No doubt many preachers on Easter Sunday referred to the thirty-nine suicides of Rancho Santa Fe in order to set forth, by way of sharpest contrast, the Christian understanding of body, soul, and life eternal. At least I hope they did. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, the press and airwaves were clogged with the usual socio-psychobabble, and of course the cult experts got another turn in front of the cameras. Experts on cult behavior, says the editorial in the New York Times , will help us understand the underlying pathology that led such seemingly bright and articulate people to a tragic misjudgment. Misjudgment is an interesting term in this connection. Oops, forget the bit about suicide.
Some find it shocking that a technically gifted group, earning its keep by designing web sites for businesses, could fall prey to aberrational beliefs that blended far-out science fiction with elements of Christianity, write the editors. But technical expertise, they go on to note, is no proof against bizarre beliefs, and they cite as evidence people who have a view of creation that differs from evolutionary dogma despite their backgrounds in engineering or other technical subjects. Cults differ from mainstream faiths, we are told, because the latter have ways of controlling such craziness. Resurrection, the meaninglessness of the flesh, the primacy of the spirit, the conversion from the physical to the heavenly plane are features of several faiths. But the crucial safety brake in most theologies is that the believer himself cannot choose the moment of ascension. Only the central deity can do that.
Christianity and Judaism are supposedly big on the central deity. In biblical faith, resurrection, far from being linked to the meaningless of the flesh, is precisely resurrection of the flesh. The editors refer to the ad hoc mumbo-jumbo of the cultists even as they display their embarrassing ignorance of biblical basics. As celebrants of multiculturalism, the editors may protest that they cannot limit themselves to biblical faith, since, after all, it has no higher claim on their attention than that it is the religious connection of more than 90 percent of the population and the religio-moral foundation of Western Civilization. Forbid that it should be privileged and thus run the risk of violating the no establishment clause of the editors’ First Commandment. Better to toss Judaism and Christianity into the mish-mash of generalized religion for which mainstream faiths, fortunately, provide a measure of control.
A piquant touch is the editors’ worry about cult figures who convince the weak and wounded that he or she has acquired the godlike power to set the date and destination of life’s last journey. This from an editorial page that leads the pack in calling for doctor-assisted suicide as an essential component of death with dignity. Were the editors not impressed by the videotaped dignity, calm, and downright cheerfulness of the Santa Fe suicides who were, as the jargon has it, freely choosing to take ultimate charge of their own lives? As to their presuming to set their destination, surely the editors cannot complain about that, since they so strongly agree with the Supreme Court dictum in Casey that there is no higher truth than the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.
Why shouldn’t people set their own date and destination? It is their constitutional right. A case can be made that, in their rejection of authoritative tradition, in their fascination with novel spiritualities and high-tech expertise, and in the assertion of a right to control their lives and deaths, the suicides of Heaven’s Gate exemplify the mainstream faith of the Times ’ editorial page.
One notes the coincidence that Santa Fe means holy faith, and, like gnostics of all centuries including our own, the devotees of Heaven’s Gate twisted snatches of Christian faith into a doctrine of contempt for life and for the body, the latter being no more than a physical container that is to be discarded on the way to the Level Above Human. In Christian doctrine, there is for human beings no level above human. In the Incarnation, God became man, thus investing our humanity with infinite worth. In the words of the second-Irenaeus, The glory of God is man fully alive.
Allegedly enlightened folk ridicule the Church’s concern for orthodox teaching, ignoring the fact that wrong beliefs lead to deadly consequences. The Times refers to the psychiatric-spiritual saga of the suicides. Psychiatry is the first and last resort of the mandarins of what Philip Rieff called the therapeutic society. The thirty-nine men and women at Rancho Santa Fe were in fact acting in accord with a not entirely incoherent, although dreadfully false, belief system. As the late mythologist Joseph Campbell would put it, they were following their bliss.
In its essential assumptions, theirs is the belief system of what John Paul II has aptly called the culture of death. They are assumptions regularly promulgated by the editorial page of the New York Times . This is not to say that the editors approve of what was done in Rancho Santa Fe. Clearly, they do not. It deeply offends their sensibilities. They go so far as to call it a tragedy. But they have divested themselves of the language required to say why it was wrong.
The Most Intense Competition
In the many years of the Dulles Colloquium, there have been few sessions more scintillating and intellectually rewarding than a recent day with René Girard. As regular readers know, Girard is something of a cult figure among a large number of literary critics, philosophers, and theologians (see Joseph Bottum’s Girard Among the Girardians, March 1996). He insists that he does not have a system, but all kinds of people persist in trying to systematically fit everything under the sun into his key ideas about mimetic desire and sacred violence. There is even a journal of violence, mimesis, and culture that is aptly and strikingly named Contagion . The following excerpt is from Girard’s essay in a recent issue on Eating Disorders and Mimetic Desire, in which he contends that anorexia and bulimia are driven by a cultural obsession with being thin.
Our thinness hysteria is unique, no doubt, because it is inseparable from our unique brand of radical and radically self-defeating individualism,’ but some features of our current behavior are duplicated in other cultures, for instance in the famous potlatch of the American Northwest. The great American sociologist Thorstein Veblen was already aware of this fact and, in his Theory of the Leisure Class , he discussed the potlatch within the context of what he calls conspicuous consumption. Showing off one’s wealth has always seemed important to the nouveau riche type everywhere, and in our world there have never been as many nouveaux riches as in America. Being immigrants, or children of immigrants, these people could not pretend they came from old and prestigious families; money was the sole instrument of their snobbery. When the wealthy become accustomed to their own wealth, straight conspicuous consumption loses its appeal and the nouveaux riches turn into anciens riches . They perceive this change as the summum of cultural refinement and they do their best to make it as conspicuous as the former consumption. They invent a conspicuous nonconsumption, therefore, superficially discontinuous with the attitude it supersedes but, at a deeper level, it is a mimetic escalation of the same process. In our society, conspicuous nonconsumption is present in many areas, in clothes for instance. The torn blue jeans, the ill-fitting jacket, the baggy pants, the refusal to dress up, are forms of conspicuous nonconsumption.
The politically correct reading of this phenomenon is that the rich young people regard their own superior buying power with a feeling of guilt, and they desire, if not to be poor, at least to look poor. This interpretation is too idealistic. The real purpose is a calculated indifference to clothes, an ostentatious rejection of ostentation. The message is I am beyond a certain type of consumption. I cultivate more esoteric pleasures than the crowd.’ To abstain voluntarily from something, no matter what, is the ultimate demonstration that one is superior to that something and to those who covet it. The wealthier we are, the more precious the objects must be for which we deign to compete. Very rich people no longer compare themselves through the mediation of clothes, automobiles, or even houses. The more wealthy we are, in other words, the less grossly materialistic we can afford to be in a hierarchy of competitive games that become more and more rarefied as the escalation continues. Ultimately this process may turn into a complete rejection of competition, which is not always but may be the most intense competition of all.
Mature Advertising for Mature Audiences
The following story is from Advertising Age :
Pontifical Council Sets Guidelines for Making Ads
Vatican values leave U.S. admen unimpressed
By Carol Krol
Even before they’ve actually seen the Vatican’s new handbook stating what makes good and bad advertising, those who create ads are questioning its relevance.
I think the Catholic Church has enough problems and they shouldn’t be worried about advertising, said Donny Deutsch, CEO Deutsch, New York. They should stick to religion, and we’ll stick to advertising.
It’s all well and good for Roman Catholics, but not for the rest of us. You can’t really dictate that sort of thing in a multicultural society like the U.S., said Diana Loguzzo, U.S. marketing manager for Diesel Clothing.
In the making since 1993 ( AA , Sept. 6, 93), the Pontifical Council for Social Communications’ Ethics in Advertising handbook outlines the abuses and potential for harm of some advertising.
The guidelines reportedly acknowledge that advertising can be informative and entertaining but denounce shocking, exploitative ads.
While the handbook hasn’t yet been circulated widely in the U.S., the ad community seems unimpressed.
I think [the handbook] is more of the kind of lecturing authoritarian nonsense that will put people off, particularly young adults and I think that’s a shame particularly these days when they need to be careful, said Martin Macdonald, managing partner”executive creative director at Wes”Wayne, Atlanta. How many more teenage mothers and how much more does the incidence of AIDS have to rise before the boys in the Vatican, and they are all boys, wake up?
CROSSING THE LINE
Pope John Paul II is taking the rules that have governed man and applying them to advertising . . . . I think he’s crossing over the line a little bit, said Laurence Boschetto, partner and exec VP”director of account services at Adler Boschetto Peebles & Partners, New York, who was a Christian Brother and has an undergraduate degree in theology. I have one question for the Church: If we don’t abide by these laws that they put out, are we in the ad community doomed forever?
John Nieman, vice chairman”chief creative officer at D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, said: Any religious group has a right to communicate their views, but I don’t think you can stop the free flow of information.
One adman, Kevin O’Neill, president”chief creative officer of Warwick Baker O’Neill, isn’t taking it too seriously.
As a graduate of Holy Innocents Grammar School in Brooklyn, he said, I should’ve guessed that one day I’d be showing my storyboards to the Pope.
With his permission, here is a letter to the editor by Kenneth Woodward, senior writer at Newsweek . It is, I think, right on the button:
To the Editors of Advertising Age :
I haven’t seen the Vatican’s Ethics In Advertising handbook either, but from your brief summary of it, it sounds like common sense to me. Not so the puerile comments you collected from industry executives, all of whom strike me as folks who could use whatever ethical guidelines they can find.
Donny Deutsch’s notion that the Church should stick to religion and leave advertising to the likes of him might make sense if advertising”or any business”were free of ethical choices and moral effects. His view is a straight”faced echo of the old bombastic line, The business of America is business. Back to school, Donny.
Diana Loguzzo, a marketing manager, presumes the Church is trying to dictate what a multicultural society should do. But guidelines by definition don’t dictate, Diana, and last I looked the Roman Catholic Church was the most multicultural society in the world”more so, certainly, than the American advertising community. Watch clichés masquerading as thoughts, Diana.
Martin McDonald’s jibes at the Church’s sexual ethics are adolescent and beside the point”as if the Church were somehow more responsible for teenage mothers and AIDS than those who use sex to sell everything from cars to jeans. McDonald would be out of a job if advertising began to preach any form of self-restraint.
Laurence Boschetto proves that an undergraduate in theology is still an undergraduate. Yes, Laurence, you just may someday be held morally accountable for the work you do, like everyone else. No wonder you’re a former Christian Brother.
John Nieman labors under the illusion that advertising provides information. Tell me, John, just what is the message of Calvin Klein’s exploitative underwear ads?
Kevin O’Neill demonstrates he is still a Holy Innocent. I doubt the Pope would be interested in your storyboards, Kevin. He is asking that you consider more than the client and the bottom line when you do your creative work.
As for Advertising Age , what sort of jejune journalism is it to solicit comments on a document that neither the interviewers or the interviewees have seen? Your age (adolescence) is showing.
Kenneth L. Woodward
Hollywood Notwithstanding, Free Tibet
The actor Richard Gere has been the key player in lining up Hollywood to back the Dalai Lama and the cause of freeing Tibet from China’s oppression. Four movies on the subject are in the works, and benefits for Tibet feature such glitteraties as Harrison Ford, Sharon Stone, Steven Seagal, and Shirley MacLaine. China scholar Orville Schell says, Tibet is going to enter Western popular culture as something can only when Hollywood does the entertainment injection into the world system. Hollywood is the most powerful force in the world, besides the U.S. military. That is surely among the more dismal thoughts of the decade.
In the late 1970s Tibet was not a fashionable cause, for it was suspected of being associated with that most unfashionable of causes, anticommunism. I was connected with what was then called the Council on Religion and International Affairs and became interested in Tibet. I was for a time the Dalai Lama’s man in New York, introducing him and his cause to people who might be helpful. A highlight was arranging an evening for Tibet at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Prior to the event, calls were going back and forth with Rome to make sure that what was said did not compromise Catholic doctrine by religious syncretism. The cathedral was packed, and the next day the New York Times had a big picture of the Dalai Lama and Terence Cardinal Cooke sitting side by side in the chancel and holding hands. The hand-holding was the Dalai Lama’s idea, and a somewhat embarrassed Cardinal Cooke did not want to appear unfriendly.
After the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, and the likes of Shirley MacLaine turned him into a New-Ageish celebrity, I have had moments of ambivalence about my small part in all this. Says Melissa Mathison, wife of Harrison Ford and screenwriter of one of the movies, The fascination is the search for the third eye. Americans are hoping for some sort of magical door into the mystical, thinking that there’s some mysterious reason for things, a cosmic explanation. That’s how Americans in Hollywood talk. Tibet offers the most extravagant expression of the mystical, she says, and when people meet the Dalai Lama you can see on their faces that they’re hoping to get this hit that will transcend their lives, take them someplace else. Cocaine or Tibetan mysticism, it’s the hit that counts.
My experience with the Dalai Lama suggests that he is more than a little amused by such spiritualistic gibberish and sensation”mongering, but he is masterful in garnering support where he can get it. Which is to his credit, for his cause is just. So I swallow hard and, Hollywood glitzmeisters notwithstanding, am pleased to be counted in the cause of a free Tibet.
Deep, Critical Reflection on the Education Front
Character education programs in public schools come in for a drubbing by Alfie Kohn, writing in Phi Delta Kappan , a publication for professional educators. It seems these programs are designed to make children work harder and do what they’re told. Even when other values are also promoted”caring or fairness, say”the preferred method of instruction is tantamount to indoctrination. The point is to drill students in specific behaviors rather than to engage them in deep, critical reflection about certain ways of being. No wonder Mr. Kohn is upset. There are few things more creative than a fourth grader engaged in deep, critical reflection about ways of being.
Character educators also encourage competition and give out awards for achievement. As Mr. Kohn complains: When some children are singled out as winners,’ the central message that every child learns is this: Other people are potential obstacles to my success.’ Even worse, character education fosters self-restraint. This is noteworthy, Kohn writes, because the virtue of self-restraint”or at least the decision to give special emphasis to it”has historically been preached by those, from St. Augustine to the present, who see people as basically sinful. I think he got the character educators there. The texts on character education, says Kohn, describe religious dogma, not scientific fact. Scientific fact supports the idea that it is as natural’ for children to help as to hurt. Ask any parent.
Then Mr. Kohn gets to the heart of the matter: Character education rests on three ideological legs: behaviorism, conservatism, and religion. Of these, the third raises the most delicate issues for a critic; it is here that the charge of ad hominem argument is most likely to be raised. So let us be clear: it is of no relevance that almost all of the leading proponents of character education are devout Catholics. But it is entirely relevant that, in the shadows of their writings, there lurks the assumption that only religion can serve as the foundation for good character. (William Bennett, for example, has flatly asserted that the difference between right and wrong cannot be taught without reference to religion.’) It is appropriate to consider the personal beliefs of these individuals if those beliefs are ensconced in the movement they have defined and directed. What they do on Sundays is their own business, but if they are trying to turn our public schools into Sunday schools, that becomes everybody’s business. The fact that leading proponents of character education (e.g., Kevin Ryan and William Kilpatrick) are Catholics is of no relevance, but Mr. Kohn thought he would mention it just the same because it is appropriate to consider the personal beliefs of these individuals. Now if only somebody somewhere along the line had indoctrinated Mr. Kohn and the editors of Phi Delta Kappan in the basics of clear thinking rather than letting them muddle toward adulthood in their befuddled engagement with deep, critical reflection about ways of being.
It’s hard to know how best to respond to David Schindler’s new book. It’s a real grab-bag of arguments and complaints, as is suggested by the title, Heart of the World, Center of the Church : Communio Ecclesiology, Liberalism, and Liberation . Schindler, a professor at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C., tackles what has gone wrong with Catholic higher education, technical disputes over Thomist understandings of person, and the necessarily feminine-marian disposition of society to God’s grace, among other subjects. But the gravamen of the book is a renewed attack on Catholic liberals, conservative liberals, and neoconservatives, which terms are used interchangeably to refer to Michael Novak, George Weigel, and your scribe, all of whom are, according to Schindler, following in the mistaken path charted by the late Father John Courtney Murray. Our fatal error, says Schindler, is to try to make Catholic teaching compatible with the American liberal regime that claims to be neutral toward religion but is in fact fraught with anthropological and even theological presuppositions that inevitably produce secularist decadence and, finally, what John Paul II calls the culture of death.
Although the indictment is of many parts and typically expressed in arcane philosophical and theological terminology, the upshot is a sweeping charge that the Neuhaus-Weigel-Novak gang (sometimes Novak-Weigel-Neuhaus), while perceived as championing Catholic teaching and this pontificate in particular, is in fact selling out the store to liberalism. I say it’s hard to know how to respond, in part because Mr. Schindler is a personable fellow and, as I said in an article last month, every time we discuss these matters personally he declares himself reassured that we have no substantive disagreements, but then he returns to the attack, as in the present book.
The burden of the present book, he writes, is to suggest that liberalism cannot so easily claim the moral authority of Catholicism, and, at the same time, to indicate why an increasing liberal hegemony throughout the world should be viewed not altogether with favor but, on the contrary, with a certain alarm. Well, yes, if, like Schindler, one puts the worst possible construction on liberalism”meaning the American founding, liberal democracy, and market economics. And that is what Schindler tends to do. Liberalism is condemned tout court as a dogmatic system premised upon radical individualism, the autonomous self, calculated self-interest, and human creativity as opposed to receptivity to God’s grace. In sum, Schindler starts out by agreeing with those who construe the liberal tradition”and its chief historical instantiation, the American experiment”along rigorously secularist and un-Christian (maybe anti-Christian) lines. Those of us who defend the Murray Project might easily turn around and charge Schindler with selling out the American store to the enemies of the faith. I am not about to join him in giving up the argument and letting Laurance Tribe or the ACLU define the meaning of liberal democracy.
But some of the questions raised are too important to be content with exchanges of tu quoque. For instance, the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus says that the Church does not offer a third way between socialism (what Schindler calls liberationism) and democratic capitalism (what he calls neoconservative liberalism), and Schindler says he agrees. The Church, he writes, does not offer a third way as a specific social-political system, but: My argument is that the Church nonetheless does offer such a third way as an ecclesiology ; and that this ecclesiology, of its very essence as an ecclesiology , is destined to transform both socialism and democratic capitalism.
This new ecclesiology, or doctrine of the Church, goes by the name of communio , which is also the name of an international theological journal founded by such as Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar. (Schindler is editor of the English edition.) The neoconservatives, he charges, are engaged in a con game of reconciling liberalism with Catholicism in which they utilize a defective understanding of the Church, and also of the world, because they have failed to understand the persons of Mary, Christ, and the Trinity as they are analogously revealed in spousal union, eucharist, and communio. In their writings the neocons, Schindler believes, water down Catholic truth in order to gain public acceptance, thus failing to offer a unified Gospel spirituality. There is, writes Schindler, a single basic spirituality for all Christians, and Mary is the model of that spirituality. Or, as Balthasar puts it: the marian fiat is the Urakt : the primary or originating act that serves as the ground of all Christian life and action. Any argument that fails to make that explicit is, in his view, less than authentically Catholic.
Schindler says the NWN gang, following Murray, claim that they are engaged in public discourse and therefore must make their arguments accessible to all reasonable persons, irrespective of their theological convictions or lack thereof. That, according to Schindler, is just the problem. A full-bore, undiluted presentation of Catholic truth is unapologetically aimed at converting people to that truth. He asks, Would not an ethic that held less demand for conversion have a greater chance for widespread success? He does not deny that, but simply responds by quoting Balthasar that success is not a Gospel category.
So much for the task of trying to construct a comprehensive public discourse based upon reason and moral law. Attempting that is a liberal delusion, according to Schindler. It is worse than futile; it inevitably results in a betrayal of the fullness of the truth. Schindler’s position is in key respects a Catholic version of the position of R. J. Rushdoony and the theonomists among Calvinists and of Stanley Hauerwas in his more intemperate moments. In their view, a genuinely public discourse is an oxymoron. Although they may use the same words, between Christian and non-Christian (maybe, for Schindler, between Catholic and non-Catholic) there is no commensurable discourse. The Catholic intellectual should simply bear witness to the fullness of truth in the hope of converting others to it. Although he denies it, Schindler is, like the theonomists, disposed toward a monism that cannot abide the pluralism that is history before the End Time.
With David Schindler, I am a great admirer of Balthasar, and of his other theological heroes, such as Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II), Ratzinger, and de Lubac. We have no disagreement that the entirety of all that is must be understood in terms of the communio of the Church and, ultimately, in terms of human destiny in the communio of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”so that, in the words of St. Paul, it may become manifest that in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1)
Have all my writings and public statements”or those of Murray, Novak, and Weigel”communicated as effectively as they might have these core Christological and ecclesiological truths? It would be ridiculous to claim there is no room for criticism. That said, however, Schindler fails to recognize the ways in which Christian truth can be spoken in an American idiom that respects the sensibilities of our cultural context. Such is his animus against what he calls Anglo-American liberalism”and against the popular religion that attends it”that anything short of a direct assault upon it is a betrayal of Catholic truth.
I also confess to being a mite irritated when informed that I do not understand that the alleged neutrality of liberalism is typically not neutral toward religion. I wrote a book on that which received some little attention. It was called The Naked Public Square . And no one can fairly claim that that argument has been neglected over the years by this journal. There is, as well, a certain piquancy in being accused of uncritically baptizing American democracy while others are accusing me of anti-Americanism and subversion for raising the question of the legitimacy of judge-made law that violates the moral law and reflects contempt for the consent of the governed.
As John Paul II has repeatedly asserted, Catholic theology must be like St. Paul in the Areopagus, constantly teasing out and bringing to fulfillment the truths and half”truths present in the culture. That is what John Courtney Murray and many others have tried to do with Anglo-American liberalism and, more particularly, the American social and political experiment. Schindler will have none of it. Rather than, like St. Paul, declaring the true God to whom the altar to an unknown god is implicitly directed (Acts 17), Schindler demands that we join him in railing against the idolaters. As a consequence, he ends up undercutting the comprehensive (catholic and Catholic) nature of the Gospel he espouses. Positioned in such antithesis to culture, Catholicism begins to look very much like a sect, which I am sure is not what Schindler intends.
Moreover, he fails to see that direct evangelization through the reiteration of his favored theological formulas is not the only form of service to God and neighbor. Christians also serve who work at establishing a public moral discourse, knowing that all truth is ultimately one, and knowing also that many people will not be converted to the fullness of that truth in communio with Christ and his Church. Maybe Schindler is right and I should be editing a journal of Catholic apologetics and evangelization rather than a journal of religion and public life. But that is not what God (I believe) and my bishop (I know) want me to do. While one should always receive intelligent and well-intended reproaches with gratitude, Heart of the World, Center of the Church could do with more respect for the integrity of diverse vocations.
A blurb on the dust jacket announces that the book establishes David Schindler as the American Balthasar. Well, not quite. He is a serious student of Balthasar and, despite his abstruse and technical language, he provides useful insights to Balthasar’s thought. For a more accessible introduction to Balthasar, however, I recommend Edward Oakes’ splendid book The Pattern of Redemption , which has received extended attention in these pages. Strikingly unlike Schindler, Balthasar was very much an ecumenical theologian, as witness his magnificent interpretation of Karl Barth. Also, and again very much unlike Schindler, Balthasar was sympathetically and imaginatively engaged with his culture, illuminating with loving care the theological significance of the literature, music, philosophy, and social experience of Europe. That is what, if there is ever to be one, an American Balthasar will do in this cultural context. Meanwhile, we have David Schindler, who is no little gift. I look forward to our next amicable discussion, and brace myself for his next attack. (Readers interested in pursuing further these agreements and disagreements can obtain a videotape of a series of television dialogues between Dr. Schindler and myself that might serve as a provocative topic for study groups. $19.95
plus $3 s/h from The Christopher Shop, St. Charles Seminary, 100 East Wynnewood Road, Wynnewood, PA 19096; Phone: 610-667-9112.)
A Judeo-Christian Tradition?
With a fair degree of regularity we refer to the Judeo-Christian tradition in these pages, and just as regularly we receive letters questioning the appropriateness of the phrase. One response is that we are referring to a common moral tradition rather than a common religious tradition, although that is not entirely satisfactory since morality and religion cannot be so neatly separated. Matthew Parris takes up the question in the Spectator of London, provoked by a book by Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, who regularly refers to Judeo-Christian values. Dr. Sacks is not just off-target, he is 180 degrees out, says Parris. The Judeo-Christian tradition is secular and draws its courage from the skepticism of Jews towards their old religion, and of Christians toward theirs. The proper name for the tradition in question, says Parris, is liberalism.
Parris goes further. He thinks a case can be made for a Judeo-Islamic tradition, since, among other similarities, both are unitarian rather than trinitarian, both believe in the ideal of a theocracy, and both are iconoclastic and opposed to the veneration of sacred objects. In the same way, he says, a case can be made for a Christian-Islamic tradition, since, unlike Judaism, they are not tied to racial self-consciousness or blood-inheritance, and therefore try to convert the nations. Finally, writes Parris, though Judaism has its mystics it is by instinct suspicious of persons claiming divine inspiration. But Christianity and Islam were born in witness’ (by Christ and Muhammad) and are impressed by new instances. Both are (in the polite sense) hysterical religions, where Judaism can sound like an immensely wise highway code. Both (unlike Judaism) have been attended by alleged miracles. Both (especially, in Islam, the Shi’ites) have a central place for passion. Though Islam and Christianity have often fought, they are fighting for similar ground. Judaism is in many ways, the odd one out.
In sum, the talk about Judeo-Christian values is the language of secular liberalism. Properly understood, the two religions and their values are so very different. Yet the two peoples”if peoples we be”are no longer very different. It is easy to explain why. In Europe, most modern Christians and most modern Jews no longer take their religions very seriously. It is in our escape from our respective faiths, not in our adherence to them, that European Jews and European Christians find shared values and can speak of a common tradition. We come from two utterly different places but we are now traveling together. We are both traveling away from our ancient faiths.
Mr. Parris is no doubt right in thinking that some who speak about a Judeo-Christian tradition are in flight from both Judaism and Christianity. But this does not explain the fact that there are intellectually astute and religiously serious Jews and Christians who also speak of a Judeo-Christian tradition. The usage reflects the degree, commonly slighted by secularists, to which Western culture has been shaped by biblical religion. Admittedly, the influence was and is overwhelmingly Christian, but in this century, and especially in the last fifty years, there has been a genuine discovery by Christians of the irrevocably Jewish character of Jesus and the faith of his followers. In terms of substantive belief, historical experience, and present cultural reality, the Christian connection with Islam is in no way comparable, and is in most respects antithetical. In Romans 9 through 11, for example, it is true that St. Paul does not speak of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but only because it would have been inconceivable to him that Jesus the Christ could be separated from the Jewish story of salvation.
Mr. Parris suspects that the phrase Judeo-Christian began in America as a way of saying Christian values’ without leaving Jewish people out. It is a matter of manners. There is no doubt truth in that as well. I hear a good many Christians speak of Judeo-Christian values who have in no way internalized the theological and historical bonds between Judaism and Christianity. On the other hand, good manners”as in civility”are not to be despised. At a much deeper level, however, the unprecedented development in this century is that many committed Jews and Christians have come to understand that they share one story. For many reasons, this could happen only in America. Neither in Europe nor in Israel has the relationship between Jews and Christians made possible the kind of dialogue we know here.
There are many disagreements between Jews and Christians, most notably the disagreement over the identity of Jesus as the promised Messiah. The fact remains, however, that, while talk about a Judeo-Christian tradition may in some cases be no more than Christian politesse or secularist fudging, it most importantly reflects a discovery of the continuing significance of what St. Paul meant when he said that Gentile Christians are the branch grafted on to the root of God’s covenant with Abraham. The truth is that when Christians view Judaism as the odd one out, they remove themselves from the story of redemption. But those who, like Mr. Parris, have escaped from their Christianity cannot be expected to understand that.
While We’re At It
What do these people have in common? Mary Ann Glendon, Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, Irving Kristol, Peggy Steinfels, Elizabeth Fox”Genovese, William Jefferson Clinton. Nah, I’m just kidding about President Clinton. He’s the one who doesn’t read FT, or at least nothing he has said or done suggests that he does. But the others do, along with many thousands of subscribers, many of whom were alerted to the journal by someone like you. Send us your list of family members, friends, and associates who should be reading FT and we’ll send them a sample issue in your name. Feel free to include President Clinton, if you think your recommendation might move him to subscribe.
Human Life International (HLI), as the name suggests, is a pro-life organization working in countries around the world. They set their annual conference for Minneapolis and Archbishop Harry Flynn of Saint Paul and Minneapolis had agreed to preside at the opening Mass. He wrote a letter of welcome to Father Paul Marx, founder of HLI, welcoming the group to the archdiocese and echoing Pope John Paul II’s tribute to Fr. Marx as an apostle of life. Then the uproar commenced. A number of Jewish organizations, joined by lesbigay and various pro-abortion groups, unloosed a vitriolic attack on HLI for being anti-Semitic, homophobic, and sundry other very bad things. The message was unmistakable: if the Archbishop did not withdraw his support for HLI, it would have dire consequences for Jewish-Catholic relations in the Twin Cities. That threat was reinforced by public statements from the Archbishop’s own staff. The problem is that some years ago Fr. Marx wrote a book in which he deplored the prominence of Jewish leadership in support for abortion on demand. Jews of all people, Fr. Marx contended, should understand what happens when human life is devalued. I have read Fr. Marx’s statements with care. He was not politic in his manner of expression, but substantively he said nothing that has not been said also by numerous Jewish thinkers, writing both critically and approvingly, about Jews and the abortion question. In recent years, HLI has worked hard to mend fences with the Jewish community, but to no avail. On April 2, Archbishop Flynn issued a statement announcing that he would not participate in the opening Mass for the HLI meeting. He went much further than that, explicitly accusing HLI of bigotry and implicitly accusing it of anti-Semitism. His action has disappointed and outraged many faithful Catholics and pro-life activists. It will, it seems almost certain, reinforce the stereotype of Jewish intolerance and hostility to the protection of the unborn. And it does nothing to remedy the stereotype of the faintheartedness of Christian leadership in the face of moral intimidation. According to HLI leaders, the Archbishop did not even give them the courtesy of meeting with them before issuing his public condemnation, although they had repeatedly pleaded for such a meeting. I cannot support any organization which tolerates bigotry, the Archbishop declared. There was bigotry in the Twin Cities brouhaha, but it was not on the part of HLI. Fr. Marx and his organization have no doubt made mistakes, but they have done nothing to warrant such shabby treatment from a prelate of their own church. Nor does this incident do anything to put Jewish-Catholic relations on a firmer foundation of honesty, trust, and mutual respect.
For a long time, or at least since the Brown decision of 1954, everyone has wanted to teach constitutional, as distinct from nuts and bolts or black letter, law, says Steven D. Smith of the University of Colorado Law School in a forthcoming book, The Constitution and the Pride of Reason (Oxford University Press). He thinks that’s changing now, as law professors recognize the growing legal incoherence of Supreme Court decisions. It’s not just radical students in Critical Legal Studies who have concluded that It’s all just politics. One of Smith’s students wrote on an exam paper, The principal skill needed to understand why the Supreme Court rules the way it does on any particular constitutional issue is the ability to count to five. Oops, there we go again, raising that controversial legitimacy question about the rule of our robed masters.
Commenting on a BBC film of a play by John Paul II, Mark Lawson writes in the Tablet : Clearly, the urge to write is still there. Two years ago, John Paul II became the first serving Pope to have published a mass-market book written while in office, Crossing the Threshold of Hope . The suggestion is that most popes wait until after they have left office.
This journal has reviewed Roger Shattuck’s Forbidden Knowledge (February 1997), but Robert Alter has further comment of interest. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement , he addresses himself to Shattuck’s criticism of academics who want to make the Marquis de Sade a transgressive hero: Shattuck ponders the possibly ghastly consequences in the real world of violent pornography, quoting Ivan Karamazov’s What price will we pay to prevent the torture of one helpless child?’ not as a literary parable but as a question that, alas, sometimes is literally applicable to crimes perpetrated. This is not a plea for censorship but an argument that we need to balance the imperative of free speech and the potential dangers of human damage, that we have a double duty’-to be faithful to our traditions and our knowledge, to our community and our history’ and to be able to respond with guarded flexibility and understanding to challenges to those traditions and that knowledge.’ In the end, this is not a defense of taboos on knowledge but an exposure of the treason of the intellectuals, who have imbued transgression with the aura of sanctity that learning has in traditional Jewish communities and faith among many Protestants. Thus, the critique of the cult of Sade is not a brief for burning Sade but a reminder that truth in labeling is as serious an obligation for intellectuals as for manufacturers. The concluding words of the Sade chapter are a perfect illustration of the judiciousness and moral clarity that make Forbidden Knowledge a necessary book for our cultural moment: The divine marquis represents forbidden knowledge that we may not forbid. Consequently, we should label his writings carefully: potential poison, polluting to our moral and intellectual environment.’ Nicely said, indeed, but are we not caving when we allow that the forbidden cannot be forbidden? If the analogy with manufacturers is taken seriously, there are numerous forbidden products, or products subject to careful prescription, as in your local pharmacy. Shattuck dances away from the C”word, but one may wonder whether a culture in which censorship is forbidden can publicly distinguish between good and evil. It could even end up with, for instance, a popular movie celebrating a pornographer as the champion of its virtuous devotion to freedom. But perhaps I go too far.
This is from the early nineteenth century, when pundits and politicians were decrying the role of evangelical Protestants (then the religious establishment) in the politics of Cherokee Indian removal, the delivery of Sunday mail, dueling, and other practices the evangelicals deemed contrary to the moral order. Their critics did not use the term religious right, but the gist of their complaint was the same: Believers were trying to impose their morality on others, religion should be confined to the private sphere, religiously motivated reasons must be excluded from public discourse, and so forth. In response, the Reverend F. Freeman and others seized the constitutional high ground, accusing their accusers of fanning the flames of intolerance with their demagoguery about priestcraft and persecution. Said Freeman, This cry of persecution is itself the bitterest persecution. This charge of intolerance is the very hand of intolerance itself, stretched forth with unrelenting grasp. Then he said this: We are authorized to maltreat no one for the honest expression of his views. He is none the less our fellow-citizen and neighbor, possessing equal rights with ourselves and entitled to the same urbane and respectful treatment, whether he be a Christian or a Jew, a Turk or a Pagan”whether a Catholic, an Episcopalian, a Baptist, a Methodist, a Universalist, a Presbyterian, an Independent, or Unitarian, or Nothingarian. And all disrespectful treatment arising from such a cause, whatever that treatment be, whether simply hard looks, or public or private slights, menaces, scoffs, ridicule, misrepresentation, impeachment of motives without cause, or whatever else that is discourteous, is the expression of a feeling which is diametrically opposed to true religious liberty, and is the offspring of a little, a very contracted mind. The above is from The Politics of Revelation and Reason: Religion and Civic Life in the New Nation by John G. West of Seattle Pacific University and is published by University Press of Kansas. Our friend Mark Noll gives the book high praise, and he is right once again.
Dennis Prager says children should talk to strangers. Parents who tell their children never to talk to strangers, he writes in the Prager Perspective , are projecting their own fears on to their children. If parents are calculating real risk, they should, more realistically, never let their children ride in a car. The chances of a child being kidnapped by a stranger are virtually nil. In fact, in terms of risk, we would do better to tell our children to avoid adult relatives and acquaintances, and talk only to strangers. Prager has been asking high school students whether they would first save their drowning dog or cat or a drowning stranger. Only one in three votes to save the stranger. I have always attributed this to the secular culture’s reduction of human worth to that of animals, and to personal feelings (I love my dog’) replacing moral values (human life is sacred). I now realize there is a third reason”the fear of strangers that their parents have bequeathed to them.
Universal Pastor: President Bill Clinton’s Civil Religion is an essay in Journal of Church and State by Robert D. Linder, an insightful student of the role of the presidency in our national ethos. Citing numerous statements by Clinton before and after he became President, Linder is struck by the way in which Clinton thinks of the presidency as a pastoral office not just for the nation but for the entire world. Possibly he thinks that he is fulfilling in a grand way a call to the ministry that many people thought was the young Billy Clinton’s destiny. Of course, as Linder does not neglect to note, there is another side to Clinton that hardly fits the ministerial office. In his conclusion, Linder reminds us of G. K. Chesterton’s famous observation that America is a nation with the soul of a church. Asked about that aphorism many years later, British-born journalist Alistair Cooke commented: That’s true, but it also has the soul of a whorehouse. Linder suggests that both observations be kept in mind when contemplating the civil religion of President Clinton.
Pity the publicists of the pro-abortion cause whose job is to dramatize the allegedly noble and idealistic struggle to help women by securing reproductive rights. In 1995, they suffered a severe setback when Norma McCorvey, the Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade , was baptized and became a pro-life activist. Less publicized, although equally problematic to them, is Sandra Cano. She was the Jane Doe of Doe v. Bolton , the companion decision to Roe handed down from on high the same day of infamy, January 22, 1973. It is like blood on my hands, says Mrs. Cano, I don’t want to be a participant. Both women, says the Washington Times , now say their status as poor, uneducated Southern women in their early twenties who married abusive men while still in their teens made them malleable plaintiffs for lawyers anxious to bring an abortion rights case to the Supreme Court. Abused women abused by lawyers who exploited them for their own purposes. Some idealism. Mrs. Cano says she thought the papers she signed without reading them were to help her get a divorce. Her lawyer, Margie Pitts Hames, said nothing about abortion. I never wanted an abortion, says Mrs. Cano. God gives life and God is the only one who should take life. Margie knew I was stupid. I didn’t ask questions. I was mentally unstable. In 1989 she briefly made the national news by stating that Doe v. Bolton had misrepresented her, but two drive”by shooting incidents at her home shortly thereafter persuaded her to say no more about the case. The shootings are not on Planned Parenthood’s list of incidents of abortion”related violence.
The Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue (ARCIC) has fallen on hard times, according to New Directions , a publication of the Forward in Faith movement in the UK. ARCIC flourished, writes Andrew Burnham, when the Anglo-Catholics still held a strong hand in the Church of England, but those days are past. Whilst the meeting in Rome of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury in December 1996 was cordial, the homilies in San Gregorio al Celio revealed different agendas. ARCIC will indeed continue its task but the homilies set out some of the new understanding. The Pope once more reminded Dr. Carey of the essential role the Petrine ministry has to play in matters of faith and morals and of the difficulties caused by the Anglicans’ priestly ordination of women. Dr. Carey in turn reminded the Pope that the Reformation was not so much a tragedy as a rediscovery. The Pope’s message was clear: ARCIC will succeed ultimately only if it solves the problem of central authority versus provincial autonomy (or, in the words of Bishop Mark Santer, co-chairman of ARCIC, the impossible takes longer’). Dr. Carey’s message was more nuanced. In reminding the Pope of the Reformation he was alluding to the Pope’s own recognition of Martin Luther as a reformer.’ Nevertheless he might as well have said: Watch out, Pope! The evangelicals are in charge now. Much as I myself like and admire pick-and-mix catholic spirituality, there’s a whole bunch out there who aren’t convinced that Roman Catholics are even Christians.’
Demographic projections are always an iffy business, as dramatically demonstrated by all the nonsense promulgated over the last thirty years about a population explosion. Bill McGurn of the Far Eastern Economic Review has written on this in our pages, and now sends a somewhat alarming story on a report by the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare. The report says: The current forecast envisages a Japanese society that is aging much faster than predicted five years ago . . . . Steps should be taken immediately to stem the falling birthright. This is not only because a lower birthrate erodes the foundation of the social-welfare system and depresses economic activity, but also because it is not a sound society that discourages women from having children. The Japanese government projects that the population will peak at 128 million in the year 2007, fall to 100 million in 1050, and to 67 million by 2100. The remedy, according to this report, is to encourage people to marry earlier and to create an environment in which women can bring up children more comfortably. We have to hope that reversing the population decline is not contingent upon making child-rearing easy, which it will never be, but the government’s concern would seem to be thoroughly warranted. Of course Japan’s situation is different from ours in that they have almost zero immigration. Here all the projections suggest, to the worry of some and the satisfaction of others, that the population will continue to grow but will be dramatically changed in its ethnic makeup by 2050 and will be overwhelmingly Third World by 2100. In both countries, of course, abortion produces a difference of many millions between the number of children conceived and the number of children born.
Socialists, Christian and otherwise, have gotten an awful lot of mileage out of Cain’s response in Genesis 4:9, Am I my brother’s keeper? The collectivist’s assumption is that the answer is yes. Frank Johnson of the London Spectator suggests another reading. The question could well be the insolent response of a confident, cocky murder suspect to the police, or to even higher authority, as in, I don’t know where he is. I’m not his keeper, y’know.’ In which case God’s response to Cain was: I know perfectly well you’re not his keeper. But I also know that you know where he is because you’ve murdered him.’ Johnson continues: But what if socialists are right and the answer really is yes’? If so, it would create the sort of problem which only socialism could solve, but not in a way which would be pleasing to anyone other than the socialists states’ officials. If each of us is our brother’s and sister’s keeper, it means that our brothers and sisters are our keepers too. Disputes would soon arise as to who is to keep whom, and how we are kept. Who is to decide those disputes? A Britain whose population went around being its siblings’ keepers would either be a Britain whose citizens were constantly in dispute with one another, or in which we had to leave it to Whitehall, plus various devolved legislatures, to decide how we were all to be kept. Also, we can only be our brother’s and sister’s keeper if we are in charge of our brother and sister. That is how parents are their children’s keepers. The Keeper Society would therefore be, for adults, a stiflingly paternalistic one at best. It would not just be a society which looks after the needy, or helps thee love thy neighbour. For adults to love one another is for them to treat one another as equals”free people who do not need to be kept. There is a difference between a kept woman and a loved woman or a kept man and a loved man. Paternalism”in practice, the parenthood over us of officials nominally in the charge of politicians”was what Old Labour wanted. The relish with which New Labour hears sympathetic bishops quoting Genesis 4:9 suggests that, at heart, it is what New Labour wants too, once it is elected.
On the far edges of traditionalism is Gary Potter’s column in the Remnant . We must, he says, face the fact that Christendom is dead. If it is ever to be reborn, the idea of it must be kept alive today. Helping keep it alive is something every Catholic can do. Every Catholic can dedicate himself to keeping burning the fire of the Catholic thing at the back of the cave. One way we could live as Catholics is by learning and speaking among ourselves the Catholic language, Latin. Mr. Potter does not claim it is a truth of magisterial doctrine that Jesus spoke Latin, but he thinks it almost certain. How else could he have conversed with the centurion who had the sick servant, or with Pontius Pilate. Through a translator? To me, it is very doubtful, says Mr. Potter. He offers a cursus of texts and cassettes for learning Latin. It would be fitting and right (dignum et justum est) to speak a language spoken by Our Lord Himself. Not very persuasive, I’m afraid, but I do like that bit about keeping the fire of the Catholic thing burning at the back of the cave. We all have moments like that.
I’m not sure what it means, but almost nothing means nothing. Here, from the newsletter Insight , is the religious-affiliation lineup for the new Congress. Roman Catholics number 151 (+3 from the prior Congress). Then follow 67 Baptists (-1), 59 Methodists (-4), 53 Presbyterians (-6), 46 unspecified Protestants (+23), 42 Episcopalians (-7), 35 Jews (+1), 22 Lutherans (+1), 15 Mormons (+2), 10 United Church of Christ (-2), 5 Christian Science (same), 5 Eastern Orthodox (same), 4 African Methodist Episcopal (+1), 4 Pentecostal (+1), 3 Seventh Day Adventists (-1), 3 Unitarians (-2), 2 Christian Reformed (same), 1 Christian Church (-1), and 1 Disciples of Christ (-1). Only 7 were unspecified (+2).
Some years ago my friend Peter Berger came up with the idea that in the modern world everybody has to have an identity kit. When personal identity is not ascribed or a given that comes with one’s place in a traditional community, it must be constructed, with all the chatter about identity crisis that that entails. Since the reunification of Germany in 1990, it seems that East Germans are left with almost nothing in their identity kits. According to a survey conducted by Der Spiegel magazine, half the adults in the western regions claim to be religious, compared to only one in five in the former East Germany. Young people are especially prominent among those who say that God has no meaning for them. Berlin sociologist Klaus-Peter Jorns says that atheism may be one of the few surviving features of former East German life and therefore is an important element of eastern German identity. Berger is fond of saying that any identity is better than none. One may be permitted to wonder.
For the last thirty years in law and medical practice, the concept of brain death has largely determined when organs can be taken for transplant purposes. An article in the influential Hastings Center Report asks whether it is time to abandon the brain-death criterion. The author, Robert D. Truog, proposes turning back the clock to the older cardiorespiratory definition of when someone is dead. The argument is very technical and I will not even try to summarize it. The concluding paragraph, however, is worth more than a moment’s thought. The most difficult challenge for this proposal would be to gain acceptance of the view that killing [people who are not quite dead] may sometimes be a justifiable necessity for procuring transplantable organs. Careful attention to the principles of consent and nonmaleficence should provide an adequate bulwark against slippery slope concerns that this practice would be extended in unforeseen and unacceptable ways. Just as the euthanasia debate often seems to turn less upon abstract theoretical concerns and more upon the empirical question of whether guidelines for assisted dying would be abused, so the success of the proposal could also rest upon factual questions of societal acceptance and whether this approach would erode respect for human life and the integrity of clinicians. While the answers to these questions are not known, the potential benefits of this proposal make it worthy of continued discussion and debate. Killing somebody who is not dead is serious business. We should not let the decision about doing that get bogged down in abstract theoretical concerns such as, presumably, right and wrong. Rather,