The Public Square
April 11: Remembering John Paul II
There, on the catafalque only a few feet away, was what remained. Kneeling at the prie-dieu, I had only a few minutes, certainly no more than ten, to think what I wanted to think and pray what I wanted to pray in this moment I had so long anticipated and so irrationally hoped would never come. Odd thoughts came to mind. His back was straight again, after all those years of being so pitiably hunched and trembling from the Parkinson’s disease. He seemed much smaller. Perhaps there was not much that could have been done by those who prepared the body. He was emaciated, beaten, and bruised. The purple spots on the hands revealed the efforts, toward the very end, to find one more vein for the intravenous feeding tube. Lying there before the altar, under Bernini’s magnificent baldachino, his head was tilted just slightly toward the right. Looking north, I thought”toward Poland.
He has fought the good fight, he has kept the faith. Well done, good and faithful servant. These and other passages came unbidden. Through my tears, I tried to see again the years of his vitality, his charm, his challenge, his triumphs; the historic moments when I admired from a distance and the personal encounters when I was surprised by the gift of an older brother who was the Holy Father.
I had seen him on October 22, 1978, in his first homily as pope, admonishing and encouraging the whole of humanity to be not afraid. I saw him again in Central Park, with hand on cheek in a Jack Benny gesture, mischievously complimenting the crowd’s appreciation of his singing a Polish Christmas song. And you don’t even know Polish, he said. I mentioned this when I ate with the pope months later and had to explain to him who Jack Benny was. In such conversations we discussed Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and the ideas that had shaped and misshaped the century, and whether the end of history was at hand. (He thought not.)
Kneeling there, I smiled through my tears. Then the time came to leave. Cardinals, bishops, heads of state, and other dignitaries were waiting their turn. And all the thoughts I wanted to think and all the prayers I wanted to pray were distilled in a half-sobbed, half-whispered, Thank you, Holy Father.
Walking out of the basilica into the sunlight, a shaken friend said, That wasn’t him, he is isn’t there. No, I said, he is there. These are the remains, what is left behind of a life such as we are not likely to see again, waiting with all of us for the resurrection of the dead, the final vindication of the hope he proclaimed.
This morning, three days later, I walked over to St. Peter’s Square where thousands and thousands were lined up to see the place where they had put the body. Many were disappointed in their hope of seeing the body when, in the early hours of Friday morning, the basilica had to be closed for the funeral. The crypt, I am told, will not be open to the public until Monday. There he lies in the place previously occupied by John XXIII, who has been moved up into the main church.
Of the 264 popes, 148 are buried in St. Peter’s. In his last will and testament, revealed after his death, John Paul indicated that he would like to be buried in Poland, but he said the wishes of the cardinals should be followed. They decided on St. Peter’s. There was a rumor that Poles were asking that at least his heart should be buried in Poland, a very Polish thing to do. But he is intact in St. Peter’s, the 149th.
These have been days that tax superlatives, with events that beggar words. It is reported that four to five million have journeyed to Rome to say goodbye, more than twice the population of the city. Yet everything has gone so smoothly. It seems, in fact, that the city is more peaceful than usual. Huge crowds of mourners packed the square and the Via della Conciliazione, stretching across the Tiber and into the side streets, waiting as long as twenty-six hours to get into the basilica and then, on Friday, to get near the funeral. One hesitates to say that anything is historically unprecedented, but it seems certain that never in human history have so many from so many places in the world gathered to say farewell. He went to the world, and the world came to him. The Poles were especially prominent, waving their flag and singing hymns and national songs. After a thousand years over which their existence was denied and despised by powerful neighbors, John Paul restored their nation to a place of honor in the world.
At the funeral, more than a hundred nations were represented. Despite all the presidents, monarchs, prime ministers, and other dignitaries, security was not conspicuous, which probably means it was very competent. Anyone familiar with the complex history of Catholicism and the American experiment could not help being struck by the presence of an American president, along with two former presidents, at the funeral of a pope. In the media and in conversations, however, nobody has remarked on this remarkable turn of events”but, then, his pontificate always turned the unprecedented into the taken-for-granted. It was unthinkable that President Bush would not be here. What was remarked was the large Jewish delegation and, even more remarked, the many representatives from Islamic nations. Among the titles of the pope is Pontifex Maximus, the great builder of bridges.
The funeral was exactly as it should have been. Solemn, pulling all the stops of sacred pomp, joining grief and gratitude in a grace-filled exultation of resurrection hope. Exactly right, too, was the homily by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals. He made room for the frequent outbursts of sustained applause and shouts of the crowd that John Paul be declared a saint, and be declared so right now.
There was a time in the ancient Church, long before procedures for canonization were codified in the sixteenth century, when saints were declared by popular acclamation, and it almost looked yesterday as though that might happen again. And the shout went up, Magnus! Magnus!
For many years I had written that he would be called John Paul the Great, and I do believe it is happening. Of the millions who came to say goodbye, the clear majority were young people in their teens or twenties. Among those impressed by this astonishing response are the cardinals who will elect the next pope, and some of them are saying today that the better part of wisdom is to stay the course of John Paul’s pontificate. If continuity is what they are looking for, that may speak well for Cardinal Ratzinger who is so closely identified with the major initiatives of John Paul. Even before yesterday, he was on everybody’s list of leading papabili .
It takes determination not to discern a providential hand in the convergence of events from the beginning of Holy Week through the funeral of the pope. All in all, the major media made an effort to rise to the occasion. There were notable exceptions, of course. On the Lehrer News Hour , I was pitted against the egregious Alan Wolfe of Boston College who railed against Republicans for politicizing the death of Terri Schiavo, thereby politicizing the judiciously countenanced crime in a manner most base. A few days later, the death of John Paul commanded the front page and a large special section of recycled conventional wisdom in the New York Times , along with an editorial drawing the moral that his rigid teaching about the sanctity of life denied Terri Schiavo the death with dignity that he himself enjoyed. When will they ever learn?
But, for the most part, the media coverage of the pope’s death has been intelligent, respectful, and even reverential. Although there is no way to measure the effect, this has been an extraordinary moment of evangelization. There was the small distraction of the death of Prince Rainier of Monaco, and the much larger distraction of the tawdry royal wedding of Prince Charles to his mistress of many years, a wedding postponed for one day so Charles could attend the papal funeral. It appears the monarchy will survive as a national embarrassment, along with a national church that continues, almost five hundred years later, to cater to the unbridled royal appetites to which it owes it existence.
I came to Rome to co-host with Raymond Arroyo the daily broadcasts of EWTN, the international television network founded by the formidable Mother Angelica, whose biography Raymond has just completed. (It is a remarkable story and should be out from Doubleday this fall.) My agreement with EWTN was not exclusive, so I also worked with other print and broadcast media.
George Weigel, author of the definitive biography of John Paul, Witness to Hope , came to Rome under exclusive contract with NBC and has been largely responsible for that network’s generally excellent coverage. Rome in my experience is endless conversations over lunch and dinner, mainly with media types and with friends and acquaintances in the worlds within worlds of the universal Church variously connected to the nerve center that is the Eternal City.
Of course most of the talk is about the next pope, with regular references to the legacy of John Paul II. It seems most every interview begins with, What do you think is the chief legacy of John Paul II? I have by now refined in response a dozen riffs on his prophetic humanism, his proposing and not imposing a more promising future for the human project, and other themes familiar to the readers of these pages. There are only so many things one can say in five or seven minutes, and one easily wearies of saying them.
Many years ago, when I was a young Lutheran pastor, I complained to my older friend Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel about the tedium of the lecture circuit. The worst thing, I said, is that you get tired of hearing yourself saying the same things. Last week I was in Kansas City talking about Christianity and racial justice, and this Saturday I will be in Chicago talking about Christianity and racial justice. Heschel listened patiently as I went on in this vein and then said, Nuh, Richard, so you think in Chicago they know what you said in Kansas City? Go to Chicago, Richard. Go to Chicago. When on airplanes going I know not where or why, I have over the years often heard the voice of Heschel, Go to Chicago, Richard. Go to Chicago. And so I once again manage to perk up and respond to the question What is the chief legacy of John Paul II? and Who will be the next pope?
In Rome and in circles closely connected to Rome, the chatter about the next pope begins the day a new pope is installed. It has understandably been more intense in the last several years of John Paul’s undeniable decline. Most of it is idle speculation, as idle as it is inevitable. For the record, this is the state of the chatter shortly after the funeral of John Paul:
First in alphabetical order and the sentimental favorite of many is Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria. With long years of experience in the Curia, Arinze has many friends in the United States. First Things hosted him in New York last year for an ecumenical theological conference. As usual, he was disarmingly charming and candid in response to even the most difficult questions. Many of us think it would be a great thing to have a black African pope, but we don’t have a vote. The consensus is that Arinze, while greatly admired, has slight chance of election. The Church is not ready for an African pope, it is said. That can be read in many ways, some less edifying than others.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires is high on every list. Known as an incisive thinker and intensely holy man living an austere life, it is held against him that he is a Jesuit, although he has suffered the slings and arrows of fellow Jesuits of a more progressive bent. No member of a religious order has been elected pope since 1831.
If the Italians recapture the office, their man could be Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, a close associate of Ratzinger.
Dario Castrillion Hoyos of Colombia, Claudio Hummes of São Paulo, and Oscar Rodriguez Maradiago of Honduras are Latin Americans mentioned. The last is young and eager”some think too young and too eager.
Ivan Dias of Bombay is an astute theologian who has shown the way in protecting Catholic integrity in the engagement with religious pluralism.
Among other Italians is Giovanni Battista Re, long in curial experience but without a pastoral track record. Camillo Ruini, vicar of Rome, is greatly respected and was very close to John Paul. Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan is something of a populist in his appeal and an expert in bioethics, a field of growing interest in moral theology. My impression is that Angelo Scola of Venice may be the leading Italian candidate, but that is perhaps because I have been listening to my friends who are also his friends and are greatly impressed by his intellectual and pastoral skills combined with a deep spirituality.
Christoph Schönborn of Vienna is often mentioned, but it is deemed a liability that he is young (for a pope) and has shown no marked progress in revitalizing the Church in Austria.
The only plausible English-speaking papabile is the formidable George Pell of Sydney, Australia. He is a friend and I confess I would rejoice in his election, but that seems an unlikely prospect. (The same is true of Francis George of Chicago, but it is thought to be a certainty that no American could be elected, and I tend to agree with the reasons for this.)
It would, I think, be a very good thing to have a pope from Africa, Latin America, or Asia, but the odds at this point favor an Italian. The real alternative is Ratzinger. His election would spark a firestorm of negative reaction from progressives in Western Europe and the United States. There is little love for Germans, and his long and thankless work as the chief doctrinal officer under John Paul has earned him a reputation as the enforcer of orthodoxy. Ratzinger is, in fact, a man of great personal charm and profound holiness. Some years ago he gave First Things ’ annual Erasmus Lecture, and at the ecumenical conference following the lecture he most impressively won the respect and affection of the participating theologians. His homily at John Paul’s funeral winsomely displayed a pastoral dimension of the man that many had not suspected. While guaranteed to be labeled controversial, the election of Joseph Ratzinger would, I believe, be reassuring to many and would provide the Church with leadership in secure continuity with John Paul II.
But again, this is all speculation. The new pope will be chosen in the next month, and faithful Catholics will have no doubt that he is the choice of the Holy Spirit. He may be chosen to advance the great springtime of renewal of which John Paul so often spoke, or to test our faith. In either case, he will be the 265th successor of Peter, and we will, with full assent of heart and mind, acknowledge him as the shepherd of Christ’s pilgrim Church on earth.
But now, in the immediate aftermath of the funeral, we are keenly aware that he will not be, nobody could be, another John Paul II. That would be too much to expect. As we had no right to expect the inestimable gift of the man to whom and for whom we now, in grief and gratitude, offer our thanks.
April 21: Habemus Papam
Within hours of the announcement Habemus Papam from the loggia of St. Peter’s, those who have for years viewed Joseph Ratzinger as the embodiment of all they think is wrong with the Church were publicly exhibiting (to paraphrase Churchill) magnanimity in defeat. Led by Hans Küng, Ratzinger’s self-anointed nemesis, they proposed that Ratzinger should be given a grace period, perhaps a hundred days, to demonstrate that he has repented of his reactionary ways.
The responsibilities of his old work, as a prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the responsibilities of his new work, as pope, are significantly different. The pope, it is rightly said, must strive to be the father (as in pope) of all the faithful”which is a challenge for him but a greater challenge to those who are dubiously faithful.
With the election of Pope Benedict XVI, the curtain has fallen on the long-running drama of the myth of the spirit of Vatican II, in which the revolution mandated by the Council was supposedly delayed by the timidity of Paul VI and temporarily derailed for twenty-six years by the regressive John Paul II, as the Church inexorably moved toward the happy denouement of the next pope who would resume the course of progressive accommodation to the wisdom of the modern world. The curtain has fallen and the audience has long since left, except for a few diehards who say they are giving the new management a hundred days to revive the show. Some of them are perhaps thinking of going to another theater. There are worse things than not being a Catholic, when it is made unmistakably clear that being a Catholic is not what one is.
I very much doubt that Pope Benedict is going to engage in wholesale excommunications, but I have no doubt he will encourage people to ponder anew what is entailed in being in communion with the Church. He has over the years made evident that he believes we are engaged in a great battle for the soul of Western Civilization and, indeed, the soul of the world. The choice of the name is important. He is not John Paul III. That might have invited invidious comparisons with his illustrious and inimitable predecessor, John Paul the Great, now entombed close by St. Peter. It might also have suggested that the curtain has not fallen on the dramatization of the mythology of the spirit of Vatican II. The first round of commentaries proposed that the choice of a name is an allusion is Benedict XV, an early twentieth-century pope of limited distinction apart from his failed effort to stop World War I. I am rather confident, however, that the proper allusion is to the original St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism. In a time of deep shadows, the Benedictine movement sparked the spiritual, cultural, and moral rejuvenation of Europe.
Much has been made of the supposed contrast between John Paul II’s confident expectation of a springtime of evangelization and Joseph Ratzinger’s frequent references to a smaller but more faithful Church which has internalized the words of Jesus that the seed must fall into the ground and die before it can bear much fruit. In this account, John Paul the ebullient is to be contrasted with Ratzinger the dour.
There is a measure of truth in that contrast. Some of it is related to differences in personality, some of it to differences in intellectual formation. Avery Cardinal Dulles summarized the witness of John Paul in the phrase prophetic humanism. The Ratzinger of the past gave”and the Benedict of the future, will, I expect, continue to give”voice to a more explicit and insistent Christocentric humanism.
This is not to say that John Paul was not Christocentric. There were few passages from the Council that he quoted more often than the declaration from Gaudium et Spes that Jesus Christ is not only the revelation of God to man but the revelation of man to himself. The suggested contrast between John Paul and Benedict is not a disagreement, but Ratzinger’s accent has been more explicitly on the crucified Christ and the necessarily cruciform experience of the Church through time.
It has been suggested that the different accents may reflect the fact that Ratzinger is more Augustinian in his theology while John Paul was more of a Thomist. Both accents issue in the bold admonition, Be not afraid. That signature phrase of John Paul has been emphatically repeated by Benedict XVI. The crucified Christ is the risen and victorious Christ who, in a favorite passage of Ratzinger’s, tells the disciples, Fear not little flock, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give to you the kingdom. With an emphasis on the little in the little flock.
On the basis of his copious writings as Ratzinger, we know that Benedict is robustly skeptical of sociological depictions and analyses of the Church. The general media, as well as many scholars, are obsessed with statistical assessments of the Church’s fortunes and misfortunes in history. For Pope Benedict these assessments are almost beside the point. The media will have a hard time adjusting to this. They do not want to talk about revealed truth or the redemption worked by Jesus Christ. Benedict insists that to speak of the Church is to speak of Christ. Which may result in the secular elites in control of the commanding heights of culture declining to talk about either.
The circumstance was nicely summed up by a comment of Ted Koppel on Nightline the night of the election. The subject turned to interreligious dialogue, and I had referred to the radical Christocentrism of the new pope. So which is it, Father, Koppel asked, Christ or interreligious dialogue?
But, of course, it is interreligious dialogue because of, and upon the premise of, Jesus Christ as the redeemer of the whole world, including the world’s religions in which, as Catholic teaching holds, elements of truth and grace are to be discovered. The same confusion arises with respect to Dominus Iesus , a document issued by Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith a few years ago, which is regularly cited as claiming that Catholicism is more true than other religions and even other Christian churches. But of course. There is but one Christ and therefore, at the deep level of theological understanding, there can be only one Church, and the Catholic Church claims to be that Church most fully and rightly ordered through time. That is not in tension with ecumenism; it is the foundation of the ecumenical quest for full communion among all Christians.
The argument that Ratzinger has tried to make through these many years, and the argument that Benedict will undoubtedly be making, is that there is no tension, never mind conflict, between truth and love. The caricature is that liberals are big on love while conservatives are big on truth. As Ratzinger said in his homily before the conclave, love without truth is blind and truth without love is empty. Without truth, love is mere sentimentality and, without love, truth is sterile.
This is, of course, in perfect continuity with John Paul’s favored passage from Gaudium et Spes that Christ”who is the way, the truth, and the life”is the revelation of man to himself. If Christ is the truth about everyone and everything, then the way forward is by following the way of Christ. This is the genuine progressivism proposed to the Church and the world by John Paul and by Benedict. The Church does not seek to be countercultural, but it is unavoidably counter to the modern mindset in proposing that fidelity and continuity, not autonomy and novelty, are the paths toward a more promising future.
The chatter goes on as to whether Benedict will change this or that policy of John Paul, as though each new pope reinvents Catholicism. There is, beyond doubt, development in the life of the Church, but on questions of great theological and moral moment there is not change. The office of the papacy is very limited. The pope’s job is to defend, preserve, and transmit the faith once delivered to the saints, as that faith is received in Scripture and Spirit-guided tradition. A pope who acts as though doctrine is no more than a policy option is a very bad pope.
Within the continuing tradition, the Second Vatican Council is an extraordinary moment of development and refinement. Among the many achievements of the pontificate of John Paul II, some would say the most important achievement, was to secure the hermeneutic for the interpretation of that great council. Joseph Ratzinger was an invaluable partner in that achievement, and the partner has now become the heir who will build upon that achievement.
The day of his election was, in the calendar of the Church, the day of Leo IX, the last great German pope. Ratzinger is more a Bavarian than a German, Bavaria having a distinct identity that goes back long before the Prussian invention of modern Germany in the nineteenth century. But I am sure he sees some striking parallels between the eleventh-century reign of Leo and the needs of our time. Which is, once again, to recognize the bond with the first Benedict who set out to reconstruct, beginning with the Church, a civilization that had fallen into ruins. The new pope’s most determined opponents will be those who, in the words of St. Paul, boast of their shame and demand that the Church not only acquiesce in, but give her blessing to, the devastation conventionally called progress. The achievements of modernity, which are considerable, are fragile and prone to self-destruction unless grounded in the truth, and the truth, ultimately, is the Son of God who, as St. John puts it, was sent not to condemn the world but to save the world.
Pope Benedict XVI is seventy-eight years old, and some speak of a brief transitional pontificate. I do not expect it will be brief, and I am sure it will not be transitional, if transitional means a holding action until the next pontificate. He has very definite views on what needs to be reformed in the Church, including much that in recent decades was called reform, and he will in his self-effacing but determined way press for changes in the service of a continuity that has too often been recklessly violated.
In this respect, he will be carrying forward the work of John Paul the Great in bringing together again the great themes of the Second Vatican Council: ressourcement and aggiornamento . The reappropriation of the tradition and the conversation with the contemporary world are not two agendas, one dubbed conservative and the other liberal, but the two essential dimensions of the renewal of the Church.
And, if the Council is right in saying that the Church is the sacrament of the world, renewal of the Church is the way toward the renewal of the world, as the first Benedict believed and so powerfully demonstrated.
The Tyranny of the Minority
There is strength in numbers, but there is not truth. Leon Wieseltier is right about that. Writing in the New Republic , he is complaining about the Supreme Court justices who, in oral argument about the Ten Commandments case, keep saying we are a religious nation. Wieseltier writes, But what does the prevalence of a belief have to do with its veracity or with its legitimacy? Little or nothing, one might agree. But the justices were making a more modest but not unimportant point”that a government must be aware of the kind of people it governs, in this case a characteristically religious people.
Wieseltier continues: If every American but one were religious, we would still have to construct our moral and political order upon respect for that one. Well, yes, respect. That is required by our commitment to rights, a commitment firmly grounded in, among other things, the religious beliefs of most Americans. But Wieseltier seems to be saying that respect means that the one dissenter would have veto power over how we construct our moral and political order. That would be the death of our republican form of democratic government. The Constitution’s We the People never pretended to be unanimous. Whatever else democracy means, it means majority rule, and our form of democracy also assiduously protects minority rights.
Wieseltier seems to think that democracy requires eliminating the concepts of majority and minority: The proposition that we are a religious nation’ is like the proposition that we are a white nation’ or that we are a Christian nation’ or that we are a heterosexual nation,’ which is to say it is a prescription for the tyranny of a majority. Not quite. The statement that we are a white nation is redolent of a long and tragic history of oppression, and anyone who employs it is rightly suspected of racism. As a social description, however, it is true that about 80 percent of the population is ordinarily designated as white, about the same percentage is Christian of one sort or another, and fully 97 percent is heterosexual. These are simply social facts, not prescriptions for how we are to construct our moral and political order.
Our moral and political order does not require that we forbid the public mention of social facts. It would be a very fragile moral and political order that depended upon pretended ignorance of social facts. Consider the proposition that we are a capitalist nation or we are an English-speaking nation or we are a sports-loving nation. In each instance, there is not just Wieseltier’s one dissenter. Add up the socialists, non-English speakers, and those indifferent to sports, and we’re talking about millions of dissenters. That in no way affects the truth of the above generalizations about the kind of nation we are. Wieseltier apparently does not fear that the acknowledgment of those generalizations is a prescription for the tyranny of a majority.He fears only the acknowledgment that we are a religious nation. One has to wonder why that should be.
Is the government forcing anyone to be religious or penalizing those who are not? If, as is the case, there is absolutely no evidence that the government is doing or will do that, is not Mr. Wieseltier’s fear simply irrational? It would seem that that irrational fear is combined with the curious view that democracy requires a studied indifference to majorities and minorities and a pretended ignorance of the nature of the society of which we are part.
We are a religious nation. It seems Mr. Wieseltier wishes that were not so. He certainly does not want the fact to be publicly recognized by government officials. On both scores, I am rather sure, he is in a distinct minority. That is a perfectly honorable and securely protected status. We should construct our moral and political order to protect his right to his opinion, and, as a matter of fact, that has been done. There is no reason why we should construct our moral and political order to conform to his opinion. To do so would be, if I may paraphrase Mr. Wieseltier, a sure prescription for the tyranny of the minority.
The Polite Gentiles
Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Toward Tradition airs a question that I expect most Jews think should be aired, if at all, only among Jews. His reflections are prompted by the movie Meet the Fockers , starring Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand. He is especially disappointed with Streisand because he had coached her in the film Yentl and hoped she was above this kind of thing. In spite of having several Jewish producers and several Jewish stars, writes Lapin, this film’s vile notions of Jews are not too different from those used by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. The argumentum ad Hitlerum , as Milton Himmelfarb once called it, makes one nervous. Lapin continues, The movie depicts the conspicuously Jewish parents as sexually obsessed, constantly concupiscent degenerates. Nice people, but depraved. He is put in mind of the defamatory depiction of Jews in Woody Allen films: If Woody Allen were not Jewish, surely every Jewish organization would have roundly denounced him.
What is it with the Jews?”is Rabbi Lapin’s question. He mentions potty-mouthed sexpert Dr. Ruth Westheimer, as well as the execrable Howard Stern and Jerry Springer, who also flaunt their Jewishness. Then there is the Jewish pornographer who goes by the name of Ron Jeremy and boasts of having acted in or directed more than 1,500 porn films, explaining, Jewish families tend to be more liberal than Christian ones; they aren’t obsessed by the fear of the devil or going to hell. A profile in Jewish Journal reassuringly notes that Jeremy plans to be married in a synagogue. You’d have to be a recent immigrant from Outer Mongolia, writes Lapin, not to know of the role that people with Jewish names play in the coarsening of our culture. Almost every American knows this. It is just that most gentiles are too polite to mention it.
Lapin says he is describing anti-Semitism perpetrated by Jews rather than by non-Jews. He cites a passage from Hitler’s Mein Kampf describing the meretricious influence of Jews and observes: It does not excuse Hitler or his Nazi thugs for us to acknowledge that this maniacal master propagandist focused on a reality that resonated with the educated and cultured Germans of his day. Not once in Mein Kampf did that monster charge Jews with being complicit in the killing of Christ two thousand years earlier. He knew that long-ago event, shrouded in mystery and theological profundity, would never goad enlightened people to murder. Instead, he drew attention to the obvious and inescapable; that which every German knew to be true.
After listing more instances of the culture-debasing activities of Jews, Lapin writes: We Jews routinely depict ourselves in repugnant caricatures of people you’d want nothing to do with in real life. Why do my colleagues in Jewish communal leadership never condemn this anti-Semitism? For, if it is not anti-Semitism, what is? Yet Jewish organizations went all out in their assault on Mel Gibson’s The Passion . A year after its release, and after polls show increased regard for Jews among the film’s audiences, Jewish organizations still condemn The Passion as defamatory to Jews. Yet, astonishingly, they don’t consider the examples I cite as defamatory to Jews. Do you suppose that people’s view of what Jews are really like is shaped more by Caius, an obscure two-thousand-year old character in The Passion or by the contemporary couple played by Streisand and Hoffman? Which movie more egregiously defames Jews?
Rabbi Lapin makes serious charges which, although directed against his fellow Jews, should be taken seriously also by Christians. Some distinctions are in order. He is certainly right about the wrong of the organized Jewish attacks on The Passion , and it is true that some Jewish reviewers let their obvious indifference or hostility to that central Christian story control their evaluation of the film. And he is surely right that, if gentiles depicted Jews the way that Woody Allen and others do, they would immediately be accused of anti-Semitism.
Are Jews disproportionately represented in the pornography industry? It is regularly said so, also by Jews. But that, if true, is quite distinct from the self-deprecatory humor of Jews in theater and films that Lapin too readily, it seems to me, describes as self-defamation. Is Jackie Mason anti-Semitic either in intent or effect? I don’t think so. I haven’t seen Meet the Fockers , and it may be as bad as Rabbi Lapin says, but some of the films that concern him are aimed at mainly non-Jewish audiences, inviting them to join in the mainly good-spirited laughter at these crazy Jews. This has been going on in the American world of entertainment for many decades and is a sign of a Jewish sense of security in this mainly non-Jewish society. An argument might be made that this tradition of public self-deprecation by Jews has played an important part in defusing whatever hostility there is to Jews in America.
I’m not sure it is the case that most Christians are too polite to say anything about Jews behaving badly. Most Christians don’t think very much about Jews. It is possible that most Christians in America don’t know any Jews personally. And if some have negative thoughts about the culture-debasing influence of some Jews, it is not only politeness but intimidation that inhibits their expressing them. Nobody wants to be viewed as an anti-Semite. In my experience, Christians don’t talk much about Jews, at least not outside the relatively small circle of people who take a particular interest in Jewish-Christian relations. When concern is expressed, it is usually in the form of puzzlement that so many Jews are non-religious or stridently anti-religious.
That mix of concern and puzzlement was pronounced in events surrounding The Passion . On this score, there have been other rough spots in the past and will no doubt be more. While Rabbi Lapin’s reproach of offending and determinedly offensive Jews is no doubt warranted, I suspect that the usually humorous, if unflattering, depiction of Jews in popular entertainment contributes to making ours a society so friendly to Jews. Against the marginal anti-Semites of today and the ravings of Mein Kampf , most people, if they think about it at all, probably think, If they take such delight in making fun of themselves, they can’t possibly be dangerous. That’s not the whole of it, but I am inclined to think it is an important part of what continues to be the generally happy story of Jews and Christians in America.
Our Culture, Counterculturally Speaking
Paula Fredriksen of Boston University is concerned with the moral complexity of our civilization, which is a very good concern to have. But why am I also concerned about the opening paragraph of her long review of a book on morals in antiquity? Here it is: Freedom, democracy, philosophy; art, education, law. Many of the ideas and ideals that define our culture and what we most value in it trace back across millennia to the civilizations of Greece and Rome. These two ancient societies constituted a fundamental stage in the historical development of the West. Later, refracted through medieval institutions, reclaimed in the Renaissance, and re-appropriated in the Enlightenment, this classical patrimony continued to exercise a decisive influence in shaping the culture and the politics of Europe.
What is missing from that is, of course, Christianity. Which seems somewhat odd in view of the fact that Fredriksen is a historian of Christianity. True, there is a passing reference to medieval institutions”which I suppose is intended, by a considerable stretch, to cover the history of Christendom, including Augustine, Benedict, Abelard, Anselm, Dominic, the Gregorian Reform, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and the Puritan errand into the wilderness that became America. But the ideas and ideals that define our culture and what we most value are, at most, incidentally refracted through all that. Their source, reclaimed by Renaissance and Enlightenment, is ancient Greece and Rome.
The flagrant prejudice evident in this opening paragraph is carried through the thousands of words that follow. Fredriksen is not an ignorant person. How then to explain her mendacious rendering of the history of the ideas and ideals that define our culture except by a deep prejudice against Christianity? Of course, similarly distorted accounts can be found in many widely used textbooks. Fredriksen is to be commended for affirming, against powerfully assertive academic fashions, that there is such a thing as Western Civilization and that it is worthy of being valued. Yet her bowdlerized history of that civilization is at the root of the deepest divisions in our society.
What is called the culture war is not simply about this or that question disputed in the public square. It is most basically about the narrative of who we are. When Fredriksen says our culture, she means the continuum from ancient Greece and Rome that modernity restored after a medieval (i.e., Christian) digression. Her culture is the culture also of many others in the academy, especially in the humanities. That culture is a counterfactual and fanciful intellectual construct. It reflects the same prejudice that rejected the mention of Christianity in the preamble to the constitution of the European Union.
In historical fact, in honest scholarship, and in popular understanding, our cultural narrative is predominantly that of Jerusalem, which in the form of Christianity, and through centuries of conflict and devotion, appropriated, transmitted, and transformed also the legacy of Greece and Rome. To speak of our culture without defining reference to Jerusalem”to Sinai and Calvary, to Moses and Jesus, to the permutations of Christianity and the protests against its hegemony”is to speak of a culture not recognizable to the overwhelming majority of Americans. It is not recognizable because it is false. It is, in its sedately academic way, countercultural. What is called the culture war runs very deep.
While We’re At It
It was far from the most important development as the Terri Schiavo case seized the nation’s attention, but it should not go unremarked. There were repeated statements by the Holy See, statements by William Cardinal Keeler of the pro-life office, by the bishops conference, by numerous individual bishops, and by the bishops of Florida collectively. All spoke with one voice on the moral impermissibility of killing Ms. Schiavo by removing her food and hydration. And then there was the statement by Bishop Robert N. Lynch, former general secretary of the bishops conference and bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, where Ms. Schiavo’s family lives. Bishop Lynch said, At the end of the day (the judicial, legislative days) the decision to remove Terri’s artificial feeding tube will be that of her husband, Michael. Of course, it is precisely this that the national protest and the extraordinary actions by Congress and the president aimed to prevent. There is no way of reading Bishop Lynch’s statement without concluding that he thinks the final decision should have been made by Michael Schiavo, who for years aggressively pursued his goal of making his wife dead. Compounding the inexplicability of his statement, Bishop Lynch compares the circumstance to one in which families of the person in extremis agree that it is time to allow the Lord to call a loved one to Himself, feeling that they have done all they possibly might to provide alternatives to death, every possible treatment protocol which might be helpful has been attempted. Anyone who has paid even cursory attention to the Schiavo case, and it seems the whole world paid more than cursory attention, knows that no part of that description applies to Ms. Schiavo’s circumstance. Bishop Lynch proposes a single focus of achieving the best result for Terri. The best result for Terri, we are given to understand, is that she should be dead. This is her own bishop speaking. How could the bishop be so astonishingly ignorant of her circumstance? Could it be anything other than willful ignorance, which entails grave moral culpability? I am only asking questions, but they are questions that his fellow bishops should be asking of Bishop Lynch. What is not a question but is an indisputable fact is that the bishop has”whatever his intention”publicly rejected the Church’s clear teaching on the care of the disabled and has lent the authority of his office to those whose undeniable purpose is to kill Ms. Schiavo. To my knowledge, no bishop or other church authority has publicly admonished Bishop Lynch for his very public offense. After the recent sex abuse scandals, there was much talk about the need for fraternal correction among bishops. Was it just talk? Again, I am only asking.
Contributions to deep moral reflection on the Terri Schiavo ordeal came from many quarters. Herewith excerpts from Salon s interview with Jesuit Father John Paris, Walsh Professor of Bioethics at Boston College. Salon asks what the Schiavo case is really about. Paris: The power of the Christian right. This case has nothing to do with the legal issues involving a feeding tube. Salon : Are there any extenuating circumstances? Paris: The law is clear, the medicine is clear, the ethics is clear. Salon asks how Fr. Paris squares his view with the Pope’s statement that denying food and water is euthanasia by omission? Paris: There are some radical right-to-lifers there [in the Vatican], and they got that statement out . . . . His comment wasn’t doctrinal statement, it wasn’t an encyclical, it wasn’t a papal pronouncement. It was a speech at a meeting of right-to-lifers. Fr. Paris admits to being surprised by the response to the Schiavo case. I hadn’t anticipated the power of the Christian right. They elected him [George W. Bush], and now he dances. Boston College is a school in the Jesuit tradition.
Criticizing Robert Sloan’s leadership, a former president of Baylor says, Faculty are not here to engage in religiosity. They’re here to teach algebra, political science, the best way they know how, which is to me the Christian way to do it. This is the two truths heresy with which Sloan, and other presidents of Christian colleges, have had to contend. There is the truth of fact and science, on the one hand, and the truth of Christian faith, on the other. Ne’er the twain shall meet, except at the level of subjective intentionality. Baylor is caught up in Texas Baptist politics but also, writes Robert Benne, in the question of Baptist identity. Nonfundamentalist Baptists are in a quandary about who they are today . . . . The Sloan administration has proposed a view of Baptists as orthodox, doctrinal, evangelical, ecumenical, and in the Free Church tradition. It affirms that Christianity has intellectual content that should be shared by all Christians, and that provides the substance for serious faith/learning encounter. It has bolstered the university by inviting Christians from the great magisterial traditions”Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran”to enrich the rather thin Baptist intellectual tradition. It has hired and nurtured Baptists who are open to this kind of ecumen icity. Some might question whether the great magisterial traditions of Lutheranism and Calvinism survive today outside distinctly unecumenical groups such as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church or the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. But Benne is right that scholars formed in those traditions do have, along with Catholics, intellectual resources for joining faith and reason that are largely absent from the Baptist tradition of anti-traditionalism and, too often, anti-intellectualism. Sloan’s candid acknowledgment of this Baptist intellectual deficit was no doubt a factor in his troubled efforts to cope with Texas Baptist politics.
The times they are a-changin’”which is the one thing you can count on not to change. A couple of years ago, Colleen Carroll took a lot of people by surprise with her book The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy . An engaging case study in that larger phenomenon is now on offer in Matthew Lickona’s Swimming with Scapulars: True Confessions of a Young Catholic (Loyola, 278 pages,, $19.95
). I will not be surprised if this becomes something of a niche classic. Lickona and his wife Deirdre are graduates of Thomas Aquinas College in California and live with their four (as of this writing) children in La Mesa, California, where he is staff writer for the San Diego Reader , an alternative newspaper. Alternative is the word for the ever-ancient, ever-new way of life they are striving to live, a life of self-discipline and spiritual struggles joined to the hilarity and high adventure of Catholic fidelity. (Four days into the honeymoon they were still virgins because, being committed to Natural Family Planning, the time was not right for Deirdre.) Thomas Aquinas is among the more prominent of alternative Catholic colleges established in recent decades, and this charming and frequently crazy book serves as a report card on what such schools are producing. If the Lickonas are representative, a rigorous (they would say vigorous) orthodoxy results in a way of being Catholic that has left behind the stale liberal-vs.-conservative squabbles about what went wrong and what went right after the Second Vatican Council and has moved on to living the faith in all its fullness. Theirs is not a return to the Catholic ghetto or subculture, nor are they part of an angry counter-culture. Rather, Lickona provides a delightfully high-spirited and candid account of living Catholicism as though it were true, scapulars included. The author is in lively engagement with the surrounding culture and the problems encountered by those who have chosen another way. Let’s be open and clean, he writes. Let’s drag this out into the light and discuss. Let’s not be shocked and resentful; let’s love the lonely. Perhaps, coming from a fanatic, the message of God’s love will regain some of its wonderful outrageousness. Listen. I have a secret. I eat God, and I have His life in me. It’s the best thing in the world; it leads to everlasting life. But first, you have to die to yourself.’ There is a good deal of Matthew Lickona’s self in Swimming with Scapulars , but with the guidance of St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church a new man is manifestly a-borning. This book may not be a portent of the Catholic future, but it is a compelling account of the Catholic present as experienced by a growing number of young people who have dared to accept Christ’s invitation to put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. In catching, Matthew Lickona has been caught, and with winsome enthusiasm he recommends the experiment to others. The times they are a-changin’.
Stanley Milgram died”writes John Darley, professor of psychology at Princeton”leaving us with the knowledge that evil is not inherent in all of us, yet showing us how evil can be performed by essentially ordinary people. Well, yes and no. Stanley Milgram, it may be remembered, was a man famous, or infamous, for his obedience studies conducted at Yale in the 1960s. He recruited people from New Haven who would serve as teachers in administering a test to learners. When the learners made a mistake, the teachers would, at Milgram’s orders, administer an electrical shock. What the teachers did not know is that learners were actors who would fake severe pain, sometimes crying out for mercy. The key thing is that the teachers, when told to do so, would administer more and more severe shocks, even to the point of apparently endangering the lives of the actor-learners. Milgram described the results in a memo to the National Science Foundation: In a naïve moment some time ago, I once wondered whether in all of the United States a vicious government could find enough moral imbeciles to meet the personnel requirements of a national system of death camps, of the sort that were maintained in [Nazi] Germany. I am now beginning to think that the full complement could be recruited in New Haven. A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act, and without pangs of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority.In his review of a new book on Milgram, The Man Who Shocked the World by Thomas Blass, Darley describes his own research in support of a somewhat different theory called situationalism. The theory, which he says is currently dominant, holds that the major determinant of a person’s actions is construction and internal representation of the meaning of the situation. He admits that such a statement may seem obvious, and it does. He cites an experiment in which a research subject would stay in a room filling with acrid smoke, if two others also stayed. This presumably demonstrates a propensity to conform. In another experiment, a real student will conform by giving a wrong measurement of a line, if play-acting students also do. Half a dozen of these others, whom the subject perceived to be equally naïve subjects, one by one all gave an obviously false answer to a simple perceptual question, which involved the length of a line that they could all see. The naïve subject often conformed. I suppose some subjects were cowardly conformists, but others, seeing apparently bright students giving an apparently wrong answer, may have figured that the others knew something that they didn’t. As a theory, situationalism, like so many academic theories, seems embarrassingly self-evident. Who does not, in ways both worthy and ignoble, tailor his actions in ways appropriate to what he perceives to be his situation? That is true of both the craven and the heroic. That there are more cowards than heroes does not come as news. Which brings us back to the knowledge that evil is not inherent in all of us, yet evil can be performed by essentially ordinary people. Evil is not inherent in us, if by inherent one means it is intrinsic to being human. Otherwise, Adam before the fall and Christ would not be truly human. Christ, the new Adam, is more truly human by virtue of being sinless. However ethically dubious were Stanley Milgram’s obedience studies, and however he may have over-dramatized the results by invoking the Holocaust, he discovered nothing that should surprise those who are aware of Original Sin, which is aptly described as the only Christian doctrine that can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. At the time and still today, Milgram’s work was thought to be so controversial, in large part, because it offended against the delusion of the morally innocent and self-directed rational self. To the extent that he exposed that delusion, he rendered a service.
Civic friendship. What a beautiful idea, but in our rancorous political climate some might be excused for thinking it is a pipe dream. In an instructive little book published by the Acton Institute, Trial by Fury , by law professor (and First Things contributor) Ronald Rychlak, applies the idea of civic friendship to tort reform. Here is how a tort system that encourages accepting responsibility in the context of community relations ought to work: Those who have been harmed know that the legal system will guarantee that they are compensated, and those who have committed the harm know that society ultimately will not let them avoid responsibility. Above all those without genuine claims will know that neither will the legal system permit their compensation nor will society condone their immorality. This knowledge encourages potential litigants to resolve disputes justly and privately. The perceived superiority of courtroom justice over personal interaction ( civic friendship ) is neither part of Christian social thought, nor historically corroborated, and it is very harmful to the community and to justice itself. As the tort law system evolved over the past several decades, however, it has moved away from practices that promote community relations. Courts lowered barriers to litigation, dismantled immunities, lessened causation requirements, and increased monetary awards. These developments have transformed the legal landscape and the message that the tort system carries. Rychlak thinks tort reform is on the way and proposes some directions: Effective tort reform, therefore, must return the system to one based on fault and causation, that holds responsible those who caused the damage, makes the injured whole, and does not impose upon the innocent. This will require careful examination of the current incentives that exist to the filing of lawsuits, especially class action lawsuits. Among the first matters to be considered would be the restoration of some form of immunities to entities that are today held responsible for actions that are outside of their scope of responsibilities. At the very least, the concept of awarding punitive damages against charities and governmental agencies must be revisited. Judges and juries also need to have more structured guidance regarding punitive damages in all cases. A loser pays system for attorney fees would also go a long way toward easing the fear currently felt by so many individuals and entities in the society. Civic friendship. An idea that is not only beautiful but, if we have the will and the wit for it, maybe possible.
At Boston College in March, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, D.C., once again addressed the question of Catholics in public life. In the course of his remarks, he offers an interesting account of his much-controverted use, at the June 2004 meeting of the American bishops, of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s communication on exclusion from communion. He adds, This, of course, did not stop the media critics on the extremes who continued their tactics of promoting division in the Church. Without knowing who he has in mind, I really do not believe that, for instance, Commonweal and the Wanderer are out to divide the Church. Cardinal McCarrick is on more solid ground when he notes that the larger question is the proper disposition in receiving the Blessed Sacrament: This is not only for politicians but for all of us. Many of us believe that the reception of the Eucharist in our churches has become something of a habitual practice and without the kind of prayerful preparation that it always needs to have. The way that it is organized in large churches, which tend to empty out row after row to approach the altar, promotes this kind of communion without thought or without the necessary preparation. On the specific question of politicians who publicly and persistently oppose Catholic teaching on the culture of life, it would be good if the bishops could achieve greater clarity and unity in pastoral practice before the next electoral cycle is in full swing. One hopes that those bishops who in 2004 said they needed time to pastorally engage offending politicians have been energetically applying themselves to such engagement. The excuse is still heard that such engagement would appear to be partisan because it would likely involve more Democrats than Republicans. To which it needs only to be observed that the parties and the candidates are responsible for their positions, as the bishops are responsible for firmly and persuasively asserting the teaching of the Church.
Some Muslims in the United States have suggested that apostasy from Islam should be discouraged by law. Syed Mumtaz Ali, president of the Canadian Society of Muslims, argues that Canada’s multicultural policy of granting group rights should allow Muslims to punish apostasy and blasphemy in their communities. In deference to non-Muslim sensibilities, Mumtaz adds that this need not necessarily entail enforcing the Islamic punishment of death for such crimes. In fact, Muslims who commit apostasy, mainly by conversion to Christianity, are very few in number. According to the International Bulletin of Missionary Research , Christians and Muslims both send the bulk of their missionaries to people of their own faiths. In this sense, the foreign missionary enterprise of the world’s two largest religions is largely an attempt to renew their own traditions. As, we may hope, Canadians will maintain their tradition of taking a dim view of people who kill or otherwise punish people for exercising religious freedom or saying uncomplimentary things about Islam.
Of the thousands of books that deserve a review, relatively few get reviewed here or elsewhere. Sometimes we plan a review but, for one reason or another, it doesn’t pan out. Happily, that can be partially remedied by borrowing, as I here borrow from Daniel J. Mahoney’s excellent review of Samuel Gregg’s On Ordered Liberty: A Treatise on the Free Society . Writing in the Journal of Markets & Morality , Mahoney notes: On Ordered Liberty exposes the radical limitations of utilitarian thinking and shows that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in the philosophy of academic liberalism. It also provides a much-needed alternative to libertarian dogmatism in all its forms. It shows that there is nothing authentically liberal about an approach that fails to distinguish between better and worse preferences and that refuses to acknowledge any rationally discernable distinction between the noble and the base. In truth, Gregg’s real target is not utilitarianism, as he declares, but rather the contractualism’ that is at the heart of post-Hobbesian political thought. Social contract theorizing denies the naturalness of the political community and affirms that those authoritative institutions (family, church, and other intermediate institutions) that civilize and socialize human beings lack legitimacy because they limit the free choices of autonomous human beings. Defenders of the free society must finally choose between the contractualist and conventionalist denial of the Good and a more truthful and salutary concept of human freedom. They must choose between an older liberalism that freely acknowledged the dependence of modern freedom on premodern moral capital and a liberty that refuses to bow even before the requirements of Truth. It is to Samuel Gregg’s great credit that his book so thoughtfully clarifies this inescapable battle for the heart and soul of liberalism.
People of a delicate sensibility were made uneasy by Terri Schiavo’s being forced to die of hunger and thirst. Hurrying to the aid of the morally scrupulous, the New York Times offered the assurance of Dr. Sean Morrison of Mount Sinai School of Medici