The question of universalism”whether all will, in the end, be saved”is perennially agitated in the Christian tradition. A notable proponent of that view was the great Origen, who, in the third century, set forth a theologically and philosophically complex doctrine of Apocatastasis according to which all creatures, including the devil, will be saved. Origenism”which is not necessarily the same thing as Origen taught”has been condemned from time to time, with the Emperor Justinian trying, unsuccessfully, to get a total condemnation at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553. Among theologians and church historians, there has been something of a rediscovery and reappreciation of Origen in recent decades, helped along in significant part by the voluminous writings of Hans Urs von Balthasar. The universalism question came in for broader discussion with the publication of Balthasar’s little book Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? (1988). Balthasar’s is a very careful argument, clearly distinguishing between universal salvation as a hope and universal salvation as a doctrine . He supports the former and rejects the latter. In sum: we do not know; only God knows; but we may hope.
While my book Death on a Friday Afternoon , published last year, is intended not as an exercise in systematic theology but as a poetic-devotional reflection on the seven last words from the cross, I do indicate there my essential agreement with Balthasar’s position. I confess to being caught off guard by the vehemence of some criticisms on that score, and not only from putative defenders of orthodoxy who have personal axes to grind. Let me not exaggerate the problem: the book has been marvelously well received, for which I am grateful, and many people have expressed their disagreement with the published criticisms, for which I am also grateful. Nonetheless, when some people whose judgment you generally respect have misunderstood what you wrote, a clarifying word may be in order. Of course, I also hope that people will go back and read what I actually wrote in Death on a Friday Afternoon .
The hope that all will be saved is precisely that, a hope. It is not a doctrine, never mind a dogma. But some respond that we cannot even hold the hope, since it clearly contradicts the revealed truth that many, if not most, will be eternally damned. A different and much more troubling objection is that it makes no sense to be a Christian if, in fact, one can be saved without being a Christian. In this view, the damnation of others, maybe of most others, is essentially related to the reason for being a Christian. The joy of our salvation is contingent upon the misery of their damnation. If it is possible that all will be saved, it is asked, why not eat, drink, and be merry?
One critic goes so far as to write about all the wrong things that he would really like to do, that he would prefer to do over what he is doing, and that he would do, were it not for the fear of eternity in hell. It follows, he contends, that, without the damnation of many, perhaps of most, there is no point in being a Christian. This, I suggest, is profoundly wrongheaded and spiritually perverse. For one thing, one cannot rationally and knowingly choose to live contrary to God’s will, since to do so is contrary to one’s own nature, which nature is to live in accord with God’s will. One avoids sin because to sin is to act against God and against oneself, not because, or not chiefly because, of the threat of future punishment. More precisely, punishment, understood as damnation, is the culmination of having lived against one’s highest good, namely, God. It is doubtful that one could really want life with God forever if one does not want life with God here and now.
The Generosity of God
Such a perverse view is also more than a little like that of the laborers in the vineyard who complained that those who came at the last hour received the same reward as those who had worked all day. The master replies, Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? So the last will be first, and the first last (Matthew 20). Some of the critics of the hope for universal salvation do indeed seem to begrudge the generosity of God entailed in that outcome. Theirs is a position of resentment dressed up as a claim of justice. What was the point of my working so hard and so long if God is going to let in the riffraff on equal terms? It’s unfair! The eschatological upsetting of such attitudes (the last will be first and first last) is a constant in the teaching of Jesus.
Others, however, raise questions that should be taken very seriously. It would be absolutely wonderful, they say, if all were to be saved, but the Bible is very clear that that is not the case. There is no denying the powerful presence of passages suggesting a destiny of separation from God (e.g., Matthew 7:13ff., 25:31-46; Mark 9:45-48; Luke 16:23; John 3:36.) As there is also no denying the New Testament passages suggesting the redemption of the entire cosmos (e.g., Colossians 1:19-20; 1 Corinthians 15:22,28; Romans 5:18, 11:33-36; Philippians 2:10-11). If one gives priority to the latter passages, then the former may be understood as admonitory and cautionary, solemn warnings of a terrible possibility. If one gives priority to the former passages, it is not clear how we are to understand the latter. The passages cited in support of universal redemption can and often have been interpreted in other ways, as have the passages cited in support of the damnation of some or many. The Church in her wisdom has not definitively settled these exegetical disputes.
It is objected that Matthew 25, for instance, is predictive. The outcome is certain: And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Yes, certainly, people who live that way until the very end will go to hell. But what if, having lived that way, they at the very end repent? Recall the thief on the cross. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance’ (1037). How can we know that anyone persists in mortal sin until the end? We cannot. Must we not hope that, according to God’s desire (2 Peter 3:9), all will repent? If not, how can we pray that that is the case? Is it possible to pray for an outcome without hoping for it? Is it possible to pray and hope for something that you know cannot be?
In Death on a Friday Afternoon , I write: From the cross Christ has already counted them all. And he assures us that none of them will be lost. He also sends out those whom we call missionaries to let them know they have been found. The second sentence is susceptible of misunderstanding, and some have done their best to misunderstand it. The point of the sentence is not that everyone will be saved. The point, repeatedly underscored elsewhere in the book, is that absolutely no one is beyond the reach of God’s love in Christ. All are found, and therefore are not lost. That some may choose not to accept the gift of being found is quite another matter. We pray and hope that all will accept the gift of salvation that is most surely available to all. At least for Catholics, the teaching is definitive: God denies no one the grace necessary for salvation.
A Sordid Reality
Make no mistake: Hell is real. Eternal separation from God is a distinct possibility to be feared, and to be feared first of all for ourselves. The passages of warning are to be taken with utmost, indeed ultimate, seriousness. God only knows who, if any, are damned. Our unqualified prayer is that God’s will be done. Do I know beyond a possibility of doubt that I will not be damned? Of course not. To answer otherwise is the sin of presumption. I believe, I have a confident faith, that I will be saved because of the mercy of God in Christ. It is sometimes said that Protestants, who subscribe to justification by faith, know they will be saved, while Catholics only hope they will be saved. That is a distinction without a difference. Faith is hope anticipated, and hope is faith disposed toward the future.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That is the prayer that is absolutely without qualification. Only God knows God’s will completely, and it is enough that God knows. In the splendid notes to the new translation of Dante’s Inferno by Robert and Jean Hollander (Doubleday) we are told:
Beatrice’s insistence [in Canto II] that she is not touchable by the grim powers of the pains of hell underlines the marginality of sin for the saved. Hell is simply not of concern to them. It is important to know, as one begins reading the poem, what one can only know once one has finished it: no soul in purgation or in grace in heaven has a thought for the condition of the damned (only the damned themselves do). Their concern for those who do not share their redeeming penitence or bliss is reserved for those still alive on earth, who have at least the hope of salvation. Hell, for the saved, is a sordid reality of which it is better not to speak.
We know that some are saved. At least Catholics know, on the basis of infallible teaching, that Mary, the mother of the Lord, is saved. And, although theologians are not of one mind on this, it is commonly accepted that those who are formally canonized are definitively declared to be in heaven. With respect to all the faithful departed, we are invited to have a generous expectation, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Moreover, there is plenty of room for the saved in the New Jerusalem, which we are told is approximately fifteen hundred miles in height, breadth, and length (Revelation 21:16). That’s a city of a size that would cover more than half the continental U.S., and it will be more than a thousand miles high. It would seem there is ample space for everybody to be saved. (Where people who don’t like cities will go, I don’t know.) The details may not be meant literally, of course, but the picture of a well-populated heaven can, I think, be trusted.
How About Judas?
By way of contrast, we do not know who, if any one, is in hell. As John Paul II points out in his remarkable little book Crossing the Threshold of Hope , the Church has never taught that even Judas Iscariot is damned. A critic writes me that he will not be satisfied until I publicly declare my certain belief in a populated hell. I am afraid that he will have to remain dissatisfied. How on earth (emphasizing on earth ) can I know for sure that hell is populated? One day we will know even as we are known (1 Corinthians 13), and presumably the saints in glory know now (although, as Dante suggests, they’re not much interested), but we”here on earth and now”simply do not know.
There is that enigmatic statement of Jesus about Judas, It would have been better for that man if he had not been born (Matthew 26:24, Mark 14:21). He does not explicitly say that Judas is in hell but, on the other hand, it would seem that he cannot be in heaven. Were he in heaven”or in purgatory on his way to heaven”how could one say that it would have been better for him if he had not been born? Some theologians have speculated about another possibility. Since evil does not have independent ontological status but is the absence of good, perhaps the fate of Judas is that of total annihilation. Such a fate, joined to his terrible betrayal, would seem to warrant saying of him that it would have been better had he not been born. In any event, as John Paul II notes, the Church does not teach that even Judas is in hell. That does not mean he is not in hell; only that we cannot teach what we do not know.
The Demands of Justice
Here enters another consideration that is commonly expressed: our sense of justice requires that we believe some people are eternally punished. It seems the favorite candidate here is Adolf Hitler. As one critic writes, If Hitler is not in hell, there is little reason why I, with my much lesser sins, should be in fear of going there. There are all kinds of things wrong with that argument. Hitler may have repented, turning to the mercy of God, even as his finger pressed the trigger. Plus, rating big and little sinners is a very dubious business. I expect there are many petty tyrants in homes and offices who are every bit as disposed to evil as was Hitler, but who have a more restricted range of opportunity for acting on that disposition. Moreover, consider the Apostle who writes, I am the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:16), and so should we all say of ourselves, since, when it comes to sinners, we know chiefly about ourselves. Further, it is not our sense of justice but God’s perfect justice that is to be satisfied. And, be it noted, that perfect justice is satisfied by the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Then, too, there is the matter of purgatory. Not only Catholics, but thinkers such as C. S. Lewis and the contemporary Methodist theologian Jerry Walls suggest it is only fitting that there be an experience, and perhaps a long and painful experience, of purgation before we are ready for the beatific vision. The master’s reproach to the disgruntled laborers in the vineyard (Do you begrudge my generosity?) notwithstanding, there is something that seems not right about the idea that Hitler or Chairman Mao or (enter your favorite villain here) should get to heaven without paying a steep price for their crimes here on earth. Are they finally to be treated the same as, say, Mother Teresa? That too seems not right. So maybe they have thousands of years (as we reckon time) in purgatory. And maybe, as one friend whimsically suggests, Hitler in heaven will be forever a little dog to whom we will benignly condescend. But he will be grateful for being there, and for not having received what he deserved. (As will we all be grateful for being there and not receiving what we deserve.) But with such thoughts we are in a realm of speculation and whimsy far beyond things on which we have a certain word from God, and far beyond our capacity to understand.
So may we hope that all will be saved? Answering that question in the affirmative, some contend, undercuts the rationale of Christian evangelization. I respond to that objection in Death on a Friday Afternoon and in an extended commentary on John Paul’s encyclical Redemptoris Missio (The Mission of the Redeemer) (FT, October 1991). I will not expand on that response here, but the gist of the argument is that the command and impulse to evangelize is premised not on the bad news that we do not know but on the good news (i.e., gospel) that we do know. To be sure, good news may be good in relation to the bad, but there is enough bad news that we know for sure that we do not need to pretend to know more bad news than we do in order to make the good news good. We know about God’s saving work in Christ, and that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). As both Redemptoris Missio and the year 2000 statement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus , make clear, everyone who is saved is saved because of Christ, even if they have never heard the gospel. If they are in heaven, they will certainly know then that it is because of God’s reconciling work in Christ. As it is usually put, faith’s response to the gospel proclaimed and enacted in word and sacrament is the ordinary means of salvation. That is exactly right. At the same time, God is not limited to the ordinary. Why evangelize? Evangelization is most importantly driven by the means of salvation revealed, by Christ’s clear command, and by the sharing of fellowship so that our joy may be complete (1 John 1:4). We know what we are to do, and why. But the fullness of what God can and will do for the world that He loves is not limited to what we do.
We may come at our question in a different way by trying this thought experiment: Do you know anyone of whom you would not say that you hope he or she is saved? Imagine that you could know everyone who now lives, who has ever lived, or will ever live in the future. Of whom could you say that you hope they are eternally damned? Perhaps in a fit of anger”or in an act of presumption in which you identified your moral indignation with God’s perfect justice”you have said that you hope somebody is eternally damned, but you know you were wrong in saying or thinking that. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Is it possible to forgive someone and, at the same time, hope he goes to hell? I think not. After you have, in this thought experiment, said to absolutely everybody, I hope you will be saved, have you not declared your hope that all will be saved?
Quite apart from such a thought experiment, the fact is that we all pray that all may be saved. Is it possible to pray for that without hoping for that? I think not. It follows that we pray, and therefore we hope, that all will be saved. Catholics by the millions pray the rosary every day, adding at the end of each decade, O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy.
We pray and we hope, but we do not know that that will be the case. I have a terrible fear that it will not be the case. If all are not saved, if many or most are lost, I do not know-despite the many elegant explanations that have been proposed-how to square that with biblical passages and the theo-logic that suggest universal redemption. But God knows, and that is enough. We know that we are to proclaim the saving gospel, we know what we hope will be the case, but we know these things in the full recognition that the ultimate working out of God’s mercy and justice eludes our certain grasp.
How to Disagree
Nevertheless, I expect that I may not have convinced everyone that we can and should hope that all will be saved. In that event, I hope we can disagree without quarreling, remembering Chesterton’s observation that the problem with a quarrel is that it spoils an argument. And, as in all such disagreements, we do well to keep in mind the rule of Richard Baxter (famously reiterated by John XXIII), In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.
To which one need only add this necessary thing: all our puzzling, disputing, and speculating must finally give way to the most pure act of faith, which is doxology. So it was with St. Paul in his perplexity at the end of Romans 11, and so it must be with us. At the end of all our trying to understand, we join in declaring:
For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.
We Piped and You Did Not Dance
Rabbi Daniel Lapin has just about had it. He heads up a renewal organization called Toward Tradition and takes sharp exception to the statements of Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League. You remember when, during the Pope’s visit, Syrian leader Assad said some rudely stupid things about Jews. The Pope declined to get into a spitting match with Assad then and there, so Foxman complained about the Pope’s sin of silence. Reference to papal silence is, of course, intended to evoke the old canard about Pius XII’s alleged silence during the Holocaust. A very odd kind of silence that was, with Jewish organizations at the time gratefully praising Pius for being a lone voice of conscience when other leaders, such as Roosevelt and Churchill, were indeed silent about the Holocaust.
But that doesn’t stop Abe Foxman. About the same time as the Syrian visit, there was a media flap over some prominent Christians who opined that candor compels a recognition that the Jews of the time were not entirely uninvolved in the crucifixion of Jesus. Talk about pushing Mr. Foxman’s buttons. He charged that It seems to be open season on Jews and Judaism. Right. Next week come the pogroms. Back to Rabbi Lapin: I wish we could all calm down a little. I mean, were it not for the ADL’s screaming, hardly anyone would know about Assad’s pathetic insults. And just what was the elderly pontiff supposed to do as Assad blathered away in Arabic”jump up, run across the stage, and start strangling the guy? But I imagine Abe Foxman was facing a shortfall in fundraising this quarter, or something like that. Ten thousand little old Jewish grandmothers must be really worked up and writing their checks to ADL.
Foxman even took out an ad in the New York Times censuring the Pope. Mr. Foxman did temper his criticism with the generous acknowledgment, He’s earned our patience. Pope John Paul has earned Mr. Foxman’s patience. Talk about testicular brassworks. Of whom does one say, We must be patient with him? Maybe a retarded child or a recovering alcoholic. The Pope is no doubt grateful that Mr. Foxman is willing to be patient with him.
To be fair, Mr. Foxman was not alone. The Jerusalem Post also editorially ranted against the Pope’s sinful silence. Eugene Fisher of the U.S. bishops’ office for Jewish affairs has just about had it, too. He wrote the paper, I must protest your editorial characterizing of Pope John Paul II’s recent actions in Damascus as silence’ and sinful.’ Simply because the Pope did not respond to President Assad’s pathetic and transparent appeal to hoary religious bigotry in the way you would prefer does not justify your excoriation of him. Fisher then went on to quote what the Pope actually did say on the occasion about Jews, Muslims, and Christians working together for peace and in mutual respect. Reasonable people might have taken that as a response to Assad’s tirade.
Not Cragg Hines of the Houston Chronicle , however. He devotes a column to comparing the Pope in Damascus with centuries of putative crimes by Catholicism against all and sundry, concluding with a sneer that popes don’t have to say, We’re sorry. Never mind that a good many people think that this Pope has said We’re sorry more than one time too many. I hasten to add that I don’t think so. It’s part of his well-considered campaign aimed at the purification of memories. One does wish, however, that others would show at least some inclination to reciprocate his honesty and humility.
Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of Houston has also just about had it. He wrote, Hines wondered how long it will take for the Catholic Church to apologize for John Paul not responding to the Syrian leader for defaming Jews and Israel. I wonder how long it will take Hines and the Chronicle to apologize for the defamation of Pope John Paul II, a great servant of peace and the strongest moral voice in the world.
Jewish Week , published in New York, obtained a letter sent to Mr. Foxman by Walter Cardinal Kasper, the new head of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. To defame the Holy Father by attributing silence’ to him is quite unjust and cannot go uncontested, the Cardinal wrote. I must make clear that such an offensive intervention does nothing to serve your desire for a good and effective relationship with the Catholic Church. It wounds our relationship. One veteran of the Catholic-Jewish dialogue said that it was the toughest message from the Vatican in thirty years. In a response to Kasper, Foxman said, It was in the context of the Pope’s accomplishments that we were so distressed by the Vatican’s lack of comment. Indeed as of this writing the Vatican has not addressed this matter. The ADL’s patience is wearing thin.
Foxman’s ADL ad in the Times declares in big type, Pope John Paul II, we were greatly saddened by your silence. To which the proper response is, We are greatly saddened, and more than a little impatient, with your rudeness. Foxman, Hines, the Jerusalem Post , and too many others put one in mind of the words of Jesus in Luke chapter seven: To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’ It is true that the Pope is servus servorum Dei , servant of the servants of God, but that does not mean that he is anybody’s lackey. The partisan pipers who expect him to dance to their tunes will just have to get used to it. They’ll no doubt keep acting as they do, at least for a while, since it apparently plays well with their hard-core constituency. But I expect it is the case that for most Americans, Jews and non-Jews alike, such misbehavior looks increasingly like that of petulant children in the marketplace throwing a tantrum because the world does not jump at their bidding. It is not entirely unlike the tantrum thrown by Assad in Damascus. Grown-ups will agree with Rabbi Lapin that it’s time to calm down. Adult behavior may put a crimp in ADL’s fundraising, but count that as a price well worth paying for the civility on which we all depend.
Bobos in Paradise, but Maybe Not For Long
You may remember that I was at first sharply critical of David Brooks’ argument in Bobos in Paradise (FT, August/September 2000). But his response (Correspondence, December 2000) prompted me to take a long second look. There is much more there than I thought, so our Ramsey Colloquium invited Brooks to a day-long discussion of his thesis. The thesis is that America’s ruling class is composed of Bobos, meaning people who have successfully combined values bohemian and bourgeois. The further argument is that Bobos will remain the ruling class because they are able to co-opt challenges to their rule. In short, says Brooks, Bobos have resolved what many years ago Daniel Bell called the cultural contradictions of capitalism. If true, that is an important development.
James Davison Hunter, the University of Virginia sociologist who has written very influentially about the culture war, was there, and he agreed with much of the Brooks thesis. Bobos, he suggested, live in a world very much like a high school where kids are divided into geeks, nerds, jocks, and so forth. Except that in this world the status differentiation is based almost exclusively on consumption. Bobos have lifestyles, he said, instead of lives ordered in obedience to perceived truth. Their serious commitments always come with an exit strategy attached. This fits Brooks’ observation about the morality of Bobos, that theirs is a house of obligation built on the foundation of choice. Hunter also agrees that, at least for the most part, the culture war is over for Bobos. It is kept going by organizations that are able to elicit support from 10 percent at either end of the cultural and ideological spectrum. As he puts it, The middle has no mailing list.
Hunter and others pointed out that the Bobo world is more fragile than it appears, however. It is completely dependent upon economic prosperity and the lack of serious testing. Emerson was cited: Adversity introduces a man to himself. Bobos are more than a little like Nietzsche’s pitiful last man who goes on living the manners of morality after the moral bottom has fallen out. It can’t last, and it won’t. Others noted that Brooks’ more recent writing about college students (see The Organization Kids, Atlantic Monthly , April 2001) suggests that Bobodom may be a one-generation phenomenon. These students are uncritically committed to the disciplines of achievement. Put differently, they have quite abandoned the bohemian half of what it means to be a Bobo. Unlike their parents, they feel no obligation to maintain even the pretense of the rebelliousness of the sixties.
Brooks says he is often asked whether Boboism is not largely a Jewish phenomenon, and he thinks there is something to that. When Harvard dropped its ethnic quota system in favor of meritocracy, Jews were first in line. Jews, he observes, have been on the cutting edge of meritocracy. This is not a subject discussed in his book, however, and others insisted that the Jewish factor should not be exaggerated. Although it is not generally appreciated, Catholics, especially Irish Catholics, are not that far behind Jews in having taken advantage of meritocracy. As for the old WASP establishment, some said it committed suicide, others that it had altruistically decided to share power, and yet others that it was happy to be assimilated to Bobodom. In any event, there was general agreement that Bobos in Paradise accurately describes what looks very much like a new ruling class.
It was altogether a rewarding discussion. I have always found great merit, however, in the opinion that American society is so vast and so various that almost any generalization made about it is amply supported by the evidence. And here things move so quickly that, just as you get a concept that seems to capture the cultural moment, it is made obsolete by change, usually unexpected change. And so it may turn out to be with the Bobo thesis. I was therefore most particularly interested when participants turned to the question of what we know for sure is different now from, say, fifty years ago. The resulting list is not exhaustive, and things are not necessarily listed in order of importance, but here are some changes that it seems we know for sure. Of course, some items are pretty obvious, but I think it is a useful list. You can add or delete at will.
1) The pervasiveness of fertility control (e.g., contraception and abortion), resulting in people having fewer children.
2) Meritocracy in the university and other avenues to achievement and reward
3) The obsession with safety, especially the safety of children. Childhood freedom is replaced by regimentation.
4) Child-rearing based on the moral imperative of achievement. Thus parents jockeying to get their three-year-old into the best schools, from day care through graduate school.
5) The increase many times over of kids going to college. A young person with only a high school education is simply out of the loop of achievement and reward.
6) The movement toward having designer children through new reproductive techniques.
7) The pervasiveness of pharmaceutical relief from life’s anxieties”i.e., Prozac et al.
8) The creation of a mass upper class. There are today, it is reported, more than thirteen million Americans who are millionaires.
9) Mass market spirituality. Consult the spirituality section of any chain bookstore. Religious identity is not inherited but elected. (Some dissented on this one, arguing that America has always been a spiritual and religious marketplace.)
10) The moralization of health. For instance, the anti-smoking campaign and obsession with exercise. Health displaces salvation. On New York buses, there is this ad for a gym: Heaven and hell have the same address.
11) The extension of adolescence. The twenty-five-year-old at home or living on allowance is finding himself. This connects with marrying later and having fewer children.
12) The nexus between symbolic knowledge and monetary reward. The route to success is not through making things but communicating things.
13) The absence of a hierarchy of value in literature and the arts. Art is rated by whether it is expressive or transgressive. And who reads poetry anymore? The Western canon is, for the most part, consigned to the dustbin.
14) The intellectual and cultural elite has made its peace with commerce, and then some. The anti-bourgeois tradition is displaced by getting rich.
15) The dramatic increase of women in the professions, with the resulting conflict between having it all and wanting children. (See above on marrying later.)
16) Selective mating, meaning that men choose women and women choose men of the same status. Bobos marry (or cohabit with) Bobos.
17) A public culture of biblical illiteracy. Related, in part, to the influence of secular Jews who have benefited from meritocracy, and are hostile to, or feel threatened by, biblical (meaning mainly Christian) referents in public.
18) The increase in, and moral imperative of, tolerance. Notably with respect to race, but extending to homosexuals and others previously censured as deviant.
19) Issues of morality and character replaced by the therapeutic. See Philip Rieff’s prescient book, The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966).
20) The polarization of the two major parties along religio-moral lines. As dramatically evident in the 2000 election, churchgoers vote Republican, non-churchgoers vote Democratic.
21) The uncritical acceptance by young people of authority figures”i.e., parents, teachers”who control the bestowal of grades, which means access to achievement. (There was dissent on this one; some saying it is not so much the case, others that it is not a change.)
22) There is no widespread rebellion against the system. Because that style was exhausted by the sixties, and, perhaps more important, because there is no big alternative system”e.g., Marxist socialism”being proposed today.
You may disagree with some items, but I think the list is suggestive. Keeping in mind that American society is so vast and various that almost any generalization is amply supported by the evidence. And you may want to explore for yourself what sparked this discussion, in which case I recommend David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise . It is, not incidentally, great fun to read.
New York Glory
New York University Press has now published a fine book of essays on religion in New York City by the above title, edited by Tony Carnes. Here are excerpts from my preface to the book, including, I expect, a warmed up chestnut or two.
When you’re tired of London, the great Dr. Johnson observed, you’re tired of life. More than two hundred years later, the same might be said of New York City. In fact, people have, in various ways, been saying essentially that about New York for more than two hundred years. In his fine introduction, editor Tony Carnes touches on the ways visitors to New York from Europe and elsewhere have intuited, to their satisfaction or alarm, that the city betokens the future of the modern (postmodern?) world.
Shortly after being appointed Archbishop of New York in 1984, John Cardinal O’Connor visited Pope John Paul II. The Pope greeted him with his arms spread and declared, Welcome to the archbishop of the capital of the world! This from the Bishop of Rome, the city to which, or so we are told, all roads lead.
New Yorkers are regularly reminded, and not always in the kindest tones, that New York is not America. They just as regularly, and happily, agree. One way in which New York is presumably not like the rest of America is that the rest of America is very religious while New York is determinedly secular. It is one of the great merits of the present book to challenge, sharply and convincingly, that assumption.
I have encountered sociologists who, with respect to America’s religiosity and New York’s secularity, speak of New York exceptionalism. My own experience of living here more than thirty years, reinforced by the stories and data in these pages, suggests that we should view such a notion with robust skepticism. In general, secularization theorists have done something of a turnabout in recent years. In the more militantly secular versions of eighteenth-century Enlightenment and up through recent times, it was thought that secularization was something of an unstoppable juggernaut. As the world became more modern (i.e., enlightened), religion would either wither away or be hermetically sealed off from public life as a private eccentricity. Secularization theorists tended to be European and agreed with Max Weber that there appeared to be an unbreakable link between modernization and the disenchantment of the world. All is rationalized, specialized, bureaucratized, functionalized. In short, all is secularized.
Among those subscribing to this general theory, puzzlement was regularly expressed as to why religion, in maddeningly diverse ways, is so vibrantly alive in America, despite the fact that America is a modern, perhaps the most modern, society. The agreed-upon answer to this puzzlement was expressed in the notion of American exceptionalism. Today there is a growing consensus that it may be more accurate to speak of European exceptionalism, or at least of Western European exceptionalism. While Germany, France, and the Netherlands, among others, seem to be in thrall to a numbing secularization, around the world”in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere”there is a resurgence of religion, with all the cultural and political consequences that attend such a resurgence. This is the reality examined by Harvard’s Samuel Huntington in his much controverted, but I think essentially accurate, clash of civilizations thesis. I am inclined to risk going a step further and say that, if the proverbial man or woman from Mars asked about the most important single thing happening on planet earth at the beginning of the twenty-first century, a very good answer might be the de secularization of world history. This is not, according to the textbooks still used from grade school through graduate school, how history was supposed to turn out.
A City of Many Cities
The present book suggests that the myth of New York exceptionalism is as dubious as is the myth of American exceptionalism. As America is, with respect to religion, more like than unlike the rest of the world, so New York is more like than unlike America. But, of course, New York is also different. The difference, however, may be quite the opposite of what is usually supposed. The conventional wisdom for a long time was that the city is the preeminently modern expression of Weber’s rationalized disenchantment. It seems to me more likely, however, that the raucously variegated disjunctions of everyday life in New York open up spaces of enchantment”both wondrous and bizarre”unknown in more domesticated forms of human society. The city is a city of many cities, a world of many worlds.
My first parish assignment was to a medium-sized town of fifteen thousand people in far upstate New York. The life of that town was tight as a drum, predictable, rational, and in all its dimensions run by the rules of a family, a business, and an Episcopal church that had dominated it for generations. I and the small flock I shepherded were most decidedly outsiders. Then, still in my mid-twenties, I came to Brooklyn, New York, and plunged into the community activism that went with being pastor of a poor black parish in those days. Within months, I was leading demonstrations, testifying before the City Council, meeting with the Mayor, and generally playing the part of a public person of importance in a way that would have been impossible in the upstate town of my first parish. A person of importance? It was partly true and partly a delusion, and the truth and the delusion were hard to separate. That is what is meant by saying that New York is a world of many worlds.
Everybody with a taste for it and a modicum of talent gets a chance to be important in New York. There are so many worlds in which to be important, or at least to feel important. It is the city of finance and business, of fashion and theater, of publishing and the arts, of hustling and fervent piety. This book is mainly about the last dimension of life in New York. Former Mayor Edward Koch frequently said that religion, and the Catholic Church in particular, is the glue that holds the city together. I don’t know if that is the most apt image, but for many, if not most, New Yorkers, religion defines a place to be, a piece of the whole from which it is possible to view the whole through the eyes of enchantment. As the late Christopher Lasch wrote of the family as a refuge in a heartless world, so it is possible to view the religious communities described in these pages as such refuges. For many members of these communities, they may be that. Yet it is the case, I expect, that for many others religion provides the story line by which to make sense of, and to make livable, the whole.
I have sometimes suggested, less than half-jokingly, that over the heavenly gates will be a sign: From the Wonderful People Who Brought You New York City, the New Jerusalem! I add that those who in this life did not like New York City will have another place to go. I say that less than half-jokingly, but not very much less.
The Church You Mean . . .
The editor notes, correctly, that Roman Catholicism in New York is very much slighted in the accounts provided here. I share his puzzlement as to why that should be. After all, somewhere around 44 percent of all the people in New York claim to be Catholic, and it is a Catholicism of stunning variety. I am told that in New York the Mass is said every week in thirty-two different languages. (Some say it is thirty-nine different languages, but I think they are counting somewhat similar Chinese dialects.) So the dearth of research on Catholicism is hardly due to lack of color or variety. And in many ways the presence of Catholicism in the city is religiously overwhelming. As comedian Mort Sahl said back in the 1950s, The Catholic Church is the church you mean when you say the Church.’ In terms of public presence, no religious figure is in the same league as the Cardinal Archbishop. When gay activists decide to protest what they view as religion’s oppressive ways, the demonstration is, of course, at St. Patrick’s.
It is not as though the media, theater, and entertainment worlds based in New York ignore Catholicism. On the contrary, at any given time there are half a dozen or more plays deploring the allegedly terrible things done to pupils by Sister Immaculata in parochial school, and sitcom and talk-show jibes about Catholic guilt (usually sexual) are a staple. Yet academics in history and the social sciences seem to be paying little attention to the reality of Catholicism in New York. Perhaps it is like the elephant in the living room. Everybody knows it is there and has rather definite views about it, but there seems to be little to be done about it except to ignore it in the hope that it will go away.
I do not have a satisfying answer to Tony Carnes’ puzzlement about the lack of academic interest in Catholicism in New York. I do know that G. K. Chesterton was right when he said that Catholicism is ever so much larger from the inside than from the outside. There are such rich lodes to mine in research and writing. Based on my own experience in the Archdiocese and Brooklyn Diocese, I would love to see, to cite but one instance, a thorough examination of the Filipinos in New York. In the past half century, in parish after parish, the Filipinos have been a catalyst of change in charismatic renewal, catechesis, and the revival of popular eucharistic and other devotions. Then there are the many determinedly disciplined renewal movements”from Opus Dei and Focolare to the Neocatechumenal Way and the Legionaries of Christ. Who are all these people, mainly young people, who are bent upon evangelizing the capital of the world and thus, or so they believe, changing the world?
Suffice it to say that New York Glory should be viewed as a beginning. Religion in New York City is a subject as inexhaustible as the human story itself. And were a definitive account ever to be written, it would immediately need to be rewritten. When I came here as a young man, I was showing a friend from out of town around. Pointing to all the construction sites where buildings were being torn down and others erected or rehabilitated, I said in my innocence, This is really going to be a beautiful city when they get it finished. But, of course, the finishing of New York City is an eschatological concept. Meanwhile, New York Glory provides overviews, assessments, and snapshots of a city on its way to the New Jerusalem.
Why Christianity Needs Judaism
In these pages there is frequent reference to the Judeo-Christian tradition. The phrase is much more than the jargon of interreligious politesse or a piece of what some call the American civil religion. We speak of a Judeo-Christian moral tradition, not of a Judeo-Christian religion. Yet the moral tradition presupposes common beliefs about God, covenant, history, and final promise. Here too, morality and religion cannot be neatly separated. Nor can personal belief and public decision making.
Both Christianity and Judaism are emphatically public. They are not private spiritualities, to use the term so prevalent in our day. They have to do with public revelations making public truth claims. The giving of the Ten Words at Sinai was a public event, visible to anyone who was there, and is recorded in the public texts of the Torah, open to the examination of anyone who can read them. Similarly public is the life and mission of Jesus, and the history of the Church, beginning with the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and all this is recorded in the New Testament. Moreover, Judaism and Christianity are public in that each is attached to a people”a determinate, countable, flesh-and-blood people through time. There is no Judaism apart from Jews, nor Christianity apart from Christians.
In this respect, Judaism and Christianity are dramatically different from the mystery religions and various gnostic cults of both the ancient world and our own times. Back in the 1960s, some liberal Christian theologians promoted what they called secular Christianity, and it caused a stir at the time. Few understood what they were getting at, and the media soon lost interest. But there is an important sense in which both Christianity and Judaism”what some prefer to call simply biblical religion”are undeniably secular, which is closely connected to their being public in character. They have to do with the saeculum , with the present age, with the real world; they do not float above the world or apart from the world in a sphere called religion or the spiritual. Nor can they be contained within religion as defined by”in the words of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead”what a man does with his solitude.
Christians, more than Jews, are prone to forgetting this. Jews must always cope with the stubbornly resistant fact of the existence of the Jewish people. Christians can and do forget the historical embodiment of Christianity. This forgetfulness is the subject of Harold Bloom’s 1992 essay, American Religion , an exaggerated but instructive description of Christian America as Emersonian Gnosticism. Christians forget who they are, and forget what Christianity is, when they forget Jews and Judaism.
Christianity is Jewish. Not simply as a matter of historical accident or ancient origins, but as a matter of its constituting beliefs and continuing existence. In the early twentieth century, the great Franz Rosenzweig, who struggled with becoming Christian before his reconversion to Judaism, went so far as to call Christianity Judaism for the Gentiles. This should not sound strange to Christians who have attended to St. Paul’s reflections on the relationship between Jew and Christian. The earliest Christians were Jews, while other Jews rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah. That rejection does not mean that God has broken His covenant with Abraham and his descendants. That covenant and that people remain the root, to which the Gentiles are now joined. Paul writes to the Gentile Christians in Rome: But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you (Romans 11).
A critical figure in Jewish-Christian relations is Marcion, who died in a.d. 160. Although he was condemned by the Church as a heretic, many Christians of the second century nonetheless rallied to Marcion’s teaching that Christianity is not only separated from but is antithetical to the root of Israel. The God of the Old Testament, Marcion said, was the Creator God or Demiurge who is the very antithesis of the God whom Jesus called Father. The Creator God is the God of Law; the Christian God is the God of Love. The God of the Old Testament, the Demiurge, was contradictory, fickle, capricious, despotic, and cruel. The Supreme God of Love was revealed in Jesus in order to overthrow the rule of the Demiurge. In condemning Marcion, in embracing the Hebrew Scriptures as part of the Christian Bible, in affirming the unbreakable continuity with Judaism, the Church made the single most critical decision in defining the relationship between Christians and Jews. It is a decision determinative of our relationship in the twenty-first century, and until the end of time.
Yet it must be admitted that, for many Christians, Marcionism is by no means dead. I do not mean that Christians today subscribe to the doctrines taught by Marcion, although among some fringe groups there are possibly some who do. But in what is viewed as the mainstream of Christianity, also in America today, there is what we might call an operative Marcionism in which it is assumed that Christianity and Judaism are two different religions that have little or nothing to do with one another. It is Marcionism without the animus, or at least usually without the animus. In this view, the People of Israel lived back in the olden days of the Old Testament, and the fact that there are still Jews in the world is little more than a curious anomaly.
For such Christians, the reality of Living Judaism simply makes no religious sense. This does not mean they are anti-Jewish, never mind that they are guilty of what in the modern world came to be called anti-Semitism. As hard as it is for some of us who live in New York to believe, many, perhaps even most, Americans do not personally know any Jews. Jews are a little over 2 percent of the population and heavily concentrated in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and a few other urban centers. For Christian America, by and large, Jews are a people apart. For the majority of Americans, Jews and Judaism are perceived at a distance”in the distant past of the Old Testament, and on the distant commanding heights of contemporary culture.
Note also that in the modern era the Marcionite divorce of Christianity and Judaism has been championed by leading lights of the liberal theological tradition in Protestantism. The great German church historian Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) considered it the great achievement of the Apostle Paul that he delivered the Christian religion from Judaism. According to Harnack, Christianity, unlike Judaism, has to do not with corporate salvation but with the individual soul. Anyone who wants to know what the kingdom of God and the coming of this kingdom mean in Jesus’ preaching, Harnack writes, must read and meditate on the parables. There he will learn what the kingdom is all about. The kingdom of God comes by coming to individuals , making entrance into their souls , and being grasped by them . . . . Everything externally dramatic, all public historical meaning vanishes here; all external hope for the future fades also. [It is] a matter of God and the soul, of the soul and its God.
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), the acknowledged father of modern theological liberalism, did not go so far as Immanuel Kant, who denied that Judaism has the dignity of being a religion at all, but he was sure that it was a religion of a decidedly inferior sort. Christianity’s connections to Mosaic institutions, Schleiermacher asserted, are purely historical and accidental: As far as concerns its historical existence and its aim, Christianity’s relation to Judaism and Heathenism are the same. The Christian theologian, he said, may safely ignore the Old Testament, which is to be utterly discarded since it is no more than the husk or wrapping, and since whatever is most definitely Jewish has least value. The essence of Christianity is for Schleiermacher, Harnack, and many contemporary thinkers something that must be liberated from a particular history and a particular people. Schleiermacher defined authentic religion as a modification of feeling or a taste for the Infinite, which, like Harnack’s religion of the soul and its God, is strikingly similar to Harold Bloom’s celebration of Gnosticism as the archetypically American religion.
It is a safe bet that whenever religious thinkers start talking about the essence of Christianity they will end up by divorcing it from the stubbornly historical reality that is Christianity, and by pitting it, implicitly or explicitly, against the stubbornly historical reality that is Judaism. Many Jews are more comfortable with the tolerance that they associate with liberal rather than conservative Christianity. That is, both logic and historical experience suggest, a grave mistake. Christianity that is liberated from the normative story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus, and the Christian people through time is no friend of Jews or Judaism.
While We’re At It
Please join us in welcoming Damon Linker as the new Associate Editor of this journal. He replaces Daniel Moloney, who has been a splendid colleague and has made invaluable contributions over the last several years, but now intends to finish his doctoral dissertation at the University of Notre Dame. He is writing on Anselm of Canterbury’s theory of justice, and we look forward to his definitive clarification of that much misunderstood subject. After studying at Ithaca College in upstate New York and New York University, Damon Linker received his Ph.D. in political science from Michigan State University in 1998. He has taught at Michigan State and Brigham Young University, and was most recently a speechwriter for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York. He has published extensively in, inter alia, Commentary , Policy Review , the Review of Politics , and the Wall Street Journal . He and his wife Beth, née O’Donnell, met at Ithaca College and she is currently a Ph.D. student in the history of medicine and science at Yale University. Damon was received into full communion with the Catholic Church at this year’s Easter Vigil. We are grateful that he has accepted this position and look forward to a long, congenial, and productive collaboration. As for Dan Moloney, we have secured his firm promise that he will continue to provide us with his good counsel and written contributions to these pages. If I may be permitted a personal word: One of the joys of this enterprise is that, from the beginning, we have been blessed with a staff of remarkable energy, reliability, and spirited cooperativeness. The commitment of talented young people, such as Dan, Damon, and our Managing Editor, Alicia Mosier, bodes well for the future of this work, and for that I am very grateful indeed. I am also grateful, of course, for talented old people, such as Editor Jim Nuechterlein.
It appears that Dinesh D’Souza is striking out with his latest book, The Virtue of Prosperity: Finding Values in an Age of Techno-Affluence (Free Press), and he is getting very little help from his conservative friends. The techno-affluent society is producing a new kind of human being, says D’Souza. There are those who are unhappy about that, the party of Nah, and those who think it’s just great, the party of Yeah. D’Souza definitely belongs to the second party. Reviewing the book in the Public Interest , David Skinner notes that D’Souza puts his Yeah vs. Nah concept to work on all kinds of questions: It becomes another way of distinguishing ancient versus modern political philosophy, with the Greeks in the Party of Nah and Francis Bacon, John Locke, and the American Founders in the Party of Yeah. The Yeah people get to claim credit for building the United States of America and the Nah people end up on the losing side of slavery, poverty, disease, and various other assaults on human dignity. So, don’t complain about your word-processing software unless you’re ready to take blame for the Crusades. One is reminded of Virginia Postrel’s book, which crudely divided the world between the future and its enemies.’ D’Souza does have a measure of respect for the continuing relevance of the Nahs. Skinner writes: When the discussion finally turns to the question of posthuman man, D’Souza pays respect to Leon Kass’ great contributions to the bioethics debate. But while recognizing such Party of Nah views, D’Souza makes clear that he believes many of the changes technology offers”designer children, increased life span, brain implants”are simply inevitable. Which leaves the Party of Nah on the wrong side of history. But wait, D’Souza believes these whiners,’ as he calls them, will still have a job to do in the future. With thinkers like Plato and Aristotle on their side, the Party of Nah can supply us with personal horizons of understanding and significance.’ Put another way, they can help everyone find values in an age of techno-affluence’”something D’Souza himself promises in his subtitle, but only halfheartedly pursues in this book. I’m not sure that Skinner and others have been entirely fair to the book. In conversation with D’Souza, who is a very bright and affable fellow, I am impressed with his idea that revivals of virtue have usually been spurred by want, whereas we now may be witnessing a revival of virtue spurred by prosperity. I am by no means convinced, but it is an interesting idea worthy of more careful development in another book, on which Dinesh D’Souza may be working even as I write.
I would not be surprised were a reader or two surprised by the generally favorable reflection on R. J. Rushdoony in this issue. After all, the editors have left no one in doubt about their belief that his movement to reconstitute society on the basis of Bible law is fundamentally wrongheaded. See, for but one instance, my article Why Wait for the Kingdom? The Theonomist Temptation (May 1990). In an obituary, however, the maxim comes into play, De mortuis nil nisi bonum . And Rushdoony undoubtedly warrants an obituary in a journal devoted to religion and public life. Far beyond the relatively small circle of those familiar with his name or movement, Rushdoony’s peculiar brand of Calvinism has influenced the ways in which countless Americans think about God’s will and the public order. We disagreed with him, as we disagree with those who simply dismiss him as a kook. Aspects of his thought, for better and for worse, are not entirely alien to the experience of the American founding and continue to play a part in how people try to make connections between revealed truth and the tasks of culture, law, and politics. Whatever our disagreements, it cannot be denied that he, too, was working on first things.
The more refined exit polls on election 2000 are now in and the numbers crunchers are busily dissecting them in order to find out what really happened. Columnist and political analyst Mark Shields revisits the answers to the question, Which issues, if any, were most important to you in deciding how you would vote for President today? The number one answer (35 percent) was moral and ethical values. Close to 15 percent said abortion was their top issue. That, of course, includes both pro-lifers and pro-choicers, but among those for whom abortion mattered most, 58 percent voted for Bush and 41 percent for Gore. Shields writes, Simply put, that translates into a Bush advantage on the abortion issue of 2.5 million votes in an election that Gore won nationally by m