Creative Contradictions

Richard John Neuhaus’ analysis of Ralph Reed’s Active Faith (“Ralph Reed’s Real Agenda,” October) is trenchant, as always. One question, though: is it only “contemporary liberals” who define democracy “in terms of upward mobility rather than self-governance”? By my reckoning, most conservatives tend to define democracy as both upward mobility and self-governance, seeing no apparent contradiction between the two. But men who govern themselves often will attempt to vote their way upward, as many have noted; our priorities have to be straightened out with the help of the Gospel. That might be the blind side of American conservatism: the unwillingness to simply assert that it is better to be poor, free, and righteous than rich and beholden to sin. I certainly didn’t hear that at the Christian Coalition’s Road to Victory convention, although they presumably believe it. I’m a conservative myself, and have been since before I took my religion seriously, but sometimes it’s disheartening to see the emphasis placed on wealth, all across our political spectrum. Perhaps this has always been so in America.

Eric M. Johnson
Arlington, VA

Assisted Suicide vs. Abortion

Your editorial on physician-assisted suicide, “The Ninth Circuit’s Fatal Overreach” (May) quotes Arthur Caplan: “If anyone thinks they’re going to settle anything morally from a court decision, they’re nuts.” But courts do settle moral questions, and have ever since Solomon’s decision with that baby. True, I wish they didn’t; but who else? Priests? Psychologists? Newspaper columnists? The “right” to die is inalienable. It is a decision for the individual, and it is a decision that fights every natural imperative to stay alive. Whatever compels an individual to overcome all those imperatives must matter to him very much indeed. It would appear extremely doubtful that any presumed “duty” to die could succeed in overcoming those imperatives. Abortion, on the other hand, takes away from an individual the “right” to life. That is also inalienable. The victim of abortion hasn’t the opportunity to elect to live or die and society should protect him.

Robert C. Rhodes
Queens Village, NY

Theological Glass Houses

Forgive me for criticizing a fellow Presbyterian”particularly when what motivates me to write is his criticism of fellow Christians. I have read and reread Peter J. Leithart’s essay “What’s Wrong with Evangelical Theology?” (August/September), and I am still not sure what his point is. It seems mostly like an intellectual exercise composed with the aid of “The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Theological Erudition” (FT, November 1995). He seems to hold evangelicals in contempt for their inability to define themselves theologically. It seems to me that we Presbyterians should be careful about throwing rocks when we are in the proverbial glass house. I would offer Mr. Leithart’s article as Exhibit A of an attitude that has contributed to the precipitous fall in Presbyterian Church membership (while evangelical churches have continued to win souls to Christ and to grow and prosper). Faith in God is primarily intuitive, not logical, rational, and intellectual. Mr. Leithart’s sneering put-down of “nineteenth-century revival hymns with their sentimental lyrics set to syrupy melodies” is offensive. There is a more powerful sermon in most of these favorite old hymns than is heard from the pulpit of most churches . . . .

William C. Parish
Charlotte, NC