I don’t know how many of our subscribers are Orthodox Christians. But from those who are, we get frequent complaints that insufficient attention is paid that very large part of the Christian world. So here goes. The occasion is a remarkable address by Professor John H. Erickson of St. Vladimir Orthodox Seminary in Crestwood, New York, delivered at the National Workshop on Christian Unity, which met last year in San Diego, California. Erickson reports that in 1990 he opined, “The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and with it, communism. With it also fell ecumenism as we have known it.”
The last decade, he believes, has only reinforced that judgment. The Orthodox churches of Georgia and Bulgaria have withdrawn from the World Council of Churches (WCC), and other churches are under pressure to withdraw. In 1997 at Georgetown University, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew spoke of Orthodoxy as being “ontologically different” from other churches. This is sometimes referred to as the “friends, brothers, heretics” speech. Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow remains adamantly opposed to the Pope’s visiting Russia, and his other visits have met with a very mixed reception. At St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai joint prayer was carefully avoided; in Jerusalem Patriarch Diodorus made a point of noting that he had not prayed with the Pope. (But note that, as of this writing, there are signals that the Russian Church may be weakening in its opposition to a papal visit.)
Is it the case, as Samuel (Clash of Civilizations) Huntington has said, that ecumenism was a Cold War phenomenon that has given way to the stark division between the “West” and the “Orthodox” civilization of Russia and the Balkans? Erickson writes: “Some alarming questions arise. If the Orthodox mental world is so radically different from that of the West, what implications does this have for ecumenical relations, whether globally or here in North America? What implications does this have for people like me, who call themselves Orthodox Christians and belong to Orthodox churches, but who certainly are not only in the West but also in many respects of the West? From personal experience, I can tell you that the authenticity of our Orthodoxy increasingly is being questioned, both from abroad and here as well. And another, more far—reaching question also arises: Is ecumenism—like liberal democracy and for that matter communism—in fact simply a product of the West, one of its many ideologies, whose universal claims and aspirations will inevitably fail in the emerging world order, now that Western hegemony can no longer be taken for granted, now that the legitimating myths of the Enlightenment have lost their persuasive power?”
Already in the nineteenth century, some Orthodox reached out ecumenically, mainly to Anglicans and Old Catholics. Orthodox theologians were significantly involved in Faith and Order during the interwar period. When the WCC was formed in 1948, the Soviet regime required Orthodox leaders to condemn it as part of a Western plot, but that changed dramatically in 1961. “At the New Delhi assembly of the WCC in 1961, the Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe joined the WCC en masse. Their membership was advantageous for all concerned. In various ways Orthodox membership made the WCC itself more ‘ecumenical,’ more global, more sympathetic to the diversity of situations in which Christians struggle in their witness to the gospel. At the same time, membership gave the Orthodox churches in question an opportunity to be seen in the West and gain contacts in the West, thus also raising their status back home. And the price seemed negligible. The WCC itself from the 1960s onward was becoming ever more concerned about issues like racism, liberation, and economic justice; it was especially sensitive to the strivings of churches and peoples of what was then the ‘third world.’ The Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe could express concern about such issues with little risk of running afoul of the Communist authorities back home—and indeed they might benefit by contributing in this way to building up a good image for the Socialist states, and possibly even a cadre of fellow travelers.”
“Dialogue of Love”
At Vatican Council II, the Catholic Church became ecumenically assertive; soon mutual anathemas between East and West were consigned to the memory hole and a “dialogue of love” was proclaimed. With both Catholics and the WCC, the Orthodox produced promising ecumenical statements. “But on the Orthodox side at least,” says Erickson, “this ecumenism remained at the level of professional theologians and high Church dignitaries. For the faithful in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, ecumenism brought little more than the occasional photo of the Pope greeting a prominent hierarch, or of a long row of Orthodox bishops, all with their black klobuks and jeweled panaghias and crosses, seated prominently in a WCC assembly.”
Moreover, the dialogue of love had to cope with what the Orthodox call “uniatism.” “Uniate” or “Eastern Catholic” refers, of course, to those Christians in the East who retained their liturgy and other practices while entering into full communion with Rome, beginning with the Union of Brest in 1596. “Uniate” is a term that is eschewed in polite ecumenical discourse today, but the Orthodox have a long history of resentment against what they view as Catholic poachers on their ecclesiastical turf. Erickson: “Given this troubled history, it is understandable why the Orthodox churches have viewed ‘uniatism’ as a sign of Catholic hostility towards them, as an attempt to subvert them by dividing brother from brother, and as implicit denial of their own ecclesial status. And of course it is also understandable why Eastern Catholics have resented the Orthodox for their complacent acquiescence in the suppression of the Eastern Catholic churches following World War II.” He continues: “The term ‘uniate’ itself, once used with pride in the Roman communion, had long since come to be considered as pejorative. ‘Eastern Rite Catholic’ also was no longer in vogue because it might suggest that the Catholics in question differed from Latins only in the externals of worship. The council affirmed rather that Eastern Catholics constituted churches, whose vocation was to provide a bridge to the separated churches of the East. But if, as subsequent dialogue was emphasizing, the Orthodox churches themselves are truly ‘sister churches,’ already nearly at the point of full communion with the Roman Church, what rationale—apart from purely pastoral concern for Christians who might otherwise feel alienated and possibly betrayed—can there be for the continued existence of such ‘bridge churches’?”
Animus is exacerbated by the demand of Eastern Catholics that their property, expropriated by Stalin and given to the Orthodox, be returned. The demand that all property be returned (restitutio in integrum) is, says Erickson, unreasonable, at least in some cases, because of demographic and other changes over the years. Then there is the matter of “proselytism.” Not only Catholics but armies of Protestant evangelizers, mainly backed by the religious groups in the U.S., are, claim the Orthodox, failing to recognize that there is an indigenous Christianity in Russia and Eastern Europe. In what Erickson calls “ecumenism as we knew it,” the Orthodox acknowledged that, while Orthodoxy actualizes the one true Church, there was a possibility of dialogue with other churches aiming at greater unity and fuller communion. Erickson writes: “But not all Orthodox would agree with these assumptions. Some would take Orthodox claims to be the one true Church in an exclusive rather than an inclusive sense, so that outside the canonical limits of the Orthodox Church as we currently perceive them there is simply undifferentiated darkness, in which the Pope is no better than a witch doctor. How are we to evaluate these conflicting views? The exclusive view today claims to represent true Orthodoxy, traditional Orthodoxy. In fact—as I could argue at greater length—this ‘traditionalist’ view is a relatively recent phenomenon, basically an eighteenth-century reaction to the equally exclusive claims advanced by the Roman Catholic Church in that period. Nevertheless this view has gained wide currency over the last decade.”
So who is pushing this very untraditional traditionalism? “What is important to note is that those most committed to the ‘traditionalism’ they preach are not pious old ethnics and émigrés but more often zealous converts to Orthodoxy. Like Western converts to Buddhism and other more or less exotic religions (New Age, Native American . . . ), these converts are attracted by their new faith’s spirituality, which seems so unlike what the West today has to offer. They also are especially quick to adopt those elements which they deem most distinctive, most anti-Western, about their new faith—not just prayer ropes and headcoverings but also an exclusive, sectarian view of the Church that in fact is quite at odds with historic Orthodoxy. Superficially their message, proclaimed on numerous websites, may seem to be at one with that of the established, ‘canonical’ Orthodox churches—at one with some of the statements of Patriarch Bartholomew or the Russian Orthodox Church, which, as we have seen, have been critical of the WCC and the Vatican. But in fact their message is different, even radically different. Their message, in my opinion, is more a product of the late-modern or postmodern West than an expression of historic Eastern Christianity. According to them, any participation in or involvement with the WCC or similar bodies represents a capitulation to the panheresy of ecumenism; Orthodoxy’s claim to be the one true Church is relativized, a ‘branch theory’ of the Church is tacitly accepted, and church canons against prayer with heretics are repeatedly violated in practice and in principle.”
During centuries of polemics, Rome tended to present itself as “the Universal Church,” and the only thing for others to do was to come home to Rome. In an earlier time, East and West recognized one another as “sister churches,” and that understanding, especially on the part of Rome, is making a comeback, most notably with the pontificate of John Paul II. Erickson writes: “Significantly, the expression ‘sister church’ did not cease to be used for the Western Church even after full eucharistic communion ended. For example, in 1948 Patriarch Alexei I of Moscow—certainly no great friend of the Roman Catholic Church—nevertheless could refer to it as a ‘sister church.’ What is remarkable about the use of the expression since 1963, when Patriarch Athenagoras I and Pope Paul VI reintroduced it into modern Orthodox—Roman Catholic dialogue, is not that the Orthodox should use it with reference to the Roman Church but that Rome should use it with reference to the Orthodox churches. While the precise significance and practical implications of the expression have not been fully explored—it is not, after all, a technical term in canon law—it must be acknowledged that its use by modern popes represents a remarkable breakthrough in Orthodox—Catholic relations.”
It is precisely that breakthrough that alarms the untraditional traditionalists in Orthodoxy. Many of them, Erickson notes, are drawing their polemical ammunition from apocalyptic Protestant “Bible prophecy” sources on the Internet and elsewhere. Traditionalist Orthodox employ these sources to depict everything from the New World Order and the use of contraceptives and implanted microchips to the papal “Antichrist” as signs of the final catastrophe from which their version of Orthodoxy is the only refuge. This accent on the Orthodox difference, Erickson says, has undermined ecumenism “as we knew it.” “The modern self-confidence which gave rise to the ecumenical movement in the first place—confidence in the possibility of reaching agreement and achieving unity through dialogue, common reflection, and common action—has given way to postmodern self-doubt. We are in the midst of a radical decentering in which many new voices are clamoring for recognition—and on the religious scene this means not only traditionalists and fundamentalists but also contextual theologies of many sorts. In principle this decentering should help us appreciate diversity and facilitate dialogue. But this does not seem to be happening. Instead we seem to be entering the age of the parallel monologue. What counts are my own people, my own tradition, my own group, my own orientation. Those formed by other contexts may be tolerated or even honored with faint words of praise, but they are, as it were, ‘ontologically different’ (to quote Patriarch Bartholomew’s Georgetown speech once again). They are, for me, spiritually empty. No solid basis exists for dialogue, communication, and communion.”
What has happened to Orthodoxy and ecumenism is, of course, taking place within a cultural milieu in which all differences are fundamental, and fundamental differences are assumed to be insurmountable. Erickson reports, “Recently I was speaking to a Serbian Orthodox student from Bosnia Herzegovina. He kept insisting, ‘You here in the West just do not understand our situation.’ He really was saying, ‘You cannot understand our situation—so uniquely painful is it. You—in your very different situation—are incapable of understanding our situation.’ These days many people are saying much the same thing: women, gays, people of color, the poor, those marginalized in various ways, and even white males of the West whose position in the world now seems threatened. We are all tempted to say, ‘I am situated within a unique interpretive community. I have no need for dialogue with you or anyone else. Indeed, no basis exists for dialogue with you.’”
Waiting a Thousand Years
Erickson’s conclusion offers nought for our comfort: “We may still be convinced of the desirability of Christian unity. We may even be convinced of the need for Christian unity. But how convinced are we of the possibility of Christian unity? How many of us really believe that in Christ, crucified and risen, it is possible for us to overcome division, to understand each other’s situation, to make each other’s pain and joy our own? These are the some of the questions that face each of us involved in the ecumenical movement today.”
Erickson’s essay is remarkably candid and more than bracing. It goes a long way to explain the nonresponse, indeed hostility, of the Russian Church and others to the unprecedented initiatives of John Paul II. In the 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint (That They May be One), the Pope invited others to join in rethinking the function of the papal office itself, suggesting that reconciliation is more important than questions of jurisdiction. As one Orthodox theologian told me, “We’ve been waiting a thousand years for a pope to say what he is saying. Now this Pope has said it, and we act as though nothing has happened.”
It is safe to say that the dearest hope of this Pope for his pontificate has been ecclesial reconciliation with the Orthodox, so that, as he has often put it, “the Church may again breathe with both lungs, East and West.” It is also safe to say that such reconciliation will not happen on his watch. That is very sad. We must hope, however, that the initiatives taken since the Second Vatican Council (and there have also been constructive initiatives from the Orthodox side), combined with a revival of an authentically traditional ecclesiology among the Orthodox, will in the years to come move us beyond “ecumenism as we have known it,” and beyond “parallel monologues,” to the fulfillment of Our Lord’s prayer, Ut unum sint. For all the reasons that Prof. Erickson discusses, that seems at present to be a wan hope. But then, we Christians were long ago given our instructions, and warned that we would have to walk by faith and not by sight.
The Best Bioethicists That Money Can Buy
“A bioethicist is to ethics what a whore is to sex.” That judgment by a friend who was once viewed as a pioneer of bioethics may seem somewhat harsh, but it is not entirely off the mark. This really happened: Some years ago I was on a panel at the big annual economic conference in Davos, Switzerland. Also on the panel was Nobel Laureate James Watson, then head of the Human Genome Project. I and a few others—well, I think it was one other—were pressing moral questions about the technological manipulation of human nature. Impatient with that line of inquiry, Dr. Watson—who seems not only to subscribe to but to devoutly celebrate what Jacques Ellul called the Technological Imperative—explained that nobody should worry about the morality of what they were doing since the project had allocated millions of additional dollars “to get the best ethicists that money can buy.”
A number of publications have in recent months raised sharp questions about the biotech industry and its connections with the sub-industry of bioethics. For the most part, bioethicists are in the business of issuing permission slips for whatever the technicians want to do. After all, they are in their pay. Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics and perhaps the most quoted bioethicist in the business, thinks that criticism is unfair. He says that possible conflicts of interest can be “managed.” He funnels money from companies such as Pfizer, DuPont, and Celera into his center, and says he is amazed by colleagues who suggest that bioethicists should do pro bono work for wealthy corporations. Why do it free when they’ll pay good money for it? U.S. News & World Report says that the biomedical industry is pouring millions into bioethics centers, and rewarding academic bioethicists with stock options worth many thousands of dollars. The same ethicists are quoted daily in the media, testify in Congress, and generally assure the public that there’s nothing to worry about so long as scientific innovations are accompanied by appropriate expressions of concern by professional handwringers. “It’s an odd development,” says U.S. News, “for a profession that has no formal education or licensing requirements.”
Wesley J. Smith is author of Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America. He writes, “The bioethicists have set themselves up, almost like Napoleon crowning himself emperor, as the arbiters of what is moral and ethical in health care.” Daniel Callahan is cofounder of the Hastings Center, an institution that laid the groundwork for bioethics back in the sixties. “This is a semi-scandalous situation for my field,” he says. “These companies are smart enough to know that there are a variety of views on these subjects, and with a little bit of asking or shopping around you can find a group that will be congenial to what you are doing.” Carl Elliott, who succeeded Arthur Caplan at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics, says, “Personally, it seems too much like bribery. If it’s not bribery, it becomes the perception of bribery.” Caplan, on the other hand, says that apparent conflicts of interest are comparable to the problems of magazines that accept paid advertising. The main problem with corporate money in bioethics, he says, is that there’s not enough of it. Eli Lilly stopped funding the Hastings Center when its publication criticized Prozac, a Lilly product.
“There’s a risk that this kind of funding could reduce the critical edge of the field,” says Dartmouth’s Ronald Green, who chairs the ethics board at Advanced Cell Technology (ACT). ACT knows all about the cutting edge, having been at the center of recent “breakthroughs” in human cloning. As does Professor Green, who, in his extensive writing, has “redefined” death, birth, life, and the meaning of the universe, among other things. Like Prof. Caplan, he recognizes that there is a risk, but is sure it can be managed. He has, by his lights, managed very successfully. Minnesota’s Carl Elliott says the big danger is not that bioethicists get rich from companies but that they are, whether they know it or not, used. “Bioethics boards look like watchdogs,” he says, “but they are used like show dogs.”
Nigel Cameron, a bioethicist working with Charles Colson’s Wilberforce Forum, notes that bioethics is not what one would ordinarily call a discipline or profession. “Most bioethicists don’t train in bioethics. They move sideways from other disciplines—law, theology, medicine, philosophy.” The field is “perfectly designed to be the midwife for the birth of a whole posthuman future.” He notes that ethics as ordinarily understood—classical ethics, if you will-works from rules or principles to guide moral judgment. “Bioethics doesn’t like being locked into any kind of framework that would involve predictability. From a Christian or traditional perspective, it isn’t ethics at all, but uses items from the ethics toolbox so it can do what it wants in any situation.” William Saletan, a writer for the online magazine Slate, sums it up: “The slickest way to make yourself look ethical is to narrow the definition of ethics so that it won’t interfere with what you want to do. But that won’t make you ethical. It’ll just make you an ethicist.”
So what is to be done? Certainly biomedicine and biotechnology call for the most careful moral scrutiny. But whose scrutiny is to be trusted? Nobody comes to these questions, or any questions of importance, with a value-free or value-neutral perspective. But some are free of clear conflicts of interest, unlike the ethical pipers who sing the tunes of the companies that pay them. Their promiscuously issued permission slips would license almost anything, and the slips are typically accompanied by promissory notes that this innovation or that will lead to a cure for everything from Alzheimer’s and cancer to the heartbreak of psoriasis. Such promises are powerfully appealing, including, as proposed at a recent University of Pennsylvania conference, the promise of immortality.
Never mind that extravagant promissory notes have been issued for decades and are almost never redeemed. Those at the cutting edge assure us that the decisive breakthrough is just on the other side of the line that it was previously forbidden to cross. The biotech industry is driven by scientific curiosity, no doubt, but most importantly by the prospect of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. How many people of great means would be willing to pay how much for an extra ten, twenty, maybe fifty years of life? How much for the promise of immortality? And what moral lines would they, and those who make such promises, not be prepared to cross?
In real ethics, there are some things that must never be done. Bioethics is “procedural.” Where it can, it leaps ahead, and where it cannot, it inches ahead, enticed onward by the question, Why not? If it can be done it should be done, or in any event it will be done, and, if it will be done, why not by us rather than by the competition? This is ethical reasoning of a very low order. There is no sure way of protecting society against it. But we might begin by asking the experts who advocate the crossing of the next moral line, What’s in it for you? (See While We’re At It, p. 80, for related news about the President’s Council on Bioethics.)
The One True Church
It has been a while since the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued Dominus Iesus (The Lord Jesus) in September 2000, but the ecumenical bruises still show. In the general media, most of the headlines were variations on “Rome Says Catholicism is Only True Church.” I discussed and defended Dominus Iesus in these pages (see “To Say Jesus is Lord,” November 2000), and also noted that it was welcomed by some Protestants as a clear affirmation of core Christian doctrines. At the same time, and in retrospect, it is evident that some misunderstandings might have been avoided. Father Jared Wicks of the Gregorian University in Rome writes in Ecumenical Trends that the document needs to be read alongside the 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint (That They May be One). “It is not the case,” says the encyclical, “that beyond the boundaries of the Catholic community there is an ecclesial vacuum.” Elements of God’s justifying and sanctifying grace are to be found there, and “To the extent that these elements are found in the other Christian Communities, the one Church of Christ is effectively present in them.” There can be only one Church of Christ because there is only one Christ, and the Church is, according to the New Testament, his body. The teaching of the Second Vatican Council is that that one Church “subsists in” the Catholic Church, but the Catholic Church does not exhaust the reality of the one Church of Christ.
The Res Tantum
Fr. Wicks puts the crucial point this way: “In order to be heard more clearly by members of the other Christian Churches and communities, Catholic ecumenists can well make explicit something not said in Dominus Iesus. This is that being or not being ‘Church in the proper sense’ stands in the realm of the sacramental and structural expression of ecclesiality and mediation of salvation in the world. Here, the others know well our Catholic convictions, both those concerning fullness of mediatory means in our Church, however imperfectly we are actually formed and sanctified by them, and those about the defectus (flaws, lacks) found in their mediatory structures and sacraments. But the mediations of sanctification in Christ which the ecclesial communities do cherish and actualize, as in baptism, proclamation of the gospel of salvation, etc., do not mediate to them a defective justification and salvation. Using sacramental terminology, the res tantum is given whole and entire, namely, union with Christ, life in the Spirit, and access to the Father.”
I am regularly asked why, if the Catholic Church teaches that it is not necessary to salvation, one should become a Catholic. There are many possible responses to that question. The Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (Light to the Nations), says that if one believes that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be, then one is bound in conscience to enter into and remain in full communion with her. In other words, it is then a matter of salvation. The Catholic Church may be defined as the Church of Jesus Christ most fully and rightly ordered through time. Since to be a Christian means living in obedience to Christ, and since Christ instituted the apostolic ordering of his Church as it is to be found uniquely in the Catholic Church, it follows that obedience to Christ entails being and remaining in full communion with the Catholic Church. It also follows that not being in full communion is disobedience to Christ. If, that is, one believes that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be.
As I say, there are many other possible, and important, answers to the question why one should be a Catholic, but that is the one that goes to the heart of the matter. Let me anticipate another frequently asked question, Why not Orthodoxy? The communion between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church is so close that it might be said that the only thing that is lacking for full communion is full communion. But, if one believes that Christ’s institution of his one Church includes the Petrine Ministry, then it follows that it is necessary to be in full communion with the bishops, the successors of the apostles, who are in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter. If one believes none of these things, there may be other good reasons for becoming a Catholic, but it would seem that they are not binding in conscience. Of course, one is bound in conscience to try to discern whether these things are true, and to act on the truth that one is able to discern.
Now I have gone quite beyond Fr. Wicks’ helpful clarification of Dominus Iesus. And the twists and turns, the eccentric starts and stops, the dead-ends and disturbing discoveries in following the Spirit’s lead are not so neatly logical or doctrinally deductive as my brief response may suggest. As with any life-defining decision, it is also the case that the heart has its reasons of which reason does not know. But this is intended as no more than a brief response to questions often asked—questions that are not, you will perhaps agree, unrelated to Dominus Iesus, to what it means to say that Jesus is Lord.
Fare Thee Well, Tony Lewis
It hardly seems possible that I have been reading Anthony Lewis for thirty-two years. In fact, I haven’t been. I stopped reading him regularly about twenty years ago. True, doing my morning penance with the New York Times, I would glance at his column to see what had set off today’s snit, and sometimes I would even read the column, merely to confirm that, once you knew the occasion for his unhappiness, you knew what he would say without reading the column. But here is the final column, “Hail and Farewell,” and I felt I owed the man a last read. “As I look back at those turbulent decades,” he writes, “I see a time of challenge to a basic tenet of modern society: faith in reason.” Tony Lewis, we are given to understand, has been, over all these years, the champion of faith in reason.
Now the challenge to his faith, he says, comes from religious “fundamentalism”—not only of the Muslim variety but also in the form of “fundamentalist Christians, believing that the Bible’s story of creation is the literal truth.” Drop the Muslim reference, and the column might almost have been written in the 1920s at the height of the modernist-fundamentalist controversy. In terms of ideas, not much has happened in Tony Lewis’ world. He seems quite unaware of postmodernism’s perspectivisms, historicisms, and anti-foundationalisms that are today’s chief intellectual challengers to his understanding of reason. Those whom Lewis calls fundamentalists even question “the scientific method that has made contemporary civilization possible.” Richard Rorty, call your office.
Lewis then shifts to the American Founders, who, he says, “put their faith not in men but in law, the law of the Constitution.” So it is not men who had faith in reason but “law and the Constitution [that] have kept America whole and free.” Except, of course, for the Sedition Act of 1798, the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, and the “fear of communism [that] brought the abuses of McCarthyism.” Tony Lewis, let it be said, never suffered from the fear of communism. For him, the Great Terror has always been the threat of American fascism, against which he postured himself and his corporate employer, the Times, as brave dissidents in the fight for intellectual freedom. He concludes his farewell with this: “In the end I believe that faith in reason will prevail. But it will not happen automatically. Freedom under law is hard work,” and so forth. Well, you can see why, over all those years, one felt no qualms about skipping the column.
In the following Sunday’s issue there was an extended interview with Lewis on what he had learned during his thirty-two years of explaining the world to the readers of the Times. The gist of it is that way back then he had thought that, after the Holocaust, people had learned that evil was a very bad thing, but very bad things are still happening, and it has shaken his faith that history is the story of human progress. With such hard-earned wisdom, and a little more attentiveness to ideas that have appeared on the scene since his discovery of the dangers of those who “question Darwin,” it seems that Tony Lewis might at long last be prepared to write a column for a paper so influential as the Times. Yet Lewis is not sure. His, we are given to understand, is the mode of honest and therefore tentative inquiry. He says in the interview, “Certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right, like Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft.” Presumably he is not sure that he is right about the exactness of the moral equivalence between the terrorist murderer and the attorney general.
The Times is distinctive, although not necessarily in the way its editors may think. The editorials and op-ed page of the Times are monothematically left-liberal. Among its columnists, there is not one centrist or conservative. Yes, William Safire is sometimes called a conservative, but he is a self-described libertarian. On the social and moral questions that most importantly define our politics, the voices of the Times are univocally on the left. The Washington Post, by way of contrast, is editorially much less strident, and has regular columnists such as George F. Will, Michael Kelly, and Charles Krauthammer. This makes the opinion pages of the Post considerably more interesting. It is a liberal paper that knows it must engage opposing arguments. The Times, on the other hand, is a smug and self-contained world, run by people who seem truly to believe that not only do they publish all the news fit to print but also all the views fit to print, and that what they publish defines what is fit.
“In the end I believe that faith in reason will prevail,” writes Tony Lewis in his farewell column. As with the paper of which he was quintessentially part, almost never in all those years was there a hint of intellectual curiosity about whether there might be a difference—or even an at least theoretical distinction—between his habits of opinion and the conclusions mandated by reason. To a reflexively left-liberal readership, Mr. Lewis provided a regular checklist of what reasonable people thought. For them, it must have made his column a comfort, a kind of intellectual security blanket, during what he calls those turbulent decades. For others of us, it was a good enough reason for skipping his part of the daily penance that is reading the Times.
Feathers of Scandal
The story is told of St. Philip Neri (1515–1595) that he gave a most unusual penance to a novice who was guilty of spreading malicious gossip. He told him to take a feather pillow to the top of a church tower on a blustery day and there release all the feathers to the wind. Then he was to come down from the tower, collect all the feathers dispersed over the far countryside, and put them back into the pillow. Of course the poor novice couldn’t do it, and that was precisely Philip’s point about the great evil of tale bearing. Slander and calumny have a way of spreading to the four winds and, once released, can never be completely recalled. Even when accusations are firmly nailed as false, the reputations of those falsely accused bear a lingering taint. “Oh yes,” it is vaguely said, “wasn’t he once accused of . . . “
The words of the Bard that you learned in grade school are entirely to the point:
Who steals my purse steals trash; ‘tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ‘tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed.
This reflection is occasioned by an attack on Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, the eighty-two-year-old and much revered founder of the Legionaries of Christ, one of the more vibrant and successful renewal movements in contemporary Catholicism. The attack, alleging sexual offenses with seminarians some forty years earlier, first appeared in a 1997 story in the Hartford Courant, a Connecticut paper, and the story has recently been repeated in the National Catholic Reporter, a left-wing tabloid. The story was coauthored by Jason Berry, a freelance writer in New Orleans, who briefly gained national attention with a 1992 book, Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children, and by Gerald Renner, who was until recently religion writer for the Connecticut paper.
I hesitate to write about this, lest I be responsible for further disseminating what I heartily deplore. But the purpose is to collect and properly dispose of these feathers of scandal. I admit to being surprised that some of them have found their way into quarters usually averse to vicious gossip. Also, this reflection might be helpful in evaluating other stories of clerical sexual scandal, stories that reached a crescendo with what everybody came to recognize as the slanderous charges against the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago and that have since then been on the wane.
We should have no illusion that such scandal is a thing of the past, however, as witness the recent court proceedings against a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston. Such incidents are grist for the mills of liberals pressing for married priests and of others demanding that bishops exercise a stricter discipline. And, of course, they feed the media mill that, as Philip Jenkins has explained, is not deterred by the fact that the incidence of sexual abuse is probably higher among Protestant clergy and other professionals working with children (see “The Uses of Clerical Scandal,” FT, February 1996). Stories about Catholic priests have a certain cachet—and, for trial lawyers, a promise of cash—that is usually lacking in other cases. It is, I think, unseemly for Catholics to complain about that. Catholics should expect more of their leaders. Even one instance of abuse constitutes an intolerable offense against the victim and a breaking of most solemn vows freely undertaken.
Having said that, I expect that most readers, and especially those who, with good reason, admire the Legionaries, instinctively recoil from the story about Fr. Maciel, finding it both repugnant and implausible. There is something to be said for consigning it to the trash bin and forgetting about it. Nobody should feel obliged to read on, for the subject is decidedly distasteful. At the same time, the story is out there, and—as Berry and Renner and the complicit publications surely intended—it has no doubt done some damage. Forty and fifty years after the alleged misdeeds, there is no question of criminal action. Even were there any merit to the charges, which I am convinced there is not, the statute of limitations has long since run out. And what can you do to an eighty-two-year-old priest who has been so successful in building a movement of renewal and is strongly supported and repeatedly praised by, among many others, Pope John Paul II? What you can try to do is to filch from him his good name. And by destroying the reputation of the order’s founder you can try to discredit what Catholics call the founding “charism” of the movement, thus undermining support for the Legionaries of Christ.
The Power of Envy
Berry and Renner do not even try to hide their hostility to the Legion. Their story introduces the movement as “a wealthy religious order known for its theological conservatism and loyalty to the Pope.” In the world of Berry, Renner, the National Catholic Reporter, and the Courant (at least when Renner was writing for it), that is another way of saying that the Legion is the enemy. Nobody would dispute that Legionaries are theologically orthodox and loyal to the Pope. Some of us take the perhaps eccentric view that that is a virtue. As for the order being wealthy, that hardly seems the right word. The Legion has been very successful in eliciting the support of admirers for its many enterprises. Its most notable success has been in vocations to the priesthood. There are now about five hundred priests and twenty-five hundred seminarians, and the order is active in twenty countries on four continents, with schools in Latin America, Europe, and the U.S. In Latin America, the order is doing pioneering work in running schools and microeconomic development projects among the poor. Regnum Christi, a lay movement associated with the Legion, is also vibrant and growing.
There is no doubt that the many works of the movement require major resources, and that it is effective in raising money. But wealthy? One might as well say that the financially strapped Archdiocese of New York is wealthy because it could, after all, get untold millions by demolishing St. Patrick’s Cathedral and selling the property to developers. Or the Society of Jesus is wealthy because it could sell off Georgetown, Fordham, Boston College, and twenty-plus other Jesuit schools in this country alone. The fact is that the Legionaries of Christ are strikingly successful at a time when many other orders are languishing or even dying out. Also in the Church, alas, it is unwise to underestimate the power of envy. Slanderous attacks on new and vibrant religious orders are nothing new in the history of the Church. See St. Francis and the Franciscans, Dominic and the Dominicans, or Ignatius and the early Jesuits. Love, says St. Paul, “is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” The unedifying but unsurprising truth is that, also in the Church, love is sometimes in short supply, and there is rejoicing at wrongs, and at alleged wrongs.
Recruited to a Cause
I am not neutral about the Legionaries. I have spent time with Fr. Maciel, and he impresses me as a man who combines uncomplicated faith, gentle kindness, military self-discipline, and a relentless determination to do what he believes God has called him to do. They are the qualities one would expect of someone who at age twenty-one in Mexico vowed to do something great for Christ and his Church, and has been allowed to do it. In the language of the tradition, they are qualities associated with holiness; in his case a virile holiness of tenacious resolve that has been refined in the fires of frequent opposition and misunderstanding.
And I am impressed by the words of Jesus that “by their fruits you shall know them.” I have known the Legion for some years now, speaking at their institutions in this country and, most recently, teaching a crash course on Catholic social doctrine at their new university in Rome, Regina Apostolorum. There were about sixty students in the course, almost all priests or seminarians, and I have never encountered anywhere a group of students more eager, articulate, or intellectually astute. And yes, they are orthodox and excited by the truth of the Church’s teaching. Critics who depict Legionaries as pious brainwashed zombies walking in lockstep under an authoritarian regime are, in my experience, preposterously wrong. As you might expect, given the name of the order, they do have a soldierly bearing, as though recruited to a great cause, which they have been. The single most striking characteristic of Legionaries, as I have encountered them in this country and elsewhere, is their palpable sense of joy and high adventure in their calling to be faithful priests.
It is said that the Legion is elitist. And I suppose there is something to that, keeping in mind that elitism is too often employed as a term of opprobrium by those offended by the violation of the mediocre. There is no doubt that Legionaries think they are part of something very special—as do all young people who surrender themselves to a great vision that is attended by demanding discipline. It was once true of those who entered the Society of Jesus, and still is true of some who, in the radically reduced number entering that order, are determined to revive the Ignatian charism. The leaders of the Legion strongly discourage comparisons with the earlier Society of Jesus, precisely because they know that such comparisons are so frequently made and have excited Jesuit hostility from the early days in Mexico to the present. But yes, there is a tone of elitism among Legionaries. At least as I read it, it is not a sense of sinful pride but of being privileged to be part of something so great in its challenge and promise. For them, to be a Legionary priest has a distinct panache, but it is panache in the service of achieving the pinnacle, which is to be—radically and without remainder—a priest of Christ and his Church.
In any course so demanding, it is inevitable that many do not make it. Others, having become priests, fall by the wayside or are found wanting. The result—and this is true of any community that does not fudge the distinction between success and failure—is that there are some who are disappointed, disgruntled, aggrieved, and bitter. And that brings us to the Berry/Renner story about Fr. Maciel. You don’t want to know the specifics of the charges, although Berry/Renner go into salacious detail about rude things allegedly done with young men, things that have become all too familiar from sex abuse stories of recent decades. Nine now elderly men who were once part of the Legion—two Spaniards and seven Mexicans—claim that in the 1950s Fr. Maciel more or less regularly abused them, and that this was a pattern pervasive throughout the order. Berry/Renner acknowledge that one of the accusers has recanted his story under oath, testifying that he was put up to telling tales by ringleaders who had for many years been trying to get other disaffected Legionaries to join in “showing up” Fr. Maciel. The fact that he has recanted his original charges does not prevent Berry/Renner from repeating them with what appears to be prurient relish. It is not the kind of stuff you would find in any mainstream media, but then Berry and Renner are not practitioners of what is ordinarily meant by responsible journalism. Berry’s business is Catholic scandal and sensationalism. That is what he does. Renner’s tour at the Courant was marked by an animus against things Catholic, an animus by no means limited to the Legion.
A Sinister Institution
Nonetheless, because I care about the Legion and because I was outraged by what I suspected was a gross injustice, I decided to go through endless pages of testimony, counter-testimony, legal documents, and other materials related to the Berry/Renner attack on Fr. Maciel. It was not an edifying experience. For Berry/Renner, it is worth noting, the case of Fr. Maciel is not all that important in itself, but it serves another purpose. “To many,” they write in the recent NCR article, “the case against Maciel is important because it tests the Vatican’s resolve to pursue charges related to sexual misconduct at the highest levels of the Church.” The “many” includes, first of all, Berry and Renner. That is clearly the reason for the latest re-raking of the muck of their 1997 article. They report nothing substantively new in the allegations themselves; the only new thing is that the Vatican has again considered the charges and found them without merit. A cardinal in whom I have unbounded confidence and who has been involved in the case tells me that the charges are “pure invention, without the slightest foundation.”
For Berry/Renner, however, the Vatican is a sinister and oppressive institution. Its stated concerns for confidentiality and fairness are, in their view, code language for secretiveness and evasion. Statements of church officials are never to be taken at face value, and certainly never to be given the benefit of the doubt. Let it be said that there have been instances in which church authorities have been less than straightforward, to put it gently. But for Berry/Renner, systematic mendacity is assumed. That the Pope consistently and strongly supports Fr. Maciel and the Legion is only evidence that he has been duped—or, the reader is invited to infer, that he is party to a cover-up. Nothing will satisfy them but that the Church comply with their prescribed procedures of investigation and, not incidentally, vindicate their sensationalist reporting. So much for the prejudices and purposes of Berry and Renner. In sum, they are in the scandal business.
With Moral Certainty
So what is a person who does not share their prejudices and purposes to believe? I can only say why, after a scrupulous examination of the claims and counterclaims, I have arrived at moral certainty that the charges are false and malicious. I cannot know with cognitive certainty what did or did not happen forty, fifty, or sixty years ago. No means are available to reach legal certainty (beyond a reasonable doubt). Moral certainty, on the other hand, is achieved by considering the evidence in light of the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” On that basis, I believe the charges against Fr. Maciel and the Legion are false and malicious and should be given no credence whatsoever.
Recall the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in explanation of the Eighth Commandment:
Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
—of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
—of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s fault and failings to persons who did not know them;
—of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
It counts as evidence that Fr. Maciel unqualifiedly and totally denies the charges. It counts as evidence that priests in the Legion whom I know very well and who, over many years, have a detailed knowledge of Fr. Maciel and the Legion say that the charges are diametrically opposed to everything they know for certain. It counts as evidence that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and others who have looked into the matter say that the charges are completely without merit. It counts as evidence that Pope John Paul II, who almost certainly is aware of the charges, has strongly, consistently, and publicly praised Fr. Maciel and the Legion. Much of what we know we take on trust. I trust these people. The suggestion that they are either deliberately deceiving or are duped is totally implausible.
It counts as evidence that opponents of Fr. Maciel and his work succeeded in having him removed from the governance of the Legion for more than two years in the 1950s. At that time he was charged with drug addiction and misrule of the order. The Vatican appointed four impartial “visitators” who lived with the Legionaries and interviewed every one of them privately and under oath. They were asked to state anything they knew to the detriment of Fr. Maciel’s leadership. Not once, not even once, was there any mention of sex abuse or anything related to it. Fr. Maciel was completely exonerated and, with high praise, restored to the leadership of the order by the Holy See.
The accusers say they did not mention sex abuse at the time because it was a “taboo” subject and they were afraid of Fr. Maciel. The ringleaders who organized the 1990s campaign against Fr. Maciel, however, were not afraid to make other grave charges. Some had long-standing grievances arising from being removed from positions of trust in the order; all left the order under unhappy circumstances. The question of sex only came up later, when sexual abuse by priests was a topic of frenzied interest in the media and such a charge was viewed as lethal to a priestly reputation. The motives of the accusers are the subject of speculation, but the purpose of the accusations is, beyond doubt, to do grave damage to Fr. Maciel and the Legion. Although solicited by the ringleaders to join in the charges, others who were members of the order at the time in question have refused and have emphatically denied the claims of the accusers. They were there at the time. They would have known.
Picking Up Feathers
Common sense is also entered into evidence. Is it believable that, as alleged, a pathological, drug-addicted child molester could have founded a religious order in the 1940s that was approved by the Church and flourished for decades, while all the time casual sodomy and other heinous sexual abuses reigned in its houses? And this without a word of concern from thousands of parents or any claim of such wrongdoing in civil, criminal, or ecclesiastical courts? It is not believable. Is it believable that men who are now accusers, who were then adult members of the order, would have testified under oath to Fr. Maciel’s uprightness, thus lying to their highest superiors in the Holy See and refusing to mention years of abuse by a drug-addicted molester who had been removed as head of the order? It is not believable. The accusations are odious, as are the actions of those who continue to peddle them.
The accusers may say that they are seeking justice or, in the psychobabble of our time, looking for “closure.” I cannot plumb their motives. I do not know what grievances, grudges, or vendettas are in play here, or what memories or “recovered memories” are reflected in the accusations. The accusers are not going to court to seek damages of any sort. That is not a possibility. The sole end served by the charges is the attempt to gravely damage the Legionaries of Christ by discrediting their founder.
I am confident they will not succeed in that attempt. Because the accusations are false, and will be recognized as such by any fair-minded person who bothers to look into them. And because the Legionaries are so manifestly, capably, and joyfully determined to pursue their apostolate, undistracted by the opposition that is predictably encountered by any young and vigorous movement of renewal. To be sure, there are still those feathers of scandal scattered about. St. Philip Neri was right, it is probably impossible to collect all of them. But if you come across one, just pick it up and put it in the trash where it belongs.
While We’re At It
• Here’s something else from the Barna research folk in California that we really needed to know. “Pastors Rate Themselves Highly, Especially as Teachers.” A national survey of senior pastors of Protestant congregations revealed that they think they are really good at preaching, teaching, encouraging, and pastoring, and that they think themselves least effective in raising funds. The first thought is of those international surveys showing that American students are consistently at the top of the heap in self-esteem, and often near the bottom in achievement. The second is that, if these pastors are so good at preaching, teaching, and encouraging, might not that show up in, among other things, generous giving? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not proposing anything so crass as “the bottom line” as the test of ministry. But it does seem that the justification of self-esteem should not be by faith alone.
• Alison Hornstein, a student at Yale, has this column in Newsweek about how she is sick and tired of faculty and students who, in the name of multiculturalism and other mental retardations, excuse terrorist attacks on civilization. She concludes: “Just as we should pass absolute moral judgment in the case of rape, we should recognize that some actions are objectively bad, despite differences in cultural standards and values. To me, hijacking planes and killing thousands of civilians falls into this category.” Columnist Michael Kelly is encouraged, but thinks Ms. Hornstein is not there yet. “Hurrah! A breakthrough! A moral judgment! Yes, Ms. Hornstein, murdering thousands of people in fact is bad. But wait. A lifetime of instruction is not sloughed off quite so easily as all that; Hornstein’s bold moral judgment is not quite so bold as all that. Look at her conclusion again: ‘To me,’ it begins. To me. Hijacking planes and killing thousands is not objectively bad after all. It is objectively bad only in Hornstein’s opinion. Indeed, she rushes to reassure on this point: ‘Others may disagree.’ Others may disagree. And she adds: ‘It is less important to me where people choose to draw the line than it is that they are willing to draw it at all.’ Oh, dear. It is astonishing, really. Here you have an obviously smart, obviously moral person trying nobly and painfully to think her way out of the intellectual and moral cul-de-sac in which the addled miseducation of her life has placed her—and she cannot, in the end, bear to do it. She cannot judge. Ms. Hornstein, push on. Go the last mile. Go out on the limb of judgment. Mass murder is indeed objectively bad—and not just in your opinion. Others may disagree—but they are wrong. Indeed, they are (shut the door for this part, lest the hall monitors catch us) morally wrong. Ms. Hornstein, it is not less important where people choose to draw the line as long as they will draw it somewhere; that puts you right back with your silly professors. Draw the line, Ms. Hornstein. Draw it where you know it belongs. Dare to judge.”
• Readers send in their questions to Randy Cohen who writes an advice column called “The Ethicist” in the New York Times Magazine. The column is something like “Miss Manners” with more cerebral pretensions. When it was launched some while back, I looked at the first few columns and decided that this was an item that could be skipped without fear of intellectual or moral deprivation. But then there was the unpleasantness of Mr. Cohen’s protesting my quoting here what he had written in an e—mail to a reader, so I thought I would take another look. The column at hand responds to an inquiry from a “gay teenager who only recently came out,” and he wonders whether at the gym he should be showering with naked men “who have no idea that I may see some of them in a sexual way.” Mr. Cohen assures him: “While you should not act toward others in ways that discomfort them—e.g., no making a crude aqua-pass at a stranger—you may give your imagination free rein. There are no thought crimes. . . . It is actions, not imagination, that ethics seeks to guide.” So much for lust. Mr. Cohen continues, “Each man in your shower room knows that other men are present, and those with any knowledge of life know that some of those present may be gay. What your shower mates do not know are your thoughts—nor are they entitled to.” Such are the neat resolutions provided by Mr. Cohen to New Yorkers’ moral quandaries. I expect that in one of his earlier columns he has made it clear that his expertise is in ethics, not in morality, which makes such neat resolutions easier. But even ethicists informed by “any knowledge of life” might consider whether a gay man looking at naked men—or a straight man looking at naked women—and giving his imagination free rein would be entirely in control of not letting the objects of his fantasy know his thoughts. One thinks, for instance, of Augustine in City of God: “It is right, therefore, to be ashamed of this lust, and it is right that the members which it moves or fails to move by its own right, so to speak, and not in complete conformity to our decision, should be called pudenda (parts of shame), which they were not called before man’s sin; for, as Scripture tells us, ‘they were naked, and yet they felt no embarrassment.’ This was not because they had not noticed their nakedness, but because nakedness was not yet disgraceful, because lust did not yet arouse those members independently of their decision. The flesh did not yet, in a fashion, give proof of man’s disobedience by a disobedience of its own (XIV, 17).” But then, St. Augustine, who had little patience with ethical rationalizations abstracted from moral reality, knew a lot about life.
• Play it again, Sam. Here’s another bishop warning diocesan vocation directors to be on their guard against candidates for the priesthood who may be rigid or excessively orthodox. Meaning, all too often, that they may agree with the Magisterium on the impossibility of ordaining women, or hold to the extreme view that criticism of the Pope should be tempered by a modicum of deference. The bishop’s warning was nicely anticipated by C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape: “The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. . . . Cruel ages are put on their guard against sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against respectability, lecherous ones against puritanism; and whenever all men are really hastening to become either slaves or tyrants we make liberalism the prime bogey.”
• All the political buzz the week of this writing is that Democratic strategists are proposing that their party run this year on the theme that Christian conservatives are the “American Taliban” of intolerance. In response to which a Republican friend puts on his best Br’er Rabbit act, pleading, “Please, please, don’t throw me into that briar patch.” The stupid party seems not to have noticed that the leader of Christian conservatives today is not Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell but a fellow by the name of George W. Bush.
• This is one conscientious outfit. Nonetheless, we get complaints, sometimes quite vehement complaints, from, for instance, people who were told that we hoped to run their letter to the editor. But then the letter got knocked out, or substantially edited, because of space limitations. Most readers are quite understanding about this. To those who aren’t: please work at it.
• Some may find it hard to remember that on August 9 last the hottest topic in public dispute was embryonic stem cell research, that being the date and the subject of George W. Bush’s first nationwide television address. We said at the time that his compromise decision—to fund research with existing stem—cell lines where the life-or-death decision had already been made but not to fund the creation of new lines—was morally defensible in principle but gravely imprudent. The good news about that address was its marvelously articulate instruction on the facts about the beginnings of human life, and the announcement that Leon Kass of the University of Chicago would head up a new President’s Council on Bioethics. Now the other members of the council have been announced and some of the appointments are reassuring. Of the eighteen members, a number are very well known to the readers of these pages, notably Robert George, Mary Ann Glendon, Gilbert Meilaender, and, of course, Kass himself. Proponents of the technological imperative and those who are unfazed by the brave new world of manufacturing and redesigning humanity complain that the council is conservative. But the partisan meanings of conservative and liberal can be a distraction in this case. The real divide is between people who believe that technological and scientific challenges require a “new ethic,” and those who believe that the task is to apply abiding moral truths to new circumstances. Peter Singer of Princeton—who, I quickly add, is not on the President’s council—is an extreme representative of the first party. He flatly declares that the Judeo-Christian ethic is discredited, and everything must be rethought from a utilitarian square one (see “A Curious Encounter with a Philosopher from Nowhere,” February). His contribution to the necessary rethinking includes the principle that it is now necessary to say that it is not always wrong, and in some cases it is necessary, to deliberately kill innocent human beings. As I say, Singer is viewed as an extremist, but there are many “moderates” who embrace his reasoning, while cloaking their conclusions in euphemisms lest they scare off the proponents of “traditional morality” who must slowly be brought along to accepting the brave new world. One of the great challenges of the President’s council will be to reframe the ominous questions before us, putting the burden of proof on those who deny, rather than those who defend, principles such as the sanctity of human life. The language of secular liberalism presupposes an operational atheism in which scientific “progress” is held back by those who think that God, natural law, and moral philosophy—or all three combined—yield truths to which science and technology must be held accountable. It is encouraging that only a few of the council members are known as bioethicists, and they are exceptions to the debilitations common in that dubious but ambitious guild (see “The Best Ethicists That Money Can Buy“ in Public Square). Most of the council appointees are people with a track record of scholarship, good sense, and moral wisdom, just the kind of people who are able to provide leadership in creating that much praised but seldom realized thing, public moral discourse. There are skeptics who say that the President’s Council on Bioethics is an exercise in futility, a matter of putting a close watch on the barn door after the technological horses have long since bolted. We have to hope they are wrong. The membership and mandate of the council give reason for a modest hope that it may yet be possible for human beings to take moral charge of what is meant by being human.
• Oh, what an erudite readership we have. From all directions, and citing sundry historians, comes the correction that the Polish forces, with an assist from the Germans, repelled the siege of Vienna on September 12, not September 11, 1683. Alright already. I said it was no big deal.
• If only. If only I had been right when, in commenting on a French “wrongful life” case, I said that such lawsuits seemed to be in decline in this country. Not at all, Richard F. Collier of the Legal Center for Defense of Life in Morristown, New Jersey, informs me. He sends along material from the New Jersey Law Journal that includes bold advertisements by law firms specializing in what they call “wrongful birth/wrongful life,” and boasting of their success in molding tort law to their advantage. Just when you thought there might be a bit of good news. . . . On the other hand, the French parliament has subsequently banned such suits. Watch for a more thorough treatment of all this in a forthcoming issue.
• A few years ago, immigration restriction was a hot topic in some conservative circles. It was pushed hard by National Review when John O’Sullivan was editor and Peter Brimelow, author of Alien Nation, was the point man on the subject. Under the editorship of Rich Lowry, National Review has pretty much fallen silent on immigration reform, without, however, taking the position of the Wall Street Journal that we should abolish the borders and let everybody in. What National Review dropped, the New York Review of Books may be picking up. Christopher Jencks has a long two-part essay there (“Who Should Get In?”), suggesting that it may be time to reconsider a policy that brings in a million legal immigrants per year, and has resulted in an estimated ten million illegal immigrants living in the country. The Jencks article is remarkable in that it discusses the advocates of immigration reform without once using words such as “racist,” “nativist,” or “Know-Nothing.” This is, I think, a welcome development. I don’t know if it is a sign that the issue of immigration reform is moving from the right to the left. The article may be no more than a one-time thing with the New York Review. But, especially after September 11, it is inevitable that more Americans will be worrying about who all “these people” are, and whether they really intend to be part of “us.” As we know from past experience, such questions are strewn with devilish landmines. It ought to be possible to have a civil discussion of the proposal that it is time for a “moratorium” or “pause” in immigration—or just the effective enforcement of existing law—in order to encourage the more effective assimilation of immigrants who are here. It is, all in all, a good thing that the immigration question is being taken seriously by people who are not easily dismissed as (because they sometimes sound like) racists, nativists, etc., etc.
• Admittedly, it is a cultivated taste (unless you happen to be born that way), but I have come in recent years to have a great interest in things Polish, even agreeing to try to learn the language as soon as they restore those four lost vowels. My interest, of course, has everything to do with those Krakow seminars on Catholic social doctrine that we run each summer. But the reason for this item is to mention the Polish Studies Newsletter edited by Albin S. Wozniak (3433 Gregg Road, Brookeville, Maryland 20833), which is available for $30 per year and provides a very useful update on books, articles, debates, and cultural events dealing with things Polish. If, by inheritance or cultivation or both, such is your taste, the newsletter is definitely worth a look.
• In science, as in every other purely human endeavor, new insights take a battering from the established orthodoxies that they threaten. Certainly that is true of Darwinism as it is challenged by alternative explanations that go under the general heading of Intelligent Design. The December 21 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education provides a balanced report from the front, “Darwinism Under Attack.” The Darwinist establishment is increasingly on the defensive, as is also evident in a series of near-hysterical attacks on Intelligent Design theory in the New York Review of Books. A hero in all this is Phillip E. Johnson, who is not a scientist but a law professor with a razor-sharp ability to expose logical and philosophical sleight of hand. We are pleased to have published his arguments in these pages, along with those of mathematician William Dembski and biochemist Michael Behe. These are the three names most prominently associated with Intelligent Design, although others are coming over to their side and, as Chronicle reports, many others are acknowledging the inadequacies of Darwinist explanations. Recently, in response to a PBS series that toed the conventional Darwinist line, more than a hundred scientists signed a full-page advertisement, published in the New Republic and elsewhere, declaring that they are “skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.” We will continue to publish Johnson, Behe, Dembski, et alia, although I know it makes some readers nervous. In the minds of many, the brightest of bright lines that distinguish the intellectually sophisticated from the great unwashed was drawn at the Scopes trial in Tennessee in 1925. When it comes to cultural and academic respectability, Christians who are insecure about what they view as their newly won “place at the table” are terrified that they might be suspected of harboring “creationist” sympathies. They should get over it. The long overdue scientific and philosophical challenge to Darwinism is not in the defense of a literal reading of Genesis; it is in the service of clear thinking. With respect to the origin and complex development of life forms, clear thinking begins with recognizing what we do not know. Dembski puts it nicely: “An argument from ignorance is still better than a pipe dream in which you’re deluding yourself. I’m at least admitting to ignorance as opposed to pretending that you’ve solved the problem when you haven’t.” The Darwinist theory of the survival of the fittest is sheer tautology. Why did a life form survive? Because it was the fittest. And how do we know it was the fittest? Because it survived. It is after-the-fact rationalization. Any theory claiming that both rape and kindness, both genocide and generosity, are survival techniques is somewhat lacking in explanatory power. Then there is the not so little matter of philosophical materialism and its attendant atheism. Some Darwinists say they are only methodologically materialist and atheist, but the method is the message. In asking how the complexity of life came about, why would one begin from a philosophical premise of materialism and atheism that, on the basis of clear reason, one believes is false? Unless, of course, one believes the premise is true, in which case the premise and any possible conclusion are neatly conflated. In the name of science, a good many Darwinists have for a long time been promoting a particular philosophy, and a depressingly third-rate philosophy at that. The Chronicle article quotes Scott Minnich, a professor of microbiology and biochemistry at the University of Idaho: “Is it wrong to ask students to stop and think, given time and what we know of biochemistry and molecular genetics, whether blind chance and necessity can build machines that dwarf our creative ability? Is that a legitimate question? I think it is.” Exactly. It’s among the questions to which these pages will continue to be open. Evolutionary dogmatists and those intimidated by them can read the New York Review of Books.
• The “mission statement” of the Simi Valley United Church of Christ declares: “For us the Bible is a record of faith journeys to be taken seriously but not always literally. . . . Our church seeks to be multicultural, respecting and learning from traditions which differ from our own.” So much for the Bible, but aren’t we great? The mission in the statement is apparently flagging, according to the Los Angeles Times, since two churches were merged to make up the present congregation that counts a hundred members. But the very positive note struck in the story is that the church is so “open-minded” that it has an atheist teaching Sunday school. “Stuart,” says the pastor, the Rev. Bill Greene, “is a caring, bright, perceptive, inclusive kind of person who has a strong sense of justice. . . . Here is this incredibly fine man, with honesty and passion for justice, who is in our church. And that’s a blessing for us, and for all our kids.” Of course, Stuart denies the existence of God, but that’s what inclusiveness is all about. The story is mildly, albeit sadly, amusing. What is worth remarking is that the Los Angeles Times thinks this is some kind of breakthrough, apparently unaware of the thousands of liberal churches across the country for whom it is a taken-for-granted assumption that Christianity proposes, not “the way, the truth, and the life,” but a narrow viewpoint that must be corrected by “traditions which differ from our own.” Even if that means affirming atheism. Inclusiveness is a jealous god.
• In 1996 we published a famous—some say notorious—symposium on the judicial usurpation of politics under the deliberately interest—piquing title “The End of Democracy?” Most of the numerous critics overlooked the question mark, and charges flew hot and heavy that we were despairing of our constitutional order, advocating violent revolution, and generally indulging in dangerously reckless behavior. The fury of the debate went on for some time, much of it collected in two books by the same title and published by Spence Publishing. Now comes a very long article (169 pages) in the Harvard Law Review by Prof. Larry D. Kramer of New York University on, yes, the judicial usurpation of politics. Perhaps as a ticket of admission to that distinguished review, Kramer is at least as hard on conservatives, such as Justice Antonin Scalia, as he is on the many liberals who have acted over the years as though the American people are not capable of self-government. The motor force of the judicial usurpation of politics is the assumption that the people and their representatives cannot be trusted with making political decisions, and certainly not when it comes to really important questions such as what lives are and what lives are not to be protected in law (see, for the most glaring instance, Roe v. Wade, 1973). Kramer concludes with this: “History may not tell us what to do. But it can tell us who we were and in this way help us understand who we have become. Legend has it that, as he left the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a woman who asked him, ‘What have you given us, Dr. Franklin?’ ‘A republic,’ he replied, ‘if you can keep it.’ Have we? For all the disagreement about what we mean by ‘republic,’ no one has ever doubted that self-government is its essence and a constitution the purest distillate. What kind of republic removes its constitution from the process of self-governing? Certainly not the one our Founders gave us. Is it one we prefer? The choice, after all, is ours. The Supreme Court has made its grab for power. The question is: Will we let them get away with it?” Had he written that for our 1996 symposium, I might have asked him to tone it down just a little. After all, we don’t want to be associated with incendiary publications such as the Harvard Law Review.
• I share your skepticism about polls and polling. They do not even, as one pollster friend claims, give us a “snapshot” of a specific population at a specific time. If one wanted to know about, for instance, the state of Catholicism in America, I expect more pertinent truth could be derived from a really good history of the O’Reilly family in my parish than from a nationwide poll conducted by the most competent research institute. That having been said, polls are not without their uses. They can tell us what percentage of people in a specific cohort at a specific time answered what questions in what way. And, since polls are used and misused for all kinds of purposes, it is worth having the data at hand. So the following is just for the record. A national poll of 1,508 U.S. Catholics found that 46 percent attend Mass at least once a week, 8 percent attend Mass daily, and 11 percent said they go almost every week. Fifty-eight percent said their Catholic identity is very important and 31 percent called it somewhat important. Seventy-five percent agreed with the statement, “There is something special about being Catholic that you cannot find in other religions.” Sixty-eight percent of those said they participated in the sacrament of reconciliation at least once in the last year. The results, released November 16, 2001, are the first of a planned biannual poll of contemporary Catholic trends conducted by Zogby International in conjunction with LeMoyne College, a Jesuit school in Syracuse, New York. Those surveyed by the Zogby poll overwhelmingly agreed with a number of basic faith statements such as: “God has the power to answer prayers” (97 percent); “Jesus is both fully divine and fully human” (94 percent). Majorities agreed with church positions opposing the use of human embryos in stem-cell research (61 percent), on euthanasia and abortion (66 percent and 68 percent, respectively), and that the pope is infallible in faith and morals (64 percent). Fifty-three percent disagreed with the Church’s ban on women priests, and 54 percent said they disagreed that priests must be celibate. Sixty-one percent disagreed with the church teaching against artificial birth control, and 64 percent disagreed with the prohibition on reception of communion by Catholics who have divorced and remarried without an annulment. Eighty percent of those polled said they often have felt God has taken care of them in times of need. As I say, all polling data should be taken with a shot of Old Skeptic. I expect these might serve to reinforce both the more bleak and more hopeful readings of the state of Catholicism in America. If, on the other hand, we really had the story of the four generations of the family O’Reilly. . . .
• You may recall the piece on Father Alexander Schmemann, with the extended excerpts from his Journals, published by St. Vladimir Press (see “Alexander Schmemann: A Man in Full,” FT, January 2001). Fr. Michael Plekon’s Living Icons, recently published by the University of Notre Dame Press, has a chapter on Schmemann which includes this remembrance by his journalist son, Serge Schmemann. It is from an interview in the Moscow Times, published on the tenth anniversary of Fr. Schmemann’s death. “At home Fr. Alexander never told us to ‘go to church,’ or that ‘you must fast,’ or ‘do it this way,’ never. Simply, he did what he had to and we found ourselves drawn to those things which were important to him. I can’t say we spent as much time in church as he did, but our joy in the services came entirely from him. In our house the guiding principle of churchly life was the example of my father. My father is fasting quietly, without insisting that anyone do so, and instinctively we begin fasting as well; after all, we can’t let him fast alone! It was important for him, and thus it became important for us. . . . With him everything was cozy, he was always extremely joyous. If we arose in the morning in foul spirits and saw that he was happy and energetic—with him each day began this way—then his attitude infected us all. . . . He always fought against the reduction of Christianity simply to forms and rules. It, in fact, liberates man from the narrowness of forms and rules and Fr. Alexander saw in Christianity the freedom of the person and love, and in his lectures, writings, sermons, always sought to reveal the deeper meaning of all things occurring in the Church. He never oversimplified, seeing in each person the very complex arena of struggle between good and evil. . . . [H]is theology was marked above all by the element of freedom. His Christianity is that of Christ, for precisely he gave us freedom. All church rules, after all, can acquire a certain independent life of their own, totally detached from God. Fr. Alexander knew this all too well, which is why he never began from rules. For him all things begin with faith in God, which leads to an order of life, and not the other way around.” Reading that, I thought, What a happy son who can thus remember his father, and what a happy father to be thus remembered.
• The unselfconscious ethnocentricity of the New York Times is sometimes charming. Especially charming is Judith Shulevitz, a regular in the Times book review section. Writing in praise of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, she says, “In less than a century and a half, we have turned the American Christmas into an adoration less of a divine Christ than of the quasi-divine in us—our homes, children, families, and communities.” The “we” in that sentence calls to mind Tonto’s well known question to the Lone Ranger. Ms. Shulevitz is all for the “spending and drinking and eating too much.” “If there is such a thing as an authentic Christmas tradition it would have to be overdoing it.” One gathers that devotion to Jesus the Christ, God incarnate born of the Blessed Virgin, is not very strong in the Shulevitz family. Sure enough, that turns out to be the case. “Others, like me, observe Hanukkah, a minor Jewish holiday blown wildly out of proportion to offer an alternative to our nation’s irresistible winter solstice festival.” No, and as Ms. Shulevitz surely knows, it is blown wildly out of proportion to offer Jews, and especially Jewish children, an alternative to a religious feast celebrated by all but Jews and relatively few others. She concludes, “But if dreaming of invented traditions is what we’re doing, at least we’re doing it together and that strikes me as the point.” The point of what? The pseudo-inclusiveness of her ethnocentric “we” succeeds in trivializing both Christianity and Judaism. And that, unhappily, seems to be the point.
• Much more to an important point is this reflection by Anne Roiphe in the New York Observer: “Hanukkah was once a minor holiday, a playful reminder of miracles that cast a warming light against the winter darkness. The game of dreidel was an innocent sort of gambling pleasure: an easy way to teach children that chance is beyond cajoling, that you win or lose, double or nothing, depending on the breath of the draft, the knot in the wooden floor, the unseen, the unaccounted for, the ever unpredictable. The game reveals to all that miracles may happen, but they may not, so steel your heart for disappointments. Hanukkah was not designed for its contemporary American fate. Here, it goes nose to nose, Maccabee to Jesus, against the Christmas glory. It has become a kind of echo of the Other, a comfort to the Jewish child who does not share in the red and green and tinsel of the rival holiday. This making much of Hanukkah is a wise adaptation, a bending like the willow in the wind, as a small minority fights to hold the hearts of its children in the overwhelming and most enticing surrounding culture of Santa Claus and Rudolph and the Grinch, as well as ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Good King Wenceslas’ and ‘All through the house, not a creature was stirring. . . .’ No matter what one does with the brave freedom fighters of old Jerusalem, they do not quite equal the pageantry of mangers and little drummer boys as God’s own son is born to save the world from death. There is no contest here, because the story of Hanukkah is not the central story of Jewish belief or life, while the story of Christmas is the most basic matter of Christian belief. You could remove Hanukkah from the Jewish calendar and Judaism would barely notice. Do the same for Christmas and the entire religious structure would collapse. These holidays are simply not symmetrical. No amount of chocolate coins and electric menorahs illuminating the lobbies of Manhattan apartment buildings will make it so. Yes, they are both winter tales meant to promise the return of spring. Yes, they are both about the intervention of God in human affairs. But they are not equal, and pretending so will not wash.”
• The (London) Daily Telegraph has this story on Father Rodger Charles and his book Pope’s Men: The Jesuits Yesterday and Today. Don’t try to get a copy. His Jesuit superiors have forbidden him to publish it or, for that matter, anything else. I know at least four priests in religious orders who are under orders not to publish. All are respected scholars, established authors, and men of impeccable orthodoxy. It follows from the last factor that they are critical of left-liberal factions in the Church, which is why they are under the ban. I respect their obedience to authority. As Flannery O’Connor observed, we are sometimes required to suffer much more from the Church than for the Church. What cannot be respected are the publications of the left that express outrage at any official criticism of their favored authors while remaining silent about the ban imposed on those with whom they disagree. They claim to be devoted to an “open dialogue.” Don’t believe it.
• According to a poll done by Zogby International, a highly respected organization, 79 percent of Muslims in this country say that U.S. foreign policy is to blame for the September 11 terrorist attacks, and 67 percent say that the best way to counter terrorism is to change U.S. policy in the Middle East. Nonetheless, 50 percent back the U.S. war against terrorism, compared with 80 to 90 percent of the general population.
• Over the last several years, there has been increased discussion, and some little controversy, about the connections between religion and health. A recent issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings includes an article by Dr. Paul S. Mueller and his colleagues that leans toward the skeptical. Covering all their bases, they conclude that any medical benefits of religion are due to “complex psychosocial-behavioral and biological processes that are incompletely understood.” The same issue of the Proceedings carries a more confident report on a randomized controlled trial of the connections between intercessory prayer and cardiovascular disease. Then there is an editorial by Dr. Harold G. Koenig of Duke University Medical Center. He writes, “A long historical tradition connects religion, medicine, and health care. Religious groups built the first hospitals in Western civilization during the fourth century for care of the sick unable to afford private medical care. For the next thousand years until the Reformation and to a lesser extent until the French Revolution, it was the religious establishment that built hospitals, provided medical training, and licensed physicians to practice medicine. By the end of the seventeenth century, however, the scientific profession of medicine had nearly completely separated away from its religious beginnings. Likewise, the profession of nursing emerged directly from religious orders that until the early 1900s staffed the majority of hospitals both in the United States and other Western countries.” Today, he notes, the “wall of separation” between medicine and religion seems to be collapsing. So what is a physician to do? Here is Koenig’s advice: “As Mueller and colleagues point out, the research is not good enough (and may never be good enough) to justify physicians’ prescribing religion to nonreligious patients. If the patient is not religious or does not want physician involvement in this area, then questioning should quickly move away from religion and toward what helps the patient cope and gives life meaning. In the majority of cases, the physician should not attempt to address complex spiritual needs of patients. However, when the patient is reluctant to talk with clergy and prefers to discuss spiritual matters with a trusted physician, taking a little extra time to listen and be supportive is usually all that is required. Providing support for religious beliefs and practices that do not conflict with medical care is appropriate. When beliefs conflict with medical care, however, it is important not to criticize the belief, but rather to listen, gather information, enter into the patient’s worldview, and maintain open lines of communication, perhaps enlisting the help of the patient’s clergy. Religious beliefs may have a powerful influence on the health of our patients, and we need to know about them.” This new discussion is, in my judgment, all to the good. Readers of my just published As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning know that I am more than open to the dimensions of mystery and miracle, also in connection with medicine and health. There are also theological problems, however, in measuring the “effectiveness” of, for instance, intercessory prayer. For instance, to whom are such prayers addressed, with what urgency and submissiveness to God’s will, and what is the spiritual state of those who are praying? Such questions can be multiplied. Then there is always the temptation of a purely utilitarian approach to religion, and to prayer in particular, not to mention the dangers in “putting God to the test.” But it is, all in all, a good thing that medicine is increasingly opening itself to dimensions of reality that cannot be contained within a philosophy of scientific materialism. A very good thing.
• That gimlet-eyed law professor, Ronald Rychlak of the University of Mississippi, picks up on what he takes to be my implication (“The American Mind,” FT, December 2001) that among Thomas Jefferson’s dubious contributions was the introduction of the government-sponsored lottery. The gambling industry—or, as they prefer, the gaming industry—is one of Rychlak’s specialties, and he notes that lotteries go back to the early eighteenth century. He writes, “Governor John Hancock opposed them, arguing that they were calculated to trap the unwary into the vice of gambling. The Old Farmer’s Almanack took a similar approach, arguing that lotteries were the ‘path [which] leads down to the gloomy pits of ruin.’ However, when Harvard needed a lottery to raise funds, Massachusetts authorized it.” As for Jefferson, he did need to sell his property to pay off debts and offered this defense of the lottery: “An article of property, insusceptible of division at all, or not without great diminution of its worth, is sometimes so large a value as that no purchaser can be found while the owner owes debts, has no other means of payment, and his creditors no chance of obtaining it but by its sale at a full and fair price. The lottery is here a salutary instrument for disposing of it, where men run small risks for the chance of obtaining a high prize.” As I noted, the states dragged their feet in authorizing the lottery until after Jefferson died, and it failed of its purpose, leaving his daughter in poverty until, in tribute to her father, two states provided her a pension. I’m with the Old Farmer’s Almanack when it comes to state—sponsored lotteries, but will make it clear in the future that we should not blame Jefferson for starting them.
• In March 1998, the Vatican released We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, a document that has occasioned considerable controversy. It is the stated purpose of David I. Kertzer to refute the document in his book, The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism (see FT review, February). Writing in the Journal of the Historical Society, Professor Russell Hittinger of the University of Tulsa examines Kertzer’s scholarship and finds it gravely deficient. Kertzer says he intends to “stick as close to the popes as I can get. . . . If I fail to bring their worldview to life, I will have failed to fully accomplish my task.” First off, Hittinger notes, Kertzer shows no familiarity with the writings of the popes in question, not even with their most public documents. Between 1775 and 1939, the period under discussion, ten popes issued some 277 encyclicals and other teaching documents, with at least 158 dealing with issues of political and social order. “Remarkably,” writes Hittinger, “there is no indication that Kertzer has laid eyes on any of these documents.” Kertzer does quote the 1937 encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge, to complain that it contains “no direct attack on anti-Semitism.” In fact, the encyclical’s attack on Nazism asserts that Scripture and the Incarnation itself forbid any racial derogation of the “chosen people.” Nobody at the time had any trouble understanding who was meant by the “chosen people.” More remarkable yet, Kertzer’s notes show that the six words he quotes from the encyclical are lifted from John Cornwell’s thoroughly discredited screed, Hitler’s Pope. This is historical scholarship? Hittinger: “Since his judgments are scurrilous, one must wonder whether his publisher looked at the notes carefully enough to detect that Kertzer relies on second and third hand material.” And there are major historical developments of which Kertzer seems to be sublimely ignorant. “Kertzer also completely overlooks what is surely the most important and interesting right-wing movement in the Catholic world at the time, Charles Maurras’ Action française. Founded in 1899 during the Dreyfus affair, Action française represents better than any other movement the passage of the monarchical party to the ideology of extreme nationalism. Maurras distinguished between the legal nation (pays légal) and the authentic nation (pays réel). For Maurras, the authentic nation must be recovered from the Protestants, revolutionaries, freemasons, and Jews who control the legal nation. Pius X accused the movement of ‘hatred.’ In 1914 seven of Maurras’ publications were put on the Index. His supporters were excommunicated by Pius XI in 1927, and the Jesuit Cardinal Billot was forced to resign because of his support for the movement. The history of Action française can help us understand just how the older Christian nativism had become colored with secularism and nationalism. Some of the most important Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century—Charles Péguy and Jacques Maritain, to name but two—were formed in the crucible of this dispute. Indeed, its effect can be detected in many of Pius XI’s encyclicals. What is certain, however, is that there can be no credible history of papal ideas about the political right wing without careful study of this movement and Rome’s thirty-year effort to stifle it. It is certainly necessary for someone like Kertzer, who is in search of incriminating ideas, and who asserts, without evidence or citation, that for the Vatican Fascist regimes were ‘embraced as a God-given bulwark against the great socialist evil.’ Instead of the public documents and history, Kertzer purports to give a ‘secret’ history consisting of diplomatic cables, private audiences with popes, and form letters from papal secretaries conveying papal benedictions to priests and laymen who had an anti-Semitic agenda. From these, Kertzer does not merely charge that the popes were not doing enough to resist and correct anti-Semitism in countries like France and Austria (not to mention the anti-Semitism expressed in ecclesiastical newspapers sponsored by the Vatican); he also implies that popes supported or found nothing untoward in these developments. Throughout the book, the popes are depicted as omniscient and omnipotent figures, capable of putting Austria and France, the Roman Curia, bishops, monsignors, and journalists into line by a snap of a papal finger; their silence about a particular renegade priest or political movement is interpreted as another instance of papal causality in world affairs.” In sum, Hittinger writes, “The Popes Against the Jews pursues an important subject—in recent literature, one that has been obscured by artless polemic. Whatever might be the author’s sincerity (there can be no doubt about his moral passion), this work does not rise to the level of history. He has no control over the meta-historical criteria to which the data are supposed to conform. His research into the material data is slipshod, his inferences are rarely sound, and often drawn irresponsibly. The book does not throw light on a history already obscured by legend and witch hunt.”
• I corresponded with Oscar Cullmann but never met him personally. As was the case with most theology students of the last half century, he had a great influence on my thinking. His New Testament studies on the meaning of time and the nature of the State were especially formative back when the school of thought dubbed “biblical theology” was riding high. Like that other Swiss Protestant Karl Barth, Cullmann did pioneering work in the rapprochement with Catholics following Vatican Council II. Ted Dorman, author of The Hermeneutics of Oscar Cullmann and professor of Bible and theology at Taylor University in Indiana, brings to my attention that February 25 is the hundredth anniversary of Cullmann’s birth. (He died in 1999.) This May the Fondation Oecumenique Oscar Cullmann is holding at the University of Basel an international conference to mark the centennial. Prof. Dorman also suggests that a revival of “biblical theology”—based on “the unity of the Bible” and “salvation history” (Heilsgeschichte)—may be underway. He writes, “Somewhere, I believe, Cullmann must be pleased.” We will find out when, pray God, we meet up again in that Somewhere.
• Andrew Sullivan has been going on again about what’s wrong with conservatism, its chief fault being that it refuses to conform to Andrew Sullivan’s definition of conservatism. Writing in the New Republic, he is again exercised by the “theocons” (including, as usual, your scribe) who don’t understand “the separation of church and state” and are in their motivation, if not their policy prescriptions, very much like the Taliban of Afghanistan. I think Jonah Goldberg of National Review got Mr. Sullivan’s number. “In a nutshell, this is my problem with Andrew Sullivan’s conservatism. He’s a brilliant and charming guy. But he seems to reject or critique all forms of conservatism that don’t dovetail with his own personal priorities. I’m not referring solely, or even primarily, to his homosexuality or advocacy of gay rights. From what I can tell, Sullivan’s conservatism is informed not just by his sexuality but by his Catholicism, his blue-collar British roots, his serious hang-ups about British authoritarian culture, and—not least—by the fact that he’s a follower of the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott (if I were smarter and more patient, I think I’d be an Oakeshottian too) and a protégé of the classical conservative Harvey Mansfield. Moreover, Sullivan’s conservatism isn’t just informed by these things, it’s informed by the perhaps insurmountable contradictions between these things. These sometimes competing, sometimes complementary impulses make Sullivan a joy to read (and talk to). But the extrapolation of one’s personal beliefs—or, more accurately, one’s personality—to a broad universal philosophy is at minimum a form of arrogance, and at maximum a recipe for disaster.” Goldberg is among the most artful ramblers in the business, and somehow he gets from Sullivan to what he calls our “Chinese-menu culture.” Cultural liberalism is a big enough problem, Goldberg says, but liberals mainly cultivate cultural perversities as entertainment; they take every measure to make sure that their own children turn out to be successful in pretty conventional ways of defining success. Cultural libertarians are much more worrying. Goldberg has in mind the father of John Walker, who said he was glad that his son had found something to believe in, even if it was fighting with the Taliban against his country. So what is cultural libertarianism? Let Jonah Goldberg answer that: “Cultural libertarianism basically says that whatever ideology, religion, cult, belief, creed, fad, hobby, or personal fantasy you like is just fine so long as you don’t impose it on anybody else, especially with the government. You want to be a Klingon? Great! Attend the Church of Satan? Hey man, if that does it for ya, go for it. You want to be a ‘Buddhist for Jesus’? Sure, mix and match, man; we don’t care. Hell, you can even be an observant Jew, a devout Catholic or a faithful Baptist, or a lifelong heroin addict—they’re all the same, in the eyes of a cultural libertarian. Just remember: keep it to yourself if you can. Don’t claim that being a Lutheran is any better than being a member of the Hale-Bopp cult, and never use the government to advance your view. If you can do that, then—whatever floats your boat.”
• The Congress still dithers over a ban on human cloning, despite the fact that there is a growing scientific consensus that embryonic stem cells—whether cloned or not—are not necessary for research. Equal and better results are obtained from stem cells obtained from umbilical cords, bone marrow, and even adult fat cells. J. Bottum writes in Canada’s National Post that the only thing human cloning is likely to produce in the short run is cloned human beings—just as the only medical advance animal cloning has produced in the four years since Dolly is the ability to create cloned animals. Mary Shelley, Aldous Huxley, Robert Louis Stevenson, and H. G. Wells, says Bottum, anticipated what is happening now. “Most European countries have already passed laws banning so-called reproductive cloning while allowing what they call therapeutic cloning. These laws will prove pointless. We will be unable to maintain a situation in which scientists are encouraged to create cloned embryos and then barred from the end toward which their creations naturally aim: the insertion of those embryos into a womb and the live birth of a human clone. Besides, such laws are unethical on their face, since they attempt to define a class of embryos that it is illegal not to destroy. Even more to the point, they are unenforceable, since only court-ordered abortions could eliminate the result of violating them. A ban solely on reproductive cloning is simply a license for scientists to get their techniques right until the pressure to bring a clone to birth becomes overwhelming. At that point, our problems really begin—from the extraordinarily high rate of deformity among clones, to the end of the family in the confusion of reproducing oneself as one’s own child, to the likely psychological damage for the person created by cloning. Along the way, we will have moved from the begetting of our children to the manufacture of our descendants and changed forever what it means to be human. Shouldn’t we try to stop this? I worry about people who reach into the stuff of life and twist it to their will. I worry about the people who act simply because they can. If they lived in crumbling castles—their hair standing up on end and their voices howling in maniacal laughter—we’d know them for mad scientists. But they wear nice white lab coats, and their chief executive brings his pleasant face on television to reassure us they are really acting for the best of medical motives, and, besides, there is a great deal of money to be made in biotech and pharmaceutical stocks. And so Victor Frankenstein’s chamber begins to seem merely a modern laboratory. The Brave New World, merely a green and pleasant land. Dr. Jekyll’s dark study, merely a clean, well-lighted place. The island of Dr. Moreau, merely a health resort. But in their precincts, nothing human can survive.”
• Members of the Jewish Defense League in Los Angeles were arrested for planning to issue a “wake up call” by blowing up a local mosque. The consistently, if caustically, on-target James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal remarks: “Watch for the root-cause crowd to come forward with the usual explanations: the poverty and oppression under which L.A. Jews live makes this sort of thing understandable, if not inevitable; they did it as a protest against U.S. foreign policy; their alleged targets need to ask themselves: Why do they hate us?”
• Ah, for the resistance movements of our youth! The very “progressive” city council of Berkeley, California, voted that the city’s general information phone answerers should supply material about the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. The Associated Press reports, “The idea is to have information available so staff can refer anyone who calls asking about how to avoid military combat.” The council defeated an amendment that would also make available information about military recruitment. Berkeley’s refugees from radicalisms past apparently have not been told that the draft expired decades ago. The advice to those with conscientious objections to enlisting is very simple: don’t enlist.
• Christianity Today takes note of the dueling headlines of stories reporting on John Paul II’s World Day of Peace message:
Pope: Anti-terror fight is moral (Associated Press)
Pope, not mentioning U.S., urges military restraint (New York Times)
Pope says forgiveness leads to peace (Chicago Tribune)
Pope ambiguous on U.S. campaign (Los Angeles Times)
Blunt force wrong, pontiff says ([Toronto] Globe and Mail)
Pope calls for an end to Iraqi sanctions (CNN)
Plight of innocents worries pontiff (Reuters/Toronto Star)
Actually, the Pope said that terrorism must be unequivocally condemned, that military action against terrorism is justified, that such action should be discriminate and proportionate, and that whatever measure of justice is achieved must be secured by forgiveness if there is to be lasting peace. Now you might want to try writing your own headline.
• The late Erwin Glikes, legendary founder of the Free Press, wanted me to do a book with his house. I mentioned another publisher who had made a generous offer. “They print books,” Erwin snorted, “We publish books.” By that he meant that, for Free Press, each book was viewed as a special project, given personal editorial attention, and assigned to someone whose job depended upon helping it to find its readership. For reasons that I forget, I did not do that book with Free Press, but I have remembered Erwin’s words about the difference between printing and publishing books. In addition to publishing As I Lay Dying, Basic Books has done a fine job in another and commonly neglected aspect of the book business, book designing. It is a physically beautiful book. Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to buy the book just because it is good looking. (Although in this instance it is at least partly true that you can tell a book by its cover.) I do think you might be interested in the story it tells, a story that I told in part in “Born Toward Dying“ (FT, February 2000). It is a very personal, and sometimes painful, story about cancer, about friendship in times of illness, about lingering at death’s door and, to my considerable surprise, discovering why I was not afraid. As I Lay Dying: Meditations upon Returning. It is just out and should be in your bookstore now. I very much hope you will like it, and will tell all your friends about it.
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On ethicists for sale, Christianity Today, October 1, 2001; U.S. News & World Report, July 30, 2001; ZENIT, August 8, 2001. On Dominus Iesus, Ecumenical Trends, December 2001. On Anthony Lewis, New York Times, December 15, 2001.
While We’re At It: Pastor ratings, Barna Research, January 7, 2002. Michael Kelly on Alison Hornstein, Washington Post, December 19, 2001. Randy Cohen and pudenda, New York Times Magazine, November 18, 2001. Simi Valley United Church of Christ, Los Angeles Times, December 16, 2001. Larry D. Kramer on judicial politics, Harvard Law Review, November 2001. Judith Shulevitz’s ethnocentricity, New York Times, December 2, 2001. Anne Roiphe on Hanukkah and Christmas, New York Observer, December 17, 2001. On Fr. Rodger Charles, (London) Daily Telegraph, December 15, 2001. Muslim poll numbers, Religion News Service, December 20, 2001. Russell Hittinger on David Kertzer, Journal of the Historical Society, Spring/Summer 2002. Jonah Goldberg on Andrew Sullivan, National Review Online, December 12, 2001. Berkeley’s conscientious objectors, Associated Press, December 13, 2001. The Pope’s headlines, Christianity Today, December 14, 2001.