Wrights and Wrongs
I know the comments in the April 2008 issue weren’t a review of my recent book Surprised by Hope , but if the more freewheeling nature of Father Richard John Neuhaus’ column in First Things is used as an excuse for serious misrepresentation, then it is time to protest.
Since I happened to be in New York shortly after receiving the issue, I contacted Neuhaus, and he graciously took me to me lunch. I told him a story I heard from a German professor, about a scholar who wrote scathing reviews of his colleagues’ work, then started going to conferences and met the people he was reviewing and discovered he really liked them”so he stopped going to conferences.
I don’t want to go that route. Most of what I say here I have now said to Neuhaus in person. I hope this giveandtake is part of what robust friendship, and indeed fellowship in the gospel of Jesus Christ, is all about.
Errors abound in Neuhaus’ discussion of Surprised by Hope . I do not heap scorn on centuries of Christian piety. I do not claim that I am the first person since the New Testament and the early Fathers to take the thoroughly orthodox view that I do; many Orthodox and Reformed theologians of the last centuries have expounded a similar view. And, despite Neuhaus’ suggestion that I think myself superior to the Angelic Doctor, it is substantially Thomas Aquinas’ view of the Resurrection to which I suggest the Church should return. The views I attempt to controvert are, in terms of overall Christian tradition, comparatively modern and mainly Western.
Second, there is no pervasive edge of antiCatholicism in the book, which is in no sense a denominational polemic. Most of my main targets are in my own church. (Does that make me antiAnglican?) In the quest to speak clearly about es chatology, classic Roman Catholicism is a friend and ally. Among my greatest encouragers has been Gerry O’Collins, formerly of the Gregorian University. When I taught there as
a happy guest six years ago, including being introduced to the man Neuhaus calls John Paul the Great, I don’t think anyone would have noticed the slightest tinge of antiCatholicism. Indeed, some of my Reformed critics regularly accuse me of being far too friendly to Rome, but that is another story. More poignantly, on my last visit to a dear but sick friend, before his untimely death, I found him reading Surprised by Hope , and he professed himself delighted. He was Kevin Dunn, my opposite number and occasional golf partner, the late Roman Catholic bishop of Hexham and Newcastle.
Nor was I refuting Catholic ecclesiology when I quoted Douglas Farrow”and neither was I ignorant of the fact that Doug, a good friend these past twenty years, has recently converted to Roman Catholicism. Doug was rightly attacking a particular form of ecclesial triumphalism, which occurs in many traditions, including some parts of Catholic tradition at some, not all, periods in history”but also occurring, particularly, in various types of liberal Protestantism. In any case, that part of the book was hardly central or particularly loadbearing for the whole.
More important, I was not attempting to claim that the present pope was coming round to my way of thinking or that I was offering him tutelage. I was merely noting, as anyone familiar with Cardinal Rat zinger’s work surely knows, that in his 1977 book Eschatology , he offers a remarkable account of purgatory in terms of the fire spoken of in 1 Corinthians 3 and states that this fire, which is a metaphor for the allconsuming meeting with Christ himself, cannot be quantified by the measurements of earthly time. This is a careful and explicit rejection of some aspects of what some Roman Catholics had sometimes taught in earlier times”just as he refers to what were in part objectionable and deformed practices, presumably meaning the sale of indulgences and the like.
In other words, Ratzinger was arguing, long before I started writing on this subject, (a) that traditional expressions of purgatory in terms of a linear, temporal progression are mistaken; (b) that at or after death the redeemed person meets with Christ in a moment of fiery judgment that burns away all the dross, and that this is what the traditional language of purgatory is attempting to refer to; and (c) that the Reformers were right to react against some practices that had grown up around the doctrine as some people taught and perceived it at the time. All I was doing was hailing this fine piece of work by a great Roman theologian of our day.
As for suggesting that I would do well to consult the pope’s new encyclical, Spe Salvi , and what it says about purgatory”well, Neuhaus should himself read not only what the encyclical says about purgatory (since it repeats exactly the argument Ratzinger had made thirty years earlier) but also my grateful comments on that encyclical in The Tablet last December. Do your homework, Neuhaus, I wanted to say again and again.
Why should Neuhaus imagine such unseemly and pervasive antiCatholicism? He thinks it is because I must justify [my] separation from the centering authority of the ancient Church. How bizarre. Of course, I know that many people brought up in the Germanic world, presented with a stark choice between a very Protestant (and latterly existentialist) Lutheranism and a traditional Catholicism, found themselves facing that sort of question. As Neuhaus said to me over lunch recently, many good Lutherans are taught to remind themselves every day why they are not Roman Catholics.
Very few people brought up in England ever think of things in that way, since the Anglican tradition has always claimed (sometimes, granted, with more credibility than others) to embrace both Protestant and Catholic streams. It cannot be, of course, that Neuhaus is projecting his own experience on to me. He, after all, believes in objective truth, not in perspectival postmodernism. But there you are. Oh, and the centering authority in the most ancient church was of course Jerusalem; and then the five great sees, working together; and only gradually, and for a long time controversially, Rome. But that’s another story.
Three more refutations to go. First, we are told that the vision of new heavens and new earth, with God’s people raised from the dead to live in and reign over this wonderful new world, is more suggestive of Joseph Smith than St Paul. But has Neuhaus read the Book of Revelation recently? Or studied Romans 8:1826? Or Isaiah 11? Or Ephesians 1 or Colossians 1? I suspect that one of the reasons the Mormons were able to gain credence for their very concrete eschatological expectation was that the Western Protestant church, precisely at that period, was eliminating the ancient concrete eschatological expectation.
Citing 1 Corinthians 15 as though it told against my argument is absurd. It is a cornerstone. The beatific vision is, of course, contained within the vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22:4. But”and this is very important”to focus on that ineffably glorious final reality could be to miss, as much of the Western tradition (both Catholic and Protestant) has done, the central point of biblical eschatology and soteriology, which is that humans are saved not for their own sake but so that, through them, the creator God can fulfill at last his salvific purposes for the whole creation. This is not unrelated to the political point to which I shall come in a moment.
Second, Neuhaus picks up my comment about the dying brigand to whom Jesus declared, today you will be with me in Paradise, and (a) misreads what I say, (b) accuses me of supposing that my exegesis is a fresh insight not granted to earlier writers, and (c) accuses me of being a fundamentalistic literalist. The point, as many exegetes, ancient and modern, have seen, is not that Jesus isn’t in heaven until after the resurrection. That suggests that Neuhaus has not been attending fully to the entire argument of my book (not to mention Luke’s). Heaven (or, in this case, paradise) refers to the intermediate state prior to resurrection. That is obvious from the surface of Luke’s text.
What is less obvious but well known to careful readers of Luke ancient and modern (in other words, I never supposed that this was a new idea suddenly vouchsafed to me) is that the word today is emphatic, echoing Luke 4:21 and 19:9, and provides the surprising answer to the brigand’s poignant request (remember me when you come in your kingdom), which clearly referred to a time far off in the future. To draw attention to all this, partly in reply to the question I am often asked about what then happens when we die, has nothing to do with fundamentalism or indeed literalism, and everything to do with close attention to the text.
Third, I suspect that the real fault of Surprised by Hope , in the eyes of Neuhaus and some others, is the political stance that I have taken in the last section of the book. Far be it from me to suggest that Neuhaus finds himself forced to justify his separation from the great, and deeply Catholic, tradition of serving the poor above all else. It is one thing to throw mud at me, or indeed at Archbishop Rowan Williams, for im promptu punditry on publicly disputed questions without benefit of serious thought, and quite another to make such a ridiculous charge stick. How many times does one have to say that to criticize some policies of some Americans is not to be antiAmerican, just as to criticize many policies of my own government, as I do, does not make me antiBritish?
Yes, of course there are other global problems besides simply debt. I acknowledge that in the book. (It won’t do, for fairly obvious reasons, to cite Zimbabwe as a counterexample, a country where debt is not the most pressing problem. There are always particular and special local cases.) Yes, of course there is corruption and tribalism in some parts of Africa”and elsewhere. But these problems have been exacerbated precisely by the relentless profiteering of Western banks and other financial institutions.
When I mentioned Friedrich Hayek, it was because various people have insisted that I should turn to him to discover how wrongheaded it is to give aid to poor or starving people. My point about reading him in a comfortable chair in North America was that there is a vast credibility gap between those lofty rightwing ideals and the realities of squalor and poverty, especially when there is a traceable connection between the two. What about Matthew 25?
And”another piece of careless disregard for facts”Neuhaus offers as a putdown the remark that the last time he checked, the accommodations at Durham Cathedral were very comfortable indeed. Guess what: I don’t live at, or even near, Durham Cathedral. And I share my ancient house with my private office, with the Diocesan headquarters, and with a few large public rooms let out to offset costs. The point, anyway, was not where one lives but the difference between comfortable theorizing about economics and doing something for the poor. Imagine the parable of the Good Samaritan: Along came an economist, but he, having read Hayek, knew that to help the man in the ditch was only a shortterm solution that would encourage a culture of dependency, so he passed by on the other side.
Moreover”to pick up another remarkably illinformed point”priests and bishops in England at least (I can’t speak for Europe) do not have time on their hands. I have 250 parishes in my diocese, including some of the poorest and most densely populated parts of England. And we English Anglicans don’t count our parishioners by the numbers that come through the church door but by the total population, all of whom we are called to serve. Happily, that includes many Roman Catholics, who are not at all affected by the kind of polemical attitudes that Neuhaus demonstrates but are relaxed about regarding me as their bishop in some extended but still quite real sense. (When I led the intercessions at the installation of the late and dear Bishop Kevin, whom I mentioned above, he insisted that he and I walk out side by side in the closing procession.)
What saddened me about all this, and led me to seek out Neuhaus for lunch and say most of this to him face to face, is that one might have thought the days were long past when kneejerk antiAnglicanism would lead to this kind of misreading and misrepresentation. And I had thought that First Things was the kind of journal where prejudice, and a kind of sneering tone of voice, would be ruled out and clear, wellinformed comment would prevail.
Interestingly, when people lapse into postmodernstyle spin, their remarks tend to rebound on their own heads. Impromptu punditry on publicly disputed questions without benefit of careful thought, eh? Rambling, convoluted reflection? Look in the mirror, Father Neuhaus. And thanks for the lunch.
Bishop of Durham
Bishop N.T. Wright offers an extended and spirited, if somewhat overheated, reaction to my comments in the April issue on his book Surprised by Hope . To understand all the issues involved, you might want to read again those comments and the book itself.
It would be tedious to respond to every issue the bishop raises, but a few observations might be in order. Let me say again how much I appreciate his work as a New Testament scholar and, most particularly, his book The Resurrection of the Son of God . Like Bishop Wright, I have long urged a recovery of the eschatological and cosmic dimensions of Christian hope in the Church’s teaching, preaching, and liturgical practice. On that we are in wholehearted agreement. He protests my use of the term antiCatholic . I perhaps should have said that in this book and in other writings he exhibits a pronounced edginess about what he views as the illegitimate claim to authority by the Church’s teaching office. The invitation to walk in the procession was a commendable courtesy on the part of the Catholic bishop.
As for Our Lord’s words to the repentant thief, I am afraid the interpretation in his book does reflect an excessive literalism, if not fundamentalism, that underestimates the limitations in our understanding of matters that transcend the continuum of space and time. In his response, Bishop Wright greatly softens his book’s statements on the doctrine of purgatory and the discontinuity with that teaching in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger.
On the latter, he writes in the book that this is a quite radical climbdown from Aquinas, Dante, Newman, and all that went in between. That would be about six hundred years of teaching and piety that I said Wright treats mockingly. Perhaps I should have said derisively, but I don’t think I can climb down farther than that.
I confess that I missed his short essay on the encyclical Spe Salvi in The Tablet . I have now read what he describes as his grateful comments on the encyclical and note that, along with words of appreciation, there is this: I looked in vain for the positive exposition of God’s kingdom which could offer a genuine vision for the renewal of life within this world as well as beyond it. It is a pity that he did not look more carefully.
With respect to concern for the poor, Wright again makes the unseemly suggestion that his concern is greater than that of the disciples of Friedrich Hayek. I hold no brief for Hayek, but the bishop apparently missed the many issues of First Things addressing questions of global development, most recently the threepart series on Paul Collier’s muchdiscussed book The Bottom Billion . He tells me he has not heard of it.
Finally, my chief complaint about Surprised by Hope was and is that, in its admirable advocacy of a re covery of the eschatological, it caricatures and derides centuries of Christian thought and piety, including the thought and piety of almost all Christians today, with respect to their understanding of eternal life. A cosmic and eschatological corrective is needed, but I believe it will only be effective if presented as a development, and not as a severe rupture, in the Church’s faith and life. I, too, trust that this exchange with Bishop Wright will be understood within the context of robust friendship and indeed fellowship in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Who’s Your Lincoln?
In Lincoln and the Will of God (March), Andrew Ferguson calls William H. Herndon”the law partner, friend, and biographer of Lincoln”a freethinker, and an evangelizing one. As Herndon’s great great granddaughter, I take serious exception to the latter statement.
He was indeed a freethinker; he and I (a Reformed Christian) would disagree greatly on matters of faith. I believe it is inaccurate, however, to call him an evangelizing one on two counts. First, the verb to evangelize has to do with preaching the evangel (gospel)”a practice only a Christian could exercise. Second, he might have been an avid freethinker or transcendentalist himself and in widespread correspondence with likeminded men, but he was also a busy man with a law practice, elected offices, a family, political and abolitionist activities, farming duties, and extensive writing commitments. I seriously doubt he was going around trying to convert others to freethinking or transcendentalism.
As to the differences in his transcripts of his interview of Mary Todd Lincoln, haven’t we all written something down quickly and later remembered other comments that were made? He is not here to defend himself as to whether he might not have been above tweaking her testimony in a direction more suited to his own purpose. Given his love of truth, I’m offended by such accusatory license. It is possible Mrs. Lincoln altered or remembered differently one of Mr. Lincoln’s favorite quotations. She was not the most stable of persons.
Helen Louise Herndon
St. Peters, Missouri
Andrew Ferguson’s quotation from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural contains and perpetuates an incorrect reading of Psalm 19, from which it was taken. Lincoln himself did an injustice to the idea he intended to convey. The word altogether in the sentence The judgments of God are just altogether means, in English, very or thoroughly or completely. But the Hebrew word it translates, yahdav (or yachdav ), means all together, in the sense of all of them taken and understood together, in their totality, over all times and places and situations, viewed in their entirety, despite their seeming lack of justness and righteousness by human beings in any particular situation.
This is an essential aspect of religious faith”and, undoubtedly, of Lincoln’s religious faith, based on what he had experienced and suffered in going to allout civil war. In contrast to God’s justice, Lincoln had to take personal responsibility for decisions for which he had no guidance and whose consequences over time”even beyond his own lifetime”he could not foresee.
Glen Rock, New Jersey
Lincoln never joined a church. Well, in Protestant terms, where congregations are covenant assemblies of their individual members, that is indeed an indication of a certain lack of religious fervor. It is not, however, dispositive. He attended church regularly with his wife. Maybe he didn’t want to deal with the committees and work assignments that often plague church members. Maybe he wasn’t too impressed with the intellectual capacity of the preachers and did not want to do more than suffer through an hour or two per week of being harangued by them. Never joined a church is not necessarily an indication of a lack of belief.
No prayers of ours can arrest the decree. If this was a favorite saying of Lincoln, it is not proof of lack of faith. It looks to me like classical Calvinism. Lincoln’s writing about God’s treatment of the war can also be seen as a Calvinist document.
In a century marked by the questioning of Christian orthodoxy, there is no credible and definitive evidence that Lincoln was not a fairly orthodox Christian. I think he should be allowed to rest in peace. At any rate, he surely has by now a better handle on religious truth than most of the folks left within our continuing vale of tears.
Holly Springs, Mississippi
I was impressed by Andrew Ferguson’s discussion of Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs. What did surprise me was that the author didn’t make as much of the Second Inaugural as he might have. Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war will speedily pass away. Yet if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled up by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, The judgments of
the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’
At the very least, Lincoln had a concept of a cosmic system of retribution for crimes like slavery. Could this be a personal God? We don’t know, but Lincoln certainly had a strong conviction that can only be called religious.
Peter B. Denison
Andrew Ferguson argues that, since 1865, Americans have tried to make Abraham Lincoln all things to all men, to use St. Paul’s language. While twentyfirstcentury Americans have come to regard Lincoln as a secular saint or a Moseslike figure leading a people to a promised land that he himself did not enter, it is important to put him into proper perspective.
When Lincoln was president, he was reviled in almost all circles. Southerners depicted him as a Northern barbarian out to destroy their way of life. Northerners, most of whom would have been happy to see the South go its merry way, blamed him for prosecuting an unnecessary war that threatened civil liberties. Abolitionists were impatient with him for not having rallied the country around the end of slavery at the outset of the war. Lincoln’s own Cabinet had little confidence in him and members were already nursing presidential ambitions, particularly William Henry Seward. Had Lincoln lived to see the end of his second term, most likely he would have faced the struggles of Reconstruction”from the barrage of criticism from the Radical Republicans to the violence of the Ku Klux Klan. And it is most likely that Lincoln would have left the White House an even more controversial figure, not unlike Richard Nixon.
Lincoln’s martyrdom has obscured his humanity and made future generations less appreciative of the issues behind the Civil War, much as John F. Kennedy’s assassination has created the hagiography of Camelot. History has been reduced to a comic book of heroes and villains, with no real analysis of the complexities of the past.
Dino E. Buenviaje
Types of Types
Robert Louis Wilken’s discussion of Christological interpretation of the Old Testament in How to Read the Bible (March) could have benefited from a proper distinction between allegorical and typological interpretation. Whereas allegorical interpretation often derives meaning that is only tangentially, if at all, connected to the intentions of the original author, typological interpretation sees Christ as fulfilling what the original author meant, though often in ways that the original author may not have expected.
Consider for example Wilken’s discussion of the interpretation of Isaiah 63:13 in the early Church. By interpreting the crimson garments as stained with the blood of Christ’s passion, those early interpreters simply ignored the reason given in the text for the stained garments”namely that the blood is that of the warrior’s enemies. Although this allegorical interpretation may have been almost universal in the early Church, it is surely relevant to point out that this very passage receives a typological interpretation in Revelation 19:1115. There the divine warrior of Isaiah 63 is interpreted as Christ, and the red garments are interpreted in continuity with their meaning in Isaiah 63: They are the result of Christ’s treading the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God.
Thus, John interprets Isaiah 63 typologically rather than allegorically and so sees Christ in the Old Testament passage without overriding its original meaning. The interpreters of the early Church would have done well to follow this example”and so would we.
Westminster Theological SeminaryPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania
In appreciation of Robert Louis Wilken’s emphasis on spiritual exegesis of the Old Testament as a witness for Christ, I wish to point out that the same message is found in the Book of Mormon, which makes the explicit claim that all Old Testament prophets anticipated and testified of Christ. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob states that for this intent have we written these things, that [you] may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.
His brother Nephi likewise declares all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of [Christ]. And Jacob’s grandson, Jarom, tells us that the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers, did labor diligently . . . teaching the law of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was.
Joseph B. Stanford
Salt Lake City, Utah
Robert Louis Wilken replies:
Typology has a venerable place in the history of the interpretation of the Bible. But the clean distinction between typology and allegory is artificial, a relatively modern attempt to preserve a Christian reading of the Old Testament primarily through a presumed correspondence between events in the Old Testament and events in the New Testament or Christian rituals”for example, between passing through the waters of the Red Sea and being washed in baptism. The correspondences, however, are not selfevident but discerned by Christian interpreters after the death and resurrection of Christ.
They can also be discovered in things (manna and the bread from heaven given by Jesus, John 6:32; the rock in Exodus 17:6 and Christ, 1 Cor. 10:4), persons (Melchizedek and Christ, Hebrews 7:14; David and Christ, Acts 13:3437), or words (for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink, Ps. 69:21 and Matt. 27:48; living water, Zech. 14:8 and John 4:10). Sometimes the correspondence is so unlikely as to seem contrary to the original text. For example, in Romans 10, Paul says that Psalm 19”The heavens declare the glory of God . . . . There is no speech, nor are there words . . . yet their voice goes out through all the earth”refers to the apostles! Yet, once seen and received by generations of Christians, this interpretation became so natural as to seem obvious. In fact, in the liturgical calendar, whenever the day of an apostle is celebrated, Psalm 19 is appointed to be recited in the Office of Readings.
Allegory means simply another sense, and I use the term, as the Church Fathers did, to refer in general to different ways of discovering Christ in passages from the Old Testament, whether through typology, tropology, anagogy, moral sense, spiritual sense, etc. I see no reason to privilege typology. There are many ways to the same end, often as interpretations of the same passage. In truth, there are only two senses: the plain sense and the fuller sense, a meaning that is surely given in the original but seen only when God spoke to us through his Son.
I fail to see a clear reference to Isaiah 63 in Revelation 19:11. But if so, given the frequent mention of the blood of Christ and the blood of the martyrs in the Apocalypse, I think it unlikely that the blood on Christ’s robe in 19:13 is the blood of his enemies, not his own blood.
As for the Mormon view of Christ in the Old Testament prophets, I am sure there are many similarities with the Christian understanding.
It is no easy task to write about memory, an elusive subject, yet one critical to any serious understanding of human nature, let alone to memoirists and, yes, to us psychoanalysts. Yet Joseph Bottum has done so with depth in The Judgment of Memory (March).
Permit a footnote to his summary of the repressedmemory fiasco, the harmfulness of which, especially among poorly trained clinicians, is not entirely a thing of the past. (To be just, one study demonstrated that boardcertified psychiatrists, with a few notorious exceptions, rarely succumbed to the craziness.) Bottum rightly and fairly notes that Freud early on largely abandoned the cruder aspects of the theory”his socalled seduction hypothesis”but, in the view of revisionist Freudian scholarship, he cannot avoid considerable blame for its recrudescence in the 1980s and onward.
A close reading of Freud’s 1890s papers makes this obvious to all but those still clinging to the establishment mythpromoting machine that Freud planted these memories of sexual trauma. He refers repeatedly to his patients’ reluctance and resistance to accepting the view that they were abused; and he goes on to state that only the strongest compulsion of his new methodology could dissuade them from their emphatic, nay indignant, disbelief. This sad chapter might have been acknowledged and served as a salient lesson for future generations, but such was not Freud’s modus. As his fame spread, he increasingly blamed the patients themselves for having duped him, an egregious rationalization reflective of his defensiveness and inveterate selfpromotion.
Freud may be said to have initially overemphasized the effects and prevalence of actual abuse and, in reaction, later drastically deemphasized their reality, taking mainstream psychoanalysis with him. Small wonder that the pendulum swung ludicrously in the opposite direction in more recent decades. It must be acknowledged that Freud, perhaps modernity’s most influential student of memory and its vicissitudes, had other things of value to say about these matters. Yet Bottum is quite correct in pointing to some of the mentalhealth field’s major failings in this area while writing a lyrical essay of his own about this endlessly fascinating”and still hotbutton”topic.
Richard E. Gallagher
Psychoanalytic Institute Columbia University
New York, New York
In a short section of his wonderful essay on memory in literature, Joseph Bottum succinctly and accurately traces the history of the recoveredmemory phenomenon of the 1980s and 1990s. But in referring to the episode’s collapse, he leaves the implication that the movement is dead. It is indeed much diminished, but there still flourishes a particularly virulent form of recoveredmemory therapy practiced largely by religiousbased counselors, both Protestant and Catholic. Theophostic counseling, as it is termed by its practitioners, leads a subset of young women who are particularly susceptible to suggestion to believe they hear the voice of God taking them back into their past to recover longlost memories of their fathers’ having sexually abused them. It is distressing that devout Christians appear to be the most susceptible.
Of course, memories recovered in theophostic counseling are just as untrue as those recovered in the earlier therapy fads of the 1980s and 1990s. As the psychiatrist cited by Bottum”Richard J. McNally, in Remembering Trauma ”concludes, there are no such things as repressed memories. Indeed, people remember horrific experiences all too well. And thousands of families continue to be torn apart by what Bottum aptly calls the recoveredmemory madness.
Ars Gratia Artis
I would like to provide a pointbypoint analysis of both Lawrence Kramer’s book and Michael Linton’s review (The lassical Age, March), but I do not have the time. I am too busy enjoying my career as a potentially irrelevant classical musician. I can only say that classical music is tremendously relevant to me and to many people I know, and what Linton characterizes as sonic fantasies are to me real spiritual experiences.
I performed Mahler’s First Symphony shortly after September 11, 2001, and, after watching an audience member weep profusely at the end and applaud with deep gratitude, I knew I was not participating in a mere fantasy. The Finale of the symphony tells us irrefutably that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. It is the scriptural promise of resurrection made into sound. Sound too lofty? I admit that not all classical music can elevate the listener quite like Mahler’s First Symphony. But even regarding moremundane pieces of music, I believe Oscar Wilde’s words are apt: All art is quite useless. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. Is not creation, in a sense, quite useless to God? Is not our art a reflection of his? We make it in order to love it, not use it. The only reason classical music still matters is that I still want to play it and someone still wants to hear it.
Please excuse me”I could go on, but I have to go practice now.
Michael Linton says at the conclusion of his review of Lawrence Kramer’s Why Classical Music Still Matters that music does not matter very much. Against the slings and arrows that threaten us are required breastplates, shields, helmets, and swords, not the clever vibrations hanging for a bit in air of which Linton considers music to consist.
This allusion to chapter 6 of the Letter to the Ephesians overlooks its fifth chapter, in which several forms of musicmaking are advocated. Why? Because the days are evil. It also ignores the far broader witness of biblical literature. Linton would apparently prefer the Psalms to be dedicated to a Master of Sonic Fantasy and sung to the tune of Temporarily Persuade. If great musicmaking is not a way of combating the instruments of darkness, then the account of David’s secular and healing performance for King Saul in 1 Samuel 16 is just a story contrived to make us feel better”an illusion that, like music itself, takes our mind off grim reality for a moment.
Kramer’s experience of Beethoven and Linton’s dismissal of it shows who it is that most profoundly misunderstands the basic character of music. Plato and Aristotle agree with the ancient Hebrews and the early Christians that great music calls to and addresses the deep needs of our spirit in ways that other things do not. This is what Kramer responds to on hearing Beethoven for the first time in the midst of a suburbia that he has experienced (Linton is surprised) as chilly and lifeless. That a head of music theory and composition at an American university would suggest otherwise in this piece of bad and bullying argumentation is one indication why classical music has indeed stopped mattering in this country to too many.
Los Angeles, California
Michael Linton replies:
I’m delighted to hear from Dan Florio, percussionist with the Dallas Symphony. But I do disagree with him. It’s hard for me to see the conclusion of Mahler’s First Symphony as irrefutable proof of the first chapter of John’s Gospel. It certainly wasn’t to Mahler himself, who was contemptuous of religion. (He described his conversion to Catholicism from Judaism as of no more significance than exchanging one raincoat for another.)
And if it were to the audience in Mr. Florio’s performance, everybody leaving the hall, including all of Mr. Florio’s colleagues in the orchestra, would exit as Christians, having been irrefutably convinced. I wasn’t there, so I don’t really know, but I’m skeptical. I do not doubt that the audience, already on edge after the September 11 attacks, left the hall emotionally moved, having experienced the metaphor of a broadly metaphysical hope that is the purpose of Mahler’s writing.
I just don’t think that kind of emotional experience is of any deeply lasting importance. It’s ephemeral. Which is a good bridge to Wilde. Oh, dear Oscar. Art was quite useful to him. It made him famous, occasionally rich, and gave him access to very entertaining, and”in some cases”eventually poisonous, friends. Wilde admired himself intensely, but I can’t help but think his life would have been better spent had he been infatuated with himself”and his Art”less and found the strength to be devoted to his wife and sons more. I don’t know if that would have made him a better artist, but it would have made him a better man. The Creation”useless to God? I don’t have a clue. Someday I’ll ask him, although I doubt if on that occasion aesthetics will be the first thing on my mind.
I’m grateful for Mr. Yoder’s gesture to Scripture and the passages he cites make for very lively and profitable discussion, but he misses the point a bit. I was reviewing Mr. Kramer’s book about classical music, a unique repertory that Kramer argues began in central Europe in the eighteenth century. The music of the ancient Near East and Hellenism simply is not part of this book. And I’m sorry that Mr. Yoder doesn’t much like suburbia either. I hope he’s found a warmer and more lively place to live. About my teaching position: I guess I’m glad that Mr. Yoder wasn’t on my tenure committee. Sometimes you just get lucky.
The article by Gilbert Meilaender (The Giving and Taking of Organs, March) discusses the shortage of organs for transplantation and the ethical implications of donating, opting out of, or buying and selling organs. He concludes that a system that depends on altruistic donation is the best. What he does not cover in this short article is the fact that criminals and governments around the world are already taking or buying human organs in large numbers. The very system he recommends causes crime and governmental misbehavior, which calls into question the validity of his ethical argument.
It is clear that the current voluntary system does not supply enough human organs to meet the transplantation demand. According to UNOS”the United Network for Organ Sharing”there are 98,000 patients on the waiting list, and only 28,000 patients received organs in 2007. A good friend of mine, a pastor, received a liver earlier this year, about ten days short of his predicted death; this is not merely a theoretical question for me.
Why people do not donate is an open question. Some fear getting substandard care if it gets out that they are organ donors. Unfortunately, bad behavior in European, Thai, and American hospitals tends to lend credence to that fear. Some just don’t get around to it. Some probably use the same juvenile, magicthinking logic that prevents a majority of Americans from writing a will: If I don’t think about death, I’ll live forever. In any event, despite public relations campaigns (which I, a pathologist in volved in public advocacy, have taken part in), voluntary donations have just not taken off.
What is the inevitable consequence of a shortage of organs? Supplyanddemand economics, because, in our efforts to be ethical, we have made regulated economics impossible. And so some of our fellows have turned to illegal and immoral activities: black markets, assaults, and exploitation of the poor and powerless.
We were shaken by the India kidneytransplant racket earlier in the year, when people were assaulted and organs forcibly removed. In some European countries, hospitals were rewarded for organ donations and so fell to the temptation of ignoring patients’ wishes. In China there are persistent rumors of prisoners being executed at such a time when their organs can be sold for transplantation”with government assent. In Thailand and in the United States, there are cases of doctors arrested for hurrying the deaths of patients to get organs.
All over the world, poor people sell their organs to get enough money to feed their families. It is said that in some parts of India a kidney is worth about $900 to the donor and up to $20
0,000 to the procurer. That sort of profit margin reminds one of the illegal drug trade.
Meilaender argues that moving to an optout or (heaven forbid) marketdriven system cheapens our nature. I agree with him. But the question is not that simple. Which cheapens us more”a wellregulated, wellrun optout system with informed consent, or a thriving black market? Which cheapens us more”an open market with disclosure, or gangs of thugs assaulting the poor and innocent of the Third World for massive profits? It seems clear that an unanticipated and inevitable consequence of organ transplantation is that we will be cheapened.
Donating is clearly the morally superior way to get human organs for transplantation. It engenders a spirit of charity in the donor and family and can provide a sense of meaning at the end of life. Similarly, for the recipient, knowing that the lifesaving organ came from a volunteer can lead to humility and gratitude.
Wouldbe recipients far outnumber donors, however. A larger ethical analysis is needed that takes the darker side of our nature into account. It may turn out that an optout system with careful controls, or even a marketdriven system, has fewer toxic side effects than the current volunteer/blackmarket system.
James M. Small
Moon Over Barrytown
It is not every person who can turn a walk on a labyrinth into something menacing, but when the labyrinth is linked with the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, no matter how distantly, K. Gordon Neufeld gets tangled up in it (Where Have All the Moonies Gone? March). The psychological dynamics causing people to change a religious commitment are complex, and they extend to postpartum issues that can last a lifetime. Most people take responsibility for their heartbreak and rage; some, such as Neufeld, blame their former religion and even market their inner battles”babyboom narcissism in full swing.
The problem is that such a person cannot provide a fairminded view of the faith from which they departed. Needing to justify their departure, they cast a negative light on everything about their former faith. It has, after all, almost disappeared (see, I told you so!); nobody paid any attention to me as I visited the seminary (I managed to escape being questioned!); the cross is gone from the top of the main chapel (they removed it, those infidels!), and so forth. Apparently, when he visited the seminary, not only was Gordon not questioned, he didn’t ask any questions. He could have learned, for example, that a lightning bolt removed the cross. (Statues, stainedglass windows, and other crosses remain.) He could have learned a good deal more, but such is not his purpose.
Maybe this all helps Gordon make it through the night and meet his monthly expenses. But it is disappointing that First Things would serve as an enabler. I note that First Things printed a similar article by Neufeld in 2003, and I recall one entitled The Scent of a Moonie back in the 1990s. Granted, apostate stories are part of the Christian tradition, but wouldn’t it be reasonable to allow your readers to hear from a member? And why employ the term Moonie”in a headline no less”a term we consider, and responsible media in the U.S. agree, to be a slur?
Readers interested in our seminary, which offers fully accredited master’s and doctoral programs, are invited to visit us on the Web and/or visit the Barrytown campus or the Extension Center in Manhattan. Readers may also find value in our Journal of Unification Studies.
Tyler Hendricks, President
Unification Theological Seminary
Barrytown, New York
K. Gordon Neufeld replies:
In the interests of brevity, I will not respond to the numerous innuendoes in Dr. Hendricks’ letter and will confine myself to answering the two specific objections he raises. First, he complains that I did not point out that the cross on the top of the chapel wing of the Unification Theological Seminary was actually removed (or at least badly damaged) by a lightning strike. However, he omits to mention that Sun Myung Moon took this event as inspiration to launch a campaign in which he urged Christian pastors to take down the cross and replace it with a crown, echoing an old gospel favorite that exults I will trade my cross for a crown! A number of pastors responded to this call, and in 2003 the American Clergy Leadership Conference, an organization Moon founded, led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in which a cross was symbolically buried. When, in 2004, Moon was formally crowned in the Senate Dirksen Building, it should have become shockingly evident to these pastors whose crown they were exalting in exchange for the crosses they had removed.
Second, Hendricks objects to the use of the term Moonie in the title of the piece, which he alleges is a slur. It is true that Moon’s movement now regards this term as a slur, but a completely different opinion prevailed about the word some thirty years ago. In 1980, I attended a God’s Day (New Year’s Day) celebration in New York at which Unificationists grinningly sold teeshirts and lapel buttons proclaiming I’m a Moonie and I (heart symbol) it! I myself purchased one of these teeshirts. Similarly inscribed coffee mugs soon followed, and”who knows?”had church leaders not suffered a sudden change of heart about the slogan, it might have graced billboards and newspaper advertisements.
At one point, Hendricks recalls Benjamin Wittes’ brilliant and incisive opinion piece The Scent of a Cult from the January 1995 issue of First Things, though he mistakenly remembers it as The Scent of a Moonie. One would think that the president of a seminary would have a sufficiently wellstocked library to allow him to look up this reference. Wittes’ piece (which is still available on the First Things website) actually focuses primarily on the Church of Scientology and the LaRouche movement, but also mentions in passing the seemingly intentional confusion that Unificationists sow about the meaning of the word messiah . It is exactly this sort of mazelike thinking to which I was alluding when, in my own piece, I recounted my menacing walk on the seminary’s labyrinth on a quiet, sleepy afternoon in late May last year.
Abraham Plain and Simple
Gary Anderson states that there is no neutral Abraham for the Jew, Christian, and Muslim (The Cross Under the Crescent, March). While this may be true of Christians and Muslims, given the lack of common Scriptures, it is surely an overstatement with regard to Christians and Jews. Reading Genesis through different eyes does not negate that we share one Genesis (in both senses of the word).
This is not to deny the importance of how the variant canons . . . shape the way each people’ understands its contents. Interreligious dialogue should not skirt how we read Scripture through our respective traditions. To do so is to leave our religion at home, defeating the point of the dialogue.
Indeed, the typical alternative, limiting consideration to what the human authors had in mind, rejects the way both Jews and Christians have always approached Divine Revelation. The Passover and the Mass alike call us to read the events of the Bible into our own lives, and read our lives into God’s saving acts. To view Scripture only as what happened to those people then is to reduce God to a character in ancient literature.
Nevertheless, it goes too far to say there is no neutral Abraham. Jews and Christians alike must start out from the plain meaning of Genesis. Surely Abraham could not foresee that the mount on which he offered Isaac would become the site of the great Temple, any more than he could foresee that his offering would be seen as a type for the sacrifice on Calvary. Yet Jews and Christians read of the same Abraham in the same Genesis.
To say otherwise is to risk turning Sacred Scripture into a Rorschach test, to do to the Old Testament what the Jesus Seminar did to the New. That this might be done out of spiritual rather than intellectual obscurantism does not change the result.
Sean Yaakov Degidon
New York, New York
Gary A. Anderson replies:
I am in complete agreement with Mr. Degidon that the plain sense of the book of Genesis must be respected and that both Jews and Christians have a theological stake as to what that plain sense might be. And if they are committed historical critics, our putative Jewish and Christian readers would probably agree more often than not. But to the degree that our Jewish and Christian readers are observant practitioners of their religion, they will not leave the interpretive task at this minimalistic level. Both will attempt to interpret the book of Genesis in light of its larger canonical contours. For Jews, that will necessarily mean correlating the figure of Abraham with the issue of Torah observance, and for Christians the understanding of Abraham will fall within the framework of the epistles of Romans and Galatians. In other words, the plain sense of Genesis understood on its own is not the full story to the religious Jew or Christian.
Regarding Anne Rice’s speculation about Jesus’ hidden years in Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, Father Neuhaus notes that other writers have attempted to fill in the details of what our Lord’s preministry life must have been like (While We’re At It, March). I have always felt that the answer lies more in what wasn’t said about those years than in what was. For instance, could it be that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were setting examples for ordinary people who get up every day, go to work, and come home again, without ever achieving anything remarkable? For me, the message is that even the Son of God lived an ordinary life for thirty years. He obeyed his parents, he worked, he went to the Temple, he came home”only to get up the next day and do it all over again. When the time came, he laid aside earthly chores and stepped onto the world’s stage in a way no one had ever done before. I believe the message for us is that we should emulate Jesus and be satisfied with whatever role we have been assigned. Jesus was telling us that even a carpenter has as much worth in the eyes of God as does a statesman, a great soldier, or a college professor.