The Public Square
The U.S.-NATO attack on Serbia was a good occasion to go back and read Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia . A big book of more than a thousand pages, it was first published in 1941 and is available in Penguin paperback. Dame Rebecca attained the age of ninety-one, dying in 1983. (When I mentioned the book to Bill Buckley, he said he knew her. I’m not surprised. He knows everybody.) Black Lamb is as remarkable for its grand historical sweep as for its fine writing. It had, at least in part, a political purpose at the time it was published. London was going through the blitz, and Dame Rebecca believed the British could take inspiration from the Serbs and their brave resistance to the Nazis”as they had resisted the Ottoman and other empires through the centuries, usually ending up as the black lamb sacrificed to the ambitions of imperial falcons. The book is devastating on the role of the Germans and Austro-Hungarians in the Balkans.
But Black Lamb is not chiefly about politics. Here, for instance, is a reflection on the women of Bosnia. They had to wait on their men while they ate, take beatings at regular intervals, work until they dropped, and walk while the master rode. Dame Rebecca writes: Yet, I wonder. Dear God, is nothing ever what it seems? The women of whom this tale is told, and according to all reliable testimony truly told, do not look in the least oppressed. They are handsome and sinewy like their men; but not such handsome women as the men are handsome men. A sheep-breeder of great experience once told me that in no species and variety that he knew were the male and female of equal value in their maleness and femaleness. Where the males were truly male, the females were not so remarkably female, and where the females were truly females the males were not virile. Constantly his theory is confirmed here. The women look heroes rather than heroines, they are raw-boned and their beauty is blocked out too roughly. But I will eat my hat if these women were not free in the spirit . . . .
I suspect that women such as these are not truly slaves, but have found a fraudulent method of persuading men to give them support and leave them their spiritual freedom. It is certain that men suffer from a certain timidity, a liability to discouragement which makes them reluctant to go on doing anything once it has been proved that women can do it as well. This was most painfully illustrated during the slump in both Europe and America, where wives found to their amazement that if they found jobs when their husbands lost theirs and took on the burden of keeping the family, they were in no luck at all. For their husbands became either their frenzied enemies or relapsed into an infantile state of dependence and never worked again. If women pretend that they are inferior to men and cannot do their work, and abase themselves by picturesque symbolic rites, such as giving men their food first and waiting on them while they eat, men will go on working and developing their powers to the utmost, and will not bother to interfere with what women are saying and thinking with their admittedly inferior powers.
Dame Rebecca hastens to make clear that, for a number of reasons, she does not think this approach to marriage would work in the West. It depends upon too many tacit understandings that need to be entrenched in tradition. In the West, for instance, women who give up their economic and legal rights have no protection when the man leaves. A man who is tied to one village and cannot leave his wife without leaving his land is not so dangerous a husband as a man who can step on a train and find employment in another town . . . . But the greatest objection to this artificial abjection is that it is a conscious fraud on the part of women, and life will never be easy until human beings can be honest with one another. Still, in this world of compromises, honor is due to one so far successful that it produces these grimly happy heroes, these women who stride and laugh, obeying the instructions of their own nature and not masculine prescription.
From the battle of Kosovo in 1389, the Yugoslavs (which means southern Slavs) and the Serbs in particular have understood themselves to be the defenders of the West against the threat of Islam. They were not always heroes, and under Slobodan Milosevic some of them have acted atrociously, but their demonization by U.S.-NATO propaganda in the last several months is as wrong as it is preposterous. Black Lamb helps the reader understand the thousand years of passionately entangled history into which we have been mindlessly dropping bombs. Many people, including some good friends, were loudly calling for a ground invasion with hundreds of thousands of troops, and the redrawing of national and ethnic boundaries, creating protectorates for which the U.S. would be responsible for decades into the future. In war, there is no substitute for victory. Now that we’re in, we have to win. Such were among the slogans. But we were not at war. In one of the great blunders of diplomatic history, the Clinton Administration saw the threat of bombing as a bargaining chip in negotiations. At Rambouillet, Milosevic was told that if he did not sign the terms imposed by the U.S., we would bomb his country. He refused and we bombed, in the naive expectation that he would change his mind in a few days. It was apparently conceived by Madame Albright as a measure comparable to spanking a bad boy in school. The aftermath of the sorry affair and its humiliating consequences for America”patently spurious claims of victory notwithstanding”are now known to all.
But enough of that. The current bunglings in the Balkans provided an occasion for my going back to Dame Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon . But you do not need the excuse of another war or diplomatic calamity to avail yourself of the great pleasure and instruction of one of the great books of the century now coming to an end.
Those Unsecular Evangelicals
Christian Smith (see Is Private Schooling Privatizing? April 1999) has published a book deserving of very serious attention, American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving (University of Chicago Press, 310 pages, $45
cloth, $16 paper). It is about American evangelicalism, of course, but also takes on much larger issues. For a long time, the spinners of theories of secularization tended to take Western Europe as the norm and to view the religious vitality of the United States as yet another aspect of American exceptionalism. The assumption was that there is a necessary connection between modernity and secularization; the more modern a society the more secular it will become. All kinds of complicated explanations were offered to account for the anomaly of vibrantly religious America, presumably the most modern of societies. In more recent years, something like a consensus has formed that earlier theorists got it backwards. In a world that is becoming, simultaneously, more modern and more religious, the oddity to be explained is the exceptionalism of Western Europe, which appears to be on an unremitting course of ever greater secularization.
American Evangelicalism makes an exceedingly valuable contribution to these larger questions by offering a carefully analyzed case study of one ongoing encounter between religion and modernity. Smith, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, comes up with almost unqualified good news for evangelical Protestants in the U.S. Based on extensive survey research by himself and others, he tells us that modern American evangelicalism enjoys a religious vitality”measured sociologically”that surpasses every other major Christian tradition in the country. Evangelicalism is, as his subtitle puts it, embattled and thriving-and in some ways thriving because it is embattled.
Evangelicalism in this context is defined by several negatives. First, evangelicals are definitely Protestant, which means they are not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox (although Orthodoxy is not a significant presence in the minds of most evangelicals). Second, evangelicalism is not mainline or liberal Protestant. Admittedly, the line between mainline and liberal is not always clear. The Protestant mainline”now often called the oldline”is composed of those churches that, until about forty years ago, enjoyed a religio-cultural hegemony in the U.S.: Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist, and Congregational. Groups traditionally called liberal, such as the Unitarian-Universalists, are small but are carriers of ideas that have made significant inroads in the mainline bodies. The third defining negative of the evangelicals is that they are not fundamentalists. The fundamentalists were the cultural losers in the modernist-fundamentalist battles fought in the early part of this century and symbolized by the Scopes monkey trial in Dayton, Tennessee, depicted with such devastating acidity by H. L. Mencken. After their defeat, fundamentalists went into cultural exile, to lick their wounds and exult in the purity of their separation from a world on its way to perdition.
The story of modern evangelicalism began during World War II, when a number of fundamentalist leaders, led by people such as theologian Carl Henry, called for reengagement with the culture on the basis of orthodox doctrine and for the purpose of evangelizing the larger world. The cause of the old fundamentalists who were now the new evangelicals was represented by Christianity Today magazine and, above all, by the ministry, over more than four decades, of evangelist Billy Graham. Measured by the usual criteria, evangelical Protestants constitute as much as 25 percent of the American population (with Catholics and mainline Protestants having roughly comparable shares among the religiously affiliated). The usual criteria for counting someone an evangelical Protestant include: 1) a strong view of the authority of the Bible; 2) a personal experience of regeneration, or being born again; 3) a belief that Jesus is the only way to heaven; and 4) a commitment to winning others for Christ.
By employing somewhat different and stricter criteria, Smith’s study narrows the number of evangelicals to only 7 percent of the population. In doing so, he says he is using the self-definition of respondents in his survey, but of course he decides which self-definitions will qualify for his purposes. In any event, the evangelicalism that is embattled and thriving in this study is less than a third of what is ordinarily meant by evangelical Protestantism in America. This is not necessarily a weakness in the book, but it is important to keep it in mind.
The third chapter, Explaining Religious Vitality in America, is of most particular interest. Here Smith takes on the theories and theorists that have dominated these discussions over the last fifty years and more. There is the sheltered enclave theory that suggests people huddle together to reinforce their beliefs and protect themselves from an unbelieving culture. The status discontent theory proposes that believers mobilize when their previous social standing is threatened. The strictness theory says that, the stricter the rules for belonging, the more coherent a group will be”and, not incidentally, the more attractive to many outsiders. This is countered in part by rational choice or competitive market theory, which argues that America has become increasingly religious with the increase of religious pluralism, thereby accenting choice, which is the culture’s chief value. Smith finally comes down in favor of a variation of the last as representing the new paradigm for explaining America’s religious vitality.
Culture or Aggregated Individualisms?
For all the merits of American Evangelicalism , some rather obvious problems cannot be overlooked. Smith’s approach to culture is highly individualistic, a matter of aggregating individual attitudes and opinions rather than studying the interaction of persons and communities that constitute what is ordinarily meant by a culture. This is key to Smith’s running attack on a distinguished student of evangelicalism, James Davison Hunter of the University of Virginia, who in these pages and in books such as Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation (1987) contends that evangelicalism is making perhaps fatal accommodations with secularization. Hunter is associated with the sheltered enclave theory, but also gives ample attention to the cognitive bargaining that constantly goes on between the enclave and the surrounding world. Although Smith has no theory of the development of doctrine along the lines of a John Henry Newman, he does recognize that changes and accommodations have been made by evangelicals. But he is inclined to take such changes as signs of vitality, on the assumption of an underlying and unchanging orthodoxy of belief. This is not persuasive.
For instance, when he started out in the 1940s, Billy Graham made no bones about preaching hellfire and damnation for those who have not accepted Christ. He hasn’t been featuring that for a very long time now. Not to put too fine a point on it, one may assume that Mr. Graham knows what does and what does not sell. Is this a mark of vitality or, as Hunter suggests, accommodation? It is a notable and implausible conceit of many evangelicals that they are preaching an old time Gospel that goes back substantively unchanged to the New Testament. Smith fails to challenge that conceit and in fact, perhaps inadvertently, tends to reinforce it. In contemporary evangelicalism, the market-driven church growth movement, with its preoccupation with building megachurches, has clearly relocated the center of religious authority from the pulpit to the felt needs of seekers. Individuals may still say the same things their grandparents said about the authority of the Bible and the way of salvation, but the religio-cultural dynamics have dramatically changed. This is a dimension of evangelicalism to which Hunter pays assiduous attention but is largely missed by Smith’s methodological individualism that is content to report what people say they believe.
In addition, the book’s repeated assertion that evangelicalism as defined by the author is the most vibrant of America’s religious communities is skewed by the criteria employed. For example, historic Christian doctrine is framed in distinctively evangelical terms, beginning with the authority of the Bible and including items such as having committed one’s life to Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. If orthodoxy is defined by evangelical distinctives, it is not surprising that evangelicals come out being more orthodox. We would undoubtedly have a very different result were orthodoxy defined by, for example, Catholic distinctives such as, to mention a few, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the pope as successor of Peter, the authority of tradition, and belief in the intercession of the saints. In fact, by some of Smith’s own criteria of vitality”such as the retention of members”Catholics come out well ahead of the evangelicals in his study. Pushing the point a little further, one could imagine that mainline/liberal criteria of vitality”for instance, sensitivity to issues of race, class, and gender”could produce the conclusion that liberal Protestantism is the most vibrant of communities.
No Free Evenings
Smith takes it as a mark of vitality that, in addition to Sunday worship, evangelicals spend more time than other Christians at church and in church-related activities. I’m not so sure. One is reminded of Oscar Wilde’s complaint about socialism and the frenetic activism of its proponents. The problem with socialism, he said, is that it leaves one with no free evenings. There are many ways of being Christian in the world; being much preoccupied with activities identified as Christian is only one of them. There is no doubt about the enormous institutional vitality of evangelicalism, driven by intense religious entrepreneurship in evangelism, education, publishing, and uplift programs without end. One can simply look at the massive evangelical advertising in, for instance, Christianity Today . It seems that almost everybody is hawking some new wrinkle on that old time Gospel. But I believe James Hunter is right in sensing something frenetic, even desperate, in the multiplication of these enterprises and the tone in which they are pitched. The more thoughtful and theologically attuned voices in evangelicalism suggest with increasing urgency that there is a connection between intensified marketing and a sense that evangelicalism has lost its direction.
American Evangelicalism supplies many and sometimes important surprises. For instance, Smith’s 7 percent evangelicals are, in absolute numbers, mainly in the Northeast and, especially, in the Upper Midwest”not in the South and Southwest, as the conventional view would suggest. For another instance, Smith’s evangelicals are, by some measures of evangelical Protestant orthodoxy, frequently more orthodox than their fundamentalist cousins. The reason, Smith plausibly proposes, is that evangelicals are in regular engagement with those who do not share their beliefs, which requires them to think more carefully about what it is that they do believe. The more insular fundamentalists, on the other hand, live in their own and less troubled world, which is conducive to shared belief being taken for granted and becoming flaccid.
Throughout his argument, Smith treats evangelicalism as an embattled and thriving subculture. This is crucial. Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) famously distinguished religious groups along the lines of three models”church, sect, and mysticism. Smith’s evangelicalism is of the sect model, although in the background assumptions about individual experience and attitude there is an element of mysticism, understood as the gnosticism described in Harold Bloom’s The American Religion (1992). Years earlier, in 1969 to be precise, sociologist Peter Berger, a mentor and colleague of James Davison Hunter, wrote about secularization as the loss of the sacred canopy, by which he meant an overarching religious belief system that provides personal and communal meaning. Smith agrees that our culture may have lost the sacred canopy, but offers the piquant suggestion that people now put up their own sacred umbrellas, which work just fine. Perhaps so, but the umbrella image does suggest that the storm of secularization is very real, and finally does not seem that different from Hunter’s sheltered enclave.
Make no mistake about it, however: American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving is a book very much worth reading. Christian Smith takes on the big questions, and I believe his intuition is right that there is no necessary connection between modernity and secularization, and that America should be seen more as the norm than as the exception in thinking about the religious future of the world. If his argument is not as convincing as his intuition is sound, I believe the reason is to be found in an evangelical Protestant bias that too often comes close to special pleading. That being said, American Evangelicalism both provokes and informs, and is a most welcome contribution to understanding important aspects of our religious situation.
The Autonomy of the University of St. Dympna
The scholarship of Father James Burtchaell, author of The Dying of the Light (see review by John Peter Kenney, FT, October 1998), has made an inestimable contribution to the cause of keeping Christian schools Christian. Writing on the apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae , which will be a major subject for the meeting of Catholic bishops this fall, Burtchaell notes in Crisis magazine the curious insistence of some college and university administrators that any accountability to the Church will compromise their institutions’ independence and integrity. But let Fr. Burtchaell tell it. (St. Dympna is a seventh-century Belgian martyr and patroness of the mentally disordered.)
The presidents have been so accustomed to trumping with the dogma of institutional autonomy that they have evidently not realized the absurdity of their repeated claim that no outside authority could hold their institutions answerable. Take, as typical, the well respected University of St. Dympna. The first outside authority to which she regularly defers is the Federal Government, incarnate in the Departments of State, Justice, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Veterans Affairs; also the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Library of Congress, the U.S. Patent Office, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowments for the Humanities and for the Arts, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Washington forbids her to ask the race of applicants, but requires her to report the racial breakdown of her personnel and students; makes it worth her while to include in every employment notice the assurance that she is an equal opportunity employer; forbids her to save the trees on her campus by spraying DDT; determines and inspects the housing for her laboratory animals (which therefore costs roughly twice as much per square foot as faculty office space); requires protection of all human subjects of any funded research, subject to elaborate guidelines and reporting; requires a minimum number of credit hours to be taken by students receiving tuition grants or guaranteed loans; and regulates the emissions from the power plant.
A typical professor of biology, for instance, might answer to the American Heart Association which funds his research, the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care which is licensed under the Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation to ensure that his rats are well cared for; the Environmental Protection Agency which superintends his disposal of their bodies; the Department of Energy which governs his usage and storage of radio isotopes; the Department of Transportation which must issue a clearance for him to ship pathogens; the Office of Safety and Health Administration which monitors the safety of his technicians; the Immigration and Naturalization Service which must always be apprised of the status of foreign nationals collaborating in his research; the Department of Labor which requires proof that no qualified citizen is available before it will agree to a visa to a foreign national; and the National Institutes of Health which provide norms to the internal Human Subjects Committee that must give appropriate projects ethical approval.
The Comptroller of the Currency regulates the faculty credit union. The Library of Congress certifies copyrights to faculty members and sets standards for the book cataloguing. The U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy decide what facilities are required by their ROTC programs on campus. And obviously there is the jurisdiction of the courts.
This is, of course, only a small and suggestive sample of the federal authorities to which St. Dympna defers. The North Central Association, her regional accrediting agency, develops multiple standards or expectations regarding advanced placement, exceptions for athletes, adequacy of research funding, expenditures on library materials, allowable retirement ages, obligatory amenities for the disabled, proportion of faculty on leave, management of financial aid to veterans, economic stability and management of long-term debt, mandatory insurance coverage, participatory decision-making, the academic calendar, integration of professional with academic programs, the rights of various employee groups to require collective bargaining, adequacy of funding for new degree offerings, languages to be used in instruction, etc.
In addition, St. Dympna must face the regularly recurring scrutiny of specialized accrediting agencies: the National Association of Schools of Music, the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada, the American Psychological Association, the American Chemical Society, the American Bar Association, the Association of American Law Schools, the Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation of the American Medical Association, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Engineering Technology, the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, and the Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. The Financial Accounting Standards Board has set the parameters and format for her financial statements. The National Collegiate Athletic Association feigns to regulate the amount of practice time before the beginning of the academic year, all financial adhesions of varsity athletes, the authenticity of their academic progress, and variances in their class attendance due to events away from campus. ETS and ACT largely shape the comparative assessment of prospective freshmen and of their high schools, and the linguistic competence of applicants for whom English is not their first language.
The county health department has regulations governing burials on campus, and inspects the dining facilities. The fire inspector regularly prowls the physical plant and growls at code violations. The building inspectors have to sign off on all construction projects, and the zoning people will claim a say if the campus begins to creep in any direction. The county prosecutor decides which student misbehavior will be dealt with officially, which unofficially, and which not at all.
These are some of the external authorities or agencies to which St. Dympna is answerable for her various standards. She is also a party to policy-setting by the American Council on Education, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (which sometimes forgets that it too is an outsider to its member campuses), the State Conference on Higher Education, the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the Council of Graduate Schools, and generally expects to abide by the norms they adopt. To quote the Letter to the Hebrews, What more shall I say? The point is clear. No university is an asteroid. It is an organic member of a complex, very endocrine community.
Fr. Neuhaus Should Withdraw his Book is the heading of a five-page attack on Appointment in Rome: The Church in America Awakening by the editors of the (Houston) Catholic Worker . My book, claim Mark and Louise Zwick, can only be considered a counter document to that of Pope John Paul II, referring to his apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in America . The Pope’s exhortation is the official message of the Synod for America held at the end of 1997 and was delivered in Mexico City this past January. My book, say the editors, presents a view shockingly different from that of the Holy Father. There is neither reason nor space to respond to the numerous criticisms offered by the editors. The easy thing to do is to observe that the Pope has read Appointment in Rome and praised it highly, for which I am very grateful. I could just leave it at that, but the Catholic Worker and the movement it represents, founded by the great Dorothy Day and her mentor Peter Maurin, continue to be an inspiration for many, and the editors’ charges are, at least for that reason, deserving of some response.
The Zwicks begin their extended essay with embarrassingly flattering remarks about this author, but that is an obvious set-up to explain their great disappointment with me. With a reading of the subtext that is worthy of the more fevered disciples of Leo Strauss, they explain that I am really a Calvinist after all because I suggest that Max Weber was on to something with his suggested connection between the Protestant ethic and economic enterprise. As a Catholic, my problem is that I attached [myself] to the thought of John Courtney Murray, S.J., who, with the best of intentions, exacerbated the dualism between faith and everyday life, faith and economics, faith and education, faith and culture which has plagued Christianity since the reformation. Apart from how one could do such bad things with the best of intentions, this will come as astonishing news to students of Murray who celebrate his pioneering work, also at Vatican Council II, in bringing Catholic social doctrine into firm alliance with democratic freedom and justice. Perhaps scholars have overlooked the insidious Calvinist influences in Murray’s background as well.
The Zwicks’ essay is an extended polemic against neoconservatism, a.k.a. neoliberalism, a.k.a. capitalism. So, as might be expected, Michael Novak, George Weigel, and Father Robert Sirico come in for very unfavorable mention. The neoliberalism supported by this writer and his friends, say the editors, mows down people who are in other countries through slave wages, international trade agreements and torture taught at the School of the Americas to ensure that freedom’ prevails. It is very violent. But the Zwicks go beyond the usual suspects. They write, Another well-respected priest, Fr. Avery Dulles, S.J., defends slave wages as being better than no wages. Fr. Dulles is not simply a well-respected priest, he is undoubtedly the most widely respected Catholic theologian in the United States (to whom, not incidently, Appointment in Rome is dedicated). And, if one really wanted to press the point, might one not be able to make the case that low wages, even very low wages, are better than no wages at all? But, in fact, what the Catholic Worker says is false.
Fr. Dulles tells me that he remembers meeting the Zwicks at a meeting in Washington and, in private conversation, asked them what they thought of the argument of an acquaintance of his who does business in Latin America and claims that, although the wages he pays are low by North American standards, they are much higher than his workers could otherwise obtain. He says he does not recall how the Zwicks responded to his question, if they did. Since then, however, they have more than once published the claim that Fr. Dulles defends slave wages in Latin America. Such libel does nothing to enhance the legacy of Dorothy Day which the Catholic Worker supposedly champions.
In Appointment in Rome , the Zwicks write, Fr. Neuhaus forgot to point out, as the Pope did, that the constant dedication to the poor and disadvantaged emerges in the Church’s social teaching, which ceaselessly invites the Christian community to a commitment to overcome every form of exploitation and oppression.’ It is hardly surprising that I should forget to point that out, if, as alleged, I am in favor of slave wages and torture. But of course there is no disagreement with the Pope on the commitment to the poor. The disagreement is between the Catholic Worker s position that the poor are to be liberated through class struggle and resentment, on the one hand, and the Pope’s position that the poor are to be helped to become non poor by expanding the circle of productivity and exchange, on the other.
Fr. Neuhaus, we are told, forgot to include this vision of love of the poor and the suffering in Appointment in Rome , as he encouraged joining forces with fundamentalists in what they sometimes call a theology of prosperity. There is nothing in the book about a theology of prosperity, but there is a great deal about the initiative Evangelicals and Catholics Together and what it could mean also for Latin America. And I do note the many scholars who have suggested that there is a connection between evangelical missions in Latin America and the encouragement of economic enterprise. The Catholic Worker seems to be of the view that the authentically Catholic position is one of being in love with being in love with the poor and the suffering. The course of love, I would suggest in agreement with Catholic doctrine, is to do all we can to remedy poverty and suffering.
The editors declare themselves deeply disturbed about my book’s mocking the Latin American bishops. I do have some candid, and I thought humorous, observations about bishops at the Synod, from both the North and the South, who apparently thought they were doing their duty by the poor by reiterating weary slogans from now moribund liberation theologies. From my acquaintance with Dorothy Day, I think she would have appreciated the humor, which is obviously lost on those who purportedly keep her flame. In any event, I am pleased to report that a number of Latin American bishops who have read the book in English and praised it highly are eagerly awaiting the Spanish edition and intend to give it the widest possible circulation.
So what is one to make of the nastiness perpetrated by the Catholic Worker ? Because of the vestigial connection with the much admired Dorothy Day, a general inclination is to cut a lot of slack for those who claim to be her heirs. As a friend says, Of course what they say about economics and politics is mostly nonsense, but they are idealists and they keep the rest of us honest. It is a benign view, but I cannot agree. Nobody is kept honest by their dishonesty, by their attempt to ideologically hijack Catholic social teaching, or by their misrepresenting of those with whom they disagree. That is not idealism. It is moral posturing that serves no purpose other than the inflation of self-esteem as people of ever so superior sensitivity to the sufferings of the poor. It is one of the things we must move beyond if we are to move toward what the Synod and John Paul II call us to”An Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ, the Way to Conversion, Communion, and Solidarity in America.
Crossing the Civility Line
I run no risk of surprising the reader when I say that I am not opposed to a little spirited polemic from time to time. But polemic, too, should be within the bounds of civility. A civil polemic leaves something to be said in response by the object of the polemic; it does not stop the conversation. The line of civility is not easily defined in the abstract, but you usually know when it has been crossed.
For instance, in this article by the celebrated gay playwright Tony Kushner published in the Nation and reprinted in Harper’s . Kushner writes: Pope John Paul II endorses murder . . . . The Pope and his cardinals and bishops and priests maintain their cynical, political silence. Rigorously denouncing the abuse and murder of homosexuals would be a big sin against spin, denouncing the murder of homosexuals in such a way that it received even one-thousandth of the coverage his and his Church’s attacks on homosexuals routinely receive would be an act of decency the Pope can’t afford, for the Pope knows: Behind this one murdered kid stand legions of kids whose lives are scarred by the bigotry this Pope defends as Sanctioned by God. And again: The Pope, in his new encyclical, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason’), laments the death of civil discourse and cites ancient philosophers who propose friendship as one of the most appropriate contexts for sound philosophical inquiry.’ Tell you what, Your Holiness, take the gun away from my head, and we can discuss the merits of homosexual sex, homosexual marriage, abortion, anything you like. A lot of people worry these days about the death of civil discourse and would say that I ought not to call the Pope a homicidal liar nor (to be ecumenical about this) the orthodox rabbinate homicidal liars nor Trent Lott a disgusting, opportunistic hate-monger. But I worry a lot less about the death of civil discourse than I worry about being killed if, visiting the wrong town with my boyfriend, we forget ourselves so much as to betray, at the wrong moment in front of the wrong people, that we love each other.
Succumbing once again to my propensity for fairness, I speculate that perhaps the editors of Harper’s reprinted Kushner’s vituperation precisely in order to underscore the point about civility made at the beginning. There is no evidence of that, however, and I would be reluctant to attribute to Harper’s , in a fit of excessive charity, motives that are not their own. What can be said with near irrefutable certainty is that a diatribe of the same tone as Kushner’s but by an opponent of the homosexual agenda would certainly not be printed in the Nation or in Harper’s without its being very clearly indicated that it illustrates the violent extremism of those with whom they disagree.
Time for a Step Further
The criticism of CCHD is fine so far as it goes, says an old hand at inner-city community organizing here in New York, but it doesn’t go far enough. CCHD is, of course, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. In response to critics, the word Catholic was recently added to the name in order to indicate that it is, well, Catholic. The aforementioned old hand doesn’t think it means very much. He criticizes the critics of CCHD for concentrating on those cases where funding is given to organizations that directly violate the Church’s teaching, notably on abortion. The problem with that, says our old hand, is that it segregates the life questions from the fullness of the Church’s social teaching, giving the impression that abortion and a few other things are no more than Catholic hang-ups to which those receiving Catholic money need to be sensitive.
In an earlier life long ago, before he was converted to the gospel of life, our old hand was an executive with Planned Parenthood. That organization, he notes, would never dream of giving support to a group that did not back its entire agenda, and it is assumed that when a major lobbying effort is needed PP will call in its chits. Not so with Catholics. Through CCHD many millions of dollars are given each year to organizations that, while avoiding the hang-up questions, are indifferent and frequently hostile to the Church’s mission. In inner-city community organizing, Catholics provide, in addition to the funding, the great majority of the people and the bulk of parish-based institutional support.
Our old hand thinks part of the problem is with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), an effort launched more than thirty years ago by the late Saul Alinsky of Chicago, who made no secret of his strategy of hijacking the resources of the Catholic Church for his self-declared revolution. IAF is, under various names, still very much a force in community organizing around the country. But why are Catholic dioceses and CCHD so hesitant to insist that assisted programs be commensurate with Catholic support and teaching? Part of the answer is a good ecumenical impulse gone awry. In many urban areas, liberal Protestant churches are a small minority in community coalitions but exercise a large influence, often because Catholics don’t want to offend them by pressing issues such as support for crisis pregnancy centers or opposition to partial-birth abortion. Another part of the answer is that it is naively assumed that more inclusive groups will more impartially serve the common good, when, in fact, any viable organization has its particular goals”a.k.a. interests”for good or ill.
The Catholic interest, one might suggest, is to serve the common good, as that is richly and amply defined in the Church’s social doctrine. But to insist on that requires a measure of confidence in that doctrine, and such confidence is in short supply. The World Council of Churches had the slogan The world sets the agenda for the Church. There is an analogue in the Catholic understanding that grace perfects nature and, by extension, the Church’s mission is to support the good things already happening under other auspices. There is important truth in these claims, of course. But they are truths too easily subverted and turned to alien purposes when the Church’s people and resources are placed at the disposal of those who define the good in ways that are frequently unsympathetic to or at odds with the Church’s teaching. So what our old hand is suggesting is that the criticism of some of the more egregious abuses in CCHD funding is having its effect, and that’s good. But now it’s time to go further and make the case that the Catholic in the Catholic Campaign for Human Development should indicate more than the source of the monies and other resources employed. It should be an honest indicator of all the ends to which they are employed.
Gambling with Gaming
We’re willing to wager that you have mixed feelings about gambling. It’s hard to imagine what’s so objectionable about going to the racetrack on a Saturday afternoon to see the thoroughbreds on the misty green and enjoy a bowl of bread pudding with bourbon sauce, the classic Kentucky racetrack dessert. On the other hand, it’s not a particularly constructive pastime, and it results in places like Las Vegas. The Hon. Frank R. Wolf of the House of Representatives (Virginia) recently offered Congress a few more compelling reasons to challenge the gambling industry. For starters, it has spread like wildfire through our country in the last twenty years, legal now in forty-eight states, but it appears most often on Native American reservations”and gambling in those communities is as severe a plague as alcohol once was, and still is.
The rest of the population is hardly immune to the ill effects of gambling, though. Senior citizens in particular tend to be lured by bingo, making it one of the most popular activities in their age group and consequently a common cause of their financial ruin. At the other end of the scale, children are being targeted by casinos. Family-friendly enterprises offer arcade games to kids that get them hooked on the gambling high early in life, to such an extent that in places such as Louisiana, according to those who have studied the matter, one in seven 18-to-21-year-olds already has chronic gambling problems. Likewise it is alive and well in nearly every New Jersey high school, frequently backed by organized crime.
Gambling also hurts communities as a whole. Along with casinos come crime, gambling addictions, bankruptcy, and a higher rate of suicide. If that weren’t enough, the powerful gambling lobbies have managed to corrupt the political process, since their financial influence far outweighs that of grassroots action by families and neighborhoods to keep gambling out.
In the 1998 elections, especially in the South, a number of key congressional and gubernatorial races were, it is generally agreed, decided by gambling issues such as state lotteries and legalizing casinos. The anti-gambling candidates, swamped by money from gaming interests (they much prefer gaming to gambling), went down to defeat. The Democratic Party is fast adding to its other lovely attributes that of being gigolo to Lady Luck. There is a further corruption of government involved, especially with state-sponsored lotteries and other gambling. It’s a cheap and dishonest way of raising money. States typically claim that gambling revenues go to education and other motherhood programs, but it is simply a device for exploiting human weaknesses to generate funds that the government can slush where it will. It is taxation by another name, but taxation of the vulnerable, and taxation without accountability, which is another form of taxation without representation”which was once in American history a matter of lively concern. One raises this protest in fear and trembling, knowing that critics may take it as further evidence that this publication is, according to Andrew Sullivan who calls it the spiritual nerve center of the new conservatism, promoting neo-Puritanism. In view of the innumerable people and the public integrity that are at risk, we’ll take that risk. And thank Congressman Wolf once again for his leadership.
The Third Way, For the Umpteenth Time
Al Gore wants everyone to win, and he has some ideas about how to make that happen. David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values summarizes his plan. In a recent speech to the Democratic Leadership Council, Blankenhorn writes, Vice President Al Gore firmly embraced what growing numbers of political strategists, both in the U.S. and abroad, call third way’ thinking. As the Vice President put it, the basic idea is to go beyond the false divisions and dichotomies of the past.’ For third way thinkers, the answer to most questions is not one conventional position or the other but a new blending of positions. What we typically face today are not zero-sum conflicts, requiring us to make decisions that necessarily produce winners and losers, but rather tensions that can be solved creatively in ways that permit everyone to win.
Gore is thinking specifically of how families in which both parents work can win. Blankenhorn continues: The Vice President is putting two propositions on the table. The first is that corporate-sponsored child care programs”the Administration currently recommends new tax breaks for corporations that provide day care for children of employees”are both good for business and good for children and families. The second is that two-paycheck and time-off’ families deserve public support because they really’ exist, whereas the family type consisting of employed father and at-home mother no longer exists.’
These two propositions are closely connected, since accepting the latter is a precondition for defending the former. After all, some people might worry about the fairness of using public policy to subsidize the child care choices of some families, while effectively punishing the choices of others. But you can’t unfairly discriminate against a family form that no longer exists.’ The only two-parent families that we have left, according to the Vice President, are those two-earner couples in which one parent (thanks to Family and Medical Leave) can take time off for a few weeks or months when the baby is born, then start juggling day care,’ preferably with the assistance of an employer-sponsored child care program.
This is weak stuff. In the United States today, about half of all preschool children are cared for during the day by their mothers. Another 25 percent or so are cared for by fathers or other family members. Day care centers account for about 15 percent of all preschoolers; the rest are cared for by babysitters and other non-relatives. Among all married couples in the U.S. with at least one preschooler, only about one of every three mothers works full time outside of the home. Among all families with young children, those whom the Vice President describes as no longer existing, and therefore irrelevant for public policy, are in fact the largest single demographic group.
It’s not just a matter of demographic ignorance, though. There’s something else at work here. Blankenhorn writes: Instead of win-win,’ think of most of these programs as intended to support one side in a battle. The battle being waged is for the time and attention of parents. One side consists of employers. The opposing side consists of children. More for one side means less for the other. Less absenteeism at work necessitates more absenteeism at home. In this generation, guess which side is winning? And guess who is cheering the winning side on, insisting that they deserve even more public money, all the while pretending, as if saying it made it so, that the conflict does not exist? None other than the leader-in-waiting of the very political party which, last time I checked, was supposed to be at least a little suspicious of the idea that whatever is good for big business must also be good for ordinary people. The suspicion is once again confirmed: Those who talk about a third way are usually saying that we should do things their way.
A Righteous Man in His Time
Hackles were raised when the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See delivered, on behalf of his government, the judgment that the cause of Pope Pius XII should not proceed toward beatification and canonization until questions had been satisfied regarding his alleged failure to do all he should have done on behalf of Jews during the Holocaust. It struck some as an egregious instance of presumption (there is a fine Yiddish word for that) to suggest that Jews in general, or Israel in particular, should have veto power over whom the Church acknowledges as a saint. A priest in Rome who is defending the beatification of Pius did not help matters with an outburst against Jewish influence and a proposal that maybe it is time for the Church to examine Jewish attacks against Christianity through the centuries. That tu quoque reaction is logically fallacious and reflects a defensiveness hardly in keeping with John Paul II’s call for a healing of memories at the threshold of the third Christian millennium.
A thoughtful reflection on this controversy is offered by Rabbi Albert Friedlander of the Reform synagogue of Westminster in London. Writing in the Tablet , he indicates his uneasiness about playing the devil’s advocate, the biblical accuser usually played, as in the Book of Job, by Satan. But he does think we must together ask the question, Who is a saint in the time of evil? Rabbi Friedlander writes: The rabbis take the Genesis text, And Noah was a righteous man in his time,’ and examine it closely. Does in his time’ suggest that the standards of righteousness were much lower: that anyone who was not totally evil could be called righteous? Or does it mean that in such an evil time anyone fighting evil had to be particularly good? The end decision was in Noah’s favor, even though his actions after leaving the ark cause much concern. In the time of the Nazis, we find a similar situation: does silence or indirect action when one does not put one’s life at risk constitute the moral resistance required? Many individuals had to make that choice. As I have already said, there were moral failures among the victims as well. But I am concerned with the apathetic onlookers. Does not sainthood,’ by contrast, indicate a superhuman effort? Standing on the outside, I would not and should not act as a judge. But I must ask the Church to reassess its conscience, particularly if it wants to be a teacher and witness to everyone.
His last point in particular must, I think, be taken very seriously. What the Catholic Church does is not just an internal matter of interest to Catholics and other Christians. The Church’s actions speak to everyone, and, for reasons both historical and theological, we must be especially alert to how they speak to Jews. I hold no brief one way or the other with respect to the beatification of Pius XII. However, the subject of the Church and the Holocaust and, more inclusively, Christianity and the Holocaust, has been a subject of intense interest to me over the years. I have had occasion to study and write about it more than I want to remember. My own judgment is that Pius was a great, holy, tormented, and sometimes courageous man whose decisions may sometimes have erred on the side of caution, but whose intentions were always and luminously honorable. Whether he should be formally celebrated as a saint is for others to determine. But there is no reason for Catholics to be apologetic about him. Quite the contrary. Nor should we hesitate to make clear that the slandering of his memory since Rolf Hochhuth’s 1963 play The Deputy is despicable.
Certainly Rabbi Friedlander is not guilty of that. He is asking a serious question to which we must attend if we want the Church to be a teacher and witness to everyone: Who is a saint in the time of evil? His implied answer is not persuasive, however. Thank God, there were those who publicly resisted the Nazi regime and paid with the price of their lives. One thinks, for instance, of the Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who joined the plot to overthrow the regime and was executed on the direct orders of Hitler on April 9, 1945. But was this course morally mandatory for everyone? Surely there were saints in that time of evil who did not engage in active resistance and who did not die as martyrs. The Church has in fact beatified and canonized such, and there were no doubt many more, as there are in every time, who will never receive formal recognition. Sainthood has to do with holiness”the actualizing of God’s grace in our lives”and there are many paths of holiness other than public moral witness, never mind political action. There were, in that time of evil, mothers, fathers, doctors, contemplatives, scholars, priests, and others who were saints in their faithful pursuit of the course to which they believed God called them.
Friedlander writes, The dark history of the time of the Holocaust is the backcloth to any assessment of individuals during that testing period. The backcloth, yes, but let it be said, at the risk of being misunderstood, that the Holocaust was not the only thing that was happening from 1942 to 1945. The sun also rose on days when there were prayers to be said, wounded to be cared for, courses to be taught, music to be played, and children to be fed. No doubt many who attended to these and other duties were saints. Holiness is an everyday thing. The Holocaust is in our culture the only uncontested icon of absolute evil. It ought not to be, but it is. Analogies should be indulged with caution, yet there are other historical periods of testing which likewise should not be made the litmus test of holiness.
Thoreau declared that a prison is the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor. He had all the makings of a self-righteous prig and, in fact, did not abide in prison very long. During the halcyon days of the civil rights movement, some of us were in and out of jail for acts of civil disobedience and were lionized for it, at least within the movement. It was frequently said then that only time in jail could certify the authenticity of one’s concern for racial justice. That, too, was self-righteous priggery. Today there are those who say, with considerable justice, The dark history of the time of the abortion slaughter is the backcloth to any assessment of individuals during this testing period. They believe, with reasonable hope, that a day will come in which we will look back upon this period in the same horror with which we now look upon slavery, segregation, and, yes, the Holocaust. In the last quarter century, in this country alone, more than thirty million babies have been killed. Countless people have selflessly devoted almost the entirety of their lives to protesting this great evil; many have been and some still are in prison. Yet would we say that during this quarter century there have been no saints except for those engaged in anti-abortion activism? I think not.
Were the Holocaust the only test of the holiness of Pius XII, it is possible that he may have failed, although I would not presume to say so. But the Holocaust, unspeakable horror though it was, is not the only test. No evil, not even an evil so great as the Holocaust, can be permitted an imperious claim that eclipses all the goodness, truth, and beauty that shines through the darkest hour in lives of holiness. Whether or not Pius XII was a saint, God knows; and in due course He may permit the Church to know as well. We can await the determination of that in patience; and in the hope that, if it is decided that he was, that decision will be communicated in a way that is persuasive to those who want the Church to be a teacher and witness to everyone. This assumes that Rabbi Friedlander and those who raise similar concerns really want the Church to be that.
While We’re At It
Regrettably, I had a conflict and couldn’t make it, but I was impressed by the elegant invitation: The Foundation for Academic Standards & Tradition requests the pleasure of your company at the First Annual Dinner in honor of Herbert I. London. I agree that Herb London is a worthy man, but every year?
First Robert Louis Wilken wrote an article in Communio called In Dominico eloquio about the interpretation of Old Testament passages in biblical studies. Then Richard B. Hays of Duke responded with approval to his article but wondered if perhaps Wilken discounted the benefits to be gained by the historical-critical method. Now Wilken replies to Hays, appreciative of the gains made by historical criticism but offering an insightful corrective to its excesses. The history that was the key to the Scripture, Wilken writes, was the history of Christ. If Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, and the end of the ages’ had arrived, it was the task of biblical interpreters to discover what the ancient scriptural words and promises meant in light of this new fact. This, he says, is no longer the case with a great many theologians. [F]ew biblical scholars are willing to make the move from the historical setting of the biblical text to the Church’s reception and use of the Bible. And when the attempt is made it often seems arbitrary and forced because the historical interpretation remains authoritative. The spiritual reading appears to be an unwelcome appendage. Though I agree with Hays that a theological interpretation of the Bible cannot ignore the historical setting, as long as the historical reading of the Scriptures is considered normative”as it is by most biblical scholars today”little advance will be made. How differently would one go about the task of interpretation if historical study of the Scriptures was preparatory and the spiritual meaning was the goal of interpretation. He concludes with a noteworthy historical by-the-way: In my reading of the history of Christianity, the Reformation is an event in medieval history, hence Luther and Calvin stand in the medieval tradition of biblical interpretation . . . . They were not historical critics and the excesses of modern historical criticism do not have their origins in their writings. For them, as for the Great Tradition before them, the spiritual meaning was the goal.
Mark Silk, the editor of a new quarterly called Religion in the News , writes, The creation of dozens of new and expanded religion sections over the past few years has generally included moving the religion beat out of news departments and into feature sections. Religion, newspapers seem to be saying, has to do with human interest, not public business. This is ironic, because it was the irruption of religion into politics that attracted editors’ attention to religion in the first place. But Silk suspects that something big is afoot. Since the beginning of the republic, religion in American public life has ebbed and flowed through a succession of disestablishments’ and re-establishments.’ The most recent disestablishment happened in the sixties. Now, Silk says, the next establishment may be at hand. To subscribe to Religion in the News , call (860) 297-2353.
Seventy-five years is a long time for any magazine. FT will, Deo volente , reach that venerable age in the year 2065. Commonweal is already there and its year-long celebration will include an anthology of its best this fall. Along the way, the editors are running little snippets From the Archives, such as this on Religion and Sex by G. K. Chesterton, which appeared in November 1924: Stated in human terms the plan is substantially this. That love which makes youth beautiful, and is the natural spring of so much song and romance, has for its final aim and issue a creative act, the founding of a family. While it is a creative act like that of an artist it is also a collective act like that of a small community. It is, perhaps, the one artistic work in which collaboration is a success and indeed a necessity. It takes two to make a quarrel. It also takes two to make a lovers’ agreement that their love shall be put before their quarrels. But by definition the agreement of the two is not merely the concern of the two, but, in a very terrible sense, of others. The founding of a family, like all creative acts, is an awful responsibility. In other words, the founding of a family means the feeding of a family, the training, teaching, and watching of a family. It is a work for a lifetime, and most married lives are too short for it. This continuity is secured not by marriage laws,’ which our modern plutocracies can pull about as they please, but by a voluntary vow or invocation of God made by both parties, that they will help each other in this work until death. For those who believe in God and also believe in the meaning of words, it is final and irrevocable. More final and irrevocable than the publication of magazines, one might add, but to Commonweal ,