The cover of the New Republic picture this big thick book titled The Constitution of the United States. The real Constitution makes a very thin pamphlet, but with all that some folk have discovered in the Constitution in recent decades, maybe it looks to them like a big thick book. Anyway, the book is cut up in the shape of a cross. Very imaginative, that. Last month's literature from People for the American Way had a flag cut up in the shape of a cross, and somewhere recently was a cartoon with a drooping map of the U.S. suspended from a cross. The object of these excitements is, of course, the terrible religious right that, some would persuade us, threatens o destroy all that freedom-loving Americans hold dear.
The stated theme of this issue of TNR is “Where Religion Fits in American Politics.” The answer, one gathers, is that it doesn't. In the first article, David Frum explains why the religious right doesn't matter politically. In the second, John B. Judis warns that it matters a lot, apparently being the greatest danger since Hitler, maybe even since Joe McCarthy. Then historian Sean Wilentz reviews a book that gives a favorable account of American religion's role in social change (Cosmos Crumbling by Robert H. Abzug) and he cautions us that there is also an ugly face of religion in public life. The last is fair enough; the first two are fair not at all.
John B. Judis has in recent years become one of the left's favorite chroniclers of the right. He made his chief mark with a biography of William F. Buckley, Jr., which assures us that Mr. Buckley has grown over the years and it is alright to like him so long as you don't agree with him. In the present exercise (“Crosses to Bear”), Judis goes looking for crazy things that religious rightists have been known to say, and, goodness knows, he's in a target-rich environment. He informs us, inter alia, that “if the movement has a theoretician, it is Texas fundamentalist David Barton, author of The Myth of Separation.” Barton is not without significant influence in sectors of what is vaguely called the religious right, but there are writers much more widely read and cited. Barton serves Judis' purposes, however, since he offers an implausibly simple version of a “Christian America,” complete with graphs purporting to demonstrate that our national decline commenced with the “rejection of divine law” in the school prayer decisions of the early 1960s.
Actually, The Myth of Separation is scholarship of a high order compared with some of the books Judis might have mentioned to illustrate his point. The point, or so it seems, is that people of the religious right are not so very bright and are therefore the fit objects of the sniggering superiority of their social and political betters. Or, as one Washington Post reporter put it a while back, they are “poor, uneducated, and easily led.” (To its credit, the Post has since run several extensive analysis of the religious right that, while not sympathetic, are respectful and frequently insightful.) For Judis, however, sniggering is only permitted between the raising of alarums that these Christian rubes are the latest manifestation of the ever-present fascist threat. He doesn't put it quite that way, but only the obtuse will miss the point.
Like Professor Higgins in another context, Mr. Judis wonders, “Why can't they be like us?” He graciously allows that Christians can be constructively engaged in politics. There was Reinhold Niebuhr, for instance. Stifling the suspicion that Mr. Judis has not really read Moral Man and Immoral Society, which he invokes, and noting that our respect for Niebuhr is second to few, one must point out that he is quite wrong in suggesting that Niebuhr, unlike religious conservatives today, did not make rather direct connections between Christian faith and specific public policies. Niebuhr was, for instance, a founder and the moral captain of Americans for Democratic Action, an organization that did not stop at the brink of partisanship. And his writings in the late lamented Christianity and Crisis, which he also founded, offered very specific counsel on the political controversies of the day. Including, incidentally, his counsel that the school prayer decisions were a dangerous step toward the secularizing of American public life.
In short, Niebuhr was a good liberal; a very intelligent liberal with a profound sense of human limits, historical irony, and Divine judgment, but a good liberal for all that. It was easier to be that kind of liberal before liberalism was transmogrified into what Lionel Trilling termed “the adversary culture,” an elite culture at war with the beliefs and behavior, especially the religious beliefs and behavior, of the American people. Mr. Judis deplores the fact that Pat Robertson and his friends do not speak in the refined tones of Niebuhr from what were then the respectable academic bastions of Morningside Heights. And it is true, the notes of nuance, ambiguity, irony, ambivalence, uncertainty, and tentativeness are not much struck at rallies of the Christian Coalition.
Under the auspices of the religious right, Judis mourns, religion “becomes infected with the darker egoism of group and nation; it no longer softens and counters our ungenerous impulses but clothes them in holy righteousness.” Leaving aside whether there is some other kind of righteousness, I expect Niebuhr today would advise Mr. Judis to spare a generous impulse or two for millions of Americans who, knowing full well that they too are sinners, are justly fed up with being treated with contempt by political elites and have decided they aren't going to take it any more. Like Peter Finch in Network, they are “mad as hell” and, as Mr. Judis unsurprisingly succeeds in demonstrating, they sometimes sound like it. But enough of Judis' “Crosses to Bear.” In trying to understand the remarkable and often confusing insurgency of the religion factor in contemporary politics, his article does not get us much beyond the bumper stickers.
Conservatives vs. Conservatives
David Frum's article (“Dead Wrong”) is considerably more interesting. Frum, formerly with the Wall Street Journal, has recently published his critique of contemporary conservatism, Dead Right (a New Republic Book), which contains a good deal of information and argument that challenges settled assumptions on both the right and the left. Dead Right, I am glad to say, is definitely superior to “Dead Wrong.” In recent months, Frum has been pushing hard the thesis that conservatives, and the Republican Party in particular, have made a grave mistake in paying so much attention to social conservatives, as distinct from economic conservatives.
When it comes to counting votes and otherwise measuring real power, Frum contends in this article, the social conservatives don't amount to much. He invites us to infer that, on the issues, he is generally sympathetic to the social conservatives, but his job is just to give the facts, unpleasant though they may be. “Christian conservatives often react with hostility to bad news, even when they hear it from their friends. Good populists, they confuse the observation that they are losing with the opinion that they ought to lose. And they usually reply to bad news by citing polling data that indicate substantial public support for their positions.”
What is wrong with that, according to Frum, is that Christian conservatives assume that this is a democracy in which, through their representative institutions, the people deliberate and decide the questions of great public moment. That is not the way it works in the real world. Frum writes, “American politics is a far more elitist business than most of us are comfortable admitting.” It is not entirely clear just how uncomfortable David Frum is with the circumstance in which real power is wielded by “bureaucracies, legislatures, and courts,” with public opinion mattering on occasion. He compares public opinion to the atomic bomb in international relations—“useful when it comes time for the ultimate showdown but not terribly relevant to ordinary decision-making.”
David Frum's somewhat sniffy dismissiveness with respect to public opinion is, of course, in what some consider the grand and others consider the perversely antidemocratic tradition of Walter Lippmann. In any event, the atom bomb metaphor is less than apt, since one supposes that ordinary decision-making in international affairs is very much influenced by who has atomic bombs. But Mr. Frum's point is that, no matter how much popular support they have, the positions of the religious right are not going anywhere because its leaders are no match for the political elites that run the country. He writes, “More important than the ability to pack a nomination meeting in Amarillo, Texas, is the ability to sway the media, to attract support in the academic world, to lobby congressional staffers, to write a solid legal brief.”
They Make No Difference
Frum ticks off the issues that seem to matter most to the religious right and concludes that it has yet to inflict a serious scratch on politics as usual. On church-state relations, the courts are as devoted to “strict separationism” as ever. As for reforming school curricula in a direction more sympathetic to “traditional values,” the educational experts have successfully held at bay parents who want a greater say in what their children are taught. Obscenity and pornography flourish, and 1.5 million abortions are obtained each year as a matter of secure constitutional right. Despite a temporary setback here or there, “steadily and surely, the gay rights cause is carrying the day.” Sure, Frum allows, Christian conservatives have won some school board seats and captured Republican organizations in a few states, “but when they venture into bigger races, they get clobbered.” The real power of the religious right? Zilch, or so close to zilch as to make no difference.
Frum adds for good measure: “The Christian right has not done much better wielding power indirectly. Has there been a network news report sympathetic to its point of view? What large corporation worries about its image in the evangelical community? How many senators and governors regard the religious right as anything more than a nuisance to be managed?” If one agrees with Frum's answers to these questions, one might agree also with his judgment that “by the end of the ‘94 electoral cycle we're going to cease to read so much about the Christian right: those who compose it will have returned, if unhappily, to their old position as auxiliaries of the Republic Party and secular conservatism.”
How do I disagree with David Frum? Let me count the ways, or at least a few of them. First, Frum misleadingly forces a sharp tension, even antithesis, between economic and social conservatives. In fact, and with few exceptions, social conservatives are also economic conservatives-suspicious of Big Government, favoring lower taxes and less government regulation, and supportive of the market economy. Apart from the increasingly isolated radical libertarians, economic conservatives are more sympathetic than liberals of any stripe to the issues of the social conservatives. Conservatives hold in common the conviction that ordinary people know best how to run their lives; within some broadly agreed limits of law and decency, government should get out of the way and let people get on with it. There is a tension, to be sure, on the question of abortion. But the studies suggest that conservatives of all stripes are more in favor of the legal protection of the unborn than are liberals of all stripes, and that Americans as a whole are for much more protection than is permitted under the abortion regime of Roe v. Wade and its judicial offspring.
An Auxiliary With Clout
Second, Frum treats the religious right as a distinct political party, as though its becoming an auxiliary of the Republican Party would be proof of its failure. We emphatically do not speak for the religious right, and no doubt there are leaders in that movement who have a vested interest in keeping the focus on themselves as independent political players. But many who support the general program associated with the religious right might view it as a great success if public attention to the religious right declines because that program is being effectively advanced under the banner of one of the major parties. There is nothing so bad about being an auxiliary, if your group is an effective, even controlling, auxiliary.
The National Education Association and other government employee unions, along with feminist and homosexual rights organizations, constitute an exceedingly powerful, frequently controlling, auxiliary in the Democratic Party. That reality does not usually occasion excited media attention; it is considered the normal state of affairs among Democrats. Of course, one reason it does not occasion excited media attention is that the media powers-that-be tend to approve of feminism, gay advocacy, state monopoly of funding for education, and expanded government employment. In other words, those who belong to what might with as much justice be called the “secular left” as Christian conservatives are called the “religious right” are quite happy to be auxiliaries of one of the major parties. They do not think they have failed, nor should they. In time, the media may come to recognize as normal the influence of religious conservatives in the Republican Party, even though they do not approve of it. Then, as Mr. Frum says, we will “cease to read so much about the Christian right.” Good.
As to whether big league politicians view the religious right as no more than “a nuisance to be managed,” there are nuisances and then there are nuisances. When elections typically turn on two or three percentage points, coalitions commanding the allegiance of millions of voters nationally and large minorities at the state and local levels will indeed have to be “managed” (read appeased, neutralized, won over) by politicians who wish to gain or keep office. If Mr. Frum is telling us that the religious right by itself does not and will not determine the outcome of most elections, that is not very interesting. The same can be said of any other identifiable sector of the electorate.
Major politicians know that some questions must be “managed” with exceeding care. Most Republican leaders know, for instance, that it would be political suicide for the party to alienate the pro-life electorate (which, of course, is by no means coterminous with those voters who identify with the “religious right”). It could nonetheless do that, of course, in which case hypothetical scenarios about third and fourth parties (perhaps including Ross Perot Redux) become considerably less hypothetical, with electoral consequences beyond anyone's powers of prediction.
A Changing World
Third (for those who are counting), consider the list of questions on which Frum claims the secular liberals have won hands down. There has in fact been significant movement on church-state law. The Court has moved in the last decade or more from an almost insouciantly assumed extreme separationism to self-confessed confusion—and uneasiness about having gone too far in inhibiting the free exercise of religion. The remedy of its errors is not yet in sight, but, if one may be permitted a personal reference, the argument of The Naked Public Square was considered iconoclastic in 1984, while today it is regularly heard in influential circles of our legal and political culture, including the courts.
Frum is right about the importance of writing “a solid legal brief.” It appears to have escaped his notice that today there are a number of increasingly high-powered legal defense organizations litigating religious freedom and other items on the conservative agenda, whereas ten years ago there were none. I once asked the late Leo Pfeffer, the American Jewish Congress' great champion of extreme separationism, why he thought he had won so many cases before the Supreme Court. He smiled and responded, “Because there was nobody on the other side.” That wasn't quite true then, but it is certainly not true now, and it will be even less true in the years ahead.
It may be a very long time before the religious right is able to command lawyer-power comparable to that of the ACLU or Planned Parenthood, and it may never happen. But with remarkable alacrity, religious conservatives are learning to wage the war of legal briefs. One views that with some ambivalence, since, by joining in making the courts the locus of contention, conservatives may inadvertently reinforce the liberal pattern of moving the country ever farther away from democratic self-governance to government by the judiciary. It is worrying that few in the religious right seem to be worrying about that. And those who do worry about it invoke the maxim about fighting fire with fire, which is not easy to answer.
With Victories Like These
As for the rights of parents in educating their children, surely Mr. Frum should have noticed the many initiatives for school choice, the rapidly growing practice of home schooling, state experiments with charter schools, and successful efforts in several states to turn back grabs for government control (through teacher certification and the like) of nongovernmental schools. Not without reason do the National Education Association and related interests feel that they are on the defensive as more and more parents refuse to surrender their responsibilities in education to “the experts.” Educational reform as envisioned by many who support the religious right has hardly been achieved, but the terms of the debate have been dramatically changed in the last ten years. And again, those who favor that change are by no means limited to those who identify with the religious right.
In tones almost gleeful, Frum observes that the religious right has lost on obscenity. After enormous fuss about government funding of crucifixes immersed in urine and similar instances of artistic creativity, says Frum, “All the NEA artists blackballed by the Bush administration have jumped back on the public payroll. If the Christian right couldn't win that one, it can't win anything.” The claim does not bear examination. That an administration elected with 43 percent of the vote is spending a few million dollars on the more bizarre antics of adolescent artists (some of them quite elderly) hardly indicates the triumph of the hard-core adversary culture. No more than Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders' celebration of the joys of gay sex indicates the triumph of the homosexual movement. The Clinton Administration has done many things egregiously offensive to the religious right and, it seems likely, to the majority of Americans. Frum is right in observing that those who opposed Clinton were defeated by his election. But each new offense committed by the Administration should not be counted as an additional defeat. They might more accurately be described as actions by which a severely crippled Administration is crippling itself yet further.
Included on Frum's list is the putative fact that “the gay rights cause is carrying the day.” Possibly so, but if it does so it will be by judicial imposition and not by popular consent or legislative action. With respect to homosexuality, as with so much else, Americans are a very tolerant people, but where the question is legal recognition of homosexuals as a victim class entitled to affirmative redress, quota preferences, etc., the line has been drawn wherever the public has had a chance to express itself. Moreover, there is slight evidence that the gay rights cause, as defined by its advocates, is carrying the day when it comes to societal acceptance of homogenital sex as morally neutral behavior. Ask almost any parent. Ask the officers of the Presbyterian Church (USA) or the ELCA Lutherans.
“Winning” On Abortion
Then there is, in a category all by itself, abortion. Frum writes that the supporters of legalized abortion “know they're winning.” Where are they winning? They won with the Roe decision of 1973. By the Casey decision of 1992, while the Court still found a constitutional right to abortion, only two of the nine justices were prepared to say that Roe was rightly decided. Twenty-three years after every institution of Frum's vaunted political elite had declared the abortion question “settled,” it is the most unsettled question in our public life. Study after study confirms that no more than 17 percent of the people support the abortion regime imposed by Roe, which is in fact, if not in name, abortion on demand. The factor, absolutely the only factor, sustaining the present regime is the Supreme Court. Any submission of this question to the democratic process will almost certainly result in significant legal protection for unborn children.
The pro-choice leadership knows that any movement toward a democratic “accommodation” can only be in the pro-life direction. One expects that Mr. Frum knows that, too.
He correctly notes the analogy with the struggle over slavery, but I believe he draws the wrong lessons from it. He suggests that the violence employed by a few frustrated opponents of abortion indicates that they know their cause is lost. There are striking similarities between our circumstance and the 1850s, when the slavery abolitionists were confronted by the Dred Scott regime which was supported by both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. Today's abortion abolitionists may, as Frum says, “sense they are losing” in what he calls the “elitist business” of American politics, but those elites have to know that they have lost with the American people.
Only two institutional centers of leadership stood against the 1973 “settlement” endorsed by the entire American establishment—the Catholic Church and, later but very effectively, the captains of evangelical Protestantism. Today those two centers of leadership are more united and determined than ever on abortion. All the research demonstrates that the pro-life side can only gain and the pro-choice side can only lose by the public becoming better informed about existing abortion law and practice. This question simply will not go away. As the courts continue to stifle the politics of democratic action, we continue to head toward a constitutional crisis every bit as ominous as the conflict over slavery. “Abortion retains its status as a constitutionally guaranteed right,” says Frum with great assurance. The same could be said of slaveholding in 1857.
Off the Political Screen
Fifth, finally, and critical to his entire argument, Frum confuses “the religious right” with a cultural sea change much broader, deeper, and harder to understand than anything that shows up on the screens of everyday political analysis. The organizations that define “the religious right”—Moral Majority, Religious Roundtable, Christian Coalition—come and go. They are epiphenomenal; they give expression to and sometimes exploit a religiously informed cultural conservatism that is in motion and commotion on every front. What is called the religious right is a recent arrival. Moral Majority, now defunct, was little more than Jerry Falwell's bully pulpit. Christian Coalition, a much more serious political enterprise, is barely five years old. The deeper motion and commotion, on the other hand, has been steadily building for more than twenty-five years.
Fundamental realignments—political, cultural, religious—are nothing new in American history (see Lyman Kellstadt et al., “It's the Culture, Stupid: 1992 and Our Political Future,” FT, April 1994). An important aspect of the present realignment is provocatively analyzed in Christopher Lasch's posthumous book, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, just published by Norton. At least since the 1960s (although Lasch thinks the beginning can be traced back to the 1920s), America's elites have taken a decided turn away from the very idea of democratic governance. The notion has gained ascendancy, says Lasch, that ordinary people are not competent to govern themselves; government is the business of experts who have escaped the prejudices—most especially the religious prejudices—of the majority of Americans. Among such elites, “democracy” means chiefly upward mobility, the opportunity to liberate oneself from the common folk and join the superior company of those who are in charge of things.
Lasch's analysis is disturbing and persuasive, but one must go a step further. The unhappy circumstance he describes is reinforced by the fact that dominantly liberal and secular elites are no longer capable of providing, or are not willing to provide, a philosophical rationale for democratic governance. The “revolt of the elites” is not simply the result of ambition or snobbishness or disillusionment with the experience of democratic politics. As a generality, our societal leadership despairs of making the case for the truths that historically undergirded democratic governance. The Declaration of Independence, The Federalist, Tocqueville, Lincoln—all are still ordinarily honored as adornments of the American experience. But their words are not engaged for what they are—practical, moral, and philosophical arguments for this constitutional experiment in self-government.
To be sure, there are those who address these questions. But, however brilliant, the political philosophy of people such as John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin produces little more than conceptual contrivances that make for interesting conversation among a few academics who are interested in that kind of thing. There is today no project comparable to John Dewey's valiant but flawed efforts to make a moral and philosophical, even religious, case for democracy. And what is left of Dewey's legacy is claimed by Richard Rorty and other “liberal ironists” whose contempt for the American people—particularly for their moral and religious sensibilities—could not be made more crassly clear.
Frum says that the religious conservatives are “good populists,” and there is a lot to that. Joined to it must be the capacity to make effective arguments for popular government. The development of that capacity among politically conservative Christian and Jewish thinkers has not been conspicuously successful to date. With few exceptions, there has been little advance on the arguments set out by the likes of John Courtney Murray and Reinhold Niebuhr a half century ago. In addition, there is a not unimportant sector of the religious right today that believes that the whole idea of democracy is misbegotten, that America must be reconstituted on the basis of “Bible Law.” Nonetheless, it may be that Dewey's hope for a “common faith” that can sustain and invigorate democracy has at last appeared. It turns out to be the Judeo-Christian construction of reality, or what most people identify as the biblical tradition. Unlike Dewey's proposed new religion, and unlike the academic artifacts of people such as Dworkin and Rawls, this tradition has a remarkably strong popular base, which is a great advantage when the question at hand is government by the people. More than nine out of ten Americans profess allegiance to the moral tradition called Judeo-Christian, or at least more allegiance than they profess to any other way of trying to make moral sense of the world.
Nonetheless, Frum's elites are indeed formidable. Christopher Lasch leaves one with the doleful intimation that the revolt may be permanent, that the jig may be up with an experiment that is no longer attractive or convincing to those who have the responsibility to care for it. There is another possible future, however. The cultural reconfiguration that is made politically visible, in part, by the religious right could produce an explosion of argument about the idea and practice of democracy. That much of the argument will be marked by religious conviction will make it difficult for secularized elites for whom upward mobility has meant liberation from religion, or at least liberation from having to deal with religion in public. They will publish articles on the theme of “Where Religion Fits in American Politics,” and will ponder most gravely whether, or on what terms, these passionate social conservatives should be admitted to the circle of The People Who Run Things. If our reading of this historical moment has any merit, observers ten or twenty years from now will be puzzled, and perhaps amused, that these editors and writers seemed to think that they were still in charge of admissions.
Turning a Blind Eye
The United Nations conference in Cairo on population and development was a very big setback for the Clinton Administration and a very considerable success for the Vatican, which demonstrated its singular capacity to evoke a measure of moral reflection in the international arena. A forthcoming issue will carry a detailed and very lively report on what happened in and around the Cairo meeting. One possible irony is that U.S. feminists who established the theme of “empowerment of women” may have removed from center stage the Paul Ehrlichs, Garrett Hardins, and groups advocating a hard-nosed coercive approach to controlling population. While the feminists may have effected a “paradigm shift” in the rhetoric, however, it is likely that the massive funding that Cairo called for will still go to the coercive controllers.
The proponents of the myth of the “population bomb” are determined, as is evident in the reflections of liberal columnist Nicholas von Hoffman. He writes, “So it won't be long before the Coast Guard will be machine-gunning people trying to float in here on rafts, whether or not the new arrivals are desirable (and however one defines that word). There simply are too many people in the world. If they're all allowed into Jonathan Edwards' shining city on a hill, the place will turn into Slumtown, U.S.A., the new Bangladesh. Even at present rates, the American population will grow to a sickening 383 million within the lifetimes of today's high school students.” We should have learned by now, says von Hoffman. “For 150 years, men like Robert Malthus and Charles Darwin have been writing that we hairless apes would f___ ourselves into extinction. Unhappily, other voices, men such as Karl Marx and an endless succession of Popes, have written otherwise, to the great confusion of the gullible and unthinking.” (One word edited.)
He writes that “only a few optimists are left who believe the human population will level off of its own accord.” “Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, murdering day and night for half a century, didn't make a dent. All the wars of this bloody age haven't stemmed the procreational tide. AIDS offers no hope. Even the much discussed spread of homosexuality, while perhaps an encouraging development, has yet to put a discernible crimp in the birth rates.” The Pope, “who ought to know better,” says the rich nations can help the poor to share in the benefits of productivity. That, says von Hoffman, is unrealistic. “Anyway, Mr. Pope, get real—politically it ain't gonna happen.” People worry about coercive measures, but freedom “may be a luxury that only low birth-rate societies can enjoy.” In the face of the population crisis, von Hoffman proposes the creation of “Bobbitt Squads to ferret out and fix human males with a rooster complex who can't get it through their heads that insemination is a criminal, antisocial act.”
The U.S. should cut off food and medicine to societies that lag in population control. Von Hoffman admits that “we'll need a strong stomach to turn a blind eye to the means used to bring birth and death statistics into balance,” but he reminds us that “this fight is for the survival of our species.” Of course strong-stomached folk like Nicholas von Hoffman are hysterical and ill-informed, but they are not without very considerable influence. And, as aforesaid, despite the changes brought about in the original U.S.-backed proposals for Cairo, the big funding is still scheduled to go to the proponents of turning a blind eye to both the plight and the potential of the world's poor.
Richard Bernstein is a true liberal, which is to say he is a principled opponent of the illiberalism that today passes for liberalism in the worlds of journalism, entertainment, philanthropy, and education, both higher and lower. Which is to say that Richard Bernstein is a neoconservative. Remarkably enough, he has managed to survive as national cultural writer at the New York Times. He has now written a book that we recommend very highly, Dictatorship of Virtue: Multiculturalism and the Battle for America's Future (Knopf, 367 pages, $25
). It is a marvelously literate and detailed guide to the culture wars being waged on numerous fronts. He dissects the rewriting of history, indeed the turning of history into fiction, in order to bolster ethnic and racial self-esteem, and the ways in which “diversity,” under the auspices of the moralistically superior champions of the New Consciousness, has been turned into the systematic censorship and exclusion of any truth that offends political correctitude. Dictatorship of Virtue is a polemic, but it is much more than a polemic. It is an intellectually keen analysis of the dynamics of institutions and their vulnerability to ideologies that are advanced in the name of enlightenment and progress. It is also a bracing call to arms against the threat of what Robespierre called the “emanation of virtue.”
Bernstein on what happens next: “On the one side, the forces of the New Consciousness are on the rise, and, as George Orwell once pointed out, to be on the rise is an end in itself. ‘The object of power is power,' he said in 1984. ‘One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to safeguard the dictatorship.' Certainly, this is true of the dictatorship of virtue. It is propelled by so many forces. There is post-1960s disillusionment; there are rising expectations; there is a general inclination in liberal-democratic societies to find fault in the large historical forces, rather than in individual acts of irresponsibility. There is the normal human propensity toward a foolish zealousness. There is the yearning for community that the sociologists are always telling us about. You read the journals with their boilerplate about ‘genuinely oppositional education,' and you sense that much of what is politically correct stems from a desire to win the admiration of the rest of the New Consciousness cohort, to belong to the club. And there is also the American infatuation with the new. Susan Haack, a professor of philosophy at the University of Miami, explained to me the power that novelty has in academic life. ‘If somebody submits an idea saying that she, or he, is going to do research that radically changes how we look at our world, how before everything was masculine and white and bourgeois, then that generates excitement. If somebody, more reasonably, comes along and says “I'd like to look into this, and I think that in doing so I might make a modest change in our vision of things,” that generates less excitement. The first is far more likely to win a research grant than the second.'
“Above all, perhaps, the New Consciousness senses that it is gaining power, and that alone is reason for its existence in the first place. Indeed, to come close to power takes a good deal of the risk out of an enterprise that presents itself as inherently risky. The fact is that assaulting the establishment, declaiming against the racism and sexism of society, reiterating the approved phrases about oppression and exclusion, promising to uncover previously neglected worlds, these require not a jot of courage these days. These are the sanctioned activities of the counterestablishment, the gestures and idioms that gain approval and lead to good opportunities, to jobs, to prizes, to book contracts, to prominence in American life. It takes no bravery to be a multiculturalist. There is no risk in smashing the icons. There are millions of dollars in foundation grants available for people who claim they are doing so.
“Indeed, courage is now required to transgress the dictatorship of virtue. That is perhaps the greatest of the multicultural-politically correct victories. The upholders of the dictatorship of virtue have put the other side on the defensive.”
But, ultimately, Bernstein believes that the other side, his side, the liberal side, will prevail. The immoderation of the Robespierres and the certainty that their panaceas will not solve but will only exacerbate the problems they address so wrongheadedly will finally do them in. “The pendulum will swing eventually in the other direction.” But not before the mandarins of the New Consciousness do a great deal more damage. True liberals today, he says, need to take their cue from the likes of Irving Howe, Sidney Hook, and George Orwell, who dared to do battle against an earlier totalitarianism.
“It is not that we face a danger equivalent to theirs. We can be thankful that we do not. And yet the stakes are high enough, involving as they do our ability to tell the truth, to believe that there is a truth to be told, to provide the means to get ahead to those who most need it, and to encourage people to have self-esteem, not via ethnic boosterism, but by taking responsibility for their own lives. The time has come for liberals to recapture the high ground from the demagogues of diversity, to declare their diversity fake, fraudulent, superstitious, cranky, sanctimonious, monotonous. It is time to reaffirm the greatest engine of genuine diversity that the world has ever known, which is the liberal-democratic society sustained by a set of concepts now dismissed as the narratives of the people in charge.”
Dictatorship of Virtue is, as the reader may have gathered by now, a book with an attitude. It is also intelligent, informative, and, despite all, a great encouragement. Not the least of its merits is its sympathetic telling of the story of citizens all over the country who have stood up to the tyranny of PC and have prevailed. If enough people read and act upon Richard Bernstein's argument, who knows what might happen? Retiring the neoconservative number, we might resume the liberal jersey for the innings ahead. But that is getting way, way ahead of the game.
The Revolution that Wasn't
1993 was the year of gay and lesbian advocacy. There was President Clinton's promotion of homosexuals in the military, the great gay march on Washington, cover stories in almost every national publication, network programs galore, and a number of books aimed at “mainlining” the gay subculture. All the stops were pulled and gay advocacy reached a crescendo made noisier by the conservative discovery of homosexuality as an issue ripe for political exploitation. 1994 has been something of a disappointment for the partisans of the gay cause. Not, of course, that they do not continue to work hard through the courts and educational establishments to advance their views and secure goals such as legal victim status and same-sex marriage. But there is no evidence of a groundswell of change in popular attitudes or political support.
A particular mortification was the complete fizzle of John Boswell's long-awaited book on the putative history of Christian blessing of homosexual marriage, a fizzle for which some associated with this journal are pleased to accept a large measure of blame. Outside the subcultural press, the book has, to the best of our knowledge, received not one favorable notice, and most have been devastatingly dismissive of Boswell's erudition in the service of ideology. Even in the more liberal churches, efforts to obtain endorsement of homogenital behavior seem to be blocked for the foreseeable future. Only on the campuses is the semblance of the continuing revolution sustained.
The movement's frustration is evident also in the increasingly incoherent lines of argument being advanced by various organizations. For instance, a recent study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health has been hailed as a great breakthrough by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The study suggests that almost one-fifth of Americans have been attracted to someone of the same sex at some time since age fifteen. The Task Force declares that “these figures are significantly higher than last year's study by researchers at the Battelle Human Affairs Research Center that reported only 2 percent of men surveyed had ever engaged in same-sex sexual behavior, and one percent identified themselves as exclusively gay.”
Perhaps so and perhaps not. Tom W. Smith, a statistician at the University of Chicago, says of the Harvard study, “They basically asked whether you were ever attracted to a member of the same sex at any time since you were age 15—which can mean one very fleeting, very trivial sensation or feeling which may have never been acted upon and may never have been felt again in the next 30 or 40 years of your life.” David Wypij, who helped direct the study in question, says, “Our perspective is that sexual orientation isn't just a yes-no, heterosexual-homosexual question. I think in most individuals there is some sort of range. You may be more heterosexual, you may be more homosexual.”
The Harvard study—conducted in cooperation with the Center for Health Policy Studies in Washington and published in Archives of Sexual Behavior—tends to confirm what most people intuitively think to be the case. A substantial number of people (many more males than females) have at some time felt a sexual attraction to someone of the same sex. A small minority, perhaps 2 percent, have at some time given in to that impulse, while perhaps as many as one percent give in regularly, claiming that it is the only form of sexual expression they desire or of which they are capable. It is hard to know why gay and lesbian advocates champion these findings. The research, which highlights the often confused fluidity of sexual desire and action, undercuts claims of genetic or other fixed determinants of homosexual behavior. Of critical importance on the legal front, it undercuts the claim that the homogenitally active are a “class” in a way comparable to the legal definition of class defined by reference to race or gender.
The reality would seem to be that some are tempted to a certain behavior, most resist the temptation, a few succumb to it, and a very few surrender themselves to it in a manner so complete as to constitute their “identity,” their most basic sense of who they are. It is well to remember that all of us live under the judgment and under the mercy of God, and that homosexuality is by no means the most damning of the disorders to which sinful human beings are prone. But such sympathetic understanding is not what gay advocates were hoping for and expecting from what they declared to be the Revolution of 1993. The sense of disappointment has to be severe. A year later, it would seem that both popular and scholarly opinion about homosexuality is more settled, and settled along traditional lines, than it has been for some time. Of course that will not prevent judges and university administrators, who are admirably situated to ignore both scholarly evidence and democratic opinion, to ally themselves with determined activists in continuing to press the revolution that wasn't.
A Sense of Heightened Expectation
A most instructive visit to Rome (in the company of George Weigel, no stranger to our readers) at the end of September perhaps warrants a word. One purpose of the trip was to promote the Italian editions of Weigel's The Final Revolution and my Doing Well and Doing Good, both of which have just been brought out by Mondadori, Italy's largest publishing house. That involved many press conferences, and seminars in Naples and Milan, as well as Rome. The focus, of course, was on Catholic social teaching, with which Italian journalists and intellectuals are much more familiar than their American counterparts. On the other hand, it is by no means evident that they have seriously engaged the arguments advanced by this pontificate, especially in the encyclicals Centesimus Annus and Veritatis Splendor.
In Italy, even more than here, it is difficult to make any theological or philosophical assertion without having people read into it all kinds of political designs. About the complexities of the maddeningly confused politics of Italy, I repeatedly had to insist upon my innocence born of ignorance. Michael Novak joined us for the book promotion part of the visit, Mondadori having brought out his The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism at the same time. Italians take great delight in conspiracy theories, and there was much speculation in the press about this “American intellectual invasion.” The far left perceived the tentacles of American capitalism reaching out to bring Italy under the U.S. imperium, while the far right viewed us as doubtful Catholics insinuating the insidious doctrines of secular liberalism. For the most part, however, the arguments we made were respectfully, and sometimes enthusiastically, received.
It was repeatedly remarked that this was something quite new, since in Italy it had almost always been assumed that Catholic social teaching is pitted against liberal democracy. Italy did not have a Father John Courtney Murray, the Jesuit thinker who worked through the connections between Catholicism and the free society in this country, a thinker whose legacy some of us are eager to foster. The possibilities of Catholic teaching in support of the free and virtuous society were strikingly evident in the seminar at the Vatican which included Rocco Buttiglione, a philosopher who has been a student and collaborator of the Pope's for many years and who is now trying to rethink and reconstitute the Christian Democratic tradition in Italian politics. Participating as well was Carlo Scognamiglia, the speaker of the Senate, and for some reason this piqued most particular interest in the press and among political observers in Rome. As aforesaid, I know next to nothing about Italian politics. We were simply setting forth some general arguments, but it was rather fun to see the sundry political and ideological uses to which they were put.
The most important purpose of the visit was to touch base with various officials in the Vatican on matters ecumenical, ecclesiastical, and theological. In extended conversations with such as Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Cardinal Cassidy who heads the council on Christian unity, intense and supportive interest was expressed in, among other things, our various initiatives to bring together Catholics and evangelical Protestants. This is clearly a question of great importance to the Holy See as it looks forward to the reconfiguration of the Christian reality in the Third Millennium. There was also extended and wide-ranging conversation with the Holy Father.
While such meetings are by no means secret, what is said in such meetings is privileged. However, I can say that, apart from a very painful hip that makes it exceedingly difficult for him to walk, the Pope seemed to be in fine, even robust, health. The visit was precisely at the time when the international press was filled with chatter about his impending demise and the usual idle speculation about who might succeed him. The Holy Father was vigorous, candid, expansive, humorous, self-deprecating, and clearly in command of the many subjects he addressed. He powerfully evinces the sense of heightened expectation that attends being radically open to the direction of God. Catholics believe that he is Peter among us, and in his presence it seems quite self-evidently so. In any event, there is every reason to believe and hope that this Pope will lead the Church into the Third Millennium.
Herewith a few impressions that may be of interest. They are but my impressions, for whatever they're worth. One has the very distinct sense that Rome believes it is on the verge of reestablishing communion with the Orthodox churches of the East—Russian, Greek, Ukrainian, and other. That communion between East and West was broken in 1054, and it may be that, as the Second Millennium was the millennium of Christian division, so the Third Millennium will be the millennium of Christian unity.
On the Western front, there have been disappointing setbacks in some ecumenical relations, especially with the Anglicans, but there can be no question about the long-term resolve of Rome's ecumenical commitment. As mentioned above, there is great interest in developing relations with evangelical Protestants here and around the world, joined to a sober recognition that the time for serious consideration of ecclesial unity with evangelicals is very far in the future, if indeed it ever arrives. But if one asks what is the top priority for this pontificate in the years ahead, the answer, I believe, is Christian unity. It is rumored that there will shortly be a major document, perhaps an encyclical, on Christian unity, possibly before the much awaited encyclical on respect for human life. The most dramatic evidence of heightened ecumenical expectations, however, is what appears to be the approaching restoration of communion with the East. The historic stumbling block for the Eastern churches has been the question of papal jurisdiction, and it now seems that Rome has determined that unity is more important than jurisdiction.
One may date the first chapter of this pontificate from 1978 to 1989, the latter year marking the collapse of communism. In that period the Pope was perceived as facing East and was tolerated, even cherished, by the Western powers as an ally in the struggle against Marxist totalitarianism. Now he is seen to be facing toward the West, and his moral and spiritual challenge might not be so welcome. In this connection, one must count the Vatican's role at the United Nations Cairo conference on population and development to be a great success. Of course this reading directly contradicts the story peddled by most of the American and international press, in which the Vatican was featured as little more than an obstructionist nuisance. In fact, the Clinton Administration was foiled in its intention to use the conference to establish abortion on demand as an international right—and, denials to the contrary, that was among the stated purposes of the Administration. On abortion and other questions, the Vatican employed persuasive argument and astute parliamentary strategy to effect striking changes in the original American-sponsored designs for the conference. For the present, one simply notes that Cairo supports the heightened expectations for the Vatican's singular role as a catalyst for moral deliberation in the international arena. Also important in this connection is the forging of new working relationships with a number of Muslim centers of influence. This also touches on changing religious configurations for the next century, changes in which the remarkable developments in relation to Judaism, the community of our “elder brothers,” are critically important.
In the post-1989 second chapter of this pontificate, some journalists and other observers have recklessly speculated that there is a pulling back from Centesimus Annus and its strong endorsement of the free economy in a free and virtuous society. According to these speculations, Rome is so appalled by the decadence that has accompanied freedom in the former Communist states that it is casting longing eyes back to the good old days of socialism. In discussions with persons at various levels of authority, such speculation meets with amused incredulity. Centesimus Annus highlights the complex relationship between the cultural, the political, and the economic, and recognizes that no earthly social order will ever get the connections exactly right; always and everywhere, short of the Kingdom Come, there will be very real problems. But there is no doubt whatever that this pontificate vigorously champions the teaching of Centesimus Annus and is strongly appreciative of bishops, theologians, and others who have accurately communicated that teaching.
In sum, on this visit to Rome I was struck by a sense of heightened expectations. Nothing enthusiastic, mind you, but a quiet confidence that, in the mysterious purposes of God, great and good things are afoot. It has to do with the fast approaching Third Millennium, no doubt. It may also have to do with catching a second breath after the momentous events that closed the first chapter of this pontificate in 1989. And it has to do with the perception that, while dissent and confusion still abound in many quarters, the momentum has shifted toward the authentic teaching of the Church's faith. In this regard, the remarkable response to the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, not least in the U.S., has been a tonic. These and other factors figure into, but do not explain, the remarkable spirit of hopefulness. The explanation, at least some of us are convinced, would require an extended reflection on the curious ways of the Holy Spirit.
Deeper Meanings, Sort Of
Where were you when you heard that JFK was killed? It's likely half our readers weren't born yet. But there are these events, usually tragic, that are supposed to congeal the sense of national community by indelibly imprinting a moment on the collective mind. Like that long chase of O. J. Simpson in his Ford Bronco. Where were you? It seems that all but a dozen of us were transfixed in front of the television. It seems that way, but one may be permitted to doubt it. Admittedly, this writer is hopelessly out of it, but I not only did not see the chase, I haven't watched one program or had one conversation with anyone about the Simpson affair. Yes, one hears passing remarks about the nation being obsessed with the matter, and you can't help but note the many stories about it in the paper as you flip through what certainly does not require your attention. Actually, I think we are being put on. I am sure there are many, many more than a dozen of us who have remained quite impervious to the clamor, aside from opining, if anyone asks (no one has), that of course someone might get away with murder if he can pay five or ten million for his defense, and there is nothing very new about that.
Confession time. I read one of the O. J. Simpson stories, by Anne Applebaum in the London Spectator-because Ms. Applebaum is fun to read, and because it is an O. J. Simpson story about the O. J. Simpson stories, so I thought maybe I could catch up on what I had not missed by so cavalierly flipping through the paper. Ms. Applebaum is of the view that in today's America a murder is never just a murder, at least when a celebrity is involved; it is an excuse for national self-examination. And what remarkable self-examinations there have been. Through the prism of O. J.'s crime (alleged), it seems we are finding out all kinds of things about race, class, celebritydom, sports, sexual dysfunction, and failing marriages. Maybe there's even a religion angle, although it did not show up on Ms. Applebaum's screen.
She does note the Harvard psychiatrist in the Washington Post who says, “It certainly seems to me that in dealing with O. J. Simpson the media has been portraying him as a wife-abuser and a violent person, and negatively digging up his past.” Ms. Applebaum thinks it difficult to be positive about a past that indicates the man is a wife-abuser and violent person. Also in the Post, a black businessman expressed concern that “this is yet another opportunity to bring an African American down hard,” while a political activist declares that “anybody who commits a crime like this is someone who obviously is a victim.” It follows, sort of.
Some years ago the writer Joan Didion noticed the strain of self-centeredness that runs through the American media culture. “Where are we heading?” she was asked on a book tour. “‘Where are we heading?' they asked in all the television and radio studios. . . . Quite often they wondered not just where we were heading but where we were heading ‘as Americans' or ‘as concerned Americans' or ‘as American women' or, on one occasion, ‘as the American guy and the American woman.' I never did learn the answer.” What does the O. J. Simpson case tell us about ourselves? What should we learn about who we are and what we have done?
Anne Applebaum finds it hard to take. “In America, the use of terms borrowed from psychoanalysis is so widespread—popularized by countless self-help books and talk-show hosts with therapy training—that it no longer seems odd that the whole society should be held accountable for a single crime. America's aggression may well have needed to work itself out; America's forgotten childhood traumas may need to be unearthed; an incident in America's life ought to be examined, in order to understand America's deeper problem. This, is after all, a country whose political commentators sometimes refer to Yugoslavia as a ‘dysfunctional country,' as if it were a family, and a country whose President uses his emotions to justify policy decisions (‘I feel good about the bombing,' was one memorable Clinton remark). . . . It is therefore hardly surprising that a celebrity murder is also received by the American public as an occasion for national soul-searching and an investigation of racism—the great national personality disorder—rather than as a time to evaluate the facts, decide whether the celebrity in question is guilty or not, and perhaps also decide to discuss racism later on, in a more appropriate context. . . . After all, if O. J. did do it, that would not be unexpected: men kill their wives every day, it is the commonest sort of crime. If he did not do it, his plight is hardly different from that of thousands of other people, black and white, also falsely accused of a crime. Perhaps there is nothing to make sense of, nothing deeper to understand, no racial overtones, no implications for society at large. Perhaps the outcome of this trial will not affect ‘where we are going, as Americans.' But if that were the case, then there will be nothing to talk about in America this autumn.”
Well. It certainly makes those of us who have not been paying attention feel better. (“I feel good about ignoring it.”) Although Ms. Applebaum is no comfort to those commentators, including, we have no doubt, quite a few preachers, who seized upon the O. J. affair to exercise their expertise in the deeper meanings department. We had trouble enough during those turbulent days pondering the Yankees. What does it say about us as Americans when the baseball owners and players of all the other teams close down the game rather than allow the Yankees to win the World Series?
While We're At It
• “Do you believe Jesus is God?” “No,” says Bishop John Spong (Episcopalian) of Newark, but “I do believe something of him was perfectly transparent to God.” (He did not specify which part of Jesus might be transparent.) The statement prompted a reader of the Christian Challenge, which styles itself “The Only Worldwide Voice of Traditional Anglicanism,” to come up with some revised titles for favorite hymns: “Clearer My God Through Thee,” “Glass of Ages, Cleaned for Me,” and “Joyful Joyful, We See Through Thee.” Oh, those Anglicans.
• S. Robert Lichter is codirector of the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, and coauthor with Stanley Rothman of the much discussed study The Media Elite. The findings of that study as it pertains to religion and the media have been discussed in these pages (see Stanley Rothman, “Religion's Bad Press,” January 1994). Recently Lichter testified at a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on religious discrimination, meaning discrimination against the religious. He discussed the overwhelming evidence that religious commitment is a “key variable” in predicting attitudes on a host of public policy questions, and noted the dramatic gap between the media elite and the general public with respect to religious commitment. Questioned by Commissioner Robert George, Lichter acknowledged that the religiously committed are largely excluded from the higher reaches of media leadership. Lichter said, “Certainly the entire logic that is applied to diversity efforts in terms of race and gender should be equally applicable in terms of religion. If you are talking about something that is, for most people, extremely central to their lives, their conceptions of their existence, and often is a matter of something you are born into, in a way, it is the family training almost as much as a personal, physical characteristic, so I think the same conclusion applies. That is, if these people remain what sociologists like to call ‘the other,' someone terra incognita, then you are unlikely to see them working their way up through an organization until they become more familiar or more ordinary to the other people in that organization. That is the same thing that African-Americans, Hispanics, women, and so forth have gone through.” George observed that religion “doesn't seem to be treated as an issue in diversity, even among people who are in roles that give them responsibility for promoting diversity within their organizations.” George asked Lichter how he would advise an undergraduate who aspired to go to the top in print or broadcast journalism if the student had a resume that included, among many other activities, his membership in the Evangelical Christian Fellowship. Would you advise him to omit any mention of that? Lichter: “I would say leave it off, just as twenty years ago, if you were a member of a gay rights organization, I would have said leave it off.” Affirmative action and quotas is the wrong way to go for the religiously committed as it is the wrong way to go for people defined by race, gender, or sexual proclivity. But the above exchange is telling and troubling, underscoring the incoherence and dishonesty in much that is pushed under the banner of “diversity.” Commissioner George and his colleagues render a real service by focusing the attention of the Civil Rights Commission on discrimination against religion and the religious, i.e., discrimination against the great majority of Americans.
• The building of coalitions is frequently premised upon the axiom that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. As often as not, this produces strange bedfellows, so to speak, as in the case of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians. Philip Arcidi is the president of PLAGAL (Box 33292, Washington, D.C. 20033) and has submitted an op-ed piece asserting that “Roe v. Wade could ensure the virtual elimination of homosexuals from American society in a generation or two. Perhaps some of the religious right might be tempted to stop picketing abortion clinics for just long enough to complete the holocaust.” The reasoning goes like this: “As scientists become more adept at deciphering the DNA codes, they will be able to predict with increasing accuracy whether an unborn child is predisposed to grow up lesbian and gay. As this knowledge becomes more readily available, prospective parents will have to ask themselves if they are willing to assume the challenge of raising a potential gay son or lesbian daughter, or whether they should abort and retry. Sadly, the most liberal-minded couples—even those whose ‘best friends' may include a gay or lesbian or two—are likely to opt for the latter course.” The conclusion would seem to follow: “When members of the homosexual community look at the issue in light of all the facts, it is no longer a question of ‘How can you be gay and be against abortion?' It is a question of ‘How can you be gay and favor abortion?' It is high time that lesbians and gays realized that we of all people have a vested interest in upholding the sanctity of all human life—beginning with the lives of the unborn. Otherwise, we can look forward to a brave new world in which queer bashing starts in the womb.” The assumption is that most people, given their druthers, would prefer not to have a child who is likely to be homosexual. The prior assumption is that today's homosexuals have an interest in making sure that there are future generations of homosexuals. That prior assumption is almost certainly not shared by most in the pro-life movement. At the same time, the point of the movement is that all children should be given the chance to live the life that is theirs, along with the attendant risks of living it badly. We have recently received complaints that some gay pro-life activists have been given a very hard time by some non-gay pro-life activists—hate calls late at night and other nastiness. That is, to put it delicately, both dumb and wrong. There are atheists for life and Marxists for life, so why not gays and lesbians for life? Nobody is going to think that the atheists, Marxists, or gays represent the pro-life movement. On the other hand, their public presence plays some modest part in confusing the stereotypes so effectively employed by the opposition. In any event, the question at hand is protecting the unborn, not atheism, Marxism, or homosexuality. There is a time for discussing such errors, and cooperating in pro-life activities can create a measure of trust that makes such discussion possible. In building coalitions, however, it is not, paraphrasing Eliot, the greater treason to encourage people to do the right thing, even if for the wrong reason.
• In some parts of the world Christians are still being crucified, quite literally so. News agencies report that five Christians have been crucified since July in Sudan, one being an Anglican priest. The detail is supplied that the executioners used six-inch-long nails. In Wad Medani two Catholic converts have been sentenced by an Islamic law court to be crucified. Anglican Bishop Daniel Zindo reports that widows and orphans of slain Christian men are sold into slavery in north Sudan and Libya for $15 per slave. Such behavior does put a strain on hopes for better Christian-Muslim relations.
• Skirmishes over removing “sexist” or “gender-specific” language from Scripture, liturgy, and Christian teaching continue in many of the churches. The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, regrettably in our judgment, is filled with half-measures to pacify feminist advocates. (Hold on to your RSV, still, all things considered, the best English translation to date.) One of the problems with half-measures, such as using only “inclusive” pronouns, is that they satisfy none of the partisans in this dispute. A bigger problem is that they are theologically incoherent and foster incoherence. This is the argument carefully laid out by Alvin F. Kimel, rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Highland, Maryland, and Donald Hook, professor of linguistics at Trinity College, Hartford. Their article, first appearing in the Scottish Journal of Theology, has been made available in pamphlet form. To receive a copy of “The Pronouns of Deity,” send one dollar to Mr. John Ott, P.O. Box 268, Largo, FL 34649.
• One wonders when, in the judgment of certain journalists, prayer would not be “bizarre.” The headline in the tabloid New York Post shouts, “Judge Thomas' Bizarre Bathroom Prayer Session.” The incident cited from Senator John Danforth's book, Resurrection, is one in which, before going before the Senate committee to deny the charges of Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, Danforth, and their wives went into a bathroom in the Senate office building to pray together. This, reports the Post, is “the book's most bizarre scene.” Danforth writes that he put his hands on Thomas' shoulders and said, “Go forth in the name of Christ, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit.” Justice Thomas is quoted as saying that he felt “as though I was armed for battle then. I was still scared, but I felt that God was with us.” How wacky can you get? This man prays. This man believes that God answers prayer. If that isn't grounds for impeachment, why do we have the ACLU? Under the accompanying picture of Thomas in the Post story is the line, “Cried and squirmed.” Were it another man, he would likely be applauded for his “vulnerability.” Under the picture of Anita Hill is the line “Treated unfairly?” Since there is nothing at all about Anita Hill in the story itself, the point must be that she was treated unfairly because Clarence Thomas gained an undue advantage by praying and getting God on his side. Bizarre is the right word as applied to, not by, the New York Post.
• “We think that using God to sell tennis racquets is inappropriate.” So said Matthew Margo, vice president of program practices at CBS, after the network rejected a Chiat/Day ad for Prince tennis racquets that featured God playing tennis. Inappropriate no doubt, but one's theological curiosity is titillated. In the service and return might be possibilities for portraying the relationship among the persons of the immanent Trinity, unless of course the ad pictured Manichaeus in the other court, in which case CBS was right to promptly squelch such heresy. But now it appears the ad will never be shown, and so how God might be depicted playing tennis joins a long list of things that we will likely never know. On the other hand, one remains open to the possibility that there is not only a celestial court but also celestial courts.
• The western states of the U.S. are generally thought to be much less religious, or much more crazily religious, than other parts of the country, and there is an element of truth in both claims. New Ageisms and cult-like Christian spinoffs do flourish there, but a recent Gallup survey indicates that the difference between the West and the rest of the country is not so great as is sometimes thought. In the West (including Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico), 19 percent of adults belong to a Bible study group, whereas the national average is 28 percent. Believing that the Bible is the literal word of God are 21 percent, contrasted with 32 percent nationally. Twenty percent hold that the Bible is a collection of fables and legends, while only 16 percent of all Americans take that view. In the West, 33 percent consider themselves “born again” or “evangelical,” whereas the national figure is 42 percent. Forty-eight percent of westerners are Protestant (56 percent nationally), 25 percent are Catholic (26 percent nationally), and 2 percent, the national average, are Jewish. Gallup reports that the Northeast is more liberal than the rest of the country, mainly because only 28 percent of respondents say that they are born again or evangelical. But that is surely explained by the fact that 38 percent of the Northeast is Catholic, and most Catholics are not at home with the born again argot of evangelical Protestantism. The Midwest, from Ohio to Nebraska and Missouri to Minnesota, is the “heartland,” and is in sync with the national average on almost every score. So what is the state of faith in the heartland? Average. Neither too much nor too little, neither too hot nor too cold. Laodicea, USA. Not, of course, that the rest of us are likely to get off any easier.
• “The Politics of the Breast” is an opinion piece in the New York Times advocating the right of women to go bare-breasted on the subway. Two years ago the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the state laws against indecent exposure could not be enforced against women who wish to be topless in public. Judge Vito J. Titone wrote that differential treatment of female bodies violated constitutional guarantees of equality and was “rooted in centuries of prejudice and bias toward women.” One suspects he meant to say against women. A certain delicacy about the display of the female body in public is indeed rooted, apparently from the beginning of the species, in an enthusiastic male prejudice and bias toward naked women. Such considerations seem to carry little weight with the court, however. If human nature and the edicts of the court are in conflict, human nature will just have to change. Mayor Giuliani, being a generally sensible fellow, says the transit police will continue to arrest bare-breasted women on the subway. A police spokesman explains that, in the close press of subway travel, a “very, very attractive” topless woman could create excitements that would pose a public danger. Some subway patrons, he opined, could become so distracted that they might fall down escalators or even onto the tracks. The Times writer is buying none of it. She scoffs at the idea that “the power of the female breast is such that it can lure its beholders to untimely demise in subterranean channels.” She concludes that the bare-breasted subway rider is making the point “that her breasts belong to her and not to the onlookers.” It is not, however, the proprietorship but the public display of the items that is in question. To be fair to the writer, this is a man thing and it is perhaps understandable that she just doesn't get it. Her argument and that of the New York court, however, do helpfully illumine why it is so very difficult to make a case for public decency. The concepts of decency and indecency turn upon what is offensive. Today, unless you are a member of a certified victim group, you have not the right to be offended. If you are offended or, as in this case, aroused, the fault is with you. The fun for the more aggressive members of the certified victim group is to taunt and provoke you into protesting what they say or do, thus confirming that they are victims and you the victimizer. But this is old hat by now. And for all the media chatter about bare-breasted subway riders, we know nobody who has seen one to date. One expects it's not for the lack of looking. In any event, the ancient maxim is again vindicated that those whom the gods would destroy are, if madness be the sign, disproportionately New Yorkers.
• Here is a note attached to a list of names and addresses asking us to send them a sample copy of First Things with an invitation to subscribe. Which we did. And which reminds us that we haven't suggested for a while that you do the same. Please send names and addresses of your friends who you think should be subscribers and who are likely to subscribe, and we'll send them a free issue and let them know that it is at your suggestion. It costs money, of course, but it is one of the most cost-efficient ways to bring new people on board. And think how grateful your friends will be, maybe.
• When what was left of Mrs. Clinton's health care scheme was being debated, pro-abortionists expressed confidence that President Clinton would not accept a plan that did not include abortion as a basic health service. Said Pamela J. Maraldo, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, “We are, the pro-choice community, one of the few groups that the Clinton Administration has kept its commitments to, to date.” Her view of Clinton puts one in mind of FDR's reported response to criticism of a crooked Latin American politician, “He may be an S.O.B., but he's our S.O.B.”
• The people at Sophia Press had this great idea of bringing together in one handsome volume the best poetry on the birth of Christ. There are what some may think unlikely entries by Vergil and Oscar Wilde alongside classics such as Chaucer, Chesterton, Eliot, Pasternak, and Claudel. The book is titled O Holy Night! Masterworks of Christmas Poetry and more information is available by calling 1-800-888-9344. Having given the book a plug, fully deserved, we feel free to snitch a sample. Not really snitch, of course, since John Donne has been in the public domain for somewhat over three centuries. The following is from his La Corona:
Salvation to all that will is nigh,
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must beare,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful Virgin, yields himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though he there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet he will wear
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in his mind, who is thy Son, and Brother,
Whom thou conceiv'st, conceiv'd; yea thou are now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother,
Thou hast light in dark; and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.
• Christmas cards come with all kinds of printed messages, banal and profound. Definitely in the latter category is last year's card from Father James Viall of Cleveland. The message, good for any time of year, is a reflection in old age by the great French writer Francois Mauriac: “It is God alone, that you have carried away with you from that childhood. All the rest had to be abandoned, but not that presence indissolubly a part of your very being, so much a part that you doubt if it can possibly be found again after death. Rather, you almost cannot believe that He whom you will contemplate in the hereafter can resemble that Friend you have on earth; your eyes do not see Him, your hands do not touch Him, yet He walked beside you in the dark mornings on the damp pavement of the rue de Mirail where your school was, and He is still, today and forever, keeping step with you. Between that past and the present was a man's life, similar to all men's lives, woven of ambitions and desires. The river of the childhood paradise had disappeared underground, but now it has gushed up anew in the wilderness of your last days.”
New Republic on the religious right, September 12, 1994. Nicholas von Hoffman on the “population bomb,” New York Observer, September 12, 1994. Study on homosexual behavior cited in Associated Press report, September 6, 1994. Anne Applebaum on O.J. Simpson case, Spectator, July 30, 1994. Parody titles of hymns in Christian Challenge, September 1994. Robert Lichter on religion and the media, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on religion, July 1, 1994. On murder of Christians by Muslimsin Sudan, National and International Religion Report, September 19, 1994. New York Post, on Clarence Thomas, September 19, 1994. Matthew Margo quoted on God and advertising, New York Observer, September 12, 1994. Gallup data on religion in the Western states from emerging trends, September 1994. “The Politics of the Breast” in New York Times, October 2, 1994. On President Clinton's pro-abortionist supporters, New York Times, August 3, 1994.