The Public Square
Alan Wolfe is director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. His latest book is further evidence of his right to be called the Alfred E. Neuman of the sociology of American religion. Like the mascot of Mad magazine, his all-purpose response is, “What, me worry?” The new book is The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith (Free Press, 304 pages,, $26). The literal minded might claim that the “Our” in the subtitle is fraudulent since Mr. Wolfe is not a person of faith. But that is to miss the point. Wolfe writes: “Let me confess right off that I do not write about religion out of religious conviction. Although raised to be proud of my Jewish ethnic heritage—I still remember the names of the Jewish major leaguers of my youth—I am not, and never have been, a person of faith. When it comes to religion, I hear no inner voices, am attracted to no supernatural explanations of everyday events, look neither upward to heaven nor downward to hell, identify with no particular tradition, and feel no untoward guilt in having married a Christian (by birth, though not by conviction) and having, together with her, raised three children without benefit of confirmations or bar and bat mitzvahs.”
If all that is so, why is it not fraudulent for him to speak of how we actually live our faith? Because it is his position that American Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other religious folk—when it comes down to what they actually believe and live—share his faith. His faith and ours, Mr. Wolfe contends, is really in the American Way of Life. The summary argument of this book and Wolfe’s many other writings is put succinctly: “In every aspect of the religious life, American faith has met American culture—and American culture has triumphed.” Those familiar with the discussion will recognize that the argument is hardly original. The near classic reference in this connection is the 1955 book by the Jewish writer Will Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew. Hundreds of others have taken up the theme over the years and, indeed, every year hundreds of books are published advocating an “authentic” Christianity or Judaism capable of resisting the ravages of American culture. They agree with Wolfe that much of American religion has been dissolved into a tapioca pudding of vague spiritualities pandering to a consumerist society. The difference is that Wolfe thinks resistance to the culture, never mind transformation of the culture, is a lost cause, and the bigger difference is that he thinks that is a very good thing indeed. The happy outcome, in Wolfe’s view, is that American culture has transformed religion.
A Clean Sweep
The title of Wolfe’s concluding chapter gets to the heart of the matter: “Is Democracy Safe From Religion?” His emphatic answer is in the affirmative. Again and again he tells his nonreligious friends, especially in the academy and the media, to lighten up about “the religious right,” conservative Catholics, and Christian “sectarians” who talk a hot game about the need to choose between Christ and the American Way of Life. Not to worry, says Wolfe. Even if they really mean it (and he seems doubtful about that), nobody is listening to them. Not, at least, when it comes to how people really live their lives. He writes: “Always in a state of transition, faith in the United States, especially in the last half century or so, has been further transformed with dazzling speed. Tracing the history of Christian thought from the New Testament to the twentieth century, the theologian H. Richard Niebuhr documented the many ways in which Christ could become a transformer of culture. But in the United States culture has transformed Christ, as well as all other religions found within these shores.” The game is over, and religion as traditionally understood has lost. Secularists do not need to work so hard at maintaining the naked public square, Wolfe says. The free exercise of religion poses no threat. Religion’s wings have been clipped, its rough edges smoothed. Religion in America has been unmanned, tamed, domesticated; it has been made safe for liberal democracy. And the wonderful thing is that the capitulation of religion to culture has been effected under the auspices of religion itself.
As I say, there are numerous Catholic, evangelical Protestant, and Jewish thinkers who agree with much of Wolfe’s diagnosis. What they lament, however, he thinks we should celebrate. His celebration is not unqualified. There are wistful moments when he says he misses what has been lost. He prefers Bach to rock, and the intellectual acuteness of Jonathan Edwards to the banalities of Willow Creek and the church growth movement. While it is a good thing, he thinks, that nobody today takes doctrine seriously, he is manifestly impatient with institutions such as Fuller Seminary in California, where, he says, nobody dares to give offense by disagreeing with anything. (Still the wittiest and most incisive, although sometimes outrageously unfair, description of the wimpish vacuity of American religion is John Murray Cuddihy’s 1978 book, No Offense: Civil Religion and Protestant Taste.)
While there is little that is new in Wolfe’s book, and his substantive analysis is derivative, taken from scholars such as Robert Wuthnow and Nancy Ammerman, Wolfe writes with a journalistic flair, lacing his text with anecdotes from “field notes” supplied him by his graduate students. It is not unimportant, however, that Wolfe is treated as an authority on these matters by, among many others, the New Republic and the New York Times. Most of the present book is devoted to evangelicals, who offer the richest and most uninhibited displays of entrepreneurial enterprise in pitching their products to spiritual consumers called “seekers.” Wolfe is not entirely free from the sneering snobbery that commonly marks discussions of evangelicaldom, but thoughtful evangelicals readily admit that their religious world offers a target-rich environment. Wolfe treats mainline Protestantism in a desultory fashion, except when it adopts evangelical tactics of self-promotion, in which case it is doubtfully mainline. He allows that Catholicism, with its belief in the Real Presence, and Orthodox Jews, who believe that God really did give the Law at Sinai, still offer a measure of cultural resistance, but they, along with the small Muslim communities, are coming around and will capitulate in short order. In sum, it is a clean sweep for the American Way of Life.
The anecdotes collected by Wolfe’s graduate students are employed to demonstrate the pervasiveness of the Religion of Me. Readers of Robert Bellah’s 1985 book, Habits of the Heart, will again and again recognize his Sheila, who practices her own religion of “Sheilaism.” Wolfe is definitely not, in the phrase of Max Weber, religiously musical. And most of the people his field workers talk to are hardly theologians, philosophers, or poets. So, when someone says he goes to church because “It makes me feel better,” Wolfe assumes he is saying pretty much what he would say about working out at the gym. In fact, were the fellow more theologically articulate, one might discover that what he means is something like this: “In church I am strengthened in my conviction that, through the Cross of Christ, I have been reconciled with God, the source and end of my life, and am sacramentally sustained in my struggle to love others as I am loved by God.”
But Wolfe does not entertain that translation of “It makes me feel better.” He insists that it is banality all the way down. And, of course, in many instances it may be banality all the way down. The striking thing is that from his perch at Boston College, reading books and field notes from graduate students, and making occasional personal forays to places such as Fuller and Wheaton, Alan Wolfe purports to know what is happening in the spiritual lives of millions upon millions of Americans. His writing is quite entirely untouched by curiosity about what William James called the varieties of religious experience.
The Transformation of American Religion is superficial sociology of superficial religion—or, more precisely, of religion that the author is determined to construe as superficial. Wolfe’s faith commitment is to American liberal democracy and expressive individualism, and he is pleased to report that religion in America not only poses no threat to that commitment but is happily captive to that commitment. What is distinctively religious about religion in America is, in his view, epiphenomenal. The reality is that—despite all the vestigial baggage about doctrines, biblical authority, eternal salvation, earthly duties, and divinely instituted structures and sacraments—religious Americans are pretty much indistinguishable from the rest of us, meaning Alan Wolfe and people like him. “What, me worry?” Upon finishing the book, one is left with a question: Why does Mr. Wolfe devote his time to a subject that is, by his account, so singularly devoid of interest or importance?
Conversations with Iris Murdoch
“I feel like somebody who’s living in a great big house and just occupies a tiny corner of it,” Iris Murdoch wrote to a friend. But what great things she did in that tiny corner. A noted philosopher, her real work was the novel, although the two are hard to separate, even if she did object, as she did vehemently object, to the idea that she wrote “philosophical novels.” I had quite forgotten how many of her twenty-six novels I had read over the years: The Sandcastle, The Bell, A Severed Head, The Italian Girl, The Nice and the Good, The Black Prince, The Philosopher’s Pupil (maybe my favorite), The Green Knight, and more. In part because she wrote so many, I may have read more novels by Iris Murdoch than by any other twentieth-century writer.
This was brought to mind by the engaging new book edited by Gillian Dooley, From a Tiny Corner in the House of Fiction (University of South Carolina Press, 300 pages,, $34.95). It consists of twenty-three interviews with Iris Murdoch by sundry literary and media figures, dating from 1962 to 1996 when Alzheimer’s was, as she said, putting her in a bad spot she couldn’t get out of. Iris Murdoch died February 8, 1999. Among the most striking impressions is that of her unpretentiousness about her person and her work. In this, she puts one in mind of Flannery O’Connor. Writing is a gift and an art, the writer’s craft is to tell a story, and the goal is to tell the truth. The obligation is not to instruct or to advance a cause, such as justice. Attend to truth, Murdoch says at one point, and justice will take care of itself. That she learned from her disillusionment with Marxism, in which, as a young woman, she had been briefly ensnared. I was a bit disappointed that, in all the discussions of authors whom she admired and by whom she was influenced, Flannery O’Connor is not mentioned once. Perhaps she had not read her. She repeatedly says she did not read much contemporary fiction.
Repeatedly and with devotion she refers to, I believe, the greatest of novelists, Dostoevsky. He is, she says, one of the “gods,” and, while she knew she did not belong in that sparsely populated pantheon, his influence is, I think, manifest in her novels. She is God-obsessed, although she again and again says that she does not believe in God. At least not in the God of the Christianity that, she insists, she cherishes. One interviewer suggests that she is devoted to Christianity without God but has found that it doesn’t work. Murdoch doesn’t disagree. She cannot believe in a personal God, she says, because God cannot be “a thing among other things.” That is disappointing. One learns in Christian Theology 101 that God is not a thing among things, an existent among existents, but the Absolute Being of all that is, was, or ever can be. But apparently Iris Murdoch did not learn that in her Anglo-Irish Protestant childhood. It is truly disconcerting how often this happens. One encounters people who say they do not believe in God only to discover, upon examination, that the God they do not believe in I do not believe in either. But it is especially disconcerting in someone of the intellectual stature of Iris Murdoch.
She ended up, it seems, in flirting with some kind of Buddhism that she hoped was somehow compatible with the Anglican liturgy she continued to attend. From her novels, I thought she was considerably more theologically literate and orthodox. It seems I was wrong. In the late 1980s, I invited her to give our annual Erasmus Lecture here in New York. She wrote the nicest letter explaining why she had to decline. Perhaps it was just as well.
There is one more thing about reading Gillian Dooley’s fine book. It persuaded me that I was wrong to agree with those who charged her husband John Bayley with exploiting her and her final illness in his book Elegy for Iris. Iris Murdoch was a very private person, the critics said, and the book was a gross violation of her privacy. From a Tiny Corner suggests that she was not so private as some thought. As she relentlessly explored the inner life of her characters, so she was far from averse to speaking candidly about the complexities of her self. More important, from the touching glimpses one gets in this book of John Bayley’s care for her in her fragility, it is obvious that he could have done nothing that was not for the love of Iris. I don’t know when, there are so many things awaiting attention, but I have no doubt I will go back to read her again.
Then and Now
Both embarrassment and reassurance come from recalling what you said or wrote many years ago. The embarrassment is in recognizing how often you have repeated yourself over the years. The reassurance is in recognizing the continuity of your thought. A different embarrassment is in being reminded that you said some pretty dumb things. Recently I lectured at the University of Virginia under the auspices of the St. Anselm Institute, an organization devoted to promoting the Christian intellectual tradition. Professor Robert Louis Wilken introduced me. We have known one another for fifty years, since we were freshmen in college. In his generous, and delightfully extended, introduction, he quoted from an article I published in Commonweal in June 1967, “The Dangerous Assumptions.”
Speaking on the pro-life circuit, I have frequently alluded to that article, but I had not actually reread it for decades. In 1967, the Blumenthal bill, aimed at liberalizing abortion law, was a subject of heated contention in the New York legislature. Seven years before Roe v. Wade, New York, like most states, permitted abortion only in the instance of direct threat to the life of the mother. Until I read the article again, I had forgotten how much my concern was prompted by the ecumenical and interreligious rancor caused by the abortion debate. And I was reminded again how totally leftist was the religious leadership of the time, or at least the leadership deserving of notice in my world of discourse then. In the article, I deplored the conflict over abortion law between Commonweal and the now defunct Christianity and Crisis, a publication associated with Reinhold Niebuhr of the now almost defunct Union Theological Seminary. In fact, I noted, the entirety of the Protestant and Jewish religious establishments was arrayed against the Catholic Church on this issue. I expressed the hope that “perhaps the debate can be prevented from degenerating to the level of religious power politics.” “Without the mutual assumption of good faith,” I wrote, “there is little hope for anything but wasting polemics.”
I took some swipes at the Catholic bishops for failing to condemn the Vietnam war as clearly as I thought they should, and for confusing the issues of abortion and artificial contraception, but on the Blumenthal bill I suggested the bishops were right. I wrote of the logical extension of the pro-abortion logic to euthanasia, eugenics, and a war against the poor and “unwanted.” While advocates of liberalized abortion denied they had such things in mind, I wrote, “Measures of social change are reasonably evaluated in view of their probable end results. Our century has witnessed the demonic consequences of man’s distorted definitions of himself along racist, nationalistic, and utilitarian lines. Nothing can be taken for granted in terms of society’s understanding of human rights. In our valuations of human life, to be civilized is to be conservative.”
I am not sure, but that may be the first time I intimated in print that I might be, in some significant sense of the term, a conservative. There is no doubt that the question of abortion, more than any other single factor, precipitated my breaking ranks with the leftist liberalism of my youth. “How flexible can we be with regard to abortion,” I wrote, “is tantamount to asking how flexible we can be with regard to taking human life. . . . Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Jews have much to discuss before abortion is debated again in the legislative arena. I have attempted to suggest a few items for the agenda and to make clear that abortion is not a peculiarly Roman Catholic hang-up. The abortion question goes to the center of our vision of man and of the human community for which we hope.”
Of course the legislative debates in the several states—which, contrary to what is usually claimed, were moving against liberalized abortion law—would soon be nullified by the imperial edict of the Supreme Court. But my argument in that article, as in countless articles and speeches since then, is that liberalism had planted its flag on the wrong side of the divide over abortion. In the last half century, nothing has had more momentous consequences for the reconfiguration of our public life, including the moral and political decline of what is now called liberalism.
So I’m grateful that my friend Wilken went to the university library to pull out that ancient article. Reading it now, I’m a little embarrassed, particularly by my dumb dismissal of the importance of defending “conventional sexual mores.” But mostly—about liberalized abortion law and what it would entail for society, and especially for the poor—I am reassured. Not, to be sure, reassured about the subsequent influence of the argument I tried to make then. But reassured that, with some minor editing, it is the argument that I want to make, and must make, until my dying breath.
East Meets West, Sort Of
I first met the Dalai Lama in 1979. He was not then the celebrity that he is now. In 1950 the People’s Liberation Army of China had invaded Tibet and brutally subjected its people, while the Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala in northern India where he set up a Tibetan government in exile. A few of his Tibetan followers had established a Free Tibet committee here in the U.S. and came to see me at what was then called the Council on Religion and International Affairs, where I served as Senior Editor of Worldview, the council’s magazine. They asked if I would help bring Tibet’s plight to public attention, and suggested that a service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with the then Cardinal Archbishop, Terence Cooke, might be one way to do that. I took the matter up with Monsignor James Rigney, the rector of the cathedral, who obtained the agreement of Cardinal Cooke.
A few days before the scheduled event, there was a flurry of communications between Rome and New York. The Holy See was understandably concerned that the service not suggest a false “syncretism” between Buddhism and Catholicism. With precisely that in mind, we were assiduously careful in planning the songs, ceremonies, and forms of prayer, and Cardinal Cooke’s address, while very gracious, explicitly underscored the fundamental differences between Buddhism and the Catholic faith. The cathedral was packed and two ornate chairs were set in front, one for the Dalai Lama and one for the Cardinal. To the obvious embarrassment of the Cardinal, the Dalai Lama reached over and grasped his hand, which he held throughout most of the two-hour event. The photo of the two sitting together and holding hands graced the top of the front page of the New York Times the next day. He did not tell me so, but I was given to understand that Cardinal Cooke was not entirely pleased by the occasion.
Later, John Cardinal O’Connor, then archbishop, invited me to breakfast with the Dalai Lama, and we had an extended and wide-ranging discussion about America, the situation in Tibet, and his hopes for his people. By then the Dalai Lama was becoming, somewhat to his discomfort, I believe, the Dalai Lama Inc., surrounded by movie stars and other celebrities basking in what they had turned into the designer spirituality of Hollywood’s version of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama in person is anything but overwhelming, unless, of course, one believes he is the incarnation of the Buddha and, as many of his followers say, “a living god.” He is very modest, polite, and given to interspersing his usually broken English with what are best described as self-deprecating giggles. One senses an inner peace combined with a view that the ways of the world are inexhaustibly funny.
This was evident at the late September gathering with 65,000 admirers in Central Park, where he was introduced by actor Richard Gere, who pronounced him to be “one of the great beings ever to walk on this planet.” The Dalai Lama began his informal remarks by saying with a chuckle, “I have nothing to offer, no special thing. Just some blah, blah, blah, blah.” He went on to say, “More compassion automatically opens our inner self. Too much self-centered attitude closes our inner door.” The crowd cheered lustily when he observed, “The very concept of war is out of date. Destruction of your neighbor as an enemy is essentially a destruction of yourself.” Earlier in the week, he had told the editors of the New York Times that it is right for a country to defend itself against attackers who are driven by “negative emotions.” And an op-ed article in the Times by a supporter of Tibetan freedom was implicitly critical of him for letting himself be used by admirers who have no serious interest in either Buddhism or the welfare of Tibet. Patrick French, formerly a director of the Free Tibet Campaign, wrote, “Some of the books that purport to be written by the Dalai Lama are scarcely by him at all, but have his face on the cover to increase sales.” He also wrote that “the Dalai Lama explicitly condemns homosexuality, as well as all oral and anal sex. His stand is close to that of Pope John Paul II, something his Western followers find embarrassing and prefer to ignore.” French says that the Dalai Lama agreed to the publisher’s excising from the book Ethics for the New Millennium his strictures against homosexuality lest they offend American readers.
The Dalai Lama was unusually straightforward, however, in a recent conference in Madrid. He had just met again with Pope John Paul II and was asked whether they discussed creating some kind of synthesis between Christianity and Buddhism. Nothing of the sort, he said. “People from different traditions should keep their own, rather than change. However, some Tibetan may prefer Islam, so he can follow it. Some Spanish prefer Buddhism; so follow it. But think about it carefully. Don’t do it for fashion. Some people start Christian, follow Islam, then Buddhism, then nothing. In the United States I have seen people who embrace Buddhism like they change their clothes. Like the New Age. They take something Hindu, something Buddhist, something, something. . . . That is not healthy. Having one truth, one religion, is very important. Several truths, several religions, is contradictory.”
There is no doubt that the Dalai Lama is an important religio-political phenomenon. While the U.S. and other nations are not likely to risk serious trouble with China over it, the Dalai Lama has succeeded in keeping the oppression of Tibet on the international agenda, even if at the margins. And I am sure that, among all the glitterati and spirituality groupies surrounding him, some people have been led to an authentic engagement with Tibetan Buddhism. From the Dalai Lama’s viewpoint, that would, I suppose, be no little achievement.
No End of Debate About the End of Democracy
When, in November 1996, we ran a symposium on the judicial usurpation of politics, Commentary magazine countered with a symposium on the symposium, with most of their contributors suggesting that we had gone over the edge. Now the October Commentary has another symposium, “Has the Supreme Court Gone Too Far?” The introduction notes that “the editors of First Things were suggesting that the process had reached crisis proportions and was leading to ‘the end of democracy.’” In light of subsequent decisions and especially this year’s rulings on affirmative action (Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger) and sodomy (Lawrence v. Texas), the editors of Commentary write, “The specter has been raised of, if not the end of democracy, at least the end of constitutional law.”
The new symposium includes constitutional scholars and commentators reflecting a broad spectrum of views. Robert Bartley, Editor Emeritus of the Wall Street Journal, compares the abortion decisions with the infamous Dred Scott decision and writes, “In those cases, the Court no doubt sacrificed some of its legitimacy, and no doubt the high ideals of the law were besmirched. But somehow the Republic survived.” He thinks the remedy is to be found not in limiting the judicial branch but in the general political process. “By the nature of lifetime tenure, the judiciary is often the last branch to register a new era in society’s opinion. That is why the judiciary is the last hope of the liberal consensus that prevailed from FDR through JFK.” But those days are now over. “Critics intent on changing the judiciary should put their efforts into changing the balance of public opinion and of political power.”
William J. Bennett, former Secretary of Education, notes the ways in which the Court has undermined the family and the constituting principles of the society. He observes that Jefferson and Madison called the Declaration of Independence the first “act of Union” and recommended its study in law schools. “As far as I am aware,” writes Bennett, “no elite law school today teaches the Declaration as ‘organic law,’ even though its understanding of equality and freedom is central to any proper appreciation of the Constitution.” It is a mistake, he says, to nominate for the courts people who can be easily confirmed. “It is a mistake to shrink from a fight over a confirmation—after all, it is the Constitution we are fighting for.”
Robert H. Bork develops arguments he has made in FT, and also in his most recent book, Coercing Virtue (on which more later in these pages). “Judicial invention of new and previously unheard-of rights accelerated over the past half century and has now reached warp speed,” he says. He notes the growing tendency of the Supreme Court to cite decisions by foreign courts. “That, to put it gently, is flabbergasting. What the decisions of foreign courts have to do with what the framers and ratifiers of the U.S. Constitution understood themselves to be doing is not explained, and cannot be explained.” The left cites Bush v. Gore, the decision that overruled the Florida Supreme Court in the 2000 presidential election, as an instance of conservative judicial activism. To which Bork responds, “Correcting a constitutional error is not judicial activism.” The judiciary, he says, is “an untethered power that overrides democratic governance whenever the mood strikes it.” He sees no remedy in Article III’s provision that Congress can limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. That would only leave jurisdiction with the states, and “many state courts have become as unrestrained and trendy as the federal courts.” His conclusion: “In short, there appears to be no way to contain the imperial judiciary.”
Alan Dershowitz of Harvard says the discussion of the imperial judiciary is marked by “pervasive hypocrisy on all sides.” Liberals and conservatives alike are more interested in the results of a decision than in whether it was decided on legitimate constitutional grounds. An instance of “judicial activism” is any decision one dislikes. “There is no perfect solution to the paradox of judicial review, the conundrum of states’ rights in a federal republic, or the mystery of original intent.” The paradox, conundrum, and mystery have been with us from the beginning, so we might as well get used to it.
Lino A. Graglia of the law school at the University of Texas is exceedingly impatient with such suggestions of symmetry between right and left. In instance after instance, he writes, the Court is addressing not constitutional law but “policy choices,” and, in instance after instance, the Court decides that it knows best. Here is Graglia at cruising speed: “Virtually every one of the Court’s rulings of unconstitutionality over the past fifty years—on abortion, capital punishment, criminal procedure, busing for school racial balance, prayer in the schools, government aid to religious schools, public display of religious symbols, pornography, libel, legislative reapportionment, term limits, discrimination on the basis of sex, illegitimacy, alien status, street demonstrations, the employment of Communist-party members in schools and defense plants, vagrancy control, flag burning, and so on—have reflected the views of this same elite. In every case, the Court has invalidated the policy choice made in the ordinary political process, substituting a choice further to the political left. Appointments to the Supreme Court and even to lower courts are now more contentious than appointments to an administrative agency or even to the Cabinet—matters of political life or death for the cultural elite—because maintaining a liberal activist judiciary is the only means of keeping policymaking out of the control of the American people.”
Graglia notes that in some of its most controversial decisions, the Court appeals to an “emerging democratic consensus.” But, by preempting the role of the legislature, it prevents that putative consensus from being put to the test of democratic debate and vote. Surveying the ways proposed for countering the imperial judiciary, Graglia thinks it comes down to political will: “The system of checks and balances set up by the Constitution has broken down where the Supreme Court is concerned; that institution now checks but is not checked by the other branches. President Lincoln dealt with the abuse of judicial power by announcing that although he would not defy the Court’s Dred Scott decision, neither would he accept it as settling the slavery issue. Congress and the President could similarly make clear that contemporary Supreme Court rulings of unconstitutionality without basis in the Constitution deserve not respect but censure. If the political will were there, means could be found to return the country to the experiment in popular self-government in a federalist system with which we began.”
William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, also looks to politics for “a revival of constitutionalism.” He notes that at least two appointments to the Supreme Court will be coming up in the fairly near future. “Could a Bush second term transform the judiciary in the way FDR’s second term did? Not likely. But, perhaps, possible.” Sanford Levinson, also of the University of Texas, speaks about “catholic” and “protestant” approaches to constitutionalism. The current Court is “papalist,” issuing edicts from the top down, and he suggests one remedy is for Congress to be more assertive in giving definition to the Constitution. Another is to limit justices to nonrenewable eighteen-year terms, which would mean a new appointment every two years. Dahlia Lithwick is legal correspondent for Slate, and she suggests we stop worrying: “Indeed, judges have been deciding cases without regard for the law ever since King Solomon ruled that the contending parties should split that baby. What aspect of today’s crisis over the ‘imperial judiciary’ is, therefore, new and terrifying? Nothing, it seems, but the nomenclature.”
Still worried, however, is Jeffrey Rosen, who writes on legal affairs for the New Republic. He generally agrees with the Court’s decisions but thinks they are often made on doubtful grounds. Yet a judicial retreat can be forced when the Court gets too far ahead of the country. “The conservative counter-reaction to Roe,” he writes, “ultimately failed in its attempt to force such a retreat because, by 1992, a majority of the country had come to accept the moderate compromise that Roe represented—namely, that early-term abortions had to be protected and late-term abortions could be restricted.” In fact, and as Rosen should know after three decades of public discussion, Roe decreed a de facto unlimited right to abortion for any reason at any point of pregnancy, and the Court later made explicit that this includes killing a child in the very process of being born. But Rosen does think judicial imperialism is a problem, and he opines that the Lawrence decision on gay rights may force the kind of retreat that Roe failed to effect. “If the country cares enough about an issue,” he writes, “the Court will retreat on its own.”
Cass R. Sunstein teaches law at the University of Chicago and he agrees that the Court overreached in Lawrence, although he celebrates the result. Such overreaching is bad, “But it would be hysterical to suggest that the Court has subverted the constitutional order, and there is no reason to take new steps to reduce its authority.” So the Court has erred from time to time. To which Prof. Sunstein remarks, “To err is human.” Like other contributors, George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center cites the Court’s “sweet mystery of life passage” from Planned Parenthood v. Casey of 1992: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of life.” That passage, cited by the Court again in Lawrence, declares, says Weigel, that “the state’s sole interest in sexual matters among consenting adults is to protect the unfettered expression of personal autonomy.” It puts faithful Christians and Jews on notice: “There is a new and jealous god in the land: the imperial autonomous Self.” Those who serve another God, such as William Pryor who has been nominated for the federal bench, are disqualified by what Senator Charles Schumer calls their “deeply held beliefs.” Weigel, unlike Bork, thinks a remedy might be to limit the Court under Article III, which could restore “a measure of robustness to the noble American experiment in democratic self-governance.”
Marching to the Netherlands
Finally, the distinguished social scientist James Q. Wilson weighs in with particular attention to Lawrence. He notes that the decision invoked the European Court of Human Rights, which involves twenty-one European nations, in support of an international consensus on gay rights, but “it chose to ignore the hostility to sodomy in nations with far larger populations like China, India, Korea, and most African countries.” Wilson doesn’t say so, but the Court seems to suggest that an international consensus means a consensus among “our kind of people,” and then only the enlightened elites among them. He does say that the Court majority backs “the libertarian view that no state has the authority to restrict conduct affecting only one’s self and one’s consenting partner.” It follows that “there could be no state law against prostitution, bestiality, heroin consumption, physician-assisted suicide, or gay marriage.” Wilson thinks that banning or restricting prostitution is good public policy and wonders what the Court would have done in the Texas case had one gay man paid the other for his services.
Beginning with the Griswold contraception case in 1965, the Court’s sex-related decisions, Wilson writes, have usually gestured toward the importance of marriage as an institution. “The Court held that the state could still treat extramarital sex and nonmarital sex as evils. After Lawrence, all of those genuflections toward marriage have become moot.” On all the policy choices he mentions, Wilson notes, the Netherlands has adopted the above-mentioned libertarian principle. He thinks the odds are against the passage of a Federal Marriage Amendment. A successful amendment requires not just a majority but an overwhelming majority. Which leads him to his final and doleful thought: “The Court is marching us toward the Netherlands—only there, at least, politicians and not six robed jurists made the decisions.”
The Commentary symposium is a valuable contribution. Among other things, it indicates that since the 1996 FT symposium, and with generous assistance from sundry court rulings, more thoughtful people are beginning to ponder the end of democracy. Or at least “the end of constitutional law,” which is another way of saying the end of democracy. For many on the left, the view seems to be that judicial imperialism is a myth (except for Bush v. Gore), or, if not a myth, a debatably legitimate way of producing happy results. Conservatives, they say, would drop their complaint if the results went their way. So face it: we’re all hypocrites. On the right, there is deep despondency mixed with spurts of cheerleading for the next election. I agree with James Q. Wilson that there is not now an overwhelming majority for the Marriage Amendment, but that campaign is just starting and will likely be accelerated dramatically when a court, federal or state, invents a right to gay marriage. And I’m inclined to favor a closer look at Article III, the invocation of which would serve as a sobering reprimand to the Supreme Court, with reverberations throughout the judicial system.
Our 1996 symposium used the phrase, “the judicial usurpation of politics.” The answer to the usurpation of politics is the reassertion of politics. Abraham Lincoln understood that when, in his First Inaugural, he said that Dred Scott may have settled a particular case but it in no way settled the principle. The Supreme Court may have made its peace with slavery, but it did not and could not speak for the people. As the discussion of the threatened end of democracy continues and intensifies, we would all be well advised to commit to memory the words of Lincoln: “The candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court . . . the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”
While We’re At It
• A priest writes that he just had dinner with ten of his parishioners. He describes them as “the best of Generation X.” They are at Mass every Sunday, they are elite educated high-achievers, all under forty, involved in reading, sports, politics, and the rearing of their children. You get the idea. The priest writes: “I give you this background to help you appreciate the full force of this: these bright young Catholics have great contempt for the American episcopate. They expressed total incomprehension at the weakness and folly of the leadership being provided by the bishops, not just in the sexual abuse crisis but in the life of the Church generally. ‘Do you know how hard it is to find a safe place to go to Mass when we’re on the road, Father? Don’t the bishops care that the liturgy has been hijacked by silliness?’ ‘Why doesn’t the bishop do something about the sterilizations at the Catholic hospital?’ And so on. Much of my time is spent with the very old, the very young, the very sick, or the very troubled, so to spend an evening with bright, engaged people who are seeking to follow Christ was a great delight. To discover that they are sorely disappointed in our bishops precisely because they hold that office in such high regard was a bit surprising; I suppose I had assumed that only priests and the cognoscenti fret over such things. These Gen X’s are the agents of the New Evangelization; they deserve competent leadership they can respect.”
• The peninsula projects into the Aegean Sea from the coast of Macedonia and terminates in Mount Athos (“the Holy Mountain”). In a.d. 961, St. Athanasius the Athonite founded a monastery there, and in the centuries since there have been twenty Orthodox monasteries. They are the guardians of some of the most precious art and venerable traditions of Orthodoxy. No woman may set foot on the holy mount. Nor a female cat, dog, or chicken. Now a plenary session of the European Parliament has overwhelmingly declared that 1,042 years of discrimination against women is enough. The Greek members of the parliament abstained from the vote. The deputy foreign minister of Greece says the parliament’s demand “would be in direct confrontation with fundamental, 1,000-year-old traditions, our faith, and the monastic spirit of the Mountain.” To be sure, respond the parliamentarians, but gender equality is worth such a confrontation, and gender equality is trump. The Greeks are standing fast, sort of. This report does not say whether the parliamentary resolution mentions cats, dogs, or chickens.
• To speak of a cardinal as papabile is to say that he is thought to be a lively candidate for pope. Godfried Cardinal Danneels of Belgium, age seventy, is papabile. But that’s not the occasion for this comment because: so are a lot of other cardinals; the discussion of who will succeed any pope begins the day after his election; and this pope will quite possibly be in office for years to come. The occasion for this comment is a recent statement by the Cardinal at a press conference. He is asked, “You say that secularization is in essence a good thing, but it reduces the number of Catholics dramatically.” He answers: “Secularization forces one to make a very conscious choice about one’s beliefs. One is no longer a Catholic by birth. That is good. I think that a moral choice is more perfect when it is made by a free man. And I prepare myself for a smaller Church because I know very well that a decision made freely is always more demanding than being one of the herd.” Other Church leaders in Western Europe, including the revered Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, have said similar things. I am not persuaded. In countries such as France or Germany that have experienced such a devastating collapse in Christian faith and practice, the temptation is to try to make a virtue of necessity. I’m not clear on how being reconciled to, or even enthusiastically embracing, “a smaller Church” squares with John Paul II’s persistent calls for a “New Evangelization” and a “Reevangelization” of previously Christian cultures. The more interesting observation, however, is that such things are said by European leaders who are typically critical of what they depict as the radical individualism of America’s mainly Protestant culture. Apart from a few imitators of Harvey Cox’s “secular city” argument of the 1960s, Catholics in this country do not speak about secularization as a good thing. As for being “a Catholic by birth” (and baptismal rebirth) Americans speak with pride and gratitude about being “cradle Catholics.” Cardinal Danneels refers disparagingly to being “one of the herd.” Catholic Americans rejoice in being part of large and flourishing parishes which, in turn, are part of the largest and most rapidly growing religious community in the country, despite its many vicissitudes. So the question is: Just who are the Catholics most deeply infected by Protestant individualism? Father Andrew Greeley says that many Catholic Americans are only “communal Catholics,” but Catholicism is by definition communal. That is as true in Belgium as it is anywhere else. The necessities of the Church in Western Europe are indeed dispiriting, but, with due respect to His Eminence, it seems doubtful that the answer is to be found in something other than Catholicism. That Western Europe is, by almost any index, dying is no longer news. In Belgium, according to a recent report, one out of ten people have attempted suicide. Suicide kills more people than traffic accidents. Those who make the big decisions of life “freely,” without the support and guidance of tradition and culture, are, more often than not, part of what Harold Rosenberg called the herd of independent minds. Their destination is typically not a happy one.
• Not surprisingly, a lot of these stories are coming across my desk these days. David Warren’s is representative. He is a popular columnist with the Ottawa Citizen, and he writes about his decision to become a Roman Catholic. “My own beliefs, since I was received into that church more than twenty years ago on my final graduation from secular humanism, were represented by my membership in the Anglican Church. I took this to be a catholic church, with at least a small-c, and was attracted to the ‘high’ end of the vessel, and to the gorgeous liturgy of Cranmer, to Tractarian principles, and to the great philosophical and holy minds that had decorated Anglicanism over the centuries—from Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, and Jeremy Taylor in its ‘golden age,’ to men like C. S. Lewis, and Eric Mascall, and Austin Farrer in the last century. I shall always cherish these men, I am incapable of doubting their sincerity, and will carry their echoes in our fine English tongue. And so much that was patient, and Godly, and disciplined, in the Anglican Communion.” He notes that the gay Episcopal bishop-elect of New Hampshire has declared, “Just because Scripture and tradition say something is wrong that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong.” The bishops in solemn assembly agreed and authorized his consecration. They were, they said, being led by the Holy Spirit. “It is,” writes Warren, “the characteristic doctrine of utopian revolutionaries and violent heretics from many centuries—this idea that God is speaking to them directly, and that they may now ignore Scripture, history, and tradition, and do whatever feels right.” Warren concludes with this: “Yet I do not look back in anger, but in heartbreak, at the wreckage remaining from what was a fine four-or five-century run. Within the ruin of the Anglican Church, we will find so many beautiful things, embodying noble aspirations. We will not, however, find the Catholic succession—for Anglicanism has become one of those channels of history that runs out, as so many of the churches of the past, which lost their way, and sank into the sands. It is too early to go into my reasons for crossing the Tiber. I don’t even know all of them, yet; one begins to discover reasons one never suspected, in the moment the decision is made. I am fully aware the Roman Catholic Church is also under bombardment from postmodernity, and mine in part is an act of faith that the center will hold; that men like the present pope, and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and their successors, will hold the fort of authentic Christian doctrine against every enticement to abandon it. They will, if God shall will; and in my small way I intend to hold it with them.” Missing from the statements of some who have made the same decision is Warren’s important admission that he does not yet know all the reasons for the decision. It is enough to know where the reasons are to be found.
• My friend Stanley Hauerwas of Duke should have been there. He likes to call himself a high-church Mennonite. The Bruderhof is not exactly Mennonite, but it is most definitely in the Anabaptist tradition. Established in 1920 in Germany by Eberhard Arnold and now led by Johann Christof Arnold, the Bruderhof currently has communities in New York, Pennsylvania, Germany, Austria, and Australia in which married and single people live a life of poverty and radical obedience to their understanding of the gospel of Jesus. A few years ago I had a part in interesting the late Cardinal O’Connor and Cardinal Cassidy, then head of the pontifical council for Christian unity, in the Bruderhof’s desire for a closer relationship with the Catholic Church. Catholics, along with Lutherans and Calvinists in Europe, fiercely persecuted the Anabaptists, and for four hundred years there had been few efforts at reconciliation. There has been nothing like the signing last August 19 of “A Call to Purity” by the Bruderhof community of Ulster County, New York, and the Archdiocese of New York. The statement is a vibrant call for moral fidelity, and especially sexual fidelity, in a culture that has largely forgotten the meaning of the word. It begins with the assertion: “The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York and the Bruderhof believe that God has intervened in human history—decisively—in the birth of His only son Jesus Christ, in his life, teaching, crucifixion, and resurrection. We view that intervention to be the pivot upon which human history turns and the salvific moment of victory from darkness into light.” Sociologists such as Alan Wolfe will, of course, see “A Call to Purity” as yet further evidence that the feel-good spirituality of the American Way of Life has trumped the doctrinal differences that once made a difference, even to the point of religious warfare. They are wrong. The measure of reconciliation indicated by the August signing is, rather, another sign of deep Christian conviction creating common cause, not least in countering the sexual hysteria that afflicts the American Way of Life.
• Robert Pickus turned eighty on October 31, one day short of All Saints’ Day. George Weigel thinks that is appropriate since “Pick,” as everyone calls him, is not yet a saint but is on his way. Fifty years ago Pick dedicated his life to building “a peace effort worthy of the name,” and in the late 1970s he recruited the young Weigel to work for his improbably named World Without War Council. That put Weigel on the way to making his many contributions to our thinking about what St. Augustine called tranquillitas ordinis—the peace of right order—and its implications for the just war tradition. During the “peace movements” of recent decades, which have often been neither peaceful nor conducive to world peace, Robert Pickus has defended the honorable tradition of a liberal realism that challenges both the cynic and the utopian. The world will never be without war but the World Without War Council has taught many to accept that sobering reality without being paralyzed in their work for peace. At eighty, Pick keeps on teaching. Ad multos annos.
• In an article in the Cumberland Law Review, Bill Pryor, Attorney General of Alabama, responds to the supporters of Chief Justice Roy Moore who accuse him of selling out by backing the federal court injunction against the display of the Ten Commandments. “There was no moral justification for civil disobedience,” writes Pryor. “My oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution required me, as Attorney General of Alabama, to obey the injunction without regard to whether I agreed with the basis for that injunction.” In the article and on many other occasions, Pryor makes it luminously clear that the federal court is wrong, that it is perfectly constitutional to display the Ten Commandments on government property, as, in fact, it is displayed in many places. Pryor’s article is titled “Christian Duty and the Rule of Law,” and it admirably reflects both biblical teaching on lawful authority and the meaning of civil disobedience as set forth by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King in his classic “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Pryor writes, “Removing the monument of the Ten Commandments from the building of the government did not require me or another official to violate a Chris-tian duty. Christ did not command us to maintain a monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the State Judicial Building. The legality of a monument in the rotunda of Caesar’s courthouse is a question for Caesar.” When Caesar is wrong, as he was in this case, we should use constitutional means to change his mind, which may mean replacing those who act in the name of Caesar. A particular merit of “Christian Duty and the Rule of Law” is that it rejects the common notion that, between the two, one must achieve some kind of “balance.” Devotion to the rule of law is grounded in Christian duty, as, in certain specified cases, is disobedience to unjust laws. Civil disobedience, rightly understood, is in the service of the rule of law. Despite the filibustering obstructionism of Democrats in the Senate, Bill Pryor continues to pursue, with the full backing of the Bush Administration, his nomination to the federal bench. We are all indebted to him for his uncompromisingly articulate public witness.
• October 5 was the beginning of Respect Life Week, and also the beginning of National Coming Out Week. At Boston College—a school “in the Jesuit tradition”—the promotion of gayness trumped the protection of unborn babies. On the student calendar, only National Coming Out Week is mentioned. October 5 was “Solidarity Sunday,” and “All masses on campus will have a GLBT theme.” Some students asked that pro-life petitions be included in the prayers of the faithful that Sunday and were told that they were free to propose such petitions from the congregation but the official focus was on affirming gays. The week’s announced activities included a talk on gay issues in athletics, an evening titled “Guess Who’s Gay,” and a talk by author and professional Bush-hater (his self-description) Michael Moore. So much for Respect Life Week at Boston College, a school “in the Jesuit tradition.”
• To J.M. of Boston: the answer is that we haven’t reviewed and will not review Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code for the same reason we will pass on Armageddon, the eleventh in the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. For a thorough debunking of the fatuities of The Da Vinci Code, check out Sandra Miesel in the September issue of Crisis. The tedious business probably had to be done, and I’m glad Crisis did it. For readers who are happily unaware of the book, Mr. Brown’s thriller is about the real feminist Christianity in which Jesus marries Mary Magadalene and their progeny perpetuate the true faith to this day, despite the scheming cover-ups of the Vatican and a deeply sinister organization called Opus Dei. But you get the idea. I see that in the UK John Sutherland of the Guardian has a bit of fun indulging that paper’s penchant for America bashing. “The Da Vinci Code is for cryptonoiacs—readers of a paranoid tendency for whom nothing is what it seems. Cryptonoia is more fun. For example, Princess Diana, as every conspiracy theorist knows, was murdered, but by whom? Think 13. The fatal Mercedes crashed at the 13th pillar of the Pont de l’Alma underpass, on August 31 (‘13’ in reverse) 1997. Diana was in her 37th year. Remember Friday 13, 1307, transpose a couple of digits, and all is clear. And who was Diana named after? The moon goddess. And what does Pont de l’Alma mean? ‘Passage of the Moon Goddess.’ Who killed her? Perhaps the Babylonian Brotherhood, as a sacrificial offering to their lunar and solar pagan deities (they sacrificed JFK, their sun god, on the anniversary of the papal bull banning the Knights Templar in 1307), or the Illuminati, or, conceivably, the Duke of Edinburgh as head of the reptilian world conspiracy. Fun, but bonkers. Why are Americans currently devouring books like Armageddon and The Da Vinci Code? To fill the hole where Cold War paranoia used to be. Theology, ideology—what’s the difference? Old Europe, meanwhile, hasn’t quite caught on. Writers like LaHaye, Jenkins, and Brown sell virtually nothing in this country. Thank God (or our sainted Moon Goddess) for that.” Touché, I guess. But tell me more about this Princess Diana “cryptonoia.” In what country, pray tell, is that happening? Madness is madness, to be sure, but one might think that there is at least some excuse, and venerable precedent, for being obsessed about God.
• An Episcopalian friend expressed her puzzlement that the Episcopal Church can so cavalierly jettison doctrines while taking such a firm stand on questions of funding and authority. Paul Marshall of Freedom House came up with a possible answer in a statement by Karl Marx in his preface to the first volume of Das Kapital: “The English Established Church will more readily pardon an attack on 38 of its 39 articles than on 1/39th of its income.” But we know that Marx got everything wrong. Well, almost everything.
• Xenophobes and Xenophiles: Italians and Islam is a new book by Renzo Guolo that depicts a growing gap between the Pope and the Italian episcopate, including influential members of the Curia. Guolo writes regularly for Avvenire, the paper of the Italian bishops conference, and he says that until a decade ago the dominant response of the Italian church to Muslim immigration took the form of charitable work helping the newcomers to feel at home. In recent years, however, prominent bishops such as Alessandro Maggiolini of Como and Giacomo Cardinal Biffi of Bologna, along with bishops generally thought to be of a more “liberal” disposition, have been speaking more forcefully about the need to maintain the Christian identity of Italy and Europe, and about the religious and cultural intolerance of Islam, in Italy as elsewhere. Guolo describes John Paul’s position as one of “dialogue to the extreme,” while some of the Italian bishops have quietly taken to criticizing it as “dialogue to the point of extremism.” It is no secret that, at the gathering of cardinals from around the world in 1994 where the Pope spoke of his intention to ask forgiveness for the historical wrongs committed by Catholics, including those against Muslims, he met with stiff resistance. Yet he has relentlessly moved ahead with his program of the “purification” and “healing” of memories. Guolo writes, “But this comes at the cost of humiliating the Church by burdening it with past wrongs, in the hope that others will admit their own sooner or later.” Critics point out that there have been no reciprocal apologies by Muslims. But the Pope persists, believing that the alternative is a “clash of civilizations” that would have catastrophic consequences for all humanity. In deference to his office and his fragile health, says Guolo, bishops are reluctant to criticize the Pope publicly, but many think he is, not to put too fine a point on it, naïve. At the same time, the controversy over the constitution of the European Union has prompted repeated papal statements on the importance of affirming the Christian identity of Europe. There is a connection between culture and territory, the Pope says, and, also with respect to immigration, he urges a “cultural equilibrium.” He has further left no doubt about the Church’s universal mandate to evangelize, contending that evangelization and interreligious dialogue need not be mutually exclusive. Some Italian bishops, writes Guolo, seem embarrassed by Muslims who convert to Christianity and indifferent to their persecution by Muslims. Cardinal Biffi asserts a very different view: “To preach and baptize are foundational obligations of the Church. Jesus did not command us: preach the gospel to every creature—except to the Muslims, Jews, and the Dalai Lama.” A curial cardinal once told me, “This Pope has no shame.” He intended that admiringly, meaning that John Paul’s commitment to interreligious dialogue is such that no number of rebuffs could deter him from reaching out to try again. The encounter with Islam, especially in the form of massive immigration, puts to severe test the Church’s ability to simultaneously keep faith with the mandate to evangelize, to promote religious freedom, to engage in dialogue, and to sustain a Christian cultural identity. It is not surprising that the Church in Italy, and Western Europe more generally, experiences tensions in attending to these tasks, and it is probably not very helpful to frame the problem in terms of a stark choice between being a xenophobe or a xenophile.
• Now she’s gone and done it. The formidable Anne Applebaum, Washington Post columnist and author of a recent book on the Gulag Archipelago that received a deservedly enthusiastic review essay by Lawrence A. Uzzell in our November issue, writes about getting ready to go to New York. She rather dreads the prospect because in New York everybody is a political lefty. (I suspect she spends too much time on the Upper West Side.) In Washington, she says, the structured rivalry of the two parties guarantees that “the culture remains relentlessly bipartisan.” She goes on to say: “For too long, Washingtonians have had an inferiority complex about New York, a ‘real’ city, supposedly, where the theater is so much better and there are so many more places to eat. It’s time to face the truth: in Washington, we wouldn’t have time to go to the theater even if it were better, and we’d usually eat lunch at our desks, even if we had somewhere better to go. Not only are we busy running the free world, we are equally busy arguing about it—and that’s something they don’t stoop to do in New York.” Well, now. I admit that there’s something to what she says. When I first came to New York, the serious arguments were held here and then we went to Washington to try to get our conclusions politically implemented. Usually without success, I might add. Today there are in Washington serious arguments galore among intellectuals with real firepower. Most of the politically influential think tanks are there. For me, the symbolic change was when Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb turned coat and moved from New York to Washington in 1987. But Washington is a company town and the company’s business is politics. It is All Politics All the Time. I don’t want to say that Washington isn’t a “real” city. But it is a city that is really about one thing. New York is about publishing, finance, fashion, communications, higher education, theater, and other worlds within worlds that make it not a metropolitan area but a metropolis. A real polis is about more than politics, and a “mother polis”—the meaning of metropolis—embraces just about everything. Including Anne Applebaum, who is welcome not just to visit but to come and live. One will like New York better, though, if one is open to talking about more than politics.
• Many people responded with incredulity to the Episcopal Church’s approval of same-sex blessings and, perhaps even more strongly, to the approval as bishop of a man who left his wife and children and later took up with a male partner. What on earth did the Episcopalians think they were doing? That question is answered, in part, by a letter that Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold wrote to the Episcopal clergy of the U.S. and the thirty-seven primates of the world-wide Anglican Communion. Griswold wrote: “I will say here that regardless of one’s point of view of the outcome on various votes, General Convention was almost universally perceived to be a well-ordered and caring community with sensitivity to the feelings of others and with mutual respect. This was noted many times in the media and I believe was a witness to the world.” The Presiding Bishop then proposed a distinctively, maybe exclusively, Anglican ecclesiology: “One of the great gifts we share as members of the Episcopal Church is that our life is configured in webs of relationship: congregations are bound into dioceses, dioceses are joined together in provinces and then the national church, and the Episcopal Church is then linked with other self-governing churches to form the Anglican Communion. And communion, in its various forms, is nothing less than our participation in the Trinitarian life of God.” Whereas in the past Scripture and tradition, as, for instance, in the Thirty-nine Articles, were viewed as normative, Griswold offers a developed understanding of the discernment of truth: “I find it illuminating to think of these webs of relationship which constitute our lives as being forcefields of energy in which our various perspectives and ways of embodying the gospel constantly interact—challenging and enlarging one another and thereby more fully revealing God’s truth. Difference, and the capacity to welcome otherness, are essential to the vitality of these various forcefields. And the energy which gives them life is love. This is my understanding of what it means to be the body of Christ.” While Anglican provinces that threaten to break fellowship with the Episcopal Church USA contend that the Word of God as interpreted in the Great Tradition cannot be replaced by “forcefields of energy,” Bishop Griswold appeals to what he sees as a fuller understanding of revealed truth. “It is in that fullness that seemingly irreconcilable points of view can address one another in love and receive one another’s truth,” he writes. Those who believe that homogenital acts are in accord with God’s will and those who believe they are contrary to God’s will can receive one another’s truth, even though the Episcopal Church USA affirms the truth of the former position and rejects the truth of the latter, so long as Episcopalians maintain “a well-ordered and caring community with sensitivity to the feelings of others and with mutual respect.” It is hoped that the Presiding Bishop’s letter will clarify what Episcopalians think they are doing.
• The eucharistic prayer used in a liturgy at the church-wide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in Milwaukee was borrowed from All People’s Gathering Lutheran Church in the same city. God—referred to as him/her/it—was informed, “We know that your names are as numerous and varied as your people, to whom you reveal yourself in different ways so that we may be your co-creative, imaginative lovers.” To which Pastor Russell Saltzman, editor of Forum Letter, comments, “Are we talking Trinity here, or a fertility Baal?” The prayer continued, “In our friends and lovers, our spouses and children, we see you coming with power.” Catholics often complain, with considerable justice, about the banality of the English translation of the Mass. Let’s hear it for banality.
• “Hello, butter-colored worm.” That’s the opening line of a poem that didn’t pass muster, says J. Bottum. His day job is with the Weekly Standard, where he wrote this about being our poetry editor: “Of course, day after day, the mail also brings good work, poetry one is proud to publish. But for magazines like First Things, the rejection rate is over 99 percent, and all those unusable poems must be ploughed through as well—and while I’m doing it, about the best you can say is beware, beware his flashing eyes, his floating hair. Sheer plod may actually make plough-down sillion shine, but I think I’d have to ask the author for a little more clarity. Still, good fences make good neighbors, that’s obvious enough. I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas. That needs a comma after ‘claws,’ maybe, but I’m not the man to do it. Not today. The native hue of resolution has been sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought. The force that through the green fuse drives the flower is driving me mad. Weave a circle round him thrice and close your eyes with holy dread, for he on honeydew hath fed and edited some poetry. I have heard the poets singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.” Ah, but they do, Jody. Just the other day a poet was by who sang your praises. But then, he was in that less than one percent who are the Elect, so he would, wouldn’t he?
• John Derbyshire writes for National Review and is almost unfailingly wise and winsome in espousing his very definite views. Now comes the Christmas season, and with it the usual disputes about the crèche at the courthouse and related public displays that run the danger of intimating why Christmas is called Christmas. The cry of “Keep Christ in Christmas” is again heard in the land, along with the complaints about how anything specifically Christian offends those who are too sensitive for decent company. In that connection, an item written by Mr. Derbyshire last December is of continuing pertinence. “I just got back from my second-grade son’s ‘songfest.’ What a mess we are in! Tots in Santa Clause hats singing Hanukkah songs. . . . Isn’t Hanukkah past and gone already? A couple of years from now, no doubt they’ll have Ramadan worked in there somehow. And of course there were no songs AT ALL referring to the birth of Jesus Christ—this is a public school. We only got ‘Frosty the Snowman,’ ‘Silver Bells,’ ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.’ Speaking personally, as a Christian, I don’t want the commemoration of my Savior’s birth mucked about with in this way. I’m starting to feel I’d like the whole thing kept IN the precincts of my church and OUT of the public sphere. In short, I am swinging round to the ACLU position. No offense to anyone, but I don’t want my kids singing Hanukkah songs—that’s not their religion. If I were Jewish, I wouldn’t want my kids wearing Santa hats, either. (NB: ‘Santa’ means ‘Saint’—i.e., in the Christian religion.) I can’t see why Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists should get a holiday to celebrate an event they believe to be of no importance. Let’s repeal all laws making religious festivals public holidays. If people want to take off for Good Friday, Yom Kippur, Eid Al-fitr, Kali Puja, or the Wiccan Solstice, let them make suitable arrangements with their employers, privately. Give Christmas back to us Christians.” I’m afraid that Mr. Derbyshire did not swing around to the ACLU position; he was taken in by a long-standing ACLU ploy that invokes “pluralism” in order to secure universal submission to the doctrine of the naked public square. Anything religious, especially if associated with the religion with which nine out of ten Americans identify, must be denied public salience. The trick is overtly to exclude it, or trivialize it into oblivion (e.g., tots in Santa hats). If among the chief purposes of education is to transmit a world to another generation, and if parents have the authority to decide which world is to be transmitted (and it is agreed since the 1925 Pierce decision that they do), Mr. Derbyshire’s experience underscores again the necessity of parental choice in education. But even parents who send their children to government schools should insist that pluralism means the respectful engagement of differences, not the denial of differences. They can point out the educational malfeasance involved in not teaching children why this time of year is called “the holiday season.” Of course Jews and other minorities should not be required to express religious views that are not their own. Although I’m not sure Mr. Derbyshire should object to his child singing Hanukkah songs, since Hanukkah celebrates an event in the history of Israel of which Christians believe they are part. Where the number in a minority group or groups is large enough, they might present a program of songs and dramas of their own choosing. Since local control of government schools is very much worth defending, this becomes a matter of local option. That means that, in a school that is almost entirely Jewish or Muslim, the Christian minority would be similarly accommodated. Mr. Derbyshire is entirely right about the premier responsibility of home and church for religious teaching and celebration, but with respect to his local school, he should join others in insisting that genuine pluralism be given a try, and not cave under the force of the militant secularism of the ACLU.
• On October 4, 1970, Paul VI solemnly declared Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) and Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) doctors of the Church. They were the only women to bear that august title until John Paul II added Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897) to their company in 1997. I don’t know when my fascination with Catherine began, but only last year did I have opportunity to visit the church in Siena where her head is on display and she is the object of an obviously lively devotion. The winding narrow streets and the houses around the church are much as they must have been in the fourteenth century. The church itself is somewhat dirty and disheveled, and is marred by what must be some of the ugliest contemporary stained glass in Europe. But it occurred to me that Catherine probably does not mind. In reproaching bishops and cardinals, in calling the Pope back from Avignon to Rome, in renewing corrupt monastic foundations, Catherine was accustomed to the disheveled state of what is nonetheless the virgin bride of Christ. A Dominican sister, Suzanne Noffke, has an instructive article on Catherine in a special issue of Theology Today, published by Princeton Theological Seminary, on medieval women theologians. Sister Suzanne is an authority on Catherine, and her article is titled “Catherine of Siena: Justly Doctor of the Church?” Was she made a doctor—meaning teacher—of the Church as a token of sensitivity to the current form of “the woman question”? Was she really a theologian or just a devotional writer? Or, as some would have it, a “mystic,” meaning a female eccentric who is not to be taken too seriously? In her article, Sr. Suzanne examines the documents of the canonical process that led to Catherine’s elevation and finds them to be a mixed bag. Her own conviction is that Catherine was a very great theologian indeed, her specialty being what today we would call pastoral theology. She includes her new translation of some of Catherine’s writings, including this appeal to Urban VI, who had silenced a Dominican for raising questions about certain abuses and papal appointments: “Oh, most holy father, be patient when people talk to you about these things, for they speak only for God’s honor and your well-being, as children must do who tenderly love their father. They cannot bear anything being done that will harm or dishonor their father. No, they are in their concern always on the alert, since they are well aware that their father has a huge family to care for, yet has only one person’s vision. So if his trueborn children were not concerned enough to watch out for their father’s honor and good, he would often make mistakes. And so it is with you, most holy father. You are father and lord of the whole body of Christianity; all of us are under your holiness’ wings. As far as authority is concerned you can do anything, but in terms of vision you can see no more than any one person can. So it is essential that your children singleheartedly, without any slavish fear, look out for God’s honor as well as your honor and welfare and that of the little sheep who are under your staff. Now I know that your holiness wants helpers who will really help you—but you have to be patient enough to listen to them. When a son or daughter of yours comes to tell you about something that person thinks might harm the Church or souls or might embarrass your holiness, it should pain you if that person would foolishly, in your presence, refuse to tell you frankly the pure truth as it stands. For nothing ought to be kept hidden or secret from you.” That is a model of deferentially reproachful persuasion that you might want to keep for reference, in the event you ever have a friend who gets on the wrong side of the pope.
• There has been a pause in our ongoing discussion under the title of “Scandal Time.” That is not because, as some wishfully think, the scandals in the Catholic Church are behind us. Far from it. In January, the John Jay College study commissioned by the National Review Board is scheduled for release. That will almost certainly be the occasion for another round of major media attention. In the next issue we hope to have a comprehensive summary of where we have been and what will likely happen next. What will likely happen next, needless to say, is not to be confused with what should happen next. There are on the horizon few, if any, signs of the great renewal of fidelity that John Paul II said should emerge on the far side of this Long Lent.
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: East Meets West, Sort Of, New York Times, September 19 and September 22, 2003. No End of Debate About the End of Democracy, Commentary, October 2003.
While We’re At It: Mt. Athos, Catholic World News, September 11, 2003. Papabile, John Allen, “Word from Rome,” National Catholic Reporter, September 26, 2003. David Warren on becoming a Catholic, Ottawa Citizen, September 9, 2003. Bruderhof, www.bruderhof.com. Pryor on Christian duty and the law, Cumberland Law Review, December 2003. Guolo, Xenophobes and Xenophiles, www.chiesa, September 9, 2003. Griswold, Episcopal News Service, August 25, 2003. ELCA on eucharistic prayer, Forum Letter, October 2003. J. Bottum on poetry, Weekly Standard, June 9, 2003. Derbyshire on Christmas, National Review Online, December 19, 2002. Catherine of Siena, Theology Today, April 2003.