The Public Square
Reflecting on the rash of outraged protests against allegedly sexist, racist, and homophobic slurs erupting in our public life, New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen tries to get to the root of the matter. It all has to do with “consciousness,” or so it seems. Some offenses against approved sensibilities, writes Ms. Quindlen, are attributable to outright bigotry. Others arise from “stupid lapses” on the part of otherwise nice people. “But it also seems to me that there are gradations of imperfectly raised consciousness, and that in speaking of black and white we cannot ignore the gray areas.” Now there is a delicious phrase to savor”“imperfectly raised consciousness.” The alternative, of course, is a perfectly raised consciousness, presumably much like the consciousness of Ms. Anna Quindlen.
Let PRC stand for perfectly raised consciousness. People in possession of PRC have all the politically correct (PC) views, especially when it comes to “sensitivity” toward people who are different. The PC view, for example, is that opinions are equally valid, except for non-PC opinions held by people lacking PRC. The egalitarian duty of superior people with PRC is to police, punish, and stigmatize their inferiors. The goal, of course, is to raise such people to the elevated level of PRC. People with PRC constitute themselves as the Sensitivity Patrol of contemporary culture. They are deadly serious about this. Sensitivity is not optional. To those of imperfectly raised consciousness (IRC) they say in tones most ominous: “You vill be sensitive. Ve haff vays of making you sensitive.”
The Sensitivity Patrol is very active also in our churches. Consider, for instance, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). It has 5.3 million members and is probably the most thoroughly quota-ized religious organization in the country. At every level, leadership slots are filled according to gender, race, language, and ethnicity (the push for including “sexual preference” has not gotten very far, as yet). There are categories for people of color (POCs) and for people with primary language other than English (PLOTEs). The church’s commission on multicultural sensitivity actually proposes that people filling such quota slots be called POCs and PLOTEs. By getting used to using these terms, it is said, IRC persons will get over the insensitivity of resenting the fact that others hold positions because of their color or deficiencies in English. Thus can IRC persons be ratcheted up another notch toward PRC.
But the ELCA’s Sensitivity Patrol also has more active measures. It has recently been mandated that all the church’s personnel must participate in “cultural/racial awareness training and education” (CRATE). (We are told that it was going to be called the “cultural/racial awareness program,” but an official with a high acronym consciousness caught that one just in time.) CRATE is of course run by PRCs and is described by them as “a creative new way into the future.” Officials”bishops, division directors, editors, and other grown-ups”are scheduled for intensive self-criticism workshops in order to discover and confess their sins against “multicultural literacy.” For obdurate cases of IRC, there are continuing self-criticism sessions of escalating intensity. Officials who have been CRATEd to date, it is reported, have expressed appreciation for the experience. A Southwestern bishop who participated in a regional version of CRATE has publicly stated his gratitude for being helped to see that he is racist. That came to him as a surprise because he had always held PC views on race, but the self-criticism sessions revealed to him the degree to which he had been infected by the systemic racism of the society”an infection insidiously hidden by his long”standing opposition to racism.
While the Lutherans may be the first completely CRATEd church, we are assured by numerous reports that the Sensitivity Patrol is making heartening progress on other fronts, notably in academe. Needless to say, some professors, like some bishops, resist the truth that beneath their liberal pieties are concealed ghastly residues of imperfectly raised consciousness. The skilled inquisitors of PRC, however, have a remarkable record of success in breaking down such resistance. There is every reason to believe that Anna Quindlen and other pioneers of the movement to control imperfect thoughts can look forward to a fully CRATEd culture in the foreseeable future.
Andy Rooney and the Public Good
So Andy Rooney’s suspension from 60 Minutes was cut short, and we may be inclined to think that all’s well that ends well. But there are aspects of the incident worth remembering. Rooney’s suspension by CBS News stirred up an awful storm in which some questions of moral moment made an occasional appearance. It will be recalled that Mr. Rooney incurred the wrath of homosexual activists when he said on the program that “homosexual union””along with too much alcohol, too much food, drugs, and cigarettes”is “known to lead quite often to premature death.” But the storm really broke when The Advocate, a newspaper by and for homosexuals, quoted Rooney as saying that blacks have “watered down their genes because the less intelligent ones are the ones that have the most children.” Rooney denied saying that, and indeed declared such a view to be deeply repugnant to him. There was no tape, so it was his word against the interviewer’s. The head of CBS News suspended him, declaring that “CBS News cannot tolerate such remarks or anything that approximates such comments.” What might “approximate” such comments was left unclear. Thinking them but not saying them? Failing to punch in the nose someone who does say them?
Among the many comments generated by the incident, we were struck by Walter Goodman’s in the New York Times, “Why Andy Rooney Had to Go, Guilty or Not.” Goodman opined, “As for Mr. Rooney, he is doing the required penance for an inflammatory remark that he did or did not utter.” Justice, it seems, is entirely beside the point. It must be made clear, Mr. Goodman wrote, that “television will make no slurs against any minority nor associate itself with anyone who might have made such a slur anywhere at any time, if the minority is of a size to cause it trouble.” This is the kind of censorship necessary for television, he says, “and, whatever the justice of [Rooney’s] punishment, he can take comfort in having served as a sacrifice to the cause of public tranquility.”
If television were to exclude anyone who anywhere at any time uttered a sentiment that some minority deemed to be a slur, the entire industry would shut down tonight. Goodman adds the condition that the minority be of a size to cause trouble. One may be forgiven for thinking immediately of two large minorities that, in combination, probably comprise a majority of Americans”Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants. Not “anywhere at any time,” but in network studios at prime time, slurs against both are hardly infrequent. Maybe they should both cause more trouble about it. And maybe not. But the fact is that Mr. Goodman and CBS are trading in very selective indignation about real or alleged slurs.
Although most Americans do not like the word, it is true that censorship, including self-censorship, is necessary to maintaining civility in the public square. And it is true that network television qualifies as a public square. But there is a difference between civilized censorship and spineless pandering to ideological terrorists, which is what the more aggressive homosexual activists have become. There are profound reasons, underscored by much pain and no little blood, why all Americans, not only blacks, are and should be particularly sensitive to slurs against blacks. But to allow a superannuated civil rights establishment to debase public discourse by vetoing honest discussion of problems, real or perceived, between whites and blacks is not civility but cowardice. Mr. Goodman’s “public tranquility” is the stillness of cynical mendacity.
And then there was the question of justice for Andy Rooney. Punishing people “guilty or not” is not, as we understand it, the American way. What Rooney is supposed to have said about blacks is both offensive and dumb. But he says he never said it, and he explicitly repudiates the sentiments attributed to him. One would have more respect for the head of CBS News if he had come out and said that he did not believe Mr. Rooney. If he did not believe him, why not say so? Perhaps it is cynical of us to suspect that CBS thought that a returning Andy Rooney who exudes contrition for the “approximation” of a slur might still be a valuable entertainment property, while Andy Rooney tagged as a liar by CBS would be of no use to 60 Minutes. Perhaps. We do not know the motives of all the players in this sordid incident. We do know that, contra Walter Goodman and others who defended the action of CBS, public tranquility will not be served by a cultivated disregard for the difference between truth and falsehood.
The Bishop Deceived
Poor John Spong, Episcopal bishop of Newark, NJ. No sooner had he once again demonstrated himself a champion of liberation from the putatively oppressive Christian tradition than the object of his radical largesse went and betrayed him. At the turn of the year, it may be remembered, Bishop Spong made headlines beyond numbering when he ordained J. Robert Williams, a professed and practicing homosexual, to the priesthood. “Robert would not live a lie,” declared Spong. Demonstrating the point, Mr. Williams shortly thereafter announced to a church gathering that celibacy is a kind of perversion, that monogamy (whether in hetero or homo unions) is a life-denying restriction, and that Mother Teresa of Calcutta would be a more whole person if she had sex from time to time. (The last point was made in language that we are not permitted in a family journal.)
Spong declared himself bitterly disappointed, and charged that Williams had deceived both him and the examining committees that had approved his ordination. Williams’ comments on monogamy and celibacy, Spong complained, “confirmed the worst fears of many prejudiced people” that homosexuals are incapable of anything but “predatory or casual sexual behavior.” Mr. Williams, the man who will not live a lie, had a different view. He had been “used” by Spong, said he. “He wanted the perfect gay priest, a cardboard cutout, with lover in tow, to trot out on state occasions, to trot out and say, Look how liberal we are!’“
We don’t know who deceived whom, or even if there was deception involved, but Mr. Williams does sound like an honest, if woefully wrongheaded, fellow. On the other hand, maybe he did deceive Bishop Spong. If so, it is obvious from what the bishop said before, during, and after the ordination that he dearly wanted to be deceived.
Initiatives is published by the National Center for the Laity and has a usually interesting way of cutting across the left/right divides in both church and culture. For instance, Initiatives is critical of “A Call for Reform in the Catholic Church,” a manifesto sponsored by Call to Action, the National Association for a Married Priesthood, Women’s Ordination Conference, and other groups definitely on the left of contemporary Catholicism. The sponsors have run the manifesto as a huge ad in the New York Times and elsewhere, and are seeking 100,000 signatures. That seems a modest goal. One hundred thousand is less than one fifth of one percent of the Catholics in the United States, which might confirm some church authorities in their belief that that is about the percentage of Catholics supporting the agenda of the manifesto. A Call for Reform” bears the signature of such as Fr Matthew Fox, the New Age enthusiast, but has also been endorsed by a few who are thought to be more centrist, such as Fr David Tracy of the University of Chicago and at least one bishop.
The manifesto is intended to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of “The Church in the Modern World,” the last document promulgated at the Second Vatican Council. But, says Initiatives, the entire point of that document was to direct the church’s attention “outward” to service in the world, while “A Call to Reform” is an “inward” complaint about what’s wrong with the church. The manifesto is an “appeal to the institutional Church . . . to open the priesthood to women and married men . . . to allow laity, religious, and clergy to participate in the selection of local bishops,” etc. etc. In its inward looking complaints, according to Initiatives, the Call is of a piece with such “extremist” voices on the right as The Wanderer, which sees itself as the scourge of myriad liberalisms, real or imagined.
Initiatives also takes to task The Wanderer’s counterpart on the left, the National Catholic Reporter. That paper claims to cover “the news from a unique angle”the angle where church and world intersect.” But that is precisely what NCR often fails to do. Initiatives notes, for instance, that NCR had not one paragraph before, during, or after Lech Walesa’s visit to the United States some months ago. In a whirlwind tour, the Nobel laureate who is democracy’s champion in Poland, received the Medal of Freedom from President Bush, addressed a joint session of Congress, spoke to his fellow trade unionists in the AFL-CIO, went to New York to engage questions about Polish-Jewish relations, and there was complete silence from the paper that claims “to cover the news from the angle where church and world intersect.”
Walesa, says Initiatives, is a Catholic who exemplifies what was called for in “The Church in the Modern World.” But he is of limited interest to such as NCR and the sponsors of “A Call For Reform” because he is an orthodox Catholic who shows no interest in advancing revolutionary change within the Roman Catholic Church. Walesa would undoubtedly agree with the conclusion offered by Initiatives: “None of the institution’s faults (real or imagined, grating to conservatives or liberals) prevents any Catholic from doing God’s work in the world”as a mother, a business executive, a union official, a farmer, a diplomat, or a nurse.”
Of course attention must be paid to the inward renewal of all our religious institutions. But Initiatives is right: It does seem odd that those Roman Catholics who talk incessantly about the church serving the world are so caught up in internal disputes about institutional change. And it is doubly odd when the “reforms” they call for (e.g., ordaining women, lay participation in electing bishops) are familiar practices in the oldline Protestant churches that are notable neither for their “inward” vitality nor for their “outward” influence in the world. ( Initiatives is available from the National Center for the Laity, 1 E. Superior St., Chicago, IL 60611.)
The editors of America, the Jesuit weekly, are full of admiration for Governor Mario Cuomo of New York. They are, therefore, understandably distressed that controversy continues to swirl around his determined efforts to explain how he can be both a faithful Roman Catholic and a proponent of abortion on demand. Their distress was deepened by the pastoral observation of Bishop Austin Vaughan, auxiliary of New York, that the governor may be in danger of going to hell if he continues to countenance the mortal sin of abortion, which Vatican Council II called an “unspeakable crime.” Bishop Vaughan was supported in principle by John Cardinal O’Connor, who praised Vaughan as a theologian and noted that he had a right and perhaps an obligation to say what he said.
Differing with the Cardinal, the editors claim that the “bottom line” is justice, and they cite Martin Luther King, Jr., to the effect that “justice is indivisible.” The gravamen of the editorial is justice for Mario Cuomo and, although the point is obliquely made, they leave no doubt about their concern that such justice has everything to do with the governor’s future”his political future, if not his eternal destiny. The governor runs for reelection this year, and is widely rumored to have his eye on the 1992 Democratic nomination. “If [justice] must be accorded to the unborn child, as it must,” the editors write, “it must also be accorded to the mother, and, yes, even to the Catholic politician who tries to balance competing rights and claims in a pluralistic society. And if that politician is a just person, then his or her political fortunes are not a nugatory consideration.” While we should no doubt seek to do justice to all concerned, one cannot help but note the dramatic disparities between what is at stake for the unborn child, the mother, and the politician.
Echoing an editorial line sometimes taken by the New York Times, the editors worry about the future of Catholics in American political life. If the bishops persist in pressing them on abortion, Catholic politicians will either be “precluded from holding high public office, because attacked by their own church’s officials and otherwise harassed by their coreligionists,” or else, if they are elected, it will be “precisely because they are portrayed by coreligionists as renegades from the church.” The editors doubt that “either of these outcomes would be regarded as satisfactory by church officials.” But surely there are other alternatives. There is the alternative that, to his credit, has been attempted by Governor Cuomo, namely, to make a reasoned public case for the compatibility of his moral convictions and his political position on abortion. In the judgment of many people, he has not succeeded in that attempt to date. But that only means he should try harder.
Among Catholic politicians, Cuomo is the most prominent proponent of the position described as “Personally opposed, but . . . ” With the help of liberal theologian Richard McBrien of Notre Dame, he attempted a definitive articulation of that argument in 1984. Key to that argument is the important distinction between what is moral and what is legal (an important distinction indeed), and the need for a “consensus” in order to move toward the greater legal protection of unborn children. Critics, including those friendly to Cuomo’s political ambitions, have insistently pointed out that he does not passively await the formation of a consensus on other issues about which he cares deeply, notably capital punishment. He has actively, if unsuccessfully, tried to persuade the public to adopt his moral opposition to capital punishment, and has used his office to veto capital punishment bills clearly supported by a popular consensus. Yet, when it comes to abortion, he seems to declare himself impotent in influencing public opinion, and indeed has on several occasions appeared to pledge his personal and official support for the abortion policy countenanced by the 1973 ruling, Roe v. Wade.
When Cuomo says that there is no consensus, and suggests that there can be no consensus, in support of protecting the unborn, he should perhaps be understood as talking not about society but about the Democratic Party. Certainly at the national level, but also in many states, it is at present the case that that party imposes a rigid demand of orthodoxy on the abortion question. The editors of America would be on more solid ground if they argued that faithful Catholics might be “precluded” from high office if they are Democrats. What they seem to miss, however, is the potential of Catholics who are Democrats challenging the current orthodoxy of their party. Given the importance of New York State and his presidential possibilities, it would seem that nobody is in a better position to make such a challenge than Governor Mario Cuomo. Would the Democratic Party really want to risk excluding from its ranks Catholics and others who are faithful to their moral convictions? Contra America, it is not the bishops but the party that must make the decision whether Catholics are to be “precluded from holding high public office.” Politicians such as Mario Cuomo are ideally situated to make that clear.
Regrettably, the governor appears not to have the stomach for it. He evidences irritation when repeatedly asked about his position on abortion, and refers questioners back to his by-now tired and unconvincing 1984 speech at Notre Dame. He recently headed off further questions on the subject by saying, “If you do something that’s in accord with a well-formed, sincerely formed belief, without being a theologian, it seems to me any God of good judgment would understand that.” As the governor should not have to be reminded, it is not God’s judgment that is in question.
THE EXCITABLE DR. WATSON
The World Economic Forum gathers each year in Davos, Switzerland, and it is a logistical wonder. Getting together more than a hundred heads of state and government ministers, plus top executives of eight hundred of the world’s largest corporations, takes no little doing. Conceptually, the meeting ranges well beyond economics and politics, narrowly defined. This writer, for instance, was asked to address the questions of religion and the democratic revolution, a subject of most particular interest in light of dramatic events in Eastern Europe.
Also invited to take on issues other than economics was James Watson, author of The Double Helix, Nobel laureate, and director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Dr. Watson led a session at Davos on Science, Technology, and the Limits of Traditional Ethics. What he had to say, or did not have to say, takes on increased importance because, since 1988, he has been Associate Director of the National Institutes of Health and in charge of the Human Genome Project.
That project is, in the view of many, one of the most ambitious and ominous projects in the history of science. Billions of dollars and thousands of scientists are devoted to producing an exhaustive map of the chromosome structure that contains the DNA comprising the genes of human beings. The purpose is not only to decipher such genetic structure, but to alter it, presumably to improve the human condition. Beyond deciphering and altering, it is suggested that the knowledge gained might be put to commercial uses on a scale hardly imaginable at present. (So perhaps Dr. Watson’s role might be closer to the narrow notion of a World Economic Forum after all.) It is little wonder that the Human Genome project has, in this country and elsewhere, raised ethical questions of intense urgency.
Although scheduled to address the ethics of these matters, Watson discussed at length the politics and economics of scientific entrepreneurship, including advice on how to induce a nervous Congress to allocate huge sums for an enterprise of doubtful benefit. (Tell them, he chuckled, that it will help all those old people with Alzheimer’s.) There is no doubt about Watson’s enthusiasm for the science of the project. “So much is happening so fast,” he enthused, “that we are in a constant state of excitement and hardly have time to think.”
But the people in attendance wanted to think, and, more specifically, wanted to think about the ethics of what is being done and what is being proposed to be done. Dr. Watson was not forthcoming. First, he complained that the discussion of the pertinent ethical questions is today impossibly embroiled in the abortion debate”including issues such as fetal transplants and experimentation, aborting the genetically defective, and so forth. Then he said that, since he is now an official of NIH, “I can say nothing about ethics.”
That seemed odd, since the session was billed as a discussion of science, technology, and ethics. Odder still, after saying he had to support the position of the U.S. government, he went on to deplore that position, observing that Dr. Louis Sullivan, Secretary of Health and Human Services, shared his embarrassment over official queasiness about the scientific uses of the unborn dead. Pressed by dissatisfied participants, Watson allowed that workers in the Human Genome Project should not forget the possible abuses of eugenics, such as in the coerced sterilization of thousands in this country in the 1920s. He also acknowledged the eugenic excesses of the Nazi regime. But the gravamen of his presentation was that we should not let these unfortunate episodes distract our attention from what might be possible in the future.
The scientifically excited Dr. Watson gave the impression that the concern about ethics was much to do about very little. Surely, he said, there would be laws that would prevent corporations, insurance companies, and others from prying into people’s DNA structure. True, courts and other government agencies might have access to such information, but that would involve only “a narrow part of the population.” As for altering gene structures, Watson was confident that that would not be done for “trivial reasons.” In order to distinguish between the trivial and compelling, he reassured the audience, the government was spending millions to set up boards of ethical experts. Scientists would be inhibited from doing anything wrong or dangerous, he suggested, because everything would have to go through proper committees. The audience was not reassured.
Finally, and obviously somewhat exasperated, Watson asserted, “I’m excited by the science of it. What the rules will be, our elected representatives will have to decide, and we will have to abide by them.” He added that he was generally opposed to general rules, since what is or is not ethical is up to individuals to decide.
It was a most undistinguished and troubling performance. The combination of technological enthusiasm and moral insouciance left participants asking one another how Watson had convinced himself”as he said he is convinced”that he is successfully selling the Human Genome Project to the public. Many thoughtful citizens, including eminent scientists, oppose the deciphering and altering of the human gene structure, and are appalled by the proposed commercial uses of knowledge gained from such activities. The questions raised about this project drive to the heart of what it means to be human. Here, perhaps more than at any point in human history, we encounter the prospect of man becoming the object and means of a science that has become its own end. This, it is not alarmist to think, is Science proposing to make man in its own image.
If any part of the Human Genome Project is to be done at all, one might wish it were directed by someone who takes time off from scientific excitements to give careful thought to what it is that he and his colleagues are proposing to do. Many sessions at Davos addressed worrying questions. But none was so worrying as the session at which James Watson complacently intimated that there is no cause for worry.
From a Jewish viewpoint, there are troubling aspects about people converting to Judaism. For instance, many of them may turn out to be “one-generation Jews,” with no Jewish parents and no Jewish children. This is among the questions pondered by Jonathan Sama of Brandeis University in “Reform Jewish Leaders, Intermarriage, and Conversion.” Not that Sarna is alarmist about the future of Judaism. In fact he begins by recalling a perdurance that has defied the prophets of Judaism’s demise. “Back in 1818, Attorney General William Wirt, one of the finest attorneys general in America’s history, wondered in a private letter whether persecutions of the Jews, for all of their unhappy effects, perhaps held the key to Jewish unity. I believe,’ he wrote to John Myers of Norfolk, Virginia, that if those persecutions had never existed the Jews would have melted down into the general mass of the people of the world.’ He went on to suggest that if persecutions came to an end, the children of Israel’ might even then cease to exist as a separate nation. Within 150 years he was sure that they would be indistinguishable from the rest of mankind.
“Now, more than 150 years later, we know that Wirt was wrong: the Jewish people lives on. The relationship that Wirt posited between persecutions and Jewish identity may not be wrong, but to date, we have never had the opportunity to find out. Meanwhile, prophecies of doom have continued unabated. Look magazine some years ago featured a cover story on the Vanishing American Jew.’ Look itself has since vanished, not just once but twice, and the Jewish people lives on. A volume entitled The End of the Jewish People, by the French sociologist George Friedman, has also come and gone.”
Nonetheless, Sarna is concerned. It is estimated that 2 percent of America’s 5.7 million Jews, or 115,000 men and women, are converts. Predictably, most converts bring with them an understanding of religion shaped, however vaguely, by Christianity. That means that the ethnic or “peoplehood” dimension of Judaism is downplayed, and the “spiritual” dimension emphasized. Some way must be found, says Sarna, to help converts understand that Jewish “faith” cannot be separated from allegiance to the people who are Judaism. “Bitter experience should have taught us that these principles are sacred; whenever Jews have not been responsible for one another, tragedy has resulted.”
Converts typically call themselves “Jews by Choice,” and Sarna appreciates the great contribution they have made to contemporary Jewish life. Yet the accent on choice is also connected with the fact that 80 percent of converts or those married to converts are very favorably disposed toward intermarriage. Studies show that many converts would not discourage their children from marrying someone who was not Jewish. In one Reform leadership study, Sarna notes, “more than 50 percent of the converts responding”leaders, I remind you”would not even be bothered a great deal if their children converted to Christianity” (emphasis his). This is an attitude very different from that of born Jews. “If today,” Sarna writes, “when most Jewish parents still disapprove of intermarriage, we have such a significant intermarriage rate, tomorrow, when a substantial number will not disapprove, I fear that the figures will be very bleak indeed.”
This leads him to his key point: “Let us make no mistake; the data we now have at hand should serve as a dire warning: Unless we act decisively, many of today’s converts will be one-generation Jews ” Jews with non-Jewish parents and non-Jewish children,” But Sarna concludes on a note that most Jews would find more hopeful: “Learned Jews and non-Jews have been making dire predictions about the future (or end) of the Jewish people for literally thousands of years”long before William Wirt and long after him”and, as we have seen, their predictions have proved consistently wrong. The reason, I think, has nothing to do with the quality of our prophets, but is rather to the credit of those who listened to them. Refusing to consider the future preordained, clearheaded Jews have always acted to avert the perils they were warned against, and in every case, to a greater or lesser extent, they were successful: the Jewish people lived on.”
Art Is Not Propaganda
Franky Schaeffer, an evangelical writer and moviemaker, is every bit as straightforward in reproaching fellow Christians as was his father, the late Francis Schaeffer. Sham Pearls for Real Swine (Wolgemuth & Hyatt) takes its title from Winston Churchill’s observation that his public school was a place “where sham pearls were fed to real swine.” Among the discontents agitating Mr. Schaeffer is Christian ignorance of the importance and integrity of the arts. “The dedicated Christian pursuing a career in the arts or media is caught between a hammer and an anvil. The hammer is that of closed-minded secularism and the anvil that of closed-minded fundamentalist Christianity. He or she has a narrow and precarious road to walk.”
Too many Christians, says Schaeffer, don’t know the difference between art and propaganda. “There are too few people in the church encouraging this generation of Christians to succeed in the arts. There are, however, many Christian guilt-mongers who place burdens on others that they themselves do not bear. Their What’s-Christian-about-that?’ attitude doesn’t understand the daily reality of the artist’s struggle.” Even artists who do things that are clearly and distinctively Christian, such as the novelist Walker Percy, are frequently rejected as “unsuitable” by some Christians because their works do not toe to one or another line of orthodoxy.
Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and a host of other worthies would not pass muster with today’s spiritual and political censors, according to Schaeffer. And he suggests that we’ve been through this before. “After the High Renaissance 17th century and the 18th- Counter-Reformation, art in most of Europe drifted towards pompous political and religious propaganda for a time. The florid sentimentality of Bernini replaced Michelangelo’s purity. The ridiculous, pretentious monstrosities of Rubens replaced the tranquil luminosity of Botticelli.”
In exemplary contrast, Dutch artists such as Jan Vermeer, Jan Steen, and Rembrandt were faithful to the vocation of the Christian artist, and in today’s situation we should take our cue from them. According to Schaeffer, today’s situation is nothing less than dire. “We are surrounded by reactionaries. This time they come disguised as feminists, leftists, and fundamentalist Christians, but their intent to misuse the arts and humanities is the same as those of the manipulators of earlier times. The answer to those who would politicize art must be the same as that presented by the Dutch painters of the golden age’ of Dutch art. They, through their work, produced a poignant rebuke to the idea that art was only for princes and popes or for making political or religious statements. Their everyday scenes of Dutch life were infused by the light of Christian faith. In portraying the ordinary, they reached for transcendence.”
“What’s Wrong with Operation Rescue?: Uncivil, Unloving, Unconvincing.” That’s the title of an article in Commonweal by Charles DiSalvo, a law professor. It drew a number of spirited responses, including the following by Juli Loesch Wiley, longtime pacifist activist; “Charles DiSalvo says he has noticed harsh and accusatory words, avoidance of suffering, and general belly-aching among those who blockade abortion sites. It would be pointless to get all huffy and deny that any such less-than-noble behavior has ever been observed at anti-abortion interventions. But anyone who’s been a participant, and not just a theoretician, knows that these lapses are seen”and frequently”in all nonviolent movements. My own twenty years’ experience with the United Farm Workers, the no-nukes movement, and other campaigns bears this out.
“What DiSalvo missed, however, is that people like Randy Terry, Joan Andrews, and Christy Anne Collins have called the many pro-life sit-in groups around the country to a uniform code of peaceful, prayerful’ behavior and repentant acceptance of jail time (rather than paying bail or fines) which has become common”almost standard”throughout the movement. Both in theory and in practice, Operation Rescue is worthy of the classic civil disobedience tradition.
“But DiSalvo has misunderstood something else which is so basic that it makes me think he hasn’t really been paying attention. He assumes that a sit-in at an abortion site is a form of symbolic protest. It is not. The volunteer fire department doesn’t come to protest’ a fire; it comes to put it out. Operation Rescue doesn’t aim to protest’ a particular child disposal center on a particular day; it aims to shut it down.
“It works because blockading the doors buys time for sidewalk counselors to talk to would-be clients approaching the clinic, and offer alternatives which can turn mother and child away from an abortion. I say again: it works. We have women’s testimony and living children to prove it.
“That’s why Operation Rescue participants, arrested for trespass, must offer the court a necessity defense.’ That’s why, on some (admittedly rare) occasions, district attorneys have refused to prosecute; juries have refused to convict; judges have suspended sentences. Civil law itself recognizes”or should recognize”that trespass statutes were not designed to be enforced against persons involved in saving somebody’s life.
“Perhaps some people think the nonviolent tradition exists only among folks who wear Gandhi buttons on their lapels and have some history with the Left; they don’t think a bunch of white-bread eaters with Bible College bumper stickers could be real’ satyagrahis. I wonder if this might be DiSalvo’s problem.”
WORDS, WORDS, WORDS
“Words, words, words,” began a letter from a reader complaining that this journal offers no program for action. We plead guilty.
We the more readily plead guilty because the letter arrived the day we read Vaclav Havel’s “Words on Words,” his acceptance speech upon receiving the Peace Prize of the German Booksellers Association. Havel, playwright and President of Czechoslovakia, addressed “the mysterious power of words in human history.” He said this: “In the beginning was the Word; so it states on the first page of one of the most important books known to us. What is meant in that book is that the Word of God is the source of all creation. But surely the same could be said, figuratively speaking, of every human action? And indeed, words can be said to be the very source of our being, and in fact the very substance of the cosmic life-form we call Man. Spirit, the human soul, our self-awareness, our ability to generalize and think in concepts, to perceive the world as the world (and not just as our locality), and lastly, our capacity for knowing that we will die”and living in spite of that knowledge: surely all these are mediated or actually created by words?”
Words are an ambivalent and perfidious phenomenon, such as the words of Lenin that were, says Havel, “invariably frenzied.” As for the words of Marx, they illuminated hidden social mechanisms, and they were also the “germ of all the subsequent appalling gulags.” “And what about Freud’s words?” asks Havel. “Did they disclose the secret cosmos of the human soul, or were they no more than the fountainhead of the illusion now benumbing half of America that it is possible to shed one’s torments and guilt by having them interpreted away by some well paid specialist?”
Words that bear the beauty of vision for many have a way of turning nasty. “Socialism,” for instance. “There was a time . . . when, for whole generations of the downtrodden and oppressed, the word socialism was a mesmerizing synonym for a just world, a time when, for the ideal expressed in that word, people were capable of sacrificing years and years of their lives, and their very lives even. I don’t know about your country, but in mine, that particular word”socialism’”was transformed long ago into just an ordinary truncheon used by certain cynical, parvenu bureaucrats to bludgeon their liberal-minded fellow citizens from morning until night, labeling them enemies of socialism’ and antisocialist forces.’“
Words don’t stand still. “The selfsame word can be true at one moment and false the next, at one moment illuminating, at another, deceptive. On one occasion it can open up glorious horizons, on another, it can lay down the tracks to an entire archipelago of concentration camps. The selfsame word can at one time be the cornerstone of peace, while at another, machine-gun fire resounds in its every syllable.”
Surely few words are more compelling than the word “peace.” “But even that word managed at times to be well and truly ambivalent. It signified, of course, the first glimmer of hope of a Europe without cold wars or iron curtains. At the same time”unhappily”there were also occasions when it signified the abandonment of freedom: the basic precondition for all real peace.”
Responsibility for words is an intrinsically ethical task. “As such, however, it is situated beyond the horizon of the visible world, in that realm wherein dwells the Word that was in the beginning and is not the word of Man.” Havel’s conclusion seems inescapable: “In the beginning of everything is the word. It is a miracle to which we owe the fact that we are human. But at the same time it is a pitfall and a test, a snare and a trial. More so, perhaps, than it appears to you who have enormous freedom of speech, and might therefore assume that words are not so important. They are. They are important everywhere.”
Words, words, words? You better believe it.
While We’re at It
We don’t run a speakers bureau, but in the case of Dr. Erik Kuehnelt-Leddihn we’ll act for the moment as though we do. Now in his eighties, Dr. KL is an Austrian polymath who has been everywhere, seen everything, and known most of the worthies of this century”or so it seems. And all this he can talk about most engagingly in fourteen languages, including very elegant English. His reflections on the spiritual and political revolutions taking place in Europe may be of particular interest. He is making his annual American lecture tour this fall, and colleges and other interested institutions can contact him at A 6072 Lans/Tyrol, Austria.
We did not see it mentioned in the press here, but there was quite a flap in Germany when the Evangelical Church of Berlin and Brandenburg gave Erich Honecker, the aging former head of the East German regime, refuge in a church home for the aged. The home. Valley of Hope, is only a few miles from the luxurious compound at Wandlitz, where Honecker and other Communist leaders once lived. Released from prison until his trial, Honecker, long the master of a professedly atheist state, particularly requested a place in a church home. In responding to criticism of the church’s action. Bishop Gottfried Forck emphasized the Christian teaching of forgiveness, which would seem to indicate that Honecker was received as a penitent.
The effusion of “Gorbomania” in the West over the last several years has been something to watch. It reached a peak, or one of its peaks, when Time named him Man of the Decade. Of the decade, no less, even though Gorbachev had been on the scene for no more than half of it. Now it seems obvious to us that, if one were to ask who had the greatest impact on world history in the 1980s, the answer is Pope John Paul II. Or, if the question is limited to the political world, the answer seems equally obvious: Ronald Reagan. (It is a source of continuing puzzlement that what seems so obvious to us is hidden from many of the wise of the world.) Edward E. Ericson, writing in The Reformed Journal, offers this conclusion: “And so reflections about Time’s choice of Gorbachev as the Man of the Decade bring us finally to real consequences in the real world. To see Gorbachev as Time does is to place ourselves on the wrong side of history. In acquiescing to the rising, and seemingly irreversible tide of liberation in Eastern Europe, Gorbachev serves a useful purpose. But ultimately he is one of the dictators against whom the peoples of Eastern Europe are rebelling. He is the wiliest of the lot, the one who first saw the handwriting on the wall. But he is still one of them.”
The newsletter Religion and Democracy notes that some churches in North America have what might be described as an ambiguous attitude toward the guerrillas in El Salvador, the Earabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). On the one hand, there is a call for the end of violence. On the other, the Lutheran and Episcopal churches, plus some Roman Catholic institutions, endorsed a 1988 statement that hailed the FMLN as “a powerful, popular revolutionary movement, prepared to respond to the violence and to overcome the injustice.” Some of the same voices have more recently called for cutting off U.S. aid to the elected government of Alfredo Cristiani. Protests against that government’s apparent inability to protect religious workers, even if they are working in sympathy with the FMLN, are perfectly justified, says the newsletter. “Religious believers must be free to express their convictions in every area of life, including politics. They should have the legal right even to praise the terrorist FMLN, although not to assemble bombs for it. It is the business of the church”not the military”to correct the misguided political views of some church staff.” The newsletter is a solid source of information on issues of religious freedom and democracy around the world, and it is available from The Institute on Religion and Democracy, 729 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.
Proponents of liberation theology who major in bashing the American gringos are having a hard time with “Just Cause,” the U.S. intervention in Panama. For instance, Phillip Berryman writes in Commonweal, the liberal Catholic journal, about the human costs of the U.S. action, and why it may turn out to be a failure in the long term. He does acknowledge, however, that “there is no doubt that many Panamanians embraced the U.S. troops as liberators.” Many? How about 92 percent? That’s what the polls indicated following the intervention. Polls do not a just cause make, but they do tell us something about popular consent, and it does seem churlish of those who disagree with the U.S. action not to acknowledge that.
For long and usually lonely years Blahoslav and Olga Hruby published RCDA (Religion in Communist Dominated Areas). All through the Cold War, their journal was one of the few reliable sources for documentation on the persecution of believers under Communist tyrannies. Initially, RCDA had support from some of the oldline churches, but that dried up when leaders decided that embarrassing news about Communist behavior got in the way of a “peace and justice” agenda that required cordial relations with the oppressive regimes of the East. We recently heard from Olga: “A few days ago I was at the Cathedral of St John the Divine attending a show in honor of the president of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel. I could not help thinking back to the early 1970s when we were having quite a problem finding twenty signatories for a cable to then president Husak in protest against the mistreatment of Havel. RCDA published an essay by Havel in 1976. Now his friends are countless. Everybody loves a winner and a happy end. Except the happy end isn’t here yet, particularly not so far as the churches are concerned.”
About the best continuing moral reflection on America and world affairs is to be found in the newsletter American Purpose. No, take that back; it is the best, period. Written by George Weigel, American Purpose stays on top of the “peace, freedom, and security debate” with specific reference to the churches and opinion elites. Consider, for instance, this from the current issue: “A new literary genre is aborning, perhaps best described as post-cold war chic.” Its development doubtless reflects the cognitive dissonance, as the sociologists would say, of those who long denied that the Cold War had much to do with anything except Harry Truman’s crusty temper. Indeed, the mental stress suffered by these poor lambs over the past six months bas been such that even the reality of the Berlin Wall bas to be retrospectively, er, modified. Thus David Spanier, a diplomatic correspondent for Independent Radio News in London,’ could tell readers of the New York Times Book Review that the Berlin Wall was not about bricks and barbed wire in defense of Marxism, but about people.’“ Weigel adds: “People, we had thought, doing evil things, like erecting bricks and barbed wire in defense of Marxism.” To get a sample copy of American Purpose, just drop a note to the Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1030 Fifteenth Street NW, Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20005.
Michael Kinsley of The New Republic ponders reports that apparatchiks at the Moscow Higher Party School are now parroting Gorbachev’s line, just as they parroted the Marxist-Leninist orthodoxies currently being abandoned. Washington too is “apparatchik city,” he suggests, since most everybody goes along to get along. More generally, that’s the way it is with human beings, he tells us. And it is especially the case with “reformed lefties” who merely wanted to cash in on what Kinsley views as the conservative ascendancy of recent years. “My point is to reserve a bit of sympathy for people whose moral universe is suddenly turned upside down,” he writes. And, in the light of the revolutions of 1989, it seems he wants to be especially sympathetic to people who for years have been saying that Communism is not such a bad thing, at least not when compared with the problems of the American system. “It’s easy,” he observes, “to say they should have known better, acted better. It’s harder to say for sure you would have known or acted better yourself.” There is self-knowledge and kindness in that. But then Michael Kinsley concludes that, when other great shifts in ideas and politics occur, “most of us will flip as elegantly as those students at the Moscow Higher Party School, and hope no one notices.” We noticed, and wish that Mr. Kinsley had saved his sad confession for his spiritual director.
Never one to shrink from duty, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., took to the New York Times op-ed page to caution Roman Catholic bishops on the dangers of interfering with the way that politicians (i.e., Mario Cuomo) address the abortion question. If the bishops keep it up, wrote Schlesinger, a “majority of conscientious and God-fearing Americans” will agree with the “No-Nothings” and Ku Klux Klan that the Catholic Church is trying to take over the country. Never one to resist such temptations, the newsletter, catholic eye, asked, “Don’t knowbody no knothing knowmore?”
In a not so obscure journal there is this advertisement: “FOR A VEGETARIAN SEDER: Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb.” You can get the text, in Hebrew and English, from an outfit called “Micah” in Marblehead, MA. One of our editors, the one with a more mischievous bent, appends this note: “So what’s next? 150 hours of community service for Haman? Moses provides water wings for Pharoah’s army? Conflict resolution seminars for David and Goliath? Oy, vey!”
On the PRC. New York Times. February 25, 1990, and ELCA news release. February 13, 1990. Goodman on Rooney, February 13, 1990. On Spong. New York Times, February 12, 1990. Initiatives on Caibolicism, February 1990. On Cuomo’s challenge, America, February 17, 1990; Cuomo quoted, New York Times, February 12, 1990. Sama on Jews, Journal of Reformed Judaism. Winter 1990. Schaeffer on art, Publishers Weekly. March 2. 1990. Wiley on DiSalvo. Commonweal, February 23, 1990. Havel on words. New York Review of Books. January 18. 1990. On Honecker, Lutheran World Information, May 1990. Ericson on Gorbachev. February 1990, On the El Salvador guerillas, March 1990. Berryman on Just Cause,” February 23, 1990. Kinsley on those changes, March 5, 1990. catholic eye on noing or knowing, February 20, 1990.