A reader who has been keeping count claims that we’ve had six items in the past year poking fun at the antismoking crusade. What gives? she wants to know. It’s probably not unrelated to my enjoying a cigar, but it’s the sanctimonious tone of the crusade that provokes. At another level, I’m fascinated by the phenomenal success of an overtly moralistic movement in a time dominated by the dogma that you must not impose your morality on others.
Thomas Laqueur of the University of California at Berkeley reviews a number of books on smoking (meaning, mainly, cigarette smoking) and concludes with this: They are the result of a new vision of what health means, or more precisely, of what death does not mean. It is telling, for example, that the Centers for Disease Control, in a recent calculation of the health costs of smoking, tallied up the total bill for the sicknesses of smokers and not just the increment that might be attributed to the habit itself. As if nonsmokers will enjoy eternal good health! There is something literally death-defying about the contemporary opposition to cigarettes, a kind of rage that anyone would not choose 2.2 years of healthy’ life over a somewhat shortened and pleasurable existence, a resolute resistance to the intimations of death with which our ancestors knew how to live, and not only when they lit up. The debate about smoking”like the debate about euthanasia, suicide, the withholding of medical treatment, and the quality of life”would be deepened by the admission that life is itself a mortal illness, that the chimes of midnight are never as distant as we hope.
Laqueur is right, I think, about the mendacity stains on the antismoking crusade, and about the link with the denial of death. I can think, however, of no reason to encourage the cigarette habit and of many to discourage it. Among the latter is that, while people find cigarettes pleasurable, they are not at all happy with their felt need to smoke them. Very large numbers wish they could quit, and one reason they wish that is because of the social pressure that views smoking as a vice”at least in America and, increasingly, in Europe.
Four centuries ago, tobacco ran riot around the world, entrenching itself in the collective psyche in a manner that became seductively associated with pleasure, sex, virility, women’s liberation, and the denial of mortality. The last is as important for the smoking young as it is for the crusading antismokers of all ages. The crusade, some say, is provoking an increase in teenage smoking by providing another adult convention to defy. That seems plausible.
I don’t know if the world would be a better place if nobody smoked. I’m sure it would be a better place if everybody, smokers and nonsmokers alike, were more considerate of the pleasures of others. And I do think there is an element of hope in the crusade’s demonstration that moral appeal and censure can affect a behavior so widespread, although goodness knows there are evils much more in need of our moral attention.
First published in 1948 and running through many reprints, Christianity and Communism Today by the late John C. Bennett laid down the moderate liberal line on the subject, a line that dominated mainline Protestant thinking up until the fall of the Soviet Union. John Bennett was a friend and a very gentle man. Long the president of Union Seminary in New York, he was thought to have inherited the mantle of Reinhold Niebuhr. His 1948 book was indeed moderate by comparison with the enthusiastic Marxism of the liberation theologians who were to come. Bennett’s own The Radical Imperative of 1975 would, by comparison, make the earlier book appear to be an anti-Communist polemic.
Moderates typically set socialism and capitalism side by side, and found the former much superior as an ideal. In this view the idealistic Soviet experiment under Lenin was rudely distorted by Stalin, whose brutal character and methods discredited communism. This standard account has itself been discredited by scholars many times over, but perhaps never so decisively as in Richard Pipes’ new book, The Unknown Lenin (Yale University Press). Lenin viewed utter ruthlessness as a virtue in dealing with his enemies, and especially with the Russian Orthodox Church. The greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy and reactionary bourgeoisie we succeed in executing the better, he wrote to his assistants, and he wanted to be kept informed on how many clergy had been killed each day. In a 1918 directive demanding more executions, Lenin insisted that they be carried out in a way that would strike terror among the populace. Do it in such a way that for hundreds of versts around the people will see, tremble, know, shout. (A verst is a little more than half a mile.)
A 1922 letter to the Politburo sets forth Lenin’s view of the campaign against the church: For us this moment is not only exceptionally favorable but generally the only moment when we can, with ninety-nine out of a hundred chances of total success, smash the enemy and secure for ourselves an indispensable position for many decades to comes. It is precisely now and only now, when in the starving regions people are eating human flesh, and hundreds if not thousands of corpses are littering the roads, that we can (and therefore must) carry out the confiscation of church valuables with the most savage and merciless energy, not stopping [short of] crushing any resistance . . . . We must, come what may, carry out the confiscation of church valuables in the most decisive and rapid manner, so as to secure for ourselves a fund of several hundred million gold rubles . . . . One wise writer on matters of statecraft [Machiavelli, The Prince , chapter eight] rightly said that if it is necessary to resort to certain brutalities for the sake of realizing a certain political goal, they must be carried out in the most energetic fashion and in the briefest time because the masses will not tolerate prolonged application of brutality . . . . Therefore, I come to the categorical conclusion that precisely at this moment we must give battle to the . . . clergy in the most decisive and merciless manner and crush its resistance with such brutality that it will not forget it for decades to come.
Indeed, the battle that resulted in the killing of hundreds of thousands of priests and nuns was not forgotten, except by Western apologists for Soviet tyranny. David Remnick recently interviewed Mikhail Gorbachev, who, among many other things, had this to say: I can only say that cruelty was the main problem with Lenin,’ Gorbachev added. Had the Russians continued along the path of the February revolution, had they continued on a path of political pluralism, it would have been a different situation. Russia at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century was developing quite dynamically, and had they gone on that way it would have been much better.’
Remnick comments: What a remarkable admission! Here was a man who had struggled for and finally inherited the top position in the Party admitting that, yes, Russia would have been better off had those two signposts of his life and beliefs”the October revolution and Lenin himself-never existed. Instead, Russia might have flourished if the leaders of the decidedly bourgeois February revolution had been strong enough to ward off the Bolsheviks and develop more or less in synch with the democratic, capitalist West.
A fundraising letter from the B’nai B’rith Foundation of the U.S. urges people to send in money to help expose and overturn last year’s resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to support the evangelization of Jews. Please, send as much as you can afford without delay. For the sake of our Jewish children. Our Jewish grandchildren, the letter appeals. The SBC resolution, it says, is both condescending and contemptuous. AT B’NAI B’RITH WE HAVE A SIMPLE MESSAGE FOR THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: LEAVE OUR CHILDREN ALONE. Evangelization as child abuse? As though the SBC resolution targeted Jewish children. It is another instance of a growing phenomenon in which public advocacy today, whether pro or con almost anything, is pitched in terms of our children.
It is especially interesting in this case because on almost any other subject most liberal parents”and most Jews are liberal”insist that they want their children to be exposed to alternative viewpoints, to make up their own minds, and so forth. B’nai B’rith is right, however: the religious training of children is too important to be left to chance. (Although its vague references to Jewish heritage and values leave it unclear whether B’nai B’rith is concerned about religion.) I hold no brief for the SBC resolution, and in fact have grave reservations about it. Among other things, it is premised upon an individualistic notion of salvation that neglects what St. Paul describes as the mystery of the continuing relationship between Israel and the Church (see Romans 9-11). I did have a brief comment in this space explaining why the SBC resolution is not anti-Semitic, for which Jacob Heilbrunn, in a notorious article in The New Republic , suggested I was an anti-Semite. As Irving Kristol has observed, the problem for Jewish parents is not that Christians hate their children, but that they want to marry them.
Moreover, B’nai B’rith seems not to understand that, in asking the SBC to repeal its resolution, it is asking Southern Baptists to abandon what is for them an article of faith, namely, that it is the obligation of Christians to try to bring absolutely everybody, including Jews, to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. B’nai B’rith says the SBC resolution is deeply offensive in its basic lack of respect for Judaism as a sister religion. Many years ago, sociologist John Murray Cuddihy wrote an insightful book, No Offense , in which he argued that the etiquette of liberal Protestantism had established the civic dogma that all religious truths are equal”or at least the truths of enlightened Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.
But there are many Christians, perhaps most, and a significant number of Jews, who do not subscribe to that dogma. They are the people who take pluralism seriously, knowing that pluralism does not mean indifference to the truths that make the deepest difference. In a pluralistic society, communities of robust faith prepare their children to engage within the bond of civility truth claims contrary to their own. Of course, B’nai B’rith is free to try to pressure Southern Baptists into denying what they believe, but that is a campaign with a very low prospect of success. Nor does it seem a very promising way to secure the civic amity and mutual respect between Christians and Jews for which we are all responsible.
Last time I discussed Father Michael Baxter’s Pro Ecclesia article in which he excoriates theologians and historians who suggest a too-neat fit between Catholicism and the American Way of Life. Fr. Baxter is at the epicenter of a furious dispute at the University of Notre Dame. The theology faculty refused him an appointment to the department, the president of the university appointed him anyway, and the faculty senate then censured the president. Amidst all the charges and countercharges, I confess to finding myself in an unusual position.
You may recall that I was critical of Fr. Baxter for his construing of Christianity within the limits of morality alone. That is the same question around which Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University and I have been conducting a friendly argument for years and years. Hauerwas is Baxter’s mentor and was his dissertation director at Duke. Father Richard McBrien, who was for many years chairman of theology at Notre Dame and is now head of the faculty senate, is the sworn enemy of Hauerwas, whom he accuses, as he accuses Baxter, of being sectarian. The hostility of McBrien played a significant part in Hauerwas’ leaving Notre Dame after fourteen years and going to Duke. So you see how the plot thickens.
For Hauerwas and Baxter, the Great Satan is liberalism and all its works, and all its pomps, and all its ways. In their view, the American political experiment is liberal to its rotten core, and Baxter in particular thinks the very core of the core is the First Amendment that pretends the state is neutral to religion when in fact it is an insidious instrument for taking Christianity captive to provide legitimation for a capitalist, consumerist, warmongering society. His is a very severe indictment indeed.
I believe Hauerwas and Baxter are wrong about many things, but they are intelligently wrong on things very much worth arguing about. We share the conviction that authentic Christianity must be, in many respects, emphatically countercultural. This is inescapably the case with respect to the conflict between the culture of life and the culture of death so powerfully described in, for example, the encyclical Evangelium Vitae . (The old guard at Notre Dame has a demonstrated talent for complexifying the simplistic formulations of such as Pope John Paul II.) At the same time, Baxter in particular has a social, political, and economic analysis that leads him to unambiguously assault aspects of the American condition that I believe should be supported, albeit critically. Both the assault and the support must be subjected to rigorous interrogation.
As for Fr. McBrien and the ancien régime of theology at Notre Dame, they represent a generation that tends toward, to put it delicately, flabby and uncritical accommodationism. Catholicism is identified with the Americanist readiness to trim Catholic distinctives in order not to offend cultural sensibilities. Of course, that’s how I describe their position; they say they are engaged in sympathetic dialogue with the culture. But most everyone agrees that for the establishment the alignments that matter are defined by the old liberal/conservative polarities. Liberalism as an abstraction can be criticized at the edges, but never in a way that might raise a doubt about one’s being a liberal. For McBrien and his liberal colleagues, the chief foe is a Vatican that gets in the way of a thoroughly Americanized Church. Baxter and those of like mind think that Americanization is not the solution but the problem.
Baxter is on most questions a theological conservative, but on matters social and political he is pretty much an unexpurgated lefty, as was the case with his heroine, Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement. His politics would be no problem for Notre Dame, were it not driven by a theology so suspiciously orthodox. Father Lawrence Cunningham, current head of the theology department, says that, since Baxter has been imposed on them, he wants to make him feel at home. I’ve always argued that the Catholic tradition is like a big salad bar, Cunningham says. There are a lot of things you can put on your plate, and one of those is a religious identity that stands against the predominant culture. It’s hard to have a really good argument with a salad bar. Baxter wants an argument, and he wants it to be a theological argument.
He doesn’t buy it when Cunningham says the Catholic approach is both/and rather than either/or. That, says Baxter, is a logical fallacy. If one wishes to espouse a both/and approach in theology then one is logically compelled to allow both the both/and approach and the either/or approach. It is more than a nice debater’s point. I know from limited experience that Father Either/Or Baxter can be a difficult man, but the theological difficulties he poses are very much needed by the bland and wilting salad bar Catholicism of the Notre Dame theology department. Perhaps the fact that I was so critical of him last month will prompt some in the department to look upon him more favorably. After all, if Neuhaus disagrees with him so strongly he can’t be all that bad. That was not my intention in writing the piece, but I’m always glad to be of service.
Whatever happened to the communitarian movement? It’s still knocking about, not least of all in the halls of the current Administration in Washington. Communitarianism bespeaks a disposition that can take many forms, but its more recent epiphany as a movement is chiefly the work of sociologist Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University, who in the late 1980s orchestrated a Communitarian Manifesto to which a number of figures associated with FT, including this writer, subscribed. It was a Tocquevillian call to check the unbridled assertion of individualistic rights with the claims of community, tradition, and personal responsibility. At least that is how I and others understood it, but soon Prof. Etzioni was taking the initiative in directions where I and others could not go. After some friendly discussions of our differences, I quietly dissociated myself.
The New Communitarians and the Crisis of Modern Liberalism by Bruce Frohnen (University Press of Kansas) is a sharply critical treatment of the movement that highlights the ways in which the communitarian impulse has been hijacked by people such as Mario Cuomo and Hillary Clinton. Reviewing the book in the Times Literary Supplement , Roger Kimball shares Frohnen’s misgivings. We can get a hint of what communitarianism in action looks like from a speech that President Clinton’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, delivered in 1991 when she was chancellor of the University of Wisconsin. Imagining what a typical little girl named Renata would be thinking and learning in the year 2004, Secretary Shalala reports that Renata doesn’t know any moms who don’t work, but she knows lots of moms who are single. She knows some children who have two dads, or live with their mothers and their grandmothers. In her school books, there are lots of different kinds of friends and families.’ After school, Renata goes to a city-run day care center where sometimes, she and her best friend, Josh, play trucks, sometimes they play mommy and daddy, and Josh always puts the baby to bed and changes the diapers, just like his own dad does at home.’ At Thanksgiving, Renata’s teacher will tell a story about how people from Europe came to the United States, where the Indians lived. She will say, It was just the same as if someone had come into your yard and taken all your toys and told you they weren’t yours anymore.’
Shalala and others know that the egalitarian utopia they have in mind will not come about by itself. For that they need programs such as the federal Goals 2000 Act, which sets up national standards in education for gender-equitable and multicultural teaching. While presenting themselves as champions of equality, these communitarians take it upon themselves to reeducate the rest of society. This troubles Frohnen: Reeducation is by nature inegalitarian. In any program of reeducation a self-selected group of intellectuals asserts that it has the authority to decide what kind of character and belief everyone should have. I don’t think we should be bothered by the inegalitarian nature of reeducation or education. That’s inevitable. We should be bothered by the substance of what is taught, and by the exclusion of parents from a determinative say in what their children are taught.
Frohnen, Kimball, and others are also concerned about the communitarians’ instrumental approach to civil religion. Religion is a very good thing for social cohesion and the cultivation of virtues, but the benefits cannot be separated from commitment to the transcendent. The irony of communitarianism, says Frohnen, is that its adherents place themselves beyond the beliefs they seek to foster, and thus sap the sources of the communal feelings they crave. This is a more serious criticism than the movement’s offenses against egalitarianism.
I don’t know Secretary of State Madeleine Albright well. When she was Ambassador to the United Nations and President Bush had appointed me to a commission examining U.S. policy toward that organization, she came across in meetings as a very capable and no-nonsense sort of person. I was favorably impressed. Now there is this business about her family being Jewish and some of them having perished in the Holocaust. The daughter of a Czechoslovakian diplomat, she was baptized in the Catholic Church, reared in London and the U.S., and became Episcopalian when she married many years ago. It is not clear how much she knew of her past, but apparently she decided to put it firmly behind her.
There has been much chatter in the press about how the discovery of her Jewish background means she must now struggle with changing her identity. Some have unkindly speculated about her being an opportunist who climbed the social ladder from Jew to Catholic to Episcopalian. In what world are they living? Today the progression of ascendancy is the reverse, with Jews being the most successful by almost every index of success, and Catholics of European descent not far behind. A movie star was asked why he claimed to be Jewish when he wasn’t. Simple, he answered, I’m a social climber. Some have suggested that Albright feared that the taint of being Jewish would prevent her from becoming Secretary of State. Maybe they should talk to Henry Kissinger.
Whatever she did or did not know about her background, it contained horrors and ambiguities about which she seemed to be determinedly uncurious. She decided to get on with her life. One can imagine perfectly honorable and intensely personal reasons for such a decision. One writer to the New York Times says, The only possible interpretation of this secrecy is that she doesn’t like being a Jew. That is malicious nonsense. The one thing that is most striking to me in the discussion to date is that nobody has mentioned the possibility that Secretary Albright is a convinced Christian. Because she was as a child presumably”and there is good reason to doubt this”baptized for reasons of expediency, it is assumed by some that, having discovered her Jewishness, she should drop her accidental Christianity and embrace her identity as a Jew. As the Times editors put it in a heading over a slew of letters on the subject, Secretary Albright Must Embrace Her Past to Shape the Future.
Secretary Albright’s father did not become a Christian and have his daughter baptized in order to escape from Nazi occupation. That happened after they were already settled in London. Against those who depict her father’s religious decision in opportunistic colors, there is also the fact that he became a Catholic, a distinctly downmarket connection at that time in England. Had he an eye to upward mobility, he would have joined the Church of England. In any event, I don’t know what Secretary Albright knew about her background, or what she decided or why she decided it. Since I’m not her spiritual director, I have no need to know. Nor does anybody else. Maybe she will offer further public explanations. And maybe not. That’s her business. Meanwhile, she is an impressive lady and I wish her well.
A coalition government headed by Prime Minister Necmettin Erbaken is, according to his opponents, leading Turkey in a dangerously religious direction. Stephen Kinzer of the New York Times reports from Ankara that self-described secularists are alarmed that Kemalism, the rigorously secularizing project launched by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk seventy-four years ago, is in the process of being undone. The army and civil service have been the guardians of Ataturk’s legacy, and over the years have routinely excluded from their ranks Muslims who are thought to be too religious. The principle is that religion and public life must be kept absolutely separate.
Says a spokesman for the foreign ministry, Christians had a period of brutal fanaticism, but you also had your Renaissance. You have had hundreds of years to distance yourself from religious extremism, so now when your President puts his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office you don’t see anything wrong. But in Turkey, our Renaissance began with Ataturk. We need time to let these ideas take hold. An academic specialist on Islam observes: A veil is lifting in Turkey. As it lifts, we’re seeing that this country is more religious than people think, and a million times more than secularists would like. The idea of a greater role for religion in public life has widespread support in Turkey. So as the country becomes more democratic, you see more Islamic influence.
Actually, Prime Minister Erbaken’s Welfare Party seems to be quite moderate in the steps it is proposing. Speaking of veils lifting, for instance, the government has rescinded rules that prohibited female students and government workers from covering their heads. The changes are hardly radical, says Justice Minister Sevket Kazan, but the press shouts that Turkey is on the way to becoming Iran or Algeria. In liberal systems, people are supposed to be free to act as they please. If a woman wants to cover her hair with a scarf, she should be able to do that without being discriminated against. If that isn’t possible, then her human rights are being violated. Nonetheless, the combination of democracy and talk about human rights has some secularists talking about the prospect of civil war.
The claim that in the West the fanaticism of Christianity was tempered by the Renaissance is piquantly ill-informed. In the Anglo-American experience especially, Christianity was the full partner, indeed committed Christians were the driving force, in the development of the ideas and institutions of democracy. The comparison with Ataturk does not hold at all. However wise on many scores, he was a dictator who by raw force drove a wedge between state and society. His radically secularized state could be maintained only at the expense of democracy by excluding the convictions and habits of the people from everything defined as public. He decreed, and by military power imposed, a naked public square, and it isn’t working in Turkey any more than it can work anywhere else.
The resurgence of society in Turkey, including its religious dynamics, is part of the worldwide phenomenon described by Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order . Of course there are worrying aspects in this, not least being the dismal record of Islamic societies when it comes to democracy and religious freedom for non-Muslims. If they can overcome their ideological secularism, elites in Turkey might welcome the prospect of their country becoming a demonstration that Islam and democracy are not incompatible. Rather than embracing that challenge, however, those who have been in charge for most of this century seem prepared to forego democracy. In taking the position that the stark choice is between rigid secularism and religious fanaticism, they take the side of Stephen Kinzer and the paper for which he writes. It is also the position of religious fanatics, of whom there are some here and no doubt many in Turkey. If the choice between fanaticisms, whether secular or religious, is the only thing on offer, the prospects for democracy are dim and talk about civil war may not be alarmist.
The above is the title of a splendid article by Leon Kass in the Winter 1997 issue of the Public Interest . Leon and his wife Amy, both professors at the University of Chicago, are preparing a book on the subject of marriage and courtship for one of our institute projects dealing with what we call everyday ethics. In this article, Kass declares himself rather pessimistic about the prospects of rebuilding cultural patterns that have been undermined by dynamics so deep and pervasive.
Here is a (partial) list of the recent changes that hamper courtship and marriage: the sexual revolution, made possible especially by effective female contraception; the ideology of feminism and the changing educational and occupational status of women; the destigmatization of bastardy, divorce, infidelity, and abortion; the general erosion of shame and awe regarding sexual matters, exemplified most vividly in the ubiquitous and voyeuristic presentation of sexual activity in movies and on television; widespread morally neutral sex education in schools; the explosive increase in the numbers of young people whose parents have been divorced (and in those born out of wedlock, who have never known their father); great increases in geographic mobility, with a resulting loosening of ties to place and extended family of origin; and, harder to describe precisely, a popular culture that celebrates youth and independence not as a transient stage en route to adulthood but as the time of our lives,’ imitable at all ages, and an ethos that lacks transcendent aspirations and asks of us no devotion to family, God, or country, encouraging us simply to soak up the pleasures of the present.
Like a growing number of cultural critics who are not Catholic, Kass has come to conclusions regarding contraception that are similar to the prophetic warnings contained in Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae .
The sexual revolution that liberated (especially) female sexual desire from the confines of marriage, and even from love and intimacy, would almost certainly not have occurred had there not been available cheap and effective female birth control”the pill for the first time severed female sexual activity from its generative consequences. Thanks to technology, a woman could declare herself free from the teleological meaning of her sexuality”as free as a man appears to be from his. Her menstrual cycle, since puberty a regular reminder of her natural maternal destiny, is now anovulatory and directed instead by her will and her medications, serving goals only of pleasure and convenience, enjoyable without apparent risk to personal health and safety. Woman on the pill is thus not only freed from the practical risk of pregnancy; she has, wittingly or not, begun to redefine the meaning of her own womanliness. Her sexuality unlinked to procreation, its exercise no longer needs to be concerned with the character of her partner and whether he is suitable to be the father and co-rearer of her yet-to-be-born children. Female sexuality becomes, like male, unlinked to the future. The new woman’s anthem: Girls just want to have fun. Ironically, but absolutely predictably, the chemicals devised to assist in family planning keep many a potential family from forming, at least with a proper matrimonial beginning.
Sex education in our elementary and secondary schools is an independent yet related obstacle to courtship and marriage. Taking for granted, and thereby ratifying, precocious sexual activity among teenagers (and even pre-teens), most programs of sex education in public schools have a twofold aim: the prevention of teenage pregnancy and the prevention of venereal disease, especially AIDS. While some programs also encourage abstinence or noncoital sex, most are concerned with teaching techniques for safe sex’; offspring (and disease) are thus treated as (equally) avoidable side effects of sexuality, whose true purpose is only individual pleasure. (This I myself did not learn until our younger daughter so enlightened me, after she learned it from her seventh-grade biology teacher.) The entire approach of sex education is technocratic and, at best, morally neutral; in many cases, it explicitly opposes traditional morals while moralistically insisting on the equal acceptability of any and all forms of sexual expression provided only that they are not coerced. No effort is made to teach the importance of marriage as the proper home for sexual intimacy.
Kenneth Woodward of Newsweek offers a spirited challenge to the feminization of American religion. Writing in Commonweal , he takes on the favored shibboleths of those who contend that Christianity privileges the male, and along the way has some important things to say about movements among Christian men such as Promise Keepers. As I read it, the message of the Christian Men’s Movement is this: Following Jesus is not for women only, nor is it merely a spectator sport, which it tends to become for men in our domesticated, mostly female congregations. Consciously or unconsciously, the movement also validates an insight which sociologists confirm: The best predictor of whether a child will remain religious as an adult is not the religiosity of the mother”for children tend to take that for granted”but of the father, because he is not expected to be religious. That is, if the father demonstrates that religion is not foreign to what a man is and does, the child”especially the male child”is much more likely to be religious upon reaching adulthood.
Woodward is not encouraged by the statistics about the rising number of women in the seminaries. Many are entering second careers, often after failing to find either success or fulfillment in their first choices. Many of the women, in particular, are divorced, quite a few are middle-aged, and many are single mothers. In addition: Not only is feminist theology widely taught in seminaries, but the informal curriculum is also frankly and ideologically feminist. Not surprisingly, Protestant seminaries are also home to large numbers of lesbians and gay men. Anyone acquainted with Episcopal seminaries, for example, can tell you which ones cater to lesbians and gays. Some seminaries have housing especially for homosexuals. Catholics who fear the celibate priesthood is attracting too high a proportion of gay men should look at what is happening”what in fact has been institutionalized”at interdenominational and mainline Protestant seminaries. None of this augurs well for the masculine presence in the ministry”if by masculine we also mean heterosexual.
Woodward invokes Walter Ong’s insightful and undeservedly neglected book, Fighting for Life (Cornell University Press, 1981), that contends masculine and feminine are human contraries in a ritual contest that shapes maleness from its biological base to its human heights. Ong notes that the Church is always and overwhelmingly feminine”Holy Mother Church”and in that feminine environment the all-male clergy is a necessary countervailing force.
Woodward concludes: I have spent time on the Protestant experience because I want to indicate not only what is happening among our Christian brethren but also to suggest that the loosening of this dynamic tension may be one reason why mainline denominations are in such dire straits. The church as a profession is not like the law, medicine, or finance. Women who enter these professions do not change them; they are changed by the professions, and if they do not perform well they are out. But religion is different. Whatever else it is, religion is a symbol system and to change the symbols is to change the meaning that religion expresses. Surely there is need to incorporate, expand, and deepen what is feminine in religion. But there are limits. And as we can see in the exponents of post-Christian feminism, those limits have already been breached. My concern is not with theory or theology but with the atmosphere of ordinary American churches as I find them. And what I find in them is the gradual disappearance of anything that might adequately be described as masculine, no matter who in the hierarchy is calling the shots.
Not everybody is so fortunate as Sarah H. of Boston. She has this very intelligent nephew in graduate school and included him on her list of family members, friends, and associates to whom we sent a sample issue of FT. Now a regular reader, he’s telling everyone in the family about his smart Aunt Sarah in Boston. They always knew she had money, but thought she was a bit on the slow side. But that’s only because she thinks before speaking. There’s no telling what might happen if you send us your list. Please do so soon. Like today. There’s a great to do over a certain Arab-British zillionaire who is rumored to be spreading money about in order to buy favorable media attention. Neil Simon of the Spectator doubts the truth of the rumors and concludes his skeptical rumination with this: You cannot hope / to bribe or twist / thank God! the / British journalist. / But, seeing what / the man will do / unbribed, there’s no / occasion to. Needless to say, the traits of the journalistic fraternity are thoroughly international. It is another Brit who tells it all best. Preparing to go to the airport and St. Louis recently, I looked about my study for some light flight reading and settled on Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop , which I hadn’t returned to for years. Its portrayal of William Boot of the Beast is by far the most hilarious send-up of the scribbler’s craft I’ve ever come across. By an improbable series of errors, the innocent Boot is sent off to cover a nonexistent civil war in Ishmaelia (a.k.a. Ethiopia), and a fellow journalist has to explain to him why it is important to beat the competition in sending back stories: You know, you’ve got a lot to learn about journalism. Look at it this way. News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead. We’re paid to supply news. If someone else has sent a story before us, our story isn’t news. Through many farcical twists and turns, Boot scoops the competition and returns to England a national hero. There he meets an admiring young man who dreams of being a reporter like his hero Boot. The young man has been to a school of journalism and explains to Boot that he practices by imagining a big news story and then trying to write it up. Do you think it’s a good way of training oneself-inventing imaginary news? he asks. None better, says Boot. It’s a great book, but I suppose I should go easy on journalists. In St. Louis I was introduced as a distinguished theologian, social critic”and a noted journalist. I pleaded innocent but the damage was done. Reviewing Philip Gleason’s excellent history of Catholic higher education, Contending with Modernity , our premier evangelical church historian, Mark Noll of Wheaton, says Gleason’s argument has much wider application. What this Catholic story offers to believers of other flavors can be put bluntly: While solid, well-defined theological boundaries can be enforced in ways that stifle productive Christian thinking, sustained, meaningful, doxological Christian thought will not flourish unless such boundaries exist in some form. Noll concludes: In the end, Protestants who are interested in higher education have a special reason to read Gleason’s story with sympathy. Zealous evangelicals who retain the anti-Catholic instincts of former days sometimes think that when their fellow Protestants begin to take an interest in the Catholic Church or to make sympathetic noises about Catholic beliefs, practices, and institutions, the moth has begun to circle the flame. In fact, there is a better metaphor that more accurately reflects both historical reality (Protestantism emerged from Roman Catholicism and has always required the Catholic Church to define itself) and the realities of modern Christian demography (where there are about three times as many Roman Catholics as Protestants on the face of the earth). The more apt metaphor is of a Protestant moon orbiting a Roman Catholic earth. In a heliocentric universe, the dance of orbits and revolutions means that the sun’s light shines more directly now on parts of the moon, now on parts of the earth. But the earth is a lot bigger and, at least for this analogy, was certainly there first. In the terms of such an image, what happens on the earth”for example, what is portrayed with such luminous clarity and such thoughtfulness in Contending with Modernity ”could not be more important for the future of the moon. The former Rector of St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, David V. Hicks, says that elite boarding schools have fallen on hard times. Enrollments are down, costs are up (typically more than $20
,000 per year), and the schools”whether Andover, Choate, Groton, or St. Paul’s”are floundering in their efforts to adapt to changed circumstances. In 1910, Woodrow Wilson addressed the Lawrenceville School: A great school like this does not stop with what it does in the class room; . . . it organizes life from morning to night; and it does so when at its best by an intimate association of the teacher with the pupil, so that the impact of the mature mind upon the less mature will be constant and influential. Central to the elite schools, says Hicks, was the Christian faith as its organizing principle [which] provided ritual, ceremony, and a coherent set of norms, although it seldom invited a confession of faith or inspired a conversion. Many things have changed, including suburbanization, competition from quality day schools, and the desire to be inclusive of diverse peoples and religious traditions. But perhaps the biggest change, according to Hicks, is the development of a separate youth culture which makes impossible Wilson’s organized life from morning to night. Boarding schools are struggling to survive in a society that has redefined the adolescent as a consumer”a consumer of fast foods, movies, fashions, videos, CDs, drugs, alcohol, pornography, cigarettes, sports, and pop heroes. Adolescent appetites, not adult concerns, dominate the boarding”school market, and to compete for this new consumer’s attention, the boarding school has tried to appeal to the mercurial tastes and insatiable appetites of the adolescent. Like so much else in our culture, the elite boarding school assumed that the adult knew better than the adolescent and that it is a self-evident good that mature minds should form the less mature. Explaining why this has so dramatically changed has less to do with adolescent rebellion, which is nothing new, than with adult loss of confidence, which has been a dominant feature of our society for the last thirty years. People who were shaped by the youth culture of the sixties remember it as their finest hour, and have never really left it. Although they may now be fifty-five or more, they are keeping faith with their past and refuse to sell out to adulthood. At Groton, Choate, and St. Paul’s, these are the people mainly in charge. Not to mention the White House. Paris holds a week-long Christian film festival, and last year there was a fuss about the choice of Blade Runner , a violent science-fiction film, and The Bridges of Madison County , which has an adulteress as its heroine. The theme of the 1996 festival was Le Mal et la Grace , evil and grace. An organizer of the program explained, It is doubtful whether we could find enough religious films of quality to justify a week-long festival. Thank God there is no shortage of evil films? Of course ours is not the only journal that has to make an annual fund appeal. There is, for instance, Free Inquiry , published by the Council for Secular Humanism. But they are not as much help to our appeal as we are to theirs. Their fundraising letter begins with a quote by yours truly that is critical of John Stuart Mill, and then suggests that I am the Religious Right’s leading intellectual. I hope my very liberal brother is not on their mailing list. We have troubles enough in the family. The letter continues: From the urbanity of Rev. Neuhaus to the populist grandstanding of a Pat Robertson, the Religious Right speaks in many voices. Urbanity. That has a nice ring to it. I don’t know which Pat Robertson they have in mind, but populist grandstanding is not the way I would describe the one I have met on several occasions. The letter continues by citing a recent Gallup poll showing that, on a host of questions, Americans are appallingly conservative. After decades of activism, the Religious Right has seized the moral imagination of the American center. They’re making my day. More: After the end of Marxism,’ writes Richard John Neuhaus, Christianity provides the only coherent, comprehensive, compelling, and promising vision of the human future.’ Millions of Americans believe that. You know it’s not true. So do we. With your help, we can continue to say so in ways that cannot be ignored. We’re all attention. Now stay with me here, as that little rich fellow from Texas who ran for President used to say. Just war is a heavy-duty topic, and in the last several years, partly because the Cold War is over, it is a topic much neglected. All credit, therefore, to the National Interest , which has two fine articles on the subject by James Turner Johnson (A Broken Tradition) and A. J. Bacevich (Morality and High-Tech). In recent moral reflection on war, says Johnson, a wiggly principle of presumption against war has been widely accepted. The problem with this principle, he believes, is that it is no principle at all. It is rather a prudential judgment based upon contingent ideas about the nature of modern warfare. The prudential conditions that make for a justified war ( jus ad bellum )”that it produce a preponderance of good over evil, have a reasonable chance of success, be a last resort, and that its expected outcome be peace”are matters for competent political authorities, not moralists, to determine. Johnson writes: In other words, these lesser but still very important concerns pertain to the function of statecraft, not moral analysis. The role of the moralist is to insist on the application of the three essential, noncontingent elements of jus ad bellum ”just cause, competent authority, right intention”and to specify that the prudential elements be taken into account. But the moralist is not to usurp the role of statecraft by specifying how they are to be applied in specific instances. The presumption against war’ view, by reversing the weight of essential and contingent considerations, would vitiate statecraft and presume to tell sovereigns how to conduct their affairs”a most worldly and untraditional presumption at that. From the perspective of moral reasoning, too, it gives pride of place to judgments about contingent conditions over obligations inherent in moral duty. If we are to believe the review by Thomas C. Berg, professor of law at Samford University, H. Jefferson Powell’s The Moral Tradition of American Constitutionalism: A Theological Interpretation (Duke University Press) is a deeply confused book. And it appears Prof. Berg participates in the confusion. Here is Berg’s presentation of Powell’s argument: While the Court is a centralizing and homogenizing agent . . . of social change,’ allocating authority to other bodies, from Congress to local school boards, can increase . . . the variety of decisionmakers available to hear and respond to deviant or weak voices.’ So we have two evangelical conservatives blithely assuming that the Supreme Court is to be an agent of social change. Going even further, it is suggested that the Court should allocate some of its authority to legislative and other elected bodies. What a very democratic idea, to let the people and their representatives have a say in the judicial rule of the country. Berg also considers the book’s discussion of natural law and the author’s view that natural justice requires that states must protect the unborn: that is, that courts should strike down the liberalized abortion laws that exist in many states. Certainly justice requires the protection of the unborn, but it is a wonder that, twenty-four years after Roe , law professors are not aware that in that decision the Supreme Court abolished, in one fell swoop, all abortion laws in all fifty states. As Judge John Noonan wrote many years ago, it is the first time in history that any nation simply abolished all law pertaining to a very big category of human beings. If this is not known to professors of law, it is perhaps unsurprising that a large majority of adult Americans think abortion is now available only in the first trimester, and then only in exreme circumstances. There are these wistful hopes expressed from time to time that the great Midwest might well save the nation from the cultural rot creeping in from the coasts. It is more a gallop than a creep. Here’s an item from the Minneapolis Star Tribune that declares with deep regional pride: The Druids are among dozens of Pagan groups in the Twin Cities area, which is believed to have one of the highest concentrations in the country . . . . The emergence of licensed ministers and congregations is evidence of the shift in attitude by a public that once demonized Paganism. Minnesota has licensed Pagan ministers to visit in state prisons, just as non-Pagan clergy do. There are also several gay, lesbian, and bisexual covens. For my stepdad, Paganism conjures up images of people running around naked in the woods, having orgies and butchering babies, says Sarah DeMay, twenty-eight, of Minneapolis. He would rather talk about my being bisexual. Don’t worry, at the rate we’re defining deviancy down, he’ll probably be ready for the normality of paganism by this time next year. The tensions between traditional and free-form’ followers are part of the movement’s growing pains. Three years ago, the Minneapolis-based Wiccan Church of Minnesota felt the need to define stands for being Wiccan. We’ve lost members because we weren’t exclusionary enough,’ said Robin Reyburn, the church’s minister. We have several different traditions in our church. Sometimes the hardest thing is having that diversity.’ It’s the narrow orthodoxy of those Wiccan Lefebvrists that makes it so hard to get along. Perhaps it’s time for a Common Ground Initiative. The people in charge of things, commonly called the elite, have for years been favored by the analytical attentions of sociologist Stanley Rothman, who now (along with coauthors Robert Lerner and Althea K. Nagai) brings his findings together in a new book out from Yale, American Elites . In the course of his review in National Review , David Frum of the Manhattan Institute has this to say: As Rothman describes them, American elites are strikingly divided on most issues. But not on all: more than 70 percent of the members of every elite except the clergy support the right to an abortion. Among the more liberal elites”lawyers, journalists, moviemakers, and television producers and writers”support for abortion rights exceeds 90 per cent. More tellingly, adultery is the only form of sexual behavior that a large majority of members of American elites thinks wrong. It reveals something about the legalism of the American mind that the only ethical rule A