The Public Square
I was privileged to count him as a friend for well over a quarter century. The two of us last had lunch together at his Stamford, Connecticut, home last December. He was getting ready to leave for Florida to write a book on Ronald Reagan, for which he had a January 20 deadline. He doubted he would get it done. The emphysema was the big problem, and he had to keep an oxygen kit ready at hand.
Bill blamed smoking, a subject on which he had become fixated in recent years, and he gently reminded me that over the years I had frequently invited him to join in the pleasure of an after-dinner cigar. I reminded him that he usually smoked no more than an inch of the cigar before setting it aside. He wasn't going to blame his emphysema on me.
Norman Mailer had died a few weeks before, and that prompted conversation about fame, life as performance, and the fittingness of mortality. He had some good stories about his encounters with Mailer over the years. It seemed that Bill had stories about encounters with just about everybody of public note. In the past two years, he had been preparing himself for death, and the more intensely since losing his much loved wife, Pat, in April 2007. He thought he had pretty much done what God had put him here to do.
We talked by phone while he was in Florida. The book was not going well. In the weeks since Bill's death, much has been written about what he accomplished, and much more will be written. Bill Buckley was a man of almost inexhaustible curiosity, courtesy, generosity, and delight in the oddness of the human circumstance. He exulted in displaying his many talents, which was not pride so much as an invitation to others to share his amazement at the possibilities in being fully alive. He was also, in and through everything, a man of quietly solid Christian faith. I am among innumerable others whose lives are fuller by virtue of the gift of his friendship.
It started when I sent him a note protesting something he had written about the civil rights movement. Bill had been, to put it delicately, on the wrong side of that cause, a cause in which I was deeply engaged. That was in the early 1970s, and Bill invited me to lunch to talk it over. For some reason I forget, one or the other of us couldn't keep that date, so the first time we actually met was when he invited me to appear on his television program, Firing Line, the longest-running program with one host in television history. After that, I was among the less notable regulars on the program, and it was almost always an interesting experience.
Some encounters stand out in my memory. For example, discussing with the philosopher Sidney Hook why he didn't believe in God. (“If there is a God and he asks me why I didn't believe in him,” said Hook, “I'll explain that he didn't give me enough evidence.”) And there was John Spong, the Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey. Spong was touting his book touting sexual license, and I suggested that this was not a message that the physically and morally devastated inner-city of Newark really needed to hear. Spong triumphantly, and smugly, countered that the Episcopalians of Newark did not live in the run-down city but in affluent suburbs, and they welcomed his message of liberation from the onerous sexual morality of the Episcopal Church. For a moment, Bill and I were, most uncharacteristically, at a loss for words.
I was for several years the religion editor of National Review, which meant writing a column for each issue. It was a position inherited from the formidable Jewish thinker Will Herberg, author of the classic Protestant-Catholic-Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology. Throughout his career, Bill was appreciatively attentive to Jewish talent and influence in American intellectual life. This was the positive side of his oft-remarked role in excluding any hint of anti-Semitism from the conservative movement. It was the subject of many conversations, and in 1992 Bill wrote a book about it, In Search of Anti-Semitism. I unsuccessfully urged another title, since “In Search of” suggested that he had to go looking for it.
In 1984, in association with an institute in the Midwest, I established the Center on Religion and Society. Five years later there was a very nasty break-up, with the Illinois institute sending thugs to raid the offices and put us out on the street. It was a much publicized brouhaha at the time, with “paleo-cons” (them) and “neo-cons” (us) going at one another. Bill's support was invaluable, and out of it all came the Institute on Religion and Public Life and this magazine. Every May 5, the staff of the magazine has a celebratory lunch in honor of the raid. You may be sure that this year we will be raising a glass to Bill Buckley.
Then there was that rather strange book of Bill's in the late 1990s, Nearer, My God. Father George Rutler and I were his interlocutors, and Bill pelted us with questions on which we wrote mini-essays in response, which he then incorporated into the text. Bill was viewed by many as an exemplary Catholic lay leader in the public square. The purpose of the book was to make clear that his Catholicism was not of the happen-to-be Catholic variety.
His standing as a Catholic had, in the view of many, taken a hit with National Review's response to Pope John XXIII's 1961 encyclical Mater et Magister (Mother and teacher), on the Church's social teaching. The memorable title of the NR comment was “Mater Si! Magister No!” Bill never tired of pointing out that the phrase was the work of Garry Wills before he sailed off leftward, but of course the responsibility was his. America, a Jesuit weekly that was then of a more orthodox stripe, attacked Bill as a dissenter from magisterial teaching, which he forcefully protested, pointing out that, despite the controverted phrase, NR did not disagree with what the encyclical said but was disappointed by its silence about other problems, notably the threat of communism.
Bill made no pretense of being a theologian, and I winced at parts of Nearer, My God. But I am impressed by the number of people who testify that that book, and Bill's witness more generally, brought them, or brought them back, to Christ and the Church. Bill insisted on many occasions that he had never harbored the slightest doubt about the Church's teaching authority. Bill was what some call a natural Catholic, bred-in-the-bone, so to speak, but his was also a faith refined and reinforced by a lifetime of spiritual reflectiveness. He indicated from time to time a mix of puzzlement and sadness about those who resisted an explanation of reality so comprehensive, coherent, and reasonable. When in 1990, talking in his car after the taping of a Firing Line episode, I told him I had decided to become a Catholic, he said he felt like a Red Sox fan who had just learned about their signing up the Yankees' star pitcher. That was intended to flatter, of course, but the unspoken implication was, “What took you so long?”
In the early 1990s, Bill and I launched a regular gathering that was simply called “That Group.” (Let the conspiratorially minded take notes.) It was composed of twenty or thirty editors, writers, and other people of public influence, and we met twice a year, once in Washington, D.C., and once in New York. In later years, the Washington meeting was discontinued, mainly because like-minded people there have enough occasions to get together to plot the betterment of the world. At our last lunch at the house in Connecticut, Bill proposed ideas for the next meeting in New York. But I do not really think that he expected to be there. I think we both knew that we were possibly, probably, meeting for the last time.
He again showed me around his disheveled study, a cavernous space converted from a three-car garage, pointing out paintings (some by him), awards, photos, and general bric-a-brac from sixty years of a very public life, telling stories about who gave him what and when and why, as though he were saying goodbye to it all. There in his disheveled study is where his body was found on the morning of Wednesday, February 27.
He had several years earlier sold the sailboat. He had given up the annual skiing in Gstaad, Switzerland. The majestic harpsichord stood silent in the music room. Don't you sometimes play it just for private pleasure? I asked. “No, I remember how it was, and now the fingers no longer obey my commands.” And Pat was dead. Again and again, the conversation turned to Pat, and wasn't her memorial service just right? Then he excused himself. He was tired and needed to nap. Afterward, we talked by phone, but that was the last time together. The car pulled out of the driveway, and I tried to hold back the tears.
I called to mind the lines in Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral: “Yet we have gone on living, living and partly living.” The life of my friend Bill Buckley was the opposite of living, living and partly living. As much as this life allows, he lived fully, exuberantly, relishing the possibilities of gifts gratefully received and gifts generously shared. He was ready for the more of which this life is part. He heard his Master calling and he readily went. May choirs of angels, to harpsichord accompaniment, welcome him on the far side of the Jordan. Priest and Ringmaster
Here's a nice summary of aspects of the Catholic liturgical circumstance, and what might be done about it. It's by Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary's Church in Greenville, South Carolina. One of the mistaken things that people were told forty years ago is that the Second Vatican Council mandated a reorientation so that priest and people face one another. The older practice was scorned as the priest “turning his back on the people.” In fact, the practice is ad orientem—facing the liturgical East of the rising sun, meaning the Rising Son. Some describe it simply as ad Deum—facing God together. The older practice is permitted with the Novus Ordo, the new version of the Mass introduced in 1969, and more priests are doing just that. It is another instance of Pope Benedict's encouragement of the Latin form happily resulting in a more reverent celebration of the English form. In any event, here is how Father Newman explains it to his parishioners:
“One objective of the liturgical reforms of the 1960s was to encourage the active participation of the Catholic people in the celebration of the sacred liturgy, in part by reminding them that they are participants in, not spectators of, offering the sacrifice of praise at the heart of all Christian worship. Unfortunately, in
the years following the Second Vatican Council, the Church's desire that all the faithful participate fully in the sacred liturgy was too often rendered a caricature of the Council's teaching, and misconceptions about the true nature of active participation multiplied. This led to the frenzied expansion of ‘ministries' among the people and turned worship into a team sport. But it is possible to participate in the liturgy fully, consciously, and actively without ever leaving one's pew, and it is likewise possible to serve busily as a musician or lector at Mass without truly participating in the sacred liturgy.
“Both of these are true because the primary meaning of active participation in the liturgy is worshipping the living God in Spirit and truth, and that in turn is an interior disposition of faith, hope, and love which cannot be measured by the presence or absence of physical activity. But this confusion about the role of the laity in the Church's worship was not the only misconception to follow the liturgical reforms; similar mistakes were made about the part of the priest. Because of the mistaken idea that the whole congregation had to be ‘in motion' during the liturgy to be truly participating, the priest was gradually changed in the popular imagination from the celebrant of the Sacred Mysteries of salvation into the coordinator of the liturgical ministries of others. And this false understanding of the ministerial priesthood produced the ever-expanding role of the ‘priest presider,' whose primary task was to make the congregation feel welcome and constantly engage them with eye contact and the embrace of his warm personality. Once these falsehoods were accepted, then the service of the priest in the liturgy became grotesquely misshapen, and instead of a humble steward of the mysteries whose only task was to draw back the veil between God and man and then hide himself in the folds, the priest became a ring-master or entertainer whose task was thought of as making the congregation feel good about itself.
“But, whatever that is, it is not Christian worship, and in the last two decades the Church has been gently finding a way back towards the right ordering of her public prayer. In February 2007 Pope Benedict XVI published an Apostolic Exhortation on the Most Holy Eucharist entitled Sacramentum Caritatis in which he discusses the need for priests to cultivate a proper ars celebrandi or art of celebrating the liturgy. In that document, the pope teaches that ‘the primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself,' and an essential part of that work is removing the celebrant from the center of attention so that priest and people together can turn towards the Lord.
“Accomplishing this task of restoring God-centered liturgy is one of the main reasons for returning to the ancient and universal practice of priest and people standing together on the same side of the altar as they offer in Christ, each in their own way, the sacrifice of Calvary as true worship of the Father. In other words, the custom of ad orientem celebration enhances, rather than diminishes, the possibility of the people participating fully, consciously, and actively in the celebration of the sacred liturgy.”While We're At It
• In late February, much news attention was paid the “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, and deservedly so. A landscape survey is just that, however. The methodologies of survey research cannot tell us what is happening on the ground, never mind what is happening in people's hearts. Researchers set up categories and then ask people to identify themselves in relation to them. The survey describes the American religious scene as “very diverse and extremely fluid,” which is undoubtedly true. That has always been the case, but it is perhaps more so today. Almost 80 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, with, despite all the talk about growing religious pluralism, no more than 5 percent claiming other religions. (And perhaps no more than 1 percent identifying as Muslim.) The 16 percent who say they are religiously “unaffiliated” includes a large majority who say they believe in God, pray, and are more or less like their mainly Christian neighbors, except they don't identify themselves with a specific religious tradition or community. For Protestants, Pew offers three categories: evangelical, mainline, and historically black. If by evangelical one means someone who has had a conversion experience, believes in the authority of the Bible, and tries to share the faith with others, there are millions of evangelicals in such “mainline” churches as the United Methodist, ELCA, and Presbyterian Church USA, as well as the Catholic Church, although most of them would not call themselves evangelicals. The loose use of evangelical also results in frequent headlines declaring that evangelicals divorce, engage in extramarital sex, and do other un-evangelical things at more or less the same rates as the general population. To which real evangelicals say that such people are not really evangelicals. With Catholics, it's different. There are no experiential or behavioral tests for being a Catholic. “Once a Catholic, always a Catholic” and all that. Being a faithful Catholic is something else. The Pew data do suggest an alarming rate of Catholics who no longer identify themselves as such. It seems that one out of ten adult Americans is a lapsed Catholic. I'll await the results of other number-crunching analysts before commenting further on that. The finding that received most attention is that 44 percent of Americans have changed religions or denominations at least once in their lifetime. With few exceptions, these are changes within the Christian tradition, broadly defined. The new Pew survey, like all such projects since the beginning of modern survey research in the 1920s, indicates that America continues to be a confusedly and, it would seem, incorrigibly Christian society. So one might say there is nothing new in the study, except that increased “fluidity” might be bad news for those traditions, such as Catholicism, with a strong connection between religious identity and ecclesial adherence.
• The former editor of America, a Jesuit weekly, offers his response to the Pew data to the readers of the Washington Post, many of whom probably found his analysis plausible. The reason so many Catholics have lapsed, he said, is that Catholic loyalty was once “based on family pressure, ethnic neighborhoods, and lack of competition rather than personal commitment.” They also stuck with the Church “out of fear of damnation,” but people don't believe that kind of thing any more. Catholics “became educated, got better jobs, and moved out of their ghettos and into the suburbs.” One is reminded of the Washington Post description of evangelicals as poor, uneducated, and easily led. The Jesuit father repeatedly blames the hierarchy of the Church, which he describes as “overanxious” and “authoritarian.” Appeal to authority on questions such as birth control, divorce, and female priests “did not satisfy an educated people who wanted to be convinced with arguments.” On those and other questions, one might note, the Jesuits have not been conspicuous in providing supportive arguments. The “creative ideas” of theologians were respected at the Second Vatican Council, he writes, but since then such theologians have been “attacked and silenced by the hierarchy.” As a result, he writes, theologians have been alienated. I expect that theologians comprise a very small portion of lapsed Catholics. “A secular comparison would be to see the church as a company where the management and research division were not on speaking terms. Would you invest in such a company?” Probably not, but, if the problem is that the research division is sabotaging the business the company is in, the answer might be to get a new research division. Under the oppressive hierarchy, “liturgical experimentation was forbidden.” That will come as news to innumerable Catholics in parishes that have had to endure the liturgical creativity of Father Jim and Sister Trixy. “Most Protestant services are more interesting and moving than Catholic services.” I don't know how many Protestant services father has attended, but there is something more interesting and moving than the Real Presence of Christ in the Mass? But enough. There is not a wisp of self-criticism in this wearily familiar complaint of adolescence coming on its sunset years in unrelenting resentment that its “creativity” in destabilizing, confusing, obfuscating, and undercutting Catholic faith and life has not received uncritical parental approval. Just imagine what might have been accomplished were it not for that authoritarian hierarchy and mean father figure in Rome.
• As I may have mentioned before, when in 1983 we launched the Center on Religion and Society, later to become the Institute on Religion and Public Life, there were in the country, as best I could determine, four such institutes or academic programs with that focus. At last count, there are well over two hundred today. Now comes an announcement by Columbia University that it is establishing an Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life. To which the journal on religion, culture, and public life says, “Welcome aboard.” I'm afraid, however, that Columbia has a very odd view of religion. In the brief announcement, religion as a source of conflict that needs to be countered by tolerance is alluded to no less than ten times. The heading of the news release reads, “Columbia Opens New Institute to Curb Religious and Cultural Intolerance.” Religion is the problem and the remedy is to be sought in “innovative,” “critical,” and “cross-disciplinary” study. It is a little like Columbia announcing the opening of a business school that will major in the capitalist exploitation of the poor, or a medical school devoted to the study of malpractice. But at least Columbia is discovering religion, albeit in the very limited form of religion's threat to culture and public life.
• Part of the vitality, and of the vacuity, of evangelical Protestantism is the unending and frenetic search for “the next thing.” Whether it produces more vacuity than vitality is a disputed question. It is a question addressed in Telford Work's critique of Reformed and Always Reforming, a book by Roger Olson of Baylor University's theological seminary. The next thing, the newest thing, the coming thing, according to Olson, is “postconservatism.” Good riddance to conservatism, which is marked by “slavish adherence” to an “incorrigible” tradition. Let's replace it with theology as “a pilgrimage and a journey rather than a discovery and conquest.” It sounds an awful lot like “the spirit of Vatican II.” Putting it in a Protestant perspective, Work says Olson is simply playing, once again, the old Arminian pietist card against Calvinists in a war over which tradition will dominate evangelicalism. If one needs a name for “evangelical theology after modernity,” says Work, it would be better to call it postliberalism, not postconservatism, “because postliberals abandon the Enlightenment project that sparked the whole fundamentalist-modernist controversy, and thus both contemporary liberal theology and contemporary evangelical theology.” He doesn't mention it, but I expect he has in mind George Lindbeck's justly influential book of more than twenty years ago, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. The sad fact is, says Work, “from political activism to the church-growth movement to the allegedly postmodern ‘emerging church,' evangelicals are borrowing more than ever from late modern liberalism.” Once again, the excited discovery of “the next thing” turns out to be the result of rummaging through a pile of discards in the used theology shop.
• Canada is in the odd position among the nations of the world in that it has no law with respect to abortion. Years ago, its liberal judiciary struck down the existing law as being excessively “restrictive,” meaning it provided a large measure of protection for the child in the womb. Recently, the new archbishop of Ottawa, the nation's capital, indicated that Catholic politicians who persist in obstinately supporting unlimited abortion rights are in a state of grave sin and should refrain from receiving the Eucharist. The Ottawa Citizen aired its outrage at Archbishop Terrence Prendergast in its news columns. Quoted at length is the spokesperson for Catholics for a Free Choice, a very small offshoot of the very small organization of the same name in this country. And the Citizen interviewed David McGuinty of Ottawa, a pro-abortion member of Parliament. “Mr. McGuinty said he comes from a long line of Catholic politicians who have been able to be pro-choice while remaining true to their religion.” The archbishop will no doubt be interested in learning how that is done.
• Come an election year and there is a renewed flurry of interest in what religious organizations can and cannot do to make a political difference. There will always be a few churches that flirt with the revocation of their tax exemption by direct intervention in electoral politics. From the offices of the major denominations flow guidelines, usually written by nervously risk-averse lawyers, that would stifle the voice of the churches on questions of great moral moment. The best thing I've seen on this subject is a twenty-page document published by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Politics and the Pulpit 2008: A Guide to the Internal Revenue Code Restrictions on the Political Activity of Religious Organizations. You can download it at www.pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=280.
• Inner-city ministry, as it was called, was all the rage when I was a young Lutheran pastor. That had everything to do with my exulting in my call to a very poor, black, and depressed parish in Brooklyn. Later, I considered but finally declined an invitation to head up the Urban Institute in Chicago, which was an ecumenical training school for urban ministries. One of the heroes of that time was Chicago's Monsignor Reynold Hillenbrand, who inspired countless priests as rector of the Mundelein Seminary. The Chicago Sun Times reports on an exhibit featuring Catholicism in Chicago and quotes Monsignor Hillenbrand, who died in 1978, as telling priests “to get out of the rectories and stop just saving souls and start saving neighborhoods and people.” All these years later, one cannot help but be ambivalent about that exhortation. Certainly priests should get out of the rectory, and saving neighborhoods is a good cause. But when priests stop believing that their premier mission is to save souls, it is unlikely that they'll be very good at saving anything else. And, of course, Chicago's neighborhoods were not saved. As for the number of souls saved, we await the final report.
• Why, a reader asks, do we permit Professor Thomas Derr to set the magazine's line on global warming. We don't permit him to do so; we solicit, cherish, and shamelessly encourage his contributions on the subject. And that is simply because, for the last twenty years and more, there is no Christian ethicist who has written more extensively and wisely on moral responsibility for the environment or has followed more closely the debates over climate change, from earlier panics about global cooling to today's worries about global warming. Yes, we know that an authority no less than Al Gore has long since declared that “the argument is over,” thereby decreeing that the hundreds of experts in the pertinent sciences who disagree should shut up. And yes, I saw that the other day Prince Charles declared that skepticism about global warming is “sheer madness.” That may settle the question for some royalists, but not for Nigel Lawson, former Secretary of State for Energy and Chancellor of the Exchequer in her majesty's government. He has just brought out a book, An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming, published by Overlook. His conclusion might be described as straightforward: “So the new religion of global warming, however convenient it may be to the politicians, is not as harmless as it may appear at first sight. Indeed, the more one examines it, the more it resembles a Da Vinci Code of environmentalism. It is a great story, and a phenomenal best-seller. It contains a grain of truth—and a mountain of nonsense. And that nonsense could be very damaging indeed. We appear to have entered a new age of unreason, which threatens to be as economically harmful as it is profoundly disquieting. It is from this, above all, that we really do need to save the planet.” Throughout, his argument is that of Thomas Derr and many others. Not only is the science cited by the global warmists much in dispute, but the propaganda employed invites robust suspicion. We have just been through what has been called “the winter from hell,” with record low temperatures in many parts of the world. This has received slight media comment. One need not imagine the coverage if the winter had been warmer than usual. But after all the scientific disputes and all the hysteria, the moral scandal is that the champions of the climate-change campaign, citing what they call “the precautionary principle,” are quite sanguine about bringing a halt to global economic development, thus guaranteeing that the poor of the world will be perpetually locked into their poverty. How this cause ever found a place on what some people call the “social justice agenda” is cause for wonder. Along with Thomas Derr and other careful analysts, we will continue to follow the evidence and the arguments. As of now, it appears that the almost cultish devotion to reducing humanity's “carbon footprint” is more a matter of trampling on the hopes of the poor and the conscience of the rich. As of now, we are considerably more concerned about that moral footprint.
• I came across this the other day on a website designed for Protestant preachers. The fellow was going on about preaching for ordinary folk, in the course of which he suggested that great preachers such as Tim Keller and Richard John Neuhaus had it easier because they preach to the “chattering class” composed of sophisticated and intellectual types in Manhattan. Whether I am a great preacher, or even a good preacher, I leave for others to judge. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, is a great preacher. He is also author of The Reason for God, which I see has now hit the New York Times bestseller list. In an interview with our managing editor, Anthony Sacramone, he described the book as C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity for dummies. He is too modest. But back to this business of preaching for the sophisticated. As a Lutheran, I was for seventeen years pastor of St. John the Evangelist, a large and predominantly black congregation in Brooklyn, where relatively few people had finished high school. In the past seventeen years as a Catholic priest, I have preached at Immaculate Conception on Fourteenth Street, a decidedly working-class parish of a wondrous ethnic and racial mix on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The people there are, as the man puts it, ordinary folk. True, I am also the preacher for the Sunday Mass at Columbia University, where, if you promise not to say I said it, people are not all that more knowledgeable about the faith. I am asked whether I prepare two different homilies, one for Immaculate and the other for the more “sophisticated” types at Columbia. Definitely not. In both cases, and I would suggest in all cases, the aim is to preach up to people rather than, in the name of relevance or “meeting them where they're at,” preaching down to them. And the aim is to try not to be dull. It is an extraordinary act of clerical abuse to bore a captive audience for fifteen minutes, or thirty minutes, as is the case in many Protestant churches. Catholics priests routinely claim that people today have a short attention span. Maybe they do—for the kind of preaching to which they're accustomed. They have a long enough attention span for many other things that interest them. I don't think we want to suggest that Protestants are genetically disposed to greater attentiveness. To preach interestingly does not mean to be theatrical but to provide something of intellectual substance. In my experience, people are intensely interested in what Christianity teaches, and why. Which is to say they are intensely interested in doctrine. I see from time to time Catholic homilies and homiletic aids on websites and elsewhere. I am sorry to say they are usually an embarrassment—moralistic tripe joined to vacuous uplift and a cute story. I do wish seminaries would stop teaching priests to lean on anecdotes and story illustrations. The really interesting stories, to be interestingly explicated, are in the biblical readings. Go read St. Augustine's homilies to see how that is done. Not everybody is going to be a great, or even a very good, preacher. Expectations are higher among Protestants. Catholics come to church chiefly for the Mass and, as often as not, put up with the homily. But priests should not take advantage of lower expectations by trying the patience and insulting the intelligence of their people. Years ago I wrote Freedom for Ministry, a book in which I emphasized the importance of a well-prepared homily. I wrote that, if by Tuesday morning a preacher has not given serious thought to next Sunday's homily, he is already behind schedule. It's a matter of mulling it over and jotting down notes over the week and having by Friday, or Saturday morning at the latest, an outline, or even a written text—I seldom have the latter—of an interesting homily. If it is not interesting to you, it's probably not going to be interesting to others. Well, I didn't mean to go on so. But I did take umbrage at the fellow saying I don't preach to ordinary folk. My folk are as ordinary as your folk, buddy.
• The most distinguished public award offered by Notre Dame University is the Laetare Medal. This year it was given to actor Martin Sheen, who on television played a president of the United States who is a Notre Dame graduate. In announcing the award, Father John Jenkins of Notre Dame said: “He has used his celebrity to draw the attention of his fellow citizens to issues that cry out for redress, such as the plight of immigrant workers and homeless people, the waging of unjust war, the killing of the unborn and capital punishment. We welcome the opportunity to lift up his example for our Church, our country, and our students.” In fact, Mr. Sheen has been arrested on multiple occasions in protests against the Bush administration, the war in Iraq, and other issues. He has reportedly written checks for crisis-pregnancy centers, but he has not “used his celebrity to draw the attention of his fellow citizens to . . . the killing of the unborn.” In an interview with the Progressive, he said, “I personally am opposed to abortion but I will not judge anybody else's right in that regard because I am not a woman and I could never face the actual reality of it.” The “personally opposed but” position has a long history at Notre Dame, going back to Mario Cuomo's notorious address of 1984, “Religious Belief and Public Morality,” in which he made the argument that Catholics could, as he did, support the unlimited abortion license of Roe v. Wade. Apparently, Notre Dame has learned little about what it means to be an “example for our Church, our country, and our students.”
• “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” writes a reader who picked up on an inaugural meeting at Georgetown University of a project called the Evangelical-Catholic Dialogue on the Common Good/Public Policy. I suppose it might be referred to as ECD to distinguish it from ECT, Evangelicals and Catholics Together. The more, the merrier, I say. The list of participants is composed of “moderate” to less than moderate proponents of a leftward political persuasion. Catholic headliners include Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, D.C.; John Carr of the bishops' conference; and John DeGioia, president of Georgetown. On the evangelical side are, inter alios, Rick Warren of The Purpose-Driven Life, Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, and Richard Cizik, point man on global warming for the National Association of Evangelicals. The stated purpose is to “bring faith to bear on public life with regard to respect for life issues touching on abortion, the death penalty, and end of life questions, and with regard to poverty as it relates to questions of justice affecting family life, wage stagnation, income inequality and related issues.” The obvious, although unstated, goal is to distance the participants from the “religious right,” which is presumably excessive in its preoccupation with the killing of babies in the womb. While it may be the case that most of the participants in ECT are more politically and socially conservative than those involved in this new initiative, the focus of ECT is not politics but spiritual and theological reconciliation. Thus ECT has devoted its energies to statements on justification, scriptural authority, and the communion of saints, and is currently working on the question of Mary in Christian faith and life. The growing cooperation between evangelicals and Catholics is to be warmly welcomed, and it is probably inevitable that it would be employed for more overtly political purposes, as is the case with ECD. To be sure, the forming of a political coalition is quite distinct from the quest for Christian unity, and may even further divide Christians along conventional lines of political polarization. That is sad but hardly surprising when for many people, including many religious leaders, politics is trump. In any event, we will be keeping an eye on ECD, which is a potentially significant development.
• During this past Lent of the Long Lent that is the Church's period of penance for the sex-abuse crisis, an organization called Justice for Priests and Deacons sent out a national mailing asking for support. Hundreds of priests (nobody seems to know just how many hundreds) have been accused and, without due process, publicly humiliated and removed from active ministry. Too many bishops have adopted the Caiaphas principle of sacrificing a few for the good of the many. Some observers have urged that these priests, guilty or not, should “take a hit” for the team. I don't think so. The Church is to be a “mirror of justice,” and scapegoating the innocent only intensifies the leadership corruption so devastatingly detailed in Philip Lawler's recent book, The Faithful Departed. The past six years have gone a long way in destroying the relationship of trust between bishops and priests, the men for whom bishops at their ordination promise to show a special solicitude. The above-mentioned mailing offers advice on “Protecting Your Rights as a Priest and a Deacon.” It includes this: If a bishop or diocesan official summons you to a meeting about reported misconduct, “take your civil attorney, your canonist or another reputable individual such as a fellow priest with you to the meeting. This will provide you with an independent witness for the proceedings and will limit the possibility that the meeting is mischaracterized or inappropriately interpreted at a later date. You should never go by yourself.” Don't talk to your bishop without having your lawyer at hand. Bishops say they want to protect the children. They do and they have. The institutions of the Catholic Church are now the safest environment for children in the country, next to their being safe in bed under the watchful eyes of loving parents. But in their treatment of priests and deacons, bishops frequently give priority to their financial liability and public image. These are of course legitimate concerns but not at the price of solicitude for the men in their pastoral care or at the price of elementary justice. The address of Justice for Priests and Deacons is P.O. Box 87225, San Diego, California 92138. Another organization of lawyers helping accused priests is Opus Bono Sacerdotii, 430 East Jefferson Avenue, Suite 309, Detroit, Michigan 48207. For more information about both, go to their websites. You might want to consider writing a check.
• Many are the uses of the poor, and India is a veritable cornucopia of poor people. Despite the country's growing economy, more than two thirds of its billion people subsist on less than $25
0 per year. Not that they don't have valuable assets, however. There is a very brisk international market in kidneys and other body parts. Why did God give us two of some very valuable parts if not to have one to put up for sale? The same goes for women and their wombs. Some years ago there was a terrific media storm in this country over a rich Manhattan couple who had contracted with a New Jersey woman to be “surrogate mother” for their child, and then sued the woman because she didn't want to keep her part of the deal. During pregnancy, she had developed a strange attachment to the child. The arrangement ran into a buzz saw of media indignation as an offense against good old-fashioned American egalitarianism. Not in America you don't. That's why God made India and so many other places chock-full of poor people. Here's a story in the New York Times about the growing surrogate-mother industry in India, where such things are not inhibited by regulation or moral scrupulosity. Rich Europeans and Americans have their pick of wombs for rent. This story features two gay men from Israel who are delighted to pay $30
,000 to artificially inseminate an Indian woman to bear a child who will be, so to speak, their very own. It is hard to blame the women involved. Here is a midwife who was making $69 per month, barely enough to support her nine-year-old son. Her cut for the first time she rented her body for nine months was $13,600, enough to buy a house. This time around she is getting only $8,600. The reliable dynamics of capitalism are doing their work. The competition is stiffening, and there is no shortage of women who are poor and willing. It's a buyer's market. It is true that most of what used to be called the Third World is getting richer. (Apart from Africa, of course. But for some reason that nobody mentions—Is it possibly related to racism?—African body parts and wombs are not very popular on the international market.) Despite the economic development of most poor countries, however, the rich of the rich countries are assured that there will be an ample supply of poor people for decades to come. The affluent will not be inconvenienced by a lack of mothers to rent, while the demand for wombs and body parts is driving down prices every day. Adam Smith should have lived to see this day. Many are the uses of the poor.
• Here is a promising new beginning. CALL is the acronym for Catholic Association of Latino Leaders, launched in February under the episcopal auspices of Archbishop José Gómez of San Antonio and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver. Mr. Mario Paredes, a good friend and a foremost expert on all things Latino, is the president. At the initial meeting in San Antonio, he spoke about evangelization, support for the family, the culture of life, immigration policy, and the need for Latinos to embrace responsibility for the ecclesial care of their rapidly growing communities. Latinos are not only entry-level participants in the workforce. They should include in their vision a larger role in economic opportunity. Paredes said: “The social doctrine of our Church places a very high importance on entrepreneurship, which is a reflection of God's creativity; this social doctrine does not in any way contain the idea of an intrinsically evil economy that is to be restrained with the reins of ethics like a ferocious beast that must be tamed. On the contrary, it reasserts that the economy, a resolve of human activity, has meaning and longevity only when it corresponds to an anthropological reality. Our late Holy Father, John Paul II, explained the failure of Communism as a result of a major anthropological error which could only lead to economic failure. He also criticized Capitalism, not for its economic system, but for the weakening of the entire social system as it limits itself to producing goods and services, and falls into an equally condemnable materialism. We cannot deny that the Church and the business world have suffered an ambiguous relationship. Today, we have the opportunity to recognize the positive role of the market rather than condemn its ideology as anti-religious, inhuman, and socially unsustainable. The Catholic life cannot be lived in a dichotomy. Faith matters. All of our being calls us to have an integral personal development. We cannot pretend to be religious in the Church and ruthless in the workplace or community. This is a false interpretation of the human person.” For more information about CALL, check out www.call-usa.org.
• Max Stackhouse of Princeton Theological Seminary has been working for years on the theme of “God and Globalization.” Globalization and Grace (Continuum) is the fourth and final volume in a series on that theme. Combining theology, sociology, social theory, and ethics, Stackhouse's “public theology” offers a very judicious, and generally favorable, evaluation of globalization understood not only in economic or geopolitical terms but with particular attention to cultural dynamics that are moving toward something like a cosmopolitan future. He spends a great deal of time responding, patiently and respectfully, to the many enemies of globalization, both Christian and other. The fierce antiglobalization passions of a few years ago that generated raucous protests at international meetings seem to be on the wane. Like it or not, globalization is happening, and Max Stackhouse makes a persuasive argument that the Christian response to it may turn out to be one of the great turning points in Christian and world history. Globalization and Grace is not light reading, but it is the kind of book that, fifty or a hundred years from now, may be celebrated for its prescience.
• John Searle, professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, has been writing for years and years on the quandaries of the brain-mind-consciousness connections. We have what I expect are basic disagreements, but he is always instructive. His most recent book is Freedom and Neurobiology (Columbia University Press), and it is reviewed by David Papineau, a philosopher at King's College, London, in the Times Literary Supplement. A strength of Searle's approach is that he is attentive to thinking and consciousness, as we experience thinking and consciousness. This is sometimes called a commonsensical approach, and Papineau doesn't think much of it. “Common sense is all very well,” he writes, “but it has many strands, and they aren't always internally consistent, especially when they need to be squared with the findings of science.” Ah yes, the findings of science. Searle is critical of the vulgar reductionism by which mind is exhaustively explained by reference to neural synapses in the pound of thinking meat that is the brain. He says that consciousness is “causally reducible” to the physical world but is not “ontologically reducible.” Papineau thinks this comes close to talking nonsense. “Quantum mechanics,” he says, “tells us that the probabilities of physical effects are always fixed by prior physical circumstances.” Apart from the problems with the idea of “fixed probabilities,” one might think that Papineau's readiness to surrender to the physicists the last word on human thinking imperils his employment as a philosopher. The chief difficulty is with the idea of science as the study of that which is under our control and can be subjected to examination and experiment. In this definition of science, the scientist seeking to understand consciousness by studying the brain is not studying consciousness. More specifically, he is not studying the consciousness of the scientist seeking to understand consciousness by studying the brain. John Searle hasn't figured out how we think and why, and perhaps nobody ever will, but he is suggestive and instructive because, unlike David Papineau and many others, he refuses to define science down.
• It is a very old question and, quite understandably, people keep asking it. In Luke 13, Jesus is asked whether those who are saved are many or few. As many other theologians have done, Pope Benedict speculates on a possible answer to the question in a February meeting with the clergy of Rome. He expresses the hope that most will be saved, but says: “Perhaps there are not so many who have destroyed themselves so completely, who are irreparable forever, who no longer have any element upon which the love of God can rest, who no longer have the slightest capacity to love within themselves. This would be hell. On the other hand, they are certainly few—or at least not very many—who are so pure that they can immediately enter into communion with God.” Thus the need for purification, as in purgatory. Of those who might be damned, he says, “Alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history.” Most people would immediately think of figures such as Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot. This line of speculation is not without its problems. Avery Cardinal Dulles has written in these pages: “The search for numbers in the demography of hell is futile. God in his wisdom has seen fit not to disclose any statistics.” John Paul the Great, in agreement with Hans Urs von Balthasar, holds out the hope in Crossing the Threshold of Hope that in the end all may be saved. It is a hope that I have explored in Death on a Friday Afternoon. Speculating about who or how many will be damned undercuts that hope. Better, it seems to me, to stay with the response of Jesus in Luke 13. He does not satisfy the curious by answering the question but says: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Gradations of wickedness are known only to God. All of us are by our sinful nature under the judgment of God and our only hope is the grace revealed in Jesus Christ. As Jesus says in John 10, “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” We are to strive for righteousness, but we cannot enter through that narrow door by our own efforts. Whether all will enter by the door who is Christ only God knows. We may hope so, and that is enough.
• Dealing with sin and forgiveness in the public realm is a very tricky business. One of the most interesting exercises in recent history is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established in South Africa after the end of apartheid in 1994. Understandable passions for punishment, retaliation, and reparations having been set aside, it was agreed that the goal was to make a clean breast of the wrongs perpetrated and then get on with being one society. In this country, of course, the original sin of our founding was slavery. Here, too, there have been from time to time agitations for the payment of reparations to the victims of slavery, even if six or more generations removed. That campaign has never gotten very far because, among other reasons, there is nobody living who was a slaveholder; because of the impossibility of sorting out the mixed heritage of most blacks who are descendants of both slaves and slaveholders; and, perhaps most important, because the country has already paid with 620,000 deaths in a Civil War that ended slavery. And, of course, all that was a long time ago. Moreover, with a presidential contender who was born in Hawaii of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, whatever connection remains between race and victimhood is, in the minds of most Americans, attenuated to the point of implausibility. A more recent instance of sin and forgiveness is the case of the Aborigines of Australia. Long-time prime minister John Howard staunchly refused to make an official apology on behalf of the nation for some pretty awful things that were done to them. The new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, is of a different mind. “We apologize for the removal of Aboriginal children from their families, their communities, and their country,” he declared at a solemn gathering in Sydney. “For the pain, suffering, and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants, and for their families left behind, we say sorry. . . . For the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.” In view of what was done, even if much of it was well-intended but seems atrocious in retrospect, “Sorry about that” hardly seems sufficient. And, of course, there are calls for reparations, which Mr. Rudd is resisting as staunchly as did Mr. Howard, and for reasons in some ways similar to the rejection of reparations in this country. Within the limits of human history, marked by mistakes and crimes beyond numbering, there is no course of redemption that can set things right. Except, of course, for the reconciliation effected by the cross of Christ, which is beyond the administration of the nation and state. Political leaders can acknowledge errors, even if their predecessors thought they were doing the right thing, and promise not to repeat them. One may applaud Mr. Rudd for doing so, even if one wishes that, for such a solemn occasion, he might have come up with something of greater gravitas than “We say sorry.” On the other hand, “We ask you to forgive us” might raise questions about guilt, contrition, and satisfaction, generating suits and countersuits without end. Forgiveness is so very specific.
• Marx, Freud, and, above all, Nietzsche are atheists for whom one can have a measure of intellectual respect. They, says John F. Haught in his book God and the New Atheism, understood that when God and religion are eliminated life does not go on as usual. Haught calls them the hard-core atheists. It's quite a different matter with the new crop of soft-core atheists. Haught writes: “Dawkins declares that the biblical God is a monster, Harris that God is evil, Hitchens that God is not great. But without some fixed sense of rightness how can one distinguish what is monstrous, evil or ‘not great' from its opposite? In order to make such value judgments one must assume, as the hard-core atheists are honest enough to acknowledge, that there exists somewhere, in some mode of being, a realm of rightness that does not owe its existence completely to human invention, Darwinian selection or social construction. And if we allow the hard-core atheists into our discussion, we can draw this conclusion: If absolute values exist, then God exists. But if God does not exist, then neither do absolute values, and one should not issue moral judgments as though they do. Belief in God or the practice of religion is not necessary in order for people to be highly moral beings. We can agree with soft-core atheists on this point. But the real question, which comes not from me but from the hard-core atheists, is: Can you rationally justify your unconditional adherence to timeless values without implicitly invoking the existence of God?”
• Parental choice in education, through vouchers or some other instrument, continues to be a matter of simple justice. And yes, the chief concern here is for the urban underclass whose children are truly victimized by being consigned to government schools that have for decades been a catastrophe. It is disconcerting that in recent months there appears to be increasing opposition to vouchers by various conservatives. (Politically relevant liberalism is in the pocket of teachers' unions who won't give an inch in defending the monopoly on funding for government schools.) So we have a prominent conservative debunking the “Milwaukee Miracle.” Milwaukee has a large and well-functioning voucher experiment, and it may be, as this critic claims, that it has not dramatically lifted the performance of public schools, but it has provided thousands of children in independent schools with real educational opportunity. That is not all the miracle that was hoped for, but for those children it is miracle enough. Then there are those who say that what we need is not vouchers but tax credits. That's an interesting idea, but its proponents have yet to explain how it will help those who don't pay taxes to begin with, which means the urban underclass that is most in need of better schools. Now we have John Tamny, editor of RealClearMarkets.com, contending that “good schools are a reflection of the good values of parents and students who put a premium on education. Without them, vouchers will likely be another government handout bringing with them all the negatives and unintended consequences that other handouts have traditionally brought.” Apparently it is better that the government handout, at the rate of $15,000 per year per student, should be given to the existing and disastrous public school systems. Mr. Tamny's answer to the problems of the urban underclass is that they should become middle-class. Brilliant. That may be much to be desired, but it will not happen so long as their children are forced into schools that are manifestly not preparing them to participate in the opportunities and responsibilities of American society. Real parental choice, whether through vouchers or other means, deserves the support of conservatives, liberals, and everyone else who claims to care about the poor in America's cities.
• Published accounts and personal conversations about the recently concluded 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus suggest that it will be pretty much business as usual with the Jesuits. The big news item was the election of a new general of the society, Father Adolfo Nicolas, a Spaniard who has spent many years in Asia. In two messages to the meeting of the congregation in Rome, Pope Benedict gently but clearly indicated concern about Jesuit fidelity to Catholic faith and life, but that apparently made little impression. Speaking to the press after his election, Father Nicolas complained about stories suggesting a tension between the society and the papacy. “The Society of Jesus,” he said, “has from the very beginning always been in communion with the Holy Father. . . . We want to cooperate with the Holy See and to obey the Holy Father. That has not changed and will not change.” Of course, anybody who has not apostasized is in communion with the Holy Father. In view of the recent history of the society, Father Nicolas' assertion seems somewhat insouciant. As the number of members has declined precipitously in recent decades, Jesuits have been in the lead among those who dissent from, and in some cases publicly defy, the Church's teaching on faith and morals. The fact that those who have presided over the society's decline expressed such enthusiasm for the election of Father Nicolas is not encouraging. The Catholic character of many Jesuit universities and colleges—describing themselves not as Catholic but as schools “in the Jesuit tradition”—has all but disappeared. Jesuit theologians are conspicuous among those denying or fudging the unique and universal role of Christ in human salvation. A 2005 instruction from the Vatican declared that “those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called ‘gay culture' must not be admitted to seminaries or to holy orders.” Yet Jesuits in positions of leadership declare that they welcome and affirm men who are “homosexuality oriented and gay.” Writing to the General Congregation, Pope Benedict indicated that there are serious concerns about the way in which Jesuits address, or fail to address, the pastoral care of men with same-sex attractions. There is also deep dissent on abortion, as witness a chair in the law school of Georgetown University, a putatively Jesuit school, named in honor of the late Fr. Robert Drinan, who did more than anyone else to provide a covering rationale for Catholic politicians who publicly reject the Church's teaching on the defense of innocent human life. Well, we could go on, and sometimes we have. Father Nicolas has just assumed his role as leader of the society. We must hope that he will demonstrate the courage and faith to lead the society toward a “communion with the Holy Father” that would be recognizable by Saint Ignatius. That is the hope expressed by Pope Benedict in an audience with those participating in the meeting of the congregation. After emphasizing the Church's teaching on Jesus as the sole mediator of salvation, sexual morality, the culture of life, and the understanding of marriage and family, the pope said: “Precisely for this reason I have invited you in the past and I invite you again today to consider how to regain a fuller meaning of your distinctive ‘fourth vow' of obedience to the Successor of Peter—which consists not solely in readiness to be sent on mission to distant lands, but also—in the more authentically Ignatian spirit of ‘thinking with the Church and in the Church'—in the readiness to ‘love and serve' the Vicar of Christ on earth with that ‘effective and affective' devotion which must make you his valued and irreplaceable co-workers in his service for the universal Church.”
• Oh, what a delicious brouhaha this is. The rabbis of Conservative Judaism have voted to censure the pope for changes he made in a prayer of the Good Friday liturgy. Not, of course, the Good Friday liturgy known to all but a relatively few Catholics, but the liturgy in Latin, sometimes called the Tridentine Mass or the Pius V Mass. Benedict XVI calls it the Mass of John XXIII, since it was last modified during that pope's reign, and it is officially referred to as “the extraordinary” form, as distinct from the “ordinary” form familiar to most Catholics. Got all that? In any event, the old prayer spoke of the “blindness” of the Jews to their Messiah. Jews strenuously objected to that. So the new prayer drops the bit about blindness but still asks God to lead Jews to accept Jesus as their Savior and expresses the hope that “all Israel may be saved.” Now Jews object just as strenuously to that. Catholic-Jewish relations have suffered a severe setback, we are told. Says Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, “While we appreciate that some of the deprecatory language has been removed, we are deeply troubled and disappointed that the framework and intention to petition God for Jews to accept Jesus as Lord was kept intact.” Cardinal Walter Kasper, Rome's point man on Jewish-Christian matters, is just a touch testy about such complaints. “I must say that I don't understand why Jews cannot accept that we can make use of our freedom to formulate our prayers,” he told an Italian newspaper. “We think that this prayer cannot reasonably be viewed as an obstacle to dialogue since it reflects the faith of the Church. Also, Jews have prayers in their liturgical texts that we Catholics don't like.” In an interview with Vatican Radio, Kasper said: “The Holy Father wanted to say, ‘Yes, Jesus Christ is the savior of all men, including the Jews.' This doesn't mean we are embarking on a mission [to convert Jews]. We are giving witness to our faith.” A very different Jewish response is offered by Hillel Halkin in the New York Sun. “Are [the Jewish protestors] worried that God might actually listen to such a prayer? . . . Are there really so many Jews who are ready to run to the baptismal font with the first knock of a Christian missionary at their door? One doubts it, but, if it's true, it's a sad comment not on the predatoriness of Christianity but on the weakness of contemporary Judaism and Jewish identity,” writes Halkin. He mentions Christians who are appreciative of Judaism and close to Jews, and they are also “convinced that in the end the Jewish people will recognize this figure as the Messiah they gave to the world.” “I know such Christians. Not only do they not have an anti-Jewish bone in their bodies, they think far more of the Jews than many Jews do.” It is quite possible, writes Halkin, to respect another religion while believing one's own is more true. “Jews have always thought this about Judaism and it's hypocritical of them to want Christians not to think it about Christianity. If anyone cares enough about my soul to pray for me, I might as well take it as a compliment.”
• In sharpest contrast to Hillel Halkin's reflection is a long editorial in New York's Jewish Daily Forward. It is a sustained cry of outrage against Pope Benedict's revision of the Good Friday prayer in the extraordinary Latin form. The editors write: “The prayer no longer speaks of Jewish ‘blindness' or ‘darkness,' much less ‘perfidy.' But it still asks that ‘all Israel be saved through Christ our Lord.' It was that missionizing ambition, not the phrasing of it, that troubled Jews through the ages. That was the doctrine that Pope John Paul II promised to annul.” It will come as stunning news to all who are even minimally informed about such matters that John Paul promised to annul, as if he could, the teaching that Jesus Christ came to be the Savior of all. Repeatedly the editorial claims that in recent decades, before the regressive Cardinal Ratzinger became pope, the Catholic Church declared that Jews and Judaism are “exempt” from the universal promise of the gospel. The Catholic Church taught, says the Forward, that “the Jews have their own path to redemption.” Of course the Church teaches that God denies nobody the grace necessary to salvation and underscores the unbreakable bond between the Church and the People of Israel, but that does not diminish in the slightest the doctrine that salvation is through Christ, even for those who have never heard the gospel. It is touching to the point of pathetic that the Forward is so eager to have the Church legitimate Judaism by granting it a unique exemption from the gospel promise. The editorial is titled “Turning Back the Clock” and ends with this: “In America, at least, Jews and Catholics have a long tradition of making common cause in the public sphere, working together for religious freedom, the rights of labor, immigrants and the poor, and much more. In recent years, it's true, the collaboration has been clouded by disagreements, mainly over abortion and the lessons of the Holocaust. Progressives on both sides have looked to the continuing process of dialogue and reconciliation to lift those veils and clear the road forward.” Yes, progressives (i.e., liberals) on both sides no doubt hope that. Those on both sides who care about the integrity of Judaism and Christianity, however, know that dialogue and reconciliation can be advanced only in the truth of reason and revelation that is not subject to political negotiation. Contra the Forward, Jews who are confident of the truth of Judaism do not feel a need for the Catholic Church to certify their conviction, and Christians who are faithful to the gospel will continue to ask everyone, including Jews, the question posed by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?”
• Yes, it is true, I occasionally criticize our parish newsletter, the New York Times. Less frequently than in the past, however. It is, after all, such an easy target. But I am among the declining number who read it almost every morning, and I confess it can still get a rise out of me from time to time. In its editorial stridency and biased reporting on culture-of-life questions, along with much else, the Times seems to be begging for outraged protest. Not, of course, that one would oblige them with protest that is anything other than civil. But now I stumble across this article in the New Republic criticizing the Times' treatment of abortion. How nice, I think, that even TNR has had enough. But no, the point of the article is that the Times is not full-throated enough in its advocacy of “reproductive rights,” which is the paper's favored euphemism for abortion. The author of the TNR article, Debbie Nathan, cites several stories in the Times over the last few years that include not entirely unsympathetic treatments of pro-life advocates and even go so far as to suggest that some women are deeply troubled about having had their children terminated. Nathan writes: “So, what's going on at the Times? Maybe only what's happening in the whole culture. Liberals and even feminists have bought into the reasoning that abortion is basically immoral, and if women could just be educated and dosed with birth control, we wouldn't have to terminate any pregnancies.” She is right about the cultural change in attitudes toward abortion. Some people are going even further and are raising serious questions about contraception. Where will it all end? Nathan writes, “The Gray Lady is powerful way beyond New York liberal circles. And by making anti-woman moral judgments and obsessing over ‘problems' with no good evidence they exist, she's abusing her nation and the world.” What a lovely phrase: “her nation and the world.” It should do wonders for editorial egos at the Times, even if the paper is being charged with the crime of nation and world abuse. Debbie Nathan, one notes, is also the author of Pornography, a book aimed at helping teenagers understand the pros and cons of pornography. And, although the TNR article doesn't mention it—as in “full disclosure”—Nathan has something of a history with the Times. A couple of years ago, writing on Slate, she accused Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald of illegally watching kiddy porn, which got her entangled in a threatened libel suit. But Ms. Nathan has a point in her discussion of a change in the Times' treatment of abortion. It is no longer an unmitigated good to be celebrated as a sign of women's liberation. It is now somehow morally problematic, to be discussed with a furrowed brow and moderate hand-wringing, and, push come to shove, to be defended, and defended adamantly, as a necessary evil. This may be viewed as progress, albeit of a painfully limited kind, and it is understandable that Debbie Nathan and TNR are alarmed.
• The expensive wraparound of this issue of Publishers Weekly is promoting Gene Robinson's In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God. Robinson, you may remember, is the gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire. The book is published by Church Publishing Inc., which apparently has absorbed the old Morehouse and Seabury publishing entities. The ad says that this is “the only book by the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson,” so apparently it is a chance you don't want to miss. The foreword is by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who espies parallels between apartheid and bias against gays, and whose support for Robinson underscores the yawning gap between him and the Anglican bishops of Africa who are pressing the Anglican communion to the breaking point in their commitment to biblical faith and practice. The promotion describes Robinson as a “major newsmaker for 2008.” Well, not really. He became bishop in 2004 and hasn't done anything newsworthy since then except to continue to be the gay bishop of New Hampshire. Newsworthy would be repentance and a declaration of fidelity to a recognizably Christian sexual morality. But it is nice to see the names of Morehouse and Seabury prominently mentioned again after all these years, even if in a paid advertisement. One expects that sales to gays and remaining Episcopalians might repay the cost of the wraparound. But there is something so yesteryear in making a big splash about gay Episcopalians. Both author and publisher no doubt remember fondly the 1950s when Bishop James Pike could create a modest sensation by rejecting whatever article of the faith he found disagreeable that week. What was then a novelty has by now the feel of a staid and exhausted tradition. I suppose, however, that one takes his opportunities for defiance where he can get them, even where there is nothing left to defy. Unless one dared to be truly original by defying the urge to appear defiant.
• It was in 1988 that we hosted Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who gave our Erasmus Lecture, followed by several days of intense conversation with an ecumenical group of noted theologians and biblical scholars. From that I edited the book Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The Ratzinger Conference on Bible and Church (Eerdmans). This October, exactly twenty years later, Pope Benedict will preside over a synod of bishops devoted to biblical interpretation, under the title “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” Already, some of the arguments are joined. Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a Jesuit, leading progressive, and emeritus archbishop of Milan, is giving interviews in which he defends the status quo. Various critical methodologies have not undermined biblical authority or confused the faithful, Martini contends, and the most important thing is not to “roll back” the advances of Vatican Council II. In sum, says Martini, there is no crisis. Benedict has chosen as relator, or chairman, of the synod Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec. “Faith is a basic principle to the scientific character of exegesis,” Ouellet told a recent meeting of biblical scholars. “If we exclude faith, we are not being rigorous; we are misunderstanding the book. This point has to be made in the academy. We have to help one another to come home to Scripture in the spiritual sense.” If you want to get a sense of some of the issues that will likely be joined at the synod of bishops, read again Robert Louis Wilken's “How to Read the Bible” in the March issue. Or maybe you can track down a used copy of Biblical Interpretation in Crisis.
• It seems the tide has turned in public attitudes toward abortion. Especially among young people. Two pro-abortion warriors, Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe and activist Gloria Feldt are not at all happy about it. Both address a spate of movies— Juno, Knocked Up, Waitress, Bella—in which the decision to reject abortion and have babies is favorably portrayed. Goodman writes: “I am supposed to go with the flow and not point a scolding finger at cultural propaganda. But fuddy-duddy be damned. Sitting behind those tweens [in the movie theater]—girls somewhere between preschool and pubescence—I wondered what was being absorbed through their PG-13 pores.” She quotes Stephanie Coontz who says: “Social conservatives are backing off on the condemnation of single mothers. Social liberals are backing off on the idea that it's possible to have an abortion and not be ruined by it.” Goodman concludes: “Once again, adults are being called to teach against the cultural tide. Think of it as a casting call for designated fuddy-duddies.” Feldt is exercised that pro-lifers have successfully joined their cause to what is seen as the pro-family position. “It's often overlooked that abortion is as much part of family formation as childbearing. Women don't have abortions because they fail to value children, but because they value children so highly that they want to give birth when they can care for them well.” Right. “I value children in general, and maybe a different child at another time, but this child is scheduled for extermination.” Women of their age, Goodman and Feldt seem to be saying, are like moral vampires who need today's girls to make the same mistakes they did in order for them to feel justified about their own decisions. The good news is that they now cast themselves as defenders of the status quo against the cultural tide of aversion to abortion.
• History of the Book in Canada is a $20
0 set of three volumes and almost two thousand pages produced by the University of Toronto Press and tracing the story of book publishing in Canada from 1840 to 1980. The extended review in the Times Literary Supplement concludes, “These volumes are a scholarly achievement that deserves a wide readership.” But not likely to receive it, I'm afraid. We live in a world in which so many achievements are denied their just deserts. While a wide readership seems improbable, surely a few of you might strike a blow for justice by buying, and reading, History of the Book in Canada.
• “American Catholics in the New Gilded Age.” It's not a pretty picture, according to Daniel J. Morrissey, professor of law at Gonzaga University, Spokane. Writing in America, a Jesuit magazine, he says: “The masters of the universe in the new golden age of greed were aided and abetted by the only tangible achievements of the Bush administration: its tax reductions and deregulatory schemes. Every profile of contemporary American Catholics must come to grips with the uncomfortable fact that a majority of the Catholics who attend church every week voted for George W. Bush in 2004.” He then adds, “Maybe pragmatic considerations were uppermost in their minds at the time.” Or maybe they were weighing something other than all economics all the time. Like, for instance, the culture of life. For Professor Morrissey, it seems, that is an uncomfortable fact with which he has not “come to grips,” or even considered worthy of notice.
• One of the most admired figures in Poland during the Solidarity period was Father Jozef Tischner, the first chaplain to the union movement. Tischner, who died in 2000, was a philosopher of great distinction who worked closely with Karol Wojtyla, later John Paul the Great, in Krakow and, later, in organizing the regular gatherings of intellectuals at Castel Gandolfo. Now the Tischner Institute in Krakow has published in English the first issue of the Tischner Institute Journal of Philosophy, “Thinking in Values: Solidarity.” It is a big, handsome journal with contributions by notable Polish intellectuals and will be of interest to those who want to understand currents of thought that influenced Karol Wojtyla. (For more information: www.tischner.org.pl.)
• “Mormons Dismayed by Harsh Spotlight” is the headline on the front page of the Wall Street Journal the day after Mitt Romney dropped out of the race. The story says, among other things, that I wrote that “a Mormon presidency would threaten Christian faiths.” Not so. As readers may remember, my position was that Mitt Romney was in many ways a very attractive candidate but I believed that commentators were underestimating the uneasiness of many Americans, and not only evangelicals, with the prospect of a Mormon president. A major reason for such uneasiness is that a Mormon in the White House would enhance the influence of Mormonism, which they view as a false religion. Whatever the political attractiveness of Romney, for such people the religious factor trumps the political. All this strikes me as self-evident and in no way “controversial.” These people are not to be derided as religious bigots nor to be compared, as they are by one party in the Journal story, to anti-Semites. One may disagree with them while recognizing that their position is not indefensible. The Romney candidacy revealed the extent of uneasiness with Mormonism. One can hardly imagine a more reassuring public face of Mormonism than that presented by Mitt Romney. Yet a poll taken shortly before he withdrew from the race indicated that 50 percent of Americans were, to varying degrees, “uncomfortable” with the prospect of a Mormon president, while 81 percent ranged from “comfortable” to “enthusiastic” with a black president, and 76 percent said the same about a woman. We have a long history of thinking about blacks and women in our society. Until this campaign, it seems probable that most Americans had given little, if any, thought to Mormons and Mormonism. It also seems that those non-Mormons who had given most thought to the subject are most uneasy about a Mormon as president. Greater familiarity does not necessarily result in greater acceptance. But it can, over time. The Latter-day Saints continue to present themselves as being part of the Christian tradition with which most Americans identify. That can cut two ways: It may make Mormonism more acceptable for many, while, for others, it may exacerbate the suspicion that Mormonism is sailing under false colors. I expect the first dynamic is stronger, if for no other reason than that most people are not attentive to the theological concerns that drive the second. The response to the Romney candidacy is a disappointment for Mormons seeking a secure place in the American religious and political order, and a brutal disappointment for Mormons who thought that security had already been attained. The story of Mormonism in America is far from over. The Romney candidacy may be viewed in historical retrospect as a moment that alerted us, Mormons and non-Mormons alike, to the hard work still to be done.
• “Let's get rid of all the nuclear weapons in the world.” So what's this? Another crackpot idea from lefty pacifists? Hardly. The statement in support of a nuclear-free world was issued in January 2007 by George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn—two former secretaries of state, a former secretary of defense, and a famously hard-nosed former senator and expert on security. The Catholic Peace Fellowship or Evangelicals for Social Action this is not. Yet the statement received almost no public attention apart from the Wall Street Journal, where it was published. The statement underscored that the control of nuclear weaponry is much more unstable than we have been lulled into thinking, that the doctrine of nuclear deterrence is unworkable, and that it is in fact possible, if we have the political will for it, to rid the world of nuclear weapons. In January 2008, the four initiators issued another statement, also published in the Journal, indicating that they have been “encouraged by additional indications of general support” from a very impressive list of former secretaries of state and defense as well as former national security advisers. “Indications of general support.” That's a big step down from the boldness of the first statement. The new statement advocates a number of specific measures toward the goal of a nuclear-free world. But the four have not abandoned the goal. Here is the conclusion: “In some respects, the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons is like the top of a very tall mountain. From the vantage point of our troubled world today, we can't even see the top of the mountain, and it is tempting and easy to say we can't get there from here. But the risks from continuing to go down the mountain or standing pat are too real to ignore. We must chart a course to higher ground where the mountaintop becomes more visible.” It is no criticism of the initiative to observe that this sounds more like a wan hope than the forceful alarm and challenge of the first statement of January 2007.
• Those of a certain age may remember, as do I, the evening of March 23, 1983, when at the end of an address to the nation, almost as an afterthought, or so it seemed, President Ronald Reagan said that we must no longer resign ourselves to the prospect of cosmic devastation on which the doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD) was premised. Is it not possible, he asked in a seemingly wistful manner, to move away from threatened retaliation to effective defense? That was the beginning of the strategic defense initiative, quickly dubbed by Reagan's opponents as “Star Wars.” Students of these matters say that it is one of the great and unacknowledged achievements of the present administration that it has made great strides toward an effective strategic defense system. I hope they are right, for I suspect that Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn are right in saying that we have lulled ourselves into a false sense of security about the prospect of nuclear devastation.
• I reviewed a book for the New York Sun in which I had occasion to remark that the author's claims were excessively apodictic. The book editor tells me this was appreciated by his colleagues, one of whom recalled this bit of doggerel:
A painter at work on a triptych
Asked the sitter the color for lipstick.
“The only real red
Is carmine,” she said,
In a tone a tad too apodictic.
So you expect every item here to be profound?
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Fr. Thomas Reese in Washington Post, Mar 3; Columbia University press release, Feb 26; ChristianityToday.com, Feb 25; Prendergast in Ottawa Citizen, March 12; Hillenbrand, Chicago Sun-Times, Mar 2; Indian surrogate mothers, New York Times, Mar 10; Searle-Papineau, Times Literary Supplement, Jan 18; Pope Benedict on hell, Zenit, Feb 11; Rudd in Australia, New York Times, Feb 13; Haught, Christian Century, Feb 26; John Tamny in New York Sun, Feb 14; Kasper in Zenit, Feb 9; Halkin in New York Sun, Feb 12; Jews and Good Friday, Jewish Daily Forward, Feb 15; Nathan in the New Republic, Feb 14; Gene Robinson, Publishers Weekly, Feb 11; Ouellet quoted by John Allen, Feb 8; Goodman in Seattle Times, Jan 4; Feldt in Women's eNews, Jan 17; History of the Book in Canada, Times Literary Supplement, Sept 14, 2007; Morrissey in America, Jan 7-14; Mormons and Romney, Wall Street Journal, Feb 8; nuclear-free world, Wall Street Journal, Jan 15.