The Public Square
Some readers have complained that First Things , and I in particular, have had a great deal to say about just-war doctrine but relatively little to say about the application of that doctrine to the conflict in the Middle East. The reason is that just-war doctrine is central to the mission of the journal while military and geopolitical questions are not. Closely related to that, I have a measure of expertise in moral theology while on those other questions, as Will Rogers said, I only know what I read in the newspapers. To be more precise, what I read in the newspapers, opinion magazines, and academic journals, and learn from people better informed than I and in whose judgment I have confidence. Having said that, I do have some definite views on U.S. policy in the Middle East. Herewith an interview I did with ZENIT, the Rome-based news service, on March 10, 2003, shortly before the invasion of Iraq. Following the interview, I offer reflections on how the situation appears two and a half years later.
ZENIT : On whether there is a just cause for an attack against Iraq, many observers question if there is enough evidence of a direct connection between Baghdad and the September 11 attacks. Others doubt that there is clear evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature by Iraq against other countries. What do you think?
RJN : First it must be said that”although it appears that military action against Iraq may be only a matter of days or weeks away”faithful Catholics are joined with the Holy Father John Paul II in fervent prayer that war may yet be avoided. As he has said, war represents a defeat of the right ordering of peace”what St. Augustine called tranquillitas ordinis . In history nothing is inevitable, and with God all things are possible.
St. Thomas Aquinas and other teachers of the just-war tradition make it clear that war may sometimes be a moral duty in order to repel aggression, overturn injustice, and protect the innocent. The just cause in this case is the disarmament of Iraq, a cause consistently affirmed by the Holy Father and reinforced by 17 resolutions of the Security Council.
Whether that cause can be vindicated without resort to military force, and whether it would be wiser to wait and see what Iraq might do over a period of months or years, are matters of prudential judgment beyond the competence of religious authority.
In just-war doctrine, the Church sets forth the principles which it is the responsibility of government leaders to apply to specific cases (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 2309). Saddam Hussein has for eleven years successfully defied international authority. He has used and, it appears, presently possesses and is set upon further developing weapons of mass destruction, and he has publicly stated his support for the September 11 attack and other terrorist actions.
In the judgment of the United States and many other countries, he poses a grave and imminent threat to America, world peace and the lives of innumerable innocents. If the judgment is correct, the use of military force to remove that threat, in the absence of plausible alternatives, is both justified and necessary. Heads of government who are convinced of the correctness of that judgment would be criminally negligent and in violation of their solemn oath to protect their people if they did not act to remove such a threat.
As a theologian and moralist, I have no special competence to assess the threat posed by Iraq. On the basis of available evidence and my considered confidence in those responsible for making the pertinent decisions, I am inclined to believe and I earnestly pray that they will do the right thing.
Strong objections have been raised to the concept of preventive or preemptive uses of military force to overthrow threatening regimes or to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Is the use of pre-emptive force justified according to just war principles?
Frequent reference to preventive or preemptive use of military force, and even to wars of choice, have only confused the present discussion. War, if it is just, is not an option chosen but a duty imposed. In the present circumstance, military action against Iraq by a coalition of the willing is in response to Iraq’s aggression; first against Kuwait in 1991, then in defiance of the terms of surrender demanding its disarmament, then in support of, if not direct participation in, acts of terrorism. This is joined to its brutal aggression against its own citizens, and its possession of weapons of mass destruction which it can use or permit others to use for further aggression.
To wait until the worst happens is to wait too long, and leaders guilty of such negligence would rightly be held morally accountable. In the Catholic tradition there is, in fact, a considerable literature relevant to these questions. Augustine, Aquinas, Francisco de Vitoria, and Francisco Suarez, for example, all wrote on prudential action in the face of aggressive threats. The absence of reference to such recognized authorities in the current discussion among Catholics is striking.
Many voices within and outside the Church ask that the United States not go ahead with an attack [in Iraq] without specific UN authorization. Is UN approval just a prudential course of action, which could in the last resort be bypassed? Or is it obligatory, given the provisions of the UN charter and the growing importance of international institutions like the UN?
Resolution 1441 of the Security Council, unanimously approved last November, demands that Iraq immediately disarm or face the consequences. Nobody claims that Iraq has complied, and proposals for extended timelines and the like appear to invite no more than a repeat of the defiance of the past eleven years.
No further UN authorization is required. The larger and more interesting question is posed by the frequently heard assertion that the United Nations is the locus of legitimate authority in international affairs. That is asserted but it has not been argued, certainly not in terms of Catholic doctrine regarding legitimate authority. In view of the United Nations’ frequent hostility to the Church on family policy, population, the sacredness of human life, and related matters, some Catholic leaders may come to regret their exaggerated and, I believe, ill-considered statements about the moral authority of the United Nations.
Moreover, if the United Nations is not prepared to support the enforcement of its own resolutions”resolutions which it cannot itself enforce”it is likely to go the way of the old League of Nations. The coalition led by the United States intends to act in support of the United Nations. If a minority on the Security Council rejects that support, the credibility and future usefulness of the United Nations will be gravely undermined.
There is a necessary connection between power and moral responsibility. Every nation acts and should act in its own interest, in the hope that interests can be coordinated to serve the common good. The United Nations has sometimes been useful toward that end. Many would understandably regret its self-inflicted diminishment or demise. But in its absence I expect that new institutions more attuned to the nexus of power and responsibility would emerge in order to coordinate national interests in the service of peace, never forgetting that peace as tranquillitas ordinis will always be sadly deficient short of Our Lord’s return in glory.
On the question of proportionality, many fear that an attack could destabilize the Middle East and cause even greater hostility among Muslims. Others point to the high cost that civilians might pay, due to the precarious nature of life in Iraq. Is the United States giving sufficient weight to these dangers?
It is striking that the Bush administration has addressed the Iraq crisis with very specific reference to Catholic just war doctrine, including proportionality. Widespread statements in parts of Europe about American inexperience and cowboy impetuosity would be insulting were they not so adolescent. They are especially unbecoming when made by distinguished prelates associated with the Holy See.
To take but the last hundred years, the record of the United States in combating tyranny, defending freedom, providing humanitarian aid, motoring economic development, and securing a modicum of world order compares very favorably with that of, for instance, Germany, France, Russia, or Italy.
You ask about possible consequences of military action, including Muslim reaction and civilian casualties. The simple answer is that such consequences are unknowable and therefore unknown, except to God. I know that possible consequences have been considered, day and night for many months, by competent parties. I know there is a determination to minimize damage to innocents, and a reasoned expectation that successful action will weaken Islamist enemies of civilization and strengthen the Muslim forces of decency and freedom. Nobody can know for sure what will happen.
Religious leaders should bring more to the public discussion than their fears. Nervous hand-wringing is not a moral argument. At this point, we should, with the Holy Father, be on our knees in prayer that Iraq will disarm without military action. If war comes, we must pray that a just cause prevails”quickly, with minimal damage to innocents, and with a long-term determination to help the Iraqi people then freed from a brutal tyranny.
The Church cannot bless this military action as though it were a Christian crusade. After the war, if there is to be a war, the Church, and the Holy Father in particular, will be indispensable as a dialogue partner in moving Islam away from the most ominously destructive possibilities of a clash of civilizations.
In sum, military action in order to disarm Iraq can be morally justified in terms of just-war doctrine. Whether, in the retrospect of history, it will be viewed as a prudent course of action, nobody can know. If such action is undertaken, however, it seems to me that we have no moral alternative to praying that a just cause will prevail justly.
It is now more than two years since I gave that ZENIT interview, and the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have not been found. Some say that they never existed, others that they are still hidden or were sent elsewhere, probably to Syria, when the invasion was imminent. I don’t know, but for purposes of discussion let’s say they did not exist at the time, even though it is known that Saddam used such weapons against his own people years earlier. The morally pertinent fact is that not only the United States but every major country’s intelligence service”including those of Britain, France, and Germany”believed Saddam had or was very close to having weapons of mass destruction, and that was also the premise of the unanimous ultimatum of the Security Council in the fall of 2002. This may say a great deal about the competence of the intelligence services, but it says nothing about the moral legitimacy of the decision to disarm Saddam. A partial but pertinent analogy is a police officer who shoots a person who is shooting at him, only to discover that the suspect was using a toy capgun. Few would accuse the officer of responding inappropriately.
There has been considerable talk about the Downing Street Memo in which a British director of intelligence offered his opinion that the Bush administration was preparing to remove Saddam and was spinning intelligence to support that intention. He also said that Washington had no adequate plans for what would happen after an invasion. That is interesting, but I fail to see its relevance to the justice of the war. One expects the White House and the Pentagon to be planning for all kinds of contingencies. The implementation of such plans is another matter. The British official had the impression that the decision to implement had already been made in the summer of 2002. The Bush administration says the final decision was made only after Colin Powell’s failed appeal to the United Nations in early February of 2003. I don’t know. In world affairs, as in everyday life, decisions move back and forth from the possible to the probable to the definite. The gist of the memo, however, is that Washington did not do sufficient planning, especially with respect to the aftermath of invasion, and that may well be the case.
I listened to several hours of the rump hearings convened by Representative John Conyers and supported by leftward representatives such as Barney Frank, Maxine Walters, and Jerrold Nadler. They’re calling for withdrawal from Iraq, and much was made of the Downing Street Memo, together with numerous conspiracy theories of the kind readily garnered from the Internet. It was show-and-tell time for what Richard Hofstadter once called the paranoid style in American politics. The administration is fortunate in its more strident critics. There are, to be sure, more thoughtful critics who deserve a careful hearing.
Opponents of U.S. policy continue to invoke John Paul II’s opposition to the war, and I address that in the ZENIT interview. When in November 2003, 18 of the 3,000 Italian soldiers in Iraq were killed, the Holy Father condemned the vile act of the killers and said the soldiers were on a mission of peace. In the days and weeks following, Camillo Cardinal Ruini, who is head of the Italian bishops’ conference and was very close to the pope, sharply criticized pacifism and anti-Americanism and declared that the Church strongly supports the vision of a more free and just world. The Holy See hoped that war could be avoided, and when war came hoped for a just outcome. As noted also in these pages, after the coalition action in Iraq, the more strident curial voices of opposition were silenced or significantly muted.
Questions come hard and fast from many quarters. It was a mistake not to put more troops on the ground in the first place, some say. Instances of the torture of prisoners have been highlighted and officially acknowledged, and, one has reason to think, effectively addressed. Serious questions are raised about the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists. A great mistake was made, it is said, in disbanding the Iraqi army and excluding members of the Saddam regime from participation in a new government. And always the discussion returns to the more than 1,800 American soldiers killed, and to the question of how many more American lives and how many more billions of dollars will be exacted before the job is done. And to the question: How will we know when the job is done? Or are we in a permanent state of war?
A recent poll asks Americans: All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting or not? Almost 60 percent said No. The benefits to the Iraqi people who have been liberated from a murderous regime that killed hundreds of thousands of people is quite another matter. And few would deny that the American-led demonstration of resolve is related to a movement toward decency and democracy in countries as various as Ukraine and Lebanon, with ripples of hopeful change in Egypt and even Iran and Syria. Has the action in Iraq checked or exacerbated radical Islam’s war of terrorism against the West? For an answer, pick your experts. Exclude those who have a track record of contempt for Bush, along with his uncritical partisans, and the weight of opinion is that U.S. policy has made a difference for the better. On these questions I read very carefully Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins. Would bombings by Islamist radicals in Madrid, London, and elsewhere have happened without the invasion of Iraq? On the basis of the stated aims of those who sponsor such terrorist acts, there is reason to think so.
The question of whether any military action is worth it is hard to answer. How much is a human life worth, whether American or Iraqi? Sub specie aeternitatis , every human life is of infinite value. In the calculus of temporal affairs, whether in war or in the designing of automobiles, the loss of lives is weighed against other goods. Many thought the American Civil War was not worth it. There was and still is the judgment of some that American participation in World War II was not worth it. The inevitable question is: What would have been the consequences of alternative policies? All agree that Saddam Hussein aimed, with the help of weapons of mass destruction, to dominate the Middle East. Had he succeeded, would we now or next year be fighting him under much more adverse circumstances? I don’t know, but I know it is a legitimate question. About the contingencies of history, we make decisions on a postulate of ignorance.
The goal of U.S. policy is clear enough. Consider Bush’s second inaugural. Whether one finds the soaring rhetoric inspiring or over the top, there is no doubt about the direction:
We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.
So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.
This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.
The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America’s influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America’s influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom’s cause.
We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. When our Founders declared a new order of the ages; when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty; when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner Freedom Now”they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty.
There you have it, the unfurling of the banners of idealism joined to the qualifications of realism, although, to be sure, not qualifications enough for some who call themselves realists. Recall Herbert Butterfield’s observation that realism is not a school of thought but simply a boast. The address is a statement of national purpose in international affairs. Others are made nervous by the intimations of national mission and even destiny. But the eventual triumph of freedom is a hope; it is not America’s task to achieve, and certainly not to achieve alone. The address simply declares that America is on the side of its achievement.
I have no doubt that President Bush is sincere, recognizing that his sincerity is precisely what frightens some of his critics. Not only in his speeches, and not only in the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq in the past two years, but in very publicly receiving the victims of tyrannies, in bolstering diplomatic initiatives favoring democracy, and in numerous other ways, he has tried to underscore that America is on the side of freedom’s cause. But one may wonder whether it could ever really be the case that America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. One may wish it to be always the case and hope it to be ordinarily the case, while remembering St. Augustine’s caution that politics, including politics among nations, is inescapably marked by libido dominandi , the lust for power, advantage, and glory. American exceptionalism does not extend to immunity from that truth.
There is the underlying assumption that what is good for America is good for the world. It is a pleasing thought, although not widely shared among those who are envious and resentful of America, and it is rudely rejected by anti-Americans, both foreign and domestic, who believe that what is good for America is bad for the world. Declared U.S. foreign policy under Bush has abandoned the lodestar of stability to follow freedom’s moving star of change. The hope, of course, is that a world more free will be a world of greater security, also for America. As is frequently said, democracies do not go to war with one another, and it is frequently said because it is generally true.
In world affairs, as in human affairs more generally, somebody, or a cooperative of somebodies, has to take the lead. In the Vietnam era it was thought that the idea of America as the world’s policeman had been thoroughly discredited. But where bad people are up to mischief and great wickedness, it is a very good thing to have a policeman on the beat. The image of policeman is quite modest. He has limited powers under the law to enforce the law. When there is no superior authority and he has accepted the task that is his by default, he must the more rigorously impose discipline and limits upon himself. It is necessary to have a policeman, and what other candidates are there? Europe? China? Russia? To ask is to receive the answer. The United Nations? To ask is to invite derision.
This does not mean the United States is Gary Cooper at high noon. For one thing, others may come to the nation’s aid. More important, world affairs are not like a decisive shoot-out. There are numerous actors, interests, ambitions, and fears in play. It is a matter of deterring and enticing, punishing and threatening to punish, encouraging and rewarding”and doing it all at the same time. Former Secretary of State George Shultz was fond of saying that the conduct of world affairs is seldom a matter of choosing between war and peace. War and peace is not an on-off switch. It is more, he said, like sitting at the control panel of a hundred rheostats, applying or reducing power in order to achieve a measure of equilibrium. George W. Bush’s addendum is that equilibrium must be decisively tilted toward democracy and freedom.
Even if one agrees with all or most of the above, it does not answer the question of Iraq. There are thoughtful people, both liberal and conservative, who think that regime change in Iraq was a disaster in both conception and execution, and not all of them can be easily dismissed as isolationists. I agree with and have often cited John Quincy Adams’ caution that America must not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. On September 11, a monster came to us. If he comes again with similar or greater force, which I expect is more than possible, Americans will support, indeed demand, an even more forceful response.
Among the reasons for Bush’s reelection in 2004 is that he ran as a war president. But now, without the shock of another September 11, people are growing weary of war and the costs, in both lives and dollars, that war exacts. It is not, I suspect, because we are a peace-loving people but because we are a comfortable people. The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations, said the president.
They are stirring words, even if one knows that tyranny will never be decisively ended short of Our Lord’s return in glory, and that, apart from those directly engaged in matters military and diplomatic, Americans are concentrated on many other things.
George W. Bush has provided a fresh conceptual framework for America’s role in the world, and has acted upon it with remarkable energy. Whether the energy is matched by wisdom is debatable and is, in fact, hotly debated. He believes, and urges us to believe, that idealism is realism. We do not have to choose between national interests (such as oil) or national commitments (such as the security of Israel) and our moral responsibility in world affairs; they are all of a piece.
It is a bold and comprehensive proposal, and it may well be vindicated. It may be unfair that such a proposal will stand or fall upon the outcome in Iraq, but so it probably is. If there is not another September 11, and if there is not another major conflict to distract attention from Iraq, and if two years from now the situation there seems to be only more of the same, except with many more Americans dead, the Bush proposal will be judged a reckless failure, as many are rushing to judge it now.
There are other and more positive ifs, of course, and they are confidently asserted by the administration every day. I believe the confidence is not feigned, and I hope it is warranted. America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. We should all want to believe that, and some of us can succeed in believing that it is approximately true. As I have written on many occasions: On balance, and considering the alternatives, America has been and is a force for good in the world. The Bush proposal ups the ante on how much good America can be for the world. If he is wrong, and considering the alternatives, the consequences would likely be disastrous, both in domestic politics and world affairs. Which is good reason to hope he is right.
Messianic Jews: A Third Way?
At Beth Israel Hospital, on First Avenue and Seventeenth Street, just around the corner from where I live, there was in 1994 a round-the-clock vigil of crowds of Hasidic Jews keeping watch as their rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, slowly died. He was ninety-two years old and left no designated successor to head the Lubavitcher movement, which has enterprises around the world. Some of his followers believe he will rise from the dead and this will inaugurate the final messianic kingdom. The significance of such messianic expectations among Jews has been sharply debated in these pages by David Berger and David Singer (see FT, May 2003).
A different kind of Jewish messianism is today found among the twenty to thirty thousand Jews who have accepted Jesus as the Messiah but who, insisting that they are still Jews, indeed that they are more fully Jews by virtue of following the Jewish Messiah, have formed messianic synagogues. There are over three hundred such congregations, most of them affiliated with the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC), the International Association of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (IAMCS), and the International Messianic Jewish Alliance (IMJA). Jews in the Holy Land who have become Catholic have been given their own bishop, and the renewal movement founded by Kiko Arguello and encouraged by Pope John Paul II, which is known as the Neocatechumenal Way, has established on the top of Mount Korazym, near the Sea of Galilee, Domus Galilaeae, where on Saturdays Catholics, messianic Jews, and Orthodox Jews gather to praise the God of Israel.
Admittedly, it can get somewhat confusing. It is a confusion that the Church has from time to time tried to prevent by insisting that one is either a Jew or a Christian. Jesus-believing Jews who continued to practice Judaism were excommunicated at the Second Council of Nicea (787), and there was, for instance, this seventh-century profession of faith for Jewish converts: I do here and now renounce every right and observance of the Jewish religion, detesting all its most solemn ceremonies and tenets that in former days I kept and held. In future I will practice no rite or celebration connected with it, nor any custom of my past error, promising neither to seek it out nor to perform it. That was thirteen hundred years ago, and some insist it is still the only course of religious integrity.
Theologian Ellen Charry, a convert from Judaism, writes that the religion attributed to Jesus by the Gospels overturns nearly every Jewish belief and practice . . . . Christians do not worship a Jewish Messiah”they worship the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God incarnate. Messianic Jews, she believes, represent a duplicitous tertium quid that has neither Jewish nor Christian theological integrity, no matter how sincere its adherents may be. Rabbi David Novak is emphatic that Jews who accept Jesus are still Jews, although very bad Jews, while Michael Wyschogrod (in his book Abraham’s Promise ) insists, as we have discussed in these pages, that such Jews”Cardinal Lustiger of Paris, for instance”are still bound to be Torah observant.
A useful overview of these disputes is provided by David J. Rudolph in Messianic Jews and Christian Theology, an essay in a recent issue of the ecumenical journal Pro Ecclesia . Rudolph’s contention, directly contrary to that of Charry, is that messianic Jews constitute a kind of third community that overlaps both Judaism and Christianity. Presumably they could be completely integrated into the Church while maintaining aspects of Jewish identity and practice but in reality, he says, this has resulted in complete assimilation. Messianic Jews, he contends, need communities of their own. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how this can be squared with Catholic ecclesiology. And it is very improbable that messianic Jews will be included, as Rudolph says they should be included, in the Jewish-Christian dialogue.
That being said, the community of messianic Jews seems to be growing and is developing theologically sophisticated arguments that, however apparently eccentric, should not be ignored. I confess to being more than a mite uneasy with some of the initiatives of the Neocatechumenal Way in this connection, but it must be admitted that the Church is still probing toward a fuller understanding of what St. Paul, in Romans 9:11, called the mystery of God’s purposes in the relationship between the Church and the people of Israel.
That probing goes on, Paul suggests, against an eschatological horizon, and it may be that ours is a time and the growth of messianic Judaism is a catalyst for understanding, just a little more clearly, the mystery of God’s plan.
While We’re At It
It was axiomatic for the early Fathers of the Church that Scripture interprets Scripture. It was further understood that Christ is the Logos who speaks and is spoken of in all the words ( logoi ) of Scripture. This was a theme addressed by our Robert Louis Wilken in a lecture to the Catholic bishops before their June meeting in Chicago. In the last hundred years and more, much biblical scholarship has been preoccupied with an antiquarian search for the original meaning of texts divorced from the living voice of Scripture. Robert Jenson takes up these questions in a recent issue of Pro Ecclesia : Nor do such observations impose alien doctrine on the Old Testament. Gerhard von Rad’s observation, that it was not a succession of words that came to the succession of prophets, but always the same Word who came to each prophet in turn, passed me by when I was hearing his lectures, but has latterly worked its way into the very fabric of my theology. That the word came to . . . ’ cannot mean that God sent some words to one prophet and then another batch to another prophet and so on, if for no other reason than that they quote each other. This latter phenomenon would utterly falsify the prophetic claim, were it not that they are all hearing the same thing, or rather, indeed momentarily embodying the same One. Were all the prophets one prophet, they would be the incarnate Word”which is precisely what is supposed to have happened with Jesus. The reason it can be true that the prophets tell of’ Christ is not that they made promises that happened to be fulfilled by his coming”and others that were not”but that Christ is the one who spoke by them, testifying to himself. Moreover, once we note this we will perceive similar structures in the other genres of Old Testament witness. Thus, for a key instance, we may ask: Who cries out to the Lord in the Psalms, or praises him, or celebrates pilgrimage to the place of his Presence? The answer that emerges from the Psalms themselves is the people of Israel. For even the individual psalms of lament’ are in the Psalter because they did not remain the property of whoever first uttered any of them, but were incorporated in a prayer-and-hymn book for the great congregation.’ But if the Church’s basic christological claims are true, the congregation of this congregation is Jesus as the Christ. St. Augustine would speak of the totus Christus , Christ as head of his body and just so as one person with those who are his body. It is finally this totus Christus who prays”who always prayed”in the Spirit’s Temple, whether of Jerusalem or of the Church.
In 1984 John Paul II asked Joaquin Navarro-Valls to reorganize and run the Vatican press office, which he has been doing ever since. Benedict XVI has reappointed him, and he’s staying on. A former physician, psychiatrist, and journalist, Navarro-Valls is described by everyone as personable and super-competent”although, as is to be expected, journalists complain that they do not always get what they want from him. He recently gave an unusually personal interview to Stefania Rossini of L’Espresso . At the moment of John Paul’s death, the people in the room broke into a Te Deum , he reports. The religious sisters, the secretary, and the few others who were present spontaneously intoned it to thank God, not for his death of course, but for those eighty-four years that were so fruitful. I myself found it extraordinarily difficult in that moment to recite the usual prayers on behalf of the deceased. Has the transition to a new pontificate been difficult? It has been very easy. There is a twofold continuity between the two pontiffs, on both the personal and the intellectual levels. John Paul II was the one who called Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the beginning of his pontificate, and they carried out a continual exchange of ideas. If you only knew the delight of witnessing a conversation between those two! On the one side the philosopher-pope, on the other the cardinal-theologian, and between them an uninterrupted flow. Conflicts between Church and state seem to be sharpening in Spain and elsewhere. Navarro-Valls responds: Do you want my opinion? There should be separation, but not mutual ignorance. Church and state are two distinct realities that come together in the citizen and in the believer. From this point of view, the secular state is a great victory for humanity, a sphere of liberty in which all, believers and nonbelievers, should be able to express themselves freely. Not a bad formulation, that.
A leading advocate of same-sex marriage is William N. Eskridge, author of Gaylaw: Challenging Apartheid in the Closet , who writes that building law upon the gay experience involves the reconfiguration of family”de-emphasizing blood, gender, and kinship ties and emphasizing the value of interpersonal commitment. In our legal culture the linchpin of family law has been the marriage between a man and a woman who have children through procreative sex. Gay experience with families we choose’ delinks family from gender, blood, and kinship. Gay families of choice are relatively ungendered, raise children that are biologically unrelated to one or both parents, and often form no more than a shadowy connection between the larger kinship groups. What was the institution of marriage, with all its familial and inter-familial constitutive parts, is now reduced without remainder to interpersonal commitment. The quotation from Eskridge is included in a timely study published by the Institute for American Values, The Future of Family Law. The study examines proposals by the American Law Institute and the Law Commission of Canada for the legal redefinition of marriage. In criticism of such truly radical proposals, the authors write, Institutions like marriage and parenthood are not simply mechanisms to fulfill individual needs and aspirations. They are also thick, multi-layered realities that speak to the needs for meaning and identity within human community. Marriage is the complex cultural site for opposite-sex bonding. A rich heritage of symbols, myths, theologies, traditions, poetry, and art has clustered around the marital bond. To change the core features of marriage is to impact real people, adults and children, whose lives will be significantly shaped by the renewal or decline of this institution. What do we lose if marriage is redefined around the central goal of affirming relationship diversity? Quite a lot, as it turns out. The authors write: Marriage serves critical purposes in human culture. It addresses the fact of sexual difference between men and women, including the unique vulnerabilities that women face in pregnancy and childbirth. It promotes a unique form of life and culture that integrates the goods of sexual attraction, interpersonal love and commitment, childbirth, child care and socialization, and mutual economic and psychological assistance. It provides a social frame for procreativity. It fosters and maintains connections between children and their natural parents. It sustains a complex form of social interdependency between men and women. It supports an integrated form of parenthood, uniting the biological (or adoptive), gestational, and social roles that parents play. A particular strength of the fifty-page study is that it underscores”in addition to the weight of history, moral philosophy, and religion”the case for the traditional family, with special reference to the wellbeing of children, that is now overwhelmingly supported by the findings of the social sciences.
The Anglican Consultative Council met in June. The United States and Canadian provinces were invited, but only to present their defense of their departure from two millennia of Christian teaching on sexual morality. It appears they were not very persuasive. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, made an atypically fervent presentation, declaring the state of the Anglican communion to be catastrophic. He deplored the preoccupation with internal quarrels when so much of the world was awaiting the ministrations of the Anglican communion. He cited world hunger, AIDS, war, and other global miseries. Proclaiming the saving gospel of Jesus Christ was not high on the agenda. In fact, it apparently did not make the to do list at all. Despite a house divided on questions specifically pertinent to Christian faith, the bishops in solemn assembly were as one in offering advice on world affairs. They called for the United States to get out of Iraq and for the reunification of North and South Korea. The latter resolution made no reference to terrible human rights violations in the North, including an estimated 200,000 people in concentration camps and millions killed by government-induced starvation. And, following the lead of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and other oldline bodies, they voted unanimously to consider disinvestment from Israel. The resolution says, It is the Israeli occupation in its many facets that foments the violence and fuels the conflict. That simplistic assertion displays ignorance or mendacity of a very low order. There is no reference to Arab and Palestinian wars with the declared purpose of eradicating Israel, nor to the campaigns of terrorism and suicide bombings, nor to the Palestinian rejection of the near-total withdrawals offered by Israel at Camp David in 2000. The oldline churches declare themselves in solidarity with Palestinian Christians, ignoring the fact that Christians under the pressure of Palestinian and radical Islamist forces are fleeing the Middle East as fast as they can. Martin Peretz writes in the New Republic : So I come to an unavoidable conclusion. The obsession here is not positive, for one side, but rather negative, against the other side. The clerics and the lay leaders on this indefensible crusade are so fixated on Palestine because their obsession, which can be buttressed by various Christian sources and traditions, is really with the Jews. A close look at the morbid passion makes one realize that its roots include an ancient hostility to the House of Israel, an ugly survival of hoary intolerance into some of the allegedly enlightened precincts of modern Christendom. Without mentioning anti-Semitism, he means anti-Semitism. Leave aside the swipe at Christian sources and traditions. There is surely more than a little to Peretz’s claim that the motive of the Anglicans and others seems to be negative rather than positive. There are so many other suffering and victimized people in the world for whom the Consultative Council might have expressed its concern. Why the Palestinians? The answer does seem to have something to do with Jews. And, it is necessary to add, with the United States. The Iraqi and Korean resolutions are aimed at U.S. policy. That Israel is supported by the United States doubles the intensity of selective moral outrage. Let history record that, as the Anglican communion was dissolving in disordered array, it did its prophetic duty in trying to set to rights a disordered world.
We’re Prime Time, Baby! It’s not an editorial title that strikes one as a likely candidate for the history books, but the point being made is not without historical significance. The editors of Christianity Today are celebrating the newfound status of evangelicals in American life. Their evidence is drawn exclusively from the new and generally respectful attention evangelicals are receiving in the mainstream media. (They make allowances for the continuing education still required for such pundits as Lewis Lapham, Frank Rich, and Paul Krugman.) The editors make no reference to the academy, the courts, the arbiters of literature and the arts, or others in control of the commanding heights of culture. In these sectors, evangelicals are still viewed as aliens, and dangerous aliens at that. Being so very impressed by the growing number of evangelicals appearing on television shows is not a mark of having securely arrived. Nonetheless, the editors are right that the general media are paying more respectful attention. While somewhat overstating the change, the editorial concludes with sound advice: So, we’ve been mainstreamed. Now what? First, we can thank God. Jesus Christ’s unique message and values will gain a larger and more respectful hearing. Second, as noted, we really can’t play the persecution card anymore. As players,’ we will be criticized sharply still, but that’s just part of life in America. Third, let’s remember that how we got here is how we will stay here: Careful scholarship. Measured proclamations. Majoring on the majors. Grassroots organizing. Patience. Prayer. Now that we’re prime-time, we don’t want to start acting like American idols.
You have probably read as much as you want to read about battles over Supreme Court appointments. Were First Things a weekly, you would have read a lot of it in these pages, but we are not. On the other hand, this journal has a big stake in the discussion of what we called the judicial usurpation of politics in a famous (notorious?) symposium of November 1996, and almost every issue follows up on developments that make more pressingly pertinent the question of the symposium’s title, The End of Democracy? From all the commentary appearing in the press and online, I think it important to rescue the following by Judge Robert Bork, who was a key participant in our original symposium. He is addressing the consequences of a Supreme Court marked by unchecked power, indifference to the Constitution, and philosophical incompetence that would be risible were it not so sad. Along the way he provides a handy checklist of the damage already done, which might be useful in explaining to others why remedies are so urgent: Consider just a few of the Court’s accomplishments: The justices have weakened the authority of other institutions, public and private, such as schools, businesses, and churches; assisted in sapping the vitality of religion through a transparently false interpretation of the Establishment Clause; denigrated marriage and family; destroyed taboos about vile language in public; protected as free speech the basest pornography, including computer-simulated child pornography; weakened political parties and permitted prior restraints on political speech, violating the core of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech; created a right to abortion virtually on demand, invalidating the laws of all fifty states; whittled down capital punishment, on the path, apparently, to abolishing it entirely; mounted a campaign to normalize homosexuality, culminating soon, it seems obvious, in a right to homosexual marriage; permitted racial and gender discrimination at the expense of white males; and made the criminal justice system needlessly slow and complex, tipping the balance in favor of criminals. Justice O’Connor, a warm, down-to-earth, and very likeable person, joined many, though not all, of these bold attempts to remake America. Whatever one may think of these outcomes as matters of policy, not one is authorized by the Constitution and some are directly contrary to it. All of them, however, are consistent with the left-liberal liberationist impulse that advances moral anarchy.
The headline in Jewish Weekly puts it nicely: Naval Academy Next Target for ADL. In a country as religious as America, the Anti-Defamation League enjoys a target-rich environment. Buoyed by his success in drawing attention to religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy, Abe Foxman of ADL is going to Congress to remedy a similar oppression at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. It seems that, when they go to lunch, the 4,000 midshipmen are required to stand for announcements and a blessing by a chaplain before they can sit down to eat. It is true, says Foxman, that nobody is required to pray, but you must go to lunch where you have a prayer imposed on you. How dare you impose your blessing on me? We can be sure that this is not the last target on Mr. Foxman’s list of things to be eradicated from American public life.
The meeting of the Catholic bishops’ conference in June seemed to be a pretty routine affair. There was no serious discussion before they approved for another five years the zero tolerance charter and norms developed at the Dallas meeting in 2002. So it is again officially confirmed, and perhaps with good reason, that bishops cannot be trusted to exercise sound pastoral judgment with respect to their clergy. A million dollars was voted for a study on the causes and context of sex abuse, in the hope that foundations will come up with the several more million required. The archbishop of Boston predicted that the study will show that priests are no more prone to abuse children than men in other walks of life, which some may find reassuring. A Statement of Episcopal Commitment was overwhelmingly (223-4) adopted. Noting that bishops don’t come under the charter and norms because they are accountable only to the Holy See, the bishops promise that they’ll report to the papal nuncio allegations of sexual abuse of minors by other bishops. It seems like the least they can do. Meanwhile, several accused bishops remain in office and those who have resigned under pressure are apparently members in good standing of the conference. Not on the agenda were two very public instances of episcopal malfeasance in recent months: A bishop who, in connection with the Terri Schiavo case, publicly rejected the Church’s teaching on the care of the disabled, and another who issued an unconditional affirmation of gays and lesbians in the Church without a reference to Church teaching on homosexual relations. Such items were, as usual, not on the agenda because, despite all the talk about fraternal correction, club rules mandate that bishops not embarrass other bishops. The onus of correction is conveniently left to Rome, which apparently is just fine also with those bishops who regularly complain about the centralizing of authority in Rome. Among other matters, a request to increase by four percent the diocesan assessment in order to help cover a budget deficit in the Washington bureaucracy was decisively rejected. Some saw this as an indication of declining confidence in the way the conference operates. The bishops will meet again in November.
Charles Simic is a foreign correspondent for the New York Review of Books and he files a report from the American South where he went to see what those evangelical Christians are really up to. The news is not good: Skepticism, empirical evidence, and book learning are in low esteem among the Protestant evangelicals. To ask about the laws of cause and effect would be a sin. They reject modern science and dream of a theocratic state where such blasphemous subject matter would be left out from the school curriculum. Their ideal, as a shrewd young fellow told me in Tuscaloosa, is unquestioning obedience and complete conformity in matters of religion and politics . . . . If evangelicals haven’t gone around smashing TV sets and computers, it is because they recognize their power to spread their message. Aside from that, they would like to secede intellectually from the rest of the world. John Wilson, editor of Books and Culture , has a little fun with Simic and his dispatch from the Other America. Wilson writes: I don’t know if I should let Simic and his NYRB readers in on our secret. You know what I mean”that the situation for them is far worse than they imagine. After all, those hellfire Christians he encountered in the South are pretty easy to identify as the enemy. But we Protestant evangelicals are wise as serpents. Some of us are double agents. We learn to speak the language of culture, to penetrate the networks of the soon-to-be-damned. Simic might bump into us at a concert or a poetry reading, where we sip Starbucks and speak easily of Neruda and pretend that we believe in cause and effect. All the while, of course, we’re thinking to ourselves who will be the first to go when the theocratic revolution finally comes. Be afraid, Charles Simic. Be very afraid. Nicely done. On the other hand, while Simic’s report is conventionally hysterical, is not Wilson putting himself and other evangelicals who speak easily of Neruda on the side of Simic and NYRB in so emphatically, if with a lighter touch, distancing himself from them? Yes, there are redneck evangelicals, but then there is also the wine and Brie set that reads Books and Culture . Might one not infer from what Wilson says that Simic’s hysterical generalizations about them are fully warranted? Just asking, mind you.
Happy children don’t grow up to build concentration camps, Dr. Henry Morgentaler told a University of Western Ontario convocation yesterday, as he argued that abortion has helped radically reduce hate and violent crime in Canada, reports the Toronto Star . Morgentaler is Canada’s foremost champion of the unlimited abortion license. Many protested his getting an honorary degree from Western Ontario, including the board of governors, which does not have authority over the committee that made the choice. While he is all for nipping in the bud, so to speak, the potentially hateful and violent, Morgentaler says he is not an advocate of eugenics. The reduction in crime is an unintended, if happy, consequence of choices made by women, he says. Rosie DiManno, a Star columnist, says she is for the absolute right to reproductive freedom, but is uncomfortable with Morgentaler’s argument. Abortion as social corrective that’s spared us a bunch of felonious misfits is offensive. Let’s not go there, Dr. Morgentaler, she writes. Sorry, ma’am, you are already there.
Michael O’Brien of Jesus College, Cambridge, has been reading Bill Clinton’s My Life . He writes in the Times Literary Supplement , Important to Clinton’s politics has been his religion, which explains him as much as it does George W. Bush. This is easy to lose sight of, because Clinton supported abortion and gay rights, hung out with Hollywood stars, and was loathed by many Evangelicals. One of the shrewder suggestions, in a book disappointingly thin on analysis, is that the New Right Republicans . . . hated me because I was an apostate, a white southern Protestant, who could appeal to the very people they had always taken for granted.’ But, in fact, Baptists are so decentralized and diverse that they do not have apostates, only those for whom one needs to pray. Contrary to Clinton’s wishful thinking, O’Brien suggests, the Baptist who says, I’m praying for you, may not mean that he finds you appealing but that, without his prayers, you’re probably going to Hell.
So it has come around at last. The New York Times announces the launching of Logo, MTV’s new all-gay-all-the-time channel. But don’t expect anything racy. This is not about sex, we are told, meaning the channel will not be carrying gay porn. Brian Graden, head of Logo, says, When you tell a story about gay rodeo or gay surfers it’s not a story about sex nor does it need to be. So much connects us beyond sexuality. Well, not really. The gay and lesbian community is exclusively defined and constituted by sex: by having sex, desiring sex, talking about sex, and promoting themes and sensibilities related to sex between people of the same sex. Same-sex sex is the foundation of the gay world, the axis upon which it turns. Which is not to say that sex is all that gays or lesbians care about. They may care about many things but, to the extent that something connects them, that something is sex. People who are not interested in same-sex sex are not connected, they are not part of the community. The story continues: Documentaries will feature a variety of gay lives: rugby players, surfers, rural dwellers, Cubans, and Republicans. Republicans? I can understand the desire to project the perception of gay diversity but, really, how exotic can they get?
Princeton’s Elaine Pagels, who has done so much to popularize early gnostic heresies, protests a review by John Burgess in the Christian Century of her book Beyond Belief . The title of the review was Going Creedless. Not at all, writes Pagels. I belong to an Episcopal church that practices chanting, singing, or saying the creed in every major worship service. The book neither dismisses nor deprecates beliefs, but attempts to place the Nicene statement in historical perspective. She is much taken with the Gospel of Thomas, which I do regard as a remarkable treasure of the first two centuries, along with the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. John Burgess writes in response: We need to understand why Nicene Christianity has never been able to think of itself as just one valid theological option among many. Perhaps truth (and the living God) really does force us to make theological choices. There’s that old either/or exclusivism again.
A subscription pitch for the Christian Century highlights this: Rated one of The 50 Best Magazines’ by Chicago Tribune . At least that, I should think.
By the time this sees print, the ELCA Lutherans will have met in churchwide assembly and decided to do something or other about gay clergy and the approval of same-sex unions. The August Forum Letter says the options are: (1) Do nothing and agree to disagree; (2) While not endorsing same-sex marriage, offer acceptance and pastoral care to couples going that route; (3) Maintain traditional standards for clergy but agree not to discipline those who violate them. Whatever decision is made, a major division in the ELCA seems likely and confessional Lutherans”those who adhere to Scripture and the sixteenth-century confessional writings”have scheduled a post-assembly gathering to consider what form that division should take. Meanwhile, Carl Braaten, a theological luminary in American Lutheranism for four decades, has written a moving open letter to Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA. He notes that in recent years some of the most distinguished theologians in the ELCA have left for the Roman Catholic Church or, in a few cases, Orthodoxy: Jaroslav Pelikan, Robert Louis Wilken, Jay Rochelle, Leonard Klein, Bruce Marshall, David Fagerberg, and Reinhard Hütter. They are saying, writes Braaten, that the Roman Catholic Church is now more hospitable to confessional Lutheran teaching than the church in which they were baptized and confirmed. They are saying that the ELCA has become just another liberal protestant denomination. Karl Barth called liberal protestantism ( Kulturprotestantismus ) a heresy, which, says Braaten, is an assessment with which I fully agree. He asks, Are all these theologians wrong in their assessment of the ELCA? They are not stupid people; they don’t tell lies; they don’t make rash decisions. They are all serious Christians . . . . The ELCA is driving out the best and the brightest theologians of our day. Braaten notes that Bishop Hanson recently wrote that he hopes some day soon that Catholics and Lutherans will be able to celebrate the Eucharist together. My instant reaction, says Braaten, was that it is becoming less and less likely, as the ELCA is being taken hostage by forces alien to the solid traditions Lutherans share with Roman Catholicism. The confessional chasm is actually becoming wider. Braaten, it should be noted, has for decades been among the foremost champions of Lutheran“Roman Catholic theological dialogue. As for himself, Braaten says he will not cut and run. He says he has nowhere else to go, although he does not explain why that should be the case. The Forum Letter says the question is this: Is there room in this church for pastors and congregations who want to be authentically Lutheran? Or is it the case, the writer wonders, that the ELCA is determined to be a big-tent church and those who don’t like it can leave? The answer, it seems likely, is that of course there will be room for dissidents, at least for a time, if they keep a low profile and don’t try to make trouble. But, as has been noted before, where orthodoxy is optional, it will sooner or later be proscribed. We will be returning to developments in the ELCA and the triumph of Kulturprotestantismus that has marked so much of the history of Christianity in America.
Recent news stories from the Vatican: Drivers Should Drive Carefully, Pope Urges; Benedict Says Religion Helpful for Spiritual Health; Pope Declares Christianity Favors World Peace; Benedict XVI Encourages Dialogue Among World’s Peoples; Children To Be Viewed as Blessing, Says Pope. Benedict Endorses Regular Mass Attendance. So you can see these have been slow news months for folks on the Rome beat. Some observers see a softening up strategy to display the pope’s kinder and gentler side before we get the headline Pope Removes 300 Bishops for Malfeasance; Tells Theologians to Teach What Church Teaches or Get Out. My own hunch is that the prosaic headlines are attributable to the felt need to report everything the pope says, most of which is what the Church has always said, which it is his job to say but is not news.
That was one bilious brouhaha at the Air Force Academy, although not without its moments of comic relief. Americans United for the Naked Public Square (Barry Lynn, chief of patrol), the ADL, Yale Divinity School, and I don’t know who all got involved. It seems the evangelical Protestant students there, and some of the same ilk on the faculty, were making a public display of their faith, even going to so far as trying to convince others of the truth of what they believe. This is, of course, a flagrant violation