Religion in the Public Square

I found a number of the statements in the symposium “Judaism and American Public Life” (March) thoughtful and provocative. An important distinction, however, was left undrawn or at least inadequately drawn both by the classical separationists and by those whom we might call the conservative “revisionists.” I refer to the distinction between issues of church and state on the one hand, and the broader question of religion and society.

“Religion and society” issues pertain to the ways religion ought to function in the world. They include the desirability of the introduction of religiously rooted perspectives in discussions of public policy matters. They relate to the language through which theologically linked views might be included in debates over social ethical issues, and whether the introduction of such views might best be achieved through the transformation of particularist theological language into an idiom of more generally appealing social discourse. The objective of this transformation would not be to conceal the origins of such theologically linked views, but rather to translate them into formulations that might persuade those who do not adhere to the theologies which generated them.

“Church and state” issues are far more limited. They relate to the specific modes of relationship between organized religion and the legal and political structures of society. While avowed secularists view the separation of church and state as a protection against the influence of religion on public life, the separationist position does not necessarily imply the further purpose of excluding religion from the public sphere. The assertion that separation has been good for both religion and government remains persuasive even for someone such as myself who is sympathetic to the critics of the “naked public square” and who would urge a greater voice for religion in American public life.

Binary approaches to complex issues impede rather than nurture communication, and I hop)e that the First Things symposium helped transcend rather than sustain a binary approach to issues of religion and society in the Jewish community. Just as the critics of the naked public square deserve to be heard by the separationists, so, too, do the separationists need to be listened to more carefully by the revisionist proponents of the attenuation of existing patterns of separation.

Finally, in dealing with matters of such weight, it is useful to remember that we are engaged in the American experiment. We are reflecting together upon patterns that have evolved in this country over the course of twelve generations, and we are seeking ways to refine these patterns. Our way of dealing with matters of religion and society is the end product of a combination of constitutional foundation, deliberations on the part of Americans throughout our history on the best way to articulate that constitutional vision in the social reality, and a constantly evolving perspective on how best to achieve desirable social ends within that framework. It is best that we pursue whatever adjustments we ultimately deem useful with respect and reverence for what has preceded our efforts.

David M. Gordis

Wilstein Institute of

Jewish Policy Studies

Los Angeles, CA


In his contribution to “Judaism and American Public Life: A Symposium” Nicholas Wolfson speaks of “a nostalgic longing for an imagined premodern golden age where religious leaders led the common populace in a private (and public) life of piety centered in the happy nuclear family. If ever there was such a world”and I doubt it” . . . ” (emphasis added).

Was there such a world? How about pre-twentieth-century America? Although this world was not “golden,” it resembled Nicholas Wolfson’s caricature in so many ways as to demand the adjective “real” not “imagined” and to make it of pressing interest. Alexis de Tocqueville describes this world in Democracy in America.

On the subject of a life of piety Tocqueville reports: “On my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things.”

On the subject of the happy nuclear family and its positive influence on private and public life he reports: “There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is more respected than in America or where conjugal happiness is more highly or worthily appreciated. In Europe almost all the disturbances of society arise from the irregularities of domestic life. While the European endeavors to forget his domestic troubles by agitating society, the American derives from his own home that love of order which he afterwards carries with him into public affairs.”

Was this remote and in many ways alien world a theocracy? Definitely not. Tocqueville leaves no doubt that it enjoyed separation of church and state. He says: “I learned with surprise that they [the clergy of the various denominations] filled no public appointments; I did not see one of them in the administration, and they are not even represented in the legislative assemblies. In several states the law excludes them from political life; public opinion excludes them in all.”

Did this strong Christian culture restrict political debate? No. In fact Tocqueville suggests that, paradoxically, the opposite was the case. He reports that “I learned from their [the clergy’s] discourses that men are not guilty in the eyes of God for any opinions concerning political government which they may profess with sincerity, any more than they are for their mistakes in building a house or in driving a furrow.” Tocqueville describes, in other words. a political climate in which one could breathe, a happy contrast with the political correctness that stifles public debate in America today.

Jocelyn Tomkin

Austin, Texas


Nicholas Wolfson replies:

Jocelyn Tomkin writes of an almost golden age in which blacks were slaves, women lacked the vote and were in economic and legal servitude to men, public life was rife with corruption. Native Americans were slaughtered, constitutional first amendment and church-state separation doctrine was in its infancy, and religious bigotry was so great that a Roman Catholic would not successfully run for the Presidency until the time of Kennedy.


Can Catholics Sing?

Paul Mankowski’s review of Thomas Day’s Why Catholics Can’t Sing (April) is just another example of the slightly dyspeptic, very gleeful “See, I told you so!” liturgy-bashing that is quite prevalent these days. I am not connected in any way with liturgy planning or execution, and I sometimes suffer with the rest of the “pew potatoes.” However, I am old enough to remember pre-Vatican II masses with a memory that does not suffer from nostalgic and wishful reinterpretation.

Fr. Mankowski focuses on a “good taste/bad taste” approach to liturgical criticism. Implicit in his comments is the assumption that “the good old days” represent good taste and that the post-Vatican II ascendancy of “liturgical Roundheads” and “yodeling sadists up in the choir loft” signifies the reverse thereof.

I have never believed that the point of liturgy is “good taste.” Rather, it is the People of God at communal prayer. While a more elevated style, i.e., “good taste,” may be most appropriate at certain majestically celebratory events, in the main most Catholics find their average Sundays to be (hopefully) periods of prayerful encounter with God and their fellow Christians. Styles that capture the attention and reflective imagination are most appropriate at these times. Hearkening back to the “mystery” and “reverence” of the Tridentine mass is an exercise in forgetfulness. The faithful few assiduously read along in the English translations of the mumbled, incomprehensible twenty-minute “get ‘em in and get ‘em out” farces that passed for worship services. Those few were significantly outnumbered by those who chose to say their rosaries, read their novenas, go to confession, walk the stations of the cross, or, most commonly, settle into a bored daydream, periodically interrupted by some of the most pretentious music in Christendom.

I do not deny that the last twenty-five years have seen some exercises in bad taste, presider and liturgist egoism, saccharine music, poor homilies,, and maybe even sinful inconsideration of the confused in the pews. To somehow postulate, however, that those conditions are any worse than what we suffered through in pre-1965 liturgical practice is specious.

Jim McCrea

Piedmont, CA


Paul V. Mankowski replies:

It seems I failed in my review to make clear my thinking (and my digestion). I tried to say that the older liturgical usages were not to be reflexively equated with good taste, and that all questions de gustibus are of secondary importance anyway. The chief cause of concern is not aesthetic but doctrinal: the extent to which the liturgical clerisy has replaced the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a fetish of its own manufacture. Avery Dulles tells the story of his entering a church to find a banner bearing the oh-so-sweet bad news: “God is Other People!” He wished he’d had a marking pen in order to add a comma after “other.” This, in a nutshell, was the point of my own remarks. Unless we work to restore the jots and tittles that have fallen out of the law (and our banners) the liturgy will continue its transformation from an occasion of worship to one of congregational self-affirmation”in effect, apostasy under anaesthetic.

Refighting the War


I have followed George Weigel’s writing for some time and have found it, even when I disagree, insightful and thought-provoking. “The Churches and War in the Gulf” (March), however, I found mainly just provoking. A little righteous anger is one thing, but this uncompromising broadside felt more like a temper tantrum.

More important than the tone is Mr. Weigel’s argument. Space allows for only a few observations, mostly limited to the Catholic leadership’s role.

First, Mr. Weigel seems predisposed to a harsh judgment of the Catholic bishops. He finds their official statements “inadequate, albeit serious” but then relates to the body of bishops as though the Pax Christi types had carried the day. They did not. And if the prestige press missed the nuances of the bishops’ positions, which they are wont to do, perhaps Mr. Weigel could have used some of his considerable exposure to set the record straight.

Second, Mr. Weigel believes that in many respects much of the Catholic (and Protestant) leadership has become “utterly irrelevant” on public moral questions about the ordering of American society and its role in the world. Would a clear sanction of the Gulf war have changed that?

I do not believe the religious leadership has become irrelevant in the way Mr. Weigel suggests, but I do believe its public role has changed. Not primarily because religious leaders have put forth inadequate statements about public moral questions, but because they no longer have the legitimating authority that would make their judgments carry some clout. Large social processes”processes of secularization”have been at work for a long time to marginalize religious activity within the social system, to “differentiate” religion from most areas of social life”politics, the economy, social control, education. Nonreligious legitimations have replaced religious ones and religion has been largely privatized . . . .

Finally, Mr. Weigel writes as though the Gulf crisis contained no ambiguities. It contained many. Leaving aside questions related to judging its justness, the crisis posed some especially sticky problems for Christian leaders: the prospect of a protracted conflict further polarizing Christians in the United States (where unity of moral purpose is already deeply lacking, and, in light of pressing moral and social problems, deeply needed); the profound stake especially the Catholic Church has in Muslim-Christian relations worldwide; the problematical role of U.S. involvement in the Middle East for Catholics and other Christians in that area (note the outspoken criticism of U.S. purposes and designs by some Middle Eastern Catholic bishops); and so on.

All of this is not to say that Mr. Weigel’s criticisms have no merit, just to argue against oversimplification and browbeating. Neither serves the civil dialogue that Weigel has spent so much ink promoting.

Joseph E. Davis

Program Director

Domino’s Foundation

Ann Arbor, MI


I feel compelled to register a long delayed critique of the article by George Weigel. Throughout his stinging censure of “the leaders of oldline Protestantism and American Catholicism” for having supposedly abandoned the “Christian Realism” promulgated by Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Ramsey, the writer resorts to pejorative and sometimes utterly derogatory and scornful verbiage to discredit these opponents.

Who has been right? I would claim that the actual unfolding of events during the conflict and in the grim aftermath comprises a clear and indisputable rebuttal of many of the basic contentions advanced by Mr. Weigel.

What is extremely frightening is the Commander-in-Chief’s triumphant announcement that our sudden and decisive “victory” in the Gulf means that “we have finally overcome the Vietnam syndrome.” Does this imply that those who had pangs of conscience over the havoc we wreaked in Southeast Asia had untenable moral scruples, while those whose only regret was that we did not “win” the war were correct? Is a Pax Americana now to be imposed and enforced around the world? Must we anticipate more interventions with the use of our awesome armed power in various parts of the world?

If just war criteria are applied to what has happened in the Middle East, moral rationales for our massive intervention are far from being convincing. Did we really have a rightful motivation? Were we determined to rescue occupied Kuwait and defeat a barbarous dictator, or was our primary concern economic self-interest and the preservation (or even expansion) of profits based on the control of oil fields by multinational corporations? What about the “principle of discrimination” which insists upon the restrained prosecution of war with immunity (at least as much as possible) for noncombatants? The ferocity of our air attacks (“bombing Iraq back to the pre-industrial age”), notwithstanding our denials, meant that numerous nonmilitary targets were demolished and many civilians were killed. Are left-wing dissenters always wrong, as Weigel implies? Can Ramsey Clark and his investigators be refuted when they have accumulated extensive photographic evidence of “American atrocities in Iraq”?

What about the “principle of proportionality” which states that war can be undertaken only as the lesser of two evils? Only a few hundred American lives were lost in the combat, but it is estimated that from 100,000 to 200,000 Iraqi soldiers were casualties. Furthermore, how can we justify President Bush’s reversal of policy in first encouraging rebellion against Saddam Hussein, and then failing to assist the rebellious segments of the population when they were on the verge of succeeding in overthrowing the vicious tyrant? When we could have used our over-whelming power for a righteous cause, we declined to do so. We allowed Hussein to slaughter Shiite Muslims and drop bombs on helpless Kurdish refugees. In what demonstrable ways have our declared objectives in fighting this war been achieved? Is there more stability, freedom, and justice in the region now than there was before we moved in with half-a-million troops and executed Operation Desert Storm?

Ralph L. Moellering

Berkeley, CA


History as Empowerment



I question the basic assumption behind Elizabeth Kristol’s otherwise helpful survey of “History in the Past Perfect” (April). Kristol is “doubtful whether any historical narrative . . . can in fact empower.” If that’s true, what is one to make of the empowerment Jews and Christians experience through immersion in the Bible’s historical narratives?

The irony is that Kristol’s article would not have been worth publishing were her assumption about historical narratives correct. What makes her article so important is precisely that which she seems to deny: the immense power our collective historical memories can (and do) exert on our admittedly limited ability to shape the present and the future. If, as Kristol maintains, the stories being told in the “past perfect” constitute a serious misrepresentation of the past, we should be careful not to underestimate their potential to damage the world in which our children”and their children”will live out their days.

Foster Freed

Hornepayne, Ontario


The True and Only Left?



Did Jean Bethke Elshtain read the same book the rest of us read when reviewing Christopher Lasch’s The True and Only Heaven (April)? Although a distinctive or dissenting view is rightly welcome, nothing can justify Professor Elshtain’s selective presentation of Lasch’s dreary anti-capitalist screed as “tough-minded Augustinianism.” Does Lasch provide a “critique of radical chic and other forms of decadent leftism”? Yes. But he also tells us that “capitalism itself promotes an ethic of hedonism and health (sic!),” as well as presenting all the rest of the current eco-multicultural left line.

The True and Only Heaven is merely another of the ever-so-fashionable, more-adversarial-than-thou tracts that Professor Lasch turns out every five years or so (just in time for the Presidential campaigns). There is no need for First Things to add its voice to the chorus of huzzahs. Yes, Lasch criticizes the left. But, as F R. Leavis would say, “Distinctions are called for.” First Things should stand for certain principles, and ruthlessly expose those who would exploit dissatisfaction with our dominant liberal culture as a means to insinuate their refurbished leftism.

James J. O’Meara

New York, NY


Whose Life Is It?



Richard John Neuhaus argues in “The Death Watch” (The Public Square, March) that with the Nancy Cruzan court decision, “license has been given to kill those the living consider to be no better than dead.” By framing the question only in the terms “Whom do we have the right to kill?”, he has prejudiced his conclusion and ignored the other important issue in this case: “Whom do we have the right to treat, forcing them to accept our technology in order to prolong biologic function?”

Mr. Neuhaus argues that Nancy Cruzan was not dying. I would argue that she was”that feeding technology was only prolonging certain biological functions in the presence of a mortal wound, prolonging an existence somewhere between life and death, an existence that was possible only because of that particular technology. The biological substrate in her central nervous system that once controlled the physiological process of desiring, obtaining, and swallowing food had been irreversibly destroyed. She died as a foreseen but unintended result of her decision (via the substituted judgment of family members and friends) not to accept the burden of a treatment that would never benefit her underlying illness.

It is worth asking what sorts of treatment we can mandate for incompetent patients simply to extend certain arbitrary levels of biologic function we define as “life.” Do we have the right, for instance, to force a demented end-stage emphysema patient to accept prolonged ventilatory assistance with an endotracheal tube and respirator in order to keep him alive”for how long? Do we have the right to create and maintain this sort of existence simply because we now have the technological means to do so, and his dementia renders him incapable of competence to refuse? To suggest that removal of this technology at the request of family members, once it is determined his lungs and muscles will never support respiration on their own, places us on the “slippery slope” toward becoming Nazis who will execute children with Down’s Syndrome misses the mark. Horrors can be created by the blind scientific determination to extend human biologic function as well as by the “license . . . to kill those whom the living consider to be no better than dead.”

John A. K. Boyd, M.D.

Chairman, Ethics Committee

Mercy Medical Center

Durango, CO


Not So Nice People?



As an Anglo-Catholic, I read with interest Fr. Kenneth Hunter’s article, “When Nice People Do Bad Theology” (April) . . . .

The continued manipulation of orthodox seminarians, the blatant denial of parish employment for conservative priests, and the mounting pressure on traditionalist bishops to remain at least silent toward, if not supportive of, the denomination’s agenda of Zeitgeist religion all indicate that Nice Guys sometimes are not so nice. The only limit to tolerance for mainstream Episcopalians for whom tolerance is the supreme virtue comes when they are confronted with the evangelicals of Episcopalians United or the catholics of the Episcopal Synod of America.

Nice People obviously are not obligated to have nice thoughts about reactionaries who are members of the Society of Lost Causes, the historic Anglican Communion of Donne, Laud, Keble, Pusey, or Eliot.

Fr. M. L. McCauley, Rector

Episcopal Church of the Holy Apostles

Fort Worth, TX


Since 1966, when membership in the Episcopal Church peaked at 3.7 million, the church has lost well over one million members in spite of population growth. This represents an absolute decline of over one-third in a quarter-century in which the U.S. population increased in every year. It is not much of an overstatement to conclude that the Episcopal Church is dying and that the majority of our children will find another church home, not only within our lifetime, but very likely within the next decade or two. If there is to be a decade of evangelism, it must be fundamentally different from the past two decades, or the whole undertaking will be an exercise in futility.

It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Episcopal Church is not only not attracting new members, it is driving away many of those it has. In my opinion, they are leaving not because of religious indifference but because the Episcopal Church has become more of a left-wing political party than a church and because basic religious needs of the church community are now being subordinated to the pursuit of a radical political agenda. New members do not join, in spite of the many strengths of the Anglican tradition, because the Episcopal Church is identified in the public mind with a dogmatic set of leftist domestic and international programs that few can support.

Michael H. Kenyon

Wayland, MA


Sex and Marriage



Philip Turner’s essay, “An Anatomy of Sexual Ethics” (April), brought some much-needed clarity to the present confusion over the relationship between sexuality and the institution of marriage. To further Dr. Turner’s argument, I would like to propose that the unity of “undertakings and promises” is constitutive of and therefore inseparable from the marital act of sexual union. The basis of both the undertaking and the promises is the sexual union itself. “The two shall become one flesh.” The promises are promised and the undertaking begun in the act of sexual intercourse. Thus, the issue is neither whether one engages in sexual union based on previous promises that define an undertaking, nor whether one engages in sexual union based on entry into a mutual undertaking that contains implicit promises. Rather, the issue is to bring publicly to verbal expression the meaning of the promises that are the basic stuff of the undertaking . . . .

In this perspective, there is no such thing as sexual union outside of marriage. Rather, in engaging in sexual union outside of socially acknowledged marriage, one is physically making promises and beginning undertakings apart from a clear intent to follow through. Commonly, we call this lying. To engage in sexual intercourse, whether acknowledged publicly or not, is to promise oneself to undertake a lifelong venture with a mate operating socially and economically as “one flesh.” We need to call people to be in truth what they are in fact: one flesh.

William Eric Baum

New York, NY


Music and the Spirit



Although I share with Franky Schaeffer (“Art and the Spirit,” May) a longing for a vital high culture, I believe his comments on music are based on a shaky reading of the facts.

According to Mr. Schaeffer, little late-twentieth-century “classical” music is performed because the knowledge elite has all but erased the distinction between art and political propaganda. Were composers and patrons to reclaim a transcendent vision, then we could expect to see people lining up for blocks to hear their music.

Would that it were so simple. Although the audience for modern classical music in the U.S. is undoubtedly a tiny “knowledge” elite, and although it is within the bounds of possibility that none of them has a transcendent vision, to see the relationship between these two “facts” as a simple cause and effect goes too far.

In the first place, the whole idea of “audience” is problematic. The way Schaeffer uses it is relatively modern. Even in the nineteenth century, much music was written to suit the taste of private patrons or, as in the case of chamber music, for the delight of the players.

But even if we accept Schaeffer’s use, it is still true that the audience for classical music has nearly always been small and elitist. Sometimes it has been an aristocratic elite, sometimes an ecclesiastical elite, more recently it has been weighted toward those in managerial and professional occupations. Only seldom has the audience reached much lower down the socio-economic scale.

We should also be careful about the issue of rejection of new music. Not only do some new musical works still receive large and appreciative audiences, but we need also remember that a lot of the new music of the past was not given a good initial reception either. Although I have no doubt that, overall, the rejection level is much higher today, it is hardly a unique circumstance in the history of music.

Finally, I find it theologically problematic to accept that people automatically will flock to that which is spiritually significant. My reading of the human condition suggests that we might be more likely to avoid it like the plague. After all, Jesus himself ended up on a cross . . . .

(The Rev.) Stephen Tan

Port Orchard United Methodist Church

Port Orchard, WA


Sidney Hook and Religion



Michael Novak (Correspondence, May) says that Sidney Hook “did not ridicule” the writings of “most of his major contemporaries in the field of religious thought.” Oh? Here’s what Hook writes in his autobiography Out of Step: An Unquiet Life in the 20th Century: “I have held the lifelong conviction that faith in the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving god has no more intellectual justification than faith in the existence of a cosmic Santa Claus, and I agree with Marx that the critique of religious abstractions is strategic to the criticism of all reified abstractions.”

And this is not, alas, all. He further says that during the late 1930s he defended public education and the ideas of John Dewey against concerted attacks by “religious fundamentalists and sophisticated neo-Thomists” and “the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.”

As for Novak’s saying that he respects Hook’s being determined to think of himself as an unbeliever, this is most puzzling. Unbelief, from a Christian perspective, is a very serious sin. Reread, please, the First Commandment.

John Lofton

Laurel, MD


Secularization and Political Correctness



James Burtchaell is absolutely correct in noting that over the past few decades “secularization is rapidly bleaching the Catholic character of that church’s universities and colleges” (“The Decline and Fall of the Christian College [II],” May). The author correctly points out the (unintended, one imagines) secularizing impetus provided by John Tracy Ellis’ 1955 essay in which he perceived an alleged “absence of a sense of dedication to an intellectual apostolate” on the part of Catholic America.

Let me suggest that while Ellis’ thesis is fundamentally flawed, it has been, following the famous dictum of W. I. Thomas, “defined as real and hence real in its consequences.” David Salvaterra has argued (in American Catholicism and the Intellectual Life, 1880-1950), that during the first part of the twentieth century Catholic America most certainly did have a “sense of dedication to an intellectual apostolate.” While not personally sympathetic to the nature of this enterprise, the progressivist Catholic Salvaterra convincingly demonstrates that the Catholic Church’s alternative higher education system mirrored secular developments in bureaucratization and professionalization but provided a distinctive and decisive twist through grounding all study under the intellectual sacred canopy of neo-Thomism and neo-scholasticism, with its God-centered teleological focus . . . .

From the orthodox Christian vantage point, what is needed today in both Protestant and Catholic educational circles is the development and institutionalization of neo-orthodox perspectives that incorporate the best of secular methods and approaches from within distinctive Christian frames of reference.

Joseph A. Varacalli

Nassau Community College

SUNY

Garden City, NY


James Burtchaell’s fascinating account of the secularization of higher education is rich in ironies, but his own evidence suggests even greater ones.

In 1869 Charles W. Eliot declared that the goal of education at Harvard would be “an open mind, trained to careful thinking, instructed in the methods of philosophic investigation, acquainted in a general way with the accumulated thought of past generations, and penetrated with humility” This “liberal education” was to replace a more sectarian one, but is now even attempted by only a small fraction of college students. Graduates of professional programs and math and science majors, for instance, must settle for training in the latest results of their respective fields. The remaining humanities and social science majors may have been instructed by teachers who openly reject a “decadent liberalism” for what they see as the greater honesty of intellectual partisanship. Even Western Civilization programs, which were proffered as the secular substitute for a theologically informed curriculum, are under bitter attack.

In 1880, when the Nation complained that places like Vanderbilt did not tolerate a respectful discussion of “scientific truth” (as it was then understood), could it have foreseen the present, when universities will not tolerate a respectful discussion of any formulation of “religious truth”? What we see is not the dialectical expansion of thought, but the replacement of one dogmatism with another, proving that universities must espouse some faith or other.

When those universities were slipping their denominational moorings, they doubtless thought that they were leaving the churches behind. But the opposite is now happening, as the universities become increasingly irrelevant as guides to life or even thought. University graduates who missed any engagement with existential questions in their course work are now turning elsewhere”even to churches”for such guidance, while the universities sink deeper into their sectarian ideological quarrels. Indeed, in the unlikely event that PC forces take over the universities, they may wonder whether they are worth having.

John Sommerville

Department of History

University of Florida

Gainesville, FL


Not So Obvious



I found Richard John Neuhaus’ article “Boys and Girls: The Long Way Back to the Obvious” (The Public Square, May) to be sarcastic, snide, boorish, and lacking in intelligence.

And I was not surprised that such a diatribe was written by a man: it reeked of male outrage at being called to account for odious”mind you, previously accepted or ignored”behavior.

Neuhaus sarcastically implies that a woman would have to be an idiot to assume that simply entering a man’s bedroom meant anything other than an agreement to sex. Many men also think a smile, a dance, or letting the man pay for dinner also indicate “obvious” agreement to sex.

Neuhaus also comments that in the debate over date rape, feminists have abandoned the ideology that women are “every bit as erotically aggressive and insatiable as men.” That is patently false.

Women can he as sexually aggressive, erotic, and insatiable as men and they should be allowed to be, if we are going to be egalitarian, healthy, and realistic in our view of sexual behavior. That they can be so, however, does not diminish the date rape discussion. Simply because a woman can enjoy sex and indeed seek it out”even for recreation”does not mean that she must be required to do so every time a man wishes.

The author seems to have missed this crucial point: No means no. A woman’s no must be respected regardless of whether, on other occasions, she has or does enjoy sex.

Perhaps most astounding, however, is Neuhaus’ assertion that unless a young woman can say no to sex because it is morally wrong, she has “no very convincing reason for saying no at all.” Convincing for whom? Presumably the man who wishes to have sex with her.

A woman should not have to explain why she refuses sex nor be forced into such unwanted activity if her reasons are not “satisfactory.” That Neuhaus would suggest otherwise gives a blanket approval for men to rape.

And I utterly reject his view that if we all waited till marriage to have sex, the issue of rape would go away. Numerous men have been convicted of raping their wives. Yes, their wives. Sex is not a given in any relationship in or outside of marriage. It must proceed . . . out of mutual consent every time it happens. (And no, it doesn’t have to be “in writing” as Neuhaus caustically asserts).

Marianne Meed

Toronto, Ontario


Between Rome and Jerusalem



Msgr. Eugene J. Fisher does not like my book, The Vatican and Zionism: Conflict in the Holy Land, 18951925 (“The Vatican and the State of Israel,” April), and this is perfectly legitimate. What is less legitimate is to transpose the decisions taken by the Holy See in recent times to the historical period studied by me: the meeting at Castel Gandolfo of 1987 has very little to do with the period 1895-1925 to which I expressly limited my research. Nevertheless, I specifically quoted the joint communiqué of September 1987 at page 94, to acknowledge the Vatican claim to a change. If Msgr. Fisher had taken the pains to read my book thoroughly, he would have found this reference.

He could also have avoided some misquotations. I did not write about “immutable theological positions”; I did not define the Catholic Church as “the chief opponent” of the Zionist movement past and present; I did not write about “unproclaimed” or hidden doctrines of the Church. I stick to historical facts.

May I quote the last paragraph of my book:

I tried to uncover the historical roots of the Vatican’s position on Zionism, which hardly changed from the period we considered until the establishment of the State of Israel. In our own time, there have been far-reaching changes in the Middle East: Israel was established; the Church revised its attitude toward the Jews for the better in its declaration of 1965; and there have been official contacts between a number of popes and leaders of Israel. Nonetheless, the Vatican is still a long way from normal relations with Israel. The Vatican does not have diplomatic relations with Israel and continues to be influenced in no small measure by the arguments of the Arabs. We can only hope that progress toward peace in the Middle East will also lead to normalization of relations between Israel and the Holy See, despite the theological difficulty that the Church has not yet resolved.



Without inventing”as Msgr. Fisher claims””some esoteric Catholic doctrine” we can see that through the years politics and theology have been strictly interwoven in the Catholic Church’s stand on the Jews and the state of Israel. Thus the declaration Nostra Aetate of 1965, which partially modified the theology of deicide, was itself watered down because of political pressures by the Arab states. The term “Jewish people” was canceled to avoid the impression that the Jews could still be considered “the people of God,” a definition that the Catholic Church attributes to itself only.

For the period examined in my book, there is little doubt’ that the most dominant representatives of the Holy See, like Cardinal Gasparri, Secretary of State, were poisoned by pure anti-Zionism. More than once Cardinal Gasparri bluntly said that “the danger we most fear is the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.” The most prominent representative of the Roman Catholic Church in Palestine, Msgr. Luigi Barlassina, accused Zionism of lack of religion, of immoralities of all sorts, and of hatred and licentiousness. Pope Benedict XV himself feared that the “Jews might attain a position of preponderance and privilege in Palestine.”

I can fully agree with Msgr. Fisher when he writes: “Were [the Holy See’s] politics based on ‘immutable’ theological doctrines, no compromise would be possible.” But let us examine the situation today. While maintaining normal diplomatic relations with most of the Arab states, including Iraq and those states in which there is no religious freedom for Catholics, the Holy See did not deem it necessary or expedient to have normal diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. In a five-page declaration by the Holy See of January 25, 1991, a long explanation is given for this simple fact. Whether or not there still remain theological reasons”such as those expressed by Pope Pius X to Herzl in 1904 and by Ernesto Buonaiuti in 1921”is in my eyes totally irrelevant. Let us accept for the sake of argument the thesis so strenuously defended by the Holy See and limit ourselves to the reasons offered in the January statement:

(a) the presence of Israel in the occupied territories and the relations with the Palestinians;

(b) the annexation of the holy town of Jerusalem;

(c) the situation of the Catholic Church in Israel and in the territories administered by it.May I comment briefly:

(a) During the period between 1948 and 1967, Israel was not occupying the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; nevertheless the Holy See did not have normal diplomatic relations with it.

(b) It is not clear why Israel should accept a “special statute” for “holy” Jerusalem, while according to the new Concordat with Italy, even Rome has no more a holy character; the Israeli Government has proven its special good will by giving back the Notre Dame de France building to the Holy See.

(c) The situation of the Catholic Church, or any Church, in the State of Israel and in the territories is one of complete freedom of worship, unlike that existing in many Arab states with which the Holy See has normal relations . . . .

Finally, as recently as March 1991 Pope John Paul II spoke about one injustice in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and only one: that against the Palestinians. This is not exactly the even-handed and objective stand that one could expect the Holy See to take on this matter. Is it totally unjustified to think that the Church has not yet gotten rid of two thousand years of her “teaching of contempt” against the Jews?

Sergio Minerbi

Jerusalem


Eugene J. Fisher replies:



Sergio Minerbi’s point of contention with my comments on his book is difficult to pin down. On the one hand, he states that he never said that the Holy See today has a specifically theological problem with the existence of the State of Israel”which is the point I was attempting to rebut”but limited his study and therefore his conclusions to the period 1895-1925. On the other hand, he himself cites the concluding lines of his book that make precisely the claim he now says he did not make.

Likewise, both Minerbi’s book and his letter make great use of the alleged theological animosity toward Zionism of “representatives of the Holy See,” which, again, is the point I was attempting to rebut, yet he also says that the matter “is in my eyes entirely irrelevant.” Which is it to be? I, after all, did not raise the issue that Minerbi considers irrelevant, hut simply responded to it. My own point, to be clear, is not that there are no difficulties, but simply that trying to write off these difficulties as the “teaching of contempt” is to obscure the realities of Vatican policy historically and at present by refusing to look at them squarely.

Minerbi’s attempt to move the issue away from the core issues (from the point of view of the Holy See) of the religious rights of the Christian communities of Israel, the actual status of the city of Jerusalem under international law, and the status of the Palestinians is not helpful to an understanding of what is going on in the Church. Let us, I would urge, agree with Minerbi that the theological issue he has raised is irrelevant and move on from there.

This said, a couple of glaring inaccuracies in Minerbi’s comments on Catholic doctrine need to he clarified. First, it is not true to say that the Second Vatican Council only “partially modified” the deicide charge. By rejecting explicitly the notion that the Jews as a people can he collectively blamed, either “then” or “now,” for Jesus’ death, the Council definitively ended any and all discussion of deicide, save to condemn it, in Catholic teaching. There exists an extensive literature on this topic that Minerbi might want at least to dabble in before hazarding to pronounce judgment on it.

Secondly, the Council did favor biblical terminology in referring to the Jewish people, such as “offspring of Abraham,” but it also used common language such as “the Jews” (eight times) and, contra Minerbi, “the chosen people” (once, with reference to the Exodus). The terms “Jewish people” and “people of God” have become, as Minerbi should know if he has followed at all the statements of the Holy See since the Council and of Pope John Paul II, the normal language of Church teaching today. Indeed, the ecumenical guidelines of the Diocese of Rome use the phrase, “the people of God, Jews and Christians.” Readers of Minerbi’s book, therefore, should be warned, as I tried to do in my brief article, that the author is innocent of in-depth knowledge of Catholic theology or doctrine. He studied the history with which he deals from a purely diplomatic-political point of view and would have had a much better book by sticking to those quite valid perspectives. With this said, it can also be said that in some ways I liked Minerbi’s book. It was his presumption, without adequate documentation or reflection, of allegedly malevolent theological motivation on the part of Church leaders that I found to be beyond both Minerbi’s evidence and his competence.

With regard to the substance of the matter, there is of course a religious attachment of Christians to Eretz Israel as the Land of Jesus and the site of what are for us the mysteries of salvation. This religious attachment of Christians to the Land is indeed relevant to an understanding of the policy of the Holy See. I happen to believe that there is a quite legitimate “stake” of the Church in the fate not only of the Holy Places but of the Christian communities surrounding them, and that the preservation of these legitimate Church interests has been at the heart of Vatican policy from Herzl’s time to our own. The legitimacy of the Church’s stake, it appears to me on reflection, may be what Minerbi is trying to downplay by his accusations, though I hope that is not the case. Certain more extreme groups in Israel today actively deny the traditional rights of the Christian minority, and it would be disheartening to believe that so distinguished a representative of the State of Israel would wish either intentionally or unintentionally to give credence to such extremist views. This would indicate a troubling shift in Israeli policy, which, as Minerbi rightly claims, has been quite positive up to this point.