Gertrude Himmelfarb and Richard John Neuhaus wisely note (“The Christian University,” January) that the ideals of a Christian university are complex ideals. For Himmelfarb, a university to be authentically Christian must nurture both intellectual virtue and moral virtue. Although she does not make the connection explicit, surely Himmelfarb would agree that one of these virtues without the other is not enough. For Neuhaus the operation of a Christian university involves serpent-like wisdom as well as dove-like innocence. Would that all trustees and administrators at such institutions saw the operational realities as clearly as Neuhaus presents them—e.g., “the [Christian] university is better served by an agnostic who wants the university to be Christian than by a devout believer who does not.”
The only major element I would add to these two bracing addresses is explicit acknowledgment of the intellectually instrumental character of Christian universities. Properly functioning Christian universities, in Neuhaus' fine phrase, “settle for nothing less than a comprehensive account of reality.” But precisely because they are places where Christian truths are honored—for example, the soteriological truth that Christians are redeemed by grace and not because they are perfected (intellectually or any other way), or the truth of general revelation that God graciously bestows intellectual abilities (sometimes of a high order) beyond the borders of the churches—Christian universities will never think too highly of their ability to fulfill their high calling on their own.
Since the goal of a Christian university is to promote the most comprehensive possible knowledge of God and what God has made possible in the created world, it is only appropriate for those who labor in Christian universities to recognize how much they need the work of truth-seekers who are not Christians and the work of Christians who do not teach at Christian universities. An ideal Christian university would be one that recognizes its need for help and yet is savvy enough to pursue that help without compromising its doxological reason for existence.
Mark A. Noll McManis
Professor of Christian Thought
Richard John Neuhaus mentions Harvard's changing motto. During the seventeenth century, the college charter bore the motto In Christi gloriam (1650) and Christo et ecclesiae (1692). It was not until the Unitarian takeover of the college and its divinity school in the early nineteenth century that Veritas alone became Harvard's official watchword.
Harvard President (1829–1845) Josiah Quincy insisted that the earlier mottoes had never enjoyed official status. For him and his Unitarian contemporaries, “Church” and “Truth” were in fundamental opposition: one relied upon revelation and tradition, the other upon the unaided use of reason as it guided humanity toward its natural perfection.
How our universities have dwindled from even that belief! Truth has come to be understood not as a certainty that can be found—or at least approximated—by the earnest seeker, but as the dynamite with which to blow up all existing or possible certainties.
Gertrude Himmelfarb is, as always, on target when she points out that, in the absence of accountability to the permanent things, “the university is at the mercy of the whims and wills of interest groups and ideologies.” An example in my own field is the almost universal support among academics (most recently indeed at Harvard) for the education establishment's bitter opposition to policies allowing poor parents to choose schools. Why? It seems to come down to the conviction that such parents could not possibly make wise choices; experts (guess who?) should decide what is good for their children.
How can a university, in Neuhaus' phrase, “present itself believably as Christian”? Nothing in the research on education seems to me more certain than that it is those schools and colleges that express, in all that they do, a distinctive character that are most effective in their educational mission—indeed, that have an educational mission. Distinctive character is not sustained by organizational affiliation alone, but only by a clearly articulate ethos expressing a coherent understanding of the Good Life and thus of the purposes of education.
The indistinctiveness of many institutions with formal or vestigial denominational connections may thus be the fault not only of craven administrators, desperate for peace at any price, and of faculty who have forgotten (if they ever knew) why they teach and to what end they seek the truth, but also of churches that have themselves lost confidence in a Truth that may be known and preached, loved and followed, much less taught. If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who can prepare for battle?
Charles L. Glenn
School of Education
Gertrude Himmelfarb is quite right to insist that the single most important development in recent decades in the university world has been the abandonment of faith in reason and knowledge—a rejection of the “commitment to truth, knowledge, and objectivity.” Indeed, the abandonment of this centuries-old academic dogma has been, in her words, “utterly disastrous for the university.”
In 1992, Lynne Cheney, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, released a report (Telling the Truth) that was chilling in its account of the widespread loss of faith in the very notion of objective truth by many in the academic world. As sociologist Edward Shils of the University of Chicago put it: “There is abroad today a desire, more frequently expressed by academics in the humanities and the social sciences, to derogate or even to dissolve the idea that truths can be discovered and taught.”
Father Neuhaus is accurate when he contends that “secular is not a synonym for neutral.” And to the extent that secularism as an ideology involves a kind of disembodied notion of freedom, Himmelfarb is on target to insist that “freedom from truth is a prescription for intellectual and moral nihilism.”. . .
As to the apostasy of the modern university, and even large segments of the Church, there were prophets of the nineteenth century who deserve our attention. In October 1873, John Henry Cardinal Newman preached a sermon entitled “The Infidelity of the Future.” He told the students of a new seminary near Birmingham “that the trials which lie before us are such as would appall and make dizzy even such courageous hearts as St. Athanasius, St. Gregory I, or St. Gregory VII. And they would confess that, dark as the prospect of their own day was to them severally, ours has a darkness different in kind from any that has been before it.”
Newman feared that Protestants might well abandon orthodoxy, and he went on to observe that “Christianity has never yet had experience of a world simply irreligious.” A century and a quarter later who would question the term “irreligious” to describe much of the academic world?
The inevitable consequence of our religious and intellectual myopia is the juxtaposition of “irreligious” and “unthinking.” Himmelfarb is exactly right to argue that a religious academic institution “now has not only a religious tradition to uphold but an intellectual one as well; the mission to restore and revitalize the traditional academic dogma.”
We who are involved in Christian higher education must recapture the high ground not just of proclaiming religious truth, but of reaffirming the age-old faith of universities of centuries past—faith in the existence of truth and the ability of fallible human beings to sift through their own limitations to discern that which is more true from that which is less.
As we nurture both soul and mind, we could well use as our motto the words of Cardinal Newman one hundred and forty years ago: “I want the intellectual layman to be religious and the devout ecclesiastic to be intellectual.” This must be the mission of the Christian university.
Kent R. Hill
President Eastern Nazarene College
I agree with much of Professor Himmelfarb's essay on the Christian university, but her account of the secularization of higher education fails to give due credit to several of the major villains.
Himmelfarb argues that the warfare of science and religion has been much exaggerated; it was not science (or Darwinism), but the rational, liberal culture of the Enlightenment that secularized education. Well, perhaps, but what gave rise to the rational, liberal culture of the Enlightenment? Many things, of course—not the least of which were modern science and the this—worldly, relentlessly secular goals of a burgeoning business civilization.
Modern science provides the intellectual framework for modernity, and there is no room for God in its scheme of things. Of course it was not the overt hostility of science to religion that drove God from our intellectual life; the open warfare was limited to a few skirmishes. Rather, God simply became irrelevant. But whether by means of a smoking gun or through methodological neglect, modern science, by means of its immense cultural authority, has played a much more powerful role in marginalizing religion in our educational institutions than Himmelfarb acknowledges.
The cultural authority of science derives in part from its intellectual elegance, but it has another source. During the eighteenth century, and then even more in the nineteenth century, the modern West became a business civilization as the hearts and minds of people were reoriented from salvation in the world to come to happiness and the material goods of this life. Science played a crucial role in all of this, for science made possible the technology that fueled industrialization, the creation of wealth, consumer goods, and, in the end, consumerism.
As a result, over the last two centuries the purposes of both schooling and higher education became increasingly utilitarian as educators, legislators, and the businessmen who replaced clergymen on boards of trustees came to recognize the relationship between education and business. America needed skilled workers and professionals, a scientifically and technologically literate workforce, to compete in the marketplace—and students, for their part, were increasingly inclined to pay their tuition for the kind of education that would prepare them for the marketplace.
Himmelfarb assigns some blame for secularization to the tendency of universities, funded by large sums of government money, to take on the problems of society—poverty, pollution, urban unrest, and crime, for example. But the traditional religious and classical purposes of higher education were subverted in much more profound ways by the role that universities have been given in addressing the economic needs of society.
The secularization of American education was no more intended than the secularization of modern Western culture. In both cases it has been nurtured and sustained, in large part, by scientists and social scientists, economists, businessmen, and practical legislators who, while often enough religious in their private lives, find no place for God or religion in their public lives or in how they understand the world. Conveying their sense of things in our educational institutions we secularize students and the world. Indeed, I'm inclined to think them more influential, all things considered, than those postmodern intellectuals to whom Himmelfarb assigns so much blame.
Warren A. Nord
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC
Gertrude Himmelfarb replies:
I do not agree that science and business are the “villains” of the piece. Nor would I say that the secularization of education is itself a “villain.” All three, to be sure, have the potential for mischief. The pressures of business may make for a more utilitarian education than many of us would like. The presumptuousness of some scientists may stimulate a science vs. religion mentality. And the secular university may degenerate into a secularist one that is not neutral as among religions but hostile to religion itself.
In principle, however, all three are compatible with the “academic dogma” described by Robert Nisbet: the faith in reason, knowledge, and truth. It took postmodernism to challenge that dogma and thus to undermine the traditional mission of the university.
It was in 1852, a few years after his dramatic conversion to Catholicism, that John Henry Newman gave expression to that dogma in the lectures later published as The Idea of a University. Religion, he assured his new coreligionists, had nothing to fear from “all knowledge and science” so long as each respected the truth of the other.
[The university is] the high protecting power of all knowledge and science, of fact and principle, of inquiry and discovery, of experiment and speculation; it maps out the territory of the intellect, and sees that the boundaries of each province are religiously respected, and that there is neither encroachment nor surrender of any side. It acts as umpire between truth and truth, and, taking into account the nature and importance of each, assigns to all their due order of precedence.
In his essay “Form Over Matter” (February), David R. Carlin accuses the drafters of the U.S. Catholic Conference statement of asserting, in their formulation of a particular passage, “a moral equivalence between abortion and the enforcement of laws against illegal immigration,” but all he manages to do in making that accusation is provide yet another example of the academic impulse to find something wrong with everything. Carlin builds his argument on fancy concepts like Aristotelianism and epigrammatic parallelism, and even gets to throw in a swell-sounding Latin phrase (presumably for academic effect). What he doesn't do, however, is make a very convincing argument, in form or matter. . . .
The place where Carlin steers completely off course is when he claims three times in two sentences that the USCC passage says that there is a moral equivalence between immigration laws and abortion (earlier in the article Carlin states that the passage merely suggests it and later that it only implies it). Carlin is now simply stumbling over his own mind-boggling inferences. Because the passage mentions abortion and immigration in the same sentence, Carlin takes that to mean that the authors intended some sort of moral equivalence. Balderdash! No one with any common sense would read it that way. In case Carlin didn't notice, it was merely an attempt at alliteration on the part of the authors-“unborn” and “undocumented,” “womb” and “welfare,” “violence” and “vengeance.” Nothing more than that. In the vernacular of my generation, Carlin needs to chill out, get his head out from under the shadows of his ivory tower, and take a deep breath of common sense.
David Carlin suggests that the Catholic bishops would respond to his opinion piece by arguing that he failed to read their entire document. That is a classic straw man. I believe the more accurate criticism is that he improperly read into the few lines he criticized in his page-and-a-half opinion other portions of the bishops' positions both inside and outside the bishops' “Political Responsibility: Proclaiming the Gospel of Life.”. . .
One can disagree with the bishops' position on continuing welfare for the repeat child-bearer without accepting Professor Carlin's opinion. Likewise, one can disagree with the position (if it is truly that of the bishops, which I question) that illegal immigration should not be curbed. The bishops were not advocating those positions, however, in the “disastrous” parallelism cited by Professor Carlin. Does he disagree that the child on welfare is equally important as the child in the womb? Does he disagree that every person—whether a legally unrecognized unborn child or a legally prohibited immigrant—possesses equal human rights? Regardless of numbers, does he disagree that a nonchalance toward the unborn child and a sense of vengeance against the vicious killer can equally demonstrate serious misunderstandings regarding the dignity of human life? The thoughtful, eloquent conclusion of his opinion piece suggests not. . . .
We can legitimately dispute the merits of particular proposals the bishops make. But we must recognize that, coming into the public square, the bishops consciously refuse to be restricted by “liberal—conservative” political categories. In their best moments, the bishops are discussing social issues from a perspective that is truly different from the one to which “Form over Matter” limited itself. Why not seriously address both the bishops' perspective and their “prudential judgment?”. . .
Munsey Park, NY
David R. Carlin replies:
Actually I introduced the Latin phrase (primus inter pares) not for academic effect, but to curry favor with Anglican readers of First Things. I would be delighted to learn that Mr. Bruner's reading of the passage in question is correct and my reading wrong; for that would mean that no Catholic politician could use the passage to mitigate the guilt of a pro-choice position. Unfortunately, Mr. Bruner's way of arguing, which substitutes ad hominem attacks (please forgive the Latin phrase) for reasoning, leaves me with scant confidence that his way of reading is any better. I fear my reading of the passage may be the correct one.
In response to Mr. Valentine's questions: Yes, all humans are equal in fundamental dignity but not all wrongdoing is equal. Thus abortion is a greater sin than, say, setting a welfare cap. Further, not all immorality is equally certain. Thus abortion is clearly wrong, while setting a welfare cap is wrong only if it proves to be harmful—a very debatable proposition.
The trouble with the controversial passage in the USCC statement is that it implies that all the evils mentioned are equally wicked and equally certain in their wickedness. This strange doctrine is not something Catholic moral theology teaches, and it is of course not a doctrine the bishops truly hold. This passage therefore is misleading and available for grave misuse.
Reconsidering a Reconsideration
The editors of First Things are to be commended for their courage in printing Carol Iannone's “The Last Temptation Reconsidered” (February). I am sure you will receive hate mail from those who object to your doing so. . . .
When the film came out in 1988, so much pressure was brought to bear on the Flagstaff, Arizona theater owners that they refused to show it. Upset by that kind of censorship, a dozen or so of us, then members of the city's small Unitarian Universalist fellowship, carpooled to Phoenix one Saturday afternoon to see it. At the theater we were met by rabid pickets who shouted that if we looked at the film we would surely go to hell. (Of course, for Unitarians, that wasn't much of a deterrent.)
After sitting through the long movie, we left with a feeling that we had done our duty in helping to uphold what we saw as the basic freedom of artists to express themselves. As far as the movie itself was concerned, only now, after reading Carol Iannone's article, have I come to understand and appreciate it.
James L. Sanders
Carol Iannone's reassessment of The Last Temptation of Christ is a timely reminder of how easy it is for traditionalists to accept uncritically what they are told rather than to think through each unique and difficult cultural issue on its own merits.
Though I was surrounded by people who were up in arms when Scorsese's film was released and who treated it as the ultimate blasphemy, I knew enough of Kazantzakis' novel and the plot of the film to have raised a few questions at the time. My questions were precisely the ones that Ms. Iannone raises—questions having to do with whether The Last Temptation might actually constitute a serious (though not necessarily completely orthodox) inquiry into the nature of Jesus' life and work. It seemed disingenuous for people who decried the secularization of society to protest a film that raised issues which serious theologians have wrestled with for millennia. What was worse, of course, was that few of the protesters had any idea of what either Kazantzakis or Scorsese was trying to say, having never seen the movie, much less read the book. . . .
(The Rev.) Philip E. Hakanson
First Covenant Church
Carol Iannone, Nikos Kazantzakis, and Martin Scorsese hold one thing in common. They believe Jesus was a “tormented, fearful young man confused by sex . . . a lonely, masochistic soul full of self contempt.” They also believe he suffered from “existential dread, and yes, even sexual obsessiveness.”. . .
Yes, Jesus was fully human in every respect, except sin. He was certainly tempted sexually, but he just as certainly didn't lust after women. He willingly took on suffering for our sakes, but he in no way was masochistic. . . .
What makes The Last Temptation ludicrous, if not blasphemous, is that Jesus is reduced to yet another man's image of himself (a typical form of self-idolatry). Kazantzakis and Scorsese both want to make Christ over in their image. Nothing new and exciting in this. Just two more of millions of failed attempts.
. . . The weak, vacillating Jesus of the Last Temptation, with false beliefs in his own mission and coming late to a comprehension that his mission was one of the sacrifice of himself for our sins, is completely foreign to the Christ of Scripture whose stature and startling statements caused twelve men to leave all to follow him. Can anyone imagine such a man founding a religion that would course across the pages of human history, making saints and martyrs out of those who followed him?
Even more incredible is Ms. Iannone's justification for the prolonged fantasy as Christ hangs on the cross, a fantasy in which he experiences the life of marriage, sex, and family, and imagines what human history would be if he failed to complete his sacrifice. Her explanation is that he was experiencing our own temptations. But there is a large difference between Christ allowing himself to be tempted and our own submissions to temptation. . . .
Staten Island, NY
Abortion: Moralities in Conflict
What J. Bottum has identified (“Facing Up To Infanticide,” February) in the current struggle between abortionists and anti-abortionists is the beginning of the true “end of history”: the ultimate struggle between good and evil. The reason that this battle between good and evil will be decisive is that for the first time in all such struggles, this one must take place where all good and evil truly begins: within the consciousness of the individual. The reasons behind this should be of some interest to us.
Mr. Bottum makes clear that the ethical system of abortionists is not that of anti-abortionists. The values each calls upon to defend its position are virtually unrelatable—for there is no way that comfort, convenience, and power can be expressed in terms equivalent to the concrete reality of life and death. The result is that, while the undeniable realities of the issue have forced abortionists to retreat to the position of admitting to all of the “facts” of abortion, by employing a whole different set of values they reach an exactly opposite conclusion regarding their moral significance. “Killing unborn human babies is what we do,” they admit, “but look at all the reasons that doing so is the superior moral choice.” And vague and inaccurate references are made to world population, birth defects, the terrible “risks” of childbirth, the cruelty of being born into poverty, the terrible loss of freedom motherhood places on a woman, the tragedy to both mother and child of an unwanted pregnancy, and whatever other possibility seems to flash across their mind. In the end, however, their argument finally rests on choice rooted in a pure and simple imperative: “It is what I want.”. . .
R. J. Bushelle
Barrington Hills, IL
In his otherwise insightful article, J. Bottum has misunderstood my position on abortion. He has put me in the same category as Naomi Wolf, who recognizes that abortion kills a human being but finds it morally justifiable as long as proper “atonement” is made for it afterwards. In an article in the current Human Life Review I characterized Wolf's conclusion as “sickly-sweet nonsense.”
My own position is that abortion is always morally wrong, except in those extremely rare (perhaps nonexistent) cases where it is necessary to save the life of the mother. Grounded on that moral premise, my article addressed the political question of how best to translate it into public policy in 1990s America. I used the analogy of Lincoln in the 1850s because, like slavery at that time, abortion cannot be abolished outright. The votes aren't there. So I suggested we adopt the Lincoln approach of restricting and discouraging abortion while reaching out to and communicating with the large “mushy middle” of Americans.
My position is no different than that of many pro-lifers who work in the political arena, such as U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde and former Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey. Hyde left rape and incest exceptions in his amendment limiting Medicaid abortion not because he thought it was morally permissible to kill those children but because he knew the amendment would not pass without the exceptions. Casey, as governor, sought to restrict Pennsylvania abortions, not abolish them, so, implicitly, he also adopted the Lincoln formula of “tolerate, restrict, discourage.”. . .
J. Bottum's assessment of the current state of the abortion debate is as sobering as it is perceptive. It would indeed appear that the discourse on abortion has reached a point of fissure in which, employing Alasdair MacIntyre's felicitous terminology, there are two rival versions of morality in irreconcilable conflict. It is Mr. Bottum's genius to have construed the fundamental terms of that conflict not on the grounds of the formulation of a new ethic of abortion rights, but as the reformulation of an old clash—that between Christianity and paganism. Perhaps it was Hegel who most clearly uncovered the Stoic position (the highest, most fully conscious form of pagan philosophy) as one that dialectically passes over into despair, revealing the true nature of paganism as the failure to engage in and grasp the full reality of the human soul. . . .
At long last in the abortion debate we have reached a point of full self-awareness: we are led beyond rational argument to a single point—the hope, against all odds, that solely through the grace of Christ our culture will, as the prophet says, choose life.
New York, NY
The State of Czech Christianity
Despite Tomas Halik's worried assessment of Christianity in the Czech Republic (“Post-Communism and Its Discontents,” January), things are not as gloomy as they might seem from the stony heights of the Prague Cathedral. True, the Catholic Church is largely disregarded among Czechs, and for the reasons he mentions.
Fr. Halik might, however, have considered that the state of the Catholic Church does not immediately reveal the state of the Church Catholic; in this case, thankfully so. His survey overlooked Czech Christians who claim the heritage of Jan Hus, the reformer who predated Luther, or the Moravian Brethren, originators of history's first modern missionary movement. Had he noticed the small but extremely vital evangelical/charismatic communities in that country, he would have had a foretaste of what Moravian Pastor Count von Zinzendorf gave as his definition, the first modern one, of ecumenism: a people unified in Christly love for the evangelization of the nations.
This historic calling is based thoroughly on the belief that “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.” To Halik it might therefore seem an “attempt to return to the premodern.” If so, it seems his preferred modernism would place the Church well outside the teachings of both the Fathers and the Bible, a sure hazard for anyone looking for the Church's future.
In 1994–1995 I taught English at a Czech university, during which time I had the opportunity to worship in a large, and growing, renewed Moravian Brethren congregation. This experience remains my most profound memory of that year, and has become my clearest tangible vision of what the Church can and someday will be.
Tomas Halik replies:
I thank Mr. Stenseth for his letter. I am glad that he had the opportunity to experience the renewed congregation of the Moravian Brothers in our country. Some of my friends are members of this denomination. Even in the time of the Communist oppression I tried to encourage the ecumenical movement among the various Christian denominations within our country. I am by no means overlooking the evangelical Christians when I give my assessment of the state of the Church. However, it is incorrect to say that in the Czech Republic there is a “largely disregarded Catholic Church” as opposed to a thriving and alive evangelical community. The fact remains that the majority of Czech citizens are not affiliated with a church. Fewer than half of our citizens claim to be Christians, and of those who do 90 percent are Catholic. This leaves less than 10 percent of the religious minority that belong to different denominations, and those churches have problems of their own.
I also believe “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life,” and I do not believe in any way that the future of Christianity is to realign itself with modernism. When I referred to the perspective of the student who quoted those words of Jesus as fundamentalist and an attempt to return to the premodern, it was because he used Christ's words to suggest that Christians are owners of the truth and do not need to have dialogue with other people.
I believe that our “postmodern” time—opposed to the premodern and modern—allows us to arrive at a deeper understanding of the magnitude found in Christ's truth. His truth, the mystery of God, surpasses our ability to comprehend and to express it in a simple ideological way. And on our never-ending journey towards a deeper understanding, I believe that we do need other people, both Christians and non-Christians, as dialogue partners to help us along the way.
Islamic or Muslim?
I found Bernard Lewis' review of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, edited by John Esposito (January), of great interest. Some of his criticisms are well-taken, but others are undermined by his missing the subtle, but important, distinction between “Islamic” society and “Muslim” society.
For example, Prof. Lewis complains about the editor's choices as to which figures merit articles. He professes that he could understand the choices for an encyclopedia of Islam, but asks how could an encyclopedia of the Islamic world not devote articles to Habib Bourguiba, Anwar Sadat, and Saddam Hussein, while including articles about Rashid Ghannouchi, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafy. The answer lies in the fact that the term “Muslim leaders” denotes professing Muslims without regard to the nature of their understanding of or commitment to their religion, while “Islamic leaders” are those whose vision for society is somehow significantly rooted in their religion.
Thus the distinction between Bourguiba, whose mission was to secularize his society, and Ghannouchi, whose mission is to Islamicize it. Thus the distinction between Sadat, who restricted his piety to the observance of Islamic ritual, and Nasser, who blamed his loss of the 1967 war on his own earlier secularism. Thus the distinction between Qadhdhafy, who has always claimed—however absurdly—Islamic roots to his “Third Universal Theory,” and Saddam Hussein, whose post-Iran War profession of Islam not only lacks credibility, but seems to be limited to praying before television cameras and adding some gold leaf to the Damascus mosque. Prof. Esposito understands the importance of these distinctions for an encyclopedia about the “Islamic” world as opposed to one about the “Muslim” world. By the same token, the Shah of Iran and Kemal Ataturk merit articles by virtue of the significance that their draconian secularization efforts had in motivating the rise of the Islamist movement.
Prof. Lewis' erudition regarding Islamic history makes his criticism worth reading. Yet, even he can benefit from Prof. Esposito's understanding of the nuances of the Islamic revival.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
Bernard Lewis replies:
I would like to thank Dr. Imad ad-Dean Ahmad for his courteous and interesting letter, and for his suggested explanation of some otherwise inexplicable choices. But while his suggestion answers some questions, it raises others.
The worldwide English language has a number of autonomous regional variants with significant divergences of usage between them. In the English of South Asia and some adjoining countries, the difference between Islamic and Muslim is indeed as Dr. Ahmad says, and it is in this sense that one may speak of an Islamic movement, or society, or—mutatis mutandis—republic. This usage has also influenced other forms of English, including British and American. More commonly, however, in Anglo-American English the adjective “Muslim” refers to religion while “Islamic” refers to the whole civilization that grew up under the aegis of that religion—the counterpart of Christendom as distinct from Christianity. It is in this sense that we speak of Islamic astronomy, Islamic miniature painting, and the like, and, of course, the Islamic world.
If Dr. Ahmad is right, we must assume that the publishers and editors of the Oxford Encyclopedia have followed Indo—Pakistani rather than Anglo-American usage, and have moreover accepted the awesome responsibility of deciding which self-styled Muslims qualify for inclusion by this definition of Islamic, whether as exponents (like Qadhdhafy), as opponents (like Ataturk), or as penitents (like Nasser). It is a tempting but on the whole unlikely hypothesis.
I take this opportunity to reply to another letter, sent not to the editor but to me personally. The writer takes issue with my use of the word “sectary” to describe Baha' Allah, as this implies that Baha'ism is a sect of Islam and not a new religion. I agree that my use of this term could be misleading, and offer my apologies.
Hazardous or Not?
Remembering Dean M. Kelley's interesting article on Waco last year (May 1995), I was greatly disappointed to read his review of four new books dealing with the tragedy (February 1996). Kelley stumbles by uncritically accepting some chemical data that he found in Carol Moore's book The Davidian Massacre and that is also mentioned in The Ashes of Waco by Dick Reavis, namely, the alleged perils of methylene chloride.
Events at Waco are controversial enough without spreading outright falsehood. As an organic chemist with thirty years' experience, I must dispute claims about the hazardous properties of methylene chloride, the carrier of the CS powder pumped into the Mt. Carmel complex. A highly volatile liquid, methylene chloride cannot burn or explode in air without oxygen enrichment. It may indeed produce toxic phosgene when decomposed by a flame, but any fire will produce carbon monoxide, a far deadlier compound. Experiments have shown that inhaling methylene chloride vapor at the high concentrations of twenty-five thousand parts per million for two hours is not lethal, although it can induce narcosis (hence its use in Europe as a local anesthetic). This information is readily available. Moore, Reavis, and Kelley could have checked chemistry's bible, The Merck Index, at any library or even consulted a chemist.
Instead, Reavis presents erroneous data from an unidentified text after darkly identifying methylene chloride as a “petroleum derivative” to conjure up a fire hazard in the reader's mind. Why didn't Mr. Kelley notice the manipulative quality of his prose? How did he swallow Reavis' description of two Davidian infants allegedly born “by evolutionary reflex” after their mothers' deaths in the assault? Mr. Kelley's review does gullibly mention the hypothesis that ethanol found in the corpses indicates “a highly flammable solvent.” But autopsies were delayed and decaying bodies produce ethanol, as happened to victims of the recent Colombian plane crash. . . .
John L. Miesel
Dean M. Kelley replies:
It is good of John L. Miesel to help us lay persons make our way through the labyrinths of science. We need all the help we can get, especially when we get conflicting information from equally credentialed authorities.
My comments about methylene chloride were not derived from the books by Carol Moore or Dick Reavis, though they may have relied on some of the same sources I have. My information came from a correspondent in Tucson, who seems equally conversant with The Merck Index and similar sources. He has been bombarding me with photocopies from such august reference works, and I found some of the “scientific” descriptions of methylene chloride as alarming as those of CS gas.
“Fumes from paint strippers containing methylene chloride are metabolized to CO in the body and can cause severe symptoms. . . . Headache, nausea, vomiting, weakness, and collapse often are followed by coma and death” (The Merck Manual, 15th edition, p. 2404).
“Unusual fire and explosion hazards: vapors concentrated in a confined or poorly ventilated area can be ignited upon contact with a high energy spark, flame, or high intensity source of heat. This can occur at concentrations ranging between 12–19 percent by vol. Decomposition or burning can produce hydrogen chloride or possible traces of phosgene. . . . Methylene chloride vapors are heavier than air and will collect in low areas” (Hazardous Material Data Sheet).
If the scientific gentlemen would just agree on the significance of their ostensibly empirical data, it would help us less knowledgeable seekers greatly.
Everybody's a Critic
If James Nuechterlein, a writer whose work I normally appreciate, ever gets the urge again to pen a column about the movies, I hope he will sit down and breathe deeply until the feeling goes away (“Lost in the Movies,” February).
The American President is nothing more than the first volley in the Hollywood left's Reelect Bubba campaign. Here are a Bill and Hillary we could really come to like—attractive, knowing, concerned, astute, without all the inconvenient lying, megalomania, bribery, and cover-ups. He's cute, principled, he unzips his fly. She's committed, warm, she gets her way. So there is enough verisimilitude to keep us from pinching ourselves and enough fantasy to warn us against doing so.
But it's when it comes to Pulp Fiction that Mr. Nuechterlein is most off the mark. To equate Pulp Fiction with Kids is like comparing A Clockwork Orange with a snuff movie, since both deal with despicable people doing despicable actions. Like A Clockwork Orange (a movie with the most mercilessly presented Christian message of any film I know), Pulp Fiction is populated with what appear to be truly unredeemable characters, characters none of us will ever meet, characters that likely don't exist in the real world, characters out of pulp fiction. And they do all the characteristic things we have come to expect, like shoot up, snort, whack, take dives, bugger—hell, they even smoke. But unlike Rob Reiner's liberal fluff, Quentin Tarantino fills his movie with characters whose central anxieties concern proprieties and manners, redemption and renewal, divine intervention and retribution, the Last Four Things.
It is a spare world, and the humor is harsh and brutal, but underneath all the violence is a world in which both our actions and our reasons are serious not because they advance or retard a political agenda but because the state of one's soul is life's most decisive, profound, and serious charge.
South Bend, IN
James Nuechterlein replies:
Bruce Fingerhut's comments on The American President do not disagree with mine. He simply focuses on a different aspect of the movie than I did. So what's the argument?
On Pulp Fiction, we do disagree. I said that it was a “vile movie” and that it “turned my stomach.” He thinks it is about “proprieties and manners, redemption and renewal, divine intervention and retribution, the Last Four Things.” Indeed, it is about “the state of one's soul.” He thinks I'm a philistine with “a political agenda.” I think he's been taken in by a technically accomplished, even brilliant, director who covers up, yes, pulp fiction with ironic (therefore beyond criticism) dabblings in pseudo-moral discourse.
Christians and Politics
The editorial “Truths and Untruths About the Catholic Alliance” (February) failed to persuade me that the Christian Coalition or its subsidiary the Catholic Alliance should be supported by Catholic voters. Grass-roots realism was absent. . . .
Pat Robertson, president of the Christian Coalition and star of the 700 Club, is an anti-Catholic bigot who labors under the delusion that God has chosen him to usher in the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ. He is also the acknowledged leader of the religious right and its holy war against the civil rights and the dignity of homosexual persons. . . .
Fifty million Catholic voters do not need Pat Robertson and his Catholic Alliance front organization to tell us who to vote for and what issues are best for the common good. We have our own alliance. It is called the Catholic Church.
Bernard V. Beronio
After years of timidly peeking out from under their “seamless garment” to list “life issues” (abortion usually ranks fourth or fifth), our bishops now bravely stride forth with their statement on “Political Responsibility” to do battle with their ancient conservative foes.
As a Democrat since I worked in the Adlai Stevenson campaigns (I'm now in recovery), I of course supported all the Great Society programs. But after spending many years as a parent, an educator, a local officeholder, and the chairman of a crisis pregnancy center, I have watched those programs fail, one after the other.
I remember a time when bishops stayed out of politics and taught Catholic morality. Catholics respected them, went to Sunday Mass, and believed Catholic teaching. Yes, we too were sinners. But we knew we sinned, so there was the possibility of repentance.
In your editorial on the Catholic Alliance, I think you underestimate the significance of the Catholic bishops' earnest, heartfelt claim that canon law requires them to be solicitous for the proper use of the word “Catholic” by any organization. I for one am looking forward to their investigation of Catholics for a Free Choice and all those universities that claim to be in the “Catholic tradition.” Let the games begin!
New York, NY
The editors reply:
We understand that the bishops have declared publicly that Catholics for a Free Choice, a pro-abortion organization, is an abuse of the word “Catholic.”
It was a surprise for the Friars of the Atonement to learn that the expression “experiment with tradition” caused such consternation in some quarters (“While We're At It,” Public Square, January). The expression has been used for at least fifteen years. One might think that the critic himself (herself) was waiting for the expression to become a tradition. But timing aside, the critic would do well to read some time-honored books on the subject. The works of Yves Congar, O.P. come immediately to mind. There one will learn in depth that “tradition” is analogical and so one must be conscious of the subtlety of its various meanings. . . .
The tradition in question was the Franciscan tradition and the “experiment” referred to the adoption of the Franciscan Rule by a small group of Anglicans, an original and creative effort at the turn of the century. Obviously, the Rule needed to be adapted to fit the beliefs, customs, and practices of the Protestant Episcopal Church. . . .
The Friars and Sisters of the Atonement are proud of their history and draw inspiration from the courage and creativity manifested there to continue their life and ministries and to adapt them according to the needs of the church today.
This cranky critique of a vocation advertisement not only misrepresents the intentions of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement totally, but uses these misrepresentations as the reason for a paucity of numbers leading to the society's eventual demise. Anyone slightly familiar with the process of renewal in religious communities today, and with the Society of the Atonement in particular, would understand the absurdity of those conclusions. Indeed, the comments are so negative and vitriolic that one can only conclude that the writer is motivated by some hidden agenda. . . .
Emil F. Tomaskovic, S.A.
Minister General Friars of the Atonement
Oh, dear. And I thought the intended humor in my tweaking would be obvious. Just as I thought it obvious that anyone named Richard John would be assumed to be male. Little did I know that things had gone so far. Make that a double, please.
The appearance in the same issue of First Things (January) of Richard John Neuhaus' piece on “He Who Steals My Words . . .” and a review of Chuck Colson's recent novel, Gideon's Torch, provides a good opportunity to explore the issue of ghostwriting, misrepresentation, and unacknowledged borrowing within the Christian community.
Neuhaus reports that he provides sources for anything he is aware of borrowing. Colson and some other Christian leaders should do the same. The unsigned review of Gideon's Torch begins, “Charles Colson is a great Christian witness, minister to the imprisoned, champion of unity, and defender of the helpless, born and unborn.” My wife and I agree so much with these sentiments that we have long supported Colson's ministry with our donations. However, a red flag was raised in my mind when I noticed further into the review that the book credited to Colson was actually “written with Ellen Vaughn.” Now I have to wonder how much of the novel is actually Colson's. Why? Apparently Colson does not actually write all the commentaries he reads during his radio programs, since I have seen advertisements soliciting writers of such commentaries. Does he write all of the commentaries that appear under his name in Christianity Today and elsewhere?
There are other angles to this. . . . Recently, the producer for a well known evangelical conducted an interview with me. Imagine my surprise when I happened to tune in the interview on the radio and heard myself in a discussion with the prominent evangelist instead of his producer. The evangelist simply asked the same questions I had been asked by the producer, and my replies were electronically inserted into the tape. . . .
The BBC's shortwave radio broadcasts state, “The news is read by . . .”, an indirect but proper way of acknowledging that the actual copy was written by a news staff. It has long been accepted practice for politicians, corporate presidents, and newscasters not to acknowledge the writers of the speeches and copy they read, and everyone knows comics hire gag writers. But Christians should be held to a higher standard. There should be no ghostwriting and altered interviews in Christianity. . . . If Charles Colson is too busy to write his commentaries, then he should tell us who wrote them for him. . . .
Forrest M. Mims III
Charles W. Colson replies:
Let me deal first with Gideon's Torch. The idea of the novel was mine, the moral questions raised in it were my questions—but I decided to write it with my long-time colleague, Ellen Vaughn, who is a very gifted story-teller. (Please note, contrary to Mr. Mims' assertion, the cover does not say with Ellen Vaughn, it says and Ellen Vaughn, a significant difference.) Ellen and I divided the labors from the beginning with each of us doing about half of the first drafts. Then we swapped drafts back and forth, edited, rewrote, and thoroughly collaborated throughout the process. The book is what its cover represents it to be, a book by two authors who worked jointly.
As in my previous books, I have always indicated when I have worked with another writer in any capacity. The Body was written by Charles Colson with Ellen Santilli Vaughn. That was not a fully collaborative role but rather Ellen did a lot of research, drafting, and some of the lengthy stories. Usually in the acknowledgments of my books I have indicated who wrote what. Never was this clearer than in Kingdoms in Conflict, where in the acknowledgments I specifically listed the individuals who wrote the first drafts of any chapters or did editing.
I've been as meticulous as I possibly could in this regard, so much so that Len Goss and Don Aycock, who did an analysis of Christian publishing and wrote Inside Religious Publishing for Zondervan, concluded that I established the “standard of excellence” for Christian writers by being so forthcoming.
As for columns that appear in Christianity Today or sometimes in secular publications, the ideas invariably are mine. I do use research help and do have extensive collaboration from people in the Prison Fellowship team. When CT wrote an article about the tenth anniversary of my publishing a regular column for them, David Neff noted that I always credited others, specifically Nancy Pearcey and Ellen Vaughn.
The situation with radio is more difficult. Actually there are several people who contribute draft scripts, in most cases based on my ideas. In every case I produce the final draft. In this situation it is more difficult to acknowledge. It would be a bit awkward, for example, to start a radio program saying: “I'm drawing today on ideas by Michael Novak, Nancy Pearcey, Edward Veith, and Billy Graham, and Tim Dailey edited the draft.” Often I draw from a number of sources, but if I'm adopting anyone's idea, I always make that very clear in the body of the commentary.
Frankly, I don't know what else I could do. The important thing, it seems to me, is that I have never disguised anyone else's participation. On the contrary, I've advertised it. I'm grateful for it and want to see credit given where credit is due.
Not a Cult
While I was pleased to read your praise of Richard Weaver (“While We're At It,” Public Square, February), I was appalled to see you refer to Agrarianism, a movement that has produced some of the finest writers of the twentieth century, as a “cult.” I suppose that makes John Crowe Ransom the David Koresh of the movement and Allen Tate its Rev. Moon. You suggest your argument is primarily with their successors. Who? M. E. Bradford (whose banishment from the mainstream of American intellectual life is a scandal for which neoconservatives—not leftists—are responsible) or Clyde Wilson? I suspect you have in mind the honorable intellectual project centered on Chronicles magazine—hardly a cult. It is not my intention to defend them here: suffice to say it was a cheap shot at a movement of great intellectual power and real contemporary relevance.
Race and Discrimination
I am writing to respond to Richard Neuhaus' extended article on race (“Counting By Race,” Public Square, February). I want to focus on two issues: rational discrimination and white racism.
First, in reviewing Dinesh D'Souza's book, Father Neuhaus writes approvingly of D'Souza's thesis that discrimination against black Americans can be rational. D'Souza's argument seems to be the following: (1) Young black males are disproportionately involved in criminal activity; (2) Any individual young black male is statistically likely to be involved in criminal activity; (3) Therefore, a white person is rationally justified in assuming that an individual young black male is involved in criminal activity. Although I do not think that the premises of this argument are true, let's assume that they are sound. Moreover, let's assume also that the conclusion follows deductively from the premises.
Even if we accept this conclusion, the argument fails to establish that discrimination is morally justifiable. Take a white high school teacher who teaches in a predominantly black school. If D'Souza and Neuhaus are right, a large percentage of her male students are involved in criminal activity. Is she, therefore, morally justified in assuming that any individual male student she encounters for the first time is involved in criminal activity? . . . D'Souza and Neuhaus equate statistical rationality with morality. This may be appropriate for modern game theorists. However, as Christians we are not governed by statistical rationality; we are governed by substantive moral principle or virtues which require that we not discriminate against individuals on the basis of alleged group characteristics.
Second, Fr. Neuhaus notes that “almost all relevant studies” have shown that white racism “has dramatically declined and is today effectively ostracized.” However, he offers no empirical evidence to support this claim. Clearly, if pollsters ask whites if they are racists, they will respond in the negative. However, more sophisticated surveys indicate that many white Americans continue to harbor negative images about black Americans. For example, in a 1990 study, Tom W. Smith of the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center demonstrated that many whites believe that blacks are lazier and less intelligent than whites and other minority groups.
Fr. Neuhaus' failure to address this data is not a minor oversight; it informs his entire article. For example, he claims incredibly that race consciousness has “generated new and potentially greater racial suspicion and hostility than we had before the Montgomery bus boycott of 1965.” If we are so racially polarized, and yet whites are virtually free of racism, then the implication is that blacks are creating racial polarization. In fact, Fr. Neuhaus accuses blacks of racism, and alleges that civil rights leaders and proponents of affirmative action have caused whites to respond negatively. We can agree that affirmative action polarizes blacks and white. Moreover, we can and should affirm the rather obvious claim that blacks can be racist. However, Fr. Neuhaus asks us to believe the untenable thesis that white racism is no longer part of the problem.
Derek S. Jeffreys
“Rational discrimination” simply means that there is a greater frequency or probability of danger when encountering black males of a certain age and demeanor. There is nothing immoral about taking that into account and being careful. That's no doubt what the Rev. Jesse Jackson meant when he said that he is relieved when he discovers that the two young men walking toward him on a dark street turn out to be white and well dressed. I certainly do not ask Mr. Jeffreys or anyone else to believe “the untenable thesis that white racism is no longer part of the problem.” I did not and do not advance any such thesis. Another big part of the problem is the misrepresentation of what people write on the difficult subject of race.