An incisive article by Hadley Arkes (with Arkes, the adjective is superfluous) engages the argument of a new book by Harvard’s Harvey C. Mansfield, Machiavelli’s Virtue (University of Chicago Press). Machiavelli’s virtue, of course, has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with effectiveness in political rule. In this view, regimes are essentially the same, whether they be called democracies or monarchies, whether headed by Stalin or Cesare Borgia. As Mansfield puts it, The ruling part is always the same and only the relation of princes to each other and of princes to the people discloses the nature of the regime. Arkes writes: That is what Machiavelli understood about the reality of modern government: that it is the hand of the ruler, working under the fictions of the law. The additional fiction in democracies is that the people consent to the laws.
Along the way, Arkes suggests that the unhappiness of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia with today’s judiciary is because in his earnestness, he is still attached to the precious notion that we have a government of laws,’ an impersonal regime of rules, described in the Constitution. Not quite right, I think. My impression is that Justice Scalia is hardly naive; he is keenly aware that we are not now governed by the Constitution of the founders. It is simply that he thinks we should be. There are many other points worth an argument in Arkes’ New Criterion essay, including his Straussian (Leo, that is) speculation that Mansfield has almost nothing to say about morality and religion precisely because, in good Straussian fashion, he is concealing what he knows to be most important. It may be, writes Arkes, that in the politics shaped by Machiavelli, in the world we inhabit now, a realistic doctrine of virtue may have to be conveyed as a covert teaching. It is not something that the urbane, in our day, will proclaim openly and teach in public. Since Arkes himself does teach very openly a realistic doctrine of virtue, I take that as a criticism of Mansfield. But one never knows for sure with these Straussians.
Where I’m inclined to think that Arkes is wrong is in his suggestion that Machiavellian cynicism explains the support for Bill Clinton even by people who think he is a scoundrel. He notes that surveys indicate that a majority of Americans think Clinton lacks honesty and integrity, but also think he has honesty and integrity enough to be President. It becomes more and more apparent, writes Arkes, that Bill Clinton is a reflection of something in the American character, and the public reaction to Clinton offers a precise reflection, at this moment, of the national soul.
Well, yes, but mainly no. One does not need sophisticated political theory to know that not very long ago politicians were disqualified by personal moral failings, including lechery (remember Gary Hart) or even divorce (remember Nelson Rockefeller). A sympathetic press hushed up John F. Kennedy’s womanizing precisely because it was assumed that, were it known, it would be politically deadly. I doubt if there has been much change in the national soul, although what has changed may well, in time, change the national soul. What has changed is that the combination of Bill Clinton and the multiplication of media”especially tabloids and talk radio”has made it impossible to keep secret the man’s egregious transgressions. What has changed is that the prestige media, so eager for his victory, and his opponents, so eager not to seem nasty, decided that the man’s wretched character is a political nonissue.
Ten or thirty years ago, there were no doubt many Americans who were quite blase about politicians’ personal derelictions. Then as now, they may even have rather admired them as lovable rogues. The difference is that our intellectual leadership, the media, and the then”mainline churches did not tell the morally slovenly sector of the electorate that they were right in their indifference to character. This time they did precisely that, so desperately did they want Clinton to win. As FDR is reported to have said of a Latin America dictator, He’s an SOB, but he’s our SOB. This does not represent a change in the national soul any more than the flaunting of shamelessness on television talk shows is a change in the national soul. I expect there was always an audience for shows exhibiting sons who want to sleep with their mothers or workers who steal from their employees. It is simply that, until recently, the television industry and its advertisers didn’t pander to these low tastes. Now they do.
As I say, this may be working a change in the national soul, but we shouldn’t blame the national soul for what is done by very specific people who should know better. America did not decide one afternoon that it would be a good idea to put on the newsstands a magazine with center-fold pornography. The peddlers of pornography decided that, and they were supported by judges who are real people with names. America did not decide it is all right for women to kill their babies at whim. Seven lawyers on the Supreme Court decided that. And on and on. I certainly do not deny that there is such a thing as public morality and it may, with care, be called the national soul, which may be changing for the worse. I do very much question whether the reelection of Bill Clinton is to be attributed to a popular embrace of Machiavelli’s anti-virtue. For calculated partisan reasons, often publicly admitted, those who control the commanding heights of the political culture decided to appeal to the weaknesses rather than the strengths of the populace, and persuaded enough voters that virtue does not matter. Of course they were greatly helped by a politically skillful rogue and his worse than inept opponents.
Hadley Arkes is right that Bill Clinton is a reflection of something in the American character. It is a something that is usually repressed and not mentioned in polite company. But I doubt that the public reaction to Clinton offers a precise reflection, at this moment, of the national soul. The generalization is not saved even by the hedge at this moment. I would not be at all surprised if, at this moment, a majority of Americans, including a majority of those who voted for Clinton, are more than a little embarrassed to have as a President someone whom they pray their children will not be like. The national soul, inclined to vice as to virtue, is also resilient and will, please God, get other chances to express itself. Of course, supply”side politics, like supply”side economics, requires that people perceive that something better is on offer. Meanwhile, it is premature to say that the national soul has turned Machiavellian just because 23 percent of the eligible voters, in resignation to the devil they know, and being provided with no persuasive arguments by the devil they didn’t know, decided to stick with what they were stuck with.
The Lonely Burden of Rule
It all depends upon your community of discourse, I suppose. I thought Jeffrey Rosen’s profile of Justice Anthony Kennedy in the New Yorker , titled The Agonizer, was devastating. But a friend at Harvard Law School tells me that people there thought it highly complimentary. That is very depressing. Rosen notes that Kennedy was appointed by Ronald Reagan to provide some conservative balance to the Court but, on issue after issue, he has come down solidly on the liberal side of things. In explaining to law students his 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey , Kennedy was very moving. If a member of his family ever became pregnant, Justice Kennedy said, he would do his best to persuade her to keep the child. He would offer to adopt the baby, even to rear it himself, rather than sanction what he fervently believed was the taking of innocent life. At this point, students recall, Justice Kennedy’s eyes filled with tears and his voice broke. But when it came time to decide the abortion case, Kennedy said, he couldn’t impose his personal views on the nation.
Justice Kennedy, as is said inside the beltway, has grown wondrously since his appointment. Rosen writes, Where Justice Kennedy goes, so goes the Supreme Court: for the past three terms, in 5”4 cases, he has voted with the majority more often than any other Justice, and so has been the pivotal figure in case after case. Like Chief Justice Earl Warren, the father of the current phase of judicial activism, Kennedy demonstrates an impatience with the niceties of legal doctrine, a penchant for expressing simple constitutional principles in ringing terms, and a lack of concern about the costs of short”circuiting political debates by means of extravagant demonstrations of judicial power. Kennedy’s opinions reveal an affinity for the grand generalization magisterially articulated. Rosen writes: Justice Kennedy’s opinions sometimes call to mind a high”school civics lesson that aspires to be chiseled on a monument. And the conflict aroused by his personal conservatism, his judicial libertarianism, and his expansive vision of the role of the Court has led”in the abortion and gay”rights cases, in particular”to an anguished assertiveness that has not entirely satisfied partisans on either side.
Rosen says that Kennedy shows little compunction about allowing unelected judges, rather than democratic legislatures, to decide controversial questions of social policy. You know the problem, Kennedy told Rosen in an interview, What’s the appropriate stopping point, so that you don’t have a national legislature with the scope of the Supreme Court? According to Rosen, Kennedy has no answer to his own question. Kennedy’s image of the judge seems to be that of the Platonic guardian or even the philosopher king. He is the author of the infamous mystery passage in the Casey decision: At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Wow.
Rosen asked Kennedy about his discussion of the abortion decision with the law students. Kennedy seemed a little flustered. I had forgotten that. We, of course, in our family and our tradition”I doubt that anybody would go that route, but that isn’t the world out there. There are many people out there who don’t have supportive families, who don’t have any families. They have boyfriends, or even pimps, who’re going to beat them up if they find out about it. It’s that sort of world out there. Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t important moral concerns, which everybody should be aware of.’ Being translated: We of course have our standards, but as for the people out there . . .
Kennedy complains that the job of a Justice comes with the burden of lonely anguishing. There’s a quietness, there’s stillness, as you recognize, no matter which case, which position prevails, that there are long”term consequences that are the result of our verdict. And we like to say that it’s the force of the Constitution, as we must. But it’s hard. Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown. Of course we like to say, we must say, that the decision is mandated by the Constitution, but we all know how it is in the real world.
Rosen writes: At some point during the next four years, the President may well have the opportunity to select a new Chief Justice. Kennedy is said to be interested in the job. And if Bill Clinton should want a Chief Justice in his own image”earnest, idealistic, gregarious, fair-minded, willing to take public positions that offend his own policy preferences, and able to feel the pain of those he disappoints”he might be more comfortable with Anthony Kennedy than with one of his own nominees. He concludes his profile of Justice Kennedy with this: Society has to recognize that it has to confront hard decisions in neutral, rational, dispassionate debate,’ Kennedy told me. And not just leave it to courts.’ Behind the rimless spectacles, his pale”blue eyes flashed. That’s a weak society that leaves it to courts.’ For a weak society that has wearied of self-government, Justice Kennedy is reluctantly, agonizingly, selflessly ready to assume the burden of judicial tyranny. As I said, at Harvard Law School they thought the profile highly complimentary, or so I am told.
The Drinan Affair, Again
Shameless is the unavoidable word for Father Robert Drinan, S.J., and for those who continue to publish him as an authority on religion and public life. For years as a consistently pro-abortion Congressman, he provided cover for Catholic politicians who cravenly declared themselves personally opposed but . . . During the 1996 campaign, he published in the New York Times a ringing defense of Clinton’s veto of the partial-birth abortion bill. His Jesuit superiors did some public mumbling to the effect that he did not necessarily speak for them, and Cardinal Hickey of Washington demanded a public retraction, but no retraction has appeared.
Instead, the Tablet publishes Drinan’s celebratory article on Clinton’s reelection (America’s Comeback Kid), which is described as being of landslide proportions. Less than 50 percent of the vote in the lowest turnout in more than seventy years is a novel definition of landslide. In his fevered partisanship, Drinan is brazenly unrepentant: Some pro-life Republicans wanted to make abortion a prime issue in the campaign in order to embarrass and hurt Clinton’s reelection possibilities. The Catholic bishops and some of the pro-life community had worked hard to pass a so-called partial-birth bill to regulate late-term abortions. Drinan makes no secret of the pleasure he takes in the failure of the effort to ban infanticide.
He does allow that there is a widespread feeling that [Clinton] cannot be trusted, but he attributes this to the relentless attack of a Republican Congress on the President’s character and integrity. Such attacks may increase, says Drinan, but polls show that American voters dislike low tactics and react negatively to those who indulge in them. He concludes with the observation that most Americans think of their nation as being on a sacred pilgrimage destined by God’s providence to give light and courage to the entire world, and with the hope that Clinton, who is a very intelligent and deeply religious man, will restore that vision.
It is a remarkable depiction of the current American circumstance. One can imagine Drinan, who had a prominent part in the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon, standing by a beleaguered President Clinton, taking over the role of that hapless rabbi who served as Nixon’s apologist to the bitter end. As a political partisan, Robert Drinan is relentlessly faithful. As a priest and a Jesuit, he is shameless. When his defense of infanticide appeared in the Times , Cardinal O’Connor of New York wrote a sadly thoughtful column on how Drinan had brought shame on himself and the priesthood. O’Connor, Hickey, and other bishops have protested, as well they should, but where is the response of the Society of Jesus”either in the New England Province to which Drinan belongs or in Rome?
At the risk of again troubling admirably faithful Jesuits, of whom there are many, one notes that the leadership of the Society of Jesus is forfeiting the confidence of many thoughtful Catholics. For more than twenty-five years, Fr. Drinan’s has been among the more egregious instances of contumacious defiance of authority and teaching, but he is by no means alone. When last year a Catholic magazine revealed the long pattern of mendacity by which Rome and American bishops were misled, to put it gently, in order to further Drinan’s political career, the only evident response by the Society was to call on the carpet the young Jesuit who, in a perfectly honorable manner, supplied the magazine with the pertinent documentation. In 1992, Drinan wrote in the Boston Globe , No Jesuit I ever met thought it a good idea that I was required to leave Congress after serving from 1971”1981. His order is not that far gone, or perhaps it is that he meets only like-minded Jesuits.
Jesuits who care deeply about what is happening to their community say they would like to be able to offer assurances that these and other scandals are being dealt with discreetly, out of the public eye, but they cannot. The inevitable result is the public perception of a society that cannot or will not address the disarray and demoralization of its own leadership. Jesuits at high levels have reflected that perhaps the days of the Society are coming to an end, that in the life of the Church the Jesuit charism may be neither permanent nor necessary. Perhaps that is the case, but one can only contemplate the prospect with great sadness. In the entrance of the Jesuit headquarters in Rome is a striking statue of Ignatius with the motto Ite incendite ”Go set the world aflame”his parting words to Francis Xavier who was carrying the Gospel to the East. One must hope that flame is not being extinguished.
In Defense of the Unlikable
One of the distressing things about defending religious freedom is that you end up defending people you might not like very much. Having never met Tony Alamo, I don’t know whether I would like him or not, but I think not. His time in jail and being denied parole, however, poses an important test of the free exercise provision of the First Amendment, and also of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed by Congress in 1993.
Back in the sixties, Alamo (born Bernie Lazar Hoffman) and his wife Susan Alamo launched a Christian ministry to drug addicts, prostitutes, petty criminals, and sundry dropouts in West Hollywood, California, and pretty soon they had about a thousand people living and working in commune”type churches in California, Arkansas, Brooklyn, and several other places. Church members produced, inter alia, glitzy Alamo jackets and other custom clothing that was the rage for a while among celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, and James Brown. In 1972, then”governor Ronald Reagan issued a commendation for the group’s work against drugs and crime.
Claiming to follow the example of the early Church in Acts 2, the group held everything in common and distributed goods according to individual need. Of course, Alamo was in charge and, while everyone was equal, he was no doubt more equal than others, but nobody was coerced into joining or staying with the community. Then came the U.S. Department of Labor, in the group’s first trouble with the law, claiming that workers had to be paid the minimum wage and that Alamo had to conform to government record”keeping requirements. That was protested all the way to the Supreme Court, which sided with the government while recognizing that the group’s activities were religious in nature.
Enter CAN (the Cult Awareness Network). CAN became notorious for its role in the Waco tragedy of 1993, but for a long time before that had been involved in court cases and doubtfully legal activities against any religious or quasi-religious eccentricity it labeled a cult. The organization has been sharply criticized by the American Psychological Association and scholars of religion, and in 1996 was forced into bankruptcy when a jury rendered a verdict of $3.5 million against CAN for violating a plaintiff’s civil right to freely practice his religion. The U.S. Department of Justice used CAN, however, to go after Alamo on charges of tax evasion. The prosecution highlighted Alamo’s admittedly strange religious doctrines and charges that church members practiced polygamy, convincing the jury that this is indeed one of those dangerous cults and its leader is guilty of using mind control to dominate his followers. Alamo was sentenced to six years in prison.
Now sixty-two years old and ailing, Alamo is in a federal prison in Texarkana, Texas. Last March he was denied parole. The parole commissioner who reviewed the request wrote: [Plaintiff Alamo] committed his scheme by exerting unusually strong control over very vulnerable religious followers’ of his. He used destitute people, unwed young mothers, and children to bring in money in exchange for living in subject’s religious compound. According to the PSI [Pre-Sentence Investigative Report] and the victims, subject had followers abused physically and psychologically. This was a cult in the truest sense and subject’s followers were used like slaves (emphasis in original). The final decision to deny parole stated, Your lack of any remorse weighs heavily against you. But, of course, to express remorse would have been tantamount to denying his convictions based on what he claimed to be a literal reading of the Bible.
A number of distinguished folk have protested the treatment of Alamo, including J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religions in Santa Barbara. The Rev. Dean Kelley, counselor on religious liberty for the National Council of Churches and a contributor to these pages, brought the case to my attention. They point out that, whatever we may think of his claims, the members of his church think that Alamo is a divinely inspired prophet and that the social and economic relations of the church are mandated by Scripture. Kelley notes that it is typical that groups reaching out to convert people in crisis in order to save them from a sinful world develop clear boundaries and shared expectations of a dedicated community aimed at supporting their rehabilitation. But all of this counts for little with the government that”while claiming to be assiduously neutral in matters religious”knows a cult when it sees one.
A U.S. District Court refused to hear Alamo’s appeal because, it said, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not give federal courts the power to review a denial of parole. That refusal is now, in turn, being appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, with amici curiae being filed by a number of friends of religious freedom. In Ballard (1943) the Supreme Court declared: The Fathers of the Constitution were not unaware of the varied and extreme views of religious sects, of the violence of disagreement among them, and of the lack of any one religious creed on which all men would agree. They fashioned a charter of government which envisaged the widest possible tolerance of conflicting views. Man’s relationship to his God was made no concern of the state. He was granted the right to worship as he pleased and to answer to no man for the verity of his religious views. The religious views espoused by respondents might seem preposterous, to most people. But if those doctrines are subject to trial before a jury charged with finding their truth or falsity, then the same can be done with the religious beliefs of any sect.
It is no concern of the state unless, as in the case of Tony Alamo and too many others, the views are really preposterous. And unless people try to actually live according to their preposterous beliefs. Again, I hold no brief for Tony Alamo or his movement, and probably wouldn’t like the man if I met him. For all I know, he may have been doing something shady such as tax evasion. That is not the point. The point is that the U.S. Government has no business declaring that the beliefs and practices of the Alamo church constitute a cult and are therefore not protected by the free”exercise provision of the First Amendment. The point is that the defense of religious freedom sometimes requires the defense of people and movements that we distinctly dislike. (For more information about the Alamo case, write his attorney, Mr. Harry Kresky, 250 West 57th Street, Suite 2015, New York, NY 10107.)
Ideas Have Consequences, Again
The January 8 oral arguments before the Supreme Court on doctor”assisted suicide seemed to go very well, with a number of justices raising just the right questions. Everything you’ve said, it seems to me, could go on in a legislative chamber, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told a lawyer arguing in favor of a constitutional right to suicide. This case raises the basic question of who decides, Ginsburg added. Is this ever a proper question for courts to decide? To the same lawyer, Justice David Souter put the question, Why shouldn’t we conclude that as an institution we are not in the position to make the judgment that you want us to make? Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed concern that upholding the Ninth Circuit’s finding of a constitutional right to suicide would in effect declare unconstitutional the law of almost every state in the union. Which, of course, is precisely what the Court did with abortion in Roe v. Wade . Some long”term observers of the Court could not believe they were hearing such unwonted expressions of judicial self-restraint.
Superstar Laurence Tribe of Harvard waxed eloquent about death with dignity, to which Justice Antonin Scalia responded, This is lovely philosophy. Where is it in the Constitution? Scalia, as is so often the case, may have had the best line. He asked why the right to suicide should be limited to the terminally ill, and the lawyer responded that with the terminally ill the dying process has begun. Scalia rejoined, I have to tell you, the dying process of all of us has begun.
A noted journalist remarked to me, You people at First Things must be feeling very gratified. It is true that at least several Justices had read our symposia on judicial usurpation with care, and have been following the ensuing debate about the role of the courts in our polity. And it was encouraging to hear Speaker Newt Gingrich declare at his swearing”in that judicial usurpation would be high on the agenda of the new Congress, with Henry Hyde’s Judiciary Committee holding full”scale hearings and looking at possible legislation. Congressman Hyde is, we are pleased to note, a devoted reader of the journal. But credit where credit is due. The Justices had to be impressed by some thirty-nine amici curiae briefs opposing assisted suicide. Major institutions, ranging from the American Medical Association to the U.S. Catholic Conference, submitted detailed arguments on the moral, legal, and medical folly of declaring a constitutional right to suicide. One cannot help but wonder what difference it would have made had as many comparably compelling briefs been submitted prior to the 1973 Roe decision that took everyone by surprise by abolishing the nation’s laws protecting the unborn.
In addition, William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard , wields considerable influence in Washington, and, after the Standard’ s initially critical reaction to our symposia, Kristol has been energetically pushing judicial usurpation as the number one challenge for the new Congress. Others are now joining in. That”plus the mangled reactions of such as The New Republic to the arguments in FT, and the vigorous reactions to the reactions”has made the judicial usurpation of politics a very hot topic inside the beltway.
For all the repercussions of the FT initiative, be assured we are letting none of this go to our editorial heads. Of course it is pleasing when an argument is framed in a way that gets such demonstrable results, but keep in mind that statements such as those of Ginsburg and Souter could, without too much difficulty, be squared with the devious strategy of the Clinton Administration that Russell Hittinger discusses in this issue. Then too, oral argument is no sure portent of how a decision will go. Moreover, even if the Court does restrain itself from inventing any kind of constitutional right to suicide, which we very much hope is the case, there remain numerous instances of the judicial usurpation of politics that need to be urgently addressed. The most egregious of these, of course, is Roe v. Wade and subsequent abortion decisions, on which the Ninth Circuit plausibly made its case for a constitutional right to assisted suicide.
Finally, while we would not underplay the influence of the discussion in these pages, we hardly invented the question of judicial overreach. It has been a staple in our political discourse for a long time. What the writers in FT did was to bring the many parts of the argument together in an accessible way, and to frame it as a single argument about the future of democracy. In addition, we ratcheted up the stakes by taking seriously, as others had not, the Court’s own ponderings in Casey about the legitimacy of the law that it was making. Richard Weaver’s maxim that ideas have consequences has become something of a cliche, and it is often difficult to trace the exact connections between ideas and consequences. But in some cases it is less difficult than others. My own view is that the taking on of the legitimacy and democracy questions by the FT writers, and the alarms that that raised, contributed very significantly to putting judicial usurpation high on the political agenda. All that having been said, however, the response to the above”mentioned journalist is: Yes, it is very gratifying indeed, but gratification is severely tempered by an awareness of how much remains to be done, and undone, with respect to the judicial usurpation of politics.
While We’re At It
I will thank you. Jim Nuechterlein will thank you. Matt Berke will thank you. Jody Bottum will thank you. Davida Goldman will thank you. Barbara Sypieo will thank you. That’s a lot of thanks for sending us a list of family members, friends, and associates who should be subscribing to FT. We’ll send them a sample issue in your name. And then they will thank you. Please do it soon. Like today.
As though the Federal courts did not have enough to do, they’re going in for biblical exegesis. For instance, the Ninth Circuit’s decision that discovers a constitutional right to doctor”assisted suicide has this in a footnote: In the New Testament, the suicide of Judas Iscariot is not treated as a further sin, rather as an act of repentance. You perhaps did not know that. The same court declares that it was St. Augustine’s utilitarian concern that the rage for suicide’ would deplete the ranks of Christians that forced Augustine to conclude that suicide was a detestable and damnable wickedness.’ Augustine as a utilitarian? Only the emanations and penumbra of the judicial imagination could have thought of it. In a decision that adamantly insists that religious and moral traditions have no place in the law, we also find the remarkable assertion that Thomas More in his Utopia strongly supported the right of the terminally ill to commit suicide. The Utopia , you will recall, was a satire and in Book II More has his literary foil, Raphael Hythlodeaus, arguing for suicide. Hythlodaeus is from the Greek and means speaker of nonsense. Federal judges are not expected to be good on subtleties. Nothing daunted, the Ninth Circuit goes on to take it upon itself to explain the Catholic moral idea of double effect. The relevant footnote cites no less an authority on Catholic moral theology than Dr. Timothy Quill, noted advocate of assisted suicide. The court says that double effect means it is justifiable to cause evil in the pursuit of good. To his credit, Judge Kleinfeld, dissenting from the decision, wrote: The majority has it exactly wrong”knowledge of a consequence does not imply nor intend a consequence. He gives as an example Eisenhower ordering troops into battle in order to liberate Europe from the Nazis, knowing that some of his troops would almost certainly be killed. It is bizarre to say that Eisenhower killed his troops. But the majority of judges went along with the ignorant rewriting of history and morality. These are the members of what Justice Antonin Scalia calls the judicial elite who deem the American people incapable of self-government.
For some Christians the Bible is always authoritative. They are called fundamentalists. For others, however, Jesus Christ is authoritative. So the Rev. Michael Morse of the United Church of Christ writes in the Washington Post . He continues: To treat the Bible literally leads to all kinds of serious distortions and cruelties. To treat Jesus seriously leads one to the inevitable conclusion that he believed in lifestyles filled with equality, mutuality, compassion, commitment, responsibility, a sense of partnership and love. There is plenty of room in those lifestyles for gay persons, even for gay marriages. Jesus was a real sweety.
The Vatican has given the Catholic Church in Ireland permission to lift the obligation to attend Mass on Ascension Day and Corpus Christi. These observances can now be moved to the nearest Sunday. Recent years have seen a significant decline in Catholic observance in a church dogged by controversy and scandal. Bishop James Walshe, spokesman for the bishops, said the change was made because the atmosphere of a working day during the week is not conducive to celebrating holy days. But isn’t that the point of holy days?
Banned in Bedford. It doesn’t have quite the panache of Banned in Boston, but Rush Limbaugh will have to be satisfied with it. A release from the Rutherford Institute reports that the Montvale Elementary School of Bedford, Virginia, now bans books other than those in the school library. For the period of recreational reading time, children had been bringing books of their choice. One day fifth-grader Jason Gardner brought Limbaugh’s The Way Things Ought To Be . That was too much, and the teacher confiscated the book. The new policy limiting children to books in the school library makes sure that they will not be exposed to subversive literature. It’s a liberal thing; you wouldn’t understand.
In the forward to the paperback edition of The Culture of Disbelief , Stephen Carter writes: It is not and has never been my contention that the public square”the place where we debate public policy”is hostile to religion. Many observers of our politics, Richard John Neuhaus and William Bennett prominent among them, do make that claim with some force, but my thought is different: I argue that in the public square, religion is too often trivialized , treated as an unimportant facet of human personality, one easily discarded, and one with which public-spirited citizens would not bother. Trivialized, treated as unimportant, easily discarded, and not to be bothered with. It sounds very much like hostility to me.
I, the undersigned, do hereby give possession of my soul to the devil for eternity, for ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever. Teenagers are invited to sign this pledge and send it to Devil Man skateboards in El Segundo, California. This is from an advertisement in Thrasher , a popular skateboard magazine. Or so we are informed by Pastor Russ Saltzman, who edits Forum Letter and plans to use the ad when his catechism class gets to the part about no other gods.
If you don’t know, don’t ask what the late Robert Mapplethorpe’s art was about. I couldn’t tell you in the pages of a high-tone journal such as this. A big Mapplethorpe exhibit opened in London, and art critic Edward Lucie-Smith tries to make sense of the sensation surrounding it. Confronted with his oeuvre in its totality, one can’t help being surprised that he remains such a cult figure, since his gifts seem genuine but minor, an echo of more original talents. I think there may be several reasons for this. One is the rainbow coalition’ aspect of the present contemporary art scene. In the United States, particularly, every grouping must be allowed a voice: African Americans, Native Americans, Chicanos, feminists, and gays. As a spokesman for homosexuals, and a victim of AIDS, Mapplethorpe is forgiven for aspects of his work, such as his depersonalization of his African American subjects, which in other hands would be condemned as politically incorrect. Second, he is the posthumous beneficiary of the censorship controversy which broke out just before his death, and which culminated in an unsuccessful prosecution for obscenity in Cincinnati in September and October 1990. Effectively, the trial whitewashed Mapplethorpe’s image with the liberal establishment, and all the unsavory details revealed in Patricia Morrisroe’s biography published last year have not been able to undo this-or not yet. Third, there is his genuine historical importance: more than any other individual, Mapplethorpe, through his ruthless ambition, was responsible for establishing photography in the public mind as the peer of other forms of expression in the fine arts. This was something which America’s greatest photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, had earlier been unable to do. Fourth and last, there is the accessibility of his work. Where else, among all the things which are now supposedly avant”garde, will you find so much which is essentially clear, simple, and direct? If one also adds derivative,’ that doesn’t matter too much. Lucie-Smith got it right on almost every score, except for the comparison with Stieglitz. His photographs were taken more seriously than Mapplethorpe’s, at least by serious people. And he did it at a time when the art world was not so monomaniacally devoted to the transgressive as the mark of creativity. When future archeologists rummage through the rubble of New York and London and ask about the reason for their decline and fall, one hopes for the sake of history getting it right that they come across the art of Robert Mapplethorpe, and maybe the accounts of an auction house showing the high premium the rotten rich placed upon self-destruction.
Charitable giving was way up again last year, with the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, and Catholic Charities USA as the top recipients of $23
.5 billion donated by Americans. There was a 25 percent increase in giving to Catholic Charities, which raised $419.4 million. This despite the fact that Catholic Charities continues to denigrate the importance of charity. Writing in America , Father Fred Kammer, president of Catholic Charities USA, again subordinates voluntarism to the role of charities as partner to government at all levels. To replace the spending of government programs, he points out, would require that every local church and synagogue in America come up with two million dollars. But the whole debate about welfare today is not about finding the money to maintain existing programs but about encouraging programs that actually help people out of poverty, and inventing new ones. Catholic Charities and similar Protestant and Jewish organizations have become wedded to business as usual, which is mainly the business of receiving billions in public funds to be partner to government at all levels. In his book, Salted With Fire: Spirituality for the Faithjustice Journey , Fr. Kammer calls upon us to stand in solidarity with the wretched of the earth, the anawim who are the object of biblical compassion, and to become the most dangerous of fanatics, the most subversive of subversives, the most unbending of radicals. The overheated rhetoric notwithstanding, Fr. Kammer is the Chief Executive Officer of a multibillion dollar corporation that is dependent upon maintaining the status quo of a government-subsidized poverty industry. This is not to say that Catholic Charities does not do a great deal of good. It undoubtedly does. But it is also a chief apologist for a catastrophically destructive welfare system, and stands in the way of developing alternatives to help people break out of dependency and take charge of their lives. The problem is not only with the religiously based charities. At a recent Washington conference, Leslie Lenkowsky of the Hudson Institute noted that philanthropies dealing with social problems have in recent decades assumed that the chief purpose of their grants is to produce bigger government grants. Less reliance on government grants would increase the responsibilities and opportunities of the private sector. But that, says Lenkowsky, is not what the philanthropies and charities want. So closely do they identify their efforts and goals with those of government that the prospect of having to take more responsibility is unsettling. So accustomed have they grown to government grants that they cannot envision subsisting with fewer of them. So accepting have they become of the constraints imposed on their freedom of action that they are fearful of losing them. Sadly, the greatest obstacle to a reinvigoration of communal association and problem-solving in the United States may well turn out to be the charities themselves.
Before she took over from her husband, Peter, as editor of Commonweal , Margaret (Peggy) Steinfels worked for Monsignor Philip Murnion of the National Pastoral Life Center in New York, and both were key to the development of the Catholic Common Ground Project (CCGP), for which they enlisted the support of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, who announced it a national press conference in August 1996. In a recent interview, Steinfels said, I’m fascinated by the idea that an effort to reduce the noise and the factionalism (in the Church) has itself become the object of the same. This was not a movement or parallel church. In some ways that’s why I’m astonished at the reactions of Cardinals Hickey and Law, that it’s like somehow a schism is being set in place. That was so far from anybody’s thinking that I can only say I remain truly astonished at their reaction. Ms. Steinfels’ astonishment does credit to her ingenuousness. When a cardinal convokes a national dialogue that proposes to come up with the resolution of problems that have disquieted the Church for several decades, it is not surprising that many bishops and others thought that maybe somebody was suggesting a replacement for episcopal leadership, and for that of Rome. Had CCGP operated as originally proposed, it almost certainly would have had the strong support of progressive Catholic media and of prestige voices such as the New York Times . An individual bishop taking a firm stand on Catholic teaching, as well as any intervention by Rome on some question controverted among American Catholics, would have been declared a regrettable interference in the national dialogue. As it happens, the late Cardinal Bernardin passed the baton to Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile, Alabama, and the advisory committee’s first meeting in October decided that they were not ready to go forward with the inaugural public gathering that had been scheduled for March. There is no doubt that dialogue is needed, and bishops should be bringing people together on the basis of clear Catholic teaching, but the most astonishing thing about CCGP is that its initiators appeared not to recognize the presumption of their proposal or to anticipate the response of those charged with the task of teaching the faith and shepherding the faithful. CCGP may still have a contribution to make if it reforms itself as a dialogue on how best to reevangelize the Catholic people and enlist them in, for instance, advancing the vision of John Paul II to prepare the world for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. But, from what we have been able to gather, such a re-formation does not seem likely.
The Common Good and Catholic Social Teaching is a statement issued by the bishops conference of England and Wales as the U.K. gets ready for an election. The preface by Basil Cardinal Hume smacks a little of Catholics playing catch-up with the Church of England on the social action front, and some involved in drafting the statement are fond of the seamless garment gambit that has done such mischief in this country. There are complaints that the statement tilts toward Labor, and there is evidence of that at points. All in all, however, The Common Good is a straightforward statement of magisterial teaching, drawing in particular on the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus . The anthropology of the acting person, freedom and human rights, natural law, subsidiarity, solidarity, and the affirmation of capitalism, rightly understood”all these components of Catholic social teaching receive much clearer and more positive treatment than is found in any major document of the Catholic bishops in the U.S. The statement generously acknowledges the contributions of other traditions of Christian social teaching in Britain, as exemplified by Wesley, Elizabeth Fry, Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, Kingsley, Booth, and Temple. The bishops insist that they are not being politically partisan and, while partisans of all sorts might be inclined to dispute that, the statement does a creditable job of sticking to the principles that are well supported by Church teaching. While none of the main political parties merits unqualified support from Catholics, none of them is excluded from that support in principle. Some may dismiss such language as bland, but it reflects a self-restraint that is not always evident in religious pronouncements on public affairs. The bishops strongly protest abortion, euthanasia, and other crimes against the dignity of human life, and raise a sharp challenge to the prevalence of rights talk. Not everything said to be a right’ really is one. There is no right to choose’ to harm another, for instance. The proliferation of alleged rights’ can devalue the very concept. So can the amplification of rights without equivalent stress on duties, and without some concept of the common good to which all have an obligation to contribute. In sum, The Common Good and Catholic Social Teaching, deficiencies notwithstanding, does what many such statements claim but fail to do: It informs and elevates the discourse about the right ordering of public life.
One of the most distinguished American historians, Edmund S. Morgan of Yale, has mixed feelings about the filming of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible . The screenplay, also by Miller, is significantly different from the original play, and director Nicholas Hytner was hesitant about asking for the changes. Hytner felt, he says, as if I was asking Shakespeare for amendments to King Lear . Among Morgan’s hesitations is the way the drama conflates the trials with the preliminary hearings. Danforth [the judge played by Paul Scofield] could not actually have signed the seventy-two death warrants that Miller has him say he has done in the play. Nor could the Reverend Hale have signed the seventeen he says he did in the film. And though Parris and other ministers did give and take testimony at the hearings, they could not have participated in giving verdicts or pronouncing sentences. The clergy never enjoyed any political authority in colonial Massachusetts, which was not the theocracy that popular legend has made it. These and other distortions, in their dramatic effectiveness, have eclipsed history, says Morgan. Shakespeare’s Richard III has all but erased the real Richard. Arthur Miller is not Shakespeare, and he takes fewer liberties with the past than Shakespeare did, but with this film his Salem has become irresistibly our own. Unlike, for instance, Oliver Stone’s vulgar propagandizing in his Nixon and other films, when faced with real artistic achievement we should, with Morgan, let artistic license have loose rein. That being said, however, it is a pity that the film will reinforce a picture of Puritanism that profoundly misrepresents the American beginnings.
Nothing fills Christians with such a warm sense of self-satisfaction as having a clear moral issue on which to take a prophetic stand with absolutely no cost to themselves. The general synod council of the Anglican Church of Canada has boldly called upon millions of Canadians not to visit Florida this year. They should go to Cuba instead, where, it is pointed out, the weather is at least as good and the facilities (for tourists) just as sumptuous. All this in protest against the U.S. boycott of Cuba. Says Bishop Michael Ingham, Many Canadian Christians, along with many Canadians, feel the U.S. assault on Cuba has been extremely damaging to ordinary Cubans who have nothing to do with political issues. Under Fidel, they better not have. We have no editorial position on U.S. policy toward Cuba, but there is something sickeningly cloying about affluent Christians telling themselves they are striking a blow for justice by luxuriating in the sun and pouring money into the coffers of a dictatorship that continues to persecute fellow Christians. But then, given the wondrous state of morality and culture in Canada, perhaps our Anglican friends could not find any other cause of the season about which to feel so very good about themselves. Of course they might stay at home and visit prisoners, clothe the naked, and help women with crisis pregnancies, but all that would impinge upon the treasured costlessness of discipleship. Anyway, as the bishop’s wife would protest, We always go South for the winter.
Anthony Lewis of the New York Times works himself into his practiced moral dither over the damage being done by Orthodox Jews in Israel who bother his secularist friends by raising questions about what it means that Israel is a Jewish state. Leaving aside the merits of his concern, I was taken with the title of his column, Render Unto Caesar. One is reminded of that very nice U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Eisenhower who urged Arabs and Jews to settle their differences like Christian gentlemen.
On December 3, 1996, the day of St. Francis Xavier, Pope John Paul II surprised many with a strong public statement on the persecution of the underground Church in China. The civil authorities of the People’s Republic of China should rest assured: a disciple of Christ can live his faith in any political system, provided that there is respect for his right to act according to the dictates of his own conscience and his own faith. For this reason I repeat to the governing authorities, as I have said so often to others, that they should have no fear of God or of his Church, the Pope declared. But the Beijing regime fears greatly the influence of Christianity, having this past year cracked down on thousands of Catholic and Protestant communities, the latter typically gathered in house churches. Christians who belong to the patriotic religious associations controlled by the regime are granted a measure of toleration, and in recent years Rome has indicated a strong desire to reconcile underground and patriotic Catholics in secure communion with Peter. Regrettably, that has led some Catholics in this country to mute their protest against religious persecution in China, and to draw back from cooperation with evangelical Protestants in contending for religious freedom. Whatever may be the behind-the-scenes strategy of Rome’s diplomacy, Christians have an undeniable duty to speak up on behalf of suffering brothers and sisters. During the Cold War, organizations such as the World Council of Churches routinely claimed that they were helping persecuted Christians under the Evil Empire through quiet diplomacy. Too often that meant belittling or even denying the persecution in order to cultivate constructive relations with the persecutors, thus turning such organizations, whatever their good intentions, into apologists for oppression. Religious officials in positions of real or fancied power are strongly attracted to playing in the big game of international Realpolitik . When fellow Christians are under attack, however, as they are in China, the place of authentic Christian witness is with the powerless. If any Catholic officials were unsure about that, the St. Francis Xavier statement of John Paul II should remove any doubt about their moral duty.
There they were at the Vatican next to each other, the Pope, a little hunched over but visibly resolute and looking firmly ahead, and the dictator, standing next to him glancing sideways at the pontiff with a little air of the supplicant about him. Not quite the picture Fidel Castro wanted, but at this stage he’ll take anything that even marginally helps to shore up the tattered credibility of his faltering regime. Outside Castro’s quarters at the Rome Holiday Inn, a long line of visitors waited to make their call on the aging dictator, but it was Castro who had to wait several days before he could enter the Pope’s private library for a thirty-five-minute conversation. Can there be any doubt that it is the Pope, not the dictator, who is dealing from a position of strength? That is Luis E. Lugo, writing in Capital Commentary , a publication of the Center for Public Justice in Washington, a Protestant-based think tank. Lugo suggests that the Clinton Administration should be paying close attention to the Pope’s planned visit to Cuba. The Clinton Administration should look on these developments as a perfect opportunity to rethink and reorient our Cuban policy. Here he would be well served to borrow another page from Ronald Reagan’s playbook and synchronize his actions toward the Communist regime with the independent initiatives of the Vatican and of the local church on the ground. The main idea would be this: every serious step the Castro government takes in response to the Church’s mediating efforts, beginning with the matter of religious freedom, we should answer by a corresponding relaxation of U.S. economic sanctions, which Cuba chafes under and the Vatican in principle opposes. How far should we go with this quid pro quo approach? We should be willing to go as far in dismantling trade sanctions and normalizing relations with Cuba as Castro is in opening the way for a peaceful, democratic transition on the island. Is this all too optimistic? Perhaps. But you can bet there will be many long-suffering Cubans who will be hoping and praying that God has at least one more such mission left for this remarkable pontiff.
The godfather of liberation theology is generally considered to be Gustavo Gutierrez of Peru. While his work of thirty years ago launched the movement, Gutierrez has a record of distancing himself from some of the movement’s more bizarre excesses. He has tried to remain within the boundaries of Catholic theology, demonstrates great respect for popular piety, and adamantly resists the Europeans and North Americans who would make Latin America over in their own image. In sharpest contrast is the North American feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, who has for many years served as a cheerleader for whatever radicalisms are playing on the fringes of the left. Ms. Ruether recently visited Peru and says she was disappointed to learn that Gutierrez was not in good standing with her womynist networks. Gutierrez has insisted that feminism is alien to the Latin American reality’ and is a diversion from the primary concern of liberation theology for the poor, she writes. Then this obituary: Gutierrez deserves our tribute as founder of a movement that has reconnected theology with social justice. It is sad to see him bowing to the stranglehold of a rightist church while those who are partly his heirs move on to broader theological reflections on the realities of their society. As always, Ruether is confident that the future clearly belongs to her favored radicalisms of gender, ecology, and indigenous spirituality, even if indigenous folk like Gustavo Gutierrez must be left behind. If the Latin American reality doesn’t want the future she has in mind for it, all the worse for the Latin American reality. Needless to say, Ms. Ruether is a passionate opponent of cultural imperialism.
Although numerous polls showed that most South Africans opposed it, the parliament narrowly passed a bill favoring liberalized abortion. President Nelson Mandela did not allow a free vote but insisted that members of his African National Congress (ANC) vote the pro-abortion line. Ninety-nine members of parliament, including a Catholic priest who is Deputy Minister of Education, stayed away in order not to have to support the bill. Voting in favor was Sister Bernard Ncube, and the chief promoter of the bill was Dr. Nkosazana Zuma, a Catholic who is Minister of Health. The Catholic bishops and other Christian groups are appealing to the Constitutional Court. I don’t want to be picky about this, but it does seem strange that those who triumphed over apartheid should now agree that some human beings do not have rights.
For a long time a little Bible study group of twenty or thirty folk had been meeting for discussion and prayer in a secluded section of Mastodon State Park in Imperial, Missouri. Nobody had noticed. Then one Sunday morning the park authorities caught them red-handed. They were informed that they were breaking the law and needed formal permission to meet on state property. Said Dennis Rudanovich, the group’s leader: We sit very much out of the way. I’m sure there are other things going on that are more mischievous. We were pretty much hurt by the whole thing. They asked for permission, but Neal Trubowitz, the park administrator, said he routinely denies requests from religious groups because of the need to separate church and state. But of course.
Be glad you don’t live in Murphy, North Carolina. Wal-Mart has the only real record store there, and to get the really vile and filthy stuff you have to travel 50 to 150 miles to Gainesville or Atlanta in Georgia. This is in a big front-page above-the-fold story in our parish newspaper that bemoans the censorious tyranny by which big chains are squelching freedom of speech and artistic creativity. Thirteen-year-old Adam McLean complains of the albums he buys at Wal-Mart, They blank out all the words they think are bad. I hate it. It doesn’t sound the same. For instance, a Nirvana song title has been changed from Rape Me to Waif Me. Surely this violates the constitutional right to be raped, and who knows what horrors may be involved in waifing. Wal-Mart and other guilty parties also routinely remove the word nigger from songs, thus denying young people the benefits of elevated racial consciousness. The Blockbuster chain does the same thing with movie videos, asking producers to edit out or change particularly scatological, pornographic, or violent scenes. Sometimes this is done without the permission of the movie’s director. Chuck Warn of the Directors Guild of America complains, But the movie goes out with his or her name on it. It can be very damaging to someone’s career. One can imagine how crushing this must be to the aspiring purveyor of smut. One talent scout told the Times on condition of anonymity (you can see how oppressive the climate has become) that one band he knew had omitted a song with obscenities so that its album would not have to carry a parental advisory sticker. So there you have it: now even parents want a say in what their children listen to. An industry spokesman declares that musical groups are now in the position of singing what’s on your mind or selling your records. The music industry is now hostage to a group of retailers that don’t care a whit about music or the music industry. Artistic purity encounters crass commercialism! The story concludes with Nina Crowley of an industry association saying that all this is creating a chilling effect. Some of these kids are wondering if they are going to have to change what they do if they want to make any money. Our confidence in the idealism of youth is such that we are sure that they, unlike Wal-Mart and Blockbuster, will rise above such base motives as making money. This great country would not be where it is today were it not for those who are prepared to pay the price for the defense of adolescent swinishness. It is a comfort to know that we can count on the Times to stand by the martyrs who brave the slings and arrows of outraged decency.
Few aspects of this business pose more frustrations and potential conflicts of interest than book reviewing. Publishing a critical review of a book by a friend can result in having another ex-friend. Just as bad, a friend writes a fine book, you get a review that simply doesn’t work, you try again without success, and now the book has been out for months and months, and it is altogether too late to be reviewing it. Thank goodness, there’s always The Public Square. Which brings me to Michael Novak’s Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life (Free Press, 231 pp., $22.50
). Let me quote my own blurb on the dust jacket: Capitalists with no conscience are a problem; capitalists with a bad conscience are a bigger problem. The purpose of this splendid book is not to put a moral gloss on grubby business, but to demonstrate the moral excitement of business itself. Business leaders who accept Novak’s challenge should be prepared to be changed”in how they think, how they work, how they live, and how they give. I have no doubt they will be grateful for the change on all sc