It is hard to know precisely where we are in the unfolding of the Long Lent of 2002. Elsewhere in this section, I have a comment on Peter Steinfels’ evaluation of media misdoings, and what he thinks about the “reform” agendas that are hitching a ride on the scandals. As of this writing, the whole thing has been off most of the front pages for several months, and some readers say we should be grateful for that and just give the scandals a rest for a while. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’m inclined to agree. There is little pleasure in writing about these matters. But now there is the official response from Rome to the “charter” and “norms” adopted by the U.S. bishops at Dallas last June. And then there is the November meeting of the bishops in solemn assembly, where I am told the proposal for a plenary council, which I discussed in the last issue, is likely to get short shrift. (Short shrift: barely time for confession before dispatching the condemned.)
Back in April, when he met with the U.S. cardinals and some bishops, the Pope said that out of this unspeakable mess must come “a holier episcopate, a holier priesthood, a holier Church.” Has that happened? Eight months is a short time, and holiness is usually a slow growth. One gets the impression that there is, all in all, a humbler episcopate, along with a priesthood of greater sobriety, mixed with disillusionment and a measure of anger. As for the faithful who are the Church, they continue to be faithful, more or less. In October I spoke to a large group of Catholics and mentioned in passing “the recent scandals.” There were quizzical looks on a number of faces, and it apparently took a few seconds to make the connection. So ephemeral are the media storms that only a few months earlier created the sense of foundation-shaking crisis. One might at times almost think that we had, as they say, put it all behind us. That is, although not devoid of attractions, a delusion. I expect we will be sorting out the long-term consequences of the Long Lent of 2002 for a long time to come.
Priests—guilty and innocent alike—continue to be dismissed, put on “administrative leave,” and subjected to public humiliation under the rule of the mantras of “zero tolerance” and “one strike and you’re out.” Bishops continue to boast of how much they have learned and how tough they now are as they punish others for their own sins in failing to govern their churches. Not all bishops, to be sure, but too many. I am not unaware that there are bishops—and not only bishops—who think I have been too hard on them. One cannot help but sympathize with men who felt themselves to be between a rock and a hard place at Dallas, and that helps to explain the panicked reaction in approving practices about which many had profound misgivings. But a panicked reaction it was. I also confess to a certain uneasiness that some bishops who have welcomed my critique of Dallas do not themselves have a conspicuous record of upholding what the Pope called “total commitment” to the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. There is probably not much to be done about the ways in which this analysis of Dallas and its consequences can be used and misused.
Some bishops—perhaps most—have not, but others have broken understandings of strictest confidentiality and publicly released the names of priests, even of those who are now dead but against whom accusations were once made. Not proved, not investigated and found probable—just made. By somebody, often unnamed. The public has a right to know, don’t you know. And there are bishops who have a need to preen in their newly discovered virtue of “transparency.” The priests, being dead, raise no objections. Their families were so proud of them, their parishioners so loved them. Now, by courtesy of their bishop, they learn from the newspapers that their pride and their love were misplaced.
Here in New York and across the country, priests who still have the good fortune of being alive are raising objections. Some who are organizing and protesting have a long track record of fighting authority, and will use any occasion to take bishops down a notch or two. But most of them are faithful and orthodox priests who sense that something fundamental is happening—in the relationship between priests and bishops, and maybe in the self-understanding of the Church. They are being forced to wonder what was meant by all that solemn language when they were ordained. For instance, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” Then they folded their hands in the hands of the bishop and swore to obey him. And the bishop swore that he would be a father to them, and support them in their ministries through every trial. Or did he? Now, it seems, there were hidden clauses. “Except if you become a public embarrassment to me.” “Except if the media heat makes it expedient for me to repudiate you.” It is expedient that one man, or a dozen, should be sacrificed for the public image of the episcopal office (see John 11:50).
One hears frequent reference to the bishop who, in order to avoid a financial settlement, disclaimed responsibility for his priests, asserting that they are “independent contractors.” From being “another Christ” (alter Christus) to being an independent contractor is quite a fall. At ordination the language is redolent of the covenantal; now it is riddled with the contractual. A contract is, when all is said and done, just a deal. And to many priests it looks less and less like a good deal. Do not misunderstand: I am not talking about priests who by heinous acts have radically deformed the form of the priesthood of Christ. Nor about priests who pose a credible threat to children and therefore, as the Pope said in April, have no place whatsoever in the priesthood. I am talking about priests who, under intense media pressure, become an embarrassment, who are deemed personally expendable when it is institutionally expedient.
The press wanted to know why a bishop in the West did not include a certain name on his list of those to be publicly shamed. The bishop explained that, at the time of the incident, the woman involved with the priest was of age, “So we didn’t think it was a problem.” It was not a problem that the priest had violated his sacred vows of fidelity to the Church’s teaching and of perfect and perpetual continence. What the bishop apparently meant to say is that, according to the rules established by the media, it was not supposed to be an embarrassment. A bishop who is praised by the press for being very “forthcoming” in destroying the reputations of priests—also of priests long dead—has in his diocese theologians who seem to deny what the Church teaches about the divinity of Jesus, agitate for the ordination of women, and openly repudiate doctrines solemnly defined. He has priests who creatively revise the canon of the Mass, others who are known to cruise gay bars, and yet others who have women on the side. None of these, it appears, is a “problem.” The media are not after them. Indeed, theological dissenters and “nontraditional” liturgical practices are celebrated by the media. As are “gay-friendly” bishops who extend their tolerance to heterosexuals who cannot live with the supposedly oppressive and antiquated rule of celibacy.
It is not only the relationship between priests and bishops that seems to be changing with unforeseen, but potentially momentous, consequences. Amidst the static of conflicting messages, one picks up signals suggesting a changed understanding of what it means to be the Church. Consider a small instance of possibly large significance. Who would have thought that the New York Times would have occasion to take note of Father Maurice Grammond of Portland, Oregon? He may turn out to be a synecdoche of changes worked by these troubled times. We are told that he spent his ministry in “a handful of rural parish assignments, where he is remembered as aloof and cranky.” That a priest on the other side of the country was aloof and cranky would hardly seem to warrant a half—page story in the Times. No, beginning with lawsuits in 1999, Fr. Grammond was publicly accused of having had a habit of groping boys during a period from the 1950s into the early 1980s. That too, regrettably, would no longer seem to be a national story.
Then, at age eighty-two, Fr. Grammond died. He had been ordained fifty-two years, retired fourteen years, and eleven years ago he was suspended from the priesthood. He died in a home for people with Alzheimer’s. Before his dementia and before accusations became public, he made a will asking for a funeral Mass in Portland’s Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, where he had said his first Mass, and for burial in the section for priests in Mount Calvary cemetery. He received neither. He was not excommunicate. He participated in the sacraments, and received the Last Rites before he died. He therefore was, as Catholic doctrine would have it, a repentant and forgiven sinner. A funeral Mass for a priest is usually in the cathedral, with the bishop presiding. That is a particular sign of honor, and it is understandable that it was denied to one who had so disgraced himself and the priesthood, and had so betrayed those committed to his charge. (I am assuming for present purposes, although I do not know, that he was guilty as charged.)
Fr. Grammond’s sister asked that her brother receive a Christian burial from St. Ignatius. “Some of the people Fr. Grammond had abused are still parishioners here,” explained the pastor. “I made the call that this would be so harmful to those who are still living. I don’t feel great about my response. I’m confused in this whole thing. If any compassion is shown to the priest, does that mean you’re insensitive to the victims? In this climate, I think you are.” The sister, in disgust, had the body cremated and buried the ashes at the grave of his parents. She did not want vandals to find him, so there is no stone for Fr. Grammond. Forty-one years of priesthood, however marred by sins grave and venial, and there is nothing. Except his name in the newspaper and the observation that he was aloof and cranky. In those rural parishes where he undoubtedly presided at hundreds of baptisms and marriages, where he counseled the anguished and comforted the grieving, where he thousands of times brought heaven to earth in the Real Presence, was there no one to say a good word on behalf of Fr. Grammond? Was there not bishop or priest with the wit to seize the occasion for speaking hard and healing words about sin and grace? No, he is beyond the pale. He is an embarrassment. He is not one of ours. He is a sinner. Furtively, on the side so to speak, we slipped him absolution and mumbled words about angels greeting him on the far side of Jordan. Let the angels have him. To us, he was nothing. Fr. Maurice Grammond? We never knew him.
The pastor is right to feel uneasy about his decision, and there is no doubt about his being confused. What is this sentimental drivel about “compassion” and “sensitivity”? This is not about feelings and public relations. This is about the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is about a sinner forgiven, a lost sheep found, a prodigal returned. It is about the radical dependence of all of us on the mercy of God. At least that is what the Church teaches and the sacraments effect—ex opere operato, as it used to be said. That is how it used to be, but then there is, as the pastor says, the present climate. “The present climate made me do it.” That, in effect, is what the bishops said at Dallas, and it is no surprise that the excuse is invoked by others. It is for the good of the institution. It may not be right, but it is expedient.
I have been asked more than once, “So what should we have done at Dallas?” Since I have made bold, although I hope with due deference, to criticize what the bishops did do, I suppose I should have a response to that question. I do not have a detailed answer as to what the bishops should or could have done, but I am convinced that they should not have done what they did, which was to submit to a script of staged self-denigration written by the media and public relations experts, from which they emerged as born—again tough guys sworn to expiate their failures of oversight by the peremptory punishment of priests, guilty or innocent, who might embarrass them. Positively, they should have acted as bishops, as men charged, above all, with the responsibility of teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ as it pertains to human sinfulness—including their own sins of omission and commission—the grace of forgiveness, and the call to holiness. In that April meeting, the Pope spoke of fidelity to the Church’s teaching, of the call to holiness, and of life-transforming grace. These items were not on the agenda at Dallas, and have not been conspicuous in many episcopal statements since Dallas. The sole concern, it is said again and again, is to protect the children. And to be perceived to be protecting the children.
Of course it is imperative to protect the children. But the necessarily scrupulous attention to that imperative neither justifies nor requires what some bishops are doing. It neither requires nor justifies destroying reputations, also of the defenseless dead. It neither requires nor justifies depriving people, without due process, of what they and the Church declared to be a vocation from God. It neither requires nor justifies denying that Maurice Grammond is our brother in Christ. Few are sinners as notorious as he, but notoriety is not the measure of the fault for which we plead and, by the grace of God, receive forgiveness. When the Church begins to distance herself from sinners, she becomes something less than the Church of Christ. She begins to mirror the self-righteousness of many of her critics. I expect the pastor is right in thinking that some might have been offended by our acknowledging Fr. Grammond as one of our own. But we have no choice in the matter. We cannot disown him, for Christ has claimed him as his own. At least that is what the Church—and, we believe, Christ—said when, through the ministry of another unworthy priest, the words of forgiveness were spoken.
On October 18, Rome officially responded to the work of Dallas. The Holy See did not give the approval (recognitio) that the U.S. bishops conference wanted, saying that the “norms” and “charter” of Dallas “contain provisions which in some aspects are difficult to reconcile with the universal law of the Church.” The evident concerns in Rome are those that have received extended comment in these pages, including the impossibly elastic definition of sexual abuse adopted by Dallas, and the bishops’ abdication of leadership by establishing a national review board that raises fundamental questions about the apostolic governance of the Church. Neither Rome nor the U.S. conference has explicitly addressed the disciplining of bishops who are responsible for the scandals that occasioned the current crisis. The conference indirectly addressed that issue by making Governor Frank Keating and his board, in cooperation with the media, the “enforcers” of the Dallas policy. Episkopos means overseer, and the question is, Who will oversee the overseers? Traditionally, Rome claims that responsibility, although many believe that in recent years it has not been effectively exercised. The national conference has sometimes vied with Rome for that and other roles, but the grave missteps at Dallas, joined to the scandals that occasioned the crisis in the first place, have dealt a severe setback to the claim that the American bishops are capable of governing themselves.
The oversight of the overseers and other questions will now be addressed by a “mixed commission” of four U.S. bishops and four representatives of the pertinent departments of the Curia (called congregations or dicasteries), which will presumably come up with resolutions in time for the November meeting of the national conference. The response of the Holy See is, I believe, both necessary and hopeful. It should be possible to devise policies that, unlike those of Dallas, are not incompatible with either justice or love. Such policies will not be incompatible with bishops being shepherds who protect the flock from preying wolves, and also fathers to priests whom they hold to the course of fidelity. They will not be incompatible with the saving truth that the Church is a community of forgiven sinners called to be, but typically failing to be, saints. In short, such policies should not be incompatible with bishops daring to depart from the script in order to give clear witness to a gospel that, by worldly standards, is something of an embarrassment. St. Paul called it a scandal. And the greatest scandal is to turn it into something other than that.
“Here we go again. The December war of religion is among our most cherished traditions. Somebody is always angry or hurt over something.” That’s from a last December column by John Leo, but get ready: here we go again. Last year’s campaign for the utterly naked public square was notably virulent. It is no longer over crèches or signs explicitly mentioning Christmas. Under attack now is any display of Santa Claus, Rudolph, Christmas trees, poinsettias, holiday lights, and even the colors red and green—all of which are condemned for being “religious,” and the very worst kind of religion, meaning Christian.
Leo again: “The word ‘inclusion’ comes up all the time as a term used by those who wish to obliterate rather than include. This is certainly so in Plainfield, Ill., where elementary school principal Sandy Niemiera made a startling announcement: because of diversity concerns, students will no longer be allowed to celebrate any holidays at all. So goodbye Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving as well as Christmas and Hanukkah, because the school needs to ‘respect each individual’s uniqueness but also to help us look for and celebrate those things we have in common.’ What the students will have in common, of course, is a sterile, tradition-free public environment. And the school-induced sense that religion and ritual are inherently dangerous.
“In plain English, the term ‘inclusion’ has come to mean ‘exclusion.’ In New York’s Central Park, we have a Christian nativity scene, a Jewish menorah, and a Muslim star and crescent, all privately paid for and displayed on public property. That’s inclusion. Banning all signs of religion from schools and public property (neither of which is called for by the Constitution or the Supreme Court) is exclusion posturing as inclusiveness. There’s another new wrinkle in inclusiveness ideology. Call it the sensitive person’s veto. Last year, the city of Eugene, Ore., barred Christmas trees from public property, then backed down a bit and allowed firefighters to put up a tree on Christmas Eve and Christmas. But the city manager said that if one person objects, the tree must come down. This allows the most sensitive person in town to set policy. Kensington, Md., banned Santa Claus from this year’s tree-lighting ceremony because of two complaints.
“The sensitive person’s veto was born in the antismoking campaign and spread to other fields. Now it’s showing up in the wars over Christmas and Hanukkah. Those who want to keep those traditions alive in the public square had better push back. The sensitive person’s veto requires only one vote to topple any norm. And that vote will always be easy to find.”
The Right to be Different
Pushing back has nothing to do with “insensitivity” and everything to do with devotion to a free and democratic society. Majority rule, with protections for minorities, is not the whole of democracy, but it is at the heart of democracy. Minorities do not have a constitutional right to be protected from public expressions that remind them that they are in the minority. To be different from the majority does not mean one is, as it is commonly put, a second-class citizen. On the contrary, it is precisely as a first-class citizen that one has a right to be different. What one does not have the right to do is to force others to deny that there is a difference between the majority and the minority.
A complicating factor, of course, is that the most assertive minority when it comes to opposing the public celebration of Christmas is, more often than not, Jewish. Christians are, with very good reason, painfully sensitive on this score. The late Jakob J. Petuchowski of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati wrote wisely about “A Rabbi’s Christmas” (FT, December 1991). He was nothing if not Jewish, and he relished the carols, festivities, and pageantry of Christmas. He never missed watching on television the papal Midnight Mass from Rome. “Still all of that is a matter of mere externals,” he wrote. “What really intrigues [me] is the fact that millions of [my] non-Jewish fellow human beings are celebrating the birthday of a Jewish child. And they are doing so by extolling the values of peace and good will. All the more misplaced . . . are the efforts by some supposedly Jewish organizations to arouse, through their battles against Christmas symbols in public places, the ill will and resentment of Christians—at the very time when the Christian religion, more than at other times of the year, inspires its followers with irenic and philanthropic sentiments.”
Rabbi Petuchowski notes that it is the Orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe who may have the most bitter memories of living in a “Christian society.” But they are not the ones leading the charge against the public observance of Christmas. “In other words, what we are really dealing with in this annual battle against public Christian observance is not so much a ‘Jewish’ attack on that observance as it is a secularist one—with some of the prominent secularists identifying themselves as Jews. They are the same people who fight nondenominational prayers in public schools, the use of public school facilities for meetings of high school religious-interest groups, and state support of private schools. They fight with equal vigor the attempts by other Jewish groups to have Jewish religious symbols exhibited alongside the Christian ones, such as the efforts of the Chabad (Lubavitch) group of Orthodox Jews to place a Hanukkah candelabrum on the public square when a Christmas tree is put there, which would be a fitting demonstration of America’s religious pluralism. They are, in other words, not singling out Christianity. They are against the public manifestation of religion per se—even (or perhaps particularly) against the public manifestation of the religion of their own ancestors.”
The naked public square, Petuchowski observed, is not good for Jews or anyone else. Jews should recognize in the Christian observance of Christmas “one of the factors that help maintain the religious character of our society—in which Jews, too, with their own beliefs and practices, and with their very lives, have a considerable stake.” He concludes: “That is why this writer will continue to wish his Christian friends a ‘Merry Christmas’ at Yuletide, and rejoice in the fact that those friends join the angelic choir in proclaiming glory to God in the highest, and peace among humankind on earth. He will most certainly not object at all to the public display of his friends’ symbols of religious faith. Indeed, he will continue to be moved by awe and wonder that, through the influence of one of his own remote cousins, some of the words of Judaism’s Torah have spread to the far corners of the earth.”
It is objected that the distinction between “them” and “us” is a threat to social cohesion. The distinction between Jews and Christians is but one of many important distinctions. Among Americans there are, in fact, many distinctions, that are differences of greater or lesser degree, between “us” and “them”—economic, racial, educational, political, cultural, religious. Such distinctions and differences are cross-cutting, sometimes putting one with “us” and sometimes with “them.” For the umpteenth time it needs to be said that it is a pseudo—pluralism that requires us to pretend that significant differences make no difference. Genuine pluralism is living with our differences, especially our deepest differences, within the bond of civility. When e pluribus unum is misconstrued to deny the pluribus, it is the end of pluralism. Both those in the minority and those in the majority should push back against those who would impose a naked public square. Push back, not because it is your right (although it is that, too) but because it is your democratic duty. The denial of cultural expression, which almost inevitably includes religious expression, in public is the death of democracy. That is true for Central Park, the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, Salt Lake City, Louisville, or anywhere else in the—if I may borrow a phrase—gorgeous mosaic that is America. Do your democratic duty. Push back.
What Should Pius XII Have Done?
“During the discussion about the possible beatification/canonization of Pope Pius XII the major critique of Pius has been his failure to speak out against the Nazi Holocaust with sufficient specificity. He did issue brief generic condemnations, but no specific condemnations. An example of a generic condemnation would be: one cannot deprive persons or peoples of property and life because of race and religion. A specific condemnation might read: we condemn the Nazi mass gassing of Jews at Auschwitz.”
That’s the opening paragraph of an article that throws new light, as unlikely as that may seem, on the dispute over Pius XII and the Holocaust. The article is by Father Kilian McDonnell and was published in Rome in the journal Gregorianum (vol. 83, no. 2, 2002). The rule that a pope should only issue “generic condemnations,” stating the moral principles and leaving specific application to others, goes back way before Pius XII. McDonnell details instances such as the Turkish atrocities against Armenians, the Italian aggression against Abyssinia, and offers particularly interesting insights into the way the Vatican, contrary to the conventional witness, was assiduously neutral between Franco and the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. All the instances are heartbreaking, especially Pius XII’s restraint as the Nazis were brutally crushing the Church in Poland.
Pius could be bold, as in 1939 when he had been pope only a few months and against the adamant counsel of all his advisors, he risked Vatican neutrality by alerting the British to the plan of the German generals to overthrow Hitler. In that case and a few others when the Holy See bent its rule of limiting itself to generic condemnations, the reason was always that the pope hoped to play a part in brokering a peace between nations. As McDonnell also notes, in some instances, including that of Jews during the Nazi era, Vatican reticence was supported by some of the victim groups who feared that more specific condemnations would provoke even greater horrors.
Prophecy and Communion
McDonnell’s purpose is not to “excuse” what Pius XII did or did not do, but to try to understand. He writes: “Pius XII was fully convinced that, given the actual conditions of the war, he had denounced all of the Nazi war crimes in these generic condemnations, while at the same time remaining technically neutral. Precisely because he was neutral and condemned in generic terms what was worthy of reprobation, applicable to both sides, he did not expose Catholics and Jews under German dominion to danger. He thus left open the possibility of providing a climate in which either side might approach him to act as a mediator, thus bringing the war to an end.
“Prophecy is a function of the Church, and it should be manifest in all its members, including the pope. But not in the same way in all. The papal Petrine ministry embraces both charismatic/prophetic and institutional roles.
“As the successor of Peter, Pius XII had the special function of maintaining the unity of the Church, keeping the Church together. His role in the prophetic function was to see that there was a climate in the Church for exercising charismatic freedom and challenge, welcoming and encouraging prophetic protest. Pius XII did welcome prophetic protest in encouraging local bishops in Germany to speak out. He preferred the prophetic advice of Bishop Conrad von Presying to that of the Nuncio to Germany, Cesare Orsenigo, because the latter was too accommodating to the Nazis. Given his concern in a period of great danger to protect both Catholic worship and the Jewish population, Pius in his public acts inclined more to prudence than to prophecy. But if he might end the war (apprising England of the German general’s plot), he acted boldly and prophetically.
“If it is true that the place of a true prophet during these years was on the road to Auschwitz, did that prophet have the right to utter a specific public condemnation of specific atrocities, thus causing Catholics and Jews, who looked to him for help, to walk before him into the gas chambers? Some would say, ‘yes,’ the pope, by reason of his office, should be prophetic also in this case, whoever’s blood is spilled.
“The restriction to generic condemnations is apparently still a papal policy. Pope John Paul II admonished Archbishop Oscar Romero with regard to the brutalities in El Salvador to have ‘courage and boldness,’ but cautioned him to maintain unity with the bishops, and not to condemn specific atrocities, lest he be mistaken in details. Rather he should announce general principles. In a word, balance prophecy with prudence. Romero was not in total accord with this policy.”
Returning to World War II, McDonnell says it is hard not to envy the freedom of religious leaders such as William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Willem Visser’t Hooft, who would later head the World Council of Churches, to speak out forcefully and in very specific terms. “But,” he observes, “neither Temple nor Visser’t Hooft had the kind of direct international jurisdiction over local churches which the Pope possessed, with all the risk entailed.” What we do know beyond doubt, because they said so again and again, is that Hitler and his regime had no doubt that the Pope’s “generic” statements applied very specifically to them. The public statements of Pius XII reflect the ambiguous burden that comes with being an institution that is Catholic, as in “universal.” What should, what could, the papacy have done in response to the victimization of the Armenians, the Abyssinians, the Catholics of Spain, the Poles, the Jews? Presumably Pius and his predecessors now know and, God willing, we will one day know. No doubt they intended to do the right thing, and we should be more than open to the possibility that they did it. Fr. McDonnell helps us to think about these questions within the larger historical context of the papacy’s self-understanding as universal pastor, moral teacher, and peacemaker among the nations.
The Soul of Steven Pinker
It is not entirely a straw man that he is attacking. For a long time now, especially among educators, there has, in fact, been an influential school of thought at war with the very idea of human nature. Everything is determined by nurture, environment, and social conditioning, they say. Then there is the reaction launched by Edward O. Wilson with his 1975 book Sociobiology, arguing along with such as Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, that nature is trump. Pushed out of the argument because it is so impossibly incorrect is The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which argued that IQ and other factors crucial to social success are genetically determined and are unequally distributed among racial groups. But the opponents of natural determinism lump Wilson, Dawkins, and Herrnstein and Murray together as the enemies of equality and the commitment to make the world a much better place by the achievement of social justice.
Now comes along Steven Pinker, a psychologist of language at M.I.T., with a new book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Viking). Pinker is telegenic and articulate-some say facile—and Maclean’s, the magazine of Canadian identity, describes him as “endearingly Canadian; polite, soft—spoken, attentive to what others say.” Pinker, who comes down on the side of Wilson and Co., says, quite rightly, that proponents of the blank slate approach are sometimes prone to implicitly totalitarian plans of social engineering aimed at imposing equality. Equality, he says, is a moral and political idea, not a scientific reality, and again he is right about that. Human beings, and especially human minds, are not equal; they come with innate, genetically formed abilities and behavioral tendencies. The conclusion drawn by Professor Pinker is that a child’s life is shaped by natural endowments (genes), family experience, peer groups, and chance happenings. That seems a rather modest payoff for so much ratiocination and scientific huffing and puffing.
What all the major parties to this academic contest have in common is that they are thoroughgoing materialists. Prof. Pinker, for instance, may be “polite, soft—spoken, and attentive to what others say,” except when it comes to others—from Plato to Aquinas and from Kierkegaard to Polanyi—who think that human beings are more than matter. The suggestion of anything beyond the reach of his neuroscience—the soul, for instance—is derisively dismissed as the myth of “the Ghost in the machine,” a myth abandoned by all but “the religious right.” It is, in fact, such dogmatic and vulgar materialism that requires a blind leap of faith. Both the blank slatists and the nature determinists typically assume that those unwilling to make that leap are beyond the pale of rational discourse.
A Different Fundamentalism
Of course, they do not really believe that their ideas are exhaustively explained either by neurological synapses or by environmental conditioning. They write books, give lectures, and appear on talk shows contending that they really do have ideas that are, well, true—just as though there is reason, or soul, or even a ghost in the machine. When asked why we should take their ideas seriously if they are no more than the predetermined products of genes or conditioning, they are inclined to respond, “It is an interesting paradox, isn’t it?” No, it isn’t. It is simply the incoherent nonsense that follows from a fundamentalist leap of faith into dogmatic materialism.
This does not mean there is nothing to learn from reading books such as The Blank Slate. There is much that is useful to know about both natural endowments and environmental influences. We are, after all, embodied souls or, as some prefer, ensouled bodies, and are created for society. We may be instructed by a skilled anatomist who dissects the sexual organs or the brain, while politely declining to believe him when he asserts that that is all there is to sex or to thinking. Likewise, we may be grateful for insights into environmental influences without believing that they adequately explain our lives as we know our lives by living.
To understand ourselves as creatures rather than products, as persons possessed of reason and related to the infinite, simply makes more sense of more things that we cannot help but know are true. Among the problems with materialist fundamentalism, apart from its implausibility, is that it is so very boring. That being said, prepare to see Steven Pinker on a forthcoming talk show, responding when challenged (if he is challenged) with, “It is an interesting paradox, isn’t it?” At which point you may say to the screen, ever so politely, “No, Prof. Pinker. It is neither interesting nor a paradox.” You might want to follow that with a prayer for the soul that his belief system prevents him from recognizing that he has.
“Sorry, Jesus . . .”
A first among ELCA Lutherans is the action of the Delaware—Maryland Synod to rescind its membership in Reconciled in Christ and sever all affiliation with Lutherans Concerned, two gay advocacy organizations pushing the ELCA—with apparent effectiveness—to ordain active homosexuals and bless same—sex unions. The bishop emeritus of the synod, George P. Mocko, led off the debate. “There will be schism, and it will be large. Legal documents are in process, if not completed, by more than one group. The schism will be so large as to leave the ELCA crippled financially and administratively, occupied with budget and staff cuts. Ecumenically, we will have abandoned our position between the Roman and Orthodox churches on one side and Protestantism on the other, to take a great leap to the left, to join the United Church of Christ (UCC) in ordaining and blessing active homosexuals. I had hoped we could teach the UCC about biblical theology. Instead we will have learned from them how to brush Scripture aside when it gets in the way of an agenda. Learn that skill, and what is next?
“This question gets us into profound matters of faith. If those proposals are adopted, we will be removing what has been the cornerstone of our theology on sexuality for our entire history. That cornerstone has been the words of Jesus, ‘Have you not read, that He which made them at the beginning, made them male and female, and said, “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? What therefore God has joined together, let no one put asunder.’ That has always summarized God’s intent in creating us as sexual beings—creating us for monogamous, heterosexual, lifelong relationships of commitment and love, and anything other than that is less than that, and part of a fallen creation.
“That cornerstone would be removed, and erected in its place would be a cornerstone that would now read, ‘God has made a variety of sexualities, all to be equally affirmed and celebrated.’ There is no biblical basis for such a theology. None. There is no way that anyone can read the books of our Scripture and conclude, ‘That is what is here taught.’ Efforts to make Scriptures say that have been going on for over a decade. There is no biblical basis for such a view. If Jesus is our Lord, his words must remain central. We cannot say to him, ‘Sorry, Jesus, but we find your words narrow and embarrassing. We must lay them aside. We have become much more enlightened in this blessed age of ours. So your words must pass away. We can no longer use them; they do not fit our new understandings. You must excuse me now, I have much work to do rewriting Sunday school material so that our children are sure to be as enlightened as we are.’ We cannot do that.”
If the gay agenda is successful, Mocko said, “it will mean the effective end of the ELCA, because it means that we will have exchanged our loyalty to our Lord and his words for another. Such a church would lose the loyalty of thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of its people.” The ELCA is conducting a million dollar study on homosexuality in church doctrine and practice, and the governing assembly will be asked to make decisions in 2003.
On Modernity and Train Wrecks
Our Jody Bottum—I say “our” because I’ve never quite accepted his defection to the Weekly Standard—gets into deep pondering, occasioned by the deep pondering of Francis Fukuyama’s Our Posthuman Future. He applauds the book’s warnings about the biotechnological threats confronting us, but suggests that these developments are only the logical next thing in the project of modernity and liberalism, the two being pretty much the same thing. Conservatives of different stripes, he says, are disillusioned with the liberalism/modernity train ride, and get off at different points. “Thus the economic libertarians wish to hold their position in the 1890s, the evangelicals in the 1920s, the Southern agrarians in the 1940s, and the National Review conservatives in the 1950s. For a century and a half after the French Revolution, Catholicism stood as the only major force opposed to modernity, and even after the great rush of Vatican II aggiornamento, Catholics essentially froze the modernity they were willing to accept at 1964. A variety of factors drew off the neoconservatives around 1972.”
The conservatives and neocons who rallied around Reagan tended to share a yearning for something like a religious renewal, but theirs was, for the most part, a pretty thin and instrumental view of religion. “And yet, lacking a coherent unmodern philosophy, we can offer no compelling reasons for modernity to stop where we wish it to. The economic and political battles against communism, by returning liberalism to its original course, certainly changed the direction of modernity. But they did nothing to slow modernity down. Over the last few decades, for example, political scientists, sociologists, and scholars of the American Founding have all pointed out that a smidgen of religious belief seems necessary to prevent modern liberalism from devouring its own political and economic gains. But this insight hasn’t brought us much, for a culture’s religious belief doesn’t derive from the desire that the culture have a religious belief. Meanwhile, since its Enlightenment beginning, modernity has conceived of religion as its great enemy, and the antireligious impulse of the modern world is still steaming on and on—unchecked by our recognition that it ought not to, that it ought to have stopped somewhere before this.”
I am pleased to count myself as one of the “liberal writers” of the time who hoped the train could be stopped at another point described by Bottum. He writes, “Or, for another example, consider the question of whether we could have had a liberalism that was against abortion. We did manage to find an anti-Communist liberalism, after all—however much the Communists insisted that the future was theirs and that they were merely liberals in a hurry. And, hard as it is to remember, there was a moment around 1969 when several liberal writers were insisting that care for the poor and the weak demanded the rejection of abortion. But the liberationist impulse was simply too strong, and the sexual revolution too much fun. And so abortion came, despite opposition from those who wanted a modernity without it. Having bought a ticket this far, what means—what right, for that matter—did they have to stop the [train] from going further?”
He appreciates Fukuyama’s respectful references to religious and philosophical arguments, including those offered by John Paul II, but: “Fukuyama, however, mistrusts thick accounts. He is too modern to think he can persuade us with the Pope’s religious claim, too current to imagine he can restore us to Aristotle’s philosophical view, and too scientific to rely on Aldous Huxley’s literary understanding. But without some such support present generally in the culture, the government regulations for which he calls are doomed. The political pressure from activist groups will be too great. The moral confusion of politicians will be too massive. And, most of all, the internal motor of science will be too powerful.” That’s a pretty grim outlook, and he may be right. What we need, Bottum says, is someone who can “gather up the premodern elements necessary to maintain the political advances of modernity—and to build them into a new and coherent philosophical vehicle” that will prevent the threatening biotechnological train wreck. I am very sympathetic to Bottum’s forebodings, especially about the dynamics propelling what presents itself as, and often is, scientific progress. At the same time, it seems highly improbable that we will be rescued by a “philosophical vehicle,” no matter how new or coherent. Unless philosophy is stretched to mean the Word that was in the beginning, and will see us through to the promised end. On days when I am tempted to resign myself to the inexorable triumph of the modernism/liberalism nexus that Bottum describes, I wonder if it might not take a catastrophic wreck, after which, with heroic labor, a chastened world repairs the damage and lays tracks in a different direction. On better days, I hold to the promise of the ever ancient, ever new, and only coherent truth that the human project cannot fail, not finally. And that because the Word became us, and by his victory we already participate in the life of the One who, by definition, cannot fail. Our circumstance is too hopeless for any lesser hope.
Media Abused and Abusing
“Abused by the Media,” while not without its own problems, is a valuable article by Peter Steinfels, religion columnist for the New York Times . Writing not in the Times but in the London—based Tablet, Steinfels’ incisive critique of the media’s coverage—and exploitation—of priestly sex scandals could give comfort to those who claim, wrongly, that the excitements and alarms of the past year are the creation of sensationalistic media driven by anti-Catholic animus. That is not Steinfels’ claim. Whatever the intentions involved, the media brought to public attention, and not least to the attention of Catholics, some things that have gone very wrong in the governance of the Church. As I have said before, a scandal as great as any scandal exposed by the media was the scandal of the bishops’ panicked reaction to the media storm at their Dallas meeting in June.
Steinfels tells the story of an upstate New York newspaper editor who was obsessed with people killed by lightning. Every time, anywhere in the country or the world, the wire services had a story about a death by lightning, the editor splashed it on the front page. “I imagine,” writes Steinfels, “a local population cowering indoors at the first drops of rain, their sense of the odds of death—by—lightning—bolt completely skewed. Yet not a single word in the stories they read need have been untrue. The problem would have arisen from the dramatic character of the news, the construction of the central category (victims of lightning anywhere in the U.S. and sometimes elsewhere), the prominent play the stories received, and the absence of explanatory stories that would have placed these stories into the context of population figures, comparative risks from driving, boating, hunting, or catching cold, and the specific causes for lightning strikes.” Something similar happened, Steinfels suggests, in the case of priests and sexual abuse.
“What was involved in the American clerical sex abuse crisis was the behavior of some 1.5 percent of the roughly 150,000 priests who served under hundreds of bishops in the course of half a century,” Steinfels writes. “During that time psychological understanding, social attitudes, and legal expectations and practices regarding molestation of minors changed markedly. So did the Church’s attitudes and policies—although often with a distressing lag. The reasons for that lag, which in some respects I consider morally culpable, deserve investigation. It is quite another matter, however, implicitly to measure bishops’ decisions as though the bishops possessed—and deliberately and perversely ignored—knowledge and attitudes that were decades later in coming.”
Referring to Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church (Little, Brown), which is a synthesis of the Boston Globe‘s coverage, Steinfels notes that the media appear to be very pleased with their work. “I sense journalists already preparing acceptance speeches for next year’s Pulitzer Prizes,” he writes. I recently spoke to hundreds of reporters at the convention of the Religion Newswriters Association (RNA), meeting in Nashville. The lead reporter of the Globe‘s coverage was also on the program, and he spoke with self-congratulatory glee about that paper’s exposés, sprinkling his remarks with mocking references to Cardinal Law. At the end of his presentation, the applause was, at best, perfunctory.
Much more warmly received was the presentation by David Briggs of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who is also president of RNA. He spoke movingly of how he had first had to come to terms with these questions when reporting on sexual abuse of minors in a Protestant missionary agency, and how the past year’s reporting on the Catholic situation had posed for him painful ethical dilemmas with respect to issues of confidentiality, perspective, and the dangers of playing to stereotypes. In talking privately with other reporters, I was struck by how many gave evidence of an uneasy, if not guilty, conscience about their part in the treatment of the scandals. Again and again, one heard that they had to do what their editors wanted. “My editor made me do it” is, of course, an old line among reporters, but in this case, at least with some, it seemed to be more than a convenient evasion of responsibility.
Steinfels notes that some journalists justify themselves by appealing to polls showing that Catholics are furious at the bishops and do not think the media have been anti-Catholic. “Obviously,” he writes, “this is a circular demonstration, since the reaction of Catholics has been based precisely on what they read, heard, and saw in the media. No one, certainly not the team assembling the Globe‘s account, has gone beyond the familiar studied naiveté that assumes journalists merely expose the ‘facts’ and do nothing to define their meaning.” As someone familiar with the journalistic arts, he then goes on to detail the ways in which the media are adept at skewing a story by choosing the “experts” they interview, by determining what constitutes “balance,” by selective quotation, and by deciding which “side” gets the first and last word.
“In this case,” says Steinfels, “the news media tended to bestow credibility heavily on a rather narrow set of experts—lawyers, therapists, and leaders of victims’ groups, who had long been locked in legal battles with the bishops.” But then there is also distortion that it is hard to believe is not deliberate. He notes, for instance, that R. Scott Appleby of Notre Dame felt obliged to put on his website a letter to an ABC producer detailing how a taped interview with him was edited, sentence after sentence, to remove all nuance. I can testify, as can almost anyone who deals regularly with the media, to similar experiences. Yet protesting is usually futile, for, as Steinfels notes, “not a single word in the stories need have been untrue.” It is the way the story is framed, and the purpose to which true words are put, that is untrue.
All that having been said, we should not attack the messengers just because we don’t like the message. I agree with Steinfels that some messengers (and their editors) should be attacked, and we should be alert to the systemic distortions of the big business that is “the news.” At the same time, I know—and this was evident again at the RNA convention—how many reporters are devoutly religious (notably evangelical Protestant and Catholic), view their work as a vocation, genuinely want to be fair, and worry about purchasing journalistic plaudits at the price of truth. But the news is a corrupt and corrupting business in ways that go beyond the integrity or intentions of those who are in the business. And, of course, much the same is true of almost any other human enterprise, including religion, when it becomes a business.
A Perspective on “Perspective”
Yet there is a potential danger in Mr. Steinfels’ way of putting things into perspective. Some may conclude that 1.5 percent of 150,000 priests over the course of half a century is not such a big deal. I suppose it depends, in part, upon how serious an offense one thinks the sexual abuse of minors to be. If we knew that 2,250 priests had committed murder or had been guilty of drug dealing in the past fifty years, I expect we would think it a very big deal indeed. I expect we would take it as an indication that something had gone very wrong. There is a necessary distinction between our judgment of the evil of an act and the incidence of an act. Much less than 1.5 percent of the general population commits murder or deals in drugs. Much more than 1.5 percent engages in sexual abuse—and much, much more than 1.5 percent if we use the loose definitions of sexual abuse current today (and adopted by the bishops in Dallas). The difference here, of course, is that we are talking about priests, who presumably are a moral notch above the general population.
What, in fact, appears to be the case is that somewhere around seven hundred priests have been accused or found guilty of sexual abuse in cases concentrated in the period from the late sixties to the early eighties. We are told that close to a billion dollars has been paid in settlements. By almost anybody’s reckoning, that’s real money. The overwhelming majority of cases involve adult men having sex in one form or another with postpubescent and older teenage boys. These relationships are ordinarily called homosexual. Common sense, reinforced by social scientific research of the obvious, tells us that homosexuals are more likely to engage in homosexual relations than heterosexuals. I don’t wish to belabor the self-evident here, but it does seem that a discernible pattern begins to emerge.
Add to this that it is generally admitted that some seminaries and houses of formation did not, over an extended period of time, teach what the Church teaches about sexual morality, whether homosexual or heterosexual. Some seminaries do not just admit it; they boast of it. Such seminaries, and not just a few bishops, are known as being “gay—friendly.” Many priests, over a long period of time, were taught that, the “official” teaching of the Church notwithstanding, sexual relations are inevitable and excusable, or even necessary to psychological and spiritual well-being. Priests who had sex with one another, or with teenage boys, told themselves, and perhaps believed, that it was not a sin. Some priests, and at least a couple of bishops, say that they believe they were involved in a “loving relationship” aimed at helping young men to “come to terms with their sexuality.” Regardless of how sincere these people are, one might say that what they have done is a sign of, for lack of a better term, infidelity. These factors provide a bit more specificity and precision to the more innocuous—sounding proposition that 1.5 percent of 150,000 priests under hundreds of bishops engaged in sexual abuse over the course of half a century.
These factors also make somewhat unsatisfying the conclusion to Mr. Steinfels’ otherwise valuable article. He writes that the scandal has also been exploited by people who have different agendas for church reform. “From the left these include demands for more democratic church governance involving the laity and for reexamining priestly celibacy. From the right these include stamping out the ‘culture of dissent’ and scrutinizing homosexuals in seminaries. The danger is that these proposed reforms, instead of being debated on their own merits, may now be driven by seriously distorted media—generated assumptions about priests, bishops, and sexual abuse.”
One wonders if that is not a fine example of the kind of journalistic balancing act that Mr. Steinfels elsewhere criticizes in his article. It provides the appearance of symmetry—”from the left, from the right”—where no symmetry exists. If the scandal is chiefly about priests fiddling with boys, why would more democracy in church government be the solution? So lay people decide whether the church roof is replaced this year or next, or have a say in electing the bishop. So what? As for celibacy, if instances of clerical sexual abuse, including homosexual abuse, are as frequent in churches where the clergy can marry—and the evidence is that they are—celibacy would seem to be, at most, marginally related to the problems that produced the scandals.
The second agenda of reform—the one “from the right”—would seem to be somewhat more pertinent to the problems at hand. I don’t insist on the phrase “culture of dissent,” and “stamping out” sounds awfully heavy handed, but perhaps Mr. Steinfels would agree that homosexual priests who reject the teaching that fiddling with boys is gravely sinful are, all things being equal, more likely to fiddle with boys. As for “scrutinizing” homosexuals in seminaries, as Mr. Steinfels knows, some people think they shouldn’t be in seminaries to begin with. If there are identified or self-identified homosexuals in the seminary—never mind men who declare themselves to be gay—surely he would agree that it would be advisable, as a matter of prudence, to keep an eye on them. Especially if they, as a matter of prurience, are keeping an eye on their fellow seminarians. Unless, of course, as I do not think is the case, Mr. Steinfels thinks that men who intend to do, and approve of doing, things that the Church teaches are gravely sinful should be allowed to take solemn vows of perfect and perpetual chastity.
“Abused by the Media” is, as I say, a useful article. More the pity that the conclusion at which Mr. Steinfels arrives exemplifies the journalistic practices he so incisively criticizes.
Why Israel Matters
The subject of Jews and Christians in “Christian America” is riddled with difficulties, and we should have no illusions about their being soon resolved. The contradictory legacy of the twentieth century—which witnessed the Holocaust in Europe as well as the birth of the State of Israel and the dramatic advance of Jewish security and success in America—does not exhaust the ways in which we can think about the Jewish—Christian relationship in the century ahead. At present and for the foreseeable future, one important factor is that most American Jews are not religiously Jewish. This is a factor addressed by many Jewish thinkers; for instance, by Elliott Abrams in his book Faith or Fear, which bears a subtitle very much to the point of our discussion, How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America. (Although I would like to think the subject is not survival but flourishing.) Abrams vigorously makes the case that the commitment of Jews to Jewishness, rather than to Judaism, is neither faithful to Jewish history nor capable of sustaining the Jewish community in the future.
The dominantly secular character of American Jewry is closely related to Jewish anxieties about the new assertiveness of religion in American public life. If most Jews do not see barbed wire, they are nonetheless made exceedingly nervous about any reference to “Christian America.” Moreover, there is a curious conflation of developments in this country and developments in Israel. Both there and here, secular Jews worry about the political ascendancy in Israel of those who are routinely described as “the ultra—Orthodox.” In public discussions, the analogy is frequently drawn with “the religious right” in this country. The argument is made that in both instances religion is a threat to secular democracy—with the adjective “secular” inseparable from “democracy.” In the Israeli circumstance, the argument cannot be lightly discounted.
The Orthodox in Israel—and the more rigorously Orthodox in this country, such as the Hasidim—seem to have little experience or appreciation of democracy. One reason for this is that, before the establishment of Israel in 1948, Judaism had never had the experience of being the religio—cultural establishment in a modern state. Since the Roman occupation and the destruction of the Temple in a.d. 70, Jews have not borne the chief responsibility of building and maintaining a nation. This is in sharpest contrast to the Christian experience, which since the Emperor Constantine has had seventeen centuries of wildly diverse experiments, both successful and spectacularly flawed, in relating its theology, moral teaching, and religious institutions to civil society and the political order. The more seriously religious forms of Judaism, especially the Orthodox, have yet to demonstrate that there are authentically religious warrants by which publicly assertive Judaism supports, rather than threatens, modern democracy. In the vast span of history, the short fifty-four years of the State of Israel have provided the only laboratory for that demonstration, and at present the outcome of that experiment is uncertain.
In Christian America, most Jews believed, at least in the latter half of the twentieth century, that the more secular the society the safer it is for Jews. Some of us have argued to the contrary that the naked public square is a very dangerous place for Jews and other minorities. Where there are in public no transcendent aspirations to the good, there are also no transcendent inhibitions against evil, including the evil of anti-Semitism. This argument has been advanced also by Jewish thinkers such as Irving Kristol, Midge Decter, and the company of neoconservatives around publications such as Commentary, the Public Interest, and, more recently, the Weekly Standard. It has surely made a dent, but most American Jews, it must be admitted, are still wedded to the ideology of the naked public square. Now it is being extended to Israel, with unforeseen consequences for Christian America’s perception of both Jews and Israel, the two being, of course, intimately connected.
Among my Christian friends, and especially among evangelical Protestants who have little personal experience with Jews or Judaism, there is frequently expressed puzzlement about the secularism of American Jewry. Judaism is for evangelicals a religious category, understood in terms of biblical history. They do not understand the disjunction between that Judaism and the Jewish reality in American life. At the same time, these evangelicals—who provide most of the leaders and troops of “the religious right”—have been and are at present the strongest non-Jewish supporters of the State of Israel. For many of them, Israel and the Jewish people are crucial players in their apocalyptic scenarios for the End Time. Needless to say, many Jews are not happy with the eschatological roles in which they are cast by these evangelicals. Irving Kristol, on the other hand, has succinctly remarked, “They can have their theology. I’ll take their support for Israel.”
American Christians in general, including Catholics and oldline Protestants, have been very supportive of Israel. That could change, I believe it would almost certainly change, were Israel to perceive itself and be perceived as a thoroughly secular phenomenon. The reasons for support for Israel in the past have been several. First was the Holocaust and the preeminent Jewish claim on victim status. But, despite dramatic reminders through movies and other media, the memory of the Holocaust fades. It is true that Holocaust studies are entrenched in textbooks from grade school through college, but to most young people today the Holocaust is history as ancient as the Civil War or the fall of Rome. That will, inevitably, be more the case ten or thirty years from now.
In addition, especially among liberals and leftists, there is a keen awareness of what Israel has meant for its neighbors, especially the Palestinians. Even the most determined defender of Israel acknowledges that Israel has had the upper hand—militarily, economically, and politically—and that hand has sometimes been brutal. Such defenders say that, in view of the many threats to Israel, it is sometimes necessary to be brutal, but the fact is that, looking at Israel or at the situation of Jews in America, fewer and fewer Americans, perhaps even fewer and fewer Jewish Americans, find plausible the connection between being Jewish and being a victim of history. With respect to Israel, that could of course rapidly change were, God forbid, Israel to suffer a severe setback or defeat at the hands of its enemies. Nobody should want to pay that price for reinvigorating the support of the American people.
During the more than forty years of the Cold War, which is most of the history of the State of Israel, a major reason for support was Israel’s alliance in a free world threatened by Communist totalitarianism. Like the Holocaust, the Cold War is history and will increasingly be viewed as ancient history. Today the claim is made that Israel is America’s best friend in the Middle East, but most Americans are likely inclined to the not unreasonable view that, were it not for Israel, America would not have so many enemies in that part of the world. As the believability of the past reasons for support fade or disappear, fresh attention must be paid the deepest and most abiding reason, namely, that Israel is a Jewish state, and “Jewish” is understood as a religious category. However inarticulate they may be about it, American Christians intuit that there is a divinely ordered entanglement between Christians and Jews that is not there with any other people. Certainly not with Muslims, for the obvious reason that Christians can understand their doctrines, history, and hopes without reference to Islam, while Christianity makes no sense, Christianity would not be, without Judaism.
This deepest and most abiding reason for support for the State of Israel is today being undermined, I believe, by those who would have Israel redefine itself in purely secular terms. Through Jewish friends and occasional visits to Israel, one can appreciate, at least in part, how infuriating the “ultra—Orthodox” may sometimes be, but to force a choice between extreme secularism and extreme religion is a perilous game. Without the religious definition, one must wonder what the identity of Israel would be. A Jewish nation without Judaism is merely a tribal phenomenon, inviting obscene comparisons to the “blood and soil” nationalism that, through the horror of the Third Reich, brought Israel into being. It could even invite the enemies of Israel to revive the infamous slander of the United Nations General Assembly, since rescinded, that Zionism is a form of racism.
In Israel today, with echoes among some Jews in this country, voices are raised in favor of “Post-Zionism.” Limor Livnat, a prominent Israeli political figure, spoke to this phenomenon in an address to the Middle East Forum in New York City. “Post-Zionism is in effect what used to be called anti-Zionism. Post-Zionists claim that they do not oppose the idea of the State of Israel, but claim rather that the task has been completed. They suggest that the idea of a Jewish state is inherently racist, that the words ‘Jewish soul’ should be removed from our national anthem, and that Israel should be a state for all its citizens—a phrase that really implies that Israel should cease to be a Jewish state in all senses. Israel, they argue, should mimic as closely as possible the Western liberal democracies.”
But Israel is not possible apart from being Jewish, Livnat contends. “There are certain ideas that keep a people alive. Once those ideas fade from the collective mind and heart, that people loses its reason to live. A nation that has no unique national character and a people without challenges for the future has nothing to be unified about. With no past, there is no future. . . . Liberalism is not Judaism. Ideas such as majority rule, minority rights, and distributive justice are all to be found in Jewish thought and history. The Jewish people did not return to Israel, however, to foster a rebirth of Western liberal democracy. The only ‘ism’ they came to Israel for is Judaism. . . . And if Israel has no special role as a democracy and as a proponent of Judeo—Christian values, then on what basis is Israel entitled to any sort of special relationship with the United States?”
Of course only Jews can decide how to be Jews, whether it is a matter of Jewishness or of Judaism. In this country, we witness the most promising relationship between Jews and Christians since the Church condemned Marcion as a heretic in the second century. That relationship is strengthened by Jews deciding for Judaism. That decision may also have a strong bearing upon the security of the State of Israel, to the extent that its security depends upon the support of America.
While We’re At It
• I won’t go so far as to say that some of my best friends are, but some of my friends are ethicists, and I don’t want to be too hard on them. But from time to time I’ve been compelled to note that hiring someone to watch the ethical store—whether the subject be bioethics or business ethics—is a dubious undertaking. By the very structure of the relationship to what they’re supposed to be watching, ethicists end up being more lapdogs than watchdogs. Gordon Marino, a philosopher at St. Olaf, notes that the business ethics industry is doing very well at $2 billion per year, but business ethics is not doing so well, as witness Enron, WorldCom, and other scandals. What is basically wrong with the ethics industry, says Professor Marino, is the idea that we can subcontract the work of moral judgment. “First, there are simply no grounds for believing that a person can become an authority on matters moral in the same way that he might on market strategies; that is, by mastering the appropriate information and literature. You can memorize Kant and still be a moral dunce. As Aristotle taught us, moral percipience and judgment are not the product of reading moral treatises and applying them to case histories. Aristotle counsels that if you need moral guidance seek out a person who has succeeded in living a moral life rather than someone who has succeeded in memorizing moral arguments. More important than the lack of philosophical foundation, the idea of ethics experts invites us to believe that the ethical implications of what I am doing are not my business but rather the business of the ethics office down the hall. After all, if there are experts on ethics, then who am I, a nonexpert, to pass moral judgments? Be they ethics audits, codes, or ‘ethics fitness seminars,’ none of the numinous pseudo—products of the ethics industry will restore integrity to commerce. The issues that provoked the present crisis were not overly subtle. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and CEOs do not need a business ethicist to tell them right from wrong. What they need is the character to do the right thing, which is to say, the mettle to avoid the temptation to talk themselves out of their knowledge of right and wrong even if that knowledge lowers their profit margins.”
• For three full days, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), sat down with Peter Seewald, a prominent German journalist, and fielded his questions on, it seems, almost everything. The result is a thick book just out from Ignatius Press, God and the World (460 pages,, $18.95). The conversation tackles the existence of God, theodicy, the feminine dimensions of the Divine, biblical inspiration, the uniqueness of Jesus, and a host of other matters that an intelligent interlocutor might want to take up with Ratzinger. In reading it, I am reminded of his masterful Introduction to Christianity, published more than thirty years ago, and cannot help but wonder again about the many books he might have written were it not for his selfless devotion to the usually thankless tasks of CDF. Herewith, selected more or less at random, a few fragments:
—On the Assumption of Mary. “The dogma says . . . that in Mary’s case what baptism ensures for us all, that is, dwelling ‘enthroned’ with God ‘in heaven’ (God is heaven!), has already been put into effect for Mary. Baptism (being united with Christ) has achieved its full effect. With us this being united with Christ, being raised up, is still very inadequate. Not in her case. . . . She has entered into full community with Christ. And part of this community is another corporal identity, which we cannot imagine. In brief: the essential point of this dogma is that Mary is wholly with God, entirely with Christ, completely a ‘Christian.’“
—Will Mary be declared “Co-redemptrix”? “What is signified by this is already better expressed in other titles of Mary, while the term ‘Co-redemptrix’ departs to too great an extent from the language of Scripture and of the Fathers and therefore gives rise to misunderstandings. . . . Everything comes from Christ; Mary, too, is everything that she is through him. The word ‘Co-redemptrix’ would obscure this origin. A correct intention is being expressed in the wrong way.”
—On the papacy and political power. “The pope does not strictly need to have a state—but he does need freedom, a guarantee of secular independence; he cannot stand in the service of some government. The primacy was only able to develop in Rome because the imperial government had moved to Byzantium. Only this could provide the requisite freedom. The idea that the papacy became so effective because this was the seat of government seems to me to be turning things upside down somewhat. . . . Later on, the Papal States grew out of this situation, bringing with them many disastrous associations, until they were finally lost in 1870–thank God, we would have to say today.”
—In the government of the Church, the pope and curia are expected to do too much. “We are indeed thinking about the extent to which further relief might be found through decentralization. . . . The Second Vatican Council has defined the bishops’ conferences as the form giving concrete shape to supraregional units. . . . There have to be supraregional structures of cooperation that remain more of a loose association and do not degenerate into great bureaucracies or lead to domination by officials. [They] can take over some of the work from Rome.”
—On the contemporary bias against hierarchy, and the relationship between clergy and laity. “I dispute the translation that gives ‘sacred lordship’ as the meaning of ‘hierarchy.’ I am persuaded that the word means ‘sacred origin.’ It means that the Church does not spring from any decisions of ours, but only ever anew from the Lord himself, from the sacrament. The priesthood is what connects the Church with the Lord. It is the way in which the Church transcends herself, not taking her origin from meetings, decisions, learning, or the power of organization, but always and ever and only owing it to Christ. [In Germany] the laity set up their own representation and then the clergy, on their side, form their own groups. This is complete nonsense. What are the clergy there for at all? . . . Their task is precisely to ensure that people do not shape the Church in accordance with their wishes, but rather that she remains in the hands of the Lord. To be a layman is the normal form of being a Christian; the normal form in which the gospel is lived out in this world. That Christianity takes hold of the world and reshapes it, that is the true apostolate of the laity.”
—On the Church in the U.S. “American Catholicism has nowadays become one of the determinative factors in the universal Church. The Church in America is very dynamic. She is, of course, also characterized by tensions. . . . This is a Church that is very strongly bringing to bear the vital element of religion: the courage to give one’s life to and out of faith, in the service of faith. . . . I believe that it is particularly in the American sphere that people are taking up Catholicism as a whole and trying to relate it anew to the modern world.”
—On the hope for Christian unity. “We go forward together. It’s not a matter of our wanting to achieve certain processes of integration, but we hope that the Lord will awaken people’s faith everywhere in such a way that it overflows from one to the other, and the one Church is there. As Catholics, we are persuaded that the basic shape of this one Church is given us in the Catholic Church, but that she is moving toward the future and will allow herself to be educated and led by the Lord. In that sense we do not picture for ourselves any particular model of integration but simply look to march on in faith under the leadership of the Lord—who knows the way.”
“I belong to a Church that is alive and young and that is carrying her work on fearlessly into the future,” said John XXIII, and Ratzinger says he heartily agrees. A big problem, however, is “progressives” who adamantly defend the status quo. “Nowadays, particularly among the most modern representatives of Catholicism, there is a tendency toward uniformity. Whatever is alive and new, anything that does not conform to the academic outlines or to the decisions of commissions or synods, is regarded with suspicion and is excluded as being reactionary. . . . I believe that a great deal of tolerance is required within the Church, that the diversity of paths is something in accordance with the breadth of Catholicity . . . And that is exactly what the office of pope, and the office of a bishop, is there for, to guarantee the breadth, on the one hand, and, on the other, to open up what is closed, what could lead to sectarianism, and to integrate it into the whole.”
• In New Jersey the judicial usurpation of politics is not an aberration to be feared but, it would seem, the established order. When Robert Toricelli was way behind in the Senate race, the Democrats pulled him out of the contest and replaced him with Frank Lautenberg, even though New Jersey law explicitly said that a candidate could not be replaced so late in a campaign. The state’s Supreme Court, in what it called a “liberal” interpretation of the law, simply overrode its provisions. Very liberal indeed. On another issue, fourteen gays and lesbians have brought suit to force New Jersey to grant them wedding licenses. The New Jersey Law Journal runs two editorials on the subject. The first argues at length that the state’s license application form does not specify anything that would prevent same-sex marriages, except for assuming that one partner is male and the other female. That assumption, the editors opine, is now obsolete, for “We are, undoubtedly, becoming more enlightened.” Unfortunately, the people are not so enlightened. The second editorial, “Who Shall Decide?”, acknowledges that “same-sex marriage does not seem to be popular with the voters.” Where it has been put to a vote, it has been voted down. Legislators are also opposed. Therefore, “In choosing the courts, the plaintiffs wisely chose the potentially more hospitable forum. . . . That the sweeping changes the plaintiffs seek may also be a province of the Legislature does not preclude action by a court. Our history is replete with examples of court-initiated profound social change where the Legislature has been silent.” The editors suggest that the court might follow the example of Vermont, where a court ordered the legislature to approve same-sex unions, saying that, if it did not do so “in an orderly and expeditious fashion,” the court would. The editors conclude, “The plaintiffs’ goals are sound and readily achievable by cooperation between the judicial and legislative branches of our government.” Ah yes, cooperation. We tell you what to do and you do it or we’ll do it for you. That “notorious” symposium of 1996 was titled “The End of Democracy?” At this point, at least in New Jersey, we may be permitted to omit the question mark.
• This will be brief, and then I do not intend to revisit the matter unless new provocations make further comment imperative. In the June issue of Commentary, Senior Editor Gabriel Schoenfeld published “Israel and the Anti-Semites,” in which he noted my criticism here of another Commentary article which, in my judgment, seemed to suggest the generalization that critics of Israel are anti-Semites who want to kill Jews. Mr. Schoenfeld said of my comment, “Such are the tortuous rationalizations to which the swell of worldwide anti-Semitism has led.” Given the context of his remarks in an article dealing with “the anti-Semites,” it is not surprising that some readers of Commentary and this journal thought he was accusing me of rationalizing anti-Semitism. They thought he was saying what he seemed to be saying, namely, that my comments were of a piece with, or somehow reflective of, the swell of anti-Semitism. I chose to respond irenically, writing in this space that “I note, but decline to entertain, the possibility that Mr. Schoenfeld is suggesting that anti-Semitism led me to write what I did.” Others responded differently. Mr. Stephen Hubert, in a letter published in the October Commentary, wrote: “Father Neuhaus has been portrayed by Mr. Schoenfeld as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel, which he emphatically is not. . . . Mr. Schoenfeld has indulged in yellow journalism of the worst sort, damaging the integrity of Commentary and the reputation of Father Neuhaus alike. I strongly believe that he is owed a full apology and retraction. . . .” In the same issue, Mr. Schoenfeld responds at length, refusing to apologize or retract, offering a garbled version of my views, and asserting that “the conclusion seems inescapable” that my purpose is to “terminate the debate about Pius XII by dramatically raising the stakes for its Jewish interlocutors, raising the specter of a return of anti-Semitism and an end of support for Israel. If I am right about this, it marks an ominous turn for a leading Christian thinker.” Mr. Schoenfeld is quite wrong about that. I do believe that, in the debate over U.S. policy toward Israel, some Jewish writers have at times dramatically raised the stakes for interlocutors who do not share their views by suggesting that they are anti-Semitic. And an “ominous turn” toward what? Not toward anti-Semitism, I am told. I am solemnly assured that in no way did Mr. Schoenfeld intend to suggest, insinuate, imply, or otherwise give the impression that he thinks I am anti-Semitic or even complicit in the slightest flirtation with anti-Semitism. I am pleased to know that, while, at the same time, observing that Mr. Schoenfeld has an extremely odd way of not saying what I am assured he is not saying. And now, as far as I am concerned, we can all, as they say, move on.
• I should have mentioned that, and thank Father John Ubel of St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, for reminding me. I wrote that the confession of sins and “absolution” before Mass may lead many Catholics to think that sacramental confession is no longer necessary. Fr. Ubel points out that the Confiteor in the old Latin Mass, with its prayers at the foot of the altar to which the people said “Amen,” had virtually the same words. True, but the people did not say all the words, and most probably did not understand the Latin or follow the English translation in a missal. Much to the point is Fr. Ubel’s further observation about the decline in the practice of frequent confession. “One may wish to start with the decline in the reception of the sacrament by priests themselves. After all, Nemo dat non quod habet, ‘You cannot give what you do not have.’ We may need go no farther than that.”
• They’re going to die anyway, so why not derive some good from their deaths? We even talk about “redeeming” the tragedy of so many deaths. Many years ago, the Methodist ethicist Paul Ramsey discussed how seductive this way of thinking and talking is. Then the subject was using aborted fetuses for research purposes; now the debate is about using embryos in research related to stem cells, cloning, and the such. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Lutheran ethicist Gilbert Meilaender provides grist for moral reflection: “The issue of embryo research is not precisely the same as fetal research, of course, but the insight into our ready recourse to the quasi-religious language of finding some redeeming good in what we do is illuminating. We need to think again about the spare-embryo argument. Initially appealing as it may be, offering it seems a chance to move forward with research while still drawing a significant moral line, it begins to lose its force the longer we ponder it and the harder we press on it. The very form of the argument-‘he’ll die anyway; we might as well get some good from his dying’—seduces us into supposing that all moral evils must be forms of ‘harm.’ ‘No harm, no foul’ may work well for officiating basketball, but it does not work well for sorting through our moral obligations. Reducing all moral evils to harm, we blind ourselves to issues of dignity and justice—as if, for example, we would not wrong a permanently unconscious person by selling tickets for others to observe him. We need to slow down, think again, and draw back, lest we train ourselves to think in ways that diminish us as a people. Perhaps this means—though it’s hard to say for sure—that the pace of medical progress must be slower than it could be. If so, that only means that here, as in so many other areas of research, we accept and honor necessary moral limits. For, as Paul Ramsey also put it, ‘the moral history of mankind is more important than its medical history.’“
• It is hardly a surprise that Peter Singer, the philosopher from nowhere, is a proponent of world government. He employs a very familiar trope: “The twentieth century’s conquest of space made it possible for a human being to look at our planet from a point not on it, and so to see it, literally, as one world. Now the twenty-first century faces the task of developing a suitable form of government for that single world.” He recognizes that the idea of world government, which in its modern form goes back at least to Immanuel Kant, has its skeptics. “There is little political support for such ideas at present. Apart from the threat that the idea poses to the self-interest of the citizens of the rich nations, many would say it puts too much at risk, for gains that are too uncertain. It is widely believed that a world government would be, at best, an unchecked bureaucratic behemoth that makes the bureaucracy of the European Union look like a lean and efficient operation. At worst, it would become a global tyranny, unchecked and unchallengable. Those thoughts have to be taken seriously. They present a challenge that should not be beyond the best minds in the fields of political science and public administration, once those people adjust to the new reality of the global community and turn their attention to issues of government beyond national boundaries.” The bureaucrats of the European Union will likely be insulted, and rightly so, by the suggestion that they don’t have “the best minds in the fields of political science and public administration.” Remember Bill Buckley’s line about the Harvard faculty and the Boston telephone directory.
• Garry Wills’ Why I Am a Catholic has already taken up enough space in this section. But I cannot resist mentioning Denis Donoghue’s fine review in, of all places, Wills’ home base, the New York Review of Books. Donoghue dissects, inter alia, the ways in which Wills wants to relocate the Real Presence in “the people of God” rather than in the elements that become the Body and Blood of Christ. Donoghue writes, “Wills seems to want to be a pre-Tridentine Catholic, i.e., one who believes that the Council of Trent introduced severities of doctrine and practice that were unnecessary and improper. He would apparently confine his faith to the articles of the Apostles’ Creed, where Transubstantiation is not mentioned.” A pre-Tridentine Catholic. Think about it. Is it possible that, in very important ways, those who make such a point about being “post-Vatican II Catholics” are really pre-Tridentine Catholics?
• “I believe there is a reason that history has matched this nation with this time,” said President Bush in his address a year after September 11, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. History does not have purposes, but the Lord of history does, so Bush is then more explicit: “We cannot know all that lies ahead. Yet we do know that God has placed us together in this moment, to grieve together, to stand together, to serve each other and our country. And the duty we have been given—defending America and our freedom—is also a privilege we share.” Then he becomes yet more Christianly explicit: “Ours is the cause of human dignity: freedom guided by conscience, and guarded by peace. This ideal of America is the hope of all mankind. That hope drew millions to this harbor. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness will not overcome it.” The last two sentences are, of course, from the prologue to the Gospel of John, where the reference is to Christ. America is not Christ. Bush’s language revives a current in American thought critically analyzed by Ernest Tuveson in Redeemer Nation. The connection between American history and providential purpose received its most eloquent and nuanced expression in the language of Lincoln, but has been a staple in our public rhetoric. It is there in the Declaration of Independence, in the speeches and private correspondence of almost all the founders, and, after Lincoln, presidents Wilson, Reagan, and now Bush have taken to it quite naturally. Among our cultural elites, ACLU types fret about such language violations of the “separation of church and state,” but most dismiss it as rhetorical candy tossed to the patriotic masses. Their attitude is that of Gibbon toward sundry religions in the Roman Empire—for the philosophers they are equally false; for the masses they are equally true; and for the rulers they are equally useful. Theologians and thoughtful Christian leaders are rightly worried about the abuses that sometimes attend what is called civic religion. The master worrier on this score was Reinhold Niebuhr, who warned against dividing the world into “the children of light and the children of darkness.” Some theologians condemn the use of John 1 in the September 11 speech as manifest blasphemy. I don’t think so. It goes right up to the line and threatens to go over it. America is not Christ; we are not the redeemer nation in a way analogous to his being the redeemer of the world. But Judeo-Christian and specifically Christian tropes are a common feature of this President’s public rhetoric. He has gifted speech writers who share his undoubtedly deep Christian convictions. He understands, as many public figures have not and do not, that American virtues such as tolerance and resolve are grounded in religious, and mainly Christian, commitments. He understands that, in moments of great public solemnity, addressing questions of life and death, war and peace, no other language will do if he is to effectively communicate with the American people. More than that, I believe it is the language required to convey his own understanding of history’s drama. In short, such civic religion—if that is the right term for it—is both risky and inevitable. It is not, however, just my theological scrupulosity that makes me wish he had said, “This hope, too, is a light that shines in the darkness. And the darkness will not overcome it.” It is a small but important difference. That being said, it is a refreshing thing to have a President who gives firm and graceful expression to the truth that we are a nation under God—meaning, first of all, under judgment—and that, as Lincoln insisted, the Almighty has His purposes that we must humbly strive to discern and obey, resting our final confidence not in our certainty but in His mercy.
• Popular columnist Bob Greene is out at the Chicago Tribune. It was discovered that he had a sexual contact with an eighteen-year-old woman eleven years ago. Radio host Dennis Prager and Greene had worked together in defense of a four-year-old boy, Danny Warburton, whom the Illinois Supreme Court took away from his family and gave to his birth father, who later abandoned the boy again. Prager writes: “I believe that every man and woman has a moral bank account. Our good deeds are deposits into that account, our bad deeds are withdrawals. It is our task as human beings to try to judge others’ accounts fairly, since every one of us has withdrawals—and if our deposits are ignored, we are all doomed to be judged worthless by others. When assessing people, what is therefore called for is perspective. We need it when judging anyone: strangers, friends, spouses, employees. In the overall context of a person’s life, is there a large amount in the person’s moral account? Then, while not denying the person’s sins—the withdrawals from his or her moral bank account—we must acknowledge the large balance that remains. Despite this particular withdrawal, Bob Greene’s moral bank account remains quite large. I have never personally met Bob Greene. During the Danny Warburton crisis, we spoke by phone almost every day, and only occasionally since. So this is not a brief on behalf of a friend. This is a brief on behalf of a good man who sinned. There are many children in Illinois and elsewhere who lead better lives, who are more loved, because of Bob Greene’s work on their behalf. Bob’s own children need to know that and never to forget it. Their dad strayed morally, and he has acknowledged it. But their dad is a good man. They should know that a lot of us know that. And always will. Not least, the Warburton and Prager families. Whatever sins he has committed pale alongside the good he has done, just as whatever good the five Illinois justices [in the Warburton case] did pales alongside the bad they did. When I realize that the five justices who ruined lives are still honored citizens in Illinois and that Bob Greene, who helped so many, is in disgrace, I recall the ancient Jewish proverb that the good get their punishments in this world and the bad in the next.” Others will no doubt point out that, given the storm over miscreant priests, and the example of the bishops at Dallas, the Tribune had to do what it did.
• A bishop publicly released the names of priests who, over many years, had been accused of sexually abusing minors. With a few exceptions, the alleged offenses occurred from the late sixties to the early eighties. It appears that some admitted their guilt, while others claimed to be innocent. In explaining why he released the names, the bishop indicated that the public had a right to know how many and which priests had been accused, adding, “Telling the truth cannot be wrong.” Well, not quite. If someone tells me that you are beating your wife, and I, regardless of the truth of the matter, tell someone else that I was told you are beating your wife, I am telling the truth, but it is very wrong to do so. “Transparency,” the virtue du jour in the wake of the scandals, can be achieved at too high a price. What is formally “telling the truth” is not always truthful; nor is it fair to those whose reputation and life’s work may be destroyed.
• Chilling developments are brought to our attention by Eric Brown of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “Brave New China,” appearing in the Weekly Standard, describes the ways in which that country is rushing pell mell into the strange new worlds of biotechnology. A “stem cell engineering institute” being constructed near Tianjin plans to fill its vaults with a half million embryonic stem cells, and Chinese scientists have been creating cloned human embryos and letting them grow for the purposes of conducting experiments and harvesting spare parts. Although much of Maoism has been debunked and many Chinese subscribe to the motto “to get rich is glorious,” Brown points out that the dominant doctrine among Chinese intellectuals and planners is still Marxist. “The Marxist shares none of our concern over technological alienation from nature or human nature, but rather is concerned entirely with how to deal with the problem of capitalist exploitation. One need only consider the human catastrophe of earlier Marxist revolutions (or even the devastation of nature in China or the former Soviet Union) to know where such frenzied technological hubris likely leads. The power to remake man genetically presupposes the willingness to treat human life as a genetic project. It distorts every aspect of our humanity into a material problem with a potential material solution. Given the suppression of intellectual and religious freedom in China today, there is at present little effective moral or political opposition to the idea that genetic engineering is destiny. Moreover, one can only expect that our own biotechnical innovations, once in Chinese hands, will be used to further the totalitarian project, regardless of the libertarian or humanitarian motives that might have inspired their creation here.” In addition to the one-child-per-couple policy of population control, the Chinese government is increasingly explicit about its embrace of eugenics, resulting in abortion or infanticide for “defectives,” and the sterilization of hundreds of thousands of women. All this in the name of a revolution aimed at “the new man in the new society”—a revolution that could end up making the human ravages of Mao’s cultural revolution look benign by comparison.
• I doubt if it should be at the top of anybody’s list of crises needing attention, but there is this ongoing argument about whether the Creed in the Liturgy should begin with “I believe” or “We believe.” It was changed to the latter some three decades ago, and now Rome wants it changed back. Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pennsylvania, has been for years a major player in what is termed liturgical renewal, and he recently gave a major speech decrying in somewhat alarmist tones what he views as Rome’s efforts to slow down, or even reverse, all the good things that have happened. He said, “The official Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states why we proclaim we believe. ‘I believe (Apostles’ Creed) is the faith of the Church professed personally by each believer, principally during baptism. But we believe (Nicene Creed) is the faith of the Church confessed by the liturgical assembly of believers.’ (§167).” He adds that for Rome “to void this principle is a liturgical setback for community participation in the eucharist—it is a regression in the understanding of the community dimension of eucharist.” The Catechism, however, does not quite say what he says it says. It says, “‘We believe’ is the faith of the Church confessed by bishops assembled in council or more generally by the liturgical assembly of believers.” It then concludes, “‘I believe’ is also the Church, our mother, responding to God by faith as she teaches us to say both ‘I believe’ and ‘We believe.’“ Yet more interesting is the reason Bishop Trautman objects to Rome’s proposal. “Are we to tell our people now that the bishops’ approval of these texts some thirty-five years ago and Rome’s confirmation of that approval was flawed? Has the English-speaking world been praying with inaccurate texts confirmed by the Holy See?” I suppose the answer to both questions is yes. Liberals are generally insistent that Rome should admit that it makes mistakes. Apparently it’s a bit dicier when the suggestion is that bishops should admit that bishops make mistakes. Although in this speech and many others Bishop Trautman insists that liturgical renewal means perpetual change, and it is hard to know why something should be changed if it is not flawed. As for the English texts, it is true, as I think almost all scholars acknowledge, that many of them are inaccurate translations. At least as big a problem is that the English translations are so banal and vulgar. Recall Father George Rutler’s answer when asked if there is anything he misses since leaving the Anglican communion: “Oh yes, the liturgy in English.” So what are we to make of Bishop Trautman’s complaint? With respect, he is an unhappy defender of the old guard of a liturgical establishment that over more than three decades has done a lot of things that many Catholics, and now Rome, think are deeply flawed. Why should that be so hard to accept, especially if one is devoted, as Bishop Trautman so manifestly is, to open-ended criticism and change? Why should the professional establishment of liturgists be exempt from such criticism and change? I believe these are valid questions, and more and more people seem to agree. The day may come when, with the exception of a few dissenters who have a steep stake in continuing to do what was done before, one will be able to say that we believe that.
• Here comes not quite everybody wanting to help me keep my “Here Comes Everybody” title for the Catholic Church in play, despite Jody Bottum’s cavils. It is pointed out that the Catholic columnist Tim Unsworth titled his memoir Here Comes Everybody , attributing it to James Joyce. And Anthony Burgess’ introduction to Joyce is titled “Here Comes Everybody,” with apparent reference to the Church. Thanks for the efforts, but now if somebody could come up with evidence that Joyce actually said the Church is “Here Comes Everybody.”
• The informed estimate of Alexander N. Yakovlev is that under Lenin, Stalin, and their successors sixty million citizens were killed, mostly by political murder, and millions more died of starvation, mostly by regime-induced famines. Yakovlev should know. He reached the heights of the Politburo and Central Committee and, under Gorbachev, promoted the perestroika that presaged the end of the evil empire. Now repentant for his role in the terror, Yakovlev heads a committee working for what he admits is the hopeless task of providing restitution for the victims, but in A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia (Yale University Press) he draws on hitherto secret documents to at least clarify the record. Despite the author’s frequently disjointed writing style, this is a gripping story that, among other things, decisively debunks the myth that Stalin was an aberration who distorted the more benign intentions of Lenin. In agreement with scholars such as Richard Pipes, Yakovlev demonstrates that the murderous theories, passions, and policies were thoroughly Leninist. His chapter on the intelligentsia is a devastating account of the ways in which intellectuals, artists, and writers eagerly collaborated with the regime in doing one another in. He shows how, by way of sharpest contrast, churchmen offered courageous resistance, producing many thousands of martyrs. Stalin attempted to create an alternative “Red church”—in a way similar to Hitler’s Deutsche Christen among German Protestants—but was soon forced to give up for the lack of willing collaborators. He then decided on the more successful course of infiltrating the Russian Orthodox Church by appointing KGB agents and other puppets to high ecclesiastical positions. For many of today’s young people, all this is ancient history from which we have long since “moved on.” That is a great pity. Remembering the martyrs is a solemn duty. Remembering the consequences when the rule of God is displaced by the ideology of militant secularism—whether explicitly or just “functionally” atheistic—is necessary to preventing a repeat of history’s horrors, from which, it is to be feared, many Americans have not learned what must be learned if the foundations of freedom are to be secured.
• For the record: Several readers have pointed out that I misspoke when I said my friend James Finn and I “launched” Worldview magazine in the early seventies. They are right. Worldview was a publication of the Council on Religion and International Affairs begun many years earlier with William Clancy as its editor. Clancy went on to become a priest, and Jim succeeded him as Editor in 1961. It is more accurate to say that Worldview was re-launched in the early seventies in a very different format and with great ambitions, some of which were realized. I stand by my statement that Worldview “was in important ways the forerunner to [First Things—>www.firstthings.com].”
• Kenneth Woodward wrote in the last issue about the New York Times’ obsessing over Catholic sex scandals, indicating how, in the absence of anything new, front-page stories rehash three or four times earlier front-page stories. The obsession has its amusing aspects. The Times has a feature called “World Briefing,” with short squibs of a few hundred words by correspondents around the world writing on events that do not warrant, or at least do not get, fuller treatment. The feature is divided into sections: Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia. In today’s paper, as usual, Europe gets most attention, with five stories treating right-wing politics in Austria, Ireland’s problems with the EU, the Greek rejection of Nazi-era claims for compensation, etc. For Africa, our attention is drawn to Mugabe’s repression in Zimbabwe, opposition politics in Kenya, and Christian-Muslim fighting in Nigeria, while the Asia coverage deals with human rights violations in China and Vietnam. Then we come to the “Americas” section. Americas, which excludes the U.S., takes in big countries such as Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Peru, along with perpetual crisis spots of Central America, such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Think of all the newsworthy things that must be happening in this huge area that includes hundreds of millions of people: earthquakes, economic turmoil, rebel insurgencies, assassinations, murders, trade agreements and disagreements, something new in literature or the arts, elections, and on and on. Surveying that large part of the globe from the heights of 43rd Street, an editor decides that from the Americas one item, and one item only, must be brought to the attention of the readers of the Times: a priest in Mexico City is accused of sexually abusing minors. Our newspaper of record comes through once again. (To the protest from the peanut gallery: no, I’m not obsessing over the Times. The item just happened to catch my eye as I was giving the Times its fifteen minutes of attention over early morning coffee. I thought it mildly amusing, as the Times, in its ideologically driven earnestness, increasingly is.)
• Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations, is almost always worth listening to. (I don’t know why I slipped that “almost” in there. I suppose it’s from the habit of writing about lesser thinkers.) The Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center had Huntington in for an extended conversation with journalists in the course of which he expounded, as he does in his book, on the new centrality of culture rather than ideology in international conflicts, and the attendant reemergence of religion as a critical factor in human affairs. One of his themes was that globalization does not necessarily mean Westernization, never mind Americanization. American executives of world companies, he notes, insist that “Globalization means localization,” and Huntington describes some of the ways in which companies such as McDonald’s make themselves indigenous to the countries where they operate. Yet many are offended by America’s “cultural imperialism,” and Huntington is asked how we might restrain the offensive aspects of our world hegemony. Huntington’s answer, I think, lifts up a dimension of globalization seldom discussed: “I’m an unrestrained enthusiast for restraint. I would hope we could act in a more cautious, moderate way. But I think in our culture there is the assumption of universalism, the assumption that everyone else in the world is basically like us in terms of culture and values. If they are not like us, they want to become like us. And if they don’t want to become like us, then there is something wrong with them. They don’t understand their true interests, and we have to persuade them to want to become like us. That’s a most unfortunate set of assumptions on our part, and it underlies a lot of what we do. We’re going to have to get used to living in a world where there are different cultures, different civilizations, different values and priorities. There may be some sort of convergence, but only over a very long period of time. I argue in my book that when countries begin to modernize, modernization and Westernization seem very closely linked, and the modernizing countries think they have to import all these things from the West in order to develop. In Japan, back in the 1870s, there was a big discussion of whether they should adopt English as a national language in order to modernize and develop. They decided not to, and they developed very nicely without having the benefits of the English language. But there’s this sort of assumption that the two have to go together. As the process goes on, however, modernization and Westernization become separate. As countries modernize, they tend to find new virtues in their traditional values and culture, and they attribute to those traditional values their success at modernization.”
• Get in line to list yours as “the fastest growing religion in America.” Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and now Wicca all make the claim. It helps if you start out with a really small number. Wicca claims fifty thousand, although it seems nobody has, or could, take a count. Wicca started with an English eccentric, Gerald Gardner, who in the late 1930s pasted together sundry rituals and customs, including nudity, from a local coven of witches, Indian folklore, and the far-out British sex practitioner Aleister Crowley. Wicca, the Anglo-Saxon word for wizard, he mistranslated as “wise one.” Catherine Sanders reviews a recent Wicca book, Witchcrafting: A Spiritual Guide to Making Magic, by Phyllis Curott. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Sanders says, “The sexual theme appears in her chapter on Sabbats, the Wiccan holidays. Curott instructs readers to not only dance ‘skyclad,’ but to ‘make love with someone you love’ after returning from the maypole celebration celebrated the first day of May. ‘And don’t forget to practice safe sex!’ she cheerily adds. You’d think that the ‘spirituality’ of Wicca would be vitiated by the fact that even its practitioners admit that they’ve made it all up. But the problem here is finally not that this is all silly and incoherent. It’s rather that those who practice it do so because they like toying with an evil they don’t actually believe exists, which gives them the frisson of doing something wicked while promising they’ll be safe doing it.” Of course it’s easy to dismiss all this as a silliness indulged by people with neuroses to spare, but that it is silly doesn’t mean it’s harmless, says Sanders. “After most Wiccan rituals, women are encouraged to turn to one another and inculcate self-worship by saying, ‘Thou Art Goddess.’ History suggests that beliefs rooted in narcissism and hedonism tend to issue in nasty consequences. Don’t go dancing naked around the maypole with these women. It starts silly, and it ends cruel.”
• As everyone knows, America is a hothouse of religious pluralism. If anyone doubts that, just refer him to Diane Eck’s The New Religious America, discussed in these pages in the October 2001 issue. In response to our society’s maddeningly churning diversity, the Veteran Affairs Department has changed its rules. Until 1979, grave headstones that the department provides for deceased veterans included only the Latin Cross, Star of David, and Wheel of Righteousness, representing Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist faiths. Now veterans or their families may choose from among no less than thirty-one emblems of belief, including Eckankar, Konko-Kyo, Hindu, and Atheist. There were 306,909 burials last year, and 98.96 percent of the emblems chosen were Christian (including Mormon and Unitarian), while 99.83 percent were Christian or Jewish. All the other emblems combined account for a grand total of 00.17 percent of those chosen. And you still persist in thinking that this country is, even in some minimal sociological sense, Christian America?
• The plot thickens. In the Weekly Standard, Mary Eberstadt published two articles, “Pedophilia Chic,” and a couple of years later, “Pedophilia Chic, Reconsidered.” Her point was that, as sure as deeper night follows night, the legitimation of pedophilia—or intergenerational sex, as it is politely called—is the next big breakthrough in sexual liberation. She cited as evidence the argument of Hanna Rosin in the New Republic that our laws reflect our hang-ups about childhood sexuality, as though Freud had never exploded the myth of the erotic innocence of children. Now Judith Levine has published Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex, put out by the University of Minnesota Press, with a foreword by Joycelyn Elders, the former Surgeon General. Among Dr. Elders’ contributions to the public good, it may be recalled, was pointing out that many children suffer from inadequate skills in masturbating, and the schools should do something about that. Well, now Hanna Rosin reviews the Levine book, which gives her a chance to revisit the question of sex with children. Speaking of her New Republic piece, she writes, “In retrospect my tone was a bit too glib for the topic, and certain of my smug little asides make me cringe, especially now that I have a child.” In her book Levine writes, “Sex with children does not a pedophile make,” a sentence much pilloried by critics. Rosin says that Levine is simply guilty of sloppy grammar, that she really means no more than to say that someone who, maybe just once, has sex with a child does not necessarily fit the clinical profile of a pedophile. Rosin writes, “Grammar aside, Levine seems far too invested in vindicating pedophiles.” Just how invested should one be in vindicating pedophiles? Grammar aside, Rosin is now fairly sensible about the matter, suggesting that schools should butt out of the sex education business, lest they end up “robbing my children of their own chance for discovery, and dulling the mystery around the whole thing.” Levine, responding to Rosin’s criticism, defends both her argument and her grammar. Age of consent laws are arbitrary, she says, and not based on “any evidence of psychological harm.” Moreover, “statutory rape prosecutions often do a lot of harm to the putative victim.” Levine adds, lest there be any misunderstanding, “That doesn’t mean I condone all sex between adults and minors.” Somehow I do not think Mary Eberstadt will be reassured.
• There is no end of books and essays on the topic “Why I am still a Catholic,” the implication being that the authors are doing the Church a favor. In this respect, radical feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, who prefers to call herself a radical ecofeminist, provides a modicum of refreshment. Her purpose is to revolutionize the Catholic Church and, through it, the world. Many years ago, in response to the question why she remains a Catholic, she answered that that is where the mimeograph machines are. I suppose that today her answer would be technologically updated, but the substantive point is that the Church can be used for the revolution. Upon her retirement from twenty-five years of teaching at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, a Methodist school, Ruether said in an interview with U.S. Catholic magazine, “Frankly, if I hadn’t been born into the Catholic Church I doubt I would have joined it.” But she continues to be committed to the project of changing the Church and, she observes, “To do that, I need to continue to identify as a Catholic, although I also function ecumenically and interreligiously, so it’s not a limitation for me.” It is a position that has the merit, albeit very limited merit, of being frank.
• It’s time for the annual survey of names being given babies, something we do each time the government data is released. This year there is also a book on the subject, A Matter of Taste, by Harvard sociologist Stanley Lieberson. Lisa, Mary, Karen, Susan, and Kimberley are out. Emily, Madison, Hannah, Ashley, and Alexis are in. The latter were the most popular names for girls born in 2001. Emily and Hannah? Imagine that. They are names I associate with aunts and great-aunts born at the beginning of the last century. Madison, Ashley, and Alexis are, although most parents probably don’t know it, eighteenth-and nineteenth-century names for boys. The pattern holds that the cute and the novel prevail in naming girls. In the 1960s, Michael, David, John, James, and Robert were the top five for boys. Now it’s Michael, Jacob, Matthew, Joshua, and Christopher. The favorite names for boys continue to be biblical or religious in nature. Does this suggest that greater gravity comes into play in naming boys? That would seem to be the case. One way to put it is that boys are taken more seriously. Or it may be that the arrival of a baby girl evokes a greater mood of delight and whimsy. The story on the Lieberson book in the New York Times puts a modernizing spin on the matter: “Whether in names or clothes, fashion reflects the primacy of individual taste over inherited custom. The freer people feel to choose names they like, rather than names of relatives or saints, the faster names go through cycles. Boys’ names, which tend to be more influenced by custom, change slower.” But the writer does not ask why boys’ names change more slowly. One might suggest that there are few things more reflective of “inherited custom,” or perhaps even of human nature, than the intuition of parents that there really is a difference between boys and girls. The new thing, dominant in the slice of the culture to which the Times caters, is that that elementary intuition is viewed as deeply suspect.
• It was not until 1975 that the Times Literary Supplement adopted the policy of running signed reviews. Reviewing a book on the centenary of the TLS, David Lodge writes: “T. S. Eliot believed that anonymity was a beneficial discipline, especially for the young critic, when practiced under the eye of a scrupulous editor like Bruce Richmond. In a tribute to the latter on his ninetieth birthday, Eliot said: ‘I learned to moderate my dislikes and crotchets, to write in a temperate and impartial way; I learned that some things are permissible when they appear over one’s name, which become tasteless eccentricity or unseemly violence when unsigned.’“ One may take liberties when writing in one’s own name. It’s not as though the august editorial board of a publication had resolved that John Doe’s argument is really dumb. It’s simply Whatshisname’s opinion of John Doe’s argument. At least I feel free to take such liberties in this space, although never, I hope, descending to the tasteless, eccentric, unseemly, or violent. Lodge refers to “the increasingly personalized, media-dominated cultural climate,” and I’ve been thinking about that in connection with the “blogger” phenomenon. Many readers are no doubt familiar with the rapidly multiplying number of personalized weblogs (hence “bloggers”) on the Internet. Andrew Sullivan is one of the phenomenon’s notable perpetrators and celebrants and he has remarked, half jokingly I assume, that this space is the original instance of blogging. This space is, I admit, largely composed of running and mostly random reflections and reactions occasioned by events, arguments, and sundry curiosities loosely related to the mix of religion, culture, and public life. And it is unabashedly personal. Yet I would prefer not to be classed with the bloggers. Not out of snobbery, mind you. There are some important differences. For one thing, there are other editors involved, and it is by no means rare that they persuade me that I really don’t want to say something that I said. Most important, there is a very big difference between the bloggers’ daily or five-times-per-day postings and a journal that appears ten times a year. We have a lead time of weeks between going to press and the journal’s hitting the mails, which makes the “use by” date an important consideration. Especially in commenting on unfolding developments, one must ask, “How will this read a month from now?” And, given our readers’ propensity for saving issues, copying items for classroom use, and citing them in articles and books, one asks, “How will this read a year or two from now?” That is somewhat short of the wisdom induced by writing sub specie aeternitatis, but it does provide a measure of perspective. It lends itself to more considered reflection than, for instance, blogger Mark Shea’s clever riposte to Kathryn Jean Lopez’s point posted fifteen minutes ago. Don’t get me wrong; I rather like the blogger insurgency. I quickly learned it can be addictive; going from link to link, you discover that you’ve wasted an hour or more on mildly entertaining ephemera. So I have a rule of giving the bloggers no more than fifteen minutes per day, which has the happy effect of cutting about the same amount of time from reading the Times, which in recent months, under the drearily leftist editorship of Howell Raines, has become less and less interesting, not to mention less and less reliable. Well, as you may have surmised, this little item rather perfectly illustrates the point, doesn’t it? Whether it will be of interest by the time you read this, I have no idea. But it is provoked by the estimable T. S. Eliot’s observation about personalized writing, and may therefore stand the test, if not of the ages, at least of a few weeks.
• There’s that old gibe about a nuclear bomb dropped on New York and eliciting the Washington Post headline, “Nuclear Attack on New York: Women and Minorities Hardest Hit.” In an instance of life aspiring to parody, the Post headline about a mad sniper who drove around the D.C. area killing people at apparent random reads, “Arbitrary Victims, Identical Fate: County’s Growing Diversity Reflected in Those Gunned Down.” There’s a bright side to everything.
• There has been a striking increase in the number of high school seniors, male and female, who say they are virgins. Researchers attribute that to the rampant spread of venereal diseases, plus the effect of abstinence programs. We may hope that a moral awakening may be a contributing factor. Also, a national study by the University of California, Berkeley, finds that there are significantly different views on abortion between Americans aged fifteen to twenty-two and those aged twenty-seven to fifty-nine. Forty-four percent of the young people—compared to 34 percent of the adults—support various restrictions on abortion. Planned Parenthood and its allies say this is because young people do not remember when abortions were illegal, and there is no doubt something to that. People who think there are too many abortions and favor more protective laws for the unborn, but also want to keep abortion as a fall—back option in emergencies, have not yet experienced a moral awakening. On the other hand, more protective laws would save lives. Perhaps with the consequence that people would no longer think there are “too many” abortions. So the news from the Berkeley study is mixed. Much like life itself.
• For years Hadley Arkes of Amherst pressed and pushed and argued and countered counterarguments, until he was at risk of making a pest of himself. Would it not be a good idea, he relentlessly queried, to at least take a very small step and establish in law that it is not allowed to kill babies who are already born? You might have thought that was already the law, but it was not. The pro-abortion position is that even a born baby is to have its existence defined exclusively by the mother. If she has an abortion, for the obvious reason that she does not want a baby, then a baby born alive is, in the eyes of the law, not a baby and could be killed. Or, as one judge put it, “the woman has a right to a dead fetus.” It sounds as grotesque as it is, but that was the state of the law. Until Professor Arkes finally prevailed and all his erudite peskiness paid off with the passage of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. Now it is established that a born baby is not an entity defined by human will but is a baby, and is not to be killed. Planned Parenthood and its allies fought the measure every step of the way, saying it was a small but crucial move in the direction of overturning Roe v. Wade. Let us hope they are right. Just between us, I think that is what my friend Hadley Arkes had in mind all along. Now the irrepressible fellow comes back with a list of possible measures President Bush might initiate, such as Justice Department inquiries into abortion-related practices in hospitals and other facilities receiving federal funds. They might not have any immediate legal or other practical effect, but they might put the pro-abortionists further on the defensive. Arkes writes: “And yet, just by posing these questions, or mulling over, in public, the possibility of executive orders, the administration could set off tremors among its adversaries. Perhaps President Bush could even ponder a problem aloud, as Ronald Reagan often did, in his remarks on the State of the Union. Mr. Bush could say, ‘We came together as Republicans and Democrats to protect the child who survived an abortion. But what does that mean? Does the child have an intrinsic dignity that commands our respect and protection? And if so, what follows from that? How does that understanding bear on the way we treat other children, born or unborn? I am not offering answers tonight; I just pose the question.’ The President may not wish to remind some of his followers that his position on abortion is one they find uncomfortable. Still, they are not likely to be offended by a simple, disarming posing of questions. There is little to be lost in this gentle public teaching, and yet it may set off movements that cause wonder to us all.” Hadley Arkes, it should be added, knows about gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) measures that set off changes that cause wonder to us all. If there are pro-life organizations out there that are bestowing awards in the near future, Prof. Arkes can be reached at Amherst College, Department of Political Science, Amherst, Massachusetts, 01002.
• The “Jewish lobby” has America in its hip pocket. So says Philip Weiss, a leftist columnist of the New York Observer. It’s not polite to mention the Jewish lobby, he says, but it is the power that is calling the plays. He calls “moronic” a talk show on the difference between European and American attitudes toward the Middle East. The show ignored the obvious: “Jews are empowered in American society in a way that they are not in Europe. Indeed, Jewish money may be the most important segment of Democrat Party fund-raising.” In this year’s primaries, Jewish money bankrolled the defeat of Congressmen who dared to speak a brave word for Palestinian rights, Weiss complains. But liberal Jews don’t want to talk about the nefarious workings of the Zionist lobby. A liberal journalist friend told Weiss, “Well, we know where that conversation ends up: in the ovens of Auschwitz.” So afraid are Jews of stirring an anti-Semitic backlash. Liberal Jews pretend to be shocked when Arabs speak about the Jewish influence in the American media. The Arabs are simply stating the obvious, says Weiss. “It’s only understandable that these theories have taken root. Jews represent an American elite. They have money, they have power, and Ariel Sharon has explicitly called upon them to use their influence over the American political process.” As a result, liberal Jews are holding hands with “right-wing Republicans” and other unsavory types. “The [William] Kristols, [Charles] Krauthammers, and [William] Safires have brought in their crowd—neoconservatives and Christian evangelicals.” That these men, all Jews, command the constituency of evangelical Christians is a fresh insight into the curious workings of American politics. Philip Weiss has a point, however unoriginal, about the influence of Jews in our country and its policy toward the Middle East. Whether one wants to call it “the Jewish lobby” is, I suppose, a matter of taste, at least in part. Most Jews are strongly pro-Israel, having reason to believe that some of the nations surrounding it just may mean what they say when they declare their intention to drive the Jewish state into the sea. As for evangelical Christians, they are hardly the puppets of Jewish neocons (or of the libertarian Safire). They have their own reasons—sometimes wildly apocalyptic, more often soberly biblical—for believing that there is a providentially intended connection between Jews, Christians, and the land they call holy. So why is Philip Weiss flirting with language about Jewish conspiracies that is reminiscent of old-fashioned anti-Semites? Because, I expect, he, like many extremists on both the right and the left, has a hard time accepting that people who disagree with him have, they think, good and entirely respectable reasons for doing so.
• Militant Islam Reaches America by Daniel Pipes (Norton) makes some important points, Judith Miller allows in the New York Times Book Review. But his description of the threat posed by militant Islam, or Islamism, has a sometimes “intemperate tone” and, more important, lacks balance. “His prescriptions for what he calls the world’s most dangerous movement,” Ms. Miller writes, “barely mention the need to defend America’s secularism or the extent to which secular laws, values, and traditions are under attack not only by militant Muslims but also by the Bush administration and its allies on the Christian right.” But of course. Islamists fly passenger planes into skyscrapers, execute homosexuals and political dissenters, forbid women to show their faces in public, and threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction. But how about the religious fanatics at the Family Research Council who encourage family stability, urge the protection of unborn children, and support parental choice in education? She got you there, Dan Pipes.
• In Toronto, 800,000 young people hung on his every word. Then he was off to Mexico where he was greeted by what was probably the largest gathering in human history. Then, in quick succession, to Poland where millions turned out to listen, to pray, and to cheer. Each step of the way was accompanied, as usual, by media commentary on his fragility, and speculation that he would now retire. As twenty years ago his youthful athleticism carried the message of vibrant joy in discipleship, so now his physical weakness proclaims the mystery of participation in redemptive suffering. In response to questions about his resigning, he has repeatedly said, “Christ did not come down from the cross.” Uwe Siemon-Netto, religion correspondent for UPI and a Lutheran, writes of such press speculation: “Did they really believe that this man who has stood up to the Nazis, the Communists, and a potential assassin had suddenly turned into a petit bourgeois, who says, ‘Ah, it’s so cozy at home. I’ll stay. Let others worry now about evangelizing the world.’ Misreading this Pope is of course a quintessentially postmodern malady. We live in a time when it’s fashionable to abandon one’s responsibilities. Husbands and wives run away from each other at the flimsiest excuses. Parents abandon their children or just have them killed before birth when it seems inconvenient to carry a pregnancy to term. . . . Let’s face it, those Pope watchers, who keep cooking up rumors about their man shuffling about a Polish park in felt slippers soon, like some retired postal clerk, are simply caught up in their postmodern narcissism. This is why they fail to grasp the essence of this remarkable man.”
• “We pray for the victims today. May they rest in peace,” said John Paul II a year after September 11. “And may God show mercy and forgiveness for the authors of this horrible terror attack.” The reaction of Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe columnist, is representative of several I’ve read. Jacoby makes clear that he’s a great admirer of the Pope, but then goes on to say, “Nonetheless, his prayer is an affront,” and explains why. Forgiveness must be earned, he says, and offering forgiveness without repentance by the offenders is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer meant by “cheap grace.” The claim that we are to love and forgive unrepentant evildoers “is worse than theologically unsound; it eats away at the very foundation of civilization,” and so forth. So who is responsible for leading the good Pope astray in this instance? I suppose we could blame Jesus who said that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Sometimes, as in Luke 17, he speaks of forgiving the brother who repents, but at other times there is no condition, and nowhere does he speak of forgiveness as being earned. Jacoby defends the Jewish understanding of these matters and that’s fair enough. “In the moral universe as in the physical universe,” he writes, “there is an order to things. Repentance comes before forgiveness, not the other way around. Those who forgive unrepentant evildoers make the world not a better place, but a worse one.” Well, yes and no. On the question of love and forgiveness there may be, as many claim, a substantive difference between Judaism and Christianity. In any event, it’s worth noting that the Pope did not forgive the terrorists; he prayed that God might show them mercy and forgiveness. We hear people say, “God may forgive them, but I can’t.” That’s understandable, if it is understood as a confession of our spiritual weakness. But we know we are called to forgive. If I say I forgive the terrorists, it is not—as in sacramental absolution—a statement that affects their standing before the judgment of God. It is certainly not to be confused with excusing what they did. If what they did was excusable, there would be no occasion for forgiving them. To say I forgive them is a statement of my disposition toward them. In full awareness of the evil they did, and never forgetting it, I pray them well; I pray they may find the mercy and forgiveness of God; I refuse to hate them. Others who would do such things must be stopped, if necessary by force, for the good of those whom they would harm and also for their own good. In sum, and just as He told us to, I love my enemies. I confess that I’m not always very good at this, but I’m working on it, in the keen awareness that, if I do not forgive them, I jeopardize my hold on the sheer gift, all unearned, of being forgiven.
• A third or more of our subscribers teach in colleges or universities, and we’ve been thinking about how to turn that to the journal’s advantage, and to the advantage of younger thinkers who should be reading FT. So here is what we came up with. If you teach at a college or university and have two or three students who graduated this past year who you think would benefit from reading FT and might become long-term subscribers, please send us their names and addresses and we will send them a one-year subscription absolutely free. In the hope, of course, that they will renew on their own. And, with your permission, we will tell them that the subscription is given on your recommendation. But please, no more than three or it will bust our budget. Send names and addresses to [First Things—>www.firstthings.com], 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, New York, New York 10010. Thank you.
Sources: ELCA and the gay agenda, Forum Letter, October 2002. J. Bottum on Francis Fukuyama, Weekly Standard, April 29, 2002. Peter Steinfels on Church scandals in the media, Tablet, September 14, 2002.
While We’re At It: Gordon Marino on business ethics, Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2002. Usurpations of politics in New Jersey, New Jersey Law Journal, September 30, 2002. On the Confiteor, personal correspondence. Gilbert Meilaender on medical progress, Weekly Standard, August 26 and September 2, 2002. Peter Singer on world government, Chronicle of Higher Education, October 11, 2002. Denis Donoghue on Garry Wills, New York Review of Books, October 24, 2002. Eric Brown on “brave new China,” Weekly Standard, September 23, 2002. Bishop Donald Trautman on translation of the Creed, Origins , September 19, 2002. What’s newsworthy in the Americas, New York Times , September 19, 2002. Catherine Sanders on Wicca, Weekly Standard, November 26, 2001. Christian America and the Veterans Administration, Washington Post, May 27, 2002. Pedophilia chic revisited, Slate , June 4, 2002. Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Catholicism, Christian Century , May 22 and 29, 2002. Baby names, New York Times, May 23, 2002. On blogging, New York Review of Books, May 23, 2002. Diversity in death, Washington Post, October 3, 2002. Virginity and abortion in high school, Pro-Life Infonet, September 25, 2002. The irrepressible Hadley Arkes, World, August 24, 2002. Philip Weiss on the Jewish lobby, New York Observer, September 23, 2002. Judith Miller on Islamism, New York Times Book Review, September 29, 2002. Uwe Siemon—Netto on John Paul II, UPI, August 19, 2002. Jeff Jacoby on forgiveness, Boston Globe, September 15, 2002.