The Public Square
Born in February 1997, Dolly is two years old now, or maybe eight years old, because the cell used in cloning her was six years old at the time. Since Dr. Ian Wilmut announced Dolly to the world, some scientists have expressed skepticism about whether she really is a clone, though apparently most experts now concede she is. In any event, the announcement set off an enormous uproar in the media, and also occasioned reflection in more serious circles about the prospect of cloning not sheep but human beings. Two of the most notable reflections were by James Q. Wilson, “The Paradox of Cloning” in the Weekly Standard, and by Leon Kass in a long essay in the New Republic, “The Wisdom of Repugnance.” Those articles, with a brief additional exchange between the authors, have now been brought together in an excellent little book, The Ethics of Human Cloning (American Enterprise Institute, 100 pages,, $16.95
Wilson of UCLA, author of books such as The Moral Sense (see FT review, November 1993), is a social scientist of rare moral attentiveness, and Kass of the University of Chicago, who has written frequently also in these pages, is simply one of the wisest and most morally serious people I have ever known. In his initial essay, Wilson concluded that, all things considered, we should not be alarmed by the prospect of human cloning. He acknowledged some dangers but wrote, “Provided certain conditions are met, the gains will turn out to exceed the risks.” The chief condition is that “Cloning should be permitted only on behalf of two married partners, and the mother should-absent some medical condition that doctors must certify-carry the fertile tissue to birth.” The intention is to make sure that the offspring “belong to the parents” and to prevent various misuses of cloning technology. He recognizes that “many devout Christians or Jews” will disagree: “I would ask of them only that they explain what it is about sexual fertilization that so affects God's judgment about the child that results.”
Kass' “The Wisdom of Repugnance” is an article both much longer and more complex in its argument that we should respect and learn from our intuitive recoil at the separation of sex from fertility, and the replacement of procreation with the manufacture of children as a “product.” (Wilson is a Catholic and Kass, by no means incidentally, is a Jew.) Both original essays are very much worth a careful reading, but I will confine myself to the further exchange in the new book. Kass writes that he does not think that the practice of cloning could be limited in the way that Wilson suggests, but his objections go further than that. “I regard cloning to be in itself a form of child abuse, even if no one complains, and a deep violation of our given nature as gendered and engendering beings.”
There is a critical methodological difference between the two thinkers. Kass notes that Wilson has elsewhere written perceptively about the importance of a “prearticulate human moral sense,” but in this case Wilson does not trust “his own sense of moral disquiet and sets out to explain it with reasons.” As any parent knows, the child's question “Why not?” is often hard to answer. Wilson asks “Why not cloning?” and cannot come up with an answer that he finds convincing. Kass writes: “Whether he intends it or not, that move places the burden of proof on those who object to cloning rather than on the proponents. Worse, it requires that the reasons offered be finally acceptable to utilitarians who measure only in terms of tangible harms and benefits but who are generally blind to the deeper meaning of things.” Kass, too, employs utilitarian-or what might be called consequentialist-arguments, but he wants to keep our attention fixed on “the deeper meaning of things.”
Wilson's initial essay was impatient with such ponderings, and he was particularly dismissive of theologians who would worry about whether a cloned baby would have a soul. Kass is equally impatient with what he views as Wilson's “superficial” treatment of philosophical and religious considerations. “No thoughtful theologian,” Kass responds, “objects to assisted reproduction because it limits God's power to inculcate a human soul; theologians worry not about the impotence of God but about the hubris of man.” He cites Anglican Oliver O'Donovan's Begotten or Made?, Methodist Paul Ramsey's Fabricated Man, and the Vatican's instruction on “The Dignity of Procreation” as representative of the kind of thinking to which Wilson might pay attention.
In favor of cloning, Wilson had noted that in vitro fertilization had also been viewed as “ethically suspect” at first, but is now socially accepted. Kass responds: “Does the growing social acceptability of sodomy or adultery constitute a refutation of Leviticus 18:22 or the Seventh Commandment?” (That's the sixth for you Catholics and Lutherans.) “The arrival of cloning, far from gaining legitimacy from the precedent of in vitro fertilization,” Kass writes, “should rather awaken those who previously saw no difficulty with starting human life in petri dishes.” It is notoriously difficult these days to make an argument from what is “natural,” but Kass urges that we attend to nature's “possibly normative pointings.”
Is the Issue Sex or Marriage?
A friend suggested to Kass that the difference between him and Wilson on these matters is that he is chiefly concerned about human sexuality while Wilson's main concern is with marriage and family. Not quite, responds Kass. “[That] difference is more apparent than real, especially if one understands the generative meaning of sexuality and, even more, if one sees that one will be increasingly incapable of defending the institution of marriage and the two-parent family if one is indifferent to its natural grounding in what I call the ontology of sex. Can we ensure, even in thought, that all children will have two parents if we ignore, in our social arrangements, the natural (hetero) sexual ground of parenthood?”
In his original article, Kass said that a clone, because asexually reproduced and lacking two parents, is a single-parent child. He now writes that “it would be more accurate to say that, since it is the twin rather than the offspring of its ‘source,' it has no parents, biologically speaking-unless its ‘parents' are the mother and father of the person from whom it was cloned.” There are other real-world consequences. “Virtually no parent is going to be able to treat a clone of himself or herself as one does a child generated by the lottery of sex. The new life will constantly be scrutinized in relation to that of the older copy. The child is likely to be ever a curiosity, ever a potential source of déjà vu.” And what about the look-alike copy of one parent when there are tensions in the marriage or the parents divorce? “Will mommy still love the clone of daddy?”
Kass does not hesitate to invoke the slippery slope, an image much mocked by those who hold that one thing does not usually follow from another. Prenatal screening, sex selection, the normalization of deviancy, and the eugenic implications of new reproductive technologies-cloning in particular-are all upon us. But Wilson says not to worry, so long as we hold fast to marriage and family. “Given the state of our culture,” observes Kass, “it is rather late in the sexual day for Professor Wilson's call to rally the family wagons to protect the little beloved clone.”
Kass' conclusion is nothing if not definite: “Even if human cloning is rarely undertaken, a society in which it is tolerated is no longer the same society-any more than is a society that permits (even small-scale) incest or cannibalism or slavery. It is a society that has forgotten how to shudder, that always rationalizes away the abominable. A society that allows cloning has, whether it knows it or not, tacitly said yes to converting procreation into manufacture and to treating our children as pure projects of our will. Indeed, the principles here legitimated could-and will-be used to legitimate the entire humanitarian superhighway to Brave New World. Professor Wilson's sweet reasonableness of today will come back to haunt him, once he sees what he has unknowingly said yes to. Better he should trust his immediate moral sense.”
Professor Wilson gets the last word in this exchange. The “essential difference” between them, he says, is that Kass views the meaning of children in relation to sexuality while he views it in relation to the family. However the child is brought into being, Wilson's concern is whether “the child is likely to do well.” “If Dr. Kass thinks that sexuality is more important than families, then he would object to any form of assisted reproduction that does not involve parental coition.” One notes that the choice between sexuality and families is a false one, and Kass has already said that cloning should occasion long second thoughts about assisted reproduction in general. Wilson cites a number of studies indicating that children conceived by artificial means (although not, of course, children who have been cloned) do, in fact, generally do well. And that's the only thing that matters.
Arguments and Preferences
Well, not quite. In a somewhat marginally relevant discussion of surrogate motherhood and a case where the woman bearing the child refused to give it up to the couple with whom she had contracted, Wilson disagrees with the court that awarded the child to the couple. “The central fact was that she was the baby's mother. . . . The child belonged to its mother, period.” He continues, “Some critics of my view would say that surrogacy is appropriate if the birth mother receives both egg and sperm from the parents who are to own the child. That mistakes genetic similarity for the birth effect.” These things are asserted but not argued. I agree with the assertions but am impressed that Wilson seems to take them as self-evidently, dare we say “naturally,” true, when in fact the crucial questions in such a dispute are over the meaning of “mother” and connections between genetics, contract, and what Wilson calls “the birth effect.”
Wilson does not argue so much as he simply expresses preferences. To Kass' concern about the source of the egg in cloning, Wilson responds, “Nor do I much care for the idea of taking eggs from a Nobel Prize-winner.” That establishes that James Q. Wilson does not much care for the practice, but does it tell us anything about what should be done about cloning? Later he writes, “We do not want families planning to have a movie star, basketball player, or high-energy physicist as an offspring.” That “we” do not want it is undoubtedly true, but, just as certainly, many people might want it, and who are “we” to tell them they can't have it? Wilson goes on to say, “I am not clear as to how those limits might be drawn, and if no one can solve that puzzle, I would join Dr. Kass in banning cloning.” He suggests, however, that the “puzzle” can be solved by allowing selection only for race, ethnicity, and sex. But by what moral reason or principle of justice should people be compelled to abide by such limited choices? If all the parties are agreeable, why should a couple be prevented from having a clone of Michael Jordan, Madonna, or-the preference is imaginable-Bill Clinton?
Wilson says that “Dr. Kass is right to stress the mystery and uncertainty of sexual union.” But he gives no indication of understanding what Kass means by the mystery or its relationship to uncertainty, and he clearly thinks that Kass is wrong to stress these considerations as they might impinge upon the legality of cloning. Matters such as mystery, it appears, are in the private sphere of aesthetics, or maybe even theology. In the real world, cloning, legalized within the limits that Professor Wilson prefers, will remain, he says, “quite rare.” That is because, he concludes on a note of high insouciance, “Sex is more fun than cloning. . . . Procreation is a delight.”
One is reminded of Richard Rorty's anti-foundational formula for sustaining a decent and democratic society: “We must hope there will continue to be enough ironic liberals like ourselves.” Were the world populated only by eminently decent people such as James Q. Wilson, I am sure Leon Kass would not be as worried as he is. In the real world, however, some people, if not prevented, will do bizarre, destructive, and evil things. Nobody knows for sure what the consequences of human cloning would be, but in his original essay and in his response to Wilson's original essay, Kass offers a very plausible and sobering description of the probable consequences. To most of Kass' particulars Wilson does not respond at all. With respect to others, he thinks that very few people would want to do such things, he strongly prefers that they not do such things, and maybe “we” can translate our preferences into legal limits against doing such things. But finally, we are assured, the benefits of cloning human beings outweigh the risks.
The benefits, according to Wilson, are for a very small number of people, namely, couples who cannot conceive a child, either in the uterus or the petri dish, and who choose not to adopt, use a surrogate mother, or receive cells from an unknown donor for in vitro fertilization. Once again, choice is trump. Neither in principle nor in common sense is there any reason to believe that choice could be denied to those who choose what they see as other benefits in human cloning, such as owning the clone of a Nobel Prize physicist. Kass understands this. In his rosy view of the likely consequences of cloning, says Kass, Wilson is “playing Dr. Pangloss,” and Wilson maybe believes that Kass is playing Cassandra. They both may be right, but when choice is trumps, Cassandra wins. The exchange, however, goes beyond who has the more adequate reading of our cultural moment and of cloning's probable consequences.
It is a matter of the “ontology” of human sexuality. Are marriage, procreation, and family all of a piece within the ontology of sex? The alternative is a bricolage or tinkertoy approach in which these and other aspects of sexuality (e.g., love, pleasure, loyalty, obligation) can be taken apart and reassembled according to diverse desires. Polymorphous perversity is the technical term for the infantile sexual state in which the child is confused about the purpose of genitals and does not understand coitus as the goal of erotic desire. A large part of civilization's work is the overcoming or containment of polymorphous perversity. In recent decades we have witnessed a vast civilizational undoing; not a sexual revolution but a sexual regression in which millions have been infantilized, encouraged to pretend that they do not know what they do know, and to call the resulting confusion choice.
Here we touch on delicate ground. Sexuality as bricolage inevitably raises the issue of contraception. Kass touches on it delicately, noting that in the 1960s the Supreme Court ruling that allowed the sale of contraceptives (Griswold v. Connecticut) was in support of marital privacy, but it almost immediately became an individual's right to sexual privacy, married or not (Eisenstadt v. Baird). The right to privacy, the right to marry, the right to define marriage, the right to reproduce, the right to the child of one's choice. The ontology of sexuality lies shattered under a barrage of rights. Such was the prognosis offered with almost eerie (some would say prophetic) exactitude by the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. The civilizational undoing is a moral undoing, and in the realm of sexuality, said the encyclical, it begins with the separation of the sexual act from its unitive and procreative end. To which the infantilized respond with the cunning appearance of innocence, “Which sexual act?” Our public debates move smartly along: from the sale of contraceptives to easy divorce to abortion to same-sex marriage to cloning human beings. And all in only thirty years.
The polymorphously perverse blame their confusion on the rapidity of technological change, and there is something to that. Not much, but something. The discovery of buggery and baby-killing did not have to await the dawn of the space age. Cloning is different. It is not the cause of our confusion but the result of our confusion. The source of confusion is in heeding the commandment that thou shalt not resist temptation, and cloning is but one more temptation. The results of the sexual regression, more and more people are coming to recognize, have been disastrous for everyone-except, in a superficial way, for rutting males, who have always known how conveniently detachable is sex from its attendant responsibilities. Women and children, of course, have been the chief victims of the liberation from the ontology of sex. In the discussion of abortion, more and more women are saying what all women must know, that it is a phony liberation that is purchased by the death of their children.
Sex seemed such a pretty tinkertoy, and so maddeningly complex. Telling ourselves that we did not know what it was for, we took it apart to find out how it works, and could be made to work in different and exciting ways. After the deconstruction, this part of the anatomy was stuck into that part, and this kind substituted for that kind, until all memory of design was lost in the immeasurable expanse of desire. “Sex is fun,” it was said ever more insistently, ever more desperately. Of course there were the spoilsports among us. They remembered, and they mumbled about the nature of the thing, and how it was somehow and inseparably tied up with the nature of us. “Ontology” they called it. They were tolerated, so long as they didn't get in the way of our doing what we wanted to do, even though we had grown tired of wanting to do nothing more than what we wanted to do. Then the prospect of cloning came along, the prospect of making others who would be just like us. The realization dawned that, in talking about clones, we were not talking about them but about ourselves. The debate was not about what we can do or even about what we should do. The debate was about who we are. And it turned out that there was a revolution after all, and, as is the way with things that revolve, it came full circle to an understanding of the way things are, and are meant to be.
Imagine some years from now when people started being happy again, and being happy about being happy. Adults took great pleasure in watching children growing up and saying, “Oh, so that's how it's meant to be!” Of course there were also the very young and some slow learners who were always imagining how things could be otherwise and asking, “Why not?” But the adults were neither flustered nor intimidated now. The cloning debate had taught them to do some hard thinking about these things. They spoke confidently, persuasively, and winsomely about how things are and are meant to be. Some of them even talked about ontology. They still had problems of course-coping with temptations, keeping promises, forgiving betrayals of the way things are and are meant to be. But, all in all, they were very happy not to be lost in a world of their own making. Until they began to take things for granted again; until they began to think that that's just the way things are, and forgot the part about things being meant to be. And after they had been going on that way for a long time, somebody had what seemed like a really bright idea and asked, “Why not?” And the whole thing started all over again.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses
A remarkable book that deserves a wider readership than it is likely to get is When a Pope Asks Forgiveness: The Mea Culpa of John Paul II by Luigi Accattoli (Alba House, 257 pages,, $16.95
paper). Mary Ann Glendon has in these pages set out both the necessity and the dangers of what John Paul II calls the Church's “purification of memory” (see “Contrition in the Age of Spin Control,” November 1997). Here an Italian journalist very usefully traces the development of that project, along with the obstacles the Pope encountered in his own curia among church leaders who are more impressed with the dangers than with the necessity. Accattoli understands why it is not theologically possible, in the Catholic view of things, to say that the Church sins, since the Church as the Body of Christ is constitutive of the “total Christ,” and it is not possible to say that Christ has sinned.
Particularly valuable is the book's inclusion of original documents in which John Paul II has no less than ninety-four times acknowledged that-regarding racism, anti-Semitism, the crusades, war, divisions between Christians, and the treatment of women, among other things-the faithful, including ecclesiastics at the highest level, have been unfaithful. The book includes also the vigorous challenge of Cardinal Biffi of Bologna and others to the entire idea of a purification of memory. Although, of course, he does not directly challenge the Pope, here is a sample of His Eminence expressing his concerns: “Galileo had been generally rejected in favor of the Ptolemaic theory in the universities of his day, and yet no rector or dean in our day has been called on to respond to the behavior of the academic authorities of those days. And who would dream of challenging the mayor of Milan or the president of the Lombard Region for the tragedies caused by the politics of Ludovico il Moro? And so it goes. It goes without saying that the heinous historical crimes committed against the human race are hidden today under a mantle of silence. It seems that all are in agreement in saying that we are no longer responsible. For example, to whom will humanity send the bill for the countless French people sent to the guillotine in 1793, for no other crime than their social standing? To whom will humanity send the bill for the millions of Russian citizens slaughtered by the Bolsheviks? Therefore, as regards the sins of history, would it not be better for all of us to wait for the Last Judgment?”
As he has made clear in Tertio Millennio Adveniente (As the Third Millennium Nears) and many other statements, John Paul II is convinced that, if Christians are to walk upright in the next millennium, they must cross the threshold of the year 2000 on their knees. One regularly meets people who say, “When is the Pope going to say he is sorry for (whatever grievance is on their mind)?” The answer is that he has probably already said it. Nor did the purification of memory start with John Paul II. Accattoli discusses the self-examination and asking for forgiveness that began with John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council, and was strongly continued by Paul VI. He includes some intriguing and admittedly uncertain reports about the plans John Paul I, the Pope of thirty-three days, had in this connection.
Some Catholics think the present Pope has “gone too far” in asking for forgiveness, while others will apparently not be satisfied until a Pope condemns the Church itself. What is certain is that no other church or religious community, never mind secular institution, has so candidly, repeatedly, and voluntarily accepted responsibility for its failings. It is the kind of thing made possible by an unshakable communal confidence in the gospel of forgiveness.
Blaming the Truth
The experts may be right who say that Protestant clergy are more frequently engaged in varieties of sexual abuse than their Catholic counterparts. It is the latter instances, however, that seem to catch more public attention. Maybe it is because people expect more of the Catholic Church, maybe it is anti-Catholic bias in the media, maybe the perceived hypocrisy factor is increased by celibacy and the Church's countercultural sexual ethic, maybe attention is drawn by the lawsuits seeking megadamages from an institution thought to be rich and centralized. As discussed by Philip Jenkins in Pedophiles and Priests (1995), there are many factors contributing to an exaggerated and distorted impression of priestly wrongdoing. The rash of cases in the last decade has had a powerfully sobering effect, and church leaders have gained a measure of competence in responding to them, both legally and pastorally.
This spring a bishop in Florida resigned when it came to light that some twenty-five years earlier, when he was a young priest, he had, as the British put it, interfered with young boys in his charge. A bishop from a neighboring diocese who was called in to clean up the mess spoke to the press in words that reflect continuing difficulties in addressing such problems. Admittedly, he did not have an easy task. Perhaps it is inevitable in what Philip Rieff calls our “therapeutic society” that bishops, too, engage in a certain amount of psychobabble, but one wonders if both truth and credibility are not better served if bishops stick to what they presumably know most about-sin, grace, contrition, repentance, and atonement. When the bishop says, for example, that twenty-five years ago people did not know that pedophilia is a “disease” and therefore offenders were let off with a warning and change of assignment, it does sound as though the Church, after two millennia of dealing with the propensities of the human condition, is only now learning the facts of life under the tutelage of Dr. Ruth and contemporary sexology. The faithful might draw the conclusion that, rather than turning to the Church for guidance, they would do better to write Dear Abby.
Asked by the Tampa Tribune how such a scandal could happen in the Catholic Church, the bishop in charge of the clean-up is reported to have said: “We almost have a hang-up about sex. We expect people to live up to such a high ideal of sexual conduct and we don't allow any failure. And when some do fail, we don't always handle it right.” It is a response deserving of a moment's reflection. Is the requirement that priests refrain from, inter alia, sexual recreation with boys really best described as a “high ideal”? It hardly seems like an excessively rigorous rule reflecting a “hang-up about sex.” The overwhelming majority of people view such behavior as perverse and bizarre, something that is prohibited by even the lowest standard of conduct. Moreover, the Church condemns-not as an impossibly high ideal but as a matter of elementary justice-the exploitation of the defenseless by the powerful, which is just what the priest in question was doing. Yet the statement by the clean-up bishop might well give the impression that the problem is with the Church's teaching rather than with the wrong done.
In the passage where Jesus speaks about the millstone earned by those who cause one of these little ones to sin, he also enjoins us to forgive as generously as we are forgiven (Luke 17:1-4). The bishop who is now repentant and resigned must be forgiven, even as the wrong he did must be condemned. He might well be going through the tortures of deepest remorse, and we have no right to withhold from him whatever sympathy we can muster. Perhaps he was in many respects a very good bishop. What he did was a long time ago and might have remained mercifully forgotten. Whatever wounds he inflicted might have been healed or patiently borne. For better or worse, however, those long ago offenses of a young priest, which were also criminal, became public and had to be addressed publicly. In the face of evil, as John Paul II has said repeatedly, “We must call things by their right names.” We must never call grave sin a consequence of the Church's witness to moral truth. The problem is not high ideals but low behavior. Which brings us back to sin and grace, the language in which the Church can speak with confidence, with credibility, and, most important, with truth. The Church is a communion of sinners forgiven and called to sainthood. We all have an ultimate, an eternal, stake in maintaining uncompromised each part of that truth.
Lesser Sin or Lesser Danger
At least one reader is distressed when we touch on this subject. “Aren't you implying,” she asks, “that it's better to sin safely, and are you not thereby encouraging people to sin?” I think the answer to both questions is in the negative, but I'll come back to that. The subject is that of “responsible,” even “conservative,” homosexuals who challenge the lethal promiscuity of the gay subculture. Notable examples are Andrew Sullivan, former editor of the New Republic, and Bruce Bawer, author of A Place at the Table. This item is prompted by a column sent in by a San Francisco reader. David Dalton writes in the San Francisco Examiner against a group that calls itself Sex Panic. The group advocates unlimited anal sex as the act that constitutes “what it means to be a gay man,” without reference to medical consequences since life after forty is not worth living anyway.
Dalton, who is forty-nine, takes exception. He cites lesbians who are becoming less tolerant of “gay men's promiscuity and immaturity,” and says the same is true of straight people. “There will be a backlash if Sex Panic prevails. And make no mistake about it: A backlash is exactly what Sex Panic wants, because a backlash would help to keep gay people on the fringes of society, which is where Sex Panic wants us.” Dalton appeals to homosexual men: “A lot of stuff has happened in the world while you were reading nothing but the gay newspapers. We might mention 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down. After fifty years of disastrous experiments all over the globe, 1989 was when we knew for sure that leftist ideology is somehow fatally flawed and does not work. So why does the gay movement still have all its eggs in such a basket? And everyone except queer theorists seem to know that Foucault is dead, that he pretty much admitted before he died that he had been a young poseur. As long as we're deconstructing cultures, why don't we deconstruct the gay culture we've produced since Stonewall? Is it really all that fine? Is the right to public sex really so important to us that Sex Panic's agenda should become our agenda? Why does the gay elite that claims to speak for us want to keep us marginalized? The gay community in San Francisco is large, secure, mature, and diverse. Many of us-maybe most of us-are in the mainstream because that's where we want to be. It's all right to stand up to the brats in Sex Panic and say in a loud, firm voice: Stop claiming to speak for all of us. And above all we should say to young gay people that there are plenty of things that make life worth living after the age of forty, though we have to make our own lists and post them on our refrigerator doors.” He then adds, “Take care of each other. Don't give your all to anyone unless you like him and trust him. Use a condom.” And he urges his readers to oppose Sex Panic, “the people who are telling you that a sex act-any sex act-is worth more than your life.”
Now back to the reader who says that, by reporting on the efforts of such as Dalton, Sullivan, and Bawer, we are encouraging people to sin safely, or at least less recklessly. Not at all. Objectively, whatever their intentions, they may be doing that, assuming as they do that people cannot or should not refuse to act upon their unruly desires. For the rest of us, it is important to understand the conflicted state of the homosexual subculture. Although it includes less than 2 percent of the male population, there is no doubt about its powerful influence in our continuing culture wars. Should we be more on the side of David Dalton and Andrew Sullivan than that of Sex Panic? Yes, and for at least two reasons. First, if their counsel prevails, some lives may be saved and those people may live long enough to come to repentance and amendment of life. Second, the position represented by Sex Panic is unqualified abandonment to evil, while the “responsible” homosexuals, by their poignantly futile effort to qualify evil with good, evidence an ambivalence that keeps them in conversation, however tenuous, with moral and spiritual sanity.
The reader mentioned at the start has a counterargument, of course. She might say it is precisely the “responsibles” who pose a threat to the larger society by their attempts to normalize homosexuality, thereby weakening marriage, family, and the rules by which human beings flourish. In that view, it is better that Sex Panic prevail and the deadly subculture be isolated as an object of general abhorrence. But that, I think, is simply not going to happen. As Dalton and others say, there are simply too many already in the “mainstream,” and they are set upon demanding social legitimation. As the Ramsey Colloquium statement on the homosexual movement said (FT, March 1994), this insurgency is not going to disappear any time soon; it must be engaged and countered by every means available to us. Meanwhile, in the argument between the “responsibles” and the sexual nihilists, is it better that someone who is determined to play Russian roulette puts one bullet in the chamber rather than, say, four? I expect one must say yes, while more firmly saying that playing Russian roulette at all is morally wrong.
My colleague Jim Nuechterlein once said that his brand of conservatism is summed up in the simple motto, “Change is bad.” When Bill Buckley launched National Review, he declared as its purpose to stand athwart history and shout “Stop!” Both, I take it, were intended tongue in cheek. Although their critics commonly say that conservatives are opposed to change, being against change makes as much sense as wanting tomorrow to be today all over again. I do recall a professor in college describing someone as being so conservative that, had he been present at creation, he would have argued in favor of chaos. But that is not any conservatism that I know about. Closer to truth is the maxim, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” The question is not change but change from what and to what-and why and how.
I got to thinking about this while I was being introduced at a university a while ago and the introducer alluded to my infamous days as a radical back in the 1960s. “Once noted as a champion of change,” she said, “he is now more noted as its opponent. Maybe he will explain his change.” It is a question frequently raised, and I've written about it from time to time, most extensively I suppose in “Remembering the Movement” in America Against Itself (University of Notre Dame Press). Now I've been pondering the question in connection with a book that I'm late in getting around to, Mitchell K. Hall's Because of Their Faith: CALCAV and Religious Opposition to the Vietnam War (Columbia University Press). It is a fair and carefully researched work, being mainly an institutional history of most particular interest to those involved in that history.
The “CALCAV” in question was Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam, probably the largest sustained antiwar organization of that period. It started in 1965, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Father Daniel Berrigan, and I, then age twenty-nine, were the first cochairmen. Later Martin Luther King, Jr. became a cochairman, which reflects the way in which the civil rights movement seemed to flow so naturally into the antiwar cause. As Hall writes, “The inequities of American society exposed by the civil rights movement prompted the religious community to reevaluate its acceptance of Cold War attitudes.” At first I thought Hall was exaggerating the “moderate” and establishment character of CALCAV's beginnings, but he is probably right. It seemed pretty radical to me and others at the time, and I was certainly not part of the country's religious establishment. But compared with most other parts of what was then simply called “The Movement,” CALCAV was in the first years very moderate indeed. I belonged then to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which was not, as he says, “fundamentalist,” but just as surely was not part of the establishment. The error for which I can just manage to forgive Mr. Hall is that he puts the inner-city parish of which I was pastor in the Bronx rather than, as was the case, in my beloved Brooklyn.
There is a rush of half-forgotten events and people as I read the book. I am wearied by recalling the incessant pace of meetings, manifestos, demonstrations, and nonstop crises. I remember fondly Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan of Atlanta, one of the first Catholic bishops to lend his support. And Bishop James Shannon, auxiliary of St. Paul, Minnesota, who was the first. Father John Sheerin, then editor of Catholic World, said of Shannon that he enjoyed “a unique prestige in the Catholic Church in America. It can be said of him, in a way that it cannot be said of any other American bishop, that he is the hope of the future.” A few years later Shannon became the first American to resign from the episcopate, going off to study law, get married, and rear a family. So many things did not turn out as people hoped they would.
I have long since lost touch with most of the friends and associates from those days. William Sloane Coffin, Richard Fernandez, Joan Baez, Dan Berrigan, Balfour Brickner, Robert McAfee Brown, Harvey Cox, Robert Drinan, Gerhard Elston, Sandy Gottlieb, George Webber, Barbara Fuller, Cora Weiss, Charles West-all names that loomed large then. There were grand moments. Others have gone on to glory, or so I hope: Heschel, John Bennett, Ben Spock, Al Lowenstein, Norman Cousins, Phil Scharper. Yet others I still count as friends, such as Michael Novak, James Finn, and Peter Berger. They were not as intensely involved in CALCAV as I, but we walked the same path, and eventually walked away together. Hall writes that the organization lost the support of “Neuhaus, Novak, and Berger, who had come out of conservative traditions to oppose the war.” Conservative traditions is part of it, but the larger reasons had to do with the organization taking a bitterly anti-American and countercultural turn as it sniffed around for sundry causes that could keep the excitements of “The Movement” alive.
By mid-1970 I had pretty well withdrawn from day-to-day involvement. The withdrawal was not entirely voluntary. In 1967 I had begun to speak and write in opposition to what was then called “liberalized” abortion law. That was not received well, for already the liberal flag had, with tragic consequences, been planted on the pro-abortion side of that great conflict. By 1975, when I helped lead an effort to protest the brutal violation of human rights by the Communist victors in Vietnam, I had long been a pariah to many in “The Movement,” having clearly gone over to the side of that then new thing called neoconservatism. I am far from being as convinced as my neocon friend Norman Podhoretz that U.S. military involvement in Vietnam was ever just or wise. But he makes an argument very much worth engaging in his 1982 book Why We Were In Vietnam. There is considerable dispute among historians as to whether the antiwar movement shortened or prolonged the war. I am inclined to agree with Charles DeBenedetti who writes, “The dissidents did not stop the war. But they made it stoppable.” It must only be added that it should not have been stopped the way it was.
Those are now hoary and interminable arguments. In the final assize we will learn for certain what we ought to have done and not done. Something was broken and we thought to fix it. Whether we made it worse or not I don't know for sure, but I think not. I know that we had to try. In any event, these were thoughts going through my mind when she said, “Maybe he will explain his change.” And as I read Because of Their Faith. It's not a book for everyone, but you might want to take a look at it. Especially if you were there.
Grasping for Gold
“No settlement can possibly be defended if it allows the Holocaust to stand as a profit-making enterprise for American Jewish lawyers.” Change the last three words to “the Swiss banks” and you have the concluding sentence of an op-ed article by Burt Neuborne of New York University Law School. One of the more unseemly of current melodramas is the trafficking in the Holocaust aimed at getting big bucks out of the Swiss and others who remained neutral during World War II. History, it is said, is written by the victors, and at least some people among the victors have now decided that being neutral was a crime. That is the message of a recent State Department report indicting Switzerland, Sweden, and other neutrals. I don't know what options these countries had at the time, and it is hardly surprising that some banking and business interests made money out of trading with our enemy. One doesn't have to make heroes out of the neutrals to find repugnant the current mix of self-righteousness and greed with which they are being attacked.
If someone set out to create a scenario to reinforce anti-Semitic stereotypes, he could hardly do better than the World Jewish Congress and its passel of lawyers. The Swiss banks offered to put $600 to $700 million in a fund for Holocaust survivors and their descendants. “It is insulting,” spits Neuborne in response. With the rise of Hitler, many Europeans, including Jews, put their savings into Swiss banks. Neuborne writes that 90 percent of these deposits “cannot be accounted for, the banks say, because the records were destroyed in the ordinary course of business.” He then says, “A fair settlement must include the return of all Holocaust deposits, not merely those few for which records have survived.” If there are no records, presumably Mr. Neuborne and his friends will decide how much is fair. During the war, Swiss banks loaned money to German companies that were building slave labor plants. “The banks say that at the time they were not aware they were financing slave labor,” Neuborne notes. “But again, the victims argue, the Swiss knew or should have known.” The victims argue? Not unless the lawyers who are engaged in what looks very much like extortion are victims.
Preserving the Holocaust as an icon of unspeakable evil is viewed by many, and rightly so, as a sacred cause. Its desecration by those involved in the shakedown of World War II neutrals is repugnant. It is also legally and morally incoherent to declare, a half century later, that neutrality was a crime for which reparations must be made. Swiss dealings with Germany, writes Neuborne, “enabled the Nazis to prolong the war for two years, according to estimates by American intelligence.” Maybe so, maybe not. In view of the enthusiastic response of German-speaking peoples in other places (e.g., Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland) the determined resistance of predominantly German-speaking Switzerland is remarkable. We might agree that Winston Churchill is something of an authority on who contributed what to whom in World War II. He wrote: “Of all the neutrals Switzerland has the greatest right to distinction. She has been a democratic state, standing for freedom in self-defense among her mountains, and in thought, in spite of race, largely on our side.” (Quoted in a book exceedingly pertinent to present disputes, Stephen P. Halbrook's Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II, published by Sarpedon.) In any event, if we want to talk about holding nations historically accountable, how about the U.S. and other allies who refused to accept the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who might have fled Hitler's grasp? If we want to do a retrospective of bad things done by nations during World War II, the list is very long.
The anti-neutrals campaign recalls the “Black Reparations” movement of thirty years ago, in which it was demanded that whites pay blacks for the sufferings inflicted by slavery. Such efforts to settle historical scores are a throwback to primitive patterns of vengeance. Moreover, they are impossible to implement with anything approximating a reasonable calculus of justice. If specific crimes were committed, and no statute of limitations applies, penalties are in order. Otherwise, the Swiss gold caper is a mischievous formula for endless recriminations, a prospect made even less attractive by smarmy claims to be seeking recompense for the victims of the Holocaust. The World Jewish Congress and Mr. Neuborne, as they are given to saying about others, should know that.
Norway is a prosperous country for whom $60 million is neither here nor there. But it is being let off easy because it is only one of sixteen countries that are under investigation for not behaving during World War II in a way that the WJC has decided they ought to have behaved. So the WJC is using Norway as leverage to get at the really big money. Norway's Justice Minister Aud-Inger Aure says of the sixty million, “I see it as our duty to seek a broad moral reconciliation and to let this be expressed economically.” Elan Steinberg, executive director of WJC, accommodatingly declared Norway's offer “a shining example of moral decency.”
During the German occupation, about 750 Norwegian Jews were deported to Nazi camps, where all but a handful died. So Norway has expiated what Mr. Aure calls its “collective responsibility” at the rate of approximately $80 thousand per dead Jew. More precisely, the figure is considerably less than that, since the money is supposed to repay the two thousand Jews who fled the country (to neutral Sweden) for the property they lost. More precisely yet, since few of those people are still alive, most of the money, the New York Times reports, will go to Jewish organizations and to fund further agitations under the title of “Holocaust Studies.” If the children of those who lost property during the war can prove their claims, they will be eligible to receive up to $27 thousand each.
Interestingly, the Prime Minister of Norway is a Lutheran minister and he probably knows something about expiation “economically expressed.” He is undoubtedly familiar with the little jingle attributed to the sixteenth-century salesman of indulgences, John Tetzel: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings / The soul from purgatory springs.” Like Tetzel, Mr. Steinberg has a great appreciation of the pecuniary factor in penitential practice. Pronouncing absolution, he says, “Norway has confronted its past honestly, so that it can have an honorable future.” For Norway, the pay-off is a bargain. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian martyred by the Nazis, didn't know the half of it when he complained about “cheap grace.” The Holocaust racketeers have made it clear that they will not let other countries off so easily.
It should be added that the World Jewish Congress, which is the chief sponsor of this unseemly business, is in no way what its name suggests. It is the creature of Edgar Bronfman, the Seagrams whisky heir, and, contrary to frequent press reports, not representative of the Jewish community, either in this country or the world. But, with a name like that and millions of dollars available for self-promotion, misunderstandings on this score are almost inevitable.
How to Spend Heaven
My discussion of an excommunicate theologian who has been reconciled with Rome provoked a strong response from a reader who describes himself as an “uncompromising Baptist.” “The fact is,” he says, “that in the Catholic Church you can believe and teach whatever you want so long as you don't openly defy the authority of Rome.” Well, not quite, but he has an important piece of a point. The Catholic Church is wondrously capacious, being hospitable to strikingly various traditions of theological reflection, spirituality, and patterns of discipleship. Differences that in Protestantism produce myriad denominational divisions are accommodated by Catholicism within an expansive understanding of the rule of faith (regula fidei) and ecclesial communion, with the latter anchored in the bishops who are in communion with the bishop of Rome. This is evident in the genius of religious orders wherein, for instance, Franciscans can break with Franciscans and Jesuits can condemn Dominicans without the question ever arising as to whether they are all members of the one Church. Of course they are.
The result sometimes looks like a bit of a hodgepodge, but one does not expect neatness in a Church that was aptly described by James Joyce as “Here comes everybody.” It takes considerable effort to get booted out. In modern times, the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was one of the few to succeed, and then only after he condemned the Second Vatican Council as heretical, declared the Pope to be an impostor, and ordained bishops in defiance of Rome. After years of long-suffering pleas and negotiations, Rome finally acknowledged in 1988, with painful reluctance, that Lefebvre had indeed made himself excommunicate. Similarly, for years the famous German dissident theologian Hans Küng taunted Rome with innumerable books, declarations, and interviews, adamantly insisting that he is right and the Church is wrong on a wide range of doctrinal questions. Finally, in 1979, Rome came around to formally agreeing with Küng that he does not teach what the Catholic Church teaches and therefore is not, in that official sense, a Catholic theologian. Küng and his friends did their best to depict this as an instance of heavy-handed ecclesiastical oppression, when it was really a matter of their refusing to take yes for an answer.
“In my Father's house are many rooms,” said the Lord, and so it is also with the Church that is the prolepsis of that happy destination. The Catholic Church is a very big house, extending to every corner of the earth and containing more than a billion people. Not only that, but she claims to be the gravitational center of the entire Christian reality, with all other baptized Christians being in “true but imperfect communion” with her (Lumen Gentium). That means there is an awful lot to put up with. It also means there is an astonishing diversity to explore. As the magnificent Chesterton observed, the Church is ever so much larger from the inside than from the outside. As someone who was not always in full communion, I confess that this discovery is one of the inexhaustible joys of being a Catholic. Not only are there the religious orders and sundry institutes and renewal movements with their distinctive “charisms” for living out the Christian life, but there is the splendid array of devotions surrounding saints who represent what are sometimes maddeningly diverse patterns of discipleship. Apart from the Mother of Our Lord, no one saint in Catholicism takes up so much spiritual space as, say, Luther does in Lutheranism, John Wesley in Methodism, or C. S. Lewis in much of evangelical Protestantism.
The Story of a Love
Such are thoughts occasioned upon reading an exquisite little book by Bishop Patrick Ahern, just out from Doubleday. Maurice and Thérèse: The Story of a Love (284 pages,, $19.95
) is an account of the twenty-one letters exchanged between St. Thérèse of Lisieux and a struggling young missionary priest, Maurice Belliere, in the months prior to her death in 1897 at age twenty-four. The author, who is auxiliary bishop of New York, has long had a most particular devotion to Thérèse, known also as the Little Flower, and my only reluctance in recommending his book was that some readers might not be familiar with her spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul, a book that has been translated into more than sixty languages and is established as an indubitable classic of the entire Christian tradition. But then it occurred to me that such familiarity is not necessary. There is no more effective enticement to reading that great work than Bishop Ahern's book. Were I a betting man, I would bet almost any amount that nobody will read Maurice and Thérèse without being inspired to read for the first time, or reread with deeper understanding, The Story of a Soul.
In 1997, John Paul II declared Thérèse to be a Doctor of the Church, in which august company there are only thirty-one others, beginning with such as Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Athanasius, and including two other women, Teresa of Ávila and Catherine of Sienna. The Little Flower is certainly no theologian in the academic sense of that term. At age fifteen she joined the Carmelites at Lisieux, and in her short nine years wrote only, in addition to the spiritual autobiography, a few little plays, many letters, and a bundle of poems. No Systematic Theology I, II, III, here. Yet minds as various as Dorothy Day, Georges Bernanos, Teilhard de Chardin, Henri Bergson, and Hans Urs von Balthasar have declared Thérèse to be one of the spiritual geniuses of Christian history. Mother Teresa of Calcutta regularly insisted that she took her name not from the Great Teresa of Ávila but from the Little Thérèse of Lisieux.
It is said that Thérèse's field (to use a totally inappropriate term) is “mystical” theology, but that suggests something esoteric and the precise opposite of the “Little Way” that she lived and recommended to others. Ahern calls her “the democrat of mysticism, who uncovers and appeals to the mystic that lies within every human being.” The utter simplicity of her formulations disguises for some readers the breathtaking depth of her insights. Her letters to Maurice were written as she was dying of consumption and going through a “dark night of the soul,” about which she learned from the great Carmelite master St. John of the Cross. (If I have one small quarrel with Bishop Ahern, it is his repeated reference to her “blind faith.” I understand what is meant by the phrase, but it is better described, I think, as indomitable faith with eyes wide open to all the reasons for unfaith.)
Thérèse's writing and conversation reflect her profound immersion in Scripture, all turning around an unlimited unfolding of St. John's assertion that “God is love.” The entirety of her existence, she said, is “To love Him and to make Him loved,” and thus “to give pleasure to others.” Her devotion is radically centered in Christ, and especially in his suffering; her yearning is to “console” him. She puzzled over St. Paul's words to the Corinthians about the role of different members of the body until she came to the end of First Corinthians 12 with his reference to the “more excellent way,” the way of love. “Love gave me the key to my vocation. I understood it was love alone that made the Church's members act. I HAVE FOUND MY PLACE IN THE CHURCH. In the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be love.” Ahern comments, “She aspired to be love, even as God himself is Love. No other saint we know of ever entertained such an aspiration.” Later he observes, “It was crystal clear to Thérèse that God not only wants our love but needs it. The reason He created us was that we should love Him. We are the only ones in the universe who can love Him, because we are the only ones who are free.”
Her physical and spiritual pain was unspeakable, but that is necessary to love. She writes Maurice: “Ah, if you could only look into my soul for a few moments, how surprised you would be! The thought of heavenly happiness not only doesn't cause me one bit of joy, I even wonder sometimes how it will be possible to be happy without suffering. No doubt Jesus will change my nature, otherwise I would regret leaving suffering and this valley of tears behind me. It is only the thought of doing God's will that fills me with joy.” In a French spiritual climate influenced by Jansenism's emphasis upon sin and divine judgment, Thérèse asserted a reckless, some might say presumptuous, trust in God's mercy. To be weak is not only not an obstacle to the spiritual life, it is an asset. “To love Jesus, the more one is weak, without desires and without virtues, the more one is suitable for the operations of God's consuming and transforming love. It is confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to love.”
To Maurice's obsessive worries about his sins and failings, Thérèse responds: “Ah, dear little brother, since it has been given to me too to understand the love in the Heart of Jesus, I assure you that it has banished all fear from my own heart. The memory of my faults humiliates me and prompts me never to rely on my own strength, which is nothing but weakness, but this memory speaks to me even more of mercy and love. When we cast our faults into the devouring fire of Love with total childlike trust, how would they not be consumed, so that nothing is left of them?” She did not dispute the ascetic rigors and penances of other Carmelites who struggled to make reparation for their sins, but it was not her way. She writes Maurice, “‘There are many mansions in the House of my Heavenly Father.' Jesus said that, and that's why I follow the way He is tracing out for me. Anymore I try not to worry about myself at all. I leave it to Him to do in my soul whatever He wants. I did not choose a hard life to make up for my own faults. I chose it to make up for the faults of others.”
She promised Maurice that, when she left the “exile” of this life, which she soon would, she would accompany him on his priestly mission to Africa. They had never met in this life except by correspondence, but then, she wrote, theirs “will be the conversation of a brother and sister which will charm the angels.” The luminous simplicity of Thérèse's awareness of the worlds of which this world is part is simply astonishing. In her understanding, heaven is a very busy, even bustling, affair. “Let me assure you,” she wrote Maurice, “the only thing I desire is God's will, and I want you to know that if in heaven I would no longer be able to work for His glory, then I would far prefer the exile to the homeland.” In this light one understands one of Thérèse's best known affirmations, “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.”
Father Maurice Belliere ended up with a very checkered vocation. His work in Africa was marred by disappointment and he died a broken man at age thirty-three. He was an exceedingly ordinary specimen of the ordinariness for which Thérèse proposed her “Little Way” to be a Christian. His greatness was in his neediness that elicited these letters of amazing grace. As for Thérèse of Lisieux, she continues to spend her heaven doing good on earth, not least through Patrick Ahern's Maurice and Thérèse.
While We're At It
• My friend Joseph Epstein, the distinguished former editor of American Scholar, is pleased to note that under his editorship the journal could go for years without one mention of the current President, or any other politician for that matter. I respect his indifference to the chattering commentariat of what passes for current affairs, while also noting that this journal, and especially this section of the journal, does not cultivate quite that degree of aloofness. Nonetheless, the reader will note that there is nothing in this issue (until now) about the unspeakable but endlessly talked about shame that Bill Clinton has brought upon himself, his family, the presidency, and the nation. It is not that we do not have definite views on the subject. It is simply that this is chiefly a journal of ideas, not of politics, and we expect readers are already inundated with commentary on the subject. In addition, we have a long lead time between written word and final publication; anything on the particulars of this sad and fast-moving story would likely be dated by the time readers received the journal. Having said that, and speaking only for myself, I believe President Clinton has violated his oath of office to faithfully execute the laws of this Republic and has grievously betrayed the trust of the American people. It is vitally important to the moral and political health of the country that he resign or be constitutionally removed from office. When this sordid episode is past, we will undoubtedly have articles and other commentary examining what it means for our moral culture and what it portends for the future. Meanwhile we have confidence in the resilience of the American political order, and believe that the emetic of Mr. Clinton's departure will be a salutary relief from the severe disorders inflicted by him and his presidency.
• A friend passes this on from a friend of his who doesn't let what she calls her “Protestant atheism” get in the way of having opinions on matters religious, including women priests: “Paganism could afford to have priestesses because the religions were so inherently masculine that women could do them no harm, but Christianity is so feminine to begin with that female celebrants can but deliver the coup de grâce. No woman could make a dent in Mars or Thor or sadistic Druids, but when it's a case of turning the other cheek, the meek inheriting the earth, and doing unto others, you don't dare let women get hold of it.” It doesn't count as a sophisticated theological argument, but neither is it nothing.
• Our reviewer of Eamon Duffy's Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes (Thomas F. X. Noble, “Popes for All Seasons,” October) liked the book exceedingly, and it is indeed a marvelous story in many respects. The treatment of the early development of the primacy of the bishop of Rome, the role of the papacy in establishing a division of powers in the Middle Ages, and Rome's check upon the aspirations of absolute monarchs-all this is very deftly handled. It is surely no little thing to find just the right vignettes to sketch the ups and downs of the 263 successors of Peter, all within less than three hundred pages and all accompanied by a very judicious selection of works of art. Moreover, the appended bibliographical essay will be a big help to those who want to know more. All the more the disappointment, then, that the book ends with a confused and self-contradictory treatment of the most recent Popes, Paul VI and John Paul II. The conclusion collapses into a conventional left-right, liberal-conservative telling of the tale that is reminiscent of the late and stridently “progressive” Peter Hebblethwaite's Vatican journalism. “He is a hard man to measure,” Duffy writes of John Paul II. Little wonder that he finds it hard, since, as he comes close to recognizing, this Pope can hardly be contained within the conventional partisan boxes. Like some other recent writers who view John Paul as an authoritarian but want to claim at least part of his authoritarianism for their pet causes, Duffy depicts the Pope as a champion of democratic socialism. This leads to the incredible suggestion that the 1988 encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis is the Pope's last word on political economy and to the complete absence of any mention of the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, with its careful argument for “the free economy.” This is but one of many indications that Duffy loses his sure historical grasp when he gets caught up in the fevered debates that have marked the Church since the Second Vatican Council, and it does invite a certain caution in accepting at face value his account of earlier periods that are treated with greater authorial confidence.
• The book has a huge subtitle, but then it is a huge subject that Alan Wolfe takes on in One Nation, After All: What Middle-Class Americans Really Think About God, Country, Family, Racism, Welfare, Immigration, Homosexuality, Work, the Right, the Left, and Each Other (Random House, 359 pages,, $24
). After studying eight suburban communities from New England to California, Professor Wolfe provides convincing evidence and argument that most Americans are decent, tolerant, and trying to be good as they understand good. Further, they understand good in ways that are more similar than dissimilar. Wolfe is critical of the polling business which, by phrasing questions as sharp alternatives, ends up claiming that opinions are much more polarized than is the case. There is a significant shift toward conservatism, but Wolfe, a centrist tilting to the left, says this is no cause for alarm. Contrary to media depictions, he finds even the most convinced religious conservatives of a fundamentalist disposition are as eager as everyone else not to impose their views upon others. That finding of course will be unwelcome but hardly a surprise to leaders who would mobilize believers to act on the public implications of their faith. The one thing on which the book finds middle-class Americans really polarized is homosexuality, as was previously discussed here in connection with another essay by Wolfe. As other critics have also pointed out, it is strange that in the book Wolfe gives so little attention to abortion. That question, as is also demonstrated by studies beyond number, is the bloody crossroads in our public life, and serves as the single most reliable litmus test of cultural, moral, and political alignments. To the extent that it counters fears that Americans are enlisted in ideological factions that are out to do one another in, Wolfe's book makes a valuable contribution. But one may wonder how many people really share that fear. Wolfe acknowledges that there is a culture war going on, and then he emphasizes, “but it is one that is being fought primarily by intellectuals, not by most Americans themselves.” Well, yes. Of course. A war over ideas is fought chiefly by people who are in the ideas business. Most Americans can't get themselves out to vote, never mind reading a serious book on morality and culture. In short, most Americans are not intellectuals, which is just as well. Just as most Americans are not political activists, which is also just as well. Nonetheless, the culture wars go on, and the ideas in conflict shape both the politics and public mores that do affect all Americans, whether they know it or not. Alan Wolfe's new book reminds us that most Americans are basically decent people who are busy with many things, eager to be liked, and therefore not easily recruited as combatants in the cultural wars. The average American, it turns out, is pretty average.
• Bench-pressing Marx at the 23rd Street Y is no trivial pursuit. To understand its serious ramifications is the kind of benefit for which innumerable parents flirt with bankruptcy in sending their children to places such as Harvard and Princeton. How else could they gain the wisdom to be derived from Michel Foucault's life and death devoted to exploring the darker side of homosexual sadomasochism? The “depth and complexity of Foucault's work” is displayed in the following passage from H. J. Larmoux's new book, published by the very distinguished Princeton University Press, Rethinking Sexuality: Foucault and Classical Antiquity. It is offered here as a public service to encourage parents to ask themselves whether their children are really so rotten that they deserve a college education. Herewith a sampling: “David Halperin . . . contends that gay male gym culture is a form of Foucauldian political ascesis. To those who label this position a trivialization of Foucault's concept of resistance, he responds that they are mere elitists, ‘suspicious of any technology of the self that is widely dispersed in a culture, and is genuinely popular.' From the Marxist perspective, this is disingenuous at best. In the same text he makes a clear distinction between gay muscles and ‘the kind of muscles that are produced by hard physical labor.' This distinction, in turn, is part of a larger argument that ‘gay male body-builders,' in their inscription of their disciplinary practices on their flesh, should be seen as having ‘performed a valuable political service on behalf of everyone.' While Halperin's position makes the valuable distinction between the complex and largely independent matrices of gay and straight gym culture, it is difficult not to draw the inference that gay muscles are somehow superior to those ‘produced by hard physical labor.' The implication of such a position is twofold. The first is that the service provided to the community by gay male body-builders is more important than that of those who get their muscles through back-breaking labor; hence, gay gym culture is more worthy of the attention of radical theorists than, say, the labors of farm workers picking strawberries in the Rio Grande valley. The second is that none of the young workers sweating in the fields are gay. This is a position difficult to square with a stance that aspires to be antielitist and ‘truly popular.' It defines gay males as essentially upper-middle-class, urban professionals, a definition consistent with Halperin's stated desire not to deny ‘the possibility that resistance could ever take the form of shopping for the right outfit.' Yet Halperin's view represents only one rather narrow interpretation of Foucauldian politics, and to conclude from it that Marxists and Foucauldians share no common ground would be to undervalue the depth and complexity of Foucault's work.” Being an inveterate ecumenist, I'm prepared to allow that they share the same ground, and are welcome to it.
• George Steiner seems like an unlikely reviewer for D. M. Thomas' Alexandr Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life (St. Martin's). But then, novelist D. M. Thomas is an unlikely biographer of Solzhenitsyn, and in fact he is not that. He simply reprises Michael Scammel's fine biography of 1984, updating it with information subsequently available and subjecting it all to his own novelistic and Freudian spins. But back to Steiner. His essay in the New York Times Book Review is not about the Thomas book but about Solzhenitsyn, who, he says, in the ‘70s “bestrode the world like a colossus” and was “not only the world's most famous writer but a spiritual guide, a prophet, an exemplar unrivaled since Voltaire or Tolstoy.” How the mighty have fallen, Steiner laments. “Although the comparison is, at any substantive level, absurd, there is about the aged and bitter titan more than a touch of the later years of Ayn Rand.” Solzhenitsyn and Ayn Rand? The comparison is absurd but Steiner will make it nonetheless, although ever so gingerly. He is prepared to say only that there is “more than a touch.” A few lines later we read, “There is more than a hint of courage in D. M. Thomas' attempt at a chronicle in depth.” There is more than a scoop of obfuscation in Steiner's saying what he wants to say, but give him time; he will get to it. With more than a hint of sadness, he asks how Solzhenitsyn's “decline in stature and reputation came about.” “These questions make the present moment one both appropriate and premature for revaluation.” The moment is appropriate because it is premature, or whatever. “It may be too late to get certain problems into the requisite perspective. It may be too early to judge a vast textual output still in progress and a life yet unquenched.” Go figure. Solzhenitsyn's great work, according to Steiner, was One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which was published in 1962 and exposed the horror of the gulag. Whatever the tragedy of the later Solzhenitsyn, says Steiner, “What matters is the extent of our continued indebtedness to Ivan Denisovich, to the mapping of the gulag. At so many moments, what our soiled age has had of conscience lay in this one man's angry keeping.” How much better for him and for all of us if Solzhenitsyn had died in 1962. Regrettably, his “life yet unquenched” enabled him to give “the notorious commencement address at Harvard” in 1978. That was the address in which Solzhenitsyn took the secular intellectuals of the West to task for their abandonment of moral truth and supine accommodation to permanent coexistence with the evil of totalitarianism. From that address one can date what Steiner calls his “decline in stature and reputation.” But the real offense of Solzhenitsyn in the unblinking eye of a vengeful George Steiner is his adherence to the biblical God and insistence upon the Christian character of civilization. Steiner writes: “If anything, D. M. Thomas deals only circumspectly with Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's theocratic-agrarian ideology and his thirst for a communal, in some ways medieval, Rus under the unblinking eye of a vengeful God. Implicit in this worldview is the vexed issue of Solzhentisyn's anti-Semitism.” As the vexed George Steiner has tirelessly alleged over the decades, anti-Semitism is inherent and ineradicable in Christianity. How much better for Solzhenitsyn's stature and reputation-at least as George Steiner rates stature and reputation-had the “vast textual output” come to a halt before he convicted himself of being a Christian. That is the gist of Steiner's attack. As for the rest of the essay, all his gestures of deference to a once great writer have about them more than a hint of disingenuousness.
• Hoist one to the people of Tangier Island, a little place in Chesapeake Bay just off Virginia. The town council voted unanimously not to invite Warner Bros. to use their town for the filming of Message in a Bottle, a movie starring Kevin Costner, Paul Newman, and Robin Wright Penn. “We rejected it because of our religious stand,” said Mayor Dewey Crockett. The account continues: “He said a sex scene, cursing, and selling of alcohol in the movie were not the kind of things the council wanted associated with Tangier. ‘Our values go way back, and we don't condone these things,' he said.” A hotel keeper and an operator of ferry boats to the mainland, who stood to make big money from the filming, were very unhappy with the decision. But Grace Brown, who runs a bed and breakfast, put it simply: “We don't want any loud, alcoholic parties, or bad language from the filmers. We just don't want our island to be that way.” Grumbled Paul Newman: “The religious zealots turned the economic benefits into an evil thing. They were looking at me like I was the devil. I've never been in the presence of such small-mindedness, fear, and ignorance in my life. I couldn't get away fast enough.” The movie will be filmed on Martha's Vineyard. Despite our mayor's new campaign for civility, New Yorkers have no choice but to put up with loud alcoholic parties, bad language, and much worse. But it is reassuring to know that there are people somewhere who have not been talked out of thinking that it is a very good argument to say, “We just don't want our place to be that way.”
• Pragmatism, it is said, is the characteristic American disposition, and when that disposition is dressed up as a philosophy the conversation inevitably turns to William James. In a new biography of James (Genuine Reality, Harcourt Brace, 467 pages,, $35
), Linda Simon quotes a disciple of James, Giovanni Papini, on what the master meant by pragmatism. The philosophy of pragmatism, he said, is “a collection of attitudes and methods” that take a position of “armed neutrality in the midst of doctrines.” “It is like a corridor in a hotel, from which a hundred doors open into a hundred chambers. In one you may see a man on his knees praying to regain his faith; in another a desk at which sits someone eager to destroy all metaphysics; in a third a laboratory with an investigator looking for new footholds by which to advance upon the future. But the corridor belongs to all, and all must pass there. Pragmatism, in short is a great corridor-theory.” That is nicely put and captures an important element of what James meant by pragmatism, but only, I think, an element. Standing in the corridor in a position of neutral superiority is the posture of rationalist upper-case Liberalism, and does not adequately describe the James of, for instance, The Varieties of Religious Experience. That work is grievously flawed in several respects, and most especially in its radically individualistic approach to religious experience, but it also reveals a William James who recognized the inescapability of occupying a chamber off the corridor. His chamber looked out on the corridor, and he paid attention as best he could to what was happening in other chambers, but he knew that he himself was not unchambered. In a time when the champions of Enlightenment rationalism are being casually consigned to the dustbin of history, I suggest some thought be given to sparing so great a mind and so great a soul as William James.
• Is there such a being as a Christian philosopher, or are there just philosophers who happen to be Christian? That is the question addressed by the eminent Louis Dupré of Yale upon receiving an award from the American Catholic Philosophical Association. Herewith his conclusion: “At which point does the encounter with transcendence fully deserve the name of Christian philosophy? It occurs, I would think, when a philosopher not only seriously considers the Christian hypothesis, but singles it out among others as worthy of a full investigation. He or she then attempts to establish its logical possibility, showing that its concepts are not intrinsically contradictory, that its positions appear coherent and do not conflict with well-established scientific theories or historical facts. But Christian philosophers must do more. They must show the logic that is proper to faith: the specific truth of religion which by no means coincides with equation and requires more than coherence, the unique intentionality of the act of faith, the symbolic character of religion in language and rituals, and also the nature of the mental attitude appropriate for receiving the particularity of the Christian revelation. Yet they must never move beyond the restrictions imposed by the philosophical method, remembering that what to the believer is the supreme reality remains beyond the full grasp of philosophy. To succeed in its task this investigation requires a variety of methods, each of which has been developed by one or another segment of contemporary philosophy: it needs an analysis of the language of faith, an examination of the logic of its doctrine, a phenomenological description of attitudes, narratives, rituals. At no point should this philosophical encounter turn into a substitute for faith, as it has done all too often. Theology, and indeed the Christian faith itself, denies philosophical reflection all claims of autonomy with respect to its content, which would allow it, once its reflection on religion was completed, to dispense with religion itself. To be sure, Christian philosophers need not devote their entire thinking to the justification and exploration of Christian faith or doctrine, in the manner here described, though it is essential that in some way and to some extent they subject the concepts of their private faith to a philosophical critique. What Christianity does require is that philosophers committed to the Christian faith creatively use some of the fundamental ideas that revelation and the Christian tradition present us with, and, negatively, that their philosophy not clearly contradict any of them. I say clearly, because wherever there is reflection there will be controversy. To ostracize others from the Christian fold is not the task of the philosopher. Our far more beautiful vocation is to be guided and to guide upward to those spheres of consciousness where the divine light breaks though into a reflective illumination of human existence. That, at least, is what the most memorable among us, from Dionysius and Augustine to Newman and Blondel, have done for centuries. It is an ascent onto that mountain which ends at l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle.”
• The annual Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches has appeared and it seems the oldliners-Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ, United Methodist-are, after decades of precipitous membership loss, bottoming out. The fast growing and largest of Protestant groups, the Southern Baptist Convention, reports that its membership is not quite what it seems. “Of the 15,691,964 SBC members (which include an increase of 0.18 percent growth last year), 20.7 percent do not attend church and are called ‘resident actives.' An additional 31.8 percent are ‘nonresident,' which means those who have moved and did not drop their membership. Active SBC members, therefore, do not make up even half of the membership.”
• George Tinker, a Methodist, is professor of American Indian cultures and religion at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He recently spoke in Seattle as part of the Earth Ministry Lecture Series and explained, according to the Catholic Northwest Progress, that “three ‘isms' fuel the fires of democratic capitalism: classism, sexism, and racism.” Of course. Everybody knows that. The paper reports, “Tinker said he is ‘of mixed blood'; his father was an Osage Indian and his mother a Lutheran.” I'll let the Lutherans handle that one.
• There are these humbling moments in which one is left with absolutely nothing to say. (From the peanut gallery: “He should have more of them.”) The following is not, repeat not, a parody. It is from the Publishers Weekly review of a new book from the University of Pennsylvania Press, The Fantasy Factory: An Insider's View of the Phone Sex Industry by Amy Flowers. “Having spent four months working as a phone-sex operator and having interviewed more experienced operators as well, Flowers lays out the contours of this world with a clarity that resists easy conclusions. In some ways it's like any other job; in others, utterly different. The exploitative working conditions or the necessity to cater to even terrifyingly pathological callers, for instance, support critics' charges that sex work is oppressive and damaging; yet workers sometimes find room to educate the sexually inexperienced or act out their own desires more confidently. More important, they learn to protect their inner selves in the paradigmatic modern encounter, one structured by ‘professional pretense,' technological mediation, and manufactured emotion-a description fitting everyone from fast-food employees to flight attendants. In that sense, phone sex sells something both typical and necessary today: ‘the most important fantasy of all, that of presence and intimacy.' Although the author might have pursued the implications of her study further, this short book's sensible vision complicates popular stereotypes and challenges all of us to find better, more direct ways of relating to one another in a world of strangers.”
• Alert readers are familiar with the finding of a New York Times poll that about half of adult Americans agree that abortion is “the same thing as murdering a child,” while a third of those who agree with that also agree that “abortion is sometimes the best course in a bad situation.” Richard Stith of Valparaiso University, writing in the Indianapolis News, suggests this reflects a circumstance that is simply not socially sustainable: “Isn't our ability to defend life after birth seriously undermined by people who see no important difference between born and unborn children, and yet think those still unborn shouldn't be protected by law? Why worry much about stopping child abuse, for example, if child murder is thought permissible? And if it's okay to kill a healthy child, what can be so wrong with involuntary euthanasia of the seriously disabled? On a more abstract level, the belief that violence against children may be none of the government's business strikes at the heart of our notions of community responsibility. If we do not share a common concern for the next generation, what do we share? Worse still: for those who consider abortion to be murder, it is not just any kind of murder. It is, as the New York Times poll puts it, the same thing as ‘murdering a child.' And where there is a child, there is a mother. Abortion, in the view of half of the American people, is the killing of a child by its own mother. Can we live with the belief that mothers have a fundamental right to take the lives of their children? I doubt it. The mother-child relationship has been too long held up in this civilization (though no doubt sometimes with wrongful sexist intent) as the archetype of self-sacrificing nurture, as the centerpiece of all idealism. If we think we are permitting mothers to dismember their children, what violence may we still forbid?”
• Call it evenhanded. Origins, the Catholic documentation service, publishes two episcopal letters on the liturgy, one by the bishop of Youngstown, Ohio, and the other by the bishop of Erie, Pennsylvania, who is former chairman of the bishops conference committee on liturgy. The first is a compelling statement on the centrality of the Eucharist, and the centrality of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, around which is gathered the community of adoration and praise. The second letter commends an “ideal” liturgy of people gathered in admiration of themselves. Admittedly, that puts it a little too strongly. A little. The difference between the letters in tone and direction might lead the reader to infer that the bishops are talking about quite different events and quite different beliefs about what is happening in the Mass. At the communion in Erie's ideal liturgy, the eucharistic ministers “look each communicant in the eye and call them by what they are, ‘the body of Christ.'” (The “them” presumably refers to “each communicant.”) The bishop adds, “We do not toy with that greeting, but let it mean what St. Augustine said it means: ‘You are the body of Christ, this is the body of Christ, and by doing this, become what you are: the body of Christ.'” But of course the bishop is toying with what St. Augustine and the Church means. The words, “The body of Christ,” are not a greeting but an announcement of what this is. The individual communicant is not the body of Christ. We are members of the body of Christ, the Church, by virtue of receiving the body of Christ. The moment of communion is not an encounter, however meaningful (looking one another in the eye), between the minister and the communicant; it is being encountered by “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” (Catechism #1374). Of course the Church and every member of the Church is part of the whole Christ, but at the communion attention is riveted on this that is the crucified and risen Lord. In the face of that astonishment, one might commune with eyes cast down or even closed. After communion there is time enough to look around in wonder at all the others who have received the same gift and are thereby also caught up in the mystery of Christ and his Church. In devotional sensibility, in spiritual understanding, and implicitly in doctrine as well, there is a world of difference between the greeting, “You are the body of Christ,” and the declaration, “This is the body of Christ.” (When the communion is in both species, does the bishop propose that ministers look people in the eye and say, “You are the blood of Christ”?) The faithful of Erie and elsewhere might be forgiven for saying, “If you want a meaningful encounter, I'll see you after Mass. Right now I have Someone more important on my mind. Anyway, you are not capable of meaningful encounter with each of the hundreds of people coming forward. He is.”
• “Despite growing up in New York City, Jim maintained a deep respect for human beings.” Well, I never! Despite that slur in its tribute to James Arthur Miller, a valiant exposer of population explosion bunk, I'll put in a plug for the Population Research Institute Bulletin, an excellent source of information on population data and coercive programs too often supported by the U.S. government, edited by Steven Mosher (5119A Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041).
• “Volume 1, Number 1.” How that warms the cockles of the editorial heart. To be young again, and launching a publication that the world desperately needs. Whether it knows it or not, but it will soon find out. Premier issues of promising publications get a free plug, and this plug is for Markets & Morality, a handsome semiannual (the editors mistakenly say biannual, but some slack should be cut for a first issue) that advances serious moral and theological reflection on matters economic. The subtitle is “Scholarship for a Humane Economy,” and the favored school of thought is “economic personalism,” which is economic freedom with a conscience. Published by the Acton Institute and available for $25
per year by writing 161 Ottawa NW, Suite 301, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.
• What kind of oath of public office might be taken if the Supreme Court is saying, as it sometimes seems to be saying, that we owe allegiance to it rather than to the Constitution? J. M. Kelly's A Short History of Western Legal Theory provides a possible answer. There we learn that the seventeenth-century Cortes (parliament) of Aragon took this oath to the crown: “We, who are as good as you are, take an oath to you, who are no better than we, as prince and heir of our kingdom on condition that you preserve our traditional constitutional rights and liberties, and, if you do not, we do not.” Of course, the Supreme Court of the Casey decision would likely declare such a conditional oath to be an intolerable threat to the rule of (its) law.
• I've been told that I exaggerate when I say that, in the eyes of the prestige media and academy, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic, and perhaps I do. Several notches above the usual books about contemporary Catholics who are angry with the Church is Catholic Lives, Contemporary America, edited by Thomas J. Ferraro (Duke University Press, 274 pp). There is an essay by Patrick Allitt reprising his argument that Catholic conservatives (and “the neoconservative trio”) seem to be in the ascendancy but are really making little difference, and Andrew Sullivan explains why the Church should come to terms with his “virtually normal” homosexuality. There is also a moving interview with the writer Richard Rodriguez, who refuses to let his homosexuality define who he is as a person and a Catholic. But the best essay is by Stanley Hauerwas, “A Homage to Mary and to the University Called Notre Dame.” As a Protestant, he taught theology for fourteen years at Notre Dame and felt himself becoming more and more Catholic, even praying to Mary in the unself-conscious way that Catholics do. That was until a new chairman, a Catholic, took over the department and declared Hauerwas to be a Protestant who stood in the way of the department becoming more Catholic, which meant more Protestant. Well, you'll have to read the essay to figure all that out, but it rings true. Along the way of the essay, Hauerwas talks about how he and his young son regularly participated in Catholic worship. While he persists in not explaining why he is not a Catholic, at the student Masses Hauerwas did learn some things of interest. For instance, this: “As an anthropologist utilizing the participant-observer method, I noticed that Catholics worship quite differently from Protestants-Catholics are noisy and not particularly ‘worshipful.' Although I was at first bothered by this, I began to realize that Catholics do not have to be ‘holy' at worship because they think God is going to show up anyway. If the priest gets it right, there is not a thing they can do to prevent God from being present in the Eucharist. In contrast, most Protestants believe in the ‘real absence' rather than in any presence. Accordingly we have to be especially ‘holy' because otherwise we are afraid ‘God' will go away. I suspect that one of the reasons why Protestants are so serious in worship is our unacknowledged presumption that there is no difference between what is happening in our subjectivities and God. Although I would have difficulty spelling it out, I think this has to do with Protestant inability to really party the way that Catholics can.” As for Notre Dame, Hauerwas has not lost hope. He thinks they're training kids to be just like everybody else, which means to be good Americans who fit neatly into the career and culture slots created by the Protestant establishment. But he suspects they'll not get away with it. “So I left Notre Dame. It was a sad leaving, but I am glad that the years there left their mark on me. For even though I am not a Catholic, I feel what it means to be one in the contemporary university. I suspect that the last legitimate prejudice on the American campus is against the Catholics. After all, they continue to remain members of a hierarchical institution that maintains some extraordinarily conservative moral practices. As hard as they try to be good Americans, Mary just keeps following them around.”
• The magazine advertisement said, “Become an egg donor or surrogate mother. Help an infertile couple become a family!” In small print: “There is a special need for Jewish and Asian women.” That got Margaret Talbot to thinking, and writing in the New Republic. She concludes: “Maybe once you decide to buy an egg-at a considerable cost once you add in medical bills-you figure you might as well shop for what you really, really want. But all this, I think, is a little nuts. The catalog-style browsing for top-drawer genes and specific attributes (I want a child who can understand Ashbery, damn it!) subtly corrupts the single most significant attribute of parental love, which is that it is love for what one has been given. Its unconditionality is owed not least to the fact that the children have not been designed by the parents. But here are these egg dealers, proposing to cancel the surprises and the contingencies that test and toughen the bonds between parents and children. I'm not sure quality is worth it.” Unconditionality. That gets pretty close to the heart of the matter.
• The ultimate victory of story over theory-and specifically the biblical story over Communist theory-is the theme of a lecture by James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, reflecting on China and Russia: “If Americans cannot penetrate into the interior spiritual dialogue of other peoples, they will never be able to understand, let alone anticipate or affect, the discontinuous major changes which are the driving forces in history and which will probably continue to spring unexpected traps in the years ahead. To put it another way, if we cannot learn to listen to others as they whisper their prayers, we may well confront them later on when they howl their war cries. Even if cultural gaps cannot be bridged, one becomes a better person and more appreciative of one's own culture by the very attempt to understand someone else's. I recently returned from China, about whose past I am largely ignorant and about whose future I am not so optimistic as many Americans. I was particularly moved in ancient Xian by one lonely stone slab which is all that remains of the Nestorian Christianity that penetrated China at the end of the first Christian millennium before disappearing without a trace. Halfway through the second millennium, the Christians came again in the most nearly successful attempt to bridge the gap between the West and China: the great Jesuit mission to China. When the Jesuits ultimately left China in failure at the beginning of the eighteenth century (as America's own missionaries were forced to do when the Communists took over in the twentieth), they left behind a moving epitaph. ‘Go now, voyager. Congratulate the dead. Console the living. Pray for everyone. Wonder and be silent.' It is in prayer, wonder, and silence that one sometimes best finds understanding of others. I felt some of that as I wandered silently and alone through the streets of Moscow after experiencing the forty-eight exhilarating hours that shook the world in August 1991, listening to people constantly repeat the word chudo or miracle and marvel in whispers that Russia had been transformed on the Feast of the Transfiguration-the miraculous first appearance of Christ in a transformed state before His disciples on Mt. Tabor. It was the persecuted literature and religion of Russia, not the vaunted megacomputers of the West, that saw it all coming. Even during the depths of the Cold War, Pasternak had written at the end of Dr. Zhivago that ‘Although victory had not brought the relief and freedom that were expected at the end of the war, nevertheless portents of freedom filled the air throughout the postwar period, and they alone defined its historical significance.'”
• Yet another catalogue from a Christian publisher of “very inspirational” books, or so it says here. We receive mountains of these. The sorry fact is that some Christian communities are book happy the way boxers are punch-drunk. A person gets a spiritual buzz and it sets off an automatic reflex to write another How-Jesus-Makes-Me-Happy book. Apparently there is an almost unlimited market for such pap. Meanwhile, the great classics of Christian literature are neglected, including eminently accessible classics. Even worse, the hack writers of the inspiration trade typically treat the Bible as though nobody had read it before, dishing up their fatuities with the excitement of fresh discoveries. Admittedly, some of the “discoveries” are amusingly inventive. Here is a little book announcing that Jesus is risen, rah, rah, rah, and wants Christians to be happy and healthy. We know he wants us to be healthy because John 20 says that Peter and John ran to the empty tomb and running is good for you. Moreover, John, who is the disciple of love, ran faster, which shows that the more we love the better we run. This is heavy-duty exegesis. It was with some relief, therefore, that I read the good news in this morning's paper. For some years now we've been getting these quite different reports on the connection between exercise and health. My doctor bought the one that prescribed at least forty minutes of discomfort per day, so for a long time I was jogging, sort of. Then I read this report that said the key thing is simply to move around enough to break sweat, which was really easy to do on hot days. But this morning there is this story on a nineteen-year study of sixteen thousand twins in Finland which controls for heredity and concludes that “taking brisk half-hour walks just six times a month cuts the risk of death by 44 percent.” I'm not a twin and I suspect I'm among those who are at risk of dying some day, but the news is getting better and better. Pretty soon there will be a study showing that all the exercise you need is getting out of bed in the morning. Our ever-alert Christian publishers will undoubtedly come out with books on the discipleship of the sedentary life. Nor will they lack a biblical foundation. Look at all those people in the Bible to whom God spoke in dreams, while nobody ever got a revelation while jogging. Then there's Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.” Is any further proof needed? The 1998 Winter Olympic games brought it into focus again, the pathetic ups and downs of Japan on the world stage. Pathetic, I mean, in the sense of pathos. In his 1952 book, The Lost Japan, Hasegawa Nyozekan wrote: “We must direct our efforts towards turning in the reverse direction the cultural nature of the Japanese, which hitherto has had a propensity for the intuitive, until it shows instead a propensity for the intellectual.” He had a rather rationalistic notion of “the intellectual,” and one might wonder whether in fact the Japanese have not, by virtue of the mystic intuition that Nyozekan scorned, achieved a stunning mastery of at least the products of the intellectual. Until very recently, we were deluged with books telling us that Japan Inc. had beaten the rest of the world at their economic games, and the rising sun was the universal future. Then Japan went into an economic tailspin, and we are told that their success was superficial, that they had never grasped the inner workings (whatever that may be) of the market economy. Similarly, Japan has been the object of Christian missionary endeavors for half a millennium, although there is very little gain in terms of the number of converts. Yet here, too, the Japanese have seized upon the trappings of Christianity, as witness the popularity of “Christian” weddings, weddings that are Christian in all but faith commitment. In Samuel Huntington's grand scheme of clashing world civilizations, Japan, unlike the other civilizational constellations, stands alone. Its very mirroring of cultural artifacts not its own seems to be its own cultural identity. There are, for instance, these CDs of Bach cantatas given me by my friend Russell Hittinger (BIS CD-781). Imagine “Aus der Tiefe rufe ich” by the Bach Collegium Japan, conducted by Masaaki Suzuki. The cantatas are exquisitely articulated in both pronunciation and pace, and I can imagine someone dismissing this as a curiosity, the ultimate superficial trickery in Japanese mimicry. But I suspect that is a mistake. I do not go so far as to claim that the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is a sacrament, but it is sacramental in its potency. Play around with the aesthetics of it long enough, and grace is likely to take hold. All these centuries of missionary effort, it is said, and so little to show for it. But then there is the Bach Collegium Japan, playing the most fulfilled musical expression of the Christian faith, which expression plants the seeds of faith in an intuitive and intellectual culture that might grow those seeds according to its own genius. Or so we may think, and so we may hope.
• Last year a committee of the U.S. bishops conference put out a statement on homosexuality, “Always Our Children,” that received massive criticism. After consultation with concerned bishops and with Rome, the statement has now been issued in revised form. The old statement advised parents whose teenage children “may be experimenting with some homosexual behaviors” that “sometimes, the best approach may be a ‘wait and see' attitude.” That drew a lot of fire and the new statement replaces it with more sensible counsel, concluding with, “Parents must always be vigilant about their children's behavior and exercise responsible interventions when necessary.” Of course, the old statement is still out there in thousands of copies that are adroitly used by activists in spreading the word that the Church has changed its teaching on homosexual behavior. And the question remains whether parents really needed instruction from the bishops that they should not disown children who are wrestling with problems of “sexual identity.” Nonetheless, some people might be pleased to know that there is a revised statement, even if it is an effort to clean up a mess that should not have been made in the first place.
• Who can you trust anymore? Here's a release announcing that the National Catholic Reporter has sold its book division, Sheed & Ward. It used to be that you could count on NCR to excoriate wicked corporations that in their greed for profits closed down plants and threw workers out of their jobs. Now we are told that the editor and book division staff have been “terminated” by NCR because of “the small profit margin” in recent years. Not to worry. For some reason, I am confident there will be no let-up in the excoriation of other capitalist culprits.
• The BBC show Ballykissangel is possessed of a “subversive nature,” says the New York Times television guide, but gets away with poking fun at Catholicism because the Brits have a deft touch that we Americans presumably lack. By comparison the ABC show, Nothing Sacred, which “dealt bluntly with such topics as loss of faith, illicit sex, and clerical corruption, lost chunks of advertising after being attacked by conservative Catholic groups and was canceled by ABC in midseason.” I seem to recall that the cancellation of Nothing Sacred had something to do with the fact that almost nobody was watching it.
• This from a profile of Poland in the April issue of the newsletter of National Religious Broadcasters: “The percentage of practicing Christians is tiny (perhaps half of one percent, or seventy to eighty thousand), as more than 90 percent of the population is Roman Catholic.” ECT anyone?
• To say that people should be interested in something they're not interested in can be a turn-off, but I'll do it anyway. We should all be a good deal more interested than most of us are in the state of religion, culture, and politics in Russia. Those who are or might be interested will be interested in the big (738 pages) Winter 1998 issue of Emory International Law Review, which is chock full of interesting articles and is available for $20
from Emory University School of Law, Gambrell Hall, Atlanta, Georgia 30322. (I would be interested in knowing whether the seven uses of “interesting” or “interested” in this item will produce as many sales.)
• In the event you're ever in Malta. The search for anti-Semitism goes on relentlessly, and then it sometimes hits you in the face. On one side of the door of the Shrine to Our Lady Tapinu on the island of Gozo is a sign in English calling for “silence and decency in dress” and forbidding shorts, mini-skirts, and animals. On the other side of the door the sign in Maltese reads, “GHAJJAT JEW DISKORS BLABZONN . . . MINI-SKIRTS JEW HOT PANTS.” A deeply shocked tourist of the Protestant persuasion took pictures of the signs and wanted to know what the Church was going to do about this outrage. I dutifully passed on the inquiry to Rome and the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews dutifully looked into the matter, and sent back a letter, along with an extended dictionary entry, explaining that the word “jew” in Maltese is a conjunction meaning “or” and has nothing whatever to do with Jewish people. Would that all misunderstandings were so easily resolved.
• How touching is the simple faith of the true believer. Steven Marcus, distinguished professor of the humanities at Columbia University, writing in the New York Times celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto. He is captivated by the soaring rage of its rhetoric: “What the bourgeoisie produces, above all, are its own gravediggers. . . . The working men have no country. . . . The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” Mr. Marcus allows that “there is much of importance the Manifesto did not get right: the revolution it hailed was not successful; the proletariat did not become the gravediggers of the bourgeoisie; the ever-deeper pauperization of the working class was not part of the system's ‘inevitable tendencies.'” Then comes the true believer's great “Nevertheless.” “Nevertheless, it got certain things right as no other work of its time, or any other time, did. A century and a half afterward, it remains a classic expression of the society it anatomized and whose doom it prematurely announced.” The fact is that, as much as any attempt at comprehensive analysis can, the Manifesto and the movement it engendered got everything wrong. From its economic anthropology, to class struggle as the key to world history, to the role of the state in liberating the worker, Marxism has been devastatingly falsified by the very history it appealed to for vindication. Along the way to its falsification, about a hundred million people were murdered in its name, and a billion more are still struggling to free themselves from its oppressive legacy. Nothing daunted, Mr. Marcus says that Marx's announcement of the kingdom was simply premature. One is reminded of Chesterton: “‘The Christian ideal,' it is said, ‘has not been tried and found wanting: it has been found difficult and left untried.'” At least Christian eschatological faith has the historical fact of the resurrection going for it-and that it never promised its fulfillment on earth.
• You come across his name regularly, and almost always attached to the adjective “controversial” or, amounting to the same thing, “conservative.” A recent column by a critic observed that “despite his relentlessly polemical style” he sometimes has an important point. Anyone who knows Michael Novak knows that this is utter rot. He's one of the sweetest human beings you're ever likely to meet. We have been hanging out together for years beyond counting, and more times than I want to remember he has driven me up the wall with his inexhaustible patience with interlocutors who, in my judgment, had long since worn out their welcome. He should have been a priest. He almost was. But God had other plans and his virtues were turned to marriage, and to being the kind of father who, with his daughter Jana, can write the kind of book that is Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter's Questions About God (Pocket Books, 319 pages,, $24
). Mary Ann Glendon says, “Its subtitle should be: ‘Everything you want your son or daughter to know about God, faith, and morals, but were afraid you couldn't put into words.'” Book blurbs should be taken with a grain of salt, but I know these are heartfelt: From William F. Buckley, Michael Medved, Archbishop Rembert Weakland, John Cardinal O'Connor, Rabbi Marc Gellman, Father Avery Dulles, Steve Allen, and Charles Colson. I put in my oar with this: “Parents and children all over America should turn off the television, read this book, and then embark together on a similar conversation into the things that matter most.” I meant that, and I mean it. So let's hear no more about that polemical Michael Novak. “Sympathetic, wise, and lucid” are the adjectives suggested by Fr. Dulles, and he is right.
• Of the people who have had the greatest influence on my life, Arthur Carl Piepkorn is right up there. He was professor at Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Louis, for many years and was a pioneer of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic theological dialogue. Dr. Piepkorn (“the Pieps”) died twenty-five years ago on December 13, 1973. There will be a memorial lecture honoring him on Sunday, December 13, at five o'clock at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 88th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The lecture is by Professor Robert Louis Wilken of the University of Virginia, another close student of Piepkorn's, with responses by Professors George Lindbeck and William Wiecher of Yale, and your scribe. For further information call Immanuel Church at (212) 289-8128. The church will also provide a light supper afterwards, but you must make your reservation at least two weeks in advance.
• Last month we noted (“Setback in Rome”) the widespread disappointment among both Lutherans and Catholics over Rome's criticisms of the “Joint Declaration” on justification by faith. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), has responded strongly to reports that the document was “torpedoed at the last minute” because of his disagreement with the Council for Christian Unity. He notes that CDF and the Council emphatically affirm that the declaration does represent a consensus in “basic truths of the doctrine of justification.” Rome did indicate questions that need further exploration, he says, but in doing so was only agreeing with many Lutheran theologians and churches who had reservations about the Lutheran World Federation's approval of the Joint Declaration. Ratzinger's concern is “to find a language which can make the doctrine on justification again so intelligible as to be experienced as the core of Christian existence and as a response to the basic experience of being human. If we tackle this task together, we are most likely to overcome the historical oppositions.” He observes that he was the one largely responsible for taking up the question of the condemnations of the sixteenth century and how to overcome them. “I would be in contradiction with myself if all of a sudden I were to claim the contrary,” he adds. In sum, whatever the reservations and criticisms expressed by Rome, these “must not be seen as withdrawing the explicitly stated consensus in basic truths.”
• Responses to the spoof on how various figures, past and present, might answer the question, Why did the chicken cross the road?, have amused. George R. Weber of Portland, Oregon, for example, has Dr. Laura Schlessinger saying, “Chickens have got to learn to stay where they are supposed to,” while Edmund Burke opines, “The motives of chickens are in a sort of middle, incapable of definition, but not impossible to be discerned.” Others suggested how the question might be answered by such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Sidney Blumenthal. The responses seemed quite clever at the time, but you will understand that, in view of the presidency's sad descent and soon disappearance into the slough of mendacity, we will take a pass on them.
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