The Public Square
There are little exchanges that stick in memory. It was a conversation many years ago with Eugene Carson Blake. He was then the oldline Protestant establishment’s main man in just about everything, beginning with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the National Council of Churches. Blake was complaining one day about the lack of compassion among conservatives who whined about high taxes. I love to pay taxes, he said. Taxes are the way we help government to help people. I wish I could pay twice as much in income tax as I do. Being very much his junior, I hesitantly suggested that the Treasury Department would gladly accept his check for the extra money he wanted to give the government. That, he dismissively responded, would be quixotic. In a just society, I would be required to pay higher taxes. I suggested that one might view it not as quixotic but as a way in which he could set a good example. The conversation then turned to other matters.
The notion that liberals are caring and compassionate while conservatives are selfish and hard-hearted is still being peddled long after its sell-by date. For instance, a day hardly passes that one does not read an article about the need for evangelical Protestants or Catholics to close the gap between the conservative pro-life cause and the liberal social justice agenda. I am always puzzled by that way of putting the question. First, because there is no more elementary cause of social justice than reforming a society that permits the killing of millions of its babies. Second, because of the implied assumption that liberals care more about helping the already born who are in need. That is counterintuitive, and counter to my experience with the many liberals and conservatives whom I have known.
But, in case there is any doubt, we need not rely on intuition or anecdotal experience. There is a growing literature demonstrating that conservatives are much more generous in helping people in need than are liberals. The record of those further to the left than liberal is even clearer. In our little book of 1975, To Empower People , Peter Berger and I argued that effective help required a major role for mediating institutions, meaning the nongovernmental and people-sized associations”for example, families, churches, voluntary groups of all kinds”through which people routinely care for one another and for others in distant lands.
Arthur C. Brooks is professor of public administration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He employs the argument of To Empower People and supports it with massive statistical data and the most detailed analysis. The title of his new book is Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism: America’s Charity Divide”Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters . It is just out from Basic Books and is deserving of widespread attention.
Prof. Brooks started his study some years ago with the conventional assumption that liberals cared and conservatives didn’t. He wanted to find out why that should be. What he found out is that the assumption is dead wrong. Quite the opposite is the case, and very dramatically so. Measured by the giving of money, time, and practical help, those who by the usual criteria are defined as conservative are way, way ahead of their liberal cousins. That is true in support for both religious and nonreligious programs for helping those in need.
In his foreword, the eminent social scientist James Q. Wilson says, [T]his is the best study of charity that I have read. For many on the left, charity is a dirty word. What we need, they say, is justice, not charity, which then excuses them from the tasks of charity. Other Americans, however, give more than a quarter trillion dollars a year to charity, not counting the gift of time and practical help. Not incidentally, the poor are, relative to their resources, more generous than the rich. (The well-to-do are much more likely to say they cannot afford to give in helping others.) These statistics are impressive, and belie most of the claims about the selfishness of our nation, writes Brooks. That said, an identifiable and sizeable minority of Americans are not charitable. While 225 million Americans give away money each year, the other 75 million never give away money to any causes, charities, or churches. Further, 130 million Americans never volunteer their time.
When one runs all the data and the all the variables through the various analytical grids, it turns out that there are four factors that drive generosity to others. First, the caring are more religiously committed than those who do not give of their time and money. Second, they believe that helping others is more a personal than governmental responsibility. Third, they come from strong families where they have learned the virtue of generosity. And fourth, they believe in helping people to help themselves.
Toward the end of his book, Prof. Brooks sums up the five major facts about charity and politics. First, there is a huge charity gap’ that follows religion: On average, religious people are far more charitable than secularists with their time and money. Religious people are more generous in informal ways as well, such as giving blood, giving money to family members, and behaving honestly. Religious people are far more likely than secularists to be politically conservative. Second, people who believe”as liberals often do”that the government should equalize income give and volunteer far less than people who do not believe this. Third, the American working poor are, relative to their income, very generous. The nonworking poor, however”those on public assistance instead of earning low wages”give at extremely low levels. The charitable working poor tend to be far more politically conservative than the nonworking poor. Fourth, charitable giving is learned, reinforced, and practiced within intact families”especially religious families. Secularism and family breakdown are far less prevalent among conservatives than liberals. Fifth, Europeans are far less personally charitable than people in the U.S. Europeans are also, on average, far to the political left of Americans. The net result of these five facts is that conservatives generally behave more charitably than liberals, especially with respect to money donations.
There are all kinds of interesting vignettes along the way of reading Who Really Cares . For instance, people in the rich county of San Francisco give but a small fraction of the time and money given by the relatively poor people of South Dakota. And there are interesting transcultural comparisons of the correlation between religion, generosity, and how people rate their own happiness. American liberals, along with Europeans, are generally much more unhappy with their lives.
Brooks doesn’t say so, but one reason for their unhappiness may be their resentment of the happiness of conservatives. Liberals tend to be much angrier than conservatives. Of course, they might say that is because conservatives don’t understand what is wrong with the world. That seems very doubtful. What this study does make clear is that, apart from being angry about it, liberals are much less inclined than conservatives to accept personal responsibility for doing something about what is wrong with the world.
The next time you find yourself in a conversation about how liberals are caring and compassionate while conservatives are selfish and hard-hearted, you might want to refer your interlocutors to Who Really Cares . To be entirely fair, this is social science, and social science deals in generalizations. Need I say that some of my best friends are liberals who are wonderfully generous?
The Church’s mandate to be in but not of the world has been occasion for much confusion and contention for two thousand years and will likely continue to be until the Kingdom comes. Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer worked creatively with the Lutheran idea of the two kingdoms or, more precisely, the two-fold rule of God in history. His opposition to the Third Reich, for which he was executed on April 9, 1945, was based on that regime’s violation of the divinely mandated distinction between Church and civil government. Christians must oppose the notion of a confessing state, whether its confession be Christian or, as in the case of National Socialism, the pseudo-religion of blood and soil. The Church’s mission is to proclaim, not to govern. The peculiar character of the Church . . . lies in the fact that in the very limitation of her spiritual and material domain she gives expression to the unlimited scope of the message of Christ. Writing in his Ethics, Bonhoeffer continues:
It is with this particular community that we must now concern ourselves, and we must first turn our attention to the necessary distinction between this and the divine mandate of proclamation. The word of God, proclaimed by a virtue of a divine mandate, dominates and rules the entire world; the community which comes into being around this word does not dominate the world, but it stands entirely in the service of the fulfillment of the divine mandate. The law of this community cannot and must not ever become the law of the worldly order, for by doing so it would be establishing an alien rule; conversely the law of a worldly order cannot and must not ever become the law of this community. Thus the peculiarity of the divine mandate of the Church lies in the fact that the proclamation of the lordship of Christ over the whole world must always be distinguished from the law of the Church as a community, while on the other hand the Church as a community is not to be separated from the office of proclamation.
While We’re At It
A book that has generated considerable controversy is at last available in English. Unfortunately, it will probably not get much attention. It is put out by the relatively obscure Roman Catholic Books of Fort Collins, Florida, and I expect the reason is that no effort was made to edit it into a form attuned to an American audience. The language and references are narrowly Germanic, although the argument has a more universal reach. The book is The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background by Klaus Gamber. The late Klaus Gamber was a priest and liturgical scholar, and this is his cri de Coeur about all that has gone wrong with Catholic worship since the Second Vatican Council. A more accurate title might be The Displacement of the Roman Liturgy , for his argument is that the Novus Ordo , decreed”with doubtful authority, according to Gamber”by Paul VI, established a Modern Rite that has effectively displaced the Roman Rite followed since at least the fourth century. (We should not, he insists, speak of the Tridentine Mass nor of the Mass of Paul V, since Trent and Paul V made but minor and needed modifications of the old Roman Rite.) Gamber makes a strong case against the now almost universal practice of the priest facing the people from behind the altar. That, he contends, is not supported, as is often claimed, by the practice of the early Church, not even by the practice in the early Roman basilicas. From earliest times, both priest and people faced ad orientem ”toward the East, toward the rising sun, toward God. There is growing criticism today of what has come with the practice of the priest facing the people ( versus populum ), namely, the encouragement of the idea that the priest is a performer on a stage rather than the leader and mediator, in persona Christi , of the Church’s worship. People from many different theological perspectives have claimed that the liturgical changes of recent decades have been more in the nature of a revolution than a reform. From an outsider’s perspective, sociologist Peter L. Berger, a Lutheran, wrote years ago, If a thoroughly malicious sociologist, bent on injuring the Catholic community as much as possible had been an adviser to the Church, he could hardly have done a better job. That may be putting it too strongly, but Klaus Gamber and an increasing number of Catholics, including liturgical scholars, would agree with Berger.
Today much is heard of the need for a reform of the reform. The rite decreed in 1969 is frequently called the Bugnini Mass. Father (later Archbishop) Annibale Bugnini, who died in 1982, was an enigmatic figure who was in and out of favor over the years and then was appointed by Paul VI to head a commission that would come up with a revised”or, as others would have it, a new”rite for the universal Church. At the direction of John Paul II, he ended his remarkable career in exile, as nuncio to Iran. People also speak of Bugnini time, referring to his drastic reordering of the Church’s liturgical calendar, including all those Sundays in ordinary time.
It has been regularly reported that Pope Benedict intends some major moves with respect to the liturgy, including a carte blanche permission for the use of the old Roman Rite, alongside the rite of 1969. So far he has not done that, although over the years Cardinal Ratzinger made no secret of his dissatisfaction with what was done under Paul VI. In the preface to the French edition of Klaus Gamber’s book, Ratzinger wrote: One cannot manufacture a liturgical movement but one can contribute to its development . . . . J.A. Jungmann, one of the truly great liturgists of our century, defined the liturgy of his time, such as it could be understood in the light of historical research, as a liturgy which is the fruit of development.’ . . . What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it”as in a manufacturing process”with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product. [Gamber] showed us the multiple forms and paths of liturgical development; as a man who looked at history from the inside, he saw in this development and its fruit the intangible reflection of the eternal liturgy, that which is not the object of our action but which can continue marvelously to mature and blossom if we unite ourselves intimately with its mystery. It seems more than likely that this pontificate will witness some major steps toward implementing the insights so strongly and repeatedly articulated by the former Cardinal Ratzinger.
I expect that the pope will not flirt with Gamber’s claim that the Roman Rite was displaced in 1969. If the rumors are right, the permission will likely be framed in terms of two versions of the Roman Rite. Then there is the question of the new liturgical calendar established in 1969. It is hard to see how a universal church could live by two different calendars. Of course, a major purpose of such an initiative would be to reconcile the Lefebvrists and other traditionalists who have long opposed the 1969 rite. Any priest can now say the Novus Ordo in Latin, but few do. My hunch is that the new directive from Benedict, if indeed it is on the way, will have little immediate effect on worship in most parishes. But it could be a significant move in slowly turning the Church toward a reform of the reform.
Prof. John Esposito of Georgetown University, an institution in the Jesuit tradition, is a notable champion of interreligious dialogue. He has written prodigiously in promoting an understanding of Islam as a religion of peace. Now, for a select few, he is leading a pilgrimage billed as Great Faiths: A Journey by Private Jet to the World’s Sacred Places. Rome and Jerusalem are on the itinerary, along with Varanasi, Kyoto, Lhasa, Amritsar, Lalibela, Cairo, and Istanbul”sites sacred to Hindu, Shinto, Buddhist, Muslim, and also Christian religions. The price is $42,950 per person. By booking early, you can save $2,100, thus bringing this spiritual adventure within the reach of those who might otherwise find traveling the world by private jet financially prohibitive. The brochure does not say whether food and accommodations are included in the price, but when offered a twenty-three-day adventure by private jet and an intimate look at the world’s great faiths as you travel comfortably, safely, and conveniently through nine exotic countries, this is no time for penny-pinching. Then, too, as Prof. Esposito never tires of reminding us, think of the contribution you will be making to interreligious understanding.
I see the latest volume of The Best American Spiritual Writing is out from Houghton Mifflin. Once again, editor Philip Zaleski has done a splendid job of combing through thousands of essays published in the last year and selecting those that, just maybe, will be read years from now. The spiritual sensibility, writes Zaleski, is attuned to Pascal’s dictum that we dwell between two abysses, the Infinite and the Nothing, that every person is a nothing in comparison with the infinite, an all in comparison with the nothing, a mean between nothing and everything. Spiritual writing may on rare occasions, even hand us the keys to our existence. Everyone has, or should have, one or two such works to cherish through a lifetime. C.S. Lewis, young and old, sought wisdom in George MacDonald’s fantasies, while Gabriel Betteredge, the unforgettable house steward in Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone , relies upon the miraculous powers of Robinson Crusoe : Such a book as Robinson Crusoe never was written, and never will be written again. I have tried that book for years”generally in combination with a pipe of tobacco”and I have found it my friend in need in all the necessities of this mortal life. When my spirits are bad” Robinson Crusoe . When I want advice” Robinson Crusoe . In past times when my wife plagued me; in present times when I have had a drop too much-Robinson Crusoe. I have worn out six stout Robinson Crusoe s with hard work in my service. On my lady’s last birthday she gave me a seventh. I took a drop too much on the strength of it; and Robinson Crusoe put me right again.’ Keep in mind that the Robinson Crusoe that Betteredge read is not the bowdlerized version familiar to most people today. Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is a profoundly Christian narrative of the drama of man and God and the struggles of salvation. To understand what happened to the story over the years, check out The Strange Shipwreck of Robinson Crusoe in the May 1995 issue of First Things by, of course, Philip Zaleski. If, like Betteredge, you need to be put right again, make sure you’re reading the real Robinson Crusoe .
The university chaplain at Harvard is Peter J. Gomes, and he writes the introduction to The Best American Spiritual Writing . He says this: My experience of more than thirty-five years at Harvard allows me to observe that probably more people today are engaged in some regular form of religious practice at Harvard than at any point since the American Revolution. The practice and the practitioners are very different from those white Anglo-Saxon Protestants of a century ago, but because there is more cultural diversity present in the college than in the past, there is also more religious practice. Diversity has broken the cultural tension between the religious and the secular, for where there are wider options and experiences, people are not forced to fight the nineteenth-century European battles of belief versus unbelief, but are able to take advantage of what the far-seeing William James once called the varieties of religious experience.’ America allows people to be religious in ways previously not available to them in other countries. Freedom presupposes choice, and the exercise of freedom allows people to be religious or not religious, as the case may be, and in different ways, one of which is what we call spirituality.’ How often have we heard a person say, I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual’? The argument suggests that religion imposes a set of doctrinal beliefs and the ethical behaviors that spring from it: conviction leads to conduct, belief influences behavior. An ingredient in most religious practice is the conviction that the practices and beliefs of that particular tradition are the only valid ones, and this can lead to an arrogance of opinion based on absolute and exclusive truth claims. When these claims conflict, as they must in a pluralistic world, there appears to be a choice only between a demoralizing relativism and a fundamental conflict with the other’ that leads either to conversion or to extinction. When people speak of religion as the source of all serious trouble in the world, they usually have this rather grim scenario in mind, and, alas, the history of the world and its political and cultural conflicts tend to confirm this pessimistic view of religion’s role in human affairs. He is surely right that extermination, conversion, and demoralizing relativism are not the only options. The best of options is a particular tradition with truth claims that exclude contradictory truth claims and include the truth claim that the dignity of the human person means that all human beings, no matter how erroneous their beliefs, are to be engaged with love and respect.
While we’re at it, I notice that again this year the New Yorker , with four essays, is in first place and First Things is in second place with three: Wilfred McClay’s The Secret of the Self, Robert Louis Wilken’s The Church’s Way of Speaking, and my Our American Babylon. There are thirty-five essays all together.
The story originally appeared in the Palestine Post (now the Jerusalem Post ) of April 28, 1944. Then it was forgotten over all these years that people have been slanderously going on about the silence, even the anti-Semitism, of Pope Pius XII during the Hitler years. Here is the story: The Jewish author attended a papal audience in the autumn of 1941. He entered the papal chamber along with numerous other people, including a group of German soldiers. (It was common for soldiers to visit the Pope early in the war era. Later, when Hitler learned of what the Pope told them, he put an end to this practice.) The author was the final individual to approach the Pope that day. He wanted to tell Pius about a group of Jews who were saved from a shipwreck but were now being interned by Italy’s Fascist government on an island, in danger of starvation. He tried to speak in broken Italian but the Pope invited him to use his native language, assuming that it would be German. You are German, too, aren’t you?’ asked the Pope. The author then explained that he was born in Germany, but he was a Jew. Pius invited the author to finish his story. He listened intently then said: You have done well to come to me and tell me this. I have heard about it before. Come back tomorrow with a written report and give it to the Secretary of State who is dealing with the question. But now for you, my son. You are a young Jew. I know what that means and I hope you will always be proud to be a Jew!’ Pius then raised his voice so that everyone in the hall”including the German soldiers”could hear it and said (in a pleasant voice’): My son, whether you are worthier than others only the Lord knows, but believe me, you are at least as worthy as every other human being that lives on our earth! And now, my Jewish friend, go with the protection of the Lord, and never forget, you must always be proud to be a Jew!’ As William Doino, who has done intense research on Pius XII, says, much better known is the statement of Pius XI when addressing a group of Belgian pilgrims in 1938: No, it is not possible for Christians to take part in anti-Semitism. Spiritually, we are all Semites. Doino has an extensive commentary on the significance of Pius XII’s words and the actions that followed in the November issue of Inside the Vatican .
The editors of the Christian Century are distressed by Pope Benedict’s faux pas in that Regensburg lecture that upset so many Muslims. To many non-Christians, they observe, he speaks for all Christians. As he has probably learned, he has to choose his words very carefully. The pope will no doubt be grateful for the advice. The editors note that some complain about a double standard: When leaders in the Muslim world make outrageous comments”like denials of the Holocaust”they are met with critical articles on the op-ed page. When a Western leader makes a scholarly comment critical of Islam, the Muslim world erupts in violent protest. The editors allow that there may be some truth to this observation. They agree with John Danforth, the former senator, that a forum should be created in which leaders of the world’s religions could work together to address pressing issues. Why didn’t anyone think of that before? The editorial is titled Making Amends, meaning that Pope Benedict should make amends. Some complain that the editorial mind of the Century is suffering from terminal niceness, although not in the treatment of the pope. There may be some truth to this observation.
Timothy Fuller’s review of Andrew Sullivan’s The Conservative Soul appeared in our October issue. Now Jean Bethke Elshtain has a go at the book in Commonweal . According to Sullivan, those who do not think that doubt is the noblest of virtues”for instance, people associated with this magazine”are fundamentalists. Sullivan insists upon the minimalist state that has no business protecting human life in any way except providing for the common defense. Elshtain writes, How Sullivan squares his view of the minimalist state with energetic state-sanctioned legitimation and enforcement of gay marriage entitlements via judicial fiat is never made clear. Sullivan professes himself to be a great admirer of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher as people who understood, and acted in accord with, the conservative soul. Elshtain writes: Sullivan insists we can defend a thin’ procedural vision of secular American democracy against fundamentalist threats by saying things like: We like it here’ and This is our kind of place.’ (And by deploying a strong military to protect that place.) What might his beloved Reagan and the formidable Lady Thatcher say to such an anemic defense of democracy? I have a hunch it would be rather tart.
From a Catholic point of view, the contemporary secular university is not at fault because it is not Catholic. It is at fault insofar as it is not a university. So says the distinguished philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre of Notre Dame, writing in Commonweal . Catholic universities, he writes, are uncritically aspiring to imitate their secular betters. So we find Notre Dame glancing nervously at Duke, only to catch Duke in the act of glancing nervously at Princeton. What is wrong with universities more generally, he says, is their fragmentation into disciplines, subdisciplines, and subsubdisciplines, with nobody attending to knowledge of the human condition as a whole. Academic success depends upon identification with one of the fragments. That identification is secured by two successive apprenticeships, one aimed at the PhD, and a second aimed at achieving tenure. During both what is rewarded is the successful completion of those short-term tasks approved by their seniors. So respect for the prejudices of those seniors is inculcated, while long-term adventurous risk-taking and unfashionable projects tend to go unrewarded, and are therefore increasingly rarely undertaken. In this way many academics are conditioned to become respectful guardians of the disciplinary status quo, sometimes disguising this from themselves by an enthusiasm for those interdisciplinary projects that present no threat to that status quo. Nobody is responsible for making the connections between all the parts of university education. MacIntyre writes: Ours is a culture in which there is the sharpest of contrasts between the rigor and integrity with which issues of detail are discussed within each specialized discipline and the self-indulgent shoddiness of so much of public debate on large and general issues of great import (compare Lawrence Summers on economics with Lawrence Summers on gender issues, Cardinal Schönborn on theology with Cardinal Schönborn on evolution). As it happens, I think Cardinal Schönborn demonstrates a good deal of rigor and integrity in his approach to evolution, and I’m not sure what rigor and integrity means with respect to gender issues. In the curriculum that MacIntyre has in mind, theology is key. The adoption of such a curriculum would serve both universities and the wider society well. But it would be of particular significance for a Catholic university and for the Catholic community. Newman argued that it is theology that is the integrative and unifying discipline needed by any university, secular, Protestant, or Catholic. And it is in the light afforded by the Catholic faith and more especially by Catholic doctrines concerning human nature and the human condition that theologians have a unique contribution to make in addressing the questions that ought to be central to an otherwise secular curriculum. It is not just that Catholic theology has its own distinctive answers to those questions, but that we can learn from it a way of addressing those questions, not just as theoretical inquiries, but as questions with practical import for our lives, asked by those who are open to God’s self-revelation. Theology can become an education in how to ask such questions. He is doubtful, however, that today’s theology departments are up to the job, since they suffer from the same specialization and fragmentation that afflict other departments. Some will object that MacIntyre’s vision shortchanges specialized training for research. To that concern, he responds: The curriculum I am proposing, including theology, could perhaps be taught in three well-structured and strenuous years. A fourth year would thereby become available for research or professional training. We do not have to sacrifice training in research in order to provide our students with a liberal education, just as we do not have to fragment and deform so much of our students’ education, as we do now. MacIntyre’s critique of contemporary university education, while making no claims to be original, is convincing. The doleful fact, however, is that universities locked into the status quo are institutionally thriving and able to command ever higher fees for the certifications on offer. In discussions of these matters, Newman’s The Idea of a University is regularly invoked, only to be set aside with the sigh, Wouldn’t that be nice? Of course, there are many smaller colleges and universities, Catholic and other, that do make the connections that MacIntyre says is the university’s job. They are commonly called alternative schools, and will likely remain alternatives to the established research universities that seem to have little incentive to change the institutionalized entrenchment of their accustomed and comfortable ways.
Allah is my Lord and yours, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran wrote to President Bush last May in a letter that said U.S. policy could not be squared with Christian or Muslim morality. Paul Griffiths of the University of Illinois at Chicago writes in the Christian Century , This letter is a political document, of course, and like all such it is no doubt duplicitous, multilayered, and deliberately deceptive. Nonetheless, says Griffiths, let’s imagine that Ahmadinejad means it. What would happen if we really believed that religious solidarity takes priority over the solidarity of citizenship? But in fact, writes Griffiths, almost none of us really believes this, as is evident in the fact that almost none of us would do”or even thinks we would do”for our coreligionists what deep solidarity demands. And what is that? It is to be ready to shed blood, our own or that of others, in their defense or service . . . . We American Christians all know, deep in our bones, that when it comes to the shedding of blood, citizenship trumps baptism. It is, I would suggest, a very good thing that we do not shed blood in the name of religion. The deep communio among Christians is to be found not in our shedding blood, whether ours or that of others, but in the shed blood of Christ. Shedding other blood, to the extent it is sometimes necessary, is the business of Caesar, not of Christ. Griffiths is worried, and rightly so, that American Christians make an idol of our nation. But then he adds: America is just one more pagan nation, mired in blood up to the elbows; as such it is not very interesting. Paying attention to the imaginative challenge of Ahmadinejad’s letter might help us to see this more clearly. Both Griffiths and Ahmadinejad appear to be conflating what Saint Augustine called the City of God and the city of man. Given the monistic mindset of Islam, one might suggest that there is more excuse for Ahmadinejad making that mistake. We do not demonstrate religious solidarity by shedding blood. And, not incidentally, while America is not the New Jerusalem or even the prolepsis of the New Jerusalem”and maybe not even the last best hope of earth (Lincoln)”it is more than one more pagan nation among others. Much more.
Ah, liberalism. Those of a certain age remember it well. James Nuechterlein, former editor of this magazine, begins a review this way: Even now, a half-century later, one looks back with a certain nostalgia on the liberalism of the 1950s. Its characteristic cast of mind”pluralistic, ironic, mindful of complexity and tragic possibilities-continues to recommend itself. This was, all in all, a civilized politics in a civilized time, and the temptation to wish it back into existence, however unrealistic, is difficult to resist. Nuechterlein is reviewing Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography by David Brown, and he thinks it, all in all, a fine work. Hofstadter had started out very much on the left, even signing up with the Communist party for a few months before he was disillusioned by its anti-intellectualism. But he wasn’t about to become a conservative. Nuechterlein writes: Rejecting radicalism, Hofstadter did not thereby become a political conservative. For intellectuals of his generation, the Right was an unimaginable country, occupied, as it seemed to them, by McCarthyites, opponents of civil rights, and economic purists for whom any interference with market mechanisms was akin to socialism. For most on the Left, Lionel Trilling’s dismissive summary of conservatism as an accumulation of irritable mental gestures’ said all that needed saying. As professor of history at Columbia, Hofstadter exemplified what Arthur Schlesinger Jr. would call the vital center. He won fame and influence with The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It (1948) and, especially, The Age of Reform (1955), both of which won Pulitzer Prizes. Later he would publish Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963) and The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1965), both written against the political right of the time but, as a number of commentators have recently noticed, describing phenomena now more apparent on the left. When in the 1960s Columbia was taken over by student radicals, he tried to steer a middle course, which is to say he tried to be a good liberal. Privately, however, Brown says Hofstadter thought of writing a book about the 1960s called The Age of Rubbish . Hofstadter died in 1970 at the early age of fifty-four. By then he was viewed as an anachronism by many of his colleagues in the history guild. Nuechterlein writes: It was, indeed, Hofstadter’s rejection of sentimentality that made him, and other 50’s intellectuals like him, outsiders in their own political community. If 50’s liberalism prided itself on its sense of irony, theirs was an irony within an irony, too fragile by far to contend with the newly radicalized forces that were pushing liberalism leftward and for whom both irony and moderation constituted forms of betrayal. So it was that, politically speaking, Richard Hofstadter would die a disappointed man. James Nuechterlein is among the many who came to political awareness under the auspices of the liberalism espoused by Richard Hofstadter and who have in later decades reluctantly accepted the appellation conservative”or, as some prefer, neoconservative. Recognizing that Hofstadter-like liberalism is beyond recall, some who cannot bring themselves to be associated with conservatism in any form are today trying to promote an approximation of that older liberalism under the name of progressivism. The effort is not likely to make much progress, mainly because anything that today is not conservatism has abandoned the respect for civility, culture, and tradition that marked that older liberalism. But of the making and remaking of political brands there is no end.
Michael Wyschogrod is without doubt one of the most interesting Jewish theologians of recent decades. There is an old argument that what Jewish thinkers do is not theology, which, it is said, is a Christian term. But we do well to bypass that pedantic objection. Wyschogrod’s work has occasioned frequent mention in these pages. And now Modern Theology has published a symposium, Abraham’s Promise: The Thought of Michael Wyschogrod. Wyschogrod’s thought is in important ways sympathetic to that of Karl Barth, the most influential Protestant theologian of the century past. In his response to the symposium contributors, Wyschogrod writes, When Barth said to me that Jews have only the promise but not the fulfillment, I replied that a promise from God is a sure thing and therefore, if we have the promise, we just about have the fulfillment. He doesn’t say what Barth said in response. Of particular interest is Wyschogrod’s response to Michael Walzer, a philosopher at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton. Wyschogrod proposes a command theory of ethics that Christian thinkers might describe as Barthian:
Michael Walzer’s incisive critique reminds me that all my life I have been protesting against those who I perceive to be reducing Judaism to ethics, e.g., Hermann Cohen and Emmanuel Levinas. I have referred to ethics as the Judaism of the assimilated and have noted that neither Cohen nor Levinas has much to say about the akeida , the binding of Isaac. I have often expressed the view that reason cannot be the source of a persuasive ethics for a number of reasons, only one of which I will mention. No moral law is persuasive if it is not enforced. Even if we could derive moral maxims from reason alone, these maxims would float in the air impotently because they would lack a built-in cosmic mechanism of enforcement. It therefore follows, I think, that only an ethics rooted in divine command with a built-in mechanism of enforcement”a God who punishes and rewards”is ethically persuasive. In the momentous problem raised by Plato as to whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods ( Euthyphro 10), I have always been attracted by the latter alternative: the good is not independent of God but constituted by his will. Michael disagrees. He described himself as a secular political philosopher whose values are derived from reason and not God. He informs us that he is not a theologian or the son of a theologian, which leads me to wonder whether he could nevertheless be the descendant of one. All Jews were at Sinai and all of them, we are told by the rabbis, reached the level of prophecy there, which makes Michael a descendant of prophets.
Basically, Michael accuses me of reading the bible selectively, focusing on the merciful and loving parts and ignoring the bloody parts. He suspects that I am more of a rational ethicist than I realize and that my aversion to shedding blood has its roots in secular ethics rather than biblical obedience. I do not agree. Reading Michael, one would think that the bible consists of nothing but bloody and immoral commands. There are bloody commands”whether they are immoral is another matter”but there are also many commands which dictate love and compassion and condemn the shedding of human blood. In my reading of the bible, love and compassion are the default position. In the absence of a specific divine command to the contrary, we are required to love our fellow human beings all of whom are created in the image of God, perhaps the most powerful statement in the bible, even if it only occurs once. Where there is a specific divine command, transmitted by prophecy to shed blood, God must be obeyed. No divine command can be immoral; it can only appear so to the finite human mind. God is the author of life and he can command its termination. God terminates human life all the time, even if such termination is called cancer or stroke. When God issues dreadful commands, we are seized by fear and trembling. Because the default position is one of peace, we are entitled to require a very high degree of certainty that the command we hear is truly from God. If it is a matter of capital punishment to be imposed for an evil deed, we are entitled to require evidence much higher than reasonable doubt, especially since the bible does not specify what kind of evidence of guilt is required. This is not an evasion of the command but a responsible loyalty to the default position which, in my view, is more deeply rooted in the bible than the difficult commands which are there but which are rather exceptional.
The ancient rabbis did what they could to prevent human bloodshed whenever possible, without challenging God’s authority to command as he sees fit. In so doing, both they and I remain loyal to the complexity of a Torah that emanates from realms beyond human comprehension but which human beings struggle to understand and apply in the human world.
This understanding of divine command is pertinent to the questions addressed by Pope Benedict in his September 12 lecture at Regensburg. (See my essay The Regensburg Moment in the November issue.) Benedict was addressing what might be called the command theory of ethics in Islam and contrasting it with the Hellenic-Christian synthesis of faith and reason that insists upon the centrality of the Logos with its correspondence between natural reason and divine will. This is not to say that Benedict’s critique of Islam applies in the same way to Wyschogrod’s understanding of Judaism. There is, for instance, the question of the default position of love and compassion.
Here’s a rather different take on what evangelicals mean by being born again. Alan Wolfe, a Boston College sociologist who heads up the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, says in an interview with the Boston College Observer that evangelical conservatism may have peaked, because the next generation of evangelicals will rebel against their parents’ views. Let’s look at it this way, says Wolfe. What does it mean to be born again’? It means you had a moment in which you broke from your family’s religious tradition. So what if you’re a child of someone who’s born again”do you have a similar moment? Leaving aside Mr. Wolfe’s curious view of what it means to be born again, as a sociological explanation his idea does leave something to be desired in understanding a tradition of successive generations of born-again evangelicalism. As there have been other occasions to note, for a director of a center on religion and American public life, Mr. Wolfe is curiously incurious about American religion.
As we all know, the wall of separation between church and state is in the Constitution. Except that it isn’t. Daniel Dreisbach, professor of law at American University in Washington, D.C., reflects on the damage that has been done by constitutionalizing the phrase found in Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut. He writes:
A wall is a bilateral barrier that inhibits the activities of both the civil government and religion”unlike the First Amendment, which imposes restrictions on civil government only. In short, a wall not only prevents the civil state from intruding on the religious domain but also prohibits religion from influencing the conduct of civil government. The various First Amendment guarantees, however, were entirely a check or restraint on civil government, specifically on Congress. The free press guarantee, for example, was not written to protect the civil state from the press, but to protect a free and independent press from control by the national government. Similarly, the religion provisions were added to the Constitution to protect religion and religious institutions from corrupting interference by the national government, not to protect the civil state from the influence of, or overreaching by, religion. As a bilateral barrier, however, the wall unavoidably restricts religion’s ability to influence public life, thereby exceeding the limitations imposed by the First Amendment.
Herein lies the danger of this metaphor. The high and impregnable wall constructed by the modern Court has been used to inhibit religion’s ability to inform the public ethic, to deprive religious citizens of the civil liberty to participate in politics armed with ideas informed by their faith, and to infringe the right of religious communities and institutions to extend their prophetic ministries into the public square. Today, the wall of separation is the sacred icon of a strict separationist dogma intolerant of religious influences in the public arena. It has been used to silence religious voices in the public marketplace of ideas and to segregate faith communities behind a restrictive barrier.
Dreisbach cites the definitive work on the subject, Separation of Church and State , by Philip Hamburger of the University of Chicago. The wall of separation language was much invoked by anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic forces in the nineteenth century, especially by the then powerful Ku Klux Klan. Although it is often forgotten today, the KKK was as vehemently anti-Catholic as it was anti-black. Dreisbach writes: Again, in the mid-20th century, the rhetoric of separation was revived and ultimately constitutionalized by anti-Catholic elites, such as Justice Hugo L. Black, and fellow travelers in the ACLU and Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who feared the influence and wealth of the Catholic Church and perceived parochial education as a threat to public schools and democratic values. The chief architect of the modern wall’ was Justice Black, whose affinity for church-state separation and the metaphor was rooted in virulent anti-Catholicism. Hamburger has argued that Justice Black, a former Alabama Ku Klux Klansman, was the product of a remarkable confluence of Protestant, nativist, and progressive anti-Catholic forces . . . . Black’s association with the Klan has been much discussed in connection with his liberal views on race, but, in fact, his membership suggests more about [his] ideals of Americanism,’ especially his support for separation of church and state. Black had long before sworn, under the light of flaming crosses, to preserve the sacred constitutional rights of free public schools and separation of church and state.’ Although he later distanced himself from the Klan on matters of race, Black’s distaste for Catholicism did not diminish.’ Black’s admixture of progressive, Klan, and strict separationist views is best understood in terms of anti-Catholicism and, more broadly, a deep hostility to assertions of ecclesiastical authority. The way forward is the way back to the original meaning of the first freedom of the First Amendment-the free exercise of religion. In this term, the U.S. Supreme Court will have several opportunities to address the confusion caused by elevating Jefferson’s metaphor into constitutional law.
The editors at Religion Watch were going through past issues and noted that in 1987 Father Andrew Greeley was asked to look ahead twenty years to what religion would be like in 2007. Fr. Greeley said, The power of the pope definitely will shrink. Today we are experiencing the last gasp of a dying order, and in 20 years it will be gone. Which helps explain why we try to keep out of the prediction business.
The Catholic bishops of Scotland have come out against the proposal to replace Britain’s Trident missile system. Renato Cardinal Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, welcomes their statement. He said, Nuclear weapons represent a grave threat to the human family . . . . [T]he statement issued by the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland constitutes a service and a reason to hope in a more peaceful world. Some will no doubt object to this line of thinking, but note that he did not explicitly say that, if the relatively sane governments of the world gave up their nuclear arms, the leaders of countries such as Iran and North Korea would recognize the error of their ways.
The growing number of distinguished Protestant theologians and pastors, especially Lutheran, entering into full communion with the Catholic Church has provoked Frank Senn, himself a distinguished scholar and pastor in ELCA Lutheranism, to pen I’ll Stay Here, Where I Stand. He is particularly disappointed that Phillip Max Johnson, the head of the Society of the Holy Trinity, a group of evangelical catholic Lutheran pastors, has become Catholic. Senn succeeded Johnson as the leader of the society and wants it understood that he’s not going to follow his bad example. He takes aim at the conventional wisdom among evangelical catholics that Lutheranism was originally not intended as a separate church but as a reforming movement within the one Church of Christ. I admit that that is the understanding of Lutheranism that I, as a Lutheran, did more than my share to advance. Senn writes: Of course Lutheranism was a reform movement in the 1520s. But then it produced a confession of faith in 1530 that was adopted by the churches in some territories. At that point churches became Lutheran. Within the Holy Roman Empire these churches attained equal ecclesiastical status with the papal church in the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. One by one the churches of other lands adopted the Lutheran Confession of Augsburg and reorganized themselves accordingly. This reform of the church of the city, territory, or land was initiated by decisions of city councils, at the instigation of princes and kings, and sometimes by a decision of the church itself-as when the Church of Sweden adopted the Augsburg Confession in 1593 against the Catholic confession of its king, Sigismund III Vasa. We contemporary Lutherans have not come out of a movement. We have come out of the churches that were the Catholic Church of their place. That is a nice touch, that Lutheranism was established sometimes by a decision of the church itself. Senn concludes: My concern to be faithful to my ordination vows does not depend on the faithfulness of my church to its confessions. I have the ministerium that is the Society of the Holy Trinity to support me in remaining faithful. And in my congregation, at least, I don’t have to fight a cultural battle to raise the level of liturgical music, such as several former Lutheran pastors have experienced in Roman Catholic parishes. That’s got to be some benefit of this decision! The whack at Catholic music is fair enough. As for the larger argument, it is true that Lutheranism was politically established as the church in various principalities. What importance that has in the theological reflection on ecclesiology, however, is far from evident. In Catholic Matters and elsewhere, I have written about the problems inherent in trying to maintain catholic enclaves of parishes and associations within ecclesial communities that are set upon being permanently separated Protestant denominations. I have no doubt about the sincerity of Pastor Senn and others similarly situated. In many cases, family and other obligations quite rightly enter into their reflections about whether or not to become Catholic. But, as Dominus Iesus , the 2000 statement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, makes clear, it really will not do to claim that what Lutherans”or Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, et al.”mean by church is theologically symmetrical with what Catholics mean by the Church. As Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) pointed out to Protestant critics of Dominus Iesus , they should not complain when the Catholic Church agrees with them that they do not and should not claim to be the Church in the same way that the Catholic Church claims to be the Church. (In these discussions, the Orthodox Church is quite another matter.) For Pastor Senn and others, declining to become Catholic should not be justified by implausibly elevating the ecclesiological status of a reforming movement that transmogrified in some places into established churches but by addressing”and, if so convinced, attempting to refute”the ecclesiological claims of the Catholic Church.
The never-ending survey research on religion in America appears to have misplaced ten million people. That’s the finding of a major study by sociologists at Baylor University. In 1990, a lot of attention was paid when surveys suggested that the unaffiliated who checked none or no religion when asked their affiliation had doubled from seven percent to 14 percent of the population. This was taken to indicate increased secularization. But the Baylor study, recognized as one of the most detailed ever done, found that a tenth of those who picked no religion also specified the place where they worship. The truly unaffiliated, the researchers say, is more like 10.8 percent than 14 percent, which is a difference of ten million people. There are all kinds of complexities in such research. Is someone religious if they go to church? If they believe in God? If they identify with a particular religious group? And what if they do one but not the others? Which gets more weight? Then there are those who say they are atheists but they pray regularly. Go figure.
In becoming a Catholic, John Henry Newman accented the discontinuities more than the continuities with Anglicanism. At least that is the impression David Hart gathers from a recent collection of Newman sermons, Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations (Notre Dame). Hart writes: These sermons also offer a somewhat sobering reminder to those who might be too quick to assume Newman into the pantheon of apologists for mere Christianity.’ It becomes evident from early on in the text that Newman, at this point in his thinking (and ever after, frankly), did not see his conversion simply as a deeper affirmation of what he had received from his Anglican formation”merely continuous with the faith of his nonage and early manhood”but to a very great degree a rejection of the very principles of Anglicanism (considered in se) and of Protestantism in general. The question he poses concerning his erstwhile confessional loyalties is not whether Anglicanism and Protestantism are deficient expressions of Christianity, but whether they are in the proper sense Christian at all. He is quite clear (and to drive the point home, he enunciates a much more uncompromising doctrine of hell than his Anglican contemporaries were generally wont to do) that to his mind the Catholic Church is the sole true Ark of Salvation, and that those outside her visible bounds are in a perilous state indeed. But, of course, that was long before Catholics discovered ecumenism.
Many years ago, Ronald Reagan spoke to a group of evangelicals in Texas and, holding up the Bible, declared that all the answers to our problems are in this book. Mark Noll, the eminent historian of American religion who has moved from Wheaton to Notre Dame, tilts toward the ambivalent side on that question. Discussing the Civil War in the Christian Century , he writes: With debate over the Bible and slavery at such a pass, and especially with the success of the proslavery biblical argument manifestly (if also uncomfortably) convincing to most southerners and many in the North, difficulties abounded. The country had a problem because its most trusted religious authority, the Bible, was sounding an uncertain note. The evangelical Protestant churches had a problem because the mere fact of trusting implicitly in the Bible was not solving disagreements about what the Bible taught concerning slavery. The country and the churches were both in trouble because the remedy that finally solved the question of how to interpret the Bible was recourse to arms. The supreme crisis over the Bible was that there existed no apparent biblical resolution to the crisis. It was left to those consummate theologians, the reverend doctors Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, to decide what in fact the Bible actually meant. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Reagan was wrong. All the answers may very well be in the Bible, if we could only agree on its interpretation. Noll’s very serious point, which he has developed in detail elsewhere, is that the Civil War played a large part in shaking the confidence of a Protestant and Bible-believing nation in the capacity of religion to resolve disputes of great public moment. Catholics never believed that the Bible, unmediated by interpretative authority, could play that role. Which does not mean that there could not have been a Civil War if this had been a predominantly Catholic country. It does mean that all cultures, philosophies, and belief systems, religious or not, are subject to being taken captive by disordered passions that overwhelm a necessary humility in the face of historical dynamics that we neither understand nor control.
Almost everybody agrees that David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite is one of the most impressive works of theology to appear in some years. (See First Things , March 2004.) Theology Today , the publication of Princeton Theological Seminary, finally has gotten around to giving it a review, albeit a short one. Ellen Charry complains that it is male to its toes (not the usual anatomical mark of maleness) and concludes with this: Only at the very end of the book does Hart acknowledge the rhetoric of violence at the heart of Christian evangelism, and then only to skirt the problem. Not only is global Christianization at the heart of Christian rhetoric, but it has been carried out by force on occasion. Was baptism not made mandatory by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century to unify the empire? And what of forced conversion of Jews in the Middle Ages? The political implication of universalizing Christian rhetoric has vanished beneath an unnuanced normative dream of the beauty of the Christian narrative. Well, no, Justin didn’t quite do that, and Jews were sometimes forced to listen to Christian apologetics but not to convert. But if we promise to ignore Mr. Hart’s maleness and to never convert people by force, can we please get back to The Beauty of the Infinite?
Robert Jenson, as has been noted frequently in these pages, is one of the more interesting theological minds at work today. Jens, as he is known, is still a Lutheran. (Why won’t my delete key delete that still ?) He was recently interviewed by the Christian Century and was asked, What do you make of the recent conversions to the Roman Catholic Church of some prominent Protestant theologians, such as Reinhard Hütter, Bruce Marshall, Rusty Reno and Gerald Schlabach”theologians you yourself have been in conversation with? Jenson: One could add to the list. Those of them I know well describe their reasons differently. But I think one thing is common to all or most of them: they intend to inhabit the one, historically real church confessed by the creeds, and could no longer recognize this in their Protestant denominations. And indeed, if the church of the creeds does not, as the Second Vatican Council put it, subsist in’ the Roman Catholic Church, it is hard to think where it could. Blanche Jenson [his wife] long ago convinced me that the Western church could be renewed in faithfulness only by a fruit-basket upset of alignments, and that God must surely have something like that in mind. Perhaps this movement of theologians is part of such an upset. I lament the loss to the Protestant denominations, but I rejoice in the access of talent and energy to the church which will in future bear most of Christianity’s burden. For if present trends continue, the ecumene of the century now beginning will comprise Orthodoxy, Pentecostalist groups and predominantly the Roman Catholic Church; the Protestant denominations and territorial churches will have sunk into insignificance”but again, present trends of course do not always continue. Maybe that explains why I can’t delete that still .