The Public Square
So you’re not an editor? Lucky you. We were just going to press with an issue that included an outstanding article by Father Paul Mankowski, S.J., on the second draft of One in Christ Jesus: A Pastoral Response to the Concerns of Women for Church and Society. The draft was to be considered by the Catholic bishops in their November meeting in Washington. Great was my colleagues’ relief in having put the issue to bed, or so they thought, when the word came that the pastoral on women’s concerns had been withdrawn under fire from critics of quite diverse viewpoints. Fr. Mankowski had written in his article that the best thing that could happen is that the draft be withdrawn, so he should be happy enough, despite the killing of his fine article. And our readers should not complain, since it made possible our publishing a month ahead of schedule John Sisk’s winsome reflection on the legacy of the French Revolution.
Nonetheless; we did so like the Mankowski article that we are loathe to see it denied public attention altogether. Herewith, then, some highlights. We offer them not only for their intrinsic worth but because women’s concerns, as they are called, will undoubtedly come before the bishops again, and because the problems posed by One in Christ Jesus illustrate difficulties that all the churches have when it comes to making statements on questions of societal moment.
How Not to Listen and Care
Mankowski opens with the opening scene of Lear in which the king proposes to divide his kingdom among Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. Poor, sad, proud, too-tender Lear: the old man who loves to be loved; the prince embarrassed by the scope of his authority, yet jealous of royalty’s perquisites; the ruler willing to give away his lawful prerogatives in order to hear”if just for a moment”that sweet gush of feminine gratitude; the vain old duffer whose need for affection makes him oblivious of its counterfeit. whose hunger welcomes a Goneril’s flattery and spurns the candor of a Cordelia.
Lear’s counterpart in the contemporary Church, writes Mankowski, is a certain segment of clergymen which has made it a practice to vindicate its prejudices by affecting to consult with the faithful, to listen to their concerns, only to announce with astonishment that God’s Little Ones are pleading for precisely those changes for which the Listeners themselves have a deep and discerning sympathy. These are generally men of the 1960s, chosen for their pastoral abilities. Enamored of political and social concerns, they tend to be impatient of theology and baffled by the attention paid by a younger generation of churchmen to sources of traditional wisdom. Most of all, they are weary men. Bone weary. King Lear weary, as Mankowski puts it. They have taken so much, they want a reprieve, they want to be loved. That would seem to be the best way to explain the pastoral’s alarming rhetorical tumbles into crude emotivism. The draft said this, for example: We feel a sense of urgency to do whatever must be done to show that we take women’s concerns seriously. We believe what one woman said: The church is a powerful witness in the world. The world will watch how she treats all her children . . . rather than listen to a dusty document.’
To dismiss the attention due the Church’s written instruction as listening to a dusty document, Mankowski writes, is more the language of a high school manifesto than an episcopal council, and is especially perverse given the purpose and history of the magisterial office. Raw emotivism does not make for good teaching; caring covers a multitude of sins, including incoherence. As in those UNICEF cards that come out at Christmas, glaring and eternal contradictories are to be sunk in the face of a brightly crayoned expression of juvenile bonhomie. Or again: The draft is pointlessly, relentlessly repetitious, and the reader has the curious sensation of being trapped by a lost cab driver trying to bluff his way through town, while the same three or four ideological landmarks keep reappearing with no cogency of method or presentation. Father Mankowski, as may by now be apparent, did not like the draft at all.
A Lack of Theological Seriousness
It is not just a matter of not liking it, however. Even if only a small number of bishops, guided by experts in the bureaucracy, actually had a hand in writing it, he fears it reflects a troubling slippage of theological seriousness. Theology is replaced by the ever so familiar ideological landmarks of feminism. The drafting group seemed to be quite selective in deciding who was worth listening to. Cordelia’s silence, writes Mankowski, is one of the loudest messages of this document. The result is a severe reductivism that treats religious realities in terms of political agendas. Thus, in discussing women publicly consecrated to virginity, the draft says: Their witness stands out precisely because many achieved a certain autonomy with respect to men, a certain emancipation’ and a self-direction in pursuit of the spiritual life, advanced studies, and apostolic works. Mankowski comments: In this view, the witness of holy virgins is not witness to Christ; they are not to be esteemed because they followed Jesus more closely or heroically, but because they were emancipated,’ because they effected a political good.
Or consider this from the draft: Women contribute beyond measure to carrying forward Christ’s redemptive mission in the world. Witness their efforts to preserve and enhance the earth and the earth’s resources, to take action against oppression, to demand human rights, just treatment for all, and an end to war. Mankowski comments: Setting aside the tendentious tone of that passage and its frankly silly level of generalization, it disappoints most in its instantiation of Christ’s redemptive mission: no mention of sin, no suffering, no atonement. Redemption, it would seem, is effected by a kind of Green Party activism.
In its tireless repetitiousness about the sin of sexism, the draft insists that this sin be recognized in the very structure of the Church. Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee issued among the earliest calls for withdrawing the draft because it did not go far enough”presumably because it did not call for the ordination of women to the priesthood. Mankowski, who holds quite different views on ordaining women, agrees with Weakland that it would have been much better if the writers of the pastoral came right out and said what they mean by lamenting the sins of sexism in a hierarchical church. The draft declared: We must undertake an examination of practices, possessions, power structures, and lifestyles found within our own house that prevent the proper advancement of women. Mankowski finds it odd that bishops should accept as self evident that the ministries of the Church, in service to the People of God, should be described as power structures.
The bishops, embarrassed by their own authority, are touchingly eager to be forgiven that authority. But they will not be forgiven by those to whom they are most earnestly listening. Msgr. Thomas Herron of Philadelphia is quoted as saying, No episcopal document can be expected to satisfy those who reject the right of bishops to speak on this issue in the first place. Mankowski applauds the candor of Archbishop Weakland because he makes explicit the confession that the drafters fudge, namely, that they uphold the Catholic teaching on the priesthood under constraint, and for no other reason. Weakland makes it clear that the ardors that were dampened by this document (and which we may presume he shares) are not going to be appeased by halfway measures such as calls for inclusive language, altar girls, or diocesan commissions on the rights of women.’
Mankowski’s final observations on the draft are withering: The story has been told before, but the moral bears repeating: you can never really dialogue with a Goneril, you can only trade places; and Reganomics [sic] makes no provision for buying esteem on the cheap. One in Christ Jesus’ might well stand as an object lesson on how not to compose an episcopal document, but the happiest outcome is that it be gently steered into a tardy but well-deserved oblivion. Lear’s folly does not play well as theological vaudeville. Souls are at stake.
Bishops Losing Control
So the draft has been withdrawn and Father Mankowski should be happy, right? Not entirely. And that is because he believes that what happened with this pastoral letter reflects a deeper problem: the bishops are losing control over their teaching function in the Church. He cites the late Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar who remarked, The decentralization of the Roman Curia has led directly to the curialization of the diocese. Not only the diocese, but also national bishops conferences, Mankowski adds. He notes that the U.S. Catholic Conference and National Conference of Catholic Bishops employ 292 people in the central headquarters in Washington. This results, predictably, in an uncontrolled gushing of documentation. From 1982 through 1988, the NCCB published 226 papers”44 in the past year alone. Of course not all of these are authoritative teaching documents, but they are issued in the name of the bishops. There can hardly be one bishop out of the nearly 400, suggests Mankowski, who has even read all that is being said in his name. If the bishops don’t pay attention, little wonder that their statements are ignored by the laity.
Protestant Christians, especially those in the oldline/mainline churches, have long been familiar with the problems of politicized church bureaucracies”problems that have developed somewhat later in American Catholicism. In the Roman Catholic Church, these problems raise different questions”or raise the same questions in different ways”because of Catholicism’s theological claims for the teaching authority of the episcopacy, and because of the bishops’ accountability to Rome. Social scientists tend to be skeptical of the ability of theological claims to withstand the force of sociological dynamics, such as the dynamic of bureaucratization. Nonetheless, and whatever all the reasons for withdrawing the draft of One in Christ Jesus, it does give evidence of an ability to resist a development in which bureaucratic process had quite thoroughly overwhelmed theological substance. We trust Father Mankowski takes heart from the withdrawal, even if the non-publication of his article means that he cannot claim a measure of credit for it.
Religion vs. Religious Freedom
Most churches are rightly cautious when it comes to intervening in the political process. Among the good reasons for such caution are the dangers of politicizing the Christian community and distracting attention from what is central to the churches’ spiritual mission. Among the very bad reasons for such caution is that churches are intimidated by tax laws or fearful of engaging questions that may be controversial. Operating by such bad reasons, churches end up by exercising self-censorship. Albeit inadvertently, they also reinforce a restrictive reading of the separation of church and state that sharply limits the freedom of religion in our public life.
Numerous examples, Protestant and Catholic, might be cited. There is, for instance, this: Guidelines for Pastors and Parishes on Lobbying and Electioneering recently issued by the Indiana Catholic Conference. The guidelines note that abortion has once again become a focal point of human rights efforts. That is immediately followed by the statement, But abortion is not the only issue facing the people of Indiana. The consistent ethic of life demands concern for . . . not just the unborn. Church people, we are told, are involved in many issues of great (equal?) importance. The guidelines specify some of those issues: agricultural workers, capital punishment, criminal justice, housing, parochial schools, pornography, and sex education.
It is a truism to say that Christians are concerned about many issues. However, those who recognize the singularity of the abortion question”both in terms of the weight of church teaching and of the horror protested”cannot help but see the Indiana guidelines as a discouragement of prolife activities. Whether or not that was the intention of the Catholic Conference, the guidelines sharply relativize the urgency of the prolife cause. Needless to say, there are many people. Catholic and other, who think that is a very good thing to do. It is hard to believe that the bishops of Indiana agree with them.
At least as troubling is the suggestion of the guidelines that constitutionality and related matters require the neutering of the Church’s witness on issues of moral moment in the political arena. Whether statements be from the pulpit or in handbills and educational materials, the numerous strictures in the guidelines aim at making sure that the Church is not perceived to be taking sides. When in doubt, pastors and parishes are repeatedly urged to consult the lawyers of the diocese or Catholic Conference. Again, religious groups are well advised, as a general rule, to avoid political partisanship”but not because the Constitution prohibits their active engagement in public debate, nor because they might get in trouble with the IRS. It is appropriate at times to consult the lawyers, but one would like to think that the church consults somewhat higher authorities when it comes to defining its public responsibilities.
The three great imperatives advanced by the Indiana guidelines are: Learn about Candidates and Issues, Support the Candidates of Your Choice, Vote and Encourage Others to Vote. All very good, to be sure, but for this we need the church? With respect to the teaching of moral imperatives, the League of Women Voters says as much. The timidity of the Indiana guidelines is excused, and even depicted as being mandatory, because the law forbids religiously sponsored advocacy in the public arena. That misunderstanding of American law is usually pressed by the ACLU. It is more than a little surprising to see it endorsed, even implicitly, by bishops of the Catholic Church.
The Immutable Rebels
Father Richard McBrien, chairman of theology at the University of Notre Dame, is quite possibly the most quoted Catholic priest in America. Hardly a week passes without the major papers and newsweeklies running a story on some Catholic development of which their reporters and editors disapprove. The by-now predictable story lines have to do with the bishops’ alleged interference in public policy (usually related to abortion) or with the Vatican’s alleged suppression of deviant theologians. And hardly a story passes without an equally predictable quote from Notre Dame’s McBrien, asserting that the bishops and the Vatican are lamentably out of touch with reality.
Father McBrien is by no means alone. A significant sector of an older generation of Catholic academics adopted as young men a mode of dissent that has now become immutable. It started in the heady days of the Second Vatican Council and was powerfully influenced by the 1960s cultural climate of polymorphous revolutionisms. Over the subsequent decades, striking the pose of bold rebellion has become a very tired act. But that is the main thing that some of these folk have done with their professional lives; perhaps it is all that they know how to do. Their identity is dependent upon their serving as foils to officialdom. Their services are much in demand by a secular press that is determined to persuade us that bishops and pope do not accurately represent Catholicism. Critics of Catholicism’s clamoring recreants say that they just like to have their names in print and their faces on the talk shows, but that strikes us as both wrong and uncharitable. It is to suggest that they are driven chiefly by vanity.
A recent article in Vanity Fair offers a better insight into the behavior of Father McBrien and his confreres. The article, by a Leslie Bennetts, is titled The Holy Terror of Cardinal O’Connor, and is an all-out slashing assault on the archbishop of New York. As is typically the case in this genre, the author’s rage is directed at the Cardinal’s abiding by church teaching on abortion and the homosexual lifestyle. Abandoning any pretense of professional journalism, Ms. Bennetts informs the reader that O’Connor is a fanatic and a religious zealot who thinks that he alone understands God’s will and is determined to impose that understanding on everyone else. O’Connor is not only a fanatic, in the sense that any religious zealot unquestioningly committed to a rigid set of beliefs is a fanatic; he is the most effective and therefore the most dangerous kind of fanatic”warm, personable, humorous, eminently reasonable in conversation, and extremely skillful at manipulating the media. His skills didn’t succeed with Ms. Bennetts, however. She wasn’t fooled by the Cardinal’s being so unfanatical.
Vanity Fair’s extended vilification ends with a longish quote from, of course, Notre Dame’s Richard McBrien. His comments on the dinosaurs of contemporary Catholicism are not limited to Cardinal O’Connor but include John Paul II, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and the entire crowd now in office. What he says reflects not only arrested development in the rebellious mode but also, we must believe, his own sincerely held understanding of the church, of history, and of his place in both. History is very unkind to the crowd that’s in now, says McBrien. They’re the villains of history; they’re the ones who tried to stop progress. The reactionaries are never heroes. It’s the innovators, the people who break new ground and have new ideas, that are the heroes of history. The crowd that’s running things now has been around for centuries. They’re always burning books and sending people off to prison, banning things and denouncing people to hell. But years down the road, we don’t remember the persecutors. Who remembers the idiots who punished Galileo? Everyone remembers Galileo. History eventually takes its revenge on people who try to reverse it. O’Connor is a bishop of a church that no longer exists. He’s behind his time. He’d have been a terrific archbishop of New York in the 1950s. The problem is that it’s the 1990s.
It is a statement both piquant and pathetic. The insouciant confidence in historical progress is reminiscent of an earlier Protestant liberalism. The pose of daring young innovator must be increasingly hard to maintain twenty-five years later, on the far side of middle age. But, as Father McBrien might say, his duty is to keep the faith. The Catholic faith is meant, of course, but, more obviously, faith in the scenario of an ever more progressive church in which he and his bold band are the vanguard of inevitable and radical change. It is not an easy faith to keep as that scenario recedes ever farther into the past. Sympathy is in order for the immutable rebels who must now seek out the company even of the declared enemies of the church in order to vent their bitterness about a vision of Catholicism that was not to be. History has not been kind to them.
When in the 1970s there began to be much discussion about mediating structures” and voluntarism, when Ronald Reagan urged us to rely on government less and on ourselves more, when George Bush talked about a thousand points of light, those of a statist mind-set groused that it was all a scheme to cut back on government social services. Anyway, they added, there is no way that voluntary action could substitute for massively funded government programs. The complainers had a point and have a point. No doubt much boosting of voluntarism is thinly disguised bashing of government. And no doubt there are things that are best done through government programs (although only a very short list readily comes to mind). Few people are seriously talking about dismantling the welfare state.
All that said, there has in fact been a dramatic increase in the voluntary service sector in the last decade. Peter F. Drucker, one of the world’s most respected management experts, notes that surge, and goes on to underscore the ways in which voluntarism is moving from helping out the management to becoming the management. He writes, Few people are aware that the non-profit sector is by far America’s largest employer. Every other adult”a total of 80 million-plus people”works as a volunteer, giving on average nearly five hours each week to one or several nonprofit organizations. This is equal to 10 million full-time jobs. Were volunteers paid, their wages, even at minimum rate, would amount to some $150 billion, or 5 percent of the gross national product. And volunteer work is changing fast. To be sure, what many do requires little skill or judgment: collecting in the neighborhood for the Community Chest one Saturday afternoon a year, chaperoning youngsters selling Girl Scout cookies door to door, driving old people to the doctor. But more and more volunteers are becoming unpaid staff,’ taking over the professional and managerial tasks in their organizations. Drucker may be too generous in his estimate of the role that the churches and synagogues of America are playing in this management revolution, but religious leaders have reason to pay attention to his call for the upgrading of voluntarism. This move from nonprofit volunteer to unpaid professional may be the most important development in American society today. We hear a great deal about the decay and dissolution of family and community and about the loss of values. And, of course, there is reason for concern. But the nonprofits are generating a powerful countercurrent. They are forging new bonds of community, a new commitment to active citizenship, to social responsibility, to values. And surely what the nonprofit contributes to the volunteer is as important as what the volunteer contributes to the nonprofit. Indeed, it may be fully as important as the service, whether religious, educational, or welfare related, that the nonprofit provides in the community.
He Only Kills His Friends
The Dutch Association for Voluntary Euthanasia hosted the eighth biennial conference of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies a few months ago. American euthanists were there in force, saying they had come to the Dutch paradise to learn how to advance the cause in the U.S. The German right-to-diers boycotted the meeting. They claim that if physicians are allowed to kill people, even at the patient’s request, it would come to the point of the Nazis in the past. The German group favors self- administered euthanasia, usually by means of cyanide. A Dutch pioneer of earlier dying pointed out to the conference the economic benefits. The cost of the barbiturates and curare needed to kill a patient in Holland is only five guilders (about f2.50). If the patient had lived a day longer, that would have cost 500 guilders, he noted. Dr. H. S. Cohen, another Dutch practitioner, explained that euthanasia is not only a part of good medical care but should be considered a part of good spiritual care. It’s never too early to think about euthanasia, he explained, urging that the subject be taught, along with voting rights and contraception, in high schools. He believes that Dutch doctors possess a high integrity which is not corruptible. As evidence of this, he observed, I can’t think of any case in which a doctor has been accused of taking money for doing something a doctor would not have done anyway. In Holland, Cohen noted, patients and doctors are friends. When euthanasia critics accuse him of killing people, he said he always responds, Well, I only kill my friends. The next conference of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies is scheduled for 1991 in Japan.
Killing and Compassion
William F. May of Southern Methodist University isn’t buying into the agitations for mercy killing. He thinks that how we treat the elderly along the way to their end has a lot to do with the credibility of claims that it is compassion that moves us to hasten their end. It is a huge irony and, in some cases, hypocrisy to talk suddenly about a compassionate killing when the aging and dying may have been starved for compassion for many years. To put it bluntly, a country has not earned the moral right to kill for mercy unless it has already sustained and supported life mercifully. Otherwise we kill for compassion only to reduce the demands on our compassion. May allows that he can imagine extreme circumstances in which he hopes he would have the courage to put someone out of his misery. But hard cases do not always make good laws or wise social policies. Regularized mercy killings would too quickly relieve the community of its obligation to provide good care. Further, we should not always expect the law to provide us with full protection and coverage for what, in rare circumstances, we may morally need to do. Sometimes the moral life calls us out into a no-man’s-land where we cannot expect total security and protection under the law. But no one said that the moral life is easy. He might have added that the security and protection that many seek in the law is not only, not even mainly, immunity from punishment. Legality, in the confused thinking of some, is equivalent to a societally bestowed absolution for doing what they otherwise know to be wrong. May correctly underscores, however, that the limits of law are such that it can never exhaustively cover every moral duty. The right to die and death with dignity proposals, while appealing to excruciatingly painful individual cases, would have, if they carry the day, what May calls a cumulative impact upon social policy and attitudes. In the name of compassion, they excuse our lack of compassion.
Judicial Restraint on Teen Abortions
On the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has been the most straightforward in arguing that Roe v. Wade is fundamentally wrong in claiming that there is a constitutional right to abortion, and that the Court is fundamentally wrong in trying to devise an abortion code to be applied to all the states. In a separate opinion in Hodgson v. Minnesota a few months ago, he argued the latter proposition with particular force. The Court upheld a Minnesota law requiring that parents be notified when a minor seeks an abortion, but providing for court permission (judicial bypass) when there are compelling reasons for the parents not to be notified. Scalia notes that the justices are all over the map in coming up with this decision. As I understand the various opinions today: One Justice holds that two-parent notification is unconstitutional (at least in the present circumstances) without judicial bypass, but constitutional with bypass; four Justices would hold that two-parent notification is constitutional with or without bypass; four Justices would hold that two- parent notification is unconstitutional with or without bypass, though the four apply two different standards; six Justices hold that one-parent notification with bypass is constitutional, though for two different sets of reasons; and three Justices would hold that one-parent notification with bypass is unconstitutional. With more than a hint of exasperation, Scalia concludes: One will search in vain the document we are supposed to be construing for text that provides the basis for the argument over these distinctions; and will find in our society’s tradition regarding abortion no hint that the distinctions are constitutionally relevant, much less any indication how a constitutional argument about them ought to be resolved. The random and unpredictable results of our consequently unchanneled individual views make it increasingly evident. Term after Term, that the tools for this job are not to be found in the lawyer’s”and hence not in the judge’s”workbox. I continue to dissent from this enterprise of devising an Abortion Code, and from the illusion that we have authority to do so.
Censorship for Everyone
Peter Steinfels, writing in the New York Times, ponders the rash of recent disputes over censorship. There are the cases of filthy-mouthed rock groups, anti-black comedians, Andy Rooney’s observations about homosexuality, anti-sexist gag rules on prestige campuses, and of course the famous battle over government subsidies for the arts.
On the last, Steinfels was talking with another New York writer and the subject turned to government support for Andres Serrano’s notorious photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine. This writer of Swiftian bent came up with a proposal for a urine test approach to questions of religion and the First Amendment. If you have a plain Christmas creche, she noted, it violates the First Amendment to pay for it with taxpayers’ money. But if an artist submerges the entire creche in urine, it violates the First Amendment to forbid paying for it with taxpayers’ money. Steinfels says the proposal is absurd but instructive. It is absurd, but it is also an accurate reflection of the arguments advanced by the putative defenders of artistic freedom.
Steinfels makes a point that should be obvious but obviously isn’t. It is a quite natural and healthy thing, he writes, that our society should be involved in debates over what is obscene. A country indifferent to such a question would probably be a country that no longer cherished any beliefs deeply enough to care whether they were transgressed. Or it would be a country so monolithic and complacent in its mores that affronting them was unimaginable.
Steinfels does not suggest that we are going to reach unanimous agreement on what is or is not obscene, but he does think it possible that we might get a better grip on what these debates are about. Almost everyone and every group holds some principle, some symbol, some memory, some relationship so dear that deriding or expropriating it is terribly painful. Perhaps when we evaluate what is agitating others, the first test should be to substitute whatever matters so intensely to us that any assault on it merits the word obscene.’ This will not resolve today’s complex questions of free speech, community standards, and government subsidies. But it would be an exercise in sympathy, and thus hold the chance for at least partial understanding. That, it might be observed, represents the kind of reasonableness that used to be called liberalism.
Black Role Models
There is this excitement at Harvard Law School about the need for a black woman law professor who can serve as a role model for black women students. The New Republic says the need is desperate and regrets that there just aren’t enough appropriate role models to go around. Julius Lester, who teaches literature at the University of Massachusetts and is himself black, is not buying. He writes: If Frederick Douglass had waited for a black role model, he would have remained in slavery. If W. E. B. DuBois had waited for a black role model, he would have never left Great Barrington, Massachusetts. There was a time in American black history when parents held up whites as appropriate role models for their children, telling them, You can not only do what he does, you can do better!’
For TNR to imply that people are able to identify only with those of their race means that no black can be held up as a role model for a white child. The physiological compartmentalizing of America will continue until we have the overweight, underweight, left-handed, bald, and those with overbite demanding appropriate role models in positions of power and authority. When that happens, unfortunately, there will be those who will take them seriously. The point about not being able to hold up a black as a role model for white children is, we think, particularly poignant. In a world where there is no escaping the fact that achievement is overwhelmingly defined and exemplified by whites (a dubious category, that), trendy racialisms put blacks and others who aspire to excellence into an impossible bind. Thus the rapturous promotion of Nelson Mandela as a role model for American blacks, clearly suggesting that the course of black achievement is in overthrowing the white oppressor. In this way, as Glenn Loury argued in these pages (June/July), black identity and dignity remain pitiably derivative. In this way, too, whites and blacks who are opposed to restructuring society on racialist premises find themselves pilloried as racists. Most whites can afford to chuck the whole question, simply forgetting about race and its attendant politics of radical bluster and unabsolvable guilt. Pat Moynihan was a quarter century early with his talk about benign neglect, and it’s no surprise that now the neglect is not always so benign. Of course, it is not so easy to forget about race if one is black.
While We’re at It
Readers concerned about church-state relations (and we assume that is the great majority of our readers) will want to pay special note to an extremely important conference planned for Philadelphia, May 30 to June 1, 1991. A Bicentennial Conference on the Status of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment has a formidable array of sponsors, including the American Academy of Religion, the American Bar Association, the Christian Legal Society, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, the Synagogue Council of America, and the United States Catholic Conference. The speakers include most of the major players in ongoing debates about law and religion in public life, many of them well known to the readers of this journal: Sam Rabinove, Dean Keliey, John M. Swomley, Michael McConnell, Robert Michaelson, William Bentley Ball, Edward Gaffney, Jeffrey Hadden, Robert Destro, Mary Ann Glendon, Sandra Day O’Connor, and your editor. There are 400 places for participants, and a place can be reserved by preregistration with $20
sent to Michael Woodruff, Christian Legal Society, 4208 Evergreen Lane, Suite 222, Annandale, VA 22003.
Readers send us the strangest things. Here, for instance, is an item from the Personals running in The Nation. VIGOROUS MALE SOCIALIST, 60, seeking female friendship, intelligent rather than cerebral, strong yet vulnerable. And another: MALE, 64, WHO DISLIKES GEORGE would like to meet female who dislikes Barbara. The argument might be made that any identity is better than none, but it strikes us that these people are truly desperate. I In 1988, political scientist Guenter Lewy stirred up a salutary debate with his book Peace and Revolution. The study is a critique of pacifism and pacifist organizations in recent agitations about war and peace. Now Michael Cromartie has edited a splendid 275-page book on the questions raised by Lewy, Peace Betrayed? Essays on Pacifism and Politics. Contributors include George Weigel, John Swomley, James Finn, James Turner Johnson, Stanley Hauerwas, and William McGurn. Richard J. Mouw of Fuller Theological Seminary says, This is a superb discussion. The intense debate over how best to interpret the past two decades of pacifist activity is both provocative and instructive. There are important lessons here for all who care deeply about the complex challenges of peace-making. Peace Betrayed? is available for |18.50 from Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1030 Fifteenth Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005.
Throughout the late and unlamented Cold War, no religious organization so assiduously toed the Communist line as the Prague-based Christian Peace Conference. CPC had affiliates around the world, including the U.S. The American affiliate, dominated though it was by leaders who were touchingly eager to give the benefit of the doubt to the other side, finally broke up over CPC’s demand for unqualified servility to Soviet policies. Now the Working Committee of CPC has met and ousted some of the leaders who have fallen into disgrace as apologists for the oppression of the hated regimes of the past. The new leadership wants it understood, however, that nothing would be more damaging to the integrity of CPC than to abandon or renounce or deny . . . our abiding and radical commitment to a social vision of society, and our belief that this is rooted in the gospel. It seems a little late to be worrying about the integrity of CPC. The new leadership says that CPC is no longer preoccupied with East-West issues but is a global prophetic movement. The environment, the unjust distribution of world resources, and all that, don’t you know. One wishes the weathervane prophets of CPC would quietly repent of their sins and then toddle off to some dark corner to spend their remaining days in self-mortification, thus sparing the rest of us the need to be embarrassed for them.
Through the ups and downs of church, state, party, and solidarities in Poland, Adam Michnik has been trying to make sense of it all. Writing in The New Republic, Michnik says that the euphoria over democracy has been succeeded by new tensions”for example the tension between advancing still fragile freedoms and always telling the truth. We are doomed, he says, to live in a state of tension, uncertainty, permanent risk. But that isn’t all. He ends with something very much like a clarion call for moral integrity: Still, it is not true that we know nothing. We are children of a certain tradition. And we know that this tradition does not permit us to renounce the truth with impunity. We are the children of the Judeo-Christian culture, and we know that this culture, which recommends loyalty toward the state, commands us to bend our knees only before God. We know, therefore, that we should put faithfulness to truth above participation in power. We know, by reaching for our roots, that the truth of politics resides, in the end, in the politics of truth; that every political order is polluted by the original sin of imperfection. We reject the belief in political Utopia. We know that our future is an imperfect society, a society of ordinary people and ordinary conflicts”but, precisely for this reason, a society that must not renounce its ethical norms in the name of political illusions. Yes, it is true that we are helpless before the many ethical traps of contemporary politics. It is then that we reach out for the truth of our own roots, for the ethics of the power of the powerless, or simply for the Ten Commandments. The rest is lies, and has the bitter taste of hypocrisy.
On McBrien, Vanity Fair, August 1990. Drucker on voluntarism. In Trust, New Year 1990. On euthanasia among friends. Our Sunday Visitor, July 8, 1990. May on mercy killing, Christian Century, July 11-18, 1990. Steinfels on censorship. New York Times, July 7, 1990. Lester on black role models in The New Republic, July 2, 1990. On the CPC, Ecumenical Press Service, July 8, 1990. Michnik in The New Republic, July 2, 1990.