Serving into the Other Court
Science is science and religion is religion and never the twain shall meet. It is a wondrously convenient formula for not thinking very seriously about either science or religion. We came across an article a while back in which a journalist visited with a group of Jesuit astronomers who man the Vatican observatory in the American Southwest. How do they square their science with their theology, the journalist wanted to know. The repeated answer, given with some impatience, is that the two have nothing to do with one another. The journalist was not satisfied with that, as well he should not be. Science tells us about the world, and theology tells us about the God who created and sustains the world. Therefore science tells us important things about the source and ends of the world that is the object of scientific interest.
Nonetheless, scientists and theologians conspire to make sure that never the twain shall meet. Scientists typically exhibit the greater cognitive confidence. They are often contemptuously dismissive of theology, while theologians are frequently glad enough to be left alone, undisturbed by inconvenient challenges from the scientists. An instance of the contemptuously dismissive is provided by Dr. David E. H. Jones of the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, better known by his pen name, Daedelus. Writing in the British journal Nature in an article picked up by the science writer of the New York Times, Jones suggests, presumably tongue in cheek, that it should be possible to weigh the soul.
By attaching piezoelectric transducers and other instruments to a dying person, it should be possible to measure the direction, velocity, and spin of the soul as it leaves the body, causing the body to recoil slightly. The change in body weight would reveal the soul's mass. “Traditional theology,” writes Jones, “is silent on the spin of the soul, though it may predict that the soul of a sinner would depart downward, and might weigh less than that of a righteous believer.” Soul measurements could also be helpful with the abortion debate, he suggests. By applying a soul detector to a pregnant woman, one could determine when the soul enters the embryo or fetus. “It is clearly worthwhile,” says Dr. Jones, “to establish this moment accurately. If the soul turns out to enter the fetus quite late in pregnancy, the religious arguments against contraception and early abortion will be neatly disproved.” He does not say what conclusion should be drawn were it determined that the soul is there from conception.
But of course all this is as silly as it is contemptuous. Although there are many people, President Clinton for instance, who continue to speak of the soul as a bodily appendage, a thing that should not be killed. Before it is appended to the baby, however, it is permissible to kill the baby's body. The President says he learned this from his Baptist pastor and, given the sorry state of catechesis in contemporary Christianity, that is quite possibly true. It is the case that the worthy Tertullian (d. 225) seemed to hold to the corporeity of the soul, and presumably such a soul could be weighed. But traditional theology has taken the soul to be a spiritual substance. Spiritual substances, being spirit, cannot be weighed.
But scientists will have their fun. Soul-weighing is but a variant on the old chestnut about scholastic theologians debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Any scholastic theologian, indeed any literate Christian, would recognize that such a debate is utterly otiose. Being spiritual beings, angels do not take up space and therefore an infinite number can dance on the head of a pin, or any other place they fancy. Dr. Jones and his readers have their chuckle, and theologians take it in good sport instead of pointing out, politely of course, that such Jonesian bigotry rests upon the foundation of an ignorance that is quite appalling in an otherwise educated person. Many theologians, indeed, join in the chuckle, smugly observing that of course no point has been scored since when theologians talk about the soul (if in fact they still talk about the soul at all) they are employing an entirely different “language system,” quite unrelated to the language of scientific discourse.
This ploy achieves self-parody in, for instance, the best-selling Episcopalian bishop in New Jersey who assures us that, although the body of the pitiable fanatic Jesus has long since rotted in Palestine, talk about the resurrection is frightfully “meaningful.” Writers of more scholarly credibility also employ the ploy. They propose a neat division of labor; the scientists take the “fact” language and the theologians take the “meaning” language, and neither need step on the other's toes. Of course the scientists, with exceptions, have not agreed to this arrangement. And quite rightly so. Meanings are of interest when they explain the meaning of facts, so those who have been given a monopoly on the facts will likely end up in charge of the meaning business as well. Which is pretty much what has been happening in our public discourse over the last few centuries. Of course this does not prevent anyone from engaging in the private indulgence of religion, along with other private indulgences such as a taste for mocha chocolate ice cream or the poetry of Edna St.Vincent Millay.
But through the years there has been a small band of theologians and scientists who have persisted in thinking hard about the hard questions. On the theological side, one such is Wolfhart Pannenberg, 1994 Erasmus Lecturer and frequent contributor to this journal. This year Westminster/John Knox Press has brought out his Toward a Theology of Nature: Essays on Science and Faith (166 pages, $19.99 paper). This book deserving of a wide readership is enhanced by a lucid introduction to Pannenberg's thought on these questions by Ted Peters, a Lutheran theologian teaching in California.
In the last century or so, says Peters, theologians “have trod lightly on questions regarding God and the natural world, ceding to the scientific community the priestly right to dispense the graces of understanding nature. Now, however, Pannenberg seems to be profaning what Western Enlightenment culture has held sacred. He is . . . reentering the epistemological holy of holies and contending that loss of an awareness of God actually constricts what we learn about the nature of nature.” For scientists who take Pannenberg's challenge to heart, “it means a return to the laboratory with a reassessment of the meaning of existing evidence and a posing of new questions for future research.”
Since the consolidation of the natural sciences in the modern university, the relationship between science and religion might be pictured in terms of volleyball. On one side of the net is scientism, on the other religious authoritarianism. Scientism views religion's claims as pseudo-knowledge, and “fundamentalism“ (whether biblical or ecclesiastical) views the claims of science as, at best, partial knowledge subject to correction by revelation. In recent years, a new twist has been provided by scientific creationists who contend that they are playing by the rules of science, and by those rules they have determined that the biblical account of creation is more scientifically convincing than the theory of evolution.
Peters explains how the volleyball game goes on from there, or, as is usually the case, does not go on from there:
Serving into the Other Court
What we would expect to find is a hotly contested game between the established natural scientists on one side, and, on the other side, any one of the three: the ecclesiastical authoritarians, the fundamentalist authoritarians, or the scientific creationists. What we would expect to find is a spirited match to settle the matter, to see who wins and who loses. Surprisingly, however, twentieth-century watchers have seen very little competitive volleying across the net. Why? Because the majority of players on both sides have adopted the two-language rule. According to the two-language theory, scientists and theologians work in separate domains of knowledge, speak separate languages, and when true to their respective disciplines, avoid interfering in each other's work. What we end up with are two teams, each sparring with its own volleyball on its respective side of the net. If the creationists who reject the two-language rule serve the ball into the scientists' court, the scientists do not bother to return it. But when the players of the fourth string made up of liberal or neo-orthodox theologians take the religious side of the court, they tout the two-language rule and send nothing over the net. This has kept the scientific team happy for most of the present century.
Suffice it to say that Pannenberg and a few others have been serving into the scientists' court for some years now, and an increasing number of scientists, especially physicists, have been returning the serves. There are not yet enough teams to form a league, but that may come with time. In his Theology and the Philosophy of Science, in his three-volume Systematic Theology (now appearing in English), and in the present book of essays, Pannenberg presses the implications of saying that nature must be understood as history, that contingent events are temporally unique, and that what we now know of thermodynamics confirms the irreversibility of time. Theology, Pannenberg suggests, is the study of the history of God, and Christian theology is such study in the light of the promised fulfillment of history in Christ and the coming Kingdom. Such seemingly exotic speculation leads to surprises. For instance, it may be that when Michael Faraday and Albert Einstein spoke of the “force field” in physics, they had in mind, knowingly or not, what theology means by the Holy Spirit.
Of course that way of putting it may suggest another version of the old two-language game. But this time, at least, scientists and theologians understand that they are talking about the same reality, how the world really is and what reasonably can be made of it. In studying the world scientists are studying God, and in studying God theologians are studying the world. Since the Enlightenment the studying and talking has been segregated, each on its own side of the net, each developing a language and habits of thought apparently incommensurable with the other. This segregation has everything to do with the marginalization of religion in public life, since it is assumed that what counts as real knowledge in public is scientific knowledge, and it is further assumed that what is scientific is separate from, if not antithetical to, religion.
Of course Pannenberg is not alone in pressing the cause of desegregation. One thinks of contemporaries such as Arthur Peacocke, Robert John Russell, Stanley Jaki, and the many followers of Alfred North Whitehead. There are big differences among these thinkers, but all are devoted to resuming a collaboration that was most unnaturally disrupted by the recent unpleasantness of the secular Enlightenment. Their project and its underlying assumption that theology and science are both dealing with the one world of the one God would hardly have surprised Christian thinkers such as Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, or Calvin. A good introduction to the current state of the desegregation movement is Wolfhart Pannenberg's Toward a Theology of Nature.
The Longest War
A Vision Wan and Wistful Mr. Rorty's Terrible Uncertainties
In the event that some readers have not yet read James Davison Hunter's Before the Shooting Begins, shame on you. Alright, so you can't read everything, but this is not just another important book. It is the best book-length analysis of what is meant by the culture war (the subtitle is Searching for Democracy in America's Culture War), and is made the more valuable by viewing the culture war through the prism of the abortion controversy-the most important single question in defining the opposing sides in the culture war. That we view the book as extremely important is evidenced by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's review essay in the June/July issue and our earlier comment on Hunter's argument in these pages and elsewhere.
We are regularly asked what we mean by this “culture war” we've been talking about for approximately the last ten years. The answer inevitably begins with what is meant by culture, and we will not repeat what we have said on that so many times before. Rather, let's let James Hunter take a crack at the question: “Culture is nothing if it is not, first and foremost, a normative order by which we comprehend ourselves, others, and the larger world and through which we order our experience. At the heart of culture is a system of norms and values, as social scientists are prone to call them. But these norms and values are better understood as commanding truths so deeply embedded in our consciousness and in the habits of our lives that to question them is to question reality itself. These commanding truths define the ‘shoulds' and ‘should nots' of our experience, and accordingly, the good and the evil, the right and the wrong, the appropriate and inappropriate, the honorable and the shameful. Accordingly, culture involves the obligations to adhere to these truths, obligations that come about by virtue of one's membership in a group.”
Multiculturalism, as it is called in the academy, and moral emotivism, as it is found among the hoi poloi, inescapably trivialize culture. Multiculturalists are a group at war with the idea of belonging to a group. Hunter writes, “The bottom line is that one cannot hope to understand culture without understanding its central and commanding truth claims. But these claims imply standards, and standards imply the moral judgment that we are not the same and not on the same moral plane. Such standards and judgments violate the central lesson multiculturalism wants students everywhere to appropriate—that ‘I am as good as you.'“ The framework provided by multiculturalism makes it impossible to engage in reasoned argument on questions of moral consequence, such as abortion. “The reason,” writes Hunter, “is that multiculturalism denies the very category of Differences that constitute the friction points between cultures—the substantive and, in this case, contradictory imperatives asserted by and embodied within different moral communities.”
Hunter's extraordinary book is weakest when it comes to proposing an alternative to the culture war in terms of “the renewal of democracy.” One is immeasurably grateful for an accurate diagnosis, even if the same physician is not so sure about the treatment. Hunter wants to find a “common ground” for democratic deliberation, debate, and decision that will replace the polarized and frenzied war of words that now passes for political discourse. At the same time, he knows that the differences in the culture war “go all the way down,” and democratic renewal might be possible only at the end of the struggle. It is a little like the revolutionary maxim that things must get worse before they can get better. “Through a heightening of the tensions, we are continually reminded of the limitations of political action. We are reminded that politics, in the final analysis, is primarily effective in dealing with administrative tasks. It is not able to deal with the collective search for shared meanings, the formation of public philosophies of the public good, or the organic generation of civic obligation, responsibilities, and trust among the citizens who inhabit a community or society.”
Although it is not clear how that squares with Hunter's enthusiasm for Benjamin Barber's notion of “strong democracy,” it is a sober and modest understanding of politics. In our political culture, it is usually conservatives who call for a modest understanding of politics and, especially, government action. Liberals typically embrace a more expansive understanding of the political and governmental sphere. (Those who style themselves radical go further, urging that “the personal is the political and the political is the personal.”) The predicament, however, is that the larger the sphere of life that is defined as political the more we must deliberate in public the morality of our life together—our obligations, responsibilities, and ideas of the good. Conversely, the more limited the political sphere, the more those deliberations can be conducted in communities that are, while not private, certainly not public in the sense of being subject to government control. It is quite odd. Conservatives are ready, even eager, to engage in public discussions of morality that would not be necessary under their ideal of limited government. On the other hand, liberals are generally hostile to the public discussion of morality that is inescapable under their ideal of expansive government.
Then one is taken back to the question of whether legal protection for the unborn is an instance of expansive or limited government. We have been around that track many times, and will not take another turn now. For the moment, suffice it to note that one leaves Before the Shooting Begins and similar analyses with a very dour view of talk about “the renewal of democratic discourse and decision.” Of course that is what we must continue to hope for and work for, but anything that resembles renewal will be, it appears almost certain, on the far side of some kind of resolution of the abortion question. It seems that civil discussion is precluded by the don't-give-an-inch rigidity of the pro-choice faction in refusing to acknowledge that there is any great moral question engaged in the termination of what is unquestionably human life, and by their adamantine opposition to even the most modest measures aimed at, for instance, ensuring informed consent by the woman or respecting the role of parents of minors. They seem to be convinced that any public admission that there are legitimate questions to be raised about the existing abortion regime would bring the whole thing crashing down. Maybe they're right in thinking that. One can understand why Harvard's Laurance Tribe and other abortion advocates so relentlessly insist that the public discussion be kept focused on choice, never on what is chosen.
The “renewal of democracy” part is where James Davison Hunter goes wan and wistful. Don't blame him; at this stage in the culture war nobody knows what such renewal might mean. Where there are openings for civil conversation and mutually respectful argument, we should not fail to welcome the opportunity. But in our political culture at present, such openings are few and far between. Nurturing such possibilities for conversation where they present themselves, and hoping that culture war may in time be replaced by civil engagement, in the short term we have no choice but to gird for battle. Battle is not the preferred metier of those who believe that moral truth can be ascertained through reasoned reflection. Battle is forced upon them by those who deny the reality of moral truth, or at least of moral truth that can have public standing. The culture war was declared by the nihilists, both sophisticated and raw, who declared politics to be nothing more than the contest of interests, the will to power. On the axial question of abortion, they are the ones who divide the world into the defenders of the unlimited abortion license on the one hand and everybody else on the other. They permit no consideration of alternatives, nothing that might respond to the yearning of the great majority of Americans for some kind of accommodation.
There is the time before the shooting begins and then the time after the shooting begins, and nobody knows how metaphorical that shooting will remain. But on the question around which all the other questions of the culture war gravitate, there is no alternative to continuing to press ahead on every front—in the parties, in national campaigns, in politics from counties to Congress, in the churches, schools, professional associations, everywhere. The defenders of the unlimited abortion license know that Roe v. Wade is not “settled doctrine” in American law and life, and it is the business of those who understand what is at stake to make it more unsettled every day. “Every unborn child protected in law and welcomed in life.” That is the goal. It will never be achieved perfectly, of course, given the human bent toward indifference, cruelty, and injustice. But it can be approximated in a manner that is secured by democratic consent. This may be many years away. But only when that happens is it believable to think that the culture war might give way to something like a renewal of democratic discourse about how we ought to order our life together.
A Vision Wan and Wistful
Mr. Rorty's Terrible Uncertainties
While We're At It
Among intellectual celebrities, Richard Rorty's fifteen minutes go on and on. In a long interview in the University of Chicago Magazine, he explains how he got to be the way he is. A red-diaper baby, he had Trotskyite parents who found the meaning of their lives bestowed by the promise of “come the revolution.” Richard, however, was “a clever, snotty, nerdy only child” (his description), more interested in orchids than revolutions. Yet he wanted an understanding that was an understanding of everything. At age fifteen he came across his aim expressed in the words of Yeats—“hold reality and justice in a single vision.” First in Plato, then in Hegel, then in other systems, he thought for a time that he had found knowledge that is “beyond hypothesis.”
Later he discovered that there is no such thing, reality is rhetoric, things are as you describe them to be. This is the consolation and resignation of the “liberal ironist.” Oh, for some people, certainty—Plato's knowledge beyond hypothesis, beyond doubt, beyond critical self-consciousness—might be possible. For revolutionaries, for instance, “who are moved by nothing save the thought of social justice.” And for those Christians. “I decided that only religion—only a nonargumentative faith in a surrogate parent who, unlike any real parent, embodied love, power, and justice in equal measure—could do the trick Plato wanted done. Since I couldn't imagine becoming religious, and indeed had gotten more and more raucously secularist, I decided that the hope of getting a single vision by becoming a philosopher had been a self-deceptive atheist's way out.”
He speaks of not being able to become religious in the way that most of us cannot imagine becoming Mexican. As though “religiousness” is something that happens to some people and doesn't happen to others. Moreover, as in his book, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, religion (in his case meaning Christianity) appears as a guarantor of certitude, instead of being precisely a reasoned commitment of faith in a reality that will never get “beyond hypothesis” short of the coming of the kingdom of God. His flaunted anxieties about the uncertainties of truth lead him to the convenient but superficial out of deciding not to worry about truth. In the name of complexity he embraces the simplism of “redescribing” intellectual sloth as virtue. It is a great sadness, and a greater sadness that he continues to be a leading retailer of designer fashions in the university.
Along the way he says, “I do not, however, want to argue that philosphy is socially useless.” He speaks of a number of philosophers who made a difference, including John Dewey and Sidney Hook. “Had there been no Dewey or Hook, American intellectual leftists of the 1930s would have been as buffaloed by the Marxists as were their counterparts in France and in Latin America.” Quoting Richard Weaver, he says, “Ideas do, indeed, have consequences.” The irony does not occur to him that the Richard Rorty of today would not have been standing with Dewey, and certainly not with Hook, in the 1930s and 1940s. After all, why make endless arguments appealing to truth in a tedious struggle against Communist totalitarianism when it is ever so much easier, as Rortians have learned, to redescribe tyranny as freedom, and vice versa?
While We're At It
• There is endless dispute over what makes an idea, practice, or institution “religious.” More simply, how should we define “religion” as distinct from other spheres of human life. Marc Gellman, a friend who bills himself as the only pro-life Reform rabbi in the country, is a gifted writer of children's books and is currently working on a book that introduces kids to the world religions. He thought and thought about what it is that all religions have in common. He finally came up with four components. Everything that we call a religion has (1) a story about how the world came to be and what it is for; (2) a code for living the moral life; (3) an answer to the problem of death. And the fourth? Every religion uses candles. We're thinking about it.
• The famed Frankfurt philosopher Jürgen Habermas is asked, “What remains of socialism?” His unhesitating answer: “Radical democracy.” He expands on that in an interview in the New York Review of Books: “I would add the rider that one thing we can still learn from the Marxist tradition today is the critique of capitalism. Indeed, this may be even more important today since capitalism has experienced a huge increase in self-confidence, thanks to the collapse of state socialism. Hardly anyone nowadays would venture to criticize capitalism. At the same time, we have seventeen million unemployed in the European Union alone, and no one—and that includes me—has any idea how we are going to break out of the cycles of jobless growth. In other words, we need new ideas with which to criticize this system. But the ultimate criterion must be the creation of a radical democracy, and this of course includes using welfare state measures to tame capitalism to some point where it becomes unrecognizable as such.” Which being interpreted means: (1) The failure of socialism does not lead to the approval of capitalism. (2) State power should tame capitalism to the point where it is not recognizable as capitalism but is recognizable as socialism. (3) Socialism has not failed. Take our word for it, Habermas is a very famous philosopher.
• The late M. E. Bradford was acclaimed by most of those who knew him as an exemplification of what it means to be a gentleman and a scholar. His brand of Southern conservatism, however, made him unwelcome in the more elevated precincts of academic correctitude, and his last years were marred by resentment of “neoconservatives” who, he believed, had joined with liberals in denying him the recognition, and employment, he deserved. It is a long and rather sad story, and we mention it only as preface to welcoming a revised edition of one of Bradford's very useful books, Founding Fathers (University Press of Kansas, 222 pages, $14.95
). First published in 1981, Founding Fathers provides something that is not to be found anywhere else—brief biographical sketches of all those who participated in the Philadelphia convention of 1787 that produced the United States Constitution. Bradford clearly has his own very strong views, but he is remarkably dispassionate in depicting the lives, opinions, and characters of the founders, and can be admiring of those with whom he disagrees, such as Alexander Hamilton. He only loses it in discussing James Wilson of Pennsylvania, who went on to the Supreme Court where he initiated the mischief of treating the Constitution as a “living document” that need not be interpreted as its authors intended. In his introduction, Bradford says of the founders as a group: “They were not men who were speculative in their politics. With the possible exceptions of Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, and young Charles Pinckney III, they were prescriptive Whigs who had made a revolution on the model of the Glorious Revolution of 1688—in order to continue as they were.” He notes that as many as thirty-five of the fifty-five framers were slave holders. They were, all in all, men of means, solidly ensconced in the gentry of their own states and recognized by their neighbors as the kind of “natural aristocrats” who were best trusted with the responsibilities of government. With no more than five exceptions, Bradford notes, “they were orthodox members of one of the established Christian communions.” Bradford sums up his estimate of the founding company in this way: “They regarded the Union as conditional, an ‘experiment' in George Washington's terms, and knew that it would require work and minor revision if the fundamental law was to operate as they hoped—but not too much revision or too often. Nevertheless, they meant for their form of government to last, and most of them were confident that it would, so long as it was not manipulated out of shape by ideology or human selfishness. They were not demigods and they did not ‘invent' their country. But assuredly the passage of time has earned for them the right to be called a worthy company, a term of praise they would have clearly understood.”
• In the June/July issue we commented on an article in Harper's on the Pope by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison. (We invited her to confession, but she has not shown up to date.) Brawn Sullivan of Marysville, California writes to point out that we did not remark Harrison's saying that a gay friend who is active in several pastoral ministries told her that he would go to his cat for moral advice before he would go to his cardinal. Mr. Sullivan spots what he thinks may be a trend. He notes that Matthew Fox, the lapsed Catholic priest, says he has made his dog, Tristan, his spiritual director because the animal “enters into ecstasy without guilt.” Having abandoned God and angels, mankind—partly angel, partly animal—goes to cats and dogs. We count on Mr. Sullivan to alert us to further sightings of this phenomenon. Meanwhile, readers are advised to stick with spiritual directors who feel guilty about the kinds of ecstasies favored by Matthew Fox.
• “We don't want to be grumpy or just start a fight,” said the Rev. John Rodgers of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. “We are just a group of faithful Episcopalians who love their church but simply cannot support some things that have been done and be faithful to our baptismal and ordination vows.” Rodgers chaired a national meeting in Atlanta that included seven bishops plus prominent clergy and lay leaders from around the country and produced a covenant titled “Episcopalians in Apostolic Mission.” The signers say they wish to support the Episcopal Church but cannot go along with “tendencies contrary to official Anglican ethical standards,” even if they are authorized by General Convention. “We will not conform ourselves to [such actions], we will not directly financially support them, nor will we permit those who engage in them to minister regularly within our congregational or diocesan life.” The covenant calls for protection of human life “from conception to natural death” and affirms that sexual intimacy and intercourse should be limited to “heterosexual, monogamous, lifelong marriage.” For more information, call Mr. Alfred Sawyer at 800-948-1781 or write St. John's Episcopal Church, 50 East Fisher Freeway, Detroit, MI 48201.
• A group of Harvard students thought up the most outrageous group they could imagine and applied for recognition by the student government. The announcement was carried in the Harvard Crimson: “We are Students at Harvard Erotically Engaged With Pets, or S.H.E.E.P. We reject the use of clinical terms such as ‘zoophilia' and describe ourselves as ‘theriosexual,' a word which better describes the wild joy of our way of life.
“Though the bestial community is extremely diverse, embracing individuals from a wide range of social and cultural backgrounds, we share a common experience of oppression and misunderstanding. We have been marginalized by an anthroposexist society solely on the basis of whom we choose to love. Because we refuse to form relationships according to socially constructed categories such as ‘species,' we represent a fundamental challenge to the institutions and assumptions of a speciesist, theriophobic Western culture. “You probably know some of us already. Research indicates that nearly one out of every ten males and more than one of every thirty females is theriosexual. Some of us form relationships solely across species lines; some of us enjoy both human and animal relationships. We are productive members of society, respected members of the community. And yet our lives are singled out for brutal repression by the laws of many states and by the prejudice of those who condemn our love for animals because they do not understand it.
• “Fear and oppression have kept us silent for too long. It is time for us to speak out. We love animals. We are out, and proud.”
• To date he is unknown here, but in Finland he is a celebrity and there appears to be a growing number of Americans ready for his message. Pentti Linkola is a writer who supports himself by fishing in a rustic region, and lives in order to save the planet by means of annihilating most of the human race. He proposes ending third world aid and asylum for refugees, plus mandatory abortions for women who already have two children. Another world war would be “a happy occasion for the planet,” he suggests. Humanity is like a sinking ship with 100 passengers and a lifeboat that can hold only ten. “Those who hate life try to pull more people on board and drown everybody. Those who love and respect life use axes to chop off the extra hands hanging on the gunwale.” Mr. Linkola's sworn enemies, reasonably enough, are the Pope and Amnesty International. He also despises America. “The U.S. symbolizes the worst ideologies in the world: growth and freedom.” In Finland, where he is described as an “eco-fascist,” Linkola is an exceedingly popular author. This Wall Street Journal story notes that even fellow Malthusians in this country find Linkola a bit much. “We have many possibilities that should be explored before we take a strong-armed approach,” says Garrett Hardin, who in 1974 wrote a much discussed article, “Living on a Lifeboat.” Dr. Hardin has never been accused of squeamishness when it comes to reducing the number of those whom he views as the parasitical poor, although in his article he stopped short of chopping hands from the gunwale. Hardin, retired from the University of California, writes today for Chronicles, a magazine published in Rockford, Illinois, which champions what it calls “Old Right” conservatism. In an article in the June issue, Hardin attacks the notion that we can continue to think that having babies is “a purely private matter” to be left up to parents. Decisions about what children should be born and how or whether “abnormal babies” should be cared for “are best made on the basis of opportunity costs to the community.” All this is in the context of discussing national health care and the need to ration scarce medical resources. “A national health care system will be well justified,” writes Hardin, “if it reinstates discrimination as a proper function of the social order.” He wants it understood that he does not mean racial discrimination. The discrimination he has in mind is that between the fit and the unfit. He is not terribly hopeful that what needs to be done can be done. He writes, “The final solution (if there is one) is unknowable.” Final solution? Final solution? Why does that phrase sound so familiar?
• From several places around the country we've been sent clippings on cases where courts are ordering churches to return money donated by people who then declared bankruptcy. The question posed is whether this is a threat to religious freedom. We're not a law firm and of course each case is different, but it would seem that there are instances in which churches would rightly be required to return money. Say that Nancy X owes $100,000 to creditors for services rendered or goods delivered. Just before declaring bankruptcy, she gives $100,000 to her church. If she had given it to Uncle Charlie or the United Way, they would be required to give it back. Why shouldn't a church be similarly compelled? It would seem to be an elementary question of justice to creditors. The sticky part comes when Nancy declares that she was not simply transferring funds but was in fact giving the money to the church in return for services rendered. Those who are worried about these cases say the courts have now put themselves in the position of saying churches do not in fact render services. There may be something, a very little something, to that worry. The flip side, however, is whether churches want to put themselves in the position of claiming that they are selling their spiritual services. Hard cases make bad law and, we expect, unwarranted worries about religious freedom.
• Arianna Huffington has a nice way of going up against the false and fashionable, having written devastating books on feminist excesses and the pretensions of modern art. Now she takes on a really big assignment, the very meaning of life, in The Fourth Instinct: The Call of the Soul (Simon & Schuster, 288 pages,, $22
). Maggie Gallagher reviews it with some sympathy in National Review, noting that Huffington raises important questions for a time in which “religion tends to be viewed by intellectual elites as a kind of poison in the body politic.” But Ms. Gallagher also has her reservations: “For Mrs. Huffington, all religious truths point to the same truth: ‘There is, however, a fundamental difference between today and other historic times of spiritual renewal. Ours does not revolve around any one concept of God or require that we believe in any one set of dogmas, any one doctrine, any one recipe for redemption.' Well maybe. But then again, maybe not. Perhaps God—and Mrs. Huffington never seems to have faced this frightening possibility—actually cares how we envision Him, worship Him, and regulate our lives in His service. Perhaps in religion, as in everything else, it's possible to get it wrong.”
• Editors like to have at the end of a piece a wrap-up sentence with a bit of kick, even if doesn't make too much sense. The President of Harvard, James B. Conant, was heavily involved in, inter alia, the production of the first atomic bomb. In the New York Review of Books, Louis Menand examines a new biography of Conant and takes note of the fact that Conant, thinking nuclear war quite likely, wanted to preserve, as best as possible, the record of Western civilization on microfilm and tape. Menand's conclusion: “He had what seems today an almost naive faith in the virtues of the society for which he fought. It does not seem to have crossed his mind that the great works of a civilization that had ended in an act of self-destruction might not be the first thing the survivors of a nuclear holocaust would think it worthwhile to have.” Menand's premise would seem to be that King Lear, the Mass in B Minor, and The Federalist all entailed the inevitability of nuclear self-destruction. Further, one expects that most of what the survivors would think it worthwhile to have would be what was left over from the civilization destroyed, including perhaps the knowledge of nuclear weaponry in order to prevent further destruction. Especially if the Soviet Union was among the survivors. But one should not make too much of Mr. Menand's sniggering at Conant's high estimate of Western civilization. He needed a wrap-up, and a fillip of multicultural snottiness does the job nicely.
• An Anglican theologian, Andrew Linzey, says it is a “terrible mistake” for the new Catechism of the Catholic Church to draw such a sharp contrast between animals and people. The catechism says that while “it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly, it is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.” Professor Linzey complains, “A world in which animal cruelty goes unchecked is a morally unsafe world for human beings.” Yes, and a world in which the singularity of human dignity and responsibility is not clearly maintained is catastrophic for everyone and everything, including animals. Professor Linzey holds a research fellowship in theology and animal welfare at Mansfield College, Oxford.
• Living in Japan, Russell Board gets the international edition of Time magazine and brings this item to our attention. A story on decline in Eastern Europe concludes, “Eastern Europe's illness is as much of the spirit as of the body. Politicians, not doctors, must cure it.” So on that we should offer a comment?
• One article, even an utterly devastating article, does not a hoax destroy. And so “The Jesus Seminar” is still up to its pranks despite Richard Hays' authoritative expose, “The Corrected Jesus,” in our May issue. Writing in GQ magazine, Russell Shorto gives a sad-hilarious account of his experience at one of the seminar's meetings. He is interested also in Paul Verhoeven's plans to produce a film based on the seminar's “findings.” Those plans were discussed in the gathering of the seminar fellows. “What would rattle the convent walls is Verhoeven's intention to depict a solely human Jesus on film, and he is using the findings of the Jesus Seminar as the basis for this. ‘“Fully human” means everything has to be explained on a human scale,' he says. ‘You should certainly acknowledge, once and for all, what that means.' In other words, no deus ex machina. The exorcisms and miracles his Jesus performs will lend themselves to more mundane explanations. Assuming it gets made (he has a producer, but the script is still in the works), the film will likely raise a fuss that will make Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ seem about as controversial as The Love Bug. After all, the Jesus of The Last Temptation was still divine-He just liked girls too. The film session ends with a flurry of possible movie endings that drive home the mortal nature of their subject. Mary Magdalene caressing the lifeless cheek of her teacher. Or what if the body is simply thrown into a pit with others-a no-name burial, as far removed from glorious Resurrection as you can get-and we fade to black? When the [Jesus Seminar] gathering finally breaks up, there is relief on most of the faces. This is hard work, work with an emotional toll. Many of these men are ministers of one kind or another who maintain their Christian faith even as they pull the historical rug out from under it. It's a delicate balancing act, one that requires a certain amount of energy, not to say soul-searching. What will the future bring? Will the walls of belief collapse entirely? Will twenty centuries of Western culture be undone in one smart-alecky grunt of scholarship? The fellows insist that this is not their purpose or their desire, that scholarship and religion are two different things that can remain forever separate. But they say it with a catch of nervousness in their throats.”
• Other journalists have usually been admiring, even reverential, toward Murray Kempton. Although relatively few people read Kempton, he's known as a journalist's journalist and his new book, Rebellions, Perversities, and Main Events (Times Books), has received a great deal of review attention. Kempton is famous for his long, multi-claused and multi-conditioned, sentences that some call nuanced and others convoluted. Kempton has been doggedly, but not uncritically, a man of the left. Terry Teachout concludes his review in Commentary with this: “His understanding of the psychology of American radicalism is profound; his recognition of the complexity of human motivation is astute. But a commentator who so often chooses to paint the world in shades of gray constantly teeters on the edge of suggesting that there is no difference between black and white.” Nicely put but not quite right. One recalls, for instance, the 1968 Democratic Convention. Your editor was a delegate from New York and Kempton and he hung out together during those days. Kempton's account of those events, published in the old Saturday Evening Post, could hardly have been more morally dichotomous, with bad guys and good guys unambiguously in place (your editor extravagantly depicted as good guy). The truth is that Kempton does paint in black and white as well; the grays come in chiefly when he feels the need to nuance less-seemly aspects of the left to which he was attached during the “class struggle” radicalism of the 1930s. At least in the person of Murray Kempton, it was a radicalism with a measure of intellectual and moral gravitas. W. H. Auden dismissed the thirties as a slum of a decade, and he was probably right. But maybe that marvelous phrase should have been reserved for what was to come. Kempton has done more than his share of slumming, but his prose has always betrayed the fact that he knew, and knows, he doesn't live there.
• Here's another entry in the growing number of initiatives by black thinkers who have a quite different take on political responsibility in America. National Minority Politics is a monthly magazine advancing a program that includes “strong families,” “community-based problem solving,” and “compassionate conservatism.” It's definitely worth a look. For information write National Minority Politics, 5757 Westheimer, Suite 3296, Houston, Texas 77057.
• We note that up in the Midwest this group organized itself as the Catholic Anti-Defamation League. The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (ADL) protested that they had what is tantamount to a copyright on the term “Anti-Defamation.” The Catholics, not wanting to make trouble, changed their name to Catholic Defense League. Now maybe they'll hear from the Jewish Defense League, a far-right group associated with the late Rabbi Meier Kahane. The better and more accurate solution would be for ADL to change its name to Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. At least that is more accurate to the extent that ADL's tactics are represented by The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America, a 204-page diatribe it issued a few months ago. The book acknowledges its indebtedness to such disinterested sources of information as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, People for the American Way, and the Coalition for Human Dignity (a homosexual lobby). David Cantor, chief author of the book, admits that he did not contact Pat Robertson and other targets of the attack. Columnist Don Feder observes, “The ADL went to the very people who have the most to gain from a credible smear of the religious right without giving those libeled a chance to respond.” Of course the ADL is sniffing around for anti-Semitism. And sitting right there is conservative activist Paul Weyrich. On page 97 it is revealed that in 1981 Weyrich's organization published a pamphlet, “How to Become an Effective Grass Roots Lobbyist,” written by Warren Richardson who from 1969 to 1973 worked for the Liberty Lobby, “an anti-Semitic organization.” Feder comments: “In other words, to tar Weyrich, it uses a brochure produced thirteen years ago by a man who had worked for another organization eight years earlier. The ADL, please understand, is fighting bigotry when it employs McCarthyite tactics.” And of course Pat Robertson, despite his vigorous support for Israel, is suspected of anti-Semitism. Feder writes, “Pat Robertson must be an entirely new breed of anti-Semite—an anti-Semite who invites an orthodox rabbi to address his conventions, has a legal action arm (the American Center for Law and Justice) that filed an amicus brief in support of Hasidic Jews (the Kiryas Joel case), and employs a Jew as his chief lobbyist. . . . Here is an anti-Semitism so subtle and insidious that it actually feigns affection for Jews.” It may be too early to say that the ADL's defamation of politically active conservative Christians has backfired. But it is noteworthy that Feder is only one of many Jewish voices raised in protest against the book. The ploy of claiming that your political opponents are controlled by “religious extremists” puts you in the difficult position of defining terms in a way that makes clear you are not attacking people for being Christian and conservative, which, as it happens, is what most Americans are.
• The indefatigible Paul Kurtz has launched another volume from his Prometheus Books, Living Without Religion: Eupraxophy. Kurtz is the nation's foremost self-identified secular humanist, editor of Free Inquiry magazine, and chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). The last brings to mind Chesterton's mot about the problem with those who don't believe in God. The new name for the belief system that Kurtz insists is not a religion is, of course, from the Greek eu (good) and praxis (practice). For some reason we doubt that “eupraxophy” is going to catch on. The press release accompanying the book refers to his proposal, in what may or may not be a typo, as “expraxophy.” As in exit, quickly.
• The woman from the network calls and wants to know whether I would tape an interview on two religious groups, Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientology. She had heard me say on another network that religion was scandalously under-reported by the news media, and she emphatically agreed. “Journalists don't realize how much religion has to do with the real world,” she opined. She knew how to get to me. But why Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientology, I asked. The answer: Yesterday it was reported that Michael Jackson and Lisa-Marie Presley, daughter of the revenant, got married, the one a Jehovah's Witness and the other a Scientologist. “Viewers would like to know how their religious beliefs might affect their marriage.” Take this as further evidence in support of the claim that the news media are becoming more attentive to the importance of religion to “the real world.”
• More and more of these stories are coming in. Mr. S. of Baton Rouge writes that it is putting a serious strain on their marriage. Apparently Mrs. S. routinely gets to the mailbox first and immediately settles down with the new issue for as long as five or six hours. Even more irritating to Mr. S. is his wife's habit of chuckling or making comments to herself while she is reading the issue, and he hasn't the foggiest notion of what's so interesting. Mrs. L. of Chicago has it worse. It seems that Mr. L. not only grabs the issue for himself but he then wants to discuss items in the issue with Mrs. L. when he knows perfectly well she hasn't had a chance to read them. “Once a month, at least for a few hours,” Mrs. L. writes, “he is able to gloat that he knows more than I do.” The editors are distressed by stories such as the above, and we believe we have a solution. Perhaps these marriages can be saved by getting two copies each month. To give your spouse his or her own subscription, write First Things Marriage Savers, 156 Fifth Ave., Suite 400, New York, NY 10010, and enclose a check for $20
, which is $9 off the regular subscription price. Others talk about the alarming divorce rate. First Things is doing something about it.
Richard Rorty quoted in University of Chicago Magazine, April 1994. Habermas quoted on socialism in New York Review Books, March 24, 1994. On organization S.H.E.E.P. at Harvard, Rothbard-Rockwell Report, June 1994. On Pentti Linkola and Garret Hardin, Wall Street Journal, May 20, 1994. Maggie Gallagher on Ariana Huffington, National Review, July 11, 1994. Louis Menand on James B. Conant, New York Review of Books, July 14, 1994. Andrew Linzey on cruelty to animals, Tablet, June 18, 1994. On spiritual health of Eastern Europe, Time, June 27, 1994. Russell Shorto on the Jesus Seminar, GQ, June 1994. Terry Teachout on Murray Kempton, Commentary, July 1994. Don Feder on ADL, Human Events, July 1, 1994.