Donahue, Oprah, and Geraldo have all had a grand time weighing in on the subject, and Father Andrew Greeley has been writing up a storm denouncing “the silence” of the Church about it. In the foreword to a new hook, Greeley says that priestly pedophilia is “perhaps the most serious crisis Catholicism has faced since the Reformation.” The most serious crisis in more than 450 years? One thinks of”to cite but a few examples”the wars of religion, the assault of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, the battles over the papal states, the storm surrounding infallibility, and the widespread dissent from Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical on contraception (and Greeley’s previous candidate for the most serious crisis since the Reformation). Fr. Greeley’s hype does not bear close examination. But there is no doubt that sexual misconduct by priests, including pedophilia, has become a very, very big problem. Greeley’s foreword is to a new book from Doubleday, Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children by Jason Berry. As a reporter with a small Louisiana newspaper, Berry more than a decade ago played a leading role in surfacing the question of priests abusing children. He has been on the trail of such cases ever since and, given the temptations to sensationalism on this topic, his book is, all in all, an effort to deal with it responsibly. The minutely detailed accounts of journalistic politics and courtroom procedure will likely not hold the attention of most readers for 400 pages, but it will be of interest to reporters and lawyers (especially the latter, who are cashing in on these scandals with multimillion-dollar suits). Then too, Berry is at points a bit too breathless about his journalistic derring-do, comparing himself, for example, with Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame. He even has his own Louisiana Deep Throat, in this case called Chalice. From 1982 to the present, approximately 400 priests nationwide (out of a total, at present, of 54,000 priests) have been reported to church or civil authorities for molesting children, mostly adolescents. In other words, about one-half of one percent of priests active during that period have been reported. Needless to say, reports are not always substantiated, and other instances go unreported. Some of the most publicized cases go back to incidents from fifteen or even thirty years ago. According to Sister Canice Connors, a staff therapist at St. Luke Institute in Maryland, treatment centers dealing with priest pedophiles have concluded that of every 100 priests accused of sexual abuse of minors and treated for it, three would qualify as predators, another six as fixated pedophiles (with exclusive attraction to prepubescent children). The remaining ninety-one would more accurately be described as ephebophiles, men who have acted out sexually with adolescents. Without detracting in any way from the hurt inflicted upon children and teenagers, and without fudging the grave betrayal of a solemn trust, it is important to guard against hysteria and exaggeration. Sexual misconduct by priests is a matter of great urgency, and it would be so if it involved only one priest in a thousand. It might be argued that the crisis is not all that new, whether one is discussing priests, Protestant clergy, psychotherapists, medical doctors, scoutmasters, or lawyers. Part of the sense of crisis is that behavior once winked at is now the cause of very vocal outrage. Witness the changing definitions of sexual harassment and even of rape promoted by some feminists. The most innocent (as it used to be thought) erotic allusion, if it is declared to be unwelcome, becomes a matter of criminal law. Little wonder that our society is in a state of massive confusion about sexual rules, creating a situation easily exploited by the Donahues and Geraldos who champion sexual liberation while, at the same time, waxing indignant about behavior that is politically incorrect. Ours is a state of moral incoherence that is not conducive to calm deliberation about very real problems. Jason Berry tends to the view that celibacy is the Catholic problem and married clergy is the answer. He recognizes, however, that having married clergy has not prevented widespread sexual depredations, both heterosexual and homosexual, among Protestant clergy. This reality has been explored by others such as Lloyd Rediger in Ministry and Sexuality: Cases, Counseling, and Care (Fortress, 1990). The spreading scandal reaches far beyond the notorious cases of televangelists such as Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, increasingly involving prominent figures in the oldline Protestant churches. Only within the last few months, cases have been multiplying. The Episcopal priest with chief responsibility for framing his church’s position on homosexuality was forced to resign following charges that he sexually abused young men in his upstate New York parish. One of the more respected theologians in the country, a Protestant teaching at Notre Dame, has been suspended by his church for sexual misconduct with women, as has the pastor of the prestigious Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. A bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has been forced to resign, and the man elected this summer as stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) abruptly stepped down after be learned that he had been charged with sexual misconduct (a charge later found to be without “probable grounds”). Does the growing number of accusations mean that clergy are more sexually licentious today or is it simply that there is a lower tolerance of deviance from established expectations? It would be remarkable if clergy, too, were not affected by the “sexual revolution” that was launched in the sixties. Indeed, many in the oldline churches as well as “progressive” Catholics led the charge against putatively oppressive sexual inhibitions, advocating what were termed liberating lifestyles. Among social activists it was (and in some circles still is) urged that the churches are excessively preoccupied with sexual morality when the real challenge is systemic social and political change. The late Ralph David Abernathy, in his unjustly neglected memoir of his work with Dr. Martin Luther King, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, offers a candid picture of the sexual license that marked “the movement.” Many liberal clergy assumed that permission slips had been issued, at least tacitly, for the doing of what was formerly forbidden. Nor should one underestimate the importance of the dramatic increase of divorce among oldline Protestant clergy. It was not so long ago that divorce was sure grounds for demitting ministerial office. In some churches today, the rate of clergy divorce matches that of the general population, and it is not unusual to have ministers and bishops who have been divorced more than once. The acceptance of what some term serial monogamy clearly reflects a major change in the understanding of the vows of marriage. On the Catholic side, many priests ordained in the sixties and seventies were given the impression that the Church was about to relax the celibacy requirement and allow marriage. Understandably, they viewed the celibacy vow to be somewhat tentative and not to be taken at face value. For both Catholics and Protestants, these changes were accompanied by an insinuation from the general culture of the dogma that sexual self-expression is essential to spiritual and psychological “wholeness.” “The heart wants what the heart wants,” as that eminent public philosopher, Woody Allen, recently put it. Despite the proposals for changing traditional sexual ethics that are being brought before oldline churches (notably United Methodist, Presbyterian USA, ELCA Lutheran, and Episcopalian), there are signs today of a growing sobriety about sexuality. More people seem to be recognizing that the sexual revolution did not deliver on its promises. The current rash of accusations of misconduct suggests that we are in something of a time warp. Not only are they frequently related to acts committed years ago, but there is a climate of growing skepticism about whether some of the acts were committed at all. The skepticism is fed by psychologically dubious methods of “retrieval” in which people consult their Inner Child to discover molestations that supposedly happened as far back as infancy. The skepticism is also fed by several much-publicized instances in recent years in which unsupported charges of sexual abuse in day care centers sparked mass hysteria in communities around the country. There is one aspect of this messy situation, however, that is neither vestigial nor imaginary. That is the impact of homosexuality and gay activism in the culture and the churches. Those who have studied these matters agree that pedophilia is not always connected with homosexuality, but there is a high correlation. The Berry book is forthright in describing the degree to which homosexuality made inroads in some Catholic seminaries during the seventies and early eighties. Although the evidence is largely anecdotal, it would seem that some faculties and student bodies took on a distinctly lavender hue. Led by the Vatican and a few energetic American bishops, the Catholic Church, undeterred by charges of “homophobia,” has in recent years demonstrated a determination to put its house in order. This includes screening out candidates for priesthood who do not accept, or would likely have difficulties in living by, the Church’s teaching on chastity. Jason Berry, very much a liberal, evidences surprise that it is most often conservatives in the Catholic Church who have most relentlessly pressed the bishops on this score. To his credit, Berry makes short shrift of progressive, sometimes overtly homosexual, priests who complain about the Church’s increasing “lack of understanding” for deviant behavior. The situation in liberal Protestant seminaries and divinity schools is more complex. Most of them have well established and powerful gay caucuses, and some have very active gays on the faculty. Here the screening process is reversed. In faculty appointments and student life, those who are likely to be screened out are people who think homosexuality is something to be screened out. Regardless of the official positions taken by their churches, it would seem that at least some oldline denominations are and will be ordaining more and more active homosexuals to the ministry. Unlike the Catholic Church, these denominations frequently do not have canonical control over the education of their clergy. Unlike their own constituencies, denominational leaderships are often sympathetic to the gay agenda. And leaders who might personally be convinced of the wisdom of the moral tradition have little stomach for taking on the seminaries, knowing full well the wrath aroused by the accusation that they are violating academic freedom or endorsing homophobia. Of course there have always been some fornicators, adulterers, sodomites, and pedophiles among the Christian clergy. The relatively new thing is that, except for pedophilia, those very terms are thought to be anachronistic and offensive by many. All the churches maintain that their ministers should exemplify Christian character, requiring at ordination that they promise”in these or similar words”to “adorn the gospel with a holy life.” Until recently it was unanimously understood and taught that a holy life includes limiting sexual intercourse to marriage (and, until recently, it was not necessary to specify “heterosexual marriage”). In the training and discipline of clergy, the teaching and, usually, the practice seem to be reasonably secure among evangelical Protestants. Among Catholics the teaching has been consistent, and where the practice has been frayed it is being mended. In oldline or liberal Protestantism, however, the situation is very different. There the question would appear to be: How long can the denominational membership hold out against the moral revisionism taught and practiced by the institutions responsible for training the clergy? Christianity, as we are constantly reminded, does not live in a cultural vacuum. It is not surprising that cultural convulsions regarding sexuality have an impact on the churches. The churches are, one might argue, at least as much culturally influenced as they are a cultural influence. The growing attention to sexual misconduct by the clergy, some complain, is unfairly focused on the Catholic Church. There is something to that. For various reasons, and for better and worse, Catholicism makes for better press, especially of the sensationalist kind. It is, as Mort Sahl put it, “the church people mean when they say the Church.’“ But it is doubtful that the Catholic Church comes in for more unfavorable media attention than do Protestant fundamentalists, as witness the feeding frenzy of the press surrounding the Swaggart and Bakker scandals. The fact is that the media are inclined to view Catholics and fundamentalists as threatening, if not as the declared enemy. And that because they are perceived to be asserting standards that are rejected by a largely libertine elite culture. As has been remarked before in these pages, the surest way to avoid being accused of not living up to the standards that you profess is to profess no standards. Those communities that dare to stand for something must be prepared to take the heat when their leaders stumble and fall. Of course one can call it hypocrisy when the media work themselves up into excitements of moral indignation over the breaking of rules that they themselves do not accept. But that is rather beside the point. Religious communities are rightly judged by the standards that they embrace, not by their critics’ standards or lack thereof. Then too, “the news” is a very big business, and dirt about other people”especially people who dare to “stand for something””is very good for sales. Nor should we ignore the fact that there are a great many people, also in the media, who are driven by a passion to discredit morally normative institutions and patterns of behavior. The very idea that anything is morally normative, especially in the realm of sexuality, is viewed as offensive and an infringement of personal freedom. Even pedophilia and incest, while still generally censured, have their apologists among enlightened folk who would place no limits on the infinite variations of “meaningful relationships.” But it will not do to blame the messenger, no matter bow corrupt, for the message. The increasingly publicized sexual misconduct of clergy is the fault of clergy, and of those responsible for their training and supervision. Some religious communities will avoid being criticized for breaking the rules by the simple expedient of abandoning the rules. Those communities that affirm a moral tradition that provides clear, if not easy, guidance through the turbulent confusions of human sexuality will be judged, and rightly judged, by the tradition that they espouse. Such churches should be braced for more negative publicity as incidents from the past, even the distant past, come to light and work their way through the courts. These things come in waves, and it seems likely that this wave has not yet crested. Meanwhile, having been bumbled and sobered, the churches might be in a better position to help mend the culture after the devastations wrought by the sexual revolution. The agitations of those within the churches who are still urging the churches to join that revolution must be gently but firmly repulsed. Ministries of care and healing must be strengthened for spouses (mainly women) who have been cruelly divorced, for children who have been abused, and for clergy who were led to believe that they had permission to do the impermissible. And out of this calamity may come, please God, a renewed awareness of the faithlessness of human passion, and of our utter dependence upon grace, which is finally the grace of forgiveness. The sexual turpitude of the clergy is not the greatest crisis of the last four centuries, nor even the greatest crisis of the last ten years. But it is a crisis.
Charles Colson: Faith Active in Love
The point is not that capital punishment is the right thing, but Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship tells a story of a different and holy fear that attends it. On an Easter Sunday he visited Rusty Woomer, convicted of murder, a few days before he was scheduled to be electrocuted. Woomer was converted in prison and had this to say: “I think of His radiance. His power. His love. It doesn’t scare you that someone loves you enough that He can forgive you for anything that you do? It scares me sometimes. He is something that we have not got any idea what it is going to be like when we meet Him . . . . His love is so strong that it might hurt us when we meet Him.” Colson comments: “Few people on the planet know the mystery that for Rusty was solved by the state of South Carolina: the time of their own death. He was not caught unaware, unrepentant, distracted by the things of this world and distant from his Lord. Yet Rusty’s final journey is one we will all make. For in reality, we are all on death row.” The story is from a new book, The Body: Being Light in Darkness (Word). It is thoroughly popular, laced with quotations drawn from sources classical and contemporary, filled with anecdotes based in Colson’s amazingly diverse experience, and, like his many earlier books, will probably sell in the hundreds of thousands. In addition to bringing people to Christ and building them up in Christ, the book has a very serious theological purpose: to alert evangelical Protestants to the inseparable connection between Christ and his Church””The Body” of the title. Were the word not in such bad repute with most evangelicals, one might say that the purpose is emphatically “ecumenical.” Colson wants to remedy the radical individualism that is endemic to evangelicalism by underscoring the communal nature of the Christian life and of Christian witness in the world (“light in darkness”). Next to Billy Graham, Chuck Colson may well be the most widely respected and trusted figure in American evangelicalism. That he was once Richard Nixon’s most notorious “hit man” makes him suspect in the eyes of the general media. To Christians who understand the meaning of conversion, the dramatic change is a confirming credential. The remarkable story of Prison Fellowship, which Colson founded and continues to lead, is almost entirely unknown outside evangelicalism. Prison Fellowship, which operates in more than sixty countries, has hundreds of employees, tens of thousands of volunteers, and has changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of convicts. Nobody is more forgotten, in this society and others, than the prisoner. There are almost a million of them in the United States alone. Just across the river from Manhattan is Riker’s Island, where at any given time upward of 25,000 young men and women are incarcerated, but it is doubtful that those who look out the windows of their luxury apartments over the East River are aware of it. The next time you fly into LaGuardia look down on the sprawling cell blocks and at least say a prayer for them. When the media do pay attention, they will frequently write about the work being done in prisons by the black Muslims. That work is not unimportant in effecting a measure of moral improvement. Much larger and more intensive, however, is the work of Prison Fellowship. The black Muslims have the panache of being exotic. Our cultured despisers of home-grown religion think that they know what Prison Fellowship is up to, but of course they don’t. Then there is the problem of Colson’s sordid political background. Surely he is a conservative far beyond the pale. In fact, Colson and Prison Fellowship have been pushing a program of far-reaching prison reform. It has received very little attention. The time is not right, it seems, for such reform. Too many conservatives just want to put the bad guys in jail, and most other people, including most liberals, don’t want to know about what goes on there. Part of the offense of the much-decried Willie Horton ad in the 1988 campaign was that it reminded people of a world that they would rather forget”a world of prison, crime, and a justice system in derisive disarray. That is the world to which Prison Fellowship attends every day. So this is a plug for The Body, and an occasion to praise the work of Prison Fellowship and its founder. You don’t have to be an evangelical Protestant to recognize that Chuck Colson is becoming one of the preeminent religious figures in America. His ministry with the forgettable and forgotten demonstrates a “preferential option for the poor” that is a bracing challenge to those Christians to whom such language comes too easily. His thoughtful determination to make the necessary linkages between faith, moral judgment, and social change might well be emulated by Jews and Christians at every point along the religio-political spectrum. Do we say all this because Chuck Colson is a friend? Perhaps, in part. More accurately, Chuck Colson is a friend because all that is said above is true.
Returning to Earth
The news industry’s Imperious Now has intervened again and again with other urgencies real and contrived, but some readers may remember the squall over Dan Quayle and Murphy Brown. At that time Maggie Gallagher published on the op-ed page of the New York Times “An Unwed Mother for Quayle,” and it deserves not to get lost in the memory hole of yesterday’s news. Ms. Gallagher, too, is a journalist and unwed mother, but in the real world. After ten years as an unwed mother, she has some thoughts on what it takes. For women thinking of raising children outside marriage, she says, it helps to: “1. Have relatively affluent parents who got and stayed married themselves. That way you can rely on their marriage, rather than your own, to give your child the emotional and financial emergency support system he or she needs. 2. Be able to choose a profession with flexible hours that allow you to take time out and work from home, and be sure to get an Ivy League degree first. 3. (This one is especially tricky.) Find a boss who doesn’t mind if you bring a sick 4-year-old and his dinosaurs to the office, which will happen regularly. 4. Accept that, even if you make a good living, you are going to have far less money than anyone you know”except for other single mothers. 5. Expect to give up all the advantages of single life”freedom, romance, travel”and receive none of the advantages of marriage”emotional, logistical, and financial support. 6. Prepare for the nights when your child cries himself to sleep in your arms, wondering why his father doesn’t love him. (If your child is allowed to express his real feelings, there will be many such occasions.)” The evidence that marriage is the best social program ever invented for raising children is overwhelming. A single woman with all the resources and assistance available to the privileged will soon discover the pain of a child’s awareness of the irreplaceability of a father. Gallagher writes: “As Murphy Brown would find out if she were a real person and not a Hollywood fantasy, children not only need a father, they long for one, irrationally, with all the undiluted strength of a child’s hopeful heart. To raise one’s own child without a father may, at times, be a painful and tragic necessity, but it should never be just another lifestyle option . . . We have to stop pretending that all choices are equally good”that single motherhood is just an alternative family form and that fathers are just another new disposable item in the nursery.” St. Augustine somewhere writes about the undiluted longing of a child’s hopeful heart with respect to another Father. The two, we suspect, are intimately entangled in ways that surpass our understanding.
Bible Scholarship, the State of the Art
The Anchor Bible Dictionary is by almost any measure a monumental project. Just out from Doubleday, it also has all the appearances of a major achievement. There are six big volumes of about 1,200 pages each, and each is priced at $60. It has been some time since such a project has been undertaken. In the English language there was The Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes, 1898-1904) and, more recently, Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (also five volumes, the first four appearing in 1962, with a supplement in 1976). We have not begun to work with the ABD in detail but, reading around in it, we are greatly impressed. It should have a place in any theological library that aspires to completeness. Also impressive, and not necessarily encouraging, is the introduction by associate editor Gary A. Herion (the editor in chief is David Noel Freedman). The introduction is marked by a certain defensiveness, but it has the strong merit of candor. Herion says that every generation needs its own dictionary of the Bible, and that such a dictionary will reflect the strengths and weaknesses of biblical scholarship at the time. When the last big dictionary came out thirty years ago, he notes, the “biblical theology” movement was in full swing and there was a fairly firm scholarly consensus on the main themes of biblical history and thought. “Baldly stated,” Herion writes, “it seems that scholarship at that time was more interested in presenting the facts’ than in considering critically how we know them to be facts.’“ The new ABD is frequently marked by a preoccupation with, maybe an obsession with, epistemological and methodological questions. In many entries, substantive assertions are preceded by extended throat clearings in which authors self-consciously (and tediously) demonstrate that they are nothing if not critical. As Herion puts it, “One will be hard pressed to find in these pages any sort of sweeping historical synthesis that presumes a scholarly consensus. Scholarly consensus simply does not exist here at the end of the twentieth century.” We aren’t looking for “sweeping” syntheses, historical or otherwise, but it does seem that those who have devoted their lives to the study of the Bible should be prepared to venture some generalizations about what they think it is about. (Yes, yes, we know the Bible is not about just one thing; and yes, yes, we know that the Bible is a collection of many different texts; but just why, one might ask some authors, are you devoting your life to studying it, and why do you think it warrants the attention of others?) In addition to the passion for specialization and the fine-tuned demarcation of turfs of expertise, the ABD reflects the striking growth of social science interests among biblical scholars, with socio-historical analyses frequently replacing the theological interpretations of earlier dictionaries. The volumes reflect also the burgeoning archeological efforts of recent decades, along with a dramatically growing interest in what previously had been viewed as marginal”an interest generated in large part by the Nag Hammadi tractates and Dead Sea scrolls, but also by the academic search for new specializations. Herion acknowledges that biblical studies are somewhat “fragmented” and that authors’ conclusions are frequently hedged with qualifications (which he says are necessary qualifications but others may suspect betray the timidity of nervous expertise). “That is simply the way responsible critical biblical scholarship tends to be practiced today,” writes Herion. “One ramification of this increased specialization is evident in our long list of contributors: those who would lament all this as overspecialization’ will no doubt delight in noting that in 1962 only 253 contributors were needed to write more than 7,500 entries for the IDB, while thirty years later almost four times as many were needed to write 6,200 entries for the ABD. This is an honest reflection of the nature of biblical scholarship here in the final decades of the second millennium.” Just so. It may be the case in biblical studies that more and more are saying less and less to fewer and fewer. And yet, ABD is a delight, as any great dictionary must be. From Aaron to Zuzim (the people defeated by Chedorlaomer, as mentioned in Gen. 14:5) the ABD almost always instructs and frequently edifies. Major entries, such as Jesus Christ (Ben F. Meyer), Body (R. Edward Schweizer), and Angels (Carol A. Newsom), are not inhibited from being affirmatively, even assertively, theological. Those who already have IDB may not feel the need to put out $360 for ABD, unless they really must stay on top of every new wrinkle in scholarship. (It is not self-evident that every generation needs a new bible dictionary.) Those who don’t have IDB, however, might give serious thought to making the lifetime investment in ABD, especially if they have teaching responsibilities in the church. By contemporary standards, and considering the product, the price is by no means unreasonable.
In Dispraise of Praise
We were recently within hearing range of a sermon in which it was proposed that one could not be reconciled to God unless be bad entirely overcome his concern for the opinion of others. If this writer believed it, he would doubt his salvation. About the same time, as it happened. Prof. Ralph Potter of Harvard Divinity School sent along a bundle of materials he is using in a course there. It includes numerous reflections that may be familiar enough but bear re-reflection. For instance, Cicero’s “In Defense of Archias”: “We are all moved by a love of praise, and the best men are the most attracted by the idea of glory. The same philosophers who write books in which they urge a contempt for fame set their own names on the title page. In the very act of recording their scorn of eulogies and renown, they show their longing for such distinctions.” But the great Dr. Johnson let the imperatives of moral wisdom move him to run the risk of Cicero’s jaded critique. For instance this from The Rambler. “Those who are oppressed by their own reputation will perhaps not be comforted by hearing that their cares are unnecessary. But the truth is that no man is much regarded by the rest of the world. He that considers how little he dwells upon the condition of others will learn how little the attention of others is attracted to himself . . . The utmost which we can reasonably hope or fear is to fill a vacant hour with prattle, and be forgotten.” Also from The Rambler: “When once a man has made celebrity necessary to his happiness, he has put it in the power of the weakest and most timorous malignity, if not to take away his satisfaction, at least to withhold it.” “All is vanity,” wrote the Preacher, hoping no doubt that others would recognize the greatness of his insight. Inescapably it seems, ours is the ambition to slay the dragon of ambition, thereby enhancing its strength. The important thing is to recognize that it is a dragon, and that salvation does not depend upon our slaying it. And what does all this have to do with religion and public life? Do you really have to ask?
Discriminating Against Friendships
Most Americans, it seems fair to say, are only beginning to formulate appropriate responses to communities and in the general culture. With relatively few exceptions, people are strongly opposed to unjust discrimination and any form of “gay bashing.” At the same time, the meaning of “discrimination” becomes maddeningly confused. Here is Msgr. William F. Murphy, writing in the Boston Pilot under the title “Friends for Life.” His reflections strike us as both fresh and clarifying. “Like you, I am blessed to have many friends. Some I see more often than others. Others I keep in touch with mostly by mail or an occasional telephone call. There are some, however, who have been my friends for almost all my life and, please God, will be till our last days. There are friends I go on vacation with. Some are priests I have lived with in seminary or in various residences for priests. Then there are families where I am as much at home as if it were my house, where I can spend a day or a week if I want. One friend jokes that we’ve been hanging around together for so long that it is no longer friendship. It’s sloth. But joking aside, friendships like ours remain committed to one another and will remain that whatever may come along. “Recently in our Commonwealth, however, we are being told that one certain kind of friendship should be legally recognized as more privileged than any other kind of friendship. This is the friendship that has become a lifestyle.’ That lifestyle occurs when two homosexuals want to live together and thus become publicly recognized as domestic partners.’ My question is a simple one: why should their friendship merit special benefits from the State while my friendships do not? What is it about their friendship that demands we grant their lifestyle the advantages the State gives to married couples? I am no less committed to my friends than they. I have in fact shared residences for many years with some of those friends to whom I am committed. What is the difference that gives them the right to demand that the state accord their lifestyle the status of married family life? “The one obvious difference is that my friends and I do not engage in genital sexuality as an expression of our friendship. We may live together, but we don’t sleep together. We may be committed to one another in lifelong friendship, but genital sexual activity (homosexual or heterosexual) is not the mark or the seal of the friendship. Nor need it be for any friendship. But is homosexual activity a reason to extend to domestic partners,’ gay couples, the status of a family? Can we say that one who engages in genital sexual activity with a person of the same sex by that fact merits recognition by the State for benefits given to uphold married and family life? If that is so, what of the heterosexual male whose friendship with a woman leads him to express that friendship in genital sexuality? And what about us who don’t do that but who are just as committed to our friends as anyone else (gay or straight) can be? “It seems fairly clear that the proposition of domestic partner’ makes no sense on examination unless you want the State to discriminate against me and my friends and all other friendships which do not fit this narrow category that makes homosexual activity and a certain lifestyle a sufficient norm to receive State benefits. It is also quite clear that what we are dealing with here is not the redress of some wrong but a political ploy by a vocal, well-financed, advantaged class in our society who want to force society to accept gay lifestyles’ as normal, while at the same time taking advantage of the State by finagling money to support their friendship. This simply cannot be accepted by a sensible and sensitive society. “Unjust discrimination is a reality in our society. The non-recognition of gay friendships as marriages’ for the sake of receiving family benefits simply does not fall into this category. There is no unjust discrimination of me and my friends because the State refuses to accord us the status of family. There is not unjust discrimination against gay partners because the State refuses to accord the family status as well. “What is, however, at stake in all this is something rather important. It is the fact that the State does have a legitimate interest in fostering the family for the good of a healthy society and its future. Therefore, while the State does not have to extend certain benefits to families, it is in the State’s and society’s best interest to do so. In this way the State gives a concrete message to all its citizens: marriage and family life constitute the vital cell of any society. The success of family life goes a long way toward guaranteeing the success of the public good. “My friends who are gay, as well as my friends who are not, should all recognize this and see it as a good for us all. By recognizing this, we also make it a lot easier for us all to be united in real efforts to combat the unjust discrimination that is meted out to gays by the violence, the hatred, and the denial of civil and personal rights that gays still suffer in our communities. I do not want to have to be distracted from the effort to combat that kind of discrimination by having to defend family life against those who want to give special privileges to certain kinds of friendships.”
Alteration of the Soul
It is a great favor that HarperCollins has reissued in paperback Simone Weil’s Waiting for God, a wondrous collection left by this “modern saint” who died at age thirty-four in 1943. It has Leslie Fiedler’s extensive 1951 introduction, which is sympathetic and intelligent, although one wishes he were not so insistent about her being “our kind of saint.” There is something smug and self-satisfied about that. It betrays a preening and posturing, a display of “our alienation” that is supposedly just like hers. Saints whom we think are “our kinds of saints” are not saints, or we have completely misunderstood them. Saints are disturbing and off-putting; they are “other,” like the Other whom they have encountered, by whom they have been encountered, in a way that we do not understand and are perhaps afraid to try to understand. They are like Simone Weil. She was a weird woman; weird and brilliant and possessed. And one must make a decision about whatever possessed her, whether it was inexpressible good or inexpressible evil. As she had to decide, and offered up her inability to decide to the good that revealed itself to her as God. She “identified” with the poor and suffering, giving up her advantages and near starving herself so that she would have no more than they. And she dissected ruthlessly the pride in such renunciation. She joined up with the right side, which is to say the left side, in the Spanish civil war and painfully worked her way through Marxism to the understanding that “revolution is the opiate of the people.” The project of grand social transformation is “a trap of traps . . . an ersatz divinity . . . irremediably the domain of the devil.” There is no love without justice, nor justice without love, she came to understand. In fact it is of the devil that people of “good will,” and not a few Christians, claim that one must choose between love and justice, between compassion and systemic social change. Her style is bold, paradoxical, and, almost certainly, intended to startle, to startle into thought, perhaps into prayer. For example: “Thus the existence of evil here below, far from disproving the reality of God, is the very thing that reveals him in his truth. On God’s part creation is not an act of self-expansion but of restraint and renunciation. God and all his creatures are less than God alone. God accepted this diminution. He emptied a part of his being from himself. He had already emptied himself in this act of his divinity; that is why Saint John says that the Lamb had been slain from the beginning of the world. God permitted the existence of things distinct from himself and worth infinitely less than himself. By this creative act be denied himself, as Christ has told us to deny ourselves. God denied himself for our sakes in order to give us the possibility of denying ourselves for him. This response, this echo, which it is in our power to refuse, is the only possible justification for the folly of love in the creative act . . . . The religions that represent divinity as commanding wherever it has the power to do so seem false. Even though they are monotheistic they are idolatrous.” Simone Weil, Waiting for God, HarperCollins, 227 pages, $9 paper. To think, just $9 for a text that could alter your soul, as it has altered the souls of innumerable others.
Sophistry and the Culture of Death
Writing in defense of assisted suicide and the notorious Dr. Jack Kevorkian who has helped dispatch a number of ladies in distress, Ernest van den Haag, a frequent contributor to National Review, descends, one regrets to say, to sophistry. In an article in the Wall Street Journal he trots out once again the tired claim that we are faced by a new situation because of the “modern-day advances in medical technology.” These advances mean that we “can either prolong life beyond its natural’ limits or facilitate its quick and painless end.” It might come as a surprise to folk as diverse as Socrates, the Borgias, and Robert Maxwell that the achievement of the latter goal requires high-tech medicine. As to prolonging life, the relevant questions have been addressed in detail and with nuance in numerous forums, very recently in the Ramsey Colloquium statement “Always to Care, Never to Kill” (FT, February 1992, also published in the Wall Street Journal). Professor van den Haag, now retired from Fordham Law School, adds little or nothing to that discussion. He does join the Kevorkians and the enthusiasts of the Hemlock Society in injecting into the discussion several notions of a particularly pernicious character. Our aversion to suicide, he writes, is historically based in religious belief. “God gave you life; it is his to take, not yours.” But in van den Haag’s world, “religious belief has eroded.” To replace putatively outdated religious belief, van den Haag recommends the wisdom of the first-century Roman statesman, Seneca, who endorsed suicide as a way of escaping the “putrid or tottering edifice” of a life not worth living. The idea that religious belief is vestigial and should have no place in our public deliberations ill fits a society in which the overwhelming majority of people profess to be believers and assert that moral truth is derived, directly or indirectly, from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Why deliberation about laws dealing with life and death should in this democracy be guided by the wisdom of Seneca rather than by the wisdom of the Bible is not explained. Van den Haag asserts that our attitudes toward suicide betray an irrational, or at least a non-rational, bias in favor of life. “Such assumptions about suicide arise because most of us prefer life and avoid death as long as possible. We do so not because life can be shown to be preferable, but because we are so constituted as to prefer living. But this fact does not show that life is preferable to death on empirical, analytical, or non-arbitrary moral grounds. Only that it is preferred.” That life is no more than an arbitrary preference is the foundational assumption of what has aptly been termed the culture of death. It is certainly a very long way from what was held to be the self-evident truth that human beings “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” A few years ago some courts were tying themselves in knots over “wrongful life” suits”cases in which doctors were sued for not having aborted babies who would have been “better off dead.” Courts are backing off from the “wrongful life” premise, having been forced to recognize the truly sweeping implications. The logic of van den Haag and those of like mind is that life is a good only because it is preferred and insofar as it is preferred. The a priori (as in “self-evident”) premise of law and civilization is that life is a good”a good so great that one who unjustifiably takes a life may be required to forfeit his life. Of course the constituting truths of our law have been gravely undermined by a “right” to abortion that gives to private parties the power to kill the unborn without offering any justification whatever. In logic, attitude, law, and practice, the line from abortion to euthanasia and assisted suicide is obvious to all but the willfully blind. The fact that people prefer to live, says van den Haag, “does not show that life is preferable to death on empirical, analytical, or non-arbitrary moral grounds.” That love is preferable to hatred, kindness to cruelty, and, for that matter, being to nonbeing are “preferences” equally difficult to defend by van den Haag’s criteria. On “empirical” grounds one can likely demonstrate little more than that most people share these preferences. “Analytically,” we might try to explain why they prefer as they do, but not that they should prefer as they do. And there are no “moral” grounds that cannot be, and in fact are not, dismissed as arbitrary by those who have a mind to do so. On the other hand, van den Haag allows that “we are so constituted as to prefer living.” One might put it differently and say that we prefer living because we are constituted for life. It would surely seem odd to say that we are constituted for the alternative to life, which is death. True, we are constituted so that we will die, but we are not constituted in order to die. In the view of Christians and most others, death is the entrance to a fuller life. It is a reasoned view that is no more “arbitrary” than its denial. There is a superficial cleverness, which the superficially clever tend to mistake for profundity, in challenging a priori truths. Who sez so? Prove it! Such are the chants of undergraduates in Philosophy 101 who have stumbled upon the infinite possibilities of solipsism, moral and otherwise. Maybe good is bad and bad is good, and A really is non-A, and we don’t mean the same things by the same words anyway. And thus do we end up with a moral and legal order based upon nothing but individual, and necessarily arbitrary, “preferences.” Equally bemusing is Professor van den Haag’s assertion that “both the Hippocratic oath and religious belief enjoin physicians to prolong life under all circumstances.” Of course neither the Hippocratic oath nor Christian and Jewish morality enjoins any such thing. They do forbid any act directly aimed at terminating an innocent human life. The author might read, for instance, the above-mentioned statement of the Ramsey Colloquium or, with regard to the Hippocratic oath, Leon Kass’s magisterial Toward a More Natural Science. A modest familiarity with the pertinent literature does not seem too much to expect from professors who pronounce on questions of great moral moment. Yet another idea has occurred to van den Haag. “Even Christian philosophers,” be writes, “have approved of suicide committed to save or help other people, or of sacrificing one’s life for the sake of ideas or beliefs. Thus martyrs are honored. However, suicide for non-altruistic reasons has been condemned.” Sacrificing one’s life for others or for beliefs thus becomes altruistic suicide. Never mind that suicide ( sui + - cide ) means to take one’s own life, voluntarily and with that purpose in mind. At least that is what suicide meant until people started to play around with our culture’s moral vocabulary. When we say that someone “died for his country” we do not mean that he committed suicide, altruistic or otherwise. The soldier who falls on a grenade does not do so with the intention of killing himself but of saving the lives of his fellows. Of course “Christian philosophers””in the sense of philosophers who happen to be Christian”have approved of many things. But the Christian tradition”as articulated by Scripture, the church fathers, and authoritative teachers through the centuries”is emphatically opposed to suicide. Those who “won the crown of martyrdom” were indeed venerated, as we should venerate the innumerable Christians who have died for the faith under the totalitarianisms of this century. But from the Montanists in the second century through today, enthusiasts who contrive in their own deaths are sharply condemned. In some actual cases the distinction may be blurred, but the principle is luminously clear: one is chosen to be a martyr, one does not choose martyrdom. An Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107) pleaded with the Christians not to intervene with the civil authorities to prevent his martyrdom not because be was intent upon suicide but because be was convinced that God was calling him to emulate in his death the death of his Lord. The deeper perniciousness of the van den Haag argument (an argument, to be fair, that is by no means original with him) is that the martyrs, along with soldiers fallen in battle, were simply exercising their “preference.” Upon examination, altruistic suicide turns out to be an oxymoron. It is not altruistic at all; it is not for others but for the satisfaction of one’s own preferences. Van den Haag may accurately be paraphrased thusly: “Some people prefer courage and self-sacrifice to cowardice and self-preservation. They do so not because courage can be shown to be preferable, but because they are so constituted as to prefer it. But this fact does not show that courage is preferable to cowardice on empirical, analytical, or non-arbitrary moral grounds. Only that it is preferred.” Once the a priori knowledge of the good of life is denied, it follows that the reality of virtue is also denied. All that is left is the raw “fact” of people acting upon their individual preferences. In going to the cross, Jesus was, not to put too fine a point on it, just doing his own thing. The cross of Christ and the suicide machine of Dr. Kevorkian are morally conflated. After all, the women he helped to dispatch probably thought that they were doing what was best also for their families and friends, thus giving their action some claim to being “altruistic suicide” in the noble tradition of the martyrs. The Athenian sophists came into deserved disrepute for their skillfully skeptical production of superficially plausible arguments that made chaos of reason and morality. There will always be a market for sophistry where people want to rationalize the doing of wrong by calling evil good and good evil. In the encroaching culture of death, Orwell’s “Newspeak” chatters on about quality of life, wrongful life, and altruistic suicide. Others, against the darkness, will persist in speaking of self-evident truths. They cannot “prove” these truths to the satisfaction of the implacably skeptical, but they know, on the basis of massive historical evidence, the consequences when these truths are denied. They do not “prefer” these truths; they are persuaded that they are true. Even Seneca knew that much.
While We’re At It
Mother Teresa is a “religious imperialist,” according to Germaine Greer, a guru whose mainly feminist intellectual gyrations are almost always described as bold. “At my convent school,” writes Greer, “the pious nuns who always spoke softly and inclined their heads with a small, patient smile were the ones to fear. They became the mothers superior. Mother Teresa is not content with running a convent; she runs an order of Mother Teresa clones, which operates world-wide. In anyone less holy, this would be seen as an obscene ego trip.” Being “holy,” however, makes Mother Teresa all the more hateful. She takes advantage of these dying people by telling them about Jesus. Greer concludes, “Mother Teresa epitomizes for me the blinkered charitableness upon which we pride ourselves and for which we expect reward in this world and the next. There is very little on earth that I bate more than I hate that.” Keep Ms. Greer in mind the next time someone tells you that Mother Teresa is a universally admired icon of goodness. One must not forget the forces that, from the beginning, have hated the light. A university economist, much devoted to mathematical models that allegedly explain human behavior, was expounding his theory to a colleague in the divinity school. He went on at some length, giving elaborate illustrations, until the theologian interrupted with, “Yes, yes, but what does all this have to do with reality?” “Ah yes, reality,” responded the economist. “Reality is a special case.” The various Eastern Orthodox communities in the U.S. have been going through some painful reexaminations in determining how best to relate to the American reality. The Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA), which includes a confusing array of jurisdictions, has recently decided to rejoin the National Council of Churches (NCC), an otherwise oldline Protestant body, after suspending membership for a time in protest against the NCC’s liberal excesses. Fr. Alexander Webster of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) urged the Orthodox to stay out, asserting that the NCC needed the Orthodox more than the other way around, and he no doubt bad a point. At the same time, other Orthodox believe that they need the NCC connection in order to negotiate their modest place in our society’s religious order, or disorder, as the case more often is. (While it is often claimed that there are about five million Orthodox in the U.S., some observers suggest that there are probably no more than one million active members.) These complexities are usefully analyzed by Fr. Anthony Ugolnik of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America, writing in the Christian Century. He concludes with this appeal to Protestant oldliners, and especially to those in positions of academic leadership: “The Eastern Orthodox churches have been virtually invisible in the theological academy in the U.S. Seminaries failed to add Orthodox professors, theological perspectives, or classes to their curricula. Orthodox candidates for faculty positions are routinely passed over in favor of less-troublesome minorities. The synchronic approach to the diversity we seek, especially as embodied in gender and race, vastly overshadows the diachronic view of diversity, especially as embodied in us, the Eastern counterpart to your very Western Christian tradition. Thus if we seem defensive to you, there is at least some justice to our claim that you have made us so. Our suspension’ of ecumenical activity may be, in the last analysis, but a warning of a growing estrangement from you, and of you from your own history. I often suspect, in my darkest moments, that if the Orthodox do withdraw from dialogue with Protestants, few of you will know, and few of you will care. By all means, challenge us. But get to know us first.” Our friend James Finn, former editor of Freedom Review, recently fell into a gathering of the very politically correct. There he was instructed, inter alia, that the handicapped are always to be referred to as the “differently abled” who are “physically challenged.” Disruptive kids are those who have a “reputation disorder.” And so on through the revisionist lexicon of the p.c. Our friend Finn is no slouch when it comes to picking up on possibilities. He writes: “In a flash, as it were, I saw how to close the gap between rich and poor in our society, in fact, how to get rid of the gap entirely. I perceived that there are no more rich and poor people, simply those who are differently moneyed and differently propertied. And some who are monetarily challenged. And those accused of disrupting our system by fraud, corruption, and worse are simply reputation disordered.”’ Peter Toon, a British Anglican, has written Knowing God Through Liturgy (f 12.95, The Prayer Book Society, Box 268, Largo, FL 34649). It is a thoughtful critique of what has gone wrong, in liturgy and much else, in the Episcopal Church in the U.S. Toon seems a very apt name for someone writing on worship. As apt as the names of the two officers listed on the stationery of The Prayer Book Society. Liberal critics claim that the conservative society would chain the church to the past and is obsessed with legalistic notions of what ought and ought not be done. The two officers are the Reverends Robert A. Shackles and John L. Ott. There are, or so we are told, still those who look to the Brits for a more sophisticated view of the world. In the course of reviewing a book on the New Age movement, that eminent journal The Economist offers a brief summary of the history of Christianity: “Some members of the organized churches are so bothered about New Age ideas that they ascribe them to Satan. What if the New Agers did what the Christians did? They were the Bolsheviks of religion. They swept to power, as Lenin did, by rallying the drifting millions who were waiting for someone to give orders. They took over the pagan rites and festivals, modifying them as necessary and claiming them as their own; but fiercely proscribing anything that contradicted their teaching, condemning it as immoral, and, if pursued, heretical and to be burnt from the earth. That is how you impose your will for 2,000 years.” The redoubtable Elizabeth Kristol, no stranger to readers of this journal, reviews Harold Bloom’s The American Religion in The American Spectator. (The combination fits, for Bloom is surely a spectator when it comes to American religion.) Kristol writes: “In the face of so much alien behavior Bloom falls back on what he knows best: literary criticism. Indeed, he boasts that be has read and reread everything that remotely could be considered to be an American religious text.’ So truncated is his secular, professorial worldview that be genuinely convinces himself that a religious faith is the sum of its writings; reading Bloom on the subject of religion is like reading a restaurant critic who only evaluates menus.” Princeton University may seem like an unlikely place for it, but that is where it happened”a four-day symposium on the twentieth anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Papers and other materials from the conference are now available in Trust the Truth, a 384-page book published by the Pope John Center (186 Forbes Road, Braintree, MA 02184, $17.95
plus $2 shipping). 1993 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the encyclical on human sexuality and contraception. For a quarter-century, Humanae Vitae has been widely challenged or ignored in Catholic academic theology and parochial practice. Trust the Truth and plans for the observance of the twenty-fifth are among the indications that a reconsideration may be underway. Please note that a complete index of this journal, from the premier issue of March 1990 through December 1992, is now available. It includes subjects addressed, books reviewed, and contributors. The index is available for $8, including postage and handling, from the editorial offices. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity,” Paul explains to Timothy. But timidity is the spirit evinced by these guidelines issued by the legal offices of sundry churches in election years. Of course churches must be concerned about protecting their tax exempt status, but some churches are so intimidated by the IRS that they impose all kinds of restrictions upon themselves, far beyond what is required by law. One Catholic source is so nervous that it urges diocesan papers not to print columnists of a pronounced liberal or conservative bias, lest the IRS interpret that as political partisanship. By way of contrast, the legal counsel of the National Right to Life Committee has put out a very sensible set of guidelines, noting, inter alia, that individual clergy are free to do just about anything they want politically, including endorsing candidates. Churches, which have a 501 (c)(3) exemption, are another story. In some churches”in most black churches, for example”there is a longstanding tradition of clergy endorsing candidates and engaging in other forms of partisan activism. It is a bad idea, in our judgment, but not because it jeopardizes tax exemption. It is a bad idea because it jeopardizes the message and mission of the church. The more the ministry is identified with one political option, the less believably it is able to witness to the Gospel that keeps all political options under transcendent judgment. Admittedly, there is a fine line between bearing clear witness on questions of great moral moment (e.g., abortion) and political partisanship. But it is a line we should try hard to maintain, not because we fear the IRS but because we fear compromising the integrity of the Gospel. Maintaining that line, however, does not require the extremes of self-censorship urged by hyper-cautious lawyers in some church legal offices. (For the NRLC guidelines, send $3 to Legal Office, National Right to Life Committee, 419 Seventh Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20004-2293.) It seems the Hemlock Society wants to distance itself from the bad press surrounding its founder, the infamous Mr. Humphrey, who killed his first wife and abandoned his second when she was dying of cancer. Board member Sidney Rosoff says “the society is embarking upon a whole new period of thoughtful consideration.” So they have chosen a new executive director, the Rev. John Pridonoff, a Congregational minister. “My God is a God of love,” declares Mr. Pridonoff. It follows, according to this report in the San Diego Union-Tribune, that his god is very much in favor of euthanasia. “Pridonoff, who relaxes with classical music and his dog at a Rose Canyon condominium, conceded the Bible teaches that suicide is a sin. But there are a lot of things in the Bible we have grown beyond as a society,’ he said.” One is not inclined to argue with that, although one might choose a word other than “grown.” When it works so well, do it again. So there will be a second two-week seminar on “The Free Society and Centesimus Annus” in Liechtenstein next July. The same faculty: Rocco Buttiglione, Michael Novak, George Weigel, Richard John Neuhaus. Fellowships are available for ten American graduate students. Send curriculum vitae and 300-word essay on liberty to Derek Cross, American Enterprise Institute, 1150 Seventeenth Street, NW, Washington D.C. 20036. Application deadline is February 1, 1993. Mario Cuomo of New York has been, for certain Catholics, the model of the morally and religiously reflective politician. Eugene Kennedy, psychologist and former priest, h