In addition to being wrongheaded, the book is simply wrong on so many scores. That may be a good reason for ignoring it entirely, except that it represents a viewpoint that is influential far beyond the number of people who hold it. The book is Please Don't Wish Me a Merry Christmas: A Critical History of the Separation of Church and State (New York University Press). I reviewed it for the Times Literary Supplement, but there is more that needs saying. Published by a reputable university press, the book is part of a series titled “Critical America,” meaning “critical theory” that is sharply critical of America. Other books in the series examine racism, sexism, homophobia, and other favored multicult topics.
A wild ride through history with a deconstruction-bent postmodernist at the wheel has its risks, but it is not without its rewards. Behind an apparently frivolous title, Stephen Feldman, professor of law and political science at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has a serious thesis, and parts of it are true. It is true, for instance, that what has come to be called “the separation of church and state” is not an American creation ex nihilo but is a product of the efforts of two millennia to institutionalize the distinction between temporal and spiritual authority. Also true, and less of a truism, is the claim that, in American law, the separation of church and state has been interpreted in very Protestant terms, reflecting the individualistic view that religion is a matter of personal decision or preference. Feldman notes that this is not fair to the Jewish understanding of Judaism, and he is right about that. He fails to appreciate the extent to which it is also unfair to the Catholic and Orthodox understanding of Christianity.
Neither is one inclined to question Mr. Feldman's assertion that the separation of church and state is not entirely neutral in its consequences for different religions. The doctrine of separation does not obliterate the social reality of a country in which more than 90 percent of the people say they are Christian, 80 percent claim a church affiliation, and close to 50 percent say they go to church in any given week. It is the contention of Mr. Feldman's very angry book that this social reality makes the separation of church and state no more than a “legal facade” for perpetuating the “hegemony” and “cultural imperialism” of Christianity in American public life.
“I am Jewish.” That is the very first sentence of the book, from which the author believes his argument follows. It is necessary to understand, he says, that the story of Jesus, and especially of his death, was “intentionally fabricated” by his disciples who were “motivated chiefly by political interest,” their main interest being to condemn Jews and Judaism. The Jew is the “other” against which Christianity defined itself, and continues to define itself. St. Paul declared Christianity “spiritual” and Judaism “carnal,” and that doctrine has formed the entirety of Western history, including the Holocaust and America's present and oppressive political order. In this reconstruction of history, Mr. Feldman is guided also by revisionist Christian writers such as Rosemary Radford Ruether and John Dominic Crossan.
According to Mr. Feldman, Christianity is, in addition to being a lie, an exceedingly unattractive affair. It is a wonder that anybody has ever found it appealing, and inexplicable that it is professed by almost two billion people living today. Christianity is captive to a “dualism” that denigrates life, while Judaism affirms “the whole person” and “celebrates life.” The only explanation proposed for Christianity's appeal is that people hate Jews. Whether they become Christian because they hate Jews or hate Jews as a result of becoming Christian is not entirely clear, although the latter would seem to be the case. If they don't know any Jews, they hate “the conceptual Jew,” who is a construct of Christianity and gives birth to “unconscious anti-Semitism,” which is the very worst kind. “The redefinition of Jews in the New Testament has generated and appeared to justify many subsequent imperialistic acts by Christians. . . . For nearly 2,000 years of Western history, Christian hegemonic power has been remarkably complete.”
The bulk of the book is given over to a rambling account of the history of the West, accompanied by lavish, if eccentrically selective, documentation. The story of what is risibly called Western civilization is, quite simply, the story of Christian anti-Semitism. From Theodosius to Augustine, from Hildebrand to Aquinas, from the Renaissance to the Reformation, from the Enlightenment to Hitler and today's Christian Coalition, it is one long sorry tale of Christian hatred of Jews. True, Christians were frequently tolerant and protective of Jews, but that was only “to allow them to endure their subjugated and miserable lives”-in the hope that they would voluntarily convert to Christianity. True, there were good features of the Renaissance and Reformation, such as expanded education and the introduction of the printing press, but this only “facilitated the rapid spread of anti-Semitic anecdotes and accusations.” True, there were periods when there were no Jews to hate, as in England for four hundred years after the expulsion of 1290, but that only inflamed hatred of “the conceptual Jew.” And so forth. Mr. Feldman is relentless. Some, less kindly, might think him fanatical.
From the beginning, says the author, Christianity “declared that the Jewish covenant always had been defective and that the Jews never had known God.” In Mr. Feldman's telling one might gain the impression that Marcion (c. 85-160) was declared a Doctor of the Church rather than being condemned as a heretic for teaching that the God of the Old Testament is not the same God revealed in Jesus Christ. Implicit in the author's argument is also an ironic reversal and an elevation of Judaism despite, indeed because of, the ascendancy of Christianity. Judaism was once the elect people of God and the nations (goyim) were the “other.” Now Christians claim to be the elect people and Jews are the goyim, the surrogate “other” of everything that is not Christian. In addition, what is not Christian must be anti-Christian, since Christianity invented and maintains its identity against the Jew. Thus it turns out that, precisely by its marginalization, Judaism is the very epicenter of world history in its resistance to the Christian hegemony. As I say, the wild ride is not without its reward in interesting, if unpersuasive, ideas.
The author evidences limited respect for such as Thomas Aquinas. Sharply limited. “Nevertheless,” he writes, “if Thomas proved anything through his consummate efforts at synthesis, he proved that Christianity and Aristotelianism cannot be harmonized: they are incompatible. And ultimately, Thomas remained a Christian. Thomas' resolute commitment to Christianity manifested itself in (among other ways) his rote expression of standard Christian anti-Semitic dogma.” Luther's notorious rantings against the Jews are well known, but for Feldman they are only a more overt expression of the anti-Semitism that is at the heart of Christianity. Christian figures who quote the Old Testament prophets and their criticisms of the children of Israel thereby prove that they, the Christians, are anti-Semites. Feldman has Christians coming and going. Those who deny that Jews worship the same God are manifestly anti-Semitic, while those who say we do worship the same God are engaged in the anti-Semitic ploy of coopting Judaism for Christian purposes. Similarly, for Christians to say that Judaism is the different “other” is anti-Semitic, and to deny that Judaism is significantly different is anti-Semitic. “In America today, the more common (though not solitary) form of anti-Semitic redefinition is denial of difference.”
Coming back to the separation of church and state in America, Feldman cites Michel Foucault and Hans-Georg Gadamer on the connection between discourse and power, and complains that the “neutral” constitutional freedom given religious discourse inevitably results in “Christian domination.” “In short,” he writes, “so long as the country remains pervasively Christian, the Supreme Court's ability to change the structures (and eliminate the symbols) of the de facto establishment of Christianity is highly questionable (assuming that the Court actually wants to do so, which it does not).” The Court, the author says, is in a long tradition of the American refusal to eliminate Christian cultural influence. “As Madison himself revealed, the opponents of official establishments did not intend to reduce the Christian hold on America. To the contrary, Madison and others believed that Protestantism would spread most effectively without official establishment, through the congregations of the faithful.” Americans have typically said that the separation of church and state in America has been good both for the state and for religion. That, according to Feldman, is precisely the problem: It has been good for Christianity.
What others call representative democracy by “we, the people” Feldman calls the oppressive tyranny of the anti-Semitic “mob” that is the “Christian masses.” While Feldman says he is not sure the situation would be better without the separation of church and state, he deplores the fact that there is no serious consideration of interpreting the Constitution explicitly against the Christian domination. For example, the Court has ruled that clergy cannot give invocations at public school graduation ceremonies, but he complains that the Justices did not consider that it should be permissible for Jewish clergy to do so “because a rabbi delivers graduation prayers in the face of Christian domination” (emphasis in original).
Stephen Feldman is in-your-face all the way. Yet the book ends on a weak, almost whimpering, note about what it means to live within “the sticky web of Christian cultural and social power.” He gives examples of the oppressions experienced by those “ensnared in the web of Christian domination.” For instance, a Christian friend “said she had never before met a Jew, although she had seen two television characters who (she thought) were supposed to be Jewish.” Mr. Feldman is deeply offended. But such a statement is hardly surprising in Oklahoma, since Jews are only 2 percent of the American population and are heavily concentrated in the urban North and the two coasts. For another instance, “The major intersection near my home had a temporary Christmas tree store with large signs advertising ‘Merry Christmas, Christmas Trees.'“ And yet another instance: “On September 1, 1995, I received an advertisement in the mail from an exclusive shopping center in Tulsa: ‘Dear Christmas shopper: Every year you're faced with the same question: what to buy your employees for Christmas.'“ The persecution of Mr. Feldman knows no bounds.
After almost three hundred pages of a wild postmodernist ride through Western history and a radically revisionist deconstruction of American constitutional theory, what remedy does the author propose? The book concludes with this: “I ask for one small political act. I request each reader to consider making a simple and direct statement questioning Christian imperialism. My idea: next year, when someone wishes you a ‘Merry Christmas,' just say, ‘Please don't! Don't wish me a Merry Christmas.'“ In other words, the answer to the Christian cultural hegemony is for Christians to stop being Christian. It is an answer that is not likely to be well received in Oklahoma or anywhere else in the United States, which will, one fears, only confirm Mr. Feldman in his sense of being oppressed.
Please Don't Wish Me a Merry Christmas, despite its hundred pages of notes, is innocent of any engagement with biblical and historical scholarship that offers more credible accounts of the complicated relationship between Christianity and Judaism, and is dogmatically indifferent to the vast literature on the Jewish-Christian dialogue of recent decades. Feldman seems to be entirely unfamiliar with the tradition of Franz Rosenzweig, the historic development of Christian thought about Judaism coming out of the Second Vatican Council, or such contemporary works as David Novak's Jewish-Christian Dialogue. For a dramatically different treatment of the contemporary questions addressed by Feldman, one thinks of-to cite but one instance-Elliott Abrams' new book, Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America (Free Press). And the recently published Religion and State in the American Jewish Experience (University of Notre Dame Press) edited by Jonathan Sarna and David Dalin offers a treatment of the constitutional and social issues that is both much more believable and much more constructive than Feldman's angry tirade (see review by Elliott Abrams in FT, October 1997). These and innumerable other Jewish writers are as emphatic as Feldman in beginning from the premise, “I am Jewish.” Unlike Feldman, however, they do not believe that premise requires that others stop being, in the jargon of our postmodernist friends, “other.”
As I say, Feldman's is an atypically explicit expression of a viewpoint that has great influence in academic and legal discussions about religion and public life. There are all too many who share with Feldman a belief that Christianity is inherently anti-Semitic and that religion in public-especially Christianity in public-is necessarily a threat to others. It is a viewpoint we should try to understand. Christians who think that religion has been marginalized and that we live in a post-Christian culture may be surprised by Feldman's repeated assertions about “the pervasive power of Christianity pulsing through the social body.” For those who view the world as he does, every “Jesus Saves” bumper sticker is, as he claims, a slap at Jews and Judaism. He insists that in public schools every last vestige of religious influence must be eliminated lest his Jewish daughter suffer “a loss of self-esteem.” This may strike readers as odd, since her father manifests a prodigiously healthy self-esteem that is directly related to his defiant “I am Jewish!” in the face of what he takes to be Christian cultural imperialism.
Feldman knows that Jews have been in the forefront of pressing for a “strict separationism” between church and state, and he is distressed about that. He thinks they have been “seduced” into settling for a separation of church and state when the real imperative is to separate religion from public life. Religion free from government interference, he complains, is simply freed for the exercise of social and cultural hegemony. Because the “Christian masses” are free to set the cultural pace, they have “effectively forced American Jews to Christianize to some extent” (emphasis in original). A minority has to define itself in relation to the majority, and that injustice can only be remedied by depriving the majority of its influence.
In his telling of history, Feldman acknowledges that Christians have at times been tolerant of Jews, but he complains that they do this out of “respect for Christian, not Judaic, tenets.” This is the most galling thing, that Christians should have Christian reasons for being favorably disposed toward Jews. Thus is the Christian hegemony completed: Whether they oppress Jews or embrace Jews, it is always they, the Christians, who are calling the tune. Thus are Jews deprived even of the ownership of their own oppression. Feldman's argument is inaccurate, convoluted, bizarre, and profoundly insulting to Christians, but it is not unimportant.
Christians should read Please Don't Wish Me a Merry Christmas. It provides a window into a way of viewing the world and the American circumstance that needs to be understood. I believe it is a minority viewpoint, also among American Jews, but it is a viewpoint that needs to be engaged and countered by Jews and Christians alike if we are to sustain in America an historically unprecedented relationship of mutual respect and unquestioned security, despite differences that will not be resolved until they are indisputably clarified in the Kingdom of God. One says that in full awareness that Stephen Feldman and those of like mind will protest that way of putting it as an instance of what might be called preemptive hegemony, since Christians cannot deny that they think they know how the story will turn out. On the other hand, believing Jews think they know, too. What we know together is that God-the Father of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus-knows. That is enough. It is also the most secure basis of our living and working together in a world short of the final consummation.
Back in the fifties, bien-pensant Catholics who had been touched by cultural aspiration were embarrassed that Fulton J. Sheen was, more than anyone else, the public face of Catholicism in America. Many of his clerical brethren criticized him for pandering to a general audience and not using his immense popularity to communicate the meat and potatoes of the faith. This came to mind in reading Andrew Delbanco's review of Billy Graham's autobiography, Just As I Am. Writing in The New Republic, Delbanco speaks of Graham's mastery of television: “Other pioneers of TV religion-such as Fulton J. Sheen, whose one-man format of religious instruction was almost professorial, or Oral Roberts, whose hokey revival meetings featuring miracle cures failed to make it onto prime time in the big markets-never quite mastered the medium.”
Leaving Oral Roberts out of it, the fact is that Bishop Sheen was the biggest show on network prime time and was the most popular show in America, putting into second place the putative king of television, Milton Berle. It does not detract from Billy Graham's immense achievements to note that his crusades have over the decades been on bought time, mainly on independent stations. Between Sheen and Graham there is simply no contest about who “mastered the medium.” It is important to get the history straight when thinking about the place of religion in the big time media.
Ten years ago I wrote a book called The Catholic Moment. Pat Buchanan had a book out around the same time, Right From the Beginning, all about growing up Catholic in Georgetown. He sent me a copy inscribed with this: “There was a Catholic Moment three decades ago, for some of us. Thought you might enjoy reading about it.” I did. He meant the era of Bing Crosby priests in movies such as The Bells of St. Mary's and, of course, of Bishop Sheen. It's a long and steep slide from Bishop Sheen to ABC's Nothing Sacred.
Today the insurgency of religion in public that catches the media's attention is mainly under evangelical Protestant auspices. Promise Keepers and the many manifestations of “the religious right” are generally treated as both hokey and threatening, certainly not part of the cultural mainstream. One may well wonder whether we were better off, in terms of the public face of Christianity, when the dominant figures were Bishop Sheen and the Protestant master of positive thinking, Norman Vincent Peale. (Adlai Stevenson, in one of the many asides that failed to endear him to the American people: “I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.”) Sheen's radio program, The Catholic Hour, ran from 1930 to 1952, and the television show, Life Is Worth Living, with some thirty million viewers, went from 1951 to 1957.
Peale, Sheen, and the catholic moment remembered by Buchanan were all part of a wondrous synthesis of religion and The American Way of Life represented by the Eisenhower era. (Rabbi Joshua Liebman filled out the interreligious troika.) Ike is often quoted as saying that America is built on religious faith, and he didn't care what faith it was. Numerous scholars have tried in vain to track down the quote but never mind, it reflected the spirit of the time. A prominent conservative leader once told me that his conservatism could be very simply defined: “Back to the Eisenhower era!” Peale was passé in the 1960s, but still presided over a very considerable publishing empire until his death as a very old man. Sheen had a short and stormy time (1966-69) as bishop of Rochester, New York, and spent his last ten years as a somewhat reclusive hero of Catholics who shared his critical attitude toward so much that went awry in the aftermath of Vatican Council II.
Billy Graham endured. From the beginning, hard-core fundamentalists railed against what they viewed as his doctrinal trimming and ecumenical compromises, accusing him of presenting an anodyne gospel in order to broaden his appeal. Although for decades he has ranked as the first or second most popular figure in America, the prestige media have consistently treated Graham as the respectable, or at least more respectable, representative of a distinctly unrespectable religious subculture. He never attained the cultural acceptability of Bishop Sheen in his prime, but that probably has less to do with the differences between the two men than with the crash of America's prime time in the cultural revolutions launched more than thirty years ago and continuing to this day.
“If the people want abortion, the state should permit abortion, in a democracy.” Thus Justice Antonin Scalia in response to a question following his lecture at the Gregorian University in Rome in May 1996. He hasn't heard the end of it. I believe Scalia has been getting a bum rap in some forums. The unguarded statement was made in a Q & A session, and it is clear that Scalia had reference to the need for judges to refrain from pitting their own moral judgments against the judgments of the people as expressed through their representatives.
Father Robert A. Connor addresses the Scalia brouhaha in a thoughtful article in the American Journal of Jurisprudence. It is a complex argument and I will not attempt to summarize it, except to say that Fr. Connor contends that the truth of natural law in jurisprudence is a “second tier” derivative from the religious faith of Americans at the time of the founding, and what Americans actually believed at the time should be taken seriously by anyone who subscribes to an “originalist” understanding of the Constitution. Justice Scalia may be right about a democracy, he says, but not about this democracy.
Along the way of his argument, Fr. Connor tosses in some facts and observations that you may find handy when across the kitchen table someone says that the Founders intended a secular constitutional order. “This absoluteness, appearing as consensus and self-evidence, coincided historically with an almost total presence of Christian faith as praxis in the colonies. Benjamin Hart asserts that ‘America at the end of the eighteenth century was overwhelmingly Protestant, and of the dissident variety. Though precise figures on church membership are not available, we do have numbers on church bodies. In 1775 there were 668 Congregational churches; 588 Presbyterian; 494 Baptist; 310 Quaker; 159 German Reformed; 150 Lutheran; 65 Methodist; 31 Moravian; 27 Congregational-Separatist; 24 Dunker; and 16 Mennonite churches. The Anglican Church had 495 congregations, making it a decided minority in America at the time of the revolution. About 75 percent of all Americans belonged to churches of Puritan extraction. When dissenting Protestants and Anglicans are combined, we find a religious composition in America that was 98.4 percent Protestant, 1.4 percent Roman Catholic, and three-twentieths of one percent Jewish.' Besides the numerical presence of believing Christians, [Walter] Berns reports that ‘[t]o one degree or another, and in one or another of its Christian varieties, over half the states had an established religion. . . .' Concerning the impact of this on the societal ethos, Washington remarked in his farewell address: ‘Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. . . . [R]eason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.' Jefferson himself (enemy of ‘monkish ignorance and superstition') questioned whether ‘the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God.' Tocqueville, in summing up his observations on the country, remarked: ‘I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion-for who can search the human heart?-but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.'“
From the peanut gallery: So what does all that prove? I don't know that it “proves” much of anything, but it does strongly suggest that when the Founders spoke of the truths that make freedom necessary they didn't mean-à la the notorious “mystery passage” in the Casey decision-the truths sundry individuals concocted in the shower this morning, or wherever people do their concocting. In this democracy, truths have a determinate history. Someone might respond, “At least they used to.” But that's not quite right. If these truths did, they still do. That's the way it is with truths, and that, too, is what is meant by an originalist reading of the Constitution.
In a defiant defense of the Chinese Communist dictatorship, the Christian Century features major articles attacking the movement to protest religious persecution in that country. Based on work in China with Mennonite groups, one article solidly sides with the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC), both of which are close to the government-sponsored religious organizations in China. The authors write, “The NCC urges attentiveness to the voices of Chinese Christians and takes its cues from the China Christian Council (CCC), China's only nationally recognized Protestant organization.” Another article, written by a Presbyterian pastor who teaches conflict resolution in Cape Town, South Africa, seconds the argument that religious persecution in China is being greatly exaggerated, and the best way to help Chinese Christians is through “constructive dialogue” with the regime.
While it is admitted that the CCC is subservient to the government, we are urged to understand Chinese sensibilities about foreign interference. For instance, “Mainland Chinese have great pride and sensitivity to territorial questions, especially those about autonomy for Taiwan and Tibet.” About China's cruel conquest of Tibet and its threat to take over Taiwan, if necessary by force, the Chinese are proud and sensitive, and we should be sensitive to that. The Century criticizes the U.S. State Department report on religious persecution in China. “The anti-China publicity that the report generated confirmed the Chinese fear that Americans are anti-Chinese.” In fact, the report was generated by publicity about religious persecution, a subject on which the State Department had been shamefully reticent in the past.
Remarkable for a magazine that describes itself as “An Ecumenical Weekly,” there is not one mention of Roman Catholicism in China. On the eve of a state visit by a head of state who is aptly called “the butcher of Tianenmen Square,” the Century maintained its long tradition of soft-pedalling criticism of Communist regimes. During the Cold War, the agencies of liberal Protestantism repeatedly urged understanding of the difficulties faced by Communist rulers and claimed that questions of persecution are best addressed through “quiet diplomacy.” This in dramatic contrast to their strident interventionism in South Africa, and equally strident support for leftist insurgencies in, for example, Central America. The argument advanced by the Century that American protest against religious persecution makes life more difficult for Chinese Christians should be recognized for what it is: an argument against human rights as an integral part of U.S. foreign policy, and an argument against Christians speaking out on behalf of persecuted brothers and sisters.
The position advanced by the Century, NCC, WCC, and others has a respectable place in the tradition of a Realpolitik approach to politics among nations. It would be more credible, however, were these organizations not so blatantly selective in their application of “principled protest” and “constructive dialogue.” Added to the ideological propensities of these organizations is the factor that the protest against religious persecution in China is being pressed primarily by evangelical Protestants. If evangelicals are for the protest, oldline liberals must be against it. In addition to the repugnance of serving as apologists for a brutal dictatorship, this promotion of divisiveness among Christians in America is hard to square with the stated mission of “an ecumenical weekly.” Did I mention that the Century‘s special China issue had not one word on the millions of Catholics in China?
The children of the famous have a mixed blessing, especially if they try to make their mark in the same field as their famous parent. They can travel so far on the famous name, but then feel the need to do something dramatically different in order to assert that they are persons in their own right. Such would seem to be the dynamics driving the career of Susannah Heschel, daughter of one of the most distinguished Jewish thinkers of this century, the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. She has undeniably succeeded in making sure that nobody will confuse her work with that of her father. In a new book, Judaism Since Gender (Routledge), Heschel, a professor of Jewish Studies at Case Western University, has an essay titled, “Jesus as Theological Transvestite.” She observes that some Jewish scholars, in an effort to upgrade Judaism in the eyes of Christians, have claimed Jesus as an entirely Jewish figure, while many Christian scholars have resisted that claim.
In what is, sad to say, not intended as a parody of current academic fashions, she writes: “In considering the inscription of Jesus at the boundaries, I would suggest turning from a binary view of Judaism and Christianity to a more usefully complicated picture of religious development that recognizes the performative nature of religious activity. The interpretive language that makes this move possible comes from recent work in queer theory, which offers a corrective to some earlier feminist approaches. In particular, queer theory addresses the problem of binary thinking, in which male and female function as static terms of reference in dichotomous relation to one another. Instead this theory suggests that the binary construct of male and female is fictive, calling our attention to categories of overlap and confusion of sexual identity, in which male and female become so intricately intertwined that no effective separation of their components appears possible. The emergence of queer theory stems from theoretical innovations that see gender not as an identifiable essence, as in the modernist tradition, nor even a social construction, as in the postmodernist tradition, but as a performance without any fixed referential point. Judith Butler writes that ‘there is no gender identity behind expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results.'“
The contribution of feminist scholarship, says Prof. Heschel, is to destabilize everything. In the old scheme of things, “Jews dressed Jesus as a rabbi” and Christians “insisted upon the opposition between Jesus and Judaism.” “By contrast, Jesus as theological transvestite unsettles and ‘queers' our understanding of the ‘boundaries' between Judaism and Christianity.” As indeed it queers the boundaries between reality and any truth we might choose to perform “without any fixed referential point.” Of course, the post-post-modernist flimflammers who hold sway over so much of the academy would insist that “reality” and “truth” be ironically caged in quotation marks. As for the great Heschel, many of us who knew and loved him expect that he would be shaking his head in sad disbelief.
“Contending for the soul of liberalism.” That, I said in “The Liberalism of John Paul II” (FT, May 1997), is what we must be up to. There came in response the usual objections from the enemies of liberalism, both left and right. Don't I know that the liberal regime is more than a political system? It is also a moral-cultural order that systematically destroys the bonds of tradition, community, and virtue. Yes, I know very well the arguments to that effect, and they are partially persuasive. But we live within the tradition and constitutional order of liberalism, and it is here that we must do the best we can. It is both too easy and counterproductive to blame liberalism for the moral shambles of our social circumstance. We ought not let the debilitated liberalism of more recent history control the definition of the liberal tradition itself.
Peter Berkowitz, professor of government at Harvard (though recently denied tenure) and occasional FT contributor, agrees, and sends along his excellent essay published in the Fall 1996 issue of Perspectives on Political Science, “Liberalism's Virtue.” Berkowitz examines the teachings of the founding fathers of the liberal tradition-Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill-and rescues them from their captivity to both critics and admirers who claim that it is the chief virtue of liberalism that it has dispensed with the need for virtue.
Berkowitz makes a lucid and convincing argument of many parts, including some interesting thoughts on why Mill was so opposed to the idea that government should be in the business of educating the citizenry.
Berkowitz writes: “If one rejects the simple equation of virtue with human perfection and understands virtue also as those qualities of mind and character that support the attainment of a range of ends and the performance of a variety of tasks, then such makers of modern liberalism as Hobbes, Locke, Kant, and Mill come into view as assigning an essential place to virtue in moral and political life. Their differences of opinion about virtue, as well as underlying continuities, can be brought out by examining in the case of each thinker the specific catalogue of virtues put forward, the end or ends virtue is asked to serve, and the means proposed for fostering virtue. . . . I do not wish to deny that the very idea of virtue in the liberal tradition is marked by basic and destabilizing tensions. What I do wish to affirm, though, is that the liberal tradition provides an illuminating and underappreciated source of instruction about the necessity of virtue where the natural freedom and equality of all is a principle on which the legitimacy of government is thought to rest.”
Berkowitz recognizes that the liberal tradition has built-in tensions if not contradictions. “For example, in contrast to those who oppose contemporary liberalism and its concern for individual rights and fair procedures, a civic republicanism devoted to the goods of democratic participation and the energetic practice of civic virtue, the liberal tradition teaches how to affirm the importance of virtue and the associational life to which it is intimately connected without losing sight of the good reasons for protecting individuals against the authority of community and protecting communities as well as individuals, when necessary, against overbearing state power. In contrast to those who analyze the weaknesses of American democracy in terms of disappearing stocks of social capital and a declining civil society, the liberal tradition reminds us that social capital depends on moral capital-that is, on energetic and self-reliant individuals capable of forming and maintaining the voluntary associations that sustain the habits of cooperation and self-restraint that are so useful to liberal democracies. In short, in contrast to today's democratic theorists who typically see only the need to restore some single element of democracy in the United States, the makers of modern liberalism teach the permanent necessity-at least for states based on the freedom and equality of all-of weaving together moral and political principles that must be made to support one another although they often pull in opposing directions.”
Contemporary liberalism, which reduces all to individualistic self-expression and moral license, must be countered by another liberalism that can draw on the founding sources of the liberal tradition itself. An intellectually persuasive and socially effective countering, of course, must draw also on the religious sources that, however unrecognized, give coherence to the tradition's treatment of virtue and human flourishing. Countering the currently prevalent notions of liberalism is today typically called conservatism. The better way to understand it is that we are contending for the soul of liberalism.
My colleague J. Bottum, who recently left us for the Weekly Standard, mentioned this rather different movie on the subject of choice, so I asked him to write up the following note. You might want to keep it in mind the next time you visit the video store.
Jorge Luis Borges has a story-one of his typically mocking, philosophically pointed tales-about a twentieth-century man who has spent his life painfully rewriting an exact replica of Don Quixote. How different look the little passages of Spanish prose the man has managed to produce, the narrator points out, when we know that they're written not by Cervantes but by someone alive now. Borges' story came to mind recently while thinking about movies, about how differently viewers would take Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in Frank Capra's It Happened One Night-essentially a film about the lengths to which two beautiful and highly aroused people will go to avoid having premarital sex-were it released today instead of 1934, when it took all the top Oscars.
The occasion for this reflection was watching a relatively new film from Columbia Pictures called Fools Rush In, now out on videocassette. Starring the amiably goofy Matthew Perry as a New York troubleshooter sent out to Nevada and the gorgeous Salma Hayek as the feisty Hispanic photographer with whom he falls in love, the movie is hardly great art-just a straightforward and perfectly enjoyable romantic comedy of the kind that Hollywood turned out at the rate of two a month back in the 1930s and ‘40s.
But how different it seems now. Directed by Andy Tennant from a screenplay by Katherine Reback, Fools Rush In tells the story of Alex Whitman, a stereotypically ironic Manhattanite posted for a few months in Las Vegas, and Isabelle Fuentes, a Mexican-American working as a camera girl at Caesar's Palace. They “meet cute,” as the expression goes, in line to use the toilet in a restaurant (a scene that probably wouldn't have made it into It Happened One Night), and they both get a little drunk. Awakening at five the next morning in Alex's bed, Isabelle flees in disgust at her one-night stand-only to show up three months later to announce to Alex her resulting pregnancy.
From there the movie develops pretty much the way you'd expect, or at least pretty much the way you'd expect if this were 1934: he proposes, she refuses; she runs, he follows; they marry that same day and spend the next six months in shock at their sudden marriage, their expected child, and the fact that he lives in New York and she in Nevada. Oh, and it all turns out happy.
A successful screenwriter once described to me how easy he had found it to set pro-life themes in the movies on which he's worked-always provided, of course, that the characters never talk about it. Sympathetic figures are not allowed to use pro-life rhetoric, and whenever the topic of abortion comes up, they have to mouth the accepted Hollywood cant of choice. But otherwise no one seems to notice if you put happy mothers and wanted children in your stories. It's not so much a matter of sneaking the truth past the censors as letting the truth stand out unspoken.
Whether or not the director and the screenwriter intended it, Fools Rush In is astonishingly anti-abortion for a modern film. Completely absent are the slogans of the pro-life movement, but present is the truth about how most people actually think when they're not talking abstractly about abortion. Alex falls back in love with his wife when he hears the infant's heartbeat, while Isabelle's obstetrician casually asks if they want an ultrasound printout as “the first picture of your baby.” A lightning-fast but telling scene occurs when Isabelle first tells Alex she's pregnant and knows what she has to do. “Oh, thank God,” he cries before he catches himself and sententiously adds, “I mean, I have always believed in a woman's right to choose.” “Good,” Isabelle answers, “because I choose to keep this baby.”
As I said, if this were 1934, you probably wouldn't notice, just sit back and enjoy the light film. But things have changed since then, and it seems worthwhile to mention a new movie that has the novelty of old-fashionedness.
“The Catholicizing of the Holocaust.” That is one rabbi's way of putting the Jewish complaint against the canonizing of Edith Stein. One obvious response is that Edith Stein “Catholized” Edith Stein, and therefore her part in the Holocaust. One commentator has observed that she was killed as a Jew but died as a Christian. But that doesn't seem quite right. A more compelling response is offered by Dominican Father J. Augustine DiNoia at a recent Mass commemorating Edith Stein.
In her essay, “The Road to Carmel,” Edith Stein wrote: “I spoke to our Savior and told him that I knew it was His Cross which was now being laid on the Jewish people. Most of them did not understand it; but those who did understand must accept it willingly in the name of all.”
These words hint at the deeply mysterious way in which Edith Stein vicariously identified herself with her people. It is a matter that she always understood to be of great significance for the meaning of her life-a conviction that her mother had inspired in her-that her birthday was October 21, 1891, the feast of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, that year. Indeed, forty-two years later, with her entrance into Carmel, she identified herself with Queen Esther (see Esther 8:3-6):
“I am confident that the Lord has taken my life for all the Jews. I always have to think of Queen Esther, who was taken away from her people for the express purpose of standing before the king for her people. I am the very poor, weak, and small Esther, but the king who selected me is very great and merciful.”
She could not have known then how prophetic these words would turn out to be.
Fr. DiNoia continues:
The events of the last month of her life show clearly why this great saint is to be venerated in the Church as a martyr. There is a fact that is little known and of great significance for understanding the nature of her martyrdom. On July 26, 1942, the Dutch bishops protested the deportation of Jews in a pastoral letter read in all the Catholic churches of Holland. The Nazi officials retaliated by arresting all Catholics, but not other Christians, of Jewish origins. They came for Edith and her sister Rosa on August 2. After passing through several other camps, they finally arrived at Auschwitz on August 9, and they died in the gas chamber there on that very day. Thus it happened, in God's mysterious design, that Edith Stein-Blessed Teresa Benedicta of the Cross-went to her death, as a Jew, embracing solidarity with her people, and, as a Christian, bearing witness unto death to the Catholic protest against the evil of anti-Semitism.
Only in the “science of the Cross” could such a death have the meaning of a victory. We learn this science from Christ himself who, in a definitive way, conquered the evil of sin and death through the Cross, and who leads each one of us, one by one, through the same passage-passio-so that sin will die in us and give way to the newness of life.
In declaring Edith Stein a saint and martyr, the Church expresses her faith that, in the end, it was God himself who blessed and enabled Edith Stein's willing embrace of the Cross and her vicarious representation of her people and, by this sign, confirmed our faith in Christ's victory over evil, even in the organized and seemingly superhuman form it assumed in Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
• In a recent lecture in Rome a while back, I defended, among other things, the proposition that “tolerance is a Christian virtue.” In response, I am sent Dorothy Sayers' essay, “The Other Six Deadly Sins,” just republished by Sophia Institute Press in a collection titled Creed or Chaos? Sayers writes, “The Church names the sixth deadly Sin Acedia or Sloth. In the world it calls itself Tolerance; but in Hell it is called Despair.” She goes on: “It is the accomplice of the other sins and their worst punishment. It is the sin which believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for.” It is so nicely said that one hesitates to disagree. There is tolerance, and then there is tolerance. There is the tolerance of indifference to truth, and then there is the tolerance (from tolerare-to endure) that is the fortitude to bear with people, also with people who do their worst to make themselves unbearable. The latter is indeed a virtue.
• Britain's New Labor government has a few tried and failed ideas of its own. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, brings to my attention that Her Majesty's Government promoted a first-ever Sexual Awareness Week. An official explained, “Young people are less likely to have early sex if there is good communication about the subject at home. We are emphasizing that sex is fun and talking is the key to a healthy sex life.” Right. “It's really fun, kids, so don't do it.” I can't help thinking that it's a sad commentary on the younger generation when they have to be instructed to take an interest in sex. What's really interesting, however, is the assertion that talking is the key to the thing. “Brits do it verbally.” It's downright kinky.
• Joseph Vining, professor of law at the University of Michigan, is commenting on Jefferson Powell's The Moral Tradition of American Constitutionalism, which has received some attention in these pages. At a symposium at Notre Dame Law School, Vining said: “If, beyond constitutional theories, the central texts of constitutional law themselves contain assertions that there is no capacity in us to read or write authoritative texts, then there is no capacity in us to read or treat as authoritative the texts that assert there is no such capacity-they certainly can make no claim to authority: they have burnt the bridge to themselves as they have burnt the bridge to authority, and left us as if they were not there. And the question then becomes, what else is there if they are not there? Only legal method gives an enshrining of atomistic individualism in Supreme Court opinions any force. Quite aside from the fact that the enshrining is in one opinion and not another, in some or many but not all, in those of one era but not all eras, in majority opinions, concurring opinions, plurality opinions, it is legal method that leads us to look at them at all, pay attention to them, pay close enough attention even to begin drawing out their ‘rationalism' from the tumble of words in them. To the extent that what they say makes legal method foolish or impossible, they lose their force, inevitably, regardless, without our doing. And one might think they are not to be feared-no more feared than the figure of a man in the corner of a busy room who says, apparently believing it, that he is not there and does not exist. If he denies as well your own capacity to see, and he himself clearly has no stick or gun and is physically harmless, he would necessarily lose out in the competing claims upon your attention.” That is a tightly-packed statement. I take it to mean this: When, as in the notorious “mystery passage” in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court denies any normative moral tradition and suggests that liberty means that truth is whatever an individual chooses to say is true, the Court is declaring that it is not authorized to tell us that truth is whatever an individual chooses to say is true. Unlike the man who says he does not exist, however, the Court is not harmless. Unless, of course, we take it at its word and deprive it of its gun and stick.
• We don't do it with the english, the irish, the spanish, or americans, so why do we print “blacks” in lower case. That is a good question from Frank Jennings of San Antonio, Texas. It does seem an anomaly. But we generally follow the style manuals, and they say “blacks.” One reason they do, I suppose, is that one should ordinarily refer to people in the way they want to be referred to, and it seems most blacks prefer “blacks.” A much earlier “colored people” was not capitalized, nor is today's “people of color.” Negro is capitalized, as is African-American, but despite Mr. Jesse Jackson's pronunciamento of some years ago that the latter is the correct appellation, it does not seem to have caught on with most Americans of African descent, at least not outside the academy. Quite frankly, my life is so driven by principles that I welcome a problem where no great principle is involved and we are permitted to go with the flow.
• We refused an ad for the book, so why give it free publicity by mentioning it? Because it says something not entirely uninteresting about our intellectual culture. The book is The Life and Death of NSSM 200 by Stephen D. Mumford, and it traces the fate of a national security memo, reportedly supported by Presidents Nixon and Ford, that proposed an all-out attack on the alleged crisis of a domestic and global population explosion. The book itself is an all-out attack on those who resist such an attack, and especially on the Vatican for its wicked manipulations in controlling the policies of the U.S. and the United Nations. Among the chapters are “The Cross of Papal Infallibility,” “Postponing Self-Destruction of the Church,” and “Defection of the Faithful.” Such frenzied anti-Catholic conspiracy-mongering is hardly new, but one is impressed by the eminences who warmly endorse the book: the former head of the Sierra Club, Gene La Rocque of the Center for Defense Information, Edward O. Wilson of Harvard, and Father Hans Küng, German theologian. From the ad: “A fascinating and disturbing insight into a population policy that could have changed the world but for the machinations of the Vatican.” That claim is the kind of thing that could give machination a good name.
• Ask Dr. Bernard Nathanson a question and you get an answer. So I asked about “Ethical Considerations of Assisted Reproductive Technologies,” recently issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Being a man of definite views, Dr. Nathanson says of this “odious document” that it speaks of “abandoned embryos” as though they were property to be claimed at the lost-and-found department of the New York subway system. It comments glowingly on the prospects of embryo splitting, “which to all intents and purposes is human cloning.” There is also enthusiasm for the possibility of impregnating postmenopausal women with no age limit at all, leading Dr. Nathanson to envision “PTA meetings held in the nearest nursing home.” Nor does the report overlook the benefits of reproducing yourself after you are dead. “To its credit,” Nathanson observes, “the committee does express concern over the use of fetal ovaries/oocytes to be used in the laboratory manufacture of human beings. What, after all, is the child to say about his or her mother, the aborted fetus?” Some readers may be offended by the gallows humor, but it is only in order to deny grief a monopoly.
• Crowd two thousand people into a compound smaller than a city block, where space per person is measured in inches, food is scarce, and life is uncertain under the guns of enemy forces, and you will discover a lot about human nature. That is the story of Langdon Gilkey's Shantung Compound: The Story of Men and Women Under Pressure, first published in 1966 and now excerpted in a reprint from the Trinity Forum. The reprint carries a foreword by Os Guinness of the Forum, who was also born in China and had first-hand experience of what happened when the Japanese invaded and rounded up the Western businessmen, diplomats, and missionaries with whom Gilkey was imprisoned. For Gilkey, who went on to a long career teaching theology at the University of Chicago, the chief lesson of Shantung Compound was the shattering of his smug, liberal, bourgeois confidence about the innate goodness and rationality of human beings. Those years turned Gilkey into a Niebuhrian, meaning a believer in Reinhold Niebuhr's stark moral “realism.” Like most educated people of his kind, Gilkey had been taught to think that, if people were rationally persuaded of the moral rightness of a thing, they would act upon that knowledge. “I now understood that beneath this surface harmony lay the reality I had just discovered. But only the ruthless competition in the offices of the business world, the bitter economic and political clashes of our wider community life-where the fundamental conflicts of career, race, class, or nation are waged-manifest to those of us who live in comfort the ugly specters of human hostility, self-interest, and prejudice. The ordinary social relations fostered in college or country club seemed continually to validate the modern liberal estimate of man as rational and moral, able to see what is right and willing to pursue it for the common good.” In circumstances such as the compound “no one feigns virtue any longer, and few aspire to it, for it hurts rather than pays to be good. Consequently, here virtue-as the wise men have always insisted-is rare indeed. . . . It was a rare person indeed in our camp whose mind could rise beyond that involvement of the self in crucial issues to view them dispassionately. Rational behavior in communal action is primarily a moral and not an intellectual achievement, possible only to a person who is morally capable of self-sacrifice. In a real sense, I came to believe, moral selflessness is a prerequisite for the life of reason-not its consequence, as so many philosophers contend.” Shantung Compound is compelling reading, even if one would want to balance it with, for instance, Samuel and Pearl Oliner's The Altruistic Personality, the story of those who rescued Jews from the Nazis under circumstances of extreme peril. Among Niebuhr's great achievements was to devastate the sentimental liberalism that ignores the pervasiveness of sin and tragedy in the human experience. Among Niebuhr's weaknesses-or the weaknesses of many Niebuhrians-is the failure to appreciate the human capacity for moral grandeur, as exemplified in the lives of saints and martyrs and so powerfully explicated in, for instance, John Paul II's encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth). For a free copy of the reprint from Shantung Compound, write Trinity Forum, 5210 Lyngate Court, Suite B, Burke, Virginia 11015.
• Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School has frequently warned of the ways in which the international human rights “community” tries to establish new rights through international law, thus doing an end-run around domestic politics that might not favor such rights. David M. Smolin of Cumberland Law School takes up this concern in a major article, “Will International Human Rights Be Used as a Tool of Cultural Genocide? The Interaction of Human Rights Norms, Religion, Culture, and Gender” (Journal of Law and Religion). His conclusion: “The reform of human rights law, if it were to be attempted, would involve severely reducing the scope of its aspirations. For example, it would certainly not be a small thing if international human rights law could be effective against genocide; international human rights law, it would seem, has dissipated its moral force and its efforts by offering itself to be used by virtually every cause that can be placed in the idiom of ‘rights-talk.' Not every worthy cause or human good can or should be transformed into an international ‘right.' Religion has had to learn, sometimes only through painful and destructive experience, that not all of its most cherished goods can or should be enforced by political means. The relatively young human rights movement needs to be taught the same lesson, hopefully before it seriously mars its reputation by destroying the very rights it was designed to protect. Until and unless a severe winnowing of the goals and norms of international human rights law occurs, religious believers, and people of good will who believe in intermediary institutions, religious freedom, and family rights, should be warned. For the great contemporary protector of rights, the international human rights movement, would, if given real power, constitute one of the gravest threats to those rights yet conceived by humanity.”
• Writing in the Journal of Church and State, Timothy A. Byrnes of Colgate University reviews Catholicism, Liberalism, and Communitarianism: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the Moral Foundations of Democracy. He likes the book, but thinks the various contributors to this collection of essays are too hard on the Democrats and too easy on the Republicans. His conclusion: “This may be, as Richard Neuhaus has claimed, a Catholic moment in American social and political life. Certainly, Catholicism, Liberalism, and Communitarianism makes the philosophical point that Catholicism has a great deal to say to modern day Americans. But no one should assume that the ideological or partisan implications of Catholic social teaching are straightforward or run in only one political direction. They do not. And that may be precisely why the Church's teachings come across in this provocative book as so unusually dynamic and vibrant.” He may be right about the Republican tilt of the book, but it should be added that Catholic social teaching does not run in only two political directions. In fact, it runs toward a politics that is not likely to be embodied by any party any time soon. That said, we must choose between the choices on offer.
• Ronald Dworkin's Life's Dominion continues to exercise considerable influence in legal thinking about abortion. Richard Stith of Valparaiso University tackles Dworkin's argument in the Maryland Law Review (Vol. 56, No. 2, 1997). The article is “On Death and Dworkin: A Critique of His Theory of Inviolability.” Stith agrees with Dworkin on the legal and philosophical problems entailed in contending for the “right” of the unborn child, but effectively challenges Dworkin's notion of “inviolability” and its basis in an economic theory of “valuing.” In its place, Stith proposes the idea of “respect,” and argues in considerable detail that respect requires the protection of the unborn. It is an argument of many parts that will be of special interest to students of the jurisprudential twists and turns in the abortion debate.
• In the tradition of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Feminists for Life agrees with Stanton's assertion: “When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.” The organization, now celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, is making an invaluable contribution to the pro-life cause. For information write 733 15th Street, NW, Suite 1100, Washington, D.C. 20005.
• Nicotine Theological Journal is not just about smoking, although the editors do keep returning to the subject in order to tweak religious liberalism about one of its most adamantly held dogmas, the unmitigated evil of tobacco. NTJ is published by the Old Life Theological Society and is “dedicated to recovering the riches of confessional Presbyterianism.” The current issue takes a skeptical view of the Southern Baptist boycott against Disney. They note a Jerry Falwell publication with the headline, “Walt Disney Would be Ashamed.” So why, the editors wonder, are Christians obliged to honor the sacred memory of Disney? In addition, they note, Disney's involvement in so many enterprises has not overlooked the Christian market. Just south of the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, for instance, is a new Disney development called “Celebration.” It's for people who want the morality of the 1950s combined with “all the neat gear you have today.” “By subtly conflating 1950s-style wholesomeness with Christian virtue, it is luring white, middle-class, pro-family values citizens to live in a theme park. No longer is Disney content to get them for a week a year. It wants to buy their whole souls. (Oh yes, there will be churches in Celebration. The first to go up will be a Presbyterian (USA) Church. But when will the first Southern Baptist church be built? And what happens when from the pulpit its pastor urges a Disney boycott?)” The issue also includes some comment on the FT question about “the end of democracy,” and seems to come down on the side of David Bovenizer, whose letter to FT suggested that democracy ended with Lincoln. Although the editors insist that their publication is not “a Reformed version of Cigar Aficionado,” the issue does conclude by returning to a subject of more than incidental interest. J. Gresham Machen, that stalwart opponent of theological modernism, wrote to his mother during his last semester as an undergraduate at Princeton: “The fellows are in my room now on the last Sunday night, smoking the cigars and eating the oranges which it has been the greatest delight I ever had to provide whenever possible. My idea of delight is a Princeton room full of fellows smoking. When I think what a wonderful aid tobacco is to friendship and Christian patience I have sometimes regretted that I never began to smoke.” Nicotine Theological Journal is not for everyone, but those who feel the craving and want short-term satisfaction at the risk of long-term edification can get more by writing 622 Orchid Lane, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714. I assume Altamonte Springs is not a Disney enterprise.
• A common confusion about the virtue of poverty is evident in the Joseph B. Brennan Lecture delivered by Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee at Georgetown University. He is reflecting on the tenth anniversary of the bishops' pastoral letter Economic Justice for All, and notes that since then “There has been a definite weakening of interest in liberation theology.” It is an apparently regretful observation. One might note that interest in the liberation theology that received so much attention ten and more years ago has not simply weakened but has virtually disappeared. “Perhaps the error of the liberation theologians,” the archbishop continues, “was to propose as a biblical ideal a Church of the poor when most people want to live at the same basic economic level as the rest of the developed world.” That incisive observation is immediately followed by this: “Just as Americans vote by their pocketbook and not their religious convictions, so others seek most of all what they believe will raise their economic standards.” The implication would seem to be that, if poor people voted their religious convictions, they would vote to remain economically disadvantaged. Perhaps the error of Archbishop Weakland, and many others, is to propose as a “biblical ideal” being economically disadvantaged. Voluntary poverty and simplicity of life for the sake of the Kingdom is indeed a biblical ideal. But to choose to be poor one must first have the option of being nonpoor. It is to be feared that Archbishop Weakland has not fully appreciated the teaching of John Paul II in Centesimus Annus and elsewhere that the goal of justice is the inclusion of the poor in “the circle of productivity and exchange.” Freed from the fate of poverty, people are free to resist, by the grace of God, the temptations of consumerism and greed that undoubtedly accompany the market economy toward which the archbishop, like the liberation theologians of yesteryear, exhibits such an enduring animus.
• Of interest in the great G. K. Chesterton there is no end, apparently. Certainly there is no end of the matters on which he wrote. So that should keep a handsome new magazine going for a long time. My only misgiving is about its name, Gilbert!, which sounds like his wife Frances announcing that the dinner is getting cold. In any event, for $25
you can join the American Chesterton Society and get ten issues per year. Write 4117 Pebblebrook Circle, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55437.
• Our notice of Norman Davies' Europe: A History (FT, November 1997) was critically appreciative. It is in some respects a marvelous overview, but is carelessly put together, with many egregious errors in things so elementary as dates and names. (I understand that most are corrected in the second printing.) Davies has a refreshing, but finally exaggerated emphasis on the importance of East Central Europe, meaning mainly Poland. Tony Judt, professor of European studies at New York University, joins other reviewers, mainly American, who are much harsher in their judgment of the book. Writing in The New Republic, Judt suggests that Davies' apologia for Poland and Poles, and his too light treatment of Germany and Germans, is tinged with anti-Semitism, although he finally says that Davies is not anti-Semitic but “merely pro-Polish.” Judt earlier wrote in the New York Review of Books a scathing attack on John Paul II, whom he does not like at all. In the course of discussing Davies and anti-Semitism, Judt observes, “Here, as elsewhere on such matters, Davies is distinctly more Catholic than the Pope.” Judt's prejudices do tend to weaken his criticism of Davies for letting his prejudices lead to a tendentious writing of history.
• Some years ago I was in this shop that specializes in clerical clothing and noticed a seedy-looking guy buying dozens of clerical shirts in every color available. It turns out he was getting ready to open the Limelight, a hard-porn night club around the corner, located in a church that had been sold by the Episcopalians. The bare-bottomed waiters were all dressed as priests. When the papers reported on the Limelight, then Episcopal bishop Paul Moore said he was shocked, simply shocked, that such a thing could happen in New York. The Limelight has since been closed for multiple infractions against drug laws and other crimes and misdemeanors. Take it from there, Second City. In May, the Convent nightclub opened on Armitage Street in Chicago, a traditional dance club but “themed” after the Catholic Church. The non-Catholic owners, sisters Suria and Shar Mansukhani, feature restrooms labeled Hymns and Hers, house drinks called “Holy Water” and “Confessionals,” waitresses in typical Catholic schoolgirl outfits (plaid skirt, white blouse, knee-high stockings), and bartenders in priests' collars. The VIP rooms are Heaven (upstairs) and Hell (lower level). Said Surita, “We're certainly not intending to be sacrilegious in any way.” Of course not. Just having a little fun.
• The outgoing president of the American Bar Association, N. Lee Cooper, is worried by all this talk about judicial usurpation. In his “President's Message” in the ABA Journal he decries “aggressive actions that threaten the independence of the federal judiciary.” In his defense of activist judges, one gets the impression that independence means independence from the Constitution and the corresponding branches of government. He is most particularly outraged by any suggestion that judges should be subject to reappointment or any other check on their lifelong rule. Some in Congress, he complains, suggest term limits for judges even while “not placing term limits on themselves.” I'm not sure that term limits for judges is a good idea, but it apparently escapes Mr. Cooper's attention that legislators do come up for reelection from time to time. And it is not unprecedented that some of them are replaced.
• The registration fee is $1,395 and the setting is oceanfront luxury in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It's the “Third International Conference on Spirituality in Business.” Here's the pitch: “From the Chairman of the Board on down, more and more managers are practicing and encouraging compassion, authenticity, integrity, respect, and connection in day-to-day work. Why? Because those qualities provide a deep personal satisfaction as well as a distinct competitive advantage.” The conference “is the ideal forum for exploring how our work life can support our religious life-and vice versa.” Repress your anti-Babbittry impulses for a moment. Maybe such affairs really do help people, in the sense of making them feel better, behave more nicely toward others, and even increase their profits. Maybe, just maybe, behind the advertising come-on is a program of serious religious growth. But forgive me for doubting it. The reference to generic “spirituality” and generic “religion” is not encouraging. And the idea that you should grow spiritually for reasons of self-satisfaction and competitive advantage raises Mr. Eliot's caution about the greater treason of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. The reason corrupts the thing done. (You have now saved $1,395. It would be a big help in supporting the work of First Things.)
• Were you in charge of a country that is terrorized by drug-related crime, has a guerrilla movement that threatens to overthrow the government, and has one of the highest murder rates in the world, it might not occur to you that what is really needed is the legalization of euthanasia. In a 6-3 decision the Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled that “no person can be held criminally responsible for taking the life of a terminally ill patient who has given clear authorization to do so.” “Terminally ill” is broadly construed as including cancer, AIDS, and kidney failure. This makes Colombia the first nation to officially sanction euthanasia. The Netherlands winks at it, and a district court in Japan legalizes it in narrowly specified circumstances. Thus does Colombia add to the list of distinctions that makes it a place where euthanasia is more than usually attractive.
• R. Albert Mohler is president of the huge Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and is here reflecting on Mother Teresa. He offers a very moving tribute. And then this: “She was famous for her good works. This is a challenge to evangelical understanding. Did she trust in her good works for her salvation? Roman Catholic doctrine holds, not only that faith without works is dead, but that our good works cooperate with grace. Evangelicals rightly reject this as the very works righteousness the Apostle Paul so eloquently-and conclusively-rejected. Salvation is entirely by grace through faith, and completely apart from works.” The formulation is problematic, also, I believe, from a Reformation perspective, but let that pass. Mohler is prepared to suspend judgment on whether Mother Teresa's theology passed muster by Southern Baptist criteria. His point is directed to his fellow evangelicals: “The answers to these questions are, for now, known only to God. The issue before evangelicals is this: Do we have what it takes to produce a Mother Teresa? Do we have the courage, the concern, and the love for ‘the least of these' required for such a ministry? Have we grown spiritually blind and deaf to the ‘untouchables' around us? Where are the evangelical orders of committed evangelist/caregivers who will take up a ministry to those like the destitute and dying of Calcutta? Our credibility before the watching world is at stake, and in question.”
• Pick your hero and round up the usual supporting cast. By now we all know about Judge Roy Moore of Gadsden, Alabama, who has the Ten Commandments on his courtroom wall and has visiting clergy open sessions with prayer. Then there is Judge Charles Price of Montgomery, who ruled that Judge Moore must cease and desist. As a consequence, Judge Moore has been given the “Christian statesman of the year” award by an organization led by televangelist D. James Kennedy. Judge Price has been given the “Profile in Courage” by the John F. Kennedy Library at Harvard. No surprises there. Choosing sides in the culture wars depends, in part, on the Kennedys whose approval one covets. The Tuscaloosa News clearly favors the Boston Kennedys, accusing Judge Moore of being terribly divisive. The editors complain, inter alia, that the clergy invited to the judge's court are invariably Baptist. It seems highly improbable that being Baptist in Alabama is divisive. What do you suppose is the denominational connection of that fellow in the Supreme Court chambers who prays, “God save this honorable court”? And if that isn't a prayer, what is it? As to who is making a divisive issue of all this, the editors might ask why Harvard and the ACLU in New York are so terribly interested in what is happening in a county courtroom in Gadsden, Alabama. It is their interest and their interest alone that generates the interest of D. James Kennedy. And, for that matter, of the local editors. It's been a long time since the Tuscaloosa News was at the center of what is called a national controversy. Of course I recognize that, by mentioning the affair, I'm complicit in inflating its importance. Maybe Judge Moore can invite a Methodist preacher the next time and then we can all move on.
• Father Andrew Greeley, sociologist and writer of novels on Catholic themes, is a man who does not like to be ignored. Before the 1985 Extraordinary Synod on Vatican II, he wrote a little book telling the bishops exactly what they had to do. In his conclusion, he warned the bishops that, if they did not follow his advice, they would be hearing from him again. That put the fear of Greeley into them. Now here is an article in America pointing out that 20 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. who were raised Catholic are no longer Catholic. Greeley wrote a similar article some years ago. “There was no reaction to my article nine years ago, no letters to America, no private comments from those who work in the Hispanic ministry. Nothing. Not a single word.” He concludes that nobody cares about this “cataclysm” among Hispanic Catholics. “The Vatican does not seem worried either.” It must be frustrating when nobody pays attention to what you write. But the fact is that what Greeley says about Hispanics is very old news. The further fact is that there are numerous priests and lay people doing their heroic best in Hispanic ministries. The yet further fact is that in November-December Rome held a big Synod for America focused very intently on the evangelization and reevangelization of Hispanics in South and North America. By virtue of my comment, Fr. Greeley will not be able to complain that there was not a word in response to his current article in America. The most pertinent word, however, is one that he may not like, namely, many problems are recognized and addressed by others even before Fr. Greeley discovers them.
• There was all this fuss about the new Holocaust museum here in New York, and whether it was going to be used as a platform for celebrating putative martyrs to the homosexual cause. I wrote a letter to the director that was publicly circulated, and that prompted some public and mostly friendly exchanges with former Mayor Ed Koch, who worried that I was being “used by gay bashers.” Well, now the museum is open and it turns out there is a small panel, “Silencing Dissent,” which mentions Jews, leftists, homosexuals, and Jehovah's Witnesses, noting that “anyone who did not conform was suspect.” Fair enough.
• Among the more moving and informative tributes to Mother Teresa is an article in America by Eileen Egan of Pax Christi. In Mother Teresa's home for the dying in Calcutta, she looked at those on the pallets and said, “They are Jesus. Each one is Jesus in distressing disguise.” In the early years, she went out to plead for food, medicine, and funds to care for the abandoned children she had taken under her wing. She also went from office to office and most business people responded, but one man spat in her outstretched hand, saying, “Take that!” “That was for me,” Mother Teresa responded quietly, extending her other palm. “Now what about something for my children?” Prodded by a journalist at the Nobel Prize ceremony, Mother Teresa gave a succinct statement of her own identity: “By blood and origin, I am Albanian. My citizenship is Indian. I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the whole world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the heart of Jesus.”
• Imagine ten years. I didn't know him personally, but I'm told that the Rev. Nathaniel Grady, a Methodist, was doing fine work with the poor up in the Bronx. Then, in the late eighties, began the great scare about the sexual abuse of children, and the subsequent prosecutions that can only be described as a witchhunt. Grady and four others were accused of rape, sodomy, and other abuses involving five boys and a girl, ages three to five, and were sentenced to fifteen to forty-five years in prison. Despite the fact that the FBI had secretly videotaped their activities for 640 hours over the three weeks in question and recorded no abuse. The usual suspect psychologists were on hand to induce the children to overcome their “denial” and tell what everyone knew really happened. The convictions of the other four were dismissed several years ago, and today's paper reports that, after he spent ten years in prison, an appellate court has overturned Mr. Grady's conviction. He is now fifty-nine. The Bronx District Attorney, Robert T. Johnson, says they will not try him again, but is admitting to no regrets. The official statement is, “It is not the District Attorney's position that the defendant did not do it.” At a news conference, Mr. Grady said of his time in prison: “More than anything else, I learned the art of patience. I am grateful that God spared my mother to see me vindicated.” Imagine ten years, and the abuse by the criminal justice system of six teenagers who live with the knowledge of what they were induced to do. In Salem the madness lasted ten months, and then the town leaders repented in sack cloth and ashes. Today the best we can get is, “It is not the District Attorney's position that the defendant did not do it.”
• “Media-Molded Catholicism” is a reflection by the very Protestant Harold O. J. Brown in the Religion and Society Report. He is puzzled by Kenneth Woodward, religion writer for Newsweek, who seems to want the Catholic Church “to do something rash.” Woodward was the author of the sensationalistic cover story suggesting that the Pope was about to make an infallible declaration of Mary as Co-Redemptrix. “In a sense he seems to be daring the Pope to make it,” observes Brown. He continues: “Given the degree to which Catholic authorities consider the concept of declaring Mary Co-Redemptrix unthinkable, one wonders why Newsweek chose to make such an issue of it, giving the impression that the promulgation of this new doctrine may be imminent. Perhaps as the secular world and the secular media take note of the fact that there seems to be a revival of interest in religion under way in several elements of society, some leading secular interests want to play a role. Some Catholic sources consider the Co-Redemptrix issue of Newsweek a real affront, even an attack on the integrity of Catholicism.” Since Catholicism is not going to go away and seems to be growing in influence, Brown thinks media mandarins have decided they should have a hand in redirecting it in ways more to their liking. He cites the much-debated ABC television series Nothing Sacred. “The newsletter catholic eye asks what the reaction would be if ABC launched a series with a rabbi who doesn't shrink from calling Moses a myth and the Torah bunkum, supports intermarriage with Gentiles, denounces Israel as ‘Nazi,' and supports the Arab cause in Israel/Palestine. One hardly needs to ask.” The odder thing is that some Catholics of the liberal persuasion think Nothing Sacred is nothing to get excited about. One liberal magazine, fearfully insecure about Catholics being perceived as philistines who cannot take a joke, attacks the Catholic League's protest of the program and cites Flannery O'Connor's sage observation that, if Catholics show that they do not recognize art, people may be justified in having doubts about their beliefs. The difference between Flannery O'Connor and the editors in question is twofold: 1) She understood that Catholic faith and life rubs against the vulgar grain of bourgeois culture; 2) It would never have occurred to her to view Nothing Sacred as art.
• “It was a bad day for Father Neuhaus. The neocon vs. theocon controversy has wounded him seriously. It would be a mistake, however, to count Neuhaus out of the battle.” Well, that's a consolation, I guess. The comment is from the “Neuhaus Watch,” a regular feature in Christian News, reporting on our 1997 Erasmus Lecture with Justice Clarence Thomas. “How did Father Neuhaus get a drink thrown in his face at his own party? . . . Neuhaus could not have predicted that Thomas would turn on him, but he did.” Lively writing, of a sort, but all nonsense of course. Justice Thomas did indicate reservations about aspects of what FT and other “theocons” have said about judicial usurpation, but all within the context of recognizing that these are important questions to raise, and in a manner entirely amicable. The same spirit marked the next day's conference with Thomas and a number of scholars discussing the role of the judiciary in our political order. We are expecting to publish his lecture in a forthcoming issue. I do have bad days, or at least some days less exhilarating than others, but the day of the Erasmus Lecture emphatically was not one of them. Readers of the “Neuhaus Watch” should know that its author has a treasure trove of inside information about all kinds of things that just ain't so.
• Poor dear old Yale. It just can't understand the petty intolerance of its infatuation with tolerance. Readers are familiar with the law school's refusal to let the Christian Legal Society recruit there because it “discriminates” against non-Christians. (See my exchange with Dean Anthony T. Kronman in the August/September 1997 issue.) Now there are the “Yale Five,” Orthodox Jewish students who want to be exempted from Yale's requirement that for two years students live in coed dorms. The Yale Five say that boys and girls in the same bedrooms and bathrooms is a circumstance that violates their religious and moral convictions. Among the most fatuously smug and narrow-minded of the defenses of Yale's refusal to allow an exemption from its rules is offered by David Denby, writing in the New Yorker: “Temptations must surround the orthodox of any faith when they leave family and community and enter the world,” writes Mr. Denby. Indeed, he suggests, it is the solemn duty of the university to provide temptations. One of the Jewish students said, “We cannot, in good conscience, live in a place where women are permitted to stay overnight in men's rooms.” To which Denby offers the presumably knock-down argument, “In that case, [he] should avoid living in big-city apartment buildings as well.” Boys and girls living and sleeping together is Yale's elevated aspiration toward educational excellence. “Living in a coed dorm for two years is now part of the known Yale experience,” writes Denby, “just as taking certain required courses, like the Literature Humanities and the Contemporary Civilization courses at Columbia, is part of the life of other schools.” The “just as” is worth noting. Dormitory rutting, it seems, is right up there with Matthew Arnold's maxim about the best that has been thought and said. Mr. Denby is the thorough traditionalist in defending the coed dorm tradition of, say, the last twenty years. “The experience of confronting both new ideas and people who think differently from oneself has traditionally formed the heart of a liberal education.” How else are Orthodox Jews to know that some people are lewd, immodest, and prone to engage in sexual intercourse outside of marriage if Yale does not see to it? Nobody ever said that the educational mission of the university is easy. Denby concludes, “In this society, existence is rarely free from jostling: we all, every day, find our deepest convictions offended, even traduced by something. In that respect, the Yale Five, whether they get their way or not, will have to take their chances along with the rest of us.” Why, of course. It's part of “entering the world.” Our world, in which they must become like us (or at least like David Denby). It is the new world of secularism's oppressive tolerance. And to think it was only fifty years ago that Bill Buckley could raise such a ruckus by suggesting in God and Man at Yale that maybe the university was less serious than it should be about transmitting the Christian heritage.
• How did we manage all this time to get along without a Surgeon General? As the last one would reproach us, just think of all those children growing up without knowing what to do in the back seat, and how to do it safely. Ponder, if you dare, a generation deprived of governmental instruction in the joys of onanism. But now President Clinton has put forward Dr. David Satcher, who seems to be an admirable man in many respects. He appears to have a blind spot, however, when it comes to infanticide. Supporting partial-birth abortion, he says, “I feel that if there are risks for severe health consequences for the mother, then that decision should not be made by the government but by the woman in conjunction with her family and physician.” (He apparently forgot the conventional nod to “her pastor or spiritual guide.”) As everybody should know by now, there is never an instance in which the partial delivery and abortion of a child is necessary to protect the health of the mother. Never. The American Medical Association opposes it; both houses of Congress have voted to ban it. This time President Clinton vetoed the ban very quietly, not even attempting to publicly justify an action that can only be explained by his captivity to the don't-give-an-inch abortion lobby. It is a shame that Dr. Satcher would begin his term of office by displaying his captivity to his boss's captivity.
• While at Harvard, President Jiang Zemin fulsomely praised the late Harvard sinologist John King Fairbank for his steadfast work in burnishing the image of Chinese Communists. Jiang presented the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research a set of the newly published Twenty-Four Histories with Mao Zedong's Comments, which he called “a rich heritage of philosophy, in understanding and drawing useful lessons from Chinese history.” The praise of Fairbank is amply deserved and the gift most fitting. Through purges, rectification programs, and politically contrived droughts that killed no less than fifty million Chinese, nobody among Western academics did more than Professor Fairbank to protect Mao and his heirs from the criticism of those not entirely persuaded of the merits of China's great social experiment. John King Fairbank. When another generation is tempted to play useful idiot to the next great tyranny appearing on the world stage, his name should be remembered.
• President Clinton's lawyer, Robert Bennett, on Face the Nation: “There is absolutely no unique characteristic of any kind . . . in terms of size, shape, direction. . . . The President is a normal man.” At the risk of indulging in nostalgia, one cannot help but remember fondly the Nixon years when the American people had only to be reassured that their President was not a crook.
• Not for nothing does she call herself a misanthrope. Florence King was less than edified by the big Promise Keepers (PK) rally in Washington. “Like all people driven by emotion, PK could be swung like a lariat; the right is in trouble if we think that 700,000 weeping men is good news in an era that is already close to rule by hysteria. Whatever happened to our traditional distrust of the mob? I also reject the view put forth by several gleeful conservative pundits that PK dealt a fatal blow to radical feminism. After three decades of male bashing, what is there to gloat about in the spectacle of 700,000 men curdling with guilt and begging for forgiveness? It sounds like successful brainwashing to me.” One need not endorse the implicit cynicism in order to recognize that she has a point. The Zeitgeist embraced in the name of Jesus is still the Zeitgeist.
• Viktor Frankl, one of the century's foremost psychiatrists, died at age ninety-two in Vienna. I suppose we carried one of the last, maybe the last, major piece on him to appear in this country, “Viktor Frankl at Ninety: An Interview” (April 1995) by Matthew Scully. As a young man, Frankl had worked with Freud, but later he was to criticize him for neglecting the “upper stories” of human nature. By that he meant, as Scully recently explained in the Wall Street Journal, that Freud neglected “man as a creature of conscience and not just a bundle of appetites, drives, and a lust for power.” Frankl spent three years in Hitler's death camps, Auschwitz included, and later wrote Man's Search for Meaning, a book that sold in the millions and was translated into almost every known language. Camp inmates, he wrote, were stripped of everything. “Reduced, literally, to our naked existence, we needed to stop asking ourselves about the meaning of life, and to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life-daily and hourly. . . . Man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” Frankl was critical of the countercultural turn of the 1960s, both here and in Europe, and fell into disfavor. On his last visit to the U.S. in 1990, Mr. Scully reports, none of the talk shows were interested in having him as a guest. One turned him down because it had already booked another famed Austrian, Dr. Ruth. Viktor Frankl did a great thing with his long life: He reminded us of human dignity, meaning the human capacity for moral greatness.
• According to Jewish tradition, azure (Hebrew: tekhelet) is the blue color of the sky and the sea and other things eternal. It is the color associated with the Jewish people and, consequently, the Star of David and the stripes of the Israeli flag. Azure is also the name of a new quarterly journal published in Jerusalem by the Shalem Center (shalem meaning completeness, wholeness, well-being). Printed in Hebrew and English editions, Azure tries to apply traditional Jewish insights to modern issues of public life. If you think this sounds like a Jewish version of First Things, you're on to something. Among the questions of intense interest to Azure and the Shalem Center: the moral and metaphysical foundations of self-government and a free economy, the necessity and limits of tolerance, the search for a religiously informed public discourse, and so on. Many of the editors and writers of Azure appear to be religiously traditional, but at the same time liberal in the classic (and our) sense of the word. They point the way to a serious Judaism that is on the other side of today's acrimonious religious disputes (see, inter alia, Clifford E. Librach, “The Fragmented Faith of American Jews,” FT, February 1997). Interested readers may get more information by contacting Azure, c/o The Shalem Center, 22a Hatzfira Street, Jerusalem, Israel (Fax number: 011-972-2-566-1171). Azure also has a page on the Shalem Center's website (www.shalem.org.il), which includes the full text of select essays; e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Picky, picky. Letters protest my November reference, intended favorably, to a “fulsome” account of Christian faith. Reaching for Webster's Ninth Collegiate, I find this: “Many commentators condemn the modern use of fulsome without pejorative overtones as misuse or ignorance. This use is, however, the earliest and etymologically purest sense of the word.” I like to think that I am neither purist nor pedant. As I have had occasion to say before, I write for the ear, and “fulsome” sounds very nice to me. In addition, it is a kindness to rescue words that are so misused that their correct use is deemed a misuse. Note that this is not a fulsome defense of “fulsome,” in either sense of the word.
• There are two items I had hoped to have ready for this issue. The first is about the most remarkable campaign of protest orchestrated by Muslim groups in reaction to my October 1997 review of Bat Ye'or's book on Islam and Christianity. Some of it is civil. Much of it is chilling-and clearly intended to be so. I want also to address substantive questions such as those aired by Professor Toby E. Huff in the Correspondence section of this issue. The second item has to do with a controversial statement on homosexuality recently issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. I was working on both, but then the Pope did me the great honor of appointing me a member of the Synod on America, so I must be off to Rome for a month. Please be patient and I'll try to have them ready for the next issue. I would not be surprised were there also something of interest to report about the Synod.
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