Forty-four years is a long time and a lot has changed since the last Catholic ran for president. Early in his campaign, John Kerry opined that the question of a Catholic politicians adherence to church teaching had been settled by John F. Kennedy in 1960. As has become more evident in succeeding months, Senator Kerrys education in Catholic teaching and practice is gravely deficient. He is not entirely to blame for that. Last year, when pressed by a reporter on how he could square his unqualified support for the unlimited abortion license with his being a Catholic, Kerry finally gave the testy response, Its the bishops problem, not mine (see FT October 2003). That made a kind of sense. Bishops say, rightly, that they have a responsibility for the spiritual welfare, even the salvation, of those in their care. John Kerry and a host of other politicians”mainly but not exclusively Democratic”respond by saying, in effect, How come now you are suddenly so concerned about my soul? For years and years I took the positions I take now and was considered, as I considered myself, a Catholic in good standing. Now all of a sudden bishops are saying I should refrain from or even be refused Communion. Some politicians who say that are, I expect, feigning surprise and indignation; others are genuinely confused.
When in 1960 JFK assured the Baptist ministers of Houston that his Catholicism would have no bearing on his public conduct, bishops and other leaders in the Church privately winced but most held their tongues. So eager were Catholics to have one of their own in the White House. Since then it has become sadly evident that JFK did not let his Catholicism have much bearing on his private conduct either, and the magisterial authority of the Houston settlement of the Catholic question has been greatly diminished. In 1960 the Catholic question entailed few policy specifics. Aid to parochial schools and a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican were minor disputes compared with what was to come. What was to come was, above all, the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade . Now again it is being confirmed that Roe is the most important event in our political culture of the last half century. That should not surprise. Church teaching, divine law, natural justice, clear reason, and partisan politics converge in the claim that it is intrinsically evil, it is always and everywhere wrong, to deliberately take an innocent human life.
A growing number of bishops are now accused of meddling in politics. Once again, old canards are circulating about whether Catholicism is compatible with American democracy. Some Democrats express the belief that all this will work to the benefit of Kerry and other pro-abortion politicians, permitting them to depict themselves as courageously resisting ecclesiastical authority. That is possible. After the two-year media storm over sex-abuse scandals, Catholic bishops are typecast, and not as heroes. Moreover, bishops who attempt to impose a measure of discipline are regularly asked if, their denials to the contrary notwithstanding, they are not being partisan since the discipline falls mainly on Democrats. They can correctly respond that the Democratic leadership is responsible for that party being locked into an extremist dont-give-an-inch commitment to the unlimited abortion license. The truth is that most bishops, like most Catholics, are by disposition and history Democrats. Not so long ago, the old saw was true that Irish Catholics”and not only Irish”received, along with their baptismal certificate, a union card and enrollment in the Democratic Party. That, too, was changed by Roe and its sequelae. Today, the official position and actual leadership of the Republican Party is in agreement with Catholic teaching on the moral imperative to protect unborn children. The Democratic Party, by way of sharpest contrast, permits, at least at the national level, not one hint, not one iota, of dissent from the lethal logic of Roe .
It did not have to be this way. It is deeply troubling when, in our kind of democracy, the two major parties are so starkly polarized on the great moral question of human dignity and human rights. The last time that happened was in the mid-nineteenth century over the question of slavery, which is not a happy precedent. It is more than arguable that, if the bishops had done their duty, as many of them are now doing their duty, back in the 1960s when liberalized abortion law was being agitated, we would not be in our present situation. If the bishops and other Catholic leaders had then made clear in no uncertain terms that the Democratic Partys dalliance with abortion on demand would precipitate a direct confrontation with the Church and the potential alienation of millions of Catholic voters, it seems likely that Democratic leaders would not have permitted the partys capture by radical pro-abortionists. As improbable as it seems now, in the 1960s the Democratic Party was much more anti-abortion than the Republican. But many of the traditional party leaders were pushed aside by the 1972 McGovern revolution, which assigned the partys future to its extremist factions. Nonetheless, I think it probable that the bishops could have made a difference if back then they had spoken as some of them are now, at long last, speaking
Democrats Expel Catholics
I remember long and melancholic conversations with the late Msgr. George Higgins, the last of the great labor priests. He was the Catholic chaplain, so to speak, to the AFL-CIO during the years of George Meany and Lane Kirkland. Higgins, who died in May 2002 at the age of eighty-six, spoke in tones of gratification laced with bitterness about his years of struggle to prevent the AFL-CIO from unqualifiedly endorsing Roe . With the succession of John Sweeney, another Catholic, that battle, too, was lost. George Higgins didnt have to wait for baptism; he was genetically a Democrat. I pressed him on whether organized labor, with its huge Catholic membership, could not be moved into the pro-life column. Not a chance, he said. There was the McGovern factor, and the teachers unions, especially in New York. Moreover, the bishops would not risk a direct confrontation with labor and the Democratic Party. The best that could be done, he said, was a holding action that prevented organized labor from enlisting unqualifiedly on the other side. He lived long enough to see the collapse even of the holding action. George Higgins and I disagreed, for the most part amiably, about many things, and such was his devotion to the Democratic Party and organized labor that I am not at all sure whether, if it came to it, he would have supported such a confrontation with the Church. But he was poignantly aware that things could have turned out differently.
We are inclined to forget the state of the abortion question before Roe v. Wade . Joseph Califano, in his just-published memoir Inside: A Private and Public Life (Public Affairs, 512 pages $30)recalls the madness of the Miami Democratic convention of 1972. I was a New York delegate and well remember how the partys radicals pressed for a resolution supporting legalized abortion. The move was turned back at the last moment by leaders, including McGovern, who knew that voters were overwhelmingly opposed to such a position. Even McGovern wasnt prepared to be that radical. Only a few months later, in an act of raw judicial power (Justice Byron White), the Supreme Court wiped off the books of all fifty states every law protecting unborn children. It is not true, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and others have claimed, that Roe only hurried along what was already happening in the country. As was evident in elections and referenda in several states, public sentiment was moving against legalizing abortion. One can only speculate about what might have happened if bishops, in the immediate aftermath of the Court decision, had addressed Catholic Democrats in the forceful way that some are now doing. Some were vocal back then. A few years after Roe , when Senator Ted Kennedy and others led the party to an unqualified endorsement of the decision, the St. Louis archdiocesan paper carried the headline Democrats Expel Catholics. (Todays archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond Burke, was among the first out of the gate in the current round of holding Catholic politicians accountable.)
Califano writes about Miami: As I watched and listened, the convention was moving the Democratic Party from the harbor of economic issues like full employment and health care for all into the turbulent seas of cultural revolution likely to infuriate and alienate many middle-class Americans who had been the backbone of the party from Roosevelt through Johnson. How will they react, I wondered as I stood on the podium, to the effort of many delegates to establish cultural issues like abortion rights and gay liberation as litmus tests for what constitutes a national Democrat? Such is the history to keep in mind when current critics of episcopal censures complain that they are weighted against Democrats. Had bishops been more assertive earlier, it might have prevented what Califano and others saw happening to the future of the Democratic Party. But again, it must be acknowledged that the leaders of the party with whom the bishops might be expected to have greatest influence were being rapidly displaced by the McGovern revolution.
Bishops, like most people, are often dilatory and strongly disposed toward avoiding controversy. The Catholic sensibility, as has often been noted, is not that of a dialectical either/or but of an analogical both/and. A bishops job rating is determined, in very large part, by his success in keeping everybody on board. This is called the ministry of unity, and there is a great deal to be said for it. But now episcopal hands are forced by a presidential candidate who says he is Catholic and who publicly, persistently, and defiantly rejects the Churchs teaching on the greatest moral-political question of our time. The stakes are high for the polity of the nation, but much higher for the polity of the Church. The latter is the polity that must be of preeminent concern to the bishops. Over the last several decades, and especially after the last two years of scandal, their credibility and authority have been severely battered. Wounded though they are, some bishops, maybe most bishops, know that they cannot be perceived as defaulting once again”as many did with respect to sex abuse”on their solemnly sworn duty.
No Moral Equivalence
In the present and admittedly messy circumstance, it might be suggested that their solemnly sworn duty involves, first of all, the spiritual welfare of those in their care. This entails the clear and uncompromised teaching of the faith, and correcting those who misrepresent that teaching. They have no choice but to address the public scandal and confusion created by prominent Catholics who publicly and persistently reject the Churchs teaching without apparent consequence. A bishops duties are internal to the life of the Church, although they obviously have external effects, including in electoral politics. Understandable concern about external effects must give way, however, to a bishops awareness of his responsibility qua bishop. He is the shepherd, the pastor, the teacher, of the community entrusted to his care. The presidential and congressional elections of this year are important, to be sure, but not nearly so important as the testing of the Churchs integrity in not compromising the moral truth with which she is entrusted or her responsibility for the souls committed to her care.
Different bishops are responding to the test in different ways. It is, as of this writing, uncertain whether the committee of the bishops conference charged with coming up with a proposal for a uniform response will report before the elections, and it is not unlikely that any such proposal would encounter serious disagreements among the bishops. In any event, bishops have to act now. The worry is expressed that different responses will give the impression that the bishops are not united. I am not so sure. Each bishop is the appointed teacher in his local Church, the diocese. The truth about questions of great importance has not always been well served by the assumption that the bishops must speak as a body through the conference. If there is agreement on what the Church teaches about the intrinsic evil of taking innocent human life in abortion, embryonic research, and euthanasia, the pastoral application of that teaching, relying on the grace of office and prudential judgment of bishops, may vary from place to place.
What is truly troubling is that some bishops are fudging the Churchs teaching by suggesting, for instance, that there is a moral equivalence between abortion, capital punishment, the war in Iraq, and a host of other disputed questions. That is false, as anybody knows who has read with care the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae , the November 2002 doctrinal note from Rome on participation in political life, or the U.S. bishops own statement Living the Gospel of Life, issued in 1998. A few bishops have said that they would not use the Eucharist as an instrument for pressing politicians who publicly and persistently reject the Churchs teaching. Other bishops correctly point out that, from the beginning of the Church, immoral actions have had consequences for communion. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, for instance, quotes the words of Justin Martyr from the second century: No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true . . . and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ. Chaput also quotes St. Paul who reminds the people who are not living their lives according to the gospel of Jesus Christ and yet receive the Eucharist that they bring judgment on themselves. Guarding the Eucharist from profanation, and souls from incurring divine judgment, is a responsibility that goes back to Christian beginnings.
There is also Canon 915 in the Code of Canon Law: Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion. Canon lawyers agree that the those in the first part of that canon would seem to be limited to cases where there has been some kind of judicial process and public declaration. On the other hand, hundreds, if not thousands, of politicians, both Democratic and Republican, and at all levels of government, would seem to qualify as others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin. It is a grave sin to knowingly, publicly, and persistently reject and encourage others to reject the moral law that it is intrinsically evil, always and everywhere wrong, to deliberately take innocent human life. This, bishops must more effectively communicate, is not a sectarian Catholic teaching but a moral law obliging all. To say that an unborn child is not entitled to legal protection is comparable to saying that poor people or black people are not entitled to legal protection. It is worth noting that many who are now so harshly critical of the Church cheered when, in the civil rights era, the archbishop of New Orleans excommunicated supporters of racial segregation.
Whose Side Are You On?
The situation of John Kerry”to take but the most obvious example”is significantly different from that of Mario Cuomo who, when governor of New York, made a speech at Notre Dame explaining why, although he did not reject the moral truth about abortion, he could not impose his convictions in the absence of a moral consensus supporting the protection of the unborn. His argument was made vacuous by the fact that he did nothing to build such a consensus”as he did, against great opposition, in opposing capital punishment”and the fact that he assiduously solicited and benefited from the support of pro-abortionists. Kerry, who has a 100 percent approval rating from pro-abortion organizations, also on partial-birth abortion, has repeatedly and publicly taken his unequivocal stand with NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, and other groups that have stridently declared for decades that they view the Catholic Church as their number-one enemy. The question for Kerry and others similarly situated is inescapable: Whose side are you on?
Receiving Communion has everything to do with communio . It is not simply a matter of participating in a religious ritual but of declaring oneself in solidarity with Christ and his Church, as Catholics believe Christ constituted his Church. It is not a matter of having a problem with one or another of the Churchs teachings. Many thoughtful Catholics do, and pray for the grace of a more perfect communio . To paraphrase Newman, a thousand problems do not add up to a rejection. A bishop cannot with integrity pretend not to notice public and persistent rejection, or pretend that it has no consequences for a persons communion with the Church. A person may believe he is acting in good conscience, and the Church teaches that even a wrongly formed conscience must be obeyed, but public rejection requires public response. Some bishops have said that offending public figures should be refused Communion, others that they should refrain from communing, until the rejection that impairs their communio has been remedied. Priests on the spot, unless under direct orders from their bishop, are rightly reluctant to deny anyone communion, since they cannot know for sure the state of the persons inward disposition.
One bishop has said that not only pro-abortion politicians but also anyone who votes for a pro-abortion politician should refrain from communion. This is highly problematic. It would seem to ignore the distinction between an act and the intention behind the act”what in traditional language is called the difference between material and formal cooperation in a wrong. It is not hard to imagine a circumstance in which an unquestionably pro-life voter might vote for a pro-abortion politician despite that politicians being pro-abortion. In fact, one does not have to imagine. Just this spring, pro-lifers President Bush and Senator Rick Santorum successfully urged support in the Pennsylvania primary for the pro-abortion Senator Arlen Specter in order to maintain control of the Senate and the possibility of advancing pro-life legislation. It would be an obtuse indifference to political and moral realities to suggest that Catholics who voted for Specter with that intention in mind impaired their communio with the Church.
Forty-four years after JFK at Houston, Catholicism in America is confronted by a historic moment of truth. The question is, as John Paul II has repeatedly stressed, whether, in contending for the culture of life, the Church will have the courage to be a sign of contradiction or will retreat into being a sign of conformity. The analogical sensibility of both/and is sometimes in necessary tension with the dialectical either/or. The Church as James Joyces Here Comes Everybody depends upon there being a here here. If communio is not defined, it cannot attract and will not be defended. In view of the negligence of so many bishops in the past, one can understand John Kerrys response of last year, Its the bishops problem, not mine. No longer. It is the bishops problem, to be sure, but their problem is to make clear, as they did not make clear in the past, that it is also John Kerrys problem, and the problem of numerous other public figures who wrongly thought, perhaps because they were wrongly taught, that Communion can be detached from communio.
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Afterword: At their Denver meeting in June, the bishops did adopt, with only six dissenting votes, a succinct statement, Catholics in Political Life. Noting that abortion is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified, the bishops state that those who knowingly, freely, and consistently support abortion on demand are guilty of grave sin and separate themselves from Gods grace. The examination of conscience required before receiving Communion includes fidelity to the moral teaching of the Church in personal and public life. In relating to Catholics in political life, the bishops commit themselves to teach, counsel, and persuade. The decision to refuse Communion in certain cases rests with individual bishops who may legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action. In the intense deliberation, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver and Francis Cardinal George of Chicago were among those who, supported by a written intervention from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, provided distinguished leadership in turning back minority proposals to delay a statement by consigning the task to the bureaucratic processes of the bishops conference. Following the vote, Roger Cardinal Mahony issued a statement reiterating his position that pro-abortion politicians are welcome to receive Communion in Los Angeles. Theodore Cardinal McCarrick of Washington offered a distinctive interpretation of the statement, saying that the message is that the battle over abortion should be fought not at the communion rail but in the public square. But, of course, the whole point of the statement is to address the necessary connection between Communion and communio . Some observers deplore the outcome of the Denver meeting as a splintering of episcopal unity; others view it as a welcome, if belated, sign that bishops are prepared to assume leadership as teachers and pastors in their local churches. Many bishops, we are told, welcomed the more free and open deliberation at Denver, which was in sharp contrast to meetings in which bishops are closely tutored in processing the preprogrammed positions of the USCCB leadership and staff.
How Are We Doing?
How is First Things doing? The question is regularly asked wherever I go, and I am glad to answer that, all in all, were doing reasonably well. Of course, I think not only of the journal but of the various activities of the Institute on Religion and Public Life that surround, support, and inform what appears in these pages. This is written at the end of a week of back-to-back meetings. First the annual gathering of the editorial boards, then a day with Francis Cardinal Arinze and forty-five Christian and Jewish theologians in our Dulles Colloquium (named of course, for Avery Cardinal Dulles), and, finally, another working session of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT).
A Nigerian, Cardinal Arinze is head of the Vaticans congregation for worship, and he formerly led the pontifical council for relations with world religions. It was a day of scintillating exchanges, ranging from Christian unity to liturgical reform, and with a particular concentration on the future of Christian-Muslim relations. Cardinal Arinze is a thoughtful, personable, devout, and utterly persuasive man, and I expect that everyone there was thinking that when the time comes, as it inevitably will come, for a new pope, it would be a great thing for the Church and the world were the choice to fall on Francis Cardinal Arinze. Of course none of us has a vote, which is probably just as well.
ECT continues its work on a new statement with the working title The Universal Call to Holiness. It is not easy; not only because of differences between Catholics and Evangelicals but also because of differences among Evangelical and Pentecostal traditions on questions such as baptism, election, perfectionism, and other matters entangled in generations of controversy. But we are confident that, as we have been able to produce statements of uncompromising honesty on long-aggravated questions such as justification and scriptural authority, we will be led to success on this one as well. The pioneers of this project”Cardinal Dulles, Chuck Colson, J. I. Packer, and your writer”know that we may not be around for many more years, and so we are pleased that a number of younger scholars have joined us, assuring, we hope, the future of ECTs mission for generations to come.
While First Things involves many things, when people ask how First Things is doing, they are usually referring to the journal and, more specifically, to circulation. While modest outside funding can be obtained for other projects, FT struggles to pull its own weight. But the news is good. By the end of this year, it appears we will have an average monthly circulation of over 31,000. One might think that very small in a country of almost three hundred million people, but it has always been a relative handful of people who are serious readers. When it comes to circulation, we never quite know to what FT should be compared. There are the more political magazines, such as the Nation , which has surged this year to 160,000, no doubt reflecting anti-Bush sentiment on the left. National Review is fairly close behind with 127,000, while the Weekly Standard and the New Republic , both very influential within the beltway, are somewhat over 40,000. In terms of intellectual challenge and breadth of interest, FT is in some ways more similar to the New York Review of Books and Commentary . The former remains fairly steady at 82,000, while the latter is down to a little under 18,000.
Among somewhat comparable religious publications, were well behind America , the Jesuit weekly, which has a circulation of 45,000, and a thousand or two behind Christian Century , the voice of oldline liberal Protestantism. The first was founded in 1909 and the second in 1884, so they have a centurys lead over FT, especially in institutional subscriptions. They got into thousands of libraries many years ago, and libraries tend to be reliable renewals. Our subscribers are almost all individuals, which makes this a good occasion to again urge readers, and academics in particular, to get libraries to subscribe. After FT, and in order from 28,000 to 11,000, are Crisis , Commonweal , Catholic World Report , New Oxford Review , and the fine Evangelical literary-intellectual publication, Books & Culture .
Readers of First Things (ROFTERS) are extraordinarily loyal. The rate of first renewals is over 80 percent and the renewals of renewals over 95 percent. Veterans in the publishing industry tell me the latter figure is astonishing, perhaps unprecedented. It almost defies the mortality rate, which holds steady at 100 percent. Of all the current circulation data, the long-term renewal rates are the most important and the most gratifying. I am frequently asked whether FT is self-supporting, and the answer is in the negative. Ours is a very lean operation and we rely on more than a little help from our friends. In that connection, the annual appeal, sent out shortly before Christmas, is critically important. Last year, the response to the appeal was the largest ever, and were hoping to do better this year. It is still a relatively small percentage of readers who respond to the appeal. If you have responded in the past, please think about increasing your contribution. If you havent, please do so this year.
So how are we doing? Reasonably well, thank you. And I do mean thank you . At the editorial board meeting this year, we went back to look at the statement of purpose in the premier issue of March 1990, and asked ourselves whether it still represents what we have been doing, are doing, and intend to do in the future. We concluded that, while we might fiddle with a phrase or two, the answer is definitely in the affirmative. (You might want to check out that editorial statement, Putting First Things First, on the website, www.firstthings.com ) After stating our goals in some detail, we acknowledged the difficulty in fulfilling them and invoked a familiar story. Once in Chelm, the mystical village of East European Jews, a man was appointed to stand at the village gate watching out for the coming of the Messiah. After some time, he complained to the village elders that his pay was too low. You are right, they said. The pay is low. But consider: the work is steady.
Keeping Rogue Science Rogue
There has been a lot of tongue-biting by pro-lifers in connection with the most recent report of the Presidents Council on Bioethics, Reproduction & Responsibility: The Regulation of New Biotechnologies . The report is formally unanimous, but a flurry of personal statements appended to it reveal the very sharp differences between members of the Council. Indeed, the differences are so very sharp, and members offer such conflicting interpretations of the report, that one has to wonder about the claim that it reflects a consensus.
Some pro-life leaders have publicly criticized the report, but most are holding their fire, in large part out of respect for Council members who signed it, such as Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon, Alfonso Gómez-Lobo, William Hurlbut, Gilbert Meilaender, and the chairman, Leon Kass. As is the way with statements aiming at consensus, ambiguities abound, allowing for contradictory interpretations. The techno-optimists, led by James Q. Wilson, suggest the report opens the way to the more expansive use of human embryos in stem cell and related research. William Cardinal Keeler, chairman of the Catholic bishops pro-life committee, protests that the report does precisely that. The Council recommends banning research on embryos older than ten to fourteen days. According to the Keeler statement, The decisive fact is that human life is a continuum from the one-celled stage onward. Any cutoff point after this event is arbitrary”providing no principled reason not to extend the time limit for destructive research, once the precedent is established. We should not start down this road, but explore ways to discourage research that attacks any human life.
In principle, the pro-life signers of the statement do not disagree with that. They point out, however, that proposals to ban all embryo research are, at present and in the foreseeable future, politically blocked. Moreover, they note,researchers have already started down this road. The Councils recommendations would limit and regulate what is now unlimited and unregulated. It is important to note that”despite the spin put on it by some Council members”this report does not fudge or retract earlier positions taken by the Council; for instance a permanent ban on cloning to produce children and a four-year moratorium on cloning for embryo research. The Council also calls for a ban on, inter alia, producing embryos with human sperm and animal eggs, and vice versa; implanting human embryos into animals; buying, selling, or patenting human embryos; and conceiving a child whose father or mother is a dead embryo or aborted fetus.
Such things sound bizarre, and they are, but they are being done or are on the edge of being done. There are rogue technicians, driven by hubris and greed, who are willing to produce babies-to-order by any means. The Councils purpose, in part, is to make sure they continue to be rogues, to prevent them from turning their activities into a lucrative industry. In a joint statement in the appendix, George and Gómez-Lobo write, We are among the members of the Council who favor protecting human life from the very beginning by banning the use of living human embryos at any stage of development as disposable research material. Until this becomes politically feasible, we support efforts to accord as much protection as possible by limiting the number of days beyond which the law tolerates deliberate embryo killing. It is important to understand that the Councils recommendation here is not to authorize embryo-destructive research up to a certain limit. It is only to prohibit such research beyond a certain limit.
Is this a morally permissible”although eminently debatable”prudential judgment or is it cooperation in a great evil? I am inclined to believe it is the former, while having grave reservations about the wisdom of participating in a consensus statement representing a consensus so very thin and so very subject to dishonest manipulation. Keep in mind that the policy declared by President Bush in August 2001 covered only government-funded research. Under other auspices, the exploitation of embryos in stem cell and related research is unregulated, and Harvard and other institutions are devoting huge resources to establish their morally odious leadership in this area. The Councils recommendations would not make lawful anything that is now unlawful, and they would make unlawful much that is now lawful. Once now-unregulated research is firmly established in practice, it is argued, it would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to regulate it after the fact.
Reproduction & Responsibility contains other complicated proposals that require finely honed moral discernment and prudential judgments. But on the question of setting a ten-to fourteen-day limit on using embryos for research, a rough analogy suggests itself. If you negotiate with terrorists who you have every reason to believe will kill ten hostages, and you get them to agree to kill only three and let the others go, what is the accurate moral description of what you have done? Have you condoned the killing of the three, or have you succeeded in saving the seven? Such are the hard questions posed by our brave new world. An alternative, of course, is not to negotiate with terrorists. Are you then complicit in the killing of all ten? There are circumstances in which one can do nothing about a great evil except bear witness against it. Some of the Council members mentioned above are, I believe, acting in a way consonant with the teaching of Evangelium Vitae in trying to limit a great evil while working toward eliminating it. I have enormous respect for their moral wisdom and integrity. I hope they have done the right thing in signing on to Reproduction & Responsibility.
Anti-Semitism and False Alarms
Although repercussions may extend far into the future, we can now get a measure of critical distance from the extraordinary religious and cultural moment that is Mel Gibsons The Passion of the Christ and the responses to it. One welcomes, therefore, the reflection of David Berger of Brooklyn College, writing in Commentary , Jews, Christians, and The Passion. Berger gets off on the right foot by noting, as have many others, that people generally take from the film what they bring to it. Despite its powerful cinematic effects, this is a film whose capacity to move depends in large measure on the viewers ability to identify with Jesus of Nazareth for reasons that are not presented in the film itself. If you come with love and admiration for its hero, and all the more so if you come with faith in his divinity and his supreme self-sacrifice, every lash, every nail, every drop of blood will tear at your psyche. Berger, as a Jew, did not bring such beliefs to the film and therefore left it curiously unmoved.
He is moved, however, to deplore Christian literalists who defend the film as being faithful to history and the gospel texts, as well as Orthodox Jews who defend such literalism and the film more generally. Christians who took high school classes to see the film with all its brutality are guilty of what is perhaps, indeed, a form of child abuse. Berger does not say outright that the film is anti-Semitic but observes, No filmmaker who actually cared about avoiding anti-Semitism could have produced anything resembling it. He does not believe that the film was made with the conscious purpose of fomenting hatred against Jews. He is exercised that the film does not abide by guidelines issued by the Catholic bishops conference for presenting the passion, although he knows full well that the bishops did not sponsor and had no control over the film. Berger expresses sympathy for the judgment of another Jewish critic who said, The solid bridge of trust Jews thought they had with the Catholic Church now lies exposed as merely a drawbridge, readily placed in raised position when it is most needed.
Perhaps Berger fails to appreciate that Catholics viewed the film in order to witness and enter into the suffering and death of their Lord, not to check out its conformity to episcopal statements on Jewish-Christian relations. It seems more than likely that, in viewing the film, even those with a long-standing commitment to Jewish-Christian dialogue had Jesus, not Jews, on their mind and, despite the films nonobservance of dialogical protocols, were deeply moved. In his judicious conclusion, Berger writes, If amity is to prevail, traditionalist Christians will have to force themselves to understand that reasonable people have grounds for genuine concern about this movie, that its critics do not necessarily hate them, and that some like them very much indeed. He also urges Jews to be patient with evangelical Protestants, whose political support is so crucial to the safety and well-being of the State of Israel.
It is true that critics of the film do not, as Berger says, necessarily hate Christianity and Christians. It is also true that many of them apparently do. Among the critics in the major newspapers and magazines who wrote from a specifically Jewish perspective, the film was repeatedly and venomously attacked as pornographic, as an exercise in sado-masochism, and, in several instances, as a sacred snuff film. Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic used the film as an occasion to repeat what can only be described as his standard rant against the grotesque absurdity of Christianity and the fools who believe it. The Anti-Defamation League gave us to understand that American Christians are latent anti-Semites who are only waiting for an excuse, which The Passion provides, to go out and kill Jews. The amity for which David Berger and all of us must hope will likely survive the shock to Christians in learning that many Jews have nothing but fear and loathing for their religion and, by extension, for them. At the same time, the relish with which prominent Jews indulged the teaching of contempt for Christianity and Christians bears witness to the Jewish sense of security in this overwhelmingly Christian society. Hysterical allegations to the contrary, such Jews obviously do not believe that Christians want to do them harm. And they are, thank God, right about that.
One long-term consequence of attacks on The Passion will be, almost certainly, a general discounting of the charge of anti-Semitism. The next time the ADL and others raise the alarm about anti-Semitism, the response of most Christians and many Jews is likely to be dismissive. Ah yes, thats what they said about The Passion , isnt it? Animus will have to rise to the undeniably explicit level of swastikas painted on synagogues for most Americans to acknowledge that, yes, on the far margins of society there is still such a thing as anti-Semitism. The debasing of concern about anti-Semitism is a pity. As we see in Europe today, anti-Judaism, frequently in the form of modern anti-Semitism, still poses a threat to which we must be alert. Unfortunately, and largely as a result of Jewish reactions to The Passion , most Americans will be inclined to believe that every alarm about anti-Semitism is a false alarm.
To Be American
It hardly seems like all of eight years ago that Samuel P. Huntington gave us The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order . September 11, 2001, gave that prescient book a sense of immediacy that is not likely to wane for a long time to come. The book introduced most readers to worlds of culture, religion, and politics to which they had not previously given much thought. Huntingtons new book, Who Are We? The Challenges to Americas National Identity (Simon & Schuster, 320 pages, $27), may be just as prescient”it is certainly just as bold”but it will be an easier target for critics.
That is because most of its likely readers think they have thought about the challenges he addresses, and they hold positions on these questions that fit into familiar partisan disputes. It seems the lines are pretty well drawn on, for instance, immigration policy, affirmative action, multiculturalism, and economic and cultural globalization. Many who have made up their minds and do not want to think again will blithely or angrily deride the book as an exercise in anti-immigrant, nativist, and chauvinist reaction. Those inclined to ad hominem attacks will not be able to resist the cheap pleasure of depicting Huntington, whose ancestors came over in the early seventeenth century, as a nostalgic advocate of restoring an American WASP hegemony that is irretrievably, and happily, a thing of the past.
The thoughtful reader should not be taken in by such utterly predictable attacks. Who Are We? explores old questions in fresh ways and is a treasury of arguments and data that cannot help but make us think anew about what it means to be American. Huntington says he writes as a patriot and a scholar and leaves no doubt that a patriot is one who identifies with a national tradition that was present at the American creation, was consolidated after the Civil War, and was unchallenged until the 1960s. All societies, he writes, face recurring threats to their existence, to which they eventually succumb. But the American ending can be postponed by a determined effort to restore national vitality and identity. In the large picture of history, the American nation is a fragile and recent human construction. Of course history is unpredictable, but the greatest surprise might be if the United States in 2025 were still much the same country it was in 2000 rather than a very different country (or countries) with very different conceptions of itself and its identity than it had a quarter century earlier. We have less than twenty-five years? It sounds alarming, and some will dismiss it as alarmist, but the more one ponders the argument the more one is inclined to the conclusion that it is, at the very least, not entirely implausible.
A Culture, Not a People
Our national identity is defined by the American Creed (e.g., the Declaration of Independence) and, much more importantly, by American culture, which is indisputably Anglo-Protestant. The Creed was the product of the distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers of America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Key elements of that culture include: the English language; Christianity; religious commitment; English concepts of the rule of law, the responsibility of rulers, and the rights of individuals; and dissenting Protestant values of individualism, the work ethic, and the belief that humans have the ability and the duty to try to create a heaven on earth, a city on a hill. The important thing, Huntington emphasizes, is Anglo-Protestant culture, not Anglo-Protestant people. It is precisely the achievement of Anglo-Protestant culture that it has largely eliminated ethnicity and race as factors in belonging and achieving. If anyone doubts that for four centuries Anglo-Protestant culture has defined American identity, simply ask what America would be if it had been settled not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics. The answer? It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.
Throughout the argument, Huntington surprises with claims, impressively backed by documentation, that cut against what everybody knows about America. For instance, he says it is at best a half-truth that this is a nation of immigrants. Almost half (49 percent) of the present population of the U.S. is descended from the people who were here in 1790. That is hard to believe in New York or Boston or Chicago, where most of the people who write books about America live. We also forget, says Huntington, that periods of massive immigration are the exception and not the rule in American history. Since the reform of immigration law in 1965, we have had the longest sustained period of massive immigration in our history.
Noteworthy, too, is the books treatment of the origins of the Creed. Other nations were formed, and are still formed, by conflicts between distinct peoples and cultures. Former colonies, for example, justify their claim to independence on the principle that it is wrong for one people to be ruled by another people. With America it was very different. In terms of race, ethnicity, culture, religion, and language, Americans and the British were one people. A different justification for independence was required; hence the Creed. Louis Hartz and a host of other scholars are wrong, Huntington contends, in claiming that Americas origins are in the liberal, Lockean, or Enlightenment thought of Europe. America was America before Locke was born or the Creed devised. Scholars who attempt to identify the American liberal consensus or Creed solely with Lockean ideas and the Enlightenment are giving a secular interpretation to the religious sources of American values.
The Triumph of Pluralism
Immigrants in the past were, for the most part, eager to be assimilated into Americas Anglo-Protestant culture. That was the famous melting pot. The de rigueur metaphor today is that of a cultural mosaic or tossed salad. Back in 1915, Horace Kallen first challenged the idea of a coherent American identity, promoting the idea of cultural pluralism. Kallens day has come around at last, according to Huntington. The bulk of the book is a detailed examination of the ways in which American identity is being rapidly deconstructed: by neoconservatives of an imperial bent who proclaim America to be the universal nation; by transnational business leaders for whom the global market trumps American interests; by intellectual cosmopolitans and other moralists who teach that patriotism is a vice that must yield to allegiance to humanity. On all these issues there is a wide and widening gap between elites and the overwhelming majority of Americans who remain strongly committed to the American identity and its attendant patriotic virtues.
Working, however inadvertently, in tandem with these elites is uncontrolled immigration, mainly from Mexico. Even people who think of themselves as pro-immigration say that the U.S. must be in charge of the immigrant flow. One of the great merits of the book is in demonstrating the myriad ways in which immigration, legal and illegal, is wildly out of control, and has been for decades. Organizational leaders claiming to represent Mexican immigrants make no secret of their goal to achieve a demographic, cultural, and even political reconquista of large regions of the U.S. taken from Mexico in the 1830s and 1840s. The Latino, mainly Cuban, takeover of Miami, turning it into a Latin American city, is not all that different, says Huntington, from what is happening in many other cities. Next to oil, remittances sent back to Mexico by citizens living and working in the U.S. is that countrys largest source of wealth. The U.S. government has largely acquiesced in letting the Mexican government certify immigrants for government benefits in this country. Our schools promote bilingualism and multiculturalism at the expense of American identity. The top fifty colleges in this country do not require even one course in American history. In a survey of the top fifty-five colleges, 40 percent of seniors could not say within a half-century when the Civil War was fought.
More than seven million Americans are ampersands, and the number is growing fast. An ampersand is someone who is at the same time a citizen of the U.S. and of another country, usually with a primary attachment and political allegiance to the other country. Rather provocatively, Huntington suggests that many American Jews belong in this category. The question of dual loyalty to Israel and the U.S. is, to say the least, controversial. It is a question with a very particular and, for the most part, disreputable history. If it is addressed, it should be addressed with the seriousness and nuance it deserves, and not simply mentioned in passing as a circumstance comparable to, say, a U.S. citizen who values more highly his citizenship in the Dominican Republic.
The decisions before us, says Huntington, are stark: Will America be cosmopolitan, imperial, or national? He sums up his case this way:
Cosmopolitanism and imperialism attempt to reduce or to eliminate the social, political, and cultural differences between America and other societies. A national approach would recognize and accept what distinguishes America from those societies. America cannot become the world and still be America. Other people cannot become American and still be themselves. America is different, and that difference is defined in large part by its Anglo-Protestant culture and its religiosity. The alternative to cosmopolitanism and imperialism is nationalism devoted to the preservation and enhancement of those qualities that have defined America since its founding.
Huntington has clearly made his decision and is confident that almost all Americans outside the abovementioned elites agree with him, as will become increasingly evident politically when more people realize what is happening to their country. Who Are We? will, I expect, be widely read and debated, and deservedly so. A University Professor at Harvard and one of the countrys more influential intellectuals over more than thirty years, Samuel P. Huntington cannot be easily ignored. Many will lament that he is making respectable anxieties and arguments that have, in recent history, been at the margins of our public life. Others will be mightily encouraged that, at last, someone of indubitable standing has had the courage to say the obvious. My own response to the book is conflicted. I am pleased to be an American patriot, and have given a large part of my life to explaining the singularity of the American experiment. I believe that Huntingtons depiction of the Hispanization of the country is excessively dour, while I agree on the need to bring immigration under American control. So I find myself in substantial agreement with most of his argument. Among the seriously problematic parts of Huntingtons case, however, is his understanding of Anglo-Protestant culture.
They Know They Are Americans
It is beyond dispute that Americas constituting culture and institutions are Anglo (meaning English, Scottish, and Welsh) and that, with very few exceptions, those present at the creation were Protestant. More than that, they were dissenting Protestants of various stripes, which has everything to do with the strong streak of individualism and skepticism toward authority in the American ethos. There is, however, an unnecessary in-your-face problem with equating American with Anglo-Protestant. If one wants to revitalize American identity, it is not smart and it is not true to tell Germans, Italians, Poles, Jews, Filipinos, and a host of others that, if they really want to be Americans, they must become Anglo-Protestants. And, incidentally, there is no point in reinforcing the Hispanic view that all non-Hispanics are Anglos.
It does not detract from the decisive Anglo-Protestant contribution to acknowledge that American identity is also the cumulative and continuing experience of all who understand themselves to be American. While the idea of our being a nation of immigrants may be exaggerated”Huntington notes that, from 1820 to 2000, the foreign-born averaged only slightly over ten percent of the population”what most Americans understand by America is inseparable from immigration. It may be that half the population is descended from the people who were here in 1790, but the other half is not. An effort to revive American identity by equating America with Anglo-Protestant will meet with understandable resistance from many millions who are neither Anglo nor dissenting Protestant but who know that they are Americans and are confident that they have brought to the American experience more than exotic cuisines and ethnic color.
The question of whether American identity must be explicitly described as Christian is considerably more complicated. Against the eager celebrants of a multicultural and multireligious mosaic, Huntington notes that non-Christians”people of other religions or no professed religion”are tiny minorities. He quotes Irving Kristol, who says, Americans have always thought of themselves as a Christian nation, equally tolerant of all religions so long as they were congruent with traditional Judeo-Christian morality. But equal toleration never meant perfect equality of status in fact. Christianity is not legally established, but it is established informally, nevertheless. This, says Kristol, is a reality Jews must learn to accept.
Huntington writes, Americans are still a Christian people, as they have been throughout their long history. After an extensive discussion of history and survey research, he concludes, as have many others, that the last half of the twentieth century was the beginning of a fourth great awakening, making America more emphatically Christian than it has been since the late nineteenth century. The proportion of Christians in America rivals or exceeds the proportion of Jews in Israel, of Muslims in Egypt, of Hindus in India, and of Orthodox believers in Russia. As for what I described twenty years ago as the naked public square, Huntington believes that it is fast changing as religion becomes more publicly assertive, and both the political culture and the courts become more accommodating toward that assertiveness. Such facts of life are fiercely resisted by the aforementioned elites who, Huntington suggests, are engaged in a futile defense of the naked public square. Without calling for it in so many words, he anticipates an intensified populist rebellion against those who, as Marxists used to say, control the commanding heights of culture.
The Catholic Question
The Christian particularity of American identity is somewhat disguised by the Creed and by what some scholars call the American civil religion, and many have permitted themselves to be taken in by the disguise. Huntington writes, While the American Creed is Protestantism without God, the American civil religion is Christianity without Christ. He means that the Creed is Protestantism and the civil religion is Christianity, but, whether for reasons of politeness or of ideological secularism, many Americans maintain the disguise by not mentioning God or Christ in public. Huntington is well aware of what would appear to be the great exception to his definition of American identity, namely, the Catholic Church. It is communal rather than individualistic, hierarchical rather than democratic, and it values adherence rather than dissent. But all that was yesterday, according to Huntington, and it explains the long history of anti-Catholicism that, quite understandably, claimed that Catholicism was fundamentally un-American. But at long last, and with a great assist from the Second Vatican Council, Catholicism has surrendered and we now see the transformation of a Roman Catholic Church into an American Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church, writes Huntington, has accepted the fact that it has become another denomination. Catholics are proud of their American identity, the Americanization of their church, and its emergence as a central and influential institution of American society. For understandable reasons, however, they do not like people referring to the Protestantization of their religion. But becoming Protestant, suggests Huntington, is the necessary price of assimilation. Progressive Catholics who welcome the displacement of the Catholic Church with what conservatives deride as AmChurch will be encouraged by Huntingtons description of what has happened. More orthodox Catholics, such as Francis Cardinal George and David Schindler, will ruefully agree with it, deploring as they do the degree to which the Church has been taken captive by an essentially Protestant culture. I am convinced that the struggle between Catholic identity and Huntingtons version of the American identity is far from over. Within the Church, younger priests, theologians, and lay leaders are vigorously challenging the idea that the success story of Catholicism in America is that Catholics are now just like everybody else. The current, if belated, efforts of bishops to discipline public figures who defy church teaching is among the evidences that the Church has not entirely resigned itself to being only another denomination or a religious organization with a Roman franchise for serving a niche market among American spiritualities. The tensions between what the Catholic Church claims to be and the sociological dynamics of American individualism and voluntarism are real and ongoing, and they have not been resolved in favor of the spiritual marketplace of Huntingtons dissenting Protestantism. Not yet. Please God, not ever.
The Strong Foundation
Huntingtons patriotism is a jealous God. He is gratified by a survey showing that 91 percent of Americans are extremely or very proud to be American. As he is gratified by another survey that asked, How important is being an American to you, where zero is not at all important and ten is the most important thing in your life? Forty-five percent of respondents chose ten; another 38 percent chose a number between six and nine; 2 percent chose 0. The most important thing in your life? More important than your family? More important than your allegiance to Christ and his Church? If those questions had been asked, the responses would likely be very different. But it is troubling that Huntington is encouraged by the suggestion that a near-majority of Americans say being American is the most important thing in their lives. That is not patriotism. That is idolatry.
Nonetheless, Who Are We? is a book to be read and debated. Assuming the desirability of Americas survival, it sets forth with admirable lucidity why the survival of this or any nation requires a robust national identity, and why identity necessarily involves a widely understood distinction between we and they. Huntington makes a convincing case that our out-of-control immigration practices (they hardly deserve to be called policies) are seriously threatening the national identity. He persuasively argues that the American Creed is dependent upon American culture and that at the heart of that culture is religion. He exposes with appropriate relish the dangerous fatuities of business, political, and intellectual elites who preach a gospel of globalization that presumably makes national identity obsolete. For all this we owe him. But it is a mistake, both rhetorical and substantive, to so elevate the constituting and continuing importance of Anglo-Protestantism. Rhetorically, it invites resistance to his argument from those who are not and do not want to be Anglo-Protestants. Substantively, it obscures the reality of a national identity sustained and significantly reshaped by a diverse people living out their commitment to an American experiment that was, to be sure, begun by Anglo-Protestants, but by Anglo-Protestants who laid a foundation strong enough to bear the weight of unanticipated multitudes whose lived experience, in unending romance and quarrel with the normative beginning, is the American identity.
While Were At It
This is a true story. At least the Seattle Times says so. Two lesbians living together decide they want a baby, so one gets pregnant with the help of sperm from a gay friend and a daughter is born. The two women break up and, after a while, the mother marries the gay friend. Now, with the help of the ACLU and gay activist lawyers who know that a gay man cannot go straight, the other woman goes to court to claim parental rights on the grounds that she was living with the mother when the mother became a mother and is, therefore, also a mother. As of this writing, she and her attorneys expect to prevail. Andrew Sullivan would no doubt point out that such confusion and heartbreak would be avoided if we had same-sex marriage. Then the two lesbians could simply have obtained a divorce before the one remarried, and well-established rules would apply regarding visitation rights and other claims on the child. In short, this situation would be, in Mr. Sullivans favored phrase, virtually normal”it being assumed that virtual normality is about as much normality as our society can manage.
Many, many years ago I wrote In Defense of People (1971), the first book-length critique of environmental extremism. It was provoked, in significant part, by Paul Ehrlich, he of the population bomb, who predicted in 1968: The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will un