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.
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 co