The tenor of Richard John Neuhaus’ Public Square essay on the book The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam by Bat Ye’or (“The Approaching Century of Religion,” October 1997) seems entirely misdirected if the intention is to encourage understanding as well as dialogue between the various religious communities. The essay contains several factual errors, misses a number of very important progressive social movements in the Muslim world, and demeans rather than encourages dialogue about important religious and social differences. First, with regard to the hoary notion that the Islamic world did nothing but preserve and pass on philosophical and scientific learning from the Greeks and other ancient civilizations: Father Neuhaus has latched on to an outdated and faulty conception that he takes directly from the concluding pages of Professor Bat Ye’or’s Epilogue”not the main subject on which Bat Ye’or is a specialist. To put it boldly and bluntly, it is now widely recognized that from about the eighth century till the end of the thirteenth century, the Arabic-Islamic world had the most advanced science to be found anywhere in the world. This was so in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, optics, and medicine. In the field of astronomy, where the great theoretical breakthrough to modern science is usually located, the planetary models developed by the astronomers at the Marâgha observatory, culminating in those of Ibn al-Shatir (d. 1375), were virtually identical mathematically to those of Copernicus, with only minor differences in some parameters, though the Arab models remained geocentric. Nor were the Arabs lacking in technical or mathematical skills. In fact, their skills in trigonometry, which the Chinese lacked, resulted in the establishment of a Muslim bureau of astronomy in Peking in the thirteenth century. But more: Professor Roshdi Rashed has shown that Arab mathematicians in the eleventh and twelfth centuries achieved mathematical innovations that were not accomplished by Europeans until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. He lists the following achievements, above all in the work of al-Karajî (d. 1129) and al-Samaw’al (d. 1174): “the extension of the idea of an algebraic power to its inverse after clearly defining the power of zero, the rule of signs in all generality, the binomial formula and the tables of coefficients, the algebra of polynomials, and above all, the algorithm of divisibility, and the approximation of whole fractions by elements of the algebra of polynomials.” In addition to this, the Arab-Muslims of this same period pioneered three forms of experimentation, in optics, astronomy, and medicine. In short, it is gravely mistaken to suggest that nothing of any intellectual significance was created in the Muslim world in the medieval period, roughly 850 to 1350”or that whatever creative advances did occur there were produced by non-Muslims. Likewise, it is highly misleading to suggest that it was the cultural elites fleeing Islamic oppression who then “rescued” all of this knowledge for the West. Current historical scholarship tells a very different story, which includes many European intellectuals who traveled widely in the Muslim world and gained access to a great variety of Arabic manuscripts in science and philosophy and translated them into Latin, as they realized that Europeans had much to learn from this bounty of knowledge. There are many well-known books by contemporary historians of Arabic-Islamic science in which all of these widely understood facts have been spelled out-but to which neither Neuhaus nor Bat Ye’or makes any reference. Speaking sociologically, Fr. Neuhaus has also entirely neglected the many elements of change and reform now going on in the Muslim world. One of the most notable concerns the feminist movement in the Muslim world, where there are highly trained and deeply knowledgeable intellectuals bravely mastering all the ancient scholars’ sources”hadith and Quran”for the purpose of new interpretations of the Islamic message as it applies to women. Many of these individuals would be happy to advocate the notion of “Equal before Allah,” the title of a collection of Muslim feminist writings (by Fatima Mernissi and Riffat Hassan) of the highest quality now appearing in Indonesia. Likewise, there are many other intellectuals who are striving to understand the Islamic message as it applies to this day , and such efforts include a brave new hermeneutical study of the Quran by Mohammad Shahrour. Nor should we overlook the significance of the work of the prolific Sudanese scholar, Abdullahi An-Na’im, who calls for Islamic reform based on a deep knowledge of Islamic law. Other studies suggest that the traditional scholars”the ulama”are being displaced by a great wave of educated Muslims, fully fluent in Arabic, who, probably for the first time in the history of Islam, outnumber the traditional scholars. This is likely to have a positive influence on Islamic thought in the future. Lastly, I would bring to the attention of your readers the extraordinary legal reforms recently brought about in Malaysia, whereby the Qadi courts”the religious courts”have been dramatically upgraded and made intellectually equal to the secular courts in every respect, while eliminating the many disparities between male and female legal rights. The legal scholar Donald Horowitz has discussed these changes in some detail. None of this sounds to me like Huntington’s phantom “clash of civilizations.” If the Institute on Religion and Public Life truly wishes to engage Muslims in a dialogue, perhaps it should start with a radically revised image of contemporary Islam, while issuing a much more cordial invitation to Muslims and others to participate in it. In my view, tremendous good could be accomplished for the world if Muslim intellectuals from all over the world were brought together here and elsewhere to participate in prolonged intellectual dialogue in a truly open public sphere.
Toby E. Huff
Dept. of Sociology & Anthropology
Univ. of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
North Dartmouth, MA The writer is author of The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West ( Cambridge University Press, 1993 ). Annulments and Gobbledygook
I have a few questions after reading Robert Royal’s “Catholic Gobbledygook” (October 1997). First, may one assume that the reason Joseph Kennedy II sought an annulment of his marriage to Sheila Rauch was to contract a subsequent marriage approved by the Roman Catholic Church? If the answer is “yes,” then did the Church exercise more wisdom the second time than it did the first time? Did it deny the sacrament of matrimony to someone whom it judged to have been incapable of contracting a sacramental marriage the first time around? If not, why not? If the priest who officiated at Joe and Sheila’s wedding was unable to discern that, as an experienced fellow priest quoted in Royal’s article puts it, “the Kennedys . . . are screwed up,” should a priest asked to officiate at Joe’s subsequent marriage have been wiser? Finally, how many chances at a sacramental marriage does Joe, or any Catholic with an annulment, get? Two? More? Forgive me if I find Mr. Royal’s article ultimately unconvincing. Some of us whose traditions recognize marriage as valid from the beginning, regardless of the eventual outcome, find the annulment route dishonest. I was divorced after twenty years of marriage. My marriage failed. But that fact does not render it invalid from the beginning. If the Roman Catholic Church wants to uphold the strict teaching Jesus gave us about divorce and remarriage, I support it. But if it wants to play games with the rules, declaring that a true sacramental marriage never existed simply because it eventually broke down, while never interfering with this supposedly invalid marriage as long as the couple stays together, I grow cynical. The old term “Catholic divorce” for annulments seems very appropriate nowadays.
(The Rev.) Jeanne Devine Bonner
College Hill United Methodist Church
Montclair, NJ Robert Royal, by his convoluted logic, has added significantly to the “Catholic gobbledygook” involved in the annulment of the marriage of Joseph and Sheila Kennedy. I appreciated very much his explanation of the principles set down by the Church in the decision making necessary in such matters. I was impressed specifically in that “grave lack of discretion” is to be considered a reason for annulment. I’m shocked, angered even, to learn that the Kennedy petition was granted at the request of Joseph! Mr. Royal acknowledges frankly that such lack of discretion was Sheila’s, and we can all agree. But she is the one who is decided against. She is the woman who has lived in adultery! It is her children who are bastards! And, I presume, the Roman Catholic Church will allow either or both to marry (again?); or will it be for the first time, the sins of the past all forgiven? “Sheila Rauch made a bad bet on Joe Jr.,” Mr. Royal says. Sorry. Is that all? Joe may understand his Church better than we think.
Paul N. Ellis, Bishop (Emeritus)
The Free Methodist Church of North America
Lakeland, FL Mr. Royal did a fine job in explaining the reasons for annulments. But he failed to mention the clergy whose task it is properly to prepare people for the sacrament of marriage. If “the Kennedys and Sinatras were all screwed up” in the first place, should not the priest have determined that fact before the marriage and then refused to perform the ceremony? And if they were granted the annulment on those grounds, should not any priest refuse them a second marriage on the same grounds? . . .
Fremont, CA For this new Catholic, the annulment issue has proven to be about the only fully doubt-producing element of acceptance. This is not because of the Kennedy furor so much as several not rich and not famous couples where a woman and long-time mother experienced the same denial of her sacramental vows and intentions. I have taken some comfort in the knowledge that these incidents do not represent decisions of the Pope himself or of Rome. They are, perhaps, the use of local power by more culture-accommodating dissidents who thus achieve bits of what they cannot impose as doctrine or teaching. I do wish, however, that staunch Catholic writers would not confuse defense of the principle upon which the annulment process was instituted (reasonable and holy) with defense of the misuse and abuse of the practice (which does happen). And while Robert Royal is absolutely correct that the media love to bash Catholicism whether it does or it doesn’t, some of that venom may spring from the reasonable expectation that in the “do” a demanding church should at least be consistent with its own “do not.” Not only is much demanded of one to whom much has been given, but the world demands greater virtue of one who claims to define virtue. This, of course, is consistent with the ultimate reality that we win the hearts and minds of others more by what we are than by what we say.
Dorothy T. Samuel
St. Cloud, MN Robert Royal replies:
I agree with Pastor Bonner that no Catholic priest should recklessly remarry a person whose marriage has been declared null. Without serious work in understanding and trying to overcome the previous problem that made the sacrament invalid, this would be mere invitation to disaster. This is why I wrote that after an annulment, some people “are encouraged by the better tribunals, given deep-seated problems that have been uncovered, to go through counseling before thinking about remarriage.” But she has completely misunderstood my account and Church teaching if she thinks that anything about the annulment process means “declaring that a true sacramental marriage never existed simply because it eventually broke down.” The whole point of annulment”and of my article”is precisely to distinguish such misfortunes from authentic sacramental impediments. At a distance, the difference may be imperceptible. Up close, however, it might be wiser to refrain from cynicism. Christopher Conroy makes a number of emotional flourishes, but I’m afraid generally misses the point. Looking at the raw number of annulments, I too dislike it. But we all know people who have had odd circumstances in marriage; multiply that across sixty million American Catholics and sixty thousand annulments a year may still be far too many, but not simply ridiculous, as Mr. Conroy suggests. He is right, of course, that all sorts of later rationalizations and shifts in emphasis may occur by people desiring an annulment. Most of the priests involved in marriage tribunals have the same concerns, and to suggest without proof that they wink at untruths borders on slander. But I believe Mr. Conroy is wrong to separate questions of conscience from judicial decision so absolutely. The whole annulment process is an attempt to discern whether free action of the marriage partners or a prior impediment resulted in the breakup. That would seem inevitably to mean sorting out raw emotions so that we can know whether questions of conscience are pertinent. Finally, he falls into the very emotional mode he condemns; he has “sympathy” for the notion that a mistaken marriage should not bind for life. For Catholics, there is no warrant in Scripture or tradition for emotion alone to supersede carefully articulated doctrine. About Emeritus Bishop Ellis, the only thing I can say is if he has a coherent point, other than annoyance with the Catholic Church, I can’t seem to find it. John Peacock makes a serious point that I could not deal with in a brief article: given the numbers of annulments these days, the Church does have a greater responsibility to decide about the appropriateness of specific unions and to prepare people better. But to do so in a culture like ours, it would have to be willing to undertake searching probes into couples’ readiness for marriage and to establish strict rules for what to do about problems discovered. A consummation devoutly to be wished, but, even if adopted, likely to be regarded as one more instance of Catholic “rigidity.” I do not disagree with Dorothy Samuel, except in her view that I confuse principle with practice. Her letter is rather typical of reactions to annulments, however, in that it reflects trust of the Church in matters except where a personal friend has been involved. In such instances, we must maintain solidarity with our friends, but need to be careful that friendship does not become bias. To be more specific, I too have long believed that there are too many lax tribunals granting too many annulments on grounds that were too flimsy. Looking into the matter with people whom I have great reason to trust on these and other questions (and who know them far more intimately and in a variety of circumstances), I still don’t like the apparent ease of annulment or its tendency to conform the Church to contemporary America. But it was Edward Banfield, I believe, who once estimated that 5 to 10 percent of every society is incapable of independent functioning. Some of those people, alas, contract ill-started marriages. Whose Experiment?
I have to differ with the crux of Professor Ian A. Hunter’s complaint (“Canada’s Judicial Captivity,” August/September 1997). If I read him correctly, he complains that the problem with a written bill of rights is that it is written (“not self-interpreting”), therefore leaving in the hands of nonelected judges the interpretation of its meaning. As the crux of his logical argument, he concludes that “divine” nature cannot be legislated, calling upon Kingsmill’s The Poisoned Crown for moral support. May I point out, with respect, that that argument seems not germane to the problem. Prof. Hunter posits that the point of a bill of rights is to legislate man’s better nature, but that is not clear from my reading of history. It seems a constitution is written to define the form of a government, and a bill of rights is written to define that government’s purpose . The Declaration of Independence contemplates that governments are formed among us to secure our individual rights; ergo, a bill of rights exists solely to codify those rights that government must secure. Justice William J. Brennan held that a constitution is continually being ratified with each generation, and that it is up to court justices to rewrite the constitution according to their sense of the people’s will today. This is the heart and soul of our problem. Written constitutions, bills of rights, and laws are not the problem. Justices who misconstrue the issue of sovereignty are the problem. Since the people ratify the constitution, which creates the government, the people are sovereign over government, not the other way around. Any justice, in short, who places himself above the very document that creates the bench at which he sits destroys his very purpose for existence”and his judgments, therefore, as well . . . . If we do not approve of something that our government is doing, we can always change our government through the amendment process”even rewrite the thing from scratch. We may make mistakes, but we are responsible . The situation is at once both awful and awesome, but this is what is new about the “American Experiment.” To my Canadian cousins I say: Welcome to the experiment.
Cypress, CA Ian A. Hunter replies:
Canadians, I believe, want no part of the “American Experiment,” new or old; so thanks, Mr. Stauch, but no thanks. I did not suggest that the purpose of a bill of rights is to “define a government’s purpose.” That is parliament’s job. The purpose of a bill of rights is to protect minorities against the excesses of majoritarian democracy. My criticism is that the Canadian Charter of Rights has not done that; instead it has given an increasingly vain and imperious judiciary the opportunity to legislate. No Women Disciples
I was intrigued by the exchange of opinions in the correspondence that appeared in your October 1997 issue between James Nuechterlein and critics of his article “Catholics at Home”. I would like to respond to one statement in Mr. Nuechterlein’s reply: “We are not persuaded that the fact that Jesus was a man precludes women from officiating at the Eucharist.” One would hope that reflection on the decision of our Lord not to include women among the twelve disciples would rouse more than passing consideration, particularly in light of the fact that the Lord was unhesitant to break social taboos, such as direct converse with a woman, and an outcast Samaritan at that (John 4:9). But even without such reflection, there is much more at work here than Mr. Nuechterlein seems willing to consider. The universal church’s position against the ordination of women is based on its obligation to be faithful to our Lord’s word, by which it knows the truth (John 17:17). The foundation of the church is the Apostles and the Prophets, with Christ Jesus as chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The “cafeteria line” forms most quickly when this foundation is questioned by those who would say, “Oh, yes, Paul may have said that, but . . . ” The fact remains that the ordination of women is woefully lacking in theological foundation, unless of course the foundation for theology in those churches that do ordain women to the pastoral office has become popular enthusiasms, such as feminism, egalitarianism, and pragmatism. Those Christians who oppose the ordination of women must continue to echo, with all charity and humility, the words of St. Paul, “If anyone is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God” (1 Corinthians 11:16).
(The Rev.) Paul T. McCain
Assistant to the President
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
St. Louis, MO Kudos to the Cardinal
It is difficult to express adequately my admiration for Cardinal Lustiger’s examination of where mankind stands at the end of the millennium (“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” October 1997). For me (an evangelical Protestant and teacher of history), this masterpiece was particularly gratifying from a uniquely crucial vantage point. The article inspires new hope that conservative believers can unify on the major issues facing modern man and thereby undo some of the damage that has been done through interminable suspicions and bickering . . . .
Charles R. Lewis
Lindale, TX I was more moved by Cardinal Lustiger’s observations than by anything I have read in a long time. He did not overlook the most vital issues”the dignity of every human being, our relatedness to God as our creator, and the scriptural view of our sonship of God. In a time of social rebellion it is good to be reminded that true freedom is not license but submission”with understanding”to God’s plan and purpose for his creation.
Donald E. Kohlstaedt
Spokane, WA What We Don’t Know about Homosexuality
In “Love, No Matter What” (Public Square, October 1997), Richard John Neuhaus seems prone to reducing homosexuality to a matter of sexual activity, maybe because it then becomes easier to understand, no different from two little boys playing sex games because they haven’t yet found a cooperative girl. Someone needs to tell them they’re engaged in unacceptable behavior. I suggest Father Neuhaus take a closer look, not at the sexual act, which is generally comprehensible, but at the incomprehensible, the love and longing for someone of the same sex, which, in my mind, defines homosexuality. I’ve been considering the matter since my son was sixteen and told us he was gay. He’s now twenty-three and I still don’t understand it. The fact is, we don’t know what homosexuality is. We do know, however, that we are often eager to condemn that which we do not understand. We invoke a rational response called “creative complementarity of male and female” or the “teleology of the body,” defenses that could also be used to prove that God wanted us to engage in sex with as many people as possible. Or that the celibate among us are violating the laws of nature. The truth seems to be that nature expresses itself in an incredible variety of ways. Apparently God chose to build into creation a system that allows us an almost infinite variety of life. To insist that we are all made alike is misguided. To insist we must all fulfill a utilitarian role is inhumane . . . . Conservative Christians can continue to insist homosexuality is contrary to God and nature and we can continue casting young homosexual males onto their own. Their fathers aren’t equipped to guide them and they live in a subculture that has been ravaged by an incredible amount of suffering and death. HIV continues to spread unabated among young gay men because the HIV-positive among them don’t always tell their sexual partners they’re positive and don’t always use condoms. There is no prevailing ethic among them regarding sex because, in part, they have been rejected and abandoned by the group of people who function as the conscience of society. Fr. Neuhaus’ suggestion that we respond with “love, no matter what” is excellent advice. I hope conservative Christians accept the suggestion. So far we’ve had nothing but emotion fired by cultural warfare, a determination to compartmentalize or denigrate that which we do not understand, and valiant attempts to defend positions that are not grounded in Scripture, experience, or nature. Meanwhile, an enormous number of young men continue to suffer.
Abilene, TX Liturgical Anarchists
In “The Best and the Brightest” (Public Square, October 1997), Father Neuhaus has again, with good cause, removed the tourniquet from the terrible wound in Christ’s Body inflicted by a liturgical anarchy carried out under the guise of liturgical reform. This wound must be healed. Liturgical anarchists in principle ignore parishioners. These liturgists know the parishioners will be upset, so why consult them? One example: At a parish I belonged to some years ago, the pastor announced that we would no longer kneel during the consecration. Because this pastor had already informed me of enlightened notions like the Virgin Birth and Immaculate Conception being “superstitious nonsense,” I decided to go to a priest I trusted in another parish and ask him what kind of action I should take in the matter. He told me, “What your pastor is doing is wrong, but you must stand during the consecration. If you kneel you will be the cause of scandal.” I obeyed. But this obedience is interpreted as approval! Some of the legitimate reforms that I am grateful for include the priest facing us during Mass (I can see all the gestures of Our Lord during the Last Supper), the Mass spoken in English (I love hearing every word in the language I speak), and the women present around the altar (Jesus chose to associate with women in a time when it was frowned upon). But I also am grateful that our bishops have decided to keep the beautiful Tridentine Mass present in the world, for we are a people who cannot be severed from our tradition as we move with courage into the future. During a Marian feast day, a priest celebrating the Mass, a man opposed to Marian devotion, refused to bless the roses at the Mass and contemptuously referred to the statue of Mary in our church as “a plaster saint.” This attitude, getting rid of Mary, seems widespread in the so-called “liturgical reform movement.” The priests justify this attitude with the admonition, “Jesus is the focus of our faith, not Mary!” But wasn’t it Jesus who said to the disciple John (and to us), “There is your mother”? A priest once described the problem this way: “Today many priests who have taken a vow of obedience to the Magisterium end up violating that vow, while the laity practice an unspoken vow of obedience to the priests who are disobedient.” . . .
Seattle, WA Jesus’ Essence and Being
I am writing about Father Richard John Neuhaus’ warning (While We’re At It, October 1997) against the suggestion “that Jesus was not, not really , a human being.” He also decried the Wanderer stating that “the hypostatic union means that Jesus . . . had, from the moment of conception, a perfect knowledge of all things.” I think Fr. Neuhaus should read Etienne Gilson’s The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas , Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis , andthe Catechism of the Catholic Church , Article 3 of Part I. Catholic theology and philosophy places a real distinction between created nature (essence) and existence (being). In the human person, “being” or existence occurs only when the human nature is individualized by matter and personalized (made a human person). As Jesus was not a human person but a Divine Person hypostatically united to a human nature, he was not a “human being,” per Fr. Neuhaus. It is Catholic teaching, expressed in the papal encyclical Humani Generis , that Jesus had the beatific vision from the first moment of his Incarnation (conception). Divine knowledge is wordless: human knowledge uses words. Jesus’ “I” or “Ego” had consciousness of both knowledges, but was limited with his created human intellect in expressing the wordless knowledge of the Divine Intellect. That Jesus had a perfect knowledge of all things from the moment of his conception is what is taught in Humani Generis and in the Catechism , sections 473 and 474. This does not mean that he could express in human words what he was conscious of with his Divine Intellect. I really expect better from First Things
(The Rev.) Clare J. Hendricks
Columbia, TN RJN replies:
The point I was making, in distinction from the confusing phraseology of the Wanderer , is succinctly stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church , section 472, page 119. Father Hendrick’s nice distinction between being and existence notwithstanding, Jesus the Christ was and is what is universally meant by a human being, albeit a human being in perfect union with God, whom he also was and is. The Least Dangerous Branch
I was glad to see (While We’re At It, October 1997) that Richard John Neuhaus has discovered Alexander Bickel’s The Least Dangerous Branch , a defense of the United States Supreme Court. Now I hope that Father Neuhaus will contemplate the following passage from this contemporary classic:
The Supreme Court’s law . . . could not in our system prevail”not merely in the very long run, but within the decade”if it ran counter to deeply felt popular needs or convictions, or even if it was opposed by a determined and substantial minority and received with indifference by the rest of the country. This, in the end, is how and why judicial review is consistent with the theory and practice of political democracy.
Glenn N. Schram