The Public Square
The Senate's “comprehensive” immigration bill has been sidelined for a time but will surely return in one form or another in the near future. Everybody recognizes that there is a very big immigration problem, but disagreements over how to define and how to remedy the problem could hardly be more intense. The proposal to send all illegal immigrants back and seal the border is at one extreme, and the proposal to abolish the border and let them all in is at the other. The first proposal is generally recognized as outlandish, while the second has a few reputable proponents.
Opponents of the Senate bill brought many charges against it. It was derided as an “amnesty” bill, and critics claimed we had been there before, in 1986, with a measure that produced the problem we're now trying to remedy. Moreover, it was said, amnesty blurs, if it does not obliterate, the distinction between legal and illegal activity, a distinction vital to the social order. Then there was the “guest worker” provision that raised for many the specter of millions of residents who would never become citizens and the related problems that Europe has experienced with guest workers. Add to that the bill's proposal of a complex system of “Z-visas,” and it is not surprising that, in light of what has happened in the past, many Americans felt their intelligence insulted by the claim that the government is competent to find, process, and reliably certify the twelve million or more illegal immigrants already in the country, never mind the thousands crossing the border every day.
These and other considerations informed the intense reaction against the Senate bill. But I believe it is fair to say that the chief factor, and a factor weaving its way through most of the other arguments, is anxiety about national sovereignty, even, if you will, national dignity. Myriad arguments were paraphrases of the claim of presidential candidate Fred Thompson that this is our American home and we should be able to decide who lives in our home. The immigration debate is about what to do about illegal immigrants. It is also, if not more so, a debate about America and what it means to be an American. If anyone doubted that before, it should now be evident to all.
Among Catholic bishops, and among religious leaders in all communities, nobody has been more outspoken in this debate than Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles. Last year he received widespread media attention when he declared that he would engage in civil disobedience rather than comply with a law requiring him to report illegal immigrants, and he directed priests and other church workers to follow his lead. Many expressed admiration for his bold, even prophetic, stance, while others charged him with grandstanding, pointing out that nobody was suggesting that IDs should be checked at Mass or soup kitchens.
More recently, Cardinal Mahony offered a comprehensive account of the Church's position on comprehensive immigration reform at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. He very specifically and repeatedly asserted that he was setting forth “the underpinnings of the position of the Catholic Church on immigration reform legislation.” His lecture is sprinkled with expressions such as “the church leadership argues that . . .”; “the Church maintains that . . .”; and “the Church's position is . . .” We are clearly given to understand that he is not merely expressing his own views or speaking in his capacity as the archbishop of Los Angeles but is speaking for the Catholic Church.
Immigration, the cardinal says, has to do with much more than what we ordinarily mean by the economy. He notes that economy comes from the Greek oikonomia, which means the arrangement of a household. The concern, he says, is “the full flourishing of everyone who is part of God's economy, household, or community. The question is, Who belongs in the household? Is God's good household roomy enough for all? Or who precisely is the we in we the people?” At points in his presentation, it seems that God's household is the Church; at other points, it is the people of Israel. In the latter connection he cites Deuteronomy 10, “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” and Exodus 22, “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” At yet at other points, God's household seems to be the entire human race.
“As a Christian,” says the cardinal, “there are no prior commitments that can overrule or trump this biblical tradition of compassion for the stranger, the alien and the worker.” “These scriptural and theological foundations can be applied to the current debate on immigration in our country.” Current policies are “unjust” and “immoral.” They do not provide that all workers “reap the fruit of their labor in dignity and with full rights in this society.” “Thus, to restore order to God's household, we must ensure that all are welcome to the table.” And thus “the question becomes whether those who reside outside the law have the same claim to a seat at the table as those who are not outside.” To that question, “church leaders say yes.” If I understand him correctly, the distinction between the outlaw and the law-abiding is, at least with respect to immigration policy, morally irrelevant.
There is a passing reference to respect for “national sovereignty,” so long as it is not construed as “a fiction of artificial national security.” This is immediately followed by the assertion that the Church's position “is grounded in a proper view of economics, true to the etymology of the term, which emerged in ancient civilizations and in early Christian history to describe the arrangement of a household—God's household, which is ordered and open to those who long to sit at the table which they helped set.”
Cardinal Mahony's concern for the well-being of illegal immigrants is laudable—and unavoidable in view of the population mix of Los Angeles and southern California. It is a concern we all must share. The difficulties many of these people encounter are severe but not, in their own judgment, as severe as the difficulties they encounter south of the border, or else presumably they would not be here. It is a pity that the cardinal's comprehensive address on these questions does not touch on ways to encourage the economic and social development of Mexico. Such ways are persuasively suggested in, for instance, the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, which is the teaching of the Catholic Church.
A greater difficulty with the cardinal's lecture, however, is the facile move from Bible quoting to public-policy prescription. That move is less characteristic of Catholic social thought than of the habits of biblical fundamentalists. The cardinal's position is devoid of respect for what Pope Benedict repeatedly stresses as the role of reason in rightly ordering the sphere of the “authentically secular.”
But most striking and, I believe, unfortunate is the cardinal's conceptually confused but unmistakable attack on the nation-state, both in its domestic responsibilities and in the international order. Such an attack has no warrant in Catholic social doctrine. To be sure, God's household encompasses all, and the Church teaches “the universal destination of goods.” At the same time, she also respects the temporal instrumentalities of justice, however inadequate, such as the nation-state. The cardinal correctly says that the question is “who precisely is the we in we the people?” To which, as the current immigration debate has underscored, most Americans respond, in accord with the preamble to the Constitution, We the people of the United States. Cardinal Mahony says that he speaks for the Church. Fortunately, and while he is undoubtedly an important voice in the Church, that is not true.
America, Islam, and a Somewhat More Peaceful World
“In Russia, reforms that were once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development.” That line got some media attention, but the rest of President Bush's June 6 speech in Prague was largely ignored. It is an important restatement of this administration's understanding of America's role in the world. That understanding can be summed up, according to the president, in one word: freedom.
One welcomes in this speech his naming of the enemy as “violent Islamic extremists.” There is no more pretending that the threat has nothing to do with “the peaceful religion” of Islam. The better one-word name for the enemy, I believe, is Jihadism, but it is good that the administration is no longer shying away from the clear reference to Islam, even as it rightly recognizes that “millions in the Muslim world” do not share the murderous ideology of the Jihadists.
Mr. Bush describes that ideology this way: “The extremists' ambition is to build a totalitarian empire that spans all current and former Muslim lands, including parts of Europe.” One notes that some of the ideologists, as Mary Habeck and other scholars of Islam have carefully documented, do not limit their ambitions to current and former Muslim lands.
Mr. Bush repeats the language of his second inaugural, in which “I pledged America to the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” He adds: “There is the contention that ending tyranny is unrealistic. . . . At every stage of the Cold War, there were those who argued that the Berlin Wall was permanent. History has sent a different message.” Within the very long range of human history, one might point out, the Berlin Wall is a small episode. The ending of tyranny in the world is an eschatological hope, not a political policy, and one wishes the president's language would reflect that fact of life.
A Very Great Distance
At the same time, he is right to underscore evidences of progress. “At the start of the 1980s, there were only 45 democracies on earth. There are now more than 120 democracies—more people now live in freedom than ever before.” He goes on to say, “We stand firmly behind the people of Lebanon and Afghanistan and Iraq as they defend their democratic gains against extremist enemies.” As for “valued partners” such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Palestine, the United States is using its influence “to expand liberty and transparency,” while it acknowledges that “they have a great distance still to travel.” A very great distance, one might add, especially with respect to the Saudis' worldwide promotion of jihadist ideology in the form of the Wahhabist version of Islam. But there is considerable truth in Mr. Bush's observation that “as our relationships with South Korea and Taiwan during the Cold War prove, America can maintain a friendship and push a nation toward democracy at the same time.” Once again, and throughout this major address, everything comes back to freedom. Notes from the Magic Kingdom
“Extending the reach of freedom is a mission that unites democracies around the world. Some say that ending tyranny means ‘imposing our values' on people who do not share them, or that people live in parts of the world where freedom cannot take hold. That is refuted by the fact that every time people are given a choice, they choose freedom. History shows that ultimately freedom conquers fear. And given a chance, freedom will conquer fear in every nation on earth.”
This relentless focus on freedom is hardly new with George W. Bush. It is deeply embedded in the rhetoric and ideals of America from our beginnings. In more recent history, Jimmy Carter, with a particular accent on human rights, gave freedom a renewed policy priority; and, of course, Reagan presided over the demise of the “evil empire,” which was viewed as the triumph of what was unhesitatingly described as “the free world.”
Marxism, however, was different from the Islamic challenge. Marx, too, unfurled the banner of freedom, promising that the communist path would eventually lead to the kingdom of freedom in which politics is displaced by rational management and every man would be his own master. Marxism and liberal democracy shared the same goal, at least rhetorically, and that goal was freedom. This is not the case with Islamic Jihadism. The very word Islam, we do well to remember, means submission. Every time we in the West use the word freedom with reference to the struggle in which we are engaged, ideologists on the other side exultantly point out that our cause is, at its very core, un-Islamic. They add with relish, and considerable justice, that our vaunted freedom has produced the moral decadence associated with the Western democracies, and not least the United States.
The claim that we are imposing our values, says the president, “is refuted by the fact that every time people are given a choice, they choose freedom.” It is by no means evident that the people of Iraq, for instance, who bravely turned out in the millions to participate in elections, were choosing freedom. It is more likely they were voting for the dominance of their tribe against other tribes determined to dominate them. It would seem that freedom, as the liberal-democratic tradition construes freedom, is, in fact, un-Islamic.
In the past, and at present, liberal democracy is not the only alternative to “tyranny.” There have been and there are today relatively benign forms of monarchy or oligarchy, also in Islamic countries. Our country's devotion to the dignity of the human person and human rights should be unequivocal. As should be our commitment to the political principle articulated in the Declaration of Independence: “To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
In no country is that consent unanimous, and it need not be secured in the way that it is secured—or approximately secured—in liberal democracies. It is more than conceivable that millions of Muslims desire to live under a government that can make a plausible claim to be Islamic and that is humane and respectful of basic human rights. Admittedly, and to put it gently, examples of such governments do not come readily to mind. But there are Muslim thinkers—usually and somewhat misleadingly called moderates—who believe that such a form of government is possible, and we should be listening to them. Although the evidence is scarce, there are in Turkey and Indonesia promising, albeit fragile, efforts toward such government.
America must not in any way surrender its devotion to freedom and democracy, although it is always important for Americans to remind themselves that freedom does not mean license and that popular opinion does not preclude moral principle. But it is past time to ask ourselves whether, challenged by Islam and the Jihadists who would define Islam, our monothematic language about “freedom” and “democracy” when describing America's role in the world is not inadvertently contributing to the defeat of the more decent and peaceful world for which we hope. There is another vocabulary of “justice” and “respect” that can advance the same goals but has a more positive resonance in Islamic cultures.
To be sure, there are still those who believe that the putatively inexorable dynamics of “secularization” will, in time, eliminate Islam—and, for that matter, religion itself—as a significant factor in world affairs. Fortunately, their narrative of world-historical change is recognized as less plausible with every passing year. Islam is here to stay. The question is whether America can present its purposes in the world in a manner friendly to Muslims seeking to institute governments that, in a believably Muslim way, derive their powers from the consent of the governed. It is possible that the answer to that question is in the negative. If so, it would seem that there is no alternative to bracing ourselves for the escalation of an open-ended clash of civilizations.
Notes from the Magic Kingdom
A friend calls it “the magic kingdom.” He means Vatican City and, more particularly, the Apostolic Palace within Vatican City. That's where the pope lives, along with some senior members of the Curia and the staff, mainly composed of nuns, that takes care of their domestic needs. Some of the apartments are rather grand, with murals by Raphael and other Renaissance geniuses to be discovered in bathrooms and similarly unexpected places. “It isn't home, but it's much.” That's a quip regularly offered by cardinals and archbishops when welcoming a guest to dinner. What Is It For? While We're At It
I don't go to Rome as often as some suppose, but a week every once in a while helps, as Dr. Johnson put it, to keep friendships in good repair. It seems like a perpetual round of eating, drinking, and talking. Mainly talking, for which eating and drinking are both excuse and convivial aid. (This sometimes means restaurants that, since the introduction of the euro, are as pricey as New York. That's a big and unwelcome change.) Herewith some impressions of possible interest on matters both momentous and trivial.
After a little more than two years, one senses deep satisfaction and a measure of relief with respect to the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Deep satisfaction rather than overt enthusiasm or excitement. The feeling is that the twenty-six years of John Paul II were excitements enough for a while. The measure of relief is that Ratzinger has settled into his new role with apparent ease and seems to be in vibrant health for a man of eighty years. It is occasionally mentioned that Leo XIII was pope until age ninety-three, but the frequently stated assumption is that this is likely to be a short pontificate. That is reasonable enough from an actuarial viewpoint, but my hunch, for what it's worth, is that Benedict may well have another ten years.
Vatican City is the world's smallest sovereign nation, with less than 109 acres and about 650 resident citizens. A few thousand others work there but live outside the boundaries of the city. There are endless novels and conspiracy theories about “the secrets of the Vatican” and the cryptic goings on of cardinals scurrying about on furtive errands cloaked in deepest mystery. The everyday reality is, of course, more mundane, entailing much shuffling of papers and meetings without end. What officials in the Vatican have in common is that they understand that they are there to serve one man, the pope, who is understood as Peter among us.
This is not to say that there are not conspiracies, rivalries, and jockeying for positions. A substantial part of the table talk is about who is up and who is down and who is likely to be replaced by whom and why. But, in the various dicasteries—as the congregations and other offices are called—the atmosphere is one of earnestness of purpose in serving the pope. Everybody wants the pontificate to succeed, although there are no doubt different definitions of success. Many years ago I visited the Vatican with a sociologist friend, and we met with many of the top curial officials. After our visit, my friend, a student of corporate and other institutional forms of leadership, offered the opinion that, in terms of competence, the Vatican leadership compared very favorably. I mentioned this to a curial prelate who said he was pleased to hear it, and just a little surprised. Another said he never did have a very high opinion of the competence of business leaders.
Of course, the Vatican is in world-historical terms a center of influence, if not of power as power is ordinarily defined. It has about it, however, a very different feel than, say, Washington, D.C. The pope is not to the Vatican what the president is to Washington. In Washington it is all politics all the time, with declared parties overtly contesting for advantage, led by politicians effusing self-importance. There are exceptions, of course, but that is my impression, based on my limited experience of Washington. In the Vatican the prevailing manner is subtlety, nuance, and indirection, with personal ambition and agendas subordinated, or ostensibly subordinated, to serving the pontificate in the service of the Church.
It makes a difference that everyone with whom you meet has read the Daily Office and said Mass that morning. Everyone who is a cleric, that is, which is almost everyone. When I was much younger and first visited Rome, I gazed up at the Basilica of St. Peter's and, surveying all the surrounding grandeur, asked myself what all this was for. For the glory of God, of course, and for the display of man's God-given genius. But finally, I thought, it is all to help ensure that through the centuries there will be those who “do this” in fidelity to the apostolic understanding of Our Lord's command. The this is the Eucharist, the event that is, according to the Second Vatican Council, the “source and summit” of the Church's life. That is what Rome is for.
Naturally, there was much discussion of Benedict's first two years. What are emerging as the characteristic themes of this pontificate? The answers are varied, but there would seem to be at least these five: (1) faith, reason, and the future of modernity; (2) clarifying the distinction between sacred and secular; (3) cultivating a more intensely personal faith; (4) renewing liturgy through tradition; (5) Christian unity. Not necessarily, I quickly add, in that order of importance.
Carrying forward the argument of John Paul II's encyclical Fides et Ratio, Benedict has repeatedly lifted up the logos of reason at the heart of Christian faith. This was set forth with dramatic effect in his lecture at Regensburg in September 2006 (see “The Regensburg Moment,” November). The passing reference to Islam at Regensburg caught most of the attention, but the lecture was a plea for intellectuals in the West, both Christian and non-Christian, to rescue modernity from its abandonment of reason. This theme continues his intensive engagement with Western intellectuals when he was Cardinal Ratzinger. In that engagement he shows himself to be an Augustinian and, at times, a very Augustinian Thomist—a radical humanist underscoring the ways in which man is crippled when he denies the undeniable aspiration toward the transcendent.
This theme is prominent in his first—and, to date, only—encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, insisting on the eros fulfilled in the love of God. As it was also displayed in his reflections on the Church Fathers at his Wednesday audiences, which included a veritable rehabilitation of the third-century Origen, who has for centuries been under a cloud of suspicion. But one can cite numerous other instances of the insistent articulation of this theme of faith and reason that has become pervasive in this pontificate.
Then there is the distinction between sacred and secular. If anyone had doubted it before, Christendom is emphatically over. The Church seeks no temporal power. She demands only libertas ecclesiae, the freedom to proclaim and live the gospel of Christ. Of course, this is not new with Benedict. It was a theme embraced by Leo XIII but has been asserted with increasing clarity in subsequent pontificates. Benedict is not much interested in the particulars of political structures and policies. He is, I think it fair to say, not much interested in politics. I do not expect he will issue anything like Centesimus Annus, John Paul II's great 1991 encyclical on social doctrine. In Deus Caritas Est and on many other occasions, Benedict speaks of the “authentically secular” and the “autonomy of the secular” that is the business of temporal authorities. His encyclical focuses on the particular role (opus proprium) of the Church, which is the ministry of witness and of charity in societies that will never be completely just.
As for the cultivation of a more intensely personal faith, with specific reference to the Christian's relationship with the Lord, recall his sermon, immediately before his election as pope, on Jesus as our friend. The text was the word of Jesus, “I call you friends,” and Benedict dramatically ended his reflection with, “Thank you, Jesus, for your friendship!” The personal relationship with Jesus was a theme powerfully reiterated by the pope at the meeting of Latin American bishops in Brazil. He comes back to it again and again, and it is a note repeatedly sounded in his book Jesus of Nazareth. The public expression of the powerful Marian devotion voiced by John Paul II is somewhat muted in this pontificate. That may have something to do with Benedict's lifelong interaction with non-Catholics, who typically do not understand that Mariology is entirely and without remainder in the service of Christology.
Then there is the matter of liturgy. In Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict returned to Ratzinger's longstanding insistence that liturgy is “traditioned,” that it is historical and organic, not designed and “fabricated.” (See the commentary on Sacramentum Caritatis, “Pope Benedict on Reforming the Reform,” June/July 2006.) As of this writing, we still do not have the motu proprio extending the use of the pre-1969 Roman Rite in Latin. I expect it will be accompanied by an extended restatement of Benedict's vision of the renewal of liturgy through tradition. Liturgical reform was not anywhere near the top of John Paul II's concerns. His experience was with Poland and Rome, both of which were relatively immune to the liturgical silly season that gripped much of the Catholic world. Benedict is keenly aware of the widespread “destabilization” that followed the council and is determined to remedy that without destabilizing it even further.
The fifth priority—not necessarily, but possibly, in order of emphasis—is ecumenism. The ecumenical priority for Rome is always and of necessity with the Orthodox. The East was suspicious of a Slavic pope, which is understandable in light of the historic tensions between Orthodox and Catholic in that part of the world. With Benedict there have been promising gestures from the East, and the Orthodox-Catholic theological dialogue is more or less back on track. But the path toward ecclesial reconciliation between East and West is long and winding, extending well beyond the horizon.
Benedict is much more familiar than was John Paul with the separated Christian communities of the West. I think he knows that the ecumenical movement dating from Edinburgh in 1910 is, for most theological and practical purposes, dead. The most promising Catholic dialogues were with the Lutherans and the Anglicans, but the Lutherans have settled into being a permanently separated Protestant denomination, and the reconfiguration of the Anglican Communion is, to say the least, uncertain. Ratzinger-Benedict has long underscored the long-term, even eschatological, nature of the hope for Christian unity. We are, he has persistently said, awaiting a breakthrough of the Holy Spirit that we can cannot now anticipate and certainly cannot control. And then there are the quite new challenges posed by the explosion of the Christian movement in the Global South. On the ecumenical front, I have the sense that the earnest purpose of this pontificate is to keep hope alive.
These, then, are some of the impressions gained from a week of conversations in Rome. There is also the matter of governance, both the substance and the style of it in this pontificate. He has de facto, if not de jure, restored the earlier arrangement in which the pope is the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Many expected changes in curial leadership have been very slow in coming. And the worry is expressed that the changes that have been made threaten the internationalization of the Curia that was so vigorously advanced by Paul VI and John Paul II. “He is allowing the Italians to make a strong bid to reassert what they think is their natural right to control the papacy,” observes one high—and, needless to say, non-Italian—official.
As I said, I do not go to Rome very often. In fact, I had not been back since Benedict's election in the spring of 2005. But it is a good thing to do from time to time; to keep friendships in good repair and to get a fresh perspective from the coordinating center of the universal Church, at least to the extent that the Church has a coordinating center. Benedict was seventy-eight when he was elected. John Paul was fifty-eight. Those around Benedict are understandably concerned to protect his long-established way of life. John Paul was irrepressibly gregarious and the papal apartment was run something like an open house. Benedict is gentle, reserved, and his activities are scheduled to the minute. Some say it is the natural difference between a Pole and a German, and there is no doubt something to that. But everybody agrees, and many express surprise, that Benedict seems to be, if one may be permitted to say so, enjoying being pope. Which is one reason why some of us keep Leo XIII in mind when people talk about a short pontificate.
What Is It For?
While We're At It
• “The personal is the political.” That was the truly ugly slogan of lefties a few decades ago and, it is to be feared, the belief of many, on both the left and the right, today. You may have seen this bumper sticker: “If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.” The website of the Democratic National Committee asserts that “outrage must be taken to the ballot box.” And you may remember Bob Dole's 1994 campaign asking, “Where's the outrage?” The odd thing, writes Arthur Brooks of Syracuse University, is that, according to the survey research, the most outraged claim to be the happiest. One recalls Hubert Humphrey's 1968 slogan: “The politics of happiness.” Liberals hate conservatives and conservatives hate liberals, and that makes both feel good about themselves. Brooks reports that extremists at both ends of the spectrum are less compassionate and less loving toward their families, and less generous with their money. He writes: “So how on earth could these people be happier than the rest of us? Perhaps the intensity of their political views animates them in some positive way, giving them a sense of purpose. Or maybe there is something else about the life of the average extremist that brings lots of joy. In either case, what we see is that the anger we associate with the far left and far right is apparently compatible with their happiness. The trouble is that, while radicals may be happy, they undoubtedly lower the happiness of the rest of us through their intolerance and antisocial ways—spewing out what economists call ‘externalities' with every insulting bumper sticker and obnoxious street demonstration. Political nastiness is something akin to pollution. As 2008 approaches, we can expect to endure plenty of this pollution if, as generally happens, politicians tailor their primary rhetoric to the extremes. I'm unhappy to predict that we appear to be in for a year of the ‘politics of happiness.'” There is much and legitimate criticism of consumerism, and there are few consumerisms more spiritually and intellectually debilitating than to be consumed by politics—as in “The personal is the political.” On the other hand, read what Harvey Mansfield has to say about thumos in this issue.
• Speaking of obsession with politics, you might be surprised to know how often I encounter people who say they love the magazine but are put off by the political commentary. I can't help but think they have politics too much on the mind. I, for one, have rather definite views about a range of political topics, but politics, in the ordinary sense of the term, is a small part of subjects addressed in First Things. Or so it seems to me. But, just to check that out, I asked a couple of the folks on staff to do a contents analysis of the past four years. In opinion pieces, feature articles, and book reviews, it turns out that the number-one subject category, far and away, is theology, both Catholic and Protestant, with too infrequent engagement with Orthodoxy. Vying for second place are literature and the life questions (abortion, bioethics, etc.). Then, in order, come philosophy (including political philosophy), constitutional law (including church/state questions), history, and science. Of course, there are many other categories: Judaism, Islam, ecumenism, family and marriage, poverty, economics, and world affairs. While the contents analysis did not include this section, The Public Square, I expect that including it would not affect the general pattern. There's nothing wrong with being a political magazine, and we reserve the right to give occasional attention to who's up and who's down, who's in and who's out, and the conflicts over the definitions of ideologies. But there are plenty of political magazines around. We describe ourselves as a “journal of religion, culture, and public life.” As we said in our first issue, in March 1990, the first thing to be said about religion, culture, and public life is that the first thing about first things is not politics. I may not be the best judge of the matter, but I'm inclined to think that, over these seventeen years, we've done a fair job of adhering to that maxim.
• “How the West Really Lost God.” The title of Mary Eberstadt's essay in Policy Review somewhat overstates her argument. I expect the editors came up with the title to catch attention. The assiduously documented essay is certainly deserving of attention. A now discredited “secularization theory” (still to be found in textbooks from fifth grade to graduate school) is that, as people became more educated—read “enlightened”—religion would inevitably decline on its way to disappearing. Nietzsche, Freud, Bertrand Russell, and a host of other worthies notwithstanding, that is not what has been happening in the world. Another theory is that, as people became less religious, they would abandon the natural family and have fewer children. That is a claim often found in discussions of Europe's religious, cultural, and demographic doldrums. Mary Eberstadt argues that it may work just as much, or more, the other way around: As people stop having children, they become less religious. Family and children are key to prompting deep thoughts about, for instance, mortality and its alternatives. Eberstadt writes: “All men and women fear death; but only mothers and fathers, and perhaps some husbands and wives, can generally be counted upon to fear another's death more than their own. To put the point another way, if 9/11 drove to church for weeks on end millions of Americans who had not darkened that doorstep in years—as it did—imagine the even deeper impact on ordinary mothers and fathers of a sick child or the similarly powerful desire of a devoted spouse on the brink of losing the other. Just as there are no atheists in a foxhole, so too would there appear to be few in the nursery or critical care unit, at least most of the time. In sum, because it treats belief as an atomistic decision taken piecemeal by individuals rather than a holistic response to family life, Nietzsche's madman and his offspring, secularization theory, appear to present an incomplete version of how some considerable portion of human beings actually come to think and behave about things religious—not one by one and all on their own, but rather mediated through the elemental connections of husband, wife, child, aunt, great-grandfather, and the rest. The proposed religious anthropology which I have sketched as a complement to Nietzsche's has another advantage: It ties up another theoretical loose end that should be troubling to the secularizationists, despite having no apparent standing in their discussion. That is the well-known fact—one that is curiously unmentioned in the latest vogue of atheism as well—that women as a whole are more observant than men. This difference in practice is not only verifiable through studies, it is also easily observed by walking into just about any North American or European church.” Some of the old secularization theories depicted people as autonomous thinking machines. Eberstadt writes: “But the majority of people, to continue this complementary religious anthropology, do not re-invent the theological wheel this way. They learn religion in communities, beginning with the community of the family. They learn it as Ludwig Wittgenstein once brilliantly observed that language is learned: not as atomized individuals making up their own tongues, but in a community. Wittgenstein countered Descartes' dualism, after all, by observing that the philosophical question he was most famous for—how do I know that I am?—contained the seeds of its destruction in the very phrasing: Only by presupposing a community of language believers, Wittgenstein argued, could this question about radical oneness make sense.” Which leads Eberstadt to this: “There is plenty of reason for pessimism about what the future holds for religious belief if by ‘pessimism' one means further decline. Divorce and illegitimacy—to say nothing of maternal surrogacy, polygamy, polyandry, multiple parenthood, and related political experiments involving children that defy the empirical evidence about what's best for them—all these and other forces are battering the natural family. The more we modern people experiment with it, retooling it to suit our material desires, our political agendas, our busy lives, the more we would appear to risk losing what it is that makes many people religiously inclined in the first place. Nevertheless, in the religious anthropology proposed here—and contrary to that of secularization theory—there is nothing inevitable about the decline of the natural family and thus, by implication, religion too.” It's a chicken-or-egg kind of question. Between religious decline and family decline, which causes which? Eberstadt doesn't say we have to decide one way or the other, but she makes a persuasive case that vibrant religion is very closely tied to family and children. Which should not surprise people who understand that grace builds on nature.
• Back in 1974, the Murphy Center was looking for a name for a new publication dealing with liturgy. They tried out this and that and finally settled on Hucusque, which means “up to this point.” It seems that Hucusque is the first word of the preface to the Carolingian Supplement to the sacramentary sent in 791 by Pope Hadrian at the request of Charlemagne. An abbot named Benedict supplemented the pope's book with adjustments to the devotional practices of the people of Charlemagne's empire. “Up to this point (hucusque) we have reproduced the pope's Mass book as it came to us from Rome. What is printed from this point on is not Roman, but represents those areas which are necessary to celebrate the liturgy in this part of the world.” The Murphy Center is now the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, and the folks there have revived Hucusque under the more transparent title of Assembly: A Journal of Liturgical Theology. It is a sprightly and informative publication aimed at renewal through the reappropriation of tradition. And we really have had enough of liturgical innovations that treat the received tradition as being normative only hucusque. (To subscribe to the new journal, write Liturgy Training Publications, 1800 North Hermitage Ave., Chicago IL 60622. $15 per year.)
• In the aforementioned Assembly, Fr. Michael Joncas reflects on Andre Dubus' 1983 short story about a father wrestling with his conscience as he covers up the vehicular homicide committed by his daughter. It is called “A Father's Story,” and along the way the narrator has this to say about attending daily Mass: “At St. John's, Father Paul and five or six regulars and I celebrate the Mass. Do not think of me as a spiritual man whose every thought during those twenty-five minutes is at one with the words of the Mass. Each morning I try, each morning I fail, and know that always I will be a creature who, looking at Father Paul and the altar, and uttering prayers, will be distracted by scrambled eggs, horses, the weather, and memories and daydreams that have nothing to do with the sacrament I am about to receive. I can receive, though: the Eucharist, and also, at Mass and at other times, moments and even minutes of contemplation. But I cannot achieve contemplation, as some can; and so, having to face and forgive my own failures, I have learned from them both the necessity and wonder of ritual. For ritual allows those who cannot will themselves out of the secular to perform the spiritual, as dancing allows the tongue-tied man a ceremony of love.” Think about it.
• There's been this rash of bestselling books assailing religion, and publishers are wondering what it all means. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and the professionally adolescent bad boy Christopher Hitchens have all hit the charts. Even the village cranks at Prometheus Books are getting unaccustomed attention. At the recent Book Expo America in New York, there was a panel on “Atheism: The Rise of a New Subcategory in Religion.” But the editors of Publishers Weekly confess puzzlement about whether antireligion should be in the category of religion. “Whatever this new genre's name or placement in bookstores, one thing is certain: it's drawing readers. And for many in the publishing industry, that's plenty.” For many, that's everything. As it happened, the week of the book expo was also the death of John Macquarrie, a Scottish theologian of the Anglican persuasion. He died at age eighty-seven and was for many who studied theology in the 1950s and 1960s a major influence. While not a giant in the ranks of Barth, Tillich, Rahner, or Balthasar, he contributed significantly to the Christian appropriation of existentialism, and of the thought of Martin Heidegger in particular. There is this in the New York Times obituary: “Dr. Macquarrie wrote that all language about God was symbolic and not to be taken literally. But it must be taken seriously. To him, what separated believers from nonbelievers was that believers had experienced the revelation that the creation and its existence are good. ‘Faith's name for reality is God,' Dr. Macquarrie wrote in Paths in Spirituality.” That should not be lightly dismissed as liberal vacuousness. Many critics have pointed out that Hitchens, Dawkins, et al. set up a caricature of religion and then giddily demolish the straw man of their own creation. That is true enough, but more important is the idea of God that they insist upon denying. Let me put it bluntly: I do not believe in the God that Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, et al. do not believe in. We should even be made nervous by talk about “the existence of God,” which invites the idea that God is one existent among other existents. The word God refers to the predication of existence itself. This reflects, of course, the traditional language of God as pure Being. In this understanding, to deny God is to deny reality. Macquarrie is right: Faith's name for reality is God. Whether or not one uses the word God, we are all engaged in a discussion about the nature—the ultimate nature—of reality. That discussion involves many disciplines, most notably philosophy and theology. Christians are those who believe that the revelation of God in the history of Israel and the Christ event is true and therefore, as Macquarrie puts it, “creation and its existence are good.” Or, as 1 John puts it, “God is love.” Hitchens, Harris, et al. are not really making the case for atheism. They are attacking the grab bag of evils and absurdities associated with that amorphous reality called religion, which is an easy thing to do. “Religion” has to do with human beliefs and behaviors that are as riddled with nonsense as any other human enterprise. Christians, qua Christians, have no stake in defending “religion.” Much of what is called religion is false and meretricious. The Book Expo had it right: The “atheist” books in question are a subcategory in religion. Now, if Hitchens and company want to talk about God, i.e., Reality, that would be a most welcome discussion.
• The reports from the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM) are, all things considered, encouraging. All things considered includes the cumbersome process of gathering 162 bishops, plus one hundred others in various capacities, for nineteen days of talking and drafting statements on how to renew Catholicism in Latin America. That renewal is needed, and urgently needed, nobody dared to deny. Pope Benedict was there for the opening of the conference, driving home the imperative of evangelization and the indispensability of personal encounter with God in Christ. The bishops resoundingly affirmed a call for a “Great Continental Mission,” although what that might actually mean seems to have been left up to individual bishops. In a welcome departure from the past, evangelicals and Pentecostals who are making great advances in that part of the world were not excoriated as alien “sects” and tools of Yankee imperialism. Rather, there was a pronounced ecumenical turn, recognizing that Christians must stand together to counter the forces of secularism and injustice. Some observers thought they saw a resuscitation of liberation theology, and the bishops did approve the well-known option for the poor, emphasizing that it is “a preferential and evangelical option.” The Marxist and class-struggle aspects of an older liberation theology were largely absent. Throughout, the accent was on evangelizing and catechizing, with a frank acknowledgment that most baptized Catholics in the continent have only a tenuous relationship with Christ and the Church. If this conference represented a turning point, it is in the recognition that the problems of Catholicism in Latin America cannot be blamed on others or on impersonal social forces but are—in their causes and in their hoped-for remedy—the responsibility of Catholic leaders in Latin America. That does not solve the problems, but it could be the beginning of something that approximates a “Great Continental Mission.”
• “Interfaith dialogue begins with faith,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was fond of saying. A substantial part of the pope's book Jesus of Nazareth engages the argument of a 1993 book by Rabbi Jacob Neusner, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus. In that book, Neusner explains why he cannot accept what Jesus and the Church say about his divine person and mission. By respectfully engaging his argument, Neusner says the pope is joining in a centuries-old tradition of “disputation” between Christians and Jews. “Disputation went out of style,” Neusner says, “when religions lost their confidence in the power of reason to establish theological truth. Then, as in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's ‘Nathan the Wise,' religions were made to affirm a truth in common, and the differences between religions were dismissed as trivial and unimportant.” More recently, “Judeo-Christian dialogue came to serve as the medium of a politics of social conciliation, not religious inquiry into the convictions of the other. . . . Negotiation took the place of debate, and to lay claim upon truth on behalf of one's own religion violated the rules of good conduct.” Of his exchange with the pope, Neusner writes in the Jewish weekly Forward: “What we have done is to revive the disputation as a medium of dialogue on theological truth. In this era of relativism and creeping secularism, it is an enterprise that, I believe, has the potential to strengthen Judaism and Christianity alike.” As Heschel said, “Interfaith dialogue begins with faith.”
• The statistics are in for 2007. Much has been written in recent years about the declining numbers of the Society of Jesus, and the pattern continues. There are now 19,216 Jesuits worldwide, a decline of 364 since 2005. In 2007, 486 joined the society, 472 died, and 378 left. The average age of Jesuit priests is 63.4. South Asia, meaning mainly India, is now the largest region for Jesuits, with 20.9 percent of the total membership. The United States is counted as second with 15.4 percent, but that is because the figures for Europe are counted by regions—South, West, Central, and East. All of Europe combined accounts for 32.5 percent of the total. Also, in this country, there are still some gifted young men joining the society. As one of them tells me, “We will inherit the ruins and rebuild what Ignatius intended.” Pray them well.
• We've mentioned before Archbishop Michael Miller, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome. He's the kind of leader who warrants more frequent mention than most. This spring he spoke to a conference of Catholic educators at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. The Church, he says, is looking for “benchmarks” of Catholic identity in colleges and universities that claim the name Catholic. There must be “measurable strategies . . . that require the university to deepen its Catholic character, moving it from where it is now to where it wishes to be in the future.” “Teachers are called to be witnesses and educators of authentic human life,” and the Catholics among them should be “outstanding in their integrity of doctrine and probity of life.” That, he noted, is from Canon 810 of The Code of Canon Law. Schools make a special effort to recruit minorities and women, he observed. “I see no reason, and, despite widespread popular opinion, there is no constitutional reason, to exclude Catholics from similar consideration.” He also observed that what typically passes for “religious studies” is no substitute for teaching theology. On the campus culture, he said that “expectations for student behavior, the fostering of moral character and virtue, policies on campus speakers, health policies, and the promotion of justice should reflect a distinctively Catholic ethos.” It has been seventeen years since John Paul II issued Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the heart of the Church) and the progress toward making Catholic schools more Catholic has been, to put it gently, slow and mixed. But more and more schools are seriously engaged in asking the questions about “Catholic identity,” which is all to the good. There are more than 225 nominally Catholic colleges and universities in this country. Some, such as Georgetown, are, it would seem, irretrievably lost to the Church. Others, such as Boston College, are positioning themselves to be the bastion of “Catholic Lite.” Others likely will, in the next ten years or so, drop altogether the pretense of being Catholic. But if, as one hopes, there will be 150 or more schools that are authentically Catholic in the manner envisioned by Ex Corde Ecclesiae, that will be in no small part thanks to the thoughtful and firm prodding of Archbishop Michael Miller. Which is one reason why I had very mixed feelings when in Rome I learned that Miller had been appointed the next archbishop of Vancouver. That's great news for Vancouver. But who will help maintain the momentum for renewal at the Congregation for Education?
• There they go again. Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the White House press corps and Ian Fisher, Rome correspondent, write in the New York Times on President Bush's meeting with Pope Benedict. At the end of the long story of more than a thousand words, it says, “Peter Kiefer contributed reporting.” Presumably, Mr. Kiefer was needed to get the quote from Michela Chimetto, a woman in the street, who said Bush is “the worst president the United States ever had.” The story is headed “Pope Shares Iraq Concerns in Meeting with Bush” and is a wondrous mix of fatuity and fiction. The report begins: “President Bush and Pope Benedict XVI, both religious conservatives, met for the first time on Saturday.” Got that? They are both conservative, and they are both religious. We knew about Bush, but the pope too? And of course we know that Bush is a notorious social fumbler. Stolberg/Fisher report that, in the part of the meeting open to reporters, Bush at one point addressed the pope as “Sir” rather than “Your Holiness.” How gauche. One might note that, for most Protestants, “Holy Father” does not come trippingly off the tongue, and that “Sir” is an address of respect. No matter, any stick will do. Sources in both the Vatican and the White House say that the meeting was exceedingly relaxed, cordial, and personally warm. Stolberg/Fisher say “Iraq loomed large” over the meeting. In fact, in their telling of the story, it was mostly about Iraq and how unpopular U.S. policy is. They fill out the tale by reaching back to, and misrepresenting, statements from the past. “When he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became pope, he made a much-quoted remark dismissing the idea of Iraq as a ‘just war.'” Not quite. Cardinal Ratzinger said that “preemptive war” is not part of just-war doctrine. They say that Mr. Bush “conceded” that Iraq came up in his conversation with the pope. Why “conceded”? He did not concede; he straightforwardly said, as the subsequent Vatican statement said, that the pope expressed concern about the treatment of the Christian community in Iraq. Iraq—meaning the rightness or wrongness of U.S. policy in Iraq—was not raised in the conversation, according to sources in both the White House and the Vatican. Nonetheless, says Stolberg/Fisher, “Iraq loomed large over their hourlong session.” In the mind of the journalistic herd, it is all Iraq all the time. Spiced with the requisite sneer or two at Mr. Bush's putative social and verbal ineptitude. A thousand-plus words in what some still call the newspaper of record and the reader does not know what happened. Of course, neither do the reporters know what happened, but the editors in New York wanted a thousand words, so, professionals that they are, they made up a story. In Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, his hero, William Boot, is asked by an ambitious young reporter, “‘But do you think it's a good way of training oneself—inventing imaginary news?' ‘None better,' said William.”
• This is shamelessly self-referential, but I thought you might be interested. Conversations in Religion & Theology is the journal of the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, and the current issue is largely given over to responses to a book about your scribe that is less than complimentary. On one side, Stephen Webb of Wabash College contends that I'm the “most brilliant theological mind in America,” and, on the other, Eugene McCarraher of Villanova University derides me as, if I understand him correctly, a running dog of the contemporary Caesar's capitalist imperialism. Obviously, they're both over the top, although you will not be surprised to know that I'm less kindly disposed to McCarraher's exaggeration. In his editorial introduction, Ian Markham, dean of Hartford Seminary—and president-elect of Virginia Theological Seminary, the largest seminary of the Episcopal Church—writes that “Neuhaus is a genius of his generation, who has been as influential as Reinhold Niebuhr was in the 1940s and 1950s.” Hey, cut the man some slack. He's a really nice guy. Then he says this: “Although there are continuities between the young Neuhaus and the old Neuhaus, there are significant differences.” Well, I should hope so. But what's this with “the old Neuhaus”? This is starting to get to me. In a paper at a recent conference at Jewish Theological Seminary, a scholar praised The Naked Public Square but referred to it as a “period piece.” Admittedly, it's been a long time since I've been described as a wunderkind, but I recently had the annual checkup, and I'm told all the signs are encouraging. Which reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon from years back. The old codger in the hospital bed says to the nurse, “Stop saying I'll live to ninety. I am ninety.” For the record, I'm far from ninety. What are the young whippersnappers like Dean Markham going to say a few years from now? The aged Neuhaus? Perhaps we can settle on saying there are significant differences between the young Neuhaus and the mature Neuhaus. I can live with that. And, please God, will for a long time.
• Consider Psalm 130. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared.” If God wrote down our sins in indelible ink, so to speak, we would not fear him. There is then nothing to be done about them. His judgment is indistinguishable from fate. But, if he might forgive—or might not forgive—then his judgment is to be feared. This came to mind in reading Andrew Stark's reflection on Mistakes Were Made by psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliott Aronson. Instead of offering an excuse, such as mitigating circumstances, or a justification, such as a wrong serving a higher end, people speak about mistakes being made. Stark cites Edward Cardinal Egan on the handling of sex-abuse cases. The cardinal said, “If, in hindsight, we discover that mistakes may have been made, I am deeply sorry.” Stark writes: “The mangled grammar— shifting from active to passive to active voice, from a conditional ‘if' clause to a main clause with the wrong verb form (It should be ‘I will be deeply sorry')—suggests a confused point of view at best.” Stark thinks that the authors of Mistakes Were Made are, being psychologists, altogether too permissive in letting people off the hook. Perhaps so, but the problem is not with their stretching the limits of excuse and justification. The problem would seem to be with their ignoring the alternative of confession and forgiveness. “But there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared.”
• Sh'ma is a newsletter of Jewish thought, and the current issue is devoted to relations between Jews and evangelicals. Rabbi Yehiel Poupko has the opening essay, “From Missionizing to Partnership?” and suggests that evangelicals are, in their attitude to Jews, following the path of Catholics since the Second Vatican Council. Like others, he is worried about “proselytizing,” but he writes, “It is very hard to proselytize someone with whom you regularly talk and exchange hospitality.” David Neff of Christianity Today responds: “To the American Jewish community I say, please do not consider us enemies, but estranged (and indeed, at times, strange) cousins. In contemporary society, we have much to work for together. Together we can meet the challenges of secularism, of anti-family individualism, and of a commercialism that reduces life's meaning to the goods and services we consume. At home and abroad, we can fight for human rights and freedom. In all of these things, we belong together. And when we Evangelicals share our faith in ways you find oppressive, please don't ask us to disavow what is fundamental to our identity. Instead, help us to live out that belief in ways we can both find workable and fruitful.” From Israel, Rabbi Ron Kronish suggests that Jews are obsessed with the threat of proselytizing. “It would be more beneficial to engage in healthy and productive Jewish-Christian dialogue . . . than to engage in witch-hunting for Christian missionaries in Israel who hardly exist any more.” Others are not convinced. Gershom Gorenberg, a historian of Israel, writes: “These are the kinds of friends your mother warned you against. They cost you truer friends. Israel and its Jewish supporters would do better to keep the Christian Zionists firmly and publicly at arm's distance.” Mara Einstein of Queen's College, New York, is not at all sure about those “evangelicals that are cozying up to the Jewish community and providing support for the state of Israel. Their friendship, perhaps, is one that should elicit suspicion.” (The qualifying perhaps is not conspicuous in her other remarks.) Michael Kress reviews Zev Chafets' A Match Made in Heaven, on which I offered an extensive commentary in the May 2007 issue. He has decidedly mixed feelings about the book and ends with this: “In the end, Chafets' effort misses the mark for the same reason that Jewish opining about Evangelicals is misguided: the limits of seeing the evangelical world merely through the lens of Jewish-Christian and/or Israeli/American relations. He, like many other Jews, sees a need to break down old, closed-minded stereotypes of Evangelicals only because these conservative Christians are Jew- and Israel-friendly, making an alliance politically beneficial given today's realities. It seems to me to be the ultimate hubris for a population comprising at best two percent of the American population to learn about a population comprising upwards of 30 percent of Americans merely for political expediency, rather than because forming attitudes toward another group—especially one so much larger and more powerful—that are complex, multifaceted, and multilayered and not built on condescending stereotypes is good citizenship and the right thing to do.” Hubris, as in the Yiddish chutzpah.
• The book is Christ and Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times by Joerg Rieger of Southern Methodist University and published by Augsburg/Fortress, a press associated with ELCA Lutheranism. It seems, if you can believe it, that through the centuries Christianity has been used for political purposes, and sometimes rather nasty purposes at that. The press release says, “Although we loathe admitting it, Christians have often, through crusade, conquest, and commerce, used the name and power of Christ to promote and justify political, economic, and even military gain.” And it is still going on “even today.” Kwok Pui-lan, who teaches at Episcopal Divinity School and is the author of Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology, says Rieger's book reveals “how theological depictions of Christ have been laden with colonial biases.” And Catherine Keller of Drew University, author of God and Empire, says it is “a work of fierce luminosity.” She adds, “If classic didn't evoke the imperial aura that this Christology dispels, we could announce one.” Imperial aura or not, I'm going to go ahead and say that this press release is, in its faux revisionist anti-Western platitudes, a classic.
• On his trip to Brazil, Pope Benedict said, as he has said before and as canon law specifies, that politicians who reject the Church's teaching and support abortion gravely impair their communion with the Church and should refrain from receiving the Eucharist. Once again, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Democrat from Connecticut, led the charge. It will be remembered that a while back she orchestrated a statement by politicians explaining to obtuse bishops why one can be both pro-abortion and a Catholic in good standing. This time she found seventeen fellow Democrats to join her in explaining to the pope that “Religious sanction in the political arena directly conflicts with our fundamental beliefs about the role of democratic representatives in a pluralistic America—it clashes with freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution. Such notions offend the very nature of the American experiment and do a great disservice to the centuries of good work the Church has done.” Oh my, this is serious. It appears the pope is un-American. In truth, the pope is not imposing a “religious sanction” (although perhaps he should) but explaining the consequences for one's communion with the Church, such consequences being not “in the political arena” but at the altar. And I very much doubt that the freedom to receive Communion in the Catholic Church is “guaranteed in our Constitution.” It does guarantee the freedom of the Church to govern itself and the freedom of Americans to adhere, or not adhere, to its teachings. Even Rudy Giuliani, who has some very real problems with his adherence, had the good sense to respond, when asked about his possibly being refused Communion: “I do not get into debates with the pope. That is not a good idea.” Representative DeLauro and her colleagues should face up to the fact that they have some hard decisions to make with respect to the right ordering of their loves and loyalties.
• Attention must be paid. Seventy-three evangelical leaders, many of them very influential, have signed an eighteen-page statement titled “An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture: Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Terror.” It is a commendably thoughtful contribution to our public discussion, well-grounded in theology, history, political philosophy, and moral reflection. It can in no way be dismissed as anti-American or as a partisan attack on the Bush administration or the war in Iraq. On the war, it takes no position, and its appreciation of the ways in which religiously grounded moral reflection has shaped America's commitment to human rights is thoroughly admirable. Nor can it be criticized for ignoring the human rights of the unborn. It is true that at one point it speaks of the sanctity of life pertaining to “human beings in any and every state of consciousness or self-awareness.” That is, to say the least, ambiguous. But elsewhere it warmly endorses the teaching of John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae and explicitly names abortion and euthanasia as violations of human rights—although, admittedly, not in its own voice but in quoting another evangelical document. The present statement says: “When torture is employed by a state, that act communicates to the world and to one's own people that human lives are not sacred, that they are not reflections of the Creator, that they are expendable, exploitable, and disposable, and that their intrinsic value can be overridden by utilitarian arguments that trump that value. These are claims that no one who confesses Christ as Lord can accept.” Precisely. In attempting to define what constitutes torture, the statement is somewhat promiscuous in embracing the language of a host of international agreements to which the United States is party. And, perhaps understandably, there is no effort to address in detail the so-called hard cases, such as the “ticking bomb” scenario. It recognizes that torture has been employed under the auspices of our government, also in the connection with the Iraq War, and commends remedial steps taken by the U.S. military. The signers emphasize that they have no illusions about the brutal threat posed by the enemy, as well as the moral temptations and threats inherent in the necessary effort to protect ourselves against that enemy. They say, “Deterring evil ends without resorting to evil means are tasks in tension, but any democracy must face dealing with this tension.” And this: “Undoubtedly there are occasions where the demands of Christian discipleship and American citizenship conflict. This is not one of them. Returning to the absolute commitment to human rights outlined here is right in terms of Christian convictions and right in terms of the interests of our nation. We commend these moral commitments to our fellow believers, and our fellow citizens, for such a time as this.” No such statement is perfect and I would want some changes—especially in connection with the definition of torture—before signing this one, but “An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture” is an exceedingly valuable contribution to a public debate of which we dare not tire. (The declaration can be downloaded on the Internet.)
• This space recently gave appreciative attention to a fine essay by George McKenna on how the Democrats became “the abortion party” and the role that Catholics played in that development (January 2007). John T. McGreevy of Notre Dame, author of Catholicism and American Freedom (reviewed in “Catholics, Protestants, and the Meanings of Freedom,” The Public Square, August/September 2003), visits that question in “Shifting Allegiances: Catholics, Democrats & the GOP.” Appearing in Commonweal, it is in many respects a thoughtful reflection. He ends with this question: “Can Catholics and other people of good will agree to make abortions rare, and mean it, or will the issue remain a rhetorical ploy Republicans exploit and a moral scandal to which Democrats are blind?” That is puzzling. No doubt there are Republicans who pay only lip service to the pro-life cause, but the indisputable fact is that, for more than twenty years, policies aimed at protecting the unborn have been generally supported by Republicans and generally opposed by Democrats. Along the way, McGreevy asks another question: “How should we actually decrease the abortion rate, given that federal policies on access to abortion matter less than the socio-economic plight of women seeking abortions?” This, too, is puzzling. It is true that low-income women, and especially black women, procure a disproportionate percentage of abortions. But McGreevy mentions no policies for reducing their “socio-economic plight”—certainly no policies that divide Democrats and Republicans—and it is demeaning to such women not to acknowledge their moral agency in choosing to abort their children. As for the importance of federal policies, one might suggest that Roe v. Wade, which mandated the unlimited abortion license, is a federal policy, and that the reversal or effective bypassing of that infamous decision is generally supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats. McGreevy is nostalgic for the days when the Democratic party was the Catholic party and decries “Catholic neoconservatives,” such as this writer, who have “tied themselves to the Republican Party.” For the record, I am a registered Democrat. That's where the battles in New York primaries matter. When it comes to voting in elections, well, you don't need to go along with your party on everything.
• If people could only hear what they say. When Anglican bishops from Nigeria announced that they were going to establish episcopal oversight for local churches that could not in conscience remain in the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori vigorously protested. Of bishops intervening in the territory of other bishops, she declared, “Such action would violate the ancient customs of the Church.” About the same time, the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire announced that he intended to marry his gay partner, and General Theological Seminary in New York announced that it has admitted the former governor of New Jersey, a self-proclaimed homosexual who is going through a particularly nasty and public divorce proceeding with his wife and who believes he may be called to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. And, of course, that body is relentless in its support for the unlimited abortion license, including partial-birth abortion. Nonetheless, the lady is adamant. With the intervention of the Nigerians, a clear principle is at stake. “Such action,” Bishop Schori says, “would violate the ancient customs of the Church.”
• There is surely “a moral presumption against war,” if by that one means that one should as a general rule prefer peace to war. But the phrase has come to mean much more than that. Msgr. Robert McElroy writes in America (“Why We Must Withdraw from Iraq”) that “the popes of the contemporary era have unequivocally taught that a presumption against war lies at the very center of Catholic thinking on war and peace.” He cites in support of his claim John XXIII's statement in his 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris that “it is hardly possible to imagine that in an atomic era war could be used as an instrument of justice,” and a similar statement by Benedict XVI. The Iraq War, however, is not being fought with nuclear weapons and is in fact part of a strategy—whether wise or not is another question—aimed at, among other things, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear capacity. He also cites Paul VI's statement at the United Nations in 1965, “No more war, war never again!” Is that the expression of a fervent hope and prayer or a development of Catholic doctrine? Monsignor McElroy thinks it is the latter, supporting his conclusion “that a presumption against war lies at the very center of Catholic thinking on war and peace.” If, however, the rejection of war in toto—which apparently is how McElroy understands the words of Paul VI—is at the very center of Catholic teaching, it would seem that the Church's traditional just-war doctrine has not been developed but repudiated. Just-war doctrine, after all, is designed to distinguish between those wars that are just and those that are unjust. Papal statements and magisterial documents are unanimous in affirming that Catholic teaching is not pacifist and that just-war doctrine is the doctrine of the Church. As it happens, McElroy claims to employ the traditional just-war criteria in arguing for American retreat from Iraq. He even seems to allow that Iraq policy may have been just in the “initial decision to wage war,” but then asks, “Is it not also morally required that these conditions be present throughout the conflict if war is to be continued?” What has changed in the course of the conflict is that it has turned out to be more prolonged, difficult, and costly than was expected. Therefore, America should withdraw. The principle suggested is that just wars should be abandoned when they are found to be more prolonged, difficult, and costly than expected. The conclusion that this is the case in Iraq is based on his reading of the facts on the ground. He acknowledges that others have a more hopeful reading of those facts, and then adds, “But hope is not reality, and neither hope nor a sense of moral obligation is sufficient to ground a moral mandate for war in just-war thinking.” Moral obligation may not be sufficient, but a moral obligation to right a great injustice is surely pertinent to the question of moral mandate. It is also true that hope is not reality, but neither is despair reality. It is Monsignor McElroy's opinion that the war is lost and therefore should not be continued. He concludes, “The only moral warrant that emerges from any effort to apply rigorous just-war thinking to Iraq is the warrant to move immediately toward a measured and prudently crafted American military withdrawal.” What we learn from this article in America is that Msgr. Robert W. McElroy thinks that Iraq is a lost cause and therefore we should withdraw. Many people share that opinion. Many others do not. While “Why We Must Withdraw From Iraq” registers an opinion about what is happening and is likely to happen in Iraq, it has precious little to do with just-war thinking, rigorous or otherwise.
• The New York Sun has, since its debut in 2002, greatly enriched the daily fare of news and opinion in this city. Especially welcome is its serious coverage of books under the direction of book editor Adam Kirsch. Forced to choose between the book coverage of the New York Times and the Sun, I would lean toward the Sun. But Mr. Kirsch does have this blind spot or tin ear, or maybe it's a settled prejudice, when it comes to matters religious. I've commented on this before, but it struck me again in his review of John Stubbs' biography, John Donne: The Reformed Soul. Kirsch rightly notes that Donne, one of the greatest of English writers in both poetry and prose, was a complicated man. The distinguished clergyman of the Church of England—distinguished also in his Catholic proclivities—also wrote in a lighter and even frivolous vein. Sending a copy of one of his books to a friend, he noted that it “was written by Jack Donne and not by Dr Donne.” He took care for the dignity of his ecclesiastical office. Kirsch says, “It is the secular verse of Jack Donne— the love poems, verse letters, elegies, and satires—that really keeps his fame alive in our secular age.” Really? Dr. Johnson dubbed Donne and others as “metaphysical poets,” and interest in them faded in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But the neglect of Donne was not because he was religious. English poetry from Dryden to Coleridge was hardly nonreligious or irreligious or “secular” in Kirsch's use of the term. The critical judgment was that the metaphysical poets were convoluted, obscure, and too clever by half. Donne in particular was revived by the modernists of the last century, notably by Eliot and Pound. In their view and the view of those who admire Donne today, there is not the forced separation between his religious and secular poetry that Mr. Kirsch espouses. Donne's poetry was once dismissed as a whole, and now it has been revived as a whole. In my little book As I Lay Dying—the title is more indebted to Donne than to Faulkner, who may also be indebted to Donne—I write of Donne's embrace of life as a whole, an embrace that precludes the religious/secular dichotomy of what Mr. Kirsch persists in believing is “our secular age.”
• Yes, I know. Some of you think I pay too much attention to Yale Divinity School. Perhaps so, and, if so, probably because I remember the YDS of George Lindbeck, Paul Holmer, Brevard Childs, Hans Frei, and others. And yes, I know. They're all white men, although not yet all dead white men. Dare one ask why there are so few women theologians or people of color who are of comparable stature? Or, for that matter, white men? I expect the dramatic decline of YDS is, in largest part, a consequence of the radical redefinition of YDS. Definitely not the most important, but additional and recent, evidence is this issue of Spectrum, a YDS publication, in which we are told: “One of the most dynamic new student groups at YDS draws from a long unrepresented constituency at the divinity school: nonbelievers. They are the Left Behind, a group of agnostics and atheists who aim to provide [in the words of the group's leader] ‘a caring and inclusive atmosphere to those who subscribe to our beliefs.'” Why, one might well ask, did it take so long for a divinity school to recognize that it was discriminating against its anti-divinity students? Perhaps the correction of this longstanding injustice will prompt Yale's medical school to stop discriminating against students who reject modern medicine in favor of voodoo. Inclusiveness is a relentless dogma. Of course one can imagine Yale objecting that medicine, unlike theology, really matters. But such denigration of theology is obviously no more than an unreasoned prejudice, despite the reasons for the prejudice so persistently and earnestly provided by YDS.
• Some while back, in 2001, we published a series of remarkable photographs by Sam Fentress, who for twenty years has been photographing roadside signs all over the country. The signs typically exhort those who pass to repent and believe. Now the photographs have been put together in a handsome book: Bible Road: Signs of Faith in the American Landscape. Paul Elie writes in the foreword: “Fentress's fencepost proverbs and exhortations are at the side of the road, but they are at the center of our religious life today, not at the margins. They are not the work of primitives or regionalists. They don't carry the evidence of a prior way of life; they don't pronounce judgment on our society. Rather, they express the fierce Christian belief, the mood of end-times fear and dread, that is in uneasy coexistence with our bustle and optimism. This—the press of firm belief upon the present—is the great difference in Fentress's work, and it is made manifest by the richness of his technique: the gorgeous colors, the complex use of light and shade, the looming skies and horizon lines. The conventional wisdom says that signs at the roadside are there as messages for the journey. But Fentress's work suggests that they have been put there because the side of the road is the only open space left, the place where life in America today seems the largest and the least worked out.” I'm not sure that the side of the road is the only open space left. As anyone knows who has driven across the country, or even looked down while flying over it, behind the side of the road are spaces so vast as to seem unlimited. But Elie is certainly right that the signs photographed by Fentress are not in the same category with those old Burma Shave ditties. They give expression to a very contemporary and vibrant faith that is both simpler and much more complex than the complexifications cherished by those who know only that we live in a secular society.
• The ebulliently progressive Sr. Joan Chittister is quoted by Martin E. Marty in his Context newsletter. Whether approvingly or not, I am not sure, although the context suggests that he thinks this is something like a pearl of wisdom. She writes: “We don't need more spiritual marshmallows in the world. You must honor the answers of the past, but you must test them in the present and always ask what they'll do in the future. The Chinese say that if we stay on the road we will surely arrive where we are going. Most learning is not acquiring new insights: It's letting go of the old ones.” With due respect, this marshmallow does not bear close scrutiny. Assuming one knows the answers of the past, which is hardly a safe assumption, why should we think that the answers of the present are superior? As for the future, none of us knows. And I confess that I do not know what it means—in the past, present, or future—to ask what an answer might “do.” The question, one might suggest, is whether an answer is true. Moreover, and with the prescribed multicultural deference to Chinese wisdom, one will surely arrive where the road is going. But it rather begs the question of where we want to go or ought to go. As for letting go of old insights, they were once new insights, and the new insights for which we abandon the old will soon be old and therefore scheduled for abandonment. One can, however, heartily agree with Sister Joan that the world needs no more spiritual marshmallows.
• A friend recommended it, and he was right. The book is The Friends of Meager Fortune by the Canadian author David Adams Richards. It is a beautifully sad story, an elegy on the world of New Brunswick woodsmen and their women after the Second World War, when the old ways of lumbering, around which everything turned, were being forced to give way to the mechanization brought by American companies capitalizing on an insatiable market for fancier toilet paper and endlessly multiplied government reports. There is Will Jameson, heroic and reckless, who is killed in a lumbering accident, and his younger brother Owen, who goes off to war and earns the Victoria Cross for saving the life of Reggie, who, in an alcoholic haze, takes the suffering of a dying world on himself and thereby is “transformed into the truly great man he became.” And beautiful Camellia, whom all the men want for reasons that, in her child-like innocence, she does not understand. Meager Fortune, and that is really his name, is a misshapen little fellow who lives to do good in a way unreflexively incapable of entertaining the alternative. I take it that Richards intends, although of course he does not come right out and say so, that what salvation was to be found was to be found in being a friend of Meager Fortune. The world depicted by the author comes to an end in a desperate bid to exploit the lumbering riches of a place called Good Friday Mountain. The book is about a time and place very much like that of my childhood, the Ottawa Valley, when lumber was king. In the winter, the men “went to the bush” for long months in rough company and risky work, until the great spring drive when the Ottawa River, more than a mile wide, was filled with the booms of millions of logs heading south to feed an insatiable market for wood. All that is gone now; and gone, too, are the children who listened in wonder, and with a frequent shudder, to the stories of the men who went to the bush. It helps, I suppose, but it is not necessary to have been reared in northern New Brunswick or the Ottawa Valley to be quite taken with The Friends of Meager Fortune. There is in it plenty of perfidy, betrayal, and cowardice, but mainly it is a story about honor and at least a hint of redemption when just getting by seems more than hard enough.
• Speaking of just getting by and barely getting by, that's what many college students say they were doing until somebody introduced them to First Things. “It all started coming together for me when I began reading the magazine,” writes a student at Dartmouth. The “it” in question is her intellectual and spiritual life. Like so many others, she was introduced to First Things by a thoughtful relative who gave her a gift subscription. Perhaps you know a student in similar need. It is a need not only experienced by students, of course. But how are people supposed to know they need First Things unless they know First Things? If you feel you have given your limit of gift subscriptions, please send us the names of people, young or old or in between, who you think are potential subscribers, and we will gladly send them the current issue. Mentioning, of course, that you are the thoughtful person who recommended them.
Brooks on the politics of happiness, Wall Street Journal, May 21. Eberstadt on God, Policy review June/July 2007. Fr. Joncas on Dubus, Assembly, July 2007. Macquarrie and the new atheists, Publishers Weekly, June 4. Rabbi Neusner, Forward, June 1. Pope–Bush meeting, New York Times, June 10. Markham and Webb on Neuhaus, Conversations in Religion and Theology, May 2007. Stark and Psalm 130, Wall Street Journal, May 10. Kress on Chafets, Sh'ma, May 2007. DeLaura in Maggie Gallagher syndicated column, May 16. McGreevy on abortion politics, Commonweal, September 22, 2006. Msgr. McElroy on Iraq, America, April 30. Kirsch on Donne, New York Sun, April 25. Elie on Fentress, Commonweal, April 20. Marty on Sr. Chittister, Context, May 2007.