Boswell, a professor of history at Yale, says that in the early Church there were few sanctions against homosexuality. “Intolerance” of gays became characteristic of Christianity during the high middle ages when the Church tried to assert greater control over the personal lives of the faithful. In time, theologians such as Thomas Aquinas would provide a theological rationale for the prohibition of homosexual acts, and canon lawyers would give the prohibition force in ecclesiastical discipline. That, Boswell says, is the unhappy legacy that is still with us in the attitudes and laws prevalent in Western societies.

The Boswell book was at first met with widespread acclaim. The reviewer in the New York Times said Boswell “restores one’s faith in scholarship as the union of erudition, analysis, and moral vision. I would not hesitate to call his book revolutionary, for it tells of things heretofore unimagined and sets a standard of excellence that one would have thought impossible in the treatment of an issue so large, uncharted, and vexed.” The next year Boswell won the American Book Award for History. Since then the book has become a staple in homosexual literature.

For instance, Bruce Bawer’s much-discussed A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society (Poseidon Press) devotes page after page to a precis of Boswell, as though this is the only necessary text in Christian history dealing with homosexuality. And, of course, Boswell is routinely invoked in Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and other studies urging that the churches should at last overcome their “homophobia” and be “accepting” of homosexuals and homosexuality. “Boswell says” featured prominently also in last fall’s Colorado court case in which gay activists sought (successfully, for the moment) to overthrow Amendment Two, a measure approved by the voters in 1992 and aimed at preventing special legal status for homosexuals as a class.

In sum, Boswell and his book have had quite a run. Among his fellow historians, however, Boswell has not fared so well. The scholarly judgment of his argument has ranged from the sharply critical to the dismissive to the devastating. But reviews in scholarly journals typically appear two or three years after a book is published. By that time the Boswell book had already established itself in many quarters as the definitive word on Christianity and homosexuality. In the draft statement on sexuality issued late last year by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), for instance, Boswell’s interpretation of New Testament texts on homosexuality is uncritically accepted.

There are not many NT texts dealing explicitly with homosexuality. Extended treatment was not necessary as there is no evidence that St. Paul and other writers dissented from the clear condemnation of such acts in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Boswell and others make a limp effort to mitigate the sharp strictures of the Old Testament and rabbinic literature, but even some gay partisans recognize that that effort is not strikingly plausible.) The most cited NT passage on the subject is the Romans 1 discussion of “the wrath of God revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” Such people are “without excuse,” says Paul, because they have rebelled against the “eternal power and deity [that] is clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” This rebellion finds also sexual expression: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”

Another frequently cited passage is 1 Corinthians 6: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Against those who treat homosexuality as uniquely heinous, it is rightly pointed out that the Corinthian text makes clear that it is one of many behaviors incompatible with Christian discipleship. More important, this passage underscores that for homosexuals, as for adulterers et al., there is the possibility of forgiveness and new life. But none of this changes the clear assertion that homosexual behavior is wrong. And that has been the Christian teaching over the centuries.

The revisionists of the Boswell school make several interesting moves. They suggest, among other things, that the homosexual practices condemned by Paul were condemned because they were associated with idolatrous cults and temple prostitution. And it is true that Romans 1 is concerned with idolatry, but the plain meaning of the text is that homosexual acts are themselves an evidence of turning away from God and the natural order that he has ordained. Put differently, the point is not that some homosexual acts are wrong because they are associated with idolatrous cults; rather, homosexual acts are wrong because they are themselves a form of idolatry. New Testament scholar Richard Hays of Duke Divinity School is among those who are sharply critical of Boswell’s mishandling of the New Testament material. Boswell’s interpretation, says Hays, “has no support in the text and is a textbook case of reading into the text what one wants to find there.” (The Journal of Religious Ethics [No. 14, 1986])

Boswell’s reading of early Christian and medieval history also turns up what he wants to find. Christian history is a multifarious affair, and it does not take much sniffing around to discover frequent instances of what is best described as hanky-panky. The discovery process is facilitated if one goes through history with what is aptly described as narrow-eyed prurience, interpreting every expression of intense affection between men as proof that they were “gay.” A favored slogan of the contemporary gay movement is “We Are Everywhere!” Boswell rummages through Christian history and triumphantly comes up with the conclusion, “They were everywhere.” Probably at all times in Christian history one can find instances of homosexual behavior. And it is probably true that at some times more than others such behavior was viewed with “tolerance,” in that it was treated with a wink and a nudge. Certainly that has been true of at least some Christian communities in the last forty years or so. The Church has always been composed of sinners, and some periods are more morally lax than others.

Despite his assiduous efforts, what Boswell’s historical scavenger hunt does not produce is any evidence whatever that authoritative Christian teaching ever departed from the recognition that homosexual acts are morally wrong. In the years before, say, the fourth century, when Christian orthodoxy more firmly cohered, there are significant gaps in our knowledge, and numerous sects and heresies flourished, some of them bizarre also in their moral practices. This is a rich field for speculation and fantasy, and Boswell makes the most of it. He has failed, however, to persuade those who are expert in that period. For example, David Wright of Edinburgh wrote the article on homosexuality in the highly respected Encyclopedia of Early Christianity . After discussing the evidence, he summarily dismisses the Boswell book as “influential but highly misleading.”

Also influential but highly misleading is another move made by the revisionists. What Paul meant by homosexuality is not what we mean by homosexuality today, they contend. Thus Boswell says that the people Paul had in mind are “manifestly not homosexual; what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons. The whole point of Romans 1, in fact, is to stigmatize persons who have rejected their calling, gotten off the true path they were once on.” Paul, Boswell says, failed to distinguish “gay persons (in the sense of permanent sexual preference) and heterosexuals who simply engaged in periodic homosexual behavior.”

This line of thinking is picked up in the Lutheran and similar statements to make the argument that, living as he did in the first century, Paul did not consider the possibility of “loving, committed, same-sex relationships.” Since the situation of the biblical writers is not ours, what the Bible has to say about homosexuality is not relevant for Christians today. The logic of the argument goes farther: If Paul had known about people who were not capable of heterosexual relations and if he had known about loving, committed, same-sex relationships, he would have approved. The whole point of Romans 1, it is suggested, is that people should be true to who they really are”whether heterosexual or homosexual. The problem that Paul had was with heterosexuals who were false to themselves by engaging in homosexual acts.

Like many influential but misleading arguments, this one contains an element of truth. David Greenberg’s The Construction of Homosexuality (University of Chicago Press, 1988) is a standard reference on these matters. Greenberg, who is himself sympathetic to the homosexual movement, emphasizes that the category “homosexual” is a late-nineteenth-century invention. Prior to that time, people did not speak about “the homosexual” or about “homosexuals” as a class of people. There were simply men who did curious things, including engaging in homogenital acts, that were viewed”in different cultures and to varying degrees”with puzzlement, tolerance, or (usually) strong disapproval. So the element of truth in the claim of the Boswell revisionists is that Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Calvin, and a host of others who lived before the nineteenth century indeed did not know about a “homosexual community” in which people are involved in “loving, committed, same-sex relationships.”

Historical “what ifs” are of very limited usefulness, but we might ask ourselves, What if Paul did know about homosexuality in the way that it is commonly presented today? What if he knew about a significant number of people, constituting a sizable subculture, who engaged only in homogenital sex and found heterosexual relations personally repulsive? If he believed that homosexual acts are contrary to nature and nature’s God (the plain meaning of Romans 1), it would seem not to make any difference that there are a large number of people who disagree, who engage in such acts, and whose behavior is supported by a subculture and its sexual ideology. Nor would what today is called “sexual orientation” seem to make any difference. Sexual orientation means that one’s desires are strongly (in some instances exclusively) directed to people of the same sex. This would likely not surprise Paul, who was no stranger to unruly and disordered desires. It was Paul who wrote, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate . . . Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7)

Revisionism takes other interesting twists. Episcopalian bishop John Spong, a prominent champion of the gay movement, is not alone in claiming that Paul was a repressed and frustrated homosexual. Leaving aside the anachronistic use of the term “homosexual,” one cannot conclusively demonstrate that Paul did not experience sexual desire for men. (Proving a negative is always a tricky business.) But, if he did, this would then have been one of the “orientations” to evil against which he so heroically contended. Gay advocates who adopt the Spong line should take care. If Paul was a homosexual in the current meaning of the term, then it demonstrates precisely the opposite of what they want to demonstrate. It would demonstrate that Paul knew exactly the reality experienced by homosexuals and urged upon them the course he himself follows”resistance, repentance, conversion, and prayer for the grace “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Ephesians 4:1)

The revisionism being advanced today is influential, misleading, and deeply confused. Robert L. Wilken, the distinguished scholar of early Christianity at the University of Virginia, describes Boswell’s book as “advocacy scholarship.” By that he means “historical learning yoked to a cause, scholarship in the service of a social and political agenda.” Wilken notes that Boswell’s subtitle is Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century . If, as Boswell insists, there were not “gay people” (in the contemporary meaning of the term) in the ancient world, and therefore Paul and other Christian authorities were only criticizing heterosexuals who engaged in homosexual acts, how can one write a history of gay people in that period of history? Wilken puts it gently: “Boswell creates historical realities that are self-contradictory, and hence unhistorical.” Boswell writes that in antiquity there were no prejudices directed “to homosexual relations as a class.” The reason is obvious, observes Wilken: as Boswell himself elsewhere recognizes, “the ancients did not think there was a class of people with sexual ‘preferences’ for the same sex.”

Wilken writes, “The notion that there is a ‘class’ of people defined by sexual preference is a very recent idea that has no basis in western tradition. To use it as an interpretive category is confusing and promotes misunderstanding. Where there were laws or social attitudes against homosexuals, they had to do not with homosexuals as a class but with homosexual acts. Even where certain homosexual acts were tolerated by society (as in ancient Greece), there was no suggestion that sexual preference determined behavior or that certain people were thought to belong to a distinct group within society. Even when tolerated (for example, between an adult male and a youth), there was no social approval given an adult male who played the ‘passive’ role (the role of the boy).” And, as we have seen, Paul and the early Christians departed from the Greeks in judging homosexual acts per se to be unnatural and morally disordered.

“In some cases,” Wilken notes, “Boswell simply inverts the evidence to suit his argument.” For instance, Boswell writes that in antiquity some Roman citizens “objected to Christianity precisely because of what they claimed was sexual looseness on the part of its adherents.” They charged, among other things, that Christians engaged in “homosexual acts,” and Boswell says that “this belief seems to have been at least partly rooted in fact.” As evidence Boswell cites Minucius Felix, a third-century writer who was answering charges brought against Christians by their Roman critics. Among the items mentioned by Minucius Felix, Boswell says, is the charge that Christians engage in “ceremonial fellatio” (the text actually says “worshiping the genitals of their pontiff and priest”). What Boswell fails to say is that this charge”along with others, such as the claim that Christians sacrificed children in the Eucharist”was manufactured out of whole cloth and historians have long dismissed such claims as having nothing to do with Christian behavior.

G.W. Clarke, the most recent commentator on the passage from Minucius Felix writes, “This bizarre story is not found elsewhere among the charges reported against the Christians.” It is, says Clarke, the kind of invention that the opponents of Christianity “would have felt quite free to use for effective rhetorical polemic.” It is noteworthy, observes Wilken, that no such charges appear in any of the texts written by critics of Christianity. They appear only in Christian writings (such as that of Minucius Felix), perhaps because they were slanderously passed on the streets or because their obvious absurdity gave Christian apologetics greater force. The situation, in short, is entirely the opposite of what Boswell suggests. While the passage from Minucius Felix gives no information about Christian behavior, it does undercut the burden of Boswell’s argument. Boswell seems not to have noticed it, but the passage makes clear that, for both Romans and Christians, it was assumed that to charge someone with fellatio was to defame him. Both the Christians and their critics assumed that such behavior is a sign of moral depravity. This is hardly evidence of early Christian “tolerance” of homosexual acts.

It is the way of advocacy scholarship to seize upon snips and pieces of “evidence” divorced from their historical context, and then offer an improbable or fanciful interpretation that serves the argument being advanced. That is the way egregiously exemplified by Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality . David Wright, the author of the pertinent encyclopedia article on homosexuality, wrote in 1989: “The conclusion must be that for all its interest and stimulus Boswell’s book provides in the end of the day not one firm piece of evidence that the teaching mind of the early Church countenanced homosexual activity.” Yet the ideologically determined are not easily deterred by the facts. As the churches continue to deliberate important questions of sexual morality, be prepared to encounter the invocation, as though with the voice of authority, “But Boswell says . . . ”

Journalism and Getting the Story Straight

At the opening of the annual meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop William Keeler of Baltimore, the conference president, offered some pointed observations about the media and religion. Keeler, a man noted for speaking judiciously, began with reflections on the amazing response of American young people to the Pope’s visit in Denver. He commended select television stations for their coverage of that event, and then moved on to consider the role of the major networks and newspapers. We offer an extended excerpt of his speech, after which a midrash of our own.

“But what kind of job did the national media do? It is an important question, because it addresses an issue that confronts us every day. Do the media understand the role of religion in people’s lives? Most reports on World Youth Day itself were fair, even glowing. However, when the media turned from the events of those days to give an assessment of the Catholic Church in general, they confirmed what many have long suspected: that in much of the media there is a preprogrammed ‘Catholic story.’ In this story the Church in the United States is in disarray, rife with dissent. I asked that our conference staff review a large sample of the media coverage. That review has confirmed a tendency on the part of the media to tell this story of their own making. Regularly, reports of the enthusiasm and love of the youth for the Holy Father would have as wraparounds the predictable caveats that many Catholics do not agree with him.

“The media’s ‘American Catholic story’ is a caricature wherein complex issues are crudely stated”crudely and quickly stated. During my own days in Denver I was invited to the ‘Today’ program to explain the Catholic Church’s position on abortion, birth control, celibacy, and the male priesthood. I was to be given thirty seconds.

“The glib answers they seek to important questions leave no room for detail and nuance, no room for the whole universe of concerns on which the Holy Father challenges all humanity.

“One most objectionable media technique is the tendency to interview people with the extreme views at either end of the spectrum and then suggest the interview has covered the whole spectrum. What this technique does, in fact, is exclude from the conversation the broad mass of the Catholic population.

“Much of the evidence used to support the media’s ‘American Catholic story’ is found in the polls of Catholics paid for by the media. These polls need to be challenged both on their width and their depth. The same few issues are covered in poll after poll, giving evidence of the narrowness of the media’s concerns. In many ways the media continue to show that they have not grasped the vital role of the Church in people’s lives.

“We, the bishops of the Church in this land, face a major challenge in addressing this situation and we dare not ignore it. Television, with an unrivaled ability to bring millions of people to events taking place far away, remains neglectful of religious news and more and more newspapers are becoming equally neglectful.

“On any given weekend 30 percent to 40 percent of our nation’s population attend religious services: 30 percent to 40 percent. That means churches and temples attracted more people this past weekend than all major league baseball attracted all last season. But while every newspaper and television station has a team of sports reporters and editors, it is rare to find even one full-time religion reporter in a newsroom”rarer still to find a religion reporter who truly understands the religion about which reports are written. Whatever the media, they need religion reporters who know their field, who understand the specifically religious issues.

“There is also a need for journalists to respect their own profession. What they do must concern us bishops not only because the image of the Church is involved but also because the media’s mission is not unlike our own. We too are messengers of news”the good news of the truth that makes us free. The news media are called to something similar. Their reach has become so great and their power so all-present that they have a greater responsibility than ever to report accurately and truthfully so that an informed public can order its affairs in true freedom. Such self-respect includes the realization that division and conflict are not the only news worth reporting.

“In the case of Denver, the media’s ‘American Catholic story’ was most concisely formulated in the question asked by Ted Koppel on ‘Nightline’ on the day the Pope arrived: ‘The Catholic Church: coming together or coming apart?’

“People did not go to Denver to disagree; people are not filling our suburban churches Sunday after Sunday to protest. As I said in the course of the welcome ceremony at Mile High Stadium, our pilgrimage was a time of celebration because the Catholic Church is in fact alive and growing in the United States.

“The real ‘American Catholic story’ is that the church in this land grew last year alone by one million members. The real ‘American Catholic story’ is that our schools continue to increase in enrollment”despite difficult economic times, many have waiting lists because people value a Catholic education. The real ‘American Catholic story’ records an increase in those beginning theological studies for the diocesan priesthood every year for the past three years. The real story notes that our Catholic press brings a fresh perspective on the news to more than twenty-five million subscribers, that our Catholic hospitals serve more than fifty million patients yearly. From the real ‘American Catholic story’ we know that our Catholic Charities do more than any other private group in the country to care for the hungry, the homeless, and those in greatest need”all part of our concern to promote and honor human life and dignity at every stage.

“The real ‘American Catholic story’ does not ignore the difficulties and challenges we face but recognizes also the remarkable graces and blessings we share every day. We need to help the media understand that the real ‘American Catholic story’ is the story of millions of people who love the Church, who are not polarized over issues; people who convincingly live their faith by working and sacrificing; people, motivated by faith, who make real, positive, and lasting contributions to our society.”

Archbishop Keeler’s observations on the state of religion reporting are, in our judgment, accurate so far as they go. We have been following this scene for thirty years and, with exceptions that can be numbered on less than ten fingers, religion reporters are prone to a shoddiness that makes claims to journalistic professionalism risible. And, as the Archbishop notes, the larger story is that religion is simply not reported. Given the way that it usually is reported, one is sometimes inclined to think that that may be just as well. But one does not wish to be unfair by picking on religion reporters. They are simply part of a journalistic industry that is notable chiefly for its superficiality, conformity, and intellectual laziness. The news business is as corrupt an occupation as any we have with us today, probably more corrupt than most. Certainly it is the more smarmy and insufferable in its claim to be the tribune of righteousness in monitoring the corruption of others.

Of course, like taxes, disease, and death, the news industry is inevitable. Nor should we think it was necessarily better in the olden days. A brief survey of newspapers at, say, the end of the nineteenth century quickly disillusions on that score. The inherent corruption of the news business was admirably analyzed in John Sommerville’s “Why The News Makes Us Dumb” (FT, October 1991). Yet it did seem a decade or two ago that talk about journalistic “standards” had a measure of plausibility. Maybe it is simply that we were younger and more naive.

One should have no illusions about the media. Yes, the Archbishop is right, they should report the good news, too. And sometimes they will. But reporters are in the bad news business. The axiom will likely always hold, “Good news is no news.” What is called great reporting is a carrion feast. That is why journalists relish wars, disasters, and sensational scandal”most of all when scandal touches the presumably upright. Of course journalists are not entirely responsible for this. The appetite for the sensational and salacious is the seamier side of human nature, and reporters only pander to it. Pulitzer Prizes are reserved for those who have mastered the art of pandering. On that score there is really little difference in kind between the prestige media and the tabloids at the food store checkout counter. It is a rather artificial class distinction. One recalls the story, possibly apocryphal, of Churchill asking a lovely young thing at a party whether she would go to bed with him for a million pounds. She responds she would have to think about it. “And for five pounds?” he asks. “What do you think I am, a whore?” she protests. “My dear,” he responds, “we’ve already established that; we’re only haggling over the price.”

It would be a mistake, to be sure, to overlook the ideological factor in journalism. The biases that dominate the profession, so to speak, are well known. In the past year Pat Moynihan has written insightfully about “defining deviancy down,” and Charles Krauthammer has added to that with his concept of “defining deviancy up.” Put simply, what was once called deviant is now called normal and what was viewed as normal is now condemned as deviant. The main areas of deviancy redefinition are marriage, family, child-rearing, sexuality, and criminal behavior. The media, sometimes aided by the courts, are the chief practitioners of deviancy redefinition. In addition, and very pertinent to the Archbishop’s plaint, there is the media’s well-established attitude of indifference-to-hostility toward religion. Journalists have pleaded not guilty on that but, as Stanley Rothman has discussed in these pages (“Religion’s Bad Press,” January), the industry leaders who set the journalistic pace tend to view religion, when they think about it at all, as a vestigial phenomenon kept alive by the gullibility of the great unwashed.

So the Archbishop is right so far as he goes. But not quite right on the power of the media. “Their reach has become so great and their power so all-present.” Not quite. The good news is that they are not nearly so powerful as they and many others think. Consider the consoling fact that, in the New York metropolitan area, only one in twenty people gets the New York Times , and who knows how many of them actually read it. Throw in all the other papers and the picture doesn’t change that much. As for television news, survey after survey indicates that those who bother to watch do so with a robust and salutary skepticism, assuming that they are being lied to much, if not most, of the time.

Imagine the kind of country we would live in were CBS, NBC, ABC, the Times , and the Washington Post even a fraction as powerful as they and so many others think. There would, for example, be no pro-life movement, the dogma of church-state separationism would have entirely eliminated religious institutions from the fields of health, social service, and education, there would be no public protest against the paganization of public schools, Ronald Reagan and George Bush would never have been elected, and Anita Hill might today be on the Supreme Court, with Clarence Thomas in jail. Certainly 40 to 50 percent (probably the more accurate figure) of the American people would not be going to church each weekend. The news media pander, propagandize, and sometimes try to persuade. They undoubtedly have a coarsening and corrosive effect upon our public life, but they do not typically get their way. Occasional critiques such as Archbishop Keeler’s are useful. It is possible that in some newsroom or at some editorial desk a conscience may be resuscitated. But we shouldn’t expect too much.

Martin Luther wrote a little tract, “Can Soldiers, Too, Be Saved?” One might ask the same about reporters, or even, to stretch a point, about editors of a journal such as this one. The answer is almost certainly yes, the grace of God being infinite. We have only to add that some of our best friends are reporters. Honest. One of them says of her work, “It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.” She got part of it right.

But is there not another side to all this? Surely there are reporters and editors of integrity who manifest the virtues of objectivity, fairness, hard work, and relentless determination to tell the truth. Surely there is no denying that the media, for all their faults, can inform and elucidate and expose wrongdoing in high places, thus making an essential contribution to a free and self-governing society. Yes, all that is true, but it is the story line, so to speak, for another day. And even then it may not be necessary for us to comment, since the other side”the story about the necessity and heroic virtues of journalism”is incessantly celebrated by the news industry itself. It is another of the less attractive things about the enterprise.

Destiny Obeys Her Own Rhythm

Christopher Lasch is waging a grim battle with cancer, but he was able to deliver the commencement address at the University of Rochester some months ago. His title was, “The Baby Boomers: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow.” Lasch had this to say: “I had better explain at the outset that I include myself in much of what I plan to say about them, not because I was born after the war but because the real dividing line in recent American history”and this is one of the things that makes the demographical and essentially ahistorical concept of generations so treacherous”is the line between those who lived through the 1960s and those who didn’t. All of us who experienced the 60s, that profound upheaval after which nothing was ever the same again, were unavoidably marked for life. We thought, even those of us who rejected the more naive and self-indulgent illusions of the New Left, that we were somehow going to make a deep and lasting difference in human affairs that would leave things vastly better than they were. More than the Depression generation, we thought we had a rendezvous with destiny; and we have never quite been able to come to terms with the ensuing knowledge that destiny obeys her own rhythm and can’t be called up at will simply because it seems like a nice thing to have her on your side.”

The generation after the sixties, says Lasch, doesn’t even have a name, but that doesn’t prevent it from coming in for harsh criticism from those who say young people have failed to “keep the faith” with the earlier radicalism. “Abbie Hoffman and other relics of the 60s spent the latter part of their careers, and incidentally made a good deal of money in the process, berating college students for their lack of political commitment. Instead of marching and picketing and protesting and generally making themselves obnoxious, they were grinding away at their studies in the hope of getting jobs. The truth of the matter, however, which people like Hoffman never understood, is that today’s students are deeply skeptical of the kind of ideological appeals that inflamed and still inflame so many of their elders. They have inherited a perfectly terrible world, in many ways a terrifying world, and they have no illusions about making it dramatically better in the short run, or maybe even in the long run.”

Undergraduates today really have little interest in “the big theoretical nondebates about the nonissues of structuralism and post-structuralism and deconstruction and postmodernism and Marx and Lacan and Foucault (who figure in this discourse more as icons than as thinkers to be read and studied).” Students are bored by the intellectual chatter of their elders in academe, and not just because they’re only interested in jobs. Lasch continues: “Like all students, they’re looking for moral wisdom and intellectual guidance about the things that matter, which can be summarized in a single phrase as the conduct of life. They want to grow up; instead of which they’re exposed to forms of talk, ranging from misguided political advice about the beauty of political protest as a permanent way of life to advertisements on television featuring beach parties and fancy cars that restore the thrill of driving, forms of talk that implicitly encourage them to remain children. This is the deepest sense in which the young today are ill-served by their elders. They’re constantly told that these are the best years of their life, and they don’t believe it. Their experience contradicts the platitudes they’re supposed to find so appealing.”

Clinton on Religious Freedom

We leap at every occasion for favorable comment on the Clinton Administration. Regrettably, that has not provided us with much exercise in the past year. But the President did say some very good things a while back upon the signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). For instance, this: “The free exercise of religion has been called the first freedom”that which originally sparked the development of the full range of the Bill of Rights. Our founders cared a lot about religion. And one of the reasons they worked so hard to get the First Amendment into the Bill of Rights at the head of the class is that they well understood what could happen to this country, how both religion and government could be perverted if there were not some space created and some protection provided. They knew that religion helps to give our people the character without which a democracy cannot survive. They knew that there needed to be a space of freedom between government and people of faith that otherwise government might usurp.

“What [RFRA] basically says is that the government should be held to a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free exercise of religion. This judgment is shared by the people of the United States as well as by the Congress. We believe strongly that we can never”we can never be too vigilant in this work.”

That would seem to indicate that President Clinton understands”as many courts and scholars do not”that the First Amendment was designed to protect religion from the government, not the government from religion.

In a similar vein, and against the dogma that ours is a secular government in a secular society, Clinton urged politicians not to bifurcate their deepest convictions from their public responsibilities. “Let me make one other comment if I might before I close and sit down and sign this bill. There is a great debate now abroad in the land which finds itself injected into several political races about the extent to which people of faith can seek to do God’s will as political actors. I would like to come down on the side of encouraging everybody to act on what they believe is the right thing to do. There are many people in this country who strenuously disagree with me on what they believe are the strongest grounds of their faiths. I encourage them to speak out. I encourage all Americans to reach deep inside to try to determine what it is that drives their lives most deeply.”

There has been much skepticism about Clinton’s statements on religion, and open scoffing at his wife’s flights on “the politics of meaning.” A measure of skepticism is in order, and the First Lady’s effusions do sometimes invite hilarity. It makes political sense for Mr. Clinton to send regular signals that he is not indifferent to the religious and moral sensibilities of most Americans. But then, if one watches what he does and not just what he says, those signals get awfully confused. On the issues that really matter to many people”abortion, population control policies, sex education and family values, school choice”Clinton is as hard line as the party he represents and the people he appoints to office. Like Yale’s Stephen Carter in The Culture of Disbelief (a book Clinton has promoted on several occasions), Clinton sometimes seems to suggest that it is fine for religiously based views to be aired in the public square, so long as they don’t seriously impinge upon the business of governing.

The Two Arthurs on History

There are these two Arthur Schlesingers. The one says that “Reinhold Niebuhr is the father of us all,” and has a profound sense of the ambiguity and unruliness of history. The second Schlesinger is brimming with confidence about historical cycles and exactly what would have happened if his historical favorites (FDR, Churchill, et al.) had not done just what they did. The first Schlesinger has an essay in the Wall Street Journal , “The Future Outwits Us Again.” He quotes Lord Keynes’ observation that “The inevitable never happens. It is the unexpected always.” The first Schlesinger writes, “The inscrutability of history remains the salvation of human freedom and of human responsibility. The failure of prediction permits us to act as if our choices make a difference. For no one can prove that they don’t, and there is no other way that we can vindicate human dignity and contrive a moral existence.”

Then there is the second Schlesinger, reviewing in The New Republic John Charmley’s Churchill: The End of Glory . Charmley contends that Churchill made a monumental mistake in going to war with Hitler; the world would have turned out a much better place if Hitler and Stalin had been permitted to have at one another. Schlesinger thinks it a perfectly awful book, which it probably is. But he counters Charmley with a long list of the presumably inevitable consequences had Churchill not acted as he did. The Germans would have knocked out the Soviet Union early, Britain would have been invaded, the extermination of Jews and others would have been accelerated, the British Empire would have been dissolved more quickly than it was, etc. Of course Schlesinger may be right on all these points, but what happened to the humility of Keynes, not to mention Niebuhr, before the fickleness of history? The first Schlesinger’s humility in the philosophical abstract surrenders to the second Schlesinger’s determinism in the partisan particular. As it happens, both Charmley and Schlesinger are playing “what if,” and in our judgment Schlesinger has by far the better of the argument. But, as the first Arthur should remind the second, we do not know . And, as the first Arthur understands, that is the way it should be. God knows, and the promise is that one day we will, too.

Champions of a Lost Cause

Patrick Allitt teaches history at Emory and has just published Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America 1950-1985 (Cornell). It is eminently civil, engagingly written, and generally well-informed. He gives particular attention to Michael Novak and Garry Wills, the former having moved from left to right and the latter from right to left. It is a pity that Allitt stops at 1985, before “the Catholic moment” was promulgated by a definitely non-authoritative source. But his doleful conclusion reflects, presumably, his present estimation. He writes: “As in politics, so in religion: the Catholic new conservatives, no less than radical evangelical Protestants of the left and the right, thought of themselves as a morally exalted outsider group, standing in judgment over a sinful nation and a slothful church, holding out the promise of salvation for the nation and its people and calling on them for repentance and transformation. As the Catholic church transformed itself internally at Vatican II and as the place of Catholicism in American society lost its old distinctiveness during the 1960s, they fragmented and lost whatever faint hope they might once have had of presenting a coordinated program of religion-based social reform. In most cases they exhibited a dignity in defeat and, already familiar with the idea of speaking up for lost causes, stayed at their task as doggedly in the ‘conservative’ 1980s as they had done in the three previous decades. Meanwhile, their views remained attractive enough, even in defeat, to bring forth a new generation of forlorn-hope Catholic conservatives to carry on the struggle.”

Of course Mr. Allitt may be right. The Catholic and Evangelical intellectuals he has in mind may be doing nothing more than doggedly sticking with lost causes. But, in the Catholic case, Allitt, like most writers, falls prey to comparing the present apparent fragmentation with the undoubted cohesiveness of the Church in the era of Pius XII. In America, however, that cohesiveness was part and parcel of being an immigrant community that had succeeded on numerous scores but had not seriously engaged the intellectual or political culture. Today, Catholics and Evangelicals have, in large part, become cobelligerents in the culture wars and evince a growing confidence that theirs is the opportunity to advance their cause in the face of a multifaceted crisis of secular liberalism. True, it may all turn out to be for nought. Short of the ultimate promise, history comes with no guarantees. Mr. Allitt’s analysis would be the stronger, however, had he taken more fully into account the evidence of reformist (not reactionary) vitalities among conservative thinkers in American religion today.

Getting Tough On Crime in Wisconsin

“Apartment for rent. 1 bedroom, electric included, mature Christian handyman.” Beverly Schnell put that ad in the Hartford Times Press in December 1990. She now owes Wisconsin’s Civil Rights Bureau $8,000, having been found guilty of discriminating on the basis of sex (“handyman”) and religion (“Christian”). One wonders why “mature” did not get her charged with ageism. The Bureau has made it clear that she would be just as guilty if her for-rent ad had been placed in a church bulletin or a grocery store bulletin board. “I had put a general ad in the paper and got all kinds of weirdos,” said Ms. Schnell. “I got harassed by all kinds of people because of that ad. I live alone, and I needed some security and someone to help me with the house. I had no idea and no intention of discriminating against anybody. The terms ‘Christian’ and ‘handyman’ are common terms that I thought everybody uses.” Not anymore they can’t.

Apparently, Ms. Schnell used “Christian” to indicate reliable and upright in character. It is perhaps a nice compliment to Christians, but such compliments can be costly. If Ms. Schnell seriously meant that she would only rent to a professing and practicing Christian, she might be in really big trouble. As it is, she may only have to sell her house in order to pay the $8,000 penalty. LeAnna Ware, director of the Civil Rights Bureau, said, “Under the law, you don’t have a right to discriminate, so in effect you can’t put anyone you want in your house.” Put differently, you can’t keep anyone you don’t want out of your house. Civil rights means that you have lost control of your house. Civil rights has been turned to mean so many things, so why not this?

There is also an interesting subject/object distinction engaged here. Let’s say the subject is the person placing the ad, and the object the person responding. Can the subject be discriminating in how she describes herself? “Christian homeowner desiring security on premises and person with fix-it skills offers apartment for rent, 1 bedroom, electric included.” That leaves it for the respondent to infer that she’s looking for a Christian handyman. It is not clear whether the Civil Rights Bureau’s sleuths combing the classifieds would let that pass. The proposed ad describes the subject rather than the object of the search. Can it be a crime to describe oneself as one wishes? “Jewish philanthropic organization looking for an executive director.” One might reasonably infer they want a Jew. Perhaps that, too, is criminal in Wisconsin. The end result of this curious idea of discrimination is the criminalizing not of what you do to others but of what you are.

In fact, a lawyer friend points out, the classifieds are loaded with blatant discriminations. This is especially true of the “personals” in papers such as the Village Voice and somewhat classier publications such as the New York Review of Books . Trips, jobs, living space, companionship, and much else is tendered to those who meet explicitly stated criteria ranging from race, religion (or non-religion), and musical tastes to sadomasochistic proclivities. We expect that such classifieds are published even in Wisconsin. Ms. Ware’s Bureau would seem to have plenty of work on its hands. “Gay homeowner offers apartment for rent, 1 bedroom, electric included. Fun-loving handyman.” For some reason we doubt that that ad would trigger the attentions of the civil rights police.

We only regret that Ms. Schnell did not really intend to discriminate, that she did not as a matter of religious conviction insist upon a Christian handyman (alright, handyperson). If she had, we might have had an interesting test of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act just passed by Congress.

In that event, Ms. Ware’s office would have had to demonstrate a “compelling state interest” that prevents Beverly Schnell from having a Christian handyman in her house. Given the zealotry of the antidiscrimination constabulary, we do not doubt that Ms. Ware might have tried. Given the ease with which the slightest state interest is deemed to be compelling in overriding religious freedom, we do not doubt that she might have won. Then, instead of just facing the prospect of having to sell her house, Ms. Schnell might be facing truly onerous penalties. Perhaps Wisconsin has jail terms for middle-aged ladies who want a Christian handyman on the premises. Whom the gods would destroy . . .

Trimming Faith to the Academy

“Childs accuses those who presume to correct the biblical historical record of ‘blind arrogance.’ That charge might more easily be made against those who contemptuously dismiss modern scholarship in the name of the a priori truth of the biblical text.” That is John Collins of the University of Chicago going on in the Christian Century about the trespasses of Brevard Childs ( Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments , Fortress) and of Jon Levenson ( The Hebrew Bible, The Old Testament and Historical Criticism , Westminster). Part of Levenson’s book appeared as an article in this journal; Collins appears to hold that as an additional point against it. Both Levenson, who teaches at Harvard, and Childs, who teaches at Yale, hold that the Bible should be read as the scripture of the believing community. Collins seems to believe it should be examined as a more or less interesting item in the literature of antiquity.

He accuses Levenson and Childs of “Barthianism,” which some might take as a compliment. “It is clear then,” writes Collins, “that Levenson operates within a framework of orthodoxy and believes that Christians should do likewise.” Well, there you have it. Collins says that “any position can be argued for, so long as the arguments are based on commonly accepted premises.” Against Childs and Levenson, he contends that “biblical theology is an exercise of the academy, and ecclesial use is secondary.” “Childs and Levenson make the ecclesial (or synagogal) context primary, but have difficulty in explaining why such a confessional activity should be located at Yale or Harvard.” In response to Collins, one might observe that, for any believing Christian, the academy is not his church; the Church is his church. The same is true analogously for the believing Jew.

Collins appears to hold that those who teach Christianity and Judaism in the academy can legitimately do so only so long as they don’t believe what they teach. His real criticism would seem to be that Childs and Levenson do not in the books at hand make the intellectual argument for being a Christian or a Jew. But that, of course, is not what these books are about. The “commonly accepted premises” of the academy, at least with respect to the Bible, are agnostic or atheistic. Were the arguments of Childs and Levenson to prevail, and were theirs to become the commonly accepted premises for studying the Bible in the academy, would Collins approve? It seems unlikely.

At a faculty meeting at yet another university-related divinity school, a new faculty member was accepted after he had made it emphatically clear that he would never let his personal faith impinge upon his teaching and scholarship. In informal faculty conversation afterward, the question was bantered whether the divinity school was “open” enough to admit an atheist to the faculty. One senior professor was indiscreet enough to opine that they had just accepted one. In John Collins, the University of Chicago may have another. We speak only of methodological atheism, of course.

John Paul’s “Second Thoughts” on Capitalism

“The socialists you will have always with you,” as Jesus did not say but as seems probably true. Commentators of a socialist bent have been making much of two recent statements by Pope John Paul II, contending that they clarify, or maybe correct, his 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus . In that encyclical, it will be remembered, the Pope offered an extended moral-theological argument in favor of “the new capitalism””or, as the Pope prefers, “the free economy” or “business economy.” Some opponents of democratic capitalism put themselves through fearful contortions to demonstrate that John Paul did not say what he said or, if he did, what he said is nothing new, being in perfect harmony with their anticapitalist version of Catholic social doctrine. For the most part, however, the foes of the market economy studiously ignored Centesimus Annus , as they and their friends have ignored most of the major teaching documents of this pontificate.

In fact, they were just pretending to ignore Centesimus Annus , as is evident in the alacrity with which they have pounced on the two aforementioned statements. The first was made in a meeting with members of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In his address, the Pope referred to “a world divided.” In this world “often the selfishness of a few will not permit the weaker ones to benefit fully from resources and other goods, from commerce, scientific discoveries, the benefits of new technology; all this can help to negate the equal right of every people to be seated at the table of the common banquet.” This, it is suggested, shows that the Pope, far from favoring market economics, recognizes that capitalism is a system in which the rich exploit the poor, and that justice demands a massive redistribution of goods. Of course the address shows no such thing.

Nobody can reasonably doubt that capitalists, too, are not immune to selfishness. A short-sighted selfishness can indeed lead business people to think that it is in their interest to exclude others from the benefits of commercial, scientific, and technological advance. But that, as John Paul argued vigorously in Centesimus Annus , is contrary to the theory and practice of the market economy. The goal, the Pope insisted and most capitalists agree, is to include all in “an ever-expanding circle of productivity and exchange.” That is precisely the point he is making in the address to the FAO. He urges his listeners “to avoid clear symptoms of protectionism in its various forms, which constitute the principal obstacle to trade and create actual barriers to markets for the developing countries.” Far from criticizing free trade, he urges an international order of greater economic freedom.

Removing any doubt about the Pope’s intention is this: “Thus the movement towards a new world order of trade which does not penalize agricultural progress in developing countries should be put into operation as quickly as possible, thus fostering the integration of their potential into the economies of the rich countries .” (Emphasis added.) He could hardly make it more clear that the free economies of the rich countries are not the problem but the solution for the development of the poor ones. If your concern is for the poor, you don’t suggest that they integrate with their enemies. The problem rightly targeted by the Pope is that too many capitalists do not really believe in a free market that can benefit all. Socialist nostalgia gets no support from the FAO address, which is entirely consonant with the argument of Centesimus Annus .

“Thanks to Communism” The second statement is of particular interest, coming from an extended interview with journalist Jas Gawronski which was published in the Milan newspaper La Stampa and then reprinted in the official Vatican paper, L’Osservatore Romano . As journalists are wont to do, Gawronski, who is writing a book about John Paul, tries to get the Pope to say something newsworthy, i.e., controversial. At one point Gawronski says that, from what the Pope is saying, “I cannot help thinking that you are more opposed to capitalism than to communism.” At another point, citing the problems of war, drugs, and decadence in Eastern Europe, Gawronski asks, “Do you ever ask yourself if it was really worth defeating communism?”

In response to such provocative inquiries, the pope emphasizes that he has criticized and will continue to criticize “the degenerate aspects of capitalism.” His target is what he repeatedly refers to as “unbridled capitalism” that is unchecked by culture, morality, and just regulation. Again, this is entirely consistent with the teaching of Centesimus Annus , in which he associates himself with Leo XIII’s criticism of nineteenth-century capitalism. He acknowledges, as he has before, the “kernel of truth” in Marxism which is the declared concern for the poor and social solidarity. He then leaves no doubt, however, that “in the system of real socialism” even that truth is denied. The market economy comes with a price, and the Pope is deeply concerned about unemployment, social dislocation, and the “whole ultra-liberal, consumerist system which is devoid of values, and introducing it with the power of propaganda.”

He notes the ways in which the nomenklatura of the old Communist system have unfairly taken advantage of post-Communist freedoms. “As you can see,” the Pope says, “this transition from one system to another is very difficult. The price is also very high: an increase in unemployment, poverty, and misery.” Nobody even slightly acquainted with the situation in Central and Eastern Europe today should cavil at that. The point is that, although very difficult, the transition from a command economy to a free economy is essential. At the end of the twentieth century, capitalism is the only game in town. The Pope persists, rightly, in holding out the hope that the “new capitalism” he favors can be adopted without all the moral and cultural depredations that have accompanied market economies in the past and at present. But there is no question but that the transition is underway and cannot be stopped. Some of the social ravages, the Pope believes, can be avoided, or at least tempered.

For many decades, those who are hostile to capitalism have proposed a “third way.” In Centesimus Annus , John Paul makes clear that this is an illusion. Gawronski asks once again, “Is this an appeal to search for a third way between capitalism and socialism?” The Pope responds: “I fear that this third way is another utopia. On the one hand we have communism, a utopia which, put into practice, has proved to be a tragic failure. On the other hand, there is capitalism which, in its practical aspect, at the level of its basic principles, would be acceptable from the point of view of the Church’s social teaching, since in various ways it is in conformity with the natural law . . . . Unfortunately there are abuses-various forms of injustice, exploitation, violence, and arrogance”which some people make of a practice which is in itself acceptable, and so we arrive at the forms of unbridled capitalism. These are the abuses of capitalism which should be condemned.”

Gawronski asks whether in reuniting the two Europes”post-Communist Europe and the West”one has more to lose than the other. John Paul says, “I would probably maintain that Eastern Europe could lose more, with regard to its identity, because Eastern Europe, through all its experiences imposed by totalitarianism has matured . . . ” Gawronski cannot keep himself from interjecting, “Thanks to communism, then!” The Pope calmly continues, “It has matured rather in the process of self-defense and the struggle against Marxist totalitarianism. In the East another human dimension has been preserved. Perhaps this was also one of the reasons why, fifteen years ago, a Pope precisely from Poland was elected. Certain values, in the East, were less disparaged. If one lives under a system which is systematically atheistic, even in a country like Poland, one realizes more clearly what religion means. One realizes something which is not always evident in the West: namely that God is the source of human dignity, the one, ultimate, and absolute source. The Easterner has realized this, the prisoner in the Gulag realized it, Solzhenitsyn realized it. In the West, man does not see this so clearly. He sees it up to a certain point. His awareness is to a large extent secularized.”

An appreciation of the uses of adversity is not an endorsement of adversity. One would like to think that John Paul is right about the greater moral and spiritual maturity of those in the East. Whether or not he is has nothing to do with his unblinking recognition of what he calls the human tragedy of “the system of real socialism.” Yes, “thanks to communism” the East has had a greater experience of suffering. And “thanks to Hitler” Jews have a deeper understanding of evil.

These are hard times for proponents of a “third way” and those who claim that “real socialism hasn’t been tried yet.” The judgment of history (to which Marxism appealed as the ultimate arbiter) and the teaching of the Church have turned decisively against them. One is inclined not to blame them too harshly for sniffing around for whatever consolation can be found. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for clear thinking and the prospect for world development, they can derive no legitimate consolation from the FAO address or the La Stampa interview. They should go back to read again, or read for the first time, Centesimus Annus . Not, of course, that they will find any consolation there, but it might liberate them from the utopian delusions whose persistent failures make them so disconsolate.

Bankrolling Zealotry

It’s called the Agency for International Development. That has a nice ring to it. The reality is not so pretty. The Administrator of AID, appointed by President Clinton, is J. Brian Atwood. Mr. Atwood lost no time in making clear that his number one priority is population control. Reversing the policy of the Reagan and Bush Administrations, last November AID gave $13.2 million to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). That is just a down payment on a $75 million commitment to IPPF over the next five years. According to IPPF, this is 20 percent of its total budget for Third World population control programs. But this is by no means the entirety of the Clinton Administration’s commitment to indu