Nobody has revealed the details, but Judith Miller declares herself "very satisfied" with the severance package she got from the New York Times. In an interview, she described herself as a "free woman." Then there is this interesting line on what she means by that. She said she is free from the "convent of the New York Times, a convent with its own theology and its own catechism." Who would have thought of the Times as a convent?
The image of the nun jumping to freedom over the convent wall was a staple in the heyday of anti-Catholic propaganda. Of course the nun almost never had the help of high-powered lawyers extracting a big severance deal from the convent.
I suppose Ms. Miller means to say that the Times is a hothouse of stifling political orthodoxies, and I have no doubt that is the case. In her coverage of foreign affairs and intelligence before the Iraq war, Miller reported what everybodyincluding Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Hans Blix of the UN, and the intelligence establishments of every major nationthought they knew about Iraq's possession and threat of WMDs. When it became apparent that much of that information was wrong, the Times was in a bind, and many in the convent blamed Ms. Miller for having turned the paper into a tool for promulgating what was then the prevailing wisdom.
But then the bind was doubled when Ms. Miller went to jail rather than reveal her sources, notably Mr. "Scooter" Libby in the vice president's office. Was Judith Miller heroine or goat? In its news and editorial sections (the two being nominally distinct), the Times decided to celebrate Ms. Miller as a champion, even a martyr, for the freedom of the press. But after almost three months in jail, she decided to cooperate with the special prosecutor, thus restoring the freedom of the Times to return to type. She was made the scapegoat for the paper's embarrassment over not having challenged what everybody thought they knew in 2002 and 2003 about Iraq's weapons and intentions.
Not, of course, that there was a rational basis for such a challenge. It is simply that things turning out to be other than what everybody thought them to be is an intolerable insult to the Times' presumed exemption from human fallibility. But at least we may be confident that Ms. Miller is a well-paid scapegoat, and, if she is getting less than a million in advance for that book, she needs a new agent.
Anti-Catholic innuendos notwithstanding, a convent, a theology, and a catechism are all things of beauty. In the service of Christ and his Church, they well warrant the surrender of a life in devotion to transcendent truth. As I would like to think Ms. Miller knows, that is very different from having spent 28 years of her life surrendering her intelligence in order to toe the line of the smelly little orthodoxies of the New York Times.
A woman complained to Wal-Mart about the store's replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays." The Catholic League has circulated the response from Wal-Mart's Customer Service: "Walmart is a worldwide organization and must remain conscious of this. The majority of the world still has different practices other than 'christmas' which is an ancient tradition that has its roots in Siberian shamanism. The colors associated with 'christmas' red and white are actually a representation of the aminita mascera mushroom. Santa is also borrowed from the Caucuses, mistletoe from the Celts, yule log from the Goths, the time from the Visigoths and the tree from the worship of Baal. It is a wide wide world."
So now you know the true meaning of Christmas.
The other day I had occasion to mention in passing my 1971 book In Defense of People. Now I see that Peter Singer of Princeton has a new book out from Oxford, In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave. Of course, it shouldn't be an either/or choice, and one would like to say that it is a matter of emphasis. But, knowing what Peter Singer thinks about inferior and unwanted people, it does seem that a rather basic decision is required.
The January issue of FIRST THINGS will include a reflection by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn on the intelligent design/evolution controversy. His article is occasioned by physicist Stephen Barr's argument in the October issue, "The Design of Evolution." Barr, in turn, was responding to Cardinal Schönborn's earlier op-ed piece on these questions in the New York Times, which received a great deal of attention. In the issue following Schönborn's reflection, Barr will have a further evaluation of the state of the question.
So what is FIRST THINGS up to here? We are not distancing ourselves from the intelligent design movement. The champions of that movement have rendered a signal service in exposing the non-scientific philosophical dogmatism of many evolutionists. Nor are we sponsoring a fight between Cardinal Schönborn and Dr. Barr. We have the greatest respect for both. Cardinal Schönborn is, in addition to being the Archbishop of Vienna, the chief editor of The Catechism of the Catholic Church and a great friend of FIRST THINGS. Dr. Barr is a distinguished scientist and a member of our editorial board.
The intention of this continuing conversation is to clarify as precisely as possible, within the context of Catholic teaching, the lines between physics and metaphysics, between theology and science rightly understood. Unlike many Protestants, Catholics have no stake in "creationist" arguments aimed at defending an unpoetical reading of Genesis. Catholics and everyone else have an enormous stake in defending the unity of truth. That defense requires the greatest care and modesty on the part of claims advanced by both science and theology. It requires, in short, the virtues possessed in abundance by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn and Stephen Barr.