Some readers have taken sharp issue with my agreement with George Will, Thomas Derr, and a host of others that we should cultivate an informed skepticism about some of the more alarmist claims advanced by those warning us about global warming. One reader writes, "Of course there is uncertainty, but uncertainty does not mean we should do nothing; it means we do should more."
But more what? Some of the proposals advanced would mean--and their proponents often readily agree--the economic crippling of affluent countries and the consequent calling off of the aspirations of poor countries for economic development. This is the point of an incisive commentary by Ross Douthat over on The American Scene. He writes:
None of this is to say that talking about climate change, and looking for sensible policies to cope with it, isn't a good and necessary thing to do. Nor is it to say that the Bush Administration hasn't dropped the ball on this somewhat, as it has on so many other issues. But any serious response to global warming has to begin with an awareness that we--and by we, I mean the whole world, not just the present and future occupants of the White House--simply aren't going to accept the kind of "pain" that would be necessary to prevent it from happening. For better or worse, constant economic growth is the engine of our world, and the source of whatever limited political stability our planet enjoys. And no matter how many documentaries Al Gore makes and how lavishly they get praised, there's simply no one, from Berlin to Beijing to Bangkok, who's going to cut the engine in the hopes of forestalling coastal flooding in 2047.
Religious leaders who have jumped on the global warming bandwagon frequently say that we have to be willing to make radical sacrifices. But it is the poor of the world who will be required to make the greatest sacrifices. It may be a relatively little thing for an American to give up his SUV, but it's a very big thing for somebody in Niger to give up his hope for a square meal each day. It is not bold and prophetic to call for sacrifices, whether here or in the global South, that no political leader could possibly embrace. It is moralistic self-indulgence.
In his "Word from Rome," Vatican correspondent John Allen interviews Francis Rooney, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See:
Allen: After the fall of the Soviet Union, it seemed the Holy See wanted to promote the emergence of a strong Europe as a counter-weight to the predominance of America in global affairs. Some of that enthusiasm seems to have cooled, as they've watched the runaway secularism of Europe. Now it appears they're more likely to see the United States, for all its defects, as the best ally of institutional Christianity. Does that analysis seem right to you?
Rooney: That's exactly what I meant when I said a couple of things earlier. First of all, [it's reflected in] the Holy Father's keen understanding of and appreciation for the United States--our faith, our church attendance, our tradition of religious freedom, and so on. That's mirrored by the fact that I haven't seen any specific or general instances of anti-Americanism here. I've found a lot of appreciation for what we do. Sure, they may have a little different opinion of the U.N., or the Cuban embargo, but on the important questions on the direction of the world, on the life issues, on the role of religion in the world, on how people should raise their families, how they procreate, and what kind of world we're going to leave to our kids, we couldn't ask for a better partner than the Holy See, and they couldn't ask for a better partner than us.
Discounting for a modicum of diplomatese, that seems about right. Marxists used to talk about "the correlation of forces" in world affairs, and on the correlation of moral forces there would seem to be converging interests between the U.S. and the Holy See.
On one issue, the threat posed by jihadist Islam, the Holy See under Benedict has been tougher than President Bush and his administration. That is perhaps understandable. The U.S. feels a need to avoid giving the impression that we are engaged in a war of religions, while, as is to be expected, the Church can be more explicit about the "religion factor." That explicitness has become more pronounced under Benedict as he and his aides have repeatedly spoken about the need for "reciprocity" in relations with Islam. Especially is this the case with religious freedom. A huge mosque in Rome is fine, or at least tolerable, but how about Christians in much of the Middle East who are jailed or otherwise punished for possessing a Bible, holding a prayer meeting, or celebrating Mass?
The Christians of the Middle East, as in Iraq and the Palestinian territory, are the oldest Christian communities in the world, and their numbers have been hemorrhaging for years. As Thomas Farr writes in the May issue of FIRST THINGS, this is among the religious concerns to which the U.S., and the State Department in particular, seems to be more or less blithely indifferent.
Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute, a distinguished educational expert, notes that the budget for public schools in New York City is over $17 billion. That's about $15,000 per pupil. Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of New York is closing 14 Catholic schools because it cannot support them on a tuition of $3,000 per year. Nobody disputes that the Catholic schools provide, by every measure of achievement, a much superior education.
Yet Mayor Michael Bloomberg, unlike his predecessor Rudy Giuliani, has had not one generous word to say about the invaluable role of Catholic schools. Instead, he has been enlisting the fancy billionaire set to kick in with $300 million of additional funding for the government schools. The New York Times recently described a gathering of "fashionistas, artists, wealthy businessmen or their wives [who have] turned public education into a darling cause of the corporate-philanthropic-society set."
Of course none of their children go to public schools. With the exception of a few "model schools" in wealthy districts of the city, nobody in New York who can afford to send their children elsewhere send them to public schools. The $17 billion for the government system, which pays teachers up to $93,000 per year, is an educational trap for families that have no choice. Sol Stern has been among those who over the years have protested this gross injustice.
Why don't the fashionistas, billionaires, and politicians listen? I am second to none in opposing the reckless invocation of racism in explaining social wrongs. But what is the right word for the studied indifference to the plight of black, Hispanic, and other non-white children who are consigned to a school system that systematically excludes the majority of them from educational opportunity, and thus from the opportunities and responsibilities of full participation in our common life?
For the thousandth time: The social justice imperative for the urban poor and underclass is the provision, whether through educational vouchers or other measures, of school choice. It would also provide needed competition for the public school system which, no matter how many more billions are poured into it, has demonstrated over the decades that it has no incentive for change. FIRST THINGS will not stop beating this drum.
A terrific new short film promoting vocations to the priesthood has just been released. Produced by Grassroots Films under the auspices of the bishops conference, it is called "Fishers of Men" and offers a compelling and fast-paced depiction of the priestly vocation. You can view the trailer at www.grassrootsfilms.com
It's definitely worth a look.
In addition to which:
Many contemporary church buildings, Catholic and Protestant, are really auditoriums designed for entertainment and the celebration of our amazing selves. It has not always been so, and a change for the better does not necessarily mean going back to whatever "traditional" design one may prefer. These are the questions engaged in a lively article by architectural critic Catesby Leigh in "Sacred Spaces and Other Places." It is among the scintillating articles in the May issue of FIRST THINGS. Isn't it time that you became a subscriber to FIRST THINGS? Click here.