The Public Square
Call it a pause or a hiatus or a bump in the road or a dead end. Such are among the ways in which informed parties describe the present moment in what forty years ago was less problematically referred to as “the ecumenical movement.” There is no doubt that the search for a more visible unity among Christians has fallen upon hard times. One result of the Second Vatican Council was that the Catholic Church “entered the ecumenical movement” that is usually dated from the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910. That movement was a mainline/oldline Protestant affair with significant Orthodox participation, and the Catholic Church entered it just as it was beginning to fall apart. Today it appears that the Catholic Church is the only coherent part of the ecumenical movement left. Some go so far as to say that, if there still is an ecumenical movement, it is the Catholic Church.
The state of Christian unity—both its presence and absence—is the concern of an important new initiative called “The Princeton Proposal for Christian Unity,” the product of three years of discussion under the auspices of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology, publisher of the distinguished theological journal Pro Ecclesia. The Princeton Proposal is set forth in a little book edited by Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson, In One Body Through the Cross (Eerdmans, 62 pages,, $10 paper). The papers prepared for the project are promised in other volumes from Eerdmans. In One Body is part provocation, part plea, and part proposal for action. Faced by the long stall in anything that can believably be described as ecumenical progress, the Princeton Proposal is marked by a certain poignancy. Its architects say they have no idea whether it will achieve anything. It is a matter of casting bread upon the waters. Minimally, the proposal is aimed at generating, or re-generating, a measure of sanctified dissatisfaction with a state of disunity that scandalously contradicts what Christians claim to believe.
The Princeton Proposal is a determinedly unofficial initiative, speaking to but not for the several communions. In this, it is similar to the Groupe des Dombes, founded in 1937, and the more recent “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” The sixteen signers include two Roman Catholics, two Orthodox, and two evangelical Protestants. The rest are from the Protestant oldline, with almost half of them being Lutheran. So the participants are not, and make no pretense of being, representative of world Christianity. Included, however, are prominent players in the ecumenical efforts of recent decades such as Geoffrey Wainwright, William Rusch, Michael Root, and, primus inter pares, George Lindbeck of Yale. These are people who have been through the turnings and churnings of modern ecumenism; they pioneered breakthroughs, fought on the barricades, and now, in the afterglow of promises failed, are eminently qualified to assess what went wrong and what might be done about it. Attention must be paid the Princeton Proposal.
A Moment Betrayed
The future does not lie with the ecumenical movement dating from Edinburgh 1910 and its related institutions such as the World Council of Churches and, in the U.S., the National Council of Churches. That movement and its institutions have become part of the problem. The editors of In One Body write, “The institutions of conciliar ecumenism are largely captive to a ‘new ecumenical paradigm’ which subordinates the concern of the ‘faith and order’ movement, for the visible unity of Christians, to social and political agendas which are themselves divisive. The wisdom of the first general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Willem Visser ’t Hooft, ‘The World Council of Churches is either a Christocentric movement or it is nothing at all,’ now carries little weight.” In sum, the WCC and related programs have become the antithesis of the ecumenism they were founded to advance.
The Princeton Proposal is driven by theological concern, and the document admirably sets forth, on the basis of Scripture and sacred tradition, why the quest for visible Christian unity is not optional. Guided by the prayer of the Church’s Lord in John 17, the signers declare that the statement of the 1961 World Council assembly at New Delhi remains “the most adequate and comprehensive description” of the unity that we must seek. New Delhi said:
[This unity] is being made visible as all in each place who are baptized into Jesus Christ and confess him as Lord and Savior are brought by the Holy Spirit into one fully committed fellowship, holding the one apostolic faith, preaching the one gospel, breaking the one bread, joining in common prayer, and having a corporate life reaching out in witness and service to all and who at the same time are united with the whole Christian fellowship in all places and all ages, in such wise that ministry and members are accepted by all, and that all can act and speak together as occasion requires for the tasks to which God calls His people.
That vision is from a very long time ago; we are very far from its realization; and it has been betrayed by the movement that gave it birth. But, says the Princeton Proposal, it remains the vision that frames our hope for the future. In the service of that vision, it is recognized that “some churches and Christian movements have special responsibilities in our time.” The signers then address a specific word to Roman Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and the Orthodox.
If Things Were Not as They Are
Not least because it includes more than half the Christians in the world, the Catholic Church has a “unique role.” “While the papacy is undoubtedly a continuing stumbling block for many, the Bishop of Rome is also the only historical plausible candidate to exercise an effective worldwide ministry of unity.” The Magisterium of the Catholic Church “must teach in a fashion capable of shaping the minds of the faithful beyond those currently in communion with Rome.” It is noted that the Catholic Church has made an “irrevocable” commitment to the quest for Christian unity, and it is proposed that the commitment would be enhanced were non-Catholics more fully consulted in theological deliberations of the Magisterium. “If the Bishop of Rome is to teach for and to all the baptized, he must receive reliable counsel regarding the faith and life of the entire Christian community.” Such a formal arrangement for ongoing consultation would seem to be eminently doable, and, in fact, has been urged by responsible parties in Rome.
As for evangelical and Pentecostal Christians, it is noted that “all churches may benefit from their vitality, their zeal for evangelism, and their commitment to Scripture.” But evangelicals and Pentecostals should, it is urged, give up their separatist ways. “Rather than employing their resources solely to benefit their own fellowship or to call fellow Christians out of their fellowships, they should work for the health of all Christian communities.” Such statements bear the mark of a wan hope that evangelicals and Pentecostals should be other than who they are. With some exceptions, their free-church traditions—grounded in experiential individualism and an ecclesiology of associational voluntarism marked by competitive entrepreneurship—puts them at odds with the vision of Christian unity set forth by New Delhi and the Princeton Proposal.
Equally wan is the word to the Orthodox. The necessary things are said about Orthodoxy’s fidelity to ancient tradition and her riches of liturgy and spirituality. And then this: “Yet, regretfully, the Orthodox churches have clung also to divisive and nationalistic proclivities. These should be abandoned. If that were done, the Orthodox witness would be enhanced, to the great benefit of all Christians.” If that were done. If there were any promising response to John Paul II’s earnest plea in Ut Unum Sint for reconciliation between East and West. If Orthodoxy would abandon its divisive and nationalistic ways, and its penchant for claiming to be, quite simply and without remainder, the Church. If so many things were not as they are. It is no criticism of the Princeton Proposal to say that, in this connection, it might as aptly be called the Princeton Prayer.
Waiting on the Spirit
While the document addresses a special word to Catholics, Orthodox, and evangelicals, it is noteworthy that there is no special word to the mainline/oldline communions. The reason for that is certainly not that the signers think the communions associated with the old “conciliar ecumenism” are doing just fine. Perhaps it is, rather, that they don’t expect much from oldline groups such as the United Methodists, Presbyterians USA, and ELCA Lutherans. The proposal appears to be somewhat ambivalent about various “renewal” and “confessional” movements within such communions. On the one hand, such movements represent a hope for the restoration of theological substance and seriousness. On the other, a strengthened Presbyterian or Wesleyan or Lutheran “identity” could reinforce differences that accent Christian divisions, and thus undermine hope for the unity envisioned by New Delhi. This tension, or perhaps it is a contradiction, is recognized but not resolved in the Princeton Proposal.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has said on several occasions that the way forward toward Christian unity is largely hidden from us. We must, he says, prayerfully await an unforeseeable and unanticipatable intervention of the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, as John Paul II has repeatedly asserted, the Catholic Church’s commitment to the ecumenical task is indeed “irrevocable.” In season and out of season, whether the interest of others waxes or wanes, the Catholic Church will persist in theological dialogue with everyone, and in exploring every possible opening toward the uncompromisable goal of full communion among all Christians.
Some view that quest as quixotic; for Catholics it is an unavoidable imperative that comes with being-together with all who are baptized and confess Jesus as Lord—the Church. Perhaps in this millennium—which John Paul says must be the millennium of unity as the last was the millennium of divisions—the unanticipatable intervention of the Spirit will come from the explosive growth of Christianity in the southern hemisphere. Nobody knows. We can only try to be prepared. The Princeton Proposal intensifies our dissatisfaction with the disunity that is, and points us toward the unity that, through ways unknowable, may one day be. It is not a road map. It is a call to fidelity, which is where authentic ecumenism begins, and must ever begin again.
Why Aren’t Muslims Like Us?
There is no secret about my great respect for Bernard Lewis. He is one of the wisest guides in trying to understand the history and contemporary perplexities of Islam. (See my extended discussion of his book What Went Wrong? Public Square, May 2002.) The greater, therefore, is the disappointment with his essay in the May 2003 issue of the Atlantic, “I’m Right, You’re Wrong, Go to Hell.” He notes, correctly, that the two expansive and civilization-defining world religions today are Christianity and Islam. Both of them, he says, have a problem with tolerance, never mind mutual respect, toward other religions. That’s because they think they have the final truth revealed by God and everybody else is going to go to hell.
“Other religions,” he writes, “such as Judaism and most of the religions of Asia, concede that human beings may use different religions to speak to God, as they use different languages to speak to one another.” Among Christians, says Lewis, there are triumphalists and relativists, and Lewis is on the side of the relativists. “The triumphalist view is increasingly under attack in Christendom, and is disavowed by significant numbers of Christian clerics. There is little sign as yet of a parallel development in Islam.”
In fact, only a minority of Christians—usually evangelical Protestants of a fundamentalist bent—say that all non-Christians are on their way to hell. Although one can find variant views over the centuries, the Catholic Church, which includes more than half the two billion Christians in the world, emphatically teaches that God denies nobody—Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, whatever—the grace necessary to salvation. While the fullness of the means of salvation is given in the Church and is necessary for those who understand that, nobody is outside the possibility of saving grace. Whether they act on the grace offered by God is another matter. This is not “relativism.” As reiterated in the 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio and the 2000 instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, the teaching is that everyone who is saved is saved through the redemptive work of Christ, whether or not they have ever heard of Christ. One does not expect Bernard Lewis to be an authority on Christian theology, while at the same time one is reminded of the dangers in speaking with confidence on subjects with which one has scant familiarity.
Yet more troubling is the message that Islam, in order to become less of a threat to the world, must relativize its claim to possess the truth. That plays directly into the hands of Muslim rigorists who pose as the defenders of the uncompromised and uncompromisible truth and who call for death to the infidels. If Islam is to become tolerant and respectful of other religions, it must be as the result of a development that comes from within the truth of Islam, not as a result of relativizing or abandoning that truth. Is Islam capable of such a religious development? Nobody knows. But, if the choice is between compromising Islamic truth or a war of civilizations, it is almost certain that the winner among Muslims will be the hard-core Islamism that Lewis rightly views as such a great threat.
Christianity is more, not less, vibrantly Christian as a result of coming to understand more fully the mysterious and loving ways of God in His dealings also with non-Christians. Although the story of this development is complex, the important truth is that tolerance and mutual respect are religious, not secular, achievements. I will say it again: the reason we do not kill one another over our disagreements about the will of God is that we believe it is against the will of God to kill one another over our disagreements about the will of God. Christians have come to believe that. We must hope that more and more Muslims will come to believe that. That will not happen, however, if they are told that coming to believe that will make them less faithful Muslims. Or, as Bernard Lewis puts it, that they become relativists.
The Conservatism of Andrew Sullivan
“As a simple empirical matter, we are all sodomites now, but only homosexuals bear the burden of the legal and social stigma.” Thus says Andrew Sullivan in a long article in the New Republic occasioned by the Texas law against sodomy now before the Supreme Court. As he has done many times before, Mr. Sullivan presents himself as a Catholic who is trying to help the Church update its antiquated views on human sexuality. And again he misrepresents, and then triumphantly rebuts, a crazy-quilt of arguments which he attributes to Aquinas and other worthies, including contemporary natural law theorists. Finally, for Mr. Sullivan, what is “natural” is what people actually do, and what people actually do sexually should not be censured so long as it is “private, adult, and consensual.” Most people do not adhere to the Church’s teaching that the sexual act is rightly ordered within the unitive and procreative bond of marriage. People do all kinds of disordered and downright kinky things and therefore are, says Mr. Sullivan, de facto sodomites. Here, as Mr. Sullivan is given to saying, is the money quote:
“It is hard to see why . . . sexual pleasure, fantasy, and escape are somehow inimical to human flourishing—and there’s plenty of evidence that their permanent or too-rigid suppression does actual psychological and spiritual harm. Relationships that include sexual adventure and passion and experimentation are not relationships of ‘disintegrated’ people but relationships in which trust is the prerequisite for relief, release, and renewal. The meaning of these sexual experiences is as varied as the people in them. And there are many contexts in which to understand these sexual experiences other than as purely procreative. You can think of sex—within marriage and in other relationships—as a form of bonding; as a way to deepen and expand the meaning of intimacy; as a type of language even, where human beings can communicate subtly, beautifully, passionately, without words. And, in a world where our consumer needs are exquisitely matched by markets, in which bourgeois comfort can almost anesthetize a sense of human risk and adventure, sex remains one of the few realms left where we can explore our deepest longings, where we can travel to destinations whose meaning and dimensions we cannot fully know. It liberates and exhilarates in ways few other experiences still can. Yes, taking this to extremes can be destructive. And yes, if this experience trumps or overwhelms other concerns—the vows of marriage, the trust of a faithful relationship, the duty we bear to children—then it can be a social harm. But the idea that expressing this human freedom is somehow intrinsically and always immoral, that it somehow destroys the soul, is an idea whose validity is simply denied in countless lives and loves.”
A Matter of Taste
Mr. Sullivan, who is a conservative on some matters, is, in principle if not in disposition, a sexual libertine. This is disguised from some by his sleight of hand in contending that “gay marriage” would bring homosexual excesses under the domesticating influence of a conventional institution. But he leaves no doubt that such unions are but one of innumerable choices homosexuals might make in the pursuit of “sexual adventure and passion and experimentation.” He allows that “taking this to extremes can be destructive,” but who is to say what is extreme, especially if such adventure is private, adult, and consensual? Answering that question was exactly the project of Michel Foucault with his “limit experiences” in the bathhouses of San Francisco before he died of AIDS. The above statement by Sullivan could as well have been made by Norman O. Brown in his defense of the unbridled libido, which he marketed as “polymorphous perversity.” Mr. Sullivan likely deems the positions of such as Foucault and Brown to be extreme, meaning that they are not to his taste, although he has written elsewhere about the erotic charms of anonymous sex with strangers.
A couple of months ago a major Catholic university held a symposium on “the reconstruction of Catholic sexual ethics,” and invited me to debate Andrew Sullivan. I declined. Mr. Sullivan has no interest whatever in reconstructing a Catholic sexual ethic, or any other kind of ethic that might propose constraints or moral orderings on the satisfaction of sexual desires, apart from a few narrowly defined causes of possible “social harm.” The meaning—including moral meaning—of sexual relationships “is as varied as the people in them.” That some things might be right or wrong “is an idea whose validity is simply denied in countless lives and loves” of people who have persuaded themselves that their ways of pursuing adventure, passion, and experimentation is right for them. Mr. Sullivan knows that living in defiance of Christian morality does not imperil the soul—nothing “destroys” the soul—because his soul and the souls of others who do likewise are in such great shape. Such is the perfect circularity of moral solipsism.
Mr. Sullivan is a self-declared sodomite. In his writing about his own proclivities and practices, he presents himself as a conservative sodomite. Manifestly uneasy about being a bad Catholic, he does not, like other bad Catholics, confess his sin, but writes endlessly about why the Church is wrong and he is right about what he and others do. Perhaps sensing that he is not getting much of anywhere with that argument, he resorts to declaring, “We are all sodomites now.” The discerning reader will recognize that as the tu quoque defense (You’re one, too), the last refuge of the defender of the indefensible.
What Sacred Architecture Is For
Good. Somebody has said it and said it well. So, with no further ado, I will let Duncan Stroik, editor of Sacred Architecture, say it: “Everywhere I went in Italy last summer, save the eternal city, churches were asking an admission fee. The explanation was given that it costs a lot to maintain these buildings and keep them open and so it should be the responsibility of everyone who uses them to help pay for their upkeep. If this seems like a reasonable request, it is also a major contradiction with the purpose of a church. In Florence, charging for admissions started with the baptistery and the museum of the duomo—a nuisance that did not prevent visits or prayer in the church proper. Then it spread to the Brancacci chapel by Massacio, the New Sacristy by Michelangelo, and the burial chapel of the Medicis at the parish church of San Lorenzo. More recently San Lorenzo itself and the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella have begun charging entrance fees. And while these churches only allow paying customers during the week, at the Franciscan church of Santa Croce an equally problematic attitude is exhibited: people are not allowed to enter on Sunday morning unless they are going to mass. These are churches which every tour group, pilgrimage group, art and architecture class should stop off to see, to draw, to visit, and to pray in. Now many will not make the visit, given time and money. Even worse, and more detrimental to the sacred character of the buildings, they will no longer be places for the faithful of the city. Without the love, care, and affection of the nonnas, the youth on their way to class, the workers on a break, and other faithful, these buildings will become simply museums. Florence, they say, is a city of museums and now ever more so.
“Venice also is so full of art and architecture and so lacking in permanent residents that tourists seem to take over. In Venice the Chorus foundation was formed by the Archdiocese in order to restore some of their magnificent churches and their sacred art. A worthwhile task, but it also means that fourteen of the major churches including the Frari and the Redentore are entrance by admission only. There are several benefits of this, of course: the buildings stay clean, unwanted beggars and graduate students are kept out, and all art lovers are protected from the distraction of people kneeling, praying, and lighting candles. Pay-per-view religion is a very contemporary idea and offers a new way to charge for indulgences. Now, it is also true that most of these churches are open for ‘free’ during one daily mass, and paid staff ensure that visitors participate in the liturgy and are prevented from looking at artwork or visiting side chapels. That should be done during normal business hours. We can be sure that Veronese, Bellini, Palladio, and Longhena would be surprised to know that Third Millennium Man believes he can separate faith and art. Other churches such as Santa Maria dei Miracoli, having lost their parishioners or religious congregations, have dispensed with the daily or weekly mass altogether and have become galleries of sacred art, with the occasional Vivaldi concert or upper-class wedding.
A Disconnect Between Faith and Art
“What a lost opportunity. Here are buildings constructed by the faithful and the finest artists and architects throughout the centuries, more beautiful than ever but not really serving their highest purpose: the praise of God and the bestowal of grace on men. Catholic art, along with the rich tradition of sacred music, continues to speak to people of differing cultural and religious backgrounds. Is this not an opportunity to be hospitable, to welcome the saint, the sinner, and the prodigal? Is not the cost of keeping our churches open, offering the liturgy, and reserving the Eucharist a price the Church can afford, no matter the monetary price?
“These developments bode poorly for the Church in Italy, and for Catholics everywhere. They signal the acceptance of the disconnection between faith and art for modern man, which during the past two centuries has been advocated by the avant garde. The separation of worship and devotion from beauty and art is schizophrenic for a Church that believes in the necessity of sacrament. I am sure that many tourists will get used to paying for church, while the faithful on pilgrimage or tour should be scandalized. ‘But we only want to go in to pray at the tomb of Saint (Francis, Monica, Ignatius, Thérèse, etc.) or see the miraculous image.’ ‘I am sorry but you will have to either pay the admission price or come back on Sunday.’” (Sacred Architecture is published semiannually. Subscribe for $9.95 by writing P.O. Box 556, Notre Dame, Indiana 46556.)
Heroic is the word for the labors of Dorothy Rabinowitz in exposing the mad frenzy of accusations against child care workers and others in the 1980s and 1990s. Across the country, people were arrested, tried, and in many cases jailed on allegations of mass rapes, satanic rituals, and other bizarre practices. Zealous prosecutors claimed to be stamping out an epidemic of abuse, child-abuse experts coached and coerced young children to tell tall tales, psychologists peddled fantastic theories to juries, and judges caved in to pressures to “protect the children.” In a particularly egregious instance of 1995, more than forty residents of Wenatchee, Washington, were arrested on fake charges of, among other things, ritually raping children at their church.
Thanks in large part to Rabinowitz’s relentless reporting, mainly in the Wall Street Journal, the panic was exposed, charges were dropped, sentences were reversed, and most, but not all, of the convicted have been released from jail. Now Rabinowitz has brought the pieces of the story together in a chilling book, No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times (Free Press, $25
). The reviewer in the New York Times writes: “Rabinowitz has been a proud and sometimes lonely crusader. Her book, even with its gaps in perspective and context, makes for enraging reading.” That may be a typo. Perhaps the reviewer meant “engaging” reading. But enraging will do. The reviewer thinks Rabinowitz is somewhat too one-sided, however. She writes, “After all, there are charges of sex abuse that prove to be true—just look at the scandal that has overtaken the Roman Catholic Church.”
Back to the Long Lent
At this point I segue into a further reflection on our Long Lent that began in January of last year. Yes, there are, sad to say, some cases of priestly sex abuse that have been proved to be true in a court of law or have been admitted by perpetrators. But, thanks to the scandalous policy adopted by the bishops at Dallas last June, there are today hundreds of priests who have been suspended from ministry and have had their names publicly smeared without proof or even credible evidence. They protest their innocence, but to be accused is, for all practical purposes, to be deemed guilty. So eager are the bishops to protect the children, their diocesan purse, and their own public image. Protecting all three, and especially the children, is imperative. But what about the grave injustice to innocent priests? I know it is unpopular to even raise the question. Many bishops and enraged lay people respond that the injustice is regrettable, but it is the price to be paid.
That is a response unworthy of Christians. It is evasive, it is scapegoating, it is an abdication of moral responsibility. I am not sure why I bother writing about this. Unlike the efforts of Dorothy Rabinowitz, it is not likely to change anything. The Dallas policy, with a few modifications by Rome, is set in concrete. There will be more embarrassing headlines, notably from Los Angeles, but the fevered pitch of national scandal has subsided and is not likely to be reignited. The bishops, for the most part, got themselves off the hook. The Boston Globe got its Pulitzer Prize. It’s back to business as usual. Renewal can wait for another day. Along the way, the Church has, in crucial respects, sacrificed to the state the right to govern itself. On a massive scale, trust has been violated, confidences broken, and reputations destroyed. Throughout it all, the gospel of sin and grace, repentance and restoration, went unspoken and undone.
Perhaps, in time, some good priests falsely accused will be returned to the ministry to which they were called by Christ and his Church. Maybe the National Review Board, the bishops’ institutionalized admission that they cannot be trusted, will come up with something pointing toward genuine reform. The promised Vatican statement on the inadmissibility of homosexuals to the priesthood is, according to some reports, still on track. Certainly the sexual abuse of teenage boys—which is what the scandal is mainly about—will not be treated cavalierly as it often was in the past, and that is a great gain.
But faithful Catholics beyond numbering view their bishops very differently now. The strange thing is that it doesn’t seem to make much difference. Boston excepted, at the parish level life goes on, and there are even many reports of increased participation and giving. It is finally the Mass that holds the Catholic Church together, which is to say it is Christ in his promised presence. Reports of catastrophe and calls for renewal notwithstanding, the Church remains a community of sinners. Forgiven sinners called to be saints, to be sure, but sinners nonetheless. So it has always been and so it will be to the end of time, and for that we must be immeasurably grateful. And yet, I trust it is not ingratitude to remember that, out of the Long Lent, some of us had hoped for something more from the leaders that, for reasons He only knows, God has given us. Perhaps the unsatisfactory outcome of this unhappy time is a salutary reminder that genuine reform and renewal has to begin with each one of us. I apologize for a conclusion that limps out on a truism, but the good thing about truisms is that they are true.
While We’re At It
• Conservative media critics are very down on CNN for its biased reporting on, among many other things, the Iraq war. I don’t watch enough television to have an informed opinion on whether the criticism is fair or not. But I was struck by an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Eason Jordan, CNN’s chief news executive. “The News We Kept to Ourselves,” published after the fall of Baghdad, describes the price that CNN paid—more precisely, the price that others paid—to keep its Baghdad bureau open. Mr. Jordan says that other news organizations “were in the same bind,” but he is describing CNN’s experience over the past twelve years. The CNN bureau operated under the tight control of the Baghdad regime, being careful not to report bad news that might get it kicked out. Iraqis working for CNN who were “courageous enough to try to provide accurate reporting” were terrorized by the secret police. “Some vanished, never to be heard from again. Others disappeared and then surfaced later with whispered tales of being hauled off and tortured in unimaginable ways.” Mr. Jordan concludes his article with this: “I felt awful about having these stories bottled up inside me. Now that Saddam Hussein’s regime is gone, I suspect we will hear many, many more gut-wrenching tales from Iraqis about the decades of torment. At last, these stories can be told freely.” One may sympathize with Mr. Jordan’s feeling awful, but that is to miss the point rather entirely. Iraqis were brutally tortured and some paid with their lives in order for CNN to maintain its bureau in Baghdad. And why did CNN need a bureau in Baghdad? The obvious answer is found in the creed of a free press that reporters have a moral duty to tell the truth and the public has a right to know. But in this case CNN, and presumably other news organizations, very deliberately did not tell the truth, and made sure that the public did not know. It would seem that people were tortured and killed, and those in charge were responsible for betraying, as a matter of policy, their moral duty as journalists so that CNN could keep its bureau in Baghdad. CNN did not need a bureau in Baghdad in order to do its job as a news organization. In fact, the condition for having a bureau in Baghdad was that CNN would not do its job as a news organization. CNN accepted that condition. Baghdad made clear that CNN could stay only if it wore the shackles imposed by the regime, and CNN agreed. Why was it so important to have a bureau in Baghdad? Presumably, for reasons of prestige (after all, the competition had bureaus there) and to maintain the public pretense of being on the scene in order to tell the truth. CNN could have just as easily broadcast Saddam’s press releases from, say, Amman in Jordan. In that case, they would also have been free to broadcast the truth received from informants in Iraq. As it is, they made a deal in which innocent people would be tortured and killed so that CNN could keep its bureau in Baghdad and not tell the truth to the public. If Mr. Jordan’s account is accurate, he and others who agreed to that deal should do more than feel awful. “At last,” he writes in the tone of the fearless truth-teller, “these stories can be told freely.” He seems not to recognize that the sordid stories are not only about Saddam’s tyranny, but also about what must, however reluctantly, be described as the American media’s complicity in torture, murder, and deliberate deceit. It is good that news executives expose a cover-up that they helped perpetrate. It would be much better if they also gave evidence of contrition for their part in the evil that they can now safely deplore. Mr. Jordan says he and others similarly situated were in a bind. He does not say they did something terribly wrong.
• “Hitler’s Forgotten Library: The Man, His Books, and His Search for God.” Hmm, that could be interesting. Under the title of the article by Timothy W. Ryback in the Atlantic is this precis: “You can tell a lot about a person from what he reads. The surviving—and largely ignored—remnants of Adolf Hitler’s personal library reveal a deep but erratic interest in religion and theology.” Aha, so that’s what was wrong with Hitler. The article, fortunately, does not live up to its billing. Mr. Ryback quotes Hitler as saying, “Christianity is the worst thing that ever happened to humanity. Bolshevism is the illegitimate child of Christianity. Both are an outgrowth of the Jew.” On which Ryback comments, “Hitler was the classic apostate. He rebelled against the established theology in which he was born and bred, all the while seeking to fill the resulting spiritual void.” An examination of Hitler’s notations in hundreds of books in his personal library-most of them now in the Library of Congress-shows that Hitler tried to fill the void with magic, the occult, and crackpot proposals for new religions designed to displace Christianity. There is no doubt that Hitler believed in divine powers, Ryback concludes. “But Hitler believed that the mortal and the divine were one and the same: that the God he was seeking was in fact himself.”
• On that promised document from Rome against admitting homosexuals to the priesthood, the Pontifical Academy for Life convened a meeting of experts on sexual disorders, one of whom was Dr. Martin Kafka of McClean Hospital in Massachusetts. John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter interviewed him. While acknowledging that the great majority of cases in the American crisis involve priests having sex with teenage boys, Kafka emphasizes that this does not mean homosexuality causes abuse. “A risk factor is not a cause,” he stressed. Allen reports: “Kafka noted that since priests who abuse minors tend to perform most such acts within five to seven years after ordination, being recently ordained is another risk factor. That does not mean that being freshly ordained ‘causes’ abuse, any more than homosexuality.” Of course not. It is reliably reported that all the abusive priests had two arms, which certainly does not mean that being two-armed causes abuse. One might delicately suggest, however, that it is highly probable that the priests who within five to seven years of ordination gave into the temptation to have sex with teenage boys were homosexual. That is to say, it seems improbable that men who do not experience the desire to have sex with teenage boys have sex with teenage boys. Can we agree on that, at least as a general rule? You can see I am trying to be nuanced here. I readily admit that I may be missing something, but the logic suggests that, with respect to risk factors or causal connections, sexual disorder would appear to be more relevant than recent ordination. In any event, Mr. Allen says that Vatican officials were greatly impressed by the conference of experts, and that what is now the third draft of the promised statement is still going the rounds of Roman dicasteries and may not be released for months. He quotes a source who says of the deliberations, “They’re saying they don’t want to drive the problem underground and make being gay a clandestine thing in the priesthood. They feel it’s better to have it out in the open.” Out in the open as in out of the closet? Surely that cannot be what they have in mind, but John Allen is a professional and his report should not be lightly dismissed. It may well be, however, that his source is, as they say, gay-friendly and is among those who are indulging in wishful thinking that the statement will be derailed.
• A difficult but intriguing test of the possibility of a new Iraq comes with the U.S. decision to reconstruct the Religious Affairs Ministry. The old ministry basically administered, and controlled, Islamic affairs. Now the U.S. has called on people such as Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom, to help find Iraqis who can run a Religious Commission that will promote respect and cooperation among competing Islamic groups, as well as Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq. Theirs is a daunting task, and upon its success depends many of the hopes for the advancement of freedom and democracy in that part of the world.
• Some schools mean it when they say they are Catholic. For instance, Mark A. Sargent, dean of the law school at Villanova University in Philadelphia, writes, “Our Catholic identity is not casual, sentimental, or merely historical.” While the school has many non-Catholic faculty and students, he observes, Villanova remains a Catholic university. The occasion for clarifying all this was a fellowship program in which some students elected to work for pro-abortion organizations. The argument was made that, if the program cannot support abortion, it should just as clearly not support capital punishment. Dean Sargent’s response is marked by what might be described as uncommon lucidity: “Occasionally, we will not do something because we are Catholic. We will not do something that conflicts with our Catholic identity. Such situations are rare, but sometimes we must take a stand. We do so when the conflict is so fundamental and unambiguous that we, in effect, have no choice. Association of Villanova with advocacy for abortion rights presents one such conflict. The fellowship program provides summer stipends for Villanova law students working without pay for public interest organizations. It is funded by an auction, in which Villanova students, faculty, staff, and alumni participate. The program is not an independent student activity. Our name is associated with every aspect of it and makes it go. Our tax-exempt status is used. The auction takes place in our building. The law school administers the funds, and our staff members help organize the program as part of their jobs. Students receiving the stipends are known as Villanova Public Interest Fellows. It is indisputably a Villanova Law School program. A Villanova program obviously cannot be associated with advocacy for abortion rights. Though many individual Catholics believe that there should be some legal right to abortion, the Church’s teaching on the topic is fundamental and unambiguous. We have no choice but to ask program fellows working in our name to agree not to engage in such advocacy. They are, of course, free to take jobs outside the program doing whatever they want. But as program fellows they represent us, and they cannot represent us in advocacy for abortion rights. Some might accuse us of hypocrisy in not banning the program work with advocates of capital punishment and other causes that they believe have the same status as abortion in Catholic teaching. What they do not understand is that the status of these issues in Catholic teaching is very different from that of abortion. Take capital punishment, for example. The Pope has asked Catholics to conclude that capital punishment is insupportable. I agree with him completely. But his statements on the issue were not made with the authority that requires the faithful obedience of all Catholics and Catholic institutions, unlike the Church’s position on abortion. Indeed, many orthodox supporters of the Pope have disagreed with him on this issue and argued that the Catholic tradition does not support abolition of capital punishment. The law school is thus not compelled to disassociate itself from advocacy for capital punishment as it is from advocacy for abortion rights. This is significant, because we are reluctant to constrain our students unless we absolutely must. With respect to abortion, we must. With respect to capital punishment, it is a matter of choice. We could choose to disassociate ourselves from it on Catholic grounds because we are convinced by the Pope’s arguments. And during the next academic year we, as a community, will consider the difficult question of whether we should make that choice. To take time to think hard about what we should do regarding capital punishment is not hypocrisy, but prudence. The need to make a prudential decision about the ambiguous question of capital punishment does not make a principled decision about the unambiguous question of the Church’s teaching on abortion hypocritical.” One hopes that Dean Sargent’s argument will be read, and emulated, by leaders of other schools for whom the name Catholic is not “casual, sentimental, or merely historical.”
• Support for the policies of Israel is not unanimous among evangelical Protestants in this country. Knox Theological Seminary has issued a statement, signed by hundreds of evangelical academics and pastors, opposing an earlier statement by evangelical leaders that, says Knox, “urged the endorsement of far-reaching and unilateral political commitments to the people and land of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, citing Holy Scripture as the basis for those commitments.” It is not true, says the Knox statement, that these leaders speak on behalf of “the seventy million people who constitute the American evangelical community.” Knox Seminary is a ministry of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida, and is associated with the Presbyterian Church in America. (Not to be confused with other Presbyterian churches in America, and certainly not with the Presbyterian Church USA.) The Knox statement declares: “The entitlement of any one ethnic or religious group to territory in the Middle East called the ‘Holy Land’ cannot be supported by Scripture. In fact, the land promises specific to Israel in the Old Testament were fulfilled under Joshua. The New Testament speaks clearly and prophetically about the destruction of the second temple in a.d. 70. No New Testament writer foresees a regathering of ethnic Israel in the land, as did the prophets of the Old Testament after the destruction of the first temple in 586 b.c. Moreover, the land promises of the Old Covenant are consistently and deliberately expanded in the New Testament to show the universal dominion of Jesus, who reigns from heaven upon the throne of David, inviting all the nations through the gospel of grace to partake of his universal and everlasting dominion. Bad Christian theology regarding the ‘Holy Land’ contributed to the tragic cruelty of the Crusades in the Middle Ages. Lamentably, bad Christian theology is today attributing to secular Israel a divine mandate to conquer and hold Palestine, with the consequence that the Palestinian people are marginalized and regarded as virtual ‘Canaanites.’ This doctrine is both contrary to the teaching of the New Testament and a violation of the gospel mandate. In addition, this theology puts those Christians who are urging the violent seizure and occupation of Palestinian land in moral jeopardy of their own bloodguiltiness. Are we as Christians not called to pray for and work for peace, warning both parties to this conflict that those who live by the sword will die by the sword? Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring both temporal reconciliation and the hope of an eternal and heavenly inheritance to the Israeli and the Palestinian. Only through Jesus Christ can anyone know peace on earth.” The signatories of the Knox statement are overwhelmingly Presbyterian or other Calvinists, but there is also a sprinkling of Baptists and the like who do not subscribe to the apocalyptic “Bible prophecy” view of the State of Israel. The statement is a useful reminder that evangelicaldom is not of a piece.
• The above statement brought to mind an inquiry from a reader whose Protestant neighbor told her she believed in TULIP. What is that about? the reader wanted to know. TULIP is the acronym for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. Man is totally incapable of doing anything toward his salvation; God’s choosing of the saved is in no way conditioned upon our faith or goodness; Christ’s work of atonement was only for the elect; the grace of election cannot be resisted; and perseverance means once saved, always saved. Knox Seminary explains total depravity this way: “‘T’ in TULIP stands for ‘total depravity,’ which means not that man is as bad as he could be, but that every aspect of man’s being has been corrupted and tainted with sin. His mind, his understanding, his heart and affections, his will and volition are all corrupted. From the top of his head to the soles of his feet he is one huge sore and corrupt. Therefore, he is incapable of doing anything good in the sight of God, or even understanding. Not only does he have total sin, he also has total inability to understand or deal with spiritual things.” Coral Ridge ministries, under the leadership of D. James Kennedy, is marked also by what may fairly be called an anti-Catholic streak, and has been a hotbed of opposition to the project known as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” The Reformation tradition has usually affirmed three “solas”—sola fide, sola gratia, sola scriptura (faith alone, grace alone, Scripture alone). Knox adds two more for good measure: sola Christus and “solely deo gloria.” (The Latin gets a little wobbly at this point.) All the “solas” are directed against what is taken to be Catholic teaching. The added fourth is against the idea—alien to Catholic faith—that Mary is equal to Christ in the work of redemption, and the added fifth is to prevent any possible insinuation of the notion that human depravity is not totally total. One might observe that it is a terrible thing to learn your catechism against others. On the other hand, it provides a lifetime’s supply of things to argue about it. And, given the anodyne sentimentality of contemporary religiosity, a measure of contentiousness over the truths of revelation is not entirely unwelcome.
• An important document issued recently by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is titled “On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life.” The document was the occasion of an extended interview by ZENIT news service with Robert P. George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University. He commented favorably on some initiatives by the U.S. bishops, but, regrettably, ZENIT omitted from its release the following observation by Prof. George: “On the other hand, I must say that I was appalled by the appointment of a notorious pro-abortion politician, Leon Panetta, to the National Review Board that is advising the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the protection of young people from sexual abuse. The bishops should pause to consider how this appointment undermines efforts, including their own efforts and those of the Holy See, to make clear to Catholic politicians that pro-abortion advocacy is profoundly unjust and incompatible with Catholic faith. Panetta’s appointment sends a message to pro-abortion Catholics of every stripe that the Church is not really serious about her teaching on the sanctity of human life or the priority she gives this teaching. Let me be clear about what I believe is required: Panetta should be removed from the Board immediately. Concern about any embarrassment this might cause to those responsible for his appointment is in no way a sufficient reason to fail to remove him. Every moment he continues to serve, the Church’s plea to Catholic politicians and leaders on behalf of vulnerable unborn children, thousands of whom are killed every day by abortion in the United States, is compromised.”
• Author Zinovy Zinik thinks the book is somewhat late coming, but he nonetheless welcomes Martin Amis’ Koba the Dread, which relates in scathing detail the romance of Western intellectuals (including Amis’ father Kingsley) with Stalin and his evil empire. Even many of those who recognized the evil at the time would not abide public criticism of the Soviet “experiment” lest it give aid and comfort to their conservative enemies. Zinik concludes with the grim, and probably true, thought that we have not seen the last of this kind of intellectual corruption. “The word ‘experiment’ is not accidental here. Is Russia one of those socio-biological laboratories where the Western mind can go and experience something which is unacceptable in one’s own civilized (restrictive) society? We know of ‘hot-spots’ and ‘armpits’ of the world. Places such as Russia are sexy; they should be called ‘erogenous zones,’ where the withering souls of the British intelligentsia, of the kind that Amis describes, are drawn to regenerate. This is where a certain sort of political writing borders on pornography. Amis even goes as far as denouncing a utopian mode of thinking as such, rejecting, a la Dostoevsky, the paradise that was created through the sacrifice of millions. But it was not merely a grand and ruthless utopian dream of the Just City that made Stalin so attractive in the eyes of the ideologically hungry. It was also loneliness in an intellectual desert, a longing to belong to something beyond a limited egotistical self. Stalin, in fact, was never the Big Brother. He was something bigger. He was the Big Father. The Big Idea. And some of us love big ideas more than our miserable and boring family lives, our brothers and sisters, even if these ideas instill fear in our hearts. Fear is much stronger than love. And that is why I am convinced Stalinism has a future, despite the strong evidence against it put forward by Martin Amis and his predecessors.” It is true that there is on the world stage today no big utopian project such as Marxism, fascism, or National Socialism (unless one counts some of the more grandiose dreams of an American imperium “democratizing” the world). But Zinovy Zinik is right: that doesn’t mean the bloodletting potential of utopian fantasies is a thing of the past.
• Growing Old In Christ is a worthy book of essays edited by Stanley Hauerwas and others and addressing subjects ranging from the medicalization of death to nursing homes, pastoral care of the dying, and physician-assisted suicide (Eerdmans, 318 pages, $24
paper). M. Therese Lysaught contributes an essay on “Memory, Funerals, and the Communion of Saints” in which she writes: “As Christ’s death encompasses the death of our companions, we have confidence that in Christ’s body, they will find the promise of the resurrection. As eucharistic, Christian funerals are no Gnostic practice; they are deeply embodied. The body of the deceased is central to the rites. Over and again, the community exercises care with and for that body. Traditionally, the body has been washed, anointed, kissed, carried, sprinkled with holy water, and anointed. But equally central to the structure of the funeral rites are other bodies—specifically, the body of Jesus crucified and risen and the members of the community as the body of Christ. With bodies so juxtaposed, the rites locate our lives and death within the context of Christ’s death and resurrection and display that this resurrection is the resurrection of the body. For Christians, this is not merely a wish rooted in an archaic cosmology but rather a fundamental theological claim. It is a claim that our bodies are an integral part of who we are. The resurrection affirms that God will raise us to new life, ‘Us’—not some disembodied spirits, but the full persons he knew, loved, and saved. It is a claim that God’s grace is mediated through the material: in the incarnation, God became human flesh and dwelt among us; in the Passion, it was Christ’s body that was crucified; in the Eucharist, Christ is truly present in the elements of bread and wine; as we partake of these elements, approaching the altar with our bodies, eating and drinking, we become the very body of Christ; and in the eschaton, it is this very materiality of creation that God will transform and glorify. So Christian practice believes that human bodies, even after death, mediate God’s grace.” Bracing stuff, that. The Catholic bishops of the U.S. have recently allowed for the cremated remains to be present at the funeral Mass, so long as the body was not cremated, as once was commonly the case, in order to signify a denial of the resurrection. Cremation is becoming ever more frequent, and I am sorry about that. Not because it is morally or theologically impermissible, but because it offends against a morally and theologically informed sensibility. It strikes me as a rush to oblivion. There is something right about commending the body to the care of the earth, letting the earth from which we came work its quiet dissolution. In As I Lay Dying I wrote that there is even a certain charm in contemplating the feast one’s body will provide the worms. I know some think that macabre, but they’re wrong. One reads with sadness reports that in Germany funeral practices are rapidly disappearing altogether. No death notices in the paper, no wakes, no funerals, no memorial services. Bodies are taken from hospitals to the ovens of the crematorium and the ashes are dispersed. Just as though the person, and the body inseparable from the person, had never been. That is not closure. It is a forced and unnatural forgetting. It is a mark of a people aptly described as post-Christian.
• It was probably inevitable. According to Dutch and German newspapers, May 28 was a really big day for Jennifer Hoes of Haarlem in the Netherlands. She turned thirty and became a bride. She married herself. Wearing a gown studded with two hundred latex copies of her own nipples, she promised before Haarlem’s registrar to love, respect, honor, and obey herself. “We live in a Me society,” she explained to Der Spiegel, “hence it is logical that one promises to be faithful to oneself.” There is a certain logic to that. The stories say nothing about what happens in the event of divorce, or if she someday wants to marry someone else. I don’t think we’re going to see a rash of “self-marriages” anytime soon, although I have no doubt those who are taken with the idea will find clergy ready to accommodate with a blessing. Jennifer Hoes (or is it Jennifer Hoes-Hoes?) is a more bizarre instance of the orchestrated assault on marriage as a union of a man and a woman. As a supporter of the proposed federal marriage amendment, my position might be described as pro-choice. We know what marriage is. People are free to choose something else, but they are not free to require the rest of us to call that something else marriage.
• Be grateful for small favors. I have heard some snide remarks that, at long last, the Jesuits of the U.S. have come out against abortion as a very bad thing. The occasion for such remarks is “Standing for the Unborn,” a statement of the Office of Social and International Ministries of the Society of Jesus in the U.S. “In treating this delicate and controversial topic, we hope to provide our brother Jesuits, colleagues, parishioners, and students with the spiritual leadership and ethical guidance they expect from us,” the statement says. Thirty years after Roe v. Wade, and after the most careful deliberation “drawing upon the heritage of our Jesuit history and the treasure of Ignatian spirituality,” the Jesuits “underscore the correctness of Catholic Church teaching regarding abortion.” They recognize that “a spirit of callous disregard for life shows itself in direct assaults on human life such as abortion and capital punishment, as well as in senseless violence, escalating militarism, racism, xenophobia, and the skewed accumulation of wealth and life-sustaining resources.” So the reader is assured that the Jesuits are not about to get caught up in a one-issue obsession over abortion. Based on “the heritage of Catholic moral teaching” and “our Jesuit tradition,” the statement says, “Our long-term goal remains full legal recognition of and protection for the unborn child-from the moment of conception.” Admittedly, the nervous nuancing is excessive and the statement is anything but a clarion trumpet call for battle on behalf of the culture of life, but “Standing for the Unborn” should be welcomed as an exercise in Jesuit catch-up and a promising advance in the Jesuit-Catholic ecumenical dialogue. I expect that those Jesuits who pushed for this statement had to sweat blood, and will receive their well-earned service medals in the world to come.
• “It’s just a place where we can get to know one another and talk about common concerns.” That’s how one Catholic bishop describes Christian Churches Together (CCT), a proposed new organization. The purpose seems unexceptionable in its modesty. At the same time, concerns are raised as to whether this is a round-about way of reviving the old and moribund National Council of Churches (NCC) by an infusion of fresh blood—notably Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant. And fresh money. This is denied by parties involved in launching CCT. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson of the Reformed Church in America, a veteran in ecumenical organizations and chairman of the CCT steering committee, says the relationship between the two institutions will be a matter of “discernment” for the thirty-six member communions of the NCC. And, one supposes, a matter of discernment for the members of CCT. The preamble of the proposal adopted in January includes what might be called, without disrespect, ecumenical boilerplate: CCT will foster “relationships where our differences can be better understood, our commonalities better affirmed, and our brokenness healed by God.” Another goal is “a strong prophetic voice of the Christian community in America.” One might wonder what the United Church of Christ, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Catholic Church can say together on the most hotly disputed questions in our public life—never mind what they can say in “a strong prophetic voice.” CCT will be composed, we are told, by “the five families.” That’s not a reference to The Godfather but to the five distinct constellations of Christianity in America—“evangelical/Pentecostal, historic Protestant, historic racial/ethnic, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic.” Historic Protestant refers to the Protestant oldline and racial/ethnic means mainly the black communions. CCT will also include national Christian organizations, and all decisions will be made by consensus. The proposed program and budget, at least at the beginning, is very modest: an annual assembly of two and a half days and, once CCT is up and running, an annual budget of $25
0,000. Perhaps the bishop is right. What harm can come from Christian leaders getting together to talk once a year? On the other hand, it is probably wise to keep in mind the round-about way mentioned above.
• Over the years, the Supreme Court, with other courts following in its wake, has struck down aid to Catholic schools because they are “pervasively sectarian” and “indoctrinate” their students. Gerard V. Bradley of Notre Dame Law School brilliantly exposes the underlying prejudice in such rulings in the Fall 2002 issue of the Texas Review of Law and Politics. “The Court,” writes Bradley, “has consistently interpreted the Free Exercise Clause to require the government to accept a sincere believer’s statement of what he believes, no matter how strange or singular those beliefs may seem.” Not in the case of Catholic schools, however. In that case, the Court presumes to know better than the people who run the schools and the parents who send their children to them just what those schools are up to. Students of the First Amendment will want to take a careful look at Bradley’s argument.
• Men are from Mars, women from Venus. I expect there is a strong measure of truth in that. At least men think they should act as though they are from Mars, which means, among other things, as though they are in control. I have written elsewhere that, as a general rule, women are much better around the sick and debilitated than men, not least because they have usually gone through the ordeal of bearing children. They are more at home with the messiness of life. Admittedly, these are generalizations, but they are brought to mind by a report on physician-assisted suicide in Oregon, the only state in which mercy killing is legal. According to American Medical News, the dominant (84 percent) reason for choosing death is the fear of losing autonomy and the ability to do the things one wants to do. A doctor with a suicide advocacy group says, “The No. 1 reason given to me is: ‘I don’t want to have anyone wipe my rear end.’ That is the most humiliating aspect of terminal illness.” Despite there being many more aged and debilitated women, 71 percent of those choosing suicide in Oregon are men.
• Oh, dear. George Weigel in his column in diocesan papers and I in this space were both critical of the group of fifty-eight priests in Boston who agitated for the resignation of Cardinal Law. The Boston Globe ran a story on our criticism of the fifty-eight, and now William Bole in Commonweal weighs in with an essay saying that we “smeared” the priests in “a rush of rancor [that] verges on calumny.” In support of his complaint, he reports that the two priests in his parish who signed the letter are kind, pastoral, and faithful to Catholic teaching. It is very good to know that. Mr. Bole might advise them to be more careful about the company they keep. And I, in describing what the agitation represented, should have more carefully underscored the representative nature of the group, thus avoiding the impression that every priest who called for Law’s resignation fit the description I offered. I readily acknowledge that some may have been guilty of no more than what, in my view, was an error in judgment. On the other hand, joining in a public campaign, led by the Boston Globe, to remove your bishop is, at the very least, a very big error in judgment.
• “I respect and admire the French, who have been a far greater nation than we shall ever be, that is, if greatness means anything loftier than money and bombs.” That is Thomas Fleming, editor of a paleoconservative magazine called Chronicles, cheering France’s anti-American turn this past March. It serves as the epigraph to David Frum’s long article in National Review of March 19, “Unpatriotic Conservatives.” In response to inquiries: Yes, Frum gets right the story of the emergence of paleo sectarianism when, in May of 1989, the Rockford Institute of Illinois, publisher of Chronicles, forcibly ejected us from the offices of the Center for Religion and Society here in New York. We had established the Center in 1984 and I became increasingly uneasy with what was understandably viewed as the racist and anti-Semitic tones of Chronicles under the direction of Fleming, its then new editor. I was preparing to break the connection with Rockford and go independent when one rainy Friday morning Rockford executives showed up, fired the entire staff, put us out on the street, and changed the office locks. We could have done without the melodrama, but every May 5 we have a gala staff luncheon to celebrate the occasion. As for the Rockford Institute and Chronicles, it is perfectly understandable if you never heard of them until now. It is just as well. (Some day I may get around to writing up my notes on the possibility of morally licit Schadenfreude.)
• For understandable reasons, many Americans are having something of a love affair with Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair. Agree with him or not, his presentation in Parliament kicking off the ten-hour debate prior to the Iraq intervention is, I think, one of the great political speeches of recent decades. Here, but even more on the other side of the Atlantic, there is much chatter about the Christian commitment of Blair and George W. Bush, and how that is or is not a factor in their relationship. In a style reflective of American journalism’s treatment of those who are thought to be somewhat too serious about religion, the Spectator, a frequently clever Tory magazine, attacks Blair’s profession of Christian faith as insincere and arrogant. A fair point is scored about his adoption of the intellectually and morally incoherent posture on abortion: “I am personally opposed but . . .” That is a grave disappointment. But Peter Osborne’s attack, “The Special Relationship Between Blair and God,” is itself incoherent, as in his quoting favorably a founder of the Christian Socialist movement, of which Blair is a member, who complains that Blair fails to translate his Christian beliefs into public policy. So the Spectator wants Blair to be a more consistent Christian socialist? The gravamen of the article, however, is that Blair does not defer to religious leaders who opposed military action against Iraq. “It is characteristic of those who feel that they have an unmediated line to the Lord,” writes Mr. Osborne, “that they think they can make the law themselves.” It is widely reported that Blair intends to become a Catholic after he leaves office. To which Osborne observes that “he occasionally lays claim to the kind of direct relationship to Christ that is more readily associated with the Protestant than with the Roman Catholic Church.” In disagreeing with a public figure who does not hide his Christian faith, the convention is to claim that he is a borderline fanatic who thinks he is acting under direct orders from God. That is often joined, somewhat contradictorily, to the claim that he is a hypocrite. Mr. Osborne apparently cannot decide whether he is more upset about Mr. Blair believing or not believing what he says he believes. So he settles on finding him guilty of both. It is a very American media treatment of religion in public.
• The Spring 2003 issue of the influential City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute, has a lead article by Marjorie King that should be of interest to readers with children in public schools. “Queering the Schools” documents the ways in which LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) activists have succeeded in enlisting the support of the National Education Association in promoting—under the guise of encouraging tolerance—sexual practices that most Americans consider bizarre, destructive, and morally repugnant. The details of the programs described in the article, some of which are aimed at children in kindergarten and first grade, are graphic and disturbing, and necessarily so. The article relates the formidable difficulties confronted by parents who have challenged such programs, not least being that they are derided as intolerant. The author makes a valuable contribution in explaining some of the changes in gay activism over the years. It used to be that children were taught to be tolerant of homosexuals, who, it was said, could not help being that way. But “queer theory” has now moved from special studies programs in universities to the elementary school. According to queer theory, everyone is polymorphously perverse (Norman O. Brown) and children should be encouraged to explore, develop, and express the full range of their sexual desires and possibilities. “Queering the Schools” illustrates the ways in which the once marginal is being mainstreamed with remarkable rapidity. People who subscribe to the old-fashioned notion that public schools are accountable to the public should take note.
• Here is an item that you may be the first in your neighborhood to know about. “If a real-life Indiana Jones wanted to find the Ark of the Covenant, he would only have to turn to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, say partisans in Addis Ababa. All traces of the ark, the sacred chest that Moses had built by divine instruction to safeguard the tablets of the law, were lost after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 587 b.c. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, however, appeals to tradition to affirm that a wooden chest covered in gold and decorated with cherubs, and in the care of a solitary Orthodox priest in an Axum church, is the lost ark of the Old Testament. Ethiopian Christians (about thirty-one million, or half the population) honored the ark this past March at Temket, the feast of Jesus’ baptism. According to legend, the ark was stolen by Menelik, the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, who brought it to Ethiopia. Ethiopia converted to Christianity around the year 330, but the legend of the ark does not arise until the twelfth century, in a forthright attempt by the ruling dynasty to proclaim itself heir to King Solomon. Despite the historical unknowns, the faith of Ethiopian Orthodox in the Axum ark continues. They attribute salvific qualities to it, among them the country’s independence. Ethiopia is the only African country not subjected to colonization in the strict sense, though it was occupied by Fascist Italy from 1936-1941.” Perhaps so, but Harrison Ford taking on the solitary priest of Axum would not have made for much of a movie.
• After the military success in Iraq, articles and news reports multiplied telling us that the real difficulties were just beginning. They don’t know the half of it. In March the 20th International Prophecy Conference was held in Tampa, Florida, and it seems that pretribulationists (those who believe that Christians will be raptured prior to the tribulation and the final return of Christ) are all atwitter over Iraq’s connections with ancient Babylon, the Euphrates, repentant Ninevah, and other places of biblical significance. As if that isn’t enough, Armageddon, the eleventh installment in the “Left Behind” series is due out in the next several weeks. It is the story of Satan ruling the world from a restored Babylon in Iraq and facing the cosmic battle with Israel and her Christian allies. And you thought the nefarious neocons masterminding Bush’s foreign policy were scary.
• Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle complains that conservative talk show hosts are dangerous. Some of them criticize him a lot. “The threat level goes up,” says Daschle. Similarly, columnist Anna Quindlen writes frequently about the hate mail she receives, underscoring the courage required in keeping the liberal faith. Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, employing that fine Irish phrase of exasperated patience, says enough is enough already. “Well Anna, and Tom, I have never written of this or even spoken of it, but let me tell you something. My political philosophy is conservative. I am pro-life. I live in New York City, surrounded by modern people. They are mostly left wing, they are all pro-choice, many of them passionately and even furiously so. I have written books saying Ronald Reagan is a great man and Hilary Clinton is a bad woman. I know something about being a target, and I know something about hate mail. I have received not hundreds but thousands of the most personal and obscene denunciations: I have received death threats; I have been threatened with blackmail; I have been informed that I do not deserve to live; I have received a three-page typed, double-spaced letter with perfect grammar and syntax the first sentence of which was ‘Dear Ms. Noonan, Let me explain to you why you are a . . . ’ and here I cannot suggest the word used. But damned if he didn’t make a good case. I used to hear regularly from a woman who’d tell me she hopes I have a brain hemorrhage. I have never talked about this because I would consider speaking of it both self-pitying and self-aggrandizing. But there’s another reason. I’m a grown-up. I know you pay a price for the stands you take. It’s a disputatious world. Rocks get thrown. I could make myself safer by changing my views, but why would I abandon what I think is true so that people I think are wrong will like me? That doesn’t make sense. So I stand where I stand and pay. And you know what? Too bad. Tough. That’s life. Nothing is free. If you hold a controversial position you will draw controversy and its cousins: denunciation, dislike, etc. It’s the price you pay. And unlike Tom Daschle, I pay it without a taxpayer-funded security team to keep me safe.” What about that don’t you understand?
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: Andrew Sullivan on sodomy, New Republic, March 24, 2003. While We’re At It: Duncan Stroik on church admission fees, Sacred Architecture, Fall/Winter 2002. CNN in Baghdad, New York Times, April 11, 2003. On Hitler’s library, Atlantic, May 2003. Zinovy Zinik on the future of Stalinism, Times Literary Supplement, August 23, 2002. Self-marriage in the Netherlands, UPI, March 13, 2003. On Christian Churches Together, Origins, March 20, 2003. Suicide men, American Medical News, March 24, 2003. On Tony Blair’s religion, Spectator, April 5, 2003. The ark of the covenant, Sacred Architecture, Fall/Winter 2002. Babylon in Iraq, Religion Watch, April 2003.