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?

Bonhoeffer Today

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 Crusoes 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.

• Modesty is a virtue not usually associated with artists. Maybe just to get attention, maybe because that is who they are, they more commonly present themselves as egomaniacs strutting their stuff. But Eric Gibson, writing in a new journal, in character, tells a different story. He notes that in the 1950s Picasso gave a number of his paintings to the Musée National d’Art Moderne (now part of the Pompidou Center) and asked that they be placed alongside some of the Louvre’s masterpieces. And so they were. “Several were set up near St. Bonaventure on His Bier, one of the Spanish golden-century works that meant most to Don Pablo. Nearby were the Velasquezes, the Murillos, the Goyas. He looked them all over silently, while those present tried to divine the reaction in his intensely impressive eyes. Finally, in a quiet, as if pacified voice, he said, ‘See, they’re the same thing.’ And repeated, ‘The very same thing.’“ Gibson adds, “For Picasso, the past was the only altar before which he would bow in humility.” Refusing to hold himself accountable to anything other than art itself, and believing that he was as good as the best, may strike some readers as something other than humility. More convincing is an observation by James Hall in Michelangelo and the Reinvention of the Human Body, which Gibson cites. On the much and justly admired Pieta, surely one of the greatest works of art of all time, Michelangelo chiseled on the band that runs diagonally across Mary’s robed body, “Michael Angelus Bonarotus Florent Facieba.” The inscription is grammatically incorrect, but intentionally so. Hall writes: “The incomplete ‘facieba[t]’ was a revival of an ancient method of signing artworks. By saying that the artist ‘was making’ rather than ‘made’ the artwork, it suggested he had stopped before the work was finished. This demonstrated the humility of the artist (‘my work is imperfect and so it cannot be regarded as finished’) as well as the enormity of the task.”

• “The Future of Pro-Life Progressivism.” That was the subject of a symposium in Minneapolis, and the presentations are gathered in the University of St. Thomas Law Journal. The keynote address was given by Jim Wallis of Sojourners, author of God’s Politics and adviser to the Democrat party on how to win back those “values voters.” But most of the presentations were by Catholics devoted to the “seamless garment” or “consistent life ethic” associated with the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago. Among the more thoughtful participants was Mark Sargent, dean of the Villanova University School of Law. He writes: “Democrats look back wistfully upon that moment when they think about the Catholic vote. But that moment is really gone, for one reason that has little to do with religion and another that has everything to do with it. The first reason was the Republican Party’s enormous success in forging an iron link between race and taxes—i.e., paying high taxes came to mean spending money on undeserving and threatening black people—that began with Richard Nixon and culminated in the reigns of Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush, and tore white ethnic Catholics, now largely middle class or at least lower-middle class, away from the Democratic Party and its tax-and-spend, race-coddling liberals.” The second reason, he says, has everything to do with religion, sex, and the family, and, above all, with abortion. “The Republican Party seized upon and exploited this development, increasingly presenting itself as the only possible home for religious people, and the Democrats played into their hands, at least in presidential politics, by adopting an extreme position on choice that is at least as non-negotiable as the strongest Catholic position against abortion.” Almost nobody will argue with that, but does Prof. Sargent really want to stand by his first reason? It is a terrible thing to suggest about Catholics, that once they were non-poor they no longer cared about the poor. And, while he doesn’t use the term, resentment of undeserving and threatening black people does sound like liberal-talk for racism. Is he opposed to the widely acclaimed welfare reform promoted during the “reigns” of Reagan and the first Bush and signed into law by President Clinton? A deeper problem in this and other presentations is an assumed tension or conflict between pro-life concern and what is repeatedly called “social justice.” There are few things, if anything, so clearly required by social justice than that a society not kill its babies. If we don’t get that right, we’re not likely to get much of anything else right. Yet the symposium proceeds on the implicit assumption that “Pro-Life Progressivism” will strike most people as something of an oxymoron. And what are the “progressive” issues (several writers obviously long for the days when they could come right out and say “liberal”) that create this tension with a pro-life commitment? Most frequently mentioned are opposition to capital punishment, U.S. policy in the Middle East, and almost everything associated with George W. Bush. Then there is the grab bag called “concern for the poor.” It is not at all clear what is in the bag. Some would apparently like to revive Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. That is by now a traditionalist sentiment, although dearly held by many liberals. For the domestic poor, and especially for the urban underclass, one might argue that the greatest advance of justice would be parental choice in education. For some reason, that does not qualify as concern for the poor. Writers favor massively expanded government spending on social problems, which, as some conservatives would observe, should make them great fans of the current president. As for the poor of the world, John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus is rich in proposals for helping the poor enter into the circle of productivity of exchange. But Centesimus Annus rates barely a mention, and then only to complain about the way it has been hijacked by conservatives. The progressivism in this symposium’s “Pro-Life Progressivism” seems to be chiefly the conviction of the participants that they are better people, they care more about other people, and especially about the poor and disadvantaged, than do the pro-lifers with whom they are so embarrassingly associated. The evidence of their moral superiority is that those other pro-lifers are conservatives and even Republicans. The thought that those who disagree with them on specific policies might be equally caring and equally devoted to Catholic social doctrine, and perhaps even more caring in the living of their daily lives, did not impinge unduly on a symposium that too often reads like an unseemly exercise in moral smugness joined to political frustration.

• Miles Douglas writes in the The Spectator (UK) that he invited a gay friend to a dinner party with his non-gay neighbors, and his friend was forced to admit that it was a much better evening than those usually spent with his all-gay friends. Douglas continues:

Today, the most striking feature of gay politics is its lack of nuance. Feminists increasingly acknowledge the complexity of women’s (and men’s) lives, the anti-racist movement passionately debates multiculturalism, but the gay movement remains remarkably unrecon-structed. Our problems, it maintains, do not arise from within ourselves, or from the choices we make, but from oppression by heterosexual society and anything perceived as traditional values.

That simplistic narrative holds sway across the spectrum of gay organizations, from the most radical to the ostensibly conservative. It at once denies us our individuality and absolves us of personal responsibility.

We can see the results of this approach in the gay press. Pick up a magazine like Gay Times, for instance, and you will not find a spectrum of social attitudes. Instead, politically correct victim culture is allied with rampant consumerism. Freedom is identified with a shopping list, whether of possessions or political demands. Throughout the gay media, consumerism is extended to the human person, who is reduced to a disposable item. Just as the ideology of victimhood is pervasive, so is the low-grade pornography, criticism of which is taboo. Any notion of self-restraint is condemned as oppressive.

Any spiritual aspiration, any hope for anything beyond material and sexual satisfaction, is derided as irrelevant. The vicissitudes of gay life, notably the culture of promiscuity, are alternately ascribed to the legacy of oppression (and therefore not our fault) and celebrated as a form of “liberation.” Gay activism, which angrily expects our gratitude, perpetuates the idea that heterosexuals, especially heterosexual men, represent a hostile force. When I reveal that many of my closest friends are straight men, this is viewed as unusual, even slightly suspicious, as if to integrate were somehow to be letting the side down. This is despite the fact that homosexual law reforms have been enacted by parliaments consisting largely of heterosexual men.

The result of all this is a male homosexual culture that is simultaneously turned in on itself and unable to address its own shortcomings. It confuses morality and conscience with moralistic repression. Through this confusion, we become afraid to question the casual acceptance of promiscuity and pornography, and the shallow materialistic values that underpin it, lest we be accused of hypocritical puritanism. When we criticize the gay lifestyle, we are accused by activists of self-oppression, but the true oppression comes from within that lifestyle rather than from hostile external forces. In an age of equal rights, we have become our own victims, devoured by the movement we created.

I do not, in any sense, wish to suggest that I possess superior insight. Indeed I have committed all the lapses of judgment and taste that I have touched upon above, because I, like my dinner-party friend, have had to “live in the gay world.” That world is failing to recognize that true liberation starts with the individual. Equality is worth little, ultimately, without compassion, responsibility and conscience. Now that the political battles are won, we should start to put our own house in order. This is much harder than repeating scripted slogans about rights, but at least it will mean better dinner parties.


One has a certain ambivalence when reading more sensible writers on the homosexual scene, such as Miles Douglas. Of course the criticism of promiscuity, pornography, and the victim mentality is to be welcomed. Yet there is no way of lifting the dark clouds over a way of life that turns on the identification of the self with the satisfaction of morally disordered desire, a way of life marked by a tragically high incidence of loneliness, alcoholism, drugs, disease, and early death. There is a more widespread tolerance, but it is not true that the battle for the acceptance of homosexuality has been won. One admires parents who continue to love their gay children, but in the faces of those who carry signs declaring that they are proud of their gay sons one detects the determination to hide the sadness of wishing it were not so.

• On Thursday, September 7, in Paderborn, Germany, the police raided the home of Katharina Plett and put her under arrest. Before being taken to Gelsenkirchen prison, she was permitted to contact her husband who had fled the country the day before with their twelve children. Their crime was that they were homeschooling their children, which is legally forbidden in Germany. It is not only Germany. On September 27, the European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling: “Parents may not refuse the right to education of a child on the basis of their convictions.” The court added that education “by its very nature calls for regulation by the state.” In some other European countries, homeschooling is severely restricted. In ratings of academic performance in Europe, Germany’s state education is near the bottom of the list. Many parents also protest its graphic sex education and promotion of ideologies contrary to Christian moral teaching. Tough. In another case, a German court ruled that parents who “continually or obstinately prevent their children from fulfilling the compulsory school attendance” be fined or sent to prison for up to six months. In Germany and elsewhere, however, parents have discovered the Internet and are linking up with homeschooling networks, especially those in the United States, where it is estimated that two million children are being homeschooled. In Europe, there is just the beginning of agitations to challenge statist tyranny in education. In view of the catastrophic demographics of Europe, one might think that governments would be more solicitous of people who are having children at all. On the other hand, a shrinking market of children intensifies the determination of state educators to maintain their monopoly.

The Harvard Crimson reports that nearby Boston College, a Jesuit institution, has issued a directive that, when inviting speakers on subjects such as abortion, college groups should make sure that “a Catholic perspective” is included in the event. The Crimson notes that “Junior Cecilia Fierro, a member of the Women’s Health Initiative, a controversial pro-choice group not sponsored by the university, said that the policy ‘sets us further behind in a goal for university recognition.’“ One should hope so.

• It is no secret that Pope John Paul II had grave misgivings about the invasion of Iraq by the U.S.-led coalition in 2003. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger made statements at the time that appeared to suggest it was an unjust war. When, however, Italian troops were killed in Iraq, Camillo Cardinal Ruini, head of the Italian bishops conference, left no doubt that he thought they had died in a just and necessary effort. Since 2003, the Holy See has been supportive of the coalition effort to achieve a modicum of peace and justice in Iraq. On October 22, marking the end of Ramadan, Pope Benedict at the midday Angelus in St. Peter’s Square called on Iraq’s politicians and the international community to have the “courage” to follow through on the country’s reconstruction. He asked for prayers “that God may grant the faith and courage necessary to religious and political leaders, local and worldwide, to support those people on the path of reconstruction of the homeland, in the search for a shared balance, in mutual respect.” It would be wrong to try to recruit the pope to any side in our domestic disputes about U.S. policy in Iraq. Obviously, he is not endorsing the Bush administration. Just as obviously, he is saying that the international community—and there is not much of an international community without the United States—has a long-term responsibility to help the Iraqis achieve a better country.

• If anybody has a keen nose for anti-Catholicism, it is the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights. A while back, I noted the outlandish opinion of Judge Robert Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, who found that Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM) is, among other very bad things, anti-Catholic (August/September 2006). He ruled that an Iowa state contract with PFM be canceled and that PFM return all funds received. The Catholic League has filed a forceful brief in support of PFM’s appeal of the judgment. The Catholic League notes that PFM founder, Charles Colson, is a leader of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” and that PFM has prominent Catholics in leadership positions. Then there is this: “We agree with the district court, certainly, that Evangelical Christianity is one among many Christian expressions, which contrast in many non-trivial ways with each other. But these various differences do not necessarily make each tradition the antithesis of the other. Presbyterians are not ipso facto ‘anti-Methodists,’ Calvinists are not by definition ‘anti-Lutherans’ and Evangelicals—particularly Prison Fellowship—are most certainly not anti-Catholic. More importantly, it is not for district courts to discern that they are.” The undisputed fact is that PFM has an outstanding record of changing lives, of preparing prisoners to live responsibly upon release, and of dramatically reducing recidivism. Does it happen that individual prisoners in PFM programs sometimes promote anti-Catholic views? Of course. There is freedom of speech also in prisons. But such views are clearly contrary to PFM policy. The main point, however, is that Judge Pratt wandered far beyond his personal competence and his judicial authority in setting himself up as an adjudicator between differing theological positions.

• I expect this is a form letter that Fr. Robert Wild, S.J., president of Marquette University in Milwaukee, sends to people who complain about the presence of Daniel Maguire on the theology faculty. One recipient of the letter tells me that it shows that Fr. Wild is a “weasel.” Well, I’m not so sure. True, there is the usual stuff about academic freedom and the legalities surrounding tenure, and to say that Maguire’s “positions regarding certain matters are not totally consonant with formal church teaching” is a little like saying that Osama bin Laden has some problems with Christianity. But then Fr. Wild goes on to write, “I also find it useful to recall that even Jesus did not have a perfect group of disciples.” As with the apostles, the whole faculty should not be condemned “for the misdeeds of one of them.” Comparing Prof. Maguire to Judas Iscariot strikes me as taking a rather definite position. Prof. Maguire is not invited to exit the scene in the manner of Judas Iscariot, but Fr. Wild offers the assurance that he teaches no required courses and, except for those “who elect to enroll in his advanced classes,” students are shielded from his influence. The one-line summary of Fr. Wild’s letter is, “We’re stuck with this guy.” I don’t know if Marquette has tried the Boston College ploy used in the case of Mary Daly, the wild-eyed feminist who promotes a utopian world without men. Rather than fight her lawsuit over tenure, they gave her a bundle to stay far away from campus. It might be worth it to protect the credibility of a university that, in the words of Fr. Wild, “unreservedly and enthusiastically avows itself as Catholic.” Of course, Prof. Maguire might resist the idea that he can be bought off. After all these years of working for pro-abortion and population-control organizations while trading on the claim that he is a Catholic theologian at a Catholic university, he has had more than the usual number of occasions to wrestle with the ethics of personal and intellectual integrity.

Having Her Say is a splendid collection of essays by women that have appeared in the Human Life Review over the years. Included are: Clare Boothe Luce, Faith Abbott McFadden, Frederica Matthewes-Green, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Ellen Wilson Fielding, Rita Marker, Kathryn Jean Lopez, and Mary Ann Glendon. Not so frequently as was the case only a few years ago, but still all too frequently, the “woman’s viewpoint” is assumed to be pro-choice. The fact that women are more pro-life than men, and married women much more pro-life than men, and many times more pro-life than single men, is only slowly taking root in these discussions. Seldom are the reasons behind that fact as persuasively set forth as in Having Her Say. (Copies may be purchased for $10.95

from The Human Life Foundation, 215 Lexington Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016. Make checks payable to The Human Life Foundation.)

• Look at those thousands of people passing by on Fifth Avenue. What are they thinking about? A new nationwide survey by Beliefnet suggests that many of them may be praying, sort of. Although 6 to 8 percent of Americans usually say they do not believe in God, 97.5 percent say they talk to God, and 77.6 percent say they do so every day. And 72.8 percent say they talk to God “through prayer” and 80.6 percent say “through my internal thoughts” (13.5 percent write letters to God). Not only that, 57.9 percent say they have argued with God, and 49.3 percent say God argues back. “Does God talk to you?” Yes, with words, say 35.8 percent, and yes, without words, say 56.1 percent. God speaks and they hear a voice (23.8), God speaks through answering prayer (55.4), through dreams (43.5), through Scripture or worship (43.3), through other people (61.5), and, at the top, through an internal voice or conscience (75.7). Where do people find God “most accessible”? In daily life (42.3), in nature (9.6), in meditation (15), and, at the bottom, in church or other house of worship (2.5). What should we make of all this? First, there are no surprises, these findings being more or less in line with other studies over the years. Second, survey research is a very rough instrument for discerning what is going on between people and the transcendent. Third, most Americans think of themselves as spiritual lone rangers. Fourth, American egalitarianism is robust (80.2 percent say everyone is equal in their access to God, with 4.2 percent saying that children may have an edge). Fifth, Americans think that, all in all, they’re on pretty good terms with God. On that last point, I regularly see references to the finding in other surveys that the vast majority of Americans say they believe in hell but only about 4 percent think they might end up there. This is taken to be evidence of contradiction or incoherence. In fact, however, almost 90 percent of Americans claim to be Christian of one sort of another and have been taught that, if they believe in Jesus as their Savior, they will go to heaven. Their confidence in their final destination may reflect spiritual insouciance (otherwise known as the sin of presumption), but there is not necessarily contradiction or incoherence in the finding.

• Hurrying to catch up with an early phase of the radical feminism of the 1970s, the Archbishop’s Council, a kind of cabinet of the Church of England, has issued guidelines cautioning against the use of “Lord,” “He,” and “Father” when referring to God. Such usage, we are informed, can encourage men to be violent toward women. The guidelines carry the endorsement of Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. Particularly piquant is the quoting of the aforementioned theologian Mary Daly: “If God is male, then the male is God.” Ah yes, Mary Daly. You may remember her. Now seventy-eight years old, she taught for thirty-three years at Boston College. She is a champion of the “biophilic life,” a position that most who still call themselves feminists reject as misandrist and leading to reverse discrimination and the perpetuation of sexism. Daly has advocated research about parthenogenesis, which might make it possible to create and develop an embryo without male seed, thus creating an ideal male-free world. In her book Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy, she advocates “nothing less than the process of a woman creating her Self.” In short, Mary Daly is what psychiatrists call an interesting case. Things came to a head at Boston College when the administration pointed out that her policy of not admitting male students to her class violated her contract. She sued and there was a financial settlement that enables her to spend her time talking to audiences, wherever she can find them, interested in strolling down the memory lane of madnesses past. Who knew she would find such a ready audience in the high councils of the Church of England? All right, so you would have told her to go there first, but you probably have a problem with Anglicans, which is not nice. In any event, we are put on notice against the dangers of speaking about the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ who orders our unruly passions (male and female) by the love that counts every sparrow that falls, protects the little children, provides our daily bread, and sent his Son to bear our sorrows and work our salvation. (Who knows how many men will beat their wives tonight under the pernicious influence of that last sentence?)

• Poor Emmanuel Milingo. He was archbishop of Lusaka, Zambia, and conducted a very popular, if controversial, ministry of exorcism. Then, in 2001, he went off the rails and married a Korean acupuncturist in a mass ceremony presided over by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. The Vatican took him in charge, he repudiated his marriage, and he lived for a time a relatively quiet and carefully watched life in Rome. This past summer, he skipped town, and showed up in Washington, D.C., where he attempted to ordain four bishops at the temple founded by the Rev. George Augustus Stallings Jr. of the breakaway African-American Catholic Church. Rome notified him that, by his schismatic act, he had incurred automatic excommunication. Milingo told the Washington Post, “We do not accept this excommunication and lovingly return it to His Holiness, our beloved Pope Benedict XVI.” As someone on Amy Welborn’s blog remarked, “It reminds me of the time I returned the ‘D’ I got in physics.” Except this time it is an “F.” Milingo says he is launching a new organization to campaign for married priests. Say a prayer for the man.

• I recently bumped into Bernard Lewis, now age ninety-one, Princeton’s distinguished scholar of Islam. He was as lucid and persuasive as ever, and later that day held in thrall a large crowd at the Union League Club as, without notes, he offered a survey, historical and contemporary, of relations between Islam and the West, which most Muslims still view as the Christian West. I note he gave a similar talk at Hillsdale College in Michigan, and I crib his conclusion from the college’s publication Imprimis.

Let’s spend a moment or two defining what we mean by freedom and democracy. There is a view sometimes expressed that “democracy” means the system of government evolved by the English-speaking peoples. Any departure from that is either a crime to be punished or a disease to be cured. I beg to differ from that point of view. Different societies develop different ways of conducting their affairs, and they do not need to resemble ours. And let us remember, after all, that American democracy after the War of Independence was compatible with slavery for three-quarters of a century and with the disenfranchisement of women for longer than that. Democracy is not born like the Phoenix. It comes in stages, and the stages and processes of development will differ from country to country, from society to society. The French cherish the curious illusion that they invented democracy, but since the great revolution of 1789, they have had two monarchies, two empires, two dictatorships, and at the last count, five republics. And I’m not sure that they’ve got it right yet.

There are, as I’ve tried to point out, elements in Islamic society which could well be conducive to democracy. And there are encouraging signs at the present moment—what happened in Iraq, for example, with millions of Iraqis willing to stand in line to vote, knowing that they were risking their lives, is a quite extraordinary achievement. It shows great courage, great resolution. Don’t be misled by what you read in the media about Iraq. The situation is certainly not good, but there are redeeming features in it. The battle isn’t over. It’s still very difficult. There are still many major problems to overcome. There is a bitter anti-Western feeling which derives partly and increasingly from our support for what they see as tyrannies ruling over them. It’s interesting that pro-American feeling is strongest in countries with anti-American governments. I’ve been told repeatedly by Iranians that there is no country in the world where pro-American feeling is stronger, deeper and more widespread than Iran. I’ve heard this from so many different Iranians—including some still living in Iran—that I believe it. When the American planes were flying over Afghanistan, the story was that many Iranians put signs on their roofs in English reading, “This way, please.”

So there is a good deal of pro-Western and even specifically pro-American feeling. But the anti-American feeling is strongest in those countries that are ruled by what we are pleased to call “friendly governments.” And it is those, of course, that are the most tyrannical and the most resented by their own people. The outlook at the moment is, I would say, very mixed. I think that the cause of developing free institutions—along their lines, not ours—is possible. One can see signs of its beginning in some countries. At the same time, the forces working against it are very powerful and well entrenched. And one of the greatest dangers is that on their side, they are firm and convinced and resolute. Whereas on our side, we are weak and undecided and irresolute. And in such a combat, it is not difficult to see which side will prevail. The effort is difficult and the outcome uncertain, but I think the effort must be made. Either we bring them freedom, or they destroy us.

I am not at all sure that we can “bring them freedom,” but our efforts can enhance the prospects for these people achieving an approximate freedom and justice in clear contrast to their present tyrannies. Lewis said, “Osama bin Laden is very articulate, very lucid, and I think on the whole very honest in the way he explains things.” Bin Laden has famously said that, when people see a weak horse and a strong horse, they will go with the strong horse. He and his followers are convinced that America and the nations cooperating with America are the weak horse. They see, Lewis said at Hillsdale, a divided and weak America on the edge of capitulation because “they have no experience, and therefore no understanding, of the free debate of an open society. What we see as free debate, they see as weakness, fear, and division. Thus they prepare for the final victory, the final triumph and the final Jihad.” In his discussion at the Union League Club, Lewis was even more somber. Maybe Osama bin Laden and his Jihadist allies are right, maybe we do not have the resolve to resist their determined assault, maybe we will think the cost too high and, with weariness reinforced by wishful thinking, we will acquiesce in their declared purposes. Lewis, who was a thoughtful young scholar in the years immediately leading up to World War II, said that never in his lifetime has he been so anxious about the survival of the West. Bernard Lewis is no alarmist. I take him very seriously and join him in hoping that his fears are disproved.

• Last year the Christmas wars reached a fine pitch in, of all places, Manhasset, Long Island. Manhasset is an affluent and largely Catholic suburb of New York City, and Fr. Nick Zientarski of a local parish was asked to bless the Christmas tree in the town square. Not surprisingly, in his brief blessing he mentioned You Know Who. Jon Kaiman, town supervisor, was standing behind him and audibly muttering during the blessing that this is all “nonsense,” after which he urged the crowd to ignore Fr. Nick’s words and said the thing was a “holiday tree” and not a Christmas tree. The crowd was outraged by Kaiman’s words, and the tabloids went wild, blazoning headlines such as “The Fight Before Christmas.” Kaiman apologized, sort of, and Fr. Nick forgave him, but the wounds to civic amity are deep. It did not help that Mr. Kaiman is Jewish. One of those who were understandably mad in Manhasset sent me a public notice from the neighboring suburb of Great Neck. Great Neck is affluent and predominantly Jewish. The Village of Great Neck declares in big letters: “Christmas tree lighting festivities in Great Neck Plaza.” The brouhaha also embroiled Huntington, yet another affluent Long Island suburb. In the public square of Huntington, there is a crche sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and a Menorah sponsored by Chabad Lubavitch. A lawyer who is not incidentally Jewish is suing, claiming that he is personally offended and both displays violate the separation of church and state. And so it goes, on and on. On the one side are those who favor religio-cultural displays in public and, on the other, those who say they should be prohibited. The latter propose that the disagreement can be resolved by prohibiting them. For some reason, that does not strike those on the other side as a fair resolution. They, religious extremists that they are, propose civility and a decent respect for differences. They have even come up with a fancy formulation to disguise their fanaticism. They speak of ours being “a pluralistic society.” What won’t the theocrats think of next?

• Peter Kreeft, who teaches philosophy at Boston College, a school “in the Jesuit tradition,” told me an interesting story the other day. In the late sixties, BC took the crucifixes off classroom walls lest the school be perceived as “sectarian” and therefore be deprived of government funding. The Jesuits are a highly principled bunch, but the funding at stake was sizeable. One day, a Muslim student in Kreeft’s class asked why the crucifixes had been removed. He was told that the school has a pluralistic student body and did not want to offend non-Catholics or non-Christians. At which the Muslim student declared himself deeply offended by the implication that he was a bigot. He explained that, if a Christian attended a Muslim university and declared himself offended by the Qur’anic inscriptions on the walls, he would surely view that Christian as a bigot. He said, in addition, that Muslims would not be so spineless in submitting to a government mandate that they erase the signs of their allegiance. It is a nice point, and Prof. Kreeft said the Christian, mainly Catholic, students in the class admitted they had not thought of it in quite that way. It is frequently the case that bigots are most vocal in talking about bigotry. Of course, BC is not precisely the public square. It is a Catholic school. Or at least a school “in the Jesuit tradition.”

• The ACLU continues, with considerable success, its campaign to eliminate any reference to Christmas from the public square. And now a little counter-campaign is stirring, which could turn into a very big campaign. It is suggested that millions of Americans send a Christmas card to the ACLU. Not with anything rude or crude, of course, which would not be nice, and Christians are supposed to be nice. But something with very specific reference to Christmas, as distinct from the organizations preferred usages such as “Happy Holidays,” “Holiday Tree,” and “Winter Festival.” Since they don’t know which of the millions of envelopes might contain contributions, they’ll have to open each one. You might object that it is not nice to be a nuisance. But think: It will give the folks there multiple occasions to think about the meaning of Christmas. And of course you really do wish them a merry Christmas. The address of national ACLU headquarters is 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004.

• Reverberations from “the Regensburg moment” continue. On October 15, the Egypt State Information Service issued an “Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI” signed by thirty-eight (as of this writing) Muslim religious leaders and scholars of acknowledged stature. Speaking of Christianity and Islam, the letter says: “Together they make up more than 55 percent of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world. As the leader of over a billion Catholics and moral example for many others around the globe, yours is arguably the single most influential voice in continuing to move this relationship forward in the direction of mutual understanding.” The letter is signed by, inter alia, the Grand Muftis of Istanbul, Egypt, Herzegovina, Russia, Syria, Croatia, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Uzbekistan, along with scholars at leading Muslim universities and other institutions.

• The letter is respectful in tone and is offered “in the spirit of open exchange.” The focus is, understandably, on that part of the Regensburg lecture dealing explicitly with Islam. The signers say Benedict is wrong in saying that the Qur’anic rule of “no compulsion in religion” applies only to situations in which Islam is weak. They criticize the pope for relying on non-Muslim “experts” who cannot speak for Islam. The claim that God is “absolutely transcendent” and unrelated to human reason is, they say, a “simplification which can be misleading.” “To conclude that Muslims believe in a capricious God who might or might not command us to evil is to forget that God says in the Quran, ‘Lo! God enjoins justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbids lewdness and abomination and wickedness.’ . . . Muslims have come to terms with the power and limits of human intelligence in their own way, acknowledging a hierarchy of knowledge of which reason is a crucial part. . . . Muslims through the ages have maintained a consonance between the truths of the Quranic revelation and the demands of human intelligence, without sacrificing one for the other.” This is partly, but only partly, responsive to Benedict’s argument that to act against reason is to act against the nature of God, who has revealed himself as the Logos. The pope’s claim, which he says is integral to Christianity, is that there is a synthesis between faith and reason in which reason participates in the eternal law of God, so that, in rightly ordered reason, there cannot be, even conceptually, a question of sacrificing one for the sake of the other.

• With respect to current conflicts, the signers make the usual point that “Jihad means struggle, and specifically struggle in the way of God.” They add, “This struggle may take many forms including the use of force. Though a jihad may be sacred in the sense of being directed towards a sacred ideal, it is not necessarily a ‘war.’“ They ask, “When God drowned Pharaoh, was He going against His own Nature?” “Religious belief alone does not make anyone the object of attack. The original Muslim community was fighting against pagans who had expelled them from their homes, persecuted, tortured, and murdered them. Thereafter, the Islamic conquests were political in nature.” “Muslims can and should live peacefully with their neighbors. . . . However, this does not exclude legitimate self-defense and maintenance of sovereignty.” Apart from the dubious historical claims, one cannot help but note that this begs a number of questions. What, in Islam, is the relationship between the religious and the political? Are they separable or even distinguishable? Al-Qaeda and others contend that their declaration of war against what they view as the Christian West is precisely legitimate self-defense and the maintenance (or restoration) of sovereignty in areas once under Muslim rule. Speaking of the violent response to Regensburg and, more specifically, the killing of a nun in Somalia, the signers say that these “and any other similar acts of wanton individual violence is completely un-Islamic, and we totally condemn such acts.” Touching, at least obliquely, on organized terrorism, they say: “If some have disregarded a long and well-established tradition in favor of utopian dreams where the end justifies the means, they have done so of their own accord and without the sanction of God, His prophet, or the learned tradition.” The signers say they agree with Benedict’s statement at Cologne in 2005 when he said, “Interreligious and inter-cultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends.” They then add, “Whilst we fully concur with you, it seems to us that a great part of the object of interreligious dialogue is to strive to listen to and consider the actual voices of those we are dialoguing with, and not merely those of our own persuasion.” Everybody should be able to agree with that.

• The open letter to the pope is to be welcomed. It is serious, respectful, and attempts to respond to the argument made at Regensburg. The reference to the Jihadism of religiously inspired terrorism may seem tepid, but it is not nothing for such a distinguished group of Islamic leaders to say that the “utopian dreams” of the Jihadist aggression are “without the sanction of God, His prophet, or the learned tradition”—if, indeed, the signers are referring to al-Qaeda and related networks. The insistence that there should be no compulsion in religion is important, although it is noteworthy that there is no mention of putatively Islamic regimes that enforce sharia law against conversions from Islam and against any public expression of non-Islamic religion. Nor is there any reference to the treatment of “people of the book”—meaning Jews and Christians—as third-class citizens under the past and present regime of dhimmitude. Nonetheless, the October 15 open letter is an appeal for conversation. The stature and credibility of the signers within the worlds of Islam is impressive and perhaps unprecedented. It is true that there is no direct reference to, never mind condemnation of, Jihadist aggressions such as September 11 and other attacks that have in recent years taken thousands of lives. Perhaps that would have been too dangerous, even for Muslims of such stature. It is not enough, however, to condemn “acts of wanton individual violence” in reaction to Regensburg. Yet such objections should not obscure the fact that the signers indicate their readiness to discuss with Christians the teachings of Islam and their significance, political and otherwise, for the current “clash of civilizations.” It is, just possibly, a beginning.

• Carl Esbeck, professor of law at the University of Missouri, has been doing invaluable work on church-state relations for years. In a recent article in the Hofstra Law Review, he takes to task Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said in a recent opinion that the task of the Court is “to find a neutral course between the two Religion Clauses,” which by their nature “tend to clash.” The Court must explore where “there is room for play in the joints between the Clauses” and see if there is “space for legislative action neither compelled by the Free Exercise Clause nor prohibited by the Establishment Clause.” Esbeck thinks this pitting of no-establishment against free exercise is utterly wrongheaded, and I warmly agree. He cites my longstanding argument—which I am glad to say is gaining some modest traction—that there are not two religion clauses but only one religion clause with two provisions, both of them being in the service of religious freedom. That there is only one clause, with two participial phrases modifying the object (“no law”) of the verb (“shall make”), is grammatically indisputable. (The “two clauses” language is so entrenched in these discussions that it will continue to be used in the foreseeable future. Even in articles in these pages, we sometimes give it a pass.) In a footnote, however, Esbeck challenges the argument that “the first participial phrase is instrumental to the second participial phrase.” “Rather,” he writes, “each phrase is equal and operates independent of the other.” I don’t think so. I agree with the Esbeck who writes in his conclusion: “The Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause do not conflict. Instead, they do different work, each in its own way protecting religious liberty and properly ordering church-state relations. When circumstances are such that their labors overlap, the Religion Clauses necessarily complement rather than conflict. Thus the Court’s imagining these two negations on governmental power as frequently clashing—two bones grinding one upon the other at an arthritic joint that has lost its ‘play’—is a dangerously misguided metaphor.” Precisely. The no-establishment provision and the free-exercise provision are in the service of “protecting religious liberty and properly ordering church-state relations,” which is to say they are in the service of free exercise. Originally, of course, the no-establishment provision simply assured the states that the new federal government would not interfere with their several establishments of religion. But, in the convoluted reasonings of the Supreme Court since Everson in 1947, no-establishment has frequently been employed to restrict free exercise, thus turning the religion clause of the First Amendment upside down. Despite obiter dicta such as those of Justice Ginsburg, there is reason to think that the Court may now be in the process of extricating itself from the confusions of its own creation. (For a more extended discussion of these questions, see my article “A New Order of Religious Freedom” in the February 1992 issue.)

• John Henry Newman and G.K. Chesterton embodied two very different ways of being Christian. The differences, along with the similarities, are compared by Sheridan Gilley, a theologian at the University of Durham, in a recent issue of the Chesterton Review. “Newman was a natural ascetic,” writes Gilley. “As a child he thought that he might be an angel, and the whole creation a trick played upon him by his fellow angels: this world was, for all its wonder, less real than a higher one. Nature was full of symbols which pointed its citizens to heaven, but in itself, it seemed unreal.” And then this on Chesterton: “Chesterton by contrast was no monk. He was naturally tall, and he became enormous with it. He rejected the puritan streak in the fashionable life-style movements of his day, embodied in the non-smoking, no-alcohol vegetarianism of his old friend George Bernard Shaw, who shared these habits with that animal lover and impassioned modern believer in healthy living, Adolf Hitler. Instead, Chesterton began from a passionate mystical gratitude for the world of the senses as given by God: one could only wonder at the amazing facts that water was wet and the sky was blue, that silk was smooth and that steel was strong. Thus Chesterton argued that Catholicism justified innocent pleasure as God-given, in the hearty enjoyment of good wine and good food and good tobacco, and the associated cultures of public festival and dance and song, which were a part of the hospitality of the Olde English inn, and which had survived in the fiestas of the Mediterranean lands and their trinities of food, wine and prayer, which made the holiday a holy day, as the good God’s gift through his creation. Catholic Christianity had created medieval Merrie England, and modern Italy and Spain. Even in this cold northern clime, the Catholic faith gave the gift to enjoy life. It was the divinely-sanctioned way of having fun.”

• I cannot resist, while I’m at it, Gilley’s quotation of a magnificent Newman sentence that could never escape an editor’s censure today but is finally more lucid and simple than most of what one reads in the newspaper. This is, of course, from the Apologia: “To consider the world in its length and breadth, its various history, the many races of man, their starts, their fortunes, their mutual alienation, their conflicts; and then their ways, habits, governments, forms of worship; their enterprises, their aimless courses, their random achievements and acquirements, the impotent conclusion of long-standing facts, the tokens so faint and broken of a superintending design, the blind evolution of what turn out to be great powers or truths, the progress of things, as if from unreasoning elements, not towards final causes, the greatness and littleness of man, his far-reaching aims, his short duration, the curtain hung over his futurity, the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil, physical pain, mental anguish, the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary hopeless irreligion, that condition of the whole race, so fearfully yet exactly described in the Apostle’s words, ‘having no hope and without God in the world,’—all this is a vision to dizzy and appall; and inflicts upon the mind the sense of a profound mystery, which is absolutely beyond human solution.” The world in one sentence.

• Each year in editorial meetings the question comes up as to what we should include in “the Christmas issue.” But of course we do not really have a Christmas issue, since the December issue is in the mails mid-November. It is the January issue that arrives a little before Christmas, but that is, after all, the January issue. Nonetheless, in view of the lead time, Christmas is on my mind toward the end of October. And Christmas on my mind unfailingly recalls John Betjeman’s “Christmas.” You may remember how it begins:

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hooker’s Green.


Then there are the verses beginning “And is it true?”

And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?


And the concluding verse:

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare-
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.


With all the staff of First Things, I pray the coming holy days will be filled with grace and glory for you and yours.

Sources:

Regensburg apologies, Christian Century, October 17. Elshtain on Sullivan, Commonweal, October 20. MacIntyre on the university, Commonweal, October 20. Griffiths on Ahmadinejad, Christian Century, October 17. Nuechterlein on Hofstadter, Commentary, November. Wyschogrod’s ethics, Modern Theology, October. Born-again Alan Wolfe, Boston College Observer, October 23. Dreisbach on church and state, Imprimis, October. Greeley’s predictions, Religion Watch, September 2005. Scottish bishops, ZENIT, April 9. Catholic Lutherans, Forum Letter, August. Baylor, Washington Post, September 11. Newman, Pro Ecclesia, Summer 2004. Noll on Civil War, Christian Century, May 2. Charry on Hart, Theology Today, April. Jenson on Protestantism, Christian Century, May 2. Picasso, in character, Winter 2006. Pro-life progressives, University of St. Thomas Law Journal, Spring 2005. Douglas on gay culture, The Spectator, March 12. German homeschooling, Catholic Standard & Times, October 19. Boston College’s Catholic perspective, Harvard Crimson, October 19. Benedict on Iraq, ZENIT, October 23. Mary Daly and the Anglicans, Daily Mail, October 3. Archbishop Milingo, Washington Post, September 28. Bernard Lewis on Islam, Imprimis, September. Esbeck on the religion clauses, Hofstra Law Review, 2006. Newman and Chesterton, Chesterton Review, Spring/Summer 2006.