Love and Sex
I am disappointed in Gilbert Meilaender’s review of Eugene Rogers’ book Sexuality and the Christian Body (“What Sex Is—And Is For,” April). Rogers speaks of love and equates it with sex. But Professor Meilaender misses the point, and instead of denying the connection between love and sex he accepts the connection and tries to critique it in terms of orthodox Christian morality. With regard to the homosexual community this is an exercise in futility.
Love has a very good one–word synonym: sacrifice. Sex is getting your jollies. While gays may love one another, homosexuality itself is not about love at all. It is about the pleasures of sex. For married couples sex is an incidental part of the relationship; for homosexuals the practice of sex is the relationship.
Ask any combat veteran, especially from World War II. In combat a man and his buddy are as close a same–sex couple as you can get. The love between the two can be stronger than that of a man for his parents or even his wife and children. But there is no sex.
Hollywood was the first to combine love and sex in the popular mind. Until the two can be thought of separately again society will have to put up with high divorce rates, teenage pregnancy, and homosexual demands for marriage. Meilaender had a chance to distinguish love and sex in his review of Sexuality and the Christian Body. In my opinion he blew it.
Gilbert Meilaender replies:
I did indeed fail to do what Mr. Noonan wanted, and I failed because I think it would be a disastrous thing to do. Critical though I was of Eugene Rogers’ book, I would never dream of criticizing him simply because he seeks a connection between love and sex, nor would I ever say that sex is “incidental” to the one–flesh union of marriage. There are, of course, some kinds of love that are not sexual at all. But that is not true of erotic love. Though not purely sexual, it always teeters on the brink of sexual expression. More important still, it is precisely by being drawn into a bond of love that our sexual appetites are healed and humanized. The point is not to sever the connection between love and sex, but to ask what kind of loving union can truly heal our wayward desires.Philosophy, Theology, and Faith
Avery Dulles asks “Can Philosophy Be Christian?” (April), and he gives us a perceptive and helpful survey of several replies, mostly by Catholic philosophers. He is himself apparently optimistic for the prospects of Christian philosophy, ending his article by referring to a reestablishment of the harmony between faith and reason that “can help to prepare for the new springtime of faith.”
His comment about Anselm, however, seems to me to sound a more cautionary note. He says of Anselm that “having accepted the existence of God and the fact of the Incarnation on authority in faith, he tried to demonstrate these truths by ‘necessary reasons’ that would compel the assent of Jews and pagans who did not credit the authority of Scripture. He apparently considered that he had succeeded in this endeavor.”
Now, Father Dulles may indeed be correct in his reading of Anselm. However, if he is, then what in the world could Anselm himself have been thinking of? Fr. Dulles attributes to him an extraordinarily high ambition for his philosophical work. Some people may think that it is an unreasonable ambition—I think so myself. But some people aim high, and I don’t blame Anselm for that. But to think that he had succeeded in achieving that aim? How could Anselm possibly have come to believe that?
Is it possible that Anselm never met a Jew or a pagan face to face? Even so, did he never speak to a missionary, just returned from somewhere on the edge of Christendom, who could tell him of the success of his arguments in compelling Jews and pagans to assent to the Incarnation? How could Anselm have failed to see that his arguments came nowhere close to having the effect that his high ambition proposed for them?
If we Christian philosophers do not try to formulate at least a moderately clear idea of just what we are trying to do, then it is unlikely that we will accomplish anything worthwhile (except, of course, by accident). And if we do not pause now and then to evaluate candidly the success of our efforts, then we are unlikely to improve our endeavor.
George I. Mavrodes
Department of Philosophy
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MichiganWhen one reflects on the history of the question posed by Avery Dulles, one wonders if the compartmentalization and marginalization of the role of religion with regard to politics is not directly linked to the compartmentalization and marginalization of theology with regard to philosophy. If theological belief is irrelevant to philosophical inquiry, why should religion have any role or bearing on one’s political views or actions?
For one who has made the radical decision to believe (as a Christian) and to integrate this belief into thought and action, philosophy—when understood in the broader sense as being the “search for truth about ultimate questions”—not only can be Christian, it can only be Christian.
John W. Chambers Jr.
Atlanta, GeorgiaAvery Dulles replies:
Anselm’s principal concern, it would seem, was to satisfy Christian students who wanted to be assured that their faith was not irrational. But Anselm’s friend Gilbert Crispin was in contact with learned Jews in London who argued that the Incarnation was absurd because it was unfitting for God to take on human flesh. There are strong reasons for thinking that this debate was one of the incentives for Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo as well as for Crispin’s Disputation with a Jew. I see no reason for denying that such literature contributed to the conversion of some Jews and prevented the defection of some Christians.
Anselm did indeed make high, even exorbitant, claims for reason. But he was no common rationalist. He knew that our rational powers, weakened by sin, needed to be cured of their torpor through repentance, prayer, and purification. Whatever the attainments of reason, faith was still required for a right relationship to God.
Anselm’s Catholic disciples continued to use arguments from fittingness very effectively in their apologetics, as does Bonaventure, for example, in his Breviloquium. They would concede, however, that without benefit of revelation the human mind cannot conclusively establish what it is most fitting for God to do. John Henry Newman, one of the greatest apologists, maintained that “antecedent probabilities,” while they could not prove the truth of revelation, could prepare the way to faith.
I agree with Professor Mavrodes that Christian philosophers should be able to formulate what they are trying to do. Their main task is not to convince others but to find truth. In my article I contend that while faith and reason must be in harmony, neither can dispense with, or be absorbed by, the other. Philosophy is embarked on a journey that cannot be completed without faith.
Mr. Chambers and I agree that theological belief is relevant to philosophical inquiry, but it does not follow that all philosophy must be professedly Christian. To hold that philosophy “can only be Christian,” as Mr. Chambers does, would be to delete ancients such as Plato and Aristotle and moderns such as Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Lévinas from the roster of philosophers. It would thus remove what John Paul II calls a valuable “ground for understanding and dialogue with those who do not share our faith.” My own philosophy as a Christian believer will inevitably be influenced by my faith and thus be in some sense Christian. But I must recognize that some non–Christians are philosophers, and indeed very good ones. To reject their contribution would impoverish Christian philosophy itself and would exacerbate the very marginalization that Mr. Chambers deplores.
Who Controls the Constitution?
Among the misstatements made in Hadley Arkes’ essay on my book Taking the Constitution Away from the Courts (“Lincoln, Nietzsche, and the Constitution,” April), perhaps the easiest to correct is his assertion that I was a law clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun. The second sentence of my book’s preface is: “As a law clerk, I drafted a letter from Justice Thurgood Marshall to Justice Harry Blackmun, which some have thought influenced the structure of Justice Blackmun’s final opinion.”
Professor Arkes’ inability to read that sentence correctly casts some doubt on his readings of the book’s arguments. In particular, I treat as uninteresting the obvious proposition that people not subject to a coercive judicial order (such as the Reagan Administration officials to whom he refers) have no duty to follow the principle of an opinion with which they disagree, although there may be considerations of political prudence that counsel in favor of following it. Indeed, I argue that under some circumstances political officials may properly refuse to comply with a coercive judicial order directed at them. In short, in my view there is more to be said in favor of the more extreme positions asserted in FT’s November 1996 symposium on judicial usurpation than most people think, whether they be on the right or on the left.
Georgetown University Law Center
Washington, D.C.Mark Tushnet’s new book, Taking the Constitution Away from the Courts, provides support on the left for a Lincolnesque resistance to the Supreme Court in the name of the Constitution. Hadley Arkes rightly urges conservatives to use Professor Tushnet’s example to press for restoration of the Constitution’s fundamental moral principles, especially the right to life.
Professor Arkes doesn’t mention, however, just how widespread the book’s point of view is among elite law school faculty today. For example, last fall Vicki Jackson, Tushnet’s colleague and collaborator at Georgetown Law School, told me that the legitimacy of resistance to the Supreme Court is today the “majority view.” In 1997 this view was strongly criticized in the Harvard Law Review (Vol. 110, pp. 1359–87), but the writers there conceded at the outset that most scholars, most officials, and many ordinary citizens believe that even when the Supreme Court has spoken on a constitutional issue, nonjudicial officials have no more obligation to follow its interpretation than the courts have to follow the constitutional interpretations of Congress or the Executive. According to what appears to be the dominant view, nonjudicial officials, in exercising their own constitutional responsibilities, are duty–bound to follow the Constitution as they see it. They are not obliged to subjugate their constitutional judgments to what they believe are the mistaken constitutional judgments of others.
School of Law
Hadley Arkes replies:
I am so, so sorry that I sped too quickly over Mark Tushnet’s preface, but let me get this straight: Professor Tushnet apparently thought it quite important to convey to his reader, in the first lines of his preface, a) that he had served as a clerk on the Supreme Court, b) that, in the capacity of a clerk, he had written a letter or memorandum to Justice Blackmun on Roe v. Wade, and c) that “some have thought [the letter] influenced the structure of Justice Blackmun’s final opinion.” Now, was there something different here, in function or purpose, from serving as a clerk to Justice Blackmun? If so, it is a refined distinction, and the very purpose of Prof. Tushnet’s preface had to be to sweep past it, to tell us that he was tendering advice to Blackmun. If a reader missed that distinction in the trick–of–the–eye, it was a trick that Prof. Tushnet was apparently willing to foster. Friends who have been, shall we say, “close” to the Court have been quite taken with his report: Was Prof. Tushnet invited to submit that letter? Was he in the habit of tendering advice to other Justices at the time?
But Prof. Tushnet treats this “mistake” as a portentous slip, which foretells other, serious misreading, not merely of the preface, but of the body and substance of his book. And yet, he neglects to offer a correction or tell us where I might have gotten it wrong in stating these main lines of his argument: that it is necessary to free the Constitution from the hold of judges and the constraint of the written text; and that judges, political officers, and indeed citizens should be free to appeal to the Declaration of Independence as the ground of first principles to guide our law. But it is not the Declaration as understood by the Founders: not the Declaration built on an understanding of axiomatic or “self–evident” truths, or of rights grounded in a fixed “nature” of human things. And it is especially not the Declaration that invokes the Creator as the source of those truths and “unalienable rights.” The Declaration is not to be taken as a source then of permanent things or enduring principles, but of principles that must remain contingent. As Prof. Tushnet himself says, the Declaration would be the source of a “story line,” and we must always be free to “start telling a different story about ourselves precisely because we constitute ourselves.”
This is a remarkable statement overall, which removes the Declaration and the Constitution from the principles of the Founders and replaces them with the principles of Nietzsche. Now, is that an inaccurate account of the book—or, if it is accurate, does it amount to something that needs some further defense or justification on his part? I find it astounding that, on these matters, going to the heart of his book, he has nothing at all to say. Prof. Tushnet affects to be drawing on Lincoln’s understanding of the limits to the authority of the Court, but as I tried to show, it is a truncated understanding, quite radically detached from the moral premises that anchored Lincoln’s position. That, too, is concealed in the trick–of–the–eye. The performance rather reminds me of George Tyrrell’s line about the Jesuits: if they were accused of killing three men and a dog, they would invariably produce the dog alive.
I would like to thank Richard Stith for his note, which rather confirms the new state of affairs reflected in Prof. Tushnet’s book. Writers on the left have talked themselves into a truncated (or even corrupted) version of Lincoln’s argument, and they feel not the slightest inhibition in using it when it suits their purpose—as, for example, in resisting the decisions that challenge racial entitlements. At the same time, conservatives shy away from invoking Lincoln’s understanding and acting upon it, even though that argument remains utterly compelling. Conservatives back away out of a concern that this argument is no longer understood or accepted. In one style of conservatism, they may be following the drift of opinion in calculating what is practicable in our own day. The left doesn’t worry about those things; it simply pursues its ends. Thus it ever seems to be. What was that, again, about “the stupid Party”?Who’s Sorry Now?
In “Rethinking the Crusades” (March), Professor Jonathan Riley–Smith asks whether there needs be any apology for the Crusades, noting that no Crusade was ever declared against the Jews and that Christianity has long been in competition with Islam. His amounts to a very partial description of the Crusades, though: they were not a part of an ongoing competition between Christianity and Islam, but an episode in the growing career of self–assertion by Roman Catholicism against Islam and, particularly, against Orthodox Christianity, with which Rome had only recently instigated a permanent schism.
Indeed, Sir Steven Runciman has noted that the Crusades provided the opportunity for the establishment of Roman Catholic bishoprics throughout the Orthodox Christian lands of the Levant that the Roman Catholics conquered. When the Roman Catholics’ aggressive wars on Islam failed, the Crusader bishops remained. Robert Louis Wilken, a frequent contributor to First Things, tells of visiting a Greek Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem named for a prominent church of Constantinian foundation. Why, Wilken asked, were the monks not housed at the church, which was itself a few hundred yards away? The father responded that the church had been stolen by the Roman Catholics during the Crusades. There are many such churches. If Catholics really regret the Crusades, and if saying so is not just propaganda, they could prove it by returning the loot.
Prof. Riley–Smith’s characterization of the Crusades as self–defense by Christianity against Islam fails on another score: it omits completely the story of the Fourth Crusade, which was nothing other than a glorified thieving party. The ancient capital of Constantinople, home of the Roman Empire’s seat of government since a.d. 330 (whatever the Carolingians and their captive popes might say), fell to a crusading army in 1204, and then the real fun began: fornicating with harlots on the high altar of the Church’s greatest cathedral, stealing the relics of St. John Chrysostom (still in the Vatican, within a few hundred feet of the place where John Paul II “apologized,” to this day), etc. In fact, virtually every major saint of the East (St. John of Damascus, St. James, St. John Chrysostom, et al.) had his relics stolen and carried off by “Crusaders.” Why, then, should the absence of an anti–Jewish “Crusade” be understood to obviate the need for an apology?
The greatest library of Greek and Roman manuscripts in the world, the greatest collection of illuminated manuscripts ever (now the glory of the Louvre, the Prado, the British Museum, and the Vatican Museum), and the most notable collection of relics ever assembled were all stolen by “religious pilgrims” of the Fourth Crusade. In fact, next time you’re in Venice, go look at the facade of St. Mark’s; most of what you see came straight from Constantinople in the thirteenth century.
K. R. Constantine Gutzman
Department of History
John Jay College, CUNY
New York, New YorkJonathan Riley–Smith replies:
Professor Gutzman raises an issue to which I drew attention when I touched on the sack of Constantinople in 1204, adding that “it is not so much to the Muslims that we should be thinking of apologizing, but to the Jews and to our fellow Christians.” I went on to ask whether we should be apologizing at all, but in framing my arguments with respect to Islam, I obviously left Prof. Gutzman annoyed. I will try to explain to him why I do not believe apologies to the Greeks are appropriate, although I can see why many might feel they are due.
Prof. Gutzman expresses a bitterness that those of us involved in the subject often come across. No one could possibly deny that a consequence of Crusade conquests was that by 1300 the “Crusader states” left in the Mediterranean region had been seized entirely from fellow Christians. Westerners were now ruling much of Greece, Cyprus, Crete, and the Aegean islands, were calling for Crusades against the Greeks in defense of their settlements, had imposed their own hierarchies, and were demanding the equivalent of uniate status from the indigenous churches. At the same time a series of Crusades were launched in the Baltic region against the Russians. There can be absolutely no doubt that relations with the Orthodox were permanently soured.
I do not think it would be helpful for me to point out, as I could, that bad as the behavior of the Catholics sometimes was, the truth, at least in relation to the papacy, is less highly colored and one–sided than Greeks and Russians believe, and that every one of Prof. Gutzman’s points should be modified. More important, I believe, is for us all to recognize that the ecclesiological divide between Catholics and Orthodox, which is quite profound, is not likely to be resolved by a) pretending that it does not exist and that the whole problem is due to “papal aggression” or b) assuming that only one side believed in the past that such differences should be resolved by force. The Orthodox record on the suppression of heresy, for example, is not too different than that of the Catholic—or the Protestant for that matter. And while Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past (the recently published report of a sub–commission of the International Theological Commission) suggests that, even allowing for different attitudes in the past, the Church should always set an example in admitting its guilt for its faults and that there is no better way of expressing its solidarity with other branches of Christianity than in doing so, it should also be recognized that a public apology can be an escape. To those who most want expressions of regret for crusading it is axiomatic that Christianity is a religion of peace, whereas its history, and even much of its theology, suggest that violence is deeply embedded in it and endemic. So apologizing can entail turning one’s back on a problem instead of confronting it.
Finally, Prof. Gutzman seems to believe that the Pope has apologized for the Crusades. He has not. The order of service on March 12, “The Day of Forgiveness,” contains no reference to them, whatever the Vatican spin–doctors implied, although there is an expression of contrition for “sins committed in the service of truth.” In fact it would have been impossible for the Church to have gone further on this matter than it did. From the twelfth century to the seventeenth the consensus of the teaching of the bishops was that qualified men had a moral obligation to volunteer for crusading. This was reinforced by the support of a succession of men and women universally regarded as saints. From Urban II in 1095 to Innocent XI in 1684 pope after pope wrote or authorized the dispatch of letters, including many general ones, in which the faithful were summoned to crusade, offered spiritual privileges if they responded, and threatened with divine judgment if they did not. Although none of these letters constituted ex cathedra statements in the strict sense, they comprise an impressive, coherent, and consistent body of teaching on the theological and ethical value of crusading. Above all, at least six general councils legislated for Crusades and two of them, the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the Second Council of Lyons (1274), published the constitutions Ad liberandam and Pro zelo fidei, which were among the crusading movement’s defining documents.
It could be argued, however, that understanding of morals changes over time. The underlying absolutes remain, of course, but their expression can take quite different forms in different ages. With respect to the use of force one could argue that there has been a sea change in ethical values, so that what was in accordance with “faith and morals” eight centuries ago would not be acceptable today. That kind of conclusion, however, was rejected by the present Pope in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993), in which he condemned what he called “ethical relativism” and affirmed the consistency of moral values and the abiding truth of natural law.
The dilemma facing the Church, therefore, is clear. If contrition is to be expressed for the principle of crusading, as opposed to abuses committed during Crusades, either the Church can no longer be regarded as a reliable moral teacher or ethics are relative. Both conclusions are unacceptable, which is why no “apology” for the Crusades will ever be forthcoming and Prof. Gutzman will never be satisfied. Sin and Grace
I was dismayed to read Dian Saderup Monson’s “Believing in the Word” (April). I have not read the original story by Andre Dubus upon which Ms. Monson bases her commentary, but from her summary I learn that a man is told by his daughter that after a night of drinking with some friends, she accidentally ran over a person with her car and left him in the road. Her father goes to the scene and finds the young man still alive. He does not call for help, however, because he wishes to spare his daughter the pain of the ordeal she would have to go through should the incident be reported to the authorities.
In Ms. Monson’s reading, “the tender, passionate protection [the father] grants his daughter—the grace—is like unto that mysterious grace the Christian God grants us all. God’s love, the story implies, undermines His law, defies rationality, and redeems humankind even as it sets the universe, in some awful and awesome sense, a–kilter.”
To which I can only say, What? How hideous! Letting a young man die in a ditch when he might be saved or at least comforted by last rites in order that an irresponsible woman be spared the consequences of her own actions is no act of “grace,” or “tender, passionate protection.” It’s evil and monstrous and horrendously selfish.
I don’t understand where the idea is coming from about God’s undermining His own law and defying rationality. He is law, He is principle. In some theological interpretations, Jesus’ sacrifice was precisely for the purpose of satisfying divine justice. But of course Jesus went willingly to his own death to give others the opportunity for redemption from their sins. He didn’t let someone die in a ditch in order to protect some other person from having to face the consequences of her misdeeds. I think it’s time to put the Judeo back into Judeo–Christian.
New York, New YorkDian Saderup Monson replies:
Perhaps due to weaknesses in my account, Ms. Iannone misunderstands both my critique and Dubus’ story, which I urge her to read. One misunderstanding concerns the events in “A Father’s Story”: the father does not intentionally leave a person to die in a ditch; rather, the father’s sin lies in failing to call an ambulance to meet him at the scene of the accident. Instead the father merely prays that the man—if it is a man and not, as he hopes, an animal—will live. But it is a man, who dies within moments of the father’s arrival. This is not quite as hideous as abandoning a mortally injured man, but certainly it is terribly wrong.
The more fundamental misunderstanding concerns the moral and thematic center of the story, which is not the propriety of the father’s behavior. The heart of this story lies in the father’s tragically heightened insight into the character of the love God has for him. The parallel between Dubus’ father and God the Father is inexact but nevertheless illustrative: mortal love drives the father in the story to shield his daughter from the earthly consequences of her sin; Divine love moves our Heavenly Father to shield us from the eternal spiritual consequences of our sins, if we will believe in Him. Dubus’ story does not explore belief; it stops with freely bestowed pardon.
Do I condone the father’s actions in “A Father’s Story”? No, they were deeply sinful. Nor is there any evidence in the story that Dubus himself approved those actions or intended his readers to do so. But do I understand and sympathize with what the father does? Because of Dubus’ skill in rendering believable human characters in a tangibly fallen world, I do. Through the lens of Dubus’ fictional world I also glimpse a larger, different world, a world charged with the greatest mystery of all: God’s astounding love for His wayward creatures. The Privilege of Science
In Barry Harvey’s article “The Democratization of Science” (March), I found an utterly false claim concerning Western intellectual history embedded in the sentence, “Some scientists, however, rightly suspect that engaging in such dialogue [about the authority of science] means surrendering the epistemic privilege which the Enlightenment uncritically accorded their disciplines and discourses.”
The claim I reject is that modern science was ever “uncritically accorded” any such privilege. The authority and prestige it has come to enjoy have been earned, over several centuries, by a record of practical success that is so powerful that it has profoundly transformed the material conditions under which most of mankind lives. The human population of this planet during this time has gone from a few hundred million to the six–billion–plus that it is today, and it has become something of a platitude that the poor of the developed countries now enjoy a level of material comfort and well–being unknown to the kings of earlier periods.
Earlier in his essay, Mr. Harvey refers to “instrumental modes of rationality cultivated by the Enlightenment.” Science is just such an “instrumental mode.” The claims of genuine modern science are all “instrumental” claims, in the sense that they are all subject to modification or rejection on the basis of new experimental evidence, and by the empirical observation of anomalies. It is “junk science,” or pseudoscience, that makes claims which transcend the instrumental, and which cannot be verified by any possible empirical observations.
Mr. Harvey’s general fear for science seems to be that of “every young farmer, tradesman, and professional choosing for himself which beliefs to accord the exalted title of ‘science.’” And it would be understandable if he felt, as this seems to imply, that this would mean an awful lot of public confidence being misplaced in pseudoscience.
But it is the “instrumental” nature of the “mode of rationality” represented by genuine science that provides the necessary correction to this tendency. The method of experimental verification of all hypotheses forms the core of this “mode,” and it is precisely here that pseudoscience fails. This is also why genuine science has practical success, where pseudoscience does not, and this in turn forms the basis for any “epistemic privilege” that science may have earned.
Over the long run, popular judgments as to which beliefs deserve “the exalted title of science” will hinge on the practical results obtained from such beliefs—on whether they continue to transform the material conditions of our lives. It was this record of practical success that earned for science its present place in our lives to begin with, and it will be the continuation of such a record that will continue to earn for it whatever “exalted” title it may enjoy. This is the full historical meaning of the epistemic shift that has occurred since the Enlightenment: our expectations for all our “modes of rationality” have changed.
It is changes like these that form the narrative of Western intellectual history, and such history, like all history, is driven by man’s desire to flourish and to control his material world. Mr. Harvey may regret that older and noninstrumental “modes of rationality” have been eclipsed by this process, but history—even intellectual history!—happens, whether we want it to or not.
Huntington, New YorkBarry Harvey replies:
I am frankly surprised that someone can write so glibly about science and progress in light of the past century of brutality and violence, much of which would have been unimaginable apart from “practical results” of the science Mr. Weinmann extolls. It is morally suspect to give credit to science for all the marvelous gadgets that provide us with “a level of material comfort and well–being unknown to the kings of earlier periods” while at the same time neglecting to assign to that same enterprise its share of responsibility for Auschwitz and Hiroshima, not to mention all those wonderful technologies that allow us to dispose of those who inconvenience us so, e.g., the unborn and the infirm.
The intellectual history of the past three hundred years confirms that epistemic privileges were accorded uncritically to the various disciplines and discourses of science during the Enlightenment and its aftermath. During this time it was commonly believed that all truth, goodness, and beauty could be discerned solely through “science.” One would hope that we would have learned by now that the ability to build high–definition television sets and thermo nuclear weapons does not necessarily provide the members of our society with the means and media to flourish.
Finally, Mr. Weinmann seems to think that I do not wish to distinguish between “genuine science” and “pseudoscience,” which is amazing since that was the burden of my article. Unfortunately he has yet to realize that the “practical success” proffered by science does not give us the ability to make such a distinction. The practical success that we have achieved through scientia since the seventeenth century has been financed with moral and intellectual capital that we borrowed from the prudentia of our Jewish and Christian forebears, but which we have not repaid. I fear that the note is shortly coming due.What We Mean by Culture
J.L.A. Garcia’s review of Adam Kuper’s Culture: The Anthropologists’ Account (March) left me wondering if either Kuper or Professor Garcia recognizes that the use of the term culture by anthropologists and other social scientists is in the final analysis the employment of what philosophers of science term a hypothetical construct.
Thus, scientists employing the construct “culture” are not attempting to find out what culture really is. Instead they are employing a hypothetical construct in the hope of better understanding social phenomena—which have empirical referents. It is the law of parsimony that determines the usefulness of the construct. Thus, if we can better understand, predict, and control social phenomena by employing the hypothetical construct “culture” than we can without using it, that is sufficient scientific justification for doing so.
Frank D. Tikalsky
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos, New MexicoI knew J.L.A. Garcia’s review of Adam Kuper’s book on culture would be problematic after reading the first sentence. Very few anthropologists, Christian or not, conflate moral relativism and cultural relativism, as Professor Garcia does. In fact, the distinction between the two is usually covered early in Anthropology 101. I applaud Prof. Garcia’s desire to add a normative element to culture, but by seemingly denying that cultures can be relative at all, he risks an ethnocentrism that does not properly distinguish between those practices that are truly cultural and relative (e.g., food preferences) and those that indeed involve matters of moral judgment (e.g., treatment of individuals). Our critical faculties ought to be used only in situations that truly involve moral judgment, and not to posit some universal culture.
Bethany Lutheran College
Mankato, MinnesotaJ.L.A. Garcia replies:
1) It’s doubtful that “anthropologists and other social scientists” all use the term “culture” the same way, as Dr. Tikalsky implies. True, talk of “construction” is trendy nowadays, and not all of it is babble. Still, even if all social scientists could be induced to accept the verbal formula “culture is a hypothetical construction,” their unanimity would likely be specious. For there is no general agreement on what something is when it is a hypothetical construct.
2) I cannot speak for Professor Kuper but, yes, I presupposed that there might be such a thing as culture (perhaps even such things as a culture and diverse cultures) when I wrote. That assumption is what makes these topics most interesting, because it is only if culture is real that the strong claims made for it—for example, that it accounts for human behavior, incorporates all morality, gives meaning to our existence—can be literally true.
3) However, suppose culture is simply a hypothetical construct, as Dr. Tikalsky thinks (and as he thinks all his colleagues also think). There would still remain questions parallel to the ones that Kuper treats and I raise, especially the question of how best to conceive of culture. Of course, the standard would change: the best way of conceiving culture would no longer be the one that is closest to the truth, but the one that, say, accommodates (with fewest or least significant drawbacks) the simplest, most comprehensive, fruitful, and illuminating theory. So I cannot see how considering culture a hypothetical construct, if that could be made clear, obviates the questions or answers that Kuper’s book and my remarks both explore.
When I affirmed that moral relativism, as the term is used these days, is a form of cultural relativism, I meant simply that both its advocates and opponents have in mind the thesis that all or most of morality is somehow relative to culture. The term could be used more broadly. A divine command theorist, for example, thinks that moral obligations vary across times (say, before and after Sinai), across persons (if God commands different things of different individuals or groups), and across possibilities. So, he thinks morality is fundamentally relative to something. However, people today are not talking about that sort of position when they discuss moral relativism. They are talking about whether morality is relative to culture in some way. My claim that moral relativism, as we now discuss it, is a form of cultural relativism neither entails, nor lends any support to, the very different claim that all cultural relativism is a form of moral relativism.
Where Prof. Jindra says food preference is “cultural and relative,” I think it clearer to say that it differs from one population group and its customs to another, and that this difference is likely to be greater and deeper than that found within a given group and body of customs. Even with respect to differences of preference in food, clothing, etc., it may be that some options work better for people in general than others do, and that some are morally problematic. So I don’t think we have to be quite so distanced from our critical faculties when considering such matters. Still, I agree with Prof. Jindra that someone who gets on his moral high horse over most differences in taste and manners is, at best, being silly. At worst, he strays into moral vice and a theological heterodoxy that degrades religious and ethical life by treating it as a mere part of some (usually European) culture, from which it supposedly cannot be extricated.Homophobia and Christian Ethics
Richard John Neuhaus (While We’re At It, March) endorses the argument that blaming violent homophobia in America on a misunderstanding of Christian ethics is similar to the invalid “gay panic” defense employed by the homophobic killers of Matthew Shepard.
There’s no contradiction in repudiating both homophobes and the moral misunderstanding. In Babylon is found the blood of all victims of violence (Revelation 18:24). “Babylon” symbolizes misunderstanding of Scripture. In the Old Testament, the same Hebrew word means “Babylon” and “Babel” (literally, “gate of God”). In the confusion of tongues, “Babylon” is the Greek transliteration of “Babel.”
Our moral confusion stems from an old–wineskins–for–new–wine reading of the New Testament. In 1 Cor inthians 6:9, Paul specifically condemned catamites and sodo mites —i.e., male prostitutes/slaves and their male patrons/owners—not homosexuals in love. In those days, historians agree, homosexuality as a lifestyle likely did not exist; there was just same–sex buying and selling.
True, in Romans 1, Paul observed that male homosexual desire is contrary to the “natural use” of woman, indicating concern with the lack of human reproduction—the root Greek word physis meaning not only “nature” but also “reproduction,” and chresis (“use”) akin to euchrestos or “profitable.” We know, however, that sex is much more than reproduction. Primarily, sex is a language of love, and love, of course, is an end in itself.
Paul never condemned nonreproductive sex. He was concerned with casual and/or addictive sex, with “worshiping the creature more than the Creator.” Becoming addicted to casual sex—burning with lust—is to receive a “meet” recompense for the error of not loving one’s neighbor (or bedfellow) as oneself. Yet to love one’s neighbor or mate as oneself is, as a rule, to love and worship God.
Blanket condemnation of homosexuality, like its opposite, blanket approval (“anything goes”), fosters two kinds of barbaric Gog and Magog hordes that blot our land: violent homophobes and reckless disease–spreading (and/or violent) homosexual sexual predators. Both kinds of beasts will remain with us—unless we become as little children. As Father Neuhaus (“‘Father, Forgive Them,’” same issue) explains this becoming: “Unless we are stripped of our habits of forgetting, of our skillful making of excuses, of our jaded acceptance of a world in which bad things happen and it doesn’t matter.”
A little child, moreover, has a “generous eye” that sees the good in others—not a stingy, mote–seeing eye that envies others’ goodness (Matthew 6:22–23, 7:3, 20:15). So here humility, the beginning of wisdom, should begin with Church doctrine that homosexual love doesn’t matter—or doesn’t even exist.
Mark B. Peterson
Charlottesville, VirginiaRJN replies:
I quoted Keith Pavlischek, who deplored the misuse of both “homophobia” and “gay panic” in the public polemics surrounding these questions. I agree with him. As to what “historians” agree on, see, for instance, Robin Darling Young’s review of John Boswell’s Same–Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (FT, November 1994). Professor Young’s argument, with which I also agree, is sharply at odds with the claim of Mr. Peterson and gay apologists in the academy. As for whether sexual activity is “a language of love,” that can be the case within the bond of marriage between a man and a woman. The apotheosis of sexual relations, including homogenital acts, as “an end in itself,” however, is a form of idolatry. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans.Siege Mentality?
Richard John Neuhaus professes amazement at the internalization by Roman Catholic academics of anti–Catholic stereotypes, and specifically targets Father James Heft, Chancellor of the University of Dayton (While We’re at It, April). I am less amazed by that phenomenon—when I see it, which I don’t in this case—than I am by the persistent and bitter divisiveness with which some Catholics insist on framing the issue of the identity of Catholic colleges and universities and the tasks it presents to us.
Far from being an “opponent of the bishops’ efforts to implement Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” Fr. Heft has worked for years to assure its effective implementation. To accuse him—on, apparently, no evidence—of doing otherwise, or of “pandering,” or of being somehow like Paul Blanshard, is to be unscholarly, uncharitable, and historically tone–deaf.
Catholic higher education can and should contribute to the pluralism of American higher education. It should not, however, do so as though Catholic universities were only bunkers from which we fend off the sieges of modernity. The secular academy is not the enemy; its members (many of them Catholic, as are many of their students) are our collaborators in the sacred work of understanding the world. Those who engage in the hard work of deepening that collaboration and healing the divisions brought on by centuries of separation between faith and reason should be admired and imitated, not publicly insulted.
Una M. Cadegan
Associate Professor of History
University of Dayton
Dayton, OhioPriests With AIDS
Richard John Neuhaus has a brief item (While We’re at It, April) mentioning our recent series in the Kansas City Star on AIDS in the priesthood.
Unfortunately, Father Neuhaus referred to criticism of the series but did not seek to rebut those accusations by checking the series itself. The result is that he has, perhaps unwittingly, perpetuated a series of falsehoods about our articles that have been spread, loudly and repeatedly, by critics such as the Catholic League.
Based on estimates from the country’s leading authorities in this area and separate checks by the Kansas City Star of death records around the country, we stated that priests apparently are dying of AIDS at a rate four times the general population—not that they have AIDS at that rate, as the article states. We also compared the death rate to other adult males (roughly twice the rate), a comparison our critics either ignore or falsely accuse us of not making. And finally, and most importantly, our survey of priests in no way led to our estimates on death rates. The two matters are completely separate and anyone who read our series as it appeared in the Star would see that immediately. The entire series is available online at www.kcstar.com/ projects/priests.
I do appreciate, however, that Fr. Neuhaus realizes that AIDS in the priesthood is an “undeniably sobering” problem. Far from sensationalizing this issue, our series tells the human tragedy of this dilemma in the stories and words of the priests themselves. Our stories were both compassionate and accurate. It is a difficult message, to be sure, and the attack on the messenger has been persistent and intense. Nevertheless, I am heartened that scores of priests have told us that they believe our series will help the Church address this issue.
Editor and Vice President
Kansas City Star
Kansas City, MissouriRJN replies:
It may be that a series of falsehoods have been perpetuated, but I do not think we or the critics of the Kansas City Star are responsible for that. In its series and the selling of the series to other media, the Star did highlight its claim of priests dying at four times the rate of the general population. That qualifies, I believe, as “sensationalizing the issue,” and is the more deplorable because it is not supported by the facts. Mr. Zieman is correct about the distinction between having AIDS and dying of the disease, and also about the difference between the survey of priests and the other sources on which the paper relied for its estimates. The most thorough critique of the Star series was done by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) and Statistical Assessment Service (STATS). The latter raises detailed methodological challenges to the Star stories, and especially to sources mentioned by the Star who offer “guesstimates” that 300, 500, or even 1,000 priests have died of AIDS. In addition to its methodological criticisms, STATS says this: “Out of a sample of 3,013 selected to receive the questionnaire, the Star received a total of four responses from priests who said that they definitely had AIDS. If we simply scale up this result from four priests as though it were a representative sample projected onto 46,000 priests, the result is roughly sixty priests, nationwide, who would have AIDS and know it. Now, that’s not a measure of death from AIDS in a single year, but if sixty priests today have AIDS, and if we can further presume that the rate of death from AIDS is going down among priests just as it is in the general population, and if we can further judge that all sixty priests with AIDS today are not likely to die during a single year, we should quickly realize that while sixty priests who will someday die of AIDS is a tragedy, it is also nowhere near 1,000 priests with AIDS, nor even 500. For that matter, it is not 300 either.” What everyone should be able to agree on is that, whatever the number, priests dying of AIDS is an undeniably serious problem. (For the STATS critique of the Star report, see www.stats.org/newsletters/ 0003/kcstar.html.)