The current round of controversies has everything to do with the political shock of November 8, 1994, and alarums over the perceived ascendancy of the Religious Right. As a result, some Jews have ratcheted up to an almost painful degree their antennae for the detection of anti-Semitism. A few months ago, one of our local newspapers, the Times, went ballistic when the London Spectator ran a little article on the self-described dominance of Jews in Hollywood. The somewhat naive Spectator author thought he was doing nothing more than reporting an interesting circumstance and, as it turns out, was in large part relying on what Jewish writers had said about Jews and Hollywood. The young man did not understand that, according to the rules of the more extreme members of the anti-Semitism patrol, non-Jews are not supposed to notice when Jews publicly celebrate Jewish influence and success. As Ann Douglas has recently described in her acclaimed account of New York in the 1920s, Terrible Honesty (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), the central role of Jews in American popular entertainment goes back to the nineteenth century and, far from being a secret, has been frequently extolled in film and song. With weeks of letters and commentary in the Spectator, our British cousins had great fun with this little squall, chalking it up as yet another instance of American hypocrisy about our professed devotion to free speech.
Another young man, hardly so innocent, has been doing his partisan best to exploit the political potential of Jewish-Christian suspicions. Some years ago Michael Lind fell in with those notorious neoconservatives and for some time was an editor of the National Interest before he decided to unleash his arrested outrage and go over to the opposition. Having secured a berth with Lewis Lapham's Harper's, Lind's attacks on his erstwhile friends have been popping up with remarkable regularity in publications large and small. He pushed the button for big-time attention when he rabbled the readers of the New York Review of Books with a slashing indictment of Pat Robertson, who, according to Lind, runs the Christian Coalition, the Religious Right, the Republican Party, the pro-family movement, and just about everything else that Mr. Lind doesn't like about America. The charge, as best we can understand it, is that Robertson's vast conspiracy is exceedingly dangerous because Robertson believes there are vast conspiracies.
Mr. Lind thought he hit pay dirt with the 1992 book, The New World Order, in which Robertson tells you everything you wanted to know, and more, about how the world got into its present sorry shape. Robertson's eccentric and sometimes bizarre account of modern history gives a prominent role to, among others, “European financiers” who allegedly have been pulling the strings of global politics for a very long time. Lind pounces on the fact that some of the sources cited by Robertson are also cited by anti-Semites who explain modern history by reference to the machinations of “Jewish bankers.” That Robertson refers to them as European rather than as Jewish is clear evidence, to Mr. Lind, that Robertson is not only anti-Semitic but is trying to disguise his anti-Semitism. He is the worst kind of anti-Semite, the kind that refuses to criticize Jews. The ever-so-devious Robertson also cultivates Jewish leaders, invites them to speak at his public meetings, and has a Jewish attorney heading his religious freedom organization. Is more evidence of his anti-Semitism needed?
This is not to let Robertson off the hook. True, in justifying his use of notorious sources he invokes the authority of a respectable professor at Georgetown University who uses the same sources, and he notes that President Clinton has on occasion invoked the authority of said professor, who apparently taught him when he was at Georgetown. But none of this gets us anywhere helpful. The fact is that some of the sources employed in The New World Order are manifestly anti-Semitic, and Mr. Robertson would have saved himself a lot of sorrow by clearly and explicitly repudiating that anti-Semitism in his book. Even better, he should not have used such sources in the first place. The conclusion remains, however, that while Pat Roberston is guilty of writing bad history, there is no ground whatever for accusing him of anti-Semitism.
Nonetheless, Frank Rich, columnist for the Times, picked up on the Lind article to demand that the media dig into the dirt of Robertson's, and the Christian Right's, putative anti-Semitism. Rich has been described as the Times‘ attack dog, which, while not very nice, is apt enough. He comes across as a toy Doberman in perpetual snit. His attack elicited an extended response from Robertson which, to its credit, the Times published. Robertson explained that The New World Order was written at the height of the Gulf War when he was worried about the compromise of U.S. sovereignty and Israeli safety in a “New World Order” under the aegis of the United Nations. “I do feel,” wrote Robertson, “that only someone who is desperately attempting to cause mischief would make the unfounded allegations about me or my book that have recently appeared in the New York Times.” He continued: “All who know me, Jewish and Christian, recognize that I have been one of the strongest friends of Israel anywhere in the world. In 1974, when Israel appeared threatened and alone as a result of a worldwide oil crisis, I made a vow that I have kept to this day: I promised to use my influence, and that of the institutions I founded, to vigorously support Israel and the Jewish people. I have kept my vow. My comments on my daily television program have been pro-Israel. In fact, during the Gulf War, I was one of the few voices in America speaking out regularly in support of Israel. I have lobbied for Israel, and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Jewish interests and organizations. By every public word and deed, I have kept my promise.”
Frank Rich was not impressed. A few days later he barked back with a column imaginatively titled “The Jew World Order,” in which he notes that Louis Farrakhan accuses “international bankers” of nefarious doings and so does Pat Robertson. So there. “Our two most prominent extremists of the 1990s,” wrote Rich, “are both dipping into the same well of pseudo-history that once served Father Coughlin and Henry Ford.” This is high hysteria even for a toy Doberman. Pat Robertson has as much in common with Farrakhan as Frank Rich has with ordinary decency. The circle of extremists is extended as Rich notes that, at the Christian Coalition convention last fall, “Phil Gramm, Lamar Alexander, and Elizabeth Dole, standing in for her husband, all kissed Mr. Robertson's ring.”
Lest he overlook anyone, Rich concludes with the shocking report that Patrick Buchanan wrote in a publication of the Christian Coalition that Robert Rubin, Secretary of the Treasury, supported the Mexican bailout to enrich his old investment firm of Goldman, Sachs. (Rubin, Goldman, Sachs. They all sound Jewish. Therefore Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite.) Never mind that many critics of the Mexican bailout, including perhaps a majority of members of Congress, claimed that its chief purpose was to save Wall Street from its own investment follies. Never mind that in the very same issue of the Times television critic Walter Goodman gave a favorable review to Bill Moyers' role as commentator on NBC nightly news, noting that he injected a note “more populist than partisan” when “he criticized the bailout of Mexico as benefiting mainly [U.S.] investors.”
While critics, including some conservatives, believe that Buchanan has in the past toyed with anti-Semitic sentiments, his polemics against the Mexican bailout are solidly within the mainstream of political debate.
As one story triggers another, the Wall Street Journal has this big item by Jonathan Kaufman on Jews who see “a rise in bigotry.” A Jewish woman in Birmingham, Michigan, reports that parents in her son's sixth-grade class have complained that the children can't sing “Silent Night,” and a classmate told her son he didn't like having to learn about Hanukkah. “Mrs. Wagenheim,” reports the Journal, “watched with growing alarm as Washington politicians proposed reintroducing school prayer.” “‘I thought I could be like everyone else,' Mrs. Wagenheim says. ‘But now we seem to stand out more. I never felt like this before.'“ Apparently it has only now occurred to her that 98 percent of Americans are not Jewish, with more than 90 percent claiming to be Christians of one sort or another. If one belongs to a very high profile minority that constitutes no more than 2 percent of the population, standing out should not come as a surprise. It might even be cherished as a distinction.
Rabbi Peter Rubinstein of New York's Central Synagogue says, “To be a Jew is not to be anymore in the mainstream of America. You watch the Republican convention, you read the ‘Contract With America,' you listen to talk radio. Before I could have accepted that, as a Jew and as an American, my yearnings were going to be harmonious. Now, I'm not so sure.” It would seem that the rabbi's anxieties have nothing to do with being Jewish and everything to do with being politically liberal. For many liberal Jews, however, the two are hardly distinguishable. (Seventy-eight percent of Jews voted Democratic last November.) The Wall Street Journal cites other instances of the perceived rise in “bigotry.” In Phoenix, Arizona, some Jewish homeowners found advertisements put on their doorknobs promoting a free video on the life of Jesus. A rabbi who represents the American Jewish Committee in Phoenix reports that a woman complained to him that her son was handed a book by a fifth-grade classmate and told, “Read this.” The book was about Jesus. Says the rabbi, “People are starting to talk in terms of, ‘We are being persecuted.'“ A little boy wants to share his faith with his Jewish classmate. Can pogroms be far behind?
The Journal suggests there is now a “role reversal” between the Orthodox and what it calls mainstream Jews. Mainstream Jews, it says, never felt anti-Semitism was a part of their lives, while the Orthodox were ever alert to anti-Jewish expressions. This is very dubious history. In the past and at present, it is liberal and secular Jews who chiefly support the hypersensitive institutional alarm systems that flash “Anti-Semitism!” at the suggestion that Jews are not just like everybody else. The Orthodox have always known that being Jewish makes a difference, and should make a difference. There is nothing new in the view of the traditionalist rabbi who, according to the Journal, is inclined to “welcoming the religious right and scoffing at suggestions of bigotry.” “Moving to the right is a blessing for the country,” says Rabbi Joseph Gopin of the Chabad movement. “The government should support religion.”
Jews who are astute analysts of the American scene have a similar take on what is happening. William Kristol, the Republican strategist, observes that alarm about anti-Semitism “often does verge into paranoia among Jews.” As for his own view, Kristol says, “I prefer the Christian right to the pagan left.” Norman Podhoretz, the retiring editor of Commentary (Who ever would have thought to describe Norman Podhoretz as retiring?), observes that conservatives don't hate Jews. “They hate liberals. As it happens, most Jews are liberals.” Midge Decter's 1995 Erasmus Lecture (to appear in a forthcoming issue) is titled, “Being Jewish in Anti-Christian America.” If the choice is between a dominantly anti-Christian elite culture and the majority culture of Christians, it is suggested, Jews have compelling prudential and religious reasons to side with the Christians.
Another piece of nastiness that has received almost no attention in this country is a controversy generated over Human Life International, a pro-life organization based in Maryland that this spring held its convention in Montreal. B'nai B'rith of Canada launched an all-out campaign against HLI, charging that it is an extremist organization guilty of anti-Semitism. The campaign received major media attention in Canada, and some went so far as to demand that the government stop HLI delegates from crossing the border to attend the convention. B'nai B'rith also pressured the Archdiocese of Montreal, unsuccessfully, to refuse HLI the use of the cathedral for the convention's opening Mass. The prime exhibit in support of the claim that HLI is anti-Semitic is a chapter in a book by Father Paul Marx, Confessions of a Pro-life Missionary. Marx is a Benedictine priest and founder of HLI, and in that chapter he deplores the prominent role of Jews in the pro-abortion movement, arguing that Jews, of all people, should recognize the consequences when human life is devalued.
The chapter in question may be injudicious, and some points of fact may be disputed, but it is hardly anti-Semitic. No reasonable person will dispute the fact that Jews are disproportionately represented among the promoters of abortion, and drawing analogies between abortion and the Holocaust is hardly “extremist.” Without taking a position on abortion, a number of prominent Canadian Jews courageously challenged the slander perpetrated by B'nai B'rith. In this country, Msgr. George Higgins devoted his column, which has a wide readership in the Catholic diocesan press, to the HLI affair. Msgr. Higgins, usually a more fair-minded commentator, accused HLI of engaging in a “flirtation with anti-Semitism,” and says that the fact that bishops are associated with HLI makes it difficult for Jews “to distinguish the preachments of HLI from the official teaching of the Church, which clearly condemns forays into anti-Semitism.” The Catholic Church does indeed condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, but, pace Msgr. Higgins, there is no evidence that HLI is guilty of flirting with anti-Semitism. Promptly upon the appearance of Higgins' column, the interreligious affairs office of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League issued a press release commending him for his bold opposition to anti-Semitism.
The happy fact, documented by every serious study, is that anti-Semitism in America has dramatically declined in the last fifty years, and even more so in the last twenty years. It is kept alive at the margins by fringe groups such as Aryan Nation and by racist skinheads broadcasting their hate messages via Internet. Regrettably, it is also kept alive by institutions such as the Anti-Defamation League. The purpose of ADL is to counter defamation of Jews. If there is no defamation of Jews, ADL has no reason to exist. It is an organization that operates by demand-side economics. It has a built-in institutional need for a dependable supply of anti-Semitism in order to maintain itself. Its fund-raising depends upon sustaining a high level of Jewish anxiety about anti-Semitism. One is reminded of a recent report from the Midwest about a volunteer fireman convicted of arson. The village was going to close down the volunteer fire department, and he wanted to provide a convincing reason for not doing so. We do not suggest that groups such as ADL and B'nai B'rith of Canada are deliberately creating anti-Semitism, but by setting off false alarms they seriously reduce the believability of the anxiety upon which their existence depends.
The above-mentioned account in the Wall Street Journal reports the views of Daniel Levitas, described as a liberal Atlanta Jewish activist, who invokes memories of czarist Russia. “The Jews used to have a response when the Cossacks came to town,” he says. “You close the doors, you batten down the hatches, and you shutter the windows. Eventually the dust will settle and you can come out again. The Jews used to say ‘This too shall pass.' This time it's not going to pass.” Such sentiments reflect the paranoia to which William Kristol refers and, not so incidentally, are an outrageous insult against non-Jewish Americans. The United States in 1995 is not czarist Russia and the American people are not Cossacks bent upon killing Jews. Whatever his own intentions, statements such as those of Mr. Levitas cannot help but exacerbate Jewish-Christian relations, inflaming anti-Christian feelings among Jews and anti-Jewish feelings among non-Jews.
But he got one thing half-right: “This time it's not going to pass.” If the “it” in question is the freer expression of religion and religiously grounded moral convictions in public, a major and lasting change does seem to be underway. Given that this is America, such expression will be predominantly Christian in character. This circumstance is understandably worrying to many Jews, but the challenges that it entails can be explored by Jews and Christians in a manner that does not threaten but strengthens our common participation in the American experiment. This was recently demonstrated by a symposium at Harvard marking the fiftieth anniversary of Commentary at which Midge Decter and this writer, among others, spoke.
In the last quarter century, it was pointed out at the Harvard meeting, there has been a dramatic change among Christians-from Catholics to evangelical Protestants-in the understanding of Christianity's dependence upon Judaism. Not simply the Judaism of what Christians call the Old Testament but the living Judaism that continues in mysterious relation to God's election and unbreakable promise. References to a “Judeo-Christian” moral tradition, for instance, are not merely a euphemistic trope employed to avoid offending Jews, although that may sometimes be the case. There is a much deeper level at which Christians are coming to understand their providential entanglement with Jews and Judaism, an understanding that has slight precedent in the two millennia of interaction between Jews and Christians. This growing understandingshould be carefully nurtured by Jews and Christians alike.
From Birmingham, Michigan to Atlanta to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, many Jews have assumed that the more secularized America is, the safer it is for Jews. In this view, Jewish security and success has been achieved despite the fact that America is a predominantly Christian society. This view, which is probably shared, at least intuitively, by a majority of Jews, is of relatively recent vintage. An alternative view is that Jews are secure and successful because this is a predominantly Christian society. All too obviously, there have been predominantly Christian societies in which Jews have been anything but secure. But the argument is that Christianity in America really is different, that it has internalized the imperatives of tolerance as a matter of religious duty, and that, more recently, it has come to see Judaism as an integral part of God's purposes in history. In a forthcoming historical study of Jewish attitudes toward “Christian America,” sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, Rabbi David Dalin of Hartford University and Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University examine earlier Jewish perspectives that are newly relevant to our changing religio-cultural circumstance.
It would be a tragedy of historic proportions were the opportunities of this new circumstance to be wasted in politicized rantings against the public assertiveness of conservative Christians. In a time when we are called to be “sensitive” to every grievance and discontent, a measure of sensitivity is due also those Christians who say that they want to take back their country. With the exception of a few kooks on the margins (who bear close watching), people who talk that way do not mean that the country must be taken back from Jews. They do have opponents in mind-”secular humanists,” “the pagan left,” “the cultural elites,” “the mainstream media.” In sum, the people and institutions that have in the past portrayed, and still do portray, millions of Americans as dangerous aliens, as strangers in their own land. These newly activated Americans are fed up with being put on the defensive because of what they see as their adherence to Christian belief and morality. This populist resurgence is undoubtedly driven by a degree of resentment, and it, too, may sometimes “verge into paranoia.” For the most part, however, it is a perfectly understandable reaction to be being treated with disrespect, even contempt, by the champions of secularism.
Frank Rich and others of fevered imagination to the contrary, the reaction has nothing to with anti-Semitism. Unless, of course, Jews and Judaism are equated with, inter alia, promoting abortion, eliminating religion from public schools, advocating homosexuality, denigrating marital fidelity, shocking traditional sensibilities, and depicting Christians as potential perpetrators of genocide. Those who slander Jews and Judaism by making such an equation are indeed guilty of anti-Semitism, and it makes little difference whether the slander is peddled by Jews or by Christians.
If our reading is correct, the political culture has been dramatically changed in recent months and years, and more dramatic changes are in the offing. The deepest and probably most long-lasting change is the rediscovery of the free exercise of religion, and the assertion of religiously grounded moral conviction in the public square. This is a change that can be welcomed by both Jews and Christians-as citizens devoted to a free society, and as children of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. This change is understandably feared by determined secularists, Jewish and other, who are taken by surprise that American history is not turning out the way they had confidently expected. The vibrant resurgence of public religion forces them to reexamine their basic assumptions about America and the course of modernity, which is a difficult and painful undertaking.
There is reason to believe, however, that the next generation of Jews in America will more readily cope with, and even welcome, the free exercise of religion in public. A new study by Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab, Jews and the New American Scene (Harvard University Press), examines the ways in which Jewish ethnic identity is fast eroding. Given the rate of intermarriage with non-Jews and other factors, it is quite possible that a few decades from now only half as many Americans will identify themselves as Jewish. Jewish identity that is based upon ethnicity, anxiety about anti-Semitism, and concern for Israel is, say Lipset and Raab, a fragile thing. The Jewish future in America will be secured not by “Jewishness” but by Judaism, and Judaism is, most importantly, religion. “The central core of Jewish identity has been religion, even though an ethnic culture is built into that religion. It is that religious core which provides a special edge of separatist cohesion for Jews.”
Those who have constructed Jewish identity on the foundation of political liberalism have, according to Lipset and Raab, built upon sand. “Some want to believe that an intrinsic quality of Jewish life consists of such universally benevolent ‘Jewish social values' as equality, social justice, and world peace. . . . But however strongly held, most of those social values are no longer particular to the Jews, and have clearly not provided the glue which can keep the Jewish community together.”
As the Jews of tomorrow are more religiously observant, they will also be more socially and politically conservative. And that is because, as these scholars and many others point out, there is a strong connection between religious commitment and conservatism on a very broad range of questions.
Anti-Semitism is a very serious business. Christians, too, are responsible for seeing to it that it is watched assiduously and countered forcefully. That will not happen, however, if anti-Semitism is equated with opposition to the liberalism that many Jews believe to be the essential core of their “Jewishness.” It will not happen if fair criticism of the behavior of some Jews, or many Jews, is recklessly condemned as anti-Semitism. And it will not happen if the dominant voice of Judaism in America is that of secular agencies whose stock in trade is to accuse non-Jews of anti-Semitism. Within American Jewry, there are a growing number of thinkers-including but hardly limited to those mentioned above-who point to a more promising way for the flourishing of Jews and Judaism in America. Jews will decide how their message is received, but the rest of us, as Christians and as citizens, have a deep interest in the revival of a Jewish identity that transcends the political partisanships of this historical moment.
Jews who are indifferent to the religious core of Judaism may, as Lipset and Raab suggest, be assimilated into the sector of secular Americans who are equally indifferent to Christianity. There they may maintain for a time an attenuated sense of ethnic identity, much in the way that others are vaguely Italian, Irish, or German “by extraction.” But extraction means separation, and identities by extraction are by definition tenuous and short-lived. The interesting and promising future of Jewish-Christian relations rests with Jews and Christians who, in mutual respect and reverence, seek to discern and obey the will of the One who is, through Israel, the light to the nations, and not least to these United States of America.
After A Theory of Justice, it seemed that John Rawls was established as the oracle of political philosophy among English-speaking, or at least American, intellectuals. Remarkable in that light is the relatively cool reception given his 1993 book, Political Liberalism. Of course there is the fact that people enjoy taking down a few pegs those who have been elevated to such heights, but in the years between the two books there were significant changes in the American intellectual culture. The ahistorical and individualistic reasoning of A Theory of Justice no doubt played a part in provoking a rash of books that lifted up the importance of community, of “thick descriptions,” and of reasons of the heart alien to the reason of Rawls. Then too, while we do not embrace the notion that timing is everything, Political Liberalism came at a time when the irrepressible force of religion in public life and public discourse was making itself newly felt. Although A Theory had occasional intimations of something that might be called transcendent, Rawls' project was self-consciously secular, and this became even more evident in Political Liberalism.
Michael McConnell of the University of Chicago and an FT contributor, makes this point in an article in the Michigan Law Review. He notes that there is a “surge of new writing about the role of religion in public life,” and reflects on how this might provide something like a “middle ground” in the abortion debate. McConnell has this to say about Rawls: “In the most serious entry in the field, John Rawls maintains that a society may justly base its laws only on a ‘reasonable' political conception of justice, meaning a conception that is, or can be, ‘shared by citizens regarded as free and equal' and that does not presuppose any particular ‘comprehensive doctrine,' of which religious doctrine is a prime example. Applying this idea to the abortion issue, Rawls concludes (without much discussion) that ‘any comprehensive doctrine that leads to a balance of political values excluding' the right to an abortion by a ‘mature adult' woman in the first trimester ‘is to that extent unreasonable,' because the ‘political value of the equality of women is overriding.' This means, apparently, that the contrary balance-treating the life of the unborn as the ‘overriding value'-is not just wrong but beyond the boundaries of reasonable argument, in part because it rests on a ‘comprehensive doctrine' (though why respect for unborn life rests on a comprehensive doctrine while respect for the equality of women does not is something of a mystery).”
McConnell is actually reviewing a new book by Elizabeth Mensch and Alan Freeman, The Politics of Virtue: Is Abortion Debatable? (Duke University Press). Mensch is a liberal Protestant and Freeman is Jewish, and their purpose is to explore whether in fact “comprehensive doctrines” offered by religion might not open the abortion controversy to the possibility of a sustainable accommodation. They survey different religious approaches, including natural law doctrine associated with Catholicism, and end up being most impressed with the Protestant thought of Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Of those two worthies McConnell says, “Their position might be described as ‘anti-choice,' though not ‘pro-life.'“
He notes that that is his characterization, not that of Mensch and Freeman, but it is a remarkable characterization. Both Barth and Bonhoeffer left no doubt about the evil of abortion. In his Ethics, for example, Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor killed by Hitler in the last days of the war, wrote that abortion is “nothing but murder,” for a “nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life.” McConnell thinks it significant that Bonhoeffer adds, “A great many different motives may lead to an action of this kind; indeed in cases where it is an act of despair, performed in circumstances of extreme human or economic destitution and misery, the guilt may often lie rather with the community than with the individual.” That is significant, but it addresses only the culpability of the woman involved, not the wrongness of the act. In any event, McConnell seems to confuse theological and pastoral judgment with public policy prescription, almost as though Barth and Bonhoeffer were addressing the American abortion conflict in 1995. Were they part of the present debate, it seems very unlikely that they would not support the goal of the pro-life movement that every unborn child be protected in law and welcomed in life.
Returning to Mensch and Freeman, McConnell is skeptical of a Protestant proposal for a “compromise” that will end up with the law paying lip service to the sanctity of life while doing nothing about the practice of abortion. His words are sobering: “This is essentially the West European solution (coupled with some more serious protection for fetal life in the later stages of pregnancy than we have here), and it seems to satisfy most people. Let us abolish the ‘right' of abortion discovered in Roe, declare that all life is deserving of protection, and then do nothing about it. Under this approach, the protesters, I predict, would diminish greatly in number; the Supreme Court's docket would be cleared of these contentious cases; politicians would be off the hook; but the number of abortions would stay the same. If there is a principled middle-ground position, it must lie in a noncoercive pro-life policy that works.”
Reflecting on the subtitle of the book, Is Abortion Debatable?, McConnell ends with this: “By ‘debatable,' the authors presumably mean that abortion is an issue about which debate is both possible and useful. I do not think that anyone will come away from this book persuaded of any particular thesis or program regarding abortion. I do think, though, that readers will be in a better position to see why even persons who share the authors' liberal-left, feminist worldview should understand the abortion issue as a question of justice-not simply of privacy or oppression-and even those of a secular orientation will be able to see how theological voices can contribute to the debate. Perhaps the first step toward having a productive debate-and hence toward finding a peaceful democratic solution-is to listen to one another's arguments and to stop attempting to rule ‘out-of-bounds' those whose presuppositions are grounded in religious faith.”
John Rawls' exclusion of “comprehensive doctrines,” notably religious doctrines, from public discourse is, in our judgment, a not very well disguised argument against democracy. Democratic discourse is more about people than doctrine; people locked in civil discourse can bring whatever doctrines they want to that discourse, although admittedly some doctrines will be more politically effective than others, and the intrusion of some doctrines could make the discourse a good deal less civil. In this connection, McConnell's treatment of natural law is disappointing. McConnell, an evangelical Protestant, wonders whether natural law is religious at all, since it makes no appeal to revelation. “Perhaps God has nothing to do with it,” he writes. But, as he notes in the same essay, natural law is divine law as much as is the positive law revealed in Scripture. The natural law claim is that God has so created the world that there are moral truths accessible to human reason (even fallen human reason) that makes moral deliberation possible among those who do and those who do not recognize the revealed truths of salvation. God has everything to do with it. It is the way He made the world and us in it. In trying to discern and obey the moral truth, one is doing one's religious duty. One does not need to be doing something identifiably religious in order to be religious. But that's an argument for another day.
Brace yourself for a piece of good news. When, last year, Oregon legalized doctor-assisted suicide “jubilant activists and sober critics predicted that right-to-die laws would spread like wildfire. Four months later, Measure 16 appears to be more of a brushfire that could fizzle, at least this year.” That's from Oregon's largest newspaper, the Oregonian. This year, suicide bills have been introduced in at least eleven states; several have already been defeated, and none appears to be headed for passage. In addition, state and federal courts have been ruling against a constitutional right to die. Especially important is the Ninth Circuit Court that, in a decision written by John Noonan, overruled the May 1994 decision of Judge Barbara Rothstein in Compassion in Dying v. Washington State.
There have been complaints that media reports on the decision have made a point of noting that Noonan is a Catholic who has written extensively on the protection of life. We do not agree with the complaint. If reports on a decision to the opposite effect noted that the decision was written by a Methodist who has written extensively in favor of the right to die, that would seem to be fair enough. The unfairness lies in the fact that the media did, predictably, report Noonan's religion and moral views, and almost certainly would not in the second instance. If a judge decides in favor of protecting life, he decides as a Catholic; if a judge decides in the opposite direction, he or she decides as a judge. So you are still expecting fairness in journalism? In fact, we would like to think that Noonan's Catholic morality does have a bearing on the decision-not because of his position on the issue but because he understands that judges have a moral duty not to make up constitutional rights.
In any event, herewith excerpts from the majority opinion of the Ninth Circuit: “The conclusion of the district court that the statute deprived the plaintiffs of a liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and denied them the equal protection of the laws cannot be sustained. . . . In the 205 years of our existence no constitutional right to aid in killing oneself has ever been asserted and upheld by a court of final jurisdiction. Unless the federal judiciary is to be a floating constitutional convention, a federal court should not invent a constitutional right unknown to the past and antithetical to the defense of human life that has been a chief responsibility of our constitutional government. . . . The district court declared the statute unconstitutional on its face without adequate consideration of Washington's interests that, individually and convergently, outweigh any alleged liberty of suicide. . . . 1. The interest in not having physicians in the role of killers of their patients. . . . Not only would the self-understanding of physicians be affected by removal of the state's support for their professional stance; the physician's constant search for ways to combat disease would be affected, if killing were as acceptable an option for the physician as curing. . . . 2. The interest in not subjecting the elderly and even the not-elderly but infirm to psychological pressure to consent to their own deaths. . . . 3. The interest in protecting the poor and minorities from exploitation. . . . Pain is a significant factor in creating a desire for assisted suicide, and the poor and minorities are notoriously less provided for in the alleviation of pain. . . . The desire to reduce the cost of public assistance by quickly terminating a prolonged illness cannot be ignored. 4. The interest in protecting all of the handicapped from societal indifference and antipathy. . . . An insidious bias against the handicapped-again coupled with a cost-saving mentality-makes them especially in need of Washington's statutory protection. . . . 5. An interest in preventing abuse similar to what has occurred in the Netherlands. . . . The physician's medical expertness is not a license to inflict medical procedures against your will. . . . You can be left alone if you want. . . . Tort law and criminal law have never recognized a right to let others enslave you, mutilate you, or kill you. When you assert a claim that another-and especially another licensed by the state-should help you bring about your death, you ask for more than being let alone; you ask that the state, in protecting its own interest, not prevent its licensee from killing. The difference is not of degree but of kind. You no longer seek the end of unwanted medical attention. You seek the right to have a second person collaborate in your death.”
As welcome as the Ninth Circuit decision is, and as encouraged as we should be by the resistance to “right to die” measures in various states, complacency is entirely out of order. There are other legal ploys to be tried, and other courts more hospitable to the euthanasia cause. Euthanasia advocates were so buoyed by Oregon that in other states their bills dropped Oregon's “safeguards” and came out for what they really want: e.g., doctors allowed to give lethal injections, a broadened definition of “terminal” illness, and terminations of patients who have not given their consent. Having overreached in several states, the Hemlock Society and its allies will perhaps be more cautious in the future. Certainly they still think the future is theirs, and maybe they are right. The most recent encyclical of John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, makes a convincing case that “the culture of death” is on the move. But for the moment there are also hopeful signs that, halfway down the abyss, some political and judicial fences are being repaired.
A very long time ago Albert Schweitzer was thought to have nailed down the coffin lid on “the quest for the historical Jesus.” Most scholars thought Paul Tillich had it right when he wrote: “Seen in the light of its basic intention, the attempt of historical criticism to find the empirical truth about Jesus of Nazareth was a failure. The historical Jesus, namely, the Jesus behind the symbols of his reception as the Christ, not only did not appear but receded farther and farther with every new step.” In the decade following World War II, however, there emerged a “new quest of the historical Jesus,” this time with the quite different purpose of grounding the Christian proclamation in the preaching and activity of Jesus, lest Christian faith drift off into some kind of ahistorical gnostic myth or mystery. That quest, too, was generally considered a failure, but none of this has prevented another batch of scholars, mainly American, from launching a “new new quest” or “third quest.” Writing about the earlier questings, Schweitzer said ninety years ago: “Each individual created Jesus in accordance with his own character. There is no historical task which so reveals a man's true self as the writing of a life of Jesus.” As Schweitzer well understood, the traditional Christological dogmas of the Church had to be shattered before scholars could be free to proceed on the presuppositions that they bring to the task of discovering “the real Jesus.”
Carl Braaten, writing in the ecumenical journal Pro Ecclesia, invites us to cultivate a robust skepticism regarding this new new quest. “The answer to the question, ‘Which Jesus? Whose Jesus?' cannot be given without coming clean on the matter of presuppositions. There were certain presuppositions at work in the formation of the Gospel traditions in the life of the early church. Easter and Pentecost were the crucial ones. We know what we know about Jesus only in the light of Easter and Pentecost. If we ignore them as functioning presuppositions in our scholarly approach to the historical Jesus, we will end up with a Jesus who looks very different from the picture of Jesus the Christ that we find in the New Testament and the Christian liturgy.
“The pictures of Jesus in the ‘Third Quest' tell us more about their authors than they do about the ‘real' Jesus of history. They are all very different; there is no consensus at all. For S. G. F. Brandon Jesus was a political revolutionary, for Hugh Schonfield a messianic schemer, for Morton Smith the founder of a secret society, for Geza Vermes a Galilean holy man, for Burton Mack a wandering Cynic preacher, for John Dominic Crosson a Mediterranean Jewish peasant, for Marcus Borg a countercultural charismatic trying to make the world a better place, for Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza a first-century feminist who called his disciples into an egalitarian community of equals, for Barbara Thiering a member of the Qumran community who married Mary Magdalene, had two sons and a daughter, divorced Mary, married someone else, and died in his sixties. For Bishop John Spong Jesus was born of a woman who had been raped, and all the stuff about Jesus' resurrection in the Gospels is nothing but later Christian ‘midrash.'
“Usually I'm not so fond of the hermeneutics of suspicion, but here, with Schweitzer's verdict ringing in my ears, I cannot help but apply it. These Jesus-scholars have found a reflection of their own values and ideals in Jesus, painting his picture in accordance with their own character, or lack of it. Meanwhile, many believing Christians will respond to the plethora of exotic concoctions and novelistic fantasies about the historical Jesus much like Mary Magdalene lamented to the two angels at the tomb: ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him' (John 20:13).”
It's in the nature of conversations that they go back and forth, sometimes tediously and sometimes engagingly so. In the latter category is the discussion of whether a Christian understanding of the truth protects the rights of secular humanists better than a secular humanist understanding of the truth protects the rights of Christians. That was the claim made in this space some months ago, to which secular humanist William Sierichs, Jr. wrote an intelligently amusing rejoinder in the January 1995 issue. Sierichs, you may recall, turned the standard charges of Christian intolerance on their head, producing a tongue-in-cheek historical account of how secular humanists have persecuted Christians over the centuries. He ended with the plea, “Please don't be paranoid. Our past does not predict our future.” Francis Brislawn of Laramie, Wyoming, was amused but not taken in. Along with his letter he sends us a copy of a letter he wrote to Free Inquiry, the magazine of the Council for Democratic/Secular Humanism, Dr. Paul Kurtz, bishop and founder. Mr. Brislawn wrote:
“In the Fall 1994 issue of Free Inquiry, on the Notes from the Editor page, the question is raised: What right do parents have to impose their own narrow and chauvinistic ideas on their offspring? (Referring to religious ideas.) Further down in this article a principle of the Secular Humanist Declaration is quoted: ‘We do not think it is moral to baptize infants, to confirm adolescents, or to impose a religious creed on young people before they are able to consent. Although children should learn about the history of religious/moral practices, these minds should not be indoctrinated in the faith before they are mature enough to evaluate the merits for themselves.'
“I don't know, maybe immature minds should not be indoctrinated. But it seems here that humanists are trying to deny to others the freedom they claim for themselves-they themselves want to indoctrinate young minds. There seems to be a double standard. Is this freethought? (Using freethought in a descriptive sense and not in a technical sense.) Why do humanists have the right to impose a humanist creed on young people before they are able to consent?
“A couple of letters to the editor in that issue, one from Sidney Kash and another from John S. Dearing, provide further examples of this mindset. Sidney Kash describes how he would indoctrinate children: ‘If they do not get religious training, they should be provided with a basis in science and skepticism. . . . To introduce science, I suggest reading about biology (including the evolutionary progression of animals) and astronomy. Children ages three to five are not too young. Taking a lead from religion, it is important to expose children early to modern scientific views of the world around us. . . . ‘
“John Dearing states, ‘Children need to be protected from religion. . . . One way to teach our children is by reading and discussing humanist freethought books with them.' This sounds like a Sunday School or Bible study for humanists.
“How can humanists claim the right to indoctrinate their children while denying that freedom to religionists? Is it because humanism, evolution, etc. are objectively true while religion is not? But religionists believe their ideas to be objectively true. Paul Kurtz asks: ‘What right do they have to impose their own narrow chauvinistic ideas on their offspring? Children are not the possessions of parents, but autonomous beings.' Religionists will ask, ‘What right do atheists have to impose their own narrow and chauvinistic ideas on their offspring? The kids do not belong to them.'
“If parents shouldn't impose their narrow ideas on their children, how do we prevent it? Thought police? It's scary. Some parents will be allowed to pass their values on but others will not. This whole thing has the flavor of an in-house quarrel between competing faiths-religious faiths have always sought ways to prevent rival religions from teaching their ideas.”
After all the demonstrations and all the rallies, after the endless promotions of “safe sex” and the billions of dollars spent seeking a cure, a fatalistic attitude seems to have settled on the AIDS community, researchers and activists alike. The disease has become the leading killer of Americans between twenty-five and forty, according to Craig Horowitz in New York magazine, and half the homosexual men in New York City are HIV-positive. The virus-with its ability to mutate rapidly-has defeated all medical efforts to combat it.
Fatalism, however, as the ancient Roman Stoics discovered, is one of the most peculiar of possible moral attitudes to the universe, for it leads simultaneously toward two apparently opposed results: toward irresponsible activity and toward hopeless inactivity. Fatalism both sets one free and loads one down, because nothing that one does makes any difference. And both of these results have begun to surface in the worlds of homosexual activism.
“This change in attitude is clearly visible,” Horowitz observes. “The return of vintage seventies promiscuity has sparked a small boom in theaters, dance clubs, bars, and a variety of other venues that have back rooms and private cubicles for sex. . . . There is a new generation of men under twenty-five that simply hasn't had enough experience with the disease to really be afraid of it. . . . ‘It's made them very susceptible to the mythmaking side of AIDS,' says Martin Delaney [a San Francisco AIDS activist]. ‘That HIV isn't the cause of AIDS, that it's all a government plot, the whole area that I call the conspiracy-theory side.'“
Meanwhile, the older leaders of ACT-UP, after their first successes in focusing attention upon AIDS, have gradually despaired of victory. “I know that no matter how many meetings I go to, we're not going to walk out with a cure in my lifetime,” one tired activist admitted. “Everybody's burned out,” added Delaney, “I am; we all are.”
The failure to find a medical cure has led to some of the homosexuals' fatalism. “No viral disease in history has ever had so much money thrown at it,” the Nobel-laureate David Baltimore reported. The NIH alone spends $1.3 billion on AIDS research-though some critics, writes Horowitz, charge that the NIH is “an oversize, byzantine, bureaucratized black hole that sucks in federal dollars and delivers little in the way of results.” But researchers have managed to do considerable research, and their “early success followed by disappointment and heavily politicized disputes over strategy” has finally succeeded in destroying the older activists' dream that they could get a cure simply by demanding one loudly and outrageously enough. “Though activists still argue that AIDS is being ignored and underfunded, that has become a harder case to make.”
The only available way to prevent the spread of AIDS, as even homosexuals admit, is by a change in behavior. But the change they have promoted, the “safe sex” ostensibly offered by the use of condoms, has proven ineffective. The physical and psychological awkwardness of condoms has lessened their use, and the increasingly fatalistic attitude of homosexuals has lead to a recent rise in reports of unprotected sex-and to a rise in the rates of HIV infection. Even the activists themselves contributed to the rise. “Whatever else you want to say about it,” ACT-UP founder Larry Kramer said, “ACT-UP was an incredible place to meet people. . . . It became the best cruising ground in New York. All the hot young men were there. Ask some of them how many guys they [had sex with] in the cloakroom. That's a part of ACT-UP people don't talk about.”
As we remarked some months ago, the all-stops-pulled gay and lesbian campaign of 1993-marches, protests, and cover stories in almost all the major magazines-came a cropper. It was the revolution that wasn't. The disillusionment of yesterday's activists is poignant but, considering what their victory might have meant, one's sympathy is contained.
The title After MacIntyre takes off from Alasdair MacIntyre's celebrated After Virtue. After MacIntyre, published by University of Notre Dame Press, has seventeen philosophers criticizing MacIntyre's project from various viewpoints and with varying degrees of substantive disagreement. Then MacIntyre, as is the way with such books, offers an extended response to his critics. The whole thing is great fun, although most readers will undoubtedly think it an insiders' quarrel among philosophers. In the course of his response, MacIntyre indicates the ways in which he has become much more of a Thomist over the years. He also gets off some sprightly observations about one of his favorite bugbears, the movement that today goes by the name “communitarianism.” “Contemporary communitarians, from whom I have strongly dissociated myself whenever I have had an opportunity to do so, advance their proposals as a contribution to the politics of the nation-state. Where liberals have characteristically insisted that government within a nation-state should remain neutral between rival conceptions of the human good, contemporary communitarians have urged that such government should give expression to some shared vision of the human good, a vision defining some type of community. Where liberals have characteristically urged that it is in the activities of subordinate voluntary associations, such as those constituted by religious groups, that shared visions of the good should be articulated, communitarians have insisted that the nation itself through the institutions of the nation-state ought to be constituted to some significant degree as a community. In the United States this has become a debate within the Democratic Party, a debate in which from my own point of view communitarians have attacked liberals on one issue on which liberals have been consistently in the right.”
Philosophical liberals are right in seeing the collectivist, even totalitarian, danger in the notion of the nation as a “strong community.” What they do not see is that the problem is with the modern nation-state. “Liberals, however, mistakenly suppose that those evils arise from any form of political community which embodies substantive practical agreement upon some strong conception of the human good. I by contrast take them to arise from the specific character of the modern nation-state, thus agreeing with liberals in this at least, that modern nation-states which masquerade as embodiments of community are always to be resisted. The modern nation-state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one's life on its behalf. As I have remarked elsewhere, it is like being asked to die for the telephone company. Sometimes of course there are evils only to be resisted by ad hoc participation in some particular enterprises of some nation-state: in resisting Hitler and Stalin, most notably. And it is prudent to pay one's taxes and always just to accept obligations which one has incurred to the state and to its agencies. But to empower even the liberal state as a bearer of values always imperils those values. . . . In any case the liberal critique of those nation-states which pretend to embody the values of community has little to say to those Aristotelians, such as myself, for whom the nation-state is not and cannot be the locus of community.” So is Alasdair MacIntyre a liberal or conservative or what? Stay tuned. He says he is working on a big new book that may, or may not, answer questions such as that. In any event, After MacIntyre demonstrates that it is ridiculously premature to title a book After MacIntyre.
Oh, what a lovely fuss it has raised. United Methodist hierarchs harrumph at Abingdon's publishing something so inappropriate, his colleagues in academic theology rail against its incorrectness, and the acolytes of Sophia claim that it is more than outrageous. They have gone so far as to call it conservative, which in some circles is about as far as you can go. The occasion of this ruckus is Thomas C. Oden's new book, Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements (176 pages, $16.95
). Oden, a United Methodist teaching at Drew University, has more than three decades of experience with seminaries and divinity schools, and he offers good reason for being worried about what is going on. Herewith my foreword to the book, offered in the hope that it will whet the appetite of readers-and not only Methodist or Protestant readers-to accept an invitation to a requiem that, God willing, is prelude to resurrection.
It seems highly improbable that a book could be rollickingly funny, devastatingly polemical, and instructively edifying all at the same time, but Thomas Oden has pulled it off. Over the last three decades and more, Oden seems to have played in every ring of the many-ringed circus that is American academic theology. He is an explorer; he tried and tested everything. It turns out that he is like Chesterton's Englishman in Orthodoxy who set out to find the new world and, after much traveling, discovered England. Or, in the image of Eliot, the end of Oden's exploring was to arrive where he started and know the place for the first time.
This place of origin, termination, and beginnings anew is historic Christianity. Sometimes he calls it “classical Christianity,” sometimes “consensual Christianity,” sometimes “catholic Christianity.” And sometimes just “Christianity,” meaning what C. S. Lewis meant by “mere Christianity.” Oden knows that to leap out of a tradition is not to be liberated but to be lost. It is to lose one's connectedness with a story, and without a story we do not know who we are. Then we can only emit the intellectual signals-sometimes very cleverly articulated signals-of our lostness. Theological education has become, in very large part, the games with which lost souls entertain one another in order to distract their minds from the thought that they can't go home again.
And then along comes Tom Oden with the good news-not unrelated to the good news-that they can go home again. In fact, says he, they are more at home than they know. Their trivial games, their fashions, their entertaining breakthroughs, their insights marketed as New! New! New! are all variations on themes much more interestingly engaged by the Great Tradition. Their inventions have been invented many times before and, Oden does not hesitate to point out, were typically called heresies. Not always terribly interesting heresies, to be sure, not major league heresies, but heresies nonetheless. As Oden notes, there are few heresies less intellectually interesting than today's common claim that there cannot be heresy because, finally, there is no truth about which to be heretical.
In no way is Oden despairing. He knows that we have not the right to despair, and, all things considered, we have not the reason to despair. More and more “young fogeys” like Oden are discovering the truth that is “ever ancient, ever new” (Augustine). It is called the catholic faith, and it is a feast to which he invites us. It is a moveable feast, encountered wherever there is faith, and it is a moving feast, still developing under the guidance of the Spirit. Oden is like “Auntie Mame,” who observed that life is a banquet and most poor slobs are starving to death. Origen, Irenaeus, Cyril of Alexandria, Thomas Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, Calvin, Wesley-the names fall trippingly from Oden's tongue, like a gourmet surveying a most spectacular table. Here are arguments you can get your teeth into, conceptual flights of intoxicating complexity, and truths to die for. Far from the table, over there, way over there, is American theological education where prodigal academics feed starving students on the dry husks of their clever unbelief.
It is too simple to say that the problem is unbelief. Chesterton observed that the trouble with someone who does not believe in God is not that he will end up believing in nothing; it is that he will end up believing in anything. We live in an age of credulity, as is dramatically evidenced by the novelties-ever ancient-that provide such excitements in our seminaries and divinity schools. Oden invites us to an exploration toward faith in an age of credulity. When setting out on a great adventure, you take care to check out your travel companions. Oden is pleased to report that, after numerous disappointments, he has found a splendid company of friends with whom to travel. They have been traveling for centuries, and he has been traveling with them for some time now. He has found them to be faithful, wise, and filled with wonderful stories about the One who promised to travel with them “until the end of the age.”
A number of us young fogeys-and some of us no longer so young-have been traveling together for a while. There have been memorable festivities along the way. In 1975 there was, for instance, the Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation. It caused quite a stir at the time, but today you would have to go look it up in the library. In the Hartford Appeal, about twenty theologians from the several churches upbraided contemporary academic theology for its “loss of transcendence.” I think it made eminently good sense at the time, and I would not take back a word of it. But none of us anticipated the way that theme would be turned upside down in the twenty years that have followed.
The transcendence of God has been excitedly seized upon by the ringmasters of the circus that is theology today-and by nobody so exuberantly as by those whom Oden calls “ultrafeminists.” God, they tell us, is so transcendently transcendent, so ineffably ineffable, so utterly utter, that no words, no creeds, no liturgies, no gestures can possibly claim to speak the “truth” about God. (It is a significant sign of our time that so many put truth in quotation marks.) It follows that talk about God is really talk about ourselves. Our feelings, our experiences, our needs, and, above all, our rage at the injustices visited upon us-this is the real subject matter of theology. In theology, what is meaningful and what is not meaningful to me has displaced what is true and what is false. Put differently, what is true or false means what is meaningful or not meaningful to me. Ludwig Feuerbach, thou shouldst have lived to see thy day.
Feuerbach (1804-1872), some contemporary students of theology may remember, contended that a transcendent God has no objective reality but is the product of projected human aspirations. His, however, was a happy and optimistic atheism, unlike the angry deconstructive atheisms of today's academics who turn theology into the projection of human discontents. When Oden says he is post-modern, he means, in significant part, that he is post-Feuerbachian. At least that is how I read him. Beyond human optimism and anger, he fell, by the grace of God, into the company of some very impressive thinkers who told him that they had heard from God. God spoke. To Abraham, at Sinai, through the prophets, and then God became his speaking in Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God. Christian theologians have been trying to figure out what it means, and how best to say what it means, for some two thousand years, and Thomas Oden has discovered this to be the grandest, most daring, most mind-stretching and soul-stretching project imaginable. Certainly a heaven of a lot more interesting than “doing theology” with his self. Not that Oden does not have an interesting self. But he has found himself to be infinitely less interesting than God.
Funny how that phrase “doing theology” has caught on. As in making it up as you go along. Oden invites us to study theology, to think theology, to argue theology, to teach theology, all the while knowing that it is a language that, at best, only stumblingly approximates that of which it speaks. The language is not our invention. It is the language of a community to which we, all undeserving, have been joined by grace. It is a conversation and a grammar formed through time in response to the Word. The conversation is by no means over. There is a great deal still to be said. Maybe, in the long reach of history and in God's mysterious purposes, the conversation is just getting underway. But only those who know what has been said so far, only those who discipline themselves to the conversation's rhythms and eccentricities, will have much to contribute to the company of reflection and proclamation that is Christian theology.
As I read him (and I have been reading him for a very long time), that conversation is the feast that Thomas Oden has discovered, and to which he invites the reader of this rollickingly funny, devastatingly polemical, and instructively edifying little book. Do not be misled by the title. Beyond the requiem is resurrection, and behind the lament is laughter. Were it otherwise, there would be no conversation and no feast, either now or later.
(Requiem can be purchased by calling Abingdon's customer service department toll free at 1-800-672-1789 and asking for ISBN 0-687-01160-4.)
• When an interpretation of the law binds, it is called legalism; when it loosens, it is called humane. At least that is the way Russell Hittinger of Catholic University sees the state of Catholic moral theology these days. Speaking to a conference of bishops in Dallas, he seized upon the parable of the wicked tenants who killed the agents of the landlord who came for his share of the harvest, and finally ended up trying to take over the vineyard. Hittinger concludes: “The message for moral theologians is that they must never pervert their craft by being lawyers for the tenants. When they act like lawyers for the tenants, they play the role of the scribes and Pharisees, who also wanted to call the shots by turning the law into their own interpretive tool. When the lord of the vineyard returned, the intellectual establishment wanted to wrangle over legal matters, and eventually found themselves doing something worse than that. The Pope is not going to turn the farm over to the tenants. The moral theologians insist that he must. Indeed, they threaten to take it anyway. If nothing else, they plan to outlast the Pope. And if this doesn't work, they will throw salt on the field to make it useless to the owner. But we already know how this story must end.” Analogies should not be pushed too far. The Pope, as Hittinger notes, is not a landlord in the sense of owning the Church, nor are members of the Church, including moral theologians, mere tenants. But his analogy is striking insofar as it applies.
• Race, meaning black-white relations, has bedevilled the American experience from the introduction of slavery. David Carlin, who is no stranger to our readers, writes in Commonweal, “This is America's third failure at finding a satisfactory basis for black-white relations. Slavery wouldn't do. Segregation wouldn't do. And this-whatever we finally decide to call it-won t do either.” He then proceeds to offer about as lucid a description of the sundry madnesses in contemporary race relations as we have come across in a long while. “There are many causes for this latest failure, but one of the most important has been the assumption that there can be such a thing as a benign race consciousness. For 350 years prior to the 1960s, race consciousness-that is to say, white consciousness of another person's African ancestry-had been powerful in America, almost always producing bad consequences. The sensible strategy would have been to erode race consciousness, to persuade white Americans that race did not really count. This was the strategy Martin Luther King, Jr. had in mind when he made his ‘content of their character' remark. And the strategy worked. During the first half of the 1960s the nation went through a collective examination of conscience on the question of race and, in principle at least, came to the conclusion hoped for, namely, that race is a minor and relatively unimportant category. Victory had not been won, but it was at hand. But then defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, a combination of white liberals and black leaders (King now being dead) decided it was possible to have a benign race consciousness. As in the past, a person's African ancestry was to be regarded as his or her principal defining characteristic; but now, instead of considering this a negative trait, white Americans would be expected to consider it a positive trait. The United States would continue to be divided on racial lines, but this division would no longer be a division into black and white castes, separate and unequal. Instead, we would be divided into black and white clans, clearly distinct from one another but equal and cooperative, both clans being peer members of the great American tribe. To promote this equality and cooperation, it would, of course, be necessary to introduce racial quotas into schools, jobs, legislative redistricting, etc. Given the long racist history of British America and the United States, the notion of a benign race consciousness should have been seen as a kind of contradiction in terms, nearly as preposterous as the notion of a benign anti-Semitism. But black leaders imagined it was possible to combine the incompatible ideals of integration and black nationalism, a synthesis of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael. White liberals (with the exception of some Jews for whom anything smelling of quotas was suspect) suspended their critical faculties out of a desire to remain in harmony with blacks. And almost everyone else shut up for fear of being called racists were they to turn critics. Two decades later the color line is still present in American society. To this day an African-American's blackness remains his or her most salient trait in the eyes of most white Americans, as it does in the eyes of many black Americans. White racial bigotry, which once seemed to be well on its way to becoming an extinct species, is growing in strength. So is black racial bigotry. Worse than white bigotry, however, is white indifference: by and large, white Americans have lost interest in the troubles of their black fellow citizens. They have stopped listening, and they have largely stopped caring in any but a ritual manner. In the last thirty years, American life has been very disappointing in many ways, but no disappointment is more heartbreaking than the failure of racial integration. For in this case we had victory in the palm of our hands, victory over the most abiding social evil in American history-and we threw it away.”
• Irving Louis Horowitz of Rutgers is a giant in several respects. Everybody worth their salt in sociology has had to engage Horowitz at some point, whether the subject is democratic theory, Third World development, religion and social custom, Max Weber on modernity, or at least three dozen other questions of consequence. In addition to his much writing and encouraging of others in academe, Horowitz is the founder and director of the book empire, Transaction Publishers. It seems improbable that Irving Louis is sixty-five years of age, but here is this festschrift in his honor, The Democratic Imagination, published by Transaction. It's a big thick book in which a host of former students and others, mostly friendly critics, interact with the master. The following excerpt from his concluding reflections may help the reader to understand why so many of us salute this man with Ad multos annos!: “First and foremost, the life of democratic theory is that being wrong is not a crime against society or science. Nor therefore should such error be punished as such. Intellectuals as the first victims of the tyranny of absolutist regimes should be the last to champion linkages of personal punishment with scientific error. Theory is as much concerned with sensibility as structure, with feelings as much as form. How we respond to error, the civility of discourse itself, is critical to my approach. The battlefield of ideas is strewn with system builders. For individuals who are convinced that they have a special divination never before seen on the earth, only grandiose theorizing will suffice. To them, Whitehead had the answer: all philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. For my part, I would add that all social theory is a series of footnotes to Aristotle. Second, the need to keep pace with changes in ordinary affairs requires that we start with facts and truths and end with ideas and beliefs. To reverse this process, to start with general theory, is but to insure fanaticism. The last temptation of the theorist is to fit reality into his or her model of social life. Once the researcher yields to that temptation, all is lost. Vanity replaces modesty, and the need of the scholar becomes the preservation of ‘face' rather than the recognition of our fallibility and finitude. In this, we can learn much from the Western tradition in which we are as much defined by weakness as strength, or if the religious variant be preferred, sin as well as science.”
• Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center recycles in the Los Angeles Times the old canard that Christian leaders such as Pius XII “at best looked the other way, protected their own, were bystanders rather than activists, and sometimes even assisted the Nazis in carrying out their Final Solution.” Charles Ford of St. Louis University wrote this letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (where the article also appeared): “Marvin Hier propagates a great falsehood about Pope Pius XII in his article ‘Remembering Victims of the Holocaust' (Post-Dispatch, January 27, 1994). He claims that the Pope and his prelates ‘at best looked the other way' while the Nazis destroyed the Jews. The truth is quite the opposite. The Pope hid hundreds of Jews in the Vatican and at Castel Gondolfo, the papal summer residence. A total of four thousand Jews were hidden in Rome. Rabbi Hier correctly points out that most of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe were in fact destroyed. But this was not true in Italy. Under the leadership of the Pope, his bishops and clergy, the Jews of Italy were sheltered so successfully that 85 percent survived. That is a higher percentage than in any other Nazi-occupied country except Denmark, which had a much smaller Jewish population. Let a single incident, involving the seminary in the town of Nonantola, serve to illustrate the heroic efforts of the Italian clergy. Near Nonantola was a villa harboring 92 Jewish orphans. When a local Fascist led the Nazis to the villa, the rector and his priests organized the escape of all 92 orphans, using the seminary as the main hiding place. Not one of the orphans was ever caught by the Nazis. Although the article leaves the impression that Bernard Lichtenberg, a priest who died en route to Dachau, was an isolated figure, more than 2,500 Catholic priests were imprisoned in Dachau. Of the one million Jews who survived in Nazi-occupied Europe, more than 85 percent were rescued by Roman Catholics. The Roman Catholic Church under Pope Pius XII did more than any other organization in Nazi-occupied Europe to defend the Jews against the Nazis.” At Ford's parish, Bethel Lutheran Church in St. Louis, he and others are leading a series of adult education programs on the churches and the Third Reich, with particular attention to the martyred Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
• About as succinct and accessible a treatment of the subject as we've seen is “What You Need to Know About Euthanasia and the ‘Right to Die,'“ a thirty-one-page pamphlet by Mary Senander and available for $2 from Life Cycle Books, P.O. Box 420, Lewiston, NY 14092. Recommended for discussion groups. n In February we noted that the Postal Service had forbidden in its precincts any seasonal outbursts such as “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah.” Now the Rutherford Institute informs us that, partly through the institute's intervention, the Postal Service has reversed itself. For instance, school children displaying cards in post offices can include religious themes, and citizens will not be censored as to how they might choose to greet one another. The only thing now forbidden is government displays of a religious nature. The sources of the original edict are still cause for concern, but the modest change in the right direction is welcome.
• “We,” they declared, “grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of freedom, do earnestly desire to secure these blessings undiminished for our children.” That statement, from the Michigan State Board of Education, dates not from 1795-when words like these were common-but from 1995. Clark Durant, the new head of the school board, borrowed phrases from the preamble to the state's constitution and from the Northwest Ordinance to compose a mission statement for education in Michigan that sounds like a dream of educational reform: asserting the primacy of parents, local accountability, and the need for religion, free access, and school choice. Occasional solecisms-the use of “impact” as a verb, the weak locution “we advocate for the removal of barriers that constrain efforts to open,” the improbable sentence “A blessing of freedom is to reaffirm an important truth”-remind us that the statement comes from our contemporaries. Our forefathers wrote better than that. But if the mission statement passed 7 to 1 by the Michigan Board of Education on January 19 is carried through, Michigan children will write better, too.
• We don't know why Pyramid Press of Dallas, Texas-”The Preferred Publisher for Progressive People,” as it alliteratively bills itself-would think this is their audience, but we received in the mail a copy of its latest tome, The Lambda Directory: Sources of Spiritual Support for Gay Men & Lesbians. “The search for spirituality among American adults,” the accompanying flyer ominously warns, “has not escaped the gay and lesbian community,” and the directory lists organizations waiting to welcome the practicing homosexual into any faith he or she progressively prefers: Christian, Jewish, New Age, Wicca/Goddess, or “alternative” pagan (don't ask). It is intriguing to contemplate that, in some worlds, Wicca/Goddess is viewed as mainline religion.
• It is not as though the leadership of oldline Protestantism isn't trying. This from the Pacific School of Religion: “October 22, Pacific School of Religion's Fall Lay Leadership Conference, ‘Revisioning the Church for the 21st Century,' examines ways to breathe new life into the church in the face of the alarming membership decline in Protestant churches. Four workshops will be offered: ‘End of Life Decision-Making,' by Ellen Agard, PSR adjunct faculty; ‘The Holiness of Money,' by Kim Clark, PSR Director of Planned Giving; ‘Key Ideas of Other Faiths,' by Riess Potterveld, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at PSR and former Cal State Professor of world religions; and ‘Partners in Preaching,' by Mary Donovan Turner, Assistant Professor of Preaching at PSR.” End of life decision-making seems especially relevant to the circumstance in which the former Protestant establishment finds itself.
• After exhaustive research and painstaking study, after six years spent scientifically gathering data and ten more years spent mathematically analyzing it, sociologist Scott J. South of the State University of New York at Albany has at last presented the public with his pathbreaking work. It turns out that the sexual availability of unmarried men and women in a neighborhood increases the chances of adultery and divorce, and that temptation increases the likelihood of transgression. Prof. South modestly limits his conclusions to non-Hispanic white people in their twenties. His evidence is so powerful, however, and his reasoning so cogent, that we feel confident that he will find similar results among other people at the end of his next sixteen years of study. Surely it is past time for religion to come to terms with the findings of modern social science, e.g., the now carefully documented connection between temptation and sin.
• We had thought of a dozen amused things to say about reports of prisons that are banning cigarettes for inmates awaiting execution: healthy dying, smokeless frying, no coffin nails before the coffin, any other last request? etc. But as we receive more reports of the successful banning of cigarettes throughout prisons and mental hospitals, we find ourselves less amused with the self-righteous forces of right-thinking about health. As the kids say, get a life. Prisoners and the mentally disturbed, to say nothing of felons on death row, should not have their more important anxieties complicated by being deprived of a cigarette. Denying cigarettes to the condemned makes it obvious, if anyone had not noticed before, that the antismoking zealots are less interested in health than in punishing behavior of which they disapprove.
• A full-page Planned Parenthood ad in the Times accused Cardinals Law of Boston, O'Connor of New York, and Mahony of Los Angeles, inter alia, of being “leaders of the anti-choice movement who have become the arms merchants in this war of words,” and suggested that they were responsible for murders at (as distinct from in) abortion clinics. So the U.S. bishops' pro-life office countered with its full-page ad, which was run after some very considerable resistance from the Times. The ad was titled “Truth Doesn't Kill. Abortion Does,” and it quoted pro-choice leaders who acknowledged the obvious, that abortion causes the death of a baby. The Times demanded that Gail Quinn of the bishops' indemnification office produce an agreement stating that all of the people quoted in the ad had been contacted and had agreed to have their names used in the ad. Ms. Quinn asked if the Times had made a similar demand of Planned Parenthood. Of course they had not. Winona Johnson of the “ad acceptability department” claimed that each potential ad is judged “on its own merits” and not in relation to any past ads. “The biggest debate (with Ms. Quinn) was over the use of the word ‘abortionist,'“ she said. “We felt we didn't want them to use that word.” Of course not. Among the strongest signs that the pro-choice side has lost the public argument is the insistence that we not call things (and people) by their right name.
• Asked about the prospects for a reawakening among the dispirited mainline Protestants, a United Methodist observer said, “Most of the time, I don't think we have a prayer, but then. . .” He left the sentence uncompleted. In fact, a prayer may be the most important thing they have. A recent issue commented on the remarkable new book of worship issued by the Presbyterian Church (USA). And now there is For All the Saints: A Prayer Book for and by the Church, issued by the independent American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. Edited by Pastor Frederick Schumacher, this is the first of four handsome volumes providing for every day of the year Scripture readings, psalms, prayers, and readings drawn from the entirety of Christian history. The same organization plans to produce soon a more comprehensive breviary along the lines of the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours. The first volume of For All the Saints costs $33 ppd. and is available from ALPB at P.O. Box 327, Delhi, NY 13753-0327. (The set of all four volumes is $100 ppd.)
• Last summer New York City buses sported advertisements for the very “socially conscious” Ben and Jerry's ice cream, with pictures of celebrities slurping their favorite flavors. And there was Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J., with, if we recall, something called Chocolate Chocha. As our younger readers likely do not know, Father Dan was in the 1960s one of the most celebrated religious figures in America, a poet in the prophetic mode dependably railing against many things that needed railing against, and many that didn't. He was also a friend back then, although we have had slight occasion to meet in recent years. In any event, here is Father Dan back in his accustomed form. A journal called Cross Currents ran some articles in praise of the religio-moral sensitivity of President Clinton, which prompted Father Dan to write a letter to the editor. “I sorted through the ‘Religion in the White House' trio of articles. My mood, starting with the fulsome italicized introduction signed by the Editors, was of shaken disbelief. ‘Extraordinary achievements' of the Clinton White House? Allow me to repeat your list, and comment.-‘Universal health care.' As a matter of ‘ecotheology' (your word, not mine), can it be maintained that the restrictions on trade against Iraq or Cuba have contributed to the health of the children of Baghdad or Havana? Or has the word ‘universal' been Bowdlerized in Orwellian fashion, meaning in effect, ours-and the devil take the hindmost?-‘. . . most energetic antipoverty effort in a generation' (New York Times quote). And according to the same impeccable source, ‘the American share of the new arms deals in the third world soared to 73 percent in 1993 from 56 percent in 1992.'-Antipoverty effort? Energetic? Last month, the seventeenth Trident submarine was launched in Connecticut. Cost: $7 billion. One such monstrous behemoth, it is boasted in some quarters, can bring down the planet. Seventeen Tridents? Anti-poverty?-‘. . . a sense that there is such a thing as the common weal.' How common? Whose weal? Again, ecotheology would incline one to take a look at campaign promises, since those roseate days, utterly forsworn. Would urge a look southward, where Haitian children and adults languish and are shipped back to die.-‘an administration whose focus is on the good of communities, from the family to the nation itself.' Including among other goods and services the death penalty? I have a story to recount (from ‘Hospitality,' 910 Ponce de Leon Avenue, NE, Atlanta). ‘As Governor of Arkansas and a candidate for President, Clinton flew home to witness the execution of lobotomized Ricky Rector. On the night of lethal injection, the prisoner left the pie from his last meal in the cell, intending “to eat it after the execution.”' One inquires whether such a sorry episode was brought up in the course of that famous Religion in the White House amity.-‘. . . a vision of justice enlivened by ultimate concern.' Excuse me, you lose me. The orotund phraseology is in the nature of a pulpit rehash, signifying, to me at least, nothing. What vision? How ultimate? And Amos no less? The incantational analogy would cause our biblical nay-sayers to blush from burnoose to sandals. I too live on Joan Campbell's Broadway. I tried out the above empurpled prose on a homeless man on my street, assuring him that the White House was ‘enlivened by an etc., etc.' He assured me he'd pass the word along to the fifty or so thousand like him in the city. He too thought we couldn't have enough Tridents. Said that after all, the Haitian homeless weren't so bad off in that snazzy Caribbean climate of theirs. ‘Politics of meaning' indeed. I'm just wondering whether the eminences of the National Council of Churches, along with the bishops and rabbis, have not been rusticating too long, tents pitched outside the purview of Reagan-Bush, just dreaming of the day of the Big Summons. Too long a sacrifice, pace Yeats, can make the heart a big lump of longing. Power! Please bear with the minority opinion. We, biblically speaking, don't belong inside there, bedazzled, listening to Clinton being brilliant without notes. We belong in the tents, telling the truth, a rare commodity rarely come by. Please, just take another close look at old Amos and the king's priests. Amos knew where he belonged; they knew too. Where he belonged; not in our neighborhood. Old Amos. Jaweh never promised him the Rose Garden.” To that prophet-like blast, the editors of Cross Currents limply reply that “Society needs its prophets, Daniel Berrigan among them, just as, we think, it needs its politicians, Bill Clinton among them.” They don't take back what they said about Clinton's merits as a leader of great moral stature, but they do acknowledge that “Like the rest of us, he also sins, as, to take just one example, his hypocritical enthusiasm for the death penalty attests.” That's likely not the example that most Americans would have cited first. For our part, we assume that the enthusiasms of both Father Berrigan and the editors of Cross Currents are utterly sincere. As for Old Amos, never mind the Rose Garden, he never even got to be a Ben and Jerry's poster prophet.
• When Judge Richard Kaufman overturned Michigan's law against physician-aided suicide, he relied heavily on the reasoning of the 1927 Supreme Court decision Buck v. Bell-in which Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, allowing the compulsory sterilization of Carrie Buck, wrote the infamous words, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” An estimated sixty thousand people were involuntarily sterilized as a result of the decision. Not the least horror of the decision was that Carrie Buck, her mother, and her daughter were not by any means imbeciles. Justice Holmes was the first to suggest that they were, though only Justice Pierce Butler (the sole Roman Catholic on the court) dissented from his decision. The daughter of a prostitute, Carrie Buck became pregnant, possibly as a result of being raped by one of her inlaws. After her sterilization, she married, worked on her husband's farm, tended the elderly, and sang in the church choir until her death in 1983. Her life, by all accounts, was a life of quality: simple, kind, and good. The “quality of life” arguments from Buck v. Bell asserted the government's right to decide a person's quality of life. Judge Kaufman's use of those arguments to derive the individual's right to suicide is a frightening reaffirmation of the governmental power not merely to allow, but to require, sterilization, abortion, and euthanasia. Once we invite people to draw up, as the Mikado did, their little lists of those who would not be missed, there is no doubt that many Carrie Bucks would be deprived of the burden of their putatively unworthy lives.
• For some reason, Carl Braaten (see “Jesus Made to Order,” above) does not mention Fr. John P. Meier of Catholic University, and the author of the multivolume A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, in his commentary. Perhaps it is because Meier controls so stringently his presuppositions. Except for his presuppositions about the task of the historian qua historian, on which, as long-term readers know, there has been critical comment in these pages. Recently Fr. Meier delivered a lecture on “The Miracles of Jesus” at Santa Clara University in which, inter alia, he takes on the claim of Professor John Dominic Crossan and the notorious “Jesus Seminar” that Jesus was a “magician” in a mode common to the Mediterranean world of that time. In the course of his argument, Meier provides some helpful distinctions between miracle and magic, and contends that, by even the most rigorous historical criteria, there can be no reasonable doubt that Jesus “performed extraordinary deeds deemed by himself and others to be miracles.” Meier concludes: “The curious upshot of our overview is that, considered globally, the tradition of Jesus' miracles is more firmly supported by the criteria of historicity than are a number of other well-known and often readily accepted traditions about Jesus' life and ministry: e.g., his status as a carpenter or his use of ‘abba‘ in his own prayer to his heavenly Father. If I may put the point dramatically but with not too much exaggeration: if the miracle tradition from Jesus' public ministry were to be rejected entirely as unhistorical, as a pure creation of the early Church, then so should every other Gospel tradition about Jesus, and we should conclude by confessing total ignorance about the historical Jesus. For, if the criteria of historicity do not work in the case of the miracle tradition, where multiple attestation is so massive and coherence so impressive, there is no reason to expect that these criteria would work any better elsewhere in the Gospel tradition. The quest for the historical Jesus would simply have to be abandoned. Needless to say, this is not the conclusion we have reached in this brief overview. . . . If scholars search for the historical Jesus and yet insist on downplaying or ignoring the massive miracle tradition in the Gospels, they condemn themselves to repeating the mistake of Thomas Jefferson. In his truncated edition of the Gospels, Jefferson cut out all the miracles of Jesus and thus created a bland moralist supposedly more relevant to the modern age. The trouble is, as Californians know all too well, nothing ages faster than relevance. The historical Jesus, a first-century Jew from Palestine, will always seem strange, alien, and even offensive to us. He is a person who will never be immediately relevant to our little agendas. And in that consists his abiding relevance.”
• Beyond comment department: “The Jesus Seminar, a controversial group of New Testament scholars, has concluded there is no evidence that the Resurrection was a physical reality. More likely, they decided this week at a meeting in Santa Rosa, Calif., the historical Jesus ended with his death on the cross and the decay of his body. The scholars also agreed that there probably was no tomb and that Jesus' body was likely disposed of by his crucifiers-not his followers. But they affirmed that the religious significance of the Resurrection goes beyond historical data. ‘We wanted to make an affirmative statement to all those who think we only care about tearing down Christian faith,' said Robert W. Funk, a cofounder of the seminar and former president of the Society of Biblical Literature.”
• These “social summits” run by the United Nations (Cairo in 1994, Copenhagen and Beijing this year) have become massive carnivals for the gathering of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Prominent among them is Catholics for a Free Choice (CFC), run by Frances Kissling. The Holy See at the UN objected (unsuccessfully) to CFC being certified as an NGO at the Beijing conference. The objection immediately set off a flurry of protest in the media. The Vatican objection to CFC was compared with the objection of China to organizations that accuse that country of violating human rights. The two cases are quite different. On abortion and related life questions, CFC claims to represent the authentic Catholic position, which is manifestly false. More to the institutional point of UN rules for NGOs, CFC does not represent anyone but Frances Kissling. It is a letterhead organization that has no actual membership. The human rights organizations, on the other hand, have large memberships rightly concerned about China's policies on religious, civil, and political liberties. Although representing nobody but herself, Ms. Kissling does represent herself very forcefully; she was much in the spotlight at Cairo and still commands the attention of uninformed or biased reporters in this country. It might be argued that Ms. Kissling also represents her financial backers. CFC raised $1.5 million in 1994, including a grant of $770,000 from the Ford Foundation. The declared and only mission of CFC is to attack the Catholic Church's teaching on sexuality and the protection of human life. By any reasonable definition, CFC is an anti-Catholic organization. Those who think that anti-Catholic bigotry is a marginal leftover from the nineteenth century might want to work on a theory of marginality that includes the multibillion dollar Ford Foundation. (The Ford family pulled out of the foundation some years ago, protesting that it had betrayed its founding intention. In the promotion of bigotry, at least, it would seem that the foundation is keeping faith with the spirit of Henry Ford.)
• Feel guilty about playing golf when you should be out saving souls? Horizons Unlimited of Huber Heights, Ohio, has come up with the solution-”Gos-Balls.” For $29.99, a dozen golf balls with imprinted Bible verses. It gives new meaning to sending forth the Word. As advertised in Christianity Today, whose editors, it would seem, are not on speaking terms with their advertising department.
• Some metaphors should be kept on a short leash. In the Wall Street Journal, Robert Goldberg offers an admiring evaluation of Bill Moyers' role as commentator on NBC nightly news, and concludes with this: “As Mr. Moyers puts it: ‘We need watchdogs, plenty of watchdogs-otherwise no one will bark when the news really bites.'“ The watchdogs tell us when to bark? The news bites the watchdogs? We're working on it.
• Brother Jeffrey Gros is associate ecumenical director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and he notes in the current issue of Ecumenical Trends the happy turn in Southern Baptist-Catholic relations sparked by the declaration “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium” (ECT). There was a move among Southern Baptists to censure Baptist executives who were instrumental in producing that declaration, but at the 1994 convention that move was decisively turned back. The convention resolved, rather, to “encourage the Interfaith Witness Department of the Home Mission Board to pursue ongoing Southern Baptist-Roman Catholic conversation while maintaining our Southern Baptist Confession without compromise.” Bro. Gros is cheered by “this very unlikely and challenging encounter” between Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics. He writes: “Given the congregational nature of the Southern Baptist churches, the local experiences of cooperation, dialogue, and common witness vary greatly across the country. This is now an international denomination, with churches in all of the fifty United States. Their role will continue to be important as a Christian partner to all of the churches. Their increased role in the National Association of Evangelicals can bring a wider and more theologically sensitive view to the member churches of that ecumenical body, as it can bring a breadth and tolerance to Southern Baptists. The configuration of the American ecumenical movement picture is always changing, and sensitivity to the interchurch agenda of the largest Protestant partner is an imperative for all who would pray Christ's prayer for reconciliation among his people.” This vigorous engagement of Southern Baptists with other Christians is among the consequences that Charles Colson and I hoped for when we launched the project that produced “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” While Bro. Gros is no doubt right about the progress this represents, it would be a mistake to underestimate the number of evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, who still have grave reservations about the declaration and the directions it points. These concerns will be addressed in detail in a new book that should be out any day now from Word. Titled Evangelicals & Catholics Together, it contains essays by Colson, Avery Dulles, Mark Noll, George Weigel, James Packer, and this writer. (As we go to press, it is learned that two SBC executives have “withdrawn” their signatures from ECT, while indicating that they still support the declaration. Stay tuned.)
• “Westminster,” “John Knox.” The names resonate with the history of rigorous Calvinist orthodoxy. But that's history. Now there's Westminster/John Knox Press. Among its latest offerings is Feminist Theological Ethics: A Reader, edited by Lois K. Daly, who teaches at Siena College, a kind of Catholic school, in upstate New York. There's the usual feminist twaddle in the promotional material, and then this: “It includes the contributions of more than twenty distinguished women scholars who cover a wide range of issues from an array of perspectives, including womanist, mujerista, and ecofeminist.” The contributors, as you might expect, are interested in “changing society's assumptions about women as they challenge our culture's traditions,” and so forth. But “mujerista”? Never heard of it, nor has a feminist theologian friend who is presumably up on these things. Having long since slaked the fires of neophilia-which is the driving force of achievement in the intellectual vacuums of the academy-we really don't want to know. Given all the books demanding review attention, we've decided to pass on Feminist Theological Ethics. That reflects one of “our culture's traditions” that Daly & Co. are no doubt eager to challenge: the editorial presumption of thinking that there must be good reason for believing a book may be serious enough to warrant notice. Yes, we know, we have already defeated our purpose by noticing it. But how else would these people know that we're not paying attention?