The Public Square
Early returns tend to vindicate, at least in part, the worries of cardinals and others when John Paul II announced in the 1994 document Tertio Millennio Adveniente (On the Coming of the Third Millennium) that the Catholic Church should publicly confess the sins of her children over the centuries.
The fears were several: that confession of errors past would undermine confidence in the authority of the Church; that the distinction would be blurred between the sinfulness of the Church's members and the holiness of the Church as the mystical Body of Christ; that such a confession would reinforce the cultural presumption of the moral superiority of the present; and that the enemies of the Church would construe such a confession as an “apology” confirming their critique of Catholicism. These concerns and responses to them are masterfully treated in Father Avery Dulles' article, “Should the Church Repent?” (December 1998).
One may reasonably assume that the Pope was well aware of the risks involved, and judged them well worth taking. Such a public confession, he believes, is a sign not of the Church's weakness but of her self-confidence in an historical moment in which she is the world's singular institution of moral credibility. Above all, it is a sign of confidence in the forgiving and renewing grace of God in Christ. Four hundred years after the divisions of the sixteenth century, and having survived centuries of hostile challenge by Enlightenment secularism, the Catholic Church is no longer in a defensive mode. All this is part of John Paul II's strategic thinking in laying the groundwork for what he calls a springtime of world evangelization. As the thirty-page explanation produced by the International Theological Commission and presented by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger insists, the Church has nothing to fear from historical truth, including unpleasant truths about things done in the name of the Church.
When the Mass of Reconciliation with its ceremony of “the purification of memory” was celebrated on the First Sunday of Lent, there was intense public interest. I confess that my heart sank just a little when, in several media appearances and interviews I did, it became evident that the worst misconstruals dominated the discussion. In response to the Pope's confession, one heard multiple variations on the themes: “It's about time!” and “I told you so!” and “It's too little too late!” The heart of the matter seemed to get lost amidst the chortlings and recriminations. The purification of memory focused, in order of priority, on Catholic responsibility for divisions among Christians, on the injustice of employing coercion in the service of truth, on the historically “tormented” relationship between Christians and Jews, and on “responsibility for the evils of today,” including secularism, moral relativism, atheism, and the demeaning of human life. Perhaps predictably, most media reports homed in on the Jewish connection and the Holocaust, frequently alluding to the old canards about Pius XII's alleged silence regarding the latter. Jewish voices typically allowed that the confession was a welcome “first step” but did not go far enough. When it comes to admitting the sins of the Catholic Church, a rabbi friend has observed, “We Jews now have two slogans: ‘Never Again' and ‘Never Enough.'“
Jewish voices continue to express irritated incredulity at the distinction made between the sinlessness of the Church and the sins of her children. The analogy does not hold all the way, but in this connection I have found it helpful to point out the distinction between the Old Testament prophets who adamantly denounce the sins of the people of Israel while, at the same time, insisting that they are the elect people of God. With respect to both Israel and the Church, the accent is on the grace and faithfulness of God who continues to affirm the dignity of the people despite their so often acting in violation of that dignity. Moreover, in connection with the Holocaust it is useful to remember the enormous storm that broke over Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1963. Arendt raised the exceedingly delicate question of the large number of Jews who not only did nothing to resist the Holocaust or to protect other Jews but who actually cooperated, out of whatever tortured motivations, in the rounding up, transport, and killing of Jews. Arendt was vociferously attacked by some Jews for “blaming the victims” and besmirching the integrity of Judaism itself.
Efforts to sort things out historically engage the much-disputed distinction between individual and collective responsibility. Regarding that distinction, the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was fond of saying, “Some are guilty; all are responsible.” Applied to the image of the Church as the Mother of the faithful, it must surely be possible to find a way to say that she accepts responsibility for the actions of her children. She, although sinless, does not disown her sinful children. To change the image, Christ in his body on the cross bears the guilt of those who are members of his body, the Church. Of course analogies limp, but these are the kinds of tangled questions that must be explored more carefully as the concept of “the purification of memory” takes root, over time, in the consciousness of Christians and others.
Central to the misconstrual of what the Pope did is the assumption that he was issuing an apology. Apology is definitely not the right word, although it was persistently used in almost all the media reports and commentary. A late-night television show that would have been blasphemous were it not so juvenile ran footage of the Pope speaking with the voice-over, “I'm sorry. I'm really sorry, and I promise not to do it again.” That was followed by the Jewish host saying that maybe Jews should apologize too. “We brought you some yentas [irritating women], but we also produced the bagel, which is pretty good, right?” There were only a few hesitant laughs from the audience, which otherwise seemed to have a bottomless appetite for vulgarities. The host, a very funny man, looked puzzled and wondered out loud if there were no Jews in the audience.
In fact, John Paul was not issuing an apology but was confessing to God, and on behalf of the sons and daughters of the Church, our failure to live lives worthy of the truth authoritatively taught by the Church. Far from throwing that teaching into doubt, he underscored that we are all held accountable to it. In all this he was setting an example and inviting others to engage in a comparable act of self-examination, confession, and repentance, acknowledging that all of us have in myriad ways betrayed the moral truths that we profess. Representative of the media's reaction, however, was the lead editorial of the New York Times, “The Pope's Apology.” It was substantively the reaction of the television comedian, albeit with a long face. The editors smugly commend the Pope for an apology that will make it easier for the Church to “heal its relations with other faiths.” They then quickly move on to complain about what he did not say.
The apology, they say, “was offered on behalf of the Church's ‘sons and daughters,' but not the Church itself, which is considered holy.” One might think the editors are raising a theological challenge to Catholic ecclesiology, but of course they are only scoring partisan points. “Nor,” the complaint continues, “did John Paul directly address the sensitive issue of whether past popes, cardinals, and clergy—not just parishioners—also erred.” That is, of course, patent nonsense. Bishops, cardinals, and popes are also “children of the Church” who have sinned. Why, do the editors suppose, does the Pope go to confession every week? Then there is this: “The Pope's apology for discrimination against women is welcome but difficult to square with his continued opposition to abortion and birth control, and to women in the priesthood. Regrettably, he made no mention of discrimination against homosexuals.”
But of course John Paul did directly address abortion, birth control, and morally disordered sexuality when he spoke of “our responsibility for the evils of today.” What the editors mean to say is that the Church's understanding of good and evil is “difficult to square” with their understanding of good and evil. As for the ordination of women, one eagerly awaits from Howell Raines and his editorial colleagues their theological study explaining why the biblical, patristic, and magisterial sources authorize the Catholic Church to approve of such an innovation in its sacramental order. The nub of the misconstrual by the editors—and one says this in fear of offending against a self-importance of narcissistic proportions—is their apparent inability to understand that the Pope was not apologizing to the New York Times. The editors assume the posture of being the infallible tribunal before which the Pope must make his case. They are prosecutor, jury, and judge, and they will decide when the Catholic Church's act of contrition is sufficient to warrant pardon, or at least a measure of clemency. Such towering arrogance would be amusing were it not so pathetic.
The Pope is keenly aware of the risks involved in the “purification of memory.” Despite all, I believe he was right to take those risks. In sharpest contrast to the dominant evasions and mendacities of our time, evident not least of all in the media, the Pope has dramatically demonstrated how we are honestly to confess our sins, in the confidence of God's forgiveness and of grace for the amendment of life. In time, those who initially and self-righteously thought they were being offered an apology which they were in a moral position to either accept or reject might begin to understand and follow the example of courage and honesty that John Paul has set. Or they may continue to use it as yet another stick with which to flail their perceived opponents. The Church has survived much worse. The “purification of memory” is, first of all, about the integrity of the Church, and, despite initial misunderstandings and misconstruals, she is strengthened by acknowledging the truth about both the light and the shadows along the way of her earthly pilgrimage.
“Forgive us our trespasses . . . “ Against the misconstruals of the Mass of Reconciliation on the First Sunday of Lent, one notes with deep gratification the very different response to the Pope's pilgrimage to the Holy Land, as reported in this issue by George Weigel. In fact it is against the background of such misconstruals, especially with reference to Jewish-Christian relations, that the achievement of the pilgrimage becomes so luminously clear. It is by such moments that the much overused word “historic” is properly defined.
Blaming Bob Jones
Among the nastier and more patently manipulative aspects of the presidential primary season was the accusation by the McCain campaign that George W. Bush is anti-Catholic because he spoke at Bob Jones University and did not take the occasion to challenge the view among some hard-core fundamentalists that the papacy is the Antichrist. Immediately, a horde of reporters and television crews (a horde meaning more than a dozen) were at the door or on the phone wanting to know what I made of Bush's alleged anti-Catholicism. They were generally disappointed to learn that I made nothing of it at all, and that because the charge against Bush was entirely bogus. A writer from the New Republic asked if I agreed with an article he was doing which claimed that the Bob Jones incident would break up the convergence between Catholics and evangelical Protestants represented by “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” He was obviously surprised and disappointed by my saying it would likely have quite the opposite effect. The animus against Catholics in this culture has very little to do with Bob Jones University and everything to do with the liberal-left elites who also make no secret of their disdain for evangelicals. It is hardly the strongest bond between them, but evangelicals and Catholics are also drawn together by recognizing who holds them both in contempt.
The partisan manipulation of the anti-Catholic issue is incisively addressed by Peter Steinfels of the New York Times. He notes along the way that the Democratic leaders who try to pin the anti-Catholic label on Republicans are the same people who have slammed their party's door against Catholics who dissent from, to cite the most obvious instance, its pro-abortion orthodoxy. Then there is the larger question about the source of anti-Catholicism in America. Steinfels writes: “Yes, anti-Catholic animus rooted in the theological polemics of the sixteenth-century Reformation still exists in the United States. But the anti-Catholic animus rooted in the political polemics of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and the cultural polemics of nineteenth-century American nativism has long since taken over all the traditional themes. The Church is an authoritarian monolith; its doctrines are hopelessly premodern; its rites are colorful but mindless; its sexual standards are unnatural, repressive, and hypocritical; its congregations are anti-Semitic and racist; its priests are harsh and predatory; its grip on the minds of believers is numbing. These themes still ring in some fundamentalist pulpits. But they are far more apt to be interjected into the more adult sitcoms and late-night comedy, and to be reflected in films, editorials, art, fiction, and memoirs considered enlightened and liberating.”
At a social event in Washington, Steinfels reports, a woman with an impressive reputation for supporting liberal and humanitarian causes was singing the praises of her daughter-in-law. “She's a Catholic, you know,” and then quickly added, “but she's a thinking Catholic.” Steinfels asks us to imagine that woman saying of someone, “She's an African American, you know, but she's an educated African American.” A thinking Catholic, of course, is a Catholic who disagrees with the Church's teaching on regnant cultural and moral orthodoxies. In this view, as one has too many occasions to note, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic.
Steinfels concludes: “Anti-Catholic animus is not keeping Catholics out of board rooms or country clubs, however, although it may complicate the careers of those in academic life,journalism, or some professional fields who don't make sure they are seen as ‘thinking' Catholics. Anti-Catholicism would be a worthy subject for study and debate, freed, one hopes, from the manipulative politics of victimhood. But the place to begin is not Bob Jones University.” One place to begin is with the anti-Catholic, and anti-evangelical, prejudices entrenched among those who, in a moment of partisan contortion, expressed such touching concern about the alleged anti-Catholicism in the current presidential race.
So What's the Big Deal About Partial Birth Abortion?
Outside the circles of pro-abortion extremism, almost all Americans are revulsed by partial-birth abortion. State after state has enacted bans against a gruesome procedure that kills babies within seconds and inches of their being unquestionably born. Just as regularly, federal courts have overruledthe bans, claiming that they transgress against the abortion license guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. Now the question of partial-birth abortion is before the Supreme Court, and a great deal will turn on its ruling.
Meanwhile, however, Richard Stith, Professor of Law at Valparaiso University, notes that something very curious is happening. Partial-birth abortion is forcing a new judicial candor about other abortions as well, at least from the midterm of pregnancy. Sensible people may disagree about whether this new candor is promising or ominous.
Remember that Roe v. Wade decided that states cannot prohibit abortion based on a “theory” that life begins before birth. Today the pretense is being dropped that that is just a theory. Here, for instance, is Judge Richard Arnold of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals explaining why states cannot ban the killing of a “living unborn child” while it is in the process of being delivered. His language is graphic:
“In a D&E procedure, the physician inserts forceps into the uterus, grasps a part of the fetus, commonly an arm or a leg, and draws that part out of the uterus into the vagina. Using the traction created between the mouth of the cervix and the pull of the forceps, the physician dismembers the fetal part which has been brought into the vagina, and removes it from the woman's body. The rest of the fetus remains in the uterus while dismemberment occurs, and is often still living . . . . [Even in] a suction-curettage procedure where the fetus does not remain intact, part of the fetus which is still living may be drawn into the vagina before demise occurs.”
In other words,Judge Arnold says, such ordinary abortions must also be considered “partial-birth” abortions, since the fact is that death is the result after the abortionist “delivers” part or parts of the baby. Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit makes essentially the same point as Judge Arnold, although he focuses not on the sameness of technique but on the sameness of outcome in partial-birth abortions and other abortions:
“From the standpoint of the fetus, and, I should think, of any rational person, it makes no difference whether, when the skull is crushed, the fetus is entirely within the uterus or its feet are outside the uterus. Yet the position of the feet is the only difference between committing a felony and performing an act that the states concede is constitutionally privileged . . . . [T]here is no meaningful difference between the forbidden and the privileged practice. No reason of policy or morality that would allow the one would forbid the other.”
Judge Posner does not deny that partial-birth abortion is “gruesome.” His point is that other abortions, certainly from the second trimester on, are also gruesome. Posner even indicates some sympathy for those who want to prohibit those other abortions:
“I do not mean to criticize anyone who believes, whether because of religious conviction, nonsectarian moral conviction, or simply a prudential belief that upholding the sacredness of human life whatever the circumstances is necessary to prevent us from sliding into barbarism, that abortion is always wrong and perhaps particularly so in late pregnancy, since all methods of late-term abortion are gruesome . . . . But what is at stake in these cases is whether the people who feel that way are entitled to coerce a woman who feels differently to behave as they would in her situation.”
So where are we then? Prof. Stith writes, “The United States Supreme Court for many years inhibited serious discussion of abortion by using its immense prestige to encourage doubt about what abortion actually does. Perhaps surprisingly, opponents of partial-birth abortion were able to use this doubt to their legislative advantage.” But Judge Posner incisively points out that “public support for the [partial-birth abortion bans] was [in part] based . . . on sheer ignorance of the medical realities of late-term abortion. The uninformed thought the [partial-birth] procedure gratuitously cruel, akin to infanticide; they didn't realize that the only difference between it and the methods of late-term abortion that are conceded all round to be constitutionally privileged is which way the fetus' feet are pointing.”
The publicity about, and consequent opposition to, partial-birth abortion rendered a great service in educating the public on how extreme is the abortion license created by Roe v. Wade. On the other hand, the new judicial candor about what happens in “ordinary” abortions may lead some to the conclusion that partial-birth abortion is not qualitatively different and therefore, however regrettable, must be accepted. The more hopeful possibility, of course, is that a better-informed public will conclude that the killing of babies is a monstrous evil and must be outlawed. Put positively, the conclusion should be that we must work toward the goal of the pro-life movement: every child, born and unborn, protected in law and welcomed in life.
The Pope at the National Prayer Breakfast
The National Prayer Breakfast, now in its fiftieth year, has been mainly a Protestant affair, with more recent overlappings into the interreligious and generalized civil religion. Always addressed by the President, the breakfast gathers most members of Congress and hundreds of others variously linkedto national leadership. This year, Pope John Paul II was invited to address the breakfast and, while he could not be present in person, he sent an extended message that was read by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo. The Pope began with, “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega; all time belongs to him and all the ages; to him be glory and power through every age for ever. Amen.” Then followed reflections on the way of salvation, Christian unity, the responsibility of the U.S. in world history, and the strengths and temptations of democracy. Herewith some excerpts:
Two weeks ago, leaders from Christian denominations worldwide joined me in opening the Holy Door at the basilica of Saint Paul, and together we crossed its threshold. That was an eloquent sign of our commitment to ensure that, in the millennium just beginning, Christians will give ever fuller expression to that unity which is Christ's gift to his Church, so that together we may cross the threshold of hope in openness to the future which God in his providence holds out to us.
This great project—the building of a world more worthy of the human person, a society which can foster a renaissance of the human spirit—calls also for that sense of moral responsibility which flows from commitment to truth: “walking the path of truth,” as the Apostle John puts it (3 John 3). And such a moral responsibility, by its very nature, cannot be reduced to a purely private matter. The light of Christ should illumine every thought, word, and action of believers; there is no area of personal or social life which it is not meant to penetrate, enliven, and make fruitful. The spread of a purely utilitarian approach to the great moral issues of public life points to the urgent need for a rigorous and reasoned public discourse about the moral norms that are the foundation of any just society. A living relationship with the truth, Scripture teaches, is the very source and condition of authentic and lasting freedom (cf. John 8:32).
Your nation was built as an experiment in ordered freedom, an experiment in which the exercise of individual freedom would contribute to the common good. The American separation of Church and State as institutions was accompanied from the beginning of your Republic by the conviction that strong religious faith, and the public expression of religiously informed judgments, contribute significantly to the moral health of the body politic. Within the fabric of your national life a particular moral authority has been entrusted to you who are invested with political responsibility as representatives of the American people. In the great Western democratic tradition, men and women in political life are servants of the polis in its fullest sense—as a moral and civil commonwealth. They are not mere brokers of power in a political process taking place in a vacuum, cut off from private and public morality. Leadership in a true democracy involves much more than simply the mastering of techniques of political “management”: your vocation as “representatives” calls for vision, wisdom, a spirit of contemplation, and a passion for justice and truth.
Looking back on my own lifetime, I am convinced that the epoch-making changes taking place and the challenges appearing at the dawn of this new millennium call for just such a “prophetic” function on the part of religious believers in public life. And, may I say, this is particularly true of you who represent the American people, with their rich heritage of commitment to freedom and equality under the law, their spirit of independence and commitment to the common good, their self-reliance and generosity in sharing their God-given gifts. In the century just ended, this heritage became synonymous with freedom itself for people throughout the world, as they sought to cast off the shackles of totalitarianism and to live in freedom. As one who is personally grateful for what America did for the world in the darkest days of the twentieth century, allow me to ask: will America continue to inspire people to build a truly better world, a world in which freedom is ordered to truth and goodness? Or will America offer the example of a pseudo-freedom, which, detached from the moral norms that give life direction and fruitfulness, turns in practice into a narrow and ultimately inhuman self-enslavement, one which smothers people's spirits and dissolves the foundations of social life?
These questions pose themselves in a particularly sharp way when we confront the urgent issue of protecting every human being's inalienable right to life from conception until natural death. This is the great civil rights issue of our time, and the world looks to the United States for leadership in cherishing every human life and in providing legal protection for all the members of the human community, but especially those who are weakest and most vulnerable.
For religious believers who bear political responsibility, our times offer a daunting yet exhilarating challenge. I would go so far as to say that their task is to save democracy from self-destruction. Democracy is our best opportunity to promote the values that will make the world a better place for everyone, but a society which exalts individual choice as the ultimate source of truth undermines the very foundation of democracy.
If there is no objective moral order which everyone must respect, and if each individual is expected to supply his or her own truth and ethic of life, there remains only the path of contractual mechanisms as the way of organizing our living together in society. In such a society the strong will prevail and the weak will be swept aside. As I have written elsewhere, “If there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political action, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism” (Centesimus Annus).
Secularization in Theory and Fact
Many of the most influential secularization theorists have been Europeans, especially German and French. Since the eighteenth century and up to the present—albeit with fits and starts and many convolutions—it does seem that Western Europe has been on a course of inexorable secularization. In bothpublic and personal life, the institutions, observances, and teachings associated with religion—in this case meaning Christianity—appear to be ever more marginal, giving credibility to the idea that there is a necessary connection between modernity and secularity. The more modern a society, the more secular it will become. In this context, scholars regularly spoke about “American exceptionalism.” Why is it, they asked, that the United States, presumably the most modern of societies, is so vibrantly religious? America was thought to be the exception that had to be explained. In recent years, however, more and more scholars have come to the conclusion that Europe is the anomaly, leading to talk about “European exceptionalism.” (Meaning mainly Western Europe, since Central and Eastern European societies show very different patterns.)
In 1997 Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard published The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, advancing an argument that continues to generate lively interest. Contrary to long-entrenched expectations, we witness a world in which different civilizations—defined by different cultures that are typically defined, in turn, by cult or religion—are the deciding factor in collective allegiances and conflicts. Huntington's proposal flies in the face of the widespread assumption that the world is being homogenized into a “global village” where everybody becomes more and more alike. The economic and technological dynamics of “globalization” are indeed powerful, but they are far from being omnipotent. And some aspects of globalization, such as the explosion of communications technology, can expand and strengthen religio-cultural diversity in a world that is, at the same time, both linked and divided by a near-infinite number of electronic bands, channels, websites, and whatever comes next.
Such is the larger context in which we are invited to think about religion, culture, and secularization. Were the legendary man or woman from Mars to show up and ask what is the single most important thing now happening on Planet Earth, many possible answers might come to mind. Were I put on the spot in that unlikely circumstance, I think I would say that the most important thing now happening on Planet Earth is the desecularization of world history.
Our immediate business, however, is not quite so global in its reach, although it is not always easy to distinguish between what is American and what is global. It is now the case that several generations of Americans have been taught, from grade school through graduate school, that ours is a secular society, or is rapidly becoming such. Whether the subject is sexual mores, family life, the work ethic, or attitudes toward wealth, death, and dying, the textbooks are replete with generic statements such as: “In earlier times, people sought answers to these questions in religion, but in our secular society____.” The student is invited to fill in the blank or, more commonly, to accept the answer provided by the writer of the textbook who simply knows, as everybody supposedly knows, that “traditional” belief and morality are no longer relevant. What we in fact know is something very different, even if there is no agreement on how to explain it: American society is as religious and, in some ways, probably more religious than it ever has been.
More than thirty years ago, in 1967, my longtime colleague and friend Peter Berger published The Sacred Canopy. Berger has subsequently and substantively changed his thinking about religion and secularization, but the theory set forth in that book continues to have enormous influence on the discussion of these questions. Once upon a time, according to this theory, people lived in societies that were covered by a sacred canopy of religious meaning; there were traditional and taken-for-granted truths that explained the world and their part in it. Then came along modernity with its scientific, specializing, and fragmenting explanations of reality that challenged and shattered what had been a “sacred cosmos.” With modernity, said Max Weber, an earlier social theorist, the world became “disenchanted.” In the middle of the last century, the German New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann opined that people who had learned to use an electric light switch could no longer believe that God makes things happen. For “modern man” the world had been “demythologized,” and Bultmann set out to demythologize the Christian gospel as well, stripping it of its miraculous and supernatural elements and making it once again believable to a world of educated grownups.
A Choice of Theories
Berger was never a Bultmannian in theology, but the early Berger offered a similar account of the corrosive effect of modernity on religious faith. The crisis for religion, he said in The Sacred Canopy and other writings, is how to maintain the “plausibility structure” of traditional religion in a world that does not think religious truth claims are plausible. One answer is for religious groups to create a “sheltered enclave” in which believers huddle together and reinforce one another in their conviction that the old stories with their old truths still define the really real “real world.” The problem, of course, is that most people cannot live full time in the sheltered enclave; they also participate in the real world of modernity with its conflicting explanations of how the world works. The result is that people experience “cognitive dissonance,” which can be painfully disorienting. What I “know” about reality when, for instance, participating in the enclave's ritual enactment of the sacred story is very different from what I “know” when going about my everyday business in the modern world.
Some people can apparently live quite contentedly with the most severe cognitive dissonance simply by not thinking about it. They don't pay much attention to the clashing dissonance between what they think inside and what they think outside the enclave. More thoughtful people, however, have to negotiate some kind of truce between these conflicting worlds, and this results in “cognitive bargaining,” which typically means trimming religious truth claims to fit the “real world” of relentlessly secular modernity. The theory of early Berger and those who followed him is similar in important ways to current ideas associated with “postmodernism.” In fact, with Thomas Luckmann, Berger wrote in 1966 The Social Construction of Reality, a book that anticipated postmodernists who contend that all meaning systems, including modern rationality, are “socially constructed.” What we call reality is no more than the stories—whether we choose to call them religious or secular—that we make up as we go along. While Berger has greatly revised his earlier thinking and regrets the uses to which others have put it, the “sheltered enclave” theory continues to be an influential explanation of why religion flourishes in an otherwise modern and secular society such as the United States.
Other scholars have preferred the “status discontent” theory. According to this explanation, religious groups, especially those of a conservative or fundamentalist hue, mobilize themselves in reaction to perceived threats to their social standing or security. In the 1950s, Richard Hofstadter, Daniel Bell, and others employed this theory to explain the emergence of a political right wing in American public life. Echoes of the status discontent theory are still routine in the mainline media's treatment of what is called “the religious right.” As a story in the Washington Post put it a few years ago (the editors later apologized), these people are “poor, uneducated, and easily led.” And they are easily led because they are easily frightened by changes favored by the rich and educated which they do not understand and which they see as threatening to their way of life.
Another explanation of why religion can flourish in an otherwise secular society might be called the “strictness” theory. This gained currency with the late Dean Kelley's 1972 book, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing. Kelley produced massive evidence on the decline of liberal or “mainline” churches, in contrast to conservative churches that were enjoying a bull market. In some ways Kelley's thesis was similar to early Berger, but he did not place so much emphasis upon the “cognitive.” Doctrines, ideas, and what Kelley called “notions” are less important than the actual demands that a religious group imposes. The more demanding a religion, the more likely it is to succeed. “We want something more,” Kelley wrote,
than a smooth, articulate verbal interpretation of what life is all about. Words are cheap; we want explanations that are validated by the commitment of other persons . . . . What costs nothing accomplishes nothing. If it costs nothing to belong to a community, it can't be worth much. So the quality that enables religious meanings to take hold is not their rationality, their logic, their surface credibility, but rather the demand they make upon their adherents and the degree to which that demand is met by commitment.
Some students of American religion have taken part of Kelley's strictness theory and given it a turn along the lines of the “rational choice” theory that so fascinates many contemporary economists. In this view, which is notably associated with Laurence Iannaccone, strict religions are successful not so much because they provide more intact communities of meaning but because they tend to exclude “free riders.” Free riders are, quite simply, people who are just along for the ride; they take what they want from a group but give little or nothing in return. Liberal groups are full of free riders; indeed, such groups typically make it one of their selling points that they place no demands on those to whom they appeal. This has the attraction of being “accepting” and “open.” Since, however, free riders make little contribution to what people are looking for in religion—in terms of inspiration, fellowship, strong conviction, and communal security—liberal groups tend to spawn apathy and a lack of direction, which is a sure formula for institutional decline.
Also stealing a card from the economists are the proponents of “religious marketing” theory. In this theory, social pluralism, which is commonly thought to be hostile to religion, is in fact the best friend of religious flourishing. The claim is that, in societies where religion appears to be strong and even to enjoy a monopoly in providing the “sacred canopy,” it is in fact weak and fragile. It is no accident, according to market theorists, that secularization is so far advanced in countries such as England, France, and Germany that have culturally (and, in different ways, legally) established churches, or that religious indifference is so widespread in Latin American countries that have a taken for granted “Catholic culture.”
In the United States it has been very different. In their much discussed 1992 book, The Churching of America 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark argued that competition has been the very lifeblood of American religion. They produce impressive evidence to show that, contrary to commonly held assumptions, religion does better in pluralistic cities than in small towns and rural areas. Moreover, they contend, church attendance has steadily increased during the course of American history as we have become, all in all, a more religious, not a less religious, nation.
The economic factors of competition and marketing are not, it must be admitted, the most edifying way of thinking about religion, but they are useful in understanding what I mean by the incorrigibility of Christian America. These are approaches to religion employed by “social scientists” who presumably refrain from making what are called value judgments. “Just the facts, ma'am,” as Sergeant Joe Friday put it. Remember, too, that economic dynamics are part of being human, and nothing that is human is alien to Christianity, the most humanistic of religions. What else could Christianity be, since its central teaching is that God became a human being in Jesus Christ in order that everything human might be redeemed through him? This theological reminder is a caution against dismissing the analyses under discussion as “merely economic” or “merely sociological.” In the biblical understanding of things, there is nothing mere about any dimension of the human condition.
That having been said, however, social scientists who understand both the usefulness and limitations of their craft know that the religious phenomenon, at its heart and in its totality, escapes the nets of social theory and analysis. Not only in its elevated forms of literary expression but also in the popular piety of revival meetings, Bible study groups, and the millions of people at daily Mass, religion engages the supernatural, metaphysical, and mystical. In ways unarticulated and perhaps beyond articulation, people are encountered by God, by the ineffable. Or so in various ways they say they believe, and believe with varying degrees of certitude. The theories and statistics of sociology are to religion as sexology is to the act of love. They are not to be confused with the thing itself. Yet it is unavoidable that we employ instruments such as statistics even as we are skeptical about them. As one wag put it, “It has been statistically demonstrated that most statistics are wrong.” In any event, those who during most of the twentieth century were weaving statistics and theories into a grand and confidently told story of the secularization of the world are now having to cope with a quite different story that seems to be writing itself.
• In 1993, as the hysteria over child sex abuse cases was beginning to decline in the U.S., charges started flying around a reform school for boys in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. One former employee was convicted of abuse and died in jail. The case received wide publicity and soon hundreds of other claimsof abuse, going back as far as fifty years, were lodged. In the hope of avoiding huge damages from lawsuits, the province set up a fund of $25
million to buy off other complainants. The province then had the bright idea of advertising its offer and, not surprisingly, thousands of complaints flooded in. In prisons, lawyers posted what inmates called “the meat chart,” an official compensation scale that ranged from $3,500 for physical abuse up to $85,000 for sexual assault. The payoff fund was soon depleted, so the legislature added another $8 million to it. As a result, nearly all of the hundreds of employees who had worked at Shelburne over the years were charged without a chance to learn who had accused them of what. Those administering the fund accepted charges at their face value, because as Anne Derrik, a lawyer for 450 former residents, put it, “There are no records. There are no witnesses.” As a Toronto reporter noted, “Employees who had dedicated their lives to helping troubled kids are now seeing their names, reputations, and life work smeared forever by allegations of hideous crimes they never committed.” The prize for the most callously dumb statement goes to lawyer Derrik, who allowed that “there is undoubtedly a certain amount of fraud,” but questioned why the accused were angry, noting that “the money is not coming out of their pockets.” Perhaps she vaguely misremembers from her school days Shakespeare's saying, “Who steals my good name steals trash.”
• Remember the new painting of the epicene Jesus touted by the National Catholic Reporter as “someone who celebrates our differences”? In the revised version of Mark 1, the man with an unclean spirit cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” and Jesus reassures him saying, “Relax, I have come to celebrate our differences.” As is so often the case, life beggars parody. Here is the comment on the same passage in Celebrating the Eucharist, the Mass guide published by Liturgical Press and used by thousands of Catholic parishes. After Jesus cast out the unclean spirit, we read in Mark that “All were amazed and asked one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.'” Celebrating the Eucharist comments: “Jesus' authority is not a ‘power over' but a truth that calls forth life. His is an authority that derives from modeling how a true servant of God lives.” If I get this right, the problem with the evil spirits is that they wanted to serve God but lacked an adequate role model until Jesus came along. In Mark it is said, “The unclean spirit convulsed the man and with a loud cry came out of him.” In the psychobabbled Mass guide, one infers that the unclean spirit said something like, “Thanks, Jesus, I needed that.” There are no convulsions or loud cries, although one imagines there might be some gagging in the pews.
• The American Anglican Council, which understands itself to be a biblical renewal movement within the Episcopal Church, says that the consecration of two American bishops in Singapore last January creates “a new reality” for Episcopalianism. The new bishops are to be missionaries in the U.S., providing episcopal oversight for conservative parishes in liberal dioceses. A year earlier, the Council had issued a “Jubilee Initiative” that called for the creation of “alternative oversight” for both liberal parishes in conservative dioceses and conservative parishes in liberal dioceses. But the initiative was ignored by the Presiding Bishop's office in the U.S. “The Jubilee Initiative,” says the Council, “is a commonsense proposal intended to foster unity.” Since in historic Christianity the bishop is supposed to be a sign of unity, it may be difficult for outsiders to understand how bishops selected to serve on the basis of theological and ideological divides can foster unity. In any event, the Council joins others in hoping that the Anglican Primates (bishops leading various provinces of the Anglican communion) will be able to come up with a way to stem further divisions.
• Should President Clinton have been removed from office? Should he have been impeached in the first place? Tod Lindberg, editor of Policy Review, offers a different take on these questions in “Necessary Impeachments, Necessary Acquittals.” He notes that in our constitutional history there have been four impeachments followed by four acquittals, each the occasion of “epic confrontations”—Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in 1804, Judge James Hawkins Peck in 1830, President Andrew Johnson in 1868, and President Clinton in 1999. In each case, Lindberg argues, the acquittals resulted from the fact that the confrontation was really over something other than the specific charges of the impeachment. He writes: “The facts about Clinton's misconduct in trying to conceal his relationship with Monica Lewinsky were stubborn and damning. No President should do what Clinton did, and his name will forever bear the mark of impeachment for it. Yet it would have been impossible to remove Clinton without simultaneously vindicating the process by which he came to stand trial in the Senate—which is to say, without vindicating the House's deference to and reliance on independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation, the conduct of the Starr investigation in all its particulars, and the authority for the investigation, the independent counsel statute itself. And it is noteworthy that within the year, the statute was gone, bringing to an end its twenty-year disfiguration of our political system.” So the Senate trial was really, as many of Clinton's defenders claimed, about Kenneth Starr and, as a few said, about the independent counsel statute. It is an interesting but not persuasive argument. It overlooks the fact that many Clinton defenders and some Senators who voted to acquit claimed that the whole thing was no more than a matter of Republicans trying to get rid of a President they intensely disliked, a claim reinforced by the partisan lines of the final vote. More troubling, however, is that the Senators went forward one by one to sign a solemn oath that they would make their decision on the basis of the articles of impeachment—not on the basis of whether they approved of the actions of Kenneth Starr, and certainly not as a vote on the independent counsel statute. The trouble is compounded by the fact that at least some who voted to acquit had publicly said that they thought Clinton was guilty as charged. If it is true, as Lindberg suggests, that a Senate vote in the impeachment process is less about the charges brought than about the complex circumstances that produced the charges and the impeachment in the first place, then perhaps the wording of the oath should be changed. There is something very wrong with a practice that puts Senators in a position of solemnly swearing to do what they do not intend to do.
• The following comment, inserted only hours before the deadline for this issue, replaces an item on the role of the National Council of Churches (NCC) in the Elian Gonzalez affair. That item noted that the NCC had for months served as the mouthpiece for the curiously shared position of the Castro regime and the Clinton Administration. The NCC has a very long record of moral bankruptcy, and in the last year its financial bankruptcy, too, has been widely publicized. At this point we do not know where it got the money to pay for charter airplanes for its Havana-Washington shuffle, or for other undoubtedly considerable expenses in its campaign to return Elian to Cuba, including the hiring of President Clinton's impeachment lawyer, Gregory Craig. Suffice it to say that the part played by the NCC in this sordid business is morally contemptible and warrants the clear condemnation of its member churches. As for the forcible seizure of Elian in Miami, I write in the immediate aftermath of the thuggish night raid of Holy Saturday by heavily armed federal agents who have been aptly compared to storm troopers. It is not an excess of outrage but sober reflection that compels a chilling comparison with the Waco catastrophe. It is no mitigation to say that nobody was killed in Miami. The raiders clearly indicated they would shoot if they met with resistance. Once again, the Clinton Justice Department treated this as a hostage situation although Elian was in no way a hostage. Once again, Attorney General Janet Reno and her enforcers brushed aside the law—in this case a federal appeals court decision favorable to the Miami relatives—in order to meet their own unilateral and arbitrary deadline for action. This despite the fact that a number of alternatives were under discussion, including an offer by the Holy See to arrange the boy's transfer at the nuncio's residence in Washington. Once again, Ms. Reno sought to justify the action by claiming to possess “intelligence” that her opponents had weapons and thus posed a threat requiring immediate action, in this case a night raid in the middle of the Easter weekend. Once again, the government claimed to be concerned about child abuse, citing the speculation of a hired psychological expert who had never met the boy, who to all appearances was quite happy and lovingly cared for. What law warranted the raid? None. What was the hurry in removing the boy? The hubris of a government wanting to save face by doing what it said it would do. Since Elifin's rescue from the sea on Thanksgiving Day, thoughtful people have been divided as to what should be done. Weighing the rights of the father and the interests of the child, many were reluctantly resigned to the boy's eventual return to Cuba. On that score, reasonable people can disagree. But the night raid of Holy Saturday—smashing into the home of American citizens who were not breaking the law nor even accused of breaking the law, seizing a terrified boy at gunpoint—is further evidence of a Justice Department that is dangerously unhinged. In the past eight years, President Clinton has done many things to undermine confidence in the rule of law. To the extent that he supports Ms. Reno and her storm trooper tactics, he makes additionally persuasive the judgment that this administration is a grave threat to our constitutional order and the civil rights of all Americans.
• Crisis magazine has been doing some numbers-crunching on the Catholic electorate and now turns to the similarities and dissimilarities between Catholics and evangelical Protestants. On the big questions in public life, says researcher Steven Wagner, there is a growing convergence between the two groups. Along the way, he notes that a very small fraction of those surveyed have received voting advice from their clergy (5 percent for active Catholics, 2 percent for evangelical conservatives), and only 15 percent in both groups were contacted by a religious or moral advocacy organization at election time. “These results,” Wagner writes, “belie the image of evangelical churches as hotbeds of political activism.” While there are differences between Catholics and evangelical conservatives, they “are trivial compared with the political schisms between religiously active and religiously inactive voters.” Wagner writes: “This conclusion is particular to the current political moment. At another time, under different political circumstances, active Catholics and evangelicals might find themselves on opposite sides of the barricades. But at this political moment, these two groups are united by a common diagnosis of the social crisis and a common desire for an agenda of social and cultural reconstruction. We stand together just now at the side of the road with thumbs out, waiting for a political leadership to come along that will lead us forward.”
• It does not mitigate the shame of Princeton in giving him a tenured chair, but the more Peter Singer is allowed to talk and write the more he exposes the looniness of his garage sale utilitarianism built on his version of the principle that everyone should count for one and no more than one. A concomitant principle is that a “morally decent” person will give away to the poor everything he does not need to maintain the basics of life as defined very basically. A number of writers have challenged Singer's spending large sums of money on the care of his mother in Australia who is suffering from Alzheimer's. The question is raised again in an interview with the Princeton alumni weekly. Isn't he violating his own principles? Singer answers, “Yes. In a sense, my spending money on my mother's care is in conflict with that principle. But so is the fact that I flew back to Australia to visit my daughters at Christmas. That money could also be better spent elsewhere. I've never claimed that I live my life perfectly in accordance with those principles of sharing my money as much as I should.” Apparently it is not necessary to obey the rules of moral decency to be a morally decent person. In the interview, Singer says again that “babies become persons when they develop some kind of awareness of themselves existing over time. That happens sometime during the first year of life but not in the first month of life.” Previously, Singer had proposed that the law should allow the killing of disabled infants in the first twenty-eight days after birth. “But I no longer think that that will work. It's too arbitrary.” The suggestion is that decisions about killing infants should be made on a case-by-case basis. Singer is asked whether his being an atheist affects his philosophy. “It probably does, although there are some theists who would reach the same conclusions. But it's certainly easier to reach them if you are not religious. And probably people who are strongly committed to the traditional religions like Christianity would not be likely to come up with the same views that I hold.” Peter Singer is one of those people whose vestigial sanity is saved by their inconsistencies.
• “A world trading system already exists; a world government does not, and in many quarters the very concept evokes resistance.” So say the editors of America, the Jesuit weekly. “Christians believe that neither this nor any other hope for the future can be realized without grace, and so until the end of the ages they will continue to pray: ‘Thy kingdom come.'” To think that all this time we've been praying for a world government.
• Writing in the London Review of Books, historian Norman Finkelstein deplores the exploitation and vulgarization of the Holocaust. There is, for instance, the question of who is and who is not a “Holocaust survivor.” He quotes the director of the Yad Vashem archive in Israel who says that the testimonies of most survivors are unreliable: “Many were never in the places where they claim to have witnessed atrocities, while others relied on secondhand information given them by friends or passing strangers.” Finkelstein comments, “Because survivors are revered as secular saints, one doesn't dare question them.” The term “Holocaust survivor” originally referred to those who suffered the trauma of the Jewish ghettos, concentration camps, or labor camps, and at the end of the war the number of such people was thought to be about a hundred thousand. Recently the Israeli Prime Minister's office stated that there are nearly a million living survivors. Finkelstein's mother, who really was a Holocaust survivor, used to ask him, “If everyone who claims to be a survivor actually is one, who did Hitler kill?” Claiming to be a survivor is, of course, not unrelated to sundry demands for reparations from countries and corporations. The pattern of mendacity described by Finkelstein is both distasteful and dangerous. The great danger is that it plays into the hands of the Holocaust deniers. There are some who accuse those who expose the pattern of mendacity of aiding the deniers, but that strikes me as thoroughly wrongheaded. The truth about the Holocaust can be preserved only by a relentless commitment to truth.
• It is perhaps not entirely a coincidence that Anthony Lewis, a great champion of judicial activism, is married to the recently appointed head of the top court in Massachusetts. In a recent column, Lewis takes on those who confuse democracy with majority rule, including some writers associated with this journal. The making of law and protection of rights, Lewis contends, must rest with an independent institution “not subject to the mercies of the majority or the minority.” That institution is the judiciary. He invokes in support of his argument the president of the Supreme Court of Israel, Aharon Barak, who said in a 1998 speech, “One of the lessons of the Second World War and the Holocaust is that it is vital to place formal limits on the power of the majority. The concept ‘It is not done' needs to receive the formal expression ‘It is forbidden.'” Really? Hitler, who was not elected by a majority, abolished majority rule and replaced representative democracy with a system of dictatorial command that included the courts. Was the “It is verboten” of the Nazi system an advance over the customary “It is not done” of German tradition? One might argue that the example invoked by Judge Barak supports exactly the opposite of what he and Mr. Lewis advocate. In any event, the case that law should be made in a way that is not subject to the mercies of the majority or the minority (i.e., not accountable to the people) must, in a democracy, be submitted to the people. Whether in the U.S. or Israel, one expects that the people will not rule in favor of that proposal. Which, of course, is why Mr. Lewis thinks the people should not rule.
• A couple of months ago we ran here an entertaining story about a New Orleans fellow who had to trace a property deed to get a loan from the FHA. You may remember it. If you don't, no matter. While a reliable source vouched for the story's authenticity, several readers have convincingly argued that it is apocryphal. So if you do remember it, please forget it.
• There has been an enormous fracas over the Israeli government's permitting militant Muslims to build a mosque next to the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Father Drew Christiansen, SJ., a man with extensive experience in the tangled affairs of the Middle East, offers some sage counsel: “Already some officials and organizational leaders have hinted that any criticism of Israeli government policy in the Nazareth affair will be perceived ipso facto as anti-Semitic. The foreign ministry spokesman Avis Sharon, for example, already accused the Holy See of playing ‘a time-honored game of pointing the finger in the wrong direction' in opposing the Israeli government's role in the crisis. Christians should be able to defend their coreligionists against violent intimidation anywhere, including Israel, and they should be able to expect support of those who regard themselves as guardians of religious liberty. Many Jews and Muslims, in Israel and elsewhere, fully understand this. In a mature Catholic-Jewish relationship, moreover, it should be possible to distinguish between support for Israel and criticism of Israeli government policies. Likewise, in a mature Catholic-Muslim relationship, it should be possible to distinguish between respect for Islam and criticism of militants pursuing their own ends in the name of Islam. If Christian solidarity with the church of the Holy Land results in a new level of dialogue and a new quality of relationship with Jews and Muslims in the United States, perhaps some good may still come from the affair in Nazareth. Such progress in Catholic-Jewish and Catholic-Muslim relations, however, must never lose sight of the pain of Israel's Christians made so sorely public in the crisis over the Nazareth square.”
• Believe me, it is no denigration of Oklahoma when I say that it is not the place one might have expected it. There in the foothills of the Ozarks, some fifty miles east of Tulsa, at an otherwise forsaken spot called Clear Creek, the abbey of Fontgombault in France has for the first time established a Benedictine monastery in the U.S. Fontgombault is associated with the Congregation of Solesmes, from which issued the great liturgical renewal, including the revival of Gregorian chant, in the nineteenth century, laying the foundations for the liturgical movement of the twentieth. The new foundation at Clear Creek begins with thirteen monks, and was inaugurated on February 11 (Our Lady of Lourdes) with Abbot Antoine Forgeot having some memorable things to say about the contemplative life. “Our monasteries and our monks do not involve themselves directly in pastoral activity, except for spiritual assistance given to persons on retreat at the Guesthouse. It is this desire for a strictly contemplative life which drew many vocations from America to Fontgombault for more than twenty-five years . . . . The contemplative life which we try to observe according to the Rule of St. Benedict is nothing more than Christian life in the presence of God, in His house and in His intimacy. St. Benedict defines the monastery as a ‘school of the service of the Lord.' The monastery is a school where one learns to search God truly, to love Him and to serve Him. It is a school where one does the apprenticeship of eternal life . . . . Monks live separated from the world without being cut off from it. This separation renders them all the more attentive to the true needs of the world. They keep in their prayers all the concerns and yearnings of this world. The monastic cloister might seem to you rather austere and severe. However, in the measure in which you can respect the cloister yourselves, you will more understand its meaning and price . . . . The monastery church, even if it may be very modest like this chapel of Clear Creek, is the heart of our life. The church is the center of the activity of the monks. They gather here seven times during the day and once each night in order to sing the praises of God and to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” By permission of the Holy See, the monastery uses the preconciliar rite. The abbot remarks: “The Divine Office and the Mass are habitually celebrated in Latin and in Gregorian chant, which are inseparable. Experience shows that the use of Latin and Gregorian does not hinder the participation of the faithful. Latin Gregorian chant is not less active. It is even more spiritual and fruitful. The Church depends upon contemplatives for this liturgical apostolate which leads souls to a more profound and interior spiritual life.” And, of course, there is the Benedictine ora et labora. “Like all the sons and daughters of Adam, monks are obligated by the law of work. Saint Benedict attaches a great importance to manual labor. His monks are to do themselves as much as possible in order to take care of their own needs. There is always very much work to do, especially in the beginning of a new monastery. This abundance of work is good for the brethren. Everybody makes his contribution. Everyone sacrifices himself generously and joyously for the common good of all the monastic family. This not only serves to satisfy the needs of the community, but is also profitable for the physiological balance and spiritual life of the monks.” Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa also spoke at the inaugural Mass, commending the monks for their “unshakable confidence that here in Oklahoma we could confound the world with the witness of men who prefer nothing to Christ.” Comparing the monks with the jars that were filled at the wedding of Cana, the bishop said, “He will fill you, in His own time and by whatever means He chooses to do so. You have only to wait for Him, listen for His voice, and be attentive to Him speaking in the authority of your superiors and the weakness of your brother.” Imagine. In Oklahoma. In the United States of America. Now that is what is meant by countercultural.
• Peter Steinfels is not the only one with intelligent comment on the dustup over George W. Bush and Bob Jones University. William McGurn of the Wall Street Journal is amusing, if not amused: “The point here being that the dominant media emotion surrounding L'affaire Bob Jones is not ‘outrage' but barely disguised glee. Maybe that's because the necks most firmly attached to anti-Catholicism today are not red; they bear pashmina shawls and Hermes ties, and they prefer white wine to white hoods. Why burn a cross on a Catholic lawn when you can fill museums with works like Piss Christ, theaters with films such as Miramax's Priest and Dogma, or the daily papers with headlines such as the recent one claiming Catholic priests are four times as likely to contract AIDS as other American men, this an extrapolation from just seven infected priests. As the historian Peter R. Viereck wrote four decades ago, ‘Catholic-baiting is the anti-Semitism of the liberals.' . . . The real sin of Bob Jones is not anti-Catholicism per se. It is the institution's unfamiliarity with the proper mechanics and code words that polite society uses to express it. Imagine the reaction had reporters covering Mr. Bush's Bob Jones kick-off found a large dung-and-porn-encrusted Madonna placed at the front entrance. But put that same painting in a Brooklyn museum . . .”
• In the Orthodox Church the tradition is that priests are married and bishops are monks, which is to say celibate. Now it seems there is a decreasing number of married priests, creating the prospect that, according to Father Efstathios Kollas, director of the Pan-Hellenic Union of Priests, Orthodoxy may end up with “a celibate clergy, as in the Catholic heresy.” Very few women, says Fr. Kollas, want to marry priests, except for older women with no other marriage prospects. He attributes this to the fact that priests must wear cassocks and are subject to “despotism” and “lack of accountability” on the part of the Orthodox hierarchy. Contemplating the possibility of a celibate clergy like that in “the Catholic heresy,” Fr. Kollas declares, “God save the Orthodox Church from such a terrible fate.”
• The Catholic bishops of Canada have a reputation of leaning considerably more leftward than their counterparts to the South. In recent decades, Bishop Remi De Roo of Victoria, British Columbia, was often viewed as the avant garde of the episcopal avant garde on a wide range of progressively defined social justice issues. When he retired, his successor, Bishop Raymond Roussin, was in for some distinctly unpleasant surprises. He discovered, for instance, that Bishop De Roo had, without the necessary canonical approval and without even entering the deal on the books, committed the diocese to guaranteeing a $12 million mortgage on a scheme for raising Arabian horses. The diocese had already paid out $3.5 million in mortgage payments and lawyers' fees incurred by the project. Bishop Roussin was “astounded” by the discovery. “It was totally on the side. I couldn't believe it.” Friends of Bishop De Roo say the fuss is part of a conservative effort to discredit the bishop and his progressive causes.
• Fast on the heels of his Ex-Friends comes another book by Norman Podhoretz, My Love Affair with America: The Cautionary Tale of a Cheerful Conservative (Free Press), and it, too, is an entertaining and instructive read. Podhoretz, who for thirty-five years as Editor of Commentary redefined the meaning of feistiness, once again mines the rich lode of his life among the New York writers and thinkers who made up what he calls “The Family,” but this time he reaches back to his childhood in Jewish Brooklyn and forward to the present in composing what is nothing less than a hymn of gratitude that might well bear the title “Only in America.” He is duly contrite about his lapse into sundry radicalisms in the 1960s. The cure came with the recognition that the radicalism of the Left flagrantly and systematically transgressed against a love affair with America that had possessed him from his earliest boyhood. Less persuasive than he wants it to be (and he knows that we disagree on this) is his claim that in recent years he has had to take up the cudgels against what he calls the anti-Americanism of the right. In this connection he recounts his reaction, and that of some others, to the 1996 symposium in these pages on the judicial usurpation of politics, and also to William Bennett's doleful reading of the American character during the Clinton impeachment proceedings. He suggests that he and I have since tempered our positions, which is reassuring since I hope never to be Norman Podhoretz's ex-friend. And he was pleased with my extended discussion taking issue with Bennett on what the impeachment events told us about the American people (“Bill Clinton and the American Character,”June/July 1999). In fact, there was nothing “anti-American” about either our symposium on the judiciary or Bill Bennett's analysis of the American soul. Holding America accountable to its constituting truths (as in “We hold these truths . . .”) is a very American thing to do, even if, as Podhoretz correctly notes, some people who really are anti-American have claimed to be doing only that. The grave and unchecked abuse of the polity—as in the judicial usurpation of politics—necessarily raises questions about the legitimacy of the government. The American experiment began with the question of legitimate government and will flourish only so long as that question continues to be pressed. But My Love Affair is really not a contentious book. The author is chiefly bearing witness to blessings received. Especially insightful is his discussion of the way in which being Jewish in America has been changed from a disability to an advantage, making America—Podhoretz's undoubted devotion to Israel notwithstanding—truly home for American Jews. Although there is plenty of cheer, a better subtitle might be “the cautionary tale of a grateful conservative.” It is a book for which to be grateful.
• A medical doctor writes to take exception to a comment here on the changing positions of the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association on homosexuality. “Please realize that not designating homosexuality and pedophilia and adultery and murder as mental disorders is the right thing to do. They are wrongful acts, sins . . . . They are not diseases and should not be put in categories that even suggest disease (‘mental disorders') .” There is something attractive about that argument. The changes in question can be viewed as a move away from what Philip Rieff calls “the therapeutic society” in which clinical judgment subsumes and finally dissolves moral judgment. However, the regrettable fact, as noted in my comment, is that the two APAs are in the business of expanding, not contracting, the list of what counts as mental disorder—except for homosexuality, where the clear purpose is to remove any “stigma” surrounding homosexual activity and thus to “normalize” it. The Psychological Association is the more overt in its advocacy. Here, for instance, is a four-page brochure it has issued, “Answers to Your Questions About Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality.” On every question—whether there is a choice factor in homosexuality, whether sexual orientation can be changed by therapy, whether gays and lesbians are good parents, etc.—the document toes the line of the gay advocacy organizations. It includes the notation, “This brochure was created with editorial assistance from the APA Committee on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Concerns,” and for further information it directs the reader to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. One may agree or disagree with the position championed by the American Psychological Association, but do we really need to argue about what it is up to?
• It is a matter of class warfare after all. The New York Times reports that an evangelical minister in Staten Island rented two billboards to display this passage from Leviticus: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: It is an abomination.” There was an enormous uproar by gay activists and politicians, and the next day the billboards were covered over. On the facing page in the Times was a story, with pictures, of a new exhibit at the Whitney Museum by the German artist Hans Haacke. The exhibit, which includes speakers broadcasting the sound of marching jackboots, depicts Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as a Nazi for his criticism of the elephant-dunged Madonna at the Brooklyn Museum. One need not approve of the Staten Island billboards to note that quoting the Bible is censored while comparing the mayor with Hitler is not. Censorship is not for the rich and fashionable.
• Among the encouraging things about Emmaus Ministries in Chicago, as noted by Francis Cardinal George in his recommendation of the work, is that it gives concrete expression to the hope of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” that, as stated in the original 1992 statement, “our unity in the love of Christ will become ever more evident as a sign to the world of God's reconciling power.” The particular apostolate of Emmaus is “to make Jesus known on the streets among men involved in sexual exploitation in Chicago's night community.” Supported by hundreds of volunteers and thirty Catholic and evangelical churches, Emmaus reflects the life-transforming possibilities that hold out hope to the truly marginal. For information: Emmaus Ministries, 921 West Wilson Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60640.
• It is not true that the promotion of fraudulent reports on the sexual misconduct of Catholic priests—such as the meretricious claims of the Kansas City Star (While We're At It, April)—is motivated only by anti-Catholicism. For many years now, “progressive” Catholics have seized upon every such report as fuel for their advocacy of married clergy and women priests. For instance, Paul Wilkes, editor of the Tablet, uncritically embraces the accuracy of the Kansas City report and is off and running: “Yet the key question—celibacy itself—will not go away, and the answer appears simple. Mandatory celibacy, for all priests, whether secular or religious, is not working.” Never mentioned in such advocacy is that sexual misconduct among married Protestant clergy is at least as prevalent. Nor is attention paid the phenomenon increasingly attending marriage in our culture, namely, divorce. We do not hear much about the way in which, in recent decades, clergy divorce has, willy-nilly, been “normalized” in most Protestant churches. But then, you already knew that.
• The Church's social doctrine was the subject of a recent conference at Catholic University in Washington. In responding to a paper, Father Michael Baxter, a puckishly likable “radical” who teaches at Notre Dame, opined that books such as The Naked Public Square and The Catholic Moment represented the continuation of a long delusion that Catholic political power can fix what is wrong with the country. This, he complained, ignores the hard tasks of Christian formation and discipleship. The author of the books in question, who gave the keynote address at the conference, was only slightly amused by this novel interpretation of his argument. Fr. Baxter went on to propose “seven symbolic steps” that might make Catholic social doctrine more credible. He said that Catholic colleges and universities should immediately and unequivocally forgive all student debts. The graduate students who were present thought this a very good idea. The proposal might have the merit of reducing the number of those troubling colleges and universities. Another proposal was that only those should be permitted to speak on social doctrine who could name three people on welfare. Fr. Baxter did not say whether it would count if one could name three poor people who had managed to get off welfare or were never on welfare to begin with. I gather it has something to do with the epistemological privilege of dependency. He further proposed, with special reference to Los Angeles, that 10 percent of moneys spent on building cathedrals should be given to the poor. I don't know why he limited himself to 10 percent. As one recalls from the precious ointment incident, Judas Iscariot had a much more sweeping proposal with respect to the expenditure of money on extravagant gestures. Then there is the factor that Baxter's proposal, based on a zero-sum notion of economics, raises the awkward question of soliciting donations for building cathedrals under false pretenses. More importantly, Fr. Baxter fails to appreciate that the poor in particular may be in need of cathedrals. I did like one of his symbolic steps, however: that the bishops should move their national headquarters out of Washington in order to distance themselves from the power-lust and policy wonkery that dominates life inside the beltway. That step, Fr. Baxter's misunderstanding notwithstanding, would be thoroughly in line with the argument of the books he so dislikes.
• After the death of the evil empire, there were hopes for reconciliation between the two Russian Orthodox Churches, the Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and the Moscow Patriarchate. Unfortunately, conflicts have continued, not least over properties in the Holy Land. Patriarch Alexis of Moscow has been playing footsy with, among others, Palestine's Yassir Arafat to claim properties that have long been administered by ROCOR. In protest against such a seizure in Jericho, Sister Maria Stephanopoulos staged a sit-in, which gained a measure of publicity in the area since her brother is George Stephanopoulos, former top aide to President Clinton who is now with ABC television. It is a relatively small incident in the much larger and very sad story of a Moscow Patriarchate, deeply corrupted by seventy years of Soviet domination, that has been disappointing hopes for reconciliation with just about everyone, including, not least of all, the Patriarch of the West, the Bishop of Rome.
• An incisive comment on the Whitney Museum's featuring an exhibit that compares Mayor Giuliani with the Nazis (Giuliani thought the dunged Madonna at the Brooklyn Museum was blasphemous and threatened to cut off funds,just like Hitler) is offered by Richard Brookhiser: “Hans Haacke, the German artist who started the Giuliani-Nazi fuss, claims Brecht as his inspiration. But the choice of black or red was a coin flip in prewar Germany: Brecht the Communist came from the same demimonde, half artsy, half thuggish, as the Nazis. Contemporary art claims, when pressed, a spirit of criticism or irony that (apart from crude braying at defeated enemies) was certainly foreign to the Nazis. Yet what is irony but nihilism's little brother? In Stage 1, you make values in a valueless world; in Stage 2, you play tricks on the world. Both are riffs on a common insight. Are Nazis and artists eternal enemies or secret sharers? The answer is, they're both; mostly the former, but a little bit of the latter. If artists could define, and hence delimit, their kinship, it would no longer disturb them. Since it festers, unacknowledged, all they can do is stick their tongues out at Rudy Giuliani.”
• We haven't heard much lately about the Common Ground initiative that Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago helped to launch shortly before his death, but I am told it is still going. Whatever the good intentions of those involved, it was and is a project that redefines the center leftward. I noticed the other day that on Third Avenue there is a new coffee bar. It is named Uncommon Grounds. That, in the singular, might suggest a better place for Christians to take their stand.
• In the late nineteenth century, the “good government movement” got itself stuck with the label of the goo-goo movement. Of course there was much that needed reform in corrupt political machines, as there is much that needs reform today. But inveterate reformers have a way of coming up with proposals that counter not just aberrant human nature but human nature itself. A proposal for reform isn't much good if it depends upon a prior remaking of the human condition, and is even worse if it assumes the remaking of people for the worse. Today's paper provides two dreadfully earnest goo-goo proposals. First there is Al Gore's “campaign finance reform” that would have corporations, unions, and individuals put their billions of dollars into a neutral campaign “endowment fund,” from which politicians of all stripes would draw. But why would a supporter of Jesse Helms want to help fund the reelection of Teddy Kennedy, or vice versa? This is goo-goo silliness of a high order. It is premised upon the notion that “interests” in politics is a vice. The fact is that every interest is a “special interest,” including those interests that claim to be advancing only their special version of the common good. Mr. .Gore seems to believe that funding politicians should be motivated by the altruism of disinterested good citizens. One might more plausibly contend that the common good would be served by the defunding of politicians, except that democratic politics is the competition of interests (including moral causes) that are, supporters hope, advanced by candidates who need to be financed. It is elementary, but it seems not to be understood by a cagey politician who has a long track record of carefully calibrating political influence in exchange for money. Between Buddhist monks and goo-goo airheadedness, it is hard to know which reflects more poorly on his judgment. The second item in today's paper is the report by the Pentagon's inspector general that “anti-gay attitudes are common and to some extent even tolerated” in the military. The distinguished military sociologist Charles Moskos observes: “There is a serious question in the findings of the survey on gays in the military. How is it that 20 percent of the military respondents said they had not heard offensive remarks or jokes about gays? Either they are lying or, even more troubling, completely oblivious to their fellow service members. It would even be hard to believe that one in five civilians has not heard a derogatory remark about homosexuals.” The military is composed mainly of young men in life's season of sexual fever, and we are to suppose that it is possible and desirable that they not tell jokes about sex. Or that, anomaly being an essential ingredient of humor, they not tell jokes about anomalous sexual behavior, which for about 99 percent of them includes homosexuality. And no, it is not at all like telling racist jokes. Sex, unlike racism, is both universal and good, and humor is one God-given way of coping with the problems that attend it. The problem with the thinking of the inspector general and the Vice President, as with all goo-gooism, is that it proposes not government by the consent of the governed but government by the replacement of the governed. As despots both benign and otherwise have complained from time immemorial: the people are not worthy of our government. The happiest solution is for such rulers to find a different, and presumably better, class of people to govern. In that quest, we who are the people may wish them luck.
• That indomitable civil libertarian, jazz maven, columnist, and champion of the unborn, Nat Hentoff, asked Ken Burns, director and coproducer of the PBS documentary Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, why the film excluded any reference to what those founding feminists said about abortion. Didn't Mr. Burns, who earlier received just acclaim for his documentary on the Civil War, know their position? “Yes,” Mr. Burns unhesitatingly replied, but he did not want the documentary “burdened by present and past differing views on choice.” Ah yes, the burden of truth. “Susan B. Anthony on abortion: ‘The woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life. It will burden her soul in death.' Elizabeth Cady Stanton: ‘When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit. There must be a remedy even for such crying evil as this [abortion]. But where shall it be found? At least, where begin, if not in the complete enfranchisement and elevation of women?” Were Anthony and Stanton still with us, opines Mr. Hentoff, “I think they would have picketed the showing of Not for Ourselves Alone.”
• “Journalistic ethics” becomes ever more ludicrously oxymoronic. Here is a four-thousand-word screed by John Cornwell, author of the thoroughly discredited book on Pius XII, Hitler's Pope, accompanied by a big picture spread and published in London's Sunday Times. The title is “Heaven Can't Wait” and the message is that Pope John Paul II, almost totally disabled, is being manipulated by sinister “right wing” forces in the Vatican. There are thirty uses of “conservative,” “right wing,” and “reactionary” up to the point where I stopped counting. Cornwell reports, “Reliable sources in the Vatican indicate that he is no longer managing important church business and that he spends much of the day resting. One Vatican-based cardinal reports that the Pope is invariably in bed by 6 P.M.” Of course no sources are named. Over the years and in recent months, I have spent many hours with the Pope, during the day and over meals in evenings. I know, and I know many who know more intimately, his daily routine, and it would be exhausting for a person twenty years younger than he is. John Cornwell is simply lying. Of course there is nothing new in this, nor is Cornwell alone. The papal death watch has been in continuous session for at least fifteen years. Of course the Pope is getting older and one day he will die. At which point the vultures will no doubt gleefully declare that they told us so. “The progress of his illness,” writes Cornwell, “has coincided with a host of global crises within the Catholic Church: a dramatic fall in vocations to the priesthood throughout the world, accompanied by papal intransigence on the issue of married or women priests,” and so forth. In fact, in recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of priestly vocations throughout the world. And “papal intransigence” on married or women priests is just another way of saying that John Cornwell disagrees with the Pope. So if there is nothing new in such prevarication, why do I mention it? Because there is a particularly revealing moment in Cornwell's diatribe that helps us understand how he and other journalistic Vaticanisti get their “information.” “My informant, whom I dub Monsignor Sotto Voce (Deep Throat), has aged since he first began plying me, thirteen years ago, with unattributable indiscretions over his favorite dishes: double-egged fettucine, roast suckling pig, two bottles of Villa Antinori, and a glass or two of chilled prosecco ‘to clear the head.'” This half-drunk, embittered monsignor, “his pursed lips withered with petulance and the permanent indignation of slighted worth,” revealed to Cornwell that “the Vatican is a palace of gossipy eunuchs. The whole place floats on a sea of bitchery.” Presumably Mr. Cornwell got this scoop as he listened with journalistic professionalism over his abstemious green salad and designer water. I don't doubt that there are such disgruntled monsignori in the Vatican, or that an unscrupulous reporter plying them with food and drink can get them to say some nasty things about their superiors. But that such journalistic malfeasance (if there is still a standard by which to define malfeasance) should get Mr. Cornwell a six-page spread in the Sunday Times is, I confess, more than a little disappointing.
• The Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus writes to assure us that the new school being launched in Portland (see While We're At It, March) will not be taking children away from their parents all day and all year. “One of the conditions for acceptance into Nativity School is family participation. We hope our efforts will bind [families] closer together.” I commented on the basis of a press report and welcome the reassurance.
• An eruv, as interreligiously astute readers know, is a device for demarcating the area within which observant Jews may travel on the sabbath. It is usually no more than a thin colored cord strung high on trees or posts where it would be noticed only by those who were looking for it. Wherever around the country there are a significant number of Orthodox Jews you are likely to find an eruv. But some citizens in Palo Alto, California, objected that erecting an eruv would be an unconstitutional violation of, you guessed it, the separation of church and state. The Palo Alto Weekly supports the eruv, noting that it would be “virtually unnoticeable, would incur no cost to the city” and would be a “harmless” way to demonstrate “the community's diversity and tolerance.” We agree with the editors, of course, although one wishes they came up with some less trivializing reasons for defending the free exercise of religion. The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, however, are worried about the eruv touching public property, although “both organizations allow that an eruv may be permissible if all other groups are given the same freedoms in the future.” For some reason, only Orthodox Jews have asked for an eruv to date, but all the other religious groups in Palo Alto support them. What really alarms the ACLU and Americans United is that the city would have to issue a paper granting, in return for one dollar, the right of the eruv organization to put up its marker on public property. Says Martin Kassman of the Bay Area Americans United chapter, “For the government to declare this eruv to be in effect is for the government to make a religious act.” The objection is no doubt based on the venerable constitutional principle that to acknowledge religion is to establish religion. As Barry Goldwater did not say, extremism in the defense of freedom from religion is no vice.
• I see the New Oxford Review (NOR) is taking on, of all people, Hans Urs von Balthasar, accusing him of being an Hegelian relativist who “smuggles into the heart of the Catholic a serious doubt about the truth of the Catholic faith.” The author, Father Regis Scanlon, is especially exercised by Balthasar's argument that we may dare to hope that, in the infinite mercy of God, all will finally be saved. This is a subject that I address in some detail in my new book, Death on a Friday Afternoon, and I propose, contra the NOR article, that the matter is not settled by the words of Jesus about Judas Iscariot. In making his case that we know for certain that some or many will be eternally damned, Fr. Scanlon cites several Catholic authorities, including John Paul II. Conveniently enough, he does not cite the Pope's discussion of this question in his book of personal reflections, Crossing the Threshold of Hope. John Paul writes: “But the problem remains. Can God, who has loved man so much, permit the man who rejects Him to be condemned to eternal torment? And yet, the words of Christ are unequivocal. In Matthew's Gospel he speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:6). Who will these be? The Church has never made any pronouncement in this regard. This is a mystery, truly inscrutable, which embraces the holiness of God and the conscience of man. The silence of the Church is, therefore, the only appropriate position for Christian faith. Even when Jesus says of Judas, the traitor, ‘It would be better for that man if he had never been born,' his words do not allude for certain to eternal damnation.” With such questions we come to the outer reaches of human understanding. They fall into the realm of what are called theologoumena, legitimate subjects of speculation and opinion rather than doctrine, never mind dogma. Fr. Scanlon seems to be suspicious of Balthasar and his “inflated reputation” because he is admired by liberal thinkers as well as by conservatives. The same can be said of Paul, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas. Balthasar was held in highest esteem by Cardinal Ratzinger, and, shortly before his death in 1988, the Pope announced that he would be made a cardinal. I don't know what NOR is up to by attacking Balthasar. Whether one can be more orthodox than the Magisterium is doubtful. Why one would want to be is puzzling.
• A Baptist pastor writes on his church stationery that bears the assertion, “We do the impossible.” Which put me in mind of the following that I ran across somewhere: “They showed him the thing that couldn't be done, / And with a smile he went right to it. / He tackled that thing that couldn't be done. / And found out he couldn't do it.”
• From time to time, but not very often, a work is published that by its very existence makes the world a richer place. Such is Beowulf in a new verse translation by Seamus Heaney (Farrar, Straus). I am told that it is no longer the case, but for those of a certain age the assigned struggle with Beowulf, usually in transliteration from the Anglo-Saxon, was a required rite of passage in which the law of delayed gratification worked overtime. Fortunate, then, are the high school and college students who will have this bilingual edition that resoundingly vindicates the high but previously implausible praise that scholars have heaped upon this millennium-old narrative that undergirds the glory of English literature. Some critics have abused Heaney's translation for being unadorned and even flat, but I believe that is to miss the point. It is plain and straightforward, as is the tale, in relating the conflict of good and evil, courage and cowardice, in lives lived against the horizon of mortality and attuned to the hope of honor. A word of advice, however: it is to be read aloud, preferably with someone who has an ear for language and a heart for moral truth.
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“The Pope's Apology,” New York Times editorial, March 14, 2000; conversation about papal apology, Daily Show, March 13, 2000. Peter Steinfels on anti-Catholicism , New York Times, March 4, 2000. Richard Stith on partial-birth abortion, America, April 1, 2000. Pope John Paul II at National Prayer Breakfast, ZENIT, February 4, 2000.
While We're At It:On child abuse accusations at reform school in Nova Scotia, New York Times, January 13, 2000. On divisions in Anglicanism/Episcopalianism, press release of American Anglican Council, February 2, 2000. “Necessary Impeachments, Necessary Acquittals” by Tod Lindberg, Policy Review, February/March, 2000. Mark Tooley on the Elian Gonzalez case, Weekly Standard, February 14, 2000. On religious voters, Crisis, January 26, 2000. On world government, America, January 1-8, 2000. Norman Finkelstein on who is a “Holocaust survivor,” London Review of Books, January 6, 2000. Anthony Lewis on judicial activism and majority rule, International Herald Tribune, January 7, 2000. On Israel's Christians, America, February 12, 2000. William McGurn on Bob Jones University, Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2000. On married and celibate priests in the Orthodox Church, ZENIT, February 28, 2000. On Bishop De Roo, National Post, March 3, 2000. On billboards quoting anti-homosexual biblical passage, New York Times, March 9, 2000. Paul Wilkes on comparative sexual misconduct, Catholic and Protestant, Tablet, February 26, 2000. On Patriarch Alexis of Moscow, Orthodox American, January 2000. Richard Brookhiser on the Whitney exhibit comparing Mayor Giuliani to Hitler, New York Observer, March 28, 2000. Nat Hentoff on Ken Burns documentary, Washington Times, March 27, 2000. John Cornwell on the Pope's health, Sunday Times (London), March 12, 2000. On the eruv in Palo Alto, Palo Alto Weekly, August 11 and 19, 1999. Regis Scanlon on Hans Urs von Balthasar, New Oxford Review, March 2000.