A kind of exhaustion always settles in, murky and miasmatic, after battle. The nation’s conservatives foresaw the apocalypse if the Democrats’ plan for health-care reform passed, and on Sunday”yesterday, as I write”it did pass. The world didn’t end. The people didn’t rise up in rage. Furious lightning didn’t descend from the heavens to smash the apostate Capitol into rubble.

Of course, watching the ring of applause and self-congratulation around the podium in the House of Representatives, one could see that the nation’s Democrats were also thinking of the apocalypse”albeit, in happier terms. But, on Monday morning, the Rapture didn’t come, either, and the stony places of the earth didn’t blossom with sudden flowers. Despite the left’s predictions, the rise of the oceans didn’t slow, and the planet didn’t heal, and the lame didn’t walk, and the blind didn’t see.

Instead of falling”or rising, if the left proves correct”on the great wave of Armageddon, we must wait, in this trough of exhaustion, to learn what happens next. Our apocalypse is a slow one; it smothers us in whimpers. And here on Monday morning, all that remains is a sense of the impending. Something is slowly coming, something is slouching toward us.

I don’t know exactly what that something is. Neither do you. Neither does the president or the Congress or the Senate, or anyone else who forced this change upon us. Change they wanted, and change they got”but change to what? The actual text of the bill makes little sense, as nearly everyone admits, but, then, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained, the point wasn’t really to get an intelligible bill. The point was to get any bill. To get the nationalization of health care rolling. To start the socialization process. To turn the corner. The point was to change the American system”in the belief that, once changed, the system can never change back.

Perhaps the courts will stop this. Certainly much of the bill will end up in lawsuits. The requirement that people buy insurance”and wasn’t that the strangest thing in the bill? I know, Judy! We can punish those hated insurance companies by forcing everyone to use them! ”has an unconstitutional feel to it, and it is, in any case, directly outlawed by such states as Virginia and Idaho. To court we must go, and in court we’ll find out . . . whatever it is that we’ll find out. I don’t know what the courts will end up saying. Neither do you, and neither does anyone else.

Meanwhile, the November congressional elections are coming, and the health-care bill is already the major issue on which conservative candidates are running. That the Republicans will gain some midterm seats is predicted by all political pollsters. That they will win enormously, picking up the ten seats they need to control the Senate and the forty they need to control the House, is predicted by some. That they will find the twenty-five votes in the Senate and the 112 in the House they need to override a presidential veto is predicted by no one”although such gains are necessary for undoing this bill, through normal political channels, before the 2012 presidential election.

Politicizing Politics

But, then, normal political channels are exactly what seem to have disappeared in the process by which the health-care bill came into being. “All this talk about rules. We make them up as we go along,” said Congressman Alcee Hastings during the health-care debates, and right he was.

Commentator after commentator has insisted that America has grown highly politicized over the last decade. Maybe even over the last half century, since calmness hasn’t really existed in the public square since Eisenhower was president. And even then, the bitterness of Adlai Stevenson’s defeated supporters was palpable, and the civil-rights battles were beginning to rage, and the hipster and the organization man were emerging, and the playboy was being born, and the communists threatened the nation, and the Cold War fed the apocalyptic imagination . . .

I’ve always been dubious about claims of a great calm consensus, a golden age, that once existed in any stretch of American time. Politics is political, by its very nature. It’s where people of ambition meet and push on one another their ambitions”a process that cannot ever be calm.

The American Founders understood this, and they set up a system where the ambitious could stage their fights, without doing too much collateral damage to the rest of us. And any investigation into history will reveal that the nation has been politicized, in the sense of having a highly charged political atmosphere, from its founding.

Still, the commentators who feel the nation is caught up in a new kind of politicizing”a new type of rage and a new style of activism”are not wrong, exactly. One clear change in recent years is the emergence of a factionalism that we’ve never quite known before in American history.

The Founders understood the dangers of faction, of course. Alexander Hamilton famously issued a warning against it in the ninth of the Federalist Papers , and James Madison worked on the answer in the tenth, where he defined faction as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

The solution, Madison thought, is representative democracy. Direct democracy, all the people voting on all the issues, is too likely to be swayed by the passions of the moment and the interests of small crowds: “A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

Madison won that argument; representative democracy he wanted, and representative democracy he got. The dangers of factionalism didn’t thereby go away, however. A representative system, the interposition of elected officials and procedural rules between the people and the law, only dams up factional dangers”to the enormous frustration of those who gain what they believe to be popular mandates and then discover that they cannot simply do whatever they want. (Remember the angry columns this year by several liberal commentators, which said that the Senate’s filibuster rules are an unconstitutional outrage, when the election of Massachusetts senator Scott Brown cost the Democrats their sixtieth Senate vote and looked as though it might derail the health-care bill?) And when a great surge washes over the dam, factionalism is translated from a danger of the populace to a danger of the representatives.

Whatever its rightness or wrongness, the national anger at George Bush over the ongoing wars pushed up to the top of the dam in 2006 and brought the Democrats control of both the Senate and the House. And there it might have stayed, or even receded, had the financial crisis of 2008 not come along. Add that flood on top of the earlier ones, and there was swept into office a supermajority of highly charged, highly motivated, and highly factionalized individuals.

Am I alone in thinking that things like the health-care bill are not what voters thought they were getting? In the passion of the moment, they wanted Bush’s supporters chased out. And the voters got what they wanted”along with something they didn’t want: the election of a class of officials comparable to the Republican radicals of 1866 and the Democratic extremists of the 1974 post-Watergate tide. The flood carried faction into the Congress.

Consider our current situation with this fact in mind: Not a single Republican, in either house, voted for the Senate’s version of the bill, which is now the law of the land. Logically speaking, there is a faint possibility that this is because the current crop of Republicans are themselves too factionalized to join in a great national project (one of the curious effects of a flood election is that moderates on the losing side are among the most likely to be defeated, since the hardliners had already managed to face down ideological opposition in previous elections).

But the polls, which show a majority of the public opposed to the bill”59 percent, according to a CNN poll published this morning”suggest the opposite: The Democrats who forced through this incoherent bill are acting as a faction. The dangers that Hamilton and Madison struggled to control in the populace are beyond control when they wash into the Capitol.

“Are we now in a world where there is absolutely no recourse to the tyranny of the majority?” asks the serious economics blogger for the Atlantic , Megan McArdle. The opponents of the health-care bill did what the old system suggested they do: They went out and convinced the public that now was not the time for such a major change in a country that is already financially strapped. In January 1993, when the Clinton health-care task force was created, nearly 60 percent of the American people supported reform. In July 1994, when the effort was declared dead, almost 60 percent of the people opposed it. Responsiveness to public feeling”remember Clinton’s “permanent campaign”?”meant the defeat of the bill.

By some polls, less than 20 percent of Americans opposed the Democrats’ health-care proposals in January 2009. Over 50 percent did by January 2010”but unlike the process in 1994, popular feeling made no difference this time around. “If you don’t find that terrifying,” McArdle notes, “let me suggest that you are a Democrat who has not yet contemplated what Republicans might do under similar circumstances. Farewell, Social Security! Au revoir, Medicare! The reason entitlements are hard to repeal is that the Republicans care about getting re-elected. If they didn’t”if they were willing to undertake this sort of suicide mission”then the legislative lock-in you’re counting on wouldn’t exist.”

The Republicans will surely be back in power at some point. Maybe after the 2010 congressional and 2012 presidential elections, although I’m somewhat convinced that a major Republican victory this November is Obama’s best chance for reelection in 2012, for it would give him something to run against, and a kind of pure running againstness ”Hope! (in what?) Change! (to what?) Not Bush!”has always been his best form of action.

Regardless, when the day comes that Republicans rule again, why shouldn’t they do what the Democrats have now done? How can they not do what the Democrats have now done, ignoring the voters who put them in office and pushing through a radical agenda?

The conservatives aren’t stupid. They’ll surely see that if only the liberals get to use these changes in the American political system, then politics has become a ratchet that bites in only one direction: Push back in the other direction, and all you get is running room to tighten the nut some more. No conservative leader could allow that to happen. If these are the new rules of the game, then the Republicans have to play along. And when politicians cease to care what their constituents believe, we no longer have a representative democracy. We have, instead, a democratically elected tyranny”changing sides from time to time, but still disconnected from the people. Is it too much to think, with Madison, that such things are likely to be “as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths”?

Turning on Abortion

On March 14, my friend Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, took to the pages of the Washington Post to argue that “if Republicans keep ignoring abortion, they’ll lose in the midterm elections.” At that date, the House’s version of the health-care bill contained an amendment”sponsored by the Democratic congressman from Michigan, Bart Stupak”that explicitly banned federal funding of abortions. The Senate version of the bill contained no such guarantee, and Stupak’s coalition of pro-life Democrats looked like the best chance for the House to defeat the Senate’s version.

And so Marjorie wrote, “Republicans oppose President Obama’s health-care reform effort for many reasons: It will cost too much, it’s ‘socialist,’ it’s big government at its worst. But they are letting Stupak and his fellow anti-abortion Democrats lead on that issue. And the more the GOP ignores abortion and focuses on economic populism”taking up the ‘tea party’ cause”the more the party risks leaving crucial votes behind in November.”

I criticized her a little at the time, on the First Things website, by arguing that we should not encourage the emergence of a politics in which the Republican party contains all the pro-lifers and the Democratic party all those who support legalized abortion. Yes, it’s true that all of American politics has been corrupted by this murderous procedure, and, at present, the party platforms are clear enough on the topic. But pro-life forces should not want an America in which the great pro-life message is shoved off into one party”just as we shouldn’t want an America that squanders its religious exceptionalism by having a political party of believers and a political party of non-believers, a European-style division between Christian Democrats and Socialists. Abortion is everyone’s issue, we pro-lifers must believe, I wrote, and when Democrats such as Bart Stupak arrive, they ought to be celebrated.

This morning”on the Monday after Stupak’s bloc collapsed and Stupak himself voted for the Senate bill on the vague promise that President Obama would issue a certainly dismissible and probably unconstitutional executive order on the topic after the bill had passed”Majorie’s worries seem to have been overstated. The Tea Partiers are strongly libertarian, but their rage against this health-care bill matches the feelings of the pro-life community, and the Republicans aren’t about to ignore that combination.

But, if Marjorie Dannenfelser was a little wrong, I was utterly mistaken. I did warn that Stupak and his fellow pro-life Democrats in the House are, after all, people who have always favored health-care reform”and they were going to vote for the Democratic program if they possibly could. But after Stupak stood firm during the debates over the House version of the bill, forcing his amendment through even while enduring the fury of what seemed like every mainstream editorial page in the nation, I thought he would not desert the pro-life organizations when it came down to a vote on the Senate’s version. But desert he did. Praise Bart Stupak now , I demanded”and, like many other pro-lifers, I was left with nothing to show for it.

Three main species of argument were floated during the debate to give cover to the Democrats who call themselves pro-life, from Harry Reid and Bob Casey in the Senate to Bart Stupak in the House. The first was the claim that, through its complicated payment procedures, the Senate bill ensured that the government portion of the new insurance program wouldn’t actually fund abortions. The second was that nationalizing the health-care system would result in a net drop in the number of abortions performed. And the third was that an executive order from the president would ensure that abortion funding would not follow from the new bill.

The fact that the first and third contain at least some elements of contradiction didn’t seem to stop the bill’s proponents from urging them both”nor did the fact that they are both, on their face, risible, and they were both emphatically rejected by every major pro-life group. If you can’t get a single serious organization devoted to the topic to agree with you, isn’t that a sign you’re probably wrong?

The second of these arguments involves an empirical claim that the future will test”but it seems extremely unlikely to prove true. It originated in a March 14 op-ed in the Washington Post , written by T.R. Reid, that claims that “universal health care tends to cut the abortion rate.” As William Saunders, a vice president of Americans United for Life, quickly pointed out, Reid’s argument is unsupported by the evidence he claimed for it. More to the point, it is actively contradicted by studies that have looked at abortion policy in Eastern Europe”where, under communist rule, health care was nationalized and abortion rates were high. As Saunders notes, in the post-communist states, “modest restrictions on abortion were found to reduce abortion rates by around 25 percent.”

All of this ignores what I think ought to be the major reason for pro-life opposition to national health care. The iniquitous distribution of American medicine is a scandal, but even the incomplete moves of the current plan create a system that no future bureaucracy will be able to resist using for social engineering. It puts an enormous section of the American economy and a huge slice of decisions about life and death in the hands of a government-employed elite. And, given the condition of elite opinion today, that will always mean increased government-sponsored abortion and euthanasia. We have seen it at the United Nations, and we have seen it in the European Union, and we will see it in the United States as well: You cannot create a system that allows bureaucrats to undertake major social changes and imagine that they will not use it. You cannot put their hands on the wheel and expect that they won’t start turning.

Meanwhile, the desertions of Harry Reid and Bob Casey and Bart Stupak mean that the pro-life cause must look entirely to the Republicans for leadership. Oh, they may pick up a few Democratic votes along the way for pro-life measures, but we now know that those Democrats will not take the lead in a pro-life fight. This is a bad result for the pro-life movement”in part because the Republican party platform is not a unified whole: People can oppose abortion while rejecting all the rest. But it’s also bad for the pro-lifers because it weakens the leverage they have within the Republican party.

I still remember those weeks in Washington when the major women’s groups came out in support of the embattled Bill Clinton, despite the accusations of women against him. And the reaction among the Democrats in Washington was a general sigh of relief: They no longer had to fear, or act on the agenda of, the National Organization for Women, because it had proved it was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic party. In the same way, the current situation may well prove bad for the pro-life organizations. They have a much greater effect when there exists an even slightly plausible chance they might take their votes, their influence, and their donations elsewhere.

Electing Tyranny?

The process by which this health-care bill came about has baleful effects throughout the American political scene. The banishment of the pro-life movement to one party will produce only ugly results, and although abortion is not, in itself, a religious issue, it parallels a faith divide in this country”a divide no one in their right mind should want echoed in the definitions of our political parties.

Meanwhile, the American populace, which strongly believes we cannot afford this, is angry at being ignored. The civility of the Capitol, such as it was, is further reduced. And representative democracy has taken a beating, perhaps even pushed down toward a system in which we are free only to elect the tyrants who will rule us until the next election. This bill was badly thought-through economics, badly constructed legislation, and badly conceived ideology. All in all, just plain bad medicine. But the worst of it may lie in the process by which it came about. Is this the manner in which we wish to be ruled?

• Even the iPhone has its politics, and our quick search of apps shows it leans Republican. Type “Republican” into the search engine, and you find a $16.99 copy of Ann Coulter’s If Democrats Had Any Brains They’d Be Republicans in e-book format. There are also two versions of tic-tac-toe that pit a Republican against a Democrat. Choose Republican if you’re for an open market, low taxes, morality, unilateralism, and private education, and pick Democrat for shared prosperity, public health care, tolerance, and a gun-free environment. The app is free. There is also an app for Republicans United, and one for Proud Democrat; both feature news and opinion. All that when you type “Republican” into the search feature.

Type “Democrat” and you get the tic-tac-toe game you get when you type “Republican” (the same game, but with roles reversed), and (this really caught our attention) you are offered a 99-cent tour guide to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There may be something winsome about that last popping up as you search for things Democratic, but at the moment we can’t think what it would be.

• In her 1983 dissenting opinion in Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health ”unfortunately overshadowed by her 1989 backsliding in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services ”Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote: “The Roe framework . . . is clearly on a collision course with itself. As the medical risks of various abortion procedures decrease, the point at which the State may regulate for reasons of maternal health is moved further forward to actual childbirth. As medical science becomes better able to provide for the separate existence of the fetus, the point of viability is moved further back toward conception.”

Clashes between the trimester logic of Roe v. Wade and the miraculous improvements in the field of neonatal medicine have been occurring ever since the court made its fatally flawed decision in 1973. Lately, however, these crashes have become louder, more visible, and harder to ignore. Take, for example, the recent case of Germany’s “Tom Thumb,” a little boy born a mere twenty-five weeks after conception and weighing a little more than half a pound. After spending several months in the hospital, the infant was finally able to go home this past December, stable and weighing 8.2 pounds.

• We speak, day in and day out, of media bias, but rarely do we hear of spell-check bias. On matters theological, the media’s chattering classes are particularly inept, but imagine our disdain when we found that the Microsoft Corporation also has one or two theological opinions of its own. We know not whether the anomaly persists in later versions, but the 2004 edition of Microsoft Word for Macintosh recently offered a very curious spell-check suggestion when someone in our office reviewed his use of the word unbaptized . And what was the spell-checker’s suggestion, you ask? Not debaptized , or unchristened , or even nonbaptized . No, the word was anabaptized . One wonders just how many Hussites, Waldensians, and other rebaptizers can be found within the cubicle walls of Microsoft’s software-development department.

• Tragedies happen everywhere and throughout time, but some do seem to raise the question of theodicy a little more than others. According to a report from the BBC, the Desarmes family was living in Haiti during January’s devastating earthquake. Like many others, the family sought safety from the chaos by going abroad. With parents, siblings, and a young niece in tow, Pierre Desarmes picked up and headed to Chile”where, within days, an earthquake of far greater strength struck. And what of that tectonic curse that Pat Robertson said was on the heads of Haitians? Was it the Desarmes family?

• Machiavelli may have been right to claim that we judge more from appearance than from reality, but the difference between the two sometimes may be deeper than we think. On October 5, 2009, President Obama held a photo-op speech on the White House lawn. Standing with him were 150 physicians who supported the president’s plan for health-care reform. The doctors invited to the event had been told to bring along white lab coats (just in case they should need to examine a patient or two along the way, of course). Inevitably, a few docs forgot to bring their coats, and at the event, as cameras whirred, Obama staffers could be seen handing White House“issue white coats to les médecins sans manteaux .

As Obama addressed the uniformed group, he asserted that “Nobody has more credibility with the American people on this issue than you do.” There are two ways to interpret this flattering line: Either it was genuine, and Obama will follow the lead of the doctors’ credible voices, or it is disingenuous and patronizing.

Unfortunately, neither possibility works in Obama’s favor. A poll conducted in 2009 by Investor’s Business Daily and TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence suggested that physicians are not nearly as uniform in their approval as Obama would like us to think. The poll found that more than two-thirds of doctors opposed Obama’s health-care plan, and 45 percent would consider leaving medicine altogether or taking early retirement if the proposed plan were to become a reality. Aside from the usual politics of appearances, this also makes us wonder: If Obama held a photo-op with General Motors employees, would he give them coveralls and welding guns? Better yet, how would he dress up the “religious right” if they came for a visit?

• Homilies, on average, should last no more than eight minutes says Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, the secretary for the Synod of Bishops, in a new book, The Word of God . Bishop Eterovic suggests the following steps to priests to improve their homilies: “Determine the main theme of the homily, inspire interest in the faithful” and “do everything possible to transmit one’s own convictions by appealing to their hearts and intellects.” A tall order, one imagines, for an eight-minute homily.

• The U.S. Air Force Academy chapel has finished construction of a pagan worship circle for cadets who practice “earth-centered” spiritualities such as Wicca and Druidism. “Every servicemember is charged with defending freedom for all Americans,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) William Ziegler, “and that includes freedom to practice our religion of choice or, for that matter, not to practice any faith at all.” In the meantime, nonbelievers at the military academies await recognition from the administration that there are, indeed, atheists in foxholes.

• As First Things has had reason to note in the past, typographical errors and the like are best when they generate a generous amount of embarrassment. They really serve no other purpose. So with this in mind we are happy to note that replicating Pastor Russ Saltzman’s “Briefly Noted” review of Deepak Chopra’s Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment (first seen in While We’re At It in February) in the April issue serves the high purpose expected of typos: embarrassment. We did think of saying the review was so good we thought you would benefit from reading it a second time, but Pastor Saltzman himself relates that even he would find that explanation far-fetched.

• “Congress on Lutheran Confessions” said the headline. Why, we wondered, would Congress go poking around the Lutheran Confessions? “Congress on Health Care,” or “Congress on Afghanistan,” or Congress on almost anything else would seem more pertinent. On reading further, it seems the Association of Confessional Lutherans is planning a congress. Separation of church and state is safe, and Lutherans are safe from congressional meddling, even as worries over Congress continue.

• The heads of several Protestant denominations were debating which denomination Jesus would join when he returned. Discussion raged heatedly for a bit until someone noticed that the president of a tiny Baptist group had said nothing. “Well,” the others asked, “What would you say?” “I’d say I don’t know why he’d leave ours in the first place.”

• In January 2010, CNN reported that by 2020, about 24 million men in China will face a bride shortage. The information comes from a study conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Apparently, China’s notorious one-child policy is finally catching up with the country’s marriageable population. In 1978, fearing the specter of overpopulation, China implemented a one-child-per-family policy. In Chinese culture, boys traditionally are more valued than girls. This bias, coupled with the one-child policy, has led to a disproportionate number of sex-selective abortions. In China, female babies are far more likely to be aborted than male babies. Not wanting to undermine the abortion license, many Western feminists have been largely silent on the subject of the sex-selective abortions that have curbed the female population not only in China, but also in India and other Asian countries. According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences study, “The gender imbalance means that the next decade will see many intergenerational marriages: young men married to women much older than them.”

Despite the coming bride shortage, the Chinese government plans to keep the one-child policy for at least another decade. By that time, however, the gender imbalance will be even greater and may cause demographic problems that the government won’t be able to solve.

• New York State is facing another budget crisis. To make up the estimated $9 billion budget gap for the coming fiscal year, Governor David Paterson (still in office at the time of this writing) has proposed making drastic cuts in state spending. New Yorkers have seen this move before, from governors Eliot Spitzer, George Pataki, Mario Cuomo, and Hugh Carey.

There is one thing, however, that Paterson and his predecessors have repeatedly refused to cut: the state’s voluntary public financing of abortion. The latest available statistics from the New York State Department of Health for the years 2003 through 2007 reveal how many abortions state taxpayers paid for:

2003: 47,102

2004: 47,056

2005: 45,411

2006: 47,071

2007: 46,653

The exact amounts that New York State paid for abortions from 2003 through 2007 are not yet available, but the total is estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars. If New York wants to cut the budget, why doesn’t it finally end the state’s support for abortion?

• “Single Catholic girl, 25, from good family. Looking for suitable, traditional Catholic mate. Likes: chapel veils, the Latin Mass, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the writings of Joe Sobran, Father Feeney, celices, long walks on the beach, and Mel Gibson films. Dislikes: the heresies of Vatican II, the New Mass of Paul VI, receiving the Holy Eucharist in the hand, French New Wave films, Freemasons, ecumenism, feminist nuns, liberation theology, and neo-cons (Jewish and Catholic). Please respond with recent photo.”

If this sounds like a personal ad taken out by a member of the Society of Saint Pius X, it could be. In fact, there’s a dating website, SSPXSingles, where Catholics who reject the reforms of Vatican II can find like-closeminded mates.

• Pastor Jonathan Hatcher of the Conner Heights Baptist Church in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, was looking for a way to spread the gospel and highlight the theological differences between his church’s beliefs and those of Catholicism. But instead of looking through back issues of First Things , Pastor Hatcher purchased anti-Catholic cartoon tracts from Chick Publications, a notoriously crackpot fundamentalist Christian publisher. Publisher Jack T. Chick is not only fanatically anti-Catholic, but also anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim.

A member of Pastor Hatcher’s congregation gave a copy of Chick’s “The Death Cookie””a tract that mocks the Holy Eucharist and depicts the pope and the devil conspiring to take over the world”to a Catholic student at Pigeon Forge High School. The student showed the tract to her own pastor, and that priest brought it to the attention of Bishop Richard Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville.

Bishop Stika immediately went on the offensive. “Even though we may not share the same doctrinal belief, we are thankful that our Christian brothers and sisters of different faiths deeply respect the Lord’s Supper and what it represents,” he said in a written statement. “As bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville, I pray that all Christian pastors will develop a spirituality of ecumenism, with a willingness to explore with other Christians the common beliefs of our Christianity”primarily our belief in the one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ”rather than focus on our differences.”

When interviewed by WBIR, the NBC-affiliated television station in Knoxville, Pastor Hatcher admitted that he really didn’t know much about Roman Catholicism. “I’m obviously not schooled in the Catholic religion,” he said. “I’ve not read the Catholic canons. I study the King James Bible and that’s what I preach from, what I study from.” In deciding to use Chick’s material, the pastor explained, “The people who distribute these tracts, or put them on the market, say they are schooled in [Catholicism].”

It doesn’t look as if the actions of one naive Baptist pastor will do any lasting damage to relations between Catholics and Protestants in East Tennessee. Pastor David Huskey of Pigeon Forge’s First Baptist Church called the tracts divisive and said that different churches should focus on what they have in common. “One way we can honor God is to spend less time focusing on our differences and pointing people to how great God is,” he told WBIR. Amen to that.

• In 2007 Frances Kissling resigned as president of Catholics for a Free Choice. She still remains quite active, however. She blogs for various websites and writes occasional op-ed pieces. In 2008 she was named a “visiting scholar” at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. According to its website, the center promotes “scholarly and public understanding of the ethical, legal, social, and public-policy implications of advances in the life sciences and medicine. It fosters informed dialogue about these issues across a broad spectrum of opinions that not only are the right questions addressed, but that the answers given rest upon solid facts and cogent arguments.”

We were surprised to see Kissling listed on the “People” page of the center’s website as “Frances Kissling, Ph.D.” We hadn’t realized that Kissling had earned a Ph.D. or was awarded an honorary one by a university. In fact, Kissling does not have a Ph.D. and, to be fair, has never claimed that she has one. It’s probably an honest mistake by the center’s webmaster.

Still, we began to wonder what Kissling’s academic credentials are. In a 2002 interview for the Population and Reproductive Health Oral History Project at Smith College, Kissling said that she dropped out of St. John’s University in Queens, New York, after one year. (She admitted to getting a C in theology, which explains a lot.) She then joined a convent on Long Island but left after nine months. Kissling briefly returned to St. John’s but then transferred to the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. She majored in English literature and eventually earned a B.A.

Kissling elaborated on her experience at the New School. “I went to an unconventional school,” she recalled. “I mean, I went to a school where there was no faculty to guide you. There was nobody who thought about whether I wanted to go into a graduate program or didn’t want to go into a graduate program. I don’t know how many people there were. We didn’t have a graduation.”

Kissling’s formal education ended with her undergraduate work at the New School. She went on to find career satisfaction running abortion clinics in Pelham, New York, and Manhattan. After a three-year stint running the National Abortion Federation, she joined Catholics for a Free Choice in 1978 and became its president four years later.

Apparently, in appointing Kissling a “visiting scholar,” the Center of Bioethics believes that her decades of experience as an activist make up for her lack of education in areas associated with bioethics.

• Great Britain’s proposed Equality Bill received much attention earlier this year for its requirement that the work of clergy “wholly or mainly” involve “promoting or explaining the doctrines of the religion or leading or assisting in the observation of religious practices or ceremonies” for a clerical position to be exempt from the bill’s employer discrimination provisions. But now that the House of Lords has removed that troublesome clause, it seems that the bill’s protection of “religion or belief” is more expansive than ever.

Varieties of “religion or belief” protected from discrimination by the Equality Bill include not only “any religion” but also “a lack of religion,” according to the code of practice for the bill. Furthermore, “belief need not include faith or worship of a God or Gods, but must affect how a person lives their life or perceives the world.” In practice, this means that vegans who believe that the use by humans of animal products is exploitation are in a protected category, as are Scientologists. I wonder how the vegans feel about that?

Public Square Sources: McArdle, theAtlantic.com , March 21, 2010. Dannenfelser, Washington Post , March 14, 2010. T.R. Reid, Washington Post , March 22, 2010. William Saunders, DailyCaller.com , March 19, 2010.

While We’re At It Sources: Premature baby, Telegraph , March 5, 2010. Earthquakes, BBC News, March 4, 2010. Dress-up day at the White House, New York Post , October 6, 2009. Reaching out to atheists, Catholic News Agency, February 25, 2010. Eight-minute homilies, Catholic News Agency, March 11, 2010. USAFA worship circle, Air Force Print News Today , January 26, 2010. Confession, Boston Globe , March 10, 2010; Guardian, June 3, 2009. Chinese bride shortage, cnn.com , January 11, 2010. Publicly funded abortions, nyhealth.gov ; www.nyc.org , March 9, 2010. Online dating, sspxsingles.com . Tracts in Tennessee, wbir.com , March 5, 2010. Kissling, bioethics.upenn.edu ; smith.edu .

WWAI Tips: Dimitri Cavalli, Meghan Duke, Kevin Staley- Joyce, Ryan Sayre Patrico, Russell E. Saltzman.

Articles by Joseph Bottum