The idea of “Christian America” meets with determined opposition on many fronts, and for many reasons. Few have pulled together the argumentative strands of opposition with such verve as Diana L. Eck of Harvard University. Her book, A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation (HarperSanFrancisco, 404 pages., $27), should, in the view of some, permanently retire the idea of Christian America. As the publisher says, Prof. Eck is “an articulate and credentialed Harvard scholar,” and her “findings strike at the heart of xenophobia in this country [and are] sure to startle many Americans.” To say that Prof. Eck is well credentialed is an understatement. She is Professor of Comparative Religion at Harvard, Master of Lowell House (or, as she prefers, co-master), Director of the Pluralism Project, the recipient of major grants from the Ford Foundation, and in 1998 President Clinton bestowed upon her the National Humanities Medal. Her dustjacket photo, by Bachrach no less, reveals a woman both feisty and thoughtful, and the endorsements of the book by prestigious academics—Harvey Cox, Edwin Gaustad, Wade Clark Roof, Alan Wolfe—far exceed the fulsome praise customary among friends. A New Religious America intends to be, and is, a major statement.
Eck knows something of the history of the Christian America that she insists is now past, and she is not entirely unsympathetic to that history. She quotes Tocqueville’s assessment of America in the 1830s: “There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.” In the American democracy, said Tocqueville, religion is “the first of political institutions,” referring not only to its public influence but to the fact that it is the school in which people learn the habits and responsibilities of democratic association.
But there is no going back to that, says Eck. Plus, her sympathy for that earlier time is sharply qualified by the early American hostility to the religion of Native Americans. She complains that the American settlers thought they were bringing religion to the Indians, but they already had a religion that can lay claim to being more authentically American. One might respond that the settlers were well aware that the Indians had their religions; they thought they were bringing them the true religion. As we shall see, it is this notion of truth in connection with religion—or, more precisely, the rejection of that notion—that is at the heart of Prof. Eck’s argument.
A Religious Settlement
A hundred and twenty years after Tocqueville, Will Herberg wrote about a tripartite American religious situation in his influential book Protestant, Catholic, Jew. After World War II, the liberal Protestant cultural hegemony began to collapse, and the more conservative Protestants—those who would later be called evangelicals—were isolated in the supposed backwaters of “fundamentalism.” Formerly immigrant Catholics were being accepted as part of the mainstream, and a deal was struck with American Jews that, at least for public purposes, we would speak of our society as being based upon a Judeo-Christian moral tradition. This was the new religio-moral-cultural “settlement” celebrated by Herberg. (As a rabbi friend has remarked, “It was really astonishingly generous of you Christians to give our 2 percent of the population 50 percent of the say in defining the culture.”)
But, according to Eck, Herberg’s new settlement is now as untenable as Tocqueville’s assessment more than a century earlier. “By the 1990s,” she writes, “it was Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh, and our collective consciousness of the wide and deep presence of America’s Native peoples was greater than ever before.” What was “one nation under God” is now “one nation under many gods,” and we should not only get used to it; we must learn to celebrate the change. To help us understand and celebrate that change is the purpose of A New Religious America.
Diana Eck is nothing if not an enthusiast, and the exuberance with which she details the changed religious situation lends her account a certain charm. In Nashville she visits a Hindu temple, in the farmlands south of Minneapolis she is taken with the Southeast Asian roofline of a Cambodian Buddhist temple, while outside Toledo she notices the minarets of a mosque when driving by on the interstate. “Not all of us have seen the Toledo mosque or the Nashville temple, but we will see places like them, if we keep our eyes open, even in our own communities. They are the architectural signs of a new religious America.”
Prof. Eck cannot hold back from waxing rhapsodic about “the symphony” of this new circumstance, “each retaining its difference, all sounding together, with an ear to the music of the whole.” Or, better than the symphony image, “perhaps we need to stretch our imagination to something more akin to jazz. . . . Learning to hear the musical lines of our neighbors, their individual and magnificent interpretations of America’s common covenants, is the test of cultural pluralism.” She invites us to see “the religious landscape of America from sea to shining sea, in all its beautiful complexity.” At times one almost envies Prof. Eck’s ebullient sense of fresh discovery, reflected in page after page of effusive appreciation. Admittedly, some readers may find the uncritical enthusiasm cloying after a while—her every visit to an exotic site or participation in an arcane ritual is “moving,” “deeply meaningful,” “inspiring,” etc.—but it cannot be denied that Eck has paid attention to generally neglected or unknown corners of American society, and that gives the book moments of real interest.
The Multicultural Reality
A New Religious America is a study in, and promotion of, multiculturalism. She writes, “We know that the term multiculturalism has crept into our vocabulary and that this term has created such a blaze of controversy that some people mistake it for a political platform rather than a social reality.” Prof. Eck wants it understood that her interest is not in advancing a political platform but in helping us understand and celebrate the multiculturalism that is, in fact, the social reality of America. This is not to say that she approaches her subject without biases. Who does? While she does not disguise the fact that she is a more or less conventional liberal (some would say leftist) on the usual questions in public dispute, the acknowledged biases in her understanding of religion itself are most pertinent to the argument.
For Diana Eck, religion is mainly, and sometimes, it seems, exclusively, a matter of spiritual experience. Doctrine (apart from the teaching of unlimited tolerance) and moral rules (apart from prescribed stances on issues in cultural dispute) are sharply subordinated. She knows there are traditionalists who think religion is “delivered and passed intact from generation to generation,” but they are simply wrong. “Our religious traditions are dynamic not static, changing not fixed, more like rivers than monuments,” she writes. The diversity celebrated at places such as Harvard is a “revolution” that is transforming society. “Our campuses have become the laboratories of a new multicultural and multireligious America.”
Eck is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and she quotes favorably a Native American executive of that body who protests the arrogance of its trying to displace indigenous religions with Christianity. “Throughout our history,” Eck writes, “the United States has been dominated by the influence of Christianity—strongly monotheistic, with many Christian voices articulating an exclusivist view of ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’“ The freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution, says Eck, “clashes directly with the negative religious views of pluralism held by some conservative Christians.” Here, she writes, Hinduism also makes a unique contribution by teaching us “a theology of religious pluralism.” In a new religious America there is no place for the definite article; we should understand the words of Jesus about himself as a claim to be a way, a truth, and a life. I am not sure that Eck really means to say that religion she calls “exclusive”—but that others would call inclusive because it is salvation offered to absolutely everyone—is unconstitutional. Unfortunately, she does not expand on what would appear to be a novel reading of the First Amendment.
It is in connection with the view of religion as dynamic, changing, and flowing that one may understand the author’s reason for discussing her relationship with her partner, to whom the book is dedicated “heart and soul.” The reader may think this a personal matter that is extraneous to the subject at hand, but the author uses it to illustrate the kind of liberation from tradition that she extols. Dorothy Austin is a professor of psychology and religion and an Episcopal minister who has, says Eck, “a genius for making friends.” It was considered a major breakthrough at Harvard when a same-sex couple was appointed as co-masters of Lowell House. Eck writes of Ms. Austin, “She kicked off her shoes with me at many temples, mosques, and gurdwaras,” and much of the book indeed reads as an account of friends having a jolly good time on a spiritual shopping spree, eagerly consuming one new experience after another. The jollity, however, should not be allowed to obscure the very big argument that Prof. Eck wants to make.
“Who We Are”
Eck’s purpose, as she says many times over, is to explain “who we are” as a people—or at least who we would be if we overcame the “hatred and bigotry” that prevents us from being who we are. References to hatred and bigotry abound in the book, and sometime seem to include everyone who disagrees with the author, especially people who subscribe to what we may call definite article truth. On the other hand, hatred and bigotry are very bad things that cannot be condemned too often, so one is inclined to cut Prof. Eck some slack with respect to a style that might otherwise be criticized as grindingly repetitious and offputtingly strident. The patient reader will recognize the heart of the argument being made: when it comes to religious and cultural diversity, Americans can be put into three categories—those who favorexclusion, those who favor assimilation, and those who favor pluralism. According to Eck, Peter Brimelow, who argues in Alien Nation that the country needs to get control of its immigration policy, is obviously an exclusionist (see “hatred and bigotry” above). Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who says in The Disuniting of America that multiculturalism, especially on campus, has accented the pluribus at the expense of the unum, is an assimilationist. And, of course, the author and others whose motto is, as she says, “the more pluribus the better” are the pluralists.
Prof. Eck is perhaps unduly optimistic about the number of Americans in her third category. Although she acknowledges that Harvard is not the “bellwether” of American society, she keeps returning to Harvard, and especially to the Harvard Divinity School where she teaches, as the exemplification of the “new religious America” that she favors. It seems that almost everyone at Harvard shares her understanding of pluralism. And not only at Harvard. She is delighted to discover a Buddhist group near Boston that leads an annual pilgrimage deploring the history of slavery in America, and Native Americans in the area who observe Thanksgiving Day as a National Day of Mourning. But one may respectfully ask whether these are instances not of pluralism but of “out-group” assimilation to the dominant culture, meaning the dominant culture of Harvard and environs. The reader cannot help but wish that Prof. Eck had explored such nuances. But then, the book is already very long, or at least seems very long, and it is perhaps understandable that the author did not want to let critical analysis get in the way of the celebration of diversity.
Some of Eck’s efforts to recruit others to her understanding of pluralism, however, do seem to be a bit of a stretch. For instance, she quotes favorably Father John Courtney Murray on “the coexistence within the one political community of groups who hold divergent and incompatible views with regard to religious questions.” In the very same We Hold These Truths, however, Murray writes: “The American Proposition rests on the more traditional conviction that there are truths; that they can be known; that they must be held; for, if they are not held, assented to, consented to, worked into the texture of institutions, there can be no hope of founding a true City.” That, of course, is the precise argument that it is the entire purpose of A New Religious America to refute. Eck is correct in saying that Murray favored a “structure of dialogue” over a “structure of warfare,” but his understanding of dialogue assumes the idea of definite article truth from which Eck says we must be liberated. Fr. Murray was quite insistent that the democratic pluralism he favored has a very particular religious and cultural history grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Eck is in many ways admirably ecumenical, but she lets her irenic spirit get the best of her when she tries to recruit to her position figures such as John Courtney Murray who spent their careers advocating a position diametrically opposite to hers.
This irenic overreach is evident also in Prof. Eck’s appropriation of the Williamsburg Charter. That document was signed by a wide array of religious leaders on the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, and was intended to propose a way in which Americans might continue to live together with “our deepest differences.” Prof. Eck greatly admires the Williamsburg Charter, and I confess that I agree with her good judgment in this case. At the same time, I must declare a vested interest, since I was chairman of the committee that wrote the Williamsburg Charter. I regret to say that Prof. Eck gravely misunderstands the intention and text of the document. Here again, she would have been well advised to contain her irenic pattern of recruitment.
The argument of the Charter is that it is a false pluralism that pretends our deepest differences finally make no difference. The Charter sets forth “how we view the place of religion in American life and how we should contend with each other’s deepest differences in the public sphere.” The key word here is “contend.” The proposal is that definite article truths in conflict can be engaged within the bond of civility in addressing controverted questions of public policy. The Charter also assumes the history-specific, Judeo-Christian development of the authentic pluralism that it espouses. In sum, and as with Fr. Murray, the Charter stands in starkest opposition to the argument of A New Religious America. I do not suggest that Prof. Eck is deliberately misrepresenting the Williamsburg Charter. Any document could be improved, and it is more than possible that, despite my efforts and those of many of the country’s leading thinkers on these matters, the Charter is subject to the misunderstanding proposed by Prof. Eck. I do confess to being somewhat surprised, since I have never before come across such an inventive construal of what we wrote.
Truths in Conflict
The three-part distinction between exclusion, assimilation, and pluralism is hardly original with Prof. Eck, as she probably knows, and has no doubt been around so long because people have found it useful. At the hands of Prof. Eck, however, one must ask whether any of the three terms means what it is usually taken to mean. Pluralism, for instance, is much more than diversity. Religious and moral pluralism means that there exist in the same space plural ways of understanding reality and rules for living drawn from those ways of understanding. These ways are not only divergent but are frequently in conflict. The result is an ongoing contestation that, as proposed in the Williamsburg Charter, need not destroy but can actually strengthen the bond of civility. These different ways of faith and life come with different rituals, customs, and spiritual accents—all of which Prof. Eck amply appreciates—but they also come with, indeed they necessarily assume and assert, different truth claims. By excluding definite article truth claims—i.e., this is the truth—Eck effectively stifles the reality of pluralism. When no truth claims are “privileged,” when all are radically relativized, all are effectively silenced, at least in public. Such a simplistic formulation of pluralism results in the death of pluralism.
That is one way of stating the difficulty with Prof. Eck’s argument. One may take a slightly different tack, however, and suggest that, contrary to her repeatedly proclaimed intention, she is, no doubt inadvertently, advocating a course of exclusion and assimilation. In the orchestra or jazz stylizations of A New Religious America, it is made clear time and again that one very large group does not belong, at least not until its members change their ways. It is composed of the Christians who would convert others to their faith and even, as she complains, publicly privilege the Judeo-Christian tradition by, for instance, posting the Ten Commandments in public places. In a country in which more than two-thirds of the people claim to believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life—and to have made a personal commitment to him as such—this is a very large exclusion. As for her advocating a course of assimilation, there is no mistaking her eagerness to assimilate the relatively small part of the population that professes a religion other than Christianity or Judaism to her understanding of all religions as “dynamic not static, changing not fixed, more like rivers than monuments.”
This combination of exclusion and assimilation produces not pluralism but Harvard. And, of course, similarly elite campuses which are variously described as laboratories for the America that will be or as miniature representations of the America that is. Prof. Eck manifestly loves Harvard, as do many good people, but she seems to be undecided about whether it is because Harvard is not like America or because Harvard is like America. Most of the time, she settles on the resolution that Harvard is what America should be and, she fondly hopes, is becoming. Now Harvard is somewhat diverse in terms of the ethnic, national, and religious backgrounds of faculty and students, but, in terms of its dominant moral, intellectual, and political habits, is it pluralistic? If one insisted upon saying it is pluralistic, it is clearly a very particularist kind of pluralism. Harvard is not pluralistic in the way that, say, Brooklyn is pluralistic. Pluralism means different worlds. Harvard is one world of informal exclusions and assimilated particularisms. Brooklyn is many worlds.
In a Long Tradition
In her enthusiasm, which, as I say, is not without its charms, Prof. Eck and her friends have kicked off their shoes and sat in on sundry exotic rites. One gets the impression of an academic seminar on a nonstop field trip. The result is a book that reads like a Baedeker of the remote and offbeat, except that, as she keeps pointing out, these exotica are to be found right here in places such as Chicago, Phoenix, and Sacramento. “Look!” she is shouting to get our attention. “It is not ‘them’ and ‘us.’ This is who we are!” She cites Hillary Rodham Clinton on how we have become a global village. Also Mrs. Clinton on “what makes America great” when welcoming Muslims to the first-ever observance of Eid al-Fitr at the White House: “For two centuries we have prided ourselves on being a nation of pluralistic beliefs, united by a common faith in democracy.”
Eck’s assertions about “who we are,” however, are frequently overwhelmed by her earnest longing for who we might be. In this respect her book is part of a long tradition that goes back to Emerson, Thoreau, and the nineteenth-century Transcendentalists. This is especially evident in her section on the “Easting” of New England. There the bulk of her treatment of Hinduism in America deals with esoteric groups such as the Vedanta Society that have long catered to a small American elite fascinated by the “wisdom of the East.” As an aside, she notes that today, usually under the auspices of what is called New Age, “this turn of mind has gradually saturated the whole of American culture with essentially Hindu, more broadly Asian, ideas without speaking of them as such.” There is much truth in that, but Eck does not develop the point, perhaps because that saturation is, in fact, an instance of Christian America assimilating, however incoherently, alternative traditions. She writes, with apparent regret, that Hinduism has not developed any kind of public presence in America, and that immigrants from India identify themselves not as Hindus but as Indian-Americans. Pretty much as earlier immigrants—Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, et al.—did before them.
It is the “new” in A New Religious America that is unpersuasive. Prof. Eck’s liberal exorcizing of definite article truth is in clear continuity with, and for the most part simply reiterates, the position of William Ernest Hocking, also of Harvard Divinity School, who was the driving force behind the 1932 report Re-thinking Missions that, according to most historians, marked the end of oldline Protestantism’s commitment to world missions. The argument that prevailed is that Christianity has no greater claim to truth than do other religions and therefore the effort to convert others is finally no more than an instance of cultural arrogance. Of course, world missions continue to flourish today, but the enterprise is almost entirely under evangelical Protestant and Catholic auspices, precisely the forces supposedly prone to the intolerance and exclusion that Prof. Eck deplores.
As recounted by Eck, the high point of the interreligious “pluralism” that she favors was the 1893 Parliament of World Religions in Chicago. Swami Vivekananda was the star of the gathering and he went on to found the Vedanta Society, which was the forerunner of other projects in the “Easting” of America. Eck discusses in detail and ascribes great importance to, for instance, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON or Hare Krishna), a group that has never had more than four thousand members in the U.S., and is chiefly attractive to young people from thoroughly secularized Jewish homes (see Rodney Stark, One True God, p. 111). The 1993 centenary observance of the Parliament, also in Chicago, was, Eck admits, a pale reflection of the first event, and was noted chiefly for its effort to draft a global charter of ethics under the leadership of the dissident Catholic theologian Hans Küng. She waxes enthusiastic about the colorfully diverse opening ceremonies in Chicago, observing in passing that, since it was held on the Sabbath, Jewish participation was limited. But Jews and Judaism do not figure prominently in the new pluralism celebrated by Prof. Eck. She is pleased to report that at the Chicago affair she was seated at a table with “Hans Küng himself.”
The Muslim Difference
In Eck’s Baedeker of a nation under many gods, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and Native American traditions are warmly affirmed, but even by her own telling it is finally only the Muslim presence that aspires to make a public difference in America. Whatever Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs may do religiously in their homes and temples, they do not want to “stick out” or to pose a challenge to Judeo-Christian America. Like earlier immigrants, they want to “fit in,” while preserving their distinctive traditions in family and community observances. Multicultural tourists such as Prof. Eck may agitate for a nation under many gods, but there is little or no public advocacy by Buddhists, Hindus, or Sikhs for such a redefinition of American society. In addition, the very large number of Asian immigrants who are Christian goes unmentioned by Prof. Eck. For instance, Presbyterianism in New York City would be practically nonexistent without Koreans. Greater enthusiasts for the idea of Christian America are not to be found.
Prof. Eck is eager to recruit Native Americans to her multicultural cause. The sad reality is that for Native Americans—many of whom now want again to be called American Indians—the trail of tears continues as they languish on reservations in alcoholic stupor, frequently exploited by tribal gangsters bent upon exploiting the vices of the majority population with casinos and related semi-criminal enterprises. To be sure, there is also the observance of Native American “religious traditions”—now largely fabricated with the help of multicultural experts from liberal divinity schools—which in some Indian communities is a big draw in the tourist trade. But, apart from a few radical activists, most of whom had their fifteen minutes of celebrity in the 1960s, there is no Indian program for the religious or cultural redefinition of America. There is a great sadness here, but it is part of the continuing tragedy of the country’s native population, for which the European settlers bear a large measure of moral responsibility. Over the course of more than three hundred years, however, nobody, including Native Americans, has come up with an answer that works. Many proposals have been tried, from total assimilation to nationalist separatism, and no doubt others will be tried in the future, but the reality is, for better or worse, that, in terms of posing a serious challenge to the reality of Judeo-Christian America, Native Americans are on a par with the Hare Krishnas.
The Muslim case is different. There are perhaps four million Muslims in America; nobody knows for sure. There are Muslim organizations claiming that there are ten million, while some social scientists put the figure as low as two million. Prof. Eck goes along with the convention of estimating about four million. Almost everyone agrees that at least half of these Muslims are American-born blacks. Eck gives her hunch that it is closer to 40 percent. The Black Muslim movement began in Detroit with Elijah Muhammad in the 1930s. Eck writes, “For orthodox Islam, the final messenger was and is Muhammad, and to speak of Elijah Muhammad as the messenger constituted a clear heresy.” She then quotes approvingly the words of Louis Farrakhan to those who question whether he is really a Muslim: “I don’t care if none of you believe I’m a Muslim. You are not my judge. Take off the robes of Allah. They don’t fit you well!” And she very much approves Farrakhan’s appointment of a woman to be imam of an Atlanta mosque. “This unprecedented move,” she writes, “is yet another way in which Minister Farrakhan follows his own lights, not those of an imposed orthodoxy.” The suggestion is that it is less important to be Muslim, as defined by a normative tradition, than to follow one’s own lights. It is a very American or, if you will, Emersonian suggestion, but one wishes Prof. Eck had addressed the objection that this inevitably ends up not in pluralism but in the monism of people following their own lights. One recalls Harold Rosenberg’s memorable phrase, “the herd of independent minds.”
Also in connection with the Black Muslim movement, Eck offers a more sweeping generalization about black religion: “Orthodoxy, after all, has never been the measure of black religion in America. Experience has always won out over official doctrine.” I do not think that Prof. Eck means to say that blacks are less intelligent or thoughtful about religion, only that they are less intellectual. And those who may find Eck’s generalizations about blacks to be offensively condescending should keep in mind that, for her, the priority of experience over doctrine is a mark of religious vitality and progress. What some may take as a slur against blacks and their religious sensibilities is clearly intended as a compliment. Black Christianity is generally neglected in accounts of American religion, and this book is no exception. This does not mean that in their religious travels Prof. Eck and her friends have not kicked off their shoes, as it were, also in black churches. But there are no reports here on how moving and inspiring she found their legendary rhythm and their handclapping enthusiasm. The omission is no doubt because the black church is also part of the “Christian country” that must give way to the new diversity that she champions. The Black Muslims, even if they are following their own lights, are sufficiently “other” to be of interest to Prof. Eck, but of much greater interest are the Muslims who follow the light of Muhammad, even if they are subject to “an imposed orthodoxy.”
An Image Problem
Muslims, along with so many others, including self-described pagans and practitioners of witchcraft, are not “accepted” as they should be, Eck complains. Muslims, especially those from the Middle East, are frequently viewed with suspicion. The Qur’an declares, “Do you not know, O people, that I have made you into tribes and nations that you may know each other.” Prof. Eck comments:
As Muslims become increasingly articulate about their place in the American pluralist experiment, they bring this particular Qur’anic teaching to bear on the question of difference. . . . How we respond to it is up to us. The Qur’an offers us all a good place to start: we should come to know each other. But knowing each other is not easy in the American context. Misinformation about Islam and, even more, sheer ignorance of Islam, are common. . . . Newspapers bring to American homes the images of Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations, their rifle-toting leaders and their hideouts, creating a view of Islam as dangerous, subversive, highly political, and anti-American.
She writes that “American Muslims may well be among the first to condemn [terrorist attacks] and to speak of terrorism as anti-Islamic,” and that is true. At the same time, some of the major Muslim organizations in this country are deeply entangled with those who promote and carry out such attacks. Newspapers here may sometimes be unfair in portraying Muslims, but it was not American newspapers that blew up the World Trade Center or American embassies abroad. And the newspapers only report on the long-standing and repeatedly declared determination of many Muslims in the Middle East to drive the Jews of Israel into the sea. Prof. Eck writes that all religions have their extremists, and that is undoubtedly true. She compares Muslim extremists to the Aryan Nation among Christians, “one end of a wide spectrum, one thread in a complex pattern of faith and culture.” The suggested symmetry, unfortunately, is not persuasive. The Aryan Nation (if it still exists as an organization) is an isolated and carefully watched handful of individual kooks, whereas the campaign against Israel and the “Great Satan” supporting Israel is waged by real nations who have created what Samuel Huntington calls “the bloody borders of Islam.”
In June of this year sit-ins outside the State Department and White House were staged by the major Muslim organizations in protest against American support for Israel. Sponsors included American Muslims for Jerusalem, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the American Muslim Council, the Islamic Association of Palestine, and the Muslim American Society. Their statement declared, “U.S. interests will be served and our credibility enhanced when we accept the role of a true honest broker and impose a level of responsibility on Israel consistent with the billions of American taxpayer-funded aid Israel receives per year.” With respect to the approximately two million Muslims in America who are not American-born blacks, this does not represent, to use Prof. Eck’s words, “one end of a wide spectrum, one thread in a complex pattern of faith and culture.” Such actions and attitudes represent the organized public presence of Islam in America.
Muslims who are American citizens have every right to protest U.S. support for Israel, and a substantial number of other Americans agree with such protest. One gathers from her sanitized presentation of Islam and favorable references to the Palestinian cause that Prof. Eck is among those who agree. That is her right, of course, but the bias results in a gravely skewed depiction of Islam in America. It is quite possible that most Muslims in this country are more or less apolitical and want only to follow the long immigrant tradition of successful assimilation in American society. It is more than possible, it is almost certain. That is typically why people come to America. But unlike Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and others in Prof. Eck’s multicultural jazz festival, the organized public presence of Muslims is dedicated to changing America’s relationship to the Muslim world and thereby pits itself against an established component of the country’s Judeo-Christian identity, namely, Jews.
Muslims say that if there is a Jewish lobby in support of Israel, and there undoubtedly is, why can’t there be a Muslim lobby in support of the Arabs? Of course there can be and there is. But as long as the public presence of Islam in America is inseparable from anti-Zionism, that presence will be controversial, and will not readily be granted the warm acceptance and invitation to caringly sensitive dialogue that Prof. Eck enjoins upon all participants in the glorious mosaic of A New Religious America. I expect that Prof. Eck is well aware of these problematic aspects of Islam in America, which, given her purposes, is a good reason for her not to discuss them.
“The questions that emerge today from the encounter of people of so many religious and cultural traditions go to the very heart of who we see ourselves to be as a people,” writes Prof. Eck. At times the impression is given that her book is describing the America that is, at other times it is the America that should be, and at yet others it depicts multiculturalism as a project indulged in the privileged precincts of the contemporary university. But most of the time she insists that she is alerting us to who we are as a people. Borrowing the phrase from Gunnar Myrdal’s classic study of race in America, she declares, “The new American dilemma is real religious pluralism, and it poses challenges to America’s Christian churches that are as difficult and divisive as those of race.” It is hard to know what such a statement might mean. The number of adherents to non-Christian religions is much smaller than the number of black Americans; those adherents were not for centuries subjected to the institution of slavery; they were not and are not the victims of legally enforced segregation; and she surely does not mean that Christian churches are going to divide over their attitude toward, say, Hindus the way they divided, North and South, over their positions on the status of blacks in America. Some, especially African Americans, might be offended by Prof. Eck’s minimizing of the uniqueness of race as “the American dilemma,” but here, too, she should perhaps be cut some slack. A measure of hyperbole may be excusable in view of the urgency of her task, which is nothing less than to alert us to who we are as a people.
In view of the prevalence of ignorance, hatred, and bigotry that she discerns in American life, the possibility of religious warfare arises. On this score, she notes that much progress has been made. “Today we don’t form battle lines on the basis of Christian denominational polity as did our seventeenth-and eighteenth-century forebears. Episcopalians, Congregationalists, and Quakers are pretty much at peace today.” She does not add, perhaps out of courtesy, that as religious forces in our public life they are also pretty much dead today. The fear of religious warfare, however, does seem remote, since, apart from the Muslim conflict with Jews, the new immigrant groups give no indication of aspiring to be a religious force in our public life. Perhaps that will change, but one expects not for a very long time.
Eck’s book, like the multiculturalist advocacy literature of which it is part, makes much of the fact that there are allegedly more Muslims than Episcopalians or Jews in America, and that may be true. But how many Muslims are in Congress, or in the board rooms of major corporations, or heads of elite universities and philanthropies? With respect to Congress, the answer is zero, and with respect to other positions of influence, the answer is as close to zero as is possible without being zero. Of course a time may come when a Muslim is elected as a U.S. Senator or appointed head of the Ford Foundation, but it is almost certain that he or she will be successfully distanced from public identification with Islam, and certainly from identification with Islam’s public presence in the form of anti-Zionism.
In reviewing Prof. Eck’s book in the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Prothero, who teaches religion at Boston University, writes: “Yet whatever [religious] diversity we have is always being exercised in a Christian context. American Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam are all heavily Christianized. The Buddhist students I teach are strongly influenced by Protestant social activism. Some of my Hindu students revere Jesus as an avatar of Vishnu. Most worship in split-level temple complexes designed to function like evangelical megachurches.” Mr. Prothero suggests that contemporary America is like what Zen Buddhism calls a koan, a paradoxical riddle. “That riddle is not, as Ms. Eck’s subtitle goes, ‘How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation.’ It is instead how America has managed to become both a Christian country and a multireligious society at the same time.” I think it even more accurate to say that America has been and is a Christian society that has been remarkably welcoming to people of different cultures and religions, and has acquiesced in the privileged status achieved by Jews. For farther than we can see into the future, the religio-cultural circumstance will continue to be more like than unlike that described in the book so disliked by Prof. Eck, Will Herberg’s Protestant, Catholic, Jew.
In her concluding pages, Prof. Eck allows that religious minorities are few in number. “All told, they may account for less than 10 percent of the population. But the news of this new century is that they are here, and in numbers significant enough to make an imprint on every city in America. Numbers do not matter.” But, of course, numbers do matter, and the number of Americans who are not Christians or Jews is very much less than 10 percent, which would mean close to thirty million people. If we allow the generous estimate of four million Muslims, there are probably less than 10 million Americans whose religion is other than Christian or Jewish. That is less than 5 percent of the population. Apart from a significant number of non-Christian Asian Americans (Japanese-Americans, for instance), these minorities are socially marginal; moreover, apart from some Muslims, the non-Christian sector of the population is not inclined to make a public issue of their religious difference. A minaret on a city’s skyline is not to be equated with an imprint on its culture.
The multiculturalism that, in the tradition of her nineteenth-century predecessors, Prof. Eck champions aims to transcend religious particularism in a kind of spiritual Esperanto. The problem with Esperanto, of course, is that almost nobody speaks it. Today, English is becoming the universal language that Esperanto aspired to be. Similarly, in America Christianity provides the encompassing religio-cultural context within which many “others” flourish. In a more sober passage, Eck describes the pattern of encounters with religious differences in America: “Some display the ragged edges of prejudice and stereotype, and some result in acts of insult and injury, vandalism and violence. On the whole, however, I would venture that the experience of immigrant religious communities is not bigotry and prejudice but a rough-hewn tolerance, combined with a kind of laissez-faire ignorance and individualism that enables people to live and let live.” Exactly. That is the way it has been, and that is the way it will likely continue to be. One need only add that there is also the influence of specifically Christian tolerance, understood as part of the command to love the neighbor, and among many Christians the hope—which it is not polite to express in public—that the “others” will one day be converted to the Christian gospel’s definite article truth.
A New Religious America is a spirited tract, and its author’s enthusiasm is sometimes infectious. But it has as much to do with the religio-cultural reality of America as did her beloved World Parliament of Religions in 1893. Probably less, since that was at a time when liberal religion’s confidence in its conquest of particularisms was at its peak. Today that confidence is in very short supply outside the confines of university departments of religious studies. For a more credible evaluation of religion and the American experiment—as it was, is, and almost certainly will continue to be—see Alexis de Tocqueville above.
A Different Kind of “Coming Home”
Do we really need another conversion story from yet another radical who wandered for years through the sordid worlds of leftist delusions? The answer is yes when it is as well told as Ronald Radosh’s Commies: A Journey through the Old Left, the New Left, and the Leftover Left (Encounter, 211 pages, $24.95). And the answer is yes if we are to understand the “leftover left,” frequently ensconced today in the academy, media, and other positions of influence, and still driven by the same delusions. And the answer is yes again because, in fact, there have not been that many conversion stories. In the last few years, there was David Horowitz’s Radical Son (reviewed in FT, August/September 1997), but for the most part it seems that old leftists who are no longer that still defend their earlier “idealism,” or would as soon that they and everyone else forget the revolutionaries they once thought themselves to be.
Radosh cherishes a photo in which he, not yet two years old, is being trundled down Fifth Avenue in the 1939 May Day Parade, an annual festival of the Communist Party. “That day, it seems to me, was my baptism into the world of Jewish radicalism, a world so small and insular that it existed inside a political and social ghetto.” Like Horowitz, Radosh describes in detail a world that is hard to imagine for those who were not part of it; a world stifling in its confinement to life defined by the Party, its many front organizations and causes, and the factionalisms produced by ideological shifts and quarrels. As a young man, Radosh of course joined the Party’s youth movement, then called the Labor Youth League. “Most of the members of my branch, the Upper West Side LYL, were all Jewish,” Radosh writes. I don’t know whether he means that most were Jewish or that all were Jewish, with most of the Jews being all Jewish, but he is clear enough on what it meant to be Jewish in that context: “Another shared aspect of that Jewish upbringing was a purely culturalYiddishkeit that emphasized Yiddish literature and theater, the folk writing of Sholom Aleichem, the parables of freedom that abounded throughout Jewish culture, and, most important, a complete rejection of anything to do with religion.”
As Radosh now recognizes, the militantly secularist radicalism in which he was reared was his religion, a religion that he would later, and ever so slowly and painfully, abandon. True believers were trained to understand that every facet of life is part of “the struggle.” The public school was part of the opposing system. “While the students of PS 173 came from homes that were largely Jewish [i.e., came mainly from Jewish homes], the teachers were mainly Irish and conservative. Our parents, of course, controlled the PTA, and this meant perpetual conflict and classroom stress.” In an earlier generation, the Anglo-Protestants ran the public school system in which they “Americanized” Irish Catholics, who then took over the schools to do the same, with much less success, for Jewish children. Later, it would be the turn of Jews, aided by a Communist-dominated teachers union, to capture the system, now filled with black and Hispanic children to whom they transmitted the radical ideas that were, in due course, turned against the Jews in charge. The gyrations of New York City politics churn, in very large part, around the public school system and the circulation of ethnicities and ideologies that have succeeded in taking it captive.
But the adults of Radosh’s world did not leave the ideological indoctrination of the young to the mercies of the public schools. In summer, he and his peers went to what he calls “Commie Camp,” in this case Camp Wo-Chi-Ca in Upstate New York. One gets the impression of a very earnest and humorless place, an incubator for what would much later be called political correctness. Campers solemnly took the oath: “We pledge ourselves to combat the influence of jokes, comic books, newspapers, radio programs that make fun of any people.” But the kids also had their heroes, such as the folk singer Pete Seeger, who faithfully toed the Communist line throughout the Cold War. In 1995, President Clinton bestowed on Seeger the Medal of Honor in the Arts, and the Washington Post described him as “America’s best-loved Commie.” Radosh remembers an earlier and famous album by Seeger that is not much mentioned these days, Songs for John Doe. Its release was poorly timed, during the week of June 1941 when Hitler broke his pact with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union. Songs for John Doe was filled with songs calling for no intervention in European battles on behalf of British imperialism and F.D.R., who was depicted as a warmongering Fascist in the pay of J. P. Morgan. “I hate war, and so does Eleanor, and we won’t be safe till everybody’s dead,” went one rollicking verse to the tune of “Jesse James.” Of course, the Party did its best to recall the album, as the left did an instant about-face, agitating for immediate intervention in the war against Hitler at the side of America’s noble ally, the Soviet Union.
The bulk of Commies is devoted to Radosh’s own adventures and misadventures on the left beginning in the 1960s and up through his final disillusionment. He writes that as late as 1980, when he was working with Michael Harrington’s socialist organizing group in the Democratic Party, “I was certain that socialism was in our nation’s future.” What was earlier called The Movement was in disarray, having collapsed into a counterculture of drugs, sex, and juvenile zaniness. “The Marxist revolution we had hoped for was stillborn,” Radosh writes, “but the sexual revolution was alive and well.” Early on, his wife (the former wife of sociologist, then movement activist, Alan Wolfe) began to break ranks with the left by writing witheringly about the lesbian hijacking of radical feminism. While friends such as Michael Lerner, now editor of Tikkun, championed sexual liberation under the banner “Smash Monogamy!”, Radosh became something of a rake, taking his sexual opportunities where he found them, and in these pages he settles scores in a way that will likely not be appreciated by some of the women involved.
The Church of the Left
But the larger story is his alienation from the left, and the fear of no longer having a place in the only world he knew. “I didn’t want to be excommunicated from the church of the left where I had worshiped all of my life,” Radosh writes. When, with Joyce Milton, he published The Rosenberg File, excommunication was only a matter of time. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted and executed as Soviet spies in 1953, and The Rosenberg File committed the unforgivable sin of proving beyond reasonable doubt that they were guilty. The Rosenbergs were as close as the Communist Party had to American saints. As one historian wrote in criticism of the book, “The Rosenbergs knew how to die; they knew how to sacrifice for their comrades.” Their espionage was “genuinely patriotic,” because their goal was noble. Friends on the left, including Michael Harrington, claimed that they knew all along that the Rosenbergs were guilty, but Radosh should not have said so publicly, since it played into the hands of “the other side.”
Radosh feared excommunication, yet he wanted to break away. The book is in part an account of protracted indecision, of hoping that somebody or something would make the decision for him. Time spent in Cuba and then in Nicaragua under the petty Stalinist regime of the Sandinistas finally resolved the matter. With human rights activist Nina Shea in Nicaragua, Radosh visited with peasants who had lost what little land and livelihoods they had under the terror of the regime and were fleeing the country. “I realized,” he writes, “that all during the decades of Somoza rule, Nicaragua never had refugees. I was probably someone waiting for a conversion experience; now it had arrived.”
Ronald Radosh is now associated with efforts that, using previously secret documents from the Soviet Union, aim at setting straight the record of what is loosely called “McCarthyism.” Senator Joe McCarthy was a rough customer who played recklessly with the truth, but his style of anticommunism was possible because there were, in fact, Communists. Radosh quotes favorably the important article of May 2000 by Thomas Powers in the New York Review of Books. Powers wrote:
Soviet spies were of the left generally, they supported liberal causes, they defended the Soviet Union in all circumstances, they were often secret members of the Communist Party, they were uniformly suspicious of American initiatives throughout the world, they could be contemptuous of American democracy, society, and culture, and, above all, their offenses were often minimized or explained away by apologists who felt that no man should be called traitor who did what he did for the cause of humanity.
Set that by the last paragraph of Radosh’s Commies:
I don’t see much of my old comrades these days. But I know that some of them continue to dream secretly of revolution, and still refuse to prepare a profit-and-loss statement on their past commitments. Arthur Koestler defined them once and for all when he wrote that “clinging to the last shred of the torn illusion is typical of the intellectual cowardice that prevails on the left.” I once thought it would be impossible to live without these illusions; now I know that I would never have become a free man if I hadn’t managed to get rid of them on my long journey home.
The story told by Ronald Radosh, like that of David Horowitz and some others, is redolent with the metaphors of religion—baptism, confirmation, church, worship, excommunication, conversion. Critics of both Radosh and Horowitz claim that, in their new-found conservatism, they still think and write and act in the factious mode of “the struggle.” Red diaper babies, it is said, may switch sides, but they are incorrigibly at war. There is something to that criticism. Commies, like Radical Son, is not a peaceful book. These books conclude with evil abandoned and roundly cursed, but with no suggestion of a new world found. The “journey home” is a journey to America, to normality, except for the abnormality of being almost obsessively at war with the enemies of America and normality. The left was “the god that failed” but, unlike Whittaker Chambers’ great Witness, there is no God found, unless it be the god of America, which is a nobler idol but an idol nonetheless. In testimonials such as Commies, refugees from radicalisms past render a great service, even if, in the end, they fail to understand that disillusionment is only part, albeit a necessary part, of being free.
Morality and Moralism
What, if any, is the moral purpose of America in the world? That question has been much agitated throughout our history. People devoted to religion and morality are inclined to the view that our place in world affairs must be morally defined, and they are right about that. Despite the many who ignore or denigrate him today, a great contribution of Reinhold Niebuhr was to draw a sharp distinction between morality and moralism. The latter is the preening self-righteousness that lends itself to crusades that too often end up in catastrophes wreaked by the arrogance of presumed virtue.
Thinking about America and moral purpose is now divided into several camps. The celebrated “greatest generation” of World War II produced the architects of Cold War “containment,” who were vindicated almost a half century later with the end of “the evil empire.” But not without the rise of a counter-leadership produced by the disastrously failed American war in Vietnam. A few today, mainly clustered around the Weekly Standard, call for a policy of “national greatness,” which is a little hard to pin down apart from its robust appetite for interventionism in the belief that a little (or maybe big) war from time to time maintains the muscle tone of the nation. Yet others are champions of globalization who seem to believe that the unstoppable economic dynamics of Wall Street and Silicon Valley have brought us to the point that we really don’t need a foreign policy. Hence the title of Henry Kissinger’s new book, Does America Need a Foreign Policy? (Simon & Schuster, 352 pages, $30).
Kissinger is often depicted as a Machiavellian amoralist or immoralist, which I think is a mistake. He has at times exulted excessively in the craftiness entailed in the craft of leadership, but his argument is that the morality of policy must be tied to historical experience and possibility. He writes:
The very term “international relations” is, in fact, of relatively recent vintage, since it implies that the nation-state must inevitably be the basis of its organization. However, this is a concept that originated in Europe only in the late eighteenth century and was spread around the world largely by European colonialism. In medieval Europe, obligations were personal and traditional, based neither on common language nor on a single culture; they did not interpose the bureaucratic machinery of a state between the subject and the ruler. Restraints on government derived from custom, not constitutions, and from the universal Catholic Church, which preserved its own autonomy, thereby laying the basis—quite unintentionally—for the pluralism and the democratic restraints on state power that evolved centuries later. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this structure collapsed under the dual impact of the Reformation, which destroyed religious unity, and of printing, which made the growing religious diversity widely accessible. The resulting upheaval culminated in the Thirty Years’ War, which, in the name of ideological—at that time, religious—orthodoxy, killed 30 percent of the population of Central Europe. Out of this carnage emerged the modern state system as defined by the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, the basic principles of which have shaped international relations to this day. The treaty’s foundation was the doctrine of sovereignty, which declared a state’s domestic conduct and institutions to be beyond the reach of other states.
That is a succinct statement of the history that has brought us to where we are. Where we are going is another matter.
These principles were an expression of the conviction that domestic rulers were less likely to be arbitrary than crusading foreign armies bent on conversion. At the same time, the balance of power concept sought to establish restraints by an equilibrium that prevented any one nation from being dominant and confined wars to relatively limited areas. For over two hundred years—until the outbreak of World War I—the state system emerging from the Thirty Years’ War achieved its objectives (with the exception of the ideological conflict of the Napoleonic period, when the principle of nonintervention was, in effect, abandoned for two decades). Each of these concepts is under attack today, to a point where it is forgotten that their purpose is to limit, not expand, the arbitrary use of power.
Kissinger is highly critical of the drift of the Clinton Administration, and especially of ill-considered “humanitarian interventions” such as the actions in Somalia, Haiti, and Kosovo. While Kissinger wrote the book before the Bush Administration got underway, it would seem that the Bush team understands both the legitimacy and necessity of the nation-state. The current policy is sometimes called “unilateralism,” but it is better understood as a determined internationalism based on the indispensability of American leadership and the morality of pursuing the national interest—it being understood that the national interest should be pursued, as much as possible, in cooperation with others, and that, for America, the national interest is inseparable from advancing moral goals such as democracy and human rights. There are, in short, encouraging signs of a return to the Niebuhrian insight that leftist dreams of a world rationally harmonized beyond conflicts of interest reflect a dangerous sentimentality. Clear thinking about the moral purpose of America in the world begins with clearing the mind of the cant of self-pretentious moralism, of jingoism, and of the economism that suggests we do not need to think about foreign policy at all. Does America Need a Foreign Policy? is not the whole of the story by any means, but it is a good place from which clear thinking can begin.
While We’re At It
• Matt Labash of the Weekly Standard went to visit the Holy Land Experience in Orlando and got Rabbi Sholom Dubov, Orlando’s only orthodox rabbi, to go with him. Marv Rosenthal, the founder of the enterprise, calls himself a Hebrew Christian, to which one rabbi responds, “A Hebrew Christian makes as much sense as kosher pork.” Not so, says Rosenthal. If a Jew says he is an atheist, agnostic, or animist, Rosenthal observes, “the rabbis still say he’s Jewish. But somehow if he believes in Jesus, he’s no longer Jewish.” After going through the Experience, Rabbi Dubov complains that it could seduce non-practicing Jews by the way it merges Jewish and Christian themes. “Why do Christians have to keep on taking from the Old Testament?” he asks. “Why can’t they say, ‘The Old Testament’s old, we gotta new—out with the Old, in with the New’—but they don’t say that.” As it happens, the second-century Christian heretic Marcion did say exactly that. Before he was condemned by the Church, he persuaded many Christians that the evil Demiurge, the God of the Old Testament, was the antithesis of the God of Love revealed by Jesus. Truth to tell, a good many Christians who have never heard of Marcion embrace the Marcionite heresy. Christianity and Judaism have had, to say the least, a troubled relationship over the centuries, but it is doubtful that Judaism would have survived at all had Marcion prevailed. Mr. Rosenthal and his Holy Land Experience may offend Rabbi Dubov, but he should be very careful in wishing for the alternative he proposes.
• Some years ago a conservative friend told me that he defines the conservative cause very simply: “Let’s take the country back to the Eisenhower era.” But, “as everybody knows,” you can’t turn the clock back. In fact, when clocks are telling the wrong time, we routinely turn them back, or forward. Societies are not clocks, however. In The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order, Francis Fukuyama says our society went seriously out of whack in the 1960s, chiefly because of the change in sexual roles and in employment patterns forced by the rise of the information revolution. James Q. Wilson agrees that much went radically wrong about then—as evident in divorce, crime, out-of-wedlock births, ineffective schools, and much else—but he thinks the reason is chiefly cultural. The Great Disruption started at the beginning of the century and got up to speed by the end of the First World War. “The Bloomsbury set had replaced Queen Victoria, resistance to war had replaced habitual patriotism, and writers argued that crime was the result of social injustice rather than a weak human nature. By the 1940s, artists and musicians had taken up heroin, just as in the 1960s they took up marijuana and in the 1970s and 1980s they took up cocaine.” The cultural disruption then chiefly involved the elites of society, and the depression of the 1930s and then World War II put an end to their fun for a while. Wilson calls that period the Great Timeout, of which our friend’s beloved Eisenhower era was the dusk. “But when the war ended, and as the children of the Baby Boom reached adolescence,” writes Wilson, “self-liberation returned with a vengeance and the Great Disruption was born.” This time it was not just the party games of the elites but extended to the marginally middle class and poor who did not have the means to cope with such massive social destabilization. Wilson concludes: “In short, I believe that the Great Disruption was born at the turn of the century but only affected ordinary lives after the Great Timeout. I cannot prove this any more than Fukuyama can prove that it was a change in sexual roles and the rise of information technology that produced what we see about us. But we can certainly agree—again, alas, without proof—that, in time, ordinary people will reclaim part of an older culture and so permit the better parts of our nature to dominate the wicked ones.” The Great Disruption. The Great Timeout. They are, I believe, two helpful phrases in understanding a time out of whack.
• Sinat hinam is Hebrew for hatred without a cause, the kind of hatred among Jews that goes way on back to biblical times and marks also Jewry in America. This according to Samuel G. Freedman in Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry (Simon & Schuster, 397 pages,, $26). But it would seem there is a cause. Jews are fighting over who gets to define Jews and Judaism, and Freedman declares that “the Orthodox model has triumphed.” In the absence of significant anti-Semitism, “Jewish secularism was not defeated as much as it was loved to death.” Thus, “except for religion, Jews had little to hold onto that made them feel like Jews,” and the Orthodox are the stewards of serious religion. Tova Reich reviews Freedman’s book in the Wilson Quarterly, and thinks he is mostly right. She writes: “A group he calls ‘Conservadox’ combines the present-day Modern Orthodox with the traditional wing of the Conservative movement. The ‘Reformative’ comprises the left wing of the old Conservative camp and those Reform Jews drawn toward more traditional practice. All the rest, finally, he calls ‘Just Jews.’ The implication is that such shifts in alliance are a natural outcome of an ongoing, even healthy effort to adjust to new realities—nothing to get alarmed about.” What Freedman describes, she says, “is also part of a rightward, fundamentalist trend worldwide, in Islam and Christianity as well as in Judaism. Purity of observance has become the gold standard to which more and more religiously inclined souls aspire.” Reich seems somewhat ambivalent about this, but, with Freedman and Elliott Abrams in his Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in Christian America (1997), she agrees that “Just Jews” don’t have much of a future. She notes that less than 30 percent of Jews in America are in any way observant. “Whether it suits us or not,” she says, “the survival of the Jewish people over the generations can probably be credited to the Orthodox hard core. Compromise is not a word in their lexicon.” Perhaps so, but one notes that it is the “Conservadox” thinkers who take the lead in putting together a religiously substantive statement such as “Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity“ (FT, November 2000), thus exploring a promising relationship to the majority religion and culture, as distinct from most of the Haredim Orthodoxy that simply stands over against that culture. On the other hand, something like Dabru Emet might not be possible were it not for what Freedman calls the Orthodox triumph. God willing, there will be a vibrant Jewish community debating these questions a hundred years from now, although not with, or not necessarily with, sinat hinam.
• General rules serve, among other purposes, to highlight exceptions. A general rule is that good biographies are written by biographers who love, or at least are fascinated by, their subjects. Ray Monk’s second and final volume of his biography of Bertrand Russell is a partial exception to the general rule (Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness, 1921-1970, Free Press, 572 pages,, $40). This large book employs as its epigraph an epigram attributed to Otto von Bismarck: “The greatness of a man can be measured by his intelligence minus his vanity.” By that measure, Russell, who died in 1970 at age ninety-seven, was not a great man. As they say on the street, there is smart smart and then there is dumb smart. In the things that matter most in life, Bertrand Russell was dumb smart. In the first volume, Monk pays just tribute to Russell’s achievements in philosophy and mathematics, notably in his collaboration with Alfred North Whitehead. But Russell never recovered from Wittgenstein’s withering critique of the Principia Mathematica, and by the time he was fifty he came to the bitter recognition that, among the younger philosophers, he was viewed as something of a venerable fossil. Both in America and England, he made occasional efforts to return to what he called “serious mental work,” but for the most part his years were spent in churning out “potboilers” (his term) on education, child rearing, world peace, sexual satisfaction, the achievement of happiness through atheistic self-reliance, and other subjects on which he was dumb smart and sometimes just plain dumb. In the last years he came under the influence of the young American radical Ralph Schoenman, and agitated first for nuclear disarmament and, later and more fanatically, for risking even nuclear war in order to advance Castro’s and Che Guevara’s worldwide revolution against “U.S. imperialism.” Friends of Russell tend to excuse those years by portraying him as an old man in his dotage who was manipulated by youthful crazies, but Monk makes a persuasive case that Russell knew what he was doing, and that it was of a piece with an unbridled egotism in which he was convinced that he was a lonely prophet in a world gone mad. At points in Bertrand Russell I wondered if the indictment is not too severe, if he should not be given the benefit of the doubt, but then Monk promptly introduces more damning evidence that would seem to answer the doubt. This is a very sad story of Russell’s four wives, of children alienated and driven to suicide, of friendships turned into bitter animosity, of relentless demands for obeisance, and of weak souls eager to submit. (Among the weak souls, the Nobel Prize committee, which gave him the prize for literature, of all things. Not for his early achievements in mathematics and philosophy but for his potboilers.) I remember reading as a young man Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian and thinking that, if this is the case for atheism, atheism is in deep intellectual trouble. The human rubble that he had made of his life and of the lives close to him did not inhibit Russell in his oracular pronouncements that “education”—meaning the process of coming to agree with him-is the answer to all problems personal and global. Russell’s life is a cautionary tale illustrating Augustine’s homo incurvatus se—man turned in upon himself. His animus toward Christianity finally came down to the Christian claim that one must acknowledge a wonder greater than one’s self. Bertrand Russell is, for the most part, a sad and dreary story, but not uninteresting for what it says about the spiritual and intellectual character of the century in which so many viewed him as a giant. It is a moderately cheering thought that, for all that is debased in our culture, it is hard to imagine any figure exhibiting such vulgar hubris being accorded the public stature once accorded Bertrand Russell. Why that is the case, if that is the case, is a subject for another time.
• As this goes to press, President Bush’s faith-based initiative has passed the House, although not by the margin hoped for. It now awaits uncertain action in the Senate at the untender hands of the Democratic leadership. The bill passed by the House is seriously flawed, and the debate around it was by no means reassuring. Rigid church-state separationists got to include all kinds of restrictions against “sectarian” activity that could undermine the integrity of participating religious agencies. They also succeeded in using the occasion to attack, under the guise of “nondiscrimination,” the right of religious organizations to choose their own personnel—a right entrenched in American custom and law, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In retrospect, it may have been a mistake to name the proposal “faith-based and community initiatives.” It might have been wiser to speak simply of community initiatives, making it clear that there can be no discrimination against initiatives inspired by religious faith. That could have planted the “nondiscrimination” flag more firmly on the side of the proposal. All that being said, the proposal is still very much worth supporting, because the initiative to liberate and assist the “mediating institutions” of society to do their indispensable job in helping people is exactly right and long overdue. If the legislation is shot down, the conventional wisdom will be that the idea that inspired it has been discredited. The proposal should also be enacted because, at least in the House bill, there is wording that holds promise for the development of voucher and tax credit alternatives to direct grants (although the word “vouchers” is not used). Moreover, there is reason to hope that court challenges to the rigid restrictions on religion will prevail in view of the Supreme Court’s recent and welcome rulings in free speech and religious free exercise. (See Douglas W. Kmiec, “Good News from the Court,” elsewhere in this issue.) There is no denying that the legislation in Congress falls far short of the high promise of Bush’s original proposal. That is simply another reminder that politics is the art of the possible in the knowledge that disappointments are inevitable but not necessarily final.
• When the prestigious Psychological Bulletin of the American Psychological Association (APA) published an article “documenting” that sexual relations between adults and children usually had no harmful effects on children, it precipitated an enormous roar of protest. The APA quickly disowned the article, declaring that it most definitely does not approve the sexual abuse of children, which can often be, well, abusive. In view of its direction over the last decades of “normalizing” sundry perversions, why did the APA so suddenly reverse course on pedophilia and incest (the latter commonly being the context of the former), which seemed like the logical next candidates for acceptance? That is the question asked by G. E. Zuriff, psychologist at Wheaton College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “At the political level,” he writes, “the answer is simple. Winning the favor of the North American Man-Boy Love Association does not compensate for alienating most of the U.S. population as well as the Federal government, which regulates the practice of psychotherapy and professional associations, including the APA, controls Medicare and other insurance payments for psychological treatment, and funds psychological research and training.” But why didn’t the APA stand by the editorial integrity of its publication and say, as the authors of the article did, that, while pedophilia is psychologically harmless, it is still wrong and should remain illegal and socially unacceptable? That would have gotten them off the hook. That answer, too, while not quite so simple, is clear enough. Zuriff writes: “For the APA to admit that judgments of morality may be independent of psychological adjustment would be to admit that moral intuition does indeed play a critical role in social policy, that psychological studies do not fully determine what is good. To admit this, however, is to grant that although homosexuality, single-mother families, sex between adolescents, out-of-wedlock births, the rearing of children in daycare, abortion, and divorce do not cause psychological harm, they may nevertheless be wrong. In the end, the APA could not turn its back on a quarter century of social-policy positions.” The orthodoxy of the therapeutic society is that psychology, and psychology alone, determines the meaning of, so to speak, right and wrong.
• What is to be done about the Gypsies? It is not a welcome question in most of Europe, and a few small Gypsy organizations are offended by the suggestion that anything needs to be “done” about them. It is estimated that there are eight million Gypsies in Europe. (There may be as many as a million in the U.S., although they do not show up in the census.) Gypsy beggars seem to be everywhere in the cities, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. Last summer in Florence I was walking outside the great baptistry, dressed in sports clothes, when a Gypsy woman approached, pointing to a newspaper in her hand and seeming to ask a question. Immediately, I knew what was happening and clasped my hands over pockets carrying passport and wallet, and just as suddenly two other women rushed me, taking a couple of hundred dollars in currency that was in a pocket for which I did not have an extra hand. They were very professional, quick as lightning, and they had vanished before one could call a cop, were there a cop to be called. It was another occasion to ask my Italian friends, as I have asked Polish and German friends, about the future of the Gypsies in Europe. Even among people of the very best good will, nobody seems to know. In the Vatican there is a Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (disrespectfully known as the Council for Bums and Gypsies), and the people there undoubtedly do much good work, but they do not claim to have any answers apart from mandatory words—and they are mandatory in view of the skinhead and other expressions of hostility to Gypsies—about respecting human dignity and protecting minorities. The Gypsies (or, as a minority of scholars insist, the Roma), migrating originally from India, have been in Europe for a thousand years, and many colorful legends accrued, perhaps the most colorful being the Gypsies’ own legend that at the crucifixion of Jesus a Gypsy stole the fourth nail intended for Jesus’ heart and as a reward God gave the Gypsies a license to steal from non-Gypsies, who are called gadze. All of this is very intelligently discussed by Guenter Lewy in “The Travail of the Gypsies,” and developed further in his recent book The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies (Oxford University Press, 288 pages,, $30 cloth, $15.95 paper). Lewy’s conclusion is bleak: “It is likely that as long as Gypsies are discriminated against and harassed by their hosts, they will continue to stick together and resist assimilation. That seems to be the outlook for the foreseeable years ahead.” And, as his discussion makes clear, as long as they continue to resist assimilation, and that resistance finds expression in criminal or quasi-criminal activity, they will likely be discriminated against and harassed by their hosts. It would seem to be one of those problems for which the word intractable was invented.
• Others can speak to questions about the technical feasibility of a missile defense shield. On that I have no expertise, although I am struck by the fatuity of claims that glitches along the way show that it can’t be done. Whatever happened to America’s vaunted “can do” spirit? The moral considerations, however, are clear. They were addressed by the distinguished Methodist moralist Paul Ramsey in a 1973 paper written when the Cold War was going strong, “A Political Ethics Context for Strategic Thinking.” Ramsey quotes approvingly the teaching of the Second Vatican Council: “Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities and of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation” (Gaudium et Spes). The policy that has been in place for decades, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), is, said Ramsey, “the most politically immoral nuclear posture imaginable,” since it is premised precisely on the act of war condemned by the Council. “To put the point bluntly,” Ramsey wrote, “if counter-population warfare is murder, then counter-population deterrent threats are murderous.” The logic of MAD would be more consistently implemented, he noted, if the Soviets and the U.S. would simply mine one another’s cities, thus holding the populations of both countries hostage to the threat of being annihilated. Arms negotiations with the Soviets amounted to forging a permanent Sword of Damocles to hang forever over our heads. The alternative, Ramsey said, is to reduce and redirect the threat, and to work “to make defense as effective as possible.” Our policy “should be more concerned with assuring live Americans than dead Russians.” Paul Ramsey, be it noted, was a hard-nosed realist about international politics. I am among those who at one time thought him too hard-nosed, but later came to cherish him as a friend and teacher of unsentimental wisdom. The moral quandary of MAD was thought to be tolerable because, it was said, our nuclear threat did not mean that we intended to use it. On the contrary, we threatened so that it would never be used. At the same time, we could not renounce “first use” of such weaponry, since that would weaken the threat. MAD is madly logical in its dependence upon each party not being sure what the other would do. Admittedly, such thinking tends toward the convoluted. A very different approach, based on defense rather than mass destruction, was proposed by Ronald Reagan at the conclusion of a national broadcast in 1985. I vividly remember being almost knocked out of my chair. The proposal seemed almost like an afterthought, presented in tones of wistful longing for some better way to prevent nuclear horror. Some readers will recall the ridicule heaped on Reagan’s “star wars,” as the strategic defense initiative was called. Sixteen years later much has changed. The Cold War is over, and Russia and the U.S., no longer enemies, seem prepared to work together at dramatically reducing nuclear weapons and seeking an alternative to the lethal logic of MAD. It is just possible that our long captivity to what Paul Ramsey called “the most politically immoral nuclear posture imaginable” is coming to an end. I think he would have been pleased. Even as he would also be reminding us of new and unforeseen perils.
• “The Holocaust is a mystery that we will never understand or comprehend.” You have heard or read such statements a thousand times and Arnold Beichman of the Hoover Institute, for one, has had enough of it. He writes in the National Interest: “So what is this ‘mystery’ of the Holocaust? We have no difficulty understanding the genocides traceable to Lenin or to Stalin; Adolf Hitler adapted with equally diabolical success their doctrinal contempt for the individual in the name of Utopia. The Stalin-ordered genocide of the Soviet peoples, anywhere from twenty to sixty million, is no mystery. Mao Tse-tung’s slaughter of—who knows?—fifty million Chinese is no more of a mystery than is Communist China’s genocide in Tibet. There is no mystery about the killing fields of Southeast Asia where Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge murdered one-sixth of what had been a population of seven million. There is no mystery about Turkey’s genocide of Armenians in the early part of the twentieth century. Of the fifteen million Afghans alive in 1978, more than a million are dead, thanks to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan two decades ago. There is certainly no mystery to Milosevic’s killing of Kosovars, final figures not in yet. Why, supposedly, will we ‘never understand’ Hitler’s Holocaust? I think it is time to stop defining the Holocaust as a ‘mystery.’ To call it such is to play into the hands of Holocaust-deniers and racists, and of the Nazis themselves, giving them an exculpatory dignity they do not deserve, as if they were tools, even victims, of some implacable destiny about which they could do nothing. How can we logically condemn what seemingly we cannot ‘comprehend’?” For the believing Jew, he allows, there may be a mystery about why God has let His chosen people suffer so much, but there is no mystery about what Hitler did. Beichman again: “The real mystery is why Hitler and his retinue were not taken seriously. As the historian Milton Himmelfarb has put it: No Hitler, no Holocaust. I think one could argue: no Stalin, no Mao, no Pol Pot, no genocide. These dictators used Marxism-Leninism as justification for mass slaughter of the ‘bourgeoisie’ and ‘landlords,’ but in the end it was Stalin’s personality that determined the Great Terror. The real mystery here is why, at the height of [their atrocities], Stalin, Mao, and company had so many admirers among Western intellectuals.”
• “Ours is a country in which you are ill-advised to be a fetus. The highest court in the land has ruled that you’re a parasite, disposable at will, even when you’re almost out of the chute. You’re just an extension of your mother’s whim. She can do whatever she likes with you. Her court-instituted right to ‘choose’ trumps your right to live.” So writes Norah Vincent in, of all places, the Los Angeles Times. What set her off was the 6-3 Supreme Court decision that a hospital may not test a pregnant woman for drugs, although drug testing of government employees and high-school athletes is permitted because there are “special needs.” Apparently the health of unborn children does not count as a special need. Feminists declared the Court decision a victory for the autonomy of women, but Ms. Vincent doesn’t buy that. “We can do anything. We can have as much sex as we want—as much wanton sex as some men do—and we need not be concerned with the consequences. If the unthinkable happens, if—surprise, surprise—nature actually takes its course and we become pregnant, well, we’ll just do what we do after we binge on too many French fries. We’ll purge. After all, if you want to stay thin after eating everything in sight, then it’s the finger down the throat. If you want to stay barren but have as much protected or unprotected sex as you want, then it’s the doctor in your business—but not too much in your business. Only as much as you want him. What’s more, when we’re good and ready to have a child, we’ll still be totally in control of our bodies. We’ll smoke, we’ll booze, we’ll crack it up all night long if we take a mind to, and it’ll be nobody’s business. Because the Constitution protects us. We have a right to our privacy and our bodies, even though, when it comes to that seventh, eighth, ninth month of pregnancy, we’re pretty sure we’re not alone in them anymore. But who cares, those babies are ours, and we can do with them what we like. We can smoke three packs a day. We can drink motor oil. And if that baby comes out with a brain that doesn’t quite work right or that doesn’t work at all, if it has an imposed mortal dependency on a narcotic, if it comes out with expensive special needs, well, the government will pay for it. That’s what government is for: to safeguard my right to do what I like and pick up the tab when I’ve done it. I can do anything, consequences be damned. Let freedom ring, because, by God, I am woman, and this is America.”
• Here’s an advertisement in America by a company that sells what are infelicitously called church goods. The ad asks, “Electric Candles. Why?” On offer are those racks of votive lights where the faithful make an offering, joined to their prayer intention. The ad then lists the advantages of electric candles: “Profitable; Safe; Clean; Devotional; Zero Maintenance.” And, in case you didn’t get the point, Profitable is repeated in italics. “Stands pay for themselves. Generate income forever.” Imagine that, income forever! The ad concludes with “Why Not?” The answer is simple. They are phony. Electric candles are not candles. They are phony in the most elementary sense that they pretend to be something that they are not. There is a long devotional tradition surrounding the use of candles. They represent a living flame of faith. Like real candles that surrender themselves in burning, we are to lose ourselves in devotion. Consider the elaborate ritual and words in connection with the lighting of the new fire and the resurrection candle in the Easter Vigil. In sum, electric “candles” mock everything symbolized by the candle in religious tradition. There are Catholic parishes that realize more than $100,000 per year from their candles. Quite apart from honesty and good taste, for that kind of money the faithful should be given the real thing.
• When The Black Book of Communism, edited by Stéphane Courtois, came out in France, where there are still influential intellectuals who do not mind being called Communists, it caused an enormous storm. Leftist critics eagerly nit-picked the book’s claim that communism had killed more than a hundred million people. (Others criticize the book for undercounting the number of victims.) Now the book has been published here by Harvard, and Peter Rutland of Wesleyan University has some wise things to say about calculating victimhood. “Courtois’ obsession with the body count draws attention away from ‘the immense sea of suffering’ of communism’s living victims, who outnumber the dead. [Contributor Karel] Bartosek warns of pursuing ‘the myth of the number of victims,’ in which ‘the figure becomes a key symbol, a mathematical truth. . . . It transforms mass deaths into a kind of sacrament.’ The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia killed ‘only’ ninety people, and ‘only’ 3,000 died during the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 (followed by 100,000 arrests). But these displays of force were sufficient to terrorize tens of millions of people into obedience for decades to come. The Soviets used 6,300 tanks to invade Czechoslovakia—twice as many as Hitler used to attack Russia. Similarly, [contributor Jean-Louis] Margolin notes that the Cultural Revolution was not particularly bloody by the standards of previous years. Perhaps 100,000 were killed by the Red Guards, and another million in the army’s crackdown. Still, this proved sufficient to paralyze society. ‘What use was killing, when the leaders could terrorize so effectively?’ he writes. And since then, the system has learned how to function without mass killing, as did Russia after 1953. The Communists’ ability to strip their subjects of their freedom, their dignity, and their ability to control their own lives is just as important a part of the Communist legacy as the sheer number of dead. It was the Communists’ ability to use fear as an instrument of rule, not their ability to kill large numbers of people, that kept them in power for decades. This is where they differ from the Nazis, who only ruled for thirteen bloody years.” He leaves no doubt that The Black Book of Communismserves a necessary purpose: “There is much to learn from this tombstone of a book. However many accounts one has read of the Soviet Gulag and Chinese laogai, there is always some new detail that takes one by surprise. One learns, for example, that in Romania prisoners were trained to torture each other; that some Chinese swapped their children in order to eat them; and that Kim Il Sung ordered the liquidation of dwarves. It is impossible to imagine the extent of man’s capacity for cruelty—one has to read it to believe it possible.” But the contemplation of evil, Rutland suggests, is not best done through a tabulation of victims but by reading the personal accounts of those who suffered. However systemic its operation, the source and consequence of evil is not understood until it is understood personally. As Solzhenitsyn observed, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.
• But what do the ethicists say? In an astute article in Commonweal, Gordon Marino of St. Olaf College urges a measure of skepticism in treating the proliferating breed of professional ethicists as though they are moral rocket scientists. “And yet there are strong psychological motives for wanting to recuse ourselves from moral decisions. For one obvious reason, it diminishes our own sense of responsibility and guilt. More than that, the fantasy that you need a doctorate in ethics to determine right from wrong encourages nonexperts to believe that ethics is an extremely complicated matter and so we should take a wait-and-see attitude toward our moral intuitions. Before obeying the inner voice that commands me to take more time away from my own private projects to help those less fortunate, I ought to let some time pass and think about it, for after all, ethics is a complicated matter; otherwise, there would not be so many experts on the topic. Kierkegaard taught that we should do what we take to be the right thing now, for the longer we wait the more likely it is that we will talk ourselves out of acting by convincing ourselves that the wide way is the righteous way. It may be that moral matters are more complicated than that complicated Dane envisioned; nevertheless, the image of ethics conjured by the acceptance of an ethical establishment tempts some of our worst impulses.”
• When it comes to religious freedom, it would seem that Orthodoxy speaks with very different voices, the Moscow Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Constantinople. A document on “Social Doctrine” issued by Moscow says this: “The appearance of the principle of freedom of conscience testifies to the fact that in the modern world religion is turning from a ‘common concern’ into a ‘private affair.’ . . . In itself this process is evidence of the collapse of spiritual values, of the loss of all striving towards salvation in society at large, which is reinforced by the principle of freedom of conscience: affirmation of the legal principle of freedom of conscience is evidence of society’s loss of religious aims and values, of mass apostasy and de facto indifference to the activity of the Church and to victory over sin.” When asked by the Keston Institute to comment on the Moscow statement, Bartholomew of Constantinople declined to do so, but he did issue this statement: “Freedom of conscience is the greatest divine gift towards humanity, and that which represents most clearly the image of God in the human person. When we say that God created humankind in His image and likeness, we mean that He gave to humankind the spiritual qualities that correspond to those of Divinity, such as knowledge, will, and others, with the crown of all these being the freedom of will and conscience. It is clear that will and conscience which are subjected to some external or internal necessity from which they cannot be separated do not comprise a value of divine quality.” Such dramatically different perspectives, it should be needless to point out, reflect very different understandings of Orthodoxy’s place within the larger Christian community and, indeed, world history.
• The National Post continues to dig into that story about the Canadian churches that are being sued into possible bankruptcy for the alleged crimes of “cultural imperialism” in conducting residential schools for Indians. Many things are coming to light. In 1960, for instance, less than a quarter of native students were in residential schools, the rest being in regular day schools; the people who ran the residential schools were government employees; church leaders recommended closing residential schools but “First Nation” spokesmen insisted on maintaining them. As for students being stripped of their native beliefs and forced to become Christians, already in 1871 53 percent of Canada’s 3.6 million Indians identified themselves as Protestant and 43 percent as Catholic. In short, the case against the churches is falling apart. There seems to be no rejoicing, however, among the defendants, especially the Anglicans and the United Church of Canada. Prof. Ian Hunter of the University of Western Ontario says they “would rather be persecuted in defense of political correctness than be saved by truth. . . . The Anglican Church decided a long time ago to get ‘on side’ with the native rights agenda; the church has invested too heavily in historical revisionism to turn back now. . . . The Anglican Church started apologizing for residential schools in 1993 when Michael Peers, the Primate, timed the occasion to coincide with the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, a comparison Archbishop Peers drew to the attention of his native audience. Even the most outrageous of the residential school claims, that of ‘cultural genocide,’ has duly received clerical support; the [Anglican] Bishop of Toronto, Terry Finlay, applied that term to his own church’s conduct. As the saying goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?” Hunter concludes with the observation that “the Anglican Church has apologized itself into bankruptcy.”
• I mentioned in my discussion of George Steiner’s Grammars of Creation (“The End of Endings,” August/September) that pretentiousness sometimes gets in the way of his argument. Such restraint I exercised. Here is Hugh Lawson-Tancred reviewing the same book in the Spectator: “These habits are buttressed by not infrequent recourse to a tone of portentous oracularity which it is notoriously easy to find transparently specious. Indeed such is his predilection for polysyllabic obscurantism that he might almost appropriate the expostulation of the apocryphal jurisprudentialist who protested against allegations of gratuitous philological exhibitionism.” Nonetheless, Mr. Lawson-Tancred, like me, liked the book.
• This one hears with distressing regularity, from both Catholic and Protestant lay people: “My pastor says he is rock solid on the issue, and I have no reason to doubt him. But he almost never mentions abortion from the pulpit, and I cannot help but think he’s afraid of being thought ‘controversial.’“ For such clergy, Priests for Life has produced an excellent packet of materials, “Preaching on Abortion,” which provides persuasive answers to all the reasons why clergy may be inclined to shy away from their convictions. Included are examples of effective preaching on the culture of life. I expect these materials will do most good if they are, in a spirit of friendly encouragement, given to clergy by their own parishioners. Write Priests for Life, P.O. Box 141172, Staten Island, New York 10314, or visit www.priestsforlife.org.
• One of the articles we take greatest satisfaction in having published is “Waco: A Massacre and Its Aftermath“ (FT, May 1995) by the late Dean Kelley, longtime religious liberties director of the National Council of Churches. Recently, former Senator John Danforth completed his study of the incident—in which more than eighty men, women, and children were killed—with a report that has been widely criticized as very soft on government malfeasance. A competent summary of where the matter now stands is “No Confidence: An Unofficial Account of the Waco Incident,” by Timothy Lynch, director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice. “That incident,” says the account, “has become the most controversial law enforcement operation in modern American history.” (The nineteen-page report is available for $6 from the Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.)
• Lutherans don’t believe in the rapture. In fact the idea, which appeals to 1 Thessalonians 4, came from the mind of the British separatist John Nelson Darby about 1830, who divided the Second Coming of Christ into two stages: first Christ will come for his saints before the great tribulation (the rapture), and then, after the tribulation, he will come with his saints (the Second Coming complete). Premillennial dispensationalists share the belief that Christ returns before the millennium (pre-millennium) and that history is divided into dispensations leading to the tribulation, which is commonly identified with the “seventieth week” of Daniel 9. If this sounds familiar, it is perhaps because you are among the twenty-seven million people who have bought copies of the apocalyptic “Left Behind” books by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. Followers of Darby completely separate the Church and the people of Israel. The Church must be removed from the earth by the rapture before God can get on with the business of converting the Jews in preparation for the end time. As I say, Lutherans don’t believe these things, and Pastor David Buegler of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Westlake, Ohio, pulled the “Left Behind” books from the parish library. Somewhat to his surprise, this caused a bit of a stir, so he scheduled a Bible study meeting to discuss what is wrong with the Jenkins-LaHaye teachings. To his great surprise, six hundred people showed up, with some of the discussion turning acrimonious over who will and who will not get left behind. Buegler is not entirely displeased. “It’s gotten people talking about the end times,” he observes. The Jenkins-LaHaye books are published by Tyndale, and marketing director Dan Balow says, “Whenever anyone gets too worked up, I remind them that this is just fiction.” Which suggests a title if your parish wants to hold a meeting on the subject: “Let’s Lighten Up About ‘Left Behind.’“ That should draw a crowd.
• A friend at Baylor University attended, along with eight colleagues, a two-day meeting hosted by Harvard Divinity School. He was ecstatic, reporting that the Harvard folk said they envied the unabashedly Christian commitment of Baylor and had a lot to learn from it. That is not how it is reported in the Christian Century, where it said that Baylor has “disavowed connections with the Southern Baptist Convention. . . . Strengthening ties with Harvard underscores Baylor’s resolve to chart a different course from the denomination’s ardently conservative leadership.” Nothing is said about Harvard charting a different course. I hope my friend is right about the meaning of the meeting.
• One may sometimes despair of our ever reaching a time when we can speak in an honest and civil way about the Holocaust. In this space I quoted favorably a reflection by Adam Michnik, a Jew and a Pole, on the tortured ambiguities of Polish history in that time of terror. Michnik noted that Poles are unfairly stereotyped and alluded to the many Poles who rescued Jews. “Do the murderers deserve more recognition than the righteous?” Michnik asked. Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic, who says Michnik is his friend, answers: “Well, yes, they do. Because there were many more of them. (I write this as the grateful son of a Jewish woman who was saved by the Poles.) The mention of the righteous is a way of changing the subject, if the subject is the unrighteous. It is designed to leave no guilt uncomplicated, no shame unqualified, no sorrow unalloyed.” I do not think so. If there were many more murderers (and there were not as many actual murderers as Wieseltier implies), and if the widely disseminated view is that almost all Poles were bent on the extermination of Jews (and that is the very widespread view), surely there is a particular obligation to remember the righteous who would otherwise be forgotten. It is not a way of changing the subject but of addressing honestly the subject of Poland and the Holocaust. Michnik said that he cannot feel guilty about what some Poles did a half century ago, and Wieseltier criticizes him for not accepting responsibility for the group of which he is part. “I am not hurt,” Wieseltier writes, “when I am interrogated about the misdeeds of Jews or the misdeeds of Americans, because I have chosen to be known as a Jew and as an American. . . . Indeed, I could not permit myself to feel pride about the accomplishments of my people and my country if I did not require myself to feel shame about the perfidies of my people and my country. If those perfidies were not the work of my own hands, neither were those accomplishments.” This is deeply disingenuous. Wieseltier is not part of the “anti-Amerika” crowd and he well knows that, in terms of owning up to the historical record, it is much easier to be an American than a Pole. America was not conquered by the Nazis and then by the Communists, with all the brutalities and complicities attending such conquest. And as for the “perfidies” of the Jews, one wonders when Wieseltier was last interrogated on that subject. Perfidies of the Jews? The very phrase, stricken from the Good Friday Liturgy many years ago, is unutterable today, except perhaps among Aryan Nation types in the Montana wilds, and, now, in theNew Republic. One wonders if Mr. Wieseltier might be more specific. But of course not. He is an American and a Jew. Especially in connection with the Holocaust, it is an identity of relative innocence that is easily borne. It is not so with Adam Michnik. Greater clarity of thought, joined to a touch of grace, might lead Mr. Wieseltier to understand why he should admire rather than deride his friend’s reflection on being a Pole and a Jew.
• If a racist who really despised blacks wanted to reduce their numbers, what might he do? I’m not suggesting that the abortion industry is driven by racism, although the founders of the industry, such as Margaret Sanger of Planned Parenthood, made no secret of their desire to eliminate the black, poor, and unfit. There are current data of more than passing interest. The U.S. census has now revealed that Hispanics have displaced African Americans as the nation’s largest minority. That would not be the case were it not for abortion. Black women are 13.5 percent of the female population but have 34 percent of all abortions, their abortion rate (31 per 1,000 women) being 2.6 times the rate for white women (12 per 1,000). The best estimate is that 546,000 black children are killed each year, or about 15 million since Roe v. Wade in 1973. There are related tragedies. For instance, the demonstrated link between abortion and breast cancer makes it unsurprising that, from 1975 to 1990, death from breast cancer increased 12 percent among young black women while, over the same period, it declined by 9 percent among white women. One would think that black leaders would be concerned. Fifteen million black Americans would likely mean fifteen to twenty more seats in the House of Representatives. Yet almost every African-American representative in Congress is pro-abortion. Nor have black spokesmen such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton been heard to say a word about public policy studies unabashedly tying the abortion of black children to the reduction in crime (see While We’re At It, May). Has there ever been a people whose putative leaders actively promoted a policy that had the certain effect, if not the intention, of massively reducing their numbers and influence? No parallels come readily to mind.
• “A regression to rubricism!” That’s one reaction to the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal issued last year. Rubricism, of course, refers to an obsessively punctilious anxiety about following the liturgical rules. Father Anthony Ruff, a liturgical scholar of St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota, thinks some of his fellow liturgists should lighten up. Writing in Antiphon, he has this to say: “The most important thing to say about rubrics is that they are not of central importance. The focus belongs elsewhere: on Christ who acts in his Church; on the community that gathers to celebrate Christ’s continuing presence; and on the mystery of redemption which is actualized in the liturgy. Rubrics exist only to serve these great mysteries. They do this best by being discreet and not calling attention to themselves. The responsible priest faithfully observes rubrics because he does not want to introduce any distraction that would divert the assembly’s attention from the mystery and onto himself. Of course, no rubric is absolute and each rubric could probably have been arranged differently. In a sense, I do not care personally whether the approved books of our rite call for no genuflection, or two genuflections, or six, at the institution narrative. However, I do care that priests and liturgical ministers be willing to follow a consistent practice for the sake of the worshipers to whom their every ritual action belongs. Quiet and unobtrusive observance of the rubrics is entirely at the service of the prayer of the entire assembly. The laity should not have to adjust to the idiosyncrasies of liturgical ministers every time they attend Mass.” Put differently, the Mass should be the Church’s liturgy, not Father Bob’s. Idiosyncratic impositions by clerics is a form of the clericalism that many such clerics claim to oppose.
• The impulse to tame the Bible by bowdlerizing it into conformity with what we think it should say is not new. A current instance is “inclusive” translations designed not to offend feminist sensibilities. There is also a campaign to eliminate negative references to Jews, a campaign that has achieved some success with the Contemporary English Version published by the American Bible Society and the New Living Translation put out by Tyndale. So in John’s Gospel, for instance, “the Jews” becomes “the Jewish leaders” or simply “the people.” One may sympathize with the intention, but Marvin Olasky, writing in World, thinks such trimming is wrongheaded. “When we read in the Gospels that Jews demanded the crucifixion of Jesus, we need to understand that all of us in their place would have done the same. Biblical teaching about the universality of sin, summed up perfectly in Paul’s phrase that ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,’ is compromised if we start thinking that some had not. . . . Such an emphasis on the unity of the human race and the universality of sin is the best defense against anti-Semitism. Some ministers, including some evangelical ones, do not talk about sin for fear of alienating some listeners. But if we don’t emphasize our own sin, then ‘Jews as Christ-killers’ ugliness might return, with bigots saying, ‘They, Jews, are sinners, but folks in churches have done better.’ That is a different gospel, and an evil one.”
• When a “gender gap” is reported, the usual idea is that the gender (a.k.a. sex) that is behind should close the gap by catching up with the one that is ahead. Not in this case, however. The problem under discussion is “a gender gap in abortions,” and the girls are already way ahead. The headline in the New York Times reads, “Modern Asia’s Anomaly: The Girls Who Don’t Get Born.” Notable in the story reported by Celia Dugger is the acknowledgment that “girls” are killed in abortion. To be sure, the first reference is to “female fetuses” being aborted at startling rates in China and India, but then the discussion turns to social pressures “to abort girls.” The story does not say that “boys” are aborted, but it is there by implication and a precedent is being set that may put the Times on the road to coming right out and saying that babies, both girls and boys, are killed in abortion. Or, as seems more likely, it may just be that the paper’s rule of circumlocutory evasion is relaxed when a “women’s issue” is involved. In any event, in parts of India and China only eight hundred girls are born for every one thousand boys born, resulting in all kinds of social dislocations. “Why,” Ms. Dugger asks, “don’t the women themselves—more likely than ever before to be literate—insist on giving birth to their girls?” This is remarkable language for the Times. Note the assumed bond between mother and child in the phrase “their girls.” Note the implication that, despite the Times‘ incessant linking of abortion and choice, these women are aborting their children against their will. One might almost suspect that Ms. Dugger has snuck a pro-life story into the pages of the nation’s foremost agitator for the unlimited abortion license. If so, she covers herself nicely, reporting that, wouldn’t you know it, there are “many complex factors at play.” Among the frolicking factors is China’s “family planning rule” limiting couples to one or two children. Ms. Dugger does not say she is against the rule; her problem is that it is the girl babies who are disproportionately killed. It isn’t fair. One solution might be to kill more boy babies, but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon because the peculiar “patriarchal family” dominant in India and China favors boys and has a “prejudice” against girls. That is mainly because sons take care of their aging parents and daughters are thought to belong to their husband’s family where they are to care for their in-laws. There is hope, however. “The experience of South Korea suggests that urbanization, modernization, and rising prosperity may help loosen the bonds of traditional family life,” Ms. Dugger reports. In South Korea, the abortion gender gap is less severe as a result of a “weakening of the patriarchal family system as people become more independent economically and socially from their families.” Ms. Dugger betrays no hint of irony in suggesting that the disproportionate destruction of girl babies can be set to rights by the destruction of the traditional family. She ends on the sobering note that “China and India are still mainly agrarian societies, and it is likely to be a long time before these lumbering behemoths can hope to see such benefits.” It may be a long time, but one day these countries, too, may be in the happy situation of eliminating the traditional family and closing the abortion gender gap. The story begins with the observation that “Women are making strides in both India and China.” The course of liberation, we are to understand, cannot be stopped. Between babies of both sexes, equal opportunity abortion is only a matter of time. On second thought, Celia Dugger probably did not intend to insinuate a pro-life perspective into the paper. Her concern is not abortion but sexual equality. “Discrimination faced by girls both before and after birth has contributed to the fact that fifty million to eighty million more girls and women might have been alive today in India and China had they received treatment equal to that of boys and men.” One cannot imagine the Timestreating as a problem the fact that more than thirty-five million people would be alive in America today if they had not, since the abolition of abortion law in 1973, been killed in the womb. Between the values of life and equality, equality is trumps. The objection is not to killing but to discriminatory killing. It is a logic of sorts. Call it crackpot logic.
• I have noted that the Latter-day Saints, commonly known as Mormons, are increasingly moving toward identifying themselves with the mainstream of Christianity. Some welcome this as a substantive change, others suspect it is a public relations ploy. In any event the word from Salt Lake City is that the LDS wants to be referred to as the Church of Jesus Christ, and now the much smaller Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based in Independence, Missouri, has formally changed its name to the Community of Christ. We all have reason to hope that these developments reflect steps toward substantive change that will, over time, make possible a less qualified acknowledgment of the LDS as part of the Christian community.
• “Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are only one God. I say that is a strange God anyhow—three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization anyhow.” So declared Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Latter-day Saints. According to The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “three Gods form the Godhead,” and “all resurrected and perfected mortals become gods.” Further, “Though Latter-day Saints extensively use the scriptures to learn about God, their fundamental knowledge concerning him is based upon the Prophet Joseph Smith’s First Vision, the Prophet’s subsequent revelatory experiences, and individual personal Revelation.” Noting the great Christological and Trinitarian decisions of the councils of the early Church, the encyclopedia flatly states, “None of these is the source of the LDS understanding of God.” It should, therefore, not come as a surprise that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome has issued a statement declaring that Mormon baptisms are not valid. Water is used and the formula sounds about right (“Having received Christ’s mandate, I baptize you in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”), but the third necessary element of a valid baptism is missing: the intention to do what the Church does when it baptizes. The intention is hopelessly flawed because, as Joseph Smith and subsequent LDS teaching make clear, Mormons do not mean by “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” what the Church means. Rather, it is taught, the Godhead comes into existence as three Gods, sharing “substantially the same” nature with humanity, cooperate in the work of salvation, which is to make men Gods. The LDS desire for acceptance as a Christian communion has received a setback from Rome. The disagreement could hardly be more fundamental. Why the statement appears now was not explained, and clarification is awaited regarding former LDS members whose LDS baptisms have reportedly been accepted by some Catholic priests. And, of course, Mormons have always required baptized Christians who convert to submit to their form of baptism.
• “We’ll show those boorish Americans that they can’t get away with their international unilateralism.” That’s the sentiment that, according to much media coverage, explains the ousting of the U.S. from the United Nations Human Rights Commission. In fact, says Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House, the Europeans are interested in trading with tyrants, and tyrants do not take kindly to being criticized for their treatment of their people, which is what the U.S. insists upon doing. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Shea says: “Whereas in the past, the Western European delegations were in the forefront of the commission’s work, highlighting injustices in South Africa, East Timor, and Bosnia, they now resort to euphemisms and half-truths. The United States stands virtually alone in striving to focus world attention on actual violations of human rights. Repeatedly at the commission, the United States has had to break with the European Union in order to vote its conscience on issues like slavery in Sudan, religious persecution in China, and political repression in Cuba. The United States often stands alone, too, in opposing blatantly political condemnations of Israel. The loss of its seat on the commission is meant to punish the United States for marching out of step.” In addition to our allies in the European Union, the commission is now packed by freedom-loving countries such as Libya, Algeria, Cuba, Syria, and Vietnam. Shea and others in the human rights community hope that the U.S. position on the commission will be restored next year, but a good many thoughtful Americans have a hard time resisting the impulse to say good riddance to the commission, and maybe the UN as well. We should not give in to the impulse, at least for a time, lest permanent damage be done to the great good that has, in fact, been advanced over the years under the aegis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But Nina Shea, too, recognizes that, if the Western European nations do not return to the tradition of the Declaration, “the commission will have outlived its usefulness whether or not the United States recaptures a seat.”
• A tale of two Jacksons, graven images, and suspected extortion. Joseph H. Jackson was from 1964 to 1982 the conservative president of the National Baptist Convention and a statue of him was erected outside his Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago. The new pastor had it taken down because it was a “graven image.” It will be relocated at the divinity school of Howard University, where they apparently do not object to graven images. As for Jesse Jackson, John Dart writes in the Christian Century that he is under mounting criticism for threatening corporations with boycotts and then accepting large donations from them. Mr. Dart’s laconic last line: “Jackson has denied that there was a causal relationship between his withdrawal of boycott threats and the corporate donations.” Causal, correlative, coincidental, whatever. But it still works.
• “New Age” has been around for more than thirty years now, and is still a very big and growing item in the publishing world, according to Publishers Weekly. The story quotes Carl Weschke, a Minneapolis book man, who says there really is a New Age. “It’s all for the purpose of giving us a higher perspective, so we can save ourselves and save the planet,” says Weschke. Another bookseller, however, says, “There is an odd change going on right now. The words ‘New Age’ are stigmatized by society, but what New Age stands for is embraced by the mainstream more every day.” The story concludes that more and more publishers and sellers are expanding their New Age output, but they are also “calling it by different names.” Although PW doesn’t say so, a good many of those books by different names can be found in Catholic and evangelical bookstores, not to mention parish libraries. A Presbyterian pastor tells me one of his parishioners is writing a book on crystal decoding—i.e., discerning the meanings of crystals and using them to influence the future—“from a Presbyterian viewpoint.” He told his parishioner that this might not be entirely consonant with a Christian understanding of the sovereignty of God, to which he received the response, “I know. We have to rethink the sovereignty of God.” According to the studies, only a tiny percentage of Americans identify their religion as New Age. So who do you suppose is buying those millions of books each year? Answer: people who are very sure that they are Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, or Presbyterian but are also “into alternative spiritualities.” For most of them, the real alternative spirituality would be orthodox Christianity.
• So who, do you suppose, is the most influential evangelical Protestant of the last quarter century? Billy Graham? Bill Bright? James Dobson? Pat Robertson? Charles Colson? The answer is none of the above, according to the Evangelical Studies Bulletin that comes out of Wheaton College. Tim LaHaye, co-author of the zillion-selling “Left Behind” series, launched creationism in the 1970s, then went on to writing books that incorporated therapeutic and sex-fulfillment ideas into evangelical piety, and then with his wife Beverly (head of Concerned Women for America) was key to putting together what came to be known as the religious right. The Bulletinconcludes that LaHaye was “influenced by all the changes swirling around evangelicalism, rose out of the ranks of the movement, and then in turn played a strategic role at key points that have cemented—for good or ill—the direction evangelicalism will be taking in the next few decades.” Tim LaHaye, the most influential evangelical of the last quarter century? A plausible, if not conclusive, argument can be made for it.
• It is no secret that, in the contention over abortion, Jews are overwhelmingly “pro-choice.” Apart from the Orthodox, that view seems at times to be nearly unanimous. Alan Luxenberg writes in the Forward, the national Jewish weekly, that this is rather odd, since the Jewish tradition clearly allows for abortion only when the mother’s life is threatened, and in a few other restricted circumstances about which the rabbis disagree. So why are Jews so strongly pro-abortion? “What is not widely understood,” answers Luxenberg, “is that in endorsing this position these [non-Orthodox] groups are less interested in promoting abortion than in protecting freedom of religion.” In other words, they identify the anti-abortion position as an imposition of Christian religion that is threatening to Jews. “The only problem,” Alan Luxenberg adds, “is that too many Jews don’t know what their religion preaches.”
• Theodore Roosevelt called it the bully pulpit, but little good it does if there’s nobody who reports what is said from it. Addressing the American Jewish Committee, President Bush made a magnificent speech laying out the role of human rights, and religious freedom in particular, in U.S. foreign policy. The “newspaper of record” and the media that feed on it had hardly a word about what he said. Recalling America’s response to horrors of the past, Bush said: “Such crimes are being committed today by the government of Sudan, which is waging war against that country’s traditionalist and Christian peoples. Some two million Sudanese have lost their lives; four million more have lost their homes. Hospitals, schools, churches, and international relief stations have often been bombed by government warplanes over the eighteen years of Sudan’s civil war. The government claims to have halted air attacks. But they continue. Women and children have been abducted and sold into slavery. UNICEF estimates that some twelve thousand to fifteen thousand people are now held in bondage in Sudan. The story of Exodus still speaks across the millennia: no society in all of history can be justly built on the backs of slaves. Sudan is a disaster area for human rights. The right of conscience has been singled out for special abuse by the Sudanese authorities. Aid agencies report that food assistance is sometimes distributed only to those willing to undergo conversion to Islam. We must turn the eyes of the world upon the atrocities in Sudan.” Referring to the persistent and massive persecution of Christians and others in China, he said: “China aspires to national strength and greatness. But these acts of persecution are acts of fear—and, therefore, of weakness. This persecution is unworthy of all that China has been—a civilization with a history of tolerance. And this persecution is unworthy of all that China should become—an open society that respects the spiritual dignity of its people.” This is news. Especially on Sudan, no President has spoken so forcefully before. Dozens of reporters were at the AJC meeting. What do you suppose they were there for?
• Debt relief for poor countries was a very big item in John Paul II’s vision for the Jubilee Year 2000. In Europe it was treated as such by the media, and was supported by numerous mass rallies. Not here. Dennis R. Hoover writes in Religion in the News: “While the European press gave significant coverage to the Jubilee movement, for the most part the U.S. news media passed on the story. In so doing journalists slighted a major global story that revealed a lot about the power of organized religious groups to influence political and economic policies. In the United States, for example, the campaign achieved considerable legislative success in the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress. Although the debt relief campaign may have seemed to issue overwhelmingly from the religious left, by the end, even Senator Jesse Helms was on board.” The media here did play up the rally with the Pope at which U2 lead singer Bono and other celebrities appeared, but the connection with the Jubilee Year was largely lost. Hoover writes: “The American news media may have been too easily starstruck. In his January 24, 2000 Newsweek piece, ‘Can Bono Save the Third World?’ John Leland gushed, ‘Thanks to a series of surreal encounters between a rock-and-roller and some people in very high places, debt relief is now a hot issue.’ In the wake of a visit by Bono with the Washington Post’s editorial board, a clearly jazzed Sebastian Mallaby knocked out ‘Pro Bono,’ a September 25, 2000 column which announced that ‘it’s pretty clear that Bono and the alliance of nongovernmental advocates he represents make debt relief more likely.’ But Mallaby had precious little to say about the ‘nongovernmental advocates,’ most of which are religious, or the religious motivations that connect them to their ‘representative’ rock star.” Bono himself, however, has been effusive in his praise of the Pope’s leadership. In one interview he also added, “I’m sure the work that I do at Jubilee 2000 is some kind of Catholic guilt, but it’s working, so we’ll continue with it.” Let’s hear it for guilt.
• “Neurotheology.” The editors at Newsweek probably half-suspected that they were party to a fraud in splashing the story all over their cover, which may be why they gave religion writer Kenneth Woodward space to refute it. The story is that scientists have been wiring people up to see what happens to their brains when they pray or meditate, and have concluded that human beings are neurologically “wired” for religion. Such experiments, writes Woodward, may tell us new things about brain circuits, but nothing new about God. “The chief mistake these neurotheologians make is to identify religion with specific experiences and feelings. Losing one’s self in prayer may feel good or uplifting, but these emotions have nothing to do with how well we communicate with God. In fact, many people pray best when feeling shame or sorrow, and the sense that God is absent is no less valid than the experience of divine presence. The sheer struggle to pray may be more authentic than the occasional feeling that God is close by, hearing every word. Very few believers have experienced what Christian theology calls mystical union with God. Nor, for that matter, have many Buddhists experienced the ‘emptiness’ that the Buddha identified as the realization of ‘no-self.’“ That is not the only problem that Woodward has with the neurotheological hype. “Neurotheologians also confuse spirituality with religion. But doing the will of God—or following the dharma—involves much more than prayer and meditation. To see Christ in the person of an AIDS victim or to really love one’s enemy does not necessitate a special alteration in the circuits of the brain. Nor does the efficacy of a eucharistic celebration depend on the collective brain waves of the congregation. In short, religion comprehends a whole range of acts and insights that acknowledge a transcendent order without requiring a transcendent experience.” Woodward is clearly on a roll, so let’s hear him out: “Science, of course, does not deal with the immaterial (though aspects of modern physics come pretty close). The most that neurobiologists can do is correlate certain experiences with certain brain activity. To suggest that the brain is the only source of our experiences would be reductionist, ignoring the influence of other important factors, such as the will, the external environment, not to mention the operation of divine grace. Even so, it is hard to imagine a believer in the midst of a mystical transport telling herself that it is just her neural circuits acting up. Like Saint Augustine, who lived fifteen centuries before we discovered that the brain makes waves, the religious mind intuits that ‘Thou has made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.’“
• The claim that the unlimited abortion license is responsible for cutting crime as much as 50 percent was advanced by John J. Donohue and Steven Levitt and has received enormous media attention. It also came in for discussion in these pages (While We’re At It, May). The Donohue-Levitt argument is that abortions are disproportionately obtained by women, largely poor and black, who terminate the “unwanted” children most likely to engage in criminal acts, especially murder. That thesis is critically engaged and persuasively countered by John Lott of Yale Law School and John Whitley, an economist at the University of Adelaide, Australia, in “Abortion and Crime: Unwanted Children and Out-of-Wedlock Births.” They offer impressive data and analysis suggesting that the abortion license actually increases crime by increasing premarital sexual activity and the number of out-of-wedlock births. While Donohue-Levitt speculate about the children that were not born, Lott-Whitley focus on the children who are born in circumstances where they lack the support of “human capital” and are therefore more prone to crime, especially murder. During 1965-69, only 4.8 percent of whites were born out-of-wedlock, and that figure rose to 16.1 percent in 1985-89, while the comparable figures for blacks are 34.9 and 61.8 percent. The Lott-Whitley argument is sophisticated and, of course, complicated, including cohort discriminations, statistical regression rates, and other jargon of the trade. As for the social benefits of abortion, Donohue-Levitt suggest that abortion reduces annual victimization costs by $30 billion, with most of this coming from reductions in murder. “Our results,” write Lott-Whitley, “indicate that total victimization costs rose as a result of abortion.” Of course you are right if you think the cost-benefit analysis of taking innocent human lives unspeakably repugnant. But the fact is that the social costs argument has been a staple in the pro-abortion movement. An earlier eugenics movement and people such as Margaret Sanger made it a centerpiece of their case, and as recently as the 1970s Planned Parenthood routinely issued data on how much money was saved on welfare by terminating the children of the poor. In recent years, it has not been polite to be so explicit about that, but, whatever their intentions (see Donohue’s letter of protest in this issue), the Donohue-Levitt article brought that way of thinking back into the open. One hopes that the Lott-Whitley study will receive similar attention, alerting people to the reality that the social costs argument for abortion is not only morally repugnant but factually unfounded. (The Lott-Whitley study is available online at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=270126.)
• Sister Mary Explains It All is a Showtime movie that, I am told, indulges in the usual Catholic-bashing. Asked by a columnist whether the movie is not an exercise in religious bigotry, Showtime’s CEO, Matt Blank, says, “Listen, I’m Jewish. We’re a home for wayward movies.” Asked the same question, Marshall Brickman, the film’s director, says, “Listen, I’m Jewish. I reserve the right to satirize any minority.” Which, being translated, means, “Listen, I’m Jewish. I’m entitled to be a bigot.” The Anti-Defamation League has not yet issued a protest against this defamation of what it means to be Jewish.
• Father’s Day, to say the obvious, is intended to affirm fathers and fatherhood. If you were running a major newspaper, you might this year have focused on the cumulative studies conclusively demonstrating that the two-parent family is the single most important variable affecting a child’s well-being on a host of scores. But of course you don’t run the Washington Post, which this Father’s Day featured on its front page a wedding at which the bride had two fathers giving her away, one the biological father, one the stepfather, or whatever. And you certainly don’t run theNew York Times, which ran a long story under the title “Single Dads Wage Revolution One Bedtime Story at a Time.” The report and photos of straight and gay daddies aimed at cutely making the point that, as Gloria Steinem said in another connection, children need mothers like a fish needs a bicycle. In other words, Father’s Day was the occasion for firing another salvo in the culture war that theTimes denies it is waging. A journalist might excuse the story by saying that it is the unusual that makes for newsworthiness, but at this point in our history single-parent families are hardly unusual. Moreover, as Professor David Popenoe, one of our leading experts on the family, points out in a letter to the Times, the phenomenon so breathlessly celebrated by the Times is hardly new. “A much higher percentage of single-parented children lived with their fathers in 1900 (27 percent) than do so today (close to 17 percent).” Popenoe adds that, unlike most single mothers who don’t have a man to help with the housework and the kids, “single” fathers typically have a woman in the house. Popenoe concludes, “Some revolution.” To be sure, in 1900 many more fathers cared for their children because they were widowed, which was understood to be a great sadness. The new thing is the cultural revolution promoted by major institutions such as the Times which plump for depriving children of the inestimable gift of living in a home with both parents.
• “Diligently to Thy Children: The Case for School Choice” is a twenty-two-page pamphlet by Adam Pruzan and published by Toward Tradition. It is a very convincing answer to the seven most common objections to school choice raised by Jewish liberals, but not only by liberals who are Jewish. If you enclose return postage, I expect that Toward Tradition would be glad to send you a copy. Write Toward Tradition, 9311 S.E. 36th Street, Suite 100, P.O. Box 58, Mercer Island, Washington 98040.
• Law professor Ronald J. Rychlak published a fine book decisively refuting the many smears against Pius XII and his “silence” regarding the Holocaust, Hitler, the War, and the Pope (Genesis). Book TV on C-SPAN 2 had him for a debate with four panelists taking the opposite view. The same program aired a lecture by James Carroll, author of the scurrilous Constantine’s Sword (reviewed in FT, May), followed by commentary from, in the words of the moderator, “two friends and one great admirer.” I don’t wish to shock you, but there would appear to be a double standard at work here. After the impressive refutations by Rychlak, Rabbi David Dalin in theWeekly Standard, and others, I had rather hoped that the attacks on Pius XII would fade, at least for the time. But now I learn that two new attack books are scheduled for this fall, one by David Kertzer, which extends the indictment to Pius XI. So we will just have to brace ourselves, and keep on responding point by point. A couple of points not made elsewhere are in Rychlak’s review of Carroll in the Washington Post. Carroll makes much of the fact that Pius XII did not publicly announce the excommunication of Hitler, but Rychlak notes that Carroll, an ex-priest, discusses his own excommunication in his memoir An American Requiem, making light of it. “Would it have mattered more to Hitler?” Rychlak asks. Carroll also peddles, without citing any documentation, the story that John XXIII condemned Pius XII on his deathbed. Rychlak took the trouble of tracking down Pope John’s private secretary who was with him during the days of his dying, and he emphatically says the story is “a lie.” In addition, as Rychlak notes, we do have the documents in which Pope John says that, in rescuing Jews and other matters, he was only following the lead of Pius XII. Of course, this can get tedious, but there is no alternative to answering the critics lie by lie. From Rolf Hochhuth’s 1964 play The Deputy to James Carroll, David Kertzer, and others, no secret is made of the fact that their driving interest is in attacking the Catholic Church and, especially in Carroll’s case, the history and teachings of Christianity tout court. That some of the critics adamantly insist that they are Catholics is of psychological interest, but has no bearing on the facts in dispute. The refutation of slander, if it is to be persuasive, cannot degenerate into an uncritical defense of Pius XII or of everything done and left undone by church leadership. John Paul II has repeatedly called for, and repeatedly acted to advance, a “purification of memories.” But when is enough enough? some ask. Others say that admissions of failings should be contingent upon others reciprocating by admitting their failings, or at least acknowledging that we have admitted ours. Such responses are understandable, but our obligation is one of open-ended patience and persistence. Ours it is, in the words of St. Paul, to “speak the truth in love,” even as we recognize that there will always be others who do not love the truth.
• Did Justice Clarence Thomas watch pornographic films twenty years ago? The very question pollutes our public discourse, but it has been all over the major newspapers and magazines in connection with David Brock’s new book Blinded by the Right. In his 1993 book, The Real Anita Hill, Brock defended Thomas’ denial of Hill’s claim. I know Justice Thomas as a good and honorable man, and I believe him. I do not know Brock, who now says he believes Hill, but I think the editors of OpinionJournalgot it exactly right: “Either Brock was lying in 1993 to further his career as a conservative journalist, or he’s lying now to further his career as an ex-conservative ex-journalist. One thing is clear: David Brock is a liar.”
• The New York Times Magazine has a weekly column called “The Ethicist,” written by Randy Cohen, who is, presumably, an expert on ethics. A reader asks him for his judgment regarding a referendum in Slovenia in which 72.4 percent of the citizens voted against allowing single women to be artificially inseminated. Supporters contended that the right of a child to have a father should take priority over the right of a woman to have a child. Mr. Cohen’s response: “This is the unseemly imposing of narrow religious beliefs given the pseudo-justification of crackpot notions of child-rearing.” Next question?
• A grotesque twist that fiction could not get away with is reported by the Associated Press. Germany has been staunchly resisting the push to permit using human embryos to obtain cells for research, but according to correspondent Burt Herman, one state governor has come up with a plan to allow the use of imported embryos for that purpose. The plan calls for the importation of these human lives just starting out—lives that some call “subhuman”—from Israel. Never again?
• The G-7 leaders met in Genoa, with Russia, the wannabe eighth, invited to drop by afterwards. An estimated fifty thousand protestors rioted for sundry causes under the banner “Smash Capitalism!” The second day of the meeting, the lead story in the New York Times is under the heading, “Leaders Continue Meeting, Despite Death of Protester.” How heartless. Presumably the world leaders should have called off the meeting after a young man was shot in the act of attacking an Italian police car. The next day the Times report continued to fret that the nations of the world were not letting the rioters set their agenda. “But in private, several of Mr. Bush’s aides conceded that the imagery of the leaders meeting in the splendor of a thirteenth-century medieval palace, while smoke and tear gas wafted over the hills nearby, seemed only to highlight the gulf between the leaders and the protestors.” Oh, dear. In fact, Mr. Bush did his best to “highlight the gulf” between his determination to include, and the rioters’ desire to exclude, poor nations from what the encyclicalCentesimus Annus calls the circle of productivity and exchange. For the Times, however, radical chic is still chic, even when dressed in the tattered rags of socialisms past. It is not that the editors have a love affair with socialism, although some do, but they are in the grip of their (usually inflated) memories of their own youthful rambunctiousness. Remember Chicago ‘68! Remember the Catonsville Nine! Remember whatever. Show them a picture of a young thug throwing a firebomb at the pigs, and they’re off on their Wordsworthian reverie, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, / But to be young was very heaven!” What with arthritis and one’s membership in the AARP, reporting for the Times is not quite the same as marching again, but it’s the next best thing.
• Morally astute is the phrase I ordinarily use with reference to the writings of Charles Krauthammer. But I’m afraid he went off the track on stem cell research involving government funding for the creation, use, and destruction of human lives that are just getting started. His is the usual argument for accepting at face value the enticing promissory notes of great cures proffered by those who want to do the previously forbidden. Writing in the Washington Post, he does say that “unless we treat the opposition arguments with respect, rather than reflexive disdain, we will fail to appreciate the looming dangers—moral and biological—inherent in this unprecedentedly powerful new technique.” He concludes that we should proceed “with extraordinary care and decent respect for those who, possessed of a keener sense of man’s potential for evil and folly, would have us pause before plunging into the biological unknown.” Pause, then plunge. That is not the counsel offered by those “possessed of a keener sense of man’s potential for evil and folly,” a company in which Charles Krauthammer is usually to be found. The next month, Mr. Krauthammer was rediscovering his moral footing. He was no longer so sure that a line could be maintained once we started on the slippery slope of permitting embryonic stem cell research. What changed his mind was a bill in Congress, strongly supported by the biotech industry, to legalize the cloning of embryos. Krauthammer wrote that, if such cloning is not absolutely forbidden, “then stem cell research itself must not be supported either—because then all the vaunted promises about not permitting the creation of human embryos solely for their exploitation and destruction will have been shown in advance to be a fraud (emphasis his).” That is the argument made by Leon Kass and many others, and it is precisely right. Once the use and destruction of existing embryos is permitted, there is no principled reason against, and powerful incentives for, the creation of more embryos solely for exploitation and destruction. Those who deride the slippery slope metaphor are, more often than not, denying the undeniable, namely, that one thing follows upon another unless principled reason, backed by law and popular judgment, can give an answer to the question, Why not? As this goes off to press, President Bush has announced his decision on stem cell research, possibly the most important of his presidency. There will, of course, be more on that in these pages. For the moment, I believe it is a morally defensible decision, although critics are right to note that the distinction between using human embryos and using stem cells derived from human embryos after “the life or death decision has been made” is not as bright a line as Bush’s explanation suggested. In addition, he failed to say that what will not be done with federal funding should not be done at all. On the other hand, his address to the nation was without doubt the most lucid and straightforward presidential statement on the beginnings of human life and our moral responsibility for such lives since the fateful turn of Roe v. Wade in 1973. Readers familiar with Leon Kass’ writings in this journal will not be surprised that we are greatly heartened by his appointment to head the presidential council that will provide moral and scientific guidance on these questions that, under the pressure of “the technological imperative” and entrepreneurial dreams of avarice, threaten what C. S. Lewis rightly called the abolition of man.
• The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) is moving into the mainline. MCC is a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual denomination of about forty-four thousand members and, although it has been denied membership in the National Council of Churches so far, classes on MCC doctrine and polity are taught at a number of mainline/oldline seminaries, MCC representatives sit on committees of the National and World councils of churches, and the denomination is a full-fledged member of several state councils of churches. This article in theChristian Century notes that the MCC is becoming more “diverse,” with lesbians almost equaling the number of male homosexuals and with congregations “adhering” to a mix of evangelical, liturgical, New Thought, and Unitarian teachings. Adhering does not seem quite the right word. Starting out with a commonality that is presumably not a choice, everything else is.
• American Demographics makes much of changes in funeral practices. The changes are not very striking, but if you publish a magazine plumping demographics, you have to make do with what you have. Kooky death practices have always been with us, such as a funeral parlor decked out like a boxing ring, or another with a deceased fisherman’s friends telling tales about the one that got away. John Cameron of the national Funeral Directors Association says, “The most successful clergy are the ones who bend to the personal wishes of the family.” So it is news that pandering pays? “I expect more rock ‘n’ roll funerals in the future,” says Cameron. Expect and ye shall receive. Here is a new kink, however: mixing the cremated remains with paint to create a portrait of the loved one. This is described as being “both constructive and tasteful.” It may not look like grandma, but it is.
• In Saskatchewan, Canada, the Human Rights Commission has fined Hugh Owens for placing an ad and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix for carrying it. It was a small ad showing two stick men holding hands, a circle around them and a slash through the circle, and then listing, but not quoting, four Bible passages: Romans 1, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Three homosexuals lodged a complaint that the ad incited to hatred. The Ottawa Citizen reports, “The slashed figures alone are not enough to communicate hatred, said the ruling. But the addition of the biblical references [is] more dangerous.” Said commission lawyer Valerie Watson, “It is obvious that certain of the biblical quotations suggest more dire consequences and there can be no question that the advertisement can objectively be seen as exposing homosexuals to hatred or ridicule.” Dire consequences, indeed. The commission obviously has to go after the publishers of the Bible, and perhaps they will do that when the Jebusites, Amorites, and Hittites, and others unflatteringly portrayed, get their legal teams together. Nor will it be sufficient to allow the printing only of the New Testament, what with all those insensitive references to whoremongers, idolaters, and the “present generation of vipers.” No doubt the last reference can objectively be seen as exposing even the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission to hatred or ridicule. Preferably ridicule.
• Commenting on a particularly egregious instance of genderized linguistics perpetrated by the State Bar of Georgia, based in Atlanta, I proposed a paraphrase on the city’s motto: the city too busy to think. Now Bill Hinesley of Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church reports that the church wanted to advertise for a youth minister in the Journal-Constitution. The ad said, inter alia, that the candidate should be “experienced in church and youth work and demonstrate a contagious faith in Jesus Christ.” The paper refused the ad because it mentioned “contagious faith” and “Jesus Christ.” Some may be tempted to think that the Old South that Atlanta is so busy trying not to be begins to look good.
• Here’s progress, of a sort. Many years ago an evangelical publisher brought out a book by C. S. Lewis with his picture on the back of the dustjacket. He was holding his hand in an odd way, as though there was something in it, but there was nothing there. Around his head was a large cloud. It was, of course, a cloud of pipe smoke, but the publisher, in order not to offend, had brushed out the pipe, with the result that Lewis’ head was surrounded by this numinous nimbus. My classmates and I referred to him as See Shekinah Lewis. But now we’ve all grown up a little. The smoke, and the pipe as the source of the smoke, is prominently displayed on the cover of World, an evangelical magazine, in its issue exploring the nefarious doings of HarperCollins. Inside the issue is another large photo in which Lewis is smoking—brace yourself—a cigarette. And all this without a censorious comment by the editors. For one who smoked a pipe for years and is known to still enjoy a cigar, this is a gratifying change. As for the doings of HarperCollins and the mysterious Lewis estate, it seems they are up to no good. They’re harassing a filmmaker because her work on Lewis is presumably too Christian, and are planning to add to the countless millions of dollars they’ve already made on Lewis’ books by authorizing new Narnia stories devoid of Christian imagery. Embarrassed by the publicity, HarperCollins denies that they intend to bowdlerize the Lewis legacy, but World suggests that the publisher is, so to speak, just blowing smoke.
• You may already have noticed something new with this issue. Sam Fentress of St. Louis, Missouri, has for years been traveling around the country taking pictures of popular manifestations of religion in the public square. The first in a series we’ll be running this year, “Christ is the Answer,” is near Palma, Kentucky. So why are we running these photographs? I’m not sure. Because they are interesting. Because they provide relief from the otherwise erudite content of the magazine. Because they reflect a dimension of religion and public life that should not be considered beneath notice. Because maybe they will attract the attention of a publisher who will be interested in putting them together in a book. (Sam has hundreds more where these came from. For more information, visit his website, www.jesuspix.com.) If you find none of these reasons persuasive, just accept them as a fillip of whimsy. As Alexander VI is supposed to have said of the papacy, so I say, “Since God has seen fit to give us a magazine, let us enjoy it.”
• “I’m tired of people trying to recruit me to this cause or that.” All right, I can understand that. But this does not require much and would be greatly appreciated. You simply suggest to the librarian—at the local branch, college, university, or parish—that they really should subscribe to FT. Or politely ask the manager why the bookstore does not have FT in its magazine rack. It might also be greatly appreciated by people who do not now realize that FT is just what they’ve been looking for.
• Of the many letters received, among the more gratifying are those of people, especially young people, returning to the faith through their encounter with FT. Some of these testimonials may be just a little exaggerated. After all, the journal is not in the strictest sense of the term a means of grace. But with so much encouragement we are emboldened to think that it may be an instrument of higher purposes. We will be happy to send a sample issue of this journal to people you think are likely subscribers. Please send names and addresses to First Things, 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, New York, New York 10010 (or e-mail to email@example.com). On the other hand, if they’re ready to subscribe, call toll free 1-877-905-9920, or visit www.firstthings.com.
Sources: On Henry Kissinger and America’s moral purpose, National Interest, Summer 2001.
While We’re At It: Matt Labash on the Holy Land Experience, Weekly Standard, March 5, 2001. James Q. Wilson on the Great Disruption and the Great Timeout,Public Interest, Fall 1999. On Jew vs. Jew, Wilson Quarterly, Autumn 2000. The APA on pedophilia, Public Interest, Winter 2000. Guenter Lewy on Gypsy discrimination,National Interest, Fall 1999. On the mystery of the Holocaust, National Interest, Fall 1999. Norah Vincent on the rights of pregnant women, Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2001. Electric candles, America, March 26, 2001. Peter Rutland on the Communist body count, National Interest, Winter 1999/2000. On professional ethicists, Commonweal, March 23, 2001. Orthodoxy and religious freedom, Keston Institute press release, April 6, 2001. Canadian churches and native rights, National Post, March 26, 2001. On George Steiner’s style, Spectator, March 31, 2001. On “Left Behind” and the rapture, Publishers Weekly Religion Bookline, April 3, 2001. Baylor meets with Harvard Divinity School, Christian Century, April 11, 2001. Adam Michnik and Leon Wieseltier on Polish history, New Republic, April 9 and 16, 2001. Data on black abortions, Culture of Life Newsletter, Spring 2001. Fr. Anthony Ruff on rubricism, Antiphon, Vol. Five, No. Three. On inclusive Bible translations, World, April 14, 2001. On abortion and the gender gap, New York Times, May 6, 2001. On LDS name change, Christian Century, April 18-25, 2001. On the UN Human Rights Commission, Weekly Standard, May 21, 2001. Two Jacksons, Christian Century, April 18-25, 2001. On New Age books, Publishers Weekly, May 21, 2001. On influential evangelical writers, Religion Watch, May 2001. Jews and abortion,Forward, May 11, 2001. Bono on debt relief, Religion in the News, Spring 2001. Kenneth Woodward on neurotheology, Newsweek, May 7, 2001. Showtime and Jewish bigotry, Catholic League press release, May 17, 2001. David Popenoe letter on Father’s Day, New York Times, June 19, 2001. On David Brock, OpinionJournal.com, June 27, 2001. On “The Ethicist,” personal correspondence. On embryos imported from Israel into Germany, Life Advocacy Briefing, June 25, 2001. On the G-7 meeting and radical chic, New York Times, July 22, 2001. Charles Krauthammer on stem cells, Washington Post, June 29 and July 27, 2001. Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, Religion Watch, April 2001. On funeral trends, American Demographics, April 2001. Saskatoon StarPhoenix ad,Ottawa Citizen, June 25, 2001. C. S. Lewis’ cigarette, World, June 16, 2001.