The Really Poor
There is a very big and very important argument underway about what is to be done, if anything can be done, about the really poor of the world. An admirably lucid and informed contribution to the argument is Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (Oxford). There are approximately six billion people on earth; the top billion are enjoying historically unprecedented prosperity; the next four billion are on their way to similar affluence; the bottom billion, writes Collier, coexist with the twenty-first century but their reality is the fourteenth century: civil war, plague, ignorance.
Why should we care? Collier answers, A future world with a billion people living in impoverished and stagnant countries is just not a scenario we can countenance. At another point he writes: I have a little boy who is six. I do not want him to grow up in a world with a vast running sore”a billion people stuck in desperate conditions alongside unprecedented prosperity.
In short, the argument is moral. But make no mistake about it, The Bottom Billion is not a moralistic tract. It is a practical, even a disturbingly practical, guide to what can be done. Collier is professor of economics at Oxford University and the former director of development research at the World Bank, with a lifelong special interest in Africa. Seventy percent of the bottom billion are in Africa. If nothing is done, the bottom billion will gradually diverge from the rest of the world economy over the next couple of decades, forming a ghetto of misery and discontent.
It is a mistake, Collier contends, to talk about world poverty in general. The four billion in the middle are, albeit at an uneven pace, on their way to prosperity. As a generality, the poor are not getting poorer; they are getting much, much richer. Except for the bottom billion, who are disconnected from the dynamics of productivity and exchange and, as a consequence, are getting poorer and will likely get poorer still.
The aforementioned debate about world poverty is largely framed by books offering dramatically different analyses and remedies. I have earlier discussed William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden (November 2006). Easterly, too, has a long history of working in development programs, and his book is a withering critique of the waste, corruption, and wrongheadedness that make such programs not just frequently but typically counterproductive. It is certainly not Easterly’s intention, but it is understandable, that many invoke The White Man’s Burden in their argument against development aid as such. Better, they say, to leave the world’s poor to their own resources or, as the case may be, to their fate.
Easterly’s book is in sharpest contrast to Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty , a passionate call to action by multiplying the amount of development aid from the rich nations to the poor of the world. Sachs is an economist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University who would convince us that the end of poverty is a matter of the generosity of the rich in doing their moral duty. Niall Ferguson reviewed The Bottom Billion for the New York Times and, quite rightly, underscored its differences with Jeffrey Sachs’ argument. In a subsequent letter to the Times , Sachs complained that Ferguson was trying to pick a fight between him and Paul Collier. Sachs had words of high praise for Collier and said that they are in agreement on their analysis of the poverty trap. One has to wonder whether Sachs read Collier’s book.
It is precisely Collier’s argument that poverty itself is not a trap. If poverty were a trap, the whole world would be as poor as it once was. Collier writes: Nor do I believe that poverty itself is a trap. These development failures occurred against a backdrop of global development success”poverty is something that most people are managing to escape. Since 1980 world poverty has been falling for the first time in history. Nor was it just a matter of Africa. Elsewhere there were also development failures: countries such as Haiti, Laos, Burma, and the Central Asian countries, of which Afghanistan has been the most spectacular. A one-size-fits-all explanation for development failure doesn’t ring true against such diversity. In sum, and contra Jeffrey Sachs, the great challenge is not world poverty but the plight of the bottom billion.
Instead of the poverty trap, Collier contends that the bottom billion are caught in four other traps: the conflict trap , involving civil wars and genocides; the natural resource trap, in which oil or other riches deflect attention from economic development; the trap of being landlocked with bad neighbors , which results in the stifling of trade and communications; and the trap of bad governance in a small state , creating pervasive governmental corruption and the undermining of legal economic order.
These four traps, individually and working in combination, result in the marginalization of the bottom billion from the dynamics of global development. In this respect and others, Paul Collier’s argument complements and reinforces the analysis offered in John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus . Marx was wrong, the pope explained, in claiming that the poor are poor because they are exploited by the rich. The great problem is not exploitation but marginalization. With some exceptions, the pope wrote, the poor are poor and getting poorer because they are excluded, or exclude themselves, from the circle of productivity and exchange. This is the reality that I address in detail in Doing Well and Doing Good (Doubleday), my book-length commentary on the 1991 encyclical.
Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion is one of the most important books on poverty in a global context to have appeared in years. Based on solid research and free of sentimentality, it offers neither easy solutions nor support for indifference or despair. Next month I will discuss some of his more provocative ideas about what can and should be done. ( This is the first of three reflections on world poverty. )
Jesus of Nazareth: The Book
The unknowing reader might at first think that Jesus of Nazareth is coauthored. At the top of the dust jacket is Joseph Ratzinger. Then, directly below it, in much larger type, Pope Benedict XVI. Perhaps it was, in the manner of many books, written by the pope with the assistance of Joseph Ratzinger. But of course that is not the case. The book, we are told, has undergone a long gestation. Most of it was written by Joseph Ratzinger when he was Joseph Ratzinger, and he says that, since becoming Benedict XVI, I have used every free moment to make progress on the book. As it is, Jesus of Nazareth is Part I of a larger project. It is the story of Jesus from his baptism in the Jordan to Peter’s confession of faith and the Transfiguration. Part II, including the infancy narratives, may or may not come later, As I do not know how much more time or strength I am still to be given.We are very pleased to have published in the last issue the review of Jesus of Nazareth by Richard Hays, the distinguished professor of New Testament at Duke University. It is, I believe, the very model of what a book review should be. It tells what the book is about, respectfully engages its arguments, and sets forth in an accessible way both its strengths and weaknesses. I expect the pope was pleased with Mr. Hays’ sympathetically critical treatment of the book. But, of course, and as always, there is more to be said.
Initial reports that the pope was going to publish the book emphasized the novelty of the idea. One British paper excitedly reported that the pope was declaring that he is not infallible. And indeed he writes: It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but it is solely an expression of my personal search for the face of Jesus.’ Everyone is free, then, to contradict me. I would only ask my readers for that initial goodwill without which there can be no understanding. It also goes without saying”although the pope has just said it”that this book has nothing to do with infallibility, which is a very precise and narrowly defined exercise of teaching authority that ensures that the Church will never require anyone to believe what is false.
Nor is it unprecedented for a pope to publish a book that claims no magisterial authority. One thinks, for instance, of John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope and Memory and Identity , the former, like the present book, being an international bestseller. Some popes are undeniably prolific. Leo XIII, pope from 1878 to 1903, issued eighty-five encyclicals, plus hundreds of pastoral letters, bulls, and other documents. But it is true that in the past two centuries popes tended to be seen as rather remote figures who spoke in public seldom and then in the mode of magisterial authority. That changed dramatically with John Paul II, and Benedict is obviously following in his steps, and indeed going further. He has, for example, engaged in extended Q & A sessions in public gatherings.
The complaint is heard that John Paul, and now Benedict, are expanding papal authority and hogging the public spotlight, making the pope the teacher of the Church. Who listens to their bishop when they can listen to the pope? The same voices once complained that the papacy needed to be humanized and personalized rather than presenting itself as an oracle issuing occasional pronunciamentos from on high. There is no pleasing some people.
A Living Relationship
As to why he published Jesus of Nazareth , Benedict says, It struck me as the most urgent priority to present the figure and the message of Jesus in his public ministry, and so to help foster the growth of a living relationship with him. The entire book is marked by this sense of urgency. It is not so much another book about Jesus as it is an invitation to follow him in the adventure of discipleship. Of course it is also about Jesus and is supported by the scholarship pertinent to historical facts and the development of the Church’s understanding of his person, message, and mission. Although, as Richard Hays respectfully noted, some of the scholarship is rather dated.
Of the writing of books about Jesus there is no end. I don’t know whether Benedict had in mind and seeks to counter fabrications such as The Da Vinci Code and its predecessors and imitators, but it seems more than likely. I see Garry Wills has a new book out, What Jesus Meant . It purports to explain what Jesus meant to say and no doubt would have said had he the advantage of being Garry Wills. While Wills and likeminded authors depict a Jesus in radical discontinuity with the Church’s teaching, Benedict”convincingly, if not surprisingly”makes the case that, from the beginning and on all the really big questions, the Church got it right.
Benedict is taken with Jacob Neusner’s little book, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus . In many ways, Benedict acknowledges, Jesus disappointed some messianic expectations. What did Jesus actually bring, Benedict asks, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? The answer is very simple: He brought God. He continues:
He brought the God who formerly unveiled his countenance, gradually, first to Abraham, then to Moses and the Prophets, and then in the Wisdom Literature”the God who revealed his face only in Israel, even though he was also honored among the pagans in various shadowy guises. It is this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the true God, whom he has brought to the nations of the earth . . . . Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origins and destiny: faith, hope, and love. It is only because of the hardness of hearts that we think this is too little.
He is the Christ, meaning the Messiah. Since the title made little sense outside of Semitic culture, it was joined with the name of Jesus: Jesus Christ. What began as an interpretation ended up as a name, and therein lies a deeper message: He is completely one with his office; his task and his person are totally inseparable from each other. In the end, writes Benedict, man needs just one thing, in which everything else is included; but he must first delve beyond his superficial wishes and longings in order to recognize what it is that he truly needs and truly wants. He needs God. And so we now realize what ultimately lies behind all the Johannine images: Jesus gives us life’ because he gives us God.
It is frequently claimed, Benedict writes, that the teachings of Jesus, especially in the Beatitudes, represent the Christian ethics that is supposedly superior to the commands of the Old Testament. This, he says, is wrong, since Jesus always presupposed the validity of the Ten Commandments and explicitly said, Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. Running throughout Jesus of Nazareth is a powerful anti-Marcionite insistence upon the inseparability of the Old and New Testaments. The German biblical scholar H. Gese is favorably quoted: Jesus himself has become the divine word of revelation. The gospels could not illustrate it any more clearly or powerfully: Jesus himself is the Torah.
In his talk with Jesus, Rabbi Neusner poses the question: What of the law and the prophets did Jesus leave out? The answer is Nothing. So what then did he add? The answer is Himself. To which Benedict adds, Perfection, the state of being holy as God is holy as demanded by the Torah, now consists in following Jesus. Agreeing with Neusner, Benedict underscores that the crucial decision is in response to the question, Who is Jesus? Echoing Lumen Gentium (Light to the Nations), the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Church, Benedict writes: Jesus has brought the God of Israel to the nations, so that all the nations now pray to him and recognize Israel’s Scriptures as his word, the word of the living God. He has brought the gift of universality, which was the one great definitive promise to Israel and the world. This universality, this faith in the one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . . is what proves him to be the Messiah.
As an aside, Benedict takes exception to the now common use of the Tetragrammaton (I am who I am), the name of God given to Moses. This, he says, is who God is without qualification. The Israelites therefore were perfectly right in refusing to utter this self-designation of God, expressed in the word YHWH, so as to avoid degrading it to the level of the names of pagan deities. By the same token, recent Bible translations were wrong to write out this name . . . as if it were just any old name. By doing so, they have dragged the mystery of God, which cannot be captured in images or in names that lips can utter, down to the level of some familiar item within a common history of religions.
Benedict returns to the Jewish-Christian connection in his treatment of the parable of the prodigal son, which he prefers to call the parable of the two sons. A conventional interpretation is that the elder brother represents the Jews. In the parable, the father says to the elder brother, Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. In this way, writes Benedict, the father not only does not dispute the older brother’s fidelity but explicitly confirms his sonship. Thus it would be a false interpretation to read this as a condemnation of the Jews, writes Benedict.
At the same time, there are those, both Jews and non-Jews, for whom more than anything else, God is Law; they see themselves in a juridical relationship with God and in that relationship they are at rights with him. But God is greater: They need to convert from the Law-God to the greater God, the God of love . . . . In this parable, then, the Father through Christ is addressing us, the ones who never left home, encouraging us, too, to convert truly and to find joy in our faith. This is a delicate treatment of a delicate subject. Christians who affirm the universality of the mission of Christ cannot help but hope that all people, including Jews, will accept him as the promised Messiah. At the same time, one is somewhat surprised to find in the foregoing passage traces of the idea that Judaism is a religion of law while Christianity is a religion of love. That is an idea that is apparently rejected elsewhere in the book.
Jesus of Nazareth is indisputably a scholarly work, although a scholarly work that is readily accessible to the general reader. Benedict at several points addresses the problems associated with contemporary biblical scholarship. A purely historical approach to individual texts cannot recognize the Bible as the Bible, the book of the Church. Such a method can intuit something of the deeper value’ the words contain. It can in some sense catch the sounds of a higher dimension through the human word, and so open up the method to self-transcendence. But its specific object is the human word as human. We have to keep in mind the limits of all efforts to know the past: We can never go beyond the domain of the hypothesis, because we simply cannot bring the past into the present. Therefore, we must go beyond the historical-critical method to recognize that these texts constitute the one Scripture that speaks with a living voice and is to be understood by taking account of the living tradition of the whole Church and of the analogy of faith (the intrinsic correspondence with the faith).
An Anonymous Community
While recognizing the limits of much biblical scholarship, Benedict regularly invokes its practitioners, either to agree or disagree with them. In one paragraph, for instance, we encounter Peter Stuhlmacher, Martin Hengel, E. Ruckstuhl, and P. Dschulnigg. (German is, after all, the pope’s first language.) Many scholars claim that the high Christology to be found in, for instance, John’s gospel is the construction of the early community trying to make sense of their experience of Jesus. Benedict is skeptical. The anonymous community, he writes, is credited with an astonishing level of theological genius”who were the great figures responsible for inventing all this? No, the greatness, the dramatic newness, comes directly from Jesus; within the faith and life of the community it is further developed, but is not created. In fact, the community’ would not even have emerged and survived at all unless some extraordinary reality had preceded it. On question after question, critical biblical scholarship turns out to offer little more than a graveyard of mutually contradictory hypotheses. But as I said, while he recognizes the severe limits of such scholarship, Benedict nonetheless employs its findings and suppositions in advancing his argument.
Benedict does not mention by name Hans Urs von Balthasar, whose work he has elsewhere praised very highly, but one suspects Balthasar’s presence, if only to disagree with him, in the treatment of Christ’s descent into hell. There is this, for example, on the baptism of Jesus: Jesus’ baptism, then, is understood as a repetition of the whole of history, which recapitulates the past and anticipates the future. His entering into the sin of others is a descent into the inferno.’ . . . He goes down in the role of one whose suffering-with-others is a transforming suffering that turns the underworld around, knocking down and flinging open the gates of the abyss.
And there is this: The Apostles’ Creed speaks of Jesus’ descent into hell.’ This descent not only took place in and after his death but accompanies him along his entire journey. He must recapitulate the whole of history from its beginnings”from Adam on; he must go through, suffer through, the whole of it, in order to transform it. And again: Thus it is not only after his death, but already by his death and during his whole life, that Jesus descends into hell,’ as it were, into the domain of our temptations and defeats, in order to take us by the hand and carry us upward. While employing aspects of its rhetorical force, Benedict distances himself from Balthasar’s contention that, in his descent, Jesus experienced the hell of the damned.
A striking feature of the book is the author’s delight in tackling biblical passages that strike many as strange, if not contradictory. He notes, for instance, that the Good Shepherd text of John 10 does not begin with I am the good shepherd but with another image, that of the door. He who does not enter the sheep-fold by the door but climbs in by another way is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. Then Jesus says, I am the door of the sheep. How to understand this? Benedict answers: This can only really mean that Jesus is establishing the criterion for those who will shepherd his flock after his ascension to the Father. The proof of a true shepherd is that he enters through Jesus as the door. For in this way it is ultimately Jesus who is the shepherd”the flock belongs’ to him alone.
Or consider Luke 9:18, where we read, As he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. That is, says Benedict, a deliberate paradox. The disciples are drawn into his solitude, his communion with the Father that is reserved to him alone. They are privileged to see him as the one who . . . speaks face-to-face with the Father, person to person. They are privileged to see him in his utterly unique filial being”at the point from which all his words, his deeds, and his powers issue. In his treatment of these and other passages, Benedict follows the pattern of the early Church Fathers. Nothing in the biblical text is accidental or out of place; every passage, every word, has its purpose. While his book does not address in detail the question of scriptural inspiration, the presupposition of divine direction is evident in every page.
As I said, the review by Richard Hays in the last issue is, in my judgment, altogether admirable and quite the best that I have seen anywhere. The foregoing reflection is simply intended to lift up additional aspects of the book, in the hope that it will encourage others to read it with the care that it deserves. Jesus of Nazareth is not, as the author himself takes pains to underscore, the last word on the subject. But it is a greatly needed word in a time when mass audiences are titillated by fanciful fabrications about the discovery of the real Jesus. The last word on the Word will be spoken when there is a final answer to the last words of the Bible, Come, Lord Jesus.
Christianity and Democracy in America: Anticipating the Rupture
Let me say it straight out: Hugh Heclo’s Christianity and American Democracy is one of the most suggestive books on religion and the public square to have appeared in some years. Based on his Alexis de Tocqueville Lecture at Harvard University, Heclo, a political scientist at George Mason University, says that we are witnessing an estrangement between serious Christians and secular democracy that is possibly on its way to becoming a rupture, much to the detriment of our common life.
Referring to earlier warnings about a naked public square, Heclo correctly observes: The aim of Richard John Neuhaus and others who were ecumenically minded was not simply to promote more religious voices in politics. It was to produce a public moral discourse, whose reasoning would draw on transcendent meanings of natural law accessible to all. That aim, he says, has run up against an insuperable barrier.
[E]ven if there were more shared premises at an intellectual level, it is now clear that engagement in the public square’ must invariably take place on the terms set by America’s modern political arena for a so-called democratic discourse. This arena and its rules are not designed to search for truth or to compare rational deliberative justifications.’ It is a sophisticated, cynical game designed to manipulate imagery and opinion. In other words, it is a public arena fully invested in the consumption arts. This reality is something far different and more cynical than academics’ ideal image of a civic forum or a free marketplace of ideas where, in the competition with error, truth has nothing to fear. It is an arena for the professional marketing of feelings rather than the exercising of reason, and truth has everything to fear.
Is that excessively grim? I would not want to be charged with making the counterargument. Heclo goes on to write:
It is no exaggeration to say that today’s America exhibits something approaching a mirror image of what Tocqueville perceived in the 1830s. In the democracy he saw, the political world was a place where everything is in turmoil, contested, and uncertain,’ but it was strictly limited in scope and undergirded by a moral world where everything is classified, coordinated, foreseen and decided in advance.’ Today one could arguably reverse his descriptors for those two worlds. What Tocqueville said about the moral world (obedience is passive, though voluntary’) is actually truer of our professionally managed political system, where the political class does politics and the mass of ordinary citizens have politics done to them. What he said about the political world (there is independence, contempt of experience, and jealousy of all authority’) is truer of our moral world, where to judge with fixed standards or decide anything in advance is considered undemocratic bigotry. The result is that it seems harder than ever to get our bearings in such a political society, and more important than ever that we should try to do so.
Heclo tries to do so by, among other things, noting the ways in which our democracy is a religious, and specifically Christian, achievement. On the nature of that achievement, he writes:
It was a general respect, affirmed in law, for each individual’s right to religious liberty. Centuries in the making and never fully completed, this Great Denouement of religious-political claims arose more from the advantages of a particular time and place than from some innate American genius for tolerance. Amid deeply felt religious differences, a Protestant political society gradually convinced itself of the truly Christian reasons for, as well as the enlightened political advantages of, liberty of religious conscience. With this achievement, a new space in public life was opened up”a space for freedom of action in the two distinct, though never wholly separate, spheres of religious belief and civil authority. All we have of this religious freedom, so carelessly enjoyed today, was won for us long ago.
These spheres have interacted in what Heclo describes as a tensioned relationship of consensus and conflict. He pictures the relationship as a double-stranded helix, an image of reciprocal, equivocal contestations of Christianity and democratic politics twisting together through time. Now the relationship has become more conflicted, to the point of being a helix whose two strands are coming apart in the last half of the twentieth century. He notes that historians such as Sydney Ahlstrom and William McLoughlin suspected something like this was happening. What they suspected is now confirmed. Referring to America’s tradition of great religious revivals and awakenings, Heclo describes the 1960s as a secular awakening. He notes the trends in the schools, courts, popular culture, and especially in the political class that led to an increasingly overt hostility to Christianity in public life and concludes that, by the end of the period, Christianity had lost much and perhaps most of its cultural authority.
In the face of such hostility, he believes serious Christians are increasingly withdrawing from active democratic participation. In any ongoing rupture with America’s democratic regime, these Christians will essentially find themselves in a position similar to that of their earlier compatriots in the days of the Roman Empire. They will be one faith among many in a large, sophisticated world empire that is secular but nominally religious, spiritually seeking in general but well distanced from the truth claims of Christian revelation in particular . . . . They will form little enclaves trying to hold at bay the influences of public schools, the media, and general culture . . . . What they will face is more likely to be pervasive indifference and dismissal as anti-modernists rather than any outright persecution.
What Christianity Is
Christianity and American Democracy includes several responses by critics and Heclo’s concluding rejoinder. One of his critics is Alan Wolfe of the Boisi Center of Boston College. In a typically Wolfian manner, he complexifies matters by pointing out that there are many different expressions of Christianity. Christianity can mean almost anything, Alan Wolfe triumphantly concludes. Heclo has great fun with this: [Wolfe’s] observation has its critical force against any claim that Christianity is only a single, unified entity. I am saying something different, however”namely that along with all the variations amply demonstrated in the historical record, Christianity is something. If it were not some thing, we would not be able to identify variations in the thing that it is.
Heclo calls to witness Jaroslav Pelikan’s monumental The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine in support of his claim that, variations notwithstanding, Christianity is some thing. But you don’t have to be as erudite as Pelikan to know that. Heclo writes: When the stereotypical backwoods fundamentalist puts up a hand-painted sign on his fencepost saying that JESUS SAVES,’ behind that little sign is a world of doctrine. Saved from what? Why does anyone need saving? Why can’t they save themselves? How does this Jesus save? And who is this guy to be saving anyone? Like the Molière character who did not know he was speaking prose, our non-doctrinaire believer does not know he is speaking soteriology from the fencepost. But he is.
On the whole, writes Heclo, [Wolfe’s] is a rather contented view. There is nothing to be said about the terrible policy choices Americans will have to make affecting the very meaning of humanity. As a democracy, we can count on our materialism, our individualism, our populism, and our emotionalism to keep us together.’ I suppose the question would be, keep us together as what”a collection of materialistic individuals driven by popular appeals to our emotions? Is that a formula for the long term survival of democratic self-government?
Heclo is concerned about the overheated language about theocracy and the dangers of the religious right. He writes: To automatically jam traditionalist, Bible-believing Christians into the category of arrogant, self-righteous, God-is-on-our-side religious prigs in politics is”what shall we say? Arrogant, self-righteous, willfully ignorant secular priggery? It is the secular priggery that is leading to the rupture between Christianity and democracy that he fears.
If that rupture comes, it will deprive democracy of four factors necessary to its survival and flourishing, Heclo believes. In summary form: First, as Tocqueville pointed out, traditional Christianity comes with an elemental moral code that helps stabilize and order an otherwise chaotic democratic society. Second, the packet of moral imperatives that comes with traditional Christianity includes obligations that regularly lead such citizens to do good works for others. The third factor is the reforming or prophetic impulse of Christianity in society. Fourth, once we disabuse ourselves of the heresy of fideism”that is, confining religion to the realm of irrational blind faith”it is clear that Christianity can help preserve the role of reason in democratic discourse about humankind’s most fundamental issues . . . . Everyone engaged in the great conversation of democracy is arguing for courses of action that are elaborated conclusions built on faith in something or other. If that faith is purely in human reason itself, Christianity asks: is it reasonable to make such a leap of faith’?
As I said, Christianity and American Democracy is a very suggestive book. But of course there are questions. One wonders, for instance, if Mr. Heclo is not too eager to distance himself from the religious right. Of course the lecture that is the basis of the book was given at Harvard, an ambiance in which there are advantages to not being associated with them. But it will not do to say, as Heclo does, that politically organized Christian conservatives are a political and not a religious phenomenon, that these Christians are simply being used by politicians. Of course they are being used by politicians, as they are also using politicians to advance their goals. As Heclo elsewhere acknowledges, the dynamics of the religious and of the political are frequently hard to distinguish, never mind separate.
His depiction of today’s politics of manipulation, in which politics is not something people do but something that is done to them, raises the question, When was it different? Or when was it so very different from the way it is now? In Tocqueville’s time, maybe. But, for most people, politics has always been mainly entertainment, as in supporting the Yankees or the Red Sox. The nineteenth-century torchlight parades organized by political parties, the yellow journalism, the picnic rallies”they were great entertainment.
The Lincoln-Douglas debates, like so many things associated with Lincoln, were the exception and not the rule. American democracy has always been raucous, manipulative, and a professional blood sport for the few. Then and now, there is a small political class that decides on the ideas that will be propagated (as in propaganda). And a much smaller class that forges and intelligently debates those ideas. For the great majority of Americans, politics is much like those television reality shows where you get to cheer and jeer and, finally, vote people up or down. Is this an excessively jaundiced view of democratic politics? I, too, would like to think so. But, except for times of extraordinary crisis with unambiguous choices, most people have better things to do with their time than politics.
And one wonders whether the dominant sector of the political class is today more hostile to Christianity than was the case, at least among the intellectuals of that class, in, for instance, 1933, when The Humanist Manifesto was issued. That document heralded the death of revealed religion and was supported by a wide and impressive array of the intellectual and cultural leadership of the society, led by the formidable John Dewey. The recent rash of books promoting atheism notwithstanding, a similar manifesto with similarly distinguished support seems very unlikely today. Antireligious bigotry perdures, to be sure, although sometimes in new configurations. Anti-Catholicism, for instance, was thought to come, along with other bigotries, from the right during much of American history, and it is now overwhelmingly from the left. The beginning of that change, now virulently manifest, can be conveniently dated January 22, 1973”the Roe v. Wade imposition of the unlimited abortion license.
In the Absence of a Church
Then there is the problem that Heclo tends to depict Christianity in terms of scattered Christians, including serious Christians, without any semblance of ecclesial solidarity. In other words, the Church is largely absent from his analysis. Not just the Catholic Church but any institutionalized community that can serve as a place to stand and as a countervailing force to the forces of anti-Christianity. Of course this is a big subject, and, were one to expand upon it, one might pick up on those intriguing and much neglected observations in Tocque-ville’s Democracy about why Catholicism is peculiarly well-fitted for American democracy. Here I only register the observation that ecclesiology has more to do with the sociology of religion in America than Mr. Heclo’s book suggests.
Hugh Heclo is right in thinking that serious Christians are in for a hard time. Nor should one dismissively, or defiantly, respond: So what? That has always been the case. There was a time when relatively few thought that there was a tension, never mind conflict, between being seriously Christian and a full participant in American culture. While the rupture that Heclo envisions may lead some, even many, Christians to withdraw from our public life, I am also impressed by the number of people, especially young people, who evidence a sense of Christian solidarity in taking the more overt hostility as an invitation to engage the more intensely and persuasively in the politics of deliberating how we ought to order our common life. If that is what is happening, it is, all in all, good news for both Christianity and for democracy in America. Needless to say, I may be wrong.
The Pope’s Liturgical Liberalism
One of the more deft moves in Benedict’s apostolic letter motu proprio , titled Summorum Pontificum , is in referring to the 1962 form of the Roman Rite as the Missal of Blessed John XXIII. It is not the Tridentine Mass nor the Mass of Pius V but the Mass of John XXIII. It is the form of the Mass that was celebrated daily at the Second Vatican Council.
Benedict notes that, over the many centuries of the Roman Rite, popes have from time to time made modest changes. Pius V did so in 1570, John XXIII did so in 1962, and Paul VI made some not-so-modest changes in 1970, the last producing what is called the Novus Ordo . Benedict notes that John Paul II also made small but important emendations regarding references to the Jews in the Good Friday Liturgy. (More on that below.)
By associating the Latin Mass that is now universally approved with John XXIII, Benedict steals a card from the deck of liberals and progressives, for whom John XXIII is always good Pope John, in contrast to his successors. But this is much more than a deft rhetorical move. Summorum Pontificum is a thoroughly liberal document in substance and spirit, remembering that liberal means, as once was more commonly understood, generosity of spirit.
In his letter to the bishops, Benedict is directing them to be generous in embracing the fullness of the Catholic tradition and responding to the desires of the Catholic faithful. This is proposed in contrast to the rigidity, bordering sometimes on tyranny, of a liturgical guild that mistakenly thought that the Second Vatican Council gave them a mandate to impose their ideas of liturgical reform on the entire Church.
Benedict writes of the Mass of 1962 and that of 1970: It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were two Rites.’ Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite. This is of a piece with Benedict’s longstanding campaign against the idea that there is a pre-Vatican II Church and a post-Vatican II Church. There is one Catholic Church, Benedict insists, and its liturgy is the Roman Rite. (I discuss Benedict’s understanding of continuity in the December 2006 issue of FIRST THINGS in connection with Klaus Gamber’s The Reform of the Roman Liturgy , for which then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote an introduction.)
There were many things done in the name of liturgical reform for which the claim was made that such changes were mandated by the council. Excluding the Mass in Latin was one of them. Benedict writes: As for the use of the 1962 Missal as a forma extraordinaria of the liturgy of the Mass, I would like to draw attention to the fact that this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted. In other words, were it not for the presumption of some liturgical reformers, there would have been no need for this apostolic letter.
For decades following the council, experimentation was in, tradition was out, and the Catholic faithful were subjected to a long period of what is politely called liturgical destabilization”and not only liturgical destabilization”which alienated many. The pope is, with great care, trying to remedy that destabilization without causing additional destabilization. As he notes in his letter, there is a close connection between lex credendi and lex orandi ”between the way of faith and the way of worship.
Of the problem to be remedied, he writes: This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.
The letter underscores that the desire for the Missal of John XXIII is not only on the part of nostalgic old folks. There is, he says, a notable desire on the part of young people to experience the richness of the Church’s ways of worship, a richness of which they were deprived but are now encountering with a sense of fresh discovery. The bishops, he says, should respond positively to this discovery in a spirit of pastoral generosity.
The purpose of the pope in issuing this pastoral letter will come as no surprise to those familiar with Cardinal Ratzinger’s writing on liturgy over the years. He says again: There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.
Part of the purpose of the letter, as Benedict says, is to ease the way toward reconciliation with the Lefebvrists, who broke communion with the Church. He recognizes that their schism involves deeper theological questions, including the recognition of the authority of the Second Vatican Council, but this is one step toward healing the wound of schism.
One consequence of Summorum Pontificum will almost certainly be the more widespread use of the Missal of 1962. And perhaps of the Missal of 1970 in Latin rather than the vernacular, which has always been permitted. I do not expect that there will be a great or immediate increase in the number of parishes celebrating Mass in the 1962 form. Most bishops and priests say there is no great demand for it, although that could now change. Moreover, most priests and bishops do not have the language skills for it, although some may start digging around for those Latin textbooks from college and seminary days.
What it seems to me that Benedict has most importantly done with this apostolic letter is to strengthen the continuity of the Catholic tradition in matters pertaining to lex orandi , as John Paul II’s hermeneutic of the Second Vatican Council strengthened that continuity in matters pertaining to lex credendi . As a result, the weary language about a pre-Vatican II Church and a post-Vatican II Church is increasingly antiquated, although there are still those of an older generation who believe the council was a call for revolution and who will continue to use that language. But these twenty-eight years of pontifical leadership have made it obvious to all but the willfully obtuse that there is, in lex credendi and lex orandi , one Catholic Church.
In keeping with the spirit of pastoral generosity and sensitivity that marks this document, Benedict recognizes that in the one Church there will always be problems. Three years after the implementation of Summorum Pontificum this September, he says, there will be a study of the successes and difficulties encountered in putting it into effect. There is no suggestion that these provisions might be rescinded at that time. Any modifications required will have as their purpose the effective implementation of the apostolic letter.
With the possible exception of those who are incorrigibly nostalgic for the good old days of the revolution that was not to be, I believe that the pope’s initiative will be recognized for what it is”a generous and hopeful proposal for a future in which Catholics are freed to celebrate the rich variety of the tradition that is theirs. Benedict expresses the hope that even those who decline to use the Missal of John XXIII will be encouraged to celebrate the Novus Ordo of 1970 with the reverence and solemnity that befits the ineffable mystery of the Mass. We can only pray that his hope will be vindicated.
One notes in passing a particularly unpleasant reaction to the pope’s initiative. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) immediately issued a blistering statement claiming that it is a theological setback in the religious life of Catholics and a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations, after 40 years of progress between the Church and the Jewish people. Abraham Foxman, national director of ADL, said: We are extremely disappointed and deeply offended that nearly 40 years after the Vatican rightly removed insulting anti-Jewish language from the Good Friday Mass, that it would now permit Catholics to utter such hurtful and insulting words by praying for Jews to be converted. This is a theological setback in the religious life of Catholics and a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations. It is the wrong decision at the wrong time. It appears the Vatican has chosen to satisfy a right-wing faction in the Church that rejects change and reconciliation.
An Unpleasant Reaction
That statement is a mix of ignorance and bellicosity, a combination that is, unfortunately, not infrequent in ADL alarums. In the 1570 form of the Roman Rite for Good Friday, there was this: Oremus et pro perfidis Judaeis (Let us pray for the perfidious Jews). On the first Good Friday after his election to the papacy in 1959, Pope John XXIII eliminated the adjective perfidious from the prayer. That same year, he also eliminated from the rite of baptism the phrase used for Jewish catechumens: Horresce Judaicam perfidiam, respue Hebraicam superstitionem (Disavow Jewish unbelieving, deny Hebrew superstition). Also eliminated were similar formulas for those converting from idolatry, Islam, or a heretical sect.
The Roman Missal modified by Pope Paul VI in 1969, and put into effect in 1970, has this formulation: Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant. The following prayer is this: Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity. Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption.
Of course some Jews may be offended at the suggestion that the fullness of redemption is found in Jesus Christ, but their problem is with Christianity as such. They certainly are not interested in respectful dialogue between Jews who adhere to Judaism and Christians who adhere to Christianity.
As I say, the ADL reaction is a mix of bellicosity and ignorance. The 1962 Missal does not say what Mr. Foxman says it says. And, if he had read Benedict’s apostolic letter before attacking it, he would know that it explicitly says that, with the exception of religious communities that have used the 1962 Missal all along, the Missal of 1970 will be used exclusively in the Triduum of Holy Week, which of course includes Good Friday. An apology is in order, but I fear it is not to be expected from an organization that is prone to making reckless and publicity-grabbing statements. It is a sadness.
While We’re At It
A recently received manuscript laid out in tediously precise detail the six social dynamics undermining respect for the family. Not five, mind you, and not seven, but six. The author was insistent about that. There is a type of mind that seems to think nothing is said precisely unless it is numbered. Peter Altenberg, a major figure in Vienna’s café society at the beginning of the last century, wrote: There are only two things that can destroy a healthy man: love trouble, ambition, and financial catastrophe. And that’s already three things, and there are a lot more. Precisely.
Our friends over at the New Criterion have put out a big anthology including the editors’ choice of essays and reviews published in its first twenty-five years. The book is Counterpoints and is edited by, as you might expect, the editors of the New Criterion, Roger Kimball and Hilton Kramer. In their introduction, they quote this by Evelyn Waugh:
Barbarism is never finally defeated; given propitious circumstances, men and women who seem quite orderly will commit every conceivable atrocity. The danger does not come merely from habitual hooligans; we are all potential recruits for anarchy. Unremitting effort is needed to keep men living together at peace; there is only a margin of error left over for experiment however beneficent. Once the prisons of the mind have been opened, the orgy is on . . . . The work of preserving society is sometimes onerous, sometimes almost effortless. The more elaborate the society, the more vulnerable it is to attack, and the more complete its collapse in case of defeat. At a time like the present it is notably precarious. If it falls, we shall see not merely the dissolution of a few joint-stock corporations, but of the spiritual and material achievements of our history.
In the realm of arts, letters, and ideas, the New Criterion has labored valiantly to defeat barbarism, or at least to hold it at bay, or at the very least to alert us to its assault. Often caustic and polemical, it is almost always wittily so. The New Criterion debunks the fashionable fatuities produced by neophiliac passions. Which brings me to one of my favorite stories, told by the magazine’s founding editor, Hilton Kramer. He was for years the culture editor for the New York Times, and each week there was a meeting of editors. Each week, invariably, the top editor, whom I will call Max, would begin by asking, Hilton, what’s new? After years of this, one week Hilton answered, Max, nothing is new. Without skipping a beat, the editor responded, Hilton, is that a trend? Please join me in raising a toast to the next twenty-five years of the New Criterion.
Linda Bridges has spent her entire adult life working with William F. Buckley Jr. She has now teamed up with John R. Coyne, who also worked at National Review, to write Strictly Right (Wiley). Unlike other books about Bill Buckley, this one is tightly focused on telling his life through the prism of the conservative movement. Early on, the authors discuss the Eisenhower era and ask, What was the state of the conservative movement? Their answer: Put bluntly, there wasn’t one. Some might challenge that, but all can agree that there was not the conservative movement so influentially defined for more than half a century by Bill Buckley. Strictly Right is not all politics, however. There is, for instance, this, possibly the longest sentence Buckley ever wrote, on the liturgical changes that destabilized the Church in the 1970s: Really, the new liturgists should have offered training in yoga, or whatever else Mother Church in her resourcefulness might baptize as a distinctively Catholic means by which we might tune off the fascistic static of the contemporary Mass, during which one is either attempting to sing, totally neglecting the prayers at the foot of the altar, which suddenly we are told are irrelevant; or attempting to read the missal at one’s own syncopated pace, which we must now do athwart the obtrusive rhythm of the priest or the commentator; or attempting to meditate on this or the other prayer or sentiment or analysis in the Ordinary or in the Proper of the Mass, only to find that such meditation is sheer outlawry which stands in the way of the liturgical calisthenics devised by the Central Coach, who apparently judges it an act of neglect if the churchgoer is permitted more than two minutes and 46 seconds without being made to stand if he was kneeling, or kneel if he was standing, or sit”or sing”or chant”or anything if perchance he was praying, from which anarchism he must at all costs be rescued: LET US NOW RECITE THE COMMUNION ANTIPHON, says the commentator: to which exhortation I find myself aching to reply in that loud and clear and reverential voice’ the manual for lectors prescribes: LET US NOT!’
I’m no expert on Turkish politics, but one cannot help watch with great interest as Turkey tries to negotiate between the militantly secularist legacy of Atatürk, fiercely defended by the army, and a Muslim people who believe that their being Muslim should have some bearing on public life. There are commentators who routinely cite Turkey as an example of a more or less successful democracy in a country with a Muslim majority. But as Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish writer, has pointed out in these pages (Render Unto Atatürk, March), the appearance of democracy is at the price of enforcing a naked public square. The circumstance is put nicely by Onur Oymen, the main opposition leader to the government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: In a country with a Muslim population, you can’t have democracy without secularism. Which means, it would seem, in a country with a Muslim population, you can’t have democracy. One is again reminded of the comment by Berthold Brecht after a popular uprising in the old East Germany. The secretary of the writers union issued a statement that the people had forfeited the confidence of the government and could only win it back by redoubled efforts. In response to which, Brecht observed, Would it not be easier in that case for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?
His personal style, praised often even by his critics, remains pastoral and gentle. But the more contentious views, less publicly visible when he first began as leader of the world’s billion Roman Catholics, seems to be coming more to the fore. That’s the New York Times on a recent speech by Pope Benedict. Contentious views are, of course, those with which reporters disagree. Reading on: In the speech, for example, he railed against abortion and contraception . . . . He also raged with equal fire against Marxism and capitalism. Benedict? Raged? Railed? Who would have thought it? But there it is in this rant, er, report by the New York Times, and I need not remind you that the Times is our newspaper of record. The story does include some of what the quietly erudite pope actually did say in his characteristically measured manner. Cautioning against liberation theology’s politicizing of the faith, he said: This political task is not the immediate competence of the Church. Respect for a healthy secularity”including
the pluralism of political opinions”is essential in the authentic Christian tradition. If the Church were to start transforming herself into a directly political agent, she would do less, not more, for the poor and for justice. Between the ranting and the raging, there were apparently moments of marvelous lucidity.
In response to several readers: No, I do not plan a comment on the Episcopal priest in Seattle who says she is also a Muslim. In part because commenting on Episcopalian foibles and follies is like shooting fish in a barrel. It seems unfair. What else is to be said about a church in which John Spong, who is celebrated for denying almost every article in the creed, is a bishop in good standing? In any case, the lady in Seattle said it all. Of her simultaneous adherence to Christianity and Islam she commented: It wasn’t about intellect. All I know is the calling of my heart to Islam was very much something about my identity and who I am supposed to be. It wasn’t about intellect. This is a journal of ideas and it is beyond our competence to comment on a person who says she has no idea what she is doing. We have no personal or pastoral connection with her and therefore could not possibly comment on her problems with her identity or who she thinks she is supposed to be. It is of interest that she will, beginning this fall, be teaching the New Testament at Seattle University. But then that is a school in the Jesuit tradition and apparently is not about intellect either. And so, as aforesaid, we have no comment.
Avoiding contact with those with whom you disagree is a sophomoric strategy. So said Prof. Daniel Finn of St. John’s University in Collegeville in his valedictory address as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA). The CTSA has been somewhat marginalized in recent years. Ten years ago, Bernard Cardinal Law called it a wasteland, and Avery Cardinal Dulles, a former president of CTSA, said it constitutes a kind of alternative magisterium for dissatisfied Catholics. Finn said that CTSA’s frequent statements criticizing the Magisterium of the Church were counterproductive, alienating church leadership and reducing support for changes desired by CTSA members. His theme was power as part of the software of daily life, and the ways in which academics have distanced themselves from that reality. Closely related to the question of power, he noted that the organization was losing members because conservative theologians wanted nothing to do with it. On his mind may also have been the awareness that a substantial number of distinguished theologians have been making plans to establish a new theological society for scholars more attuned to the Magisterium. Finn’s address received a standing ovation, but what difference it will make for the future of CTSA is very much in question. Finn was careful in not repudiating former statements but suggested that in the future such criticisms of Rome might better come from individual theologians rather than from the CTSA as an organization.
The number of priests is in decline but lay ecclesial ministers (LEMs) are popping up all over. The late Msgr. Philip Murnion, a sociologist who founded the National Pastoral Life Center, called the phenomenon a virtual revolution in parish ministry. Many see the revolution as a very good thing, a remedy for a priest-ridden Church, to use a favored locution of classic anti-Catholicism. There are today 31,000 certified lay ecclesial ministers working in American parishes and 18,000 more are in training. The total number of priests is 43,304. In many cases, LEMs run parishes and are the ministry of the Church for everything except sacramental acts requiring a priest. In such cases, the LEM hires, so to speak, a priest for piecework. (With the permission of the bishop, to be sure.) If it is not a revolution, this is certainly a radical change in the understanding and practice of ministry in the Catholic Church. John Allen, writing for the National Catholic Reporter, highlights an additional dimension of the phenomenon that is worrying many. Eighty percent of LEMs are women. David DeLambo of the aforementioned pastoral center says this, too, is a very good thing. Women ministers, he says, bring sensitivity to lay concerns and to families, as well as to issues related to gender and inclusion. Critics disagree, pointing to the increasing feminization of the Church. In 1999, Leon Podles published The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity. Our reviewer (October 1999) thought he got much of his history wrong, but even casual observers know what scholars have documented, namely, that religion is disproportionately a woman thing. As Podles puts it with a charming bluntness, Women go to church, men go to football games. Christianity’s alienation of males is the theme of a more recent book by David Murrow, Why Men Hate Going to Church. Murrow, a specialist in media and advertising, says: It’s not too hard to discern the tar