The Public Square
Does Job fear God for nought? That is the key to the entire story, and it is the answer that is sought through all the troubles that Satan visited upon Job. The question receives its answer as Job, having rejected the rationalizations offered by his friends, submits himself unqualifiedly to the wisdom and will of the Lord. I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know . . . . Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. Readers of the book have long been divided about what scholars call the epilogue (42:7“17). Calling it the epilogue suggests that it does not really belong to the story. In the last lines we read, And after this Job lived a hundred and forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. And Job died, an old man, and full of days. With everything restored, and doubly so, the story is ruined, many have complained. The happy ending means that Job did not love God for nought after all. But that does not necessarily follow. One might rather say that, because Job loved God for nought, God rewarded him with everything. Or we might want to question why on earth Job should love God for nought. In any event, the epilogue is not merely an epilogue but the necessary conclusion to the story.
Of course if you know that loving God for himself is likely to bring all kinds of benefits, the expectation of reward might compromise the purity of love’s motive. One wonders, however, whether such anxiety about purity of heart (Purity of heart is to will one thing”Kierkegaard) is entirely consonant with the biblical way of being faithful. It is Satan, after all, and not the Lord who proposes that the critical question is whether Job loves God for nought. More telling, the biblical corpus from Genesis through Revelation typically assumes a connection between righteousness and reward. The psalmist regularly links obedience and prosperity, while the repeated calls of Jesus to give up all and follow him are joined to the promise that, in return, one will receive many times more, in this world and the next. In short, it seems quite doubtful that love for God and one’s neighbor must always, or even ordinarily, exclude regard for oneself.
So, you may well ask, what is Neuhaus getting at with these heavy-duty reflections? There are several occasions for thinking along these lines. A while back we criticized an evangelical publication that thought it a great thing that a kid batting in little league believed that God was rewarding his faith by sending him just the right pitches. What’s going to happen to his faith when he strikes out, we wondered. We might have made the point more judiciously, and several readers wrote to chide us. What will happen, they said, is that, God willing, he will develop a more mature faith that is able to cope with adversity, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t believe that God is sending him good things now, and be thankful for it. Point taken.
Another occasion for this reflection was talking with a businessman who has written a well-received book, the point of which is that he is in partnership with God, and God has turned out to be a partner who turns a tidy profit for them. This seemed pretty gross to our theologically refined sensibilities. Look, he says, I’m not claiming that I can prove a cause-effect connection, and I’m certainly not saying that God owes me. All I’m saying is that when twenty years ago I turned my business over to God, and promised to pray for His guidance and follow it, and promised to give generously of what the business earned, everything began to take off and has continued that way ever since. So you want I shouldn’t be thankful for God’s help? Point taken.
Attention Must Be Paid
Yes, of course, things are not quite so simple as that. But before we go on to complexify and thereby obscure the simple”which is the special competence of the educated”a little respectful attention might be paid. Which brings us to sex and religion. Protestations to the contrary, sex is a very heavy-duty subject for most people and is deserving of heavy-duty reflection. Not too often, but on occasion. There are some new studies on sex, morality, and religion that may be of interest. Survey research is of course no substitute for thinking, but it can provide grist for reflection. One new study, commissioned by the Family Research Council (FRC), confirms a major sex survey commissioned by Redbook magazine in the mid-1970s. Redbook discovered a number of things that embarrassed the proponents of the sexual revolution that was then in full swing.
The survey found, for instance, that women who were sexually active by age fifteen were more likely to express dissatisfaction with their current sex life than those who abstained. That’s not very surprising, there being a number of disorderly life circumstances that might precipitate, among other misbehaviors, early sex, with continuing consequences later in life. But the finding does not fit the doctrine of the sex indoctrinators who airily assert that kids are going to do it anyway and therefore they should learn to do it early and right as good, clean, healthy fun. (Twenty years ago, before the sluice gates of sexual disease were opened, it was not thought so necessary to add the adjective safe. Come to think of it, the terms clean and healthy are no longer so frequently encountered in discussions of sex.)
The more disconcerting finding in the Redbook survey”disconcerting at least to the secularly enlightened”is that women who rated high on the religion index were having a lot more fun in bed. This came as good news to the Honk If You Love Jesus people. Not only did more of the highly religious women say that their sex lives are very good, but they apparently did not have a lower expectation of what sex should be. Women who had sex only with their husbands, for instance, experienced orgasm twice as often as women with multiple partners. The above-mentioned FRC survey now produces similar findings. Among married traditionalists (those who strongly believe that sex should be reserved for marriage), 72 percent report high sexual satisfaction. That is 31 percent higher than unmarried nontraditionalists (those who take a more casual view of sex outside of marriage) and 13 points higher than married nontraditionalists. The couple that prays together ___________. Fill in the blank and come up with a snappy slogan for a campaign that might evangelize America.
According to Dr. David Larson of the National Institutes of Health, greater sexual responsiveness among the faithfully married does not appear to be connected to any special sexual technique. Rather, it says here, he found that sexual responsiveness and satisfaction are significantly affected by the relational context in which lovemaking takes place. For this the government funds research, one may be inclined to complain. But keep in mind that we live in an age when people are uncertain about the sun’s rising tomorrow until reassured by calculations of statistical incidence, so scientific confirmation of the obvious should not be scorned. Larson writes, Women are more likely to be orgasmic when they feel secure, loved, and trusting that their man is around to stay. Without a doubt, marriage provides a foundation that increases the odds a woman will be able to risk a level of vulnerability that goes beyond the ability to participate in the act but enables her to let go’ and experience orgasm. Commitment to marital fidelity and permanence, says Larson, is a great motivator to make things better, including physical intimacy.
Further gleanings from an article by William Mattox of FRC include the finding of UCLA psychologists that sexual satisfaction is closely related to the absence of sexual anxiety. One reason the faithfully married have an easier time with intimacy is that they enjoy greater sexual freedom. Not sexual freedom in the sense in which the term is commonly used, namely, the freedom to do what one wants, including the freedom to sleep around. Rather, they have greater sexual freedom in the sense of freedom from the anxieties that bedevil sex for many, if not most, who are not monogamous. They are free, inter alia, from guilt about violating their own sense of morality, free from fear of sexually transmitted diseases, free from fear of out-of-wedlock pregnancy, free from fear of comparison to other partners, and free from fear of losing the partner to another. Taken all in all, it looks much more like sexual freedom than what is commonly called sexual freedom.
Mattox deplores the fact that, in all the messages about sexuality given to young people today, there is little mention of marriage and the joys of marital intimacy. The several sides in the debate over teenage sex tend to frame their messages in negative terms-e.g., abstinence and safe sex. The messages tend to be aimed at avoiding problems connected with sexual irresponsibility. They are, says Mattox, fear-based messages and it is unrealistic to expect teenagers-who are poor risk assessors and believe they will live forever-to respond to warnings about what might, in their view, happen to someone else. Even if fear-based messages did work, Mattox thinks they don’t communicate what needs to be communicated. Sex is very different from smoking or drug use. Whereas these are bad ideas at any time and under any circumstances”hence the legitimacy of the just say no’ message”sex is a wonderful thing when it is entered into at the right time and under the right circumstances. The upshot is that biblical teaching, moral reflection, common sense, and scientific research converge on the conclusion that good sex comes to those who wait. If we really are as interested in sexual gratification as we say we are, says Mattox, maybe it’s time to reconnect sex with marriage.
The Way Things Are
In little league baseball, in business, in the bedroom and everywhere else, there is a design to things. Call it natural law or call it the order of creation or call it whatever, but there is a there there. Reality is not an emptiness to be shaped to our control or defined by our desires. There is the thing in itself. To be sure, we live in a fallen creation, so the design gets skewed and obscured, and our perception of the thing is wounded. Then there is the human will that is bent even against the reality that is perceived. Compounding our problems are experiences of a world out of whack, experiences that defy the very idea of design; to wit, and most notoriously, the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper. But this is no place for a full-blown theodicy, if indeed theodicy is a legitimate project for Christian theology. The modest purpose of this rumination is to suggest that we should pay more respectful attention to what simple but wise people discern to be the connection between virtue and reward. Einstein said that God does not play dice with the universe, and a lot of smart people have delighted in demonstrating that, if there is a God, the evidence suggests that he does so play dice, especially when it comes to meting out justice. That’s how smart people show that they’re smart. But wise people have reason to hope that Einstein was right.
Smart people have thrown into awful confusion the perception that there is an order to things, and the belief that it matters enormously whether one lives with or against that order. This is dramatically evident in the sphere of sexual behavior. When, to take an obvious example, it is observed that homogenital sex is objectively disordered, the implication is that such disordered behavior is likely to have unhappy consequences. In the case of the actively homosexual it is not necessary to belabor the point, since those consequences”dramatically increased rates of depression, suicide, drug abuse, alcoholism, and deadly disease”are increasingly well known. Studies suggest that among those who are sexually active in the gay subculture, life expectancy is age forty-two (age thirty-nine for those dying of AIDS), more than thirty years less than the life expectancy of married men. The connection between behavior and consequence is sadly obvious.
That there is as a general rule a correlation between virtue and human flourishing, and between vice and misfortune, really should not be so problematic as many intellectuals seem to think it is. Maybe it has become so problematic because the exceptions to the rule are so much more intellectually scintillating, and therefore attract inordinate attention. Then too, a certain insistence upon purity of motive (whether the insistence be based on Christian or Kantian grounds) discourages a candid making of connections between virtue and reward, lest that purity be compromised by self-interest. Nor should we overlook the possibility that denying the connections is psychologically convenient for those of us who are not on such great terms with virtue. Moreover, the assumed connections between virtue and reward are frequently discredited by being associated with the caricature of a Zeus-like God hurling down blessings on the good guys and punishments on the bad. It is not that God zaps drunk drivers with car crashes, but drunk drivers tend to crash. That has something to do with the nature of things.
The popular perception and experience of a connection between righteousness and blessing is, of course, subject to distortion and abuse. Self-righteousness, smugness, and indifference to the gratuitousness of God’s mercy are all sins severely condemned in the biblical tradition. But underlying the distortions and abuses is the assumed connection between righteousness and blessing, between faithfulness and promise. It is the way God is, and it is the way he has ordered his creation. It is a wonder and a disappointment that the rise of environmental sensitivity, with its increased respect for the ways of nature, has not in our culture extended to the moral sphere. Perhaps that will still happen. Respect for the wisdom of nature, reflecting the wisdom of nature’s God, should, one might think, enhance receptivity to the idea of natural law. The problem may be with the term law. It sounds so, well, legalistic. Maybe we should speak of natural wisdom, or simply the moral truth of nature. One expects that a good many of the mental gropings of New Ageish ecophilosophies and ecotheologies are confusedly stumbling toward something like natural law.
Satan, like too many philosophers and theologians since, had nothing but contempt for the structure of human behavior. Out of contempt he comes up with his question, Does Job fear God for nought? The answer is: of course not. He feared God, and at the end of the story he learned to fear him again, because God is God and he is not. He feared God because to go against the living God is to invoke terrible consequences, and to obey him is to live in the hope of unsurpassable good. The truth of Psalm 111 still holds: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It is the wisdom of common folk who are not embarrassed or surprised by the suggestion that there is a link between prayer and pitches in the strike zone, between giving and getting in business, between marital fidelity and better sex. Hoping for such good things may not be the most elevated reasons to fear and love God or to try to do what is right. But they are nice, everyday, human-sized reasons. They have their limitations, as we are all most expert at pointing out, but they are deserving of more respectful attention than they usually get from those who are trained to go to and fro upon the earth cleverly obscuring the obvious.
I know I have let you down, but I have also let myself down. So said Tonya Harding at a press conference, admitting that she had been hiding knowledge about the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. Jane Alpert, a 1960s radical who had taken part in bombings that injured twenty-one people, said she had spent years in therapy learning to understand, to tolerate and forgive both others and myself. Lorena Bobbitt’s lawyer said the acquittal was a giant step forward for Lorena in the healing process. She really needs healing. And Michael Jackson’s lawyer, announcing a multimillion dollar settlement for alleged child molestation: Michael wants to get on with his life and let the healing process begin. Then there are the Menendez brothers. Testifying for the defense, the psychologist says of Lyle: He had this strong love for his father. And the conditions that had been produced meant he had lost his father. He no longer had this person he loved. The condition that Lyle had produced is called patricide.
Columnist Charles Krauthammer describes himself as a longtime student of the American way of confession, and he finds fascinating these instances of self-exculpation. The themes are self-betrayal and self-forgiveness. They reflect perfectly a culture in which one no longer sins against God, natural law, the moral order, society, or even one’s fellow man-to take them in descending metaphysical order-but against oneself. In the Menendez case: Their trial has elevated therapeutic expiation to truly comic proportions. The classic definition of chutzpah is a person who murders his parents and then demands mercy from the court on the grounds that he is an orphan . . . . But this joke is dangerous. Our obsession with the psychic welfare of the victimizer leaves us philosophically defenseless against crime. When the victimizer is nothing more than another victim, justice becomes impossible. Bobbitt walks. The Menendez brothers prove impossible to convict . . . . The President and Congress can climb all over each other to be tough on crime. But as long as the only real crimes are crimes against oneself, as long as psychic injury turns criminals into victims, the task is hopeless.
Crime and punishment. It used to be thought that they go together. Having philosophically discredited the idea of punishment, we are left only with crime. But now we have crime without criminals; there are only conditions produced, and of these conditions we are all victims. From our inability to think clearly about punishment we conclude that we are all punished, and the doleful fact is that we are. Most of us might sympathize with Lear when he cries, I am a man more sinn’d against than sinning. But today, how would one know?
Reconnecting Morality and Religion
Deference is usually paid Alasdair MacIntyre, and with good reason. With After Virtue and subsequent books, MacIntyre has had a singular part in changing the map of moral philosophy. British philosopher Maurice Cowling, writing in the New Criterion , is respectful of MacIntyre’s achievement but, in surveying his work over more than three decades, thinks it evident that MacIntyre has been consistently naive in understanding the political and social circumstances in which he works. There are threads of continuity, Cowling implies, between MacIntyre’s quasi-Marxism back then and his enthusiastic Thomism now. There is naivete also, he believes, in MacIntyre’s hope that postmodernism will open academe to a genuine engagement between rival theories of morality. MacIntyre’s inquiry, says Cowling, is about the possibility of reattaching morality and religion in the conditions of contemporary intellectual life.
Cowling’s conclusion on that inquiry: This, from MacIntyre’s point of view, is an intelligible question to ask in an age in which there is an entrenched correctness about morals and religion, and even some Catholic universities hesitate to teach Catholic truth. But the real difficulty is that modern universities teach, if only obliquely but still as an aspect of their inconclusiveness, a form of substantive truth which is post-or anti-Christian. This consideration is fundamental. It is much later than MacIntyre supposes and, though he is traveling hopefully, it is to a destination at which he is unlikely to arrive. Certainly he understands that Liberalism is an oppressive and exclusive ideology. But equally certainly he seems not to take into account the depth of its entrenchment, the variety of the forms that it takes, and the extent to which his tactical demand for conflict involves a substantive acceptance of its inconclusiveness. Whatever their economic orientation and even when their language is post -Liberal, humane studies in modern universities are in the grip of a secular Liberalism which detaches morality from religion and leaves its mark on morality even where morality remains attached to religion. The conflict that MacIntyre wants is probably the only way forward in a difficult situation. But if his objective is the entrenchment of Thomism where Liberalism and post-Liberal correctness are entrenched at present, there is little reason to suppose that he will be successful.
One doubts, however, that such an entrenchment of Thomism is MacIntyre’s objective. Rather, the hope is for a free and honest engagement in which one theory can demonstrate its superior ability to account for the concerns and insights of its rivals, while itself being susceptible to correction from others and from the self-correcting dynamics that it embodies. That, at least, is closer to our understanding of MacIntyre’s project. Cowling is no doubt right, however, to point out the deep and virulent hostility to Christianity commonly found in the university and to raise, if only implicitly, a caution against the proposal that Christians can cooperate with sundry postmodernists in overthrowing the hegemony of modern rationalism. Some postmodernisms are frankly nihilistic, and one sups with nihilists only using a very long spoon or, better yet, does not sup with them at all.
Why Communism Collapsed
The Soviet Union, we opined in the January issue, did not collapse of itself; a large measure of credit must be given to figures such as John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. The Rev. Foster Freed of Knox United Church in Parksville, British Columbia, doesn’t disagree, but he cautions that the way we put the matter could play into the hands of those who contend that there was nothing inherently wrong with communism. Many on the left . . . are far from convinced that the fall of the Soviet Union proves much of anything. These folks invest a great deal of emotional energy waiting, on the one hand, for the advent of the next Nicaragua and breathlessly anticipating, on the other, the imminent collapse of Western-style democratic capitalism. They are only too happy to be told that the Soviet Union did not collapse of itself’ but was undermined by some kind of sinister conspiracy, especially if they can associate that conspiracy with names like Thatcher, Reagan, and Wojtyla.
Mr. Freed expects there will be revisionist histories of the 1980s that will gleefully quote this writer in support of the argument that the problem was not with the Soviet system but with external pressure orchestrated by the President of the only empire’ they are ever likely to think of as truly evil. He makes a good point, in response to which this is an anticipatory disclaimer of any such revisionist misinterpretation. Could the Soviet system have stumbled on for another decade or two had there not been the pressures from the West? Scholars are not agreed on that, and we have no way of knowing for sure. In addition to the Western pressures there was, of course, the role of Gorbachev in launching economic changes whose political consequences he did not foresee. With respect to the internal crises of the Soviet Union, the most persuasive recent account we have read is David Remnick’s Lenin’s Tomb (Random House). The Washington Post correspondent in Moscow during the years of the collapse, Remnick depicts a level of mismanagement, irrational conflict, corruption, and mafioso-style gangsterism that makes the collapse seem all but inevitable.
So, it might be argued, to a significant extent the Soviet Union did collapse of itself. At the same time, saying that leaves us with another problem. The revisionists whom Mr. Freed worries about can just as easily hijack the Remnick analysis, contending that the degenerate order he describes proves nothing about the merits of communism (or Marxist-Leninism, or socialism). The miscreants in charge whom Remnick depicts were, according to the revisionist script, traitors to the dream. For people of a certain ideological disposition, socialism is the name of their desire, and nothing can discredit that desire. Although expressing confidence in history’s vindication of that desire, the desire itself escapes all of history’s falsifications.
As for the collapse of communism, it happened as it happened. Hypothetically, it could have happened in a different way, or been delayed for a time. Ideological, economic, political, military, cultural, moral, and spiritual factors all played their part in what happened. For true believers, communism as a pure idea can never be discredited; but the real world does not allow space for pure ideas to work themselves out in a manner unaffected by everything else that is going on. In our view, Marxism-Leninism as an idea was a species of utopian madness, intellectually uninteresting in conception and necessarily brutal in application. It produced none of the benefits that it promised, and finally, it seems, was believed by almost nobody among those in charge of its implementation. It could not maintain its self-respect, it could not hold up its head, in the company of economic, cultural, and spiritual alternatives represented by figures such as John Paul, Reagan, and Thatcher. Posing as a great power is the last refuge of failed systems and, in view of the military challenge, the Soviet Union could not any longer even claim to be a great power.
The humiliation was total and abject. And dangerous, as is evident in the political demagogues in Russia now exploiting the affront to Russian imperial pride. The surprises of history are such that we may soon wish that communism had collapsed in a different way. But the fact is that it collapsed as it did, by virtue of being a very bad idea in a world that refused to conform to its wishes. Of course, for those who thought it a good idea the fault lies with the rest of the world, and with the pseudo-Marxist managers who betrayed the dream. The socialist revisionists we will have always with us, for the desire becomes more demanding as the prospect of its satisfaction recedes. The idea, like a bird, escapes all the closing traps of historical fact. There must be, they insist, an alternative to this”to the paltry, striving, bourgeois, thus and so ness of democratic capitalism. There simply must be. And there is of course. But those who do not know the alternative of a new heaven and new earth of ultimate promise have no choice but to cling ever more desperately to socialism as the name of their desire.
It is offensively religious, said a state of California social service bureaucrat a few years ago, for a center serving the poor to be called the Saint Vincent De Paul Center. And, in view of the center’s involvement in government programs, retaining the name is probably also unconstitutional, it was suggested. The problem was not so much with the name as with the Saint. Now if we could refer to him as Mr. Vincent De Paul there would be no difficulty. Silly? Of course, but not unrepresentative of government officials obsessed with a distorted notion of the separation of church and state; and, regrettably, not unrepresentative of church officials eager not to get on the wrong side of the state.
Here is an item from the Saint Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota. (One notes there is no serious movement underway to change the name of the city.) US West Direct has excised religious symbols and references from its new edition of the yellow pages. Two religiously based adult care programs, St. Benedict’s Center and Good Shepherd Lutheran Home, have been told that their ads are discriminatory. St. Benedict’s had to remove its logo, which includes a cross, and could use Benedict in its ad only once because of its religious connotations. Good Shepherd could not use its shepherd staff logo and could print Good Shepherd only once. In forbidding religion-specific advertising, US West Direct invokes the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits religious discrimination.
The two homes claim that the policy violates their religious freedom and that of their clients. Suzanne Hartley of Good Shepherd says that, if the home does not designate itself as religion-based, it could lose clients seeking that particular environment and attract others who don’t want it. Ms. Hartley is undoubtedly on the side of the angels on this one, but one wonders if she understands the larger issue. The larger issue is that the dynamics of government-mandated nondiscrimination require that places such as St. Benedict’s and Good Shepherd should not be religiously distinctive. To be distinctive is to run the risk of attracting people who favor the distinction in question and thereby to become complicit in discrimination. Thus do terms such as nondiscrimination, pluralistic, and inclusive get transmogrified into government-enforced uniformity and homogeneity.
The Fair Housing Act is not supposed to apply to religious institutions such as these nursing homes. And nobody accuses the homes of actually discriminating against anyone. Their crime is that they are different and, by being different, invite applications from old people who would like to be in a Catholic or Lutheran home. Such old folk, though guilty of discrimination, probably don’t know any better; but the homes, by advertising what makes them different, have no excuse and become accomplices in the offense. To be fair, the government is not saying that these homes cannot be distinctively religious in the way they present themselves to the public. US West Direct is saying that. But it is saying it out of fear of what the government regulators might do, and it is imposing its fear upon the homes. This might be called anticipatory surrender. When in doubt about what the state requires, assume the worst and cave in. With such deeds of spinelessness large and small the road to serfdom is paved. The yellow in yellow pages takes on new meaning.
Psychiatry’s Shrinking Market
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and the new edition takes a more sympathetic tack toward religion. The manual includes a new entry titled Religious and Spiritual Problems which will be listed along with other problems of living that do not necessarily indicate psychiatric illness but may be the focus of clinical attention. Changes in the manual occur from time to time, both reflecting and influencing social attitudes and legal practice. The manual also provides a common terminology to justify research and the billing of patients. In 1973, as the result of an enormous political effort by gays, homosexuality was dropped from the manual’s list of personality disorders. Twenty years later religion gets equal status with homosexuality; it may be a problem for some but it is not of itself an illness.
Dr. Harold Alan Pincus of the APA’s office of research said the new entry on religion is a sign of the profession’s growing sensitivity not only to religion but to cultural diversity generally. Illustrating that diversity is Dr. Francis Lu, a San Francisco psychiatrist, who was involved in bringing about the change because of his personal experience. He said that in 1978 he attended a five-day seminar led by Joseph Campbell, the late mythologist, and there he had a revelation or an epiphany that in some way my purpose in life was to bring together the East and the West. Working for this change in the manual, he explained, is part of my living out of that epiphany.
It is possible that some religious folk may be pathetically grateful for the measure of acceptance extended by the APA. The more reasonable view is that the collapse of the plausibility of psychiatric orthodoxy, combined with the dramatic loss of market shares to low-cost small group therapies and psychopharmacologies (such as Prozac), compels the APA to desist from egregiously insulting potential customers, including religious customers. The change in the manual says less about a new appreciation of religion than about a profession that is on the ropes both economically and in terms of its credibility (the two being, of course, intimately coupled). Fitting religion in under the increasingly capacious rubric of cultural diversity is doing religion no favors. We may want to reciprocate by allowing that psychiatry is not necessarily a disease but it is a life problem that may require spiritual attention.
The Catholic Moment in England, Maybe
As I anticipated, the realization that the Catholics now form by far the largest Christian communion in England, and that many pious members of the disintegrating Anglican Church are returning to their ancient allegiance, was bound to provoke a wave of anti-Catholic bigotry. Thus Paul Johnson in the Spectator (London) responding to the Protestant anxieties of Ferdinand Mount that Catholics, taking advantage of the troubles in Anglicanism, may be getting uppity. Johnson details the ways in which Catholics are still discriminated against in English life. No Catholic, for example, can hold the office of Lord Chancellor, which we did not know. Probably not too many have been in the running, although Mr. Johnson apparently has a friend who was excluded from that post because he is Catholic. More frequently, says Johnson, Catholics fail to get jobs because of a nudge or a wink, a whispered aside, a confidential letter. It seems that Johnson was almost prevented from becoming editor of the New Statesman for that reason in 1964.
Then there is the popular culture. Moreover, Catholics, more than members of any other faith, are daily exposed to casual and sometimes deliberate assaults in the media and showbiz, against which a Protestant state offers us no protection. I have lost count of the times when the body of Christ and the crucifix have been blasphemously and obscenely presented by depraved film directors and the like. Nuns are constantly held up to scatological ridicule, and a shameless harlot regularly paces across our stages in her role as Madonna.’
Like the anchorman in Network , Paul Johnson is not going to take it any more. We are not going to put up with this kind of thing any longer. The Catholic hierarchy, led by the monk-cardinal Basil Hume, is anxious to avoid a scrap and never utters a squeak of protest if left to itself. But it is high time Fr. Hume went back to his monastery and concentrated on saving his soul, thus clearing the stage for a more doughty champion. For the truth is the entire Christian character of our country is now threatened by its innumerable enemies, external and internal. The Anglican Church, with all its privileges and resources, has surrendered to secularism without a fight and is leaving the battlefield in fear and disarray. It is the Catholics who are taking over the struggle against the horrific paganism of the 1990s, and I can assure Mr. Mount and anyone else who is listening that we know how to fight.
Nobody is likely to get drawn and quartered this time around, but our English cousins are having a fine time replaying the wars of religion in the aftermath of Canterbury’s decision to ordain women, the announcement that many Anglican priests will exercise the Roman option, and ancillary events such as the conversion of the Duchess of Kent. One papist (as they are still charmingly called in some circles) was even reported to have said that Catholics wanted to have their churches back. In the same issue of the Spectator , Piers Paul Read denies that he said any such thing. I have always taken a perverse pride in the ugliness of most Catholic churches in England: no one would choose to worship in them unless impelled to do so by conviction. He also fears the penchant of Catholic priests to update churches in accord with current liturgical fashions. As monuments to the cultural magnificence of our Catholic past, he concludes, our pre-Reformation cathedrals and churches are safer in the hands of the Church of England.
Then there is Fr. Ignatius Harrison of the London Oratory who was reported to have preached that Catholics should be thinking about the conversion of England. He wants it known that that may be somewhat misleading. I said it would be quite wrong for traditional Catholics (like myself) to take pleasure in the disarray and disintegration within the Church of England over women priests, not least because the same issue was also being debated within the Catholic Church. Fr. Harrison continues: I also said that while some preferred not to speak of the conversion of England, we do seem to be living through a period of historical shift, the final resolution of the compromise enshrined in the Elizabethan Settlement and, most regrettably, the overall failure of the Oxford Movement. I suggested that the current realignment of English Christianity will take at least a generation to settle, but at the end of it the Church of England will emerge much stronger than it is now, because by then its identity will be so much clearer”an unambiguously Protestant body untrammelled by the contradictions of Anglo-Catholicism.
Without even a scintilla of Schadenfreude over the internal distress of Anglicanism, the Tablet (London) recently editorialized that England and Wales may be on the edge of something like what a certain American writer has called The Catholic Moment. The editors are mildly ambivalent about that prospect, rightly noting that a Catholic ascendancy, if that is the term, must be ecumenically respectful of other communions that have a necessary part in restoring Christian influence and the foundations of public morality. This discussion takes place against the background of Prime Minister John Major’s aborted program of moral restoration, called Back to Basics (another American import). The program has been subjected to widespread and amused contempt as a result of an unseemly number of Conservative Party leaders being discovered in compromising sexual circumstances. In view of the implosion of the Church of England and the discrediting of Conservative leadership, the Tablet opines that the job of spiritual and moral renewal may belong to Catholics by default.
The Catholic-Protestant situation in England is rich in historical ironies, of course, and the English, who major in irony, can be counted on to make the most of it. Things will take some time to sort themselves out, and nobody knows how many Anglican priests will exercise the Roman option; estimates range from 250 to well over a thousand. There are also an unknown number of laity, and some entire parishes, who have come to the conclusion that the comfortable notion that the Church of England is, along with Rome and Orthodoxy, a branch of the Catholic Church is no longer tenable. On the Roman Catholic side, there is uneasiness about whether those who swim the Tiber at the Thames will strengthen the traditionalist or progressivist ranks in English Catholicism. An Anglican opposed to women priests is not necessarily a traditionalist on other questions. Moreover, some say that they are not opposed to women priests as such, but only to the way in which the question was unilaterally decided in disregard of, indeed in defiance of, the other two branches of the one Church.
A further complicating touch is that some Catholics think the ecclesial immigrants will strengthen the progressivist cause. Most of the priests, for instance, will be married, thus possibly relaxing the celibacy rule in the Latin Rite. It is also mentioned that, as former Anglicans, these new Catholics are formed by a tradition of free and open debate and will not buckle readily to the putatively authoritarian ways of Rome. Whether plausible or not, such things are being said. In fact, this pontificate seems to be strengthening the norm of celibacy by undergirding the discipline with a more explicit theological rationale. And Anglicans in search of authoritarianism to challenge will likely be disappointed in the Catholicism of today. Whatever the probable impact of the newcomers, Cardinal Hume and the bishops at first appeared quite cool to the prospect of Anglican priests entering the fold. Recently, however, John Paul II has strongly encouraged the English bishops to exhibit a more hospitable spirit, and the encouragement seems to be having its effect.
All of this makes for fascinating ecclesiastical and cultural theater, but it is more than that, and its significance extends beyond the people of England and Wales. After what will soon be five centuries, it is evident to all that the religious establishment brought into being by Henry VIII’s rejection of his wife, Catherine of Aragon, was a delusion sustained only by the royal connection. Some years ago John Habgood, Archbishop of York, explained to this writer that the Church of England had never really been the church of the English people, that in fact England had never been Christianized. Subsequent events have tended to make his analysis more interesting. There was Methodism, a mighty tide of renewal that rolled from the eighteenth century into the early years of the twentieth but now seems to be exhausted. With the Anglo-Catholics either gone or effectively silenced, there would seem to be nothing now to prevent the merger with the nonconformists that has long been desired by the evangelical party, now triumphant, in the Church of England. Whether the splicing of dispirited Protestantisms will generate spiritual renewal seems doubtful. Certainly it has not had that result in this country. The evangelization of England may be up to the Catholics, or mainly up to the Catholics, after all. An Anglican friend with a bent for history says that things are working out pretty much as they might have had Ann Boleyn not caught Henry’s fancy. That is stretching, but it is a suggestive stretch. As we said, the English are big on irony, and a good thing, too, for history seems to serve them more than their share.
Islam at the Helm
Francis Fukuyama’s end of history thesis continues to rattle about in sundry worlds of reflection. Islam and the End of History is a response by Ali A. Mazrui, Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at the State University of New York, Binghamton. Writing in the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences , the Albert Schweitzer professor reflects a common and poignant Muslim sense of being not so much excluded as ignored in a world history that has become inescapably Western. The message is that Islam, too, has something to contribute. And anyway, the West is not all that it is cracked up to be. Mazrui writes: Much of the discussion of the end of history’ focuses on the strengths of the West and therefore assumes the weaknesses of the rest of the world. But if Islam in the twentieth century has not always been the most fertile ground for democracy, it has also been less fertile for some of the greatest evils of this century: Nazism, fascism, communism, and genocide. These have emerged in societies that were Christian or Buddhist or Confucian. Muslims are often criticized for not producing the best, but they are not congratulated for having standards of human behavior that avert the worst. There are no Muslim equivalents of Nazi concentration camps, American racial lynching, apartheid under the Dutch Reformed Church, Japanese racism before or during the Second World War, or genocide under Stalin and Pol Pot. What is it in Islam that insists on minimum standards of humanity and humanness? In response to Mazrui’s question, it would perhaps be poor form to raise questions about, inter alia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
But it is always salutary for those of us in the West to be reminded of our failings. Mazrui continues: If history as a quest for the ultimate political order is to come to an end, it can never be satisfied with the message of the West on how to maximize the best in human nature. History must consult Islam about how to check the worst in human nature. From alcoholism to racism, materialism to Nazism, drug addiction to Leninism-of all the value systems in the world-Islam has been the most resistant to the ultimate destructive forces of the twentieth century and perhaps, for the time being, including the dreaded Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) . . . . It is worth asking if those societies that are closer to the Shari’ah are also more distant from being HIV positive. If so, we should take a closer look as to why that is so.
His conclusion reflects intimations of what might be called The Islamic Moment: For much of this century, we were very often no more than passengers on a ship called the S.S. Earth. We were just passengers, sometimes passengers in chains. In the course of the second half of the twentieth century, we began to be members of the crew”at least some of us. We began to be participants in the movements of that ship and in helping to direct its ultimate destination. The question that now arises is: Are we in a position once again to take charge of the ship, if not in this decade, if not in the next decade, not long after that? Are we in a position to take our turn as the collective captain of the S.S. Earth?
Of course nobody can know what may happen in a decade or two. The prospect of Islam taking charge or being the collective captain of world history, however, would be somewhat intimidating were it at all plausible. There is reason to expect that Islam will play a larger role in the years ahead, and stronger reason to hope that the consequence will be a strengthening all around of minimum standards of humanity and humanness. In that event, the passengers, crew, and officers of S.S. Earth will have little reason to object to having more Muslims on the bridge.
The Prodigal Nun
A difficulty is that there are so many versions of the Bible around nowadays that one doesn’t know what is supposed to be a translation, a paraphrase, a revisionist redaction, or the discovery of some new manuscript. A biblical scholar of our acquaintance suggests that what follows, The Parable of the Prodigal Nun, may belong to the last category. There was a bishop who had two daughters; and the elder of them said, Father, give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the elder gathered all together, and took her journey unto the Summer Pastoral Institute of Notre Dame University, and there wasted her substance with riotous living and liturgies. And when she had spent all, there arose a radical tide in that land, and she began to feel left out. And she went and joined herself to one of the lesbians of that country, and she sent her into the missile bases to bait swine. And she would fain have graced her Volvo with one of the bumper stickers at which the swine did scoff, but no one gave unto her. But when she came to herself she said, How many of my father’s hirelings have desktop publishing capability and to spare, and I languish here with mimeos. I will arise and go to my father and will say unto him, Father, thou hast sinned against heaven and in my sight; thou art no longer worthy to be called my sire; treat me as one of thy committee chairpersons. And she arose and came to her father. But when she was yet afar off, the bishop saw her, and was moved with guilt, and ran, and tripped on his sandal, and kissed her feet. And the daughter said unto him, Father thou hast harassed me by salivating on my toenails during office hours; but do thou make me as supreme coordinator of thy chancery. And the father said to his secretaries, Bring forth quickly the Mac Plus with the laser printer and place it in her office, and put a cellular phone in the Buick, and bring the fatted cleric and sack him, and let us make caring, for this my daughter was bored and found life, and we were out of it, and yea are deemed with it again. And they began to share. Now his younger daughter was in the chapel, and as she came and drew nigh to the Activities Center, she heard music and dancing. And she paged one of the secretaries, and inquired what these things might be, and she said unto her, Thy sister is come, and the bishop hath sacked Msgr. Riordan, because thy sire she hath accepted as a partner in ministry. But she was in sore despond, and had baby clothes to pack for the Birthright drive, and did not come in. And her father came out and scolded her. But she answered and said to the bishop, Lo these many years do I serve thee, and I never transgressed a memorandum of thine, and yet thou never gavest me a magic marker, that I might make flyers with my friends. But when this daughter came, which hath devoured thy living with the People’s Committee for Reproductive Freedom in Nicaragua, thou cannest for her the seminary rector. And he said unto her, Look sweetheart, thou aren’t going nowhere, even if I locked up the Ko-Rec-Type on thee, which I’ve got half a mind to do. But it is meet to make sharing and be glad, for CBS News is due here in fifteen minutes with a film crew. Get thee hence then into the media blackout, where there is non-inclusive wailing and gnashing of teeth. And he issued a directive that the door be bolted behind her.
While We’re At It
The president of the National Education Association is, not suprisingly, an educator. Of sorts. In a paid NEA advertisement in sundry newspapers, Violence, Greed, and Social Conscience, Keith Geiger emphasizes the importance of learning from the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. Mr. Geiger writes, I can think of no time when our nation more desperately needed to heed the legacy of Dr. King. Let us be guided by his faith in America’s people and their social conscience. And let us remember his words of wisdom”the words that tell us that the highest principles of justice are found, not within law books, but within ourselves. That may be what is taught in Self-Esteem 101, but it is not what Dr. King taught about the highest principles of justice. This, for example, from his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail: A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. What is within ourselves notwithstanding.
The arid and dehumanizing liberalism of John Rawls comes in for some sharp words from the distinguished philosopher Stuart Hampshire of Oxford. Reviewing Rawls’ Political Liberalism in the New York Review of Books , Hampshire writes, At one point Rawls asserts, to me alarmingly, that under reasonably favorable conditions that make democracy possible, political values normally outweigh whatever nonpolitical values conflict with them.’ This meta-statement surely conveys a very substantial and definite moral point of view, putting the duties owed to basic institutions that are just ones ahead of all other human commitments. This ruling brings political liberalism, supposedly not itself a comprehensive morality, into direct conflict with many comprehensive moralities that are likely to flourish in a modern democracy. It suggests that a voluntary exile or emigrant, a hermit or wanderer, a detached aesthete or artist, is a delinquent, short of full humanity, insofar as he is careless of the justice of the institutions governing his own society. This may be a defensible opinion, among the multiplicity of possible moral opinions, but abstract philosophical argument is surely not by itself sufficient to support it.
What a bundle of convoluted contentions are knotted by the phrase inclusive language. Alvin F. Kimel, an Episcopal priest, has conscientiously and discerningly sorted through the bundle in The Holy Trinity Meets Ashtoreth: A Critique of Inclusive’ Liturgies. Originally published in the Anglican Theological Review , reprints of this fine essay are available by writing First Things , 156 Fifth Ave, Suite 400, New York, NY 10010. ($1.50 for one copy, $1 each for two or more.)
We are regularly implored to find publishers for books, and to read manuscripts with an eye toward making them publishable. We can seldom be of help on either score. Publishers are a lamentable lot, as are writers. Of publishers and editors, Voltaire had this to say: I could show you all society poisoned by this class of person”a class unknown to the ancients”who, not being able to find any honest occupation, be it manual labor or service, and unluckily knowing how to read and write, become the brokers of literature, live on our works, steal our manuscripts, falsify them, and sell them. That may be a bit much. Jacques Barzun is somewhat more temperate: In spite of good will, and frequently of true friendship, Author and Publisher are natural antagonists. Authors, as everybody knows, are difficult”they are unreliable, arrogant, and grasping. But publishers are impossible”grasping, arrogant, and unreliable . . . . Many publishing tangles come from the fact that authors and publishers are far too much alike.
The therapeutic society, which is the title of his best known book, is the phrase most readily associated with the name of Philip Rieff. Now there is a new book forthcoming, we know not when, from the University of Chicago Press, Sacred Order/Social Order: Image Entries to the Aesthetics of Authority . An extended excerpt, the size of a small book, appeared in the Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities . It is, as one would expect from Rieff, brilliantly eccentric. It is also not a little apocalyptic, as our historical circumstance amply warrants. The overarching theme is that there was a first world of Athens and Jerusalem from which we came, a second world of which Rieff and other civilized people are defenders, but which is now probably coming to an end at the hands of a third world of cultural deconstruction and nihilism. The book is about, in short, the much discussed Kulturkampf. Here is a brief sample: The horror of the unremembered life . The horror is not alone of identity ended; rather, of identity unremembered. In second worlds, there is Kaddish, there are Masses for the dead. Cultures are constituted by the union of the living and the dead in rituals of living memory. Never before, in our late second world, has the authority of the past been sacrificed with a more conscious effort of forgetfulness. Forgetfulness is now the curricular form of our higher education. This form guarantees that we, of the transition from second to third worlds, will become the first barbarians. Barbarism is not an expression of simple technologies or of mysterious taboos; at least there were taboos and, moreover, in all first worlds, the immense authority of the past. By contrast, the coming barbarism, much of it here and now, not least to be found among our most cultivated classes, is our ruthless forgetting of the authority of the past. Sacred history, which never repeats itself, is thus profaned in an unprecedented way by transgression so deep that it is unacknowledged. The transgression of forgetfulness makes the cruelty of abortion absolutely sacrilegious; more precisely, antireligious. According to the unspoken doxology of our abolitionist/abortionist movements, identities are to be flushed away far down the memory hole as our flush-away technologies of repression permit. Third world activists are absent minded in the repressive mode and yet deliberately expressive in the cleverities of their deceit round the phrase pro-choice.’ The freedom to commit, as masterless men and women, transgressive acts was never denied by our second world guiding elites. By their fictions of unfreedom, third world elites engage themselves to a deodorized death cultus, protected by unauthorized self-inventions which constitute a doxa of rights proclaiming the endless supersession of identities by roles. Roles are functions of multiple social selves that pretend to no sacred self, unitary and itself alone with its invisible god-relation there to be read by the mind’s eye through every shift and shuffle of life.
This news clipping says that Woody Allen is in Venice, back together with Soon-Yi Previn, daughter of his former lover, Mia Farrow. Allen says he plunged himself into work to get through the tribulations of his messy court battles with Farrow. I’m somewhat of a Calvinist, but that’s how I saved myself, and if in the end you have produced something good, the rest recedes into the background, he said. Mr. Allen’s theological understanding seems to be on a par with his personal morality. Odd, however, how many otherwise literate people equate Calvinism with an obsessive devotion to work. The cultural ghost of Max Weber, no doubt.
At the end of January, while the Northeast U.S. was locked in by record-breaking cold, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa. The committee urged upon us true repentance and changed lifestyles to bring about a radical change to halt global warming. Alarums about global warming have scant support in the scientific world, but it was the middle of summer in South Africa, and the WCC is always ready to employ any excuse for calling to repentance those parts of the world that are guilty of capitalist productivity.
Pilgrim Press, a liberal Protestant publisher, has issued Life/Choice: The Theory of Just Abortion by Lloyd Steffen of Lehigh University. The publisher says that the book proposes a moderate’ position that attempts to incorporate concerns of those on both sides of this divisive issue. [The author] asks pro-life and pro-choice advocates to see that abortion is a moral dilemma”not simply a political or public policy issue”a moral dilemma that furthermore demands deep moral reflection. The author boldly claims that some abortions are morally permissible and others are not.’ One may be tempted to smile at such a bold assertion of such a moderate position, and those on the pro-life side hardly need to be told that abortion is a moral, and not just a political or public policy, issue. There is something noteworthy, however, in Steffen’s effort to apply just war criteria to the justification of abortion. As in just war theory, the presumption is against killing. Steffen’s argument challenges pro-choicers who adamantly deny that there is any moral question to be raised about the taking of unborn life, and against those who go farther by asserting that abortion is an unqualified moral good. Of course his argument is a long way from the goal of the pro-life movement, that every unborn child be protected in law and welcomed in life. But it puts the burden of proof on those who would kill the child, and at least opens up a conversation that could lead to the kind of accommodation that most Americans want, and that could be a significant movement toward the pro-life goal. That Life/Choice appears now from Pilgrim Press, at a time when many liberal Protestants have declared the abortion debate to be definitively closed in favor of an unlimited abortion license, is, just maybe, a hopeful straw in the wind.
Collegians Activated to Liberate Life (CALL) was mentioned here a couple of issues ago and we’re asked how folk can get in touch. The operational center is 1605 Monroe Street, Suite 107, Madison, Wisconsin 53711. Phone (608) 256-CALL, fax (608) 256-8999. They’re a terrific bunch of young people operating on and near campuses around the country with a fine balance of protest, education, maternity care, and religiously inspired determination. They put out a newsletter and, yes, they need financial support.
This from a press release: Marquette’s Jesuit, Catholic heritage emphasizes care and respect for all people. It appears from the phrasing that that great institution of higher learning wants to have it both ways, Jesuit and Catholic. The release has to do with the work of a committee of students, alumni, and administrators who have decided to change the nickname, logo, and mascot used by the university’s sports teams. They are currently called warriors, and it was determined that the name and the Indian logo are not in harmony with our long-standing respect for Native American tradition. That respect, one infers, goes back long, long before they were called Native Americans. The press release concludes, It is also important to note that this was not done in response to any outside pressure. Actually, there was no such pressure. Exactly. It seems nobody was bothered by the old name except the members of the committee. Being politically correct is wanting to say you’re sorry. Even if, as in this case, unenlightened Indians are not sensitive enough to be offended, or even to accommodate you by claiming to be offended.
The New Age Dominican priest Matthew Fox, who was ordered by the Vatican to take a year off for reflection and was subsequently expelled by his order, has been received into the Episcopal Church by Bishop William Swig of San Francisco. The Dominicans had order