Since I do not assume that all our readers are also readers of the Weekly Standard, herewith an expanded version of a review that appeared in that esteemed publication. (No, Jody Bottum, who used to be our associate editor and is now the books and culture editor of the Standard, did not have the temerity to cut his former boss' copy. It is simply that I say some things here that seem more appropriate for this forum.)
John T. Noonan, Jr. is without doubt one of the most distinguished minds in our federal judiciary. Before being appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1986, he was professor at Boalt School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and authored major studies on the maddeningly complex connections between religion and law. Widely acclaimed books on usury, the slave trade, and other matters demonstrate that he is, above all, a historian, with a particular flair for the history of ideas. That demonstration continues with his new book, The Lustre of Our Country: The American Experience of Religious Freedom (University of California Press, $35
). The book is a personal summing up of Noonan's reflections on what he correctly believes to be America's most innovative and audacious contribution to world history-the free exercise of religion.
The book's title is from Noonan's hero, James Madison (or JM, as he signed himself), for whom, says Noonan, “the whole burden of freedom was carried by the formula of free exercise.” The First Amendment's commitment to the free exercise of religion, Madison wrote, “promised a lustre to our country.” There are but sixteen words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But the interpretation of those few words, more than any other aspect of contemporary jurisprudence, has cut to the heart of our understanding of the American experiment. Although his tone is generally irenic, Noonan leaves no doubt that the courts, and the Supreme Court in particular, have made a hash of the Religion Clause under the rubric of “church-state law.”
An egregious error entrenched itself beginning in the 1950s, when the courts began speaking not of the Religion Clause but of two Religion Clauses-the no establishment clause and the free exercise clause. Predictably, the error has been compounded again and again as the “two clauses” have been pitted against each other, almost always to the detriment of free exercise. As Noonan notes, there are two prepositional phrases of one clause. “The first phrase assumed that establishments of religion existed as they did in fact exist in several of the states; the amendment restrained the power of Congress to affect them. The second phrase was absolute in its denial of federal legislative power to inhibit religious exercise.” Over time, state establishments disappeared and the First Amendment was “incorporated” to apply also to the states, but always it should have been evident that there is one Religion Clause devoted to the end of the free exercise of religion. No establishment is a stipulated means to serve that end. The jurisprudence of the last half century, however, has tended to turn the means into the end, repeatedly declaring that any benign connection between government and religion is a forbidden “establishment.” The result is a court-imposed governmental indifference to religion that inevitably results in de facto governmental hostility to religion.
As long-time readers know, I have been pressing for years the question of the one Religion Clause, and it is most gratifying to see more constitutional scholars picking up on it. The Religion Clause is a coherent guarantee of free exercise, not a jerry-built compromise proposing that free exercise needs to be “balanced” against another good called “no establishment.” From the earlier Virginia measures supported by Madison and Jefferson through to the First Amendment, it is always clear that the reason there must be no establishment of religion is that establishment would infringe upon the free exercise of religion. A particular merit of Noonan's discussion is that it highlights how very recent is the practice in which the courts speak of “two religion clauses.” It is a practice that has led the courts so far astray as to suggest that balancing the clauses requires the government to be neutral as between religion and irreligion. One can imagine the distress of Mr. Madison if he could see the way recent jurisprudence has turned the First Amendment on its head.
John Noonan has written elsewhere about “the masks of the law.” One mask of the law is that of judges pretending that they are neutral when in fact they impose (establish) their own peculiar view of religion. In the present book, Noonan documents the powerful influence of liberal Protestantism and especially William James in the courts' religion jurisprudence. In James' Varieties of Religious Experience, religion is a radically private experience of the isolated individual. But in the real world, religion has corporate and social dimensions that necessarily include more than private experience and feelings. This reality has been frequently ignored also by the Supreme Court when, for instance in cases dealing with conscientious objection to military service, it equates religion with any sincerely held belief. Madison's more vibrant understanding of free exercise, by way of contrast, was forged in his encounters with real communities of religious commitment called Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican.
Another mask of the law is the courts' self-deluding view of themselves as Platonic guardians of truth that float above the reality of government. In regulating the activities of government, Noonan notes, the courts frequently pretend that they are not themselves part of government. In fact, they are that part of the government that assumes that “the courts themselves are sacred.” Noonan writes, “Performing these tasks that they have determined to be allotted them by the First Amendment, the courts unselfconsciously place themselves above any church or creed.” That is precisely what Madison intended free exercise to prevent. He declared that citizens had a “prior obligation” and “natural right” to acknowledge a sovereignty higher than the sovereignty of the state. The genius of his innovation was to insist that, with respect to the exercise of that obligation and right, the government has no legitimate “cognizance.” The Founders were keenly aware that the free exercise of religion was qualitatively different from religious tolerance. “Tolerance,” writes Noonan, “is a policy, an acceptance of religious difference because it's more trouble than it's worth to eliminate it, a prudential stance of wise statesmen. It is something else to inscribe in fundamental law an ideal of freedom for the human activity most potentially subversive of the existing order.”
The free exercise of religion is most potentially subversive because it proclaims a sovereignty that “stands against the sovereignty of the state.” Noonan writes, “Each individual's religion ‘wholly exempt' from social control? No qualifications whatever on the right and duty to pay homage to God as one sees fit? Surely, in the heat of battle, Madison exaggerates! No, his theological premises compel these radical conclusions.” The last point touches on a matter central to Noonan's argument, namely, that the free exercise of religion is, in the main, a religious achievement. This is explicitly proposed against the received wisdom that religious freedom-usually construed as tolerance-is the achievement of the secular Enlightenment against religion. In carrying this point, Noonan the historian is on impressive display.
John Noonan, it must be admitted, evidences a peculiar mix of liberal and conservative sensibilities. He wants to conserve the original understanding of free exercise, at least in large part because religious freedom is an inexpendable lever for challenging the established order. Like the civil libertarians of the ACLU persuasion, he presents himself as being reflexively on the side of the underdog. On the other hand, the underdog today is the social and moral conservatism that seeks to challenge regnant liberalisms, also in the courts. So Noonan's conservative jurisprudence in the service of liberal ends may be most immediately useful to contemporary forces generally called conservative. Ironies are compounded by the fact that those conservative forces are generally sympathetic to the use of religion to reinforce the established order, or at least to reinforce what they think once was and should be again the established order. Noonan has little but contempt for such use of religion, and is most polemical in his argument against laws prohibiting the “desecration” of the flag. In his view, the idea of the flag as a sacred object is little short of idolatry, and laws to protect it from “desecration” clearly violate the dangerously subversive free exercise guaranteed by the Constitution. Many conservatives will be cheered by Noonan's respect for the constitutional text and his championing of their right to challenge existing patterns of liberal judicial usurpation, as they will also be unhappy with his hostility to the purposes for which conservatives would employ that challenge. But that is the way it is with a free exercise of religion that testifies to a sovereignty that cannot be captured either by the state or by the parties that would control the state.
The Lustre of Our Country is oddly put together. It begins with an engaging autobiographical sketch of the Catholic author coming of age under the shadow of Puritan Boston. From his early years, especially under the influence of his father, Noonan was what in intra-Catholic discussions is known as a liberal. His father and he never had any use for what was taken to be the official Catholic position of the time, that the American pattern of religious freedom was a “hypothesis” to be tolerated until Catholics became strong enough to establish the “thesis” of a Catholic state in a Catholic society. The auto-biographical sketch is followed by an examination of the limits and contradictions in the Puritan idea of religious freedom, to which he contrasts Madison's “original insight.” A chapter is devoted to a letter “discovered” by Noonan and supposedly written by Tocqueville's younger sister who argues that her brother was right to view religion as “the foremost institution” of American democracy, but wrong in claiming that the “separation of church and state” is, in fact, the American reality. Employing various literary techniques, sometimes eccentric but always fascinating, Noonan then retells key cases in which the Supreme Court has tied itself into knots by regulating religion, with the result that it ends up in ludicrous efforts to adjudicate the sincerity and truth of religious claims-exactly the claims that Madison declared to be none of the government's business.
On the “subversive” dimension of free exercise, Noonan recalls four “crusades”-the abolition of slavery, the war against Mormon polygamy, the prohibition of alcohol, and the civil rights movement under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. Curiously, he does not include a fifth crusade, that against the abortion license of Roe v. Wade, on which he has written elsewhere with great persuasive effect. Opposition to the abortion license is usually viewed as a conservative cause, and perhaps Noonan did not want to let the rest of his argument be taken hostage to ideological labeling. Or perhaps he does not think the pro-life movement is a “crusade” comparable to the earlier movements he describes. If that is the case, one wishes that he had argued it. The absence of abortion from his discussion is deeply puzzling, since it is undoubtedly the most fevered question joining religion and religiously grounded morality in legal and political dispute today.
Throughout this and other books, Noonan leaves no doubt that the free exercise of religion is a potentially dangerous idea. Madison and most of the Founders believed that the entire constitutional order, this novus ordo seclorum, was contingent upon taking that risk. Noonan worries that we Americans, with the courts in the lead, may now have lost our nerve for it. Implicit in that loss of nerve, he suggests, is an acceptance of Durkheim's view that religion is essentially a function of society, something to be used and tolerated to the extent that it serves “the sacred society.” He very effectively makes the case that a functional view of religion-the claim that religion is a creation of society and designed to provide moral legitimacy for society-can be maintained only by determinedly ignoring the actual intentions of people who are religious. That willful blindness is another instance of neutrality-as-a-mask, and it is made more objectionable by the fact that judges, operating under the guise of neutrality, routinely smuggle in their own beliefs that are religious in nature if not in name.
Nonetheless, Noonan is by no means ready to give up. For all the missteps along the way, the American commitment to the free exercise of religion is still a “success.” Against what he views as the false humility of many Americans, he urges a forthright acknowledgment that religious freedom is this country's foremost contribution to the world's understanding of just government. In advancing that claim, he devotes chapters to four contrasting case studies: the French Revolution's affirmation and betrayal of the American idea of religious freedom, the American imposition of the idea on a defeated Japan, Russia's current and deeply flawed efforts to incorporate the idea, and the American influence in the Second Vatican Council's teaching on religious liberty.
The Lustre of Our Country is erudite and instructive, frequently whimsical and typically wise. I expect other readers will share my frustration with aspects of the argument. At times Noonan seems to conflate freedom of religion with freedom of conscience. There are similarities, to be sure, and there are also big differences. Freedom of conscience is easily reduced to radical individualism, ending up with what Noonan rightly deplores as the courts' common depiction of religion as a private aberration to be tolerated insofar as it does not interfere with government purposes. The conflation also invites the subsuming of religious freedom into constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and other provisions that ignore religion's necessarily subversive witness to a higher sovereignty. Noonan is apparently unhappy with the Supreme Court's recent striking down of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which many view as almost tantamount to repealing the Religion Clause, but he offers no suggestion of other legislative remedies for judicial hostility to religion. This is a matter of some importance, since Congress is at this moment working on another effort to produce such remedial legislation.
Friends of religious freedom have pressed for a restoration of the principle that religious claims should be privileged, and overriding such claims should be dependent upon the government being able to demonstrate that there is both a “compelling” interest and no less intrusive way for that interest to be served. Noonan notes that, in fact, courts have routinely ruled that almost any government interest at all is sufficient to override the free exercise of religion. One wishes he had more directly taken on the arguments of Justice Antonin Scalia, who appears to speak for a majority of the Court on this question. Scalia is frequently depicted as a champion of raw majoritarianism for whom the Religion Clause is little more than a vestigial and inconvenient appendix. I expect his views on religion and law are considerably more interesting than that, and since he is such a dominant voice on these matters, it would have been helpful if Noonan engaged him more directly. On the other hand, it may be less than politic for a judge of a circuit court to challenge so frontally a justice of the Supreme Court.
The present book provokes speculation about the assumptions underlying Noonan's judicial philosophy. He is clearly a “textualist,” as is evident in his insistence upon the one Religion Clause and his opposition to pitting the “two clauses” against each other. And he is an “originalist” in his devotion to the radical intention of Madison and those responsible for the First Amendment. Yet at other times he seems to want the judge to be something like a philosopher king. His epilogue proposes “Ten Commandments” for people dealing with religious freedom, including the admonition that “you shall know that no person, man or woman, historian or law professor or constitutional commentator or judge, is neutral in this matter.” Fair enough. He is right to insist that, with respect to religion and much else, but especially with respect to religion, imagination and empathy are required. “Can a judge be a pilgrim?” Noonan asks. He answers in the affirmative, and I agree. But as a judge he should strive to read the law, to be objective, and, yes, neutral. Safety from judicial usurpation rests not so much in having judges who are better philosophers as in having judges who recognize that, as Mr. Madison would say, there are questions not within their cognizance.
Both suggestive and problematic is Noonan's persistent drawing of parallels between judicial interpretation and John Henry Newman's theory of “the development of doctrine.” In this connection he offers his extended treatment of the development of Catholic teaching on religious freedom at Vatican Council II. Clearly, Noonan has no use for the exponents of a “living Constitution” who declare, in effect, that the Constitution is dead because it means whatever the courts say it means. Just as clearly, there are parallels between what judges do and what church councils do. Both are involved in trying to understand a “sacred text” as it relates to current problems and understandings. A crucial difference, however, and a difference one wishes Judge Noonan addressed more directly, is that church councils-at least in the Catholic understanding of things-are promised the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Noonan misses important opportunities in his treatment of Catholic teaching. He fully appreciates the immeasurable contribution of Father John Courtney Murray to the Council's declaration on religious freedom, and he is right to claim that this was a distinctly American contribution to the teaching of the universal Church. But there is no mention at all of the ways in which the understanding of religious freedom-precisely as a religious achievement-has been greatly deepened and elaborated by this pontificate, notably in encyclicals such as Centesimus Annus, Evangelium Vitae, and Veritatis Splendor. And this reader at least is not persuaded by Noonan's tendency to view the “development” of doctrine as a change, or even a reversal, of doctrine.
It is all too easy to compare, for instance, the texts of the nineteenth century “Syllabus of Errors” with current magisterial texts and show the verbal and policy differences, even contradictions. More effort is required to demonstrate the continuity and internal coherence that Newman described as the development of doctrine. As Noonan debunks the Durkheimian sacralization of political society, he also tends to politicize the workings of the sacred society that is the Church. That is certainly not his intention. He has a very effective passage on how the political maneuverings of the Council are consonant with an “incarnational” understanding of the way God works. But in accenting the discontinuities produced by such maneuverings, the affirmation of God's incarnational ways seems to be a naked act of faith unsupported by historical evidence.
But let me not leave the wrong impression. The questions and arguments provoked by The Lustre of Our Country testify to its great achievement. Judge Noonan understands, as very few judges and constitutional scholars do, the founding genius of the American experiment. He knows and persuasively explains why those sixteen words of the First Amendment continue to be this country's most innovative, audacious, and promising contribution to the world's understanding of the right ordering of political society.
I came across it again the other day, the flat assertion that Pope John XXIII was the most widely loved and admired Pope of the modern era, and perhaps of the Church's entire history. I do not wish to detract from his undeniable stature by entering a modest demurrer. One cannot help but note that such assertions are usually made by Catholics who identify with the “progressive” interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, and usually in the context of an invidious comparison with Paul VI and, especially, John Paul II. Among Catholics of a liberal disposition, who are a relatively small minority, and among folk in the media who follow their lead, it seems to be the case that John XXIII is the most loved and admired of modern Popes. That I think is the more accurate statement. And, it should be added, among such he is typically depicted as a proponent of the radical changes they typically espouse, a depiction that has slight basis in fact.
John was Pope for a relatively short time (1958-1963), while John Paul II will be in the chair of Peter for twenty years come this October. John's inestimable contribution was to convoke the Council on which subsequent pontificates have built. The idea of a papal popularity contest is unseemly and should not be encouraged, but, just for the sake of accuracy, can there be any reasonable doubt that John Paul II is known, loved, and admired by more people than any other Pope in history? It is not terribly important to say that, and I would not say it at all, were it not that some people think it so important to deny it.
The immediate occasion for this reflection is a fine new book by David Aikman, an evangelical Protestant and former Time magazine correspondent, Great Souls: Six Who Changed the Century (Word, $22.95
). He offers winsome profiles of six “great souls”: Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Elie Wiesel, Nelson Mandela, and John Paul II. Of the last he writes: “Billy Graham has said of Pope John Paul II, certainly with accuracy, that he will ‘go down in history as the greatest of our modern Popes. He's the strong conscience of the whole Christian world.' I respect that judgment, but for me it doesn't go far enough. I am not a Roman Catholic, and I certainly share many of the Protestant reservations about some aspects of Catholic doctrine and some forms of Catholic devotionalism. Yet it is my view that Pope John Paul II, in his profound spiritual depth, his prayer life, his enormous intellectual universe, his compassion and sympathy for the oppressed, and above all in his vision of how Christians collectively are supposed to live, is the greatest single Christian leader of the twentieth century. When he is gone, he may well be viewed, quite simply, as one of the most exemplary figures in all of Christian history.”
Of course, one can disagree with Aikman's judgment. Or one can agree, as I do. But agree or disagree, one should do so, I believe, without making invidious comparisons between John XXIII and John Paul II, two who are undoubtedly great souls as well as great Popes.
Over the last couple of years there has been a great to-do over the ways in which the Swiss turned their World War II neutrality into a very good thing. The formidable A. M. Rosenthal of the New York Times recently wondered out loud whether fifty years from now the same questions might not be raised about U.S. dealings with China. President Clinton, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Council of Churches appear to take the position that what's good for corporate America is good for the world. Human rights, and religious persecution in particular, must not be permitted to interfere with that new world order. Those who disagree will be interested, and others should be interested, in the following report from the March 28, 1998 issue of the London Tablet, an international Catholic weekly. The author is Cecilia Bromley-Martin, press officer for Aid to the Church in Need. (Reprinted with permission.)
In the bitterest conditions I have ever known, my three colleagues and I waited for our secret contact. Tourists thronged around us, so our Western faces were unlikely to bring any suspicion as we climbed into a jeep and drove away.
After many miles-seven of us crushed into the ancient four-man vehicle-we finally arrived at a poor and remote house. As we were ushered speedily inside, the husband welcomed us. His wife was cooking and their daughter played with a friend in her room-but beyond, behind closed doors, we found a dozen young men, preparing for China's clandestine priesthood.
These students are just one small group of an “underground” seminary, forced to abandon its own diocese when the persecution there became too severe. They have been dispersed and the groups are anything up to three hundred miles apart. They have one spiritual director, a priest. He is thirty.
After celebrating Mass together in a small, concrete shed with a makeshift altar, decorated with ferns in an old drink can, we crowded into their cold bedroom. Through clouds of breath, drinking boiling water from jam jars to keep us warm, we heard about the life of China's illegal Catholics.
One young priest, in charge of this group of seminarians, told us that there seems to be a three-year cycle-three years of relative calm, then three years of persecution. All the seminarians we met are wanted by the authorities.
But it is not just priests and nuns who suffer for their faith. Every Catholic who gave us food, a bed, or transport took a great risk. In one diocese, about eight hundred people used to meet in a Christian's courtyard for Mass, but the police found out and put the owner in prison, where he has become semi-paralyzed. Four houses with crosses on top were confiscated, without compensation; three are now being used as schools, and one is being used by the local government. A recent operation known as “Strike Hard” was specifically devised to reduce and control underground Catholics.
It is estimated that China has twelve million Catholics-roughly 1 per cent of the population. For forty-five years, the Communist regime attempted unsuccessfully to crush the Church-Mass was forbidden, loyalty to the Pope outlawed, and priests imprisoned or executed. Eventually, the authorities compromised and set up the Patriotic Association to monitor a state Catholic Church answerable to China rather than Rome. Many Catholics, exhausted by years of punishment, felt the only way they could practice their faith was to join this official Church; but for countless others, to be Catholic and not remain loyal to the Pope was inconceivable. These went “underground.” Yet no foreigner will ever fully comprehend the complexities of China's divided Church. Two-thirds of the country's official bishops have been legitimized by the Pope, and whilst in some dioceses the “patriotic” and clandestine bishops do not communicate in any way, we met one underground bishop who shares the home of his official counterpart. It is well known that many future secret priests train in the official seminaries. One bishop told us that the majority of the bishops are good, but “the rest are weak Communist puppets.”
Even the official Church is by no means left in peace. The “archangels”-as they facetiously call the officials who watch their every move-stamp their mark on every aspect of church life. Christian cemeteries are illegal, no rank higher than bishop is permitted, male orders are forbidden, and only “useful” female orders are allowed: contemplatives are considered a waste of time.
We met a group of underground novices. So great is the danger of discovery that-enclosed in small, dank farm buildings lent to the thirty-nine-year-old bishop by a brave peasant farmer-the young men are unable to leave the compound during the whole two years they are there. Traveling only under the cover of night, we were able to visit this seminary.
Their day starts in the chapel at 4 a.m. They pray for nine hours a day and can talk to each other for only fifty minutes. Breakfast, a sort of porridge, is at 8:20 a.m., with dinner (vegetables) at 4:10 p.m. On Fridays they miss breakfast, and twice a week they live on just bread and water. They never have meat or eggs. “We think that our standard of life should be lower than that of the average Christian,” one told us. “We don't usually notice the lack of food because the prayer makes us feel closer to God.”
Wherever we went, underground priests, nuns, and seminarians smilingly accepted that they would probably serve at least one prison sentence for their vocation. None was frightened. We met another young priest who had been sent alone to one of the poorest areas of China, with scarcely any Christians-now, five years on, there are one thousand. In winter, the temperature plummets, and he has forty-six outstations to visit in an area of 2,500 square miles. He gets around on an old motorbike, but when it's icy he walks. “Are you happy?” I asked him. His smile was radiant, huge: “I am very happy as a priest. I meet people who have no goal in life, and when they convert and they are blessed, I see how happy and fulfilled they are, and that makes me happy.”
Woe to those who are at ease in Zion (Amos 6).
I was speaking at Princeton a while back and had dinner with a group that included a number of Lutherans and one Methodist who had recently become Roman Catholic. They declared themselves utterly convinced of everything the Catholic Church teaches, but where, they wanted to know, does one find the Catholic Church at worship? They had a long list of horror stories from Masses at suburban parishes with wannabe Jay Leno priests, guitar-twanged Andrew Lloyd Webber show tunes, and song-leader soloists strutting their stuff. On the train back from Princeton I read Edward Farley of Vanderbilt Divinity School writing in Christian Century on the current state of Protestant worship. It was a continuation of the dinner conversation.
“Though prayers, music, and sermon may treat solemn and sacred themes of grief, suffering, evil, redemption, and hope, these themes arise from and then resubmerge into a stream of comfortable and casual pleasantness. This pleasant mood disengages these things from adoration and neutralizes and tames the Mystery. Most of the things done on Sunday morning do not seem to be directed toward adoration. Judged by the mood and ethos, the primary concern and referent of this hour is something other than the sacred.
“Without wanting to idealize earlier periods of Protestant ritual, I do wonder what has caused worship to become like this. Is it the outcome of a long historical process in which the Protestant movement failed to discover how to relate proclamation to sacramentality, how to retain both iconography and iconoclasm? Is the essence of Protestantism the replacement of adoration with proclamation, where grace comes by listening, not adoring? Is Sunday morning the result of the Protestant opposition between faith and works, an opposition that assigns ritual activities and even the act of adoration to ‘works'? Has the Protestant fascination with the forensic problem of release from guilt edged out acts of adoration? Is Sunday morning the result of the displacement of older pieties by civil religion, the therapeutic, the culture of narcissism, or social protest? Have contemporary churches been infected by the entertainment orientations of the electronic church and the new megachurches created by nondenominational entrepreneurs?
“I cannot say. I have no villains in mind. Ministers, music directors, worship and congregational leaders have not deliberately conspired to bring about this state of affairs. Protestant congregations have become devoid of worship as various features of contemporary culture have formed congregational life. The casual, happy, amused, and chatty Sunday morning has crept up on us unawares. If it is here to stay, at least for a while, perhaps congregations face the difficult task of creating another time or event in their ritual life when people gather to adore.”
That about sums it up: “Casual, happy, amused, and chatty.” I told my Princeton friends that I have witnessed some of what they deplore, but my general experience, beginning with my own parish in Manhattan, Immaculate Conception, is that of the Mass done with great dignity and reverence for the eucharistic mystery. And I do get around to parishes in other parts of the country. They countered that the parishes that would invite me are probably pretty good to start with, or clean up their liturgical act when I'm around, and there may be something to that. A former Lutheran in Virginia who became a Catholic a couple of years ago says, “I thought I was joining the Catholic Church, and then discovered I had joined the Diocese of Richmond.”
In truth, he and the Princeton folk all say they have found places where the Mass is done as one might expect Catholics to do it, but, they insist, it isn't easy. One found an ethnic inner-city parish, another goes to a nearby monastery, and yet another attends an Eastern rite parish. One says she has even found a large suburban parish where the people actually kneel during the canon, the priest refrains from ad-libbing the prayers, and there is regular exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. But that, all declare, is the great exception. These people, be it noted, are not “traditionalists” or fans of the Tridentine Rite. They are simply looking for the Mass to be celebrated in a way consonant with what the Church teaches and not disdainful of the liturgical and musical treasures of the Catholic tradition. That doesn't seem like too much to expect, and, for all the banality of the English texts, it can be done eminently well with the Order of Mass in common use.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when people were attracted to the Catholic Church by the mystery, splendor, and fervent devotion of its worship. I count myself among the many who were formed by the liturgical renewal pioneered by leaders such as Monsignor Martin Hellriegel and embraced by the Second Vatican Council. What happened to that renewal is by now a familiar story, involving liturgists who confused the discovery of the human in worship with the worship of the human, ecumenists who felt obliged to love all traditions but their own, and episcopal bureaucracies that became establishment enforcers of perpetual change.
These developments were and are very profitably exploited by publishing empires in places such as Chicago and Portland that peddle to parishes an uninterrupted flow of musical tackiness premised upon the equation of progress with vulgarity, and all designed to put God's people at ease in Zion. It is called pandering, but it is by no means evident that the pandering is appreciated by those being pandered to. The Mass as entertainment is, well, mildly entertaining. One may wonder if there is anything so sure to induce passivity in most of the people as the exhortations to hyper-activity in Father Bob's performance liturgy. Not, mind you, that the Mass was done so well thirty years ago. That's why the Council called for renewal. More than thirty years later, the call would seem to be more pertinent than ever. (The best and hilariously devastating sendup of the current state of Catholic worship is Thomas Day's Why Catholics Can't Sing. It ought to be mandatory reading for all priests, seminarians, and music directors.)
In the last several years there has been a dramatic but little-remarked increase in the number of converts coming into the Church, and I am in regular conversation with Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and others who are contemplating that momentous step. As one might expect, many have reasons for hesitation. I have never encountered anyone who has problems with the Church's moral teachings or with issues such as women's ordination. The Church's position on such questions is generally a definite attraction. There are two common obstacles. One is papal infallibility. That is a good problem to have, for thinking it through leads to a deeper understanding of ecclesial authority, the development of doctrine, and Christ's promise that the Holy Spirit will lead his Church into all truth (John 16). But an obstacle as common, if not more common, is the state of Catholic worship. That ought not to be.
The Catholic Church gladly acknowledges the grace of God to be found outside its boundaries. With equal clarity, it teaches: “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by God through Jesus Christ would refuse to enter her or to remain in her could not be saved.” (Lumen Gentium, 14) That poses the crucial point of decision. I regularly remind inquirers of Flannery O'Connor's remark that one is called to suffer ever so much more from the Church than for the Church. That will likely continue to be the case. And a reminder is always in order that some of the tales of liturgical horribles are probably exaggerated for effect. Nonetheless, as the prophet Amos might say: Woe to those who create an obstacle to the fullness of Catholic communion by the liturgical kitsch of Masses that are “casual, happy, amused, and chatty.”
I have heard the objection that this is merely a matter of aesthetics, to which one answer is that aesthetics is not mere. Another answer is that a cultivated indifference to bad taste should not be a price exacted for becoming a Catholic. The most important answer, however, goes beyond taste to belief. A former Lutheran pastor tells me, “I had read the Catechism and Balthasar and the great doctors of the Church and was completely convinced by what they said about the Mass.” Then she visited the neighboring Catholic parish. “From the way the Mass was celebrated, I just couldn't believe that they believed what they said they believed. That was the biggest stumbling block in the way of my becoming a Catholic.” She overcame it. But why did she have to?
One of the most influential Protestant biblical scholars of the century, Ernst Käsemann, died this past February at age ninety-one. There was no notice in the press here, which is not right. I asked Paul F. M. Zahl, Dean of the Cathedral Church of the Advent (Episcopal) in Birmingham, Alabama, to pen a brief tribute. He was both a student and personal friend of Professor Käsemann.
Ernst Käsemann was born July 12, 1906 in Dahlhausen near Bochum. He said that his childhood was “alone and joyless.” Having studied theology at Bonn, where he was influenced by Erik Peterson (whose conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1930 jarred him deeply), Käsemann met Rudolf Bultmann at Marburg in 1925. Bultmann was his teacher and colleague until 1965, when Käsemann broke with Bultmann over the “anthropological,” i.e., subjective, tilt of Bultmann's thought. From 1959 to 1971 Käsemann was Professor of New Testament at Tübingen.
He served in parish ministry from 1933 to 1946. In 1937 his preaching against the Nazi ideology drew the wrath of the Gestapo and he was imprisoned. He was the last of his generation of German Church resisters to Hitler, a generation of whom, with the exception of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, almost nothing is ever said in the United States.
Käsemann considered himself a revolutionary “partisan,” campaigning against idolatry on every front. His confrontation with the Gestapo in 1937; his conflict in the 1970s with the “Pietists,” who believed that he denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus; his public sympathy with student radicals in 1968; the fact that his daughter Elizabeth became a political revolutionary in Argentina and was killed by the junta there in 1977: these and other important moments in a life that can be properly described as almost “world-historical” were all shaped by the metaphor of struggle against the principalities and powers.
On the scholarly side, Käsemann was a founder of the “second quest” for the historical Jesus and was a leading theologian of St. Paul. The inner core of all his written work was a highly individual reception of justification by faith. If Käsemann was a partisan of the partisans, he was also a Reformation theologian par excellence. He did not mind being called a Gnesio-Lutheraner (a “purist of the Lutherans”), although he really wasn't. He was too combative to be held to any single school of thought.
Käsemann's last letter to this writer was dated Reformation Day 1996. The next-to-penultimate paragraph stands as a moving testament to his understanding of what it means to be an authentic warrior for Christ:
Whoever took part in the German Church struggle [i.e., of 1933-1939] was a very individual partisan. I was one, too. I stood in the pulpit and right in front of me, in the gallery and below in the chancel, sat the Gestapo and the Nazis. You won't believe how much of an individual I felt then! To preach Heaven and to have Hell right before your eyes in the person of its legates. . . . A thousand listeners were asked, at the highest pitch of individuality, to what end they were listening. . . . We represented our Lord and we risked His cross. We were called revolutionaries and were dealt with accordingly. But the Kingdom of God is revolutionary!
• Many years ago Woody Allen's Sleeper had this fellow waking up two hundred years later in a newly health-conscious world where it had been discovered that the very best things to do were to smoke a lot and eat plenty of ice cream. Maybe we don't have to wait two hundred years. A few weeks ago there was that huge longitudinal study, the biggest thing ever done to study people's health over decades, which determined that the one variable that made a significant difference for the better was having a drink or two every day. And now the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that long-term studies in the U.S. and Japan indicate that men who eat more fat, including more saturated fat, are less likely to suffer a stroke. Science and a health-obsessed culture appear to be at cross purposes, sometimes posing hard choices. Like last week's announcement of a pill that can reduce balding, but at the risk of causing impotence. Why be attractively hirsute if you can't handle the consequences? It is no secret that I enjoy a good cigar, and will make do with a bad one if circumstances demand. Some months ago I opined in this space that nobody knows if the world would really be a better place if nobody smoked. That sent the Adventist magazine Liberty into a tizzy. Their editorial blast against my heresy was accompanied by a cartoon depicting me on chummy terms with Joe Camel. All I meant to say is what I believe, namely, that a world without cigars and pipes may be a world with a great deal less personal happiness. As for cigarettes, I hold no brief for the habit but am appalled by the way a culture once noted for its rugged individualism has pusillanimously surrendered to the extremists of the new prohibitionism. I confess that my disposition is powerfully shaped by the spectacle of a society that has declared open season on unborn children and celebrates a subculture based on sticking sexual plumbing into inappropriate orifices rigorously imposing its last moral absolute: no smoking. And I have been influenced by the experience of nearly dying (some thought I had died) of cancer five years ago, which has put me on much friendlier terms with mortality. In any event, and lest the folks over at Liberty get themselves excited all over again, this space does not purport to offer medical advice. I do think moral and intellectual health is greatly improved by cultivating a robust skepticism toward medical agitations in service to the delusion that, if we are careful enough, some of us might get through life without dying.
• Reviewing Don Cupitt's After God: The Future of Religion, professor of theology Dennis Nineham begins with a question: “How is that Don Cupitt, one of the most learned, acute, lucid, and intellectually stimulating theologians of his generation, has received virtually no public recognition, either in his own place (Cambridge) or any other?” In his book, Cupitt contends that the word “God” has no objective referent, being a vestige of the monotheism human beings constructed after they left the hunter-gatherer phase of evolution. In our enlightened time, we see “that everything, including all linguistic meanings, truths, values, and indeed reality itself, is a slowly evolving consensus product with no objective basis.” Any other questions, Professor Nineham?
• A Canadian paper reports that an Anglican church in downtown Toronto is trying “a novel approach to attract new members.” St. Stephen-in-the-Fields advertises that it offers a “warranty” that it welcomes everyone, regardless of class, sexual orientation, or marital status, and “will not tell you how to dress, feel, or act.” Now why hasn't someone thought of that before?
• The Charitable Choice provision in the latest welfare-reform law allows the government to contract also with religious organizations to provide social services, which of course sends Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State into his usual snit. The law, he says, will force people “to be good or religious.” Being good or being religious, or even being both, might strike some as a not bad idea. James Skillen of the Washington-based Center for Public Justice says Lynn has got the law all wrong: “Lynn's fears are so strong that he can't even read the law correctly. The Charitable Choice provision specifically stipulates that eligible recipients do not have to go to a religious provider for services. And if they do go and find that they don't like what they hear, they are free to go elsewhere or to stay and refrain from participating in the full program of the agency. No one is forced to do anything. The truth is that it's the old and dying system defended by Lynn that exerts illegitimate force on people. Think of it this way. What about all those citizens for whom faith is a full-life matter? When they are eligible for welfare services, the only option Lynn thinks they should have is one separated from their religious faith. In the name of equal treatment and religious freedom, Lynn would exclude many citizens and service organizations from full participation in public life. The Charitable Choice provision does just the opposite of forcing people to become religious. It opens real choice to all Americans by stopping the discrimination against religious groups. If government allows a full diversity of groups to participate in providing services, and if it makes sure people are free to choose their service provider, then no one is forced to be religious. Government simply complies with the Constitution's true demands, which are to protect religious freedom and to refrain from establishing any religion. . . . The time has come for Barry Lynn to put the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries behind him and to become a genuine, twentieth-century public pluralist-someone ready to advocate real religious freedom for all Americans under a government that does not discriminate against either believers or non-believers. It is time for Americans United to join the fight for justice.”
• There are all kinds of loose hymnals floating around in Catholic circles, and Don Schenk of Allentown, Pennsylvania, who is responding to Father Avery Dulles' article on “The Ways We Worship” (FT, March), is not amused by one called Gather. In his parish the Sunday before he had to endure number 719, which asked him to sing a complaint about “dogmas that obscure your plan.” The galling thing is that it was set to the tune of “Tantum Ergo,” the hymn composed by Thomas Aquinas for the feast of Corpus Christi. As in the dogma of the Real Presence.
• Johannes Baptist Metz is a serious theologian, and his little devotional reflection, Poverty of Spirit, has been cherished by many. Here is an announcement that it has now been reissued in an “inclusive-language version.” Poor in spirit and rich in correctness. The publisher's blurb says, “The only image we have of God is the face of our neighbor; thus it is in our relationship with others that we find our salvation.” Paulist Press would be well advised to check that out with St. Paul. In fact, they might check it out with Father Metz.
• Riches upon riches from Paulist Press. A Buddhist Life in America by Joan Halifax, with an introduction by Ronald Thiemann of Harvard Divinity School. The publisher says that Miss Halifax is “the spiritual successor to Joseph Campbell.” I think that is meant as a recommendation.
• Popular writer Paul Wilkes has a new book, The Seven Secrets of Successful Catholics (Paulist). It comes with the following guarantee from Father Robert Drinan, S.J.: “The fortunate people who read this precious book will not only be successful but will have joy and tranquillity in their lives.” Lawyers of disappointed buyers can contact Father Drinan at the Georgetown University Law Center.
• Stephen A. Wise, grandson of the famous Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, asks why Dietrich Bonhoeffer is not honored as a “righteous gentile” at Yad Vashem. There is no doubt that Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian, courageously spoke out for the Jews as early as 1933, was actively involved in the rescue of Jews, and paid with his life when he was executed by the Nazis in April 1945, only a month before war's end. Officials at Yad Vashem tell Mr. Wise that recognition can be granted only for assistance to Jews “still adhering to the Jewish faith.” The claim is that the Jews rescued by Bonhoeffer were either nonpracticing or had converted to Christianity. Wise points out that the Nazis did not make such nice distinctions; a person with even one Jewish grandparent or great-grandparent was slated for destruction. He adds, “What then does ‘adhering' mean? And what is the measure of adherence: Orthodox Judaism? Conservative? Reform?” Good questions all, and deserving of a more credible response from the people in charge of Yad Vashem.
• Tantalized by the death watch. The editors of National Catholic Reporter view this pontificate as an instrument of unspeakable oppression, but they have not given up hope. “The lure of hope is eternal. The current silent acquiescence of theologians and church leaders may be hiding a multitude of new ideas and aspirations. Every day, opinions and attitudes are being formed that will find expression and life only when this Pope has passed to his reward. This is not to say Catholicism is relative, a menu that changes, or that each Pope founds a new religion. But history shows how tantalizingly the Church has evolved from one papacy to the next.” Aw c'mon, admit it, a new religion would be really neat.
• Poor Andrew Carnegie. He gave away zillions in an undoubtedly sincere passion for world peace. After establishing a couple of foundations that he thought were not going about it the right way, he gave what was then a megafortune to establish the Church Peace Union. When I worked with it in the 1970s, it was called the Council on Religion and International Affairs, and there Jim Finn and I edited what I continue to think of as a worthy but short-lived magazine called Worldview. The organization has again been renamed as the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs and continues to operate out of its elegant houses on East 64th Street as a lunch and chatter center for people in the international affairs “community.” The uncertainty of its mission is reflected in the instability of its name. But then, uncertainty and instability are the fate of institutions in the world peace business. When he established the Church Peace Union, Carnegie wrote a letter to the distinguished trustees pointing out that, through the bonds of sacred commerce with our imperial cousins in Great Britain and Germany, the abolition of war would be achieved sooner than most people thought, and therefore, when their goal was reached, the trustees should give the remaining funds to the deserving poor. Needless to say, the deserving poor are still waiting. Carnegie's letter was written in the summer of 1914. Now I see that another of his foundations, the Carnegie Corporation, has come out with a book, Preventing Deadly Conflict, which is the product of ten years' labor and the expenditure of 9.5 million dollars. The project was overseen by a most distinguished commission composed of former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, the former prime minister of Norway, and many other noted formers. The commission was advised by thirty-six scholars and “eminent practitioners,” and had a huge bash of a coming-out party at the Willard Hotel in Washington, which was duplicated in other capital cities around the world. This monumental study has concluded that “the need to prevent deadly conflict is increasingly urgent,” and “preventing deadly conflict is possible.” It also discovered that “peace and equitable development will require not only effective institutions, but also greater understanding and respect for differences within and across national boundaries.” Religious leaders are urged to “undertake a worldwide effort to foster respect for diversity,” to avoid conflicts, and to “censure co-religionists who promote violence.” Were he still around, Andrew Carnegie might consider establishing yet another foundation, perhaps reviving that fine old name, the Church Peace Union.
• The German government has been giving the Church of Scientology a hard time, refusing to recognize it as a legitimate religion. The Scientologists, in response, have been running full-page ads in this country around the theme once-a-Nazi-always-a-Nazi, portraying themselves as martyrs to religious freedom. Governments are very bad at defining what is and what is not legitimate religion, and I don't know what Germany should do, but my impression is that Scientology is, among other things, a money-making scam built on a set of psychic placebos that the late L. Ron Hubbard peddled as “Dianetics.” The Scientologists run “celebrity centers” which have had a notable appeal for Hollywood types in search of who they are apart from being celebrities. Dianetics offers high-priced treatments that allegedly help people discover their true selves and take control of their lives. The Wall Street Journal recently ran an item critical of Scientology and what the paper thought to be its dubious tax-exemption granted by the IRS. David Miscavige, chairman of the outfit, wrote a long letter of protest offering what he apparently thinks are cogent arguments, including this: “If you are so right about everything, why don't you try and run for President, and put yourself in the public arena and see if the American public votes for you?” One suspects that Mr. Miscavige is overdue for his next treatment.
• A recently retired Navy officer responds to the comment (March) on the editorial in Strategic Review urging resistance to new rules about women in combat. He sends along the official “instruction” on the matter issued by the Department of the Navy and has this to say: “This instruction is hard policy, and the equal opportunity phrase gives it large teeth. Those who disagree cannot be viewed as supporting and being proactive in attaining the Navy's equal opportunity goals. Officer fitness reports and enlisted performance evaluations both require comment on equal opportunity performance; a less than stellar grade was a career killer before I retired from the Navy [recently] and is more so now. If I were still on active duty, I would feel duty bound to grade adversely a subordinate who expressed disagreement, for any reason, with this policy. I am very thankful that I have been spared that experience! I reckon that those who share my professional and, perhaps, my moral reservations about women in combat are leaving the Navy at the first opportunity. It is clearly imprudent to stay in the service if one has any reservations about the role of women. It is also dishonest to oneself, to one's shipmates, and to the Navy to pretend to wholeheartedly support the Navy's policy while inwardly opposing it; an honorable man should complete his obligated service and then resign.”
• Call it quixotic, but it brightens the day. The Phillip Morris company gave $40
,000 to Belmont Abbey College, a small Catholic school in Belmont, North Carolina. The money was to fund an adult literacy program run by the college. Then college president Robert A. Preston came across an ad for Virginia Slims in Time magazine that in his judgment and that of others was clearly promoting premarital sex. He discussed the matter with the students in his ethics class. “Some of them argued that it would do more good for us to keep the money and use it for the literacy project, or that it was such a small amount that it wouldn't matter to a big company like Phillip Morris.” But most of the students thought the money should be returned, as did the trustees, and so it was. Said Phillip Morris: “We regret their decision because our grant would have helped improve literacy in Gaston County.” Dr. Preston's letter returning the money made it clear “that this action is in no way connected with the fact that Phillip Morris is in the tobacco business.” Draw a line between those who would approve returning the money as a protest against the promotion of tobacco and those who approve it as a protest against the promotion of premarital sex and you get one way of understanding alignments in what some call the culture wars.
• There is manifestly a Christian revival in the culture, says David R. Carlin, even if it takes the form of reaction against decades of secular onslaught. But it is very much a Protestant revival/reaction. Catholics are not likely to really get with it unless they are led by their clergy, and Catholic clergy are way behind their Protestant counterparts on this score. Why should that be? Well, says Carlin, Catholic clergy tend to be older and badly overworked. Then too, in the aftermath of Vatican II many clergy took a liberal turn, and most are still very nervous about being perceived as anti-liberal, which means that they often end up on the secular side of the culture wars. But there is also another reason worth pondering: “The Catholic clergy are less ‘American' than the conservative Protestant clergy, and therefore less disturbed by the de-Christianization of the United States. By this I do not mean that Catholic clergy are less patriotic than Protestants-not at all. Members of the Catholic clergy, however, have a strong sense of belonging to an international church, the United States being only one of many branch offices; if Christianity goes under in the United States, that's too bad, but it's not the end of the world. By contrast, conservative Protestant clergy-take, for instance, the Southern Baptists, the single largest conservative Protestant denomination-have a strong sense of belonging to a church whose home country is the United States; if Christianity goes under here, its true home, it is in grave trouble everywhere. They are therefore more sensitive to anti-Christian developments in American culture and more prompt in responding to them.”
• What I have written about the naked public square, says Louis R. Tarsitano, is “too optimistic.” My problem, he says, is that I assume people are still capable of moral argument about the right ordering of our life together. Alas, says Tarsitano, writing in Touchstone, that was true of modernism, but our present era of postmodernism knows nothing about rational argument; contests are determined by what he calls “the plausible person.” “The plausible person is the analog of the two-dimensional image on a television screen, a moving picture of a role that stirs the emotions of the viewers. He is a spectacle and an entertainment: not a communicator of ideas, but of sentiments.” The supreme example of the plausible person is, of course, Bill Clinton, the “Sentimentalist-in-Chief.” Tarsitano's point is that Christians must be prepared to communicate the gospel in this postmodernist mode. There are many parts to his argument, and I am not as convinced as he appears to be that the flight from public reason is a permanent fact of life, but along the way he has many suggestive things to say. And his analysis of last year's curious cultural juxtaposition of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa is, I think, one of the best reflections on the subject I've seen: “The power of the plausible person to appeal both to the post-modern and to the incompletely so did not go unnoticed. In the English parliamentary elections, Tony Blair and the Laborites adopted the language of plausible persons. Telegenic, well dressed, and well groomed, they said and emoted the right things; and they won, easily defeating a Tory Party that relied on modernism's facts and figures to make its case to the people. Mr. Blair further demonstrated his supreme plausibility at the funeral of Princess Diana. In a sea of plausible persons, here was a man who could read St. Paul's hymn to charity with style, and then downplay its potentially offensive Christian presuppositions by sentimentalizing to the pop eulogy of Elton John. He put St. Paul's words into their proper postmodern context, where one song is as good as another, as long as it makes the audience feel something good about itself. Diana's funeral was the model of postmodern events, as celebrities, the ultimate in plausible persons, mourned for one of their own. Sung during the procession, the words of the ancient Burial Office were reduced to part of the show. Then, speaking the words of the postmodern Alternative Service Book, the participating clergy demonstrated their bland, vaguely spiritual ability not to give offense, or to draw unseemly attention to such questions as the possible existence of an absolute truth in Jesus Christ. In contrast, the funeral of Mother Teresa the following week was anything but a postmodern ‘concert with a corpse.' A simple chorus of novice nuns served as the choir, singing with a religious seriousness missing in the technically exquisite music that framed Elton John's performance at Diana's ‘event.' The bishops and priests who conducted the service made little effort to appear plausible or to reassure the postmoderns that they were only kidding about the resurrection and the life in Christ. They delivered the same funeral that they would have given anyone else according to the Roman rite. While the cameras followed Diana's funeral in riveted silence, so as not to disrupt the music or speeches, during Mother Teresa's funeral, the networks repeatedly cut away, with apologies for the ‘boring' canon of the Roman Mass. The speakers were often silenced, so that the commentators could raise questions about the morality of the deceased's Christian opposition to abortion. The same commentators also attempted to rehabilitate Mother Teresa in postmodern terms, stressing her ability to work with people of other faiths, as if this proved that she did not take her Christianity or Roman Catholicism too seriously. The person they praised was not the intensely faithful woman whose body lay in the box before them, but a plausible person who thought that all religions were good and more or less equally true.”
• Chaplain at Cambridge for some thirty years, Monsignor Alfred Gilbey recently died at age ninety-six. The obituary in the London Times said “he was the last Roman Catholic priest of his kind and had been for a considerable time.” In latter years he lived at the Travellers' Club and, until a few months ago, walked each day to say 7:30 Mass in St. Wilfred's chapel of the Brompton Oratory. We had lunch in New York in 1995 on his first visit to this country, and he declared himself very pleased with America. “I will not wait another ninety-four years before coming again,” he said. He was most elegant in manner, but the Times notes there was “a certain asceticism” about him. “He might counsel a dinner companion against ordering a certain dish and then choose it for himself, as a gentle exercise in self-mortification.” He was altogether a remarkable and gentle man. Requiescat in pace.
• I take nothing back from what has been said in these pages about the judicial usurpation of politics in the U.S. But then one looks northward and is grateful that here we still have a fighting chance. King's University College in Edmonton, Alberta, a Christian school, had dismissed an instructor for his public homosexual practices which, said the administration, violated the foundational beliefs of the college. Canada's Supreme Court has now issued a unanimous decision that the school violated the instructor's human rights. The court noted that the province of Alberta's human rights law did not include sexual orientation, declaring that it was now remedying the omission by “reading in” that provision, effective immediately. It is almost unimaginable that an American court would on this question so arrogantly ride roughshod over the political process and the free exercise rights of a religious institution. Almost. At present. Of course there is still a fighting chance in Canada, too. If anyone had the nerve for it.
• A few months ago, the Wall Street Journal carried a story, “Striking Behavior: The Ezzos Sell Parents Some Tough Advice: Don't Spare the Rod.” Gary Ezzo has written a slew of books that are a big thing in the evangelical Christian market and are now being picked up in some Catholic circles. Dr. Thomas Mezzetti and Jacintha Mezzetti have written a hard-hitting critique of the Ezzo approach, called “Neo-Evangelizing the Catholic Family with an Alien Gospel.” Readers may write the Mezzettis (5117 White Flint Dr., Kensington, MD 20895) or get a copy of the essay on the website (http://members.aol.com/ncp2000/index.html). This is not my area of expertise, but it strikes me as an important debate about what it means to rear children in the fear and love of the Lord.
• Somewhere along the way Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr said he sometimes sings hymns while jogging in the morning. Or maybe somebody caught him in the act. In any event, it has become a prime exhibit in the media prosecution of Mr. Starr as a very weird person. So weird, and dangerous, that he is even looking into books that “that woman” gave Mr. Clinton as presents, including what is apparently a semi-pornographic novel called Vox. Some of the chief elements in what the New York Times insists is not a culture war are blatantly on display in a column by Maureen Dowd: “I must admit that it is amusing to think of the prissy Independent Counsel, who attended Bible College and who still reads the Bible and sings hymns when he jogs, poring over the raunchy, heavy-breathing phone exchanges in Vox.” That's a nice touch: He still reads the Bible. How weird can you get?
• The news is the first draft of history, Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post is supposed to have said. More often, the news is what fills up the space on page three. For instance, a very busy cardinal in the Curia had agreed to give a lecture on “the Church” in connection with a Roman anniversary. Having not read anything on the subject for years, he sent his secretary to the library to get “some books on ecclesiology.” The secretary brought back a wide selection, including one by a German theologian who is a famous dissident. The lecture was a cut-and-paste job, including an item from column A, another from column B, and so forth. Sure enough, the famous dissident was uncritically quoted, and this was reported by someone at La Repubblica who didn't have anything better to write about that day. Then it was picked up by the Times of London; and pretty soon Father Thomas Reese, S.J., author of a guidebook called Inside the Vatican, was joining others in public ponderings about Rome's new opening to the left. The story is not the first draft of history, just a minor gaffe of a type familiar to those who know about life inside the Vatican.
• Almost nobody engaged in the city's public life could not know Bella Abzug, she of the loud mouth and broad-brimmed hats. She was a determinedly vulgar woman with a nonstop ego, a caricature that might have been invented by the opponents of a certain style of feminism. But others claim to have been inspired by her. Hillary Clinton, for instance, gathered with about a hundred women in Washington, all wearing big hats, to honor Bella's memory. Among the speakers was Representative Maxine Waters, who boldly declared, “We owe it to Bella to really kind of recommit ourselves.” Really. Kind of.
• I have to say it from time to time: While this space is a “continuing survey” it is by no means an exhaustive survey. Many things of enormous moment go unmentioned here, which does not suggest that they are not of enormous moment. One such item was the refusal of the Republican National Committee to adopt a policy of declining to support any candidate who does not oppose partial-birth abortion. Does the fact that it went unmentioned here mean that I think the decision is not objectionable? Not at all. It is morally contemptible. I say that even though I have great respect for some of those who opposed a “litmus test,” and understand their political reasoning. Partial-birth abortion is infanticide. While many refuse to use that term, nobody even attempts to offer an argument that it does not typically involve the killing of a healthy and fully formed baby who is within three inches of being definitively born. It is objected that this reasoning would lead to a “litmus test” against any support for abortion, which is the killing of an innocent child. There is much to be said for that, but a case can be made (not an entirely convincing case) that the widespread confusion about abortion in general is a politically pertinent fact to be taken into prudential account. No sane person, however, is confused about what is done in partial-birth abortion. The RNC decision has done severe damage to the claim that Republicans are “the pro-life party.” At the same time, it may continue to be a necessary instrument in working toward the goal of “every unborn child protected in law and welcomed in life.” The cynics in the RNC count on the indispensability of the party to the pro-life movement. On that score they may be in for some rude surprises from the likes of James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council. In any event, the RNC decision is yet another reminder that, whether with this party or any party, the psalmist had it right when he counseled, “Put not your trust in princes.”
• Said the Rev. Dr. Albert M. Pennybacker, “It's classic Washington collaborative convergence.” It's also the kind of thing that gives collaboration a bad name. He was speaking for the National Council of Churches, which was employed by a lobbying firm called the Fratelli Group, which was, in turn, hired by a business lobby called USA*Engage, which was, in further turn, created by several hundred corporations-and all this to fight human rights and religious groups that supported the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act. The act, sponsored by Frank Wolf and Alan Specter, is an historic measure that aims to entrench religious persecution among the concerns to be taken into account in U.S. foreign policy, and it provides moderate sanctions against egregious offenders such as China and Sudan. It is supported, I believe rightly, by a wide range of religious groups, from the Union of American Hebrew Congregations to the U.S. Catholic Conference to the National Association of Evangelicals, and by major human rights organizations. A USA*Engage memo that has been made public says, “Business would not be the best group to be out front on this issue. . . . Religious leaders and religious organizations should take the lead for best results.” With handsome funding available, the National Council of Churches volunteered to be recruited and led an international group of religious leaders to lobby on Capitol Hill against the Religious Persecution Act and in favor of the proposition that the U.S. should continue to do business as usual with regimes that persecute Christians and other believers. The phrase is worth remembering: “collaborative convergence.”
• Here's a new twist. Some politicians met with angry constituents and tried to appease them. The Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is outraged. The politicians were Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator Trent Lott, and the constituents were Christian conservatives such as James Dobson and Gary Bauer. What this means, says Lynn, is that “Leaders in Congress made a deal with the devil and now they're having to give the devil his due.” Religious conservatives have been called many things, but it is worth noting for the record the Rev. Lynn's ratcheting of the rhetoric.
• Surreal is the word for it. In late April, President Clinton met with members of the National Association of Evangelicals and asked them to withdraw their support for the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act, which would provide mild sanctions against countries engaged in egregious persecution of Christians and other believers. The act would, said the President, put “enormous pressure” on his Administration to “fudge” the facts about persecution by nations such as China with which he wants to do business. The man elected to see that laws are faithfully executed tells religious leaders they should not put him in a position of not enforcing the law. Was it only a year ago that Mr. Clinton was publicly musing about what might be his legacy?
• The opening passage of Roger Ebert's review of City of Angels is worth a ponder: “Angels are big right now in pop entertainment, no doubt because everybody gets one. New Age spirituality is me-oriented, and gives its followers top billing in the soap operas of their own lives. People like to believe they've had lots of previous incarnations, get messages in their dreams, and are psychic. But according to the theory of karma, if you were Joan of Arc in a past life and are currently reduced to studying Marianne Williamson paperbacks, you must have made a wrong turn. When there's a trend toward humility and selflessness, then we'll know we're getting somewhere on the spiritual front. That time is not yet. City of Angels hits the crest of the boom in angel movies-and like most of them it's a love story. Hollywood is interested in priests and nuns only when they break the vow of chastity, and with angels only when they get the hots for humans. Can you imagine a movie in which a human renounces sexuality and hopes to become an angel?”
• A thirty-three-page attack on “The Gift of Salvation” by John Robbins, Ph.D., in the April issue of Trinity Review (Unicoi, Tennessee) begins with this: “To put it bluntly, Colson and Neuhaus are the front men (the Romanists, as well as the Communists, are adept at using fronts) in an imperialist papal plan to regain control, first of the churches, and ultimately of the world.” So little time and so much to do.
• “Moral equivalency” was a phrase much used during the Cold War to describe a mindset determined to fudge the difference between the evil empire and other empires that are far from perfect. Thus: “Yes, it is true the Soviets put political dissidents into lunatic asylums and persecute Christians and other believers, but there is still racism in America and look what we're doing to the ozone layer.” Moral equivalence is the right term for a recent speech by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright opposing the Wolf-Specter bill, which would provide mild penalties for countries engaged in religious persecution. “Even the most patriotic among us,” she said, “must admit that neither morality nor religious freedom nor respect for human rights were invented here-nor are they perfectly practiced here. . . . If we are to be effective in defending the values we cherish, we must also take into account the perspectives and values of others.” The “perspectives and values” of the Chinese regime mandate the arrest, torture, and forced labor of Christians who belong to churches that refuse to submit to government control, the Saudis permit no open Christian worship at all, the Sudan enslaves Christian children, and in Pakistan Muslims who convert to Christianity are punished by death. That countries have such odious “perspectives and values” must indeed be taken into account, but Ms. Albright's point seems to be that they should be sympathetically taken into account, as in don't criticize them. The idea of human rights, with religious freedom as the first among them, was not “invented” by the U.S., nor can it be the sole concern of foreign policy. But from the Declaration's “We hold these truths to be self-evident” through most of American history, this country has played a singular role in pressing for an elementary recognition of human dignity. It is a great sadness that the current Administration has, in relation to China and other gross violators of human rights, regressed to the reprehensible doctrine that what is good for U.S. business is good for the world. Had the Clinton-Albright doctrine of moral equivalence been operative in the 1980s, we would still be resigned to “peaceful coexistence” with the evil empire of the Soviet Union. We do well, I think, to support the boycott of all things marked “Made in China,” including U.S. foreign policy.
• Reason to stand up and cheer is the appearance of “A Call to Civil Society: Why Democracy Needs Moral Truths.” Issued in New York at the end of May, this important statement comes from the Council on Civil Society, a project involving nationally prominent thinkers and jointly backed by the Institute for American Values and the University of Chicago Divinity School. Among the signers are Don S. Browning, David Blankenhorn, Senator Dan Coats, John DiIulio, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Francis Fukuyama, William A. Galston, Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Glenn C. Loury, Cornel West, James Q. Wilson, and Daniel Yankelovich. “A Call to Civil Society” is a thirty-page, very handsomely printed manifesto that addresses in a comprehensive way the rejuvenation of the chief institutions of democratic society, with very specific reference to religion and communities of faith. We will no doubt be coming back to this important initiative in these pages. For a copy of the statement, write the Institute for American Values (1841 Broadway, Suite 211, New York, NY 10023).
• Anyone who feels guilty about sleeping soundly might pick up Lee M. Silver's Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World (Avon). Headless tadpoles have been done, next is headless human beings, bodies created and grown for purposes of organ transplants. This is but a small part of the world that Silver envisions in the future, one which includes the possibility that the wealthy with access to all the refinements of genetic engineering may one day breed themselves into being a different species from the poor. “Many paths can be followed to reach the goal of having a child,” he writes, and the validity of paths chosen should be judged “not by their intrinsic nature but by the love that a parent gives to the child after she or he is born.” This proposal that love can displace nature is evident also in Ted Peters' For the Love of Children: Genetic Technology and the Future of the Family, which is incisively criticized in Nancy Pearcey's review in the February issue. Reviewing the Silver book in the New York Times, Paul Raeburn concludes, “Whether or not we can produce humans without heads, Silver seems to be saying, we ought to be sure they have hearts.” The hearts of human beings without heads, one might observe, will be good only for heart transplants.
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