Timothy Lynch
in the Washington-based Legal Times, “One can almost see the
smug bureaucratic smiles as the court upheld this bizarre form of
secular contrition. . . . Leaving aside the court’s narrow conception of
religious liberty (and property rights), whatever happened to the idea
of free speech? It is one thing to order a person to open her doors to
unmarried couples, but forcing Smith to give a mini-speech about her so-
called rehabilitation smacks of thought control.” But how else to ensure
that she does not incite others to the insurrectionary thought that
marriage is to be preferred over living in sin? You can just imagine the
kind of society we’d be living in were such ideas not forcefully
controlled.

• Of honorary doctorates I have a bunch, including some from
Catholic universities, bestowed before I became controversial by
becoming a Catholic. Now there appears the British edition of
Evangelicals and Catholics Together, edited by “Charles Colson
and Richard Neuhaus, S.J.” It is an honor, I think, but I expect it is
not authorized by the Society of Jesus. This plain diocesan priest did
enjoy the foreword to the new edition by Member of Parliament David
Alton in which he underscores the importance of ECT for sectarian strife
in Northern Ireland and for evangelization in England, where less than
10 percent of the population attends church. So that more than makes up
for the imputed “S.J.”

God, A Biography got rave reviews from people who agree
with author Jack Miles’ depiction of a biblical God whom nobody could
possibly trust or love. With such a God, it is little wonder that the
churches have to gussy up Bible stories for popular consumption. Mr.
Miles reportedly approves of Episcopal Church guidelines for teaching
the flood in Sunday School. Harold O. J. Brown is of a different view:
“Because children love pets, it could be extremely disagreeable to them
to hear that God destroyed all of the animals (not to mention the
people, of course). For this reason, this destructive, vengeful aspect
is to be played down, and the totally unrelated Twenty-third Psalm, with
God as the Good Shepherd, is to be introduced as a kind of counterpoint.
The rainbow after the Flood, rather than the destructive Deluge itself,
is to be emphasized, and each child given a card with a little rainbow
on it. The message, of course, is that God is Very Nice and would not do
anything mean or nasty. This is all quite sweet, of course, but it does
totally obfuscate one essential part of the Deluge account, namely, that
God is not willing to tolerate human depravity indefinitely and that
human evil will bring destruction upon nature and upon innocent
bystanders as well as on the evildoers themselves—a message that might
seem particularly appropriate in an age of terrorism and environmental
pollution.”

• I love Canada. My dog loves Canada. We spend part of every summer
there, and it’s beautiful. I was born there. My ninety-four-year-old
mother lives there. In addition, FT has many Canadian subscribers and we
treasure all of them. That having been said, there is this incessant
discussion of “Canadian identity” that can be both amusing and tiresome.
In the amusing category are two recent items. In a poll conducted by
sociologist Reginald Bibby, 76 percent of those asked to name Canada’s
greatest living person either responded “no one comes to mind” or
declined to answer. Maclean’s, a national magazine published in
Toronto, has concluded that Canada’s most famous person is Pamela
Anderson, who plays in the U.S. television program Baywatch.
Believe me, Canada deserves better than that.

• Doctor-assisted suicide and other forms of euthanasia are
seductively appealing to many Americans. The Christian Medical and
Dental Society has put together a resource kit that includes a video,
leader’s manual, popular handouts, bulletin inserts, and a slew of other
materials to alert people to the temptation and how to resist it. We
haven’t reviewed all these items, but judging from the description, the
kit (which retails for $30

) might be of interest to readers. Write Dr.
David Stevens, director of the society, at 501 Fifth Street, P.O. Box 5,
Bristol, TN 37621.

• Brace yourself for some good news. It was a close vote but the
European Parliament has ruled that member states cannot provide funds to
organizations or developing countries that use abortion or forced
sterilization in birth control programs. This is a major vindication of
the Holy See’s position at the 1994 UN population conference in Cairo.
Moreover, a proposed convention to be voted on by the Parliament would
ban the production of human embryos for research purposes. (It also
rejects the ideological, rather than medical, category of “pre-embryo.”)
Yet more: Italy’s national bioethics committee issued a document stating
that the human embryo is indeed a human being. “The embryo is one of
us,” said the committee’s president. This is thought to be an important
step in preparing the way for new legislation protecting the unborn.
(The foregoing report is in response to the reader who complained this
section has become a virtual Book of Lamentations.)

• It’s a crazy society that promotes same-sex marriage while at the
same time prohibiting same-sex education, at least when the sex is male.
As the alert reader knows, it is not society that is doing these things
but the courts, which have declared obsolete the old-fashioned notion of
government by the consent of the governed. All the more reason to
welcome the straightforward statement of the Catholic bishops
conference: “The Roman Catholic Church believes that marriage is a
faithful, exclusive, and lifelong union between one man and one woman,
joined as husband and wife in an intimate partnership of life and love.”
The institution of marriage, the bishops say, “must be preserved,
protected, and promoted in both private and public realms. . . . Thus,
we oppose attempts to grant the legal status of marriage to a
relationship between persons of the same sex.” The statement is superb
both in its clear articulation of Christian teaching and its argument
for the common good. A conservative pundit criticizes the statement
because it also affirms that “the Catholic Church teaches emphatically
that individuals and society must respect the basic human dignity of all
persons, including those with a homosexual orientation.” Such criticism
is monumentally dumb. It is only in light of the God-given human dignity
of all that we can understand the great sadness and tragedy of the gay
lifestyle and the homosexualist agenda, including same-sex marriage.

• In an understated but powerful review of The Godless
Constitution
by Isaac Kramnick and

R. Laurence Moore (a book to which we have referred previously), Scott
Idleman of Marquette University Law School counters their argument that
groups such as the Christian Coalition are beyond the pale of this
constitutional order. Writing in the Notre Dame Law Review,
Idleman allows that one might claim that “the religious right” is a
threat to the political order, “But it is not a claim that derives from
the Constitution, and the authors err when they attempt to augment it
with the ‘spirit’ of our political covenant. It is not difficult to
think of particular groups or viewpoints that each of us believes to be
out of place, or out of bounds, in the political process. So it has been
since the beginning of the Republic. The Constitution, however, is
indifferent to such antipathies. Indeed it virtually guarantees that the
unwelcome, the impolitic, and the intrusive will always have a seat at
the political table. That religious groups or viewpoints, especially
those mobilized on a national scale like the Religious Right, may pose
peculiar dangers to our political order is an important concern, but it
does not rise to the level of a constitutional concern. The Constitution
ultimately entrusts We the People, whether directly or by our
representatives, with the final responsibility of judging the propriety
and merit of religious activism in the political sphere, no matter how
unseemly or unwarranted that activism may be.” The same must be said of
the propriety and merit of books such as The Godless
Constitution
.

• “I am a Palestinian,” Elias Chacour, a Catholic priest from
Galilee, told thousands of Methodists gathered in world conference in
Rio de Janeiro. Opening his suit coat, he said, “See, I have no bombs,
despite what your media have portrayed me for four decades. I am an Arab
Christian, a citizen of Israel. All these facets of my identity are not
at peace together. I am crucified.” Chacour declared that the Holy Land
is being emptied of Christians, and Christians elsewhere seem not to
care. Christian pilgrims to Israel ignore the indigenous Christians
there. “Living stones are more important than holy shrines. Travelers
visit the sand and stones, but don’t want to share the faith with their
brothers and sisters.”

• Separatism breaks out in unlikely places. A Black Ministry
Convocation in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, not one of the
country’s more radical bodies, has voted overwhelmingly for a separate
black district (a district is an LCMS diocese, so to speak) because of
the “institutional racism” blacks have experienced in the church.
Observers say that the resolution was prompted by pique at the LCMS
failure to appoint a black as head of the Africa missions desk and
doesn’t have much chance of approval by the national body. Nonetheless,
it is perhaps worth a footnote in somebody’s dissertation on the
continuingly turbulent state of religion and race relations in America.

• The Journal of the American Medical Association usually
has on its cover a reproduction of a work of fine art, with a commentary
by Dr. M. Therese Southgate. The cover of the July issue was blank.
That, says Dr. Southgate, is because the issue is focused on HIV/AIDS,
and she asks readers to consider the “incalculable loss” from the
disease—”the loss to all those whose lives would have been touched, even
changed, but were not, by books not read because they were never
written, by paintings not seen because they were never painted, by
performances never heard because the song was not sung.” The same issue
contains a laudatory review of a book about abortionists, Doctors of
Conscience: The Struggle to Provide Abortion Before and After Roe v.
Wade
. Indeed let us consider the incalculable loss to all those
whose lives would have been touched, even changed, but were not, by . .
.

• “Common ground” seems to be the in thing these days. It’s the
title of a little theological (sort of) quarterly that bears the
epigraph from Sir Henry Wotton (1568–1639), Disputandi pruritus
ecclesiarum scabies
. Since some parents leave this journal lying
around the house where children may see it, we will not translate that.
Aimed mainly at readers of the Disciples persuasion, the quarterly bears
this warning (or, as the case may be, assurance): “common
ground
is not affiliated with any reputable agency of the Christian
Church (Disciples of Christ).” Readers touched by the scabies of
curiosity can get more information by writing P.O. Box 96, Harrodsburg,
KY 40330.

• “The seedbed of our policy-making is a culture that values
individualism over community and the accumulation of goods over the
common good.” From that debatable generalization, Roger Cardinal Mahony
of Los Angeles moves to an attack on California’s Proposition 209, which
would eliminate state affirmative action programs. Citing the standard
arguments in support of quotas, he contends that the passage of 209
“would mark a major setback to our nation’s tenuous commitment to
creating a discrimination-free society.” There is no acknowledgment
that, in the view of many, a discrimination-free society is one that
does not discriminate for or against people on the basis of their race
or gender, as quotas certainly do. Cardinal Mahony’s statement is hardly
unique, but it is a particularly unfortunate instance of political
propaganda in the guise of pastoral guidance, the kind of thing that
gives religion in public life a bad reputation.

• With funding from the U.S. Catholic Conference, Hallel
Communications of Sparkill, New York, has produced a series of videos on
the Catholic experience in America. One is titled JFK:RC, and
focuses on Kennedy’s 1960 address to the Protestant clergy of Houston.
The speech, drafted by Theodore Sorenson, is conventionally credited
with countering the then-powerful fear of the prospect of a Catholic
president. Readers of a certain age will remember some of the key
sentences: “I believe in an America where no public official either
requests or accepts instruction from the Pope, the National Council of
Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source. . . . I believe I’m
stating the view of American Catholics from one end of the country to
another about the happy relations between church and state.” Sheldon
Stern, a historian at the JFK Library, says of that speech that Kennedy
“didn’t overcome the religious issue so much as he was able to project
his own attractive personality.” That is one way of putting it. In the
view of many—a view reinforced by subsequent revelations about his
personal life—Kennedy was telling the Houston ministers and the nation
that he was not a terribly serious Catholic. The added implication was
that religion is a purely private matter that must not be permitted to
impinge upon what one does in public office. A case can be made that,
for a Catholic to be elected President, that line was necessary at the
time. Today, however, those sectors of Protestantism where anti-Catholic
bias has traditionally been strongest would likely respond in a very
different way. Given the priority of the moral and cultural questions
that have redefined contemporary politics, most conservative Protestants
might welcome the assurance that a Catholic candidate would take
inspiration, if not “instruction,” from the pope. As it is said, history
has many ironies in the fire.

• Relations between evangelicals and Catholics are perhaps most
tense in Latin America, and within Hispanic communities in this country.
So that is where we need to get out the message of “Evangelicals and
Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.” For
a copy of ECT in Spanish, which can be freely reproduced, please write
Ms. Davida Goldman here at FT ($2 for postage and handling).

Forbes magazine calls it the “National Extortion
Association.” That may be going a bit far, but the National Education
Association (NEA), together with the American Federation of Teachers
(AFT), used teachers’ dues to bankroll the Democratic Party to the tune
of around $35

million this year. The 30 percent of NEA members who
report they are Republicans have no say in the matter. In the recent
election cycle, 99.1 percent of NEA political action committee funding
and 98.6 percent of AFT PAC monies went to Democrats. The Detroit
News
editorializes: “The teachers unions’ partisanship is so
pronounced they make the much-vilified Tobacco Institute and the
National Rifle Association—which have given 78.3 percent and 80.1
percent of their PAC funds, respectively, to Republican candidates—look
wildly bipartisan.” What the unions get in return is political
protection of their monopoly on government education dollars, a monopoly
threatened by the prospect of parental choice. Parental choice in
general, and Catholic schools in particular, got a big boost when Mayor
Giuliani of New York took Cardinal O’Connor up on his long-standing
offer to accept a thousand of the poorest and most problem-ridden
children in the public schools, those performing in the bottom five
percentile. The Mayor was frustrated in his hope of using government
money for the experiment, but corporations and individuals came to the
rescue. Union defenders of the status quo complained that the money
should be given to the public schools, but almost nobody has confidence
that even billions of additional dollars could remedy the
catastrophically dysfunctional public system. In fact, it is more likely
that more money would only deepen the rot. We’re talking big time stakes
here. New York State alone spends $25

billion per year on the government
schools. The desperation of the unions is understandable. With respect
to the teachers and their dues, “National Extortion Association” may be
right, but even greater sympathy is warranted for the parents, and
especially the children, who suffer under the present system. Education
used to be the way out of poverty. In our big cities today, it is one of
the chief factors locking children into poverty. Which is one very
sensible reason why the majority of teachers in the big city systems do
not send their own children to the public schools. I’m editorially
prejudiced, of course, but I think one of the very best things ever
written on this subject is John Coons’ “School Choice as Simple Justice”
(FT, April 1992). You might think about suggesting it for the next
meeting of your discussion group.

• Oh, what a tangled web we weave. In Racine County, Wisconsin,
Deborah Zimmerman is charged with attempted homicide because she tried
to kill her baby by alcohol poisoning. Two days before labor was to be
induced, she went out and got stone cold absolutely dead drunk.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “What makes the
case so unusual is that if Zimmerman’s baby had been stillborn, she
could not have been charged with attempted homicide because it would
have been considered an abortion, said Racine County Assistant District
Attorney Joan Korb.” Ms. Zimmerman just had the legal misfortune of
giving birth to a healthy baby. Defense attorney Sally Hoelzel takes a
different line: “My contention is that at the time of the alleged acts
of my client, the fetus was not a human being and could not be a
victim.” Prosecutor Korb observes, “People will want to look at it as a
woman’s right to do with her body as she pleases prior to the birth of
the child. But our position is that it has consequences to the child if
it’s born alive.” The article does not address the legalities of killing
a child as it is being born, as in partial-birth abortion. In the 220th
year of the independence of this great nation, that is countenanced by
what is known as the rule of law.

• A concurrent resolution of Congress, even when unanimously
adopted, does not have the force of law. But it is very good that the
House and Senate did it. The resolution was introduced September 17 by
Senator John McCain of Arizona, and is titled “Condemning Human Rights
Abuses and Denials of Religious Liberty.” While affirming the rights of
all believers, it focuses on the persecution of Christians who are
“victimized by a ‘religious apartheid’ that subjects them to inhumane,
humiliating treatment, and, in certain cases, are imprisoned, tortured,
enslaved, or killed.” The resolution cites John Paul II on “the most
fundamental human freedom, that of practicing one’s faith openly,” which
is a person’s “reason for living.” Among the countries named in the
Senate resolution are Sudan, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan, North
Korea, Egypt, Laos, and Vietnam. The Clinton State Department has been
notoriously lax in pressing the question of religious persecution,
especially where Christians are involved, and the resolution calls on
the President to “expand and invigorate” this country’s advocacy of
religious freedom and to “initiate a thorough examination of all U.S.
policies that affect persecuted Christians.” While a unanimous
resolution is not law, we are told that pertinent legislation is in the
works. Persecuted Christians around the world are puzzled and
disheartened by what they perceive, with good reason, as the
indifference of American Christians to their suffering brothers and
sisters. Many people are to be credited for recent efforts to challenge
this scandalous indifference, but we note especially the relentless
labor of Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute and Nina Shea of the
Puebla Institute, plus the splendid “Statement of Conscience and Call to
Action” adopted earlier this year by the National Association of
Evangelicals (NAE). We confess to being somewhat puzzled that other
institutions, including the National Council of Churches and the
Catholic bishops conference, have not publicly joined in the NAE
initiative. It surely cannot be that the U.S. Congress is more concerned
about the persecution of Christians than are some churches.

• Please, I take it back. Some months ago a comment on plagiarism
was titled, “He who steals my words . . .” In response to a reader who
complained that the title itself was semi-plagiarized, I rather snippily
said that anyone who didn’t recognize the Shakespeare reference
shouldn’t be reading the journal. We now have a bundle of letters from
readers who said they didn’t recognize it and ask whether I’m saying
that they should stop reading. No, no, no. It was written toward the end
of a difficult day. Even Homer nods (as Horace said of a much worthier
scribe).

• There is always the question of fairness. When you criticize
others, are you accurately representing their views? One is grateful,
therefore, when they themselves state their position with unmistakable
candor. Kevin M. Cathcart is one of the head honchos of the formidably
well-orchestrated legal campaign to advance the homosexual agenda. As
executive director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, he
offers in the New York Times a concise statement of his
understanding of democracy. “Democracy is not supposed to depend on
opinion polls or legislative approval,” he writes. “Strategic concerns
are critical for the lesbian and gay civil rights movement, but they
include choosing where as well as what battles are fought.” In getting
the Supreme Court to overrule the people of Colorado on homosexual
rights, and in pressing for same-sex marriage in Hawaii, Lambda “is
using the courts and the Constitution to expand and protect our rights.”
“Strategically, gay people have found far more success in the courts
than in Congress.” There you have it. Democracy is government by judges
rather than by the people through their elected representatives. Is that
a fair presentation of Lambda’s position? Its leader says so. In the
same statement he says that “the Supreme Court struck down Colorado’s
anti-gay Amendment 2 in Romer v. Evans, and ruled that under
the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, homophobia
cannot be made into law,” and he observes that “that principle may be
used to challenge the misnamed Defense of Marriage Act, should it become
law.” In signaling Lambda’s legal strategy in challenging the effort by
Congress to deny federal recognition to same-sex marriage, Mr. Cathcart
takes a small liberty in his interpretation of the Romer
decision, but it is a very small liberty. The Supreme Court did not
explicitly say that “homophobia” cannot be made into law. It did say
that disapproval of homosexuality reflects an irrational animus, and
disapproval of homosexuality in any form whatever is what gay activists
mean by homophobia. So Lambda and its allies are quite right to believe
that, in getting the government to declare that millennia of classical,
Jewish, and Christian teaching on homosexuality is nothing more than
prejudice, “gay people have found far more success in the courts than in
Congress”—or in any other institution with a measure of accountability
to the American people. Those who are surprised that this position is
presented as a defense of democracy have perhaps not been paying close
attention to the judiciary’s now long-standing repeal of the principle,
“government by the consent of the governed.”

• Reviewing a batch of evangelical books on dogmatic theology (May),
Carl Braaten, a Lutheran, didn’t like at all Wayne Grudem’s
Systematic Theology. He said, “Grudem completely ignores the
post-Enlightenment tradition” and exhibits “a blithe indifference to
critical scholarship” in his use of Scripture. Dr. Grudem of Trinity
Divinity School, Deerfield, Ill., takes strong exception. He notes that
his book has hundreds of references to post-Enlightenment authors,
albeit evangelical authors who reject the Enlightenment. As for
indifference to critical scholarship, he admits to giving “scant
attention to scholars whose anti-supernatural presuppositions and
entrenched historical skepticism make them poor guides to understanding
a Bible that is both thoroughly supernatural and absolutely reliable.”
So it turns out that his indifference, far from being blithe, is most
determined.

• 1998 is the fiftieth anniversary of the World Council of Churches
(WCC) and the big assembly was scheduled for Harare, Zimbabwe. Then it
was pointed out that Zimbabwe’s laws are not kindly disposed toward
sodomy and related sexual activities. President Robert Mugabe has gone
so far as to compare homosexual acts with animal behavior. There was
some agitation in the WCC to find a new site for the assembly, but
general secretary Konrad Raiser says that a change “would mean almost
total loss of credibility” for the WCC among African churches (over
seventy member churches are in Africa). The WCC and Zimbabwe have signed
a “memorandum of understanding” that commits the WCC to advising its
participants “not to indulge in any act that is in contravention of the
laws of Zimbabwe.” The implication is that the government, in turn, will
not look too closely at what WCC participants are doing in their
bedrooms. Not everyone is happy with the memorandum. For instance, Paul
Sherry of the United Church of Christ in the USA notes that “some of us”
might want to engage in nonviolent acts of protest in keeping with
church tradition. One can hear it now: “Would you like to engage in a
nonviolent act of protest?”

• The line between the careful and the craven is not always clear.
But clearly a recent directive from the United States Catholic
Conference (USCC) crawls across the line toward the craven. In September
the USCC put out “voter education” material listing the responses of
Clinton and Dole to a wide range of questions on subjects as various as
abortion, environment, land mines, foreign aid, and labor relations. The
material comes with an ever-so-cautious introduction from USCC legal
counsel indicating that it “meets IRS criteria” for literature that
“avoids violation of the Section 501(c)(3) prohibition against political
campaign activity.” So bishops and priests are directed that the
material must be distributed in its entirety; there must be no editorial
comment regarding candidates or their responses; and there must be “no
discussion of the questions presented in the questionnaire or of any
position of the church on such questions,” etc. The answers given by
Dole and Clinton (Perot didn’t respond) are familiar, so the
questionnaire contained nothing that the reasonably well-informed
citizen would not already know. The interesting thing is that a hyper-
nervous legal counsel tries to gag church leaders who just might want to
point out that a candidate’s position on, say, abortion or school choice
is somewhat more determinative than his position on family farms or the
minimum wage. Why on earth should the Catholic Church spinelessly
conform its educational efforts to “meet IRS criteria”? With respect to
the free exercise of religion, the Church should be pushing the
envelope, not safely hunkering down to stay within government dictates.
Most humiliating to the Church is the prohibition on discussing church
teachings in connection with the questionnaire. The Church to the state,
hat in hand and tugging its forelock: “Is there anything else we should
not do, Sire, in order to stay in your good graces?” Paul to Timothy:
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and
love and self-control.” But of course Paul only faced the prospect of
martyrdom and knew nothing of the terror of threatened tax exemption.
The leadership of apostles gives way to the rule of lawyers. We would
like to think that bishops had the good sense to junk the worthless
questionnaire in favor of proclaiming the Church’s message “in season
and out of season”—no matter whether it ruffled the feathers of the IRS
or gave an ulcer to USCC experts on the legal niceties of ecclesiastical
pusillanimity.

• Why do you ask? Of course we’ll be carrying a major review of
His Holiness: John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time
by Marco Politi and Carl Bernstein (the latter, with Bob Woodward,
of “deep throat” fame). The Oliver Stoning of history is not only of
interest to the stoned. Politi is a leader of the journalistic horde of
Italian vatacanisti or professional Pope-watchers. These are the
wonderful people who brought you the news, at least eighty-seven times
in the last eighteen years, that John Paul II is on his death bed. One
of these years they will be right about that, but, on the basis of my
own observation, that is likely a long time off. More on the book later,
however. For the moment, I note an interview with Politi in which he
laments that this Pope is not as progressive as he and his colleagues
would like. For the Church, he said, “the issues are the same as 20
years ago.” I should certainly hope so, although the sentence is missing
two zeros.

• “We all live in such rigid confines of male and female, like
there’s a great divide that separates us. Men who are feminine and women
who are masculine suffer because of it. I’m really sorry that this is an
issue in this day and time.” The speaker is Erin Swenson, a man who was
a Presbyterian minister in Atlanta. He divorced his wife of twenty-seven
years and underwent what the Atlanta paper calls “sex-reassignment
surgery.” An intriguing idea, sex as assignment. Erin insisted on
his/her right to play in the women’s tennis league. The dispute was
settled when the head of the tennis association determined that Erin had
a driver’s license that indicated she/he is female. “Officials concluded
that a person the State of Georgia recognizes as a woman is eligible for
its women’s leagues.” Denied recognition as a minister by the Atlanta
presbytery, Erin now works as “a psychotherapist in private practice
specializing in gender-identity issues.” Confused about your gender
identity? Just check your driver’s license. Unless you subscribe to the
“rigid confines of male and female” and think you need a new assignment.
We should all be really sorry that “this is an issue in this day and
time.” Really sorry.

• “Tacky.” That was one editor’s response to the idea that FT should
carry classified ads. Being as how we’re a very democratic outfit, the
Editor-in-Chief cast the majority vote against him. Many FT readers, we
expect, would welcome an economical and convenient way to let other
readers know about job openings, conferences, research projects, things
to sell, or whatever. (No “personals,” please. This isn’t the New
York Review of Books
.) For information on how to place your ad,
contact Richard Vaughan at Publishing Management Associates, 129 Phelps
Avenue, Suite 312, Rockford, IL 61108. Phone: (815) 398-8569; Fax: (815)
398-8579.

• Of the many books and tracts now appearing on how to replace our
catastrophic welfare system, a little book edited by James L. Payne is
worthy of note, The Befriending Leader: Social Assistance Without
Dependency
(Lytton Publishing, Sandpoint, Ohio). The book is
composed of essays by Octavia Hill, a remarkable social worker in
Victorian England whose methods were widely imitated in this country.
But even very good books have their distracting moments. In the
introduction, we are told that Ms. Hill operated not by rules and
regulations but by befriending those who needed help. “She conversed
with them, read poetry to them, led them in singing, took them on
outings, taught them to prepare nutritious lunches (with white
tablecloth and proper manners). Before long, the children were eating
out of her hand.” Table manners were different in those days.

• If you read the back of the journal first, you might send us that
list of potential subscribers before moving on to the main articles.
Just a thought.

• Already the editorials and sermons are upon us bemoaning the
commercialization of Christmas. But, once again, what is
commercialization except giving and receiving in exchanges of generosity
and conviviality? To be sure, anything can be done to excess, but one
should not protest too much when excess is on the side of good
intentions—or at least of intentions that we feel obliged to construe as
good. Finally, however, the so-called spirit of the season does come
down to the truth of the matter. John Betjeman got it right:

And is it true? For if it is,

No loving fingers tying strings

Around those tissued fripperies,

The sweet and silly Christmas things,

Bath salts and inexpensive scent

And hideous tie so kindly meant.



No love that in a family dwells,

No carolling in frosty air,

Nor all the steeple-shaking bells

Can with this single Truth compare—

That God was Man in Palestine

And lives today in Bread and Wine.



And in you. And in me.



A blessed Christmas, and may the new year be filled with grace and glory
for you and yours.



Articles by Richard John Neuhaus

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