Getting Immigration Right



Peter C. Meilaender’s thoughts on immigration policy (“Immigration: Citizens & Strangers,” May) are careful, balanced”and devoid of any biblical, prophetic passion for the poor strangers among us. Meilaender concludes we must “weigh carefully our obligations toward both current members [of our society] and outsiders, duties particular and universal.” Our “particular” duties, Meilaender reminds us, are to our own families and local communities (as he puts it with more rhetorical panache, to “the aged father in need of regular attention, the cousin whose husband is away fighting in Iraq, the fellow parishioner who has lost his job”).

Well, yes. And yet, in the “careful weighing” we are supposed to be doing before welcoming the stranger, Meilaender never explains why the proper metaphor is a set of scales that represents a zero-sum game. How does a broad and welcoming immigration policy detract from the resources available in our local ­communities? The reality is that immigration is a dynamic social and ­economic force that creates economic growth and enriches communal life. Not the least benefit of this dynamism is that many immigrants from the Global South bring with them a fresh and fervent religious vitality that we in the more prosperous North often leave behind in our zeal to pre­serve our social privileges.

David W. OpderbecK
Baruch College
New York, New York

Peter C. Meilaender warns that “discussions of immigration often oversimplify or distort the moral issues at stake” but forgets that overcomplexifying does the same thing. So does obfuscation.

Like most pro-amnesty enthusiasts, he uses “immigrant” and “illegal immigrant” interchangeably and generally gives the impression of agreeing firmly with both sides of the question. In one paragraph, he says that “the moral arguments in support of an amnesty are strong,” and in the next that “critics rightly argue that amnesty creates an incentive for future illegal immigration.” Later he opines that “illegal immigration, after all, is something of a red herring.” In the end, he finds deportation so obviously contrary to the “full moral complexity of immigration” that he doesn’t even bother to make an argument for it.

All this rhetoric proves is that the faculty lounge is not the best perch from which to witness the havoc wreaked by illegal immigration. Given the harsh realities he omits, you’d think he was addressing the problem of guests wearing jeans on the golf course. But here in Southern California, as elsewhere beyond the shade of the ivory tower, the human and financial costs of illegal immigration are grim and getting worse.

Legal immigrants must demonstrate their freedom from communicable diseases before they are granted permanent status; illegal aliens come as they are. Dr. Madeleine Pelner Cosman has tracked the hidden influx of once vanquished diseases such as polio, tuberculosis, malaria, dengue fever, and leprosy courtesy of the swelling ranks of those whom Prof. Meilaender bids us call “one of us.” In California alone, between 1993 and 2003, sixty hospitals were shut down because half their ER services went unpaid; many more now teeter near closure.

How about crime? In Los Angeles, illegal aliens account for 95 percent of all outstanding warrants for homicide. Up to two-thirds of all fugitive felony warrants (17,000) are for illegal aliens. An estimated 10 percent are criminals sought in Mexico. That’s more than a million criminals in our midst, or, in Meilaender’s parlance, “members of the American people, whether we like it or not.” Further, a strategic alliance be­tween al-Qaeda and the violent Mara Salvatrucha gang is well known to the Justice Department. I could go on.

But forget our fellow thug-brethren. Under Title 8, Section 1325 of the U.S. Code, illegal entry itself is a federal crime. The remedy is simple, although not uniformly easy to implement: deportation of the alien (five minutes or five years after illegally crossing) and sanctions against the employer, which could mean a fine of up to $10,000 per individual or six months in jail. A few CEOs being cuffed on the six o’clock news would go a long way toward a solution by attrition. Oddly enough, neither Meilaender nor the bishops he chides mention the “sequencing” procedure followed by Mexico toward the illegal Salvadorans and Guatemalans who “do the work Mexicans won’t do.” With the active cooperation of the Mexican military and local police forces as required by Mexico’s immigration law, those illegal aliens face deportation or prison.

President Reagan’s 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act meant well, but, by giving amnesty to 2.7 million illegals, it helped produce more than twelve million more. Handsome return on investment, that. As to what nightmarish dividends the proposed amnesty of the Bushite-Kennedy cabal would pay, God only knows. Peter C. Meilaender doesn’t appear to have given it much thought.

Only in a parallel universe is it either Christian or rational to reward wide-scale criminal behavior, which not only undermines the national security of the United States, overcrowds our schools, swamps our hospitals, rips at the public safety net, and bounces unskilled U.S. workers; it also pokes a resolute finger in the eye of those who enter this great country the right way. And as a foreign-born (legal) resident who married a (legal) Latina immigrant, I say the real red herring is the subtle insinuation that those who support the enforcement of immigration laws are somehow selfish or xenophobic.

Patrick Coffin
Los Angeles, California


Peter Meilaender replies:


I rarely adopt the mantle of biblical prophet. I did not claim that immigration is a zero-sum game. Its economic consequences, however, are notoriously difficult to calculate; a reasonable guess is that immigration produces a modest net economic gain, largely in the form of higher profits for employers able to purchase cheaper labor, thus causing a slight redistribution of wealth toward the already better off. But given the questionableness of such estimates, I would not determine immigration policy solely on that basis. Not all “costs” are economic, and many of Opderbeck’s fellow citizens experience contemporary levels of immigration as less dynamic and enriching than he does. Their views matter too.

I am baffled by some of Mr. Coffin’s criticisms. Nowhere did I suggest that enforcing immigration laws is selfish; to the contrary, much of my essay explicitly argued the opposite. Nor did I even hint that it is xenophobic. Indeed, I argued that we should enforce our immigration laws and that amnesty is defensible only if we do so.

For the past twenty years, however, we have not done so, and, what is more, both we and illegal immigrants have known perfectly well that we had no intention of doing so. Having winked and nodded as millions crossed the border illegally, and having subsequently either tolerated or even embraced their presence, we should not now act as though we are entitled to treat these people in any way we like.

I do not condone their illegal crossing, nor would I describe myself as an “amnesty enthusiast”; indeed, I would even reduce the number of legal immigrants that the United States currently admits. But deporting long-term residents foists upon them alone the consequences of our own unwillingness to enforce our laws and extends political power into the everyday lives of de facto communities in a way that defenders of limited government should hesitate to endorse.
Heroic Theology

Thank God that someone of R.R. Reno’s learning and reputation has finally put his finger on the crying need for a new, standardized “textbook” theology in the Catholic Church (“Theology After the Revolution,” May). In a vain quest to educate myself, I have been looking for credible presentations of such a theology for years. The available books seem to fall within two categories: Either they are modernist-­triumphalist accounts celebrating late-twentieth-century developments and implying that Catholic theology first emerged as a serious discipline during the 1930s after 1,900 years of pious, premodern naiveté; or they are vintage reprints with antique-looking typography and seventy-year-old imprimaturs. We do have, of course, the documents of Vatican Council II and an amazing body of profound papal encyclicals, especially those of Pope John Paul II, but these do not amount to a systematic presentation of Catholic theology.

It is as if the theologians of the so-called Heroic Generation, finding the Church clad in a sturdy and tightly woven, but unstylish and ill-fitting dress, had thrown away the dress and proceeded to fashion attractive accessories. Now the Church seems to be going about wearing stylish accessories”but no dress at all: a rather embarrassing state of dishabille .

Prof. Reno says that “we need a period of consolidation that allows us to integrate the lasting achievements of the Heroic Generation into a renewed standard theology.” That sounds a bit too leisurely, given the urgency of the need. While bringing such a standard theology to maturity might take a while, the initial attempts should be taken in hand immediately while there are still some wise old heads around, such as Ralph McInerny and Avery Cardinal Dulles, who can still remember a time when the Church had a coherent theology.

If it is true, as Reno says, that “the genuinely creative members of the Heroic Generation” retained a commitment to “the basic outlines of classical Thomistic theology,” then the integration he calls for might not be so difficult after all. Surely it would entail articulating a revised neoscholasticism (neo-neoscholasticism?) purified of its dualisms and other former errors (but also correcting some of the more faddish and ephemeral notions of our latter-day “heroes”). Or, to return to my graphic simile, the Church’s old dress should be retrieved from the dumpster, dry-cleaned, and retailored a bit. Wearing such a dress might not win the Church any fashion awards, but it would be better than walking around in a state of chicly accessorized seminudity.

Adrian Straley
Tuscaloosa, Alabama

In his long review of Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians: From Chenu to Ratzinger by Fergus Kerr, Russell Reno’s thesis seems to be this: Balthasar, de Lubac, Danielou, et. al. did a great job showing the deficiencies of neoscholasticism”in fact, they did such a great job that they’ve rendered themselves irrelevant”but they did nothing to replace the void they created. In other words, as deficient as it was, neoscholasticism offered us an ecclesially normative theology. Now what do we have?

But there are several problems with this argument. First, apparently Kerr, but also then Reno, lumps the ressourcement and transcendental schools into one “Heroic Generation.” This is a controversial move insofar as it allows him then to downplay the positive contribution made by the ressourcement school. Reno expresses wonder over Bal­thasar’s split with Rahner after the Second Vatican Council, but this presupposes that they were entirely on the same page before it. One only needs to read Balthasar’s 1939 review of Rahner’s Geist in Welt to see that that was not the case. (In fact, his essential critique did not change over the years.)

The differences between these two schools are to be found not in their common dissatisfaction with neoscholasticism but in their respective positive approaches to theology. What the ressourcement school wanted to restore was the Christocentrism of the Church’s traditional theology against the rationalism, dualism, moralism, Pelagianism, individualism, etc. of neoscholasticism.

De Lubac had no intention of replacing the theology of the schools with his own; he wished to replace it with that of Augustine and the Cappadocians, with that of Aquinas and Bonaventure. His seminal book Catholicism is little more than a stringing together of classic texts in order to remind us of the Catholicism that was being forgotten! If this is insufficiently “standard,” then what would “standard” be?

Secondly, the ressourcement school has always bent over backward to insist on the ecclesial nature of all theology. They either assert this in their works (note de Lubac’s Splendor of the Church and Motherhood of the Church or Balthasar’s The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church ), or they lived it (note de Lubac’s obedience to the Magisterium after the publication of his two controversial works on nature and grace). One would hardly write books that so vociferously defend papal and magisterial authority if one wanted to be an “innovator.” In Balthasar’s edited collection of Origen’s writings, he commends Origen for stating that anything in his writings that is deemed unorthodox by the Church should be disregarded by the faithful. We have no doubt that Balthasar would have had the same attitude toward his own writings.

Third, Reno makes it sound as if the Heroic Generation found the theology of the schools to be orthodox but boring and uninspiring. But this is not the case. They found it unorthodox and therefore boring and uninspiring. The problem with neoscholastic theology isn’t that it wasn’t poetic enough but rather that it wasn’t theological enough. And this is why they did not want to get away from Thomas Aquinas. The influence of Thomas on both de Lubac’s and Balthasar’s theology is enormous. Indeed, the very structuring of Balthasar’s trilogy along the lines of the transcendental attributes of being is nothing if not medieval.

Furthermore, Aquinas serves as the kairos in Balthasar’s history of theology and is the centerpiece of Balthasar’s critique of modern metaphysics (of Heidegger in particular) in his theological aesthetic. Balthasar makes it quite clear that it was Aquinas who made the necessary distinction without separation between theology and philosophy, faith and reason, and nature and grace that the Church Fathers never really clarify with conceptual precision. It is only after Aquinas that this “synthesis” is lost, that sanctity became separated from theology. Gilson’s approval of de Lubac’s theology is a fairly strong sign of its Thomistic soundness; he did not express a similar approval of transcendental Thomism. What was at stake therefore in the debate between the ressourcement theologians and the neoscholastics was not the use or nonuse of Aquinas in theology. Rather, it was the question of how properly to retrieve Aquinas as part of a larger tradition.

Rodney Howsare & Larry Chapp
DeSales University
Center Valley, Pennsylvania

What a remarkably Caritas -inspired critique of contemporary Catholic theology R.R. Reno has written! I refer specifically to that passage where Reno describes how “[the] collapse of neoscholasticism?.?.?. has created a vacuum filled with ­simple-minded shibboleths.” Reno emphasizes the absolute necessity of a standard, but not ossified, systematic theology that summarizes the cumulative wisdom of the Church’s deposit of faith and on which exploratory theologians must stand in order to test their innovations in accordance with Philippians 4:8 (“whatsoever things are true . . . ”). Reno’s analysis seems to cry out for a thoughtfully revised Baltimore Catechism (or its equivalent) at the heart of Catholic education. Wouldn’t that be a significant step toward the Catholic culture Reno would like to help revive?

T. Dan Tolleson
Houston, Texas

It was probably mere accident that the two reviews by R.R. Reno and Romanus Cessario were submitted in time for both to be published together. But, if so, it was a happy coincidence, for their simultaneous publication makes for a marvelous antiphonal conversation.

As to Reno’s essay, he openly admits that not all the members of the “Heroic Generation” will be equally influential in later centuries. But I think the real difference among these ten theologians will prove to be not so much their longevity as the stance they severally took toward German Idealism, particularly toward its founder, Immanuel Kant. Karl Rahner’s famous slogan cried out: Nicht hinter Kant zurück (“There’s no getting behind Kant”). Hans Urs von Balthasar, however, took issue with Rahner at just this point. Similarly, Henri de Lubac dismissed Rahner’s hypothesis of a “supernatural existential,” claiming that, with this hybrid concept, Rahner was trying to fuse Kant’s epistemology to Thomas Aquinas’ theology of grace, and in so doing only gave birth to a theological centaur. I predict that this parting of the ways over the viability of Kant for theology will prove decisive for later theology. I will even go so far as to say, as Reno himself seems to imply, that the staying power of Balthasar and de Lubac will depend on later recognition that they were right all along: Unless we do get beyond Kant, theology will be hobbled.

This raises the question that animates Cessario’s review (a question that intensely concerned de Lubac as well): How much did the later Dominican (and Jesuit!) commentaries on Thomas authentically develop the Common Doctor’s thought”or distort it? De Lubac certainly thought the latter, and to prove his point he quoted Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, who admonished his fellow Thomists in these telling words: “One cannot follow St. Thomas by falling into a material literalism.” De Lubac also cited Fr. Pedro Descoqs, who openly called Thomas inconsistent and praised Cardinal Cajetan, not as a faithful commentator of the Angelic Doctor but as “a metaphysician and theologian of the first rank” who finally gave a “reasonable” explanation of the master’s apparent inconsistencies. I too am against a dead literalism; and perhaps Cajetan was right where he differed from Thomas. But these seem to be odd claims to be making about someone who wanted to be known as a commentator on Thomas, not as a rival to his thought.

Shouldn’t commentaries be judged by their fidelity to the original work they are trying to explicate? Etienne Gilson, for one, claimed of Cajetan’s commentary on the Summa that “as much remained [of Thomas’ doctrine on being and the natural desire for God] as remains of a watch when the spring has been taken out.” He further claimed that Cajetan never brought to bear “any disinterested historical curiosity” and that “the distinctions he introduced so skillfully are not directed to making St. Thomas’s thought clearer but to substituting his own.”

But let not these criticisms be my last word. I teach a course at Mundelein Seminary called Classics of Twentieth-Century Theology. In that course, I have discovered the truth in both Reno’s and Cessario’s reviews: Without a truly sympathetic treatment of the neo-Thomist tradition against which de Lubac, Rahner, and Balthasar were reacting, one only sets up a straw man against which the labors of the Heroic Generation seem pointless. But even with that point conceded, I must still ask: Why did such anti-Cajetan Thomists such as Gilson and Jacques Maritain gain so respectful a hearing among non-Catholics at Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Chicago after World War II, while the works of other Thomists fell on deaf ears in the secular academy?

Edward T. Oakes, S.J.
University of St. Mary of the Lake
Mundelein, Illinois

R.R. Reno replies:


The many responses and observations I have received since writing “After the Revolution” have made me acutely aware of the extraordinary complexity of the challenges facing contemporary Catholic theology. The thoughtful letters from readers add to this awareness.

I’m sure that if we sat down to talk about Kant and German Idealism and Karl Rahner’s transcendental theology that I would agree with Edward Oakes, Rodney Howsare, and Larry Chapps. Yet the actual history of the era is profoundly complicated. For all his great contributions to the recovery of patristic theology, when de Lubac turned to the quintessential modern “problem of faith” in his little book Discovery of God , he used the popular existentialist idioms of his day, ways of thinking very much indebted to the Kantian legacy. De Lubac was not unique. Those of his era concerned about the actualité of faith almost always reached for something like a transcendental mode of exposition. It’s not so easy to untangle the ressourcement from the transcendental schools.

Furthermore, one of the most sophisticated anti-Kantian traditions of European philosophy in the ­nineteenth century was Catholic neoscholasticism. Joseph Kleutgen, arguably the most influential Catholic theologian of the period, wrote a detailed analysis of modern philosophy. Insofar as I understand Kleutgen, his way of thinking seems to have shaped Etienne Gilson’s brilliant typology of modern philosophy found in Being and Some Philosophers . Broadly speaking, however, the two (and by implication neoscholasticism and la nouvelle théologie ) are entirely at odds when it comes to the interpretation of St. Thomas. To put it in lapidary form, they agree about Kant and disagree about Suarez”and somehow the latter mattered most in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.

I wrote “After the Revolution” because these puzzling complexities and many others stood in the way of the usual explanations of the last century of Catholic theology. For too long we have assumed that there was a deep, tradition-splitting theological or philosophical disagreement that ruptured Catholic thought in the twentieth century. It was Kant or Suarez or metaphysics or epistemology or method. Or, as Howsare and Chapps suggest, it was ecclesial loyalty or Christocentrism or that great, pregnant question of who is most faithful to the Angelic Doctor. In my study, I have found that all these disagreements were quite real in the twentieth century”but, because they crisscrossed so often, none provided a sufficient explanation of the discontinuity felt by me and by all the correspondents.

Thus my thesis: An entirely proper exploratory mode of theology that was repressed by the atmosphere of antimodernism in the early decades of the twentieth century became overly dominant in the later decades”and remains overly dominant. (Here I must add that I think the earlier repressions of antimodernism, however abused in specific cases, were necessary. The Magisterium rightly constrains innovation among those commissioned to teach in her name.) In other words, the modern Catholic Church experienced more of a revolution in theological culture and practice than change in theological conviction.

I dislike the perverse way in which the exploratory mode of theology has become an unaccountable academic establishment with its own repressive strategies. (I call it “anti-antimodernism,” the sacred analogue to the old secular phenomenon of anti-anticommunism that used “McCarthyism” as a weapon to beat up on anybody who questioned the liberal establishment.) But I do not regret the mid-century revolution in theological culture and practice in the Catholic Church. It has given us a rich inheritance. I have written about the great potential to be found in a further and deeper recovery of patristic theology in “The Return of the Fathers” (November 2006). We should count ourselves fortunate that men such as Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar and, yes, Karl Rahner undertook genuinely heroic labors, often at great personal sacrifice, to contribute to the Christian faith in a Church they loved. And yet we also inherit from the Heroic Generation our own perhaps quite different task and responsibility. As Adrian Straley and T. Dan Tolleson testify, our age seems to want the means to form our intellects so that we can dwell more fully and more deeply in the continuous theological vision of the Catholic Church.

The time is ripe. We have the basic tools that Mr. Tolleson asks for. In her Catechism, the Church has asserted the continuity of her convictions. What we need now is a theological mode that is not angry or bitter or defensive or cocksure about our inheritance from the Heroic Generation. We need a time of sifting, an approach willing to puzzle out and rebuild the vast array of philosophical and theological judgments that has long given the Catholic Church its intellectual confidence and sophistication. As Mr. Straley’s wonderful image so effectively conveys, it seems quite natural that such an approach would entail a close examination of the most recent expression of that Catholic intellectual confidence and sophistication, neoscholasticism. Some of the garments from that old wardrobe just might admit of some effective retailoring.
Romanus Cessario replies:


Thanks are due to Fr. Oakes for his sympathetic reflections on what I and Prof. Reno said about Thomism and Thomists in reviews of two figures from the sub-Heroic Generation, Fergus Kerr and Ralph McInerny. Oakes encourages me to believe that the renewal of Catholic theology is moving beyond the practice of an uninformed railing at the “straw man.” That Oakes writes from Chicago is significant. After World War II, classical Thomism, including the commentaries of Cajetan, won not a few illustrious adherents at the University of Chicago. We still speak of River Forest Thomism (named after the suburb of Chicago where the Dominicans once conducted their philosophy studium ). Still, the question that Oakes poses merits further reflection. I indeed would commend it to the sustained attention of some bright doctoral student looking for a good dissertation topic. My own nutshell view is that, like Thomists of earlier ages, Maritain and Gilson made distinctive contributions to the Thomist tradition of their period. The unfortunate circumstance that emerged during the postconciliar decades is not, of course, their success in North America but the forced eclipse of figures such as Capreolus and Cajetan and Billuart and Garrigou-Lagrange. That many young scholars today express interest in these authors and their comprehensive expositions of Aquinas further encourages me. Oakes will be happy to learn that, for the most part, they also inhabit the same universities where Gilson and Maritain earlier made Thomas Aquinas a familiar name. Hollywood Babylon

I was surprised that Ross Douthat made no reference to the Babylon 5 TV series in his article “Lost and Saved on Television” (May). Our family watched the whole series when our son was about 10-12 (except for some scenes that were inappropriate for him), and it was clearly superior to Battlestar Galactica , which admittedly is pretty good. Our son is now twenty-three and still uses as an epigram on his email a line from Tennyson, whom he became interested in because of the show.

Although J.M. Straczynski is not a believer, Babylon 5 gives belief in the divine its due. It was also bawdy and even obscene at times, but much less so than Battlestar Galactica . It presented characters who demonstrated a knowledge of philosophy, theology, and science. It even anticipates, or at least represents, the sort of conflict of civilizations we are in.

For some reason few conservatives have ever taken note of it.

Jim Drake
Papillion, Nebraska


Exaggerated Hope?

I found Richard John Neuhaus’ article “The Much Exaggerated Death of Europe” (May) to be of great interest. Having studied at great length the history of Islam, I was saddened to see a man whom I routinely view as a great thinker skim so lightly over the real historical truth of the spread of Islam when discussing the plight of Europe. I was initially heartened to see the mention of Mark Steyn’s America Alone , as he provides real statistics that cannot be refuted; demographics can tell a story that no amount of rhetoric from either side can dismiss. Sadly, a brief mention at the beginning was not enough to bear truth to the reality of the ­situation.

At the end of Neuhaus’ article, however, the phrases “I very much hope” and “I very much wish” sum up the story quite appropriately. No amount of hoping or wishing will change what is occurring. Neuhaus is far too optimistic. Pinning one’s hopes and wishes on a peaceful dialogue with a religion that desires submission and treats other religions as lessers is not only wishful thinking; it is dangerous to the long-term prospects for freedom and liberty. When people can freely open Christian churches and Jewish synagogues in traditionally Muslim lands without fear of being attacked, blown up, or beheaded, I’ll believe Muslims can coexist with Christians and Jews in a peaceful way.

If you take the historical evidence with a dose of current and projected demographics, the future bears no resemblance to the optimism expressed in this article.

Thomas L. Brazil
Alabaster, Alabama

In “The Much Exaggerated Death of Europe,” Fr. Neuhaus disagrees with Philip Jenkins’ claim that the pope made a “fulsome apology” for his statements at Regensburg. I agree with Neuhaus but apparently for a different reason.

From the American Heritage College Dictionary :

Fulsome . . . 1. Offensively flattering or insincere. 2. Offensive to the taste or sensibilities. 3. Usage problem Copious or abundant . . . . Usage Note: The word fulsome is often used, particularly in the phrase fulsome praise , to mean simply “abundant,” without any implication of excess or insincerity. This usage is etymologically justified but may invite misunderstandings.

Of course, the pope’s apology was neither offensive nor insincere, nor was it “abundant.” It was precise, as always.

Dan Blackwood
Prescott, Arizona


A Unique Freedom

Richard W. Garnett’s otherwise excellent review of Religious Freedom and the Constitution (May) fails to explain precisely how religious freedom is unique among the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution”that religion alone among all mediating associations and institutions claims for itself an allegiance prior and transcendent to the loyalty demanded by the state. Indeed, that is the most obvious meaning of the phrase “under God” in the pledge of allegiance. Because one’s religion makes claims upon a person that transcend loyalty to the state, the citizen claims the freedom to submit to the demands of his religious faith even when it might violate an express command of the state. No other voluntary association or institution makes such a claim. Thus, the freedom of religion occupies a special place among all the liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

James Robert Ross, Ph.D.
Lexington, Kentucky Darwin:?Pro and Con

Richard Neuhaus thinks Dr. West goes too far in conceding the definition of “mainstream Darwinism” to atheistic ideologues (While We’re At It, May). He says that, strategically, the “Christians who are superbly credentialed scientists” can and should define “mainstream Darwinism” to mean directed evolution. Like West, I live in the greater Seattle area, which is arguably more liberal than most of the country. Here I see daily the atheist bumper sticker: a fish symbol filled with the word DARWIN, which is a parody of the Christian fish symbol filled with JESUS. This clearly reflects the ­position of the majority of my coworkers in a professional work environment.

I think West’s point is that Darwinism has already been defined to the masses as undirected evolution. So what is the strategy of the “Christians who are superbly credentialed scientists”? The Christians who are located in liberal-land could sure use some intellectual air cover.

Bob Sturm
Kenmore, Washington


Tribal Loyalties


In the May issue, Fr. Neuhaus again devotes space to the brouhaha surrounding the Wren Chapel cross at the College of William and Mary (While We’re At It, May). He takes to task the feckless college president, Gene Nichol. But then Neuhaus quotes from a piece by Nichol in the local newspaper: “Polarization is not our way. We’re a Tribe.” Neuhaus then opines that “the use of ‘tribe’ seems odd, since tribes are typically emphatic about who is included and who is excluded.”

Well, yes and no; but there is nothing “odd” about “Tribe” (as a check with the school or anyone familiar with the school would have revealed). “Tribe” is a sports moniker. W&M is the “Tribe” in the same sense that St. John’s is the “Red Storm,” North Carolina State is the “Wolfpack,” or Alabama is the “Crimson Tide.” It has nothing to do with religion. It does imply a certain limited exclusiveness, since students, graduates, and perhaps faculty and staff are part of “the Tribe,” and the rest of us aren’t.

George Peery
New Bern, North Carolina


A Sociologist Weighs In

Fr. Neuhaus criticizes sociology for forsaking analysis and explanation in recent decades to engage in advocacy and activism (While We’re At It, May). He is not altogether unjustified in this criticism. American Sociological Association political resolutions sent to Washington, D.C. (as if anyone were listening) can indeed be nauseating. But it is ironic that in the very same issue, FIRST THINGS also published an Opinion piece by sociologist Brad Wilcox (“As the Family Goes,” May).

Now, I am friends with Brad, re­spect his work, and defend him when he is criticized in the discipline. But there is no getting around the fact that Wilcox is a sociologist engaged in advocacy-oriented scholarship, as much as are most people on the left. He just happens to advocate a more conservative perspective on the fam­ily than most. And some works by other sociologists whom Neuhaus likes also have a normative advocacy edge to them. Has anyone read, for example, James D. Hunter’s excellent book The Death of Character ?

I detect a double standard here. Either Neuhaus is opposed to advocacy scholarship or he is not. Or does Neuhaus simply oppose the kind of sociological-cultural-political viewpoints that he happens to disagree with? He is welcome to do so”but he should then hardly be criticizing “sociology” as a discipline per se.

Christian Smith
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana


RJN replies:


It is true that I am more kindly ­disposed toward advocacy with which I agree than advocacy with which I disagree, but I do not think Brad Wilcox or James Hunter, for ­example, misuse their credentials as sociologists or distort their research in the service of favored opinions, which is what I meant by advocacy scholarship.