Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the retired pathologist who, as of this writing, has helped put eight women and one man to death, addressed the National Press Club. When it comes to the prudent use of body parts, he suggested, we are a wasteful society. “We use what's around us to do what we have to do. . . . But there's one natural thing we don't use, and that's death. It's so taboo. We fail to see the immorality of that. And my whole thing is aimed at that. But we've got to exploit this natural phenomenon for human betterment, and stop wasting it the way we are—and in the process of wasting it, cause immense human suffering and anguish.” Dr. Kevorkian and his colleagues in the “right to die” movement can, it seems, convince themselves (and a good many others) that they are idealists.
Here is Kevorkian on another idealistic proposal: “In October of ‘58 I came up with a plan. At that time we were executing human beings and I came up with a plan to allow a choice for condemned criminals to die—at that time we didn't have lethal injection although I suggested we should—to die as the law stipulates or instead, at the time set for execution, we would put the prisoner under anesthesia, like we do in a hospital every day so you can't say it's grotesque or bizarre or barbaric—and the patient . . . the person would never wake up. The person gets to choose this. And if he wavers, he doesn't get the choice. And if he refuses or reneges he doesn't get the choice again. Now while he's under, I say we would do experiments on this human being that we can't do on humans today, and try to learn something profound. And the person would never wake up. Well, that was a very premature idea, I learned. I was naive, I was a young resident at the time and full of idealism. The idea was so correct I couldn't drop it and I had to propose it.”
In his professional life, Kevorkian did not treat living people. As a pathologist, he studied corpses and body tissues. Death has been his life. The fact that he has been party to killing mainly women in distress does not, to date, seem to have alarmed usually alert feminists. At least in those cases where medical records are available (some of the women specified that their records were to be sealed), none of these women were terminally ill. Nor is there evidence that their pain could not have been relieved by ordinary means. They were in depression. In one instance with which we are familiar, the woman had a congenial spaghetti dinner with friends one night, and the next day called Kevorkian to help her die. Within hours, she was picked up by Kevorkian accomplices, had a taped interview with Kevorkian indicating her desire to die, and was killed.
Is it killing or suicide? The line is not clear. For those determined to take their lives, there is no shortage of ways to do it. For instance, anyone who drives can, with a slight turn of the wheel, go off a bridge, over a high cliff, or into a concrete wall. A lethal dosage of drugs is easily accumulated and self-administered. Why do these women want to go to a doctor in order to die? It seems likely that they want the soothing assurance that what they are doing is morally right, that it is not really suicide, that it is, in some perverse way, “treatment.” With Dr. Death, the Dutch doctors, the Hemlock Society, and others, great evil is afoot in the exploitation of the vulnerable and confused.
In Michigan, where Dr. Death has been doing his dirty work, the legislature has now passed laws that may stop him, for a time. But public opinion polls indicate strong support for what he has done. Ever ready to accentuate the sensational, television stations play short clips of his interview with a victim, focusing on the pathos of her request to die. This is followed by Kevorkian saying that his only desire is to be of service to those in need. There then may be a clip of someone who protests that it is wrong to kill and to exploit the deeply distressed. But the protest is—sometimes implicitly, more often explicitly—dismissed on the news program as an attempt to impose personal or religious views on others. After all, there is the tape with Carol saying that her life is not worth living and she wants to die.
The hopeful thing is that, in Washington State and California, recent referendums favoring “assisted suicide” have been firmly defeated. At least so far, thorough public debate has turned the tide against proposals based upon the initially appealing proposition that people should be able to do what they want with their own lives. Assuming that this pattern will continue could be, quite literally, a fatal mistake. An enormous educational task is required to strengthen resistance to the seductive and ever-encroaching culture of death. Toward that end, readers may be interested in Life at Risk, a newsletter that describes itself as “a chronicle of euthanasia trends in America.” For more information, write Mr. Richard Doerflinger, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, 3211 4th Street NE, Washington, D.C. 20017.
The Goddess Again
Earth in the Balance, the Vice President's contribution to the literature of ecotastrophe, waxes theological at points. Mr. Gore is exquisitely sensitive to our desperate need to embrace the feminist principle in our relation to the environment. He writes that “a growing number of anthropologists and archaeomythologists argue that the prevailing ideology of belief in prehistoric Europe and much of the world was based on the worship of a single earth goddess, who was assumed to be the fount of all life and who radiated harmony among all living things. . . . [Apparently] a goddess religion was ubiquitous throughout much of the world until the antecedents of today's religions—most of which have a distinctly masculine orientation—swept out of India and the Near East, almost obliterating belief in the goddess. The last vestige of organized goddess worship was eliminated by Christianity as late as the fifteenth century in Lithuania.” He does not quite lament Christianity's triumph over the goddess, but there is a wistful tone of what might have been. Of course the claim that there was a “ubiquitous” religion of the goddess is advanced by the “scholarship” of a fringe of feminists who, although relatively small in number, sometimes do seem to be ubiquitous.
In that connection, we came across the observations of one Otter Zell, founder of the Church of All Worlds in Ukiah, California. He rails against the “masculine gods” of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and joins Mr. Gore in his appreciation of the goddess “who radiated harmony among all living things.” Zell goes much farther, however, blaming monotheism for everything from sexual discontent to punching the hole in the ozone layer. Christianity is simply impossible. “A number of the churches have refused to ordain women, and those who have ordained women refuse to call them ‘priestesses,' calling them ‘priests' instead, as if they were somehow just men in drag. Only in pagan religions do priestesses exist.” Mr. Zell is a little behind the curve. There are in fact Episcopalian women who are calling themselves priestesses. Of course there are those who would uncharitably say that that does not discredit his last point about such things happening only in pagan religions.
Medical Body Shops
Here is this week's report on the high promise of experimental surgery transplanting fetal tissue in human brains. Abortion is going to turn out to be a real medical bonanza, according to this article in the New England Journal of Medicine. “It's spectacular,” says Dr. C. Warren Olanow of the University of South Florida, commenting on Swedish experiments in which infant brain tissue seemed to have helped patients with Parkinson's disease. The experiments, he said, “tell us that we are on the right track.” Dr. F. Widner, who is a leader in American experiments, says that there are still problems. For example, “We need to boost the survival rate of transplanted tissue.” The survival of baby parts, not the survival of babies, is a matter of urgency.
The New York Times account of the studies goes on: “To obtain enough tissue [Dr. Widner said], multiple abortions must be scheduled for within hours of the five-hour fetal transplant operation. He said he was reluctant to store the fetal cells in the laboratory for fear that they might not survive as well in the patient's brain. The scientists need multiple fetuses because only 10 percent of the implanted fetal cells survive.” So much for those who deny that the use of fetal tissues provides a legitimation of abortion. Imagine the conversation with the mother. “We would like you to come in for the procedure at two o'clock on Tuesday, Joan, so that the tissue can be most useful in helping somebody who is sick.” The doctor is not likely to say to the multiple candidates: “We want you women to get your abortions at the same time so that we will have a number of fresh baby brains for our transplant experiments.” But that is what is really being said, and is really being done.
It is all so very seductive. Here is an editorial in the Milwaukee Sentinel: “As for the use of fetal tissue, the arguments against this process can be squelched by strict monitoring of donors to make sure the fetuses are not being supplied on order. But to deny their use in research to help others is like rejecting a gift.” Never mind that fetuses are supplied on order. Never mind that this is a most curious use of “gift.” If this is a gift, who is the giver? The baby who is not asked before being killed? The mother who owns the baby as chattel property? The last is the only possible answer implicit in the practice now legally established. It is an answer that some students of American history thought was precluded with the end of slavery.
That Woman's Pastoral Letter
“So what are you going to say about the bishops turning down the women's pastoral?” writes one obviously impatient reader. Believe it or not, we do not comment on everything. But we have followed these events carefully and talked with folk whom we take to be well-informed, and we do have some thoughts. Why did the National Conference of Catholic Bishops reject the fourth (or was it fortieth?) draft of the letter on women's concerns? Spin doctors have been working overtime on the story. According to some on the feminist left, the bishops were, in effect, indicating their unwillingness to support the Church's official position on, among other things, ordaining women to the priesthood. We are convinced that that explanation is entirely implausible.
A very small handful of bishops have publicly said that they think women's ordination should be considered “an open question.” But at the November conference, bishops were lined up at the microphones to make it clear beyond doubt that they backed the official teaching. The best explanation of the vote, we believe, is that the bishops were saying that they had enough. They had had enough of a nine-year process that was misgotten in concept, mishandled in execution, and demeaning of their office. They sensed, rightly, that they were increasingly being viewed as poll-takers, deal-makers, and pacifiers of factions, rather than as teachers. Tilting first this way, then that way, and then back this way again, the process precluded serious deliberation, and the bishops weren't going to take it anymore. With the bungled pastoral out of the way, everyone might welcome a period of relative calm in which the questions that the pastoral was to address—and, more important, the question of how bishops best exercise their teaching office—can receive more careful (i.e., less politicized) consideration.
For the last decade or so it was commonly said that there are more Muslims in America than Episcopalians. It is the kind of statement that can bring audiences to attention. But it apparently has the disadvantage of not being true. A few years ago, a national study conducted by the City University of New York reported that there are probably less than half-a-million Muslims, with perhaps half of them being black Americans. Now George Gallup confirms that, indicating that only two-tenths of one percent identify themselves as Muslims (there are somewhat over two million Episcopalians). Three-tenths of one percent of the population say they are Hindus. In recent decades, a steady 2 percent describe themselves as Jewish, although Gallup notes that in 1947 that figure was 6 percent.
As a result of new anxiety-mongering about the “religious right,” the impression is spread that religion is a danger to public life. The proposition is that, the more deeply religious people are, the more likely they are to be bigoted, closed-minded, and, in general, a threat to civic peace. That, too, says Gallup, has the disadvantage of being untrue. His organization has developed a twelve-item scale to measure the segment of the population that is “highly spiritually committed.” Gallup reports: “While representing only 13 percent of the populace, these persons are a ‘breed apart' from the rest of society. We find that these people, who have what might be described as a ‘transforming faith,' are more tolerant of others, more inclined to perform charitable acts, more concerned about the betterment of society, and far happier. (These findings, in my view, are among the most exciting and significant that we have recorded in more than a half-century of polling.)” Another study by Gallup shows that 83 percent of Americans say that their religious beliefs require them to respect people of other religions. Put differently, religion is the foundation of religious tolerance. Be prepared to take cover when you try that out on the secular bigots who rail against the bigotry of religion.
In the Case of Archbishop Weakland
In response to those who have asked: No, we do not know how to explain the strange behavior of Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee. None of the possible explanations that come to mind are very edifying. There were, for instance, those much-publicized “listening sessions” with women, which he used to criticize what he viewed as the excessive zeal of women who work to protect the unborn. Then there was the two-part profile in The New Yorker in which he held his fellow bishops up to ridicule and opined that the price of his boldness is that he would never go any higher than Milwaukee. (One wonders how the Catholics of Milwaukee feel about their bishop thinking he is stuck with them.) Then this op-ed article in the New York Times that does not lend itself to any plausible interpretation other than advocating the ordination of women.
“The church has two options,” he writes. “The first is to close the doors to all discussion on the ordination issue and accept the consequences. . . . The other is to keep the doors open to further discussion and continue the important, even if painful, dialogue between the church's tradition and modern insights.” He appears to leave no doubt that the question should be open so that it can be closed in the direction that he favors. He envisions masignora with real power in the Holy See, and women diplomats representing the church in national capitals.
The Times op-ed page seems like a strange place for an archbishop to dissent from church teaching. But then, he would likely say this is not theological dissent. And, indeed, there is not a word of theology in the article. Christ is not mentioned once, nor is the sacramental nature of priesthood, nor is the Gospel. The article is entirely devoted to power relationships and the claim that “many women and men would say goodbye to a church they feel is out of touch with the world.” The archbishop, it is to be feared, is very much in touch with the world, or at least with that part of the world that is indifferent or hostile to the Church. (The article, titled “Out of the Kitchen, Into the Vatican,” is accompanied by a photograph of a priest at Mass elevating the species, with a superimposed cartoon of a woman standing on the consecrated host.)
The archbishop declares that his positions are in accord with “the vision of Vatican Council II.” It is the conventional claim when advocating what is alien to the Council. Again, we do not know why the archbishop seems to be inviting the perception that he is the number one rogue elephant of the American episcopacy. Most probably, he really believes what he is saying and wants to say it as loudly as possible, perhaps to force a confrontation with Rome. In that event, his media-hyped “martyrdom” would presumably lend authenticity to his rebel posture. Only he and God know what he is up to, and only God knows for sure. But it seems very sad, contrived, and reduplicative of the many ecclesiastical minidramas staged over the last two decades. The media would love to play it again—“Modern Bishop Confronts Cranky Church”—and there is a shrinking audience of Catholic liberals and traditionalists who can never get enough of it, but one hopes that the archbishop recognizes that there are much better things to do with his undoubted talents than to star in the tired theater of Catholic delinquency of which thoughtful people have long since wearied.
Moralism's Deadly “Consistency”
The culture war is not between the moral and the immoral parties. Rather, there are moralities in bitter conflict. The one is a morality, typically shaped by biblical faith, based on moral truth, aspiration, and forgiveness. The other, typically irreligious or antireligious, assumes “moral truth” is an oxymoron and presses ideological claims with unforgiving rigidity. It is more aptly described as moralistic. This was brought to mind by a file of items from last fall. Readers may recall the media explosion when, in an interview, Dan Quayle said that he would still love his daughter even if she did the terribly wrong thing of having an abortion. Headlines declared that Quayle was “waffling” and “backtracking” on his pro-life commitment. What did the reporters expect Quayle to say? That he would disown his daughter, throw her out of the house, and never speak to her again? Yes, it was implied, that would be the appropriate reaction if he were “morally consistent.” At about the same time, gay activists “ousted” John Schlafly, son of Phyllis Schlafly. His mother declared, “I love my son,” and the gay press, joined by what styles itself as the mainstream press, chortled over the exposure of Phyllis Schlafly's “hypocrisy.” Presumably, if she were really sincere in her criticism of homosexuality, she would hate her son.
The culture war is in large part a conflict between morality and moralism. The former evidences a sense of humor, an awareness of the fragility of the human condition, a readiness to bear with one another in our imperfections, and the heart to aspire anew to the excellence of which we are capable. The moralism of the politically correct, on the other hand, is humorless, relentless, demanding, deadly. It is a glaring anomaly of our time that such moralism claims a monopoly on the term “compassion,” a disposition that it cannot understand and so angrily scorns. The explanation, as the wise have been observing for centuries, is the failure to acknowledge the reality of original sin, the only Christian doctrine that is verifiable beyond the possibility of reasonable doubt. Moralistic consistency is, if we may paraphrase, the hobgoblin of little souls. The sadness is that such people cannot accept for themselves or others the forgiveness without which life is the living hell of moralistic correctness.
The conformist wisdom in our elite culture is that religion is the source of moral oppression, and much religion can be faulted on that score. The alternative often proposed is liberation from moralism that turns out to be liberation from morality. Typically, those who leave religious moralism behind are most vulnerable to the fevers of ideological moralism. None of us has perfect immunity from the infections of moralism, religious or otherwise. The only moral consistency that is not lethal begins and ends in grace. As in, for example, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” As in Quayle forgives his daughter, Schlafly forgives her son, and both, we expect, forgive those who accuse them of being morally inconsistent.
We note, with regret, that the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) have joined with the utterly predictable Americans United for Separation of Church and State in calling upon President Clinton not to appoint an ambassador to the Vatican. This is a weary dispute that goes back to the days of FDR and, many of us hoped, was finally settled by Ronald Reagan. Perhaps evangelical leaders are resuscitating it in order to demonstrate to their old-guard constituencies that the ecumenical spirit has not entirely overcome their vestigial adherence to a requisite measure of anti-Catholicism.
Whatever the reason, the appeal to Clinton is misguided in substance and form. As Catholic thinker George Weigel observes: “The Holy See occupies a distinctive place in international public life—and has done so for centuries. The historical roots of the present position of the Holy See in international law and diplomatic practice date, of course, from the days of the Papal States when the pope was a temporal ruler. Those days are happily no more. But even after the incorporation of the Papal States into a reunified Italy, the Holy See continued to exchange embassies with states, and was recognized to have a kind of sui generis status in international public life. That status is embodied, for example, in the representation that the Holy See maintains at a host of international organizations and agencies. It is embodied in the fact that the Holy See was a full signatory of the Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and has been a vigorous participant—especially on behalf of religious freedom—in CSCE forums ever since. And it is embodied in the fact that virtually every state of any consequence whatsoever in world affairs (with the sole exception of the remaining Communist powers) maintains representation at the Holy See, and receives a representative of the Holy See in turn. This exchange of embassies, by the way, has been waxing, not waning, over the past fifty years. It involves states with an established church; it involves states with no established church; it involves states that are, officially, Muslim. To view this distinctive history through the lenses of American denominationalism seems, candidly, rather shortsighted. The United States, in exchanging embassies with the Holy See, is not giving ‘special recognition to the Catholic Church.' It is acknowledging the centuries-old fact that the Holy See is a reality in the world of international public life, recognized as such in customary international law.”
The Baptist letter to Clinton urges that he reverse existing policy “in light of your Baptist heritage.” One can imagine the public outcry—not least of all from Baptists—were Catholic bishops to urge a Catholic president to make policy “in light of your Catholic heritage.” In addition, the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has on other questions rightly challenged the notion that the separation of church and state requires the separation of religion from public life. It is troubling that, when it comes to U.S. representation at the Holy See, evangelicals talk about “the wall of separation” in language usually associated with groups such as People for the American Way and the ACLU. We expect that President Clinton will, like the last three administrations, appoint an ambassador. We suspect that evangelical leaders who urge otherwise expect as much. We wish they had not reopened a question that reopens wounds from the days when evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics did not understand that the great public tasks of our day must be addressed together.
Sorry, we know that some of you are tired of the subject, but in this kind of world anti-Semitism is a question of continuing importance. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has once again taken a survey that it first used in 1964 and reports that at present 20 percent of Americans are anti-Semitic. How do they arrive at that conclusion? Anti-Semitism is measured by the response to eleven propositions. Those who say “probably true” to six or more are counted as anti-Semitic.
The eleven propositions are: (1) Jews stick together more than other Americans; (2) Jews always like to be at the head of things; (3) Jews are more loyal to Israel than America; (4) Jews have too much power in the U.S. today; (5) Jews have too much control and influence on Wall Street; (6) Jews have too much power in the business world; (7) Jews have a lot of irritating faults; (8) Jews are more willing than others to use shady practices to get what they want; (9) Jewish businessmen are so shrewd that others don't have a fair chance in competition; (10) Jews don't care what happens to anyone but their own kind; (11) Jews are not as honest as other businessmen.
The measurement is questionable on several scores. Seven of the assertions are undoubtedly negative. Assertions 4, 5, and 6, however, are very close to being redundant. Number 7, the assertion that Jews have a lot of irritating faults, strikes us as true of any group of people we know, including Jews. Moreover, three of the other propositions might be construed as positive characteristics by many, if not most, Americans. That Jews stick together, are ambitious, and are exceedingly shrewd in business might well be said admiringly. In our experience with Jews and non-Jews, these things frequently are said admiringly—and, by non-Jews, with a touch of envy. Were such things said of Italians, would anyone think it defamation? People who belong to some other ethnic or racial groups can only wish that the same could be said of them. Of course those assertions are also amenable to a negative construction, and maybe that is what most respondents had in mind. But they are very doubtful criteria by which to measure anti-Semitism.
The ADL report says that “the number of Americans within the ‘most anti-Semitic' segment has declined slowly—down only 9 percentage points in twenty-eight years—from 29 percent in 1964 to 20 percent in 1992.” In addition to the doubtfulness of the measuring instrument, one may be permitted to wonder whether, in the larger scheme of historical change, a one-third decline in less than thirty years is all that slow. Further, the report notes that most of those counted as anti-Semitic are older—over 65 years of age—and have a high school education or less. Nonetheless, the head of ADL declares, “It boggles the mind that in 1992 a significant segment of American society has bought into the classical canards and stereotypes that allege Jewish power. It is distressing that the stereotypes so alive in the 1930s, which led to horrific consequences, did not die in the ashes of Europe, but have found a rebirth in America today. We find it to be sinister and dangerous.”
More careful reflection might conduce to an unboggling of the mind. The power and influence of Jews in American life is not merely “alleged.” The observation that Jews, who are 2 percent of the population, exercise an influence vastly disproportionate to their numbers is not based upon canards and stereotypes but on a reasonable awareness of the success of Jews in academe, the media, entertainment, business, science, and other centers of societal potency. Whether one thinks that that power is “too much” may indeed have something to do with anti-Semitism, but to deny its existence is to insult the intelligence of Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, and to invite suspicion of those who do the denying.
Anti-Semitism is not finding “a rebirth” in America today. By ADL's own, and almost certainly inflated, figures, anti-Semitism is declining, and dramatically so. Most of those counted as anti-Semitic are old people hanging on to vestigial prejudices. However doubtful the survey's methodology, ADL may be justified in worrying that black Americans are more than twice as likely to show up in the “most anti-Semitic” category than whites—37 percent to 17 percent. But even if we credit the accuracy of the data, that is clearly a deviation from the pattern. There will always be a certain number of people who really don't like Jews, just as there will be those (often the same people) who have a generalized dislike of other groups. But the reality is that, far from being reborn, anti-Semitism is dying in America. And none too soon.
While We're At It
• We had been meaning to mention a fine essay in The New Republic by Alan Wolfe of the New School for Social Research. Surveying a number of recent books on race, he writes: “As is often the case with debates of this sort, the real issue is not whether we talk about the ‘underclass' or ‘the undeserving poor,' but how we do so. [Herbert] Gans and [Michael] Katz do not sufficiently appreciate the struggles of the very poor who do have character. We ought to congratulate those who overcome extreme poverty rather than develop a language that cannot acknowledge their achievements. Moreover, such an extreme relativism of values, by celebrating ‘alternative' lifestyles that are in fact symptoms of desperation, risks consigning to perpetual poverty those whom it seeks to help. But what is really at issue in the debate over the underclass is whether some of us have a right to pass moral judgment on others. And the answer must be that, so long as we live by a sense of contractual obligations, we have such a right. For no contract has only one party. The denial of the importance of morality and character, in not permitting us to make judgments about others, denies also our ability to make judgments about ourselves.” Wolfe goes on to note, favorably, a number of proposals for combining welfare support with behavioral change. He concludes: “This policy would demand of the left that it take seriously white fears, while demanding of the right that it take seriously black despair. And, most important, it would give a positive answer to the question of whether we can hold everyone to the same standard when not everyone is equal. The only way to achieve equality in the future is to begin to act under its imperatives in the present. As unfair as it may be in the short run to expect a minority to conform to the standards of the majority—or to apply race-neutral laws and economic practices when race in this country is anything but neutral—we have, for the sake of everyone, no other choice.”
• According to an extensive survey by the Los Angeles Times, the abortion license is chiefly for the convenience of the well-to-do. “Contrasted with the widespread perception that abortion clients come from the low end of the socioeconomic ladder, women who told the Times poll that they had aborted a fetus tended to be better educated, working full time, earning good salaries, and generally representative of every racial and ethnic group. They also tended to be either childless or the parent of just one child, a baby boomer and living in metropolitan areas. Religion is not very important in their lives.” This is but one item among many in an article that very usefully brings together survey research data on how economic class shapes attitudes toward abortion. “Abortion and ‘The Poor' “ by Jack Fowler is in the Fall 1992 issue of The Human Life Review, and it is very much worth reading. The poor, especially minority poor, are much more pro-life than the rich, although the rich typically claim that abortion is a splendid thing for poor people. Some years ago, before he felt the call to national politics, Jesse Jackson was eloquent in his witness for life. Speaking of abortion, he frequently declared, “The war on poverty has been replaced by a war on poor people.” He has not said that sort of thing for a long time, not since he discovered that there could be no Rainbow Coalition without the support of the abortion industry. Unlike those for whom they presume to speak, establishment civil rights types have generally stifled any misgivings they may have had about Planned Parenthood and others who advance Margaret Sanger's racialist program for preventing the birth of the “unfit.” (For Fowler and other important articles in the same issue, send $5 to Human Life Review, 150 East 35th Street, New York, NY 10016.)
• The very progressive Dutch are way ahead of us in getting rid of the old and sick. While laggard Americans turn down referendums that would allow “physician-assisted suicide,” Dutch doctors have moved on to braver stuff in expending thousands of the expendable each year. Of course there are codes of “ethics” that are supposed to make sure that people want to be killed before they are killed, but medicine in the Netherlands is increasingly flexible. According to an article in the international journal Family Practice, Dutch guidelines provide that a patient's request for death be persistent, but 13 percent of the doctors allow “a time-lapse of less than a day between the first explicit request and the implementation.” When the request is made by the family rather than the patient, doctors “hardly ever” obtain a written request from the patient or a second opinion from another doctor. “One-quarter of the family doctors say that they did not ask for a second opinion before applying euthanasia or assisting with suicide.” When there is a second opinion, in only one-quarter of the cases is it in writing, and even then it is usually not from an independent physician as stipulated by the guidelines. In sum, once the decision has been made that somebody would be better off dead, and if there is no legal prohibition against making that person dead, all the “safeguards” in the world are not likely to prevent doctors and those who are interested in having the person dead from acting on that decision. That should not come as a surprise, but the Dutch disease usefully reminds us of the obvious.
• At the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution, David Nelson, the Budget Director, was reprimanded for acting in a pornographic movie. “The university's values, beliefs, and culture,” said the administration in a formal statement, “stand strongly in opposition to such activity.” If he does it again, says the administration, he will be “subject to immediate termination.” Mr. Nelson responded with his own statement, apologizing for what he did. “I am deeply committed to the goals of Jesuit education and have worked to advance the welfare of the university. As a gay non-Christian, I have resolved my personal value conflicts with the university through my belief that the educational and humanistic values and programs of the university are far more important to me than the Church's teaching on sexuality, with which I disagree.” Which, being interpreted, would seem to mean that he has resolved his value conflict with the university by arriving at the conclusion that the university is wrong about its stated values. The apology was accepted.
• Bearing high promise are new black voices and publications offering thoughtful alternatives to the conformist wisdom of the old civil rights leadership. One is a magazine that has only recently come to our attention, Destiny: The New Black American Mainstream. For more information, write P.O. Box 19284, Lansing, MI 48901. Check it out, as we used to say.
• St. Philip's Catholic Church in San Francisco is apparently one of those places where “the action's at.” Jane Gross of the New York Times reports on a recent family festival held there, and the point of the report is that, my goodness, there were all kinds of families present—“stepfamilies and foster families, multigenerational families and gay families . . . and other configurations that have yet to be named by social scientists or counted by statisticians.” Ms. Gross continues: “Even in this old-fashioned, godly haven, with crucifixions on the walls and children in neat uniforms, the families have changed indelibly but the values have not.” Crucifixions on the walls? It seems the action gets a little rough at St. Philip's. The pastor, Father Michael Healy, draws the lesson to be learned: “There's such a thing as family values, but who's to say who's living up to them?” Certainly not the pastor of St. Philip's. (Crucifixions on the wall reminds us of a Detroit paper that reported some years ago on a Lutheran convention. “The procession was led by a young man carrying a 140-year-old crucifix.” But then, why should we expect journalists to know any more about religion than about other matters of consequence?)
• We do not wish to sound harsh, but Christopher Lehmann-Haupt must accept a large measure of responsibility for the New York Times daily book review. Here he is examining Edward O. Wilson's The Diversity of Life. Wilson, he says, calls us to protect elephants, whales, and other “charismatic creatures” who are “the most manifest glories” of nature. Lehmann-Haupt concludes: “So despite all the pessimism in The Diversity of Life, its virtue is not that it frightens but that it educates. It broadens our understanding of what Darwin revealed. It hints that even if humans weren't created by the hand of God, they may yet prove to be a blessing upon the earth.” We note that Darwinism has been ratcheted up from dogma to revelation. It seems that, unlike whales and other “charismatic creatures,” people are still on trial. Before whom? one wonders. Darwin perhaps.
• Photographs by Sally Mann are in hot demand. For years she has been photographing her children in the nude, sometimes doing rude things. Critics have suggested that she is in violation of child pornography laws. According to this story in the New York Times Magazine, Mann rejects that out of hand. “She bristles at the word ‘erotic' when applied to her photographs, preferring the less-charged ‘sensual.' ‘I don't think of my children, and I don't think anyone else should think of them, with any sexual thoughts,' she says. ‘I think childhood sexuality is an oxymoron.' “ Who would have thought, only a few years ago, that we would so miss Sigmund Freud?
• What Henry James called “the imagination of disaster” is what Hilton Kramer thinks is missing from Daniel Boorstin's approach to history, as in his most recent book, The Creators. According to Kramer: “While this gives everything Mr. Boorstin writes an upbeat spirit that is unflagging in its affirmation of the progress that mankind has made since the dawn of human history, it also leaves the reader with a very limited understanding of human nature. This naturally colors his treatment of the place occupied by religion in human affairs. While it would be an exaggeration to suggest that he relegates religion to the realm of superstition, it is nonetheless true that he is more inclined to deal with religion as a subdivision of culture—hence its appearance in this history of the arts—than as a fundamental component of human history. Even his beloved Augustine, who looms so large in both The Discoverers and The Creators, is more admired for his ‘philosophy of history' than for the content of his religious thought. The highest accolade Mr. Boorstin can think to bestow on Augustine is that ‘his ideas would show an uncanny power to be transformed into a modern idea of progress.' Thus even the religious imagination must be seen to have a happy outcome.”
• A long time ago we had generally favorable comment in these pages on William F. Buckley's essay, “In Search of Anti-Semitism,” which has since been turned into a book by that title. We received a number of protests from readers raising legitimate objections. But at least one or two were from anti-Semites who said they are tired of being called anti-Semites. In a recent interview, Buckley said, “I am prepared to say that anybody who would permit Israel to go down militarily is probably motivated by anti-Semitism.” Nathan Glazer of Harvard picks up on that point in a review of the book. “I think I hear Mr. Buckley saying something that I have heretofore heard only Jews say: that Israel is different, even if it is a state with all the characteristics, often ugly, of other states. It is different because of the unique event that preceded it, the unique role it plays in Jewish life, the unique catastrophe for Jews its destruction would be. One does not expect non-Jews to understand this—which is why I would not go as far as Mr. Buckley in proscribing from American political life those who do not. It grates against my universalism to demand an immunity for the Jewish state and its defenders that I would not ask for others. Still, there is a case to be made. And though it is not spelled out in this book, only hinted at, that is remarkable enough.”
• If you open your mouth about cultural crisis, moral decline, and other unpleasantries, you're sure to have someone tell you that you're on a nostalgia trip, that you want to go back to the America of Norman Rockwell, Ozzie and Harriet, and so forth and so on. It is usually added that the good old days weren't all that good anyway, or never were in the first place. You know the line. But maybe it's right. Maybe you're just imagining how bad things are compared with how they were. Maybe you're just getting old and cranky. But then there comes along an item that vindicates your worryings, and then some. For instance, this item from the September 11, 1992 CQ Researcher. Here were the top problems in public schools as identified by teachers in 1940: talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise, running in halls, cutting in line, dress code infraction, littering. Here are the top problems as identified by teachers in 1990: drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery, assault. The moral: Don't knock nostalgia.
• Some magazines boldface above an article's title a summary statement aimed, presumably, at grabbing the reader's attention. In America magazine we came across this one. “The institutional church has great difficulty in acknowledging that an individual priest-or a bishop, for that matter-may not be perfect.” One searches through his memory to recall an article, book, or sermon of the last twenty years that suggested clergy are perfect. In vain.
• Peter Verity is a marvelously apt name for a press spokesman. Whether it is entirely accurate in the case of the director of media for the Catholic bishops of England and Wales is another matter. Responding to the possibility that Church of England congregations, disaffected by the decision to ordain women, may seek some kind of corporate transition to Rome, Verity says that there is no provision for that and that it is “highly unlikely” that the Catholic bishops would make such a provision. In the Catholic view, says he, “A person's journey of faith is seen as a very individual experience, and that fact is taken into account with all people who seek entry into the Roman Catholic Church.” Verily, Verity? Were we to believe that, it would seem to follow that all of Rome's statements over the years about the ecumenical quest for “ecclesial reconciliation” and “corporate reunion” are not to be credited. Even in England and Wales, we should like to think, the Catholic way of being Christian is not based on “very individual experience.”
• The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches responded to the Church of England decision to ordain women with a press statement announcing that “the World Council of Churches has no official policy concerning the ordination of women.” He added, “We are very glad that the Church of England has concluded that the gift the Holy Spirit has given to women should be exercised in the service of the church at all levels.” The Orthodox churches that belong to the WCC, and are second to none in their principled opposition to women's ordination, might want to inquire as to whether that was an unofficial press statement. Or perhaps the General Secretary's use of the first person plural is purely personal.
• That redoubtable Jesuit, Paul Mankowski, writes to the editors of America: “‘I don't believe the Holy Spirit will let [disaster] happen provided the Spirit hears from Catholics who are aware of their right to the Eucharist.' This from Bishop William McManus [America, November 14, 1992]. As I understand it, the Bishop's pneumatology runs like this: the action of the Holy Spirit is contingent upon the action of believers which is itself contingent upon their awareness of rights. A novel perspective. May I venture to suggest that the older view, in which the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, provides a surer foundation for Christian hope?”
• The argument over the justice of the Vietnam war will not be settled by these findings, but they do challenge dramatically one deeply entrenched aspect of the conventional wisdom. That wisdom has it that Vietnam was a poor man's war, fought by those at the bottom of the social ladder while the privileged evaded duty through myriad exemptions. Arnold Barnett of MIT and Timothy Stanley of West Point have published a ground-breaking study demonstrating that there was very slight disparity between rich and poor in terms of the most obvious suffering in the war-the number of fatalities. In researching the income level of the communities from which those who were killed came, they discovered that in three out of four instances the death rate of those from “upscale” communities was higher than the national average. One reason may be that combat-level officers, i.e., lieutenants and captains, typically came from higher social and educational strata. The authors comment: “If untrue, the belief that affluent citizens were conspicuously missing from the Vietnam War dead is harmful to all Americans. It demeans the sacrifices of the wealthy by implying that such sacrifices were nonexistent. It demeans the sacrifices of the nonwealthy by suggesting that, manipulated and misled, they shed their blood in a conflict in which the privileged and influential were unwilling to shed theirs.” The findings are the more dramatic when one takes into account the undoubted fact that the better-off had available to them academic and other immunities not available to the poor. As we said, the argument over whether U.S. actions in Vietnam were wise or just will surely continue, but the evidence would seem to be in that the criticism of the war based on “class analysis” is simply not supported by the facts.
• Harvard, Duke, Georgetown, MIT, Tufts, Yale, and Washington. That's a formidable array of universities. They all wrote to little Westminster School in Atlanta, Georgia, protesting its policy of hiring only faculty who are professing Christians. The threatening implication is that these prestigious schools might in the future be cool toward Westminster graduates seeking admission. Westminster has, from its beginning, identified itself as “a Christian independent day school for boys and girls.” In response to the heavy duty chastisement from the universities, Westminster headmaster William Clarkson says that the hiring policy is under review as part of a “plan to prepare the school for the twenty-first century.” In the twenty-first century, it seems all too probable, Westminster will—as the universities that take it to task now do—assiduously discriminate on the basis of class, race, and sex. It is called affirmative action or, more candidly, quotas. One is not only permitted, one is required, to discriminate regarding differences that are thought to make a difference. Or maybe the problem is that being a Christian makes too much of a difference to be tolerated, although that is not a very plausible explanation judging by most of the Christians of our acquaintance. In any event, the homogenization of institutions of education proceeds apace, and all in the name of pluralism.
• Surfer is not on our list of magazines regularly read. But a correspondent in Virginia who does read it (where does one surf in Virginia?) sends this from a recent issue. A Jodie Cooper, who apparently is something of a figure in those circles, offers her environmentalist credo: “I honestly think humankind is one of the worst forms of anything on this planet and I look at us as a form of AIDS. . . . The philosophy where people think that God put us on Earth to use and abuse everything like animals, and they're here for us to slaughter and eat and kill, I don't go along with whatsoever. To me, Mother Nature is it. That's my God!” David Vanderveen, director of the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich., responds in a letter to the editors with this: “Although I am for people coming to their own beliefs and, like everyone else that I know, am all for a cleaner environment, Jodie Cooper seems to be living a lie. If she is part of humankind, and humankind is a form of AIDS on Earth, then she is, as she so aptly puts it, ‘one of the worst forms of anything on this planet.' And yet, Mother Nature is her god. If Ms. Cooper is destroying her god, if she is the AIDS virus on what she considers to be the divine being, why doesn't she follow her Aussie-speak and do her part? Why doesn't she sacrifice herself for the greater good? Is it her god or not? And why does she worship something she, or you or I, can supposedly wipe out? Does she want to be for the environmental movement what Nietzsche was for Christianity . . . , the God-slayer?” To which the editors of Surfer have this to say: “You make some really good points. Unfortunately, we have no idea what you're talking about.” And that, alas, is probably true. One probably should not expect much depth in a magazine called Surfer.
• Reviewing a book by Adrian Hastings about Robert Runcie, former Archbishop of Canterbury, the Spectator (London) observes: “Unlike Margaret Thatcher, Runcie readily absorbed the Oxbridge spirit, ‘infinitely confident, enthusiastic, critical, amused.' Hastings lays dangerous stress on his skill as a mimic. It was not that he lacked convictions, merely that he always remained aware of ‘the agnostic don lower down the table.' Hence Runcie's caution about grand theological schemes. Like T. S. Eliot he is ‘continent in affirmation.'“
• One reader, a United Church of Canada minister in Ontario, writes to say some very nice things about the journal, but also to protest a recent comment about the way the UCC is given to avoiding tough questions by tossing them back to local congregations. He writes: “As for the question of referring the matter of same-gender unions back to local congregations: as problematic as that decision is in many ways, I suspect that it is also the best hope (and probably the only hope) the United Church of Canada has, and not merely on this issue but on many of the other pressing issues we face. I believe that the strength of the United Church is its local congregations. If there is any possibility of renewal within the United Church, it will be spearheaded not by the actions of our head-office bureaucrats but by the actions and decisions of our local congregations. The more quickly we can find ways of giving local congregations a greater say in the future of the United Church, the more quickly we will be able to discover whether or not revitalization is, in fact, possible.” We take the point. At the same time, one might ask whether the United Church of Canada is a communion or church in any ecclesially significant sense if it cannot corporately address questions of faith and morals. We have reason to believe that that question has already occurred to our Ontario correspondent.
• Sojourners, a magazine that presents itself as the prophetic voice of revolutionary justice, is edited by Jim Wallis. He is not amused by an article by Michael Cromartie of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center in Christianity Today in which Cromartie analyzes the decline of the radical left in evangelical Protestantism. Wallis protests in the pages of CT: “Cromartie claims Sojourners‘ ‘popular support has diminished significantly' and speaks of the ‘marginalization' of Sojourners‘ influence, except among ‘left-wing Catholics and liberal Protestants.' Most ecumenical observers would say the reverse is true; never has Sojourners had more relationship and partnership in as many sectors of the church's life.” As it happens, Cromartie's article did not even mention Sojourners. One might say that Wallis is quick to recognize a shoe that fits even as he complains that it does not fit at all. As for the “reverse” that he says is true, it would seem that the reverse would be for Sojourners to have influence among right-wing Catholics and conservative Protestants. And that is certainly not the case. It would seem that Mr. Cromartie's original observation about the radical left in evangelicalism—in which he no doubt implicitly included Sojourners—is entirely on target. At the same time, Mr. Wallis is right about influence in other “sectors of the church's life.” In the last several years he has become a major figure in the social action ventures of the National Council of Churches and other once-mainline institutions of what used to be called the Protestant establishment. This little item is but one more illustration of the ideological gyrations within our religious situation. You can't tell the players without a card. Which is, we would like to think, another good reason for “The Public Square.”
• The Church seems ever so much bigger from the inside than from the outside, said Chesterton, and he was right. Not the most important, but also not the least important, reminder of this is the enormous number of conferences, institutes, seminars, and the such that are, it seems, going on all over the place all the time. One of the more impressive is the National Institute for Clergy Formation which attracts well over a thousand priests each summer for segments of a five-week program (this year June 20 to July 23). This year, speakers are as various as Alice von Hildebrand, Bernard Cardinal Law, Paul Vitz, Edward Cardinal Cassidy, Avery Dulles, and your scribe. For information write Msgr. Andrew Cusack, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ 07079.
• The letters section of the journal is, in our editorial judgment, important. Very important. It is a way of continuing and expanding the conversation with authors and editors. Letters challenge, inquire, correct, and elaborate. We encourage readers to take advantage of the letters section. Frequently we are asked why we print letters that are radically opposed to the purposes of the journal. Our criteria are that letters be responsive to something we published, be reasonably coherent, and reflect a viewpoint that, no matter how much we might disagree, is relevant to the public discussion of the matter at hand. Sometimes, just for fun, we print a really dumb letter. Not every letter gets printed. Some are repetitious, some simply say that they love the journal, others that they hate it (far more love than hate, we are glad to report), and all too many letters are dated, responding to articles that appeared months earlier. Moreover, as a general rule we do not print letters that are responding to other letters. All that being understood, your letters are welcomed by the editors, and we know that the letters section is appreciatively read by other readers.
• For those who missed our notice in the January issue: a complete index of this journal, from the premier issue of March 1989 through December 1992, is now available. It includes subjects addressed, books reviewed, and contributors. The index is available for $8, including postage and handling, from the editorial offices of First Things, 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, New York, NY 10010.
• The Arts & Entertainment Network aired some weeks ago “Charlton Heston Presents the Bible,” and it received a great deal of favorable attention. Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal thought it was smashing, but she was also bemused by the advance publicity packet sent out to the press. The burden of the press material was to assure everybody that the program really didn't have much to do with religion. Rabinowitz writes, “A specimen of the times and their cultural terrors if ever there was one, these notes include nervous explanations from executive producer Fraser Heston (the star's son) that ‘This project is not about religion, it's about literature, art, and history.' Charlton Heston himself feels compelled to say that this is an acting project and that he is not ‘guided by any doctrine nor seeking any evangelical purpose, nor converting or educating. . . .' On and on this extraordinary document continues, with director Tony Westman putting in that he was not raised in a religious household-but he knows now that the Bible is a great book whether one believes in it or not.” Despite all the disclaimers aimed at avoiding the wrath of the culture police, says Rabinowitz, the program emerges as “a work steeped in religion and spiritual passion.”
• Sadik Abdul Kareem Mal-Allah, a Christian, had his head chopped off in Saudi Arabia. He was convicted of “insulting Almighty God, the Holy Quran, and the Prophet.” Admittedly, he was a rather assertive Christian. The government-controlled press said that he called Islam a false religion and should be killed even if he repented. Christian witness is forbidden and conversion to Christianity is a capital crime in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Interior Ministry made a point of reporting Mal-Allah's execution, as though to remind the world that the regime was not being taken in by George Bush's claim that the Gulf War was fought in defense of freedom.
• An underappreciated treasure of our time is Louis Dupré of Yale University. The following is from an essay titled “On Being a Christian Teacher of Humanities”: “Ethics for the Christian educator ought to be more than information about values. All educational systems are value-oriented, whether they admit it or not. Value consists in what we value, and that may be a very one-sided, subjective ideal. Avoiding a self-centered or even an exclusively human-centered morality, the Christian looks for an absolute capable of grounding, ordering, and integrating all values. This absolute principle to which the Christian subordinates his entire value system, he or she calls God. Moral education then should be completed by religious education. Yet all too often religion itself is presented as adding one more value to all others, thus relativizing what ought to be an absolute ground of values. In functional terms this means that we treat religion as if it were one among many things that we ought to cultivate and learn about. But the ‘object' of religion does not tolerate this kind of compartmentalization: it either includes all aspects of life or none at all. If God were only the particular subject of an academic discipline called ‘religious studies' or ‘theology,' he would not be God. Such a discipline is useful and, I think, in a Christian system of education, indispensable. But the transcendent presence in the educational process touches on all disciplines and, above all, becomes the integrating factor of all moral education. The objective of religious instruction consists not only in communicating the essentials of a doctrinal tradition but, even more, in assisting the student in extending the religious attitude based on that tradition to all areas of existence.”
Sources: Otter Zell's criticism of “masculine gods,” quoted in Insight, November 2, 1992. On transplants of fetal tissue, New York Times, November 26, 1992 and Milwaukee Sentinel, November 21, 1992. Dr. Kevorkian quoted in the newsletter Life at Risk, November 1992. George Gallup figures reported in emerging trends, November 1992. Archbishop Weakland on the ordination of women, New York Times, December 6, 1992. George Weigel on Vatican diplomacy in unpublished letter. Anti-Defamation League report on anti-Semitism dated November 16, 1992.
While We're At It: Alan Wolfe on race, The New Republic, April 13, 1992. On Dutch doctors, Family Practice: An International Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2 (1992). Story of David Nelson reported in the San Francisco Foghorn, October 22, 1992. Jane Gross on St. Philip's RC Church, New York Times, October 3, 1992. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt on Darwinism, New York Times, October 1, 1992. Photographer Sally Mann quoted in the New York Times Magazine, September 27, 1992. Hilton Kramer on Daniel Boorstin, New York Times Book Review, September 27, 1992. Nathan Glazer on William F. Buckley's book In Search of Anti-Semitism, in New York Times Book Review, September 27, 1992. On the church's alleged depiction of perfect priests, America, November 28, 1992. Peter Verity on bringing disaffected Anglicans into the Catholic Church, Ecumenical Press Service, November 17, 1992. General Secretary of WCC on Anglican ordination of women, Ecumenical Press Service, November 17, 1992. On class origins of Vietnam-era soldiers, Washington Times, November 1, 1992, and Wall Street Journal November 4, 1992. On the Westminster School in Atlanta, Harvard Crimson, December 3, 1992. Jodie Cooper and David Vanderveen on humankind, Surfer, October and December 1992. Article by Michael Cromartie in Christianity Today, April 27, 1922, and reply by Jim Wallis, November 23, 1992. Dorothy Rabinowitz on “Charlton Heston Presents the Bible,” Wall Street Journal, December 14, 1992. Beheading of Saudi blasphemer reported in National and International Religion Report, December 14, 1992. Duprea on the humanities, Christian Century, April 29, 1992.
As many readers know, Father Neuhaus underwent emergency surgery for colon cancer in January. He had prepared beforehand the items in this installment of The Public Square. He is making a strong recovery from the surgery and he, his friends, and his doctors expect that he will be fully back to work in the relatively near future.