• “Over the years, I saw a conversion in Chuck to elements of natural law theory,” writes Fr. Thomas Guarino of our friend Chuck Colson, who died in April and is much missed.
At one Evangelicals and Catholics Together meeting, writes Tom, the Catholic co-chairman of ECT, which Chuck helped found twenty years ago, some of the Catholic members questioned the value of natural law arguments “on the philosophical ground that no reason exists that is not already deeply saturated with prior pre-understandings and commitments.” Chuck “emerged as a strong defender of pursuing the case against abortion on the basis of general reason as one authentic way of approaching the issue. Fr. Neuhaus was deeply amused by this turning of tables: Catholics were expressing reservations about dimensions of natural law theory while Evangelicals were ardently defending it.”
That’s the way it works. In business it’s called “synergy.” Among Christians, it’s called ecumenism, or maybe just friendship. For which, by the way, both Chuck Colson and Richard John Neuhaus had great capacity.
• California will always do well economically, declares former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s top economic advisor, David Crane, because it represents “ground zero for creative destruction.” Those who speak so cheerfully of creative destruction rarely face any danger of being creatively destroyed, but we bring this up because Crane is defending California’s high tax and high regulation regime. We can make business costly, he seems to think, because we have Facebook, and Facebook doesn’t seem to mind the taxes and regulations.
Which is a mistake, Joel Kotkin notes: “High-end, massively financed tech firms like Facebook can endure the Golden State’s weak general education, insanely tough regulations, high energy costs, and rising tax rates. Silicon Valley software firms generally tend to support, or certainly don’t oppose, the draconian energy, land use, and other state regulations widely opposed by other, less ethereal industries.”
So what happens when a state discourages less ethereal industries? Middle-class families have to leave. From 2000 to 2009, 1.5 million more people left California than entered it. They move to states like Utah or Texas where they can find jobs and afford homes. This makes California “a society that is increasingly class divided, far more so than the national average.”
More to the point, you can’t run an economy without the middle class. You can, though, without Facebook.
• The always entertaining Forum Letter reports that in explaining the first chapter of John’s Gospel, the March-April-May issue of Augsburg Adult Bible Studies declares that “Jesus is simply ‘the Word’ who existed with God and who is God. This Word is created before the creation of everything else that exists.”
Old heresies never die, but we would have thought that of all the classic heresies, Arianism is the one moderns are least likely to revive. It’s too technical, for one thing, and if you want to take Jesus down a few pegs there are easier ways to do it. But we were wrong. Arius lives, and writes for Augsburg Fortress.
• “There are people here who, everything they do in public life, they gauge how the New York Times will react,” says an unidentified New York City councilman, talking to the New York Observer in a story on political candidates’ energetic pursuit of the Times’ endorsement. The Times, the story explains, “is still seen as an unbiased arbiter.”
Our eyebrows went up, too, but this is New York. The newspaper’s kind of candidate is “somebody who is well-spoken, physically put together, has a sense of humor.” Ideologically, he should be an on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other kind of guy. “Be in favor of good government and the environment, but anti-development absolutists should run for community board president. Ideas for closing the income gap are encouraged, but so is responsible budgeting.”
Except, and you had to know this was coming: “Going wobbly on abortion rights or gay rights is a disqualifier.” A political operative explains, “You get the sense that for the single mother who makes $29,000 a year, they [the editors] care a lot more about her right to an abortion than her right to decent health care from her union.”
• Euphemisms can be fun. A friend tells us that a small group of Franciscans he knew, conscious of their vows and their position, would, when they wanted to say a woman was pretty, say: “She looks Irish.”
• In the last issue, we quoted George Orwell’s famous remark in The Road to Wigan Pier on how embarrassing his fellow socialists were. Later in the same passage, he complains—interestingly, perhaps, given the popularity of food snobbery even among conservatives—about a socialist camp that asked campers if they wanted vegetarian meals. “This kind of thing is by itself sufficient to alienate plenty of decent people. And their instinct is perfectly sound, for the food-crank is by definition a person willing to cut himself off from human society in hopes of adding five years on to the life of his carcase; that is, a person out of touch with common humanity.”
We would dearly love to read Orwell’s thoughts on Mayor Bloomberg.
• “This is no time for cheap indignation targeted at individuals that are only doing what U.S. law impels them to do,” writes Mario Loyola. He is writing about the claims—never, as far as we know, confirmed—that Facebook tycoon Eduardo Saverin had renounced his American citizenship and moved to Singapore because he wanted to avoid paying American taxes.
Impels? How is one impelled to leave one’s country—in Saverin’s case one to which his family had fled, been welcomed, and where he was able to make his fortune? Patriotism and loyalty are things that cannot be bought by lower taxes, no more than a good man will leave his wife and children for money.
Loyola continues: “It’s silly to say that those people and companies [who leave the country to avoid taxes] are being ungrateful, when they’re only doing what rational economics would have predicted. America has always been a great place to live, but there’s nothing automatic about that.” Nothing automatic, no, but a man doesn’t love his country because it’s a great place to live. He loves it because it’s his, whether by birth or adoption, and it becomes a great place to live because he loves it.
“I don’t know if the reason for my anger is just my old fashioned Irish-American patriotism,” wrote the friend who sent us the link, “or the fact that I just spent a week with my father tripping and limping around with a bad leg he gave in the service of this nation, or because my mother is an immigrant and both my paternal grandparents were too, and as much as all of them loved Ireland they knew how much they owed this country and considered the precious value of their American citizenship only slightly behind that of their baptismal certificates.”
We think, in contrast to Saverin and Loyola, of Christopher Hitchens’ moving essay “For Patriot Dreams,” written after 9/11, when he announces his desire to become a citizen of this country, not because he seeks any gain—he was already successful as an expatriate Brit—but because the murder of so many Americans had made him realize that he already felt the citizen’s love for this nation. “Confronted in this manner, and affronted too, one has to be able to say, My country after all.”
• Anti-Catholicism lives. In a glowing review of a movie called A Perfect Family, Rex Reed writes that the main character Eileen is “a devout, self-obsessed Catholic so enslaved by dogma and ritual that she crosses herself and gives thanks to God before she so much as eats a vegetarian tamale.” We had thought gratitude a good thing worth expressing, but maybe we’re self-obsessed and enslaved by dogma.
Another example: “‘What do you think?’ someone asks. ‘I don’t have to think. I’m a Catholic,’ says Eileen. I laughed like a loon.” (Loons, of course, don’t laugh.)
The movie tells the story of a Catholic woman fighting to be named Catholic Woman of the Year while her dysfunctional family falls apart, and it apparently includes every clichÈ you’d expect, as well as teaching us about “misplaced faith” (Catholic) and “real family values” (not Catholic). According to the IMDB website, the movie grossed $108,000. Someone lost a lot of money making this movie, and, you know, that makes us happy.
• Those of you interested in writing may enjoy an essay by the critic John Simon, called “Why Rex Reed Can’t Write.” Reed writes with energy, but not well. The essay can be found at thecriticjohnsimon.com/paradigms-lost/why-reed-cant-write and in his book (recommended) Paradigms Lost.
• Last month we commended to your attention the journal Catholic Southwest. One of the issues at hand includes a fascinating essay on the St. Patricks, the Irish Catholic soldiers who left the American army and formed a battalion of the Mexican army during the Mexican-American War—a war of, shall we say, dubious justification.
Americans in favor of the war, writes Ralph Frasca of Belmont Abbey College, favored it for several reasons: “that Mexico wronged Texan and American citizens, impeded the American ‘manifest destiny’ of expansion, possessed land that pro-slavery forces coveted, or needed political or religious change.”
The last category included fairly raw anti-Catholicism. Frasca quotes one editorial published after the war which claimed that Mexico lost because Catholicism was “the festering canker-worm . . . infecting every organ of vitality and every fibre of strength with the poison of premature rottenness and decay. . . . No one thinks of keeping his word; no one forbears corrupting his neighbor’s wife or betraying his government; no one . . .” Well, you get the idea.
Interestingly, Congregationalist minister William Jay, son of John Jay, and a man not particularly well disposed to Catholicism, explained the St. Patricks’ reasons for switching sides with some sympathy. They began fighting as mercenaries, he wrote, but when they reached Mexico, “discovered that they had been hired by heretics to slaughter brethren of their own church,” while the Mexicans told them “in strong language the sin they were committing in fighting against men who had never injured them and who were united with them in a common faith.”
Their experience raises interesting questions. The government had an answer. Fifty of the St. Patricks were hanged.
• “We got to where he was letting me off, he turned off the engine, and he began jabbering incoherently about men and women. Then he lunged, shoving his tongue in my mouth while running his hands over my breasts and up and down my torso.” Thus Emily Yoffe’s youthful acquaintance with Fr. Robert Drinan, S.J., friend of her family and in all his years in Congress (1971 to 1981) an ardent advocate of abortion “rights.” Yoffe, who is Jewish, is the “Dear Prudence” advice columnist for the liberal website Slate and someone whose report you’d think would be noticed.
But not when she turns in a liberal icon. The story appeared on Slate.com on June 21, and as we write six days later, no report has appeared in the pages or websites of the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek, Time, or the New Republic. The Washington Post simply reprinted David Gibson’s Religious News Service story on its website, as did the Christian Century and the National Catholic Reporter.
• In response to Yoffe’s story, Drinan’s family issued a non-denial: “We find it odd that anyone would come forward with this allegation decades later when our uncle is dead and in no position to defend himself.”
• “The churches’ single most important role in Washington is to help people [in government] to sort out the values that are implicit in the decisions they make,” he said, speaking to the Washington Post. “We ought to be able to say to the government: ‘You have done something wrong; you have chosen the wrong path to take.’” He denounced a proposed ruling by the IRS against non-profits publishing voters guides for “interfering with our First Amendment rights.” He also criticized the government for trying “to quash the exercise of conscience by hauling religious dissenters into court.”
A good man, this fellow. But that was Barry Lynn back in the late seventies and early eighties. Now, as people say, not so much. As the head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, he now talks as if the churches do not have any conceivable role in American public life. Unless of course they’re endorsing liberal causes. Then his silence speaks volumes.
Dimitri Cavalli, source of many WWAI items over the past few years and author of the Washington Examiner story from which these quotes are taken, explains the change this way: Back then, Lynn was defending progressive causes, but now that “the so-called Religious Right has eclipsed the influence of the Religious Left in American public life,” it’s time to shut down religious influence. The easiest way to do it is through absolutist claims about the separation of church and state, made as loudly as possible. The one constant in his work is not a view of the relation of church and state but a commitment to the advance of liberal causes.
• In a somewhat hostile article on Pope Benedict in the influential German weekly Der Spiegel—roughly the German equivalent of Time, if Time were written about four grades higher—the writer speaks of the Evangelical Christians in Latin America “multiplying there like the loaves and fishes in Canaan.” Okay, make that two grades.
• In his “Public Square,” the editor argues that the movement favoring homosexual “marriage” is not actually interested in marriage as such, and that our friend David Blankenhorn is sadly mistaken if he thinks agreeing to support their proposals will lead to any reciprocal interest in his causes. He (the editor) is surely right.
Look, for example, at the Human Rights Campaign’s website. Search the website for “monogamy.” No hits. Search for “life-long.” Forty hits, of which just one refers to a life-long commitment, and that is in a press release quoting someone else in Arkansas. Search for “monogamous.” Ten hits, all reports of what someone else has said. Similar searches produce the same result.
In other words, the largest, wealthiest, and most prestigious homosexual group in the country says not a single word in favor of the nature of marriage as David Blankenhorn understands it. And they’re going to start because people like him give them what they want?
• In the heat of current controversies over religious freedom, it is rarely noted that the churches, and particularly the Catholic Church, have been the guardians of social order and even of pluralism. The churches have been reticent to impose their views on others—the Catholic bishops have not even suggested making contraception illegal—and quick to extend their services to anyone who needs them.
But there are limits. And not just when the state tries to make the churches do things they can’t do. Sometimes it tells them not to do things they have to do.
Alabama’s immigration law, still unsettled, “makes it illegal for a Catholic priest to baptize, hear the confession of, celebrate the anointing of the sick with, or preach the word of God to, an undocumented immigrant,” as the Archbishop of Mobile, Thomas Rodi, said last year when he joined a suit against the law. It rules out anyone, priest or layman, encouraging them to go to Mass or giving them a ride to the church, letting them come to Bible studies or Sunday school, driving them to the doctor, giving them the food and clothing they need, counseling a pregnant woman against abortion or helping her take care of her baby.
As Archbishop Rodi concluded, “No law is just which prevents the proclamation of the gospel, the baptizing of believers, or love shown to neighbor in need. I do not wish to stand before God and, when God asks me if I fed him when he was hungry or gave him to drink when he was thirsty, to reply: Yes, Lord, as long as you had the proper documents.”
It’s a very nice line, that closing remark. But it leaves open what the Christian is to do as long as the law remains the law. And here, I think, Christians have to be less solicitous of the social order than they have been. If I were living in Alabama and an illegal immigrant said, “I need to get to confession” or “My child is sick, can you take us to the doctor?” I would take them. I don’t see that a Christian can do anything else.
• Wesley Smith says yes, Ross Blackburn says no, to the question of whether one can use secular arguments to defend human dignity, arguing in the pages of the Human Life Review, the always interesting and ever-useful quarterly edited by our good friend Maria McFadden Maffucci. It is a difficult question, and the editors had the idea of asking various people to read the Smith/Blackburn exchange and comment.
Among these people are the editor and me, as well as Timothy Cardinal Dolan, William Murchison, David Klinghoffer, and others. Much recommended, and found online at humanlifereview.com.
• A couple of business matters: Those of you who enjoyed Thomas Pink’s essay may be interested in his extensive scholarly essay on Dignitatis Humanae, which can be found at kcl.academia.edu/ThomasPink/Papers. The text he used is that of Norman P. Tanner and Guiseppe Alberigo’s Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. Our normal practice is to use the official translations from the Vatican’s website but to let authors use others if they wish.
The exchange between Patrick Deneen, Daniel Mahoney, and Paul Griffiths is the third and last in our “After Liberalism” series. We hope they’ve helped you think about what to do as liberalism disintegrates, or disarticulates, or transforms, or morphs, or whatever it is doing, and what to do with it when it does.
• If you found the After Liberalism” series helpful—a series, we just might note, not likely to be found in any other journal—we would be grateful for your help in getting such things into the hands of new readers. Please send us their names and addresses and we’ll send them a sample copy. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 35 East 21st Street, Sixth Floor, New York, NY 10010.