It was, if I recall, Evelyn Waugh who wrote about a Catholic gentleman whose idea of a perfect world was one in which he would have a new papal bull to read at breakfast every day. This year had some wags speaking about their membership in the Encyclical of the Month Club. Actually, there were only two, but they came in rapid order: Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) and Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One). This issue includes extended comments on the former. Ut Unum Sint , issued May 30, is on ecumenism and, since Christian unity is an abiding concern of this journal, it will no doubt be coming in for further examination in the months and years ahead.
The initial response to Ut Unum Sint has been almost uniformly favorable. In the general media, it did not receive the major attention accorded Evangelium Vitae , and that is no doubt because editors view ecumenism as an internal Christian question with slight bearing on the public realm. While not surprising, that is a very big mistake. In a world increasingly marked by resurgent religion, notably Christianity and Islam, the ecumenical reconfiguration of 1.8 billion Christians is a matter of enormous world-historical import. Of course Ut Unum Sint does not effect such a reconfiguration, but it does irrevocably commit the Catholic Church, with more than a billion members, to that goal.
The forcefulness with which that commitment is expressed is what strikes many as the most dramatic feature of the encyclical. It does not add anything doctrinally substantive to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the relationship of the Catholic Church to other Christians, but it spells out the ecumenical implications, both theological and strategic, and underscores in an unprecedented manner the urgency with which the Catholic Church views the search for Christian unity.
After the Council, there was much talk about the Catholic Church “joining” the ecumenical movement that dates from the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference and is today represented by the World Council of Churches (WCC). Because of the asymmetry of size and ecclesiological self-understandings, there was never a possibility of the Catholic Church simply joining the WCC as another church among the churches. Ut Unum Sint formally clarifies what most observers-Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic-have recognized to be the case in the last several decades, namely, that since the Council the Catholic Church has reconstituted the ecumenical movement. In some respects, the Catholic Church today is the ecumenical movement; at the very least it is the spiritual and institutional center of the movement toward Christian unity in our time.
The encyclical reflects the urgency, indeed the passion, of this pope for the restoration of full communion between East and West that was broken in 1054. He has repeatedly spoken of the second millennium as the millennium of Christian divisions, and the third millennium as, please God, the millennium of Christian unity. Of course the encyclical also has very much in mind the divisions that issued from the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, but with respect to the Orthodox Church of the East there is a sense of imminent reconciliation. Speaking of East and West, the document says the Church must “again breathe with both lungs.” In recent years there have been extraordinary steps toward reconciliation with the Orthodox, but the Pope clearly hopes that full communion might be restored in his pontificate, or at least that he will witness a mutual and irrevocable commitment to the achievement of that goal, sooner rather than later. Certainly, Ut Unum Sint irrevocably commits the Catholic Church. Bartholomew of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarch, met with John Paul II in Rome last June, and, like his immediate predecessors, declared his devotion to the goal of full communion. He and others, however, are under pressure from some Orthodox leaders to go slow. Indeed some Orthodox, such as the very influential monks of Mount Athos, are clearly alarmed by what they view as a possible sell-out of Orthodoxy to its traditional enemy, Rome. In view of centuries of acrimony and keenly remembered grievances on the part of the East, some believe that any dramatic step toward reconciliation with Rome could lead to further conflicts, and even schism, within Orthodoxy. If, as is commonly said, Rome thinks in terms of centuries, the consciousness of many Orthodox is virtually timeless. For as long as memory serves, the Orthodox have talked about a forthcoming Pan-Orthodox Council that would bring together all the jurisdictions of the East. The late Alexander Schmemann, one of the most influential Orthodox theologians of this century, wryly observed that a Pan-Orthodox Council is an eschatological concept. Nonetheless, Ut Unum Sint demonstrates that the Catholic Church is undaunted, and will do all it can to effect a reconciliation that it believes is made both possible and imperative by the revealed truth that Orthodox and Catholics hold in common. This determination is strikingly evident in the way the encyclical puts on the table the question of the exercise of the papal ministry. John Paul forcefully makes the point that the Petrine ministry, instituted by Christ, rightly belongs to all Christians. He acknowledges that this ministry, which was given to serve Christian unity, has at times been a cause of division. He asks all Christians to help him reflect on how the successor of Peter might exercise this ministry in a different way, and he points to the first millennium of the undivided Church as a possible source of models that might be newly relevant today.
Of course Don Wildemon, William Bennett, and Bill Donohue of the Catholic League are doing a gutsy thing in protesting the unremitting stream of sleaze that is popular culture. One can even muster a grudging respect for Senator Robert Dole’s protest, while recognizing the political opportunism that motors it. T. S. Eliot notwithstanding, society frequently does depend upon people doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Especially politicians. For people like Bennett and Donohue, who have an intellectual reputation to protect, there is a price to be paid in being depicted as censorious prudes who are the enemies of “artistic creativity.” In confrontations with such as the executives of Time Warner, Bennett plays the role of old Joe Welch in the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954: “Sir, have you no shame?” The answer, of course, is that many of them don’t, while others think they are doing a morally good thing. One must believe that some of them really do think that. Gangsta’ rap may be ugly, they say, but it shows the world as it really is, and, anyway, testing the limits of the First Amendment is always a public service. A while back the paper reported that the Calvin Klein advertising people got an award for their groundbreaking creativity in splashing advertisements of near-naked men and women on buses and billboards around the country. In some advertising circles, they are referred to as the Calvin Slime ads, but there is little doubt that the folk responsible for them really do take pride in their courage, and would if they could depict explicit sexual acts of polymorphous perversity. Who knows, perhaps soon they will do just that, breaking yet newer ground in the rubble of what are quaintly called civilizational standards. At the risk of sounding conspiratorial, one cannot entirely discount those who boast of being part of a vast conspiracy to liberate society from the stifling mores of the past. The conspiracy is candidly displayed in Patricia Morrissroe’s new biography of Robert Mapplethorpe. The late and much celebrated photographer who died of AIDS routinely referred to his exhibitions as “the sex pictures,” and took great delight in insinuating pornography into what is called mainstream art. In the Cincinnati obscenity trial over the exhibition of his photographs (a bullwhip up the anus, a man urinating into another’s mouth, and other such pleasantries), internationally recognized authorities declared Mapplethorpe’s work to be of great artistic merit, while, according to Morrissroe, they sniggered behind the scenes over how they were outfoxing the local legal rubes who thought they could build a prosecution on, ha ha, community standards. The standards of the philistines don’t stand a chance up against the art of the self-certified creative community. Morrissroe reports that Mapplethorpe’s most intense pleasure was in watching others eat his excrement. He and his allies in the arts establishment were delighted to implicate the public in his games, and had the added satisfaction of having taxpayers pay for it. Critics have pointed out that the newspapers that editorially defend porno-art dare not print pictures of what they are defending. An editor at a local paper says this is a cheap shot, since there are many things they might defend others exhibiting that they would not exhibit themselves. There’s a measure of truth in that. The New York Times , say, can defend the legal right of pornographers to exhibit their products without taking on any obligation to print the stuff in its pages. But it is a different matter when the Times champions Mapplethorpe and other “controversial” projects as art worthy of respect. Surely the editors should not hesitate to show their readers what they think is art deserving of public support. Any doubt about the media’s mendacity is removed by the fact that they do show their readers and viewers uncontroversial and even lovely works of the artists in question. Thus during the Mapplethorpe controversies the Times regularly published his charming photographs of orchids and lilies, inviting its readers to join in its indignation against the Yahoos who would censure such innocent creativity. As Big Daddy says in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof , “Mendacity. I’m surrounded by mendacity.”
“I’m sorry, but I find that hard to believe.” He was a Harvard-trained lawyer in a large New York firm, and the subject was Jewish and Christian attitudes toward church-state relations. What he found hard to believe, what he obviously did not believe, was my observation that millions of Americans do not personally know any Jews. In a country where no more than 2 percent of the population is Jewish, and that 2 percent is concentrated in a few cities, many Americans have never, to their knowledge, met a Jew, and for a majority it is likely that there are no Jews among their friends, acquaintances, and associates. Jews growing up in, say, New York City and attending Ivy League schools understandably find that hard to believe. A colleague, a successful writer, says it was one of the great shocks of her childhood to learn that Jews are not at least half the American population. “I think somewhere in the back of my mind, contrary to what I know for a fact, I still believe we are at least 30 percent,” she says. Dennis Prager, editor of Ultimate Issues , recalls the isolation that came with attending a yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish day school. Most Jews of course do not attend yeshiva, yet they, too, are frequently isolated. The difference is that Prager has good Jewish reasons for caring about non-Jews, even if his yeshiva teachers did not understand those reasons. These are among the questions engaged in Prager’s reflection on what he learned, and did not learn, from attending yeshivas from age five through eighteen. He learned, for instance, about wasting time. “ Bitul torah literally means annulling the Torah.’ In practice it means wasting time that you could otherwise be devoting to something related to Torah.’ The way it was taught to me, bitul torah covered just about everything not directly related to Torah. Watching television was therefore certainly bitul torah . But to some of my rabbis, so were Shakespeare, sports, and nonreligious music. They overdid it, but the concept of bitul torah has never left me . . . . Thanks to the concept of bitul torah, Judaism taught me that time may be God’s most precious gift to us. To squander it is a sin. That is not the general attitude in secular society where killing time’ is not considered a form of killing. But it is.” He also learned a truth so important that he thinks humanity can be divided between those who do and those who don’t know it. “One night when my older son was in third grade, I asked him what he had learned that day in school, an Orthodox Jewish day school. That I have a yetzer harah ,’ he responded. I was delighted for both psychological and moral reasons . . . . The moral reason for my delight at my son’s learning that he had a built-in bad inclination was that he would know from then on that life is a constant battle with his yetzer harah , i.e., with himself. This traditional Jewish belief is at total variance with the intellectual mindset of our time, which holds that the most important battle for us to wage is with our environment, with our society. A generation has been raised to believe that its greatest problems emanate from hostile and oppressive outside forces such as racism, sexism, and economic inequality.” The awareness that the battle is within oneself, says Prager, “is a defining characteristic of the truly religious person,” whether Jewish or not. As is also a sense of kedusha , or holiness. “The sense that some behaviors, while not immoral, are still wrong because they are unholy is alien to a generation raised thoroughly secular. If it isn’t illegal, it isn’t an issue’ can almost serve as a description of the secular mindset. There is a sort of secular equivalent to the religious concept of the unholy-‘vulgar.’ But vulgarity is not an often used term in our time, as it just doesn’t seem to bother many people today.” A sense of kedusha , as Prager discusses it, is not unrelated to the aesthetic, a sense of what is appropriate, and he laments what he thinks is the growing use of dirty language even in presumably polite company. But more than dirty language is at stake. “Awareness of kedusha had a powerful impact on me. By my late twenties, my premarital sexual life increasingly struck me as unholy (though not immoral, a distinction that must be strongly maintained). This awareness played a decisive role in moving me to get married.” Then there is the question of how you talk about others. “Perhaps my rudest awakening to the secular world after a lifetime in yeshiva was the amount of lashon hara I encountered. I remember the first time I heard that people could make a living as a gossip columnist.’ A lashon hara columnist!’ I thought. I could hardly believe it . . . . Of course, all the public lashon hara is more than matched by all the private lashon hara that people engage in. At yeshiva, I learned the power of the tongue to destroy. Think of how long it takes to form a good opinion of a person after hearing just a few seconds of lashon hara about him.” Another lesson learned in yeshiva is likely of particular interest to authors. “According to the Talmud, Whoever cites the source for what he says brings redemption to the world.’ This oft-cited quotation is literally true. If people would cite the source of an idea or quote that they express, they really would bring redemption to our unredeemed world. For it means that people would then be more interested in truth than in personal glory . . . . I am still taken aback when someone, with all goodwill , tells me, I stole one of your ideas in a speech that I gave.’ When the source isn’t cited, it is stealing.” And he learned to ask questions. “In the words of the Talmud, the shy one doesn’t learn.’ This is taught to yeshiva children from our earliest years. Ask, ask, and ask again. Not all questions were answered (see below), but asking was always encouraged. Friends who grew up in other religions are often amazed at the amount of questioning that went on in yeshiva.” In sum, he learned that there is a code of right and wrong that overrides, or should override, one’s own feelings. “The most powerful legacy of yeshiva education was the Halakhic mentality. Halakha is the word for Jewish law, and in the yeshiva, it is the guiding principle of life. Simply put, there is a right and wrong for every action. The emphasis, unfortunately, was more on the laws between man and God than on the laws between man and his fellow man, but there was plenty of teaching of the latter as well . . . . Again, when I attended college, I was struck by the fact that for most of my fellow students everything seemed to be permitted. This aroused in me ambivalent feelings of envy and fear. I envied their ability to do just about anything (like drive on Saturdays!), and feared that the lack of issurim (prohibitions) in their lives might lead to evil.” Prager writes, “I suspect that even if a person from yeshiva overthrows the entire religious tradition, he will still go through life with the question, Is it permitted?’ ringing in his ears.”
per year. The address is 6020 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232. Telephone: 310-558-3958. Fax: 310-558-4241.)
Confession time. It’s always been fun to make fun of Anglicanism. And the fun-making is not unmixed with a seasoning of envy. I recall reading years ago an article in an Episcopalian magazine which contended that Anglicans really need not bother with evangelization since Anglicanism is “the finishing school” for people who had already been evangelized. The sheer pretentiousness of it. And yet, there was a lot to be pretentious about. Now it all seems to be in a shambles. William Oddie, a former C of E priest, is among those who have abandoned ship and found refuge in Rome. He writes regularly in the Spectator and elsewhere on why the jig is at last up with the C of E, and is just as regularly answered by loyalists who say, in effect and sometimes explicitly, that there will always be an England, and therefore there will always be a Church of England. I’m all right, Jack.
Cardinal Newman launched the Anglo-Catholic thing, of course, only to conclude, with great reluctance, that his idea of Anglicanism as a middle way ( via media ) was little more than a “paper church.” Sheridan Gilley takes up that theme in a recent issue of the Tablet . He, too, has been drawn to the capacious bosom of Mother Rome, but he has poignant memories of what used to be home: “The decline of Anglo-Catholicism seems to me to be a serious impoverishment of Christianity. The High Church tradition took all that is best and most beautiful in the Church of England, the King James Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, with its wonderful Cranmerian cadences, the ancient English cathedrals and parish churches, a tradition of literature and of learning, and the kindness, gentleness, and tolerance of English life, and enriched them with judicious borrowings from the doctrine, devotion, and scholarship of the wider Catholic world. It seemed the perfect meeting-place between Catholicity and Englishness, without the harshness or philistinism of English Roman Catholicism. Now that whole Anglican Gothic world has come to grief. Anglo-Catholicism, the most culturally attractive form of Christianity that I have ever encountered, is bound to be no more than a preparatio evangelica to positions more coherent than itself. In its learning, its devotion, its sheer beauty, it is a preparation without equal, but no more. The matter can be put more positively. If I might paraphrase an old Anglo-Catholic, G. W. E. Russell, Sit anima mea cum sanctis : may my lot be with the Anglo-Catholic saints from whose lips I first learned of the doctrine of the Church.”
And so, in this view, Anglicanism is not the “finishing school” but a preparatio evangelica , the narthex, so to speak, on the way to the real thing. I read the Gilley article in a cab on the way downtown to have lunch with Monsignor Alfred Gilbey. He is the author of a number of books widely read in England (his We Believe will, he hopes, be coming out here soon), and something of a curmudgeonly legend. He was, as is his custom, nicely turned out in a cassock with purple piping and cummerbund, having just come from doing a television program with Mother Angelica. At age ninety-four, he was making his first visit to these shores, and seemed utterly fascinated by all he had seen in his first week. “I won’t wait so long before coming again,” he said. A luncheon partner turned the talk to the C of E and whether it was at last finished. “Oh nonsense,” said the Monsignor, sipping a very nice chardonnay. “It will last as long as England. It is England. One doesn’t join it for any reason, and one doesn’t have to have a reason to leave it. It’s the official cultural presentation of Christianity. It will go on and on.” Pausing, he added, “But of course one must understand that it has absolutely nothing to do with truth.”
A few years ago, a senior prelate of the C of E visited our offices. He had written extensively on secularization theory and professed himself to be a fan of my own work. “How,” I ventured in the course of conversation, “would you define the mission of the Church of England.” He paused for a moment and answered in most agreeable tone, “Well, I suppose it is to keep alive the Christian alternative for people who are interested in that sort of thing. There will always be some, you know.” It is only tenuously related to truth, but the charm of it cannot be denied. Sit anima mea cum sanctis . On the assumption, of course, that Anglicans, too, can be saved. (To protesting reader: What? You took that seriously? How very un-Anglican.)
That the self-described postmodernist Cornel West supposes the vocabularies of Marxism, Pragmatism, and Liberalism to be interchangeable is bad enough. But it is when West calls his whole postmodern Marxist-Pragmatist-Liberal muddle “Christianity,” and himself a “prophetic Christian freedom fighter,” that he makes it hard for thoughtful people to take him seriously. Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic , frequently a thoughtful person, has clearly had enough. A while back he had this to say: “The union of theory and practice, in West’s hands, becomes a union of pomposity and enthusiasm . . . . West skips undialectically from the seminar to the street, celebrating his connectedness. This has ridiculous results . . . . It does not escape his notice that the agapic praxis of communities’ was abandoned in the late work of Marvin Gaye, and that a change in the image of the Temptations could not give Motown egemonic status on fast funk.’“
But the most embarrassingly dated feature of West’s writing, according to Wieseltier, is his political theory. His “published work is an endless exercise in misplaced Marxism . . . . There is something puerile about West’s Marxism . . . . He writes like a man who refuses to accept the fact that he was born too late for a particular excitement . . . . It is hard to read West’s descriptions of, say, the Black Panthers as the leading black lumpenproletarian revolutionary party of the sixties’ without recalling Trotsky’s oration to the workers and peasants of the South Bronx.’“
It is fine for West to declare that he upholds “the Christocentric perspective which requires that one see the world through the lens of the Cross.” But when he adds that we “thereby see our relative victimizing and relative victimization,” he has changed Christianity into something different. “West is dead to difference,” Wieseltier writes. “He is a hero in a culture of morbidity, in which wounds are jewels. And his appropriation of what he calls the Christocentric perspective’ for the politics of victimization in America is preposterous. It is banal at best, and it is blasphemous at worst, to describe the crucifixion of Jesus as victimization, in the sense in which we recognize victimization. No road runs from Calvary to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”
From the Marxist-Pragmatist-Liberal muddle that West calls Christianity, West produces a remarkable notion of his role in the world. “My attempt to put flexible Marxist analysis on the agenda of the black churches is a pioneering endeavor,” he declares. Reminding us that his upbringing instilled in him an “ego-deflating humility,” he informs us that he is now a prophet, and “the mark of the prophet is to speak the truth in love with courage-come what may.” His prophetic criticism, he reports, “is partisan, partial, engaged and crisis-centered, yet always keeps open a skeptical eye to avoid dogmatic traps, premature closures, formulaic formulations, or rigid closures.” Wieseltier notes that West complains that nine taxis refused to take him to East Harlem where he was to be photographed among the masses for the dust cover of his latest book. West is indignant at the Manhattan cabbies, although he tells us, “I left my car-a rather elegant one-in a safe parking lot.” Wieseltier observes, “So the taxis would not take him where he would not take his car! This is not precisely what Gramsci had in mind.”
None of this silliness would be of much importance if major black social critics such as Glenn Loury, Stanley Crouch, and Shelby Steele were not so often denigrated in comparison with the much-celebrated Cornel West. “By overlooking [the social circumstances of American blacks],” West has written, “the new black conservatives fall into the trap of blaming poor black people for their predicament.” This is of course grotesquely unfair. “I do not hear them blaming people for being poor,” writes Wieseltier. “I hear them blaming people for abandoning families.” Without some understanding of social responsibility, there is no solution to the plight of American blacks in the muddle of West’s version of Christianity. Is Leon Wieseltier unfair? At the margins, probably. But it does seem that Mr. West should slow down and listen to what he is saying if he wants to avoid the fate of being dismissed as an upmarket Al Sharpton.
Michael Lind has moved from Harper’s to the New Republic , and in his first cover story as a senior editor he explains that there has been no conservative revolution, only a Republican coup taking over the South. The new Republicans, unlike the old, are anti-intellectual. As evidence of the high intellectual caliber of the old Republicans, Lind notes that “President James Garfield was fluent in Latin and Greek, Theodore Roosevelt wrote more than a dozen books . . . and Dwight Eisenhower was president of Columbia University.” There you have it. As everyone knows, Teddy Roosevelt’s adventure stories are the subject of elevated academic seminars to this very day. As for Garfield, Lind has to add the title President lest readers mistake the name for that of a famous movie star, so great has been James Garfield’s intellectual legacy. Best of all, though, is Eisenhower as president of Columbia. Lind is probably too young to remember the Columbia faculty’s embarrassment about his being given that post as a port of convenience for the months between the Army and the White House.
Lind allows that liberals are to blame for the Republican takeover of the South. “Liberals first nationalized issues like censorship, abortion, and gay rights, inadvertently calling into being national versions of the local religious pressure groups that used to lobby state legislatures.” But please understand, Lind insists, that issues like censorship, abortion, and gay rights have nothing to do with conservatism. It’s this Southern thing, you see. (It is encouraging, however, that the senior editor of the New Republic apparently believes that issues such as censorship, abortion, and gay rights should be returned to states and localities.) Democrats have to make clear, says Lind, that Republicans do not speak for a new American majority. In fact, the Republican Party “is little more than the mouthpiece for the least American’ section of the country.”
That piece of bigotry triggers in Lind a vestigial liberal bias against bigotry, prompting him to ask, “Does this sound prejudiced?” In response to his own question, he offers the some-of-my-best-friends-are argument, noting that he is descended from men who fought for the Confederacy. “I would never suggest,” says Lind, “that Southerners, as such, be attacked or derided.” No prejudice there; it is only the South that is to be attacked and derided. Lind concludes: “Resisting the Southernization of America is a political task principled Southerners [a distinct minority, he makes clear] and Northerners [all of us, presumably] should be able to agree upon.” It is truly wondrous the lengths to which some people will go to deny that we are in the midst of a national conservative revival, even if it requires refighting the Civil War. The Standard , a weekly edited by Bill Kristol, has appeared just in time to provide us with a national magazine of thoughtful political and cultural opinion.
When the encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) appeared this spring, there was considerable confusion about what it said about capital punishment. The confusion was not caused by the language of the encyclical itself, which seemed to constitute only a prudential judgment that, in some contemporary circumstances, the death penalty is no longer necessary and therefore should not be used. The confusion came, rather, from press reports about Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s remarks when introducing the encyclical in Rome. These reports suggested that Ratzinger had said that the statements on the death penalty reflected a development of doctrine, and that the Catechism of the Catholic Church , issued only last year in English, would have to be revised in light of the encyclical. Many close readers of the encyclical did not discern any development of doctrine, and worried that a catechism that is subject to regular recall could not serve as a reliable guide to the Church’s official teaching.
So we asked Cardinal Ratzinger for a clarification, and are pleased to publish, with his permission, his response: “You ask about the correct interpretation of the teaching of the encyclical on the death penalty. Clearly, the Holy Father has not altered the doctrinal principles which pertain to this issue as they are presented in the Catechism, but has simply deepened the application of such principles in the context of present-day historical circumstances. Thus, where other means for the self-defense of society are possible and adequate, the death penalty may be permitted to disappear. Such a development, occurring within society and leading to the foregoing of this type of punishment, is something good and ought to be hoped for.
“In my statements during the presentation of the encyclical to the press, I sought to elucidate these elements, and noted the importance of taking such circumstantial considerations into account. It is in this sense that the Catechism may be rewritten, naturally without any modification of the relevant doctrinal principles.
“Of course it must be remembered that the substance of the text as approved by the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum is to remain unchanged; at the same time, however, the preparation of the editio typica , the official Latin text, affords the Church, as was explained when the vernacular versions were published, the opportunity to introduce small clarifications and minor improvements. While there is certainly no intention of including references to every document issued since the appearance of the Catechism, in the specific case of the Church’s teaching on capital punishment many opinions have been expressed in favor of an aggorniamento of the text in the light of the papal teaching in Evangelium Vitae . Such suggestions appear to be well-founded, consonant as they are with the substance of the text as it presently stands in the Catechism.”
The above clarification should be welcomed by Catholics who may in good faith disagree over whether the death penalty is necessary for the defense of society, and by the many other people who depend upon the constancy of the Church’s teaching. We expect it will not be so very welcome among those who have triumphantly declared that Evangelium Vitae condemns capital punishment, while they have at the same time largely ignored the encyclical’s forceful and unambiguous condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and other crimes that characterize “the culture of death.”
During the debate over whether the U.S. should recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the editors of the New Republic , supporting the change, weighed in with a curious and potentially ominous argument. “Of course,” they wrote, “Jerusalem is sacred to the three monotheistic religions. But it is sacred with a difference . . . . Its meaning is not equal or them. In Christendom and Islam there are many spiritual centers and many symbolic capitals. In Judaism and for the Jewish people, there is only one Jerusalem. This establishes a special bond and a special right.” For Muslims, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque is the third most holy site in the world, following Mecca and Medina. It is a grave injustice to Islam to refer to it dismissively as one of “many spiritual centers and many symbolic capitals.” As for Christians, it is both misleading and reckless for the editors to suggest that Christians do not have a special bond and right to Jerusalem. Misleading because, for Christians as for Jews, “there is only one Jerusalem.” The other four great patriarchal sees of Christendom (Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople) are in no way comparable to the unique place of Jerusalem. True, Roman Catholics have a very special attachment to Rome, but just down the road from Jerusalem God became man; in Jerusalem the Son of God suffered, died, and rose again; and Jerusalem is the earthly precursor of the Heavenly City of eschatological hope. Christians, too, pray, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!” (Psalm 137) This is not to suggest that Jerusalem is as important to most Christians as it is to most Jews. But nobody should make exclusive claims. In support of the unique claim of Jews to the city, the New Republic says that “there is also the fact that Jewish sons fought . . . for their nation’s reunion with its place of birth, and they won.” Well, it is also Christianity’s place of birth, and Christian sons also fought for it, and won, and possessed it for centuries. As, for that matter, did Muslim sons for a considerable period of time. Certainly for a longer period of time than Jews have possessed it in the last two millennia. If military victory establishes the right to possession, one notes that the still tenuous hold of Israel dates only from 1967. The suggested fit between moral claim and military success does not work, as Israel would be the first to point out were it ever, God forbid, to be militarily defeated.
The Snarling Citizen is a book of essays of Barbara Ehrenreich, many of which appeared first in the Nation , the storm-tossed flagscow of the left. Publishers Weekly describes her as “a superlative writer” who challenges “political correctness and sloppy thinking.” Cited as an example is her differentiation between a cult and a religion. “Forty-eight people donning plastic and shooting themselves in the head is a cult,’ while a hundred million people bowing before a flesh-hating elderly celibate is obviously a world-class religion.” “Before you can draw breath,” says PW , “she polishes off a few more sacred cows.” For instance: “A half dozen Trotskyists meeting over coffee is a sect,’ while a few million gun-toting, Armageddon-ready Baptists are referred to as the Republican Party.” PW says that the reader “will have a roller coaster ride with these bracing doses of verbal purgative.” People taking purgatives are well advised to stay off roller coasters. In a front page story in the New York Times , Dr. Henry W. Foster, Jr. reflects on his rejection by the Senate as Surgeon General. The issue was abortion, he says, noting that as an obstetrician he “actually had two patients.” That’s encouraging, but then this: “And sometimes one has to be given priority. And if a woman looks me in the eye if she has a pregnancy that’s going to take her life, I know what my choice is, both morally and legally, and I carry that out at the request of my patients.” Uh huh. Dr. Foster had some notable memory problems, it may be remembered. After describing in detail what a personally wrenching experience it was to do an abortion, he then seemed not able to recall whether he had done one, two, or, as it appeared in the end, possibly several hundred