The Public Square
It is a commonplace that American public life is today polarized to a degree it has never been before. A short definition of polarization is that people no longer view one another as neighbors but as opponents; conversation is displaced by political combat. The unprecedented polarization thesis should be viewed with a measure of skepticism. First, because most people do not live their everyday lives in a manner dominated by political ideologies or allegiances. Second, because there probably have been other times in our history”before and immediately after the Civil War, plus the Depression and New Deal”when political lines were drawn as sharply and public rhetoric was as combatively partisan. In the raucous and rollicking course of history, it is dangerous to say that anything is unprecedented.
In the course of writing my book Catholic Matters (forthcoming from Basic Books), I had occasion to revisit Gerhard Lenski’s The Religious Factor: A Sociologist’s Inquiry . In the field of the sociology of religion, the book has the status of being at least a near-classic. First published in 1961, Lenski’s inquiry was based on survey research done in 1958. Then and now, although much less now, sociologists and political scientists tended to ignore or downplay the religious factor in social attitudes and behavior, including politics. Lenski argued that the immigration-based ethnic factor was in decline and the socio-religious factor was in the ascendancy, leading to what he nervously viewed as a compartmentalized America.
He was appropriately skeptical of the way in which people then thought about liberalism and conservatism. Liberals, he wrote, are generally identified with the working classes and the intellectuals, and conservatives with the upper and middle classes. This essentially Marxian analysis based on class struggle is, Lenski concluded, deeply misleading. With Max Weber, he believed that status is more telling than class. In America, the status hierarchy was white Protestants first, Catholics second, Jews third, and Negroes fourth. (Obviously, Jews were not third in economic-class standing.) Lenski used four controverted issues that divided people at the time: the welfare state, freedom of speech, support for foreign aid and the United Nations, and racial integration. The working class was liberal only on the first, while intellectuals and the middle-to-upper classes favored all four. The old way of distinguishing liberal from conservative, Lenski believed, was of very limited usefulness. The neglected component was the religious factor, and the important new component in that connection was the numerical growth and rising status of Catholics in America.
Although he carefully denied (as social scientists do) that he was making predictions, he wrote that we may expect these gradual changes in population composition to encourage many, or most, of the following developments. Then comes an interesting list. Keep in mind that this was before the Second Vatican Council and the many changes and destabilizations that followed in its wake. And keep in mind that Gerhard Lenski was of a very Protestant, almost Barthian, view that biblical religion is at war with the religion of communal-institution adherence epitomized by the Catholic Church. These are among the changes to be expected, he wrote, as a consequence of the growth of Catholic numbers and influence:
1. Rising rates of church attendance in American society
2. Strengthening of religious group communalism
3. Strengthening of both the nuclear and extended family systems
4. Declining emphasis on intellectual independence
5. Increasing support for welfare state policies
6. Increasing support for the Democratic Party
7. Shifting focus of interest from work group to kin group
8. Slowing rate of material progress and perhaps also of scientific advance
9. Rising birth rates
10. Narrowing latitude for exercise of the right of free speech
11. Increasing restraints on Sunday business and divorce, and possibly birth control
12. Declining restraints on gambling and drinking.
Some of these expectations (for instance, 4 and 8) may be attributed to Lenski’s low-key anti-Catholic bias. At least six of his expectations definitely have not happened (3, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 11). Why not? In large part because, over the last forty years, Catholics have become just like everybody else. This, as I argue in Catholic Matters , is because the accent has been on being American Catholics rather than on being Catholic Americans. (The adjective modifies, and frequently controls, the noun.) And Lenski’s expectations failed because of the imperial judiciary’s usurpation of the political process, notably on questions of marriage, family, and sexual ethics. Remember that, on what today are called the social and moral issues, the Democratic party was then much more conservative than the Republicans.
The critical fact is that many, if not most, Catholics today are not the Catholics that Lenski thought he knew. Of course many other things happened that nobody at that time anticipated: the sexual and cultural revolutions, Vietnam, sundry feminisms, et al . But one might well wonder whether these things would have happened, or would have happened with such pervasive consequences, if so many Catholics had not been persuaded that the post-Vatican II Church had liberated them from what Lenski, and almost everyone else at the time, thought was Catholicism. Certainly he and others could not have anticipated the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, the single most important event of the past half-century in reconfiguring the socio-political alignments in American life.
Like others of that time, Lenski did not anticipate the resurgence of evangelical Protestantism in our public life, a resurgence that began slowly in the 1950s and came to widespread public notice in the second half of the 1970s. He wrote about white Protestants at a time when the mainline/oldline Protestant establishment seemed unchallengeably secure. As in Will Herberg’s undoubtedly classic Protestant, Catholic, Jew of 1955, the neo-evangelicals who would later be known simply as evangelicals were hardly a blip on the radar screen. There was a vague awareness of the fundamentalists who had slunk away into the wilderness after their devastating defeat at the famous 1925 monkey trial in Dayton, Tennessee, never to be heard from again. Among the many ironies of American history is that the return of the fundamentalists, now called evangelicals, met up with now culturally confident Catholics to form the base constituency of politically potent conservatism.
Evangelicals had been notoriously anti-Catholic. So much was this the case that the Southern Baptist Convention, for instance, supported Roe v. Wade because the legal protection of the unborn was viewed as an effort to impose Catholic doctrine on the nation. By the late 1970s, however, this dramatically changed as evangelicals moved toward the pro-life side of the abortion controversy. Not least of the factors in play was a sharp decline in anti-Catholicism due to a changed perception of the Catholic Church. The Catholic destabilization following the Council was advanced by liberal and progressive forces in the Church, but it had the unexpected consequence of making Catholicism, in the view of evangelicals, less the monolithic threat that they feared.
There were other factors, to be sure”notably the winsome Christian witness of John Paul the Great and Mother Teresa, as well as projects of rapprochement such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together. But the irony remains that the liberalizing dynamics within Catholicism contributed importantly to the conservative convergence of Catholics and evangelical Protestants. One is left wondering how many of Gerhard Lenski’s expectations would have been borne out had there been no council and no Catholic Left that exploited the council to transform the perception of the Catholicism that he and others thought they knew. It may well be that liberal voices such as Fathers Charles Curran and Richard McBrien, along with the National Catholic Reporter and kindred spirits, are largely responsible for the religious, cultural, and political convergence of evangelicals and Catholics they now fear.
Joining the continuing debate over whether pacifism and just war doctrine share a prima facie presumption against war are Helmut David Baer of the University of Texas and Joseph Capizzi of the Catholic University of America. Writing in the Journal of Religious Ethics , they make clear enough, as it used to be said, where they are coming from: Just war theory is properly understood as an expression of a tradition in Christian political thought that can broadly be described as Augustinian. Central to this tradition are a number of convictions. First, political authority is essential to social life. Social action depends upon ordered social relations, and ordered social relations depend partly upon the exercise of organizing power, or authority. Thus, within any community, there are competing interests that political authority must order and adjudicate. Second, force is an essential element of the exercise of political power. Because the ordering of social life encounters resistance from parties pursuing private interests, who if left unopposed would jeopardize the social order, political authority must preserve order and convince private interests to act for common goods they would not typically pursue. Third, the exercise of political power should be placed in the service of genuine goods, such as order, justice, liberty, and community. That is, the forceful power of government must itself be ordered by being brought into conformity with the requirements of morality.
They address the argument of ethicists who say that war is an extreme phenomenon that is beyond the boundaries of political reason. Just war theory, precisely by bringing moral considerations to bear, seeks to politicize war, and to politicize war is to civilize it. If war were truly discontinuous with politics, then the aims in war would be different from the aims of politics in peacetime, and recourse to war would entail an abandonment of the goods of politics. Far from relegating war to the twilight of our moral and political imagination (where war would necessarily assume a logic of its own) just war theory seeks to domesticate war by relating it to politics.
Yes, but what is specifically Christian in this understanding? Baer and Capizzi write: Contemporary pacifists have also failed to provide a full account of political power and the place of government in God’s providential care for creation. At least one pacifist has even denied the need to give an account of political authority at all. Thus, Stanley Hauerwas has boldly asserted, I simply do not believe that Christians need any theory of the state to inform or guide their witness in whatever society they happen to find themselves.’ Surely, however, providing some account of the state is a necessary implication of providing an account of the victory of Christ over the powers of this world. If, as Hauerwas has eloquently argued, Christians place their hope in the Kingdom of God, and seek to embody that Kingdom by living faithfully as church, then they need to have some understanding of the relationship of God’s Kingdom to political power. Is the power of the sword now superfluous? Is the sword a manifestation of the Devil’s remaining power, a form of the Antichrist? Or has the sword been subjected to Christ’s rule and placed in the service of Christ’s Kingdom? To fail to provide a theological account of political power is to set premature boundaries around Christ’s Kingdom. Thus when Hauerwas asserts that the sword of the state is outside the perfection of Christ,’ the question we want to ask from the standpoint of the just war tradition is, how can Christians allow the sword to remain outside the perfection of Christ? Has not the sword, too, been claimed by Christ and brought under his reign?
The presumption against war is sometimes expressed as a presumption against violence, with violence defined as any use of lethal force. One may suggest, however, that the difference between violence and force is that the former is unrestrained by political and moral reason. A just war is a morally justified use of lethal power on behalf of political goods, it being understood that goods is itself a moral category. In that respect, a just war is not morally different from the just use of force or power in the domestic police function. Please note that Baer, Capizzi, and other proponents of just war doctrine are not making a case for any specific use of lethal power. Such proponents can and do disagree about, for instance, U.S. policy in the Middle East. The great virtue of just war teaching is that it provides the moral framework within which such disagreements can be reasonably engaged. It is not helpful to confuse that necessary conversation and debate by injecting a formula such as the prima facie presumption against war. If it means no more than that we ought to prefer that there not be war, the formula is utterly jejune. If, however, it is proposed not as a preference but as a principle, it gravely distorts moral deliberation about the use of force in the service of justice.
While We’re At It
Chrismukkah. That was last December’s commercial novelty in the service of inclusiveness. The Catholic League and the New York Board of Rabbis were not amused. They issued a joint statement: We are deeply concerned about the spiritual misrepresentation of a newly created holiday’ called Chrismukkah. While we as Jews and Christians practice our particular traditions, we also want to see the spiritual integrity of all faiths fully protected. Chanukah and Christmas celebrated during the same period should not be fused into some cultural combination that does not recognize the spiritual identity of our respective faiths. Historically, Chanukah recalls the battle for religious independence that would permit all groups to freely practice their separate traditions without compromise or coercion. Christmas marks a most sacred period announcing the birth of the Christian Messiah, and the beginning of a sacred relationship between Jesus and the Christian people. Copying the tradition of another faith and calling it by another name is a form of shameful plagiarism we cannot condone. Frankly, those who seek to synthesize our spiritual traditions may be well intended, but they are insulting both of us simultaneously. We Jews and Christians respect one another realizing that there is a time to be separate and a time to be together. We see each other as separate spiritual brothers and sisters who will work together to better the human family. A fine statement, all in all, although I’m not sure about this business of separate brothers and sisters. Catholics used to call non-Catholic Christians separated brethren. Whether Catholic, Protestant, or Jew, we are in varying degrees separated, but none of us is separate. As witness the above instance of cooperation in defending distinctive, not separate, religious traditions.
What is called an identity crisis may be simple embarrassment”sometimes justified, sometimes not”about who we are. Earlier this Fall, the English gathered, on the two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, to watch a reenactment of the great event. Andrew Roberts writes in the New Criterion : In order to save the French and Spanish participants in the review any embarrassment at having been defeated two hundred years ago, the reenactment of the battle was fought not between the British and Combined Fleets, but between what were euphemistically dubbed the red and blue fleets. Although an actor playing Nelson, with eye patch and empty shirtsleeve, was rowed on board the sailing ship representing HMS Victory , for reasons of political correctness the Navy organizers did not want formally to identify the reenactment as actually being of Trafalgar itself. Editor Roger Kimball adds: In October 1805, when news of the battle reached London, the Times announced the event with a three-part banner headline that advised Londoners, first, that a great victory had been won, second, that the French fleet had been destroyed, and, third, that Admiral Nelson had been killed. Today, it’s prizes for everyone, as the dodo in Alice in Wonderland insisted: nobody won, really, and let’s not be beastly to the French. Everybody won, nobody won, whatever. With no causes to celebrate and no causes to mourn, history is, to paraphrase Elbert Hubbard, one nothing after another.
To students and parents inquiring about a solidly Catholic college, I would usually mention some of the obvious ones: Steubenville, Ave Maria, Thomas Aquinas. And then, not only because I was on the board there, I would suggest they not overlook the University of Dallas. People were sometimes taken aback, however, when I suggested they take a close look at Notre Dame where, if one chose carefully, one could get a thoroughly Catholic education. Many conservative Catholics had given up on Notre Dame, assuming it had gone the way of Georgetown and Boston College. That impression was largely due to the prominence of Fr. Richard McBrien, long-time chairman of the theology department and a kind of Peck’s Bad Boy in adolescent rebellion against church authority. Things have been changing at Notre Dame, however, and people should take another look. The current head of theology is John Cavadini, who has a lively sense of the Christian, and specifically Catholic, intellectual tradition, and the new president of Notre Dame is Father John Jenkins, who said this in his inaugural address: There are certainly many other truly great universities in this country. Many of them began as religious, faith-inspired institutions, but nearly all have left that founding character behind. One finds among them a disconnect between the academic enterprise and an over-arching religious and moral framework that orients academic activity and defines a good human life. Speaking of what he hopes Notre Dame will be: This is no easy mission. But its difficulty is not our concern; we did not create the mission, and we cannot change it. The word mission’ derives from the Latin root missus ”which means sent.’ We have been sent”to seek God, study the world, and serve humanity. It may be premature to say for certain, but it does seem that Notre Dame is on the way back.
When Simon Wiesenthal, commonly referred to as the world’s foremost Nazi-hunter, died this September at age ninety-six, there were many and laudatory obituaries. Rabbi Marc Gellman reminds us, however, that Wiesenthal came in for criticism, also from his admirers. The most striking thing about Wiesenthal was how he always connected the Holocaust to the struggle for human rights for all people. In his public speeches, he always referred to the 11 million victims’ murdered in the Nazi concentration camps. He refused to use the iconic number of 6 million. He would explain himself by reminding his audiences that although 6 million Jews had indeed been murdered in the camps, 5 million other non-Jewish non-combatants were also murdered there, as well. His critics were angry with him for this inclusive sensibility. They argued that even though 5 million non-Jews died in the camps, they were built specifically to kill Jews. These critics charged that to speak of the other victims of the concentration camps distorts the uniquely Jewish nature of the Holocaust. The other 5 million victims of the camps: gypsies, socialists, communists, other anti-Nazis, homosexuals and disabled persons. They were, so their argument goes, just caught up and murdered because of the extra killing capacity of the camps and the slave labor sites that were built to kill Jews. Six or 11? I understand and sympathize with Wiesenthal’s critics, however I agree with Wiesenthal’s math. The number I pick when I do my Holocaust remembrance is also 11. Of course, there were also many millions who were victims of the Nazis, although they were not killed in the extermination camps. Gellman’s point is that we should resist using victims to score political points, citing the way in which some tried to recruit Hurricane Katrina for their racial demagoguery. (He does not mention the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton by name.) We need, writes Gellman, to learn a new math, the arithmetic of one. Then we can nurture a spiritual generosity that moments of mass death so easily seem to strip from us. Then we can answer the thieves of suffering who tell us whom we should honor in our grief and whom we should ignore.
Some evangelicals of the Calvinist persuasion are unhappy with a statement unanimously adopted by the forty-two-member board of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE): For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility. Substantively, the positions taken on sundry issues are very different, but the statement is strikingly similar in form to the numerous promulgations emanating over the decades from the offices of the liberal Protestant establishment that is now in apparently irreversible decline. Or so these critics say. Keep in mind that these are serious Westminster Calvinists, a small minority in evangelicaldom. But they have a point worthy of notice. The NAE statement declares that the Lord calls the church to speak prophetically to society and work for the renewal and reform of its structures. The language is straight from the old National Council of Churches, and strikingly similar to the left-leaning Chicago Statement of Evangelical Social Concern of 1973, a project of the relentless Ron Sider who also helped the NAE with its drafting. The statement asserts that God has called all people to share responsibility for creating a healthy society, and calls upon all Christians to involve themselves in a host of causes: religious freedom, the sanctity of life, justice and compassion for the poor, human rights, peace, the restraint of violence, and the environment. As Oscar Wilde said of socialism, such involvement would leave most people with no free evenings. More important, if liberals were criticized, and rightly criticized, for identifying their politics with the word of the Lord, conservatives are not exempt from the same criticism. The Church (upper case) and the several churches encourage responsible citizenship, but they should not promulgate political platforms. Christian citizens can and do disagree on specific policies, resulting in different political alignments. Critics of the NAE statement think it smacks of papism. The Catholic Church does have a social doctrine that sets forth in an intellectually sophisticated way theologically-grounded teachings regarding human nature, society, and the meaning of justice. Such social doctrine provides directions but, with few exceptions (for instance, the defense of innocent human life), does not provide directives of immediate applicability to policy questions on which people of good faith, guided by reason and conscience, can come to different conclusions. And, of course, the Catholic Church makes claims of authoritative teaching authority not made by other Christian communities, and certainly not by the NAE. The critics are closer to the mark in seeing similarities between the NAE statement and the pronouncements of liberal Protestant churches. There is little of policy substance in the NAE statement with which I would disagree, but the tonalities of Thus saith the Lord are disquieting. There are significant differences between the National Council of Churches and the National Association of Evangelicals, but it would be of slight benefit either to Christian witness or to our public life if the moral presumption of the left were replaced by the moral presumption of the right.
If It Can Be Done It Will Be Done. That is the motto of those who are eager to take us into Huxley’s brave new world, and beyond. If it can be done it must be done, is the argument of such as Ray Kurzweil who writes of the Singularity, the impending moment in which technology takes over from nature in the evolution of the human species. At this preliminary point we are still arguing about issues such as the creation and exploitation of embryonic stem cells, but Robert George of Princeton, a frequent contributor to these pages and member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, says the post-humanists have bigger things in mind. Witness their coolness to the breakthrough that permits the production of embryonic-type stem cells that can do everything that embryonic stem cells do but do so without creating or destroying a human embryo. Not to mention their indifference to the fact that, while adult and umbilical-cord stem cells are being used in the treatment of many diseases, there is not even one embryonic stem cell therapy even in clinical trials. So what do the scientific post-humanists really want? They want, says George, to move beyond embryos to fetuses. With fetal farming, they will be able to exploit and destroy unborn children at will. New Jersey already permits this, and is urging other states to follow its lead. Robert George writes: So we find ourselves at a critical juncture. On the one hand, techniques for obtaining pluripotent stem cells without destroying embryos will, it appears, soon eliminate any plausible argument for killing pre-implantation embryos. This is great news. On the other hand, these developments have, if I am correct, smoked out the true objectives of at least some who have been leading the charge for embryonic stem cell research. Things cannot remain as they are. The battle over embryonic stem cell research will determine whether we as a people move in the direction of restoring our sanctity of life ethic, or go in precisely the opposite direction. Either we will protect embryonic human life more fully than we do now, or we will begin creating human beings precisely as organ factories.’ Those of us on the pro-life side must take the measure of the problem quickly so that we can develop and begin implementing a strategy that takes the nation in the honorable direction.
It’s not quite in the league of the evangelical Protestant missionary tract that said, There are only a few thousand Christians in Poland. The rest of the population is Catholic. But Christianity Today comes close with an article titled, Reconstruction: How Eastern Europe’s Evangelicals are Restoring the Church’s Vitality. The first part of the article is about the Czech Republic, a largely secularized country that needs all the Christian witness it can get. But the second part is about Poland, a vibrantly Catholic society with less than one percent of Christians being non-Catholics. The article enthusiastically recounts the growth of the church in Poland as Christians (meaning evangelical Protestants) establish new churches and house-based Bible study groups drawing hundreds of Poles away from the Catholic Church. Evangelicals and Catholics Together, anyone? If many Poles lack a deep relationship with Christ, as the article says and as is no doubt the case, one might think evangelicals could help the Catholic Church to be more pastorally effective. The line between evangelizing and proselytizing is disputed, but sheep-stealing is easy enough to spot. I have a different understanding of the current state of Polish religion, culture, and politics than do the authors in Christianity Today (see my article The New Europes in the October issue of First Things ), but that is not the point. (The authors, by the way, say they are relying on the research of Jonathan Luxmoore who writes for the leftward British publication, the Tablet .) The point is that, after all that has been said about the changed relationship between evangelicals and Catholics, including all that has been said in Christianity Today , some evangelicals have not gotten very far beyond the above-mentioned missionary tract. On the other hand, nobody said it would be easy to remedy centuries of Christian divisiveness.
Juries don’t get to make the law. They render verdicts between parties according to what they are told is the law. Some while back, a jury in Milwaukee found the archdiocese liable because a volunteer, driving her own car, ran a red light and caused an accident while delivering a statue of the Virgin Mary to an invalid. The volunteer was a member of the Legion of Mary, which is not directed by the Archdiocese but meets on church property. The Archdiocese was ordered to pay $17 million to the victim of the accident. It is reported that in some parts of the country churches are terminating the venerable institution of the potluck supper because of elaborate state-imposed health regulations and the fear of legal liability. Addressing the dangers of the potluck supper is, according to the minions of the nanny state, long overdue. Philip K. Howard heads up Common Good, a legal reform organization, and he writes: Extreme verdicts are relatively rare, and usually reduced on appeal. The harm is to the fabric of freedom. People no longer feel comfortable doing what’s right and good. Legal fear now infects social dealings throughout society. This fear also has a flipside, an opportunity for exploitation when something goes wrong: Maybe we can get rich, too . Cultural bonds begin to strain. The values that hold our society together, exemplified best in the spirit of volunteerism, are replaced by distrust and defensiveness. Want to take your child’s class on a field trip?
The second edition of The Churching of America: 1776-2005 by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark is out from Rutgers University Press and it is well worth a look. First published in 1993, the study caused quite a stir, in large part because religious folk bridled at the socioeconomic approach suggesting that religion, like everything else, is a product to be hustled in the marketplace. Martin Marty’s reaction in the Christian Century was typical: Finke and Stark’s world contains no God or religion or spirituality, no issue of truth or beauty or goodness, no faith or hope or love, no justice or mercy; only winning or losing in the churching game matters. Foul! cry the authors. Marty knew perfectly well that our major emphasis was on faith in God. On the very first page of the book we wrote, to the degree that denominations rejected traditional doctrines and ceased to make serious demands on their followers, they ceased to prosper. The churching of America was accomplished by aggressive churches committed to vivid otherworldliness.’ Finke and Stark are right about that. Their offense was to apply rigorous econometric analysis to spiritual realities that many feel should be shielded from such vulgar examination. Catholics with a Thomistic appreciation of secondary causes are less uneasy with the prosaic ways in which the Spirit works. The Churching of America does the historical and statistical grunt work supporting Dean Kelley’s important 1972 book, Why Conservative Churches are Growing . A similar point was underscored in the 1975 Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation, which declared the loss of transcendence to be at the heart of the debilitation of Christianity in America. The new edition of Churching brings the data and analysis up to the present, but the thesis remains very much the same. Most attention is paid various Protestant groups which have a tradition of religious entrepreneurship. With a burgeoning Catholic population and shortage of priests, Catholics tend to take a different view of these matters. Catholics are generally not in the church growth business. In most parts of the country, more members is the last thing that a priest wants. His complaint is that he can’t respond to all the demands already made on his attention. Among younger priests, however, it is understood that evangelization of the wandering and the never-reached is a permanent part of the Church’s reason for being. There is an interesting section in which Finke and Stark examine the most liberal and traditional dioceses and religious orders and discover that, by every index of growth and vitality, the traditionals are doing much better, and usually dramatically so. One might suggest that The Churching of America is a careful and massive documentation of the self-evident: A religious community’s powers of attraction and adherence are in direct proportion to its offering something that is not available elsewhere. Chiefly, that something has to do with transcendent hope and truth claims, a clear course of growth in discipleship, and a sense of belonging that is rooted in a rich tradition. Econometric graphs and tables may not be the most edifying way to make the point, but the point should not surprise those who understand that the God who became incarnate employs the dynamics of human nature in building and sustaining institutions of ultimate allegiance through penultimate means.
It is a great virtue of liberal democracy that everyone”even presidents and cardinals”may express contentious opinions in the public square. But when the rhetoric of a cardinal archbishop is indistinguishable from that of a president, I worry a bit. The writer is especially worried when the president is George W. Bush who, he says, has dusted off a shopworn bit of far-right GOP dogma. William D. Wood, writing in Commonweal , is exercised by Bush’s assertion in Latvia last spring that the western powers at Yalta abandoned central and eastern Europe to Soviet tyranny. This specious interpretation of Yalta, writes Wood, has been debunked by historians, and Bush was criticized by many for reviving it. Well, yes, the interpretation has been attacked by many, most notably by those who championed Soviet-American coexistence, if not friendship, until the last gasp of the evil empire. Wood proposes what he apparently thinks is the clinching argument: The effect of Yalta was not to deliver Eastern Europe to an oppressive Communist regime. Stalin’s Red Army had been in place well before the Big Three’ gathered at Yalta. There is truth in that. The tragic decision at Yalta was to do nothing about it. Wood is criticizing Francis Cardinal George of Chicago for agreeing, in a speech at the Lumen Christi Institute in Chicago, with Bush. Cardinal George was speaking from notes and one cannot tell from Wood’s tendentious paraphrasing what he actually said. But there are many thoughtful students of history who agree with the judgment that Yalta was a betrayal of those countries that were consigned to decades of oppression behind what was aptly termed the iron curtain. Notable among them was John Paul II, who wrote about this sad history in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus and elsewhere. To suggest that this view is a shopworn bit of far-right GOP dogma is simply silly. The gravamen of Wood’s exercise, titled Back to Christendom, is that Cardinal George is nostalgic for a union of throne and altar in order to counter liberal democracy’s slide into secularism. This, too, is simply silly. I have had occasion to raise questions about what I think is Cardinal George’s sometimes excessively grim view of liberal democracy in general and its American form in particular. But to argue that he yearns for a restoration of imperial Christendom either here or in Europe serves no purpose other than to titillate the readers of a magazine that is prone to indulging in anti-hierarchical protest, even if it has to invent cardinal offenses.
The religious fervor sparked by evolution theory is reflected in a New York Times editorial supporting scientists and editors who have proposed standards that enshrine evolution as a central concept of modern biology. Enshrine, as in (according to Webster’s) to preserve or cherish as sacred. The editors’ case for establishing their religion is set forth under the title The Evolution of Creationism. Their point is that, in Kansas and elsewhere, the creationists want to get their foot in the door by allowing in the classroom notions such as intelligent design that will inevitably lead to the teaching that the evolution of humanity, in one way or another, was the work of an all-powerful deity (a.k.a. God). Some people even seek to change the definition of science in a way that appears to leave room for supernatural explanations of the origin and evolution of life, not just natural explanations, the usual domain of science. Of course, allowing only natural explanations supports an assumed and practical atheism, often backed up by the explicit and theoretical atheism of some of evolution’s most militant champions. The Times is right, though, that the definition of science is at stake. Tracing the evolution of the word science in the OED is instructive. The first definition is the state or fact of knowing. Only in the late nineteenth century did science come to refer exclusively to the natural or material. Before that, what we call science was called natural philosophy. Philosophy is the search for knowledge and, finally, wisdom. When attention to the natural and material rigorously excludes other ways to knowledge and wisdom, science becomes scientism, which is, both methodologically and substantively, atheistic. That is what the Times and many others want to enshrine in government schools. Less pious and more intellectually curious educators want to take alternative explanations into account. With respect to the origin of life, they are not satisfied with the irrational and thoroughly unscientific claim that everything came from nothing. On no other question does science or ordinary human experience suggest that anything is uncaused or caused by nothing. On the same day, however, the science section of the Times had a long and favorable report on the work of Dr. Elisabeth Lloyd of Indiana University who contends that evolutionary explanations of the female orgasm are unconvincing. In a pithy summary of her years of research, Dr. Lloyd concludes that the female orgasm is for fun. So it would appear that an all-powerful deity or an intelligent designer, or whoever or whatever, also has an interest in human delight. Not, mind you, that I am suggesting we should enshrine Dr. Lloyd’s theory.
The first time I had occasion to engage Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, over several days of conversation was in connection with our annual Erasmus Lecture, which he gave in 1988. The conference following the lecture addressed the contemporary crisis in biblical interpretation and resulted in a little book, Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The Ratzinger Conference on Bible and Church , now, unfortunately, out of print. The gist of Ratzinger’s argument is nicely caught in an essay on the tenth anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and included in a fine collection just published by Ignatius Press, On the Way to Jesus Christ . He writes: This dynamic view of the Bible, in the context of the lived and ongoing history of the people of God, leads then to another important insight about the nature of Christianity: Still, the Christian faith is not a religion of the book,’ says the Catechism succinctly (CCC 108). This is an extremely important statement. The faith does not refer simply to a book, which as such would be the sole and final authority for the believer. In the center of the Christian faith stands, not a book, but a person”Jesus Christ, who is himself the living Word of God and who interprets himself, so to speak, in the words of Scripture, which conversely can be understood correctly, however, only in a life with him, in a living relationship to him. And since Christ has built and is building for himself the Church, the people of God, as his living organism, his Body,’ it follows that part and parcel of the relationship with him is fellowship with the pilgrim people, which is actually the human author and proprietor of the Bible, as we have heard. If the living Christ is the genuine norm for interpreting the Bible, that means that we understand this book correctly only within the synchronic and diachronic understanding of the faith [that is, the understanding at any given time and over time] shared by the whole Church. Outside of this lived connection, the Bible is merely a more or less heterogeneous literary anthology, not a present-day signpost for our life. Scripture and tradition cannot be separated. This necessary connection has been described in an unsurpassable manner by the great theologian from Tübingen Johann Adam Möhler in his classic work Die Einheit der Kirche [The Unity of the Church]; I cannot be emphatic enough in recommending that you read it. The Catechism sets forth this connection, which includes at the same time the Church’s authority to interpret Scripture, as the Second Letter of Peter explicitly testifies: First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation’ (2 Peter 1:20). Johann Adam Möhler, who died in 1838, was a principal representative of the Tübingen School that was considered very controversial at the time and contributed significantly to the reformulations adopted by the Second Vatican Council. Speaking of Tübingen, one notes that in September Pope Benedict invited Father Hans Küng, the most celebrated (and criticized) dissident of the post-conciliar era, for several hours of reportedly friendly conversation at Castel Gandolfo. So what’s going on here? Some real-wingers on the right are fretting that Ratzinger, now that he is pope, is reverting to his liberalism of many decades ago. That is nonsense. As all who know him can testify, Benedict is very much a theologian who is at ease in engaging those who disagree with him and with the magisterial teaching of the Church. If tomorrow, as I do not expect, it is announced that Rome has restored Father Küng’s certification as a Catholic theologian, it will no doubt be because he has been persuaded to mend his errant ways. At which all should rejoice.
Bear with me, for there is so much good stuff in On the Way to Christ . Herewith an extended reflection on the moral life. The Catechism does not claim to offer the only possible or even the best systematic formulation of moral theology”that was not its purpose. It demonstrates the essential anthropological and theological connections that are essential to the moral activity of men. Its point of departure is its description of the dignity of man, which constitutes his greatness and at the same time the basis of his obligations. Then it shows that man’s desire to be happy is the interior driving force and guide of moral action. Man’s primordial drive, which no one can deny and which no one, ultimately, opposes, is his desire for happiness, for a successful, fulfilled life. Morality, for the Catechism , which relies on the Church Fathers, especially Augustine, is doctrine concerning the prosperous life”so to speak, the elaboration of the rules in the game of happiness. The book combines this primordial human thought with the beatitudes of Jesus, which detach the concept of happiness from all banality, reveal its true depth, and thus manifest the connection between happiness and the good in general, the Good in person”God. Then the basic components of moral action are set forth: freedom, the object and intention of the act, the passions [emotions], conscience, the virtues, sin”which is a failure of virtue”the social character of being human, and then finally the relation between law and grace. Christian moral theology is never simply an ethics of law, yet it also goes beyond the framework of an ethics of virtue. It is an ethics-in-dialogue, because the moral activity of man unfolds from his encounter with God, which means that no longer is it just one’s own self-sufficient and autonomous action, mere human accomplishment, but rather a response to the gift of love and so an involvement in the dynamic of love”God’s own Self, a dynamic that makes man truly free and brings him to the true height of his dignity. Moral action is therefore never simply one’s own accomplishment, but neither is it just something propped up from outside. Genuine moral action is entirely a gift, and yet precisely in this way it is entirely our own doing, because what is one’s own can unfold only in the gift of love, and, conversely, the gift does not render man powerless but rather brings him back to himself.
If you’re still with me, note what Ratzinger says to the objection of some Protestants that the Catechism is not sufficiently ecumenical and, more particularly, that it fails to address directly the sixteenth-century points of disputation. Ratzinger writes that the catechism has situated the doctrine on justification at the heart of its ethics, because in this way the intertwining of grace and freedom becomes comprehensible, and the reader realizes that being-from-someone-else is true being-in-oneself and also being-for-others. He continues: The section on justification is an important ecumenical contribution of the Catechism . It shows, at the same time, that one cannot adequately discover the ecumenical dimension of the book merely by looking for citations from ecumenical documents in it or by checking the index for current catchwords; it becomes evident only when one reads the book in its entirety and thereby sees how thoroughly it is informed by the search for what unifies. In other words, what the Catechism says about Christian unity is much more than what appears under the title of Christian unity.
Richard E. Morgan is professor of constitutional law at Bowdoin College and he thinks that Mark Kozlowski’s argument has the merit of candor when Kozlowski says that the American people are not capable of self-government and need the courts to decide the really big questions. Kozlowski’s book is The Myth of the Imperial Judiciary: Why the Right is Wrong About the Courts . Morgan writes: There are respectable arguments to be made for aristocracy, and supporters of the expanded judicial imperium should get about making them (indeed, a few have). What is inescapable, however, is that such arguments, whatever their theoretical merit, cannot be reconciled with the principles of republican self-government that are the historical core of the American constitutional order.
The retirement of Leon Kass as chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics should not go unremarked. Leon is a dear friend and a contributor to these pages. I have over the years worked with him on many projects. As I have said on other occasions, he is probably the most morally earnest person I know and among the most morally intelligent. The establishment of the council, announced by President Bush in his first primetime address to the nation in August 2001, is one of the more important initiatives of this administration. Its work has been largely ignored or misrepresented in the general media, and even some of those who recognize the urgency of the questions it engages have criticized it as an academic shop-talk. In fact, and due in no small part to Leon Kass’ leadership, it has been an invaluable instrument for sustaining an informed conversation about human dignity under assault from massively funded and morally unbridled scientific engineers who aim at not only enhancing human life but at redefining what it means to be human. The nation owes a great debt to Leon Kass, who will remain a member of the council and will be succeeded as chairman by Edmund Pellegrino, a man with a long track record of incisively addressing these questions of awe-full importance to the human future.
It is frequently noted that the National Council of Churches, once one of the main institutions of what was thought to be the American mainstream, has come upon very hard times, with its survival very much in question. Originally established by the ecumenical Protestant communities (with nominal Orthodox participation) in order to advance Christian unity and common Christian witness on public questions of moral moment, it seems the NCC is now striving to survive as something very different. In a recent letter the General Secretary, former Democratic congressman Bob Edgar, lambasts conservative Christians as fundamentalists, bemoans the tragic and unjust policies of the Bush administration, both foreign and domestic, and boasts of the NCC’s work with MoveOn.org and others in turning out the progressive vote in 2004. The purpose of the letter is to raise one million dollars a year so that the NCC can compete with organizations promoting the right wing agenda. When Edgar took over in 2000, the NCC was running millions in the red, and was forced to reduce its budget from $10 million to $6 million and its staff from over a hundred to fewer than forty. Programs of ecumenical and theological dialogue have been discarded. Giving from the thirty-six member communions has since declined by a third, to less than $2 million a year. To keep going, the NCC now depends less on its member churches than on foundations and direct mail appeals. Groups such as MoveOn.org, the Sierra Club, the Tides Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, along with liberal celebrity donors such as Ben Cohen, Peter Yarrow, and Vanessa Redgrave have contributed heavily to NCC’s political causes. So it appears that the NCC may survive after all. But not as a national council of churches. While not formally disowning the religious associations that once brought it into being, the NCC, in its programs and support base, is now just another political advocacy organization. It is a great sadness.
This summer Paul Martin, Liberal prime minister of Canada, appointed Michelle Jean as Governor General. Born in Haiti, holding also French citizenship, and married to a maker of far-left documentaries, Jean is the second woman in a row appointed to the post, both of them hosts of Canadian television shows. In her public remarks and in media commentary on the appointment there was scarcely a reference to the Governor General being the representative of the Queen in Canada. The focus was on gender equality, multiculturalism, and how the photogenic and media-savvy Ms. Jean would provide the rest of Canada and the world with a very attractive face and voice for the ever-querulous province of Quebec. About the same time, as it happened, a Canadian friend gave me a little book, In Weakness, Strength: The Spiritual Sources of Georges P. Vanier, 19th Governor General of Canada , written by his son Jean Vanier and published in 1969. (According to Amazon.com , it is still in print.) As a distinguished soldier and diplomat, Vanier’s life combined the active and contemplative in a disciplined life of devotion to God and public service. He loved Canada and was greatly loved in return. When he died in 1967, he was publicly mourned as no Canadian had been before. In his inaugural address as Governor General on September 15, 1959, he said: My first words are a prayer. May Almighty God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy bless the sacred mission which has been entrusted to me by Her Majesty the Queen and help me to fulfill it in all humility. In exchange for His strength, I offer my weakness. May He give peace to this beloved land of ours and to those who live in it the grace of mutual understanding. Such a statement by a Governor General today would be fiercely controversial and perhaps illegal. Of course times change, with no guarantee that the change is for the better. Canada’s declension of recent decades can be measured in many ways, and not least by the comparison between the quietly profound dignity of Georges Vanier and the politically correct media buzz generated by Michelle Jean. In Weakness, Strength is, by the way, a devotional biography very much worth reading.
Call it a point of personal privilege. What’s the use of being editor in chief if I can’t indulge the prompting of nostalgia? And I do think it may be of interest to some readers. The prompting comes from Walking George: The Life of George John Beto and the Rise of the Modern Texas Prison System by David M. Horton and George R. Nielsen (University of North Texas Press, 257 pages, $29.95
). George Beto was president of Concordia College, Austin, Texas, where I was a student in the early 1950s. Later, he was president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod seminary then in Springfield, Illinois (now in Fort Wayne, Indiana), and ended up as director of the Texas prison system. He died at age seventy-five in 1991. Beto, as I knew him, was a big and manly man who cultivated a down-home style, including Stetson hat and cowboy boots, that was dismissive of complicated ideas and verged on anti-intellectualism. But he was wise in the ways of God and man, and we students regarded Big George with a mix of fear and admiration. I can vividly recall some of his rambling but effective lectures. For instance, the explanation of why the Prince of Wales, briefly Edward VIII, was the most pitiable man in the world because he put his feelings before his duty. I was something of a rebel at the time. One night I was rabbling a group of students on why we should all go out on strike in protest against something or the other Beto had done (I forget what). I had reached a fine pitch and I felt the students were with me when, suddenly, all faces fell and the room was hushed. Unbeknownst to me, Big George, Stetson and all, had come in and was standing behind me. Brother Neuhaus, if you don’t like it here, you can leave. I stayed, and that was the end of the insurrection. While there are interesting bits on the troubles that would later tear apart the Missouri Synod, Walking George (a nickname he earned for his near-omnipresence in the prisons) is mainly about Beto and prison reform. John J. DiIulio, who is an expert on the subject, says Beto changed the way prisons are run in ways that they didn’t even start teaching at top professional schools until decades later. I’ll take his word on that. I am grateful for the memory of George Beto at Concordia College, Austin. In later years he would send me notes, mainly encouraging, on things I had written. I think he, too, was glad I stayed. In the language still heard in those distant days, Er war ein Mensch .
If you’re planning to adopt the view of reality propounded by Mark C. Taylor in Confidence Games: Money and Markets in a World Without Redemption , you’d better have tenure, medical insurance, and a good pension. So says Eugene McCarraher of Villanova University who reviews Taylor’s book in Books & Culture . Taylor, who teaches humanities at Williams College, has brilliantly navigated the cultural, intellectual, and religious twists and turns of recent decades and has now hit pay dirt, so to speak, by embracing the free-market economy. McCarraher writes: All attempts to impose order from outside, whether political or religious, will inhibit and pervert the creative energy that surges through life, and especially through contemporary capitalism. Indeed, the very instability and evanescence of the info-capitalist order can enrich our lives if we embrace rather than fear uncertainty and ephemerality. If we welcome unreservedly the volatility of financial and technological change, life can be a confidence game in which the abiding challenge is not to find redemption but to learn to live without it.’ Postmodern jouissance and market calculation form a lucrative partnership, sponsored by Hayek and Nietzsche. As Zarathustra spoke, joy is everlasting flow,’ and economics morphs into a gay and not a dismal science. Forget about transcendent hope; everything that is and will be is on offer here and now, according to the confidence man. McCarraher adds: In good postmodern fashion he rejects any final resolution or transcendence of our historical maelstrom as an authoritarian closure of possibility. Taylor’s essentially neo-liberal affirmation of financial markets as self-reflexive and self-correcting reads, to me, like a micro-waved rehash of Smith and Hayek, and it dovetails nicely with his nihilist celebration of immanence as the unbounded play of desire. So, Augustine, it seems, was wrong to desire a home for his restless heart. The endless rustle of desire,’ Taylor writes, renders impotent and illusory all attempts at salvation and permanence. Thus can Taylor affirm the plenitude of life, and conclude with a rapturous vista of middlebrow gusto: the interplay of light and darkness,’ he writes, is inescapably disruptive, overwhelmingly beautiful, and’”you guessed it”infinitely complex.’ Taking off from George Gilder’s concept of economics transcending matter, Taylor exults in a world of airy weightlessness, at least for the privileged. McCarraher observes: To be even more pointedly materialist, Taylor’s economy is unpopulated by office temps, dishwashers, cable installers, Filipino assembly-line workers who destroy their eyesight soldering computer circuits. There are no adjuncts who staff the courses that the tenured are too busy or proud to teach, no janitorial staff who dump their trashcans and vacuum their carpets, no domestic laborers who clean their kitchens, bedrooms, and toilets. There are no sweatshops, no overworked and underpaid counter help, no factory operatives or data-entry clerks without pensions or health insurance. In short, because they don’t show up in the network”except perhaps as the cost of doing business”most of the world’s population doesn’t merit Taylor’s attention. While Taylor is intoxicated with the clever playing of economic confidence games, McCarraher betrays an unbridled animus against the market economy. The alternative to both, one might suggest, is proposed by the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus , which is to include within the circle of productivity and exchange the many who legitimately seek this world’s goods while well knowing that their restless hearts point them elsewhere.
On the other hand, Craig Gay of Regent College in Vancouver thinks there is a great deal to Mark Taylor’s argument in Confidence Games . Writing in the Journal of Markets & Morality , he agrees with Taylor that there is something very odd about the current coalition of social conservatives and enthusiasts for neoliberal economics. The latter is producing an increasingly spectral world of postmodernist virtual realities, economic and otherwise. In the final analysis, says Taylor, the problem is not to find redemption from a world that often seems dark but to learn to live without redemption in a world where the interplay of light and darkness creates infinite shades of difference, which are inescapably disruptive, overwhelmingly beautiful, and infinitely complex. That’s where Gay draws the line, however. He writes: On the cultural side, however, I refuse to believe that the increasing vacuity of postmodern culture is either inevitable or cathartic. Call me old-fashioned, but the traditional Christian understanding of sin ”that is of the desperate human attempt to construct a pseudo-reality over and against God and his good creation”does a far better job of explaining contemporary circumstances than does a Hegelian dialectic shorn of the notions of synthesis and reason. I fail to understand, too, how surrendering any and all hope of redemption can be construed as liberating.’ After all, redemption is neither an ideal nor merely an idea; it is a promise . It is a promise, furthermore, that can only be grasped by faith, hope, and love. While a great many aspects of this present age may well be characterized as confidence games, then, our world is not, thankfully, a world without redemption.’ One might make so bold as to suggest that the fundamental disagreement is that Taylor asserts and Gay denies that the conversation begins with the assumption that God is dead. For all of Gay’s appreciation of Taylor’s argument, that does make a very big difference.
They are called the three masters of suspicion: Marx, Freud, and Darwin, each in his own way, defied tradition (not only Christian tradition) and commonsensical confidence by persuading large sectors of the brightest and best that things are not as they seem. By invoking, respectively, false consciousness, the unconscious, and materialistic determinism, they and their followers claimed to have debunked the constituting convictions of western culture. Today even approximately orthodox Marxists and Freudians are scarcely to be found, and, says British historian Paul Johnson, fervent Darwinists are inadvertently undoing the cause they champion. At a revivalist meeting of Darwinians two or three years ago, I heard the chairman, the fiction-writer Ian McEwan, call out, Yes, we do think God is an old man in the sky with a beard, and his name is Charles Darwin.’ I doubt if there is a historical precedent for this investment of so much intellectual and emotional capital, by so many well-educated and apparently rational people, in the work of a single scientist. And to anyone who has studied the history of science and noted the chances of any substantial body of teaching”based upon a particula