The timing, it seems, could not have been worse. In last month’s issue I offered my considered and heartfelt defense of Father Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, against unfounded charges of sexual abuse. I meant and I mean every word of what I said there. Just after the issue had gone to press, however, scandals involving sexual abuse by priests in Boston exploded, creating a level of public outrage and suspicion that may be unparalleled in recent history. The climate is not conducive to calm or careful thought about priests and sexual molestation. Outrage and suspicion readily lead to excess, but, with respect to developments in Boston, it is not easy to say how much outrage and suspicion is too much.
Professor Philip Jenkins of Penn State University has written extensively on sexual abuse by priests, also in these pages (see “The Uses of Clerical Scandal,” February 1996). He is an acute student of the ways in which the media, lawyers, and insurance companies-along with angry Catholics, both liberal and conservative-are practiced at exploiting scandal in the service of their several interests. Scholars point out that the incidence of abusing children or minors is no greater, and may be less, among priests than among Protestant clergy, teachers, social workers, and similar professions. But, it is noted, Catholic clergy are more attractive targets for lawsuits because the entire diocese or archdiocese can be sued. That is a legal liability of the Church’s hierarchical structure. Moreover, the expressions of outrage by many in the media are attended by an ulterior agenda, namely, discrediting the Catholic teaching on human sexuality, about which they are genuinely outraged. These and other considerations can and should be taken into account, but the tragic fact remains that great wrongs have been done, and there is no avoiding the conclusion that, in Boston and elsewhere, some bishops bear a heavy burden of responsibility.
Children have been hurt, solemn vows have been betrayed, and a false sense of compassion-joined to a protective clericalism-has apparently permitted some priests to do terrible things again and again. For some Catholics, this is a time that will test their faith in Christ and his Church, as distinct from their faith in the holiness, or even competence, of some of the Church’s leaders. Catholics used to be good at that sort of thing, pointing to figures such as Alexander VI (Pope from 1492 to 1503) whose thorough corruption-he gained the papacy by bribery and used it to benefit his illegitimate children-was thought to prove that the truth of the Church and the validity of her sacraments were not dependent upon the holiness of her leaders. In the fourth century, the Donatist heretics took the opposite position, and Catholics have been exuberant in their condemnation of Donatism. We all have a steep stake in the rightness of that condemnation. At the same time, the orthodoxy of anti-Donatism is not to be confused with moral indifference. All three synoptic gospels report the warning of Jesus about those who corrupt the innocence of children. “It would be better for him if a millstone were tied around his neck and he were cast into the depths of the sea.”
Conformed to the Culture
The current scandals constitute a painful moment of truth for bishops, heads of religious orders, and others responsible for the moral integrity of the Church’s ministry. More often than not, the priests allegedly involved in these scandals are now in their sixties and seventies or even older. They received their formation and were ordained in the 1960s and 1970s when, in addition to false compassion and clerical protectiveness, there was in sectors of the Church a wink-and-a-nudge attitude toward what were viewed as sexual peccadilloes. Anyone who was around during those years, and had eyes to see, knows that was the case. Ecumenically, and especially among clergy involved in social activism, both Protestant and Catholic, there was frequent confusion and laxity with respect to sexual morality-heterosexual, homosexual, and unspecified. That is deplorable but should not surprise. In this way, too, the institutions of religion are too often conformed to the culture of which they are part.
Among Catholics, the situation is generally very different with today’s seminarians and younger priests. It is not unusual to encounter priests who claim they were ordained in, say, the 1970s with the expectation that the celibacy requirement would be abandoned within a few years. Many of them have since left the active priesthood. For others, the “acceptance” of homosexuality and the rejection of every form of “homophobia” was clearly the approved attitude. Today, I think it fair to say that seminarians and younger priests know beyond doubt what is expected of them in terms of faithfulness to the Church’s teaching. But the penalty for past laxity and malfeasance is now coming due, and has been coming due since the reality of sexual abuse by priests was brought to public attention more than a decade ago. Of course the Church will survive, and more than survive, but I expect this storm is not going to pass any time soon. I expect we have not yet seen its full fury. I very much wish that I were more confident than I am that every bishop understands that there can now be no returning to business as usual. The word crisis is much overused, but this is a crisis.
Despite all the talk about the pervasive “nonjudgmentalism” in our culture, about some things judgments are much harsher today. In anything having to do with children, for instance, what some viewed as embarrassing misbehavior in the 1970s was, by the 1990s, viewed as a heinous crime. Psychological theory, law, and public attitudes have all changed dramatically. The very subject of homosexuality was, not so very long ago, pretty much in the closet. Like most people, bishops did not know, or did not want to know, about rude things that men did together, and sometimes did with little boys. Today’s scandals notwithstanding, there was something to be said for such reticence and naiveté, even if the naiveté was sometimes feigned. When it comes to priestly adherence to the Church’s teaching, zero tolerance must now be the order of the day. The enforcement of zero tolerance, in this connection and others, can lead to ridiculous extremes and can inhibit natural and healthy interactions, especially in working with young people, but that, too, is probably part of the price to be paid.
There was a similar sense of crisis following the first public revelations of sexual abuse by priests in the mid-eighties, but then the issue receded after CNN notoriously sensationalized charges against the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago in 1993 and the charges turned out to be false. That incident helped remind people that priests, too, are to be deemed innocent until proven guilty. In the current climate of outrage, we need to be reminded of that truth again. Unbridled outrage can too easily become hysteria. One recalls that during the same period, there was a blizzard of criminal charges and lawsuits over alleged abuses, including satanic rituals and other grotesqueries, perpetrated by people working in day care centers. Whole communities around the country were caught up in a frenzy of mutual recriminations, and many people went to jail, until the heroic and almost single-handed work of Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal exposed the madness for what it was.
Among the potential casualties of the present scandal is severe damage to what has historically been called the “liberty of the Church” to govern her own affairs. Catholics have a distinct tradition of canon law that goes back to the Council of Nicaea in 325 and took lasting form with Gratian’s Decretum in the twelfth century. This history of ecclesiastical liberty is basic to the various exemptions and immunities in current law and practice that protect religious freedom not just for Catholics but for everyone. The right of religious institutions to govern themselves may be gravely eroded under pressure from lawyers, insurance companies, and the state. The ruthlessness of many in the legal profession should not be underestimated. As Peter Steinfels writes in the New York Times, it has now been “discovered that lawyers for plaintiffs could play hardball, too, inflating charges and using the news media to play on public fears and prejudices in hopes of embarrassing the Church into settlements.” With respect to self-governance, “confidentiality” is now commonly translated as “secrecy” and “discretion” as “evasion.” The cultural revolution popularized the slogan that the personal is the political. So also, it now seems, the religious is the political, and the legal. All of life is to be lived on the front pages or in the courtroom, or at least under the threat of the front pages and the courtroom.
News reports claiming that a certain number of priests have been charged with abuse and that the claims were settled out of court must not be interpreted to mean that the priests are guilty. Some of them insisted and insist that they are innocent, but bishops were advised by lawyers and insurance companies that a legal defense against the charges would cost much more than settlement out of court, and could well end up in a guilty verdict entailing even greater financial liability. In some cases, settlements were agreed to with the guarantee that they would remain forever confidential. In Boston, that guarantee has now been broken by court order. This can be seen as an ominous encroachment by the state on the Church’s right to self-governance. It can also be argued that the Church forfeited that right by failing to govern itself, and by surrendering episcopal governance to lawyers and insurance companies.
At least in some cases, there can be no question of the state’s legitimate interest. To cite the most notorious instance, that of the defrocked John Geoghan, he is already convicted of one criminal act, and is charged with many more. Sin is the business of the Church, and crime is the business of the state. There was once a time, centuries ago, when there were ecclesiastical courts to deal with clerics who committed sins that were also crimes. Although it had no standing in law, that way of handling things continued in a vestigial and informal way up to our day. If the cops suspected Father of criminal activity, it was reported to the bishop in the confidence that he would take care of it. No more.
Another potential casualty is an erosion of confidence in the possibility of repentance and amendment of life. Such confidence is dismissed as “naive” when it comes to priests being given another chance. But the belief in the power of the grace of God to transform lives is at the heart of Christian faith, and is overwhelmingly supported by Scripture and the experience of innumerable Christians. Belief in the gift of grace, however, is perfectly consistent with knowing that the gift is not always effectively received. When a priest repents after being caught dipping into the collection plate, there is forgiveness. There is even forgiveness, if he is repentant, after he has done it several times, but there are also secure measures for denying him access to the collection plate. Children and the integrity of sacred vows are immeasurably more valuable than the collection plate. It is now evident that it is much easier to keep violators away from collection plates than to keep them away from children.
The Meaning of Episcopos
Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston was already in 1993 thought to be taking a “hard line,” going through diocesan files to find any cases in which priests had believably been accused of molestation, and trying to make sure they were not assigned to positions involving regular work with minors. It now seems obvious that some priests eluded such scrutiny. In other cases assignments were made on the basis of medical and psychological counsel that at the time was thought to be perfectly sound. There were also experts who warned that simply getting rid of a priest would loose a sexual predator on the society. The beating that Cardinal Law has taken is, in large part, because of his inability to anticipate changes in medical and psychological thinking about sex abuse and sex abusers. At the same time, the medicalizing of gross wrongdoing too often lets ever-changing psychological theory trump commonsense judgments about sin and its consequences. In any event, Cardinal Law has confessed that, in all of this, he has made “tragic mistakes.” It is not possible to disagree. The word bishop is derived from the Greek episcopos, which means overseer, and there would seem to be no doubt that there have been grave deficiencies in the moral oversight of some of the clergy of Boston.
An outraged reader writes that, if I do not publicly call for Cardinal Law’s resignation, I am clearly “circling the ecclesiastical wagons in defense of the indefensible.” Nonsense. Saying who should be placed or replaced as a bishop is way above my pay grade. Many people, including many devout and orthodox Catholics, are calling for the Cardinal’s resignation. A wire service story is headed, “Boston Cardinal Vows to Stay, Despite Poll Numbers.” In the Catholic Church, bishops do not run for election. Nor are they to be viewed, or at least not chiefly, as CEOs of a corporation. In the Catholic Church, a bishop is a successor to the apostles appointed to his see by the Bishop of Rome. The bishop’s task is “to teach, to sanctify, and to govern.” Cardinal Law has been an outstanding teacher of the faith, and was instrumental, not incidentally, in producing the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Nobody can complain about his fidelity to his sacramental duties. In the third task, that of governing oversight, he has, as he has confessed, made tragic mistakes. His future as Archbishop of Boston is a matter between him, his conscience, and the Pope. He may conclude that the effectiveness of his ministry in Boston has been crippled beyond repair. I sincerely hope not. His resignation would be a severe loss to the Church in the United States. Nor dare we despair of God’s bringing great good out of these terrible events. There cannot help but be a deeper awareness of sin, its consequences, and our radical dependence upon grace-and such deepened awareness is a precondition for spiritual renewal.
There is an unseemly readiness on the part of many, including some Catholics, to believe the worst. What we know for sure is wretched enough. We would not know what we do know without the reporting of the Boston Globe. It is pointed out that the Globe, like its owner the New York Times, is no friend of the Church. The suggestion is not that we should kill the messenger, but that we should be keenly aware that the messenger has, on issue after issue, points to score against the teaching and claims of the Catholic Church; that the messenger is not a neutral party. All that is true, but it is of limited pertinence. It is also true that Catholics should not be apologetic about wanting to defend the Church. It is their duty. Doing that duty, however, is not incompatible with, but in fact requires, a recognition that, in this case as in so many others through history, leaders of the Church are guilty of giving ammunition to those who would attack her. Throughout his pontificate, John Paul II has been urging such a candid recognition, which is at the heart of our understanding that the Church is a community of sinners called to be saints.
That having been said, what has happened in Boston is inexcusable. Those responsible can be forgiven, but what they did cannot be excused. And again, Boston is not an isolated instance. Catholics and others who wish the Church well should be braced for the probability that the storm of scandal is by no means past. It will only be magnified if bishops and heads of religious orders have not learned from what happened in Boston. They must take the governance of the Church back from lawyers, insurance companies, spin doctors, blackmailers, and priests who are misguidedly protective of colleagues engaged in great evil. Meanwhile, these pages will continue to address this crisis-closely, candidly, and with a wrenching sadness tempered by, I pray, the virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
The New Criterion and Mark Steyn are well matched. The former, edited by Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball, delivers each month a sophisticated thumb in the eye to the several cultural elites who exuberantly undermine culture in the cause of anti-elitism. Steyn, who, in addition to his contributions to the New Criterion, appears regularly in the London Spectator, Canada’s National Post, and almost everywhere else worth reading, wields what may be the most humorously devastating pen in today’s culture wars. Kramer and Kimball invited him to be part of their series on “the survival of culture,” and in the course of his contribution on multicultural madnesses Mr. Steyn illustrates his argument by reference to a strange development that has been discussed from time to time in these pages. Steyn notes that shortly after September 11, a resolution came before Congress to observe “Native American Month.” The resolution contained the usual platitudes, and then this: “Native American governments developed the fundamental principles of freedom of speech and separation of powers in government, and these principles form the foundation of the United States Government today.” The reference is to the Iroquois Confederation, which, multiculturalists would have us believe, served as the blueprint for the U.S. Constitution. Mr. Steyn then makes the connection to the aforementioned strange development:
“Until relatively recently in Canada, many natives went to ‘residential schools’ run by the Christian churches on behalf of the federal government. They learned the same things children learned in other schools: there was a map on the wall showing a quarter of the globe colored red for the Queen-Empress’ realms; there was Shakespeare and Robert Louis Stevenson, and ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume’; there was not a lot about the Iroquois Confederation. No doubt, as in any other school system, there were a number of randy teachers and sadistic brutes.
“In the Nineties, a few middle-aged alumni came forward to claim they’d been ‘abused’ while at the residential schools. How did the churches react? Here is Archbishop Michael Peers, the Anglican Primate of Canada, making his first public statement on the matter in 1993: ‘I am sorry, more sorry that I can say,’ he said, ‘that in our schools so many were abused physically, sexually, culturally, emotionally.’
“At that point, there was not one whit of evidence that there was any widespread, systemic physical or sexual abuse in the residential schools. There is still none. But His Grace had lapsed reflexively into a tone that will be all too familiar to anybody who’s attended an Anglican service anywhere outside of Africa or the Pacific isles in the last thirty years. In the Sixties, ‘Peter Simple,’ the great satirist whose work appears in the Daily Telegraph, invented a character called Dr. Spacely Trellis, the ‘go-ahead Bishop of Bevindon,’ whose every sermon on the social issues of the day reached a climax with the words, ‘We are all guilty!’ Riddled with self-doubt and an enthusiastic pioneer of the peculiar masochism that now afflicts the West, the Anglican Church has for years enjoyed the strange frisson of moral superiority that comes from blanket advertising of one’s own failures. It was surely only a matter of time before some litigious types took them at their own estimation.
“So, in the wake of Archbishop Peer’s sweeping declaration of his own guilt, more victims spoke up-dozens, hundreds, totaling eventually some fifteen thousand ‘survivors’ with some five thousand claims of damages. Though none has yet been tested in a court of law, by 1999 the costs of merely responding to the charges were threatening to bankrupt not just the several Protestant and Catholic dioceses but the entirety of both churches throughout Canada. Yet still the clergymen felt it would be bad form to defend themselves. A United Church of Canada employee, John Siebert, spent six years researching the history of residential schools and their impact on native culture and pointed out several helpful facts:
• Native children were not forced to abandon their own beliefs and become Christians; in 1871, before the first residential school ever opened, 96 percent of Canada’s Indians identified themselves as either Anglican or Catholic.
• When, over the years, the Federal Government and the churches wanted to close residential schools, it was the Indian bands (the tribal councils) that wanted to keep them open.
• . . . ah, but there’s no point even going on. The defendants weren’t looking for a defense, only a way to plea-bargain themselves into oblivion.
“So Mr. Seibert’s former employers at the UCC wrote to the papers, indignantly dissociating themselves from his position, facts notwithstanding: ‘It is the position of the United Church that the national residential schools system was an integral part of a national policy intended to assimilate First Nations people into the dominant Euro-Canadian culture,’ they said. ‘There are simply too many stories of the pain and cultural loss experienced by survivors of the residential schools system to conclude that this policy and its expression in the residential schools system represents anything but a profound failure in the history of the relationship between First Nations and non-First Nations peoples.’ With defendants like this, who needs plaintiffs? The Canadian Government, a codefendant, prepared for an optimistically priced out-of-court settlement of some $2 billion, split between fifteen thousand ‘survivors’ of ‘crimes’ never recognized by any court.
“Nonetheless, ‘pain and cultural loss’ are categories worth separating. Is it possible even the horniest vicars could sodomize fifteen thousand kids? Well, no. Ninety percent of the claims are for the vaguer offense of ‘cultural genocide,’ a crime we’ll be hearing a lot more of in the future. ‘Cultural genocide’ is similar to traditional forms of genocide-such as being herded into ovens or hacked to pieces with machetes-but with the happy benefit, from the plaintiff’s point of view, that you personally won’t have to be killed in order to have a case. All you need are blurry accusations, historical resentments, and a hefty dose of false-memory syndrome. Against craven clerics like the Anglican Church, that’s more than enough.”
“Craven clerics” may seem somewhat harsh. They understand themselves to be practicing the virtue of sensitivity, which, if it is a virtue worth practicing, is worth practicing to excess, even to excruciating excess. There must be a better word than craven.
I remember many years ago being taken aback when at a dinner party a friend concluded her vigorous defense of Israeli policy with the seemingly off-hand remark, “But of course, in the long run, Israel won’t survive.” When I pressed her, she explained that the Arabs, with such overwhelming numbers, will never be reconciled to the existence of Israel on “their” land. In other words, demography is destiny. It is true that the twenty-two nations of the Arab League have a fast-growing population of 300 million, compared with less than six million in Israel, with more than a million of those being Arabs. The population imbalance will become ever more dramatic, and Israel is such a small sliver of territory in such a vast region. I am no longer surprised when I hear people, including some in positions of considerable influence, say, usually sotto voce, that Israel will not survive “in the long run.”
In this connection, I took note of a Commentary article by Norman Podhoretz-a more hawkish hawk on Israel than whom is not to be found-in which he argues that there is, in fact, no “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians. Responding to Podhoretz, Ron Unz, the prominent California businessman and political activist, wrote: “As someone whose grandparents helped found Israel, I felt immense sadness after reading Norman Podhoretz’s powerful analysis. There appear to be only two possible outcomes to this conflict. Israel may eventually choose to . . . exterminate or expel Palestinians from Israel and the West Bank. Or the endless bloodshed will produce an accelerating exodus of Israeli Jews to America and other more peaceful and affluent places, eventually leading to a collapse of the Jewish state. Since I doubt that Israel will ever develop a consensus for killing or expelling millions of Palestinians, I expect the country’s trajectory to follow that of the Crusader kingdoms, surviving for seventy or eighty years after its establishment in 1948 and then collapsing under continual Muslim pressure and flagging ideological commitment.”
I was even more impressed by Podhoretz’s response to Unz: “I do not accept that Israel will wind up as another Crusader kingdom. . . . It would be foolish to dismiss this possibility altogether. . . . But I am still convinced that, if the Israelis can hold on tight against the forces [Unz] specifies, the day may yet come when the Arab world will call off the war it has been waging against the Jewish state since 1948.” He agrees that killing or expelling millions of Palestinians is simply not an option. He then goes on to say that much depends on whether the U.S., in its current war against terrorism, treats Israel as a partner rather than an obstacle to its purposes in the Middle East. But there is a wan note to Podhoretz’s response to Unz’s prognosis: “I do not accept . . . I am still convinced . . . if the Israelis can . . . the day may yet come.” And this from the archenemy of any hint of defeatism. I do not say this in criticism of Podhoretz. But it does seem to me that, for the first time in a very long time, there is now an explicitness about-and in some quarters an openness to-the possibility that Israel will not make it, and I find this profoundly troubling.
In Patrick Buchanan’s new book, The Death of the West, he reports a conversation with former President Richard Nixon, known as a strong supporter of Israel. Buchanan’s wife Shelley asked Nixon if Israel will survive. In the long run? he responded. He then turned his hand and put his thumb down. The answer was No.
What would it mean for the future of Judaism and world Jewry (the two are not separable) were the state of Israel to disappear? Of course I do not know. Nobody does. I don’t mean what would happen if Israel was obliterated by an Arab atomic bomb, as some Arabs contemplate with relish. I mean, rather, the prospect of Israel being abandoned by Jews as a noble but failed Zionist dream. I suppose it is possible that five million Jews could go elsewhere, mainly to America, and flourish in security. It seems more than possible that a substantial number would, remembering Masada, be determined to die with the dream.
These are grim and unwelcome thoughts. As too many people are eager to remind us, Israel is doing bad things to the Palestinians. And, as too many fail to say, Palestinians are doing bad things to Israelis, and it is not always easy to sort out which is action and which reaction, which is aggression and which defense. There should be no difficulty, however, in sorting out the difference between the one party that has the declared purpose of destroying or expelling the other party, and the other party that wants only to live in security and peace. This, I think, we know for sure: there could be a real peace process and a real peace if the Arabs believably accepted a sovereign Jewish state in their midst. This, sadly, does not seem to be in the offing. So maybe the present conflict will go on for another five years. Ten years? Sixty years? How long is “the long run”? I may be wrong, but it seems to me that more supporters of Israel are asking that question, and asking it out loud. I’m not sure what should be made of that, but I am sure it is not unimportant.
Mainlining in the Basement
Winston Churchill once observed of Clement Attlee: “He is a modest man, with a great deal to be modest about.” There is the appearance of considerable modesty in Charles T. Matthewes’ essay in Theology Today, “Reconsidering the Role of Mainline Churches in Public Life.” Do not be misled by the snappy title. The essay is a low-key reflection on what has happened to oldline Protestantism since the days when the “church and society” bureaucracies of the United Methodists, Presbyterians (USA), United Church of Christ, et al. made public waves with their perpetually prophetic pronouncements styled as “speaking truth to power.” Although much reduced, those bureaucracies are still in place, but they are not even mentioned by Mr. Matthewes, who appears to be skirting the embarrassment of their failure by turning it into a virtue.
Matthewes, who teaches religious studies at the University of Virginia, takes as his text a new study by Robert Wuthnow of Princeton, The Quiet Voice of God: Faith-Based Activism and Mainline Protestantism. The study finds that “the mainline’s typical forms of involvement in civic life and public discourse are multitudinous and subterranean,” of the kind that often go unnoticed. The mainline is not “noisy” like the religious right but is “quietly influential.” A chief source of its influence is in providing space for numerous civic activities, many of them not “Christianly indexed” (i.e., they are not specifically Christian). By providing space, Mr. Matthewes means, quite literally, providing space, as in letting all kinds of groups meet in their otherwise empty church facilities. “To place these findings in conversation with Robert Putnam’s work on social capital,” Matthewes writes, “mainline Protestant church basements may save us from bowling alone.” He continues, “Whether or not the public square is ‘naked,’ as Richard Neuhaus suggested, might depend on whether or not one thinks that church meeting halls are part of the public square.”
Church basements are multitudinous and subterranean, and yes, they can be seen as part of the public square, but that is not what I chiefly meant by the public square, nor what oldline Protestantism meant by the public square back in its noisy days before it was forced to take refuge in the conclusion that God’s voice is very quiet. The noteworthy item in the Wuthnow-Matthewes view, however, is the suggestion that, whether publicly prominent or publicly ignored, the voice of mainline Protestantism is the voice of God.
Matthewes does not assume that all is well, and he calls for some changes. For instance, for mainliners there needs to be a stronger connection “between what happens on Sunday mornings and what happens during the rest of the week.” Connecting Sunday morning with real life: it may not be thinking outside the box, but it’s hard to argue with it. Matthewes approves of the idea that the civic order has its own integrity quite apart from any specifically Christian reference, and he cites Martin Luther’s famous maxim, “Better to be ruled by a wise Turk than a stupid Christian.” (The evidence from exhaustive research is that Luther never said that, but it is certainly what he might have said, if he had thought to say it.) But, Matthewes writes, wise Christians should also participate in politics, and to do so they need a better theological grounding. In that connection he recommends a reappropriation of the thought of the brothers Niebuhr, Reinhold and H. Richard. Back to the future, as it were.
Another suggested source of proposed mainline renewal is identification with the salvific experience of African-Americans. “What if,” Matthewes asks, “white people began talking about white people as already burdened (just by being white) with a special ‘original sin’ of racial privilege?” What if, indeed. I suppose it could have the perverse effect of making white people feel even more special. And mainline white people must already feel very special, what with bearing the burden of being the quiet voice of God in public life and all that. But it appears the mainline has no choice; there is nobody else to take on these burdens. “The two largest alternatives, evangelical Protestantism and Roman Catholicism,” Matthewes writes, “cannot replace the mainline churches’ historically beneficial effects on civic life.”
The evangelicals can’t do it because they are “too well integrated in the society to provide much new social capital,” and because they are too “political” in what he calls the narrow sense. With that I am simply at a loss. Does he mean that members of the Assemblies of God are more socially established or more at home in American society than, say, Presbyterians? That seems unlikely. As for political action, we have a number of studies showing that evangelicals and their churches tend not to be activist, but when they do act they tend to get noticed, especially by liberals who assume that liberals have a copyright on “speaking truth to power.”
Nor are Catholics up to replacing the indispensable mainline. Matthewes writes that, while Catholics provide “much of the intellectual impetus” for public action, “their stronger hierarchical inheritance will be a stumbling block for cultivating the necessary sort of ‘republican’ civic spirit.” Alas, it seems that Alexis de Tocqueville and John Courtney Murray, who argued that Catholicism is particularly well suited to cultivate republican virtue, have lived in vain. Paul Blanshard, thou hast conquered! Mr. Matthewes does allow that Catholics may have a larger role to play in the public square if they become less Catholic and more like mainline Protestants. The author winds down with this: “The mainline ‘civic style,’ then, remains the most viable form for religious groups to influence American society today and in the foreseeable future, and thus to have some say in the culture that so profoundly affects their lives.”
The Mainline Deserves Better
Among many commentaries on the dispiriting spectacle of establishment Protestantism’s decline from the mainline to the oldline to the sideline, Mr. Matthewes’ is notably depressing. There is a continuity in the story, however, and it is to be found in the mainline’s abiding smugness. The appearance of modesty is misleading, even though there is today so very much for the mainline to be modest about. From the late-nineteenth-century social gospel crusade aimed at “Christianizing America and Americanizing Christianity,” through the modernist triumph over fundamentalism in the 1920s, through the faux-prophetic radicalisms of the 1960s and consequent marginalization, mainline Protestantism has never doubted that it speaks for God. It’s only that now God is speaking very quietly. In the church basement. Through voices that are not necessarily “Christianly indexed.”
Joshing aside, oldline Protestantism and its place in our public life is an important subject. And it is true, as the prophet Elijah learned, that God sometimes does speak in “a still, small voice.” There are many voices in American Christianity, and none should assume that it is the voice of God. The most theologically confident and publicly effective voices today are evangelical Protestant and Catholic. The cultural and political hegemony of the old mainline has long since collapsed. This does not mean that the mainline has collapsed. While national and regional structures may be largely ignored, while church and society bureaucracies may be discredited, and while cooperative efforts such as the National Council of Churches are only waiting for a date to be set for their funeral, it is worth remembering that approximately one-third of the Christians in this country still belong to local churches associated with the old mainline. And across the country one can find oldline congregations that are vibrantly alive in their very specifically Christian faith and mission.
“Reconsidering the Role of Mainline Churches in Public Life” is a good thing to do. But it is not helpful when done as a nostalgic exercise in the afterglow of a hegemony long lost, or as a desperate grasp for moral legitimacy in identification with black victimhood, or by the smug equation of its voice with the voice of God, or on the anti-ecumenical and thoroughly sectarian premise that its identity is derived from invidious comparison with evangelicals and Catholics. The churches that are heirs to what was once the mainline are deserving of better than that.
Plain Talk About “Muslim Rage”
We are told by President Bush that the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan is just the beginning of the war on terrorism. Yet I am struck by how many pundits and news reports give the impression that that was an isolated action; all that is left is a clean-up operation and then it’s back to the world as usual. Our December 2001 editorial, “In a Time of War,” asserted that, whatever happens next, power relationships in the world have already been dramatically reconfigured by September 11. At the center of that reconfiguration is Islam, as a religion and a culture. In that editorial, we cited Bernard Lewis, doyen of Western students of Islam, on how the resentment and rage of most of the billion Muslims in the world came to be targeted on the United States. Many Middle East “experts” and those who teach in Islamic studies departments in this country have been telling us for a long time, and continue to tell us, that the “Muslim problem” is really the “American problem”; that terrorism is, if not excusable, at least understandable in view of the nasty things we have done to Muslims, and especially to Arab Muslims.
Of course, it is always imperative to work at better understanding, to clear up misunderstandings, to build bridges, and even, if possible, replace conflict with peaceful dialogue. Such were the aims of Pope John Paul II with his January 24 gathering of world religious leaders at Assisi. Such efforts, no matter how futile they may sometimes seem, are to be wholeheartedly and prayerfully supported. It is absolutely necessary that de-politicized space be created for conversation about, and mutual recognition of, our common humanity and our accountability to a judgment that transcends our animosities and clashes. In no way should such efforts be dismissed as soft, idealistic, or utopian. “How many divisions does the pope have?” Stalin cynically asked. Those who did not know the answer before were amply instructed by the fall of Soviet communism. In politics among nations, as everywhere else, it is a crackpot “realism” that derides the importance of culture and ideas, and especially the commanding ideas associated with religion.
It is precisely in order to achieve peaceful understanding that we need plain talk about what stands in the way of such understanding. Victor Davis Hanson, a military historian and foreign policy analyst, provides such plain talk in “Why the Muslims Misjudged Us” (City Journal, Winter 2002). “The catastrophe of the Muslim world,” he writes, is that its leadership recognizes the failure of their societies but then “seeks to fault others for its own self-created fiasco. Government spokesmen in the Middle East should ignore the nonsense of the cultural relativists and discredited Marxists and have the courage to say that they are poor because their populations are nearly half illiterate, that their governments are not free, that their economies are not open, and that their fundamentalists impede scientific inquiry, unpopular expression, and cultural exchange.” Chances for better understanding are now much reduced. “Tragically, the immediate prospects for improvement are dismal, inasmuch as the war against terrorism has further isolated the Middle East. Travel, foreign education, and academic exchanges, the only sources of future hope for the Arab world, have screeched to a halt. All the conferences in Cairo about Western bias and media distortion cannot hide this self-inflicted catastrophe and the growing ostracism and suspicion of Middle Easterners in the West.”
Muslim autocrats make threatening noises about the dire consequences for the West if they are provoked. Hanson writes: “There is an abyss between such rhetoric and the world we actually live in, an abyss called power. Out of politeness, we needn’t crow over the relative military capability of one billion Muslims and 300 million Americans; but we should remember that the lethal 2,500-year Western way of war is the reflection of very different ideas about personal freedom, civic militarism, individuality on the battlefield, military technology, logistics, decisive battle, group discipline, civilian audit, and the dissemination and proliferation of knowledge.” Hanson is undoubtedly right about that, although the potential destructive power of terrorism is, by definition, in its indifference to the “Western way of war.”
Here is how he depicts the larger picture: “Values and traditions—not guns, germs, and steel—explain why a tiny Greece of fifty thousand square miles crushed a Persia twenty times larger; why Rome, not Carthage, created world government; why Cortes was in Tenochtitlán, and Montezuma not in Barcelona; why gunpowder in its home in China was a pastime for the elite while, when stolen and brought to Europe, it became a deadly and ever evolving weapon of the masses. Even at the nadir of Western power in the medieval ages, a Europe divided by religion and fragmented into feudal states could still send thousands of thugs into the Holy Land, while a supposedly ascendant Islam had neither the ships nor the skill nor the logistics to wage jihad in Scotland or Brittany. Much is made of five hundred years of Ottoman dominance over a feuding Orthodox, Christian, and Protestant West; but the sultans were powerful largely to the degree that they crafted alliances with a distrustful France and the warring Italian city-states, copied the Arsenal at Venice, turned out replicas of Italian and German cannon, and moved their capital to European Constantinople. Moreover, their dominance amounted only to a rough naval parity with the West on the old Roman Mediterranean; they never came close to the conquest of the heart of Western Europe.” That rings true, except for their never coming close. At least at the time, both Christians and Muslims thought the confrontation leading up to Vienna 1683 was a very close-run thing.
Today, however, it is a matter, above all, of culture. “We are militarily strong, and the Arab world abjectly weak, not because of greater courage, superior numbers, higher IQs, more ores, or better weather, but because of our culture. When it comes to war, one billion people and the world’s oil are not nearly as valuable military assets as MIT, West Point, the U.S. House of Representatives, C-Span, Bill O’Reilly, and the GI Bill. Between Xerxes on his peacock throne overlooking Salamis and Saddam on his balcony reviewing his troops, between the Greeks arguing and debating before they rowed out with Themistocles and the Americans haranguing one another on the eve of the Gulf War, lies a 2,500-year tradition that explains why the rest of the world copies its weapons, uniforms, and military organization from us, not vice versa.”
If Israel Did Not Exist . . .
Also in this country, there are many who claim that Israel is at the heart of this confrontation. Much more is that the claim in the Middle East. “Millions in the Middle East are obsessed with Israel, whether they live in sight of Tel Aviv or thousands of miles away. Their fury doesn’t spring solely from genuine dismay over the hundreds of Muslims Israel has killed on the West Bank; after all, Saddam Hussein butchered hundreds of thousands of Shiites, Kurds, and Iranians, while few in Cairo or Damascus said a word. Syria’s Assad liquidated perhaps twenty thousand in sight of Israel, without a single demonstration in any Arab capital. The murder of some 100,000 Muslims in Algeria and 40,000 in Chechnya in the last decade provoked few intellectuals in the Middle East to call for a pan-Islamic protest. Clearly, the anger derives not from the tragic tally of the fallen but from Islamic rage that Israelis have defeated Muslims on the battlefield repeatedly, decisively, at will, and without modesty. If Israel were not so successful, free, and haughty, if it were beleaguered and tottering on the verge of ruin, perhaps it would be tolerated. But in a sea of totalitarianism and government-induced poverty, a relatively successful economy and a stable culture arising out of scrub and desert clearly irks its less successful neighbors. Envy, as the historian Thucydides reminds us, is a powerful emotion and has caused not a few wars.
“If Israel did not exist, the Arab world, in its current fit of denial, would have to invent something like it to vent its frustrations. That is not to say there may not be legitimate concerns in the struggle over Palestine, but merely that for millions of Muslims the fight over such small real estate stems from a deep psychological wound. It isn’t about lebensraum or some actual physical threat. Israel is a constant reminder that it is a nation’s culture—not its geography or size or magnitude of its oil reserves—that determines its wealth or freedom. For the Middle East to make peace with Israel would be to declare war on itself, to admit that its own fundamental way of doing business—not the Jews—makes it poor, sick, and weak.”
As for the U.S., its financial aid to Israel has to be weighed against the many billions of dollars that go to the Palestinians, Egypt, Jordan, and other Muslim countries. In addition, there is this: “Far from egging on Israel, the United States actually restrains the Israeli military, whose organization and discipline, along with the sophisticated Israeli arms industry, make it quite capable of annihilating nearly all its bellicose neighbors without American aid. Should the United States withdraw from active participation in the Middle East and let the contestants settle their differences on the battlefield, Israel, not the Arab world, would win. The military record of four previous conflicts does not lie. Arafat should remember who saved him in Lebanon; it was no power in the Middle East that brokered his exodus and parted the waves of Israeli planes and tanks for his safe passage to the desert.”
Loving What They Hate
We will remember what too many Muslims forget, writes Hanson. “The Muslim world suffers from political amnesia, we now have learned, and so has forgotten not only Arafat’s resurrection but also American help to beleaguered Afghanis, terrified Kuwaitis, helpless Kurds and Shiites, starving Somalis, and defenseless Bosnians—direct intervention that has cost the United States much more treasure and lives than mere economic aid for Israel ever did. They forget; but we remember the Palestinians cheering in Nablus hours after thousands of our innocents were incinerated in New York and the hagiographic posters of a mass murderer in the streets of Muslim capitals.”
“Even in the crucible of war,” Hanson writes, “we have discovered that our worst critics love us in the concrete as much as they hate us in the abstract.” The concrete evidence of their love, if that is what it is, is that they want to come here and to send their children here. Hanson asks, “Why do so many of these anti-Americans, who profess hatred of the West and reverence for the purity of an energized Islam or a fiery Palestine, enroll in Chico State or UCLA instead of madrassas in Pakistan or military academies in Iraq? The embarrassing answer would explain nearly everything, from bin Laden to the intifada. Dads and moms who watch Al-Jazeera and scream in the street at the Great Satan really would prefer that their children have dollars, an annual CAT scan, a good lawyer, air conditioning, and Levis in American hell than be without toilet paper, suffer from intestinal parasites, deal with the secret police, and squint with uncorrected vision in the Islamic paradise of Cairo, Teheran, and Gaza. Such a fundamental and intolerable paradox in the very core of a man’s heart—multiplied millions of times over—is not a healthy thing either for them or for us.”
Hanson ends on the note of friendly counsel: “So a neighborly bit of advice for our Islamic friends and their spokesmen abroad: topple your pillars of ignorance and the edifice of your anti-Americanism. Try to seek difficult answers from within to even more difficult questions without. Do not blame others for problems that are largely self-created or seek solutions over here when your answers are mostly at home. Please, think hard about what you are saying and writing about the deaths of thousands of Americans and your relationship with the United States. America has been a friend more often than not to you. But now you are on the verge of turning its people—who create, not follow, government—into an enemy: a very angry and powerful enemy that may be yours for a long, long time to come.”
I’m sure that some might complain that Hanson’s critique of Muslim venting is but another form of venting. I don’t think so. I am reminded, rather, of Dr. Johnson’s observation that clear thinking begins with clearing the mind of cant. The reconfiguration of world politics since September 11 offers nought for our comfort. Almost unbelievable has been the obtuseness and mendacity of Muslim organizations in this country. They continue to act as though nothing fundamental has changed; they are just another poor minority being picked on by a prejudiced majority. Because of the incorrigible niceness of Americans, they can get away with that most of the time. But continued denials and evasions about the evils perpetrated in the name of Islam and of Muslims seem almost suicidal. Again and again, one wants to cry out, “Please, please do not say that.” They keep digging themselves into an ever deeper hole. We must continue to hope that voices of candor and correction will emerge from the Muslim world, both here and abroad. Meanwhile, I think Hanson got it about right in explaining why they misjudge us, and why we must brace ourselves for the duration, which is likely to be very, very long.
The Uses of Confrontation
I first met the late Saul Alinsky when I was a very young pastor in black Brooklyn. It was at the Urban Institute in Chicago, which in the 1960s was at the center of honing young clergy, Protestant and Catholic, for urban ministries. Alinsky was already then a fabled veteran of confrontational activism, an amiably rough man who was loquaciously exultant in communicating his discovery that the Catholic Church was the lever with which to move the world, or, as it was put then, to radically change The System. The Catholics had the resources and the people, while Protestant clergy, with usually dwindling city parishes, had the time and energy for agitation. In that first meeting, there were perhaps thirty younger clergy and seminarians in the room. Alinsky began with this: “If there’s anybody here who has any ideas about becoming a bishop some day, he should leave right now.” I was impressed.
Alinsky’s books Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals were hot items in their time. His lasting contribution is the Industrial Areas Foundation, which is still going strong today. IAF recruits local churches to challenge “the power structure” on behalf of radical change by “pitting power against power.” Power is, as IAF organizers unabashedly proclaim, the only game in town. (A good introduction to IAF goals and tactics, written from an admiring perspective, is Jim Rooney’s Organizing the South Bronx, available in paperback from State University of New York Press.) IAF is reported to have more than sixty-five affiliated organizations around the country, and claims to represent, through its affiliates, millions of people. In its boot camps for organizers, IAF prides itself on taking an unsentimental and brutally realistic approach to the power struggle. The purpose is to “wean church people off the conventional religious expectation” that their role is to achieve dialogue and cooperation. The goal is to win, and the means is confrontation and conflict. The tactic, as Rooney explains, is to unambiguously target a vulnerable public official or an institution as “the enemy,” to very publicly defeat the enemy, and then build on the momentum to attack the next vulnerable target.
The IAF approach is very political and unapologetically partisan. IAF as an organization usually keeps a low profile. It has, for instance, no website, although it is the directing force behind coalitions such as BUILD in Baltimore, WIN in Washington, D.C., and numerous similar campaigns. South Bronx Churches (SBC) is among affiliates that have an impressive record in marshaling public and private resources for low-income housing, although not without stepping on the toes of a Catholic urban coalition that it upstaged. Stepping on toes, indeed stomping on toes, is the ordinary operating procedure for IAF and its affiliates. Critics of IAF say it is “divisive” and has the unhappy effect of “politicizing” churches, to which IAF leaders happily plead guilty. Readers of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities will remember his account of the riotous mass mugging of New York’s mayor (a stand-in for Ed Koch), a classic IAF-style confrontation. At the same time, and I have some ambivalence about this, IAF leaders have said they are promoting the “mediating institutions” approach to public policy advocated by Peter Berger and me in our To Empower People.
Over the years, readers have asked about IAF, usually occasioned by the involvement or proposed involvement of their local churches. My standard response has been that I have known IAF leaders, on and off, over many years, that they do have a heart for creating leaders for sometimes necessary social change, but that intention is joined to a manipulative methodology and a tendency to use religion for narrowly partisan purposes. In short: look very carefully at what you may be getting into. One reader, Edward H. Sisson, a Washington lawyer, has looked very carefully indeed and does not at all like what he has found. He was a member of the vestry of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bethesda, Maryland, when that parish was invited to join an IAF affiliate known as Action in Montgomery (AIM). After his investigation of IAF’s history and methods, he strongly opposed joining. He is willing to make the very substantial file he accumulated on IAF available to readers who send him $20 (for duplication and mailing costs) at 555 Twelfth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004. In my judgment, the material raises substantial questions that should be considered by any church thinking about signing up with an IAF project.
Saul Alinsky died many years ago. In the 1960s he was viewed as part of a mainly Jewish world of the Old Left dating from the 1930s. Some leftists committed to a Marxist version of class struggle condemned him as a dangerous revisionist. Then and now, IAF cannot always be easily slotted on the left-right spectrum. The problems, including moral problems, arise in connection with recruiting religion to a methodology of unremitting confrontation, deliberate polarization, targeting of “enemies,” and obsession with power. But, it is said, it is all in a good cause. Maybe so. A Lutheran pastor who is a friend of long standing has worked with IAF for decades. “Sure we use tough street talk to rouse the people and get the attention of the establishment,” he says, “but the most effective and most devout Christian leaders I know have come out of this program.” Such testimonies are not hard to come by, and they, too, should be weighed by churches thinking about joining up with IAF.
While We’re At It
• Playing fast and loose with fasting would seem to be another instance of what is aptly described as the “destabilizing” of the Catholic ethos. The bar has been so lowered that what officially counts as fasting today is tantamount to a moderate and well-balanced diet. That is not what the Scriptures or the fathers meant by fasting: a rigorous self-discipline whereby appetites are brought under control in order to sharpen prayerful adhesion to God. But here is a Lenten reflection from the bishops’ Secretariat for Liturgy announcing that “Lenten fasting can encompass fasting from food, sin, ignorance, violence, and apathy.” Really? Fasting from ignorance? We read, “Lent is a time to fast from violence and to witness ‘the peace the world cannot give.’“ We are encouraged to ask, “Do I avoid not just the violence of hands, but also the cruel words born of angry hearts, the thoughtless gossip,” etc., etc. So if one does not commit adultery, is he fasting from adultery? This is impossibly muddled. Fasting is not refusing to do bad things but the spiritually purposeful giving up of good things. Like food. Once upon a time, everybody knew that. Many still do. Little thanks to the professional destabilizers.
• The professor from Nowhere strikes again. More than two billion dollars have been raised for victims of September 11. Private gifts, combined with various government programs, will result in some families getting more than a million dollars. Peter Singer of Princeton writes in Slate, “Questions of justice immediately arise.” Ah ha! One would expect no less from the gimlet-eyed professor whom some call the most influential living philosopher in the world. He goes on to offer a typically utilitarian consideration: “It makes sense for the community to reward the families of those who die while bravely trying to save others, for doing so both recognizes and encourages acts of great benefit to the community.” But then he gets to his main complaint: that more people in the world die of hunger every day than died on September 11, and the U.S. is, compared to other nations, a piker when it comes to the percentage of wealth given to world organizations dealing with economic development. Singer ends with this: “Americans are fond of talking of their belief in human equality, but it seems that their circle of concern drops off sharply once it gets to the boundary of their own nation. The sums donated to the victims of Sept. 11 show this once again. We would be a better nation if our generosity was more closely related to need and less closely tied to whether someone is a fellow citizen, or a victim of terrorism, or even a hero.” Well, yes, in the utilitarian Nowhere where each counts as one and none counts as more than one, that makes a kind of sense. Perhaps there are people who would say, “I see where three thousand people died in New York because of a terrorist attack. But twenty-seven thousand children died of hunger in poor countries the same day. So I’ll give five dollars to a fund for the New York victims and fifty dollars to UNICEF. On second thought, since the victims in New York are already dead and not much can be done for them, and since others will give generously to their survivors, I’ll give all my money to hungry children who might still be helped.” Singer himself, in a brief touch-down in Somewhere, offered the thin utilitarian justification of rewarding and thus encouraging acts that benefit the community. He seems impervious, however, to the fact that most Americans, with good reason, do not share his naive confidence in international organizations that claim to help the poor, and he is only slightly more appreciative of the fact that billions of dollars and thousands of American lives are devoted to helping the poor in other countries, usually under religious auspices. Most drearily predictable, however, is Singer’s almost total lack of understanding or sympathy for the very human phenomenon of a great outburst of generosity in response to the unprecedented attack of September 11. Such a response is not logical, it does not conform to a utilitarian calculus of distributive judgment. And of course he is right. I have noted before Chesterton’s observation that the problem with madmen (including mad ethicists) is not that they are not logical but that they are only logical. Extending people’s concerns for others in need is a very good thing to do, but it is not likely to be accomplished by churlish complaints about uncalculated generosity or by the guiltmongering to which Prof. Singer is prone. Much wiser is the celebration of the generous response to September 11, in the hope that generosity breeds generosity all around.
• “The His-and-Hers Bible” is Emily Nussbaum’s response to the brouhaha over Today’s New International Version of the Bible. Writing in the New York Times Magazine, Nussbaum concludes: “To translate the Bible this way is understandably tempting, but it’s also a lie. I’m reminded of a modern Orthodox coworker I once had, who said, ‘Look, being Jewish is a game with a set of rules: go ahead and move the pieces anyplace you want, but don’t call it chess.’ A truly gender-neutral interpretation of the Bible would quickly begin to fall apart at the seams—laws about rape or slavery rising up like invisible ink from ancient parchment. One solution, of course, is to reject the Bible entirely. Another is to regard it merely as a parable whose historical foundation can be ignored. But for anyone who wants to take religion seriously, neither solution truly suits. Instead, it seems necessary to confront the contradictions in the text—to keep the pronouns as they are and wrestle instead with the messy truth, like, well, manly Jacob with his angel. It’s a more difficult task, but it’s the only honest way out.” A friend cautions me that conservatives who count Ms. Nussbaum as an ally in the Bible-translation wars should know that she also runs a soft-porn website. On the other hand, that may simply be evidence of her expertise in wrestling with contradiction.
• With shrinking membership and influence, the mainline/oldline Protestant denominations are also running into trouble with their publishing houses. Westminster/John Knox (Presbyterian) is a merger of two houses, as is Augsburg Fortress (ELCA Lutheran). Along with Pilgrim (United Church of Christ) and the United Methodist Publishing House, which includes the Abingdon imprint, they are searching for a more profitable “niche.” Augsburg Fortress announced losses of $4 million for the first three quarters of 2001, and has sharply cut back on staff. A common explanation is that these houses are in trouble because they no longer serve the denominations to which they belong, while others claim that the larger problem is that the denominations have so lost touch with what made them distinctive that nobody knows what a Methodist, or Lutheran, or Presbyterian “niche” might look like. In this view, a generalized Protestantismby little other than liberal leanings and not being Catholic or Orthodox-simply cannot sustain inherited denominational institutions, including publishing houses.
• For eighty years, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (a.k.a. Jehovah’s Witnesses) raged first against the League of Nations and then against the United Nations as the “Great Babylon” predicted in the Book of Revelation. A British journalist reported in passing that, in fact, since 1991 the organization has been a fully accredited nongovernmental organization at the UN, which means it had to subscribe to the UN charter and agree to publicize its objectives. The revelation sparked a storm of protests from Witnesses, and the group has broken off its ten-year fling with the Great Babylon. While on the Witnesses, you may have seen from time to time press references to the group as “the fastest growing Christian denomination in America,” just as there are frequent references to Islam as “the fastest growing religion in America.” Both are instances of hype. There are about 990,000 Witnesses in America. Despite their aggressive recruitment programs, the number of people leaving by the back door has kept the membership at that level for many years. The fastest growing religious community in America, Christian or otherwise, is the Catholic Church, at sixty-three million and counting.
• The celebration of pseudo-pluralism by the champions of “multi-religious America” is aimed at, among other things, expunging from public life explicit religious faith. See, for a particularly egregious example, Diana Eck’s A New Religious America (“One Nation Under Many Gods,” Public Square, October 2001). Then there is the usually sensible “Houses of Worship” section of the Wall Street Journal plumping for the “Jewish-Christian-Islamic tradition.” It includes the tattered claim—this time by Stephen Prothero of Boston University—that Islam is “the fastest growing religion in the U.S.” Professor Barry Kosmin of City University of New York, one of the most careful and respected authorities on religious demographics, concludes that there are probably fewer than two million Muslims in the country. According to Kosmin and his colleagues, the best estimate is that African-Americans are about one-quarter of that two million. He notes in passing that Muslims are under 2 percent of the black population, while 6 percent of blacks are Catholics. Eck and others peddle their version of “religious pluralism” in explicit opposition to the idea of “Christian America.” There are, as we have often discussed in these pages, many problems with the idea of Christian America. Denying the demographic reality of Christian America, however, is not a good way of addressing those problems.
• Clear thinking on the much muddled question of homosexuality is rare, but that is what is offered by Paul Campos, law professor at the University of Colorado. The Rev. Scott Landis, pastor of a fashionable Congregationalist church in Denver and father of three children, announced to his congregation that he is gay and is terminating his marriage. This met with a standing ovation and an outpouring of “love and compassion” that was exuberantly reported in the Denver Post. Prof. Campos, writing in the Rocky Mountain News, is not quite so certain: “Now the interesting question is, why? We can be sure that if the Rev. Landis had announced to his congregants that he was dumping his wife for the twenty-year-old daughter of one of their number, their reaction would not have been to stand and cheer. Yet surely having an enduring sexual preference for twenty-year-old women is something many a middle-aged man finds he was born with. That biological fact does not excuse him from his social and moral obligations. Why then is the Rev. Landis’ choice treated as an instance of something like heroism? The answer, of course, is that the reverend’s renunciation of his marriage vows can be shoved through the moral laundromat of identity politics. His desires can be attached to a term (being ‘gay’) that magically transforms his infidelity into a species of self-actualization. As there is no analogous term for the middle-aged reverend who manages to achieve self-actualization with the daughter of his neighbor’s wife (actually there is, but it’s not the sort of term one would use as the basis for a political interest group), the latter divine will be out of luck if he should be so imprudent as to turn to his congregants for ‘love and acceptance.’ Like all analogies, this one isn’t exact. A man who has either been consciously suppressing or unconsciously repressing a desire for other men is not in exactly the same situation as an older man who finds that as he ages his desire for young women does not alter nearly as quickly as his age. But he is in a similar situation. The notion that something as psychologically and morally complex as sexual desire fits into neat little boxes labeled ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ serves the interests of the mainstream gay rights movement, and it certainly serves the interests of those who seek absolution at the confessional of identity politics. But things aren’t quite that simple. Matters of the heart never are.”
• According to a study conducted by City University of New York and published in the Jewish Week, 1.4 million Jews say they are Jewish by birth but now identify with another faith, usually Christianity. That’s about one-quarter of the Jewish population of the U.S. Another quarter say they are secular and have no religion, leaving 51 percent of Jews in America claiming Judaism as their religion.
• College and graduate students, along with young professionals, are invited to sign up for the John Paul II Roundtable in connection with World Youth Day events in Toronto at the end of July. The Roundtable is sponsored by a feisty new group, the World Youth Alliance, and features lectures, small group discussions, and other lively exchanges on life issues, the dignity of the person, and Catholic doctrine on what makes for a free and just society. The Roundtable is scheduled for July 25, 2002, and speakers will include, among others, George Weigel, author of Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II, and Father Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute. I’ve agreed to moderate all this, moderate that I am, and am supposed to make a presentation as well. I expect it will be very instructive fun, and edifying to boot. If you’re interested in participating, mail a résumé and a 250-word statement on how your interests and work relate to Catholic social doctrine to Melinda Mounsey, World Youth Alliance, 847A Second Avenue, #502, New York, New York 10017, or visit www.worldyouthalliance.org.
• The Times Literary Supplement is coming up on its hundredth birthday and congratulations are in order. Derwent May has written a book for the occasion, Critical Times, which is reviewed by Joseph Epstein in, of course, the TLS. Bruce Richmond was the first editor, and Epstein writes that “no paper over the past century has done more than the TLS, in Bruce Richmond’s phrase, to ‘irradiate the humanities.’ It has been unrelenting in its insistence on a high standard of scholarship and on the primacy and autonomy of culture. As Alan Pryce-Jones once put it, in another connection, the TLS is for those who ‘find themselves looking at pictures, hearing music, reading in other languages, traveling, correlating as far as possible the whole plan of civilization in which the English faculty at a university occupies only one corner.” Epstein concludes that the TLS is “the perfect paper for the serious dilettante,” which he readily admits to being. About half the circulation of the TLS is outside the UK, with most of that being in the U.S. Our academic and intellectual life (the two being by no means the same thing) would be greatly improved—in my judgment and, I expect, in Epstein’s—were the TLS to have as many readers here as does, for obvious instance, the New York Review of Books. If, as seems possible, there are to be another hundred years, may they not be unaccompanied by the TLS.
• In the fall of 2000, Michael Bellesiles’ book Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture was greeted with high praise by influential reviewers such as Garry Wills and Edmund Morgan. Also by John Wilson, editor of the evangelical Books & Culture, who thought the book deserved a Pulitzer Prize. Bellesiles’ chief claim, that guns were much less common in early America than is generally thought, understandably pleased those in favor of gun control. Then things got interesting. A number of serious historians, joined by Second Amendment activists, began to dig into Bellesiles’ alleged sources and discovered that he had skewed, twisted, and simply fabricated evidence on which his argument rested. Emory University, where he teaches, asked for an explanation and he eventually produced one. Of that explanation Wilson gingerly says, “It was a great disappointment to those who held out hope that he might still mount a credible defense.” Obviously, Wilson, who says he has no ax to grind in the debate over gun control, was among the disappointed. Wilson concludes his reflection on this unhappy affair with this: “Some have said that whatever the flaws of Arming America, the book has opened up a productive debate. Perhaps, though that remains to be seen. As for Bellesiles himself, the future is unclear, but it seems likely that ultimately his career will be ruined. That is the saddest aspect of this whole episode.” There are several things not quite right about that. What might such a “productive debate” be about? Certainly not about the merits of gun control, since the Bellesiles affair can only be powerful ammunition for the gun rights folk in claiming that their opponents deal in gross mendacities. As for Bellesiles’ career as a historian, it is not likely that it will ultimately be ruined; it is ruined now. And why is that “the saddest aspect of this whole episode”? Maybe Mr. Wilson says that because he does not wish to sound as though he is personally whining about the sadness of being taken in by Bellesiles’ fraud. That is understandable, even commendable. But the saddest aspect of all this is that a historian would commit fraud on such a grand scale, and that so many distinguished academics, either through carelessness or political bias, were complicit in promoting his fraud. (The book won the coveted Bancroft Prize in history.) I do not wish to sound unfeeling, but it is not sad at all, in fact it is deeply gratifying, that Mr. Bellesiles was found out and has been punished by the termination of his career as a historian. That is called justice, and getting straight the emotions appropriate to seeing justice done is part of the work of moral clarity. I am sure that Mr. Wilson did not mean to say that Bellesiles’ career should not be ruined, or at least so severely damaged as to require credible repentance and years of penitential labor before it is rehabilitated.
• There is a welcome increase in resources dealing with same-sex attraction, appropriate therapy, and how churches and other groups can be of help. For one fine example, the Catholic Medical Association has put out a thirty-page document, Homosexuality and Hope. It is available by calling toll-free 1-877-CathDoc, or it can be downloaded at www.cathmed.org.
• The Rev. Alexander C. Wilson of Cabot, Pennsylvania, has served small, medium-sized, and large Protestant congregations. The following item appeared here a while back: “The Barna Research Group telephoned 3,764 Protestant churches nationwide and in 40 percent of the calls was not able to get through to anyone, even after calling back as many as twelve times. Half of the churches in the 40 percent did not even have an answering machine. Schedule your crises for eleven o’clock Sunday morning.” On which the Rev. Wilson offers this reflection: “Barna does not realize how many Protestant churches have less than fifty members. About 40 percent of them are under seventy-five members. Many of these small churches have only a part-time pastor, often a lay pastor with another full-time job. There is no secretary on duty to answer the phone. An answering machine? Everyone in the community knows how to get in touch with the pastor or the leaders of the church. In most small communities there is a network of knowledge of need that works superbly. If someone is injured, or in the hospital, or had a fire, within twenty-four hours everyone knows about it, and help is supplied. Answering machines can’t do that. Many small church buildings have a telephone for use only in emergencies, either an emergency at the church, or in the home of someone who is at the church. Our small churches are splendidly efficient at meeting emergencies, usually far better than large churches. . . . Don’t put down the small and effective churches because they don’t have answering machines. They don’t need them. People know where to go to get help. And usually, they don’t have to ask for it. Small churches don’t wait for meetings. The communication of need and the response of love does not depend on machinery.” I wish I had said that.
• Despite the catalogue blurb, we might be giving some review attention to Heidegger’s Atheism by Laurence Paul Hemming. The catalogue says, “Hemming argues [that] Heidegger’s atheism is an implicit critique of theology.” Ah, so, as Charlie Chan might have said.
• Samuel Huntington is a piker with only eight “cultural constellations” that figure in his Clash of Civilizations. David Barrett’s World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press) lists 12,600 cultures of the world in what he calls the Ethnosphere. Barrett and his colleagues have done a most ambitious thing, and a most difficult thing, in trying to sum up the maddeningly diverse state of Christianity in the world, especially since, among Christian groups claiming the greatest growth, statistics are often a matter of enthusiastically inspired guesstimates. One among many statistics that stands out is that in 1981 there were 20,800 denominations, while today there are 34,000. Of course many of these are in the “Independent” category and are post-denominational and pentecostal groups consisting of only one congregation. The Independent category, however, accounts for 27.7 percent of the world’s Christians and 38 percent of the world’s full-time Christian workers. The prayer Ut unum sint (that they may all be one) would, it seems, require an ever greater measure of faith.
• All of a sudden it is proposed as the received wisdom that T. S. Eliot was homosexual. The Times Literary Supplement cites several instances of commentators stating it as though it were a well-known fact, and I’ve seen a couple of such references also on this side of the water. In his authoritative T. S. Eliot, Peter Ackroyd writes: “It would be the tritest form of reductionism to assume that Eliot, because he could not adequately deal with female sexuality, was therefore homosexual.” That’s on page 310, in the event you need the reference when you run into someone who confidently states “what everybody knows” about the sexuality of Eliot.
• Parse this: “We should not allow theology, philosophy, or politics to interfere with the decision we make on this issue.” That’s Congressman Ted Strickland of Ohio insisting that the question of human cloning should be guided solely by the best available science. But how are we to make a decision if the decision is made by science? And who is this fellow Science who makes decisions? Francis Fukuyama writes in the Public Interest, “It is only ‘theology, philosophy, or politics’ that can establish the ends of science and technology. Scientists may help to establish moral rules concerning their own conduct, but they do so not as scientists but as scientifically informed members of a broader political community.” Fukuyama is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics and he insists that “the march of biotechnology is not an unstoppable juggernaut.” He cites a wide range of instances in which we more or less effectively regulate science and technology, such as nuclear weapons, chemical warfare, replacement human body parts, and various drugs. He opposes the libertarian doctrine that defines freedom exclusively in terms of people—whether parents wanting designer children, scientists playing with the creation of new species, or entrepreneurs in search of very big bucks—doing what they want. Fukuyama writes: “But this kind of freedom will be different from all other freedoms that people have previously enjoyed. Political freedom has heretofore meant the freedom to pursue those ends that our natures had established for us. Those ends are not rigidly determined; human nature is very plastic, and we have an enormous range of choices conformable with that nature. But it is not infinitely malleable, and the elements that remain constant—particularly our species-typical gamut of emotional responses—constitute a safe harbor that allows us to connect, potentially, with all other human beings. It may be that we are somehow destined to take up this new kind of freedom, or that the next stage of evolution is one in which, as some have suggested, we will deliberately take charge of our own biological makeup rather than leaving it to the blind forces of natural selection. But if we do, we should do it with our eyes open. Many assume that the posthuman world will look pretty much like our own—free, equal, prosperous, caring, compassionate—only with better health care, longer lives, and perhaps higher levels of intelligence than today. But the posthuman world could be one that is far more hierarchical and competitive than the one that currently exists, and full of social conflict as a result. It could be one in which any notion of shared humanity is lost, because we have mixed human genes with those of so many other species that we no longer have a clear idea of what a human being is. It could be one in which the average person is living well into his or her second century, sitting in a nursing home hoping for an unattainable death. Or it could be the kind of soft tyranny envisioned in Brave New World, in which everyone is healthy and happy but has forgotten the meaning of hope, fear, or struggle. We do not have to accept any of these future worlds under a false banner of liberty, be it that of unlimited reproductive rights or of unfettered scientific inquiry. We do not have to regard ourselves as slaves to inevitable technological progress when that progress does not serve human ends. True freedom means the freedom of political communities to protect the values they hold most dear, and it is that freedom that we need to exercise with regard to the biotechnology revolution today.”
• The Rev. John B. Chane, formerly dean in San Diego, has been elected the new Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C. He is a champion of the ordination of women and non-celibate homosexuals, the blessing of same-sex unions, and the unlimited abortion license. In his talking about himself, the word “prophetic” pops up repeatedly. On social issues in San Diego, the Washington Post admiringly reports, Chane accused utilities of setting “immoral” rates, worked for free needle-exchange programs for drug addicts, and spoke out against what he called “the broad issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia.” It has the makings of a movie: A Prophet Goes to Washington. And a humble prophet at that. When asked his greatest strength, he replied: “I love people. Of all the things I’ve done in parishes I’ve served and the cathedral, if you talk to the people, they will tell you I’m very much a people person and solid pastoral caregiver.” That, mind you, is simply the chief of all the things he might have mentioned. “Bishop-Elect Bold From Start” is the headline of the next day’s story in the Post. Upon his arrival in Washington he issued a “blunt challenge” to the assembled faithful, saying that they must give more generously “if I am to be the compassionate pastor, the engaged congregational visitor, the prophetic preacher and teacher that I believe you have called me to be.” Compassion, engagement, and prophecy must be adequately funded. He explained that resources are necessary “to free your bishop from the administrative conundrums that have literally crucified so many bishops in the Episcopal Church.” Episcopal bishops, and many of them, have been literally crucified? However much some curmudgeons might relish the thought, surely there is a law against that. The Post says that Chane “will take time to assess his new job, the diocese, and the Washington area before tackling new church issues, the city, or the federal government.” So the Episcopal Church, the city, and the nation have a little time to shape up before Bishop Chane unleashes his prophetic fury. Racists, sexists, homophobes, and persons favoring immoral utility rates have been put on notice. (Another successful placement by email@example.com.)
• Here’s an entry for the Only in America Awards. Down in Powhatan, Virginia, there was Huguenot Academy, a private school established by white folk during the era of racial integration. There was also there a school established by Benedictine sisters for lonely Catholics in that part of the country, called Blessed Sacrament. I don’t know the details of how the merger came about, but the new name is wonderful: Blessed Sacrament Huguenot School. Maybe that’s what Paul Tillich had in mind when he spoke of combining Catholic substance and Protestant principle, even if the principal is Catholic.
• On the wooden box containing twenty-five of these quite good cigars from Honduras is imprinted, “This Product Contains/Produces Chemicals Known to the State of California to Cause Cancer, and Birth Defects or Other Reproductive Harms.” That is fascinating. Not, of course, that cigars contain/produce chemicals that, taken in sufficient quantity, are damaging or even lethal. The same is true of Hershey chocolate bars or, for that matter, mother’s milk. No, the interesting thing is the notice that this fact is “known to the State of California.” If it is a fact, it is presumably known to others, including other states and maybe even the people of California. The notice does not say, “According to the State of California, this product, etc.” Nor does it say that “the State of California claims to know, etc.” At the same time, it seems unlikely that the State of California is making a claim to epistemic privilege, as though it knows something that others do not know. Rather, the State of California wants it to be known that it knows. It wants everybody to know that it knows, which is why boxes exported to, for instance, New York carry the notice. Perhaps California law requires the notice on boxes shipped to California, and it’s not worth the bother for the manufacturer to remove it from boxes shipped elsewhere. On the other hand, I would not be surprised if the California law stipulates that anyone shipping boxes there must put the notice on boxes shipped anywhere, just to make sure that everyone knows that the State of California knows. One may wonder why the law requires the words “known to the State of California.” It might seem that the statement would be stronger if it flatly asserted that the product “is known to cause cancer, etc.” But then the State of California would not get credit for its heightened consciousness, which is the presumption of its campaign to californicate America. A constituent part of that effort is, of course, its antismoking crusade, in which it proudly claims to lead the country. Crusades are prone to excess, as, for instance, in California’s antismoking television ads aimed specifically against the smoking of cigars. They depicted a fellow who has seventy cigarettes stuffed in his mouth, with the message that smoking one cigar is equivalent to smoking seventy cigarettes. This backfired in a big way since people, knowing that smoking a cigar or two per day is a pretty temperate thing to do, concluded that smoking seventy cigarettes per day, never mind just a pack or two, must also be all right. But back to the box with the declaration about what is “known to the State of California.” Perhaps it is a claim to epistemic privilege. In that case, given the justifiably jaundiced view of most Americans toward the presumptions of California, the notice on the box may have the happy effect of enhancing respect for the much maligned cigar. (Voice from the peanut gallery: Don’t you have more serious things to write about? The answer is yes, and I admit that the foregoing item is an instance of whimsy in the service of procrastination—without, however, agreeing with the obviously misguided implication in the question that the cigar is not a subject deserving of serious reflection.)
• The Virginia Military Institute, forced by court order a while back to go coed, is now under judicial fire for permitting a spoken (out loud!) prayer at dinner. According to the Associated Press, VMI’s lawyer explained to the federal judge that the prayer “is intended for development of military leaders, not for religious indoctrination.” VMI’s spokeswoman adds that the prayer is voluntary; students are given the opportunity to say a blessing but they are, she says, “to refrain from specific religious references.” A neat trick, if you can do it; like playing a game of sports in general. Law that requires people to say asinine things in defense of what should not need to be defended is, as the fellow said, an ass. VMI lost the case.
• On First Avenue, around the corner from where I live, there are still posters to be seen: “Bloomberg wants to buy your vote for $60 million. Vote for Mark Green.” Green narrowly lost the mayoral race. I suppose there were enough people who wanted that $60 million. They must be very disappointed. Actually, Michael Bloomberg is reported to have spent $69 million on the race and—in response to a question frequently asked—a lot of us are disappointed. Not that much was expected. Bloomberg may be a fiscal conservative, but he’s a social and cultural lefty and stridently pro-abortion. Of course, Rudy Giuliani was also pro-choice, but he invoked the excuse that there was not much a mayor could do about abortion. Bloomberg, by way of contrast, is in your face. With all the problems facing the city and its new mayor, one of his earliest acts was to require all the public teaching hospitals in the city to provide training in doing abortions. (Only two of the eleven public hospitals had made it standard for residents.) On a number of issues, including his treatment of racial charlatans like Al Sharpton as big time players, Bloomberg appears to be reversing the Giuliani course. Of course, that might give a boost to Sharpton’s presidential ambitions for 2004, which would make for great political theater. As for the future of the city, however, some thoughtful New Yorkers are referring to Mayor Doomberg.
• I don’t know what this does to the law that says where orthodoxy is optional it will sooner or later be proscribed, but it is an odd twist. It depends, I suppose, on whether the witch cult called Wiccan qualifies as a kind of orthodoxy. In any event, Mary LeBlanc of Houston joined the Unitarian Fellowship because it “welcomes persons of every religious belief.” It seems the fellowship was too welcoming of her beliefs, wanting her to teach other members how to perform Wiccan rituals. Wiccans, however, practice a form of what might be called closed communion. Ms. LeBlanc states that “only those who are priests or priestesses of the religion may perform this ritual and that it was highly offensive for someone who is not a member of that religion to do public performance of one of their rites.” The next thing she knew, she received a letter from the fellowship notifying her that she “was evicted from membership.” Not only that, but members began to harass her and call her “a humpbacked, toothless, redneck hillbilly witch.” Her lawsuit against the fellowship, claiming millions of dollars in damages, charges that members have acted “with great venom and spite” and have thereby inflicted “emotional distress.” Let the excommunicated Ms. LeBlanc stand as a warning to anyone thinking of joining up with an open-minded spiritual fellowship that welcomes persons of any and every religious belief.
• A chillingly instructive book is Nicholas Wade’s Life Script: How the Human Genome Discoveries Will Transform Medicine and Enhance Your Health. Genomic technologies will proceed, he writes, in “three overlapping waves of innovation which can be called conventional, germ-line, and life-extending.” The conventional seems fairly innocent, involving “gene chips” that will enhance individual medical treatment. Germ-line manipulation is spookier; it involves making genetic changes that will be passed on from generation to generation. The third, life-extending, means increasing the “natural” life span to, say, two hundred years or more. That is part of the “immortality project” about which Leon Kass has written so persuasively in these pages (see “L’Chaim and Its Limits: Why Not Immortality?“ May 2001). Adam Wolfson, who has a key staff position with the President’s Council on Bioethics, discusses how the questions raised by Wade can be publicly deliberated and decided. It will not be easy, he suggests, given the widespread values of “nonjudgmentalism” and “equality,” and the credulity toward science that is aptly called “scientism.” He writes, “Modern science, whose overriding goal is the conquest of the blind forces of nature, is now itself considered a blind force beyond human control.” Four hundred years ago, Francis Bacon wrote that the aim of science is “the relief of man’s estate.” In The Great Instauration he warned: “Lastly, I would address one general admonition to all; that they consider what are the true ends of knowledge, and that they seek it . . . but for the benefit and use of life; and that they perfect and govern it in charity.” Wolfson comments: “In today’s secularized culture, it is increasingly difficult to insist, as Bacon once did, that scientists should be governed by a religious or ethical norm like charity. Such a norm is dismissed as the residue of a faded religious faith, a faith that must not be forced on nonbelievers, or a humanism that has been discredited.” But that is precisely what the President’s Council, and all of us, must insist upon. In a democracy in which more than 90 percent of the people believe in God and what, however confusedly, they call objective moral values (which, pressed not very hard, turn out to be religiously grounded), why on earth should a small minority of atheists be allowed to claim that their presuppositions are the norm for public deliberation? There is no reason whatever for the rest of us to go along with their attempt at an intellectual coup d’état. They are free to try to persuade of us the truth of their presuppositions. Failing that, they are free to find a society that agrees with them. But in a democratic polity, it is we the people, locked in civil argument and contending for what we hold to be true, who are to deliberate and decide the great questions bearing on our common future. That, at least, is the theory, and it is the duty of the President’s Council, and all of us, to try to make it the practice as well.
• In his two-part effusion in the New York Review of Books on what is wrong with the idea of intelligent design and those who advocate it (“Saving Us from Darwin”), Frederick Crews takes some cracks at this journal and the New Criterion, but, given what he takes to be our editorial biases, he’s not much surprised. He writes, “The case of Commentary looks more significant, however, because the magazine is published by the American Jewish Committee and is much concerned with defending Jewish beliefs and affinities.” To those to whom the connection between Darwin and Jewish beliefs and affinities may not be immediately obvious, Crews explains that intelligent designers such as Phillip Johnson and William Dembski are really Christians. Like they really believe that stuff. He got the goods on Dembski, who, he reveals, has written that all truths “find their completion in Christ.” Crews goes on to note, however, that Commentary has a track record of giving a pass to “the evangelical right” in order to secure its neoconservative political alliances. An early instance of that was a 1985 article I did for Commentary, “What Do the Fundamentalists Want?”, that went so far as to suggest that even people such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are American citizens who have a right to take part in the political process. What all this has to do with Darwin and intelligent design may elude some readers, but for the record, Commentary‘s problem, if that is what it is, is not with the “religious right” but more specifically with Catholicism. In recent years it has repeatedly taken its cudgel to beat up on Pius XII for his putative silence about the Holocaust, has favorably reviewed slash-and-burn anti-Catholic polemicists such as James Carroll, and, most recently, has trashed Jewish-Christian (meaning mainly Catholic) theological dialogue, which, we are given to understand, threatens to reduce hostility between Jews and Christians and thus encourage Jewish conversions to Christianity. So Crews may be on to something about “Jewish beliefs and affinities,” at least as those are represented by Commentary, but it is by no means clear what that has to do with the growing criticism, on both philosophical and scientific grounds, of Darwinism. Nonetheless, for an all-stops-pulled and entertainingly wrongheaded assault on the critics, you might want to check out “Saving Us from Darwin.”
• You advised someone not to have an abortion? Be careful. Be very careful. You may be engaged in criminal activity. The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) has enlisted the support of New York’s attorney general, Elliot Spitzer, in claiming that crisis pregnancy centers are violating the law by “advising persons on medical options without being licensed to do so.” There are thousands of such centers around the country, and more than a hundred in New York. Most offer adoption services, placement into maternity homes, free prenatal care, free ultrasounds, free counseling, and free child care supplies and other help after the child is born. And yes, they encourage women not to have an abortion. “This attack,” says Chris Slattery, founder of Expectant Mother Care, “could have ripple effects nationwide. If they can successfully ban counseling by volunteer lay people, this could spread across the country and literally cripple the movement that is the heart and soul of compassionate abortion alternatives counseling.” Slattery’s organization and others are launching a vigorous legal defense, and for that they need money. Write Expectant Mother Care, 210 East 23rd St., 5th Floor, New York, New York 10010.
• The clock is ticking, and many in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee are counting the days, the hours, and even the minutes before Archbishop Rembert Weakland has to submit his resignation at twelve noon on his seventy-fifth birthday. I am told that the champagne bottles will be popped at 12:01 p.m. upon receiving the fax from Rome that the resignation is accepted. Truth to tell, I’ve always had something of a soft spot for the Archbishop. He’s liberally daffy but more amusingly candid than most of that persuasion. Of course he has a very high opinion of himself, but he’s never tried to hide it. I particularly liked his public statement that he would have made a great Bishop of Salzburg in the time of Mozart but ended up as Bishop of Milwaukee in the time of rock and roll. There’s something perversely refreshing about a bishop who doesn’t mind saying that he’s too good for the people he’s called to serve. Or consider his essay in The Catholic Church, Morality, and Politics, an interesting collection of readings in moral theology just published by Paulist Press. The Archbishop takes off from my book, The Catholic Moment, and his point is that it’s not going to happen—and a very good thing, too. He does not share my hopes for cooperation with evangelical Protestants, or what he calls “the religious right.” “In fact,” he writes, “most Catholics are leery of that movement, seeing it as narrow-minded and even dangerous. If at times the position of the United States Conference of Roman Catholic bishops coincides with that of the religious right, it does so out of totally different theological premises.” Totally different? Like the premise that Jesus Christ is Lord? Or that human beings, born and unborn, are a gift from God and are to be legally protected? Or the Apostles’ Creed? The Archbishop is a cultivatedly cultured man (he is, in fact, an accomplished musician), and he is not going to let all that cultivation be compromised by association with those fundies. He also has some very decided ideological views: “The tenets of the politically neoconservative thinkers in the United States, of which group Father Neuhaus is one of the most compelling exponents, are not shared by the majority of American Catholics. The latter do not expect a political Catholic moment to come about through the coalescence of Catholic social teaching, as taught by Pope John Paul II, with a neoconservative agenda. Nor do they expect that this combination will then be embraced by the religious right. They do not accept that the neoconservative agenda is consonant with the teachings of the present Pope or consistent with Catholic social tradition.” The Archbishop’s confidence that the Catholic moment can be warded off rests on his assessment of the Catholic circumstance in this country. “What militates most against a Catholic moment, however, is the lack of cohesiveness among Catholics themselves in the United States.” He writes that Mass attendance has fallen off, that there is “disagreement among Catholics about what they believe, especially in the area of moral teaching,” and that most Catholics “are almost totally illiterate about the teachings, history, and traditions of their faith.” He concludes, “They are independent and critical thinkers.” I am sure the Archbishop does not mean to say that it is a good thing that most Catholics are lax in practice and religiously illiterate. But that seems to be the causal connection with their being “independent and critical thinkers,” which he clearly does think is a good thing. And laxity and illiteracy do serve the useful purpose of militating against the chances of there being anything like a Catholic moment, which he considers a very good thing. As I say, the clock is ticking. I do not say that I will miss Rembert Weakland, since he has declared that, with retirement, he will have even more time for engaging the great issues of Church and society. We would be the poorer without his voice of curmudgeonly reaction against the failure of the revolution that he mistakenly thought was declared by the Second Vatican Council. Such voices are becoming ever more rare and should be cherished, if for no other reason than to remind us of how things used to be before people sensed the promise of a Catholic moment.
• What a century it was. In 1910 a great Protestant missionary conference was held in Edinburgh to plan the evangelization of the world. Fourteen hundred delegates gathered, only eighteen of whom were not from Europe or North America. There was not one African. The assumption, understandably, was that world evangelization meant the expansion of Western Christianity to the rest of the world. Historian Mark Noll of Wheaton College comments: “What actually happened was dramatically different. The surprises as well as the magnitude of developments in the twentieth-century history of Christianity can be illustrated by considering a series of comparisons for present realities of this past week:
• Last Sunday it is probable that more believers attended church in China than in all of so-called Christian Europe.
• Last Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Episcopalians in the United States combined—and the number of Anglicans at church in Nigeria was several times the number in these other African countries.
• Last Sunday more Presbyterians were at church in Ghana than in Scotland, and more were at church in the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa than in the United States.
• Last Sunday more members of the Assemblies of God in Brazil were in church than the combined total of the Assemblies of God and the Church of God in Christ in the United States.
• Last Sunday more people attended the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul (Pastor Paul Young-gi Cho) than attended all of the churches in significant American denominations like the Christian Reformed Church, the Evangelical Free Church, or the Presbyterian Church in America.
• Last Sunday, Roman Catholics in the United States probably worshiped in more languages than at any previous time in American history.
• Last Sunday the churches with the largest attendance in England and France had mostly black congregations.”
• Careful historians such as Noll are generally nervous about making generalizations, but he takes a stab at it: “If it were possible to summarize the momentous changes in world Christianity over the course of the twentieth century, five themes might emerge: First, the decline of Christianity in Europe, as a result of a steady erosion in Western Europe and the traumatic clash with communism in Eastern Europe. Second, the renovation of the Roman Catholic Church, symbolized by the Second Vatican Council, to reflect both cultural conditions of the modern world and the growing presence of the Two-Thirds World in the Church (which now numbers about one billion adherents). Third, the displacement among Protestants of Britain and Germany as the driving agents of Christian expansion by the United States. Fourth, the expansion of Christianity into many regions where the Christian presence had been minimal or nonexistent, including China, Korea, many parts of India, and much of Africa. Fifth, a change in the pressing issues bearing down upon the Christian heartland, from the jaded discontents of advanced Western civilization to the raw life-and-death struggles of poverty, disease, and tribal warfare in non-Western civilizations.” It certainly isn’t what the folks at Edinburgh in 1910 expected, writes Noll, but “what actually happened was much more unexpected, much more intriguing, much more threatening, much more complex, and much more an occasion for praising the Lord who sent his witnesses ‘to the ends of the earth.’”
• Shmuley Boteach, who, it says here, is a “practicing rabbi,” is also the author of very popular books, such as Kosher Sex, which has sold over 1.5 million copies. Here’s an ad for his latest, Judaism for Everyone: Renewing Your Life through the Vibrant Lessons of the Jewish Faith. (It seems the focus group came up with so many buzz words that they decided to use them all in the title.) The Rabbi writes, “Sex is the holiest human experience, the highest form of knowledge.” Holier than studying Torah? Higher than the knowledge of G-d? His fans eagerly await next year’s hot offering, Kosher Idolatry.
• “Can’t you get through an issue without quoting Chesterton?” asks a reader in Chicago. The answer is that it’s not easy. The Chicago critic can skip this item from GKC’s Orthodoxy, but I expect others will relish its wisdom and its pertinence to our present world circumstance, even if they might quibble over the slight to Eastern monasticism. We should, suggests Chesterton, be more careful than we usually are when we speak about Christianity being monotheistic: “If we take any other doctrine that has been called old-fashioned we shall find the case the same. It is the same, for instance, in the deep matter of the Trinity. Unitarians (a sect never to be mentioned without a special respect for their distinguished intellectual dignity and high intellectual honor) are often reformers by the accident that throws so many small sects into such an attitude. But there is nothing in the least liberal or akin to reform in the substitution of pure monotheism for the Trinity. The complex God of the Athanasian Creed may be an enigma for the intellect; but He is far less likely to gather the mystery and cruelty of a Sultan than the lonely god of Omar or Mahomet. The god who is a mere awful unity is not only a king but an Eastern king. The heart of humanity, especially of European humanity, is certainly much more satisfied by the strange hints and symbols that gather round the Trinitarian idea, the image of a council at which mercy pleads as well as justice, the conception of a sort of liberty and variety existing even in the inmost chamber of the world. For Western religion has always felt keenly the idea ‘it is not well for man to be alone.’ The social instinct asserted itself everywhere as when the Eastern idea of hermits was practically expelled by the Western idea of monks. So even asceticism became brotherly; and the Trappists were sociable even when they were silent. If this love of a living complexity be our test, it is certainly healthier to have the Trinitarian religion than the Unitarian. For to us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence)—to us God Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology, and even if I were theologian enough to deal with it directly, it would not be relevant to do so here. Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and open as an English fireside; that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart: but out of the desert, from the dry places and the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone.”
• John Dewey died in 1952, writes a reader, and Deweyism had expired long before that. The complaint is about my giving extensive attention to Dewey in “The American Mind“ (Public Square, December 2001). There I am appreciatively critical of Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club, pointing out that his version of pragmatism as the American philosophy went out with the whimper of Dewey’s 1934 tract, A Common Faith. Dewey correctly saw that his god of democracy could not be sustained without a religious faith, or its functional equivalent. Since it is hard to sell people on a religion that is presented as a functional equivalent of religion, Dewey bit the bullet and called his “common faith” a religion. In doing that, he offended some of his more militantly secularist friends, and ended up converting almost nobody to his very uncommon faith. While Dewey’s project flopped, the idea persists that our society needs shared values and beliefs that are held with religious intensity, and that Christianity or even the Judeo-Christian moral tradition cannot, for various reasons, supply that need. That idea was prominent in what a few years ago was called the communitarian movement championed by Amitai Etzioni, and is evident in Alan Wolfe’s blithe diagnosis of American culture’s religion of Nonjudgmentalism. John Dewey is also very much alive in Eldon Eisenach’s The Next Religious Establishment: National Identity and Political Theology in Post-Protestant America (Rowman & Littlefield). Once again, the assumption is that no religious tradition is inclusive enough to nurture the diverse values of a pluralistic society. What was called mainline Protestantism once tried to do that, and succeeded more or less, but that is history. What is needed now, says Eisenach, is a new “Protestantism without Christianity.” This will require a post-Christian “national theology,” and the only institutions that can produce and disseminate such a theology are the university and, to a lesser extent, the public school. One might note in passing that much of American Protestantism is already and very effectively attending to the job of supplying Protestantism without Christianity. The more pertinent point, however, is that Eisenach’s “next religious establishment” is John Dewey’s “common faith” redivivus. The belief that the contemporary university—run largely by a privileged and self-indulgent elite as a hothouse for the cultivation of resentments against the American experience—can provide a belief system for the guiding and sustaining of this society is, well, not very believable. I see, however, that in the current issue of Theology Today, Peter J. Paris of Princeton Theological Seminary has a very different take on Eisenach’s proposal. “This,” he concludes, “is a novel book that greatly advances the current discourse about public religion and national identity.” That judgment may or may not say something about post-Christian Protestantism at Princeton. In any event, The Next Religious Establishment is as novel as John Dewey’s Common Faith, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “civil religion,” or the religious establishment imposed by the Directoire of the French Revolution. The fabrication of new religions is a perennial project of activist intellectuals who have been and predictably will be frustrated by the disinclination of people to take their religion from their presumed betters, and by the continuing inconvenience of the vitality of Christianity.
• These telephone sales pitches are irritating enough without the stranger at the other end calling me by my first name. I sometimes respond that I didn’t know we were acquainted, and perhaps he would be so kind as to remind me of his name and where we met. I realize that may be a bit snooty, since the poor guy, or gal, is probably instructed to presume. (A graduate student at Harvard to John Kenneth Galbraith: “Do your friends call you John?” Galbraith, looking down from the heights: “My friends call me Kenneth. You may call me Professor Galbraith.”) The purpose of the foregoing is to introduce this by Roger Scruton from “Real Men Have Manners” in City Journal: “In a world organized and disciplined by manners . . . strangers could have confidence in one another. They did not feel threatened in the street or in public gatherings; they negotiated their passage with relaxed, easy gestures. Take manners away, and public space becomes threatening, relations take on a provisional aspect, and people feel naked and exposed. In the absence of manners, law is not the only recourse. You can try to preempt conflict by pretending that you are not living among strangers at all. Thus arises a substitute for manners that, while it generates an inferior ideal of human life, nevertheless enables us to avoid the worst of our frictions. This substitute is informality. Where manners prevail, people stand at a certain distance from one another. They hold themselves in reserve—in just the way that courtship holds sex in reserve. Such reserve does not diminish the value of intimacy but, on the contrary, augments it by raising it to the level of a gift. The loss of manners implies that true intimacy is less and less obtainable, since less and less is there the condition with which intimacy is contrasted and from which it gains its meaning. Instead, a pretense of intimacy has arisen, enabling people to deal with one another not as strangers but as friends—at least until the word or deed that initiates the lawsuit. Familiarity, then, is both an offense to good manners and a substitute for them, a way of getting others to your side with the speed and impersonality of a transaction on the stock exchange. Modern business therefore depends upon familiarity. The person who insists on antique forms and courtesies is on his way to early retirement. Hence in the world of business and the professions, there is much affectation of friendship but very little friendship. Paradoxically, the loss of manners, rather than abolishing hypocrisy, has created a vast realm of pretense.” Admittedly, Scruton is from the UK, where manners are often confused with mannerisms, but his complaint is a welcome antidote to the fake friendships that would deprive people of the pleasure of becoming friends.
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Sources: Mainlining in the basement, Theology Today, January 2002. On the future of Israel, Commentary, January 2002. Peter Steinfels on sexual scandal, New York Times, February 9, 2002. Mark Steyn on Canadian churches, New Criterion, February 2002.
While We’re At It: On fasting, Catholic Trends, January 19, 2002. Peter Singer on charity after September 11, Slate.com, December 12, 2001. Emily Nussbaum on Bible translations, New York Times Magazine, February 10, 2002. On mainline/oldline publishing houses, Religion Watch, December 2001. On the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Religion Watch, December 2001. Religious pluralism and demographic realities, Wall Street Journal, December 14, 2001; private correspondence. Jewish identity, Jewish Week, November 2, 2001. On the centenary of TLS, Times Literary Supplement, November 9, 2001. John Wilson on Michael Bellesiles, Books & Culture, January/February 2002. T. S. Eliot’s sexuality, Times Literary Supplement, November 2, 2001. Francis Fukuyama on cloning, Public Interest, Winter 2002. On Bishop John B. Chane, Washington Post, January 26 and 28, 2002. Prayer at VMI, Associated Press, December 16, 2001. Unitarian Wiccans, Houston Chronicle, January 11, 2001. Adam Wolfson on biotechnology, Public Interest, Winter 2002. Frederick Crews on intelligent design, New York Review of Books, October 4 and 18, 2001. A crisis for crisis pregnancy centers, Catholic Infonet, January 9, 2002. The new Deweyism, Theology Today, January 2002.