The Public Square
The Woodstock Center at Georgetown University is where some distinguished Jesuits, and some less distinguished Jesuits, fiddle with their theological fretwork. A recent Woodstock Report is entirely given over to fretting about today’s favorite crisis, the environment. It comes with a recommended bibliography of seven books, topped by Matthew Fox, Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality. The book is described this way: “Going beyond systematic theology. Fox sets forth the ingredients of a spirituality that would make us more sensitive to the sacramental character of nature. His major thesis is that theology’s over-emphasis on the Fall-Redemption schema has led us unnecessarily to deny the basic goodness of Creation. Though the book is considered controversial and one-sided by some critics. Fox’s is a voice that needs to be heard today.”
The “Fall-Redemption schema,” of course, has to do with that business about our being sinners for whom Christ died. Fr. Matthew Fox, it will be remembered, was silenced by the Vatican last year, which prompted him to take out a full-page ad in the New York Times soliciting funds for his projects in cosmic synthesis and christic witchery. “I HAVE BEEN SILENCED!” he announced. But the gimlet-eyed Jesuits are surely right in seeing that his theology is not systematic. Whether it is Christian is . . . well, who is to say these days? One vaguely remembers the time when “Jesuitical” suggested something more sinister than silly.
Admittedly, the sinister and the silly are not mutually exclusive. In times of desperation, the most dubious purposes can continue to be advanced under the banners of myriad fatuities. After the demise of Marxism as an ideological force, and the severe body blows dealt to schemes of socialist “third ways” propounded by “prophetic” religion, the banner of choice is currently THE ENVIRONMENT. Thus the huge confab of the World Council of Churches in Seoul, South Korea, titled the “World Convocation of Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation.” And thus the gathering at Riverside Church in New York City this past May, “National Conference on Building the Earth Community.”
The last was a grand reunion of veterans of the tattered causes of the last several decades, except now under the rallying cry of the environment. Peace-and-justice networking. Third World liberationism, radical feminism, unilateral disarmament, socialist utopianisms”there is little substantive change but, by scissors-and-paste magic, all the speeches and manifestos begin and end with alarums about ecotastrophe. The standard polemics against capitalism, imperialism, racism, militarism, and whatever are now marginally recast in terms of the supposed threat such evils pose to Our Planet”or, as it is now said, “The Earth Community.” Such ideological cross-dressing is not surprising. True, yesterday’s arguments sometimes look a little odd in today’s fashion of environmentalism, but then one remembers that the alternative would be a perhaps painful reexamination of assumptions to which many have attached their identities. As with the Old Left of the thirties, so with the New Old Left of the sixties, it is ever so much more important to “keep the faith” than to think clearly about a changing world.
Then too, religionists of a certain proclivity have a touching need to believe that they are in some important way making history. From almost any source they eagerly embrace the assurance that they can be relevant to “the real world.” And so the Riverside conference headlines the assurance of celebrity astronomer Carl Sagan, who says that “scientists and the religious community must work together to preserve the environment of the Earth. The historical record makes clear that religious teaching, example, and leadership are powerfully able to influence personal conduct and commitment.” Sagan is outspoken about his adherence to atheistic materialism, a belief system that, however implausible, he has every right to promote. The remarkable thing is that Christians and Jews should feel complimented when he pats them on the head by admitting that their religion is nonetheless useful in changing the world. He does not go so far as to say that religion is a noble lie, but he is prepared to acknowledge that it is a useful lie. That is enough for him to be gratefully applauded by religionists who are thus reassured that they still have a role to play, no matter how modest, in making history.
These are among the dynamics that account for the crowding of the environmental tent with the refugees from causes past. But, in addition to finding an ecological preservative for ideas fast spoiling, and in addition to the need for comforting assurances that religion is still relevant, environmentalism offers new “spiritualities,” and for new spiritualities there is today a bull market. On our discontents with ourselves, others, and the world, on our fears about the future, eco-gurus offer to rub the balm of essence of soul. Jay McDaniel, author of Earth, Sky, Gods, Mortals: Developing an Ecological Spirituality, was featured at Riverside, and the books of the aforementioned Matthew Fox were much in evidence.
Again, none of this should surprise us. Aging activists need a temporary home, a place to keep their weary dreams for a time, before continuing the sojourn toward a world that is the more alluring because it is so elusive. The Environmental Rest Home will have to do for a while. The young who want revolution grasp at the promise wherever it is on offer, even if the revolution, ironically enough, is in the cause of conservation. As for the quest for spiritualities, it is a perennial eruption in human history. Robert Musil, in The Man Without Qualities, noted its eruption in the useless lives of the elites of Vienna prior to World War I. In that time, as in ours, there was what Musil says was an “indescribable wave of skim-romanticism and yearning for God that the technological age had for a time squirted out as an expression of spiritual and artistic protest against itself.”
Caring Over Curing
Talk about cutting off medical treatment for the elderly and you’re likely to be condemned as cruel and uncaring. And so, a few years ago, Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Center was condemned for suggesting that public policy should set a point, say age eighty-five, above which no more medical interventions aimed at curing should be attempted. Unfortunately, some important points that Callahan was trying to make got lost in the furor.
A man not easily intimidated, Callahan tries again in a new book. What Kind of Life (Simon & Schuster). The gravamen of his argument is that we must make a clear distinction between curing and caring. Everyone is entitled, so to speak, to being cared for, but there is no way for everyone to be cured. Callahan wants us to think anew about what is meant by health care. The “first phase” of progress in health measures, from the seventeenth to early twentieth centuries, focused on groups rather than individuals. Better nutrition, sanitation, and general living conditions dramatically increased life expectancy. The “second phase” was the virtual conquest of infectious disease by means of vaccinations and antibiotics. That phase, too, marked a big improvement in public health. Now we’re in the “third phase,” having to do with surgical techniques, intensive care units, improved rehabilitation, organ transplants, and so forth. The third phase, however, has also brought a major increase in chronic disease and illness, mainly related to people living longer.
“It is a mistake to assume,” writes Callahan, “that the kinds of successes characteristic of earlier medical history will necessarily be repeated in the future. That so many of the most difficult conditions are associated with aging means also that, given human nature itself, the ragged edge of aging will most likely always and necessarily generate new debilitating and lethal conditions to replace those earlier reduced or eradicated.” Despite all our frantic efforts at the diminishing “ragged edge” to extend life and defeat death, Callahan notes, “death always wins.” As for what people are entitled to, Callahan observes: “A society cannot be said to owe its citizens the pursuit of every medical possibility to meet every curative need, much less when the possibilities of doing so are endless.”
Callahan is, in large part, making an economic argument. Historically, and compared with other developed nations, the U.S. spends an astonishing and rapidly increasing amount on medicine. Those critics who say that other countries are ahead of us in “guaranteeing quality health care for everyone” overlook the fact that the definition of quality in those countries does not include the panoply of high-tech medicine increasingly taken for granted in America. Whether it be cases of rare and debilitating disease or the chronic illnesses associated with old age, many technical interventions are marginally effective, and are likely to remain so. The immortality project is doomed to failure, and extraordinary measures to defy death consume resources that are needed to sustain and strengthen the first two “phases” of health improvement.
Far from being callous, Callahan wants to advance a compassionate and comprehensive understanding of what it means to care. “It is the vulnerability that illness creates that most requires the response of others.” Caring is not “a kind of consolation prize,” but is highest blessing for both those who give and those who receive. “There is never any certainty that our illnesses can be cured or our death averted. Eventually they will, and must, triumph. Our victories over sickness and death are always temporary, but our need for support, for caring, in the face of them is always permanent.” Here Callahan acknowledges the importance of the hospice movement, a movement that has not yet received the support it deserves from the churches and synagogues of America. “The great value of the hospice movement is its contribution to the care of the dying and to opening up, once again, the possibility of accepting illness and death in an affirmative way,” Callahan writes. The kind of caring that Callahan calls for requires both a change of individual hearts and a rethinking of the ways that social policy can encourage caring and support caregivers.
What Kind of Life is an important book, worthy of being pondered and challenged. The title is unfortunate, suggesting a “quality of life” argument that assumes some lives are not worth living. Lives not worth living, people may understandably be inclined to think, are not worth caring for. Callahan himself opposes legal measures that would include the unborn in the community of caring. His Hastings Center has also developed troubling guidelines for the care of the dying, guidelines that are less than careful about respecting those at the end of their lives. (For a critique of those and similar guidelines, see Richard John Neuhaus, “The Return of Eugenics,” Commentary, April 1988.) Thus Daniel Callahan has posed obstacles to his getting the hearing that he deserves when, in the present book, he urges us to think through the differences between curing and caring. Nonetheless, he is raising questions that will become inescapable as we move further into a “third phase” of medicine that is morally doubtful, economically unsustainable, and may well undermine curing and caring alike.
From time to time in American history the idea has been floated that there should be a “Christian” political party. It has never stayed afloat very long. This is in sharp contrast to Western Europe where, since World War II, Christian Democrats (CD) have played a powerful, frequently dominant, role in Belgium, Holland, West Germany, Austria, and Italy. The reasons for the difference between the European and American situations are several. CD in Europe is mainly a Roman Catholic affair, whereas until recently Catholicism in America was viewed as an immigrant minority in an essentially Protestant country. At least equally important, European politics was shaped by the Revolution of 1789, not our Revolution of 1776. The forces of “progress” and “enlightenment” were powerfully anticlerical and often anti-Christian, pitted against an ancien regime that was allied with the church. Christian identity was sharpened by the revolutionary antithesis, whereas in America the revolutionary impulse was itself perceived as being Christian in substance and motive. The “separation” of church and state in Europe was a separation against religion, while in America it was, at least originally, a separation for religion.
Today the Christian Democrats are riding high in Europe. Their electoral success in mainly Protestant (and mainly Lutheran) East Germany was especially striking. But there are some CDs who think they have been too successful. They have become so preoccupied with keeping power, it is said, that they have lost touch with the religious purposes that brought them into political existence to begin with. Says one Belgian leader: “Christian democracy has lost its soul and should go into opposition. The leaders now accept anything to stay in power, and they disregard our principles and traditions. They are not helping to renovate our doctrine.”
Some CD loyalists worry that the European Community will inevitably bring a closer connection between CDs and British Tories, thus creating a secularized conservative alliance that will further dilute the religion factor in Christian Democracy. This, it is said, will make it more difficult to pursue the goal that Pope John Paul II describes as “reconstituting the soul of Europe.” An alternative proposed is for CD members to look, rather, to a closer alliance with Poles, Czechs, and others in Central Europe who, it is hoped, will offer a more promising model of religiously inspired political action.
All the worries about secularization notwithstanding, it seems that in Western Europe the CD parties retain a firm religious base. For instance, in last year’s Dutch election 85% of CD voters described themselves as religious; for the Socialists, Liberals, and Democrats 66, the figures were 55%, 40%, and 25% respectively. For another instance, in Italy in 1988 30% of adults claimed to attend church at least once a week, but 50% of CD voters and 75% of delegates to the party’s congress did so. The conclusion would seem to be that CD parties might well bear the hope of Europe’s still-developing political vision, offering a suggestive way of combining religious commitment and political responsibility. And that is of interest not only to Europeans.
Looking for Fagin
All of a sudden, or so it seems, the “scandal” of child labor erupted a couple of months ago. The Secretary of Labor, Elizabeth Dole, garnered huge publicity for launching “sweeps” by armies of investigators checking up on employers who hire the under-aged. Congress worked itself up into a moralistic rumble about the need for more punitive laws.
Tim W. Ferguson of the Wall Street Journal suggests this might be a good time for some careful thinking. He was not impressed, for instance, by the media indignation directed at a Baltimore man who hired kids to sell candy in poor areas. “Now, much as Dickensian doorbell drives may rankle those blessed enough to be on the receiving end, how might the world appear to a seventh-grader in a subsidized housing complex? Here is a guy who offers a way to sell legal goods for pay that is modest but holds the promise of decent rewards in return for good salesmanship. It is probably a better introduction to the way a contractual society is supposed to work than is available at the deficient local public school or what passes for a playground.”
The usual assumption is that child labor is one of those uglies from the dark ages (read, before the New Deal). But Ferguson notes that there is, here and there, an openness to second thoughts. “Scholars such as Robert Lerman of American University, writing for the Progressive Policy Institute, are focusing on the virtues of work at a young age. They have in mind enhanced programs to meld school and job so as to put marginal students on a track to some kind of livelihood. Even if flawed, this is liberalism aimed at rejuvenation not recrimination.”
Ferguson concludes that the Labor Department might find better employment for itself than conducting sweeps of local pizza shops to see if teenagers are working overtime. “An alternative mission for a secretary of labor might be to request from her statistics unit the 1988 count showing that of the 599,000 U.S. residents ages 16 and 17, who were recorded as not enrolled in school, nearly 60 percent were not employed. While for many of them a return to the classroom is in order, obtaining a job can be the more urgent and attainable goal.”
Hannah Arendt Assaulted
It is only to be expected that the apparent end of the cold war occasions some re-auditing of the intellectual books. Consider, for instance, Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, first published in 1951 and now subjected to a thorough trashing by John Lukacs, writing in New Oxford Review. NOR, as it calls itself (perhaps because it wants to be known as neither this nor that), is a journal that combines in sometimes interesting, if not convincing, ways Roman Catholic traditionalism and political leftism. Lukacs’ assault on Arendt fits into NOR’s running editorial polemic against anti-Communists, cold warriors, neoconservatives, and a shady group known as “the New York intellectuals.”
Lukacs does not hide the fact that he is venting a resentment of Arendt that he has harbored for almost forty years. That’s a long time to nurture a grudge. He alleges, among other things, that Arendt is guilty of “intellectual dishonesty” and “opportunism” in pandering to fashionable anti-Communism. There is an “essential falseness” in her writing of “total nonsense” that happened to be the nonsense that some New York intellectuals (Norman Podhoretz, for example) wanted to hear at the time. And so the vituperation goes on and on, concluding with this: “But the main purpose of this article is not the denigration of Arendt, no matter how much blackening her reputation deserves. My purpose has been to draw attention yet again to the self-willed”and therefore deep-seated”arteriosclerosis of American intellectual life.” Mr. Lukacs has undoubtedly succeeded in drawing attention to his intense dislike of people with whom he disagrees, yet again.
From beneath the bile, one can rescue an intelligent criticism or two that John Lukacs makes of Hannah Arendt. In light of the Revolution of 1989, it is now obvious that Arendt was wrong in her assumption that totalitarian regimes could only become more totalitarian. That was not obvious (as Lukacs, in retrospect, claims it was) from earlier uprisings such as Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. If Arendt is to be criticized for overestimating the inexorable character of totalitarianism and its success in creating “the new totalitarian man,” other worthies such as George Orwell might be similarly faulted.
One of the bright lessons emerging from 1989 is that Communist regimes are kept in place only by raw force. Withdraw the tanks and machine guns, and the whole preposterous setup is devastatingly exposed. Communism in Russia’s captive nations was yet another Potemkin village, and the people now coming out from behind the collapsing stagecraft appear to be relatively undamaged in their essential humanity. Indeed, it may be that their experience of totalitarian inhumanity has graced them with a spiritual and moral sensibility that will turn out to be a great and needed gift to us in the West.
So the good news is that Arendt’s worst fears turned out to be unwarranted. The fact remains, however, that she had the courage to break decisively with the left in our political culture, pointing out, for instance, the awful similarities between Hitler and Stalin. Contra Lukacs, making that argument forty years ago took courage. It is an argument that has still not been digested by many intellectuals, also in our churches, who continue to resist the truth that anti-Communism is as morally imperative as anti-Nazism. John Lukacs is in the minority that never needed instruction on the evils of Communism, and it is therefore regrettable that he feels the need to turn so viciously on one who so effectively instructed many who did need it.
The Poor: Helping Them and Us at One Lethal Stroke
Paul Sigmund of Princeton has written a carefully calibrated evaluation of liberation theology in Latin America (Liberation Theology at the Crossroads: Democracy or Revolution? Oxford). The subtitle indicates Sigmund’s appreciation of the ways in which revolutionisms usually turn out to be profoundly antidemocratic. The book analyzes the move of some liberation theologians, notably Gustavo Gutierrez of Peru, away from Marxist ideology, even before the Revolution of 1989 consigned Marxism to the dustbin of history with such rude decisiveness.
Miriam Davidson, a journalist who is a romantic booster of sundry radicalisms, is far from satisfied with Sigmund’s study, however. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Ms. Davidson indicates that she’s glad enough that, in addition to economic oppression, some liberation theologians are beginning to take sexual oppression seriously. “Yet,” she says, “the Latin American liberation theologians have not harshly criticized the Vatican for its stand on birth control and the status of women in the church. It appears that reproductive self-determination would go a long way toward real liberation (especially given the problems of overpopulation in the third world), but this issue has not been addressed by the liberation theologians.” She calls on such theologians to challenge the Vatican “as do some priests from the developed North.”
In reading Ms. Davidson’s criticism, one is impressed again by the uncompromisable centrality of abortion in so much current thinking about the liberated life for both the privileged and the poor. The answer to poverty, it seems, is to reduce the number of poor people, thus liberating them from the burden of life, and us from the burden of them. So at the end of centuries of Enlightenment the progressive solution for our global problems is for parents to kill their children. Dean Swift should have lived to see his modest proposal become establishment orthodoxy.
There’s nothing new in the observation that opposing extremists tend to feed one another, each providing reasons for the other’s hysteria. Consider, for instance, the movie The Handmaid’s Tale, based on a story by Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. A fanatical band of evangelicals has taken over a dreadfully polluted United States, renaming it Gilead. In their theocracy they confine the remaining fertile females to camps where they are forced to be baby breeders. It is an awful world in which women are divided into classes by color-coded clothing, a hypocritical Bible-quoting leadership reigns supreme, and everything good, true, and beautiful is trampled in the dirt. The moral to be drawn is that we must all sign up for the battle against religious fanatics (i.e., Christian conservatives) who are trying to take over our country and destroy our liberties.
As for the response to the film, Ms. Atwood says, “In Canada they said, Could it happen here?’ In England they said, Jolly good yarn.’ In the United States they said, How long have we got?’ “ At least that appears to be what the American hysterics with whom Ms. Atwood associates said. And she associates with some of the best. The Washington Post and the New York Times ran long, fawning, feature stories on the film, its director, stars, and author. In Washington, a host of senators, representatives, and assorted celebrities turned out for the premier, many of them pondering to the press about the film’s prophetic message for our time. Ms. Atwood assured the Times that she wasn’t just making this up. “I didn’t include anything that had not already happened, was not under way somewhere, or that we don’t have the technology to do.” What could be under way somewhere and what people might be able to do are categories of possibility so large as to warrant any fantasy. The psychological term for those who view the world in terms of speculatively threatening possibilities is paranoid.
Vibrant paranoia does not need to be fed by evidence, but confirmations of grotesque fears are gratefully received. Here, for instance, is a mailing from the Coalition on Revival that announces “a new move of God” to create a “Spiritual Army of Christians” to take over sixty major cities in North America in the next twenty years. They are inviting carefully selected “martyr-willing, mighty warriors” to attend “Ministry Merge Seminars” for training in the “National Gameplan.” Those who receive the mailing are warned that they most likely won’t qualify for these seminars, spineless wimps that they are. We who are less than martyr-ready, mighty warriors are nonetheless told, “You would do well to pray for this attack against the gates of Hell. In this move we are consciously throwing down the Christian gauntlet to the Humanists, Communists, Nazis, New Age Witches, Mafia, ACLU, NOW, NEA, etc., so we, our families, and our ministries will be under special attack by the forces of evil.” This is heady stuff.
It is extremist, to be sure, but it hardly justifies the fantasies of Ms. Atwood and her movie. The Coalition sends along a précis of its blueprint for the reconstruction of society on “biblical law,” and it looks nothing like The Handmaid’s Tale. It does look very much like the conventional theonomist fantasy of a world transformed by the rule of the righteous (see “Why Wait for the Kingdom?” May). This fantasy is a long way from the corridors of influence and power. The Coalition mailing comes out of Mountain View, California, while Atwood’s fantasy is promulgated by the prestige media and celebrated at receptions on Capitol Hill. The extremists of Mountain View have a half-baked and largely incoherent view of a society that may someday be, while the celebrators of The Handmaid’s Tale are at the cultural control centers of the society that already is. Between David and Goliath, it would seem that David might have a better excuse for being paranoid.
One extremism calls for a secular crusade to rid public life of the dangers of religion, the other wants a crusade that will subordinate everything to its version of religious law. What they have in common is that they are both monistic: they cannot tolerate a pluralism that involves a complex interaction of reason, conscience, public discourse, and moral judgment drawn from, among other sources, revealed religion. The way of truth, and of public safety, does not lie between these extremisms. It lies, rather, in principled devotion to civil discourse”an open-ended discourse that conscientiously guards against premature closure, engaging varieties of moral vision and recognizing that decisions democratically made are subject to democratic review. That understanding will no doubt be unsatisfactory both to the mighty warriors of the Coalition and to the secularists who cheer Ms. Atwood’s slander of evangelical religion. The former refuse to wait for God to put His world to rights, and the second cannot abide the reminder that there is a right that might challenge the indulgence of what they take to be their rights. Although one is viewed as sweated and the other as sophisticated, each continues to feed the other’s wildest fears.
Maximum Legal Protection
Many commentators seem to have a hard time understanding that communities of faith are not simply voluntary organizations that democratically make up their rules as they go along. And they seem to have the hardest time understanding that when it comes to the Roman Catholic Church. Thus newspapers routinely consult the crystal ball of survey research and editorially opine that the bishops have lost their leadership legitimacy because many Catholics dissent from church teachings, especially on matters sexual. On abortion, above all, the media seek to replace the church’s magisterium with their own teaching authority. Pundits go into a most particular snit when bishops “interfere” with the duties of Catholics holding public office. The idea that bishops are pastors who have a responsibility for the soul welfare also of politicians, the idea that bishops are to help also politicians to form their consciences in accord with their professed beliefs” such ideas are dismissed as a pious guise for partisan power plays.
It is just barely possible that some who cannot abide any statement by a Catholic bishop might listen to conscientious Catholic laypersons on the question of abortion and Catholic officeholders. Mary Ann Glendon, law professor at Harvard, and George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington have authored an important statement on this subject, published first in Newsday and then in other papers around the country. They present six propositions that they dare to believe are valid not only for Roman Catholics in public life. The first is this: “The goal of conscientious Catholic politicians must be the maximum possible legal protection for unborn human life. There can be no compromise here. They must support the principle of the protection of innocent human life and the implementation of that principle in law.”
Recognizing the complexities in advancing that goal, Glendon and Weigel say this: “The goal of maximum legal protection’ will have to be pursued incrementally. Assuring the most comprehensive possible legal protection for unborn life in a given locale is no simple task. Conscientious Catholic politicians will sometimes differ on the best way to translate principle into law.
“A conscientious Catholic legislator may settle’ for, say, prohibiting sex-selection abortions if that is all that is feasible in a given state. Indeed, that minimal protection establishes a legal beachhead for the principle that human life must be legally respected.
“In most states, on the other hand, it will be possible to enact legislation that brings a state’s law into closer conformity with what survey research consistently shows to be the national consensus: That abortion should not be a form of contraception, and that it should be available only for serious reasons that must increase in gravity as pregnancy advances. It is unlikely that the democratic process will yield many statutes as extreme as Roe v. Wade, which grants an abortion license that cannot be revoked even in the third trimester of pregnancy, if the woman’s well-being’ is at stake.
“In every locale, in other words, the conscientious Catholic politician will seek the principled recognition of the state’s interest in the protection of unborn human life and the maximum possible legal implementation of that principle, given local political and cultural realities. A vigorous and effective strategy of incremental gains does not involve an abandonment of principle. For, according to classic Catholic understandings and the common moral intuitions of the American people, an America in which fewer and fewer abortions are performed each year is morally preferable to the present America, in which there are 1.6 million abortions annually, and rising.”
Glendon and Weigel understand the sundry worlds of moral purpose and self-interest that must be addressed in more imaginative ways. “Catholic politicians should build new coalitions in support of protecting innocent human life: Coalitions, first and foremost, with American women”the majority of whom are pro-life”who understand that Roe’s abortion license has encouraged irresponsible male sexual behavior more than any other legal act in our history. Coalitions with those Christian and Jewish religious leaders who have stoutly defended the right-to-life of the unborn. Coalitions with the handicapped and the elderly: Roe’s lethal logic will, sooner or later, be deployed against others whose lives are deemed inconvenient’ or worthless.”
Their conclusion reflects an understanding of the particular opportunity and obligation of Catholicism in this moment of our common life. “Catholicism has traditionally taught that prudence is the most important of political virtues. Prudence is not a matter of splitting the difference between opposed positions; it is the moral and political art of incorporating principles in public policy.
“The American democratic experiment will be debased and coarsened if it continues to deny the principle of the inviolability of innocent human life. Catholicism in America will be diminished if it does not bring the art of prudence to bear in devising legal approaches to abortion that are compassionate toward pregnant women, protective of unborn life, and directed toward the general welfare.” (For a complete text of the Glendon-Weigel statement, write Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1030 15th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.)
While We’re at It
It’s not easy to locate reliable and relatively dispassionate educational material on AIDS. There is now available, however, a video that can be recommended for discussion groups in churches and synagogues. AIDS: What You Haven’t Been Told, is available for |29.95 (plus $2 shipping) from IDEA, P.O. Box 4010, Madison, WI 53711. Produced by an evangelical Christian group, the film does not so much contain what “you haven’t been told” (what, by this point, hasn’t been told about AIDS?) as it puts the facts into a sober and sobering context. Caring in tone, the film is devoid of egregious polemic, whether pro or con current homosexual activisms.
The Rev. Laszlo Tokes is one of the heroes of the Romanian revolution of 1989. He is the Reformed pastor whose refusal to leave his congregation in Timisoara sparked the popular uprising that, within a few days, brought down the regime of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. In a recent interview. Pastor Tokes had hard words for Reformed and Orthodox leaders who collaborated with the regime, and for Western church leaders who supported Communist oppression by their silence, or worse. “The error has always been,” said Tokes, “that Western church leaders have come here as diplomats. Despite being God’s servants, they have developed a lifestyle resembling that of the politicians. They did not listen when we told them that also Romanian bishops were agents of Securitate [the secret police].” Tokes is especially critical of the World Council of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC). Romanian Christians, he says, supported the causes they were asked to support, but were not supported in turn. “I remember well,” he says, “the assistance we contributed in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. My church stood by the black freedom fighters. Allan Boesak [the South African who is president of WARC] gave us credit for this. However, when the struggle was raging for life or death in Romania, he and the other ecumenical heavyweights let us down . . . . This is my accusation against the churches of the West”our revolution did not come about with their help, but in spite of their unwillingness to fight for the truth.” Looking back on the sorry record of many Western Christians during the cold war, Tokes concludes, “I want to ask the international church bodies whether the time has not come to repent and ask for forgiveness.”
Here is heavy stuff. The United Methodists are considering adopting a “liturgy of hope” for families mourning a miscarried pregnancy. (The Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches have such services at present.) The proposed liturgy refers to the fetus as “this infant, the child of . . . ” According to the people in charge, there has been an enormous popular demand for such a service. But of course it touches directly on the divided soul of United Methodism on the question of abortion. It is suggested that there might be an alternative rite for people who do not want the fetus referred to as a child. But, if only a piece of tissue has been ejected, what would be the reason for mourning in the first place? A spokesman for the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR) says that they do not object to the reference to a child having died: “We are in favor of any language that would assist in the process of mourning.” Given RCAR’s insistence that there is no unborn “child,” it would seem that they are compassionately willing to go along with what they believe is a lie if it makes people feel better. The Methodist committee says it has not ruled out developing a “rite of reconciliation” specifically intended for use in cases of abortion. Presumably, the child in question would not be involved in the reconciliation. It is all very confusing, and a sad testimony to the politicizing of religion that stifles the truth even of parents mourning their children.
We have written elsewhere about the sometimes virulent, sometimes tempered, anti-Catholicism of the New York Times (see “Those Turbulent Bishops,” National Review, December 31, 1989). And sometimes the Times’ exhibition of its prejudice is just amusing. When, for instance, the Catholic bishops conference enlisted a public relations firm to help get out its message on abortion, the Times was not at all pleased. The op-ed page ran a blistering attack on the bishops by ex-priest Eugene Kennedy, who now preaches psychology at Loyola University. Along the way, Kennedy made some slighting remarks about the public relations business, which, he said, is brought in “when the truth won’t do.” Some days later, the Times gave the bulk of the correspondence column to letters vigorously protesting the Kennedy article”and defending, of course, not the bishops but the public relations business. It would perhaps be unfair to observe that the advertising revenue of the Times does not depend upon the good will of the bishops. Perhaps.
George E. Grant, the executive director of Coral Ridge Ministries in Fort Lauderdale, objects to our including him in our discussion of Christian Reconstructionism (“The Theonomist Temptation,” May). He assures us that, while he has friends and publishing connections among the Reconstructionists, he is in no way a theonomist. Among his other differences with the theonomists, he notes that he rejects their basic hermeneutic of a wholesale acceptance of Old Testament case laws for the ordering of modern society. While there is a “biblical triumphalism” in Dr. Grant’s writings that is similar to the Reconstructionist message, we accept his statement that he is not a theonomist and are grateful for the clarification.
In the May issue we cited some wise words by Leszek Kolakowski on the subject of religion and the future of democracy. But we said they were from his Jefferson Lecture when, in fact, they were said at a conference sponsored a while back by the National Endowment for Democracy. Just in case any readers were confused by our error.
The movie I Love You to Death is playing in Allentown, PA, and not everybody is happy about it. It is about Allentown’s Tony Toto, a notorious philanderer whose wife hired help to bump him off with a bomb, a bat, and a gun, but none of them worked. The wife served time, the Totos are reconciled, and the movie is doing well at the box office. Then we read this in the Times, one of our local newspapers: “Joseph Rosenfeld, assistant director of the city’s Department of Community Affairs, said it was unfortunate’ that the Toto affair was more responsible for putting Allentown on the map than the recent opening of Interstate 78 to New Jersey.” Apparently the Times had completely missed the big story of the new accessibility of New Jersey to the people of Allentown. Mr. Rosenfeld continues, “I don’t have any respect for people who try to kill each other.” He adds, “But this is my personal view.” Now there, in our judgment, you have a state-of-the-art example of the modern virtue of non-judgmentalism. It might also be described as the pro-choice position on domestic violence.
King Baudouin of Belgium made clear in advance that he could not and would not sign into law a bill withdrawing legal protection from the unborn. The Belgian newspapers, which are owned by the several parties protecting their piece of power in the ruling coalition, deemed this news unfit to print. However, one reporter, Paul Belien, managed to get the story out in the European edition of the Wall Street Journal, and was consequently fired by his own Belgian paper. Mr. Belien reflects on these developments: “I did make one false prediction, however, in my article for the Journal. I concluded that the king’s refusal might lead to a constitutional crisis. This did not happen. The politicians just ignored the constitution. [Prime Minister] Martens simply suspended the king’s powers for two days and had the government sign the abortion law instead. In order to do this the government invoked Article 82 of the Belgian constitution, which had been used during World War II when the king was in the hands of the enemy”the Nazis”and the government had taken over the king’s powers. Apparently, the government supposes that the king is in the hands of the enemy again”not the Nazis, but his own conscience.”
Aleksander S. Tsipko is one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s closest advisers. In a recent interview he offered his views on what the master is up to in dismantling the Communist party and creating something that might begin to look like a democratic polity. According to Tsipko, Soviet “liberalism” seems to be quite similar to what in this country is associated with the conservative call to return to “basics.” “When you’ve destroyed all the natural structures of life”in the family, in the state, in religion”then how can you re-create them?” Mr. Tsipko said. “Only by returning to these simple values, right? So the first forms of socialization are related to these simple things: national awareness, the awareness of the continuity of one’s history, the awareness that you’re Russian, that you had a state, that Orthodox Christianity is your religion, whether you’re a believer or not. We can’t do without these things. You have to return the values of the family. And what’s most important is that you have to return the values of private property.” The notion that private property is “most important” may reflect a vestigial Marxist bias about the priority of the economic component in social change. Observers are impressed, however, that Gorbachev’s program of “liberalization” means bringing into his inner circle (similar to a presidential cabinet) some of the most outspoken conservative critics of both Communism and Western democracy. This encourages speculation that Gorbachev is trying to move the Soviet Union, or at least Russia, to a new order combining market economics. Orthodox religion, and nationalism. As the interviewer notes, nobody seems to know quite what he is up to. “Others speculate that Mr. Gorbachev will emerge from this period a born-again European leftist, or a Swedish social democrat, or a Leninist after all, or a tyrant. For people just now absorbing the reality of what is afoot, it is the political parlor game of the year: what will Mikhail S. Gorbachev be when he does not have to be a Communist anymore?”
Robert Wright of The New Republic stirred up a storm with “Are Animals People Too?” contending that, measured by sentience, animals have rights much as human beings do. It was pretty sloppy reasoning, we thought, but it’s a subject on which it’s easy to get an argument. We are told that more than eighty readers wrote in, mainly to disagree with Wright. The editors say that 15 percent were doctors and people connected with medical research, while 12 percent fitted TNR’s category of “serious moral philosophers.” But then this: “Unsurprisingly, religious believers (8 percent of the total) made the most vociferous objections to an avowedly secular analysis, citing biblical authority to justify humanity’s unique position within the animal kingdom.” TNR knows that they are religious believers because they quote the Bible. Admittedly, we do not know the intellectual and spiritual profile of TNR readers, but in a nation where 95 percent of the people say they believe in God and almost as many identify themselves religiously, it seems improbable that only 8 percent of the more than eighty respondents were “religious believers.” The editors’ figure would seem to assume that religious folk cannot make a public argument without invoking religious authority. Why, we would not be at all surprised if even some of those “serious moral philosophers” think in ways shaped by considerations that TNR might deem “religious.” It appears that the unsurprisable editors might be surprised, however.
A colleague at Harvard passes on this broadsheet issued by the “Coalition for Civil Rights,” a group made up of “spokespersons” for myriad ethnic and racial minorities, plus gays, lesbians, and assorted lifestyle liberationisms. The Coalition is calling for a one-day strike of professors and students at Harvard Law School in order to advance “the issue of normalization,’ or making our school look more like the society in which we live.” Readers who are convinced that Harvard really does hate America might cheer this turn of events. They shouldn’t. Of all the things that most Americans would likely think abnormal about Harvard, few are so abnormal as what the Coalition for Civil Rights calls “normalization.” The strikers’ demands for yet more quotas, entitlements, and structured inclusivities make clear that they don’t want Harvard to be more like America but more like their idea of what America should be like. That might not be a bad goal for a leadership institution such as Harvard. Elites typically view themselves as “normal” and those who differ as deviant. But it does get confusing when one sector of the elite demands that another sector of the elite “normalize” itself in the image of a society that both condemn. There is something very peculiar going on here. But then, some say that’s what universities are for.
Witness for Peace, a lobby for the former Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, boasts of having sent more than four thousand U.S. citizens on political pilgrimages to that country. Here is a form letter from WFP, noting that the Sandinista era is over, at least temporarily. “Does that mean that WFP’s job is finished and that we can end the organization?” The answer, not surprisingly, is: “Unfortunately not.” Now that “the U.S.-backed candidate” has won the election, WFP is needed more than ever. “Will they [the U.S.] now end their years of influence and involvement in Nicaragua or will they continue to control another country’s destiny and choice by financial support and control of Chamorro?” Indicating an interest in human rights that was not notable in its years of cheerleading for the Sandinistas, WFP declares, “With your help we can work to be sure Nicaragua does not become a country with overlooked human rights violations.” In WFP and similar literature it is being generally said that U.S. policy succeeded after all”that is, the Sandinistas were toppled. Nicaraguans, we are repeatedly told, did not vote against the Sandinistas but only against the civil conflict and economic misery imposed by the U.S. There is no recognition that maybe people voted against a regime that relentlessly and recklessly provoked the ill will of the U.S. It is as though “they,” the mean-spirited U.S., decided it would be fun to be nasty to some nearby country and, willy-nilly, picked on Nicaragua. It is a curious view of politics among nations. Like Witness for Peace, and in part because of Witness for Peace and related organizations, it is a curiosity that will not go away anytime soon.
Peruvian novelist and recent presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa was once a favorite of the Left, but, like many, he has had some second and third thoughts. Here he reflects on what he thinks he has learned about religion and politics: “The thirst for apocalypse is deeply rooted in human thought. Some cultures are more predisposed to this than others and I think Peruvian culture is among them. In literature and art, apocalypse is presented as the climax of human adventure. I recognize the allure of apocalypse and am fascinated by it. I think in part my commitment, when I was young, to apocalyptic, messianic ideologies was an expression of this. Now, though I am totally convinced that we must try to eradicate messianism and apocalypticism from politics and from social matters, I still think that in some way this temptation of apocalypse will always be with us. I believe that art can channel our appetite for apocalypse; it can find a home for all the ghosts and demons that are inside us. Our apocalyptic appetites become dangerous only when they find expression in politics.” (Quoted in Genesis, a fine evangelical newsletter put out by Kenneth Myers, formerly our colleague in editing This World. A sample copy of Genesis is available from Berea Publications, Box 100, Powhatan, VA 23139.)
From time to time one comes across a statement that valuably encapsulates overeducated mindlessness. Such a statement requires no extended comment, only a moment to ponder its ramifications. Here is Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, daily book reviewer of the New York Times, praising a book by a child psychologist. The psychologist has studied pictures of Abraham and Isaac on the mount of sacrifice, and she notes that they never show Abraham looking at Isaac. “Her point,” says Lehmann-Haupt approvingly, “is simply that the time has come for Abraham to stop taking for granted his compulsion to sacrifice Isaac. Parents must turn their eyes to their children, and acknowledge the needs of separate and integral human beings.” Think about it.
An Eleanor Kleinhans of Bernardsville, NJ, writes the very leftward Christianity and Crisis to thank the editors for an article bashing U.S. imperialism. “C&C is indispensable,” she says. “I call you my religious version of The Nation. That’s supposed to be praise!” The last sentence, presumably, in case the editors took it as criticism. Little fear of that. Although, come to think of it, we were recently rebuked for saying the same thing about C&C. The lesson is that it’s OK to say that C&C is the religious version of The Nation, if you intend it as a compliment.
On the Woodstock Center, Woodstock Report, March 1990. On Christian Democracy, The Economist, March 17, 1990. On child labor, the Wall Street Journal, March 27, 1990. Lukacs on Arendt, New Oxford Review, April 1990. Davidson on liberation theologians. New York Times Book Review, April 15, 1990. On extremisms: Atwood, the New York Times, April 14, 1990; and Coalition mailing, February 26, 1990. Glendon and Weigel on abortion, Newsday, May 8, 1990. Tokes on the Western churches, Lutheran World Information, March 15, 1990. Liturgy of Hope, Religious News Service, Washington Post, March 17, 1990. On anti-Catholicism, letters in the New York Times, May 2, 1990. Rosenfeld on domestic violence, the New York Times, April 25, 1990. Baudouin and abortion, the Wall Street Journal, April 10, 1990. On Tsipko, the New York Times, April 1, 1990. Wright on animal rights. The New Republic, April 16, 1990. Mario Vargas Llosa on apocalypse and politics. New Perspectives Quarterly, Fall 1989; quoted by Genesis, February 12, 1990. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times, March 12, 1990. On Christianity and Crisis and The Nation, Christianity and Crisis, April 9, 1990.