The Public Square
Last month we began an extended report on the two reports issued on February 27 and on some of the preliminary responses to the reports. The first report, commissioned by the National Review Board, consisted of the findings of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on the incidence and nature of sex abuse by Catholic clergy from 1950 to 2002. The limited media attention focused on the finding that there were some ten thousand accusations against four thousand priests, or about four percent of the priests serving during the time studied. We noted that no other major institution in American society—notably the public school system, social workers, Boy Scouts, athletic associations—has been subjected to similar scrutiny, and that some experts believe that the incidence of sex abuse by priests and bishops is relatively small by comparison. Moreover, we took into account statistical analyses of the John Jay findings, including the fact that only 149 priests accounted for more than a quarter of all accusations, that can lead to the conclusion that the sex abuse crisis was significantly exaggerated. From a purely statistical viewpoint, it no doubt was exaggerated, and for various reasons: e.g., raw anti-Catholicism in the media, a continuing campaign within the Church against the celibacy rule, and an effort to exclude or remove homosexuals from the priesthood. The likelihood of exaggeration in the number and gravity of offenses, however, provides naught for our comfort. The report of the National Review Board itself (as distinct from the John Jay report commissioned by the NRB) underscores that the sexual abuse of minors simply opened a window, exposing a much more pervasive and deeply troubling “Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States.”
According to the NRB, the crisis was chiefly created by what can only be described as misgovernance by the bishops. As might be expected, this news is not welcomed by many bishops, and certainly not by the bureaucracy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which in some matters is the collective representative of the bishops. The misgovernance reported by the NRB does not include all bishops by any means. Many, probably most, are hardworking, conscientious leaders trying to do their best in shepherding their local churches. Neither, however, does the NRB report focus on isolated incidents of misgovernance. It discerns far-reaching patterns that call for a searching reappraisal of the leadership of the Church in the United States. The NRB report will be “put on the agenda” of the June meeting of bishops, but there is a concern that it will there be accorded a perfunctory discussion before being consigned to the archives of the USCCB—or assigned to a committee for “further study,” which might amount to much the same thing. If that happens, a historic opportunity will have been missed for the reform of the Church, and not least for the restoration of gravely damaged confidence in the Church’s episcopal leadership.
Contrary to the general impression, there are many lay advisory groups in the Catholic Church. One archbishop says that he can hardly make a move unless he checks it out with lay panels or boards, and doing something major, such as closing a parish, is a nightmare of battling a dozen or more lay groups. Even the USCCB has a lay body that goes over the agenda for meetings of bishops and makes recommendations. The reality, however, is that the NRB and its report are something very different. The NRB was created by the bishops in response to what is commonly called “the greatest crisis in the history of Catholicism in America.” There have been other crises that may have been as severe. For instance, the trusteeship crisis of the nineteenth century that threatened to move Catholicism to a “congregationalist” polity, or the crisis of episcopal inaction in the face of orchestrated dissent from the 1968 encyclical on human sexuality, Humanae Vitae, a dissent that powerfully undermined the authority of magisterial teaching. But the sex-abuse crisis prompted the bishops to give the NRB a mandate to examine the “causes and context” of what went wrong with the Church’s leadership and what should be done about it. It may be, as some bishops complain, that the NRB went beyond what they thought was its mandate, but it was only the promise that its investigation would be independent and comprehensive that made it possible to enlist the extraordinary talents and devotion of the twelve lay people who worked so hard to produce the report.
The Smoke of Satan
These people are not the usual church activists or chronic malcontents, whether of the left or the right, who are the bane of every bishop’s life. They do not question the divine constitution of the Church’s apostolic leadership; nor are they interested in “power sharing,” meaning endless meetings to nitpick a bishop’s every decision. They have a life, and they have made great sacrifices to serve on the NRB. Their only interest is in helping the bishops to be more effectively the shepherds they are ordained to be. If the product of their work is not taken seriously—as, for instance, an invaluable reference in a synod of bishops dedicated to a program of comprehensive reform—it may be a very, very long time before people of their quality will make a comparable effort to help the bishops with much of anything. Of course, that may be just fine with some bishops who still believe that the Church is a clerical corporation and the role of the laity is, as the old saying has it, to pray, pay, and obey. There will be a strong and understandable desire at the June meeting to “move on” from the nightmare of scandals. Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the USCCB, will likely receive a well-deserved standing ovation for having moved the scandals out of the headlines. Then will come the critical question of whether the bishops as a body are really interested in the “causes and context” of what went wrong, and has been going wrong for so long. That will be answered in large part by their response to the NRB report. Was the NRB and its report simply a ploy in a public relations strategy, or will it be received and acted upon in advancing a program of authentic Catholic reform?
Whatever the bishops do with it, the NRB report is a historically important document that warrants careful study. (The complete 150-page document can be found at www.usccb.org/nrb). The two questions with which the report begins are: 1) why did sexual predators gain admission to the priesthood; and 2) why did they remain in the priesthood after their abuse was know to bishops and other leaders? A summary answer is that the responses of too many bishops “were characterized by moral laxity, excessive leniency, insensitivity, secrecy, and neglect.” The fear of litigation (the Church has to date put out close to seven hundred million dollars in settlements) and of public scandal led some bishops to minimize the fact that what some priests were doing was, as the NRB says, “simply immoral.” “Sexual abuse is inherently traumatic; when committed by a priest, it is especially traumatic. Because a priest is quite literally a ‘father figure,’ abuse by a priest is likely to cause more harm to a child than abuse by any other individual outside the family. Moreover, a unique consequence of abuse by a member of the clergy is the damage to the victim’s faith.” The immorality and horror of what was happening reflected the fact that the bishops in question were not paying attention, and apparently did not want to know. One priest interviewed said that he could have a concubine and three children and his bishop would not know it. It would appear that there are many more incidents of priests having a sexual relationship with an adult woman or man than with minors. Such relationships are, in many cases, not viewed as a major problem because they usually do not have legal, financial, or public relations consequences for the Church, and are therefore deemed to be “nobody’s business.” The report states, “Whether a priest keeps his vows and lives in accordance with the moral precepts of the Church is the business of his bishop, his fellow priests, and his parishioners.”
While there are many ways of understanding the current crisis, the Board believes that “the overriding paradigm that characterizes the crisis is one of sinfulness.” The Board borrows a phrase from Pope Paul VI: “Somehow, the ‘smoke of Satan’ was allowed to enter the Church, and as a result the Church itself has been deeply wounded.” “The only way to combat sinfulness is with holiness. . . . Priests who were truly holy would not have abused young people; nor would they have allowed others to do so.” In short, the crisis is about fidelity, fidelity, fidelity. Here the report touches on a factor that has only been whispered about in the past. Some bishops may have failed to do their duty because they were themselves sexually compromised. “That is, priests either explicitly or implicitly threatened to reveal compromising information about a bishop if the bishop took steps against the priest.” Anyone who “could be subject to blackmail,” the report says, “should not allow himself to be elevated to bishop or placed in any other position of authority.”
The report, in my judgment, goes a little wobbly on the Dallas policy of “zero tolerance” for a priest who has ever been accused of anything at any time, no matter how long ago, and no matter how impeccable his record of service over years or decades since. Recognizing that zero tolerance is a “blunt instrument,” the report says, “Nonetheless, the Board believes that for the immediate future the zero-tolerance policy is essential to the restoration of the trust of the laity in the leadership of the Church, provided that it is appropriately applied.” Beyond the immediate future, the goal should be “individualized justice.” It is reported that over seven hundred accused priests have been peremptorily removed from ministry. Others who have been closely tracking these developments, such as the Detroit-based Opus Bono Sacerdotii, an organization of lawyers helping accused priests, estimate that more than a thousand have been removed. As one priest told the Board, “It’s like being divorced by your wife, fired from your job, and evicted from your home all at once.” And all this without any effective channel of appeal.
Scandal Within the Scandal
It is hard to know how zero tolerance can be “appropriately applied.” Zero tolerance excludes by definition any consideration of what is appropriate. A priest who is accused of even one incident—even if it was no more than a misunderstood hug, and even if that was twenty or thirty years ago—and has given his life in faithful service to the people of God ever since, is rudely thrown out, not because he poses a credible threat to anyone but because he is a convenient scapegoat for bishops who, after years of laxity, now want to look tough. Such a gross violation of the Church’s teaching about repentance, forgiveness, and amendment of life—not to mention its violation of elementary justice—is the scandal within the scandal, and no institutional exigency can morally justify it, even for “the immediate future.” Yet some bishops are talking about the need to extend the zero-tolerance policy beyond the two-year trial period reluctantly allowed by Rome. In the Pope’s April 2002 meeting with American bishops he said there is no place in ministry for anyone who poses a threat to children. He also said we must never forget the power of forgiveness and redemption. The first admonition has been regularly cited, and rightly so. The second has been quite forgotten. On the advice of lawyers and public relations experts, care is taken to avoid any suggestion that bishops are ministers of grace and forgiveness. The media would have a field day with that. And so the innocent are treated as prodigal, and the prodigal son returning home is turned away at the gate. The Good Shepherd could afford to rejoice in the lost sheep that was found; His sheep did not pose a risk of legal liability. Bishops who promised to be fathers to their priests toss to the wolves the innocent and the guilty alike, all in the name of “protecting the children,” but protecting, in fact, themselves and an institution that has no reason for being other than to minister the justice and mercy of God. Zero tolerance is a denial of both justice and mercy. Bishops, and all of us, must tremble at the prospect of its being the policy in force at the Final Assize. How many souls were deprived of care, and perhaps of salvation, because of the unjust removal of good and faithful priests? One must hope that bishops are asking themselves now the questions that will surely be asked of them then.
Father Ladislas Orsy, one of the world’s most distinguished canonists, recently wrote in the Boston College Law Review: “The law should have ‘zero tolerance’ toward any crime by proscribing it, but the judge and jury should weigh and ponder the personal responsibility and culpability of the accused (which can exist in different degrees) and come to a decision accordingly. This distinction is foundational for any civilized legal system and is also a matter of natural justice. Yet the ‘Norms’ [adopted at Dallas] ignore it, a grave omission.” After having for so long turned a blind eye to the guilty, bishops are now, as though it were some kind of compensation for their negligence, turning a blind eye to the innocent. It does not enhance the credibility of a Church that, on so many fronts, presents itself as an expert on justice. The report notes again and again that there is no comparable zero-tolerance policy for bishops who protected predator priests and continued to give them assignments. Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, for example, is alleged to “have allowed numerous predator priests to remain in ministry,” and then to have placed obstacles in the way of law enforcement authorities, all of which, in the understated words of the report, “did little to enhance the reputation of the Church for transparency and cooperation.” Or, one might add, for justice.
The report repeatedly stresses that “this crisis [is] one of the episcopacy as much as it is a crisis of the priesthood,” and it cites the 2003 apostolic exhortation by John Paul II, Pastores Gregis: “The title of Bishop is one of service, not of honor, and therefore a Bishop should strive to benefit others rather than to lord it over them. Such is the precept of the Master.” By way of sharpest contrast, the Board encountered a “haughty” and uncooperative manner in some bishops, leading them to the conclusion that “the exercise of authority without accountability is not servant-leadership; it is tyranny.” As of this writing, a bishop accused of abusing minors remains in office and is using the full resources of the diocese to defend himself in the public arena. One must hope that he is innocent, but, were he a priest, it seems he would have been immediately and permanently removed from ministry. A particularly egregious instance of double standards and nonaccountability is the former Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, who settled a matter related to his relationship with an adult male, a former theology student, by paying the man $450,000 out of church funds. Had the amount been $50,000 more, it would have required the approval of the diocesan finance council. “Clearly,” the Board says, “a bishop should not be allowed to make such a large payment, whether on behalf of himself or priests in his diocese, with no oversight.” Weakland’s resignation was accepted by Rome only when the scandal became public, but his actions reflect a pattern of the corruption that attends leadership without accountability.
Causes and Context
In addressing the “causes and context” of the crisis, the NRB is on issue after issue refreshingly forthright. Too often, they concluded, lawyers were dictating the decisions of bishops. Fear of litigation, an admittedly necessary concern, trumped a bishop’s duty to his priests and to his flock. Bishops are also scored for relying on psychotherapists to evaluate miscreant priests, sometimes shopping around for positive evaluations in order to return abusers to ministry. In this way, bishops also evaded the requirements of canon law and their own responsibility for making judgments. Most grievously, dependence on the therapeutic resulted in a dismissal in practice, if not a denial in theory, of the Church’s constituting truths with respect to sin, forgiveness, repentance, and redemption. Verging on the incredible, in the week following the release of the NRB report, the Los Angeles Archdiocese issued a statement declaring: “The Church treated clerical sexual abuse primarily as a moral weakness and a sin. For years this misunderstanding underlay ineffectual policies for dealing with abuse of minors. Changes in Church and professional psychological thinking unfolded over nearly two decades and gradually empowered the Archbishop and the Church as a whole to improve those policies.” That statement of putative improvement perfectly encapsulates a way of thinking that greatly exacerbated the crisis in many dioceses, and very notably in Los Angeles.
The NRB report does not ignore the reckless and self-serving ways in which bishops escaped criminal liability by pleading guilty on behalf of their dioceses and handing important aspects of church governance over to civil authorities. Such bishops had no right, morally or canonically, to do what they did, and the Church may be suffering for years from their selling out of the Church’s First Amendment rights of self-governance. Nor does the report flinch from taking on the question of homosexuality in the priesthood. At the height of the epidemic, in 1975-1980, 86 percent of abuse cases involved adolescent boys. The point is not that homosexuals are more likely to be child abusers. The point is that, as heterosexual men are attracted to young women, homosexual men are attracted to young men, and homosexual priests have more opportunities to act on their attractions. One need not get into obfuscatingly complicated arguments about the nature of homosexuality. The 86 percent figure speaks for itself. Between men who want to have sex with adolescent boys and men who do not want to have sex with adolescent boys, the former are more likely to have sex with adolescent boys. QED—in scandalous spades.
The NRB found ample evidence supporting the claims that some seminaries in the 1960s through the early 1980s were “pink palaces” or powerfully influenced by “lavender mafias,” including sleeping around by both students and faculty. An official visitation of seminaries in the early 1990s made a big difference, and it cannot be overlooked that in recent years the incidence of sexual abuse has declined to the level of 1950, before the epidemic broke out. There are still a few “gay-friendly” bishops, but they are keeping a low profile. The general attitude toward ordaining homosexuals or admitting them to the seminary has dramatically changed. Some bishops exclude from seminary anyone who is significantly, never mind dominantly or exclusively, given to same-sex attraction. Almost all now agree that any suggestion of homosexuality is reason for “heightened scrutiny” in admitting a man to the seminary. At the same time, and as the NRB rightly notes, there are undoubtedly in the priesthood many men afflicted by same-sex attractions who are nonetheless good and faithful priests living lives of chaste celibacy. The crucial question is not the nature of temptation but the fidelity with which temptation is overcome. At the same time, in light of the disastrous experience of recent decades and the growing cultural pressures for homosexual acting-out, most bishops seem to be concluding that same-sex attraction of any degree simply poses too great a risk in admitting men to the seminary.
The NRB makes a point of not challenging the discipline of celibacy for priests, choosing rather to stress that celibacy must mean celibacy, as in chastity. Some members of the Board were obviously taken aback to discover in the course of their study that a sizeable number of priests were ordained under the impression that celibacy does not necessarily mean celibacy. Beginning in the late ‘60s, some were told in seminary that celibacy means only that you can’t get married; sex outside of marriage is quite another matter. Others were assured that the celibacy rule would be abandoned within a few years. The resulting disappointment no doubt contributed to thousands of priests leaving the active ministry during these decades. The Board strongly accents the importance of spiritual formation for a faithful celibate life, a life made more difficult, even heroic, in a culture that teaches that sexual relations are essential to having a life at all. Bishops are sharply criticized for not giving personal attention to the problems their men may be encountering in this connection, both at seminary and after ordination.
The Way to Reform
If bishops are unhappy with this and other criticisms, the Board responds that it is only doing what the bishops asked it to do. Looking into “causes and context” sounds anodyne enough, until it turns out that the Board is as independent as the bishops promised it would be in June of 2002, and very specific “causes” multiply to expose a “context” of misgovernance. The Board lets it be known that it is not working entirely at the sufferance of the USCCB. “Although the direct source of the Review Board’s authority lies in Article 9 of the [Dallas] Charter, the Board’s ultimate authority lies in church law.” Canon 212 of the Code of Canon Law is cited:
According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they [the laity] possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.
The Board manifestly believes that this is a time for the exercising of that right and the doing of that duty. It is also canon law, they note, that the bishops all too often ignored, as though the Church had not for centuries had clear provisions in place for dealing with sexual miscreants in the clergy. At the same time, Rome, too, is criticized for its languid attitude and complicated procedures. “The Vatican did not recognize the scope or gravity of the problem facing the Church in the United States despite many warning signs; and it rebuffed earlier attempts to reform procedures for removing predator priests.” To the consternation of some bishops here, members of the Board arranged on their own to consult with leading prelates in the Roman Curia and were greatly heartened by the understanding and encouragement they received. Throughout their report they invoke John Paul II and, most particularly, his exhortation that out of this crisis must come “a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, a holier Church.”
Of the recommendations made by the Board, most have to do with the reform of the episcopate. If bishops are really to know the priests and people they are supposed to shepherd, there should be less moving of bishops from one diocese to another. The clericalist career pattern of “promotion” to a larger and more prominent diocese or archdiocese should be abandoned. To encourage a more effective bishop-priest relationship, others have suggested reducing the size of larger dioceses. There is no way in which one bishop can really know what is going on in the life and ministry of hundreds of priests. For that he has to delegate oversight to auxiliary bishops and others, as was done with unhappy consequences in Boston under Cardinal Law. In the selection and placement of bishops, the report notes, a “‘don’t-rock-the-boat’ attitude prevailed for too long.” Priests who are outspoken and are proven pastors of souls are too often excluded from the episcopate in favor of chancery clerks whose chief virtue is not having blotted their copybooks. Some think it controversial that the Board says that “greater involvement by the laity in the selection of bishops could help ensure that future bishops are pastors, prophets, and men of honor, and not mere management functionaries.” In fact, there is venerable precedent for a role by the laity in the selection of bishops. Nobody should want the politicizing of church leadership that comes with popular elections, as is the case in many Protestant denominations, and the Board assumes the right of the pope to appoint bishops, but they are convinced that the present pattern of the promotion of the like-minded by the like-minded within a clericalist club designed to perpetuate the habits that created the present crisis is not a promising way toward reform.
Again, the NRB wants bishops to be bishops, as they were ordained to be. Of the long and difficult process leading up to the issuing of the report, one NRB member says, “I found myself loving the Church more, and working harder not to despair of her leadership.” While the Board’s recommendations address modest structural changes, involving also greater lay oversight, the real appeal, the urgent appeal, the almost poignant appeal, is to the bishops, pleading with them to exercise the responsibility that is theirs. The report stresses the importance of “fraternal correction” among the bishops, recognizing that accountability, given the polity of the Catholic Church, means chiefly the accountability of bishops to one another. Too many bishops view their diocese as a personal fiefdom and will brook no “outside interference.” Specifically, the Board urges a revival of the oversight role of metropolitans, i.e., archbishops overseeing bishops in their province. It is suggested also that the bishops should devise a system of regular visitations of the dioceses of their fellow bishops, a proposal, it is suggested, that should pose no threat to bishops who do not fear being held accountable. Such a visitation process would not be attended by jurisdictional authority but would be more like the regular accrediting visitations in the academic world. Very conspicuously, and perhaps understandably, the Board has little to say about a role for the USCCB in any believable program of reform and renewal.
The NRB report concludes with the following “Coda”:
In making public this report and recognizing the stain that it exposes on the Church that we love, we can but recall the words of the psalmist who taught that, while hidden guilt festers, honest admission of guilt heals:
As long as I kept silent,
My bones wasted away;
I groaned all the day . . .
Then I declared my sin to you;
my guilt I did not hide.
I said, “I confess my faults to the Lord,”
and you took away the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32)
It is with that faith in the merciful powers of the Almighty that we members of the National Review Board offer the candid judgments we have been asked to give. How, one may ask, can any forgiveness, much less renewal, emerge from such a sordid history of misdeeds? We are inspired, as always, by the example of Jesus who two thousand years ago founded this Church and who during his life on earth instructed his disciples, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
Now, as always, and as it should be, it is up to the bishops. They can embrace this report on the “Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States” as a starting point and set themselves on a course of reform and renewal that could, among other benefits, restore the confidence of priests and people in their leadership. Or they can congratulate themselves on the public relations success of having commissioned an independent study, thank the NRB for its labors, and inter the report indirectly by referring it to a committee for further study or, more directly, by consigning it to the archives. If, willy-nilly, they decide in favor of interment, I expect that twenty or fifty years from now historians will write that “the greatest crisis in the history of Catholicism in America” was promptly followed by one of its greatest missed opportunities.
The French adage has it wrong: to understand all is not to forgive all. But it is true that the more we understand the more we can enter into the moral drama of decisions and actions that, in retrospect, seem so brutally obvious. Virtue consists, in significant part, in refusing to turn complexities into excuses. Many commentators on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ claimed the treatment of Pontius Pilate was sympathetic. But he is sympathetic only to those prone to turn complexities into excuses. After all the hand-wringing and hand washing, he condemned to death a man he knew to be innocent. The conflation of complexities and excuses marks much of the moral reasoning of our time. The twentieth century’s moral drama of Hitler and the Holocaust is currently being rethought and retold in ways that enrich the moral drama but must not be permitted to fudge the moral judgment of the horrors committed. When I say the story is being retold in fresh ways, I do not refer to the Lidless Eye crowd of Holocaust deniers, who will likely always be with us, but to works of substantial scholarship that are rightly welcomed for helping us to understand how what happened did happen.
There is, for instance, Christopher Browning’s The Origins of the Final Solution (reviewed in this issue). Browning reminds us that history is less a matter of the implementation of grand plans than of reactions to unexpected contingencies. For many on the left, the key to understanding the Third Reich is Hitler’s all-consuming determination to destroy Bolshevism, with the extermination of the Jews as a consequence of that obsession. For other writers, the extermination of the Jews was the overriding purpose that explains his many other crimes. Browning’s prodigious research shows that, while the virulent hostility to Jews was a constant, the Third Reich settled on systematic extermination along the lines of Auschwitz and other death camps only after other possibilities, such as the massive expulsion of Jews, were foreclosed, and the feasibility of eliminating Jews, gypsies, and political enemies in conquered Soviet territories had been demonstrated. There was, in other words, an incremental and by no means predetermined movement to the ultimate evil. There were points along the way when a different course might have been chosen.
The drama of those who chose a different course, not only or chiefly with respect to the Jews but with respect to the Nazi regime in toto, is detailed by Hans Mommsen in Alternatives to Hitler: German Resistance Under the Third Reich (Princeton University Press, 320 pages, $29.95). Mommsen is considered the dean of twentieth-century German historians and has written about the German resistance before, but this time he focuses on what resisters had in mind for the regime that would succeed Hitler’s tyranny. Tens of thousands of Germans, many of them later executed, were actively involved in various forms of resistance against the Nazi regime. Those who were most serious about planning a successor government—notably Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Claus von Stauffenberg, Helmuth von Moltke, and others of the Kreisau Circle—are often depicted as aristocratic in sentiment and distinctly undemocratic in their political views. Mommsen suggests that was only partly true, and emphasizes the ways in which they included labor leaders and left-leaning socialists in their planning. He underscores, too, the way in which the Allied goal of “unconditional surrender” hobbled their efforts to gain support, both inside and outside Germany, for the prospect of what today we might call regime change.
The near-successful attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944, was undertaken, Mommsen suggests, in a spirit of desperation to demonstrate the seriousness of the conspirators and the vulnerability of the regime. The conspirators were often “realists” who were not averse to making deals with Nazis in order to further their ends. As Mommsen notes, “The line drawn between good and evil was far from being as clear-cut as it has been represented in retrospect.” With respect to the Jews and others who were viewed as enemies of the Reich, conspirators in the army did not come with clean hands. “We have no alternative but to admit,” Mommsen writes, “that a considerable number of those who played an active part in the July Plot, and in many cases lost their lives as a result, had previously participated in the war of racial extermination, or had at least approved of it for quite a time and in some cases had actively promoted it. As a rule, this happened under the cloak of fighting the partisans [in Soviet territories], yet those who were directly or indirectly involved could scarcely fail to see that the SS brigades and Einsatzgruppen were carrying out a comprehensive ‘ethnic cleansing,’ to which the Wehrmacht, if only by condemning large numbers of Russians to starvation, were giving active support.”
“The great majority of the plotters,” he writes, “only gradually broke free from the basically anti-Semitic sentiment that tainted the German upper class and governing elite, but which made an exception for assimilated groups of Jews.” For some younger conspirators, the anti-Semitic policies of the regime were a major factor in turning them against Hitler, but for almost all, says Mommsen, those policies were not the decisive factor. The brutal treatment of Jews (the scope of systematic exterminationism was not generally known) was perceived as being of a piece with what they saw as Germany’s descent into barbarism. That, combined with opposition to a war that they believed could end only in catastrophic defeat, galvanized the resistance. For only a few—notably Pastor Bonhoeffer and Father Alfred Delp, a Jesuit—was the treatment of Jews a dominating reason for rebellion. Mommsen notes, as have many others, that the resisters were drawn chiefly from the churches, the army, and the higher levels of civil service. Conspicuously absent from the resistance were academics. As also was the case in the most oppressive years of the Soviet Union, academics and artists—who typically style themselves the guardians of freedom and human rights—were, with few heroic exceptions, the most adept at making their peace with tyranny. Alternatives to Hitler is especially helpful in depicting the kind of Germany and Europe that the conspirators envisioned after Hitler. Their plans were strikingly similar to the integration of nationalisms or what might more accurately be called the supranationalism of today’s European Union. With the critical difference to which Mommsen returns again and again—namely, their conviction that a secure and peaceful Europe could only be built on cultural foundations that are explicitly Christian.
A very different book from and about the same period is Day of No Return by Kressmann Taylor. Written in 1942 and today, unfortunately, available only online, it is the tale of a theology student in the 1930s whose father, pastor of a large congregation in Magdeburg, bravely attempted to prevent the Nazi-sponsored “German Christians” from taking over the Protestant Church. The “Karl Hoffman” of the story is based on the real-world experience of the late Leopold Bernhard, a Lutheran pastor who fled Germany and ministered for years in this country. I knew Bernhard and respected him greatly. We had worked together on civil rights questions in the 1960s. For complicated reasons, Day of No Return has only now been made available. I wish I had been able to read it back then and had the chance to discuss with Bernhard the early years under Nazism. I cannot say the book is great literature, but it is a good read, and it provides a powerful feel for the day-by-day pressures exerted by a regime bent upon extinguishing any independent force of possible opposition, and especially any force appealing to an authority transcending the state.
The Origins of the Final Solution, Alternatives to Hitler, and Day of No Return have in common the great merit of helping us understand how people could do the unspeakable things they did. And the latter two have the additional merit of illuminating how people could and did say No to great evil. One is reminded of the words of John Paul II in the encyclical Veritatis Splendor that, if one is prepared to die rather than to do wrong, one is never in the position of having to do wrong. Most people do not think of themselves as heroes and heroines, and yet, when the time of decision is forced upon them, many turn out to be exactly that. That is the truth so compellingly told in the 1988 classic, The Altruistic Personality, a study by Sam and Pearl Oliner of hundreds of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. The rescuers were typically not intellectuals or philo-Semites or people given to political activism. They were to all appearances very ordinary people, usually devoutly religious people, who knew that some things must not be done and who put their lives in the way of the doing of such things. Academics have a way of explaining history in terms of large and impersonal dynamics. But living history is the moral drama of people making decisions day by day. As for those who do great wrong, it is not true that to understand all is to forgive all. But to understand, at least in part, is to be strengthened in the knowledge of our own capacity for both good and evil—and of our radical dependence on the One who, despite His understanding all, forgives the penitent. The truly penitent know that complexification is the enemy of forgiveness.
Religion and Democracy: A Necessary Tension
Many years ago, in 1965 to be precise, Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell, and Nathan Glazer were worried about ideological seizures in the social sciences and decided to do something about it. They established the Public Interest, a quarterly that has had an enormous influence far beyond its few thousand subscribers. Over the years, there has hardly been a major rethinking of social policy that did not start with, or receive an indispensable boost from, the Public Interest. As the editor notes in the Spring 2004 issue, the magazine has regularly attended to the importance of religion in society, but this time the entire issue is devoted to “Religion in America.” One detects just a hint of defensiveness on the editor’s part. He writes that “all our authors look at religion in America, as did Tocqueville, from ‘a purely human point of view.’” That I take to be a vestigial secularist tic, reflecting the fact that it used to be not quite respectable for social scientists to take religion too seriously. Like Tocqueville, the authors here write about religion as social observers, but they also understand religion “from within” as committed adherents. Of the thirteen contributors, four are, to my personal knowledge, devout Protestants, four are devout Catholics, and at least one is an observant Jew. Perhaps there should have been a fourteenth essay on why being religious is not a disqualification but an asset in writing intelligently about religion. That having been said, there is much good stuff in this special issue of the Public Interest. Herewith a sampler:
• The lead essay is by Wilfred McClay of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, who is also, not incidentally, a member of the FT editorial board. September 11, he writes, “produced a great revitalization, for a time, of the American civil religion, that strain of American piety that bestows many of the elements of religious sentiment and faith upon the fundamental political and social institutions of the United States.” President Bush, he says, “puts forward the civil-religious vision of America with the greatest energy of any president since Woodrow Wilson.” McClay quotes Bush at a 2003 speech at the National Endowment for Democracy: “The advance of freedom is the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country. From the Fourteen Points to the Four Freedoms, to the Speech at Westminster, America has put our power at the service of principle. We believe that liberty is the design of nature; we believe that liberty is the direction of history. We believe that human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty. And we believe that freedom—the freedom we prize—is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind. . . . And as we meet the terror and violence of the world, we can be certain the Author of freedom is not indifferent to the fate of freedom.” McClay reflects on the significance of Ground Zero in lower Manhattan: “It has become a shrine, a holy place, and has thereby become assimilated into the American civil religion. Yet the single most moving sight, the most powerful and immediately understandable symbol, is the famous cross-shaped girders that were pulled out of the wreckage and have been raised as a cross. What, one wonders, does this object mean to the people viewing it, many of whom, one presumes, are not Christians and not even Americans? Was it a piece of nationalist kitsch or a sentimental relic? Or was it a powerful witness to the redemptive value of suffering—and thereby, a signpost pointing toward the core of the Christian story? Or did it subordinate the Christian story to the American one, and thus traduce its Christian meaning?” There has been much public fretting about Bush’s “God talk,” but McClay observes that “his oratory lies well within the established historical pattern of American civil-religious discourse.” The new thing is the negative reaction to such rhetoric. Bush’s way of understanding America is embraced by millions of Christians who otherwise feel excluded by the secularism that dominates much of our culture. “It is far too early to say that a settled alienation of religious believers from the American nation-state is no longer a possibility,” McClay writes. From Tocqueville to John Dewey, it is understood that American democracy depends upon a close connection between religion and our national creeds and institutions. Dewey, a committed secularist, even proposed a “common faith” that would embrace the emotive power of religion without its supposedly divisive truth claims. McClay writes, “It was not a bad idea. In a pluralistic society, religious believers and nonbelievers alike need ways to live together, and to do so, they need a second language of piety, one that extends their other commitments without undermining them. Yet it seems needlessly revolutionary, not to mention futile, to invent a common faith when one is readily at hand. To be sure, there is always something secondary and unsatisfying, and even inherently dangerous, about a civil religion. But the alternative may be even more perilous.”
• In “The Unraveling of Christianity in America,” Clifford Orwin, political scientist at the University of Toronto, writes: “Thus, mainline religion, despite its efforts to please, has become merely incidental to the lives of so many who continue to profess it. When I was growing up as a Jewish kid in Chicago in the 1950s, America still seemed very Christian. (Our Reform rabbi said it was ‘Judeo-Christian.’ We wanted to believe him, but the fists of the Irish kids enforced skepticism.) In retrospect, the country looked more Christian than it was. Today, by contrast, it looks less Christian than it is.” Orwin takes up the Bobo (bourgeois-bohemian) image of Americans proposed by David Brooks and compares it with Alan Wolfe’s book, One Nation, After All—which he rightly says would have been more accurately titled One Suburban Upper Middle Class, After All. For Brooks and Wolfe, “moral laxity is a way of life, having mysteriously emerged as the fundamental principle of morality itself.” Differing from McClay, Orwin writes that, in his eagerness to avoid any hint of crusading, “Bush has embraced willy-nilly the view that liberal democracy is one thing, Protestant Christianity (or Christianity of any sort, or even Judeo-Christianity) entirely another. He has chosen to present America to the world not as the Christian nation for which his religious supporters take it, but as the universal sponsor of liberal democracy, which as such is impartial in principle as between Christianity and Islam.” As a result, writes Orwin, “His administration must become America’s first genuinely Methodist Taoist Native American Quaker Russian Orthodox Buddhist Jewish (and Muslim) one. And so the challenge of Islamic terror will collaborate with other forces to drive official America to ever greater lengths of secularism or syncretism.”
• Muslims in America, suggests Hillel Fradkin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, are eager to be Americans. “With the exception of African-American Muslims, America’s Muslim households are relatively prosperous: More than half have incomes in excess of fifty thousand dollars a year, and the average overall is about fifty-five thousand dollars. This undoubtedly reflects the fact that nearly half of all Muslim Americans earn their living in professions such as engineering, medicine, teaching, and business management. It also reflects the fact that Muslim Americans well exceed national educational averages, with nearly 60 percent holding college degrees.” After September 11, “the nature of Islam in America has become increasingly defined by the global role of America in Islam. American Muslims are now, more than ever, forced to engage in the worldwide struggle over the current reformation within their religion.” “A civil war is raging within the soul of Islam pitting radicals, along with their terrorist offspring, against moderate Muslims who wish to embrace modern democratic, social, and economic principles. The subjects of this dispute are encapsulated by America. In effect, then, America has become a party to that religious war.”
• Bush’s faith-based initiative is taken up by Stanley Carlson-Thies of the Washington-based Center for Public Justice. He writes, “In their 1977 book To Empower People, Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus argued against expansive government, recommending that officials instead should protect and foster the institutions of civil society, even utilizing those institutions in carrying out its own responsibilities. But they also raised red flags that the government might co-opt churches, families, and nonprofit structures ‘in a too eager embrace that would destroy the very distinctiveness of their function.’ Looking back in 1996, Berger and Neuhaus underlined that concern, writing now of a potentially ‘fatal embrace’ when nongovernmental organizations collaborate with the government.” The fatal embrace might be avoided, Carlson-Thies suggests, through the use of vouchers and other instruments that give people a real choice among providers of social services. But religious organizations have the primary responsibility for making sure that they are not compromised by cooperating with the government. “The success of the faith-based initiative must be gauged not only by the number of times faith-based organizations win government funds, but also by those times when, if the conditions are not right, faith-based organizations reject the support that is offered.”
• John DiIulio of the University of Pennsylvania and the first director of the faith-based initiative under President Bush writes that over the years “religious mega-charities like Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, Jewish Federations, and others have literally received tens of billions of dollars in public support.” He obviously agrees that smaller organizations that are closer to the communities in need should be helped in helping others. But there are big problems in achieving that, especially when those organizations are not only “faith-based” but are “faith-saturated.” DiIulio writes: “Some conservatives want this accomplished by having all or most government social-welfare programs administered, not via direct grants, but through indirect disbursement arrangements, chiefly by vouchers supplied to eligible individuals. There is, in principle, nothing wrong with vouchers, and for some civic purposes (for example, drug treatment and child care), vouchers have been used to varying degrees with no obvious ill effects. Indeed, there is growing evidence that school vouchers are associated with measurable gains, including among low-income urban children and youth, and the Supreme Court’s 2002 Zelman decision upheld a Cleveland school program that used vouchers.” DiIulio concludes that “faith-based and community initiatives will improve the prospects of the needy only by following a constitutionally correct path paved by empirical data and broad public support.” In view of the convoluted and conflicted rulings of the courts on “the separation of church and state,” it is hard to know what that “correct path” might be. As for public support, I expect it depends chiefly upon the perception, whether supported by empirical data or not, that people are being helped.
• A less hesitant approach is provided by Joseph Loconte of the Heritage Foundation. Telling the stories of Prison Fellowship, Teen Challenge, and other programs reflecting “the politics of conversion,” Loconte writes: “The First Amendment debate over religious charities is often trivialized as a fight over mealtime prayers or a crucifix hanging on an office wall. Something much more consequential, however, is at issue. The real fight is over whether the overly scientized public sphere will accept a competing anthropology: a view of the human person as endowed with moral and spiritual capacities—and obligations. If Bush’s faith-based initiative can bring significant government support to groups so decidedly religious, and if those groups can deliver real results, it could revolutionize social policy in America.”
• As does McClay, Joel Schwartz of the Hudson Institute revisits Will Herberg’s classic 1955 book, Protestant-Catholic-Jew. There is, he notes, a crucial dimension of religion in America that Herberg did not anticipate. “If the civil rights movement began to push some American religious forces to the left, the rise of evangelical Protestantism signified the movement of other forces to the right. But Herberg’s treatment of Protestantism emphasized the mainline denominations and had little to say about evangelicals and fundamentalists: ‘Whereas the Methodists and Baptists and Disciples have become great churches, the peripheral sects of today seem to be denied such possibilities. They emerge on the fringe of Protestantism but never appear able to get much closer to the center.’” Fifty years ago, Herberg saw the affirmation of religion, even if in the potentially idolatrous form of civil religion, as the glue that held Americans together. Today, says Schwartz, it is increasingly evident that religion is viewed as conservative and “is now a force that divides Americans and sets them against one another.” During the Civil War, Lincoln observed that the people of the North and the South, whatever their differences, “pray to the same God.” Today, writes Schwartz, religion is a more polarizing, less unifying force than it was in the time of Lincoln and a hundred years later in the time of Herberg. “We no longer pray to the same God—not because many Americans are now Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, but because a gulf has arisen between the majority of Americans who pray and the minority who do not.”
• Largely forgotten today is the insistence of James Madison in his Memorial and Remonstrance that one’s duty to the Creator “is precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation” to one’s duty to civil society. Michael McConnell, a federal judge and one of our most distinguished constitutional scholars, quotes these words of Madison: “Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the general authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign.” That is in sharp contrast to the argument of Rousseau—who first came up with the term “civil religion”—that civil society and religion should be one and the same thing. When Jews were emancipated in Europe, the motto was “Be a man in the streets and a Jew at home.” This privatization of religious particularity, McConnell notes, is still urged by many academics, including law professors. To be a citizen is to put aside, at least in public, loyalties that are not shared by all other citizens. In other words, McConnell observes, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” The idea that secularism is tantamount to neutrality—as in France’s current banning of religious symbols in public—is, says McConnell, “a Western illusion.” Like other essayists, McConnell ends up with a reflection on Islam. “It is fanciful to imagine that the Muslim world will lose its attachment to religion, just as Jefferson was fanciful and illiberal in his desire that Americans all become Unitarians. A more realistic hope is that the jihadists can be separated from the Muslim mainstream and be reduced in influence. That will not happen if America embraces a secularism that does not differentiate between the two. Laïcité, as a national policy, neither seems congruent with America’s constitutional tradition nor likely to bring about interreligious harmony.”
• Brian Anderson of the Manhattan Institute addresses the dramatic differences between Europe and America in religious belief and practice. He writes, “As for Europe, it is possible to imagine a religious resurgence there, perhaps radiating outward from still-faithful and soon-to-be-powerful Poland. Nothing in history lasts forever. The Italian philosopher and papal advisor Rocco Buttiglione argues convincingly that European modernity, in its secular humanism, leaves men and women cut off from ‘an essential dimension of their being—the Absolute—and thus confronted with the worst diminution of their being.’ Such diminution is existentially unbearable for many human beings over the long haul. At the same time, however, a revival does not seem imminent. The rift between a religious America and a secular Europe is thus likely to widen in the years ahead, with unpredictable consequences for the democratic world as a whole.”
• One frequently hears that the naked public square is necessary because we live in a pluralistic society. William Galston of the University of Maryland proposes a refreshingly different understanding of pluralism: “Liberal democracy must steer a principled course between theocratic claims that subject politics to a single religious orthodoxy and a civic republicanism that subordinates faith to the functional requirements of the polity. This means acknowledging that there are multiple sources of authority within a shared social space, and that the relation among them is not straightforwardly hierarchical. This political pluralism may be messy and conflictive. It may even lead to confrontations not conducive to maximizing public unity and order. Avoiding anarchy is unquestionably in the public interest. But the evidence linking accommodation of conscience to the bogey of political dissolution is scanty. And if political pluralism reflects the complex truth of the human condition, then the practice of politics must do its best to honor the principles that limit the scope of politics.”
• Alan Wolfe comes in for further attention in a review by Daniel J. Mahoney of Wolfe’s book The Transformation of American Religion. The problem with Wolfe, says Mahoney, is that he has “a meager understanding of religion” as one social variable among others that is of interest only to the degree that it affects Wolfe’s version of democracy. “Wolfe’s view of religion, in fact, turns out to be something of a caricature. He repeatedly casts traditional religion as narrow, illiberal, and judgmental. In the worst instances, it becomes apparent that for Wolfe, the mere act of interrogating one’s faith makes one a full participant in intellectual modernity. A believer who thinks—in particular, one who reasons about the nature of faith—is simply no longer a practitioner of ‘old time religion,’ by Wolfe’s lights. Such a claim would surely astonish readers of Maimonides or Aquinas.” Wolfe’s greatest compliment to “transformed” religion in America is that it has abandoned any authoritative truths by which the social order can be judged, and is therefore safe for democracy. Mahoney writes, “If his sociology’s ultimate inspiration is the antireligious enlightenment, his inchoate theological assumptions can be traced to a fideism that denies the natural and necessary intersection of faith and reason, religious truth and natural law.” Mahoney does not think Alan Wolfe is a reliable guide if one wants to understand religion in America.
• Finally we come to Joseph Bottum, who keeps his day job with the Weekly Standard while serving as our poetry editor. In “The Fire Next Time,” he writes: “There is something in America, as well, that has always burned against the world. From Cotton Mather to William Lloyd Garrison, from John Brown to Martin Luther King, Jr., there has been a hunger here to speak with lips touched by burning coals, a blessed rage for the apocalyptic lessons taught only by tongues of fire. A nation formed by political geniuses—masters of compromise, philosophers of prudence, judges of wisdom—we are also a nation with another theme. Something here has, from the beginning, disdained political order and sought not to be brilliant, wise, and learned, but only true, though the heavens fall as a result. ‘I am come to send fire on the earth,’ Christ says in the Gospel of Luke, ‘and what will I, if it be already kindled?’ It’s not the only thing in America, of course, but without it there is no America.” Secularists understandably see religion as a social danger, and they have had a long run since the 1930s up to the present. “But,” Bottum writes, “I have the sense, insofar as one can judge the tides of such things, that the secularists have lost the intellectual part of the battle and are running now only on the fumes of their irrational belief in anti-belief.” The truth is, he claims, that “liberalism needs religion, but religion doesn’t need liberalism.” The Founders understood that, in the words of Washington’s farewell address, “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Bottum writes, “The United States, as it naturally wants to be—what we might call the platonic ideal of America—contains a tension we must be careful not to resolve. From its founding, the nation has always been something like a school of Enlightenment rationalists aswim in an ocean of Christian faith. And how shall the fish hate the water wherein they live? Or the water hate the fish?” And again, “‘Biblical America’ is the oxymoron that defines us, the contradiction that maintains us. If we lose either our extra-public religion or our Enlightenment use of public religion—if either side in this tension ever entirely vanquishes the other—the United States will cease to be much of anything at all.” Bottum discusses books (by Leon Kass and Thomas Pangle) that try to mine the Bible for its contributions to our public philosophy. But the Bible is not for hire in that way, he insists: “We need the untamed Bible that forces public philosophy to bend and accommodate.” And where does this leave us? Bottum answers: “Even while the mass mind’s mindless cant clatters all around us, there is that which must be celebrated: the worldly wisdom of a broad and democratic spirit, the reasonable discourse of reasonable men seeking reasonable compromises. The platonic ideal of the United States must have these things; America is not America without them. But America is also not America unless, underneath it all, a small voice whispers that the nations are as a drop in a bucket and are counted as the small dust on the balance. America is a triumph of political philosophy because it is not entirely political—because it also hears, even in these days, the murmur, ‘I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?’”
The special issue of the Public Interest on religion in America is remarkable in conception and execution. The McClay, Galston, and Bottum essays are especially valuable in underscoring the necessary tension—the tension that must not be definitively resolved one way or the other—between authentic religion and liberal democracy. Christianity has lived, and indeed flourished, with and under many different kinds of regimes. Liberal democracy, at least in its American expression, has never been without and almost certainly cannot continue without the support of Christianity. The Christian’s primary community of allegiance is the Church and the Kingdom of God that the Church both proclaims and anticipates. Madison was right: one’s duty to God is precedent in both time and degree of obligation. We have written in these pages that the popular American piety of “God and country” could, under the onslaught of exclusive secularism, be transformed into a forced choice of “God or country.” Some of our friends, including some associated with the Public Interest, have bridled at that. For thinkers in the tradition of John Dewey, Richard Rorty, and Jeffrey Stout, to name but a few, American democracy is their religion. Put differently, they view religion instrumentally, and approve of it to the extent that it serves democracy. This is, to employ the precise biblical language, idolatry.
If, on the one hand, there are those who would exclude religion from public life or admit it only to the extent they find it useful, there are others who, in the name of “Christian America,” would resolve the necessary tension by conflating God and country, to the severe detriment of both religion and democracy. This was the program, spelled out in elaborate detail, of “Reconstructionism” under the leadership of the late and eccentrically Calvinist thinker R. J. Rushdoony. While there are relatively few proponents of Reconstructionism, many conservative Christians are possessed by the Reconstructionist impulse, believing that America should be reconstituted on the basis of “Bible Law.” They follow in the train, interestingly enough, of an earlier and liberal social gospel movement that aimed at “Christianizing America and Americanizing Christianity.” Whether it comes from the left or the right, that ambition is fatally wrongheaded. The necessary tension will not be resolved, and we must not try to resolve it, before the End Time.
Meanwhile, our circumstance is not so different from that of St. Augustine in the fifth century. We live in two cities—or, more in today’s language, two polities. The one is the polity of man, marked both by the corruptions of the lust for power and by the human aspiration toward approximate virtue. The second is the polity of God, which is the Church in obedience to the lordship of Christ. These two polities interact—sometimes conflicting, sometimes converging—in both the public square and in the hearts of believers. But Christians know which polity is precedent. Knowing that, they are pleased to serve the polity of liberal democracy that, on balance and considering the alternatives, is worthy of service and is, not without grave ambiguities, conducive to the flourishing of the Church. If, however, in the name of liberal democracy and of the necessary concerns of the secular, the polity of man succumbs to an ideological secularism at war with the polity of God, our first allegiance should not be in doubt. Such is the necessary tension that gave birth to and will, please God, sustain our constitutional order—and, with it, the vitality of religion in America. Until a better polity of man is on offer. Which may or may not happen short of the coming of the Kingdom.
While We’re At It
• It is thought to be a very potent plus if your favored cause has about it the air of inevitablity. Although nobody in all of human history suggested the idea until about five years ago, the major media are letting us know that they are getting more than a mite impatient with the bigots and reactionaries who are resisting the self-evident good that is same-sex marriage. In the incessant stories about devoted lesbian and gay couples with happy children assuring us that nobody needs a daddy or mommy so long as you have two of what you have or, if not two, at least a really loving adult who is between partners, there are grumbling acknowledgments that two-thirds of American adults continue, even at this late date, to obstruct the course of democratic progress. Good government, it is suggested, is too important to be left to the people, or at least to those people, which is why we have courts to make the laws preferred by the enlightened minority. Christopher Caldwell is senior editor at the Weekly Standard and a conservative of sorts who brings a critical intelligence to bear on what some view as the definitive argument for change, Jonathan Rauch’s Gay Marraige: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. But Caldwell also succumbs to the myth of inevitability, writing that most Americans view same-sex marraige as “a bad idea whose time has come.” He chides Rauch for writing that “with the rise of the gay-marriage debate, another view has come to the fore: marriage is about children.” Caldwell points out the obvious, that marriage has always been about having and rearing children. However: “Sex, childbearing, and childrearing—which marriage once bound as tightly as an atomic nucleus—have been disaggregated.” The disaggregation has been effected by, inter alia, divorce, contraception, abortion, and cohabitation. Contra Rauch, Caldwell does not think “the gay-marriage movement will be able to shore up an institution that has for decades been undermined legally, socially, medically, theologically, philosophically, psychologically, and politically. Gays will soon accede to marriage, but only because marriage is losing its old set of purposes and is becoming, irrevocably, something else.” Irrevocably as in unstoppably, so why continue to resist? Now that marriage no longer means much, why not let couples or triples or quadruples of whatever variety get married? They’ll be married as much as anybody else is. Caldwell might say that his is a statement of resignation, but it is, in fact, an argument from calculatedly exaggerated catastrophe. The factors that he says have “disaggregated” marriage have been with us for decades, and yet “traditional” marriage, always a difficult enterprise besieged from many sides, is still standing. Ask all the couples who have recently married what they intended and I expect that, with few exceptions, they would cite the “old set of purposes”—love, companionship, fidelity, mutual support, and, yes, having and rearing children. A lot of them will fail in realizing those purposes, as a lot have always failed. The cultural indicators of the last decade, however, show that the overwhelming and growing majority of young people want to realize those purposes. It is both false and cruel to tell them that their aspirations are in vain. Far from being “a bad idea whose time has come,” the deconstruction of marriage is a bad idea that some are determined to force upon the country, with the aid and support of Christopher Caldwell and others who counsel surrender to the inevitable.
• The use of the imperative indicative is troubling in a comment on The Passion of the Christ by the publisher/editor of the Christian Century. He writes, “I concluded that you can’t know much about the dreadful history of Christian anti-Semitism and feel very good about Mel Gibson’s movie.” I can’t? I know a great deal about that history and feel very good about—or, better, think very highly of—the movie. The writer deplores the frequent reference to “the Jews” in the Fourth Gospel. “In fact, I substitute ‘the people,’ which, while no more accurate, at least avoids the clearly pejorative use of the term.” No more accurate? He means they were neither Jews nor people? He further writes, “As I walk through the passion accounts I am also grateful for having learned to think critically.” And, he might have added, humbly.
• A study on sexuality is scheduled to come to a vote at the 2005 churchwide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). My Lutheran friends tell me that the revisionists have been watching carefully the Episcopalian crack-up and want to avoid the alienation of a couple of million members from the much larger ELCA. So the idea is being floated that a vote would be unnecessarily “divisive,” that love requires that “we live with our differences.” Over time, after a few thousand same-sex blessings (which may by then be legally recognized as marriages) and a few hundred ordinations of practicing gays and lesbians (at first tolerated as “exceptions”), the Lutheran tradition will be de facto transformed from legalism to grace, and all without the inconvenient difficulties of formal deliberation, debate, and decision. The strategy might very well work. Never underestimate the power of antinomianism veiled in the language of love. When truth is trimmed to accommodate togetherness, the quality of togetherness is admittedly thinned, but the good thing is that nobody is excluded. Except, of course, those who thought the point was to be together in truth. The churchwide assembly is still a year away. It is enough time to effectively label those who want a vote for fidelity as the party of “divisiveness.”
• What would Jesus do about stem cell research? Michael Fitzgerald, who is a member of the Presbyterian Church USA, which he suggests is a good deal more enlightened than Catholics and other “conservatives,” thinks he may have the answer. Writing in Acumen, a journal of business and science, Fitzgerald says researchers should not be distracted by legal and legislative questions. “Scientists should leave that fight to the lawyers and, instead, acknowledge something that most will find distasteful to contemplate—modern science is still playing catch-up to Jesus. Some of his miracles now seem less than awesome: Ordinary paramedics routinely bring people back to life. Artificial insemination matches virgin birth. Prozac and other drugs do a reasonable job of casting out demons.” Many Christians, we are told, have qualms about creating embryos in order to use and destroy them, and progressive scientists need to meet those concerns head-on. “Scientists may doubt even the historicity of Jesus, let alone his putative divinity. But the most entrenched and effective opposition to stem cell research comes from people who buy into the New Testament hook, line, and sinker, and who may well doubt science itself. So the scientists must engage them on their own territory. In so doing, scientists may find that they’ve been ceding moral high ground unnecessarily.” One has to wonder whether describing them as people who buy into the New Testament hook, line, and sinker is really the best way to persuade Christians who may be uneasy about Mr. Fitzgerald’s suggestion that we must take over from God the process of creation. And, contra Fitzgerald, the argument that Jesus would support stem cell research because he violated the rules by healing on the Sabbath may strike some as less than conclusive. In addition to this latest specimen, Acumen has published some notably dumb attacks on the “sophistry” of the President’s Council on Bioethics for trying to draw lines with respect to what is distinctively human. But perhaps that is to be expected in a journal of business and science that treats science as a business.
• “The Test of Time: Challenges to Traditional Christian and Jewish Views of Homosexuality.” That’s the title of a seminar sponsored by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. Directing the seminar, it says here, are “Rabbi Steven Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox Rabbi, and Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop.” But of course. They’re just the fellows to take the lead in meeting the challenges. Assuming they are to be embraced and not repulsed, nobody knows the challenges better than the challengers. As for “the test of time,” the notice says the meeting will be over by two o’clock. Brisk obsequies, it would seem, for the late and unlamented “traditional views.” The notice specifies, however, that the luncheon will be kosher.
• The New York Times reports that John Kerry became “combative” with reporters when asked about critics who say he does not follow Catholic teaching on questions such as abortion and same-sex unions. “Who are they?” he demanded. “Name them. Are they the same legislators who vote for the death penalty, which is in contravention of Catholic teaching?” He went on to explain: “I’m not a church spokesman. I’m a legislator running for president. My oath is to uphold the Constitution of the United States in my public life. My oath privately between me and God was defined in the Catholic Church by Pius XXIII and Pope Paul VI in the Vatican II, which allows for freedom of conscience for Catholics with respect to these choices, and that is exactly where I am.” We had better tread lightly here. We’re dealing with the inner sanctum of the conscience. This is a man who apparently has taken a private oath under the tutelage of a pope of whom most of us have never heard. Rumor has it that members of the very secretive Society of Pius XXIII are taught to be so careful about not imposing their religion that, just to be safe, they do not impose it upon themselves. It has also been said that “Pius XXIII” is a pseudonym used by Father Robert Drinan, a Jesuit who has contrived a moral rationale widely employed by Catholic politicians inconvenienced by Catholic teaching. I have no idea whether such rumors are true, but I have a strong hunch that during the course of this campaign we may be learning a great deal about Catholicism that nobody knew before.
• Plaintive is the word to describe reactions among many United Methodists to the acquittal of the Rev. Karen Dammann. The charge was that she had engaged in “practices declared by the United Methodist Church (UMC) to be incompatible with Christian teachings.” The pertinent teachings have been debated time and again at General Conferences of the UMC, and a strong majority backs the statement of the Book of Discipline on standards for ordained ministry: “Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.” The Pacific Northwest Conference to which the Rev. Dammann belongs declared in 2000 its defiance of the UMC teaching, and in its trial of Dammann put the Book of Discipline, not Karen Dammann, in the dock. She was utterly straightforward about her living in a “covenanted” lesbian relationship, having presided at a same-sex “marriage” ceremony, and her involvement in related floutings of church authority. Everybody understood that the trial was something of a farce. The minister in charge of the prosecution said afterwards, “I’m glad I lost.” Acknowledging that the jury ignored UMC teaching, he said, “I don’t feel bad about that.” I write before the UMC’s General Conference in Pittsburgh. It is expected that some will press for a censure of the Pacific Northwest Conference, and perhaps of the entire Western Jurisdiction of which it is part. That may happen, or it may be, as others urge, that the deviant jurisdictions will be declared in a state of schism from the UMC. What would be the practical effect of such actions, however, is far from clear. In the past, the proponents of the biblical and traditional ethic geared up for battle royals at the General Conference, and prevailed. Much as folks in the Presbyterian Church USA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are gearing up for a battle royal in their governing assemblies, and may prevail in their defense of the tradition. But such victories may turn out to be hollow, as willful opponents do as they wish, daring denominational authorities to act against them. Once again, the circumstance of orthodoxy being optional moves toward orthodoxy being proscribed. The orthodox declare their determination to take back their church, for which they are accused of destroying their church. Not in two millennia of Christian teaching, not in millennia more of human experience, has it been proposed that homogenital sexual relations are on a moral par with the union of man and woman. Until a few years ago. Now those who oppose or even voice serious reservations about that radical proposal are, as mentioned earlier, condemned as “divisive.” Denominational structures may be preserved by vested interest in pension plans and by the triumph of those who would proscribe any orthodoxy that others might prescribe. The alternative is new Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Anglican churches, which nobody can believe is Christ’s intention for his body, the Church.
• A gimlet-eyed reader caught this editorial correction in the New York Times. “A report on February 15 about the wedding of Riva Golan Ritvo and Alan Bruce Slifka included an erroneous account of the bride’s education, which she supplied. Ms. Ritvo, a child therapist, did not graduate from the University of Pennsylvania or receive a master’s degree in occupational therapy or a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Southern California. Though she attended Penn for a time, her bachelor’s degree, in occupational therapy, is from U.S.C. The Times should have corroborated the credentials before publishing the report.” Therein must lie a story. A whistle blower in her or his family? Was he deceived? Padding a résumé to get a job is, regrettably, common enough, but to get married? Jayson Blair and Walter Duranty may have slipped by, but it is reassuring to see that the newspaper of record is on the job in the case of poor Riva Golan Ritvo.
• After decades of progressive everything, teenagers in the United Kingdom appear to want a very different society than the one their elders gave them. Bliss, a teen magazine, commissioned the Young People’s Survey of Great Britain, interviewing thousands of teens. Eighty-six percent say they are proud to be British, 40 percent say their mother is their greatest role model, 60 percent believe in God, 66 percent think people take abortion too lightly, and 91 percent say they intend to marry one day. In the northwest, 22 percent say they have had sex and a third of them say they now regret it. On more political matters, 82 percent do not trust Prime Minister Tony Blair, 76 percent say Britain should not have gone to war with Iraq, 90 percent are for expelling “bogus asylum seekers,” almost half favor bringing back the death penalty, and 70 percent oppose the rule of the European Union. Of books and films, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings top the list of favorites. The editor of Bliss comments: “Teenagers like boundaries. They make them feel safe, but over the years they have been torn down. They want to walk the streets in safety, they want their schools to be free from drug pushers, and they don’t want to be rushed into sex too young. This survey is a damning indictment of the damage caused by the lax attitudes of adults inflicted on children. Young people have passionate beliefs about the society they want to live in and it’s not the one they’ve got.” Yes, I’ve sent these findings on to George Weigel for possible use in his revised version of “Europe’s Problem—and Ours” (see FT February), but I expect he’ll respond that, given its birthrate, in fifteen years or so the UK will have very few teenagers, sensible or otherwise.
• The state’s highest court upheld a California law requiring charities to provide prescription contraception coverage. In this case, it was applied to Catholic Charities, which, the court said, did not qualify for a religious exemption because it is not religious enough. Its leadership includes non-Catholics and it serves everybody, not just Catholics. Without providing any evidence of a connection, Peter Steinfels of the New York Times says the ruling is part of a backlash against the Bush administration’s plan to meet social needs through faith-based organizations. Close watchers of California politics, however, say that liberal legislatures have for years tried one tactic after another to force charities of all kinds to provide contraception, abortion, and other “reproductive services.” At the same time, a court in San Diego ruled that a longstanding arrangement whereby the Boy Scouts manage a public park is unconstitutional. The reason? The Boy Scouts are “religious” and the arrangement is therefore a forbidden establishment of religion. Both suits were strongly supported by the ACLU. They’ve got you coming and going. If you claim to be religious and plead an exemption under free exercise, you’re not religious enough. If you claim to be nonreligious, the court finds you vestigially religious enough to be excluded from a government contract. In his more melancholic mood, Francis Cardinal George has been known to opine that within ten years’ time the government’s cooptation of religion will result in something like China’s aboveground and underground churches, albeit without the same level of persecution. That seems to me unlikely. On the other hand. . . .
• At a recent campus lecture, a superannuated radical from olden days interrogated me sharply on how I, the radical hero of his youth, could now be so conservative. And I thought of a line from Joseph Epstein, that master—he prefers to think of himself as the only surviving practitioner—of the occasional essay: “Sooner or later, either a man grows up or he pulls his gray hair back into a pony tail.”
• Here’s an invitation to a lecture at the Harvard Club. “Empty Chairs and Empty Altars: How Will the Church Be Without All the Priests and Nuns?” The lecture is sponsored by the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley and America magazine. I don’t think I’ll go. The usual phrase is full pews and empty altars, which contrasts the burgeoning Catholic population with the diminishing number of priests. In any event, the question in the lecture title would seem to have an obvious answer. If there are no people and no priests, there will be no Church. Or is it only the nuns who sit on chairs? Whatever. One is struck by the number of people who seem to relish the shrinking of priestly ranks. The other day I received a long letter sent to parishioners by the pastor of a large metropolitan church—also Jesuit, I’m sorry to say. It explained in excruciating detail why, given present patterns, the parish, which now has three priests, would in a decade or two likely have to share one priest with several other parishes. There was no suggestion of a possible change in present patterns, such as, to cite one obvious possibility, the encouragement of more priestly vocations. One might describe the tone of the letter as fatalistic. Except for a few upbeat references to the multiplication of lay ministries and proposals for other professionals taking over traditionally priestly tasks. It is anticipated that the one priest some years hence will play a role of teaching, sacramental presence, and general oversight. In other words, the priest would be in a position traditionally held by a bishop. Which leads one to suspect that maybe all the talk about the inevitable decline in the number of priests is not fatalistic at all. Rather, and however perversely, it reflects something hoped for. To paraphrase Huey Long, Every Priest a Bishop.
• “Ratzinger Regrets Church Centralism.” It is a story in the Tablet on remarks by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to journalists. “Perhaps we could sometimes be more generous in certain matters,” Ratzinger said. The story continues, “But the right balance between the central authorities and local churches had not always been found, he admitted.” That’s the whole of the story. Why “he admitted”? Did they assume the Cardinal thinks that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has stretched generosity to a fault in every instance and has invariably struck exactly the right balance between Rome and local churches? One imagines the Cardinal remarking in passing that of course he is not infallible and the resulting Tablet headline: “Ratzinger Admits He Is Not Infallible.”
• It’s not easy to say something new about the end of the world, Crawford Gribben writes in Books & Culture. The Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, which has sold zillions of books, mainly to Evangelicals, is in large part derivative (Gribben carefully does not mention plagiarism) from a British writer, Sydney Watson, who wrote rapture novels in the early twentieth century. Since Watson, others besides LaHaye and Jenkins have rewritten the basic storyline to keep it up to date with current events such as the end of the Cold War and the latest twists in the agonies of the Middle East. With specific reference to the Left Behind series, Gribben writes: “Equally fascinating is the manner in which the novels negotiate the end of the other Cold War, the hostile standoff between the competing branches of Western Christendom. Throughout the rapture novel tradition, Roman Catholicism has been given a negative press. Watson’s heroes were ‘ultra-protestants’ adhering to a ‘Moody and Sankey religion.’ The motives of their enemy were undisguised: ‘Romanism boldly declares its aim to win, or coerce Britain back into her harlot fold.’ LaHaye and Jenkins certainly moderate this mood. In Left Behind, the pope is among the raptured, though perhaps only because he has embraced Luther’s ‘heresies’; but, in later novels, the rapture seems to have also involved entire Catholic congregations whose evangelical credentials are in no way signaled. Such rapprochement is tempered, however, as the novels identify the replacement pope as the Antichrist’s false prophet. In the aftermath of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, the Left Behind novels seek to have their cake and eat it.”
• A few years ago an acquaintance had what he thought was the brilliant idea of marketing little stuffed dolls representing Jesus and Mary. I mentioned it to a friend who is a mother of some experience. She responded, “This is a really bad idea. Kids hug their dolls and sleep with their dolls. They also dunk them in the toilet bowl and in fits of anger throw them against the wall. Moreover, little girls from time immemorial have been spanking their dolls when they think they’ve been bad. Jesus and Mary do not deserve this.” Here is a report that CPR Marketing, Inc., in Massachusetts is launching a nationwide promotion for their Jesus Beanies. “Jesus Beanies are soft and loveable nine-inch-tall cloth dolls designed to resemble the image of Jesus Christ. They’re small enough to be cuddled in young arms.” Bad ideas, like bad pennies. . . . One wonders if the reviewers who complain that the Jesus of The Passion of the Christ is not “spiritual” (read soft and cuddly) enough played with something like Jesus Beanies when they were kids. The manufacturer says, “This cuddly toy is both a comfort-bringer and a parent’s tool for helping children to understand who Jesus is, at a much younger age.” Jesus as toy and tool. That’s not a bad summary of the anemic spirituality that too often passes as the gospel.
• There is a large library of books and research reports demonstrating that, by any measure, the most important factor in the flourishing of children is that they live with their mother and father. Except, gay activists note, that such children typically have a deficit in homosexual experience, which most parents believe is a very good deficit to have. There is much talk about happy children in gay and lesbian homes, but researchers are all but unanimous in pointing out that there are no reliable studies on that since research requires a large and identifiable population and a long period of time to know the life course of such children. Just how primitive the state of the question is at present is illustrated by Abigail Garner’s Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is. Ms. Garner is also the author of what Publisher’s Weekly calls “the children’s book classic” Heather Has Two Mommies. Her advocacy book is a collection of anecdotes tailored to her argument. It is acknowledged that nobody knows how many children have grown up in LGBT families. “Estimates vary from one million to sixteen million.” Or maybe one hundred thousand or maybe twenty-five million or maybe whatever. (Time out: The hopeless incorrectness of this magazine’s readership requires that we explain that LGBT means Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgendered. And what does transgendered mean? If you have to ask, you don’t want to know.) Ms. Garner and others emphasize that many children reared by gays do not turn out to be homosexual. They are “culturally queer, erotically straight.” Being culturally queer is deemed a great achievement. Which, in a very old-fashioned meaning of the word, seems a bit queer.
• “Rick Warren’s popular 1995 book, The Purpose-Driven Church, did not merely beget his 2002 New York Times best-seller, The Purpose-Driven Life. It also led to a flurry of imitators, including Values-Driven Leadership (1996), The Servant-Driven Church (1997), Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry (1998), The Prayer-Driven Church (2000), Vision-Driven Small Groups (2000), The Mission-Driven Worship (2001), The Generation-Driven Church (2002), Jesus-Driven Ministry (2002), The Passion-Driven Congregation (2003), and ThePassion-Driven Sermon (2003). That’s just for starters. It doesn’t include the Purpose-Driven journals, workbooks, calendars, and DayTimers.” That’s from the Nicotine Theological Journal, to which, as longtime readers know, I am mildly addicted. The editors then add this: “These book titles might signify little more than a reminder of how trendy and derivative the evangelical publishing industry has become. But what is also striking about them is how they run against another trend in evangelical publishing, that of the therapeutic warnings against the dangers of obsessive-compulsive behavior.” Trendy, derivative, and capitalistically cunning. Inducing the disease that you purport to cure is a very old and very profitable trick.
• Jason Berry and Gerald Renner address a very important question in Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II (Free Press). That question is the role of secrecy in church leadership. The simplistic answer is that there is no legitimate place at all for secrecy, nor for confidentiality, nor for discretion. Whether it be churches or corporations or government or the personal lives of public and not-so-public figures, everything should be exposed to the sunshine laws of “transparency.” The great exception, of course, is journalism. Reporters have an absolute right to hide their sources and methods because they are the good guys and are not susceptible to abusing their power. Regrettably, the authors of the present book subscribe to that simplistic answer, and the result is yet another sensationalist screed that is likely to find few readers beyond those who have an insatiable appetite for Catholic-bashing. The book carries glowing endorsements from the egregious masters of that niche market: James Carroll, author of Constantine’s Sword; Father Richard McBrien of Notre Dame; and Robert Blair Kaiser, formerly of Newsweek, who has lived a long and embittered life off the invention of nefarious Vatican conspiracies. Along with the authors of the book, they are all Catholics of a sort. By choosing such company and their accustomed style of crude accusation, the authors have almost certainly guaranteed that nobody in a position to do something about the problem they want addressed will take the book seriously, or even bother reading it. The book itself is a tediously familiar rehash of the sex scandals, combined with an uncritical celebration of Father Thomas Doyle, a Dominican who early on warned the bishops about the prevalence of sex abuse and in the last two years has become a much-lionized champion and cheerleader for sundry dissident organizations and the expert witness of choice for trial lawyers extracting millions from the Church and its insurance companies. The rest of the book is a repetition, in wearying detail, of complaints against the Legionaries of Christ and its founder Father Marcial Maciel (for a discussion of the complaints and what to make of them, see FT, “Feathers of Scandal,” Public Square, March 2002). Jason Berry, let it be said, rendered an important service when, in Louisiana in the 1980s, he was among the first to throw public light on the incidence of priestly sex abuse. Gerald Renner, on the other hand, has made a long and undistinguished career of beating the Catholic Church with any stick at hand. Vows of Silence is a distinct disappointment, but perhaps I was wrong in hoping for something better. There is no doubt that bishops and curial officials sometimes invoke secrecy “for the good of the Church” in concealing what need not and should not be concealed. That is a big factor in the current scandals. The moral lines between secrecy and deception, between discretion and dishonesty, must be clarified, even as we recognize that no institution can flourish without a reasoned measure of trust in its leadership. Bishops need to hold one another accountable, and to give a believable account of their stewardship to the people whom they would lead. Responsible journalism has a legitimate role in encouraging them to do that. The prosecutorial zeal of Berry and Renner in full attack mode, however, will, if it is noticed at all, only exacerbate the problem they say they want to help remedy. A bishop wouldn’t give these fellows the time of day for fear of how they would find a way to turn it against him. There are amusing moments in the book. There is, for instance, the extended discussion of “Father X” and his views on the evils of secrecy in the Church. There really is a “Father X,” we are assured, and he is an expert on secrecy. Who is “Father X”? Don’t ask. It must remain a secret, so severe is the problem of secrecy in the Church. Then there is the reported time a group of American bishops requested the help of John Paul II with the abuse scandals. The authors quote the Pope: “‘You’ll get no quick fixes out of me,’ he declared.” I have over the years spent hours in conversation with the Pope and anyone who believes that he ever said that to anybody about anything at any time has passed the credulity test for reading Vows of Silence. As the Amazon.com website might put it: people who bought this book also bought Carroll, McBrien, and Kaiser.
• Several readers point out what they believe to be an egregious sign of the hubris of “the religious right.” In a story on the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals held in Colorado Springs, the New York Times reports: “And the convention organizers were aware of their political clout. A slogan on the back of the convention program reads: ‘What Can 30 Million Evangelicals Do For America? Anything We Want.’” Hubris? Not necessarily. Note that it says for America, not with America. Shouldn’t we want people to want to do all they can for America?
• The Canadian government is appealing a court order which mandates that gays receive survivor benefits for their dead partners, retroactive to 1985. The government claims this would potentially cost hundreds of millions of dollars it cannot afford. It is also pointed out that it would be difficult to determine who was and who was not a “long term gay partner.” Gay activists decry what they see as a retreat by the new prime minister Paul Martin from the support of his predecessor, Jean Chrétien, for extending all entitlements, including marriage, to gays. In the same mail is this story from Washington D.C.’s gay newspaper, the Washington Blade, on the departure of Lorri Jean as executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) amidst heated policy disputes. The report says, “During contract negotiations, Jean called for dropping a longstanding NGLTF policy of paying 100 percent of the health insurance premium for staff members’ domestic partners, saying the benefit was prohibitively expensive.”
• Writing in Azure and agreeing with almost all reviewers, Robert S. Wistrich of Hebrew University in Jerusalem thinks that Daniel J. Goldhagen goes over the top in his book A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair. There is much that the Catholic Church still needs to do, writes Wistrich, but: “I doubt that Goldhagen’s other proposals—that the Church abandon papal infallibility, embrace religious pluralism, or actually rewrite the Christian Bible—while highly desirable in themselves, are at all practicable. . . . [They] would surely mean the end of Catholicism as it has been historically understood. This would be fiercely resisted and surely defeated.” As highly desirable as the end of Catholicism would be, it’s just too much to hope for? Or perhaps I misunderstand Professor Wistrich, who a few years ago helped torpedo a Jewish-Catholic project studying Vatican archives pertinent to the Holocaust.
• It’s been a while since I’ve had occasion to remark on Peter Singer of Princeton University, the ageing bad boy of moral philosophy. But now Gerald Nora, a second-year medical student, sends me the dust jacket of the 1996 edition of Singer’s Rethinking Life and Death. Mr. Nora is right in suspecting that the blurbs “praising” the book might have been chosen by Professor Singer’s enemies. For instance, there is this from the Washington Post: “Far from pointing a way out of today’s moral dilemmas, Singer’s book is a road map for driving down the darkest of moral blind alleys. . . . Read it to remind yourself of the enormities of which putatively civilized beings are capable.” Precisely. If you want a roadmap for driving down blind alleys, this is it. Then there is this from the publisher: “A profound and provocative work in the tradition of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.” Precisely again. Even more precisely, it is in the tradition of thinking that Huxley so powerfully warned us against.
• The demographics of the abortion controversy are often overlooked. Recent months have seen a number of reports indicating that opposition to abortion is growing dramatically among young people. In a Gallup survey of youth aged thirteen to seventeen, only 19 percent say that abortion should be legal in all circumstances (the current regime of Roe v. Wade) while 72 percent say that abortion is morally wrong and should be entirely prohibited (32 percent) or permitted only in rare instances (40 percent). Undoubtedly related to these changes is the fact that pro-life couples have an average of three children while pro-choicers average only one child. Of course children do not always, to put it gently, agree with their parents on abortion or anything else, but one cannot discount parental influence. Moreover, there is the deeply poignant but seldom mentioned factor that millions of people born in the last thirty years know that they have a brother or sister, or even brothers and sisters, who were aborted. I have often tried to imagine what I would think were I one of those children missing a sibling. “Honey,” Mom explains, “we just weren’t ready for another baby.” I know the pro-abortion people say that a child told this is filled with warm feelings that he or she was really wanted. Maybe so, but I expect there are many more who cannot erase from their minds that Mom had their brother or sister killed. Not to mention the moral and spiritual ramifications of knowing that their existence was contingent not upon an act of nature or gift of God but solely upon their parents’ decision. “Thanks for not having me killed, Mom.” That touches upon the spiritually weird and murky, but I expect it has a great deal to do with the growing number of young people who view abortion with horror.
• However the Supreme Court comes down on Elk Grove Unified School District v. Michael A. Newdow, there is widespread agreement that the government botched its case for keeping “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. The solicitor general fell into the trap of defending the phrase as a revered historical curiosity, an expression of ceremonial deism, and something good for reinforcing patriotic sentiment. Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic says that this is to evacuate religious language of any intellectual content. He writes, “The argument that a reference to God is not a reference to God is a sign that American religion is forgetting its reasons.” He rightly warns against the unhappy consequences “of a smug and sloppy entanglement of religion with politics, for politics and for religion. It is never long before one nation under God gives way to one God under a nation.” Which, as he does not say, is an important reason for treating that entanglement, which is in important ways inevitable, in a manner not smug and sloppy but self-critical and precise. But then Mr. Wieseltier goes off the rails. “The need of so many American believers to have government endorse their belief is thoroughly abject. How strong, and how wise, is a faith that needs to see God’s name wherever it looks?” Perhaps some Americans do feel a need to have their faith stamped with a seal of government approval, which is abject. I expect most Americans, however, think we should publicly acknowledge that this is a nation under God not for the sake of their faith but for the sake of the nation. Ours, they believe, is a nation under God, as in “under judgment,” and we ignore or deny that truth at great peril. In sum, they agree with Mr. Wieseltier, and with Mr. Newdow for that matter, that a reference to God is a reference to God, the government’s brief notwithstanding.
• By the end of the nineteenth century, after much wrangling, Harvard had dropped Veritas pro Christo et ecclesia from its motto, settling for the one word, Veritas. This March, Columbia University redesigned its symbol, a crown with three crosses, by removing the crosses. Columbia was established 250 years ago as an Anglican college and chartered by King George II. Predictably, some conservatives lamented the change. Others, however, took comfort in the fact that the university, while no longer Christian, is still monarchist.
• Depending on whose data you credit, in 2000 there were 5.3 to 6.1 million Jews in the United States. The low estimate is a significant decline from the 1990 figure of 5.5 million. As a percentage of the population, Jews are certainly in decline, from 3.6 percent in 1940 to 1.9 percent today. In American Judaism: A History, Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University concludes his impressive narrative with an examination of the ways in which Jews today worry about a “vanishing generation.” He cautions against the despondency that reigns in some circles: “‘A nation dying for thousands of years,’ the great Jewish philosopher Simon Rawidowicz once observed, ‘means a living nation. Our incessant dying means uninterrupted living, rising, standing up, beginning anew.’ His message, delivered to Jews agonizing over the loss of six million of their compatriots, applies equally well today in the face of contemporary challenges to Jewish continuity. ‘If we are the last—let us be the last as our fathers and forefathers were. Let us prepare the ground for the last Jews who will come after us, and for the last Jews who will rise after that, and so on until the end of days.’”
• Donald Barr, a distinguished educator here in New York City, died at age eighty-two a few months ago. He married Mary Margaret Ahern in April 1946. After his father’s death, their son Stephen, a member of our editorial board, found an old Latin missal that his father had apparently given his mother while they were courting. In it was inscribed this poem:
October 27, 1945
I cannot share the bright inn of your creed.
Although the waters tumble sickening
And icy from the skies, and bead by bead
The windows tell of your hearth, though poplars sing
Tonelessly “Kyrie eleison”
About my own bent head. I may not stop
Among your company. And I walk on:
The skin below my eyes accounts each drop.
My love, you are companion on my path,
Though you are with the gay and reverend
And fiery shelterers. If there be wrath
Above my road and payment at the end,
There is reward as well: you safe. I too
Am of God’s party, since we both love you.
His father finally came into the Church, being baptized shortly before Easter of 2000. To the great joy of Mary and in answer to her daily prayers. She died in March of 2001.
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Caldwell on why gay marriage is so splendid, New York Times Book Review, April 11, 2004. Christian Century on how you can’t feel about Gibson’s movie, Christian Century, March 23, 2004. United Methodist Church saves Dammann’s woman-to-woman marriage, Good News press release, March 25, 2004. U.K. teens embrace common sense rather than each other, Manchester News, March 11, 2004. The ACLU secular coup, New York Times, March 13, 2004. Epstein on “The Perpetual Adolescent,” Weekly Standard, March 15, 2004. Tablet’s tabloid headline, Tablet, April 3, 2004. Jenkins and LaHaye leave Watson behind, Books & Culture, July/August 2003. Driven books, Nicotine Theological Journal, January 2004. Evangelicals for anything in America, New York Times, March 12, 2004. Canadian gays and lesbians, Blade, March 11, 2004. Robert S. Wistrich on Goldhagen, Azure, Winter 2004. Young people demonstrate pro-life attitudes, Population Research Institute, December 10, 2003. A nation under Wieseltier, New Republic, April 12, 2004.