In this space I recently paid tribute to the late Francis Schaeffer, noting, among other things, his singular part in alerting evangelical Protestants to the great evil of abortion. Until the late seventies, I said, the Catholic Church had stood almost alone in publicly protesting the withdrawal of legal protection from the unborn. Objections from evangelical friends notwithstanding, the record is all too clear that evangelicalism was very late out of the starting gate on this question. In fact, it was running in the other direction.
In 1971, for instance, two years before the Roe decision, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling for legalized abortion, and that was reaffirmed in 1974, one year after Roe. In October 1973 the Baptist Joint Committee-which then represented also the Southern Baptists-opposed a protective constitutional amendment, and joined the general agitation against Catholic efforts to “impose” their morality on the country. Finally, at the 1980 convention in St. Louis the Southern Baptists turned around, supporting an amendment “prohibiting abortion except to save the life of the mother.”
Reporting on this development, the Boston Globe called it “a major earthquake within the nation's largest Protestant denomination,” and went on to note: “The shock wave itself is important because the strong antiabortion position by the 13.4 million member denomination severely damages the argument that abortion is a ‘Catholic issue,' and that efforts to end government spending for abortion amount to applying Catholic doctrine for the determination of public policy.”
Today, of course, evangelicals join Catholics in the front lines of the battle against what John Paul II has called “the culture of death.” Without this experience of “cobelligerency,” as Schaeffer called it, in the cause of life, it is difficult to imagine consequent developments such as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” Discovering common cause on abortion also contributed significantly to overcoming Baptist “strict separationism” on other questions, such as parental choice in education, that had historically been driven in large part by anti-Catholic animus. Once again we are reminded that it is difficult to overestimate the part that abortion has played in religious and political realignments of recent decades. The planting of the pro-abortion flag on the liberal side of the great liberal-conservative divide locked liberalism-including the liberal oldline churches-into the ideologically hardened position of the don't-give-an-inch proponents of “reproductive rights,” while making it possible for Catholics and evangelicals to find one another in the formation of a new cultural majority.
More jaded students of evangelicalism might say that evangelicals were forced to choose between distinguishing themselves from the oldline churches or from the Catholic Church. In this view, being on the same side with the liberal churches was a greater threat to their identity as evangelical Protestants than was siding with the Catholics. However that may be, there is no doubt that abortion was and is the question precipitating one of the most important realignments in American religious and cultural history.
What an awful tangle we're in about race. Forget our serially sincere (Jim Nuechterlein's fine phrase) President's ballyhooed dialogue on race. Multicultural effusions about the wonderful new world when there will be no majority or minority and we'll all be amalgamated into the gorgeous mosaic on the far side of the prescribed therapy of black accusations and white self-denigrations for the sins of slavery and racism-all this demeans a subject about which most Americans are surprisingly ready to get serious. If, that is, it seems believable to them that there is a purpose in raking over these questions again, if it seems there is something to be done.
There are other recent and more important twists in the racial tangle, such as Professor Glenn Loury's going very public in a number of forums about his disillusionment with conservatives because they basically don't care about black poor people. Loury of Boston University is a cherished contributor to this journal and has been celebrated as one of the most influential black intellectuals (yes, the adjective is unavoidable in this connection) in America. Predictably, those on the left, both black and white, have been quick to react to Loury's break with loud chortles of we-told-you-sos. Somewhat earlier, Loury and his friend Robert Woodson, who works with community initiatives in the inner city, very publicly disengaged themselves from the American Enterprise Institute because of its association with Charles Murray and Dinesh D'Souza, both of whom have written controversial books deemed to be less than sensitive to blacks as victims.
On the right, the editors of National Review do try to be sensitive to what they take to be the need of Loury and others to maintain a remnant of credibility among blacks by continuing to support affirmative action, albeit in a sharply modified form. The editors conclude: “Still, there is no excuse for conservatives to be (unconservatively) rude to Professor Loury-though his references to Charles Murray and Dinesh D'Souza are less than genial. There is no doubt that Professor Loury and Robert Woodson are indeed conservatives; but they might reflect upon the option of resisting cultural intimidation.”
In the same issue of National Review is a long review essay by John J. DiIulio of Princeton University discussing four new books on race and making some of the points he has also made in these pages. Of particular interest is his evaluation of America in Black and White by Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom (Simon & Schuster), a recent scholarly work that documents in great detail the progress that blacks have made in recent decades. DiIulio does not deny the progress, but he takes the Thernstroms to task for slighting all that remains to be done, and for ignoring the crucial component in the possible doing of it. He writes of the book that it “makes nary a mention of the religious life of black Americans, rich or poor. But the evidence is growing that the only people who are now doing something to make inner-city blacks part of ‘one nation, indivisible' [the Thernstroms' subtitle] are those who seek ‘one nation, under God, indivisible.'” Actually, as I note elsewhere in these pages (While We're At It), the Thernstrom book does make a passing reference to religion in reporting the growing number of blacks and whites who belong to racially integrated churches, but it is very much in passing.
Passions are running high in these disputes, and I have been caught in the crossfire, trying, irenic soul that I am, to hold friendships together. The circumstance is complicated by what might aptly be called a Jewish factor. It is not coincidence that some of the conservatives whose alleged unconcern most offends Loury and others happen to be Jewish, and are usually called neoconservatives. Jews tend to feel, with considerable justice, that they have historically sided with the black cause, that in recent years they have been singled out as the objects of frequently vicious black hostility, and that, in any case, there is really not much more they can do to be helpful. As is regularly pointed out, it is very dispiriting to be told that the national expenditure over thirty years of five trillion dollars to eliminate poverty and racism has only exacerbated the problem of poverty and racism. Some may conclude, not entirely unreasonably, that enough is enough.
There is another aspect of the Jewish angle, however. It is the ascendancy of the view, ably promoted also by DiIulio, that religion is the key to anything good happening among the black poor. There are relatively few black Jews, and it is understandable that Jews who are not black are inclined to think that, if DiIulio and others are right about the centrality of religion, doing something about the plight of the black underclass is chiefly a job for Christians, both white and black. Of the Thernstrom study DiIulio writes: “The tragedy of the book is that the authors are virtually silent about our moral obligation to do something-not talk, not debate, but do something-about those black Americans-who, to white Christians, are brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ-who have yet to make the climb.”
He continues: “When it comes to motivating black and white Americans to respond, up close and personal, to the plight of inner-city blacks, debating ‘racial injustice' is a sickly, sorry substitute for promoting religious morality and ‘justification,' the Christian doctrine of the sanctification of the human person through the gift of God's life, which enjoins us to accept our social and economic fellowship with others, especially those whom Christ commanded His followers to love first, last, and always: society's poor, its children, its prisoners, its fallen, its feared.” Protestants should overlook the muddled treatment of justification and sanctification. DiIulio is a Catholic, and you know how they are. But his point is clear enough. Both the motivation and the means for doing something are emphatically Christian.
The gist of the argument is convincing, I believe, but that doesn't mean that doing something is entirely up to committed Christians. DiIulio concludes by making very concrete public policy proposals to address the problems of poverty and race, including getting rid of affirmative action based solely on race, releasing nonviolent low-level drug offenders from prison, permitting prayer in the public schools, and changing tax laws to encourage contributions to inner-city community organizations.
Glenn Loury's anti-conservative blast and the contention over the Thernstrom book are forcing an urgent question. It is not enough to say that what has been tried hasn't worked as we hoped, and may have made some things worse; nor is it enough to expose liberal fatuities about remedying the “root causes” of poverty and crime. DiIulio writes: “So what if brain-dead liberals continue to make silly arguments about the overall condition of blacks and the state of race relations in America? So what if most young black males who go to prison are justly convicted? What is our endgame here? More debate about race à la President Clinton's commission on the subject? A continuation of our de facto three-part national urban policy: abortion (favored by liberal elites), incarceration (favored by conservative elites), and suburbanization and gated communities (favored, it seems, by almost everyone who can afford to move)?”
Explicit commandment, moral intuition, and simple self-respect combine in compelling the belief that there must be another way. Just believing that is prelude to doing something. The something in question is centered in religion that is both motive and means, and extends to public policy tasks that should claim the attention of all Americans. Who knows? Even Mr. Clinton's dialogue on race-if or when it moves beyond the old rancorous mix of invective and utopianism-might contribute to such a happy change.
The story is laced with all the spins and counter-spins that one has come to expect from inside-the-beltway journalism, but it is, for all that, a reasonably fair account of one of the big developments in religion and public life. “Washington Discovers Christian Persecution” by Jeffrey Goldberg is the cover story in the New York Times Magazine, and it gives due credit to the heroic work of Nina Shea of Freedom House, a deeply committed Catholic who has been key to putting together a movement largely composed of evangelical Protestants. Goldberg obviously doesn't like Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute, accusing him of being a self-publicist, but he grudgingly acknowledges that the Jewish Horowitz, along with the Jewish columnist Abe Rosenthal, have shamed many Christian leaders into active concern for their persecuted co-believers around the world. “You're only allowed to sit out one Holocaust each lifetime,” Horowitz pithily observes. Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council is also acknowledged as indispensable in building support for the cause.
These and many others are the players behind the Wolf-Specter Freedom from Religious Persecution Act, which the congressional leadership failed to bring to the floor last session, despite its promises to do so. The opposition is led by the Clinton Administration, which appears to have no goal higher than trade, backed by big business. Neither seems to be much bothered by a little, or even a lot, of religious persecution when there are big dollars to be made in places such as China. Also opposing the focus on religious persecution are some elite human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, whose top man, Kenneth Roth, is worried about any connection with conservative evangelicals and Catholics who are not supportive of “women's reproductive rights,” meaning abortion. Amnesty International, on the other hand, has cautiously welcomed the surge of concern about religious persecution, seeing in it an opportunity to greatly expand the general concern about human rights beyond the upper crust and dominantly liberal human rights establishment.
Working hand in glove with multinational corporations against the Wolf-Specter bill is the liberal National Council of Churches. General secretary of the NCC, the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell says: “That's got some history to it. When Christians act like their faith is preeminent, it can create problems. I hate to use this example because it's so extreme, but if you look at the Nazi regime, you see in it the philosophy of Christian superiority.” Never mind that the coalition backing Wolf-Specter is opposing religious persecution across the board, not just the persecution of Christians, although Christians constitute the overwhelming majority of those persecuted for religious reasons in the world today. The more interesting aspect of the Rev. Campbell's view is that Nazism was created by an excessive devotion to Christianity. In sheer looniness that competes with her worry about Christians who “act like their faith is preeminent.”
Despite the formidable coalition of Clinton's foreign policy managers, multinational corporations spending millions in lobbying efforts, and the liberal Protestantism of the NCC, Goldberg thinks a very major shift may be underway. He quotes William Schulz of Amnesty International, who says, “In this administration, trade always trumps torture when the two clash, and this causes dissatisfaction on the right and the left.” Goldberg observes: “That dissatisfaction may well be a harbinger of a momentous political trend, the creation of a new alliance in which secular liberals and religious conservatives join together to force Washington to worry as much about moral issues as the insatiable demands of turbocharged capitalism.”
Also noteworthy is the strong support for Wolf-Specter by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, making this yet another issue on which Catholics and evangelicals are united, leaving the oldline Protestants out in the cold. Some in the NCC and its liberal oldline churches complain that they were not made to feel welcome when the religious persecution initiative was getting underway a couple of years ago, and there may be something to that. The animosity of liberal oldliners toward evangelical conservatives is heartily reciprocated. The fact is, however, that Nina Shea, the National Association of Evangelicals, and others did reach out to the oldline denominations and were, with few exceptions, coldly rebuffed.
And no petty resentments about not having been on the A-list of those invited to the party can justify the bizarre position in which religious liberals-including some liberal Catholic publications-find themselves as apologists for an amoral foreign policy and systematic indifference to the jailing, torture, and killing of innumerable Christians and other believers. When it comes to Chinese oppression, for instance, it may be surprising to see the champions of liberal compassion pushing the line of Boeing and General Motors that trade trumps torture, but then one remembers the leftist aversion to cooperating with conservatives, and Paul Hollander's insightful observation that some atrocities are more “politically interesting” than others.
“Scandals to good order and discipline in America's armed forces, particularly sexual ones, proliferate and deepen with no end in sight. ‘Scandal' means literally a snare, a trap, a stumbling-block which occasions a fall. At a Pentagon press conference announcing the results of the latest investigation of sexual misconduct, the body language of General Dennis J. Reimer, the Army Chief of Staff, could not have been more apt: there he stood, contrite and confused, with head bowed and shoulders stooped, military bearing brought low indeed. Defenders of America's national interests will not regain their composure until they identify as their true enemies the cultural priorities of postmodernism.”
That is from an editorial in Strategic Review, the quarterly of the United States Strategic Institute. The subordination of the military to civilian authority, the editorial continues, is basic to our constitutional order, but that does not mean the abdication of moral responsibility. “The implication of this false notion of dutifulness is that soldiers are not also citizens, when in fact they are citizenship's noblest expression, prepared as they are to make the supreme sacrifice on behalf of the common good. The civilian architects of postmodernism thus insist on unhesitating enforcement of the tendentious rights of universal democracy, such as are now found in a decadent Western civilian society, while simultaneously demanding the total adjuration by citizen soldiers of the freedom of consent and informed debate. That is what is known as a logical contradiction, or if you prefer, tyranny, and it should come as no surprise that morale, good order, and discipline are at an historic nadir.”
“The hour is late,” we are told. “To face the adversary squarely, members of Congress and the military must begin by dispatching once and for all the practice of allowing women into combat forces.” Secretary of the Army Togo West is criticized for suggesting that equal opportunity to serve must be put on a par with-or even given priority over-the military's capacity to fight and win the nation's wars. It is noted that ideologists view the military as a “perfect laboratory for social experimentation” in gender equality and other causes, but their biggest reason for undermining the armed forces is that they “represent the best concrete and only remaining example of the classical concept of the common good.” If the military caves, the game is over.
There is considerable wisdom and an appropriate sense of urgency in the position of Strategic Review. At the same time, even those who strongly oppose the radical feminist assault on the military as recklessly imprudent and in violation of natural law may be given pause by this suggestion: “If Congress and the Pentagon will not act, officers en masse should simply refuse to implement integration further.” If we read this correctly, this would seem to be advocacy of a refusal to obey orders. There are undoubtedly occasions when soldiers must in conscience refuse to obey orders. That is clearly recognized also in the code of the U.S. armed forces. But it is a morally momentous decision, fraught with consequences both for the ethos of the military and the well-being of the republic. The editors of Strategic Review undoubtedly know a great deal more about the military than I do. I am not prepared to say that the editorial is wrong. One cannot help but be impressed that in such circles the sense of crisis is so acute. At the same time, very careful thought must be given to whether the question of women in combat is a terribly wrongheaded policy that should be protested or a categorical evil that warrants, or even mandates, the refusal to obey orders.
A month in Rome, even when crowded with mostly tedious meetings, puts a person on aesthetic alert. I am frequently accused of optimism, a charge I vigorously reject since optimism is just a matter of optics, of seeing what you want to see and not seeing what you don't want to see. Hope is an entirely different thing, and I am strongly inclined to debunking the claims of those who seem to wallow in exaggerated claims about the singularity of our cultural decline. Admittedly, if one wants to hunt for indications of decline, we live in a target-rich environment. For many years I have found most particularly depressing the state of music and contemporary architecture. It may be true that “classical” music needs time to be recognized as classical, but does anybody really believe that much of anything composed in the twentieth century will a hundred years from now be thought to belong in the ranks of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, or comparable worthies?
St. Peter's Basilica is not the greatest architecture in the world; it is far from being the greatest architecture in Rome. But it is great. Taken as a whole or in its many parts, you want to spend time with it, pondering why this was done this way rather than that, marveling at the sheer craftsmanship. Then one goes just next door to the huge Paul VI Audience Hall, built only a few years ago, and about the only thing to be said about it is that it is huge. It is true, as art historians remind us, that the great churches of five hundred and fifteen hundred years ago borrowed from the more ambitious “secular” buildings of the time. But we also see in those churches adventuresome things that had never been done before.
Not so with the audience hall. There is no notable feature there that might not be found in a bank building, except for the big sculpture of the risen Christ surrounded by the detritus of a dead world and with the hair on the left of his head sticking way out as though he had had an accident with a can of hair spray. Other than that, there is nothing in the building to occasion a moment's wonder, except perhaps to a structural engineer. What is true of the audience hall is, with few exceptions, generally true of contemporary religious architecture.
I was staying at the North American College with, among many others, Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, and he was waxing enthusiastic about the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels that they are building out there and hope to dedicate in the year 2000. I wanted to be impressed by what they are doing but I'm afraid I could not manage it. (Details on the cathedral are accessible at www.ola-cathedral.org.) Of course one can't tell everything from architectural drawings and models, but from the outside the proposed cathedral looks like a very big barge that somehow got beached in downtown Los Angeles, and the inside looks for all the world like a well-lighted warehouse. Maybe the inside will look very different with the furnishings in place, and crowds of people doing the liturgy for which the building is presumably designed. I sincerely hope so.
Mind you, I don't claim to be an expert on these matters. The architecture critic of the Los Angeles Times thinks the design is terrific. But then, his counterpart at the Washington Post gave a rave review to the design of the John Paul II Cultural Center in D.C., which evokes a sense of sacred mystery comparable to that evoked by a Russian nuclear power station. Of Our Lady of the Angels, the critic enthused that the design represents what the Italian Communist theorist, Gramsci, called “an enclave of resistance.” What it is supposed to be resisting, I have no idea. Certainly not the spirit of an age that seems to be doing its best to squelch the rumor that the world is charged with the grandeur of God. I am more than open to the possibility, I fervently hope, that the building when finished will compel a change of mind. But at the moment it offers no relief from those depressing thoughts about the state of contemporary music and architecture.
Bartholomew came and went, and left in his wake a deeply dispirited company of those who pray for reconciliation between East and West. It seems only a little while ago, when Paul VI was Pope, that the mutual anathemas between Rome and Constantinople were lifted. And it was a very little while ago that John Paul II issued the encyclical Ut Unum Sint, with its bracing hope that, as the second millennium has been the millennium of Christian division, so the third millennium must be the millennium of Christian unity. The hope was reinforced by the ascendancy of Bartholomew to Constantinople as His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch. He had lived in the West and had been actively participant in the ecumenical movement. His devotion to unity was well known.
But now everything has been put on hold, or worse. During his October visit he was to make a major statement at Georgetown University. The text of his speech was so virulently polemical that, at the urging of advisors, revisions were being made up until the last minute. But even then the final text offered naught for the comfort of those who were looking for a step forward. Bartholomew suggested that Orthodoxy and Rome are farther apart than ever. More than that, we are moving in different directions, for there is an “ontological” difference between East and West in the understanding of the Christian reality. His Western hearers were stunned, while the revanchist opponents of East-West reconciliation among the Orthodox were exultant.
A few days later, as the guest of William Cardinal Keeler in Baltimore, the word was that Bartholomew would undo some of the damage done at Georgetown. In Baltimore he did have magnificently cordial words for his Catholic hosts, but substantively the message was the same, if not more discouraging. “The members of the committee for theological dialogue between our churches have gathered here again. They have boldly reaffirmed their sadness that the dialogue has not yet borne the perfect fruit upon which all of us would, as brothers, share at the Lord's banquet. Still, we congratulate you for your good efforts and look forward to the day when we shall dwell as brothers in the House of the Lord.” Which being translated would seem to mean: Nice try, fellows. Maybe we can get together in the Kingdom of God.
“We wish to reaffirm,” said Bartholomew, “that this great work has not yet succeeded, not for lack of love between us.” There is love aplenty, like “a light whose flame cannot be extinguished, not even by disagreement over organization nor jurisdiction.” Why then has the dialogue failed? “It is by reason of an essential difference of how the mystery of the Church and salvation in her is realized,” answers the Patriarch. Friends of unity point out that he said the work “has not yet succeeded”; he did not say it has definitively and irretrievably failed. They also note that terms such as “ontological” and “essential difference” do not necessarily mean the same in the East as in the West, but this has the appearance of grasping at straws. On the other hand, in view of what is at stake, no straw should go ungrasped.
It is no secret that John Paul II's highest hope for his pontificate was the healing of the thousand-year division between East and West. With the dramatic steps that had been taken under Paul VI and then the collapse of the evil empire that had held captive so much of Orthodoxy, everything seemed possible. This is the sense of heightened expectations that pervades Ut Unum Sint. In that encyclical, the Pope went so far as to put on the table the question of papal jurisdiction, suggesting that it might be exercised as it was in the first millennium. When influential sectors in Orthodoxy saw how intent Rome was upon reunion, they took fright. The monks of Mt. Athos, who, while lacking formal jurisdiction have enormous influence, delivered a blistering salvo against any and all efforts at rapprochement with the West. Alexis II of Russia, reportedly under pressure from his synod, repeatedly snubbed John Paul II by calling off scheduled meetings. And it has been going downhill from there, as is evident in the chilling statements during Bartholomew's visit.
It is said that in private conversations Bartholomew urges his Western interlocutors to be patient and not give up hope. The role of the Patriarch is not comparable to that of the Pope, and it is explained that Bartholomew was perceived as getting too far out ahead. The notoriously fractious Orthodox churches were threatening to revolt unless he took their hard line during his U.S. visit. An additional explanation is that the end of communism has produced bitterly ironic results. Orthodoxy in Russia and elsewhere was deeply corrupted under the evil empire. It is generally acknowledged that no bishops were appointed without the approval of the regime, and not a few of them were active agents of the KGB.
At the same time, the Communists were great supporters of ecumenism, or so it seemed. For decades they controlled the useful prelates who were so actively involved in the World Council of Churches (WCC) and other ecumenical activities. It is ironic but perhaps not surprising that reformers in the Eastern churches who are bent upon purification and a return to authentic Orthodoxy view ecumenism as one of the evils that must be purged. Now among several Orthodox churches there is a strong movement not only to pull back from rapprochement with Rome but also to withdraw from agencies such as the WCC. This is joined to an attitude aptly described as xenophobic, in which “the West” is perceived as the source of spiritual, moral, and political corruptions beyond measure.
During the short time when reconciliation seemed to be on the horizon, the eastern rite churches that are in communion with Rome were given to understand that they were no longer the future. These churches (sometimes, and often pejoratively, called Uniate) have for centuries been viewed either as bridges to the East or as obstacles to reconciliation with the majority of Orthodoxy that is not in communion with Rome. Ut Unum Sint held out the prospect that Rome could treat directly with the separated Orthodox churches, but now some leaders of the eastern rite churches do not disguise their satisfaction in the apparent setback that has been dealt that prospect. So “Uniatism” may, for a time, have been given a new lease on life, but that is almost certainly more apparent than real. Constantinople, Russia, Greece, Ukraine, Albania-these and others constitute the center of Orthodoxy and it would seem that reconciliation, if it is to happen at all, must happen at the center.
The great Orthodox theologian and my dear friend, the late Alexander Schmemann, said East-West reconciliation awaits a pan-Orthodox council, and, he quickly added, a pan-Orthodox council is an eschatological concept. Another Orthodox theologian, who must remain anonymous, tells me that may be a slight exaggeration, but he says he has never been so discouraged by the leadership of Orthodoxy. “We have not one leader with the vision or courage or generosity to even begin to respond to the initiatives of John Paul II,” he says. “For centuries we have demanded that Rome make the moves he has made, and now that he has made them we react like spoiled, suspicious, squabbling children.” That may be too harsh, but it reflects the sense of bitter disappointment that is palpable also among some Orthodox.
Although, God willing, he has years to go, it seems John Paul II will not live to see the reconciliation between East and West for which he so earnestly yearns. Also among leading figures in the Roman curia, there are those who say his hopes were naive. The accusation of naiveté is a small price to pay for acting on the possibility of what might be, in accord with divine imperative and promise. John Paul II has laid the foundation for the time when, as he has repeatedly said, “the Church will again breathe with both lungs, the East and the West.” We must pray that one day the Orthodox will be prepared to join in building on that foundation. Meanwhile the prospect so boldly set forth in Ut Unum Sint has not been abandoned, only postponed.
The Evangelical-Catholic statement “The Gift of Salvation,” published in the January issue, is receiving careful and, for the most part, positive reception. Christianity Today, the most influential evangelical publication, published it in full with a fine introduction by Dr. Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School. Some Baptists, however, have taken the position that, while the statement is splendid on justification by faith, it is also self-contradictory because it mentions unresolved questions such as baptismal regeneration, it being assumed by these critics that baptismal regeneration is incompatible with justification by faith.
Clearly, the Catholic participants in the discussion do not think the two doctrines incompatible, and it is the purpose of serious theological conversation to understand why that is so, rather than prejudging the question before engaging it. This Baptist criticism would also include Lutherans, Calvinists, and others who affirm baptismal regeneration and therefore, if the criticism is right, cannot consistently affirm justification by faith. Some Baptist opponents of “The Gift of Salvation” would seem to be elevating baptismal generation to the status of the doctrine by which the church stands or falls, in which case one might suggest that Baptists are decidedly outside the Great Tradition of Christian orthodoxy. And of course such an elevation would quite thoroughly shatter the community that is today called evangelical Protestantism.
There is also expressed Baptist unhappiness with the fear that “The Gift of Salvation” and similar unofficial initiatives have upstaged the official conversations taking place between Baptists and Catholics. Such unhappiness is thoroughly unwarranted. As Cardinal Cassidy of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity has publicly stated-and all the participants in “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” agree-this unofficial initiative is complementary to other conversations and, by virtue of being unofficial, has the freedom to help those conversations by scouting out questions in advance. One prominent Southern Baptist declares, “Justification by faith alone, if genuinely affirmed by Catholics and Evangelicals, would require repudiation of baptismal regeneration, purgatory, indulgences, and many other issues presently affirmed by Roman Catholic doctrine.” The implication would seem to be unavoidable that the Catholics who signed “The Gift of Salvation” are not genuine Catholics, are dishonest, or are just plain dumb.
If that is the case, and if believable affirmation of the heart of the Gospel requires the Catholic repudiation of doctrines that Baptists think incompatible with the heart of the Gospel, there is obviously no point to further theological conversation. There is then no brotherly obligation to find out why Catholics who affirm what “The Gift of Salvation” describes as justification by faith alone is perfectly compatible with the other doctrines in question. With truly remarkable self-confidence, these Baptists just know in advance that they are not compatible. The course of greater honesty, not to mention humility, would be to say to Catholics, “It seems to me that you affirm doctrines that are incompatible with what you affirm in ‘The Gift of Salvation.' Please explain why you believe that is not the case.” Putting the question that way, one may not be persuaded by the explanation but one may at least learn something. That assumes, of course, that we all have much to learn.
Then there is another Southern Baptist official, also miffed at unofficial activities outside the orbit of hierarchical control (so much for the vaunted Baptist devotion to independence), who goes on to say that he has learned from official talks with Catholics that “unless one of the ecumenical councils decreed it or unless the Pope decreed it to be official dogma, no other Catholic signatures on a document make any difference and hence are gratuitous.” So “The Gift of Salvation” simply doesn't matter. I don't know what Catholics he's been talking to, but by that measure, except for one infallible definition in 1950 and the Second Vatican Council, every Catholic book, episcopal statement, and papal document of this century is gratuitous and makes no difference. It seems all of us Catholics who are in any way involved in the theological project might as well pack up and take a permanent vacation.
The initial response to “The Gift of Salvation” by a handful of Southern Baptist officials is very disappointing. Fortunately, they do not reflect the positive reception of the statement among both Evangelicals and Catholics. This is connected also to the constructive rethinking that took place in the recent Synod for America convoked by John Paul II, where Latin American bishops took a giant stride in recognizing evangelical Protestants in their country as brothers and sisters in Christ. But that is part of a bigger story to which I will return at another time.
In a forthcoming issue there will be an extensive review of Rocco Buttiglione's outstanding book, Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man Who Became John Paul II, just out from Eerdmans ($35
). For the moment, a few thoughts on the afterword by those who so capably translated it from the Italian, Paolo Guietti and Francesca Murphy. There is the tricky question of the relationship between the writings of Karol Wojtyla, the philosopher, and John Paul II, the Pope. As the translators note: “Becoming Pope is not the best way to acquire fame as a thinker; it is more common, and generally easier, to achieve a (sometimes justified) philosophical respectability by getting into trouble with Popes and other powerless authorities.” A still more serious factor is noted by Buttiglione: “The criteria and the hermeneutical methods of philosophical thought differ from those which can be used to interpret the Pope's teaching, which have as their immediate antecedents not the thinking of the philosopher Wojtyla, but the acts of his predecessors and the entire Magisterium of the Church in its historical development.”
Yet a connection between the philosopher and the Pope there certainly is. Guietti and Murphy comment on a much earlier work by George Hunston Williams, The Mind of John Paul II, with its suggestion that, because Wojtyla was a Pole writing under a totalitarian regime, he did not understand the American mind and the principles of the free society. The translators think the opposite may be the case. “It appears after reading Buttiglione,” they remark, “that Wojtyla does not understand anything but freedom and its relationship with the truth, which can be presented freely only to a person.” The reference, of course, is to The Acting Person, Wojtyla's seminal work written during the years of Vatican Council II.
They continue: “From a political point of view Wojtyla knows that relativism, the dismissal of truth, leads to the primacy of power and political tyranny. We could say that he defends truth in order to save freedom. In other words, it seems that he values freedom more than truth, and is ready to subordinate the rights of truth to freedom, which is the most basic truth of the dignity of the person. The most important truth for him seems to be a person's freedom. . . . It is with regard to religious freedom, or freedom of religion or freedom of conscience, that traditionalists may find Wojtyla's understanding to be far too American. The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre described in words and pictures the victory of freedom (liberalism) over truth as the defeat of true European and good French traditions by the American way of life. To an integrist mind ‘religious freedom' triumphed over the last of its opponents with Vatican II. Wojtyla's thesis on religious freedom would therefore be the obsession of a brilliant young philosophical mind which was prematurely exposed to the revolutionary spirit of Vatican II.”
So it may seem, but there is much more to it than that. Those who have lived under regimes of unfreedom may understand freedom much better than those who take freedom for granted. There may appear to be a smooth fit between Jefferson's idea of religious freedom and the declaration on religious freedom adopted by the Council, Dignitatis Humanae. “The two doctrines may coincide materialiter, as an Aristotelian scholastic would put it, but not formaliter. The American and Polish bishops may both have voted for Dignitatis Humanae, but they did so for different reasons.” The American Founders, and Jefferson in particular, were motivated by the desire to liberate politics from religion, while Wojtyla and the Council Fathers wanted to liberate religion from political power. That puts it too simply, I think, but there is an important kernel of truth there.
Wojtyla understood (and understands) that religion is a public reality with political implications. That is why, as John Paul II, he has spoken so often of the insidious connection between a thoroughly secularized democracy and “a thinly disguised totalitarianism” (the last phrase from his encyclical Centesimus Annus). As Guietti and Murphy put it, “The disappearance of religion is the ultimate victory of totalitarianism, a victory which is more powerful than a military conquest because it subjugates a nation from within. . . . When absolute truths, even moral and religious absolutes, are lost, then even a hierarchy of relative values is relative. Relativism consumes itself; where there are no absolutes, nothing can be said to be ‘better than,' not even the good of the majority against a scratch on a tyrant's finger. Someone needs to be the guardian of absolute truth, in order to save relative values and the importance of their relativity, so that the relative needs of the most powerful members of society do not become absolute by virtue of their power, but are still kept in their apparent and real relativeness.”
Relativism, of course, is a danger much lamented. But the assertion of the absolute is not to displace relativity. On the contrary, by asserting the absolute, which is the role of religion, the relativity of truths that are less than absolute is protected. As in, for instance, one nation “under God.” This, the translators observe, “is the meaning of Wojtyla's antitotalitarian philosophy of freedom developed in the context of the Vatican II declaration On Human Dignity. While religion is too powerful to allow politicians to control it, the alternate of lack of religion is an illusion. Political agnosticism, the belief that the politician deals with relative things, is possible only where people kneel to something higher than political power.” The alternative to political agnosticism is politics as religion, which is the error appearing in this century on both the left and the right, as in National Socialism and Communism. It is the error still perpetuated today by various movements subscribing to the maxim that the personal is the political, and vice versa. Posited against that is the free person (the acting person) in the freedom of his relationship to the absolute, which means, ultimately, in his relationship with God.
Among the most insightful discussions in Buttiglione's book is Karol Wojtyla's wrestling with the existentialism of the young Sartre. The earlier Sartre arrived at the point where the “I” could only be sustained in the face of nihilism (thus his famous “hell is other people”). Sartre had reached a dead-end, and many Christian thinkers at the time thought that he would have to move in the direction of religion to achieve a higher synthesis. But of course, as it turned out, Sartre sought that synthesis in Marxism. It remained for Wojtyla to take the path that Sartre rejected, moving existential personalism toward its fulfillment in Christian faith.
Guietti and Murphy put it this way: “Sartre maintains that if there is a God there cannot be freedom; therefore, since it is evident that we are free, there must be no God. Wojtyla contends that if there is a God there is freedom, and the history of this century demonstrates the factual connection between atheism and maximal oppression of freedom. Wojtyla's anthropology of freedom is as modern as Sartre's. For Sartre, being religious is the opposite of being free; for Wojtyla, just as for Pico della Mirandola, being religious and being free are one and the same.” I assume our reviewer will concentrate on Rocco Buttiglione's most persuasive analysis in Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man Who Became John Paul II, but the suggestive afterword by the translators is also something not to be missed in this remarkable book. For the philosophically and theologically minded, it will remain indispensable, even after we are blessed with what promises to be the definitive biography of John Paul II and history of this pontificate by George Weigel, which is scheduled for 1999.
• Would you believe this? Of course you would. A pamphlet, “Guide to Bias-Free Communication,” put out by the State of Georgia's “Supreme Court Commission on Equality” and endorsed by Chief Justice Robert Benham. It's filled with linguistic contortions of the PC kind. Item: “The judge should allow counsel to present their cases in their own styles.” It doesn't say what to do if there's only one counsel and he has only one style. Perhaps he is to just go along with the game of multiple personalities. Item: “Foreman” is out, “Foreperson” is in. Foreperson? If you think that sounds just a bit salacious, confession is Saturday at four. And here I was just reading this article on how the South is the country's best hope for resisting the sundry sillinesses generated by the decadent coasts. But of course the Supreme Court is based in Atlanta, which, I'm told, has the motto, “The city that's too busy too think,” or something like that. I notice also that the great seal of the Supreme Court of Georgia is emblazoned with “Wisdom, Justice, Moderation.” So where are “Inclusivity” and “Sensitivity”? Just wait.
• According to Dr. Pieter Admiraal, leader of the euthanasia movement in the Netherlands, Americans may be just too immature to establish a similarly sensible approach to the subject. He says that 84 percent of Dutch doctors approve of euthanasia, while the American medical world is still reluctant. American doctors, for instance, feel better about prescribing pills than giving lethal injections because it makes them feel less directly responsible for the death. Admiraal dismisses the distinction as “so silly” and “so American-style,” and he may have a point there. The story in the American Medical News observes that Holland and the U.S. are unlike in other ways: “And finally, the two countries have major cultural differences. The United States, for example, is a fairly religious country. But in Holland, he said, 55 percent of residents describe themselves as ‘irreligious' or ‘atheistic.' Even the Catholic Church there is more tolerant of the concept, he said, noting that he started performing euthanasia in a Catholic hospital ‘with the help of two priests.' Dr. Admiraal noted with a laugh that polls show 80 percent of Americans admit they believe in angels, a belief shared by fewer than 20 percent of the Dutch. ‘For us,' he said, ‘there is no place for angels.'” It's a small world.
• Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) in Knightsbridge is the center of a remarkable spiritual revival among England's elites, and Cristina Odone, writing in the Spectator, doesn't like it one little bit. Inspired by the California-based Vineyard Fellowship founded by the late John Wimber in the 1980s, HTB and affiliated parishes are into barking, swooning, pentecostal laughter, and even “the Toronto blessing.” Odone writes: “Recruiting takes place at drinks parties where, armed with a champagne glass and a cocktail sausage, dewy-eyed converts enthuse about Jesus Christ as if He were a particularly glamorous guest on the party circuit, and praise the Holy Spirit as if It were a fabulous, no-nonsense nanny who has taken charge of their spiritual upbringing. . . . By weaving spiritual lessons into the social routine of the well-to-do, the movement reconciles Jacob's ladder and the social ladder, the urbane and the devout.” Such sniffingly urbane contempt for the devout is no surprise, but Odone says something more sinister is afoot. Wielding such wealth and social status, the HTB phenomenon threatens the established church by holding out the threat of cutting off funds if the Church of England does not move in a more evangelical and conservative direction. “Lord Runcie, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has been overheard remarking that the HTB churches constitute the greatest danger to the Church of England,” Odone writes. What Lord Runcie views as danger many others perceive as high promise.
• A great defender of religious freedom, and a sometime contributor to these pages, is Douglas Laycock of the University of Texas law school. The first article he wrote on the subject was many years ago and was favorable to Catholics in a particular dispute. In the article, Laycock said in a footnote that he was not and had never been a Catholic. He circulated the article among colleagues before publication, including Professor (now Justice) Antonin Scalia. Scalia crossed out the footnote and wrote in the margin, “Never give the bastards any comfort.” Laycock took the point to be that one should not have to disclaim Catholicism in the same way that he might disclaim any sympathy with the Ku Klux Klan in an article defending the Klan's free speech rights. He took out the footnote. In a more recent article, Laycock notes that he has over the years been suspected of being a Catholic, a Baptist, a Jew, and a number of other things, all because he defended the rights of these groups. So at last he comes clean, declaring, “I am agnostic about matters of religion. None of the claims of the world's religions seem to me either plausible or falsifiable.” He goes on to insist that this is perfectly consistent with his determined defense of religious liberty: “An agnostic has no opinion on whether God exists, and neither should the government. But an agnostic also believes that humans are incapable of knowing whether God exists. If the government believed that, it would prefer agnostics over theists and atheists. Agnostics have no opinion for epistemological reasons; the government must have no opinion for constitutional reasons. The government must have no opinion because it is not the government's role to have an opinion.” Douglas Laycock is an honorable man, and believers have good reason to be grateful for his fine work. Of course he's wrong in treating religion purely as a private and individual matter comparable to matters of “conscience,” which ignores the real-life corporate and action-oriented nature of biblical religion. And I believe he's wrong in thinking that government's respect for religious freedom is sufficiently secured by the assertion that “the Constitution says so.” That provides no answer to a number of questions, including the question, Why should we care what the Constitution says? Push come to shove, religious freedom is best secured by reasons that are themselves religious. But I certainly don't want to be too critical of Douglas Laycock, for that would be to give comfort to the illegitimate ones who do not share his admirable devotion to religious freedom.
• Among us are millions of the walking wounded of the sexual revolution. The Medical Institute for Sexual Health recently convened the first National Leadership Summit on Abstinence, and some of the reports were startling. It is estimated that one in five Americans between fifteen and fifty-five is now infected with a viral sexually transmitted disease (STD). Adding those infected by bacterial STDs, such as chlamydia and syphilis, the number is probably one in four. Sixty-six percent of the newly infected are under twenty-five years of age and 25 percent are teenagers. While the public is generally unaware of the plague, STDs are potentially more detrimental to health than the use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, all of which are attacked by massive media campaigns. Condoms are not the answer. They are ineffective against human papilloma virus (HPV), the cause of genital warts. HPV may cause over 90 percent of all cervical cancer, which takes the lives of eight thousand American women each year. Condoms offer little protection against syphilis or herpes. The latter infects an estimated thirty million Americans. These viruses are transmitted from skin contact and do not require the exchange of body fluids. A recent article in Social Science Medicine reports that condoms are only 69 percent effective in preventing the spread of HIV. The good news is that the abstinence message is getting through. Fifty-five percent of unmarried women age fifteen to nineteen had intercourse in 1990, and that fell to 50 percent in 1995. Among adolescent boys, 35.5 percent said in 1995 that they had had intercourse, down from 42.5 percent in 1990. Communities with the highest incidence of single-parent households also have the highest incidence of HIV, whereas communities with the highest incidence of two-parent families have the lowest incidence of HIV. Material on educating for abstinence is available from the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, P.O. Box 162306, Austin, TX 78716.
• A private fertility clinic in Toronto, Ontario, will for a fee ranging from $6,500 to $9,800 weed out genetically defective embryos before they are implanted in the mother. “This is the beginning of the end of genetic disease,” says Dr. Perry Phillips of IVF Canada. He says they can identify twenty-seven genetic disorders at present, including Huntington's disease and breast cancer, and the list will grow dramatically over time. “A lot of this is going to be eliminated. That's the dream of medicine. It's our dream. This should have the same impact antibiotics did to bacterial disease.” The comparison with antibiotics does seem to elide the distinction between eliminating the sickness and eliminating the sick. Dreams and nightmares.
• “Righteous Gentiles.” The memorial at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem formally recognizes 13,618 (as of the end of 1995) who risked their lives in order to save Jews in the Nazi-occupied countries of Europe. Professor Berel Lang of the State University of New York at Albany has problems with the term “Righteous Gentiles.” Writing in Judaism, he notes that “righteous” applies to those who do their duty. Jewish teaching does not require that people put their own lives or the lives of their families at risk to help others. The righteous gentiles, therefore, are more than righteous; they are heroic. Further, to say that they are simply righteous is to imply that all the other gentiles were unrighteous, which is not the case. Many, perhaps most, of them were simply doing their duty as best they understood it and as best they could. The current usage also lumps all those who are not recognized as “Righteous Gentiles” into the same category, thus obscuring the fact that some of them were wicked in supporting or actually perpetrating the extermination of Jews. Lang concludes: “To honor the heroic and ‘More-than-Righteous' gentiles in no way diminishes the responsibility of the much larger number of others who were (as they then, and we too now, might be) less than heroic. Quite the contrary. To identify and honor those who are heroic means that the burden of being ‘righteous' goes back to where it belongs, in the day-to-day life of ordinary people who are not and perhaps cannot be heroes, but who are nonetheless responsible for knowing and acting on the principles of common humanity. That is, for being righteous.” The article makes an interesting case that we should begin to refer to the rescuers as “Heroic Gentiles,” thus distinguishing them from the common run of Jews and Christians alike, who, like most of us, are less than heroic. While one may want to affirm Prof. Lang's intention, one may also question whether it is not already achieved by “Righteous Gentiles.” The Hebrew phrase is hasidei ummot ha-olam, and my Jewish friends who know about these things say that it is understood that a hasid is by no means just an acceptably moral person. Thus the designation of the hasidim, the ultra-Orthodox groups found in Brooklyn and elsewhere. In English also, we surely do not refer to someone as “righteous” unless he is notably so. (Sadly, in our secular culture “righteous” is often taken as synonymous with “self-righteous.”) In sum, hasidei ummot ha-olam in Hebrew and “Righteous Gentiles” in English would seem to mean something very much like “gentile saints.”
• I was struck by the assertion in a fine new book by Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom, America in Black and White, about the disappearing color line in American religion. The claim is that a majority of blacks attend racially integrated local churches, and the same is true of nearly half the white Christians in the country. That didn't seem quite right, given the number of blacks, their geographical distribution, and their concentration in almost exclusively black churches. So I wrote the Thernstroms and they kindly responded that they were relying on data gathered by the National Opinion Research Center's “General Social Survey” of 1978 and 1994. In 1978, 37 percent of blacks reported that some whites attended their church; by 1994 that figure was 61 percent. The change is no doubt due to the very big rise in the number of blacks living in suburbia. In 1978, 34 percent of whites said some blacks attended their church; and in 1994 the figure was 44 percent. So there has been change, but it is not all that dramatic, since only a family or two of the other race makes it possible for hundreds of people to say that their church is racially integrated. Nor, it seems to me, is it necessarily a moral imperative that the color line be erased in religion. Many people have said, among them Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that eleven o'clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. Of course, racial segregation against people's will is an odious thing, but there are many reasons-ranging from geography to styles of worship-why most blacks prefer to worship in predominantly black churches. This is reinforced by my own experience as pastor of a black Lutheran parish in Brooklyn for seventeen years. The goal of a color-blind society-which, despite its detractors, is morally imperative-does not mean indifference to cherished traditions, also in religion, that are closely related to race. In this connection, I note that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has once again reaffirmed the goal of having a membership that reflects the racial composition of the nation. This is nothing but politically correct posturing that apparently goes over well in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is also deeply anti-ecumenical. The ELCA has obviously not consulted the National Baptist Convention or the African Methodist Episcopal Church about giving up 700,000 members. What the Thernstroms report is indeed an encouraging trend, but it is still very much a trend at the margins.
• Beyond the English-American-Australian fringe, the Anglican communion is generally flourishing. Moving toward the next Lambeth Conference, provinces in Africa and Asia have talked seriously about excluding the American bishops of PECUSA from the meeting because of their theological and moral deviations, but that could hardly be done without busting up the entire Anglican thing. The natives, however, who are now the custodians of moral and theological sanity, are restless. It doesn't help that the Church of England is pondering whether to abandon officially, as it largely has in practice, the teaching that sexual intercourse is rightly reserved for marriage. A C of E bishop recently remarked in a debate on the subject, “All those biblical and theological points are undoubtedly interesting, but the fact is our children are living and having sex with people outside matrimony, and are we really prepared to say that they are ‘living in sin'?” A theologian who was on the other side of the question responded, “His grace's observation has the merit of candor in suggesting that his position is that it is not nice to say that nice people such as ourselves and our children are sinners. This new version of ‘the comfortable words' will no doubt be welcomed by some as a great relief, but, in the absence of sin and forgiveness and all they entail, it does rather leave the church scrambling for a reason for its existence.” There's that old foundationalism again.
• Poor New Orleans. Said to have the highest murder rate in the nation, the sidewalks buckling, the grand mansions on St. Charles Avenue falling into clammy disrepair, Bourbon Street reduced to hard rock and strip joints. A recent visit surrounded one with the sadness of the decaying world described in Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins. Antoine's, the fabled restaurant, is still a grand experience, and the cathedral is noteworthy, but there is little else that is grand any more about New Orleans. Then there was this in the Times-Picayune: the school board has adopted a policy against “retaining names of schools named for former slave owners or others who did not respect equal opportunity for all.” So George Washington is out. Robert E. Lee School is now named for Ronald McNair, an astronaut killed in 1986. A school named for E. D. White, once the Chief Justice of the U.S., now bears the name of Langston Hughes; Thurgood Marshall has displaced Confederate general P. G. T. Beauregard, and Jefferson Davis has given way to the former New Orleans mayor, Dutch Morial. The current mayor, also named Morial, is rumored to have his eye on the high pedestal where there is still a statue of Robert E. Lee. After that is politically corrected, maybe the city will rent out the pedestal for the celebrity of the year. Princess Diana perhaps. It's not that the city has entirely lost its historical consciousness. The school board rule requires that schools keep their new names for twenty years. For a place whose chief appeal was its capacity to evoke another world, the erasure of historical memory does seem like another step in the city's determination to commit suicide. Soon only Percy's moviegoer will be able to see the New Orleans that formerly enchanted as a place elsewhere. “Equal opportunity for all” is undoubtedly important, but it hardly requires an ideological rectification of history that leaves a dank and disenchanted city obliviously sinking into the swamp on which it was once so audaciously built.
• I always get in trouble when I say that the federal government is responsible for the death of more than eighty people, many of them women and children, at the siege of the Davidians in Waco, Texas. I don't like saying it, not least because it might give aid and comfort to the black helicopter crowd, but I don't know any more judicious way of putting the matter. (Along with many others, I believe the most accessible and accurate account of the incident is still the late Dean Kelley's “Waco: A Massacre and Its Aftermath,” FT, May 1995.) At the time, the newly appointed Janet Reno earned media points for saying she took “full responsibility” for that catastrophe, but in fact that was accompanied neither by an apology nor by appropriate discipline against those immediately involved. Now an interview with Louis Freeh, director of the FBI, supplies what might pass for an approximation of the former. “The bureau had this sense that it could do more than it was really capable of. At Waco and Ruby Ridge [where Randy Weaver's wife and son, plus a federal marshal, were killed] we had a very competent hostage response team, but there weren't any hostages to rescue. These people wanted to be there.” Later in the interview Freeh responds to the criticism that he is too candid in speaking about the FBI's problems. “A lot of people still say to me, ‘Why do you say we made a mistake at Waco and weren't prepared for Ruby Ridge?' Well, my answer is: ‘That's the truth.'” And that's a beginning, but “we made a mistake” is hardly an adequate response to one of the most brutal and deadly abuses of government power in American history.
• A while back in the Weekly Standard, Christopher Caldwell took the New York Times Book Review to task for routinely assigning novels to other novelists rather than to critics. Not surprisingly, the reviews tend to be uncritical, as reviewers, believing that turnabout is only fair, anticipate the treatment of their next offering. In a similar way, the Book Review gave a new biography of Alfred C. Kinsey-he of the sexual revolution-to sex writer Richard Rhodes, who thinks the sexual regression of recent years to be one of the high points of human history. Rhodes acknowledges that Kinsey was a deeply disturbed person, a homosexual masochist who routinely seduced his graduate students and had his senior researchers engage in group orgies, among other perversities. But “genius” covers a multitude of sins. Rhodes is critical of the author, James H. Jones, for suggesting that Kinsey's research was marred by his prurient and exploitative interests. He does not deny Kinsey's motives, but writes, “Jones appears to cherish the quaint notion that good science is disinterested science, that a scientist must somehow contrive to avoid emotional investment in his work.” Having sex with the subjects of one's research and otherwise behaving in ways that would today land one in the slammer does seem to go beyond what we would ordinarily think of as emotional investment in one's work. Rhodes is especially enthusiastic about Kinsey's work on homosexuality, “which contributed vitally to the march toward tolerance that continues today.” He does not mention Kinsey's now notorious use of unrepresentative groups such as prisoners, he pooh-poohs Kinsey's often-stated purpose of overthrowing sexual constraints, and he completely ignores Kinsey's thoroughly discredited claim that 10 percent of the male population is dominantly homosexual. Commenting on Kinsey's work, the great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr noted his “abysmal ignorance of the complexities in the heights and depths of the human spirit.” Rhodes is not impressed. Before he got into the sex business, Kinsey was a world-class authority on the habits of gall wasps. Critics of his sex work attacked his methodology, failing to note, says Rhodes, “the irony that the same methodology had merited praise when he applied it to gall wasps.” Well, yes, but that was rather the point of Niebuhr and others: human beings are not gall wasps. It says here that Richard Rhodes is the author of Making Love. Yet another book that one is, with such strange ease, resigned to never reading. (I am open, just barely, to the possibility that the Rhodes review is intended as a parody. But that is to allow for an ironic reach that is without precedent in the Times‘ book review.)
• It's too easy to say that Harvard hates America, as a book title of several years ago put it. It's simply that Harvard is married to an America very different from the America experienced by nine out of ten Americans. Here, for example, is the program of a recent conference, “One Nation Under God? Religion and Contemporary American Culture.” There are two presentations on the spiritual significance of rock music, one on the cult of Princess Diana, several critiquing America's captivity to capitalism, one on Islam, one on gays, a couple on exotic fringe movements (including Scientology in Germany), and two on aspects of the Jewish experience. I don't know where to put Rita Nakashima Brock's “Beyond Eurocentric Religious Paradigms,” but I could take a wild guess. This is no doubt fun stuff for academics with too much time on their hands, but this is “Religion and Contemporary American Culture”? It's not that the religious beliefs and connections of most Americans (oldline Protestant, evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic) were entirely neglected. Robert Ellsberg of the very lefty Orbis Books, for instance, gave a paper on “Cardinal Bernardin and the Quest for Common Ground.” So a dead cardinal, may he rest in peace, and a comatose project he sponsored, may it rest in peace, did make an appearance on Harvard's screen of religion and American culture. To think that parents beyond numbering flirt with bankruptcy so that their children can get what is called a Harvard education.
• Jane Fonda sounds the tocsin calling patriots to action. “Most Americans don't know their tax money is being used for that, and most Americans don't want it,” she declares. Ms. Fonda, we are given to understand, has a long record of being attuned to the values of most Americans. The current cause for her alarm is that Congress has appropriated $50 million per year to encourage sex education programs that promote abstinence until marriage. Ms. Fonda is not without support from disinterested patriots. She has teamed up with Durex Consumer Products, the world's largest marketer of condoms (Sheik, Ramses, and Avanti brands), to launch a nationwide “Truth for Youth” program. Says Ms. Fonda, “Abstinence until marriage is based on an unreal world that isn't out there.” Not if the Fonda-Durex team has its way.
• He was called “Darwin's rottweiler.” T. H. Huxley was an intellectual street fighter who translated the master's arguments into the vulgate of Victorian England. Adrian Desmond, a British writer, has produced a new biography of Huxley that is highly praised by James R. Kincaid, professor of English at the University of Southern California, in the New York Times Book Review. He can find nothing to criticize in Desmond's hagiography, but there is this: “One thing will probably strike American readers, even in the midst of their delight: Desmond will seem vastly to overstate the fullness of Huxley's victory, the triumph of secular agnosticism and scientific rationalism. Is our modern world Huxley's? I don't know how it is in Desmond's England, but the contemporary United States seems to me about as skeptical, scientific, and agnostic as a tenth-century tribe of frog worshipers. We need Huxley back again, debating Pat Robertson, the head of the Promise Keepers, and a worthy representative of the Church of Scientology, say John Travolta.” Oh, for those Victorian days when we had the smugly established Church of England to kick around.
• I am told it is an old French saying: “Coincidences are events in which God wishes to remain incognito.” The following, from National Right to Life News, is no coincidence: “On October 10, 1997, at 3:50 p.m., the Office of the Press Secretary at the White House released a presidential proclamation designating October 12, 1997, as ‘National Children's Day.' In the first paragraph of the presidential declaration, Bill Clinton states, ‘With the birth of every child, the world becomes new again. Within each new infant lies enormous potential-potential for loving, for learning, and for making life better for others. But this potential must be nurtured. Just as seeds need fertile soil, warm sunshine, and gentle rain to grow, so do our children need a caring environment, the security of knowing they are loved, and the encouragement and opportunity to make the most of their God-given talents. There is no more urgent task before us, as a people and as a nation, than creating such an environment for America's children.' On October 10, 1997, at around 4:30 p.m.-less than an hour after issuing his Children's Day proclamation-Bill Clinton issued another proclamation: his veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.”
• “I am one person who is thoroughly enjoying the television program Nothing Sacred,” writes Mary Hazlett of Akron, Ohio, to the National Catholic Reporter. According to the latest ratings for the show (which may be canceled by the time this appears), even one person really matters. “Nothing Sacred appeals to me because the characters, like myself, are human beings. Flawed. Scared. Insecure. . . . Those of us who risk diving into our inner darkness journey through this loneliness and despair. . . . We struggle with the rich questions that have few answers, the very same universal questions and temptations of Jesus. . . . The characters in Nothing Sacred are the sort of people I need to accompany me on my journey. . . . In the struggle, they live authentic lives.” Flawed? Scared? Insecure? Lonely? Despairing? Or smugly proud of being in the company of an elite who live authentic lives, just like Jesus?
• Cynthia Ozick, writing in the New Yorker, is really upset, and with some reason. A new Broadway production of The Diary of Anne Frank reminds her of how the story has been twisted into a sweet little tale for adolescent girls, omitting the horror of Nazism and Anne's extermination. Ozick writes, “And because the end is missing, the story of Anne Frank in the fifty years since The Diary of a Young Girl was first published has been bowdlerized, distorted, transmuted, traduced, reduced; it has been infantilized, Americanized, homogenized, sentimentalized; falsified, kitschified, and, in fact blatantly and arrogantly denied.” In fact, Ms. Ozick goes on in that vein for pages and pages in a magazine once noted for its stylish writing. Somebody needs to take away her thesaurus. Under the deluge of verbal similitude, however, she may have a point.
• Our local paper had this big story on the dedication of the Roth Center for Jewish Life at Dartmouth College. Dartmouth president James O. Freedman declared, “We must confront the ghosts of the past.” He noted with satisfaction that a legacy of “bigotry” had long since been repudiated. As an example of bigotry, he cited a 1945 statement by Ernest M. Hopkins, then president of Dartmouth: “Dartmouth is a Christian college founded for the Christianization of its students.” That was hardly original with Mr. Hopkins. The school's charter, granted by George III, declared its purpose to be the “civilizing and Christianizing of the children of pagans, as well as in all liberal arts and sciences, and also of English youths, and any others.” More than two hundred years later, a president of Dartmouth is called courageous for confessing the sins of his predecessors who supported the idea of a Christian college. One rather doubts that anyone at universities such as Yeshiva or Brandeis think it bigotry that they were established to be, in some significant sense, Jewish. It even seems likely that the Roth Center for Jewish Life will be mainly, if not exclusively, for Jewish students. One hopes the day will never come when that, too, will be deemed a ghost of the past that must be exorcised. Meanwhile, one wishes Dartmouth well in coping with the current crop of pagans
• An astute reader points out that in Steven Spielberg's Amistad, former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, he of Roe infamy, makes a cameo appearance as Justice Joseph Story ruling in favor of the slaves. Blackmun as Justice Roger Taney in Dred Scott would seem to be more in character.
• At the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, the confessing atheist organization, Freedom from Religion Foundation, for the second year in a row put up a sign next to the Christmas tree. “In this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our material world. Religion is but a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” On the backside of the sign they put the admonition, “Thou shalt not steal.” Sez who?
• When the New Jersey senate overrode Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's veto of a bill banning partial-birth abortion, the story in the Times held a welcome change. In numerous past references to the subject, the paper routinely referred to “so-called” partial-birth abortion and invented technical-sounding gobbledygook to describe the surgery, claiming that it is the way it is described by “medical experts.” This time the reporter frankly admitted, on the front page yet, that there is no accepted medical terminology to describe killing a baby who is in the process of being born. The editorial writers, however, apparently do not read their paper carefully and the next day an editorial titled “Abortion Retreat in New Jersey” was back to lamenting the ban on “so-called partial-birth abortions.” The editorial praised Whitman for her veto, acknowledging that she thereby probably lost any chance at national Republican leadership and was barely reelected, but deplored her failure to fight harder for “women's reproductive freedom.” “Regrettably,” the editors note, “Mrs. Whitman chose not to lobby the Legislature to protect her veto. Her decision to leave the vote to each lawmaker's conscience opened the field for anti-abortion forces to exert pressure.” There the people go again, trying to influence their representatives. Isn't it bad enough that Mrs. Whitman had to demean herself by standing for reelection and was almost defeated by the great unwashed? This democracy business is clearly getting out of hand. But the fact that New Jersey joins sixteen other states in banning the killing of babies while they are being born does not leave the editors without hope. “This latest product of the new abortion politics should not survive a serious review by the courts,” they opine. Ah yes, the courts. Of course.
• Janet Maslin of the Times calls it “A rare display of spiritual light on screen.” It's Robert Duvall's The Apostle, and this time the Elmer Gantry line is turned on its head. Duvall's character, Sonny, is a deeply conflicted southern preacher who messes up big time but then begins anew in a Louisiana small town where he is redeemed by the gospel he preaches. Much to everyone's surprise, including Mr. Duvall's, the film is being touted as a strong contender for Academy Awards.
• I encountered Father Thomas Reese, author of a useful manual on the internal workings of the Holy See called Inside the Vatican, one day as I was leaving the Synod for America with a friend. He was with other journalists at the gate where the Swiss guards only admitted members of the Synod. My friend could not resist observing, “But Tom, I thought you were inside the Vatican.” Upon my return I read Fr. Reese's report on the November meeting of U.S. bishops in Washington, which includes this: “The pastoral message to parents of homosexuals, ‘Always Our Children,' was defended by Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien of Phoenix, Ariz., who is chair of the Marriage and Family Life Committee. The committee's message received very positive coverage in the media but was attacked by reactionary and homophobic groups. Although the response of the bishops to the document was positive, some feared the message would be interpreted as a softening of the church's teaching against homosexual activity. In response one bishop noted that homosexual groups were unanimous in saying that the bishops' message was good ‘as far as it went,' which indicated that these groups certainly had not misinterpreted the message.” Well, Bishop O'Brien would defend it, wouldn't he? His committee wrote it. And are all those who have strongly criticized the statement-including Fr. John Harvey, founder of the homosexual assistance group called Courage and the distinguished philosopher John Finnis of Oxford and Notre Dame-fairly described as “reactionary and homophobic”? It possibly makes me a reactionary in Fr. Reese's book, but for some reason I do not share his sense of reassurance when a Church statement on sexual morality receives “very positive coverage in the media.” Most curious, however, is Fr. Reese's apparent agreement with one bishop who is confident that Catholic teaching is not compromised by “All Our Children” because homosexual groups say it does not go all the way in saying what they think should be the Church's teaching on the subject.
• My apologies. I thought I had noted earlier the death last September of Dr. Joseph Stanton, at age seventy-seven. Dr. Stanton was crippled by polio at age fifteen and spent much of his life in a wheelchair. He said it made him a better doctor, knowing that “when you have nothing curative to offer, continuing to care and care very deeply can be a very important thing for many patients.” He was a pioneering hero of the pro-life movement and his extensive archives on the cause are now preserved by the Sisters of Life in their convent in the Bronx, New York. Dr. Joe's life was a declaration of faith-filled courage. It still is. Requiescat in pace.
• As the old saying has it, lose a few, lose a few. If you're connected with something called the Quixote Center, you don't expect to win very often. On the other hand, as co-director of the center, Sister Maureen Fiedler, said, this time it seemed they were on to a winner. “We had all this marvelous polling data, which we had for decades, showing that three-quarters of U.S. Catholics want a married clergy, two-thirds want married priests, overwhelming percentages would like to return to the tradition of electing bishops, and so forth and so on,” said Sister Maureen. Of course the data showed no such things, as the Quixotes were about to find out. What the data showed is that, on these and other questions, the overwhelming majority of Catholics would go along with whatever the Church decided. But, misreading the signs of the times, the Quixotes pulled out all the stops to get a million signatures of Catholic Americans on a “referendum petition” calling for the ordination of women, popular election of bishops, optional celibacy for priests, the embrace of gay rights, and a change of rules regarding divorced and married Catholics. The petition drive was to run from Pentecost 1996 to Pentecost 1997, and then was extended through the fall of 1997. Full-page advertisements were taken out in “progressive” publications, a national network of parish pushers was enlisted, all the paraphernalia of the putative wave of the future was recruited, and the campaign ended up with thirty-seven thousand signatures, which was 4 percent of the goal and near-zilch percent of the sixty million Catholics in the U.S. “We had organizing kits,” says Sister Maureen, “We had grass roots efforts, we had mass mailings. In other words, we tried everything we possibly could. We really gave it everything we had.” The bishops were not sympathetic to the effort, says Sister Maureen. She tells about walking down a chancery hall with an auxiliary bishop when the ordinary of the diocese appeared and the auxiliary shoved her into a closet in order not to be seen with her. “There's no way to describe the political structure of our church except to say that it is monarchical, it is certainly authoritarian, increasingly repressive, and it shows even a few signs, unfortunately, of efficiency in that regard,” she observes. She did not mention the heartbreak of being the kind of person whom people shove in a closet in order to avoid being seen with in public. Quixotes are nothing if not quick learners, however. From the debacle of the referendum, Sister Maureen learned this: “We overestimated Catholic theological maturity.”
• Most of what appears in the Tablet (London) is predictably liberal, almost to the point of self-parody. But a good many people, also on this side of the drink, read it for its coverage of church news not reported elsewhere. Like other publications, however, it has to cope with slow news weeks from time to time. The lead item in “The Church in the World” section this time is headed, “Once again a bishop's appointment divides local church.” Oh my. According to the Norwegian Catholic monthly, St. Olav, there is considerable unhappiness with the appointment of Father George Müller as bishop of the tiny territorial prefecture of Trondheim, which covers central Norway and has 2,285 Catholics in a population of 619,000. That's one Catholic per 271 inhabitants. Catholicism is not big in Norway. It is not clear why the people of Trondheim don't like their new bishop, but the report is that reservations were sent to Rome and “handed on all the way to the top.” The question is portentously asked, “Which advisers has the Pope then listened to in connection with the appointment?” One expects that the editors would be shocked, yes shocked, to be told that the universal pastor of a billion Catholics possibly spent no more time than it takes to sign the document of appointment in naming the pastor of a local church as large as a small parish in many parts of the world. As I say, it was a slow news week. There was also happier news, however. “Salford welcomes its new bishop” is another item of the week. The new bishop of Salford, England, is Terence Brain and he said in his installation homily: “I pledge to encourage you, support you, enable you, so that together we choose cooperation and collaboration in our common calling to serve the people of God.” Enabling people (are they disabled?) is all fine and dandy, but what happened to, for instance, empowering? One hopes the faithful of Salford will protest the discrimination against that and other equally vacuous clichés. Inclusivity in choosing cooperation and collaboration in our common calling requires no less. Never mind Trondheim; I want to know who advised the Pope in appointing the bishop of Salford.
• As Edgar Bronfman of the World Jewish Congress goes from country to country and door to door demanding confessions and reparations for what people did or didn't do at the time of the Holocaust, he can skip America House over on West 56th Street. A long article in the Jesuit magazine America is given to nothing more that touting that “America stands in stark contrast to much of the Catholic and Protestant press in its coverage of these events.” Sure enough, the article relates in numbing detail that the magazine, to its credit, spoke out repeatedly against Hitler and for the Jews. Had someone suggested otherwise? An additional oddity of the article is that it nowhere mentions the other publications to which America stands in such “stark contrast.” Nonetheless, let the record show that America was right about Hitler. Congratulations, if not self-congratulations, are in order.
• Singin' them old third-way blues. For people who don't have a scorecard it must be explained that the new name for capitalism is neoliberalism. This is the usage among leftist intellectuals all over the southern hemisphere or what used to be called the Third World. And among their friends in the West who were so bitterly disappointed by the failure of real-world, existing socialism, a.k.a. communism. The vicissitudes of history, however, have not dissuaded them from their earnest search for a “third way” between socialism and capitalism, namely, socialism. Among Catholics of the left, the complaint is that the capitalist neoliberals have hijacked Catholic social teaching, with the help of a none-too-alert Pope who in the 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus, said the free economy is the way to go. “A theology of liberation is more needed today than ever-but a renewed liberation theology in a different form than previously,” Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, Father General of the Society of Jesus, told a Swiss news agency. He and others have discovered that the global economy of neoliberalism has not benefited everyone equally. There are still poor people, he sadly notes. He says that the earlier liberation theology of the 1970s and ‘80s had become “exhausted.” That is to say, Marxism was discredited by the very history to which it appealed for vindication. But that older liberation theology should not be forgotten, since it was “deeply rooted in the Gospel and real life of the People of God.” Fr. Kolvenbach said that a French Jesuit, Fr. Jean-Yves Calvez, is “working on proposals for a new papal encyclical on problems of marginalization, unemployment, and social rejection.” But the proposed new encyclical will not deal only with the problems being experienced by the Jesuits. It will also address what is described as the more general crisis of society. The older liberation theology was sharply criticized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1984 and 1986. Nothing daunted, Fr. Kolvenbach says the third way is now being set to a new tune and “is undoubtedly needed in developed countries too, although not in any sense a copy of the Latin American theology.” He does not say whether the Pope has been informed about the new encyclical that is in the works. In preparing new encyclicals, the Jesuits operate on what the intelligence community calls the NTK (“need to know”) principle. In the old days-back when “jesuitical” meant crafty-they didn't even explain their secrets to the news media.
• Homer nods. In Modern Times and many other writings, Paul Johnson has railed convincingly against the pretensions of the political class that they have either authority or competence to transform the world. But in the last year or more his column in the Spectator reflects his being smitten by New Labor's Tony Blair, which has him nodding in blissful dreams of politicians who “can make a difference.” Here is a column in which he urges Blair to make family policy the centerpiece of his program. “What a splendid title to lasting fame Blair could earn if he went down in history as the prime minister who restored the British family to health and strength,” writes Johnson. A political leader can restore a nation's families to health and strength? Paul Johnson would be well advised to go back and read Paul Johnson.
• During the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome, according to the Tablet, an elderly parishioner of a parish in Sussex complained that her hearing aid had been on the blink. After Mass she inquired of a friend, “I know they asked us to pray for the bishops who sinned in Rome, but what did they do?”
• We are pleased, I mean really pleased, to announce that Daniel P. Moloney has joined us as Associate Editor. He succeeds J. Bottum, who, after a brief but brilliant career with us, decided to retire to the Potomac. Mr. Moloney earned his B.A. at Yale, where he was senior editor of the Yale Free Press, and his M.A. in philosophy at Notre Dame, where he has completed all but the writing of the thesis for his Ph.D. His field is medieval logic and epistemology, and his thesis is on Anselm's use of analogy. He is not limited to such pressingly relevant questions, however. He also maintains a lively interest in ethics, politics, jurisprudence, and the media, and was founding editor of Right Reason, the independent student publication at Notre Dame. He plans to finish writing the doctoral thesis in, as it were, his spare time. And this you will be pleased to know: Once again we received a big bundle of applications from extremely well qualified candidates. I wish we had several positions to fill, but we don't. The heartening lesson to be drawn is that there are an awful lot of capable young people out there who have survived the calamities of what we persist in calling higher education. Daniel P. Moloney, for example, from and about whom I expect you will be hearing much more.
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