”JNThe Public Square
One regularly gets inquiries from aspiring writers eager to be published. So it always has been, and so it should be. Quite possibly, there is right now some aspiring twenty-five-year-old graduate student working on her first major article that we will be pleased to feature in a forthcoming issue. Although we publish only a very small portion of all the manuscripts received, a significant portion of what we do publish arrives unsolicited (over the transom, as they say). Frequently an author will say in his covering letter that, while the present piece may not be ready for prime time, he would appreciate editorial criticism of his efforts. The press of duties tends to make such detailed criticism impossible, but a word or two of general advice might be helpful. As will be seen, the following word is about more than getting published. Perhaps nothing so prevents good articles from being written, or so spoils good articles that are written, than what we might call peer fear. Of course we are talking chiefly about academic authors (and most of our authors are academics in one way or another). Peer fear results in not writing for a general audience, not even writing to make a clear argument, but, rather, looking over one’s shoulder at what colleagues in “the guild” might think. The product, all too often, is not an article but a kind of sprawling annotated bibliography”“as X says, although taking into account Y’s emendation as elaborated by P,” and so forth. Annotated bibliographies are useful things, as are florilegiums of pertinent opinions on a given subject, but they are not articles. The trick is to find what is sometimes called one’s own voice. Here is the subject, here is why it is important, and this is what I have to say about it that nobody else seems to have said, or at least not to have said in quite this way. What Richard Roarbee and Catherine McUpures and Jacques Dadildo have said on the subject may be very interesting”and, at least obliquely, the author should ordinarily evidence a familiarity with the arguments made by such worthies”but in this office we work on the assumption that people read an article because they hope that this author has something important to say to them.
Academic Thought Control To be sure, it is easy for us to deplore the toll exacted by peer fear, but pity the poor graduate students and junior faculty who have good reason to fear their peers if they are ever to obtain job security and the grand prize of tenure. It is no accident, as our Marxist friends used to say, that many, if not most, of our featured authors are either safely tenured or comfortably removed from the cramped arenas of academic combat. Although it is a source of constant wonder how many of the securely tenured are still intimidated by peer fear. They will privately grumble about the “smelly little orthodoxies” that hold so much of academe in thrall, but they are not about to make themselves difficult. Others among senior faculty are preoccupied with their academic specialities, which is fair enough, and yet others take tenure to mean retirement from serious work, which is not fair at all but is part of a system that very few people have a vested interest in challenging. For academics of both the ensconced and imperiled variety, writing for a journal such as this is usually not a smart career move. The ensconced need not worry, but the junior aspirant has no choice but to worry about what will look good on his resume when his name comes up before the tenure committee at Toetheline U. Items written for and within “the discipline” will receive a sympathetic nod, while it is deemed suspiciously unprofessional to have written for a “general audience,” never mind in a journal well known to be annoyingly incorrect. The place to publish is in “scholarly” journals sponsored by the relevant academic guild, and in such journals prospective articles are “refereed” by a company of one’s peers. We don’t know about structural engineering and brain surgery, but in the fields more pertinent to our interests”e.g., theology, philosophy, ethics, legal theory, cultural criticism”refereeing is, increasingly, censorship with respect not to competence but to orthodoxy. We have no objection to censorship in principle”after all, editors are inescapably in the censorship business, whether they like to admit it or not”but we do object to material that gives evidence of having been written in sweated anxiety not to push the buttons of angry ideologues who presume to guard what is published “in the field.” When it comes to deciding whether to run an article or, for that matter, whether to give it a serious reading, a reliable rule of thumb is to exclude anything that looks like it might have been refereed. There are those scholarly journals for that kind of thing, even if nobody reads them. That may sound anti-intellectual, but in reality there is nothing more anti-intellectual than the party lines that today dominate so much of academic writing and discourse. Sometimes it is Marxist (yes, Virginia, there are still Marxists), sometimes racialist (advanced in the cause of combatting racism), sometimes feminist (and, if radical, likely lesbian), and, increasingly, sometimes gay. Of course fine scholarship is still being done in many places, and of course specialized journals are necessary for specialized purposes, and, yes, we confess to reading with more than cursory attention the scholarly publications that we must. But one gets the impression that most academics (at least those who have not confused tenure with retirement) have turned themselves round and round, burrowing ever deeper into the holes of “their” questions, while others eagerly feed their anger on pet resentments such as those marked out by the ideological lines mentioned above. Such is the corruption of the intellectual life in our time, or”and one notes this with relief”the limited part of the intellectual life that is dependent upon the university. Such is the unhappy circumstance of those academics caught in the paralyzing grip of peer fear.
Who Is “Qualified”? Here at hand is a letter from yet another young professor, this one in a Methodist seminary. Did we know that at his school it has been baldly stated that nobody will get tenure who does not enhance the faculty’s “inclusiveness””meaning nobody who is not female, a person of color, or assertively homosexual? Well, no, we didn’t know it about that school, but why should it be different? A distinguished theologian at a prestige university tells us that he advises his white, male doctoral students to have some more practicable backstop if they’re thinking of an academic career. At a once distinguished nondenominational seminary, a young black woman was recently appointed associate professor, with tenure. She had not quite completed her doctoral thesis, but the appointments committee was assured that it would be ever so creative. Raising questions about “qualifications” elicits a knowing sneer from the ideologically perfected. To be a woman, or a gay, or a person of color, or a member of any group certifiably marginal is itself qualification more than enough. To those who protest the unfairness and dishonesty of the system, the answer is that now outsiders are getting the advantage of unfair preferences that used to be enjoyed only by insiders. In speaking this way, people apparently do not recognize that they are casting contempt upon the disciplines and institutions of which they are part. It is and always has been a power game, they say, and the spoils go to those who play the game without scruple. Fancy talk about excellence and academic achievement simply disguises the nature of the game. Anyway”and with maximum offense to the racists, sexists, and homophobes who don’t like it”we who once claimed to be fighting The System are now in charge of it. And that’s the way things are. A reader might object that this picture of the academy”notably in theology, philosophy, and associated fields”is altogether too bleak. We take no joy in bearing bad news, but the reader is wrong. Admittedly, the lines of fear are drawn differently at some Evangelical Protestant and Catholic institutions. Rather than race, gender, and sexual orientation, the Evangelical lines may be drawn at the question of biblical inerrancy or, at other schools, one may be excluded for having a favorable word to say about those awful fundamentalists. While Catholic scholars who suggest, for example, that this pontificate may actually have something to teach of theological worth definitely do not have a brilliant career in prospect. They will not be invited to the right (meaning, usually, left) academic conferences, nor will their papers pass peer review. And if they write intellectually serious books, they will likely be published by alternative presses, although a few might sneak their way on to the lists of publishers of academic respectability. (Among Catholics, alternative presses include Ignatius, which publishes supposed antiques such as de Lubac, von Balthazar, and Karol Wojtyla, a.k.a. John Paul II.)
Cowardice and Conformity The contemporary academy is, to put it delicately, deeply corrupted by cowardice and conformity, which are mutually reinforcing. This is not to imply that those who dissent from the ideologically correct are consistently possessed of intelligence and talent unjustly spurned. That company has more than its fair share of cranks, and of mediocrities in search of any excuse for being such. But the onus rests on those responsible for the sorry state of higher education. On presidents who chiefly preside over endowments, deans who buy peace at any price, junior faculty who go along to get along, and senior faculty who stopped going anywhere a long time ago. It is wrongheaded to blame the militant ideologues who are, after all, only doing what they say they are doing, conducting the long march through the institutions, a march that has resulted in triumphs with no end in sight. Having exacted agreement on the dangerously simplified proposition that there is no such thing as objective, value-free search for truth, they are making the most of the license to be outrageously and enragedly partisan in their declared war against civility, fairness, and disinterested inquiry. The consequence is that the academy today is, in very large part, the enemy of the intellectual life. Of all the actors mentioned, only the junior faculty and graduate students warrant a measure of sympathy. What are they to do when their positions, their futures, their very livelihoods depend upon the ideological passions of petty tyrants? True, they could leave the academy to make an honest living, but some of them believe that they have something like a vocation, and maybe they do. Perhaps the present pestilence is designed to test vocations. The almost inescapable peer fear may lead to trimming at the edges, but the occasional accommodation of cowardice need not be craven. Most people are not cut out to be heroes, and it is understandable that they do not want to be thought difficult. In a highly disagreeable world, there is a good deal to be said for being likeable and liked. As Norfolk proposed to Sir Thomas in Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons , why not go along for friendship’s sake? Thus is cowardice confused with congeniality.
Needed: Resisters What these young people desperately need is exemplars of resistance, maybe even of courage, within the academy. Their elders who resist will typically be in safe positions, thus diminishing somewhat the glitter of their courage, but they could at some point, in some institutions, form a critical mass that assures their juniors that there just might be life after the defiance of peer fear. Toward that end, we publish a journal, conduct conferences, and sponsor research projects that aim to nurture the intellectual life. It sounds embarrassingly old-fashioned, but we are devoted to inquiry that is intelligent and free, and to an inclusiveness that includes different and sometimes conflicting convictions. That devotion puts this journal and similar enterprises (for there are, thank God, others) in an awkward and sometimes painful relationship to the contemporary academy. Many years ago, this writer was in a seminar with the late Saul Alinsky, the radical community organizer who founded the Industrial Areas Foundation. “Decide right now,” said Alinsky to the gathered seminarians, “whether you want to be a bishop.” His point was that those with episcopal ambitions were wasting their time in his course. And so we say, somewhat more gently, to the aspiring young academic who is interested in publishing here: Give careful thought to whether you can live with the prospect of not getting tenure. All the counter-pressures notwithstanding, there are an encouraging number of young scholars who seem prepared to live with that prospect, or at least to risk it. Those who have arrived on the far side of peer fear are, one is inclined to think, more likely to do something worthwhile with the tenure that, despite all, they may one day attain.
Against the Curia
The lead article in the March issue (“Mainline Churches: The Real Reason for Decline”) offered evidence that relatively few people who have dropped out of the churches were turned off by the churches’ pronouncements on social and political questions. Most of them are not even aware of religious statements and activism in the public arena. It is a great pity. Not because the churches have in recent years contributed much to moral discourse in our political culture, but because they could and should. The few people who are attentive to the guidance offered by mainstream churches on matters political have, more often than not, discovered that guidance to be woefully wrongheaded. Studies are done and statements are issued by the staffs of the church-and-society curia chiefly for the delectation of other members of the curia who are busily lobbying, along with their usually liberal colleagues from other “interest groups,” in the halls of government both state and national. Belonging to the special interest group that is in charge of “the moral dimension of public policy” is heady stuff. It also means never having to say you’re sorry. Consider, for example, the churches and the collapse of Communism. As time goes by, we will no doubt learn more and more about what really happened during the Cold War, and about who and what contributed to its ending. Here is a report on a Princeton University conference that brought together former officials of the U.S. and USSR. Top aides to former president Gorbachev claimed that the crucial factor in the demise of the Soviet Union was Ronald Reagan’s simultaneous push for a U.S. arms build-up and negotiations for arms reduction. Soviet economic and other difficulties were “compounded by the Reagan Administration’s interest in developing a Strategic Defense Initiative anti-missile shield, which Moscow saw as destabilizing because it meant the United States had less to fear from a retaliatory Soviet strike if it struck the Soviet Union first.” The report adds, with a nice laconic touch, “The United States speakers at the conference seemed to take star wars’ less seriously.”
Appeasers and Resisters They have good reason to take star wars less seriously now. At the time, most of them held it in derision. The very term, star wars, was one of intended comic dismissiveness. And, among the Americans who at the time were mockingly contemptuous of star wars, our several religious leaderships in the oldline Protestant and Catholic communities were second to none. In the 1980s the chiefs of mainstream correctness were unanimous in condemning the arms build-up, and star wars in particular, as financially wasteful, militarily futile, and, above all, a threat to “stability.” How to say this gently? During the longest and most terrible conflict between political freedom and tyranny, the American establishments, including its religious establishment, were resolutely on the side of appeasing tyranny. It was called, both by the tyrants and by their apologists in the West, peaceful coexistence. There was one political leader (importantly aided by Margaret Thatcher and a few others) who insisted that Communism was a temporary aberration, that we must not accept the notion of its permanence. As former Secretary of State George Shultz said at Princeton, Reagan might call the Soviet Union “the evil empire,” but he also “believed he could turn it into a good empire.” Whether Russia turns out to be a good empire, or even an empire, is still to be seen, but the evil empire is ended largely because Reagan and those who supported his intention knew that destabilization was not the threat but the hope. Apparently receiving less attention at Princeton was the role of another player, John Paul II, who understood that the end of Communism was not only a matter of arms, economics, and politics but, most of all, a matter of the spirit (and the Spirit). The story of religion, and of the Catholic Church in particular, in the events that led up to 1989 is compellingly told in George Weigel’s The Final Revolution (Oxford). Readers with a memory that extends beyond yesterday’s newspaper will recall that the choirmasters of conventional wisdom harshly criticized the Pope as a dangerous “cold warrior,” as they also publicly fretted over the distressingly destabilizing effects of the dissident democrats within the captive nations. (After Vaclav Havel had triumphed in Czechoslovakia, he was grandly feted by the glitterati of New York. A friend observed that there were not all that many in the ballroom who had publicly spoken out in Havel’s defense when he was for years imprisoned by the Communist regime. He and his ilk were then viewed by many of the enlightened in the West as dangerously destabilizing.) It is a nice irony that those religious and other leaders who most adamantly declared themselves to be the enemies of the status quo were the main champions of the status quo in accepting the permanence of Communism. There are many good reasons to ignore the public policy pronouncements of the bureaucracies of mainstream religion, both Protestant and Catholic. On issue after issue, but on no issue more than Communism and what ought to be done about it, they have been dead and, sometimes, deadly wrong. There is no sin in being wrong, but there is something like sin in being wrong with such consistent moral pretension. The unspeakable sadness is that, as our society becomes ever more desperately in need of informed moral discourse, the institutions that might have been expected to provide such discourse have so thoroughly discredited themselves. The sadness is compounded in the case of the Catholic bishops, precisely because they are so painfully right on questions related to the protection of the powerless, notably on abortion and euthanasia. Where they are right they are ineffectual because where they are wrong they are so obdurate. With admirable individual exceptions, bishops have frittered away their credibility in the endless weaving of a “seamless garment” with gossamer threads of liberal prescription, all intended to compensate for their being embarrassingly out of step on, most significantly, abortion. The United States Catholic Conference (USCC) in Washington is poignantly eager to let us know that it is not a one-issue operation. One of its top operatives recently remarked that not much had changed with the Clinton election. “We disagreed with Reagan and Bush on some issues and agreed with them on others, and the same is true with the Clinton administration.” In this view of the moral equivalence of the Church’s concerns, the USCC can disagree with Clinton on abortion, the promotion of fetal transplants, and government monopoly on education funds while happily agreeing with the administration on trade policy to Japan, the regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, and the just distribution of cable television franchises. It finally makes little difference. Lose three issues, win three issues, and you come out even. The mindlessness of the church-and-society apparat now feeds on itself. Whether Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Episcopalian, it just goes on and on. Budgets are trimmed from time to time but “the mission” continues. The curia speaks for itself and to itself, and the only solution is simply to shut it down, at a great saving of money and of embarrassment to the Christian cause. The maxim that should be followed is: When it is not necessary for the Church to speak, it is necessary for the Church not to speak. And when churches speak, they should speak to the audience that is their distinctive and should be their first concern, their own people. That manifestly is not happening now, and has not been for at least two decades.
Scandalous Ignorance Which brings us to a scandal that implicates also the conservative bodies of Evangelical Protestantism. There are about sixty million Catholics in the United States. Depending on how one defines Evangelical Protestant, there are fifty-plus million of them. Evangelicals and Catholics, then, constitute about 43 percent of the population. And it is a much more church-going part of the population than is that portion adhering to oldline Protestantism. Now, in the abortion debate of the last quarter-century, both Catholic and Evangelical leaderships have repeatedly declared that the protection of the unborn is their number one public policy concern. A quarter-century later, the evidence is that only 11 percent of Americans are even aware of what existing abortion policy is in this country. That is, only 11 percent know that, under the Roe v. Wade regime, there is absolutely no legal protection for any unborn child; abortion is legal at any time for any reason during the nine months of pregnancy. Keep in mind that a large part of that 11 percent, possibly more than half, is composed of pro-abortionists who like the present regime just fine, and are determined to harden it in place. They have a steep vested interest in keeping the American people ignorant by perpetuating the falsehood that Roe makes abortion legal only in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. They are determined to prevent Americans from pondering the fact that nearly half of the 1.6 million abortions per year are repeat abortions and that abortion has become the “contraception of choice” for millions of women who are without men who accept responsibility for their sexual partners or their children. And yet, abortion is presumably the number one concern of what is taken to be the leadership of two-thirds of religiously affiliated America. Not only have they failed to persuade their people to pro-life conviction, they have failed to communicate the most elementary facts about the question in dispute. There can be no doubt that millions of devout Evangelicals and Catholics, assured by the campaign and its captive media that he had moved to a “moderate” position on abortion, voted for Mr. Clinton in 1992. The failure of these churches, joined by a distinct minority among the oldline, is massive and should be indelibly imprinted on the record.
Six Crusades In American history, there have been six crusade-like efforts in which religious communities were vitally engaged: the Revolution, abolition of slavery, abolition of polygamy, prohibition of alcohol, civil rights, and now abortion. There are of course many differences between these causes, but one notable difference is that in the earlier efforts the churches were in alliance with important sectors of the several elites of the society. This time, every other major constellation of societal leadership has been arrayed against those seeking to protect the unborn and others who are vulnerable to the choices of those able to choose. The communications media, the foundations, the universities, the oldline churches”all have been overwhelmingly pro-abortion. Measured by its philanthropies and financial support for cultural and educational programs, the business community must also be termed dominantly pro-abortion in its influence. (We do not mention that part of the business community that is the multimillion dollar abortion industry.) The Catholic Church since the beginning and Evangelical Protestantism since the late 1970s have been the only major institutional bases for the pro-life cause. All things considered, it is a wonder and a reason for gratitude that there still is a vibrant pro-life movement in 1993. There is a second significant difference from earlier crusades. Whatever one thinks of the merits of their goals or means, in abolition, prohibition, and civil rights, the churches involved were singleminded. They knew what they meant when they said that they had a number one issue in the public arena. They communicated effectively with constituencies that made their convictions felt in the polling booth. They were not hobbled by the church-and-society bureaucracies that afflict Catholicism and most of Protestantism today. They did not have offices and commissions promoting a dozen or three dozen “number one” issues, depending on which interest group in their constituencies is squealing loudest at the moment. They had leaders. With very few exceptions, that cannot be said today. So much for this month’s fusillade against the official redoubts of those who, in the name of religion, claim to be attending to “the moral dimension” of public policy. Yes, we have said most of this before. And, God giving the opportunity, we will almost certainly say it again. If the future is marked by a greater modicum of sanity, people will look back in astonishment at a time in American life when the churches”especially Catholics and Evangelicals”so blew their chance to make the vital connections between biblical faith, moral discourse, and public policy. Excuses can be found. Of course it is intimidating to be confronted by such a formidable array of opposition, but, apart from the morally incompetent, people choose to be intimidated. And of course there are innumerable Christians possessed of a painful yearning to be accepted by the hierophants of “mainstream” culture, but such have plagued the Christian cause from its beginning. They have not, at least not usually, been permitted to define the Church’s mission in the world. And finally, of course the struggle is not over, and will not be until Our Lord returns in glory. It is true, as Eliot wrote, “For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” But in their great responsibility to infuse our common life with a sense of the source, the end, and the dignity of the human person, the churches have hardly tried. In what they have tried to do”weaving a shapeless garment of evasive consistency and trying to become players of consequence in Caesar’s political games”they have shown themselves to be foolish and inept. One would shy from such a harsh conclusion were one not convinced that we all face another judgment much more severe.
You have probably read something about “The Butcher of Avenue A,” a Dr. Abu Hayat who did abortions on the Lower East Side of New York, and is now convicted of doing them very shoddily. He is facing up to twenty years in jail. Rosa Rodriguez, eight months pregnant, came in for an abortion that was badly botched. Leaving the clinic with the abortion incomplete, Ms. Rodriguez changed her mind and the next day delivered a girl child at a hospital. Ana Rosa is now eighteen months old and is described by the press as a bright, active child “who loves to eat croissants and play with her sister Jenny.” The problem is that she has no right arm, it having been sliced off during the abortion process by Dr. Hayat. The media had a field day with the Butcher of Avenue A. At the trial, more than thirty women came forward with stories of abuse similar to that of Rosa Rodriguez, although in other cases the babies did not survive the medical atrocities perpetrated by Hayat. The entire episode is a wondrous parable of our times. Had Ana Rodriguez not survived, and had she not been missing an arm, we would have heard nothing about the Butcher of Avenue A, or the hundreds of abortionists who similarly exploit women in trouble. The pro-choice activists are determined to prevent any regulation of abortion clinics, even the minimal record-keeping mandated by Pennsylvania and upheld in last year’s Casey decision by the Supreme Court. Oddly enough, and despite Roe , New York still has on the books a law prohibiting abortions after “viability.” In reality, almost 4,000 abortions per year are performed in the state on children beyond the twentieth week. Nonetheless, Hayat was tried and convicted under that law, plus several others related to medical malpractice. It does not require the mythical man from Mars to have critical distance enough to see the oddity in all this. Had Hayat killed Ana, he would have collected his fee and continued to be honored with the title of medical doctor with no questions asked. Pro-lifers have made much of the point that his legal and public relations problem was not in being a butcher but in being an inefficient butcher. His job, like the job of every abortionist, is to be a butcher, but he did it very poorly. Of course one might draw analogies with, for example, capital punishment and war. There would justifiably be a great outcry were an executioner to be as callous and incompetent as Hayat, or were soldiers in battle to inflict egregious suffering on those they kill. These tasks, which most might deem to be justified by necessity, are to be done quickly, cleanly, and, as much as possible, without upsetting public sensibilities. As is detailed in, for instance, James Davison Hunter’s “What Americans Really Think About Abortion” (FT, June/July 1992), most people recognize that abortion is killing another human being. The debate is over whether or when that killing is justified. President Clinton’s argument in a recent “town meeting” that the debate is over when “the soul enters the body” was undoubtedly news to most of his listeners. That argument has not been made by recognized theologians or philosophers since the dawn of modern medicine. It is a desperate sop for the conscience of a Baptist who, one suspects, or at least hopes, has had uneasy moments about his consistent, and very successful, pandering to the pro-abortion lobby. The story of the Butcher of Avenue A is one among many that highlight the popular ambivalence about abortion. The same people who gush over cute little Ana Rosa Rodriguez are outraged at Hayat for not having killed her the way he was supposed to. Even the mother is quoted by a local paper as saying, “I hope my story will help lead the way for women to have safe abortions if they elect to have one.” One may be forgiven for suspecting that an uneducated, poor, Puerto Rican girl who goes to a cut-rate abortionist on the Lower East Side never said that, unless the reporter simply gave her the formula to repeat. In the same breath, Rosa Rodriguez thanks God for saving the life of her beautiful daughter. Clinton has repeatedly said that he wants to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” It is never safe for the child, and it is frequently not safe for the woman, in large part because pro-abortionists resist any regulation that might be a toehold to government “interference with reproductive freedom.” And, of course, abortion is anything but rare. One of the more imaginative twists in Clinton’s logic is that abortion can be made more rare by codifying the abortion liberty in the Freedom of Choice Act and by providing public funding for abortions. To appreciate the muddleheadedness, guilt, and denial that produce the contradictions in American thinking about abortion perhaps it would take the mythical man from Mars after all.
Temptations of Power
With the national referendum on gay lifestyles that President Clinton inadvertently invited by his first days of fumbling the question of gays in the military, with the firing of Joseph Fernandez as public school head in New York, and with the rehabilitation of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the leaders of the gay-lesbian movement acknowledge that they have experienced severe setbacks, or, some say, a momentary stall in their march to victory. The march, in order to prevail, must trample rather roughly upon popular sentiment. On the promotion of homosexuality (called the promotion of “tolerance”) in public schools, City Council Speaker Peter Vallone remarked, “It has nothing to do with politics . . . . People would die over this issue: You don’t mess with my children and I won’t mess with yours.” On the question of homosexuals in the military, somebody, perhaps it was General Colin Powell, succinctly summarized the issue this way: Soldiers don’t like to shower with soldiers who like to shower with soldiers. The Fernandez and St. Patrick’s developments crucially involved the Catholic Church in New York. When, in 1984, John Cardinal O’Connor came to New York, he said that he hoped that the archbishop’s residence would no longer be called, as it was under Cardinal Spellman and other predecessors, “the power house.” And indeed, while 43 percent of the people residing in New York claim to be Catholic, it has seemed in recent years that the influence of the Church has been in decline. It is understandable that the media have expressed alarm at recent evidence that the Church is still able to move the city on some questions that bring moral judgment to the crunch point. The newspapers and television have suggested that there is particular cause to worry because Catholics have formed what they call an “unprecedented political alliance” with black and Hispanic Protestant churches. Their worry is not without foundation. In New York and in the nation a pattern seems to be developing. On a specific issue, the Catholic Church stakes out a position and holds the line and is then later joined by conservative Protestant bodies. That was the case in the abortion battle, and it has been the case with homosexual activism in the public schools of New York (remember also that the “New York model” was being adopted by major school systems throughout the country). Of course the pattern of initiative is different in some parts of the country. Baptists, for instance, are sometimes called “the Catholic Church of the South and Southwest.” But in New York, with its inordinate influence on the general culture, the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church. And there is no doubt that it is led by Cardinal O’Connor. As the remark about the “power house” suggests, O’Connor has evidenced a certain ambivalence, some would say coyness, about the exercise of public influence. The public perception of O’Connor, in turn, is produced by the media’s ambivalence about him, about Catholic influence, and about the role of religion in “the secular city.” On the one hand, it is proclaimed that religion is ineffectual and in steep decline. On the other, the media assiduously highlight O’Connor’s slightest references to public affairs. He is not nearly so political a creature as he is portrayed to be. As a general rule, he has been very careful in choosing the politically related subjects on which he comments in public. Also as a general rule, any passing reference to, for instance, crime in the city”even in the context of a sermon on trusting God’s protection”will produce blazing headlines such as CARDINAL ATTACKS MAYOR ON CRIME. The press well understands that the Cardinal and the real or alleged power of the Catholic Church are good copy. Certainly they are the very public bete noire of “the progressive party,” led in New York by the gay and lesbian alliance, that aspires to exercising a political monopoly. (Experienced politicians estimate that 15 to 20 percent of the New York vote is effectively controlled by that alliance. That, combined with what he counts on in black votes, is the basis of David Dinkins’ hope for reelection this year.) When religion is freely exercised in expressing moral judgment and encouraging moral debate in public, it inevitably is accused of playing power politics. Admittedly, many churches, the Catholic Church included, have at times indulged the temptation to be just another political player. Drawing the line between public responsiblity and playing political games is not easy, but O’Connor is about as good at it as anybody around. Responding to recent criticisms that the Church is just another power broker in New York, the Cardinal wrote in his weekly column: “That’s a caricature, in my view, but if for the Church to exercise her right and duty of questioning society is for the Church to be branded as just another power broker, so be it. If this is the price the Church must pay to say, What you are doing is wrong,’ then the Church must pay that price. Please God, the Church will never ask herself how many votes she can deliver before saying whatever she must say or doing whatever she must do.” In our judgment, that gets it just about right.
“As some tell it, religion wasn’t a big issue in this comfortable, ethnically diverse Buffalo suburb until last fall. Then the school board unveiled a new policy to help children get along bettter.” So begins a New York Times story about Williamsville, N.Y. And wouldn’t you know it, the program to get along better, like the New York City program to teach “tolerance” of homosexuality, soon had everybody, including the children, going for the jugular. The brilliant Williamsville idea, hardly original, was to pretend that the majority of people who live there are not Christians, and therefore to put down any “privileged” references to Christianity. “Handel’s Messiah’ could be performed as long as there was no audience sing-along and the music of other religions was mixed in for balance,” reports the Times . A little Hari Krishna chant, perhaps, just before “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” We are further informed, “The North High School’s annual Christmas Concert was renamed the Winter Concert, but it still featured a Christmas tree and a visit by Santa Claus.” Well, as long as they keep the essentials of Christmas. What madness this all is, and it is happening all across the country. And what just madness it provokes from ordinary folk who know perfectly well that almost all of them are Christians, or at least claim to be so, and the only way to “get along better” with fellow Christians and others is to draw on, not deny, the religious and moral teachings that they embrace. Tolerance is not a free-standing virtue. Why should an overwhelming majority of Christians be tolerant of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, or atheists? Because otherwise the minorities will be unhappy? “Tough,” is one answer to that. Because otherwise, given the nature of this democracy, society will be thrown into civil commotion? That’s somewhat more serious, but majorities have been known to dispense with democratic niceties. The reason Christians are tolerant is not because this is a pluralistic society. This is a pluralistic society because most Christians are tolerant. And they are tolerant for Christian reasons”because they believe that everyone is a child of God, that consciences are not to be coerced, and even terribly wrong opinions are to be tolerated out of respect for the human dignity of those who hold them. Christians have not always understood the imperatives of tolerance, and some on the Christian fringes still don’t. But what the ACLU, the National Education Association, and their like must some day learn is that the only available reservoir of public morality in this society is the dominant ethos, and that dominant ethos is, however confusedly, Christian. Absent that understanding, any program to help people get along better is sure to set them to fighting. Admittedly, some people think that is a big plus. Says Margaret Mendrykowski, chairman of the Williamsville program, “I think the issues were there. Any time we unearth issues of prejudice and misunderstanding and work on them, it’s positive.” The alternative view is that there are very sensible reasons for keeping prejudice and misunderstanding well buried. It is sometimes called repression, without which no civilized order can survive. When nastiness comes to the surface, it must be addressed in a morally explicit way, but it is never wise to go poking around in search of potential nastiness. Not recognizing that, the progressive campaign in America is bent on turning public schools and other institutions into anger factories of civil discontent.
Masons as Baptist “Soul Brothers”
In Europe, notably in Italy, there are fevered conspiracy theories about the grand schemes of Freemasonry (theories that frequently link Masons and “the Jews”). One Catholic magazine, published in English as 30 Days , carries regular features on which prelates in the Roman curia are or are not Masons. In the U.S., on the other hand, it’s pretty hard to get excited about the sinister influence of Masons. Some reports suggest that the organization is almost moribund. Certainly its public profile is close to nil. In the twelve years that we’ve lived here, nobody has seen anybody go in or out of the large Masonic building located just around the corner. Of course that may be an indication of just how sneaky those Masons are, but we doubt it. In any event, here’s James M. Dunn, head of the liberal Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, waxing enthusiastic about Masons as the saviors of “religious freedom” (i.e., an extreme doctrine of church-state separationism). We hope the folks at 30 Days don’t get hold of Dunn’s article. He lauds C. Fred Klienknect, Sovereign Grand Commander of Scottish Rite Masons, for warning against Catholic and Evangelical support for parental choice in education. “Now there is a soul brother in the struggle for authentic religious liberty,” declares Dunn. But Dunn’s concern is for more than maintaining the establishment of the separationist faith. He is at war with the Southern Baptist Convention, which has in recent years withdrawn from his Joint Committee. The Southern Baptists may be in the process of formally deciding that Masonic membership is incompatible with being a Baptist minister. Dunn fulminates, “Have we fallen upon a day in which a climate of suspicion, distrust, and ignorance allows heresy hunts and thinly veiled bigotry to sway a mob-like band of fundamentalists?” It is hard to say whether 30 Days or the Joint Committee is the more hysterical when it comes to the subject of Masonry. The Catholic Church and a number of Protestant churches have long held that the problem with Masonry is that it is a false religion. They say that Masonic creeds and rituals, the secrecy of which has been blown for more than a century, propose a belief system at sharpest variance with anything that might be deemed orthodox Christianity. Of course, Christians who are Masons tend to downplay the conflict, but some churches are inclined to take creeds rather seriously. The factor of religious belief does not seem to figure in Mr. Dunn’s argument. Any friend of extreme separationism is a “soul brother” to James Dunn. It does appear, however, that whatever support the Baptist Joint Committee gets from Masons will probably not make up for the loss of support from Baptists.
Crossing the Line
“One day many years ago, a young idealistic doctor in a small mining town came face to face with unexpected disaster. The local mine had collapsed, trapping some miners for hours before rescue teams could reach them. As the doctor walked among the mangled victims of the disaster, wondering how he could help, one of the miners who was in excruciating pain grabbed his white jacket and screamed: Doctor, I beg you, let me go quickly! I can’t stand it! You can’t do anything for me”it’s too late. Doctor, I want to die”do you hear me?”I want to die!’ “The poor doctor had to force the man’s fingers apart to loosen his grip from the cloth of his jacket. Finally the man expired, leaving the young doctor pale and shaken. “In a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine , highly respected physicians cited emotional stories very much like this one”and without very much reasoned analysis, assumed that assisted suicide is our only answer to such patients and then started working out the ground rules.” The foregoing is from a paper by Richard M. Doerflinger of the Catholic Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities delivered to a meeting of the House of Delegates of the American Medical Association. The young doctor in question was Karl Brandt, and the story is drawn from his testimony at the Nuremberg trials where he explained why he agreed to begin a program of euthanasia for the incurably ill at the request of Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Doerflinger continues: “In the progressive corruption of the German euthanasia program, one event in 1940 stands out. The program to end the lives of the incurably ill had been going on under Dr. Brandt’s direction for nine months, and a Nazi official suggested that it was time to begin selecting candidates based on their ability to work. Dr. Brandt, who still thought of the program as a humanitarian one, strongly objected to this rating of lives by their social worth to others”but he was overruled. He found he no longer had any compelling arguments as to why this shift in policy should not be made. He himself had already crossed the truly important boundary”the one between healing and killing.” Is Mr. Doerflinger being alarmist? We think not. Of course the U.S. 1993 is not Germany 1933, and of course the distinguished doctors who promote “assisted suicides” are not Nazis, being motivated by nothing other than compassion. And of course a dozen other distinctions. But, once the line between healing and killing has been crossed, the question is not whether we will kill but whom we will kill and for what reasons. There are no publicly compelling arguments with which to resist the inherent expandability of the new permission. Of course religious scruples may stand in the way, but the courts have made abundantly clear that religious scruples have no public standing. Anyway, if you have qualms about it, nobody is compelling you actually to do the lethal deed. This, too, is a matter of choice. And isn’t choice what America is all about?
While We’re At It
Once again, the ACLU rushed to the defense of the Republic by backing Robert Sherman, the village atheist of Zion, Illinois, who sued to get “God Reigns” removed from the municipal seal. And, once again, the atheists won in court. So the city council held a contest for a new seal, which now bears the motto “In God We Trust.” The Supreme Court has allowed that on the U.S. currency, so Zion figures it can probably get away with it too. Columnist Stephen Chapman, however, thinks “the elders of Zion” are being too clever by half. It is a Pyrrhic victory, says he. Doesn’t the city council know, he asks, that the Court allows “In God We Trust” because it is deemed to be devoid of religious meaning? The phrase is exempt from scrutiny, said Justice William Brennan, “chiefly because [it has] lost, through rote repetition, any significant religious content.” The same goes, according to Brennan, for “under God” in the pledge of allegiance. Chapman writes: “But if the Court took official religious messages like this seriously, it would have little choice but to rule them out of bounds. Some of the faithful apparently would rather have the government endorse ersatz religion than no religion at all.” But why should Brennan’s obtuse dicta make In God We Trust “ersatz religion”? Apparently the people of Zion think it means exactly what it says and was well worth fighting for. Now if we can get the Court to declare that the Bible is a harmless collection of fairy tales, perhaps it can be studied again in public schools. One hopes the day will come when people will look back in incredulity upon a period in American history when the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of the people could find public expression only when the courts ruled that Americans do not really believe what they insist they do believe.
Two worthies were recently inducted into the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Vaclav Havel, President of the new Czech Republic. (The Academy has fifty French members and twelve associate foreign members.) What they had to say in their inaugural addresses was remarkably similar. Discussing the Church’s relationship to society, Ratzinger invoked the wisdom of Origen: “Christ does not triumph over anyone without that person desiring it himself. He triumphs only by convincing.” Ratzinger continued: “It is in conformity with the nature of the Church that she be separate from the State and that her faith not be imposed by the State, but rest on freely acquired convictions . . . . It also belongs to the Church to know she is responsible for everything and that she cannot limit herself to herself. She must, with all the liberty that is proper to her, address herself to the liberty of all, in such a way that moral forces of history remain the forces of the present and that this evidence of the values without which common freedom is not possible arises ever anew.” Havel reflected on his political experience and turned also to the theme of “moral forces” that transcend rational control. “I also noted with dread,” Havel said, “that my impatience as regards the re-establishment of democracy had something of the Communist in it. Or, more generally, something of the rationalist, the Unity of the Enlightenment thinkers. I had wanted to make history advance in the same way a child pulls on a plant to make it grow more quickly . . . . One cannot fool a plant any more than one can fool history. But one can water it every day, with understanding, and humility certainly, but also with love.”
“If Nature’ bears a Godlike face,” writes Anglican priest John K. Williams, “that face is the face of humanity. Which is just what one would expect if human beings truly are made in the imago Dei, the image of God.” This is from Williams’ critique of the philosophers of “deep ecology,” published in Religion & Liberty , which is put out by the very lively Acton Institute, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. More from Williams: “Nature is not divine. It is the creation of God, not a god or a goddess. When treated as divine, the superficially benign face of nature is revealed for what it is. Invariably, human sacrifice is demanded. The worshipers of Ashtaroth and Baal did it. The Aztecs did it. The devotees of the eerie nature religion informing Nazism did it. Not surprisingly, the deep ecologists’ recommend it.
“I quote from an essay appearing in Earthbound: New Introductory Readings in Environmental Ethics (Random House, 1984). Massive human diebacks would be good. It is our duty to cause them. It is our species’ duty, relative to the whole, to eliminate 90 percent of our numbers.’ Or consider the following, taken from a J. Baird Callicott’s In Defense of the Land Ethic (State University of New York Press, 1989): If it is not only morally permissible, but, from the point of view of the land ethic, morally required, that members of certain species be abandoned to predation . . . or even culled, how can we consistently exempt ourselves from a similar draconian regime? We too are only “plain members of citizens” of the biotic community.’
“We Christians know that the worship of Nature”the worship of Ashtaroth and of Baal”is idolatry. We also know that the worship of Mammon, an ugly little godling who would have us believe that the creation of wealth, an undoubted good, is the supreme or only good and that the acquisition of such wealth can satisfy our deepest yearnings, is also idolatry. Thus my final word is not economic but theological. I believe that sound economics points us in the direction we must walk if feasible answers to the environmental problems of our age are to be found. More importantly, however, I affirm that sound theology is an imperative if we are to avoid the veritable holocaust extreme environmentalists would unleash upon this planet, a planet that belongs to God yet which the Holy One has entrusted to our fallible care.” Events spin out in a most unpredictable manner. That’s perfectly predictable, you might say, and you’re right. But did you ever think you might support a project led by Bella (The Hat) Abzug? As best we understand it, we rather like her Women’s Environmental and Development Organization. It opposes U.S. funding for United Nations and Planned Parenthood programs that would impose population control on the third world. Abzug favors a “voluntary reproductive health approach with women at its center.” Of course that undoubtedly includes support for abortion and other unacceptable measures, but it does recognize, as is amply supported by the data, that only when people are educated, economically secure, and free to make responsible decisions for themselves is the much-hyped “population bomb” defused. We hope the article in America where we read about Ms. Abzug’s organization is accurate. Otherwise, we would be deprived of the pleasure of indulging our irenic nature by saying something nice about a most improbable person. (Having known her for many years, we have no doubt that Bella Abzug takes it as a compliment to be called an improbable person.) Much of the good done by some Protestant international agencies and much of the harm done by organizations such as the World Council of Churches are funded by the EKD, the Evangelical Church in Germany. The EKD has sometimes seemed to possess a bottomless pot of gold because the German government collects a surcharge on income tax and passes the proceeds on to the church. People can opt out of the system if they wish and a minority has done so in the past, but Protestant pastors and theologians have often argued that the willingness of the great majority to pay the church tax is a sign that Germany is not so secular as factors such as church attendance might suggest. A new survey, however, indicates that 72 percent of the populace declares itself against the tax (81 percent in the former East Germany), believing that the church would be more responsive to people’s needs if it were based upon a more voluntary system. Of course the Catholic Church in Germany also benefits from the current tax system and is a major source of support for the Holy See. Catholics, however, have been less inclined to see the tax surcharge as a sign of Christian devotion in lieu of behavior such as attendance at Mass. (Incidentally, according to Lutheran World Information, 56 percent of the population of the nations belonging to the European Community are Catholic. Which should be taken about as seriously as the claim that the eight million people of Sweden are Lutheran.) Rabbi Joseph Gelberman used to be Orthodox and now he is Reform, of sorts. Once a year in his Interfaith Temple in Manhattan, on Valentine’s Day, he does marriages free. All year round he declares that he is prepared to marry anyone”Jew, Christian, Hindu, gay, straight, believer, nonbeliever. The very genial rabbi says, “I’m not here to please God. I’m here to please God’s people.” As Aaron explained to Moses about the calf. Some movements take a very long time in dying. But that is what has finally happened with the nineteenth-century Oxford Movement, according to Fr. Ian Kerr of Oxford University, the author of a recent biography of John Henry Newman. Reflecting on the significance of the recent vote to ordain women to the presbyterate, Kerr writes: “For, in spite of the boasted comprehensiveness of Anglicanism, Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals, and liberals hold incompatible views of what Christianity is, and therefore what the Church is . . . . [The vote was] a resounding defeat for the Anglo-Catholic party which, if it even survives, is now completely marginalized. This is surely what Newman would see so clearly; that last week’s vote spelt the end of the Oxford Movement.
“Like Newman’s departure, the Synod decision is really a triumph for the liberals. Without the Anglo-Catholics, will the conservative Evangelicals be able to resist the total liberalization of the Church of England? More than 100 years ago Newman feared that the Church of England would become so radically liberalized . . . as to become a simple enemy of the truth,’ as it seemed only a matter of time how long the Anglican Church retains any part of the Faith.’ “ Writing in his new newsletter, Insight , commentator Russell Shaw says that Catholics have come upon hard times in terms of their influence in national politics. “With the advent of the new administration and a new Congress, the Catholic Church’s capacity to influence national policy is at its lowest ebb since the 1920s,” he writes. With other commentators, Shaw notes the remarkable dearth of high-profile Catholics among Clinton appointees. The few there are, such as Budget Director Leon Panetta, are gung-ho pro-choice and generally unresponsive to the Church’s leadership on other moral questions. Of 535 members of Congress, 140 are Catholics, but the 91 Democrats are overwhelmingly pro-choice, along with the Catholic Speaker of the House, Thomas Foley, and Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell. Three of the six women senators are pro-choice Catholics”Mikulski of Maryland, Braun of Illinois, and Murray of Washington. More dismal, says Shaw, is the fact that Catholics voted pretty much like the general electorate: 44 percent for Clinton, 36 percent for Bush, and 20 percent Perot. Even if one allows that the election was decided on economic issues, Shaw concludes, “these results show large numbers of Catholics ignoring the Church for practical purposes.” Or, more accurately, for political purposes. Vicarious atonement is not usually the subject of the New York Times culture sections, but here is a “thought piece” (as the journalistic conceit has it) on Michael Jackson. He has explained, apparently to the intense interest of millions of Americans, why his skin is getting whiter, why animals and crucifixes get mixed up in his video couplings, and how very lonely was his childhood. Think-piece writer Ann Powers concludes: “Offering viewers . . . reason for his inexplicable ways, Mr. Jackson reassures and allows them to escape blame. His defects, then, are someone else’s responsibility; he’s a victim of one person, not of each of us who has called him a freak, destroyed his privacy, and worshiped him as people have always worshiped their sacrificial lambs.” So there, Michael Jackson is dying for your sins. The article is accompanied by a photo of Jackson with arms outstretched as on a cross. If the Times is to be believed, we may perhaps anticipate that in future Jackson productions the crucifix will become more than a gimmick, although featuring a different savior. Strange are the religions for which intelligent people will fall when they abandon true religion. A sophisticated time that has seen through the delusions of romantic love is left with the detritus of erotic knowledge. Thus the hero and heroine of A. S. Byatt’s often captivating novel, Possession : “Things had changed between them . . . . They were children of a time and culture that mistrusted love, in love,’ romantic love, romance in toto, and which nevertheless in revenge proliferated sexual language, linguistic sexuality, analysis, dissection, deconstruction, exposure. They were theoretically knowing; they knew about phallocracy and penisneid, punctuation, puncturing and penetration, about polymorphous and polysemous perversity, orality, good and bad breasts, clitoral tumescence, vesicle persecution, the fluids, the solids, the metaphors for these, the systems of desire and damage, infantile greed and oppression and transgression, the iconography of the cervix and the imagery of the expending and contracting Body, desired, attacked, consumed, feared.” The author adds, “They took to silence.” The beneficiaries, it would seem, of truly comprehensive sex education. In a not unthoughtful cover article on fetal transplants and related phenomena, Newsweek concludes: “Clearly, society should foster research to alleviate human suffering. Just as clearly, it must also protect itself against the callous use of human material, even in its early stages of development. Even though human fetuses have been thrust into a legal limbo, they still elicit feelings of protection and respect. The question society still has not resolved is: how much?” The conclusion perfectly reflects the pitiful stirrings of the vestiges of a morality once secured by biblical faith. There is no answer to the question, except by consulting one’s “feelings””feelings which are almost unlimited in their malleability. Why shou