Fifty years ago, on April 9, a few weeks before the collapse of the Third Reich, and on the direct orders of Adolf Hitler, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, shortly before his thirty-ninth birthday, was hanged at the Flössenburg prison camp. As a witness (i.e., martyr) and a theologian, Bonhoeffer has had a powerful and fully warranted influence on contemporary Christian thought. Early on he recognized the demonic in Hitler and his movement of National Socialism. he joined with others in launching a “confessing church” that bore uncompromising testimony to the lordship of Jesus Christ and against the false gods of Blood, Soil, and Volk. Forbidden to teach by the Nazis in 1936, he was lecturing in the U.S. when war broke out in 1939. He refused a teaching post here, believing it his duty to return and suffer with his people so that, when the war was over, he would have earned a right to take part in the rebuilding of his country. he taught in an underground seminary, worked with associates in the intelligence services for the overthrow of Hitler, helped Jews get out of the country, and kept up a steady correspondence with friends on questions spiritual, theological, and ethical. Arrested in 1943, he was imprisoned in Buchenwald before being transferred to the camp where he was killed.
His most accessible and popular book is The Cost of Discipleship . Not to have read it is to be spiritually deprived. Letters and Papers from Prison is the work that has been most discussed in theological circles, and in the 1960s was much invoked (wrongly, I believe) by the “death of God” theologians and those promoting sundry versions of “religionless Christianity.” Of the major works, Ethics is the weightiest and richest, and is sadly neglected today. In that book and in The Communion of Saints , Bonhoeffer was remarkably prescient in analyzing the limits of the Reformation and the imperative of reconciliation with the Catholic Church. Had he survived the war, it seems likely that that cause of reconciliation would have been central to his efforts for a renewal of Christianity.
Many years ago I shared a platform with a theologian who suggested that Bonhoeffer’s opposition to Nazism was essentially aesthetic; it was the ugliness of the movement that first alerted him to the movement’s evil. At the time I thought this a rather improbable hypothesis that ran the risk of diminishing the moral and intellectual dimensions of Bonhoeffer’s conviction. But in the intervening years I have come to appreciate-with no little help from studying Hans Urs von Balthasar-the inextricable entanglement of the three transcendentals-the good, the true, and the beautiful. Reflecting on Bonhoeffer in the theological journal dialog , Jean Bethke Elshtain addresses the aesthetic under the rubric of shame:
“One of the reasons Dietrich Bonhoeffer was so repulsed by Nazism was precisely because of its aberrant shamelessness. Nazi ideology dictated erasing any barrier between public and private, between that which should be open to public scrutiny and definition and that which should not. The horrific denouement of an ideology that required breaching the boundary of shame was the shamelessness of death camps where human beings were robbed of dignity, stripped of privacy, deprived, therefore, of an elemental freedom of the body in life and of the respect we accord the bodies of the dead after life is no more. Scenes of starved, naked bodies, piles and piles being shoved by bulldozers into lime pits, is a nigh inexpressible instance of shamelessness, with the dead reduced to anonymous carcasses.”
Bonhoeffer understood that the great temptation is to forget that we are not God, that we are creatures living in a world whose fragmentation cannot be overcome by our efforts. Elshtain writes:
“Bonhoeffer insists that we ongoingly give witness to that which torments us-our knowledge of division. He deepens this insistency in the Ethics and ties his argument explicitly to the sin of political or public overcoming that requires a norm of shamelessness in order for it to do its dirty work, dirty no more, or so is the claim, because the ruthless deed-doers know no evil. They have overturned all received values. Humility is servility in their eyes. Recognition of limits, cowardice. Decency, gullibility. Skepticism, treason. Jesus Christ crucified a religion for infants by contrast to the muscular religion of the virile and the shameless. In a world in which all barriers to action and expression have been crushed, we are no longer open to Bonhoeffer’s quiet but firm recognition when he writes: The peculiar fact that we lower our eyes when a stranger’s eye meets our gaze is not a sign of remorse for a fault, but a sign of that shame which, when it knows that it is seen, is reminded of something it lacks, namely, the lost wholeness of life, its own nakedness.’“
In Bonhoeffer’s view, the radical-whether Nazi, Marxist, or of some other apocalyptic obsession-always hates the created world. “The radical cannot forgive God His creation. He has fallen out with the created world . . . . It is Christ’s gift to the Christian that he should be reconciled with the world as it is, but now this reconciliation is accounted a betrayal and denial of Christ. It is replaced by bitterness, suspicion, and contempt for men and the world.” He repeatedly asserts that “our responsibility is not infinite but limited.” Each of us is “appointed to the concrete and therefore limited responsibility which knows the world as being created, loved, condemned, and reconciled by God.”
Very few thinkers and very few lives have been so formative for this writer as the thought and life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In a predecessor publication to this journal called The Religion and Society Report , we ran an extended series under the title “Bonhoeffer Today.” We’ve thought about doing that again, and maybe we will. Meanwhile, amid the many public observances fifty years after the war’s end, the remembrance of Bonhoeffer braces us for the war unending against delusions that blind us to both God’s judgment and God’s grace.
“When one gives up the Christian faith,” said Nietzsche about those “English flatheads,” the Victorians, “one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet.” G. K. Chesterton put the same complaint more gently but just as seriously: the Victorians, he wrote, were the first people ever to ask their children “to worship the hearth without the altar.” In both England and America, Victorian preachers, novelists, poets, and statesmen alike struggled hard to maintain a national ethic of private domesticity and public respectability without the church and chapel in which that ethic was born. The result was all too predictable. The national ethic became identified with the interest of the middle class promoting it; Edwardian artists and intellectuals delighted endlessly in exposing the powerlessness of conventional Victorian virtues; and even the phrase “Victorian virtues” became a synonym for hypocrisy.
Before signing up with the anti-Victorians, however, you must read Gertrude Himmelfarb’s latest collection of essays, The De-moralization of Society (Knopf), for an account of just how strong and long-lasting those Victorian virtues were-even in an era of declining faith. From the ascension of Queen Victoria in 1837 to her death in 1901, as Prof. Himmelfarb shows, the crime rate, the poverty rate, and the rate of illegitimate births were not just stable, but actually declining. There really was some reason for the much-mocked Victorian confidence and self-congratulation. “Having written two lengthy books on poverty in Victorian England,” Prof. Himmelfarb notes, “I am painfully aware of the difficulties and inequalities in Victorian life . . . class distinctions, social prejudices, abuses of authority, constraints on personal liberty, restrictions and hindrances of all sorts. But I have also learned to be appreciative of those values that helped mitigate the harsh realities of life . . . . It was no small feat for England, in a period of massive social and economic changes, to attain a degree of civility and humaneness that was the envy of the rest of the world.”
The key to the strength of Victorian virtues was that those virtues were not, in fact, just middle class but were shared by nearly everyone: from the Queen down to the poorest Cockney, nearly everyone believed in the public good that came from observance of the national ethic. “Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue,” La Rochefoucauld famously said, and Prof. Himmelfarb points out with obvious pleasure that the fabled Victorian hypocrisy is actually proof of how widely the Victorian virtues were held to be virtues. (She even gives the consummate example of Victorian hypocrisy in a certain Dr. Pritchard, who in 1865, a few months after poisoning his mother-in-law, poisoned his wife one morning and piously set down in his diary that afternoon: “Like a calm peaceful lamb of God, passed Minnie away. May God and Jesus, Holy Gh.-one in three-welcome Minnie. Prayer on prayer till mine be o’er, everlasting love.”)
The way the Victorians managed to preserve their national ethic, Prof. Himmelfarb claims, was by constant moralizing. Even the “freethinkers” felt compelled to assert morality all the more strenuously for their denial of God. From the richest to the poorest, “the Victorians were avowedly, unashamedly, incorrigibly, moralists.” By comparison, “It’s only my opinion, of course’“-the rider invariably attached to any post-Victorian moralizing-”is hardly a stirring faith by which to order one’s private life. Still less is it a creed for public life.” Nietzsche was right, of course; without belief in God the public morality must, in the long run, finally collapse into either anarchy or tyranny-and most likely into tyranny following anarchy. But Prof. Himmelfarb does well to remind us just how long that Victorian run was, even if the collapse was not into tyranny or anarchy.
Following shortly after her much acclaimed On Looking Into the Abyss , Prof. Himmelfarb gives us with this book a most useful historical referent by which to evaluate the indicators of cultural decline in our society. But the book offers more than additional confirmation for those of the hell-in-handbasket school of cultural analysis. It invites us to consider the maddening ways in which morality (good) is, in the real world, inextricably entangled with moralism (bad). We must, of course, continue to insist upon the distinction between the two, while quite soberly recognizing that many will think it a distinction without a difference. In pulling up the tares of moralism, they also pull up the wheat of morality. As we have been told on the highest authority, we must tolerate the tares for the sake of the wheat. It is not a very satisfactory conclusion but, as Prof. Himmelfarb has forcefully reminded us in the course of her distinguished career, we live in a not very satisfactory world. With equal persuasiveness, she makes the case that public moral expectations need not be as low as they are in contemporary America. Sophisticates may smirk at the great expectations of the Victorians-and there was no shortage of smirking sophisticates at the time-but the Victorians understood, as most in our culture do not, that there is a necessary connection between being good and pretending to be good. One can, without endorsing hypocrisy, observe that we could do with a lot more tribute to virtue. And, of course, the happy fact is that virtue, too, can pay tribute to virtue, and, in the course of doing so, invite others to act upon their capacity to be virtuous. Living this way may prompt some people to call you Victorian. If that happens, just smile nicely and say thank you.
The ever turbulent waters of evangelicalism continue to be roiled by the declaration “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.” (Turbulence, be it understood, is frequently a sign of vitality.) A number of evangelical leaders with very large constituencies sharply criticized the declaration as a betrayal of the central Reformation belief in “justification by faith alone.” On January 19, at the initiative of Charles Colson, several evangelicals who have signed ECT met with some of their chief critics at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, which maintains a national television ministry under the leadership of Dr. D. James Kennedy. Out of the meeting came a statement signed by Colson, James Packer of Regent College, Bill Bright of Campus Crusade, and Kent Hill of Eastern Nazarene College, all of whom had signed ECT. Other evangelicals who endorsed ECT are also being asked to sign. The statement reads:
We Protestants who signed ECT took this action to advance Christian fellowship, cooperation, and mutual trust among true Christians in the North American cultural crisis and in the worldwide task of evangelism. The same concern leads us now to elucidate our ECT commitment by stating:
1. Our para-church cooperation with evangelically committed Roman Catholics for the pursuit of agreed objectives does not imply acceptance of Roman Catholic doctrinal distinctives or endorsement of the Roman Catholic church system.
2. We understand the statement that “we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ” in terms of the substitutionary atonement and imputed righteousness of Christ, leading to full assurance of eternal salvation; we seek to testify in all circumstances and contexts to this, the historic Protestant understanding of salvation by faith alone (sola fide).
3. While we view all who profess to be Christian-Protestant and Catholic and Orthodox-with charity and hope, our confidence that anyone is truly a brother or sister in Christ depends not only on the content of his or her confession but on our perceiving signs of regeneration in his or her life.
4. Though we reject proselytizing as ECT defines it (that is “sheep stealing” for denominational aggrandizement), we hold that evangelism and church planting are always legitimate, whatever forms of church life are present already.
5. We think that the further theological discussions that ECT promised should begin as soon as possible.
We make these applicatory clarifications of our commitment as supporters of ECT in order to prevent divisive misunderstandings of our beliefs and purposes.The Ft. Lauderdale statement is to be warmly welcomed. It is a useful clarification that is entirely consistent with what all of us understood the evangelical signers of ECT to believe. Moreover, it helpfully advances the continuing discussion for which ECT explicitly calls. Especially welcome in view of Catholic and evangelical differences on the relationship between justification and sanctification is the affirmation that “our confidence that anyone is truly a brother or sister in Christ depends not only on the content of his or her confession but on our perceiving signs of regeneration in his or her life.” Far from being problematic, it is downright refreshing when theology is taken seriously enough to generate intelligent controversy. Too many statements aimed at furthering Christian unity have about them a “make nice” quality that is positively deadly. ECT was intended to be taken seriously, to be a beginning in overcoming hostilities that have been around for centuries, and to nurture patterns of convergence and cooperation between evangelicals and Catholics. We did not think this would be done easily or without controversy, and we were right. Most of us, if not all of us, who were involved in ECT will not be around to see what difference it finally makes. Put differently, we will, please God, be viewing developments from a happier circumstance where it will not be necessary to issue theological clarifications on who is and who is not a brother or sister in Christ.
We started with some sympathy for Francis Lawrence, the tangle-tongued president of Rutgers University. Last November, an hour and a half into a rambling luncheon talk to the faculty, Pres. Lawrence damaged Rutgers and nearly destroyed his own career by uttering the pernicious statement that blacks lack the “genetic, hereditary background to have a higher average” on college entrance exams. He didn’t mean it, of course; he didn’t even think it. His tired tongue just got tangled up in four different (politically correct) propositions, and-Freud’s claim that all such slips have unconscious causes aside-he expressed in an unacceptable way his perfectly acceptable thought that standardized tests should not be used to exclude black students. This is a man, after all, who publicly boasts that he refuses to read The Bell Curve because the book is “morally wrong.”
Our sympathy declined, however, as we learned from news accounts the extent to which Pres. Lawrence built for others the pyre on which he now burns, the extent to which he has been hoist with his own petard, the extent to which he nursed the pinion that impelled the steel, the extent to which . . . (you get the idea; as they say on the streets: what goes around, comes around). Why, asks John Leo in U.S. News & World Report , is his own constituency so willing to bring him down with protests, disrupted basketball games, and boycotts, when Pres. Lawrence worked so hard to make Rutgers a campus that “bristles with the enforcement tools of diversity: a speech code, real courses replaced by multicultural curricular change,’ diversity awareness training’ in lectures and freshman orientation sessions, a tolerance for ethnic and racial segregation in dorms (a self-affirming environment,’ as Lawrence puts it), and professors who learn not to raise unapproved ideas about race, gender, and the campus power system built around multiculturalism”?
One answer appeared in the Wall Street Journal . The luncheon talk was being taped by the faculty not because anyone suspected Pres. Lawrence of racist tendencies, but because he had been fighting with the American Association of University Professors over post-tenure review, and the union members were looking for something to use against him. The only extraordinary thing about the tape, released over two months after the talk, is how long the union took to realize what a weapon it had in its hands.
John Leo, however, seeks a fuller explanation of the startling viciousness with which Pres. Lawrence’s own turned on him. “Multiculturalism,” he writes, “has evolved into a harsh faith, strong on punishment and eager to monitor isolated phrases for signs of heresy . . . . In the current environment, a single ambiguous phrase or sentence can bring devastating charges of harassment or speech code violation. Much of multiculturalism’s energy is devoted to this hunt for stray words and phrases that supposedly reflect horrible hidden biases. But if you train followers to overreact by pouncing on passing phrases, eventually this dubious skill will be turned against leaders. The Lawrence case merely shows that bishops of this church can be excommunicated too, even the good ones who praise every dogma and never read forbidden books.”
The New York Times , of course, is having none of it. “Not only was the remark racist,” writes columnist Bob Herbert, “it was an expression of the bedrock concept on which the entire edifice of white racism is built.” That is probably true, though neither Mr. Herbert nor Pres. Lawrence seems to realize that it is the ugly, racist “bedrock” on which the edifices of their beloved affirmative action and multiculturalism are built as well.
With touching concern for the welfare of the Republican Party, an editorial in the very Democratic New York Times warns that abortion is the issue that “could split the party open” and takes Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition to task for having “overplayed his hand” and endangered the Republicans’ electoral chances with his demand for pro-life candidates. The editorial is accompanied by a chart that purports to show that the GOP has a 61 percent pro-abortion majority. It achieves this by adding together every Republican with the least hesitation in asserting that all abortions should be banned outright.
Equating a desire for restrictions on abortions with being pro-abortion marks an interesting editorial shift from the Times we used to know-the Times that used to equate any restriction at all on abortion with sexist backlash and the oppression of women. But times change and wise editorial writers must change with them if they are going to promote the handful of prominent pro-abortion Republicans-Sen. Specter of Pennsylvania (remember the Clarence Thomas hearings when this same Times made “Specter” a synonym for sexual harassment?), Gov. Weld of Massachusetts, Gov. Wilson of California, Gov. Whitman of New Jersey (already the subject of a fawning piece in the New Republic proposing her as a vice-presidential candidate).
The most interesting feature of the disingenuous editorial, however, is not its promotion of unlikely Republicans, but its unstated admission that if the Times is to have any national influence, it must influence the Republican party. If the editorial writers actually believed that the nomination of a pro-life slate of Republicans would split the party and give the Democrats a chance to keep the White House, they would be doing all they could to equate the Republicans with the pro-life position. You know the Democrats are in trouble when even the New York Times abandons hope for them. Politically astute Republicans will read the editorial as confirmation of the fact that the pro-life card is an electoral winner, and that Democrats are worried that Republicans will play it.
As originally envisioned, the National Endowment for the Arts was supposed to pay for professional, big-city companies to put on an occasional production of Our Town in Fargo, or La Boheme in Tallahassee, or Beethoven’s Fifth in Oklahoma City. It was supposed to pay for borrowing some paintings from the Smithsonian and sending them around the country every once in a while, and for Robert Frost or Edna St. Vincent Millay to go out for a semester and teach poetry to the heartland. In a rich country with a weak knowledge of art, this was possibly a laudable goal-though perhaps a little too confident of government’s power to legislate things like aesthetics and a little too sure of the nineteenth-century dogmas of man as perfectible and art as universal religion.
The NEA failed to reach its goal, however, not just because it was dumb enough to finance the infamous Piss Christ , the anti-Catholic propaganda of homosexual activism, along with Robert Mapplethorpe’s sadomasochistic sex photographs, but because it became somehow seized by the wrong-headed notion that art is good only when it sets itself against the political and social status quo. Once this notion had taken hold, the NEA found itself in the ridiculous position of either promoting what it thought was bad art or asking the taxpayers to pay for art that deliberately insulted them. Usually the NEA held its nose and promoted that bad old, bland old, socially acceptable art, but occasionally it broke out and promoted the art of self-congratulatory complaint-and now (as the NEA sees it) the philistine Congress is howling for its blood. Why, asks Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri, should Americans “subsidize an assault on their values, religion, or politics”? The NEA answers that we should subsidize it because it is good art that would not exist without government support. But that is obviously false to anyone with a sense of what art is supposed to aim at (Mapplethorpe’s photographs are not beautiful, only shocking). The answer reflects the apparent conviction of the NEA that what makes art is that it does assault and shock prevailing American values, religion, and politics. We should subsidize art because it annoys us to subsidize it, and the extent to which we resent a subsidy is exactly the extent to which we know it a work of art to be worthy of subsidy. Good medicine, we learned as children, tastes awful.
This, in our view, is a particularly dim-witted view of art, a view that denies art is about anything other than its political and social effect. But, as the recent debate about “zeroing out” the NEA has revealed, the real crisis of art in the United States is that too many people-on the left and the right-share that view. There is, as Martha Bayles puts it, a “Philistine Consensus” between the detractors and the defenders of the NEA. “It is no longer possible to find a broad-minded, historically informed view of Art. Instead, each side has capitulated-each in its own way-to the philistine notion that art is necessarily about power: that all works of art, including the world’s great masterpieces, are best understood as either attacks on the established social order or defenses of it . . . . When right-wing philistines dismiss all art as elitist, they only fortify the left-wing caricature of art as a function of power: class power, race power, gender power.”
“Instead of restructuring the way we pay for the arts,” Bayles continues, “we need to restructure the way we think about them.” She is wrong that we don’t need a different way to promote the arts. The NEA is probably too infected with the “art as power” view to be capable or even worthy of reform, and in the present situation of the arts no successor organization would be any better. But she is certainly right that our fundamental problem with the arts-the problem that makes it impossible for the original purpose of the NEA to be fulfilled-comes from forgetting what art is supposed to be about: beauty, truth, and that sort of thing. Great art has an elusive quality that cannot be captured by any social “purpose”-whether that purpose be to soothe or assault. Government is singularly incapable of discerning the elusive.
The glow of self-satisfaction in “The Arts” section of one of our local papers is particularly pronounced after a generous application of Creme de Sleaze. This morning it’s a glowing story by Bill Carter, a Times culture writer, on Barbra Streisand’s production of “Serving in Silence.” This is another “docudrama”-meaning truth trimmed to the message-and it’s about Col. Magarethe Cammermeyer, who was dismissed from the National Guard because she admitted to being a lesbian. When Streisand read about the dismissal in 1992 her indignation was sparked, and she immediately called her producing partner and said, “We have to do something about this. We have to tell this story.” She invited Col. Cammermeyer to her mansion in Los Angeles and reports, “When I met her I was totally impressed. She had great dignity and integrity. She is such a handsome woman.” Ms. Streisand signed up Glenn Close to play the colonel in the NBC production. The story continues. After meeting the colonel, Ms. Close says, “I was very, very impressed by her.” A little short of “totally impressed,” but impressive nonetheless.
As a producer, Ms. Streisand reflects a firm sense of duty. “I care about social issues,’ Ms. Streisand said. And the way I can speak out is in my work.’“ Only the callous could remain untouched. The producers know that some may think the film controversial, but Ms. Streisand explains that it is really about “love and work and family.” Mr. Carter agrees: “Indeed, the main focus of the film is on Colonel Cammermeyer’s relationship with an artist named Diane, played in the film by Judy Davis.” They love one another, they both work, and they make a lovely family, so the film is obviously about love and work and family. The effusion continues: “Both Ms. Streisand and Ms. Close praised Ms. Davis’ performance. She was sublime to work with,’ Ms. Close said. Playing a love story opposite another woman was not hard, she said, because I basically think if you fall in love with somebody, the feeling of love is the same.’“ Faced with sentiments and writing of that quality, it is hard to deny the educational effectiveness of Oprah and her like as mentors of our popular culture.
Ms. Close’s worry was whether she “could get the military bearing because [Cammermeyer] is so tall and I’m so short.” Indeed, Col. Cammermeyer has been described as Amazonian, but Ms. Close managed to look military enough in a manner that it used to be safe to describe as more ladylike-and less likely to get in the way of the message. Ms. Streisand says that she is also very, very impressed by “the overwhelming power of television.” At a preview of the film in midtown, it was said that the film would be viewed by thirty million Americans and would be a great “education” for the American people on lesbian, gay, and transgender issues. Mr. Carter reports, “Much of the attention that has surrounded Serving in Silence’ has focused on a scene late in the movie in which Ms. Close tenderly kisses Ms. Davis. Ms. Close said NBC did not raise a single objection to the scene. Still, she said, We walked a very fine line. For network television you can only push the envelope so far.’“ The frisson of artistic daring takes the breath away.
Maybe in the next production the network will let “the creative team” (that is really what they are called in the little world of television) put in the touching of a breast, and then the touching of a naked breast, and after that who knows what the creative possibilities are? Mr. Carter tells us that Ms. Streisand would like to do other films that “explore some related themes.” An example given by Ms. Streisand is “the issue of basic human values.” It’s about time somebody explored that issue. Ms. Streisand will be doing it in a movie version of Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart . Mr. Kramer is the founder of ACT-UP, a homosexual organization that promotes protest as perpetual obnoxiousness, and the subject of the play is the much neglected question of AIDS. Does this woman’s courage have no limits? But that’s the kind of thing you can expect from a person who is not afraid to come right out and declare, “I care about social issues.” We are, as she might say, totally impressed.
Of course some conservatives, especially those religious right types, will object to the decadence of Ms. Streisand’s efforts, and that will only confirm her in the delusion that she is daringly avant garde. And if someone explained to her that he objected not so much to the decadence as to the artistic dreck and moralistic drivel, it is doubtful that she would get it. Dreck and drivel, to judge by the Times , is where it’s at in the glowing world of “The Arts.”
The woman is indefatigable. Fresh from her brave and daring production of “Serving in Silence” (see above), Barbra Streisand has now appeared at the JFK School of Government at Harvard to speak on “The Artist as Citizen.” Preaching to the zealous choir, Ms. Streisand presented herself as the last liberal: a woman on the side of the angels and George McGovern against the dark forces of Hitler, Stalin, and Newt Gingrich. “I’m proud to be a liberal,” she declared, and praised the brave political stance of her own movie, Yentl . Equating censorship with attacks on the funding of artists by the NEA, she warned that Congress is about “to weaken the very foundation of democracy.” Finally, she gave us this take on recent American history: “During the riots of the sixties, when people tried to explain the inexplicable, Aretha Franklin sang simply what was being asked for, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.’“ We remember that song as being a hardworking woman’s warning to a philandering husband, but no matter; the political theories of deep-thinking actresses find their natural poetic expression in the lyrics of the golden oldies of sixties’ soul music.
He received from the French government the Croix de Guerre, is a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, served as a cabinet minister under Pierre Mendes-France and Charles de Gaulle, and was awarded for his bravery in the Resistance against the Nazis. None of that matters. When he was a young man in his early twenties, from 1940 to 1942, Andre Bettencourt wrote anti-Semitic articles for a German-supported paper. Mr. Bettencourt, now seventy-five, does not deny he wrote the articles and says that, when he recognized the error of his ways, he tried to make up for the wrong by joining the French Resistance. “I have repeatedly expressed my regrets concerning them in public and will always beg the Jewish community to forgive me for them,” he says. But none of that matters, either.
Because no legal action can be taken against him in France, French Nazi hunters have come to the U.S. to get our Justice Department to punish Bettencourt by prohibiting him from entering the country, much as was done with Kurt Waldheim, erstwhile UN General Secretary and President of Austria. (A prominent industrialist, Bettencourt frequently has business in the U.S.) Pressed on whether it is accurate to describe Bettencourt as a war criminal, Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld stated at a New York news conference, “He’s guilty of writing.” His colleague Jean Frydman said, “After these terrible findings [of the anti-Semitic articles], we knew we were talking about a Nazi collaborator who is a very powerful man in France. We are going to show him that there is no amnesty for the past.”
Leaving aside the question of whether there can be amnesty for anything but the past, this is yet another in a sordid series of instances in which unbridled vindictiveness disguised as a passion for justice has done great wrong. More than fifty years ago a young man in his twenties spouted an evil doctrine. He soon repented of it and lived an exemplary life thereafter. Never mind. “We are going to show him,” says Mr. Frydman. “He’s guilty of writing,” says Mr. Klarsfeld. Perhaps these two, rather than Mr. Bettencourt, should be put on the Justice Department’s “watch list” of people to be kept out of the country. Jean Frydman, according to the Times , “said they were pressing their case in the United States because there was no legal mechanism in France for prosecuting Mr. Bettencourt for writing propaganda.” The First Amendment notwithstanding, the French enforcers and the Justice Department seem to think there is such a mechanism in the U.S.
The Department’s Office of Special Investigations says it is “reviewing the allegations” against Mr. Bettencourt after being pressured by Governor Pataki and Senator D’Amato of New York. This is madness of a high order. At the behest of a couple of fanatical Frenchmen, leading politicians suggest that the government of the U.S. should punish a French citizen for something he did in France fifty-three years ago. In the memorable phrase of Mr. Klarsfeld, “He’s guilty of writing.” In New York, of all places, one might think such a charge would not be given the time of day. New Yorkers who wrote propaganda for Hitler-of whom there are still some around-or for the genocidal policies of the Soviet Union-of whom there are a great many around-might think of moving to France where, according to Mr. Frydman, there is no legal mechanism for feeding the insatiable appetite for vengeance. In this country, it is to be feared, the Office of Special Investigations has become such a mechanism.
Bear me witness. I said in that February comment that I was not a first-class Latinist. That did not prevent several readers-John Marshall Prewitt, attorney at law in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, was first in line-from rubbing it in by pointing out that some Latin dictionaries do contain “annuncio” (or “annuntio”). So, and although its usage is uncommon, I was wrong in saying that “annuncio” is not a Latin world. Joining in the general eagerness to confirm me in my humble estimate of my proficiency in Latin, a distinguished professor from Duke pounces on my phrase in the same issue, “nineteenth-century abolitionists redivivus.” “If they are plural,” he writes, “they are redivivi.” He is right only if every dictionary in this house is wrong in indicating that “redivivus” has long since been adopted into the English language. But enough of this pedantry. It is something of a comfort, however, to learn that Latin is not quite a dead language, at least not among the readers of this journal. In a full-page ad in the Times , Planned Parenthood protests violence at abortion clinics and declares that pro-life leaders “have the lives of these innocent victims of violence on their consciences.” “In speech after speech, sermon after sermon, on endless placards paraded at endless protests, they encourage their followers to hate their neighbors . . . . The clearest example occurred when New York’s John Cardinal O’Connor issued a backhanded apology for the attackers by stating you cannot prevent killing by killing,’ thereby labeling abortion providers as killers.” As Lincoln observed of those who blamed him and his party for the violence of John Brown and Nat Turner, the critics will not be satisfied until the opponents of slavery declare slavery to be right. People cannot be required to say what they know to be contrary to fact. Every honest person knows that abortion is the killing of a human life. The disagreement is over when, if ever, abortion is justified. The Planned Parenthood ad concludes: “Yet it is clear to any sensible person that these killings will not stop until the Right’s rhetoric of war and murder ends.” It is not clear, but it is quite possible, that the killing of abortionists will not stop until abortionists stop killing. What certainly will not stop and cannot stop is the honest naming of the deed, namely, killing, whether done by abortionists or by those who violently oppose them. If you don’t live in Manhattan, it’s not a big deal. In fact it’s not a big deal for most of us who do. But on the Upper West Side, where Fidel Castro and his like are still believed to be the wave of the future, it was a sensation. On January 29, at the Methodist church of St. Paul and St. Andrew (which also holds religious services between such meetings), three hundred Democratic Party activists gathered in a “Town Meeting to say No to Newt [Gingrich].” On the panel were such as Gloria Steinem, Jim Wallis of Sojourners , and Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun , who describes himself as a “leader in Jewish thought.” It may be remembered that a couple of years ago Lerner was billed, and self-billed, as the guru behind the “politics of meaning” espoused by Mrs. Bill Clinton (formerly Hillary Rodham Clinton). It seems that Mr. Lerner and the Clintons do not get along very well these days. In fact, White House sources insist that Lerner only met with Mrs. Clinton once, two years ago for fifteen minutes, and “never spoke to her or anyone else around here since.” The politics of meaning, it would appear, turned out to be another of the Administration’s bloviations that did not strike a chord with a public that is skeptical of the government’s ability to provide much of anything worthwhile, never mind the meaning of existence. Whatever the reason for the alienation between Mr. Lerner and the White House, he told his startled audience, “You and I will spend the rest of our lives, until the day we die, dealing with the betrayals of the Bill Clintons and that type of human being.” According to Lerner, “The differences between him and the Republicans are not worth your spending the next two years fighting for.” Gloria Steinem dissented: “I think Bill Clinton is a better President than we deserve.” Which may be true in the case of many people. Jim Wallis, who lives in the District of Columbia, took a somewhat different tack, pointing out to those assailing Republican welfare reform, “We have to face the fact that many of these programs have failed.” The faithful at St. Paul and St. Andrew were not getting what they came for. In response to concerns about the human catastrophe of the inner cities, however, Mr. Lerner had a solution: “What we’re calling for is an empathy track in the schools. Empathy should be made part of the curriculum. First towards other countries. Then towards the other, whoever that may be. By the middle grades, we can teach empathy for other kids. By the upper grades, and this is difficult, we’ll teach empathy for parents. Now that’s very different from what liberals say.” But after his attack on the Clintons, the Upper West Side was not empathizing with Michael Lerner. That did not ruffle a man who is looking at the big picture: “This is meant to be a vision for a several-hundred-year campaign. That’s not what interests me. It is the difference between whether you see God as the important force in the universe, or the Clintons. What happened between us wasn’t important. The struggle I’m talking about is a struggle that’s been going on for 3,000 years, since Moses. That’s the politics I care about.” Ah yes, Hillary Clinton, I remember giving her fifteen minutes back in the late twentieth century. Mr. William Waldegrave is Minister of Agriculture in the UK, and he and his family have to be given police protection against possible terrorist attack by animal rights activists. That is because they hold him responsible for the British export of calves to the continent, where they are slaughtered in a manner of which the activists strongly disapprove. Without getting into the merits of the particular protest, the passions engaged by the animal rights cause are a cause of continuing wonder. Charles Moore, writing in the Spectator , has some thoughts on the subject that should not be dismissed out of hand. In fact, they contain a certain ring of truth: “Until recent years, those who enjoyed venting moral outrage against the institutions of the society in which they lived could do so in the name of the proletariat. The proletariat was too large, too distant, too poor, and too ignorant to have much say among the counsels of those who protested in its name. You could use the cause of the workers as the channel for your hatred of your parents or housemaster or other representatives of authority confident that the workers would not answer back. Now that has changed. Workers have cars and own houses and do answer back. They are no longer exploited enough to be interesting: indeed, they have a nasty way of catching up with your own standard of living. So it is time for the caravan of protest to move on, and it finds that it can park most safely among animals. Here is a whole world of creatures who will never answer back. And whereas the relations between men and men cannot always be relied on to rest on exploitation, those between men and animals can. There is a heady prospect of eternal wrong, of grievance without end, of screaming at Mr. Waldegrave and his successors to the crack of doom, of being able to hate humanity and feel good about doing so at the same time.” A new little wrinkle on an old prejudice pops up in one column or news report, and pretty soon you note its appearance all over the place. The old prejudice is that Pope John Paul II is something awful. For fifteen years it was because he is a right-wing reactionary curmudgeonly authoritarian Pole who doesn’t understand the American Church and is trying to roll back the wonderful reforms of Vatican II. But now his book sells in the millions, many more millions buy a compact disc in order to pray the rosary with him, and in Manila he attracts what is undoubtedly the largest audience for any event in human history. But he is still something awful. He is winsome, compelling, and, ugh, very popular. He has become a celebrity, has given birth to a personality cult, and is thus centering the Church upon himself and undermining the rightful role of bishops, priests, and, above all, the laity. Here is the version of the new wrinkle offered by Boston Globe columnist James Carroll in a comment occasioned by the Pope’s book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope : “His large-hearted goodwill, his breadth of knowledge, his passionate commitment to the Catholic Church, his personal history of integrity, and his longing for more humane structures of society are all vividly on display in this book. Nevertheless, I read it with a gnawing sadness and a growing awareness that this man, for all his virtues, and, ironically, perhaps because of them, embodies the tragedy of contemporary Catholicism.” The Pope, says Carroll, has turned hope into hype, joining the world of O. J. Simpson, Madonna, and other celebrities who “have their existence apart from-they think above-the communities in which the rest of us live.” The Pope, by becoming a celebrity, can no longer speak credibly about the failings of the modern world for “he has embodied its most basic flaw-that of rampant individualism, the glorification of the autonomous self that always comes at the expense of the community.” Mr. Carroll tries, but he cannot maintain the tone of someone who admires John Paul II and is sorry that he makes the mistake of communicating too effectively. Instead of reading the Pope’s book, he says, we should all be reading the new book by Hans Kung, Credo: The Apostles’ Creed Explained for Today . Carroll concludes: “It is a brave, stirring statement of Christian belief for the postmodern era by the greatest living Catholic theologian, and also, not incidentally, the present pope’s strongest critic. The tragedy of Catholicism? That Hans Kung, whom the Vatican tried to silence, has not all these years been pope.” The new wrinkle in John Paul II-bashing was an interesting little ruse while it lasted. Midnight basketball or death. Those would seem to be the only alternatives, according to Dan Rather on the CBS This Morning program of January 26. Of a youth in the ghetto Rather said, “He has hope of staying out (of a gang) as long as he has a basketball in his hands . . . . Without the basketball this kid is running drugs, carrying a gun, and soon to kill somebody. And that’s true in place after place. Now we get to decide: Do you want a basketball in his hands, to continue trying to convince him to stay out of a gang, or do you want to face him in a dark street some night with a nine-millimeter Glock in his hands?” Readers who remember the World Council of Churches (WCC) and National Council of Churches (NCC) may be interested to learn that, after holding hearings around the U.S., these bodies are filing a formal complaint with the United Nations that charges the U.S. with the crime of “systemic racism.” Deborah Robinson of the WCC’s Program to Combat Racism told a reporter who had caught this development that the concept of human rights is “not understood” in the U.S. Compared with, for instance, Russia, Serbia, Rwanda, Singapore, and China? Never mind, she may have a point. The NCC has been trying to come up with a statement on human rights and is running into all kinds of problems. James O’Dea of Amnesty International worries that the draft statement lacks a clear affirmation that human rights are universal. James Finn of Freedom House, a New York-based human rights organization, criticizes the draft for not anchoring human rights in moral truth. “For example,” he notes, “after a section on theological and biblical understanding, the drafters say the Church doesn’t claim to perceive truth more clearly than others.’ Surely, this is an amazing statement. The sturdiest foundation for human rights is that each person is created in the image of God.” According to Finn, the draft “leaves the term human rights’ to function almost like a catchall for whatever social concerns the NCC might want to use to fill in the blanks.” Canadian human rights scholar Paul Marshall observes of the NCC draft, “Comments on political, civil, social, and economic rights are combined with rights to ecology, peace, communities, and identity in promiscuous abandon . . . . The authors appear never to have met a right they didn’t like. All human concerns are treated as human rights concerns, and this attenuates the term so it becomes contentless.” The NCC may not be able to define human rights, but it knows the U.S. is violating them. No doubt the delegates of the 181 (or is it 188 this month?) countries at the UN will bring some needed clarity to this discussion. My friend Peter Steinfels at the New York Times (yes, I do have friends at our parish paper) has been on the case of the neoconservatives since we were both writing with quill pens. Some years ago the neocons talked a lot about “new class theory” as a way of understanding the sociological structure of the culture wars. In his “Beliefs” column, Mr. Steinfels, with obvious glee, reports a new book that allegedly shoots that theory out of the water, Steven Brint’s In An Age of Experts: The Changing Role of Professionals in Politics and Public Life (Princeton). Mr. Brint has some interesting things to say about professionals, but his argument doesn’t lay a glove on new class theory. As Peter Berger, one of the main architects of the theory, remarks, “Nobody ever said that all professionals or even most professionals are new class. An industrial engineer and a professor of postmodernist literary criticism are both professionals, but only the latter is relevant to the theory. In fact, the whole theory turns on the distinction between those who are and those who aren’t producers and purveyors of symbolic knowledge.” Actually, there is not so much debate about new class theory today, not because it has been discredited but because its key insights have been so widely accepted. That will not keep Peter Steinfels from finding another stick with which to beat the neocons. It’s thankless work, but somebody has to do it. Dr. Lynne Boughton writes to clarify a comment here to the effect that she was denied a position because she was “too Catholic.” “The central story,” she writes, “is that the Illinois Department of Human Rights investigated my charges against DePaul and issued in June of 1994 three findings of substantial evidence’ that DePaul practiced illegal religious discrimination by excluding me from a faculty position solely because I believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church.” The university, she said, claimed exemption from nondiscrimination laws because its purpose was religious, but was unable to demonstrate that. The difference between DePaul and other thoroughly secular schools that were once religious (Yale, Harvard, et al.), according to Dr. Boughton, is that DePaul continues to claim that it is a “religious” and, more specifically, “Catholic” institution. Even the New Republic seems a little skeptical of Frances Kissling, the generally confused person who heads the oxymoronic “Catholics for Free Choice.” In an article in the late February issue, reporter Jennifer Bradley finds plenty of proof that Kissling is pro-abortion, but very little that she’s a Catholic. Somewhere, Kissling seems to have picked up the bizarre, extra-canonical notions that (1) if you can get five theologians to admit your position is possible, then it’s OK to hold it despite explicit condemnation from the Church; (2) the Church’s less-than-perfect record of stands on other moral issues such as slavery makes it theologically legitimate to dissent (and vehemently encourage others to dissent) from the Church’s position on abortion; and (3) the Church makes a hard-and-fast distinction between human life and personhood, which leaves room for abortion. Kissling had left the Church for some years until she was invited to join the board of her present organization-at which point she discovered she was a Catholic after all. Of sorts. I know you’ve been waiting for this. We now have, courtesy of researcher Albert Menendez, the breakdown on the religious affiliation of members of the 104th Congress: “Catholics number 148, up 12 from the prior Congress. Next come 68 Baptists (+4), 63 Methodists (-6), 59 Presbyterians (+2), 49 Episcopalians (-1), 34 Jews (-8), 23 Protestants’ (+2), 21 Lutherans (-1), 13 Mormons (+2), 12 United Church of Christ (-2), 6 Christian’ or nondenominational Christian’ (+5), 5 Christian Scientists (+1), 5 Eastern Orthodox (same), 5 Unitarian-Universalists (-2), 3 Assemblies of God (+3), 3 African Methodist Episcopal (-1), 2 Church of Christ (-3). The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Reformed Church, and Seventh-day Adventist Church supply two members. United Brethren in Christ, Christian Church and Churches of Christ, Christian & Missionary Alliance, Church of the Nazarene, and Pan African Orthodox have just one. Five members specify no religious affiliation.” Obviously, the Pan African Orthodox are overrepresented. Even while President Clinton presses for trade agreements with China, the Chinese government’s many violations of religious freedom and human rights have received at least occasional notice in the American press. But equally disturbing violations by the Vietnamese government have received almost no notice, though trade embargoes against Vietnam have been lifted and movement toward diplomatic recognition continues. The Puebla Institute-a lay Catholic group that monitors international religious freedom and human rights-has issued a report that documents the imprisonments, tortures, church demolitions, and murders with which the Marxist government oppresses religion despite Vietnam’s public agreement with UN declarations on religious freedom. American negotiators have found, in Vietnam’s recent free market reforms and desire to enter the world economy, the leverage to demand information about American soldiers missing in action or killed during the Vietnam War. With the same leverage, argues the Puebla Institute, government negotiators and private businesses in contact with Vietnam ought to demand that the Vietnamese honor the international standards of human and religious rights to which they have agreed. Having handed the U.S. one defeat thirty years ago, Vietnam, with the help of U.S. business, is now of the verge of defeating America’s international commitment to human rights. This small nation has an impressive track record of humiliating what is putatively the most powerful country on earth. Copies of the report may be obtained for $10 from the Puebla Institute, 1319 18th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036. A reader from Atlanta writes to propose that we compose a parody of “a liberal, big city newspaper,” and includes for possible parodying a recent editorial from the Atlanta Constitution . Praising the decision of the medical school accrediting board to require students in obstetrics and gynecology to be trained to perform abortions, the Constitution demands even more: not just that students be trained in abortions, but that the students-upon graduation-be compelled to perform abortions. “Regardless of one’s personal opinion, abortion is a legal procedure. No obstetrician-gynecologist should be permitted to hang out his or her shingle without offering the full range of services to which women are entitled.” (A similar demand is made in a recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine .) We’d like to offer a parody of this denial of rights in the name of rights, but, in the face of reality, we are at a loss. In a recent editorial, the British medical journal the Lancet has denounced the Catholic Church’s interference in the UN population conference in Cairo (on which see George Weigel in FT, February 1995). The Lancet takes Pope John Paul II to task for his bad biology (in thinking conception is an event), his bad politics (in relieving French Bishop Gaillot), his bad faith (in not mentioning birth control during his sermon in the Philippines), and-most interestingly-his erroneous interpretation of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas (I confess I couldn’t quite follow the editorial’s argument on this last point). Though much is made of disagreement by some Catholics with their Church’s position on abortion and birth control, the problem still seems to be that many Catholics agree with the Pope, and that only a change at the top will bring them around. Rest assured, however: the forces of history are on the side of abortion. Quoting themselves from 1993, the Lancet’s editors assure us, “There is little doubt that the next Pope or the Pope after him/her will support family planning.” Doctor friends assure us that the Lancet is frequently well informed on medical subjects. In an open letter to the American bishops, the Society of Catholic Social Scientists warns: “A separate gay spirituality’ regrettably is being encouraged, and gay ministries tell us that a person who suffers from the homosexual disorder has special gay gifts’ for the Church.” Recent trends in American ministry that contradict the Church’s natural law teaching on homosexuality include the notion that being gay is a blessing from God, the idea that homosexuality is not disordered, and the pastoral practice of actively discouraging persons from attempting to change their homosexual desires. All these trends derive from an understanding of homosexuality as biologically determined-an understanding, the society claims, that is contrary to the best available scientific evidence. “We must respond with great compassion toward homosexual individuals, but it is essential that this compassion not lead to a contradiction of Church doctrine. Gay ministries have been confusing us with demands for understanding-on their terms-and approval, but we must be clear in asserting the truth.” Critics persist in disparaging as old-fashioned the adage that we should hate the sin but love the sinner. The reason it has been around so long, however, is that the only alternatives to it are hating the sinner or loving the sin, neither of which can be squared with Christian morality. “Recently at the hospital where I am a physician,” Dr. George Dietz writes from Chicago, “a fourteen-year-old girl, a week and a half short of being five months pregnant, had changed her mind about . . . keeping her third and final appointment at a nearby abortion clinic [and] asked if I could remove the laminaria that had been inserted at her previous clinic appointment. From a telephone conversation with an employee of the clinic I soon learned that the operative procedure had been performed by a person with neither a medical degree nor a medical license. Moreover, from the young girl herself I learned that at the clinic she had been given tetracycline, an antibiotic that is contraindicated in pregnancy . . . . This medication had been prescribed even though a woman has a legal right to change her mind about an abortion up to the last moment . . . . Although no parental consent had been required for this fourteen-year old to initiate the risky mid-term abortion, nevertheless, ironically, her parents had to accompany her to the hospital to give their consent to the removal of the laminaria from their daughter.” The least attempt to regulate abortion clinics, to demand that abortionists meet normal medico-legal standards of informed consent and full disclosure (especially with children), is greeted with howls of protest by the proponents of choice. But only under the supposition that she ought to have an abortion is it possible to give a pregnant woman medication that damages the fetus while the woman still has the legal right to change her mind, and only under the supposition that she ought to have an abortion is it possible to allow a fourteen-year old to initiate an abortion without parental consent while preventing her from stopping the abortion without parental consent. The language of choice is utilized by the pro-abortion forces to defend a denial of choice. It is a curious notion of children’s rights that, in the case of a pregnant child, is limited to the right to kill. At the end of February, Atlanta hosted a big dinner honoring Archbishop Iakovos, head of the 1.5 million-member Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. It is his fortieth year as a bishop and as representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the World Council of Churches (WCC). The purpose of the dinner was also to help raise $10 million for the Faith and Order program of the WCC and the National Council of Churches (NCC). The dinner came at a time when the Archbishop could do with a boost. In December there was a flurry of press attention given a meeting at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, convened by Iakovos, in which the ethnically fragmented Orthodox churches in North America agreed to form a common Orthodox organization that could, inter alia, provide Orthodoxy with a more united public profile. The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (Istanbul) was not pleased. Patriarch Bartholomew and others saw it as a play for independence from Constantinople, and issued a sharp rebuke to Iakovos and his colleagues, declaring that “the Patriarchate repudiates all the initiatives taken at the meeting in Ligonier for having overstepped its authority and states that it in no way recognizes any of its decisions whi