The Public Square
It is an unprecedented but, although I expect it will turn out to be ephemeral. My unscientific survey of reactions to the November election led me to read, for the first time in months, an editorial in the New York Times . The gist of the editorial, published the day after, is that President Bush does not have a mandate. He does, however, have a chance of being a great President if in his second term he follows the instructions of the New York Times . No surprises there. Then this: This page will never give up our commitment to women’s right to reproductive choice, as well as full civil rights for people of all sexual orientations. But a leader who was prepared to make political sacrifices in order to stake a claim to that middle ground could be laying the foundation for a new national consensus that might finally bring the nation’s social wars to an end (emphasis added). The middle ground in question is defined as providing gay couples with the right to have some kind of civil unions, and guaranteeing women the right to legal abortion in most, if not all, cases.
This is an extraordinary change for the Times , and I am not at all sure it will be a lasting change. Until now, the paper’s devotion to the unlimited abortion license and same-sex marriage has been absolute. At least in the immediate aftermath of the election, the editors recognize that that position is political suicide. On abortion, the fact is, and has been for years, that 80 percent of Americans believe that abortion should not be legal for the reasons that 95 percent of abortions are procured. The leader who is likely being given editorial permission to make political sacrifices in order to claim the middle ground is Senator Hillary Clinton. She would not have to do much. She could say that, while she personally supports it, the nation is not ready for same-sex marriage. She could oppose partial birth abortion and support very modest measures such as parental notification in the case of minors seeking abortion. That would alienate a small number of pro-abortion extremists, but they may be deemed politically expendable. And even they might recognize the necessity of political sacrifices to save most of what the Supreme Court handed them in Roe v. Wade . The great pay-off is that Democrats could present themselves as flexible, and their candidate could run in 2008 as moderately pro-choice”or even, with enough definitional sleight of hand, as pro-life.
The Times editorial of November 4 may be just a trial balloon. Or that editorial but may signal the next major reconfiguration of cultural and political alignments in our public life. What the editors call the social wars could be brought to an end, or at least effectively marginalized. It is significant that they are suing for terms. Until November 3, they would settle for nothing less than unqualified victory. What would it take to end or effectively marginalize the culture wars? On the most hotly contested issue of abortion, it might mean a limitation to the first month or so, with exceptions for rape, incest, and direct threat to the life of the mother. Or a reversal of Roe v. Wade with the entire question returned to the states. Such developments would not be morally sufficient but might be enough to remove abortion from the center stage of American politics as the central issue of the culture wars. Again, that editorial but may soon be withdrawn, but on this issue the Times is the bellwether and the unprecedented signal of a readiness to temper its absolutism could be very important indeed.
The End of Obscenity
Forget about obscenity, writes Jeffrey Rosen in the New Atlantis , the new journal published by the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Already back in 1973, the Supreme Court was caving when it adopted (in Miller v. California ) an impossible-to-maintain distinction between hard-core and soft-core pornography, with the latter limited to adults. The idea of judging by community standards was short-lived. Ten years after Miller , a federal court ruled that detailed portrayals of genitalia, sexual intercourse, fellatio, and masturbation are not obscene in light of community standards prevailing in New York City. Not if the measure is what was then the X-rated Times Square area, which has in recent years been turned into a family friendly environment. But those court rulings were in the days before the Internet. Rosen, who is the New Republic s regular on legal matters, cites data from a number of studies. For instance, one fourth of search engine requests every day are for pornographic material. Far below, one notes, the number of requests that fall into the broad category of religion. So Chesterton’s nation with the soul of a church has not closed down its whorehouses. What else is new?
Men make up 65 percent of visitors to porn sites, reports Rosen. No surprise there. Then there is this: Moreover, 15 percent of teens (ages twelve to seventeen) and 25 percent of older boys (ages fifteen to seventeen) have lied about their age to access an Internet site, according to the Pew research center. Only 15 and 25 percent? That strikes me as encouragingly low for boys in those hyper-hormonal years, considering that lying involves nothing more than pushing a button and nobody will know (except, apparently, the people at Pew). Rosen cites international data: 40 percent of adults in Spain, 25 percent in Britain, and 19 percent in Sweden, have visited what he calls an adult site, meaning, of course, an adolescent site, all pornography being adolescent. He concludes from this that there is no country in which consumption of hard-core pornography could plausibly be said to be patently offensive’ to the average person by applying contemporary community standards.
I suppose it depends on the meaning of average. If 75 percent of adults in Britain have not visited porn sites, despite their ready availability in the privacy of one’s home, might not that have a bearing on what is average? I expect that more than 20 percent of Americans have gotten drunk at some time, which hardly means that they, never mind all those who haven’t, think that drunkenness is not patently offensive. That a minority of a population gets drunk from time to time or furtively”and possibly with feelings of shame and guilt”watch pornography is hardly the measure of community standards. Unless, of course, the majority of the Supreme Court is doing the measuring. At this point, Rosen reaches more solid ground. It is not, he notes, the standards of the American people that matter but the opinion of the Court. There probably is nothing to be done about obscenity or pornography if the last word is the Court’s ruling on sexual autonomy in Lawrence v. Texas , which established a constitutional right to sodomy.
The Sweet Mystery Again
In that decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, repeated the sweet mystery of life rule that was first announced in Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992) in upholding the unlimited abortion license: At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Ah yes, those are no doubt the solemn questions pondered by a middle-aged sex addict visiting a site titled Hot Dudes Do Dixie Chicks. Rosen correctly observes: Now that moral disapprobation is not considered a constitutionally rational reason for restricting behavior, no definition of obscenity that relied on communal disapproval could easily pass constitutional scrutiny, unless one could demonstrate a clear harm to others. He thinks that John Stuart Mill’s harm principle may still forbid child pornography. I expect he underestimates the influence of experts willing and eager to testify that it’s good for the kiddies. He entertains the possibility that the next thing to be decriminalized is incest between consenting adults, at least if they are using birth control. The legal requirement that brothers and sisters, or fathers and daughters, use contraception may strike one as a flagrant violation of their constitutional right to define for themselves the the mystery of human life.
The editors of the New Atlantic paired Rosen’s article with an essay by David Hart, The Pornography Culture. Hart is perhaps a bit too vain about not being a lawyer, but it does help him to view the Supreme Court’s rulings on pornography with something suspiciously like common sense. It is difficult for me to grasp, writes Hart, why the Court works upon the premise that whatever means are employed to protect children from Internet pornography should involve the barest minimum imposition possible upon the free expression of pornographers. He fails to appreciate that the Court has long since decided that pornographers have a constitutional right to do what they do, but there are still inhibitions about their doing it with children or aiming their product at children. We are not yet prepared for the unbounded flight of the liberty affirmed in the sweet mystery of life doctrine.
As for the harm principle, Hart again indulges in dangerous flirtation with common sense. The damage that pornography can do”to minds or cultures”is not by any means negligible. Especially in our modern age of passive entertainment, saturated as we are by an unending storm of noises and images and barren prattle, portrayals of violence or of sexual degradation possess a remarkable power to permeate, shape, and deprave the imagination; and the imagination is, after all, the wellspring of desire, of personality, of character. Anyone who would claim that constant or even regular exposure to pornography does not affect a person at the profoundest level of consciousness is either singularly stupid or singularly degenerate. Here Hart betrays his insouciant indifference to jurisprudential precedent, quite ignoring the fact that the Court has long since made the discovery that one man’s stupidity is another’s genius, and that one man’s degeneracy is another’s poetry. Hart goes so far as to say that our courts, reflecting our culture, are confusing liberty with license.
Recognizing, as Hart does, that we are already a casually and chronically pornographic society, one is left wondering what might be done about it. With the Child Online Protection Act, Congress tried to outlaw certain kinds of pornography, while the Supreme Court ruled that the act was not sufficiently solicitous of the rights of legitimate pornographers. That these questions are left to Congress and the Court reveals, says Hart, our supine dependence on the state to impose rules that we are not prepared to impose on ourselves. We call upon the state to shield us from vice or to set our vices free because we do not have a culture devoted to the good, or dedicated to virtue, or capable of creating a civil society that is hospitable to any freedom more substantial than that of subjective will. This is simply what it is to be modern. Hart ends with the always pertinent reminder that there is a permanent tension between the biblical tradition and that of liberal democracy. We belong to a kingdom not of this world; while we are bound to love our country, we are forbidden to regard it as our true home. To which let all the people of God say, Amen.
However: I think it both unnecessary and unwise to resign ourselves to the inevitability of liberal demo-cracy ending up in the cesspool of libertinism. The founders spoke of ordered liberty, liberty ordered to moral truth. Perhaps that understanding of liberty cannot be revived, but it certainly will not be revived if we give up on it. In dissenting from Lawrence , Justice Antonin Scalia said it marked the death of laws reflecting a democratically determined sense of morality, of right and wrong. There is a measure of truth in that, but, in the larger picture, all laws reflect a moral judgment about what is right or wrong, fair or unfair, supportive of or opposed to the common good. So long as we are a relatively free society, politics, including law, will be a process of, as Aristotle would instruct us, deliberating how we ought to order our life together. The ought in that formulation signals the inescapably moral character of the enterprise. Justice Kennedy’s notion of the heart of liberty is a sure formula for the undoing of law itself. It may not stand. Court majorities come and go. The courage of legislators to challenge judicial tyranny waxes and wanes.
A Transitional Homeland
Admittedly, history does not provide many examples of the revival of liberal democracies that turned against their founding principles in culture and morality. In fact, no examples come readily to mind. The very consideration is haunted by the memory of the Weimar Republic. Whatever happens, in times doleful and times hopeful, we must never forget our true home or the anticipation of that home in the life of the Church. The second century Letter to Diognetus says that, for Christians, every foreign country is a homeland, every homeland a foreign country. In this foreign country that is our temporary homeland, it may now be decided that the law is not permitted to take cognizance of virtue and vice. What is decided can, sometimes, be undecided. If that turns out not to be possible in this liberal democracy of unprecedented influence, the world will be a much darker place. The Church and the promise it bears and anticipates will increasingly be posited, not by our choice, against this constitutional order. That may well be the future; and for that future we must be braced, and work to equip the next generation for heroic fidelity. Both Rosen and Hart recognize that the dispute over obscenity is but part of a larger dispute over the connections between law, culture, and morality. Both seem to be resigned to the sundering of those connections.
Hart recognizes that rulings on obscenity are nowhere near as apocalyptic in their implications as Roe v. Wade s imposition of the unlimited abortion license. But, whatever the issue at hand, he says that the biblical and liberal democratic traditions are in inevitable conflict. What either understands as freedom the other must view as a form of bondage, he writes. The current majority on the Court agrees. American history and, I believe, most of the American people favor the alternative that is ordered liberty. Rosen and Hart may be right that, in an era of globalized googling, there is not much of anything that can be done about obscenity. Except to avoid it and encourage others to do likewise. Anyone suggesting censorship is promptly condemned as a prudish, pinch-lipped advocate of Comstockery. But without censorship, whether in personal or public life, decency is deprived of definition.
To be sure, there is legitimate debate over where to draw the line. The Court’s effort to terminate that debate by declaring that no line can be drawn lest it inconvenience those whose definition of the mystery of life excludes decency does not square with a Constitution ordained and established to, as stated in its Preamble, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. No doubt there was pornography in 1787, but I doubt if anyone thought it was among the blessings of liberty that the Constitution was intended to secure. The sociologists on the Court declare original intent outdated by what they discern to be our evolving morality, but some consolation may be drawn from the fact that they are appointed only for life. It is not inconceivable that, at some point in the future, the people, acting through their elected representatives, may be permitted a say in the kind of society they want for themselves and their posterity. In fact, it is quite possible that we saw the beginning of such a change on November 2, 2004.
While We’re At It
Some years ago we published one article titled It’s the Culture, Stupid (FT April 1994), but in fact many articles in these pages might well bear that title. Some pundits have denied the aptness of the culture war metaphor in describing the American circumstance, while others have contended that it may once have been appropriate but is no longer. Then came the 2004 elections. The percentages may change a little upon further analysis, but the immediate aftermath powerfully confirms the culture war thesis. Asked what issue mattered most to them, 22 percent of voters named moral values. Of those voters, 80 percent went for Bush and 18 for Kerry. Next on the list (20 percent) was economy/jobs, with 18 percent of those voters going for Bush and 80 percent going for Kerry. A perfect reverse symmetry. Third on the list (19 percent) was terrorism, on which Bush beat Kerry 86 to 14 percent. So much for the vaunted economic realists who claim that the one thing certain is that the people will always vote their pocketbook. In truth, however, I expect that the great majority of those who named moral values as their top issue also believed that a second Bush term would be good for the economy. People who say the economy is the top issue predictably think the economy is in bad shape, just as those who give priority to moral values think public morality is in trouble. A Democratic ploy is to pit moral values against the economy, but that is just that, a ploy. The likelihood is that most people voting for Bush thought he would be better both for moral values and for the economy. Here’s an analysis noting that Bush got 56 percent of the white Catholic vote and Kerry only 43 percent despite Mr. Kerry’s being Catholic. One might make the case that that despite might as well be because. Catholics were not amused by a man who seemed so confused about what it means to be Catholic. The perception that he was confused was, I expect, sharpened by the bolder bishops who issued highly publicized reproaches of pro-abortion politicians. The claim that politicians who are thus reproached would get a sympathy vote from people who resent bishops meddling in politics seems to be belied by the outcome. Asked what one quality mattered most in choosing a President, people who named religious faith went 91 percent for Bush. Of all voters who attend church more than once a week, 61 percent went for Bush and 39 percent for Kerry. Of those who never attend church, the numbers were exactly reversed. Bush did much better (44 percent) with Hispanic voters than in 2000, but there was slight movement among blacks (up two points to 11 percent). The issue of same-sex marriage had gained traction with many black ministers, but that apparently had little effect on black voters, who remain a securely taken-for-granted segment of the Democratic base. It is a great pity. A people with the highest rate of the poor locked in a culture of crime and dependency, and with 20 million of their children missing because of abortion, continues to follow leaders who have made a deal with powers that clearly do not have their interests at heart. What Gunnar Myrdal in 1944 called the American dilemma has sixty years later turned into the black American embarrassment. These, then, are some of the pertinent data in the immediate aftermath of the election that underscore the ascendancy of the religious-moral-cultural matrix of American politics. Whether one approves or disapproves of the electoral consequences, it is not a good thing that the two parties are so sharply divided in this way. Republicans are understandably and with great success exploiting a division created by Democrats, most importantly by their don’t-give-an-inch support for the unlimited abortion license decreed by Roe v. Wade . In the reconfiguration of our public life, including electoral politics, January 22, 1973, is the most important date of the last half-century on the American calendar.
Not everyone on the left is joining the weeping and gnashing of teeth over the electoral triumph of the threatening theocrats. You’ve undoubtedly seen the articles claiming that the moral values vote really doesn’t mean very much. The argument is that the category moral values is, unlike economy/jobs or war in Iraq, so vague that it can mean anything or nothing. This is an argument from desperation. If nobody knew what the phrase meant, it would seem that Bush and Kerry voters would have been more or less evenly split on moral values. Unless, of course, one assumes that Kerry voters are in principle opposed to moral values. As it was, however, all sensate voters understood that moral values referred to the candidates’ clear differences on abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, a marriage amendment, and, more generally, the role of morality and religion in public life. There is no other plausible explanation of the 80-18 split other than that those who named it as their number one issue thought they knew very well what was meant by moral values. Back to weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The social scientist James Q. Wilson undoubtedly means well, but he goes a claim too far. Writing in the Wall Street Journal , he is attempting to counter the hysterics who say November 2 marked the dawning of theocratic totalitarianism. He points out that the left can be, and frequently is, more intolerant than the right, and that what a voter says is the most important issue can obscure the variety of factors that characterize voting preferences. For instance, What is the vote likely to be in Ohio among gun-owning union members who attend church but who have just lost their jobs and think the U.S. should spend less time fighting wars? Fair enough. But then this astonishing assertion, In fact, abortion was not an issue in the election and Messrs. Bush and Kerry both opposed gay marriage. In fact, that is not true. On gay marriage, Bush regularly stated his position in stump speeches and advocated a federal marriage amendment. Kerry mentioned it only when asked and opposed an amendment. On abortion, Bush has repeatedly declared himself pro-life, has steadfastly asserted the goal of every unborn child protected in law and welcomed in life, and has supported and signed pro-life measures in his first term. Kerry took and never deviated from the NARAL pledge of allegiance to the unlimited abortion license. These were not issues in the election? Does Mr. Wilson think Karl Rove was deluding himself in counting on Bush’s base among pro-life and pro-family voters? Wilson writes, It is true that President Bush improved his voting support among people who attend church frequently and who describe themselves as Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, but Sen. Kerry won nearly half of all Catholic votes and over three-fourths of all Jewish ones. Wilson presumably knows but does not mention the huge switch of Catholic voters to Bush, and the fact that the overwhelming majority of Jews never go to church, seldom go to synagogue, and have a deeply entrenched habit of voting Democratic. I recognize and sympathize with what Mr. Wilson was trying to do in his Wall Street Journal article. It is true that the election was not about establishing a theocracy. It is equally true that it was not about nothing.
Two days after the election Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne catalogued the usual leftist complaints against President Bush in a series of sentences beginning with We are aghast . . . . We are alarmed . . . . We are amazed . . . . We are disgusted . . . . He fails to say We are shocked, shocked . . . , but I gather he is. He is not about to give up, however. With the true grit of indomitable resolve in the face of catastrophe, he declares that the independent media must not be intimidated by trumped-up charges of liberal bias. One hopes that nobody has crossed the line by accusing Mr. Dionne of liberal bias.
This is poignant. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times on the day after the election: What troubled me yesterday was my feeling that this election was tipped because of an outpouring of support for George Bush by people who don’t just favor different policies than I do”they favor a whole different kind of America. We don’t just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is. Admittedly, Mr. Friedman’s portfolio is foreign affairs, but one wonders if he should not have spent a little more time at home over the last thirty years. And one cannot help but wonder whether tipped is quite the right word for the outcome of the election.
There is a thin line between Schadenfreude , which I take to be measured satisfaction in the discomfiture of opponents, and the sin of morose delectation. I tried not to cross the line in surveying some of the more apocalyptic reactions to the November elections. A contender for first place is Garry Wills’ op-ed in the New York Times the day after, titled, The Day the Enlightenment Went Out. He compares America with nations such as Britain, France, and Germany, writing, The secular states of modern Europe do not understand the fundamentalism of the American electorate . . . . In fact, we now resemble those nations less than we do our putative enemies. Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred of modernity? . . . We find it in the Muslim world, in al-Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein’s Sunni loyalists. Oh dear, we are in deep trouble. Mr. Wills cites, somewhat improbably, the Dalai Lama as an authority who agrees with him on the importance of the Enlightenment to guard against the evils of religion in public. But his clinching argument that the Enlightenment went out on November 2 is the fact that more Americans believe in the virgin birth than in Darwinism. Can a people that believes more fervently in the virgin birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation? His answer is emphatically in the negative, but it is an interesting test question. Mr. Wills insists he is a Catholic (see his recent little book Why I Am a Catholic ) who believes in the defining doctrines of the faith, so he presumably believes, perhaps even fervently, in the virgin birth. The overwhelming majority of Americans are Christians belonging to bodies that formally subscribe to the consensual tradition of Christian orthodoxy in which the virgin birth is an article of faith. It is clearly supported by Scripture and has been authoritatively taught for two thousand years. Darwin’s theory, on the other hand, has been around for somewhat less than 150 years. Leaving aside whether any explanatory theory proposed by scientists should be believed fervently, Darwinism is propounded by a host of advocates who do not agree on what the theory is, although the more aggressive of them agree that it is not compatible with the biblical account of reality. Moreover, most people do not spend a great deal of time pondering theories about the origin of species. It is not a matter of life or death touching on their eternal destiny, whereas the virgin birth is inseparably related to the incarnation, the person and work of Jesus the Christ, and the hope of salvation. Why on earth does Mr. Wills think that anybody, apart from a few ideological fanatics, should believe in a theory of evolution as fervently as they believe in the virgin birth? It is to be feared that the election was simply too much for the delicately nuanced mind of Garry Wills.
Late in the campaign John Kerry convened an informal group of fellow Catholics to shape his message in order to solidify his support among Catholics and undecided voters. The result was a speech in which he defended his pro-abortion position saying, I love my church, I respect the bishops, but I respectfully disagree. According to Religion News Service, the informal group included Victoria Reggie, the wife of Senator Ted Kennedy, and Father Leo O’Donovan, S.J., former president of Georgetown University, a school in the Jesuit tradition.
One of the problems with a literalistic Bible only approach to Christian thought is that it has no place for the role of reason or a tradition of authoritative interpretation. Here is an article by a Christian ethicist attacking the idea that abortion should be a decisive, or even a really major factor, in how a Christian votes. There are so many other issues, such as war, capital punishment, poverty, world development, and on and on. Interestingly, he invokes the Catholic bishops on a consistent ethic of life. But of course there is no reference to the document of the same bishops, Living the Gospel of Life , or to their statement of June 2004, on the singularity of abortion in making political decisions. One probably should not expect from a Protestant writer any allusion to magisterial teaching, such as John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae . The author does acknowledge that the first century Didache condemns abortion, but qualifies that by noting that the condemnation does not stand alone. The clincher in this way of thinking, however, is succinctly stated: Nor does Scripture give us any precise definition of what constitutes innocent life. There you have the widely and rightly criticized fundamentalist approach: if it ain’t in the Bible”and explicitly and precisely so”it ain’t necessarily so. The author of the essay is Father John Coleman, S.J., professor of moral theology at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.
Duke University’s Stanley Hauerwas has insisted over the years that Christian thinkers must not do ethics for Caesar. In this view, doing ethics for Caesar (meaning the government) is an exercise of statecraft that constitutes formal cooperation with this oppressive liberal regime that is set against the lordship of Christ. Some might be surprised, therefore, to find Professor Hauerwas as an endorser of an advertisement in the New York Times sponsored by Church Folks for a Better America, which is a project of Peace Action Education Fund, which is a project of Coalition for Peace Action. The ad condemns the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq, declaring that the time has come to bring this unjust and ill-considered war to an end. It goes on to make a number of positive recommendations, such as a truly international peacekeeping force to be established by the United Nations. It does read very much like doing ethics for Caesar, and not very thoughtful ethics at that. The ad says, We are Christians, from different communions. And citizens who span the political spectrum. Span: as in far left to liberal left. The ad appeared nine days before the presidential election. The radical call to costly discipleship prescribed by Hauerwas’ mentor John Yoder and his The Politics of Jesus requires a bold and uncompromising commitment to defy what St. Paul calls the principalities and powers of the present time. With unflinching resolution, Hauerwas and friends courageously risk the wrath of the liberal academy and issue a clarion call for Christians to take up the cross and, despising the cost, prove their radical fidelity to the lordship of Jesus: Vote for John Kerry. Thus do the soaring flights of theological rhetoric make a crash landing in the thoroughly conventional moral posturings of partisan politics.
In both Catholic and evangelical Protestant commentaries prior to the election, there was a notable turn on the abortion question in the arguments adopted by those supporting John Kerry. When it became evident that Kerry was standing by his unqualified pledge of allegiance to NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and other abortion rights organizations, some of his backers were in an awkward position. They were not notably pro-life, but neither did they want to be viewed as pro-abortion. To escape their dilemma, they took the line that neither candidate could, as President, do anything substantive in protecting the unborn. Roe v. Wade and its judicial offspring, they said, had removed the question of abortion from the possibility of political remedy. Therefore Bush’s pro-life statements amounted to nothing more than posturing, and Catholics and evangelicals were free to vote on the basis of other issues on which a President could make a real difference. Of course that argument conveniently overlooked the fact that”on partial birth abortion, on infants surviving attempted abortion, on embryonic stem-cell research, on U.S. funding of abortion promotion, and on other questions”Bush has acted in ways directly opposite to Kerry’s declared positions. Most important, the argument evaded the overridingly important question of presidential appointments to federal courts, including the Supreme Court. I am frequently asked whether I think Roe will ever be overturned. Court decisions are sometimes directly overturned; more often they are bypassed, incrementally undermined, or quietly retired. It is reasonable to hope that this will eventually happen to Roe . Here and there in the judiciary, one sees signs of that happening. For instance, some of the lower court rulings against the ban on partial birth abortion (the practice of killing an infant just before she has completely emerged from the birth canal) are markedly unhappy that the Supreme Court in Roe prevented judges from doing the right thing. Of interest in this connection is the five-page separate opinion by Judge Edith Jones of the federal appeals court in New Orleans in McCorvey v. Hill . Norma McCorvey, it may be remembered, was the Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade . Years later, she did a complete turnaround, becoming a devout Christian and ardent pro-life advocate. Her attempt to reopen the original lawsuit thirty years later was rejected by the federal appeals court, but not without having scored very important points. Judge Jones, agreeing with the late Justice Byron White, calls Roe an exercise in raw judicial power. The evidence presented in McCorvey , she writes, goes to the balance Roe struck between the choice of the mother and the life of her unborn child. The balance struck by Roe , she notes, cannot stand up under the accumulation of new evidence about, among other things, the damage done to women by abortion, the excruciating pain experienced by the child being aborted, increased alternatives to abortion for women with unwanted pregnancies, and what is now scientifically established beyond doubt about the beginning of human life. Supreme Court rulings, Judge Jones complains, have rendered basic abortion policy beyond the power of our legislative bodies. The perverse result of Roe , says Jones, is that the facts no longer matter. Her conclusion is a sharp reproach of the Supreme Court: Hard and social science will of course progress even though the Supreme Court averts its eyes . . . . One may fervently hope that the Court will someday acknowledge such developments and re-evaluate Roe . That the Court’s constitutional decision-making leaves our nation in a position of willful blindness to evolving knowledge should trouble any dispassionate observer not only about the abortion decisions, but about a number of other areas in which the Court unhesitatingly steps into the realm of social policy under the guise of constitutional adjudication. Will Roe v. Wade , in one way or another, ever be nullified? The answer is very probably Yes, when there are two or three more Justices like Judge Edith Jones on the Supreme Court. And that, contrary to the tortured argument of putative opponents of abortion who voted for John Kerry, had everything to do with who would be President.
Monsignor George A. Kelly has died. Born in 1916 and ordained a priest in 1942, Kelly was a legend in the New York Archdiocese and the nation. Feisty is the word that inevitably comes to mind. Ralph McInerny has remarked that if Kelly had gone into the movies instead of the priesthood, Jimmy Cagney would have spent his life as an Irish bartender. With a promptitude that many thought impolite, Kelly early on protested the dawning of the silly season following the Second Vatican Council. In 1979, Doubleday published his Battle for the American Church in which Kelly contended, A guerrilla-type warfare is going on inside the Church and its outcome is clearly doubtful . . . . The issues at stake are the correctness of Catholic doctrine and the survival of the Catholic Church as a significant influence in the life of her own communicants. Kelly was a happy warrior, smiting his opponents hip and thigh, but wishing them no real harm other than diminished influence. In addition to parish duties and his writing, Kelly taught social science at St. John’s University for many years and founded the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. George Kelly was splendid company and, as a raconteur, among the masters. May he be welcomed on the far side of Jordan by the happy host of those who bear the scars of having fought the good fight.
If you don’t like the Constitution, you can always rewrite it. Or resort to the creative use of ellipses. The American Civil Liberties Union has an impressive website on free speech. The opening paragraph introducing the website is this: It is probably no accident that freedom of speech is the first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’ The Constitution’s framers believed that freedom of inquiry and liberty of expression were the hallmarks of a democratic society. The first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment is, of course, the free exercise of religion. It appears that among the liberties championed by the ACLU is that of taking liberties with the text of the Constitution.
Back when the Lambeth Conference said that homosexual practices are not compatible with scriptural teaching, retired Episcopal bishop John Spong opined that the ultraconservative position is attributable to pressure from culturally backward African bishops who are only a generation removed from the jungle. It was later pointed out here that the African bishops, who govern dioceses many times the size of their American counterparts, are also much better educated than the American bishops, with many of them having earned advanced degrees at European and American universities (While We’re At It, FT May 2000). Gene Robinson, the gay New Hampshire bishop, now tries a different explanation of why Africans and others oppose the attempt of American Episcopalians to overthrow traditional teaching on sexuality. I’ve had people say to me that in developing countries, people don’t see any difference between you and George Bush, and this is being experienced as yet one more unilateral action on the part of Americans, and we’re sick of it and we’re not going to take it anymore, he said. I’m not saying there aren’t theological issues, scriptural issues and so on, but I do think that . . . may have something to do with the vociferousness of the debate. Add to the sidelining of the United Nations and the alienation of Old Europe George W. Bush’s responsibility for the breakup of the Anglican communion.
Statistics and other lies. Here is another article claiming that life expectancy a hundred years ago was only forty-seven years while today it is seventy-six years. Such figures are used for a number of mischievous purposes. They play into fear-mongering about a health care crisis for the elderly, a problem that is severe enough without its being exaggerated. We are regularly told that the permanence of marriage is antiquated because in the old days, given life expectancy, the commitment was only for twenty years or so. Andrew Greeley, the sociologist, has for years been citing the misleading data in support of his argument for term limits for the priesthood. In the old days, he claims, ordination was not for fifty or sixty years since priests, like everyone else, died early. Of course this is patent nonsense, as anyone knows who has wandered through an old cemetery and noted the dates on the tombstones. If that doesn’t convince you, the facts of the matter are readily available from the U.S. government’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The great difference from a century ago is the dramatic reduction in deaths from infant and childhood diseases, thanks largely to the discovery of antibiotics. According to NCHS data, in 1900 a twenty-year-old white man had a life expectancy of 62.2 years. In 2000, it was 75.7 years. In 1900, a twenty-year-old white woman had a life expectancy of 73.7 years, compared with 80.7 in 2000. Pertinent to claims about the elderly living so much longer today, in 1900 a seventy-year-old white man lived on average to 79.3 years, compared with eighty-three years in 2000. In 1900, a seventy-year-old white woman lived to 85.2 years, compared with 93.2 years in 2000. These are significant differences, to be sure, and the cumulative effect does pose serious questions for the care of the elderly. But the data do not support claims that we need to change major institutions in order to accommodate dramatically changed life expectancies. Whether the wedding bond was for fifty-four years or sixty-one years, for the woman getting married in 1900 or in 2000, marriage was marriage. Whether at ordination a man expected to be a priest for thirty-seven years or forty-eight years, ordination was ordination. Of course more people get divorced today and, in the last several decades, many priests abandoned their priesthood. Whatever the reasons for that, nobody should blame the actuarial tables. We live longer today, although not so much longer as is commonly claimed, but that has little or no bearing on how we live the years that are ours.
It may be that nobody in the last twenty years has done as much as N. T. Wright to make solid biblical scholarship accessible to educated but nonspecialist Christians. From the eighteenth century on, beginning with H. S. Reimarus, scholars have been engaged in several phases of the quest for the historical Jesus, opening the way for innumerable reconstructions and fantasies, the latest of which is the phenomenally popular The Da Vinci Code . When understandably confused readers ask for a reliable guide on the question of what is and is not known about Jesus, I frequently direct them to N. T. Wright. For a readable introduction to Wright’s work, I recommend The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (Intervarsity). Wright’s most recent and massive (817 page) book is The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress). It is well worth the investment of time and money. Wright, who is now the Anglican bishop of Durham, is sometimes treated condescendingly by the academic guild. It is the common fate of scholars who commit the unpardonable sin of writing in a way that nonspecialists can understand. Here is a review of his latest book in Theology Today that sniffingly refers to him as a worldwide celebrity lecturer and suggests that the book will be welcomed by Wright fans. Wright is a proponent of narrative realism, meaning both that the biblical accounts are the only accounts we have of the person and work of Jesus and that those accounts provide the most convincing evidence for what Christians believe about the person and work of Jesus. The review by Pheme Perkins of Boston College takes an interesting twist. Many scholars of a liberal bent take delight in undermining what ordinary Christians believe. Perkins attempts a different tack: Wright’s insistence on a univocal understanding of Christian eschatology leads him to attack the faith of ordinary believers. At best, the in heaven’ and with the Lord’ language is only about the intermediate state of the dead. Our funeral sermons should not promise the happy life in heaven or an immediate transition out of the body by an immortal soul. Easter refers to God’s recreation, to the restoration of God’s righteous ones in that creation, not to an individual hope for a next life or for life continued in a new sphere of reality. This principled rejection leaves one wondering what the pastoral significance of Wright’s project will turn out to be. This is a clever move, trying to make it appear that Wright is the one who is undermining the faith of orthodox believers. It is too clever by half. In fact, the biblical account is inseparably tied to the covenant with Israel and its fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah who, as resurrected Lord, promises a final (eschatological) restoration of all things. Later Christian thinkers would find a place in orthodox belief for ideas such as the immortality of the soul, but Wright is a biblical scholar, not a philosophical theologian. The truth is that many funeral sermons confidently asserting that the deceased is now in heaven and enjoying eternal bliss are exercises in presumption that are without warrant in biblical testimony or the theological tradition. We commend the faithful departed to the mercy of God and, if we are Catholic, pray that they are on their way (the way called purgatory) to glory, but we do not presume to know their final disposition. (Those whom the Church formally declares to be saints constitute a special case, but that’s a question for another time.) The great merit of N. T. Wright’s work is that he makes a reasonable and convincing case for the reliability of the biblical accounts, and that he compels us to keep whatever we say or think about the faithful departed inseparably tied to the life, death, resurrection, and promised return of Jesus the Christ.
In October Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee delivered our eighteenth annual Erasmus Lecture. He follows in the train of distinguished Erasmus lecturers, including Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Peter Berger, Paul Johnson, Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, Rabbi David Novak, and Mary Ann Glendon. To a packed house of about five hundred, Dolan, who is a student of American Catholic history, told the story of conciliarism in America. In the eighteenth century, Catholic bishops assiduously attended to the internal ( ad intra ) urgencies of building the infrastructure of Catholicism in this country. With World War I and the New Deal, they turned outward ( ad extra ) to address, frequently in a prophetic mode, the problems of the surrounding society. The heyday of ad extra efforts, said Dolan, was the 1980s with pastoral letters on nuclear deterrence and the economy. Following the crises of recent years, the attention of the bishops and their national conference is again turning to the ad intra questions of catechizing, church discipline, and the renewal of sacramental life. As is the usual practice with the Erasmus Lecture, the next day we held a scholars conference of people associated with First Things in order to engage the questions raised by Archbishop Dolan. There was a lively discussion of many things, not least being whether the ad intra / ad extra distinction still holds. For instance, episcopal discipline of public figures who publicly support the unlimited abortion license would seem to be ad intra , yet it raised an ad extra storm of controversy in the political arena. We hope to be publishing the Archbishop’s lecture in the near future, and of course the questions he raised will continue to receive careful attention in these pages. Next year’s Erasmus Lecturer will be Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School, a Baptist institution. Dr. George is, among his many distinctions, an invaluable participant in Evangelicals and Catholics Together.
As is well known, the constitution of the European Union very pointedly makes no reference to Christianity in its preamble alluding to European identity. This fall the leaders of member nations gathered in Rome to formally sign the constitution. The signing took place on the Capitolino, a beautiful square designed by Michelangelo. The leaders were photographed sitting beneath a huge statue of the fifth-century Pope Innocent I. In the same room is a fine bust of the emperor Constantine. One expects that some of the politicians had a hard time remembering that Christianity played no part in the formation of Europe.
The Daily Telegraph of London reports that German archaeologists have discovered the lavatory on which Martin Luther wrote the Ninety-Five Theses that launched the Protestant Reformation. ’This is a great find,’ Stefan Rhein, the director of the Luther Memorial Foundation, said, particularly because we’re talking about someone whose texts we have concentrated on for years, while little attention has been paid to anything three-dimensional and human behind them.’ Perhaps the infelicity is in the translation.
Why do you hate us? That, says Mustafa Akyol, writing in the American Enterprise , is a question frequently put to Muslims by Americans. The first answer from someone like me, who is repulsed by terrorists who kill in the name of Islam, is that most of us do not hate you. Yet it must be acknowledged that radical Muslim rage is real in many countries. A major source of such rage is the moral decadence of American society as communicated by Hollywood and other media. Akyol writes: This distaste derives not only from culture but also from ideas. When Western ideas’ are mentioned, many Muslims think not of Jefferson, C. S. Lewis, Lincoln, or Burke, but rather of Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, and Carl Sagan. The behavior of some Westernized local elites in Muslim countries makes the situation even worse. In my country of Turkey, one popular stereotype of the Westernized Turk is of the soulless, skirt-and money-chasing man drinking whiskey while swearing at Islam. Although a caricature, it carries enough truth to further a bad image of the West . . . . Obviously, that is a distortion of the truth. America stands out in the Western world as a nation under God,’ particularly compared to Old Europe.’ The aggressive secularism of Europe is one reason why European Muslims are especially radicalized. (Another spur is the lesser opportunities for upward mobility in Europe as compared to America.) As a Muslim, I feel at home in America when I see people saying grace at the table, praising the Lord, filling houses of worship, and handling currency inscribed In God We Trust.’ When I’m in Europe, on the other hand, with its empty cathedrals, widespread atheism, and joyless cynicism, I feel alienated. So what is to be done? To erase this false image, America must help Muslims see that it is indeed a nation under God. The culture it exports should celebrate more than materialism, disbelief, selfishness, and hedonism. America must do a better job of portraying the principles of decency that undergird its society. Otherwise it will be despised by devout Muslims throughout the world, and radicals will channel contempt into violence. Of course, avoiding radical Islamist rage is only one reason for Americans to resist empty materialism. A deeper reason is that materialism is a mistaken philosophy. If they will save themselves from its disappointments, Americans will enjoy many benefits”including a better chance to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, and avert a clash of civilizations.
The year 2004 was the 350th anniversary of the arrival of Jews in America. There were a few public events to mark the occasion, but they received slight attention. David Gelernter of Yale considers two books published in the anniversary year: Jonathan Sarna’s American Judaism: A History , reviewed in these pages by Alan Mittleman (FT May 2004) and Hasia Diner’s Jews of the United States, 1654-2000 . Gelernter likes the former more than the latter, but is finally disappointed with both. Gelernter writes: Above all, I would want to know where today’s American Jews can look for spiritual leadership. What is Judaism? Why should anyone bother being a Jew? When people ask me those questions, I tell them that Judaism is the most important intellectual development in history; the deepest, most passionate, and most beautiful of the great family of Judeo-Christian religions it fathered. I tell them that Christianity itself is an allegorical retelling of Jewish history, that Jews are the senior nation of the Western world, that Jewish ideas were decisive to the creation of modern democracy. I mention the Jewish belief that the House of Israel is God’s own presence on earth, and that if (God forbid) the Jews should vanish from this world, God would too. Among the many questions raised by that last assertion is the very old one about who is a Jew. Gelernter is especially interested in the contribution of Judaism”not just Jews but Jewish ideas ”to the American experiment. In this connection, however, he comes close to appropriating the first Americans to the Jewish community. Turn now to the larger question of influence, the influence of Jewish ideas. The role of classical Israel in the development of the American mind is a hugely significant story. Where does the modern liberal democratic state come from? In part from Britain, especially from the seventeenth-century civil war that set Parliament and the Puritans against the crown, its privileges, and the established church. But that war was itself greatly influenced (via Puritanism) by classical Judaism and the Hebrew Bible. Puritanism can plausibly be read as an effort by modern Christians to transform themselves back into Jewish Christians’ of the New Testament age”and then to reach back even farther to become God’s new chosen people.’ Gelernter quotes the historian of American religion, Sidney Ahlstrom, who wrote, The Federalist Papers . . . as well as John Adams’ defenses of the American Constitution, can be read as Puritan contributions to Enlightenment political theory. He also notes with satisfaction that in 1776, three-quarters of American citizens were Puritan. That is stretching the definition of Puritan very thin indeed. But, even if it were accurate, the dubious equation between Puritan and Jewish runs into the inconvenient fact that the Puritans were quite decided about their being Christians. It is true that Christianity is inexplicable apart from Judaism”and not just Jewish ideas”but that does not mean Christians are Jews, except possibly in the sense that Franz Rosenzweig called Christianity Judaism for the Gentiles. Like Karl Rahner’s description of non-Christians as anonymous Christians, Gelernter runs the danger of appropriation by definition, with the result that the achievements of Christian America turn out to be the achievements of Jewish America. In a similar argumentative turn, this past year there was considerable discussion about how Samuel Huntington, in Who Are We? , attributed the American achievement to Anglo-Protestants. He, too, emphasized that he did not mean just those who are English and Protestant but the core culture of Anglo-Protestantism. (My reflection on Huntington’s argument can be found in FT August/September 2004.) I haven’t read the Diner book, but I think Jonathan Sarna is right to let Jews be Jews and Christians be Christians. In the same way, Huntington would have done better to more fully acknowledge that Germans, Italians, Jews, Poles, Swedes, and a host of others have contributed in crucial ways to who we are as Americans. Of course Gelernter is right that there would be no Christianity without Judaism, and Huntington is right that there would be no American constitutional democracy without Anglo-Protestants, but we understand our common circumstance better when we respect the discrete identities of all who have contributed to making that circumstance, for better and for worse, what it is.
Our circumstance is even more desperate than Samuel Huntington claims. Or so says James Kurth, writing in the National Interest . The dissolution of American national identity”an identity grounded, as Huntington puts it, in the core culture of Anglo-Protestantism”is far advanced. Our business, academic, and media elites, says Kurth, are united in their devotion to global consciousness, transnationalism, multiculturalism, and other dissolvents of American identity. He says we have been here before: Of course, there was one earlier era”just a century ago”when the global economy and communications technology of the day seemed to be drawing some business and cultural elites”particularly those in the British Empire”toward a transnational identity. This earlier era of globalization was brought to a crashing halt by the outbreak of World War I. The ensuing mobilization of national economies and national propaganda enhanced national identities around the world. These developments were further reinforced by the Great Depression and World War II, and the era of strong national identities lasted for half a century. It was not until the 1960s that a new era of globalization would begin. Restoring national identity now, writes Kurth, would take an exogenous shock, such as a direct threat from a nationalist and expansionist China. Barring that, the Anglo-Protestant culture had built into it its own demise, what with its individualism, capitalist expansionism, and universalist creed favoring unlimited immigration. [Our] elite culture, particularly its supercharged business enterprise and expressive individualism, is itself merely an exaggerated version of some of the core values of the old Anglo-Protestant culture and of the American Creed. In the end, it is the American national culture that is working to abolish itself. What Huntington should be calling for, says Kurth, is the displacement of our cultural elites, but that would require a populist revolution, likely resulting in a society that is hardly consonant with Huntington’s core culture. Kurth’s is a provocative and not entirely implausible thesis. I believe that, all in all, American national identity and, as a necessary accompaniment, American national sovereignty are good things for America and the world. But business, intellectual, and”to a considerable extent”religious elites are undermining that identity and sovereignty. Some Catholic thinkers who confuse ecclesial catholicity with political universalism morally reinforce that undermining. At the same time, populist pressure expressed not through revolution but through electoral power can, and is, tempering the globalist elites. And it may well be that the challenge of Islam will build to the point of being that exogenous shock of which Kurth writes. In which case, we may become less apologetically the Judeo-Christian society that most Americans think we are. But Huntington, Kurth, and others are right in recognizing that these questions and their possible answers constitute the great world-historical drama of this century, and perhaps the next. On the other hand, we should never underestimate the cunning of history and/or Providence in coming up with surprises, whether rude or welcome or a mix of both.
I am asked, How did the Princeton conference go? A nice thing about growing older is that there are more anniversaries to celebrate. The twentieth anniversary of The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America was observed with a session at the American Political Science Association meeting in Chicago last September. Some of those presentations were published in our November 2004 issue. In October 2004, there was a two-day conference on the book at Princeton University, sponsored by the James Madison Program in cooperation with Baylor University. I will not bore you with all the details. Not that I was bored, mind you. I’m discovering that being feted is rather pleasant. Many interesting things were said; the criticisms I will take to heart, the praise I will store up for the lean years. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. was there. He is getting old and frail but managed a feisty assault on George W. Bush as the most aggressively religious president in American history. Jeanne Heffernan of Villanova and George McKenna of City College, New York, effectively countered that Bush is very much in the presidential mainstream of mixing transcendent and temporal themes in articulating American purpose and identity. Joseph Weiler of New York University addressed the contrast between America and Europe in their understanding of religion and morality in the public square. Weiler is an orthodox Jew whose book on Christian Europe and why it should remain Christian has stirred great interest across the Atlantic. It is hoped the book will soon be published here. William Galston of the University of Maryland argued that John Rawls and I are not so far apart in our understanding of what counts as public reason, and there is something, albeit only a little something, to that. Galston spoke of his becoming more seriously Jewish, which has brought with it a new awareness of the incommensurability of religious prescription and public reason. One respondent, philosopher Michael Pakaluk of Clark University, was not buying, contending that every assertion, whether religious or secular, is subject to the question, Is it true? This le