• Some of the names are haunting: Once, Chance, Lost. Others are haunting in a different way: Harmony, Melody. Wonderful. These are names parents gave children who lived only a few hours after birth and died in the hospital. Many of these dying children, says a nurse whose story appeared in Portland magazine, “don’t get any names at all because they die so fast and the mother is exhausted and despairing and we don’t press the matter. Those are the babies who are named A and B and such in the records. Baby Boy A, Baby Girl B.”
The nurses name them. “I think every child born has a name just as every child born has a character and a personality that was never in the world before and never will be again,” he says.
Me personally I think that when you are formed in your mother’s womb you have a name that is part of every cell in your body. You are your name. Your name isn’t a word or even a sound, it’s the you of you. . . . I go write it down so it doesn’t get lost.
We keep the list private, just something among us working here, something important in ways that are hard to explain. Hey, you’re a writer, you write it down and try to explain it. I can’t. I just know it really matters somehow to listen for what her name is and then write it down. Somehow that’s what I am supposed to do. There are a lot of things we are supposed to do that are really important in ways we will never understand but we do them anyway, right?
• A writer’s nightmare: The English journalist Simon Jenkins recounts looking at the galleys for his next book and finding this entry in the index: “Ridley, Nick, member of Thatcher cabinet, page xxx, burned at the stake, page xxx.”
• Many Americans, especially women, very much want to be married. As women pass the median age for marrying, they worry more and more about the declining numbers of marriageable men and their disappearing fertility, fears often brought to a head by “triggers” like the weddings of friends and family members, report researchers Elizabeth Sharp and Lawrence Ganong in the Journal of Family Issues. These women become both “visible,” because people begin to notice they don’t fit the expected pattern, and “invisible,” because they lose their place in the families and groups that had once supported them.
Sharp and Ganong fret about the “pressure to conform to the conventional life pathway,” the “Standard North American Family (SNAF) ideology” that assumes married people “are happier, more adjusted, and lead more fulfilling lives.” They call this prejudice “singlism.”
They’re right to complain. Despite the precedents, like Our Lord and St. Paul, even in the churches single people can be made to feel odd and inadequate. Successful suburban churches center their lives, and their outreach, around families with children, even if they make sure to offer a “singles’ ministry.” Families are where the numbers are. If you want to hear someone complain bitterly about “singlism,” ask a forty-year-old woman in one of those successful suburban churches.
On the other side, the stories of the ten middle-class women the authors interviewed at length complicate their idea that the problem is the SNAF ideology. Maybe, just maybe, these women want to get married because being married is a good thing, not because they’re blinded by an ideology into being “conventional.” The problem isn’t that they’ve been fooled but that for all sorts of reasons—including the popularity of the idea that marriage is merely “the conventional life pathway”—marriage is increasingly becoming an inaccessible boutique good desired by those who regretfully settle for what St. Paul called the better way.
• Leads that do not inspire confidence: In the second sentence of a long review of books on sacred relics, published in the New Republic, the reviewer speaks of “the mystical body of Christ, symbolically consumed by his followers in the sacred rite of mass.” He is writing, we might note, of the Middle Ages, but seems to think medieval Catholics were modern Baptists.
• The editors at Commonweal worry that “the legal recognition of same-sex marriage can pose a real threat to the freedom of the church and other religious communities that object to the practice on theological and moral grounds.” They are right to worry—we do too—but what about those who object on what might be called philosophical grounds? The Catholic Church, for example, whose bishops and thinkers keep pointing out that they are not defending some peculiarly Catholic idea of marriage but the reality of what marriage is for everyone. That is why we fight for it in the public square.
The editors marginalize the defense of marriage into a sectarian effort, and therefore, in a pluralistic society, an ignorable one. They hope that New York’s new law “may prove to be a model for how to accommodate the aspirations of homosexual people and the church’s legitimate concerns regarding freedom of conscience.” What, we would like to ask them, about accommodating the church’s legitimate concerns for the nature of marriage?
• Speaking of marginalization, the Polish dissident Adam Michnik’s 1976 book The Church and the Left “laid the groundwork for an anti-Communist alliance between students, Catholics, and workers,” wrote the Weekly Standard’s Christopher Caldwell, reviewing Michnik’s latest book in the New Republic. We would have thought that many, maybe most, of those students and workers were Catholics. Lech Walesa: Catholic or worker? Or maybe, to coin a term, Catholic worker?
• We missed this story last spring, but it turns out, and we’re glad to know this, that television personality Keith Olbermann is a eugenicist. Responding to conservative writer S. E. Cupp’s criticism of Planned Parenthood, he sent out the following comment on Twitter: “On so many levels she’s a perfect demonstration of the necessity of the work Planned Parenthood does.”
He later denied that he was referring to abortion. “I said her parents could have used counseling by PP rather than get the results they did,” he tweeted to a critic, adding, “Her parents would’ve helped the earth had they consulted [Planned Parenthood] for birth control.” Who knew that Mr. and Mrs. Cupp’s nearest Planned Parenthood clinic had a state-of-the-art crystal ball that could tell them that the child they would conceive would grow up to annoy Keith Olbermann? And who knew they would have cared?
• Last month we noted that the Catholic University of America is going back to single-sex dorms, in the hope of improving student life by reducing the temptations to hook up and drink too much. Many people disapproved, because they insist the proposal—and this we always hear when someone proposes reversing the sexual revolution—won’t work.
“Nothing,” writes Laura Sessions Stepp, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, “in my twenty years of experience writing about young people suggests that reverting to the old days of male and female dorms will substantially reduce the frequency of drinking or casual sex.” She gives several good reasons for thinking this, and she may be right, but here’s a thought: In the sciences, it’s standard practice to experiment and collect the results. So let Catholic University experiment with going back to single-sex dorms for about ten years and see what happens. Segregated dorms can’t be worse for the moral life of the students than mixed dorms are now.
“It struck me the other day,” writes our friend S. M. Hutchens, speaking of the New York Times Book Review, which he reads every week, bless him, “that the editorial theme of the magazine—what it looks for in its reviewers and the books they like—is praise of transgression, and with that comes a huge irony: The Judeo-Christian God and his law is a dorsal monkey it cannot shake, and whose evangel it carries as a photographic negative in every issue in spite of itself.”
We’re pleased to think that the Times speaks evangelistically, even if it doesn’t mean to. Some discerning secular readers will begin to wonder why the newspaper spends so much effort trying to knock down the old order, and whether that order really ought to be knocked down. They may begin to suspect that the old gray lady doth protest too much, and wonder why.
• News reaches us of yet another new version of the Bible, a joint effort of Protestant and Catholic scholars (just twelve Catholics out of the two hundred scholars, we think we’re happy to say, the best-known of whom are Luke Timothy Johnson and Pheme Perkins). It’s called the Common English Bible.
As you will have expected, the Bible avoids any generic or inclusive use of “man.” Adam is “the human,” though Eve is still called “woman.” Jesus is “the Human One” rather than “the Son of Man.” It also changes “alien” to “immigrant” and “angels” to “messengers.” People are called not to “repent” but to “change your heart.” The “those who” of the Beatitudes are “happy” rather than “blessed.”
We have, as readers will guess, concerns about the ideological commitments behind the choices and about the informality of the writing. The two together, we think, lead to a loss of meaning. An immigrant is not necessarily an alien. The latter is new, vulnerable, out of place—alienated, if you will. A messenger is not necessarily an angel, except metaphorically—the angel’s message comes with an obvious authority and excitement. Changing your heart is not necessarily the same action as repenting—it’s not so dramatic, or sacrificial, or painful.
Translators have to choose the best word possible, and sometimes that word is not the one we’re used to or the one we like. St. Paul did not write like John Henry Newman or Evelyn Waugh. It may be more informal than the formal language we prefer. OK, got that. But we do want to retain a language that makes the whole affair so pointed and dramatic: that we are aliens, for one thing, given the chance to come home by repenting. We’d also like the message delivered by an angel, but that’s probably asking too much.
• “Most of these children come from lone-mother households,” writes Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail of the children run wild in England’s summer riots. “And the single most crucial factor behind all this mayhem is the willed removal of the most important thing that socializes children and turns them from feral savages into civilised citizens: a father who is a fully committed member of the family unit.”
We agree, but we hesitate a little over that term “the family unit.” It’s not a family, that family unit, not exactly, not a thing that stands on its own, not an end in itself. It’s a unit, something defined primarily by being part of something else. It’s a cog in the greater social machine. The family is that, but much, much more.
• “Several decades ago there was not a strong correlation between how religiously active you were and whether you voted Republican or Democrat,” says Mark Chaves. “Now, there is. If you’re religiously active, you’re now more likely to vote Republican.”
Everyone knows why: the “social issues.” But not just them. Religious people, for example, are more likely to homeschool their children or send them to private schools, and one party at least notionally supports their right to do so, and sometimes offers ways to help them pay for it when they already have to pay real-estate taxes for a public educational system they don’t use. The other party serves the interests of the public-teachers’ unions, as recent events in Wisconsin showed so clearly.
These people care about the unborn and marriage, but they also want to know which party is on their side. The Democratic party could do a lot to restore the old situation Chaves describes, which would be good for everyone. But it has to take seriously the rhetoric of choice and self-determination it spouts endlessly when the subject is abortion, and refuse the teachers’ unions’ demands as decisively as it does now the pro-lifers’.
• Chaves reports that fewer Americans than before express “great confidence” in the clergy (35 percent in 1973, less than 25 percent in 2008), and that more Americans (30 percent in 1991, 44 percent in 2008) “strongly agreed” with the statement that the clergy should not be involved in politics. We are of two minds about the declining influence of the clergy.
There are, after all, two types of clergy, one whose influence we’d like to see wane and the other whose influence we’d like to see wax, though we think things are slowly working out as we hoped. Who gets quoted by the network news shows nowadays, Archbishop Timothy Dolan or the head of the National Council of Churches?
• “World Youth Day offers the clearest possible proof that the Evangelical movement coursing through Catholicism today is not simply a ‘top-down’ phenomenon, but also a strong ‘bottom-up’ force.” So declares John Allen, the National Catholic Reporter’s indispensable Rome correspondent. What he calls “Evangelical Catholicism” has been, he says, “the dominant force at the policy-setting level of the Catholic church since the election of Pope John Paul II in 1978.”
This is all good news, and it gets better. “In the real world,” he adds,
the contest for the Catholic future is therefore not between the Evangelicals and some other group—say, liberal reformers. It’s inside the Evangelical movement, between an open and optimistic wing committed to “Affirmative Orthodoxy,” i.e., emphasizing what the church affirms rather than what it condemns, and a more defensive cohort committed to waging cultural war.
We don’t see the two as quite so opposed as Allen thinks them, but we’ll let it go. This dominating Evangelical Catholicism has three “pillars,” he writes. The first is a “strong defense of traditional Catholic identity” in doctrine and practice and the second a “robust public proclamation of Catholic teaching” emphasizing the Church’s mission to change the culture. The third pillar is a surprising one: “Faith seen as a matter of personal choice rather than cultural inheritance, which among other things implies that in a highly secular culture, Catholic identity can never be taken for granted. It always has to be proven, defended, and made manifest.”
The first two define most “traditional” or “conservative” Catholics these days, to use inadequate terms Allen himself rejects. And that is a hopeful sign in itself. But the third— therein, we think, lies great hope.
• But lest we seem uncharacteristically cheerful, let’s talk about gambling. Casinos and lotteries and the politicians who support them promise lots of pain-free income from good clean old-fashioned fun, but what money such enterprises make the state is more than offset by the losses they cause, according to Get Government Out of Gambling, a new initiative from our friends at the Institute for American Values.
But the profits are obvious and the losses hidden, so politicians have no reason to get the government out of gambling. A few facts you might not know (we didn’t):
• Gamblers with household incomes of less than $10,000 bet nearly three times as much on lotteries as those with incomes above $100,000.
• Each year Americans spend more on slot machines than on movies, baseball, and theme parks combined.
• Americans lost $91 billion on all forms of gambling in 2006, the most recent figure available.
• Pathological and problem gamblers cost the United States about $5 billion a year in losses in productivity, costs in social services, and losses to creditors.
• Personal bankruptcies increase wherever governments legalize gambling, and by more than 100 percent in counties that have legalized casinos.
For more information, see GetGovernmentOutofGambling.org.
• Orthodoxy has often been the silent partner in enterprises like ours, and that is something we’d like to change. And we’ve taken a first step. In mid-August the editor and executive editor were the guests of Fr. Chad Hatfield, the chancellor of St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary in Yonkers, for a dinner with some of the faculty. It is an impressive group, and a good time was had by all. The fruit readers will see in our pages. To learn more about St. Vlad’s, see svots.edu.
As it happened, that same week they also met with Dr. Todd Speidel, the editor of Participatio, the online journal of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, a group dedicated to the study of perhaps the major Scottish theologian of the last century, who was expert both in the Greek Fathers and the relation of science and religion. A good time was again had by all. (They did meet in a pub.) To read the journal, see tftorrance.org/journal.php.
• We suspect he’s not a regular reader, this Mr. Fuse, whose letter arrived the other day. “Just wondering,” he writes, “why folks possessing intelligence and faith like yourselves continue to put faith in superstitions rather than sensory faiths—the faith of trusting your own senses—science!—rather than self-interested high priests? Faith is faith, but then again it isn’t. If one has a fiduciary concern with religion—clergy, church admin, religious publications staff—then is it really faith?”
We have not, we admit, acquired St. John the Baptist’s degree of detachment from worldly goods. We’d find wearing thrift-store jeans and T-shirts (New York’s version of skins) and eating rats (New York’s version of locusts) difficult. Our children insist on being fed and clothed and educated, and taken to the doctor. So yes, we have some fiduciary interest in faith as expressed in First Things.
But we also believe in its work, because the magazine does something no other magazine in America does. We will spare you the rest of the advertisement, but we would be grateful for your help in advancing the work of the magazine. Please send us (at firstname.lastname@example.org) the name and mailing address of someone you know who doesn’t see it and may want to.
Fuse finishes his letter, by the way, by asking, “Isn’t the political activist the new Jesus H. Christ? Or the social worker? Or the scientist? Or the meaningful artist? Or the sincere spiritualist devoid of institutionalized religion?” No, they’re not, though of course some think they are. Part of what First Things does is remind them that they’re not.
While We’re At It Sources: Naming babies: Portland, Winter 2007. Burning Ridley: The Spectator, August 6, 2011. Singlism: Journal of Family Issues, July 2011. Uninspiring leads: Andrew Butterfield, The New Republic, August 18, 2011. Marginalized marriage: Commonweal, August 12, 2011. Caldwell’s workers: The New Republic, June 9, 2011. Olbermann’s eugenics: dailycaller.com, April 14, 2011. CUA’s dorms: cnn.com, June 16, 2011. The NYTBR: Personal letter. Common Bible: commonenglishbible.com. Family unit: mailonline.com, August 11, 2011. Voting Republican: today.duke.edu/2011/08/chaves. Evangelical Catholics: ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic, August 19, 2011. Government gambling: GetGovernmentOutofGambling.org.
WWAI Tips: Matthew Cantirino, Dimitri Cavalli, S. M. Hutchens, R. R. Reno, and Matthew Schmitz.