On the New York Times op-ed page and in his regular box at Slate, William Saletan has been urging supporters of Roe's abortion license to make clear that they are also friends of life and abhor abortion, as necessary as he thinks it may sometimes be. Katha Pollitt of The Nation, on the far left, takes sharp issue with Mr. Saletan. She writes to him:
You want to intensify our culture's already broad, deep strain of sexual Puritanism, shame and blame, and attach it to contraception. It won't work, because contraception is really about other valuespleasure, health, self-expression, self-protection. It comes from a different part of the national soul, the anti-Puritan side that says sex is good, has many meanings from sacred to silly, is a natural part of life, and that women should not pay a price for having a sex life. Anti-choicers mostly don't have this view, and that is why they aren't so keen on birth control despite the obvious fact that blanketing the nation with contraceptives would lessen the rate of something they consider to be outright murder.
More than most anti-abortionists, pro-abortionists think they see a close and clear connection between abortion and contraception, with abortion understood as the contraceptive means of last resort. Abortion is, of course, more interceptive than contraceptive. For anti-abortionists, what is described as the "contraceptive mentality" is not a problem because it is opposed to sex within the bond of marriage but because it views new life as a burden to be avoided rather than as a gift to be cherished. The participants in Evangelicals and Catholics Together may be addressing this, among other questions, in a statement on the culture of life that will likely be issued this year.
When you're given a lemon, make lemonade. That homespun wisdom is embraced by Fr. John Wauck of the Prelature of Opus Dei. The Da Vinci Code, the book and the movie, can be turned to the advantage of Opus Dei and the Catholic Church, he suggests.
Of course, it is a great pity that a book of negligible literary value which seems to call into question the divinity of Jesus Christ and present the Church as a gigantic fraud should be so popular. It shows not only a lack of critical judgment, but also a lack of respect for the Christian faith. Even worse, some readers may forget that it is merely low-brow fiction and become confused by its mixture of truth and falsehood.
Fortunately, however, the errors of the book are easily refutable. One needn't be a scholar to spot the mistakes. It is enough to glance at any encyclopedia to realize that the author cannot be taken seriously--not about art, not about history, and certainly not about scripture and theology. Look at the paintings. Read the New Testament. Visit Rome, Paris, and London. Check out the Opus Dei website. You'll see that the book has little connection to reality. It's just make-believe. In fact, you'd probably learn more by watching the old movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." No doubt, the author, Dan Brown, is surprised himself by how seriously some people have taken his work of fiction.
The U.S. headquarters of Opus Dei is around the corner at 34th and Lexington, and I'm told that the Dan Brown book (sometimes called the Duh Vinci Code) has prompted a greatly increased flow of visitors curious to find out more about the movement. One woman told me--jokingly, I think--that after reading Brown she thought this was just the group for her, only to be disillusioned when she found out more about it. For a candid and careful assessment of what Opus Dei is and isn't, I recommend John Allen's recent book Opus Dei, published by Doubleday.
My discussion of homosexuality and the priesthood in the current issue of FIRST THINGS has elicited many and frequently interesting responses. In the course of that discussion, I noted that some are insisting that the Church must make clear that she is looking for manly men. The editors of Commonweal have taken the occasion to publish a very long editorial in which they unpack their ruminations about the subject at hand but, more generally, about what they view as my mainly deleterious role in contemporary Catholicism. The editors begin with this:
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus is clearly a man to be reckoned with. Counselor and confidante of presidents, cardinals, and popes. Conjurer of naked public squares, neoconservative triumphs, Catholic moments, "Great" pontificates, and "the authoritative interpretation" of Vatican II. Scourge of liberals, secular humanists, the imperial judiciary, lax bishops, mainline Protestants, and feminists. Writer, theologian, and self-confessed martini aficionado. Indeed, he is by all accounts precisely what he insists those who would follow him into the Catholic priesthood must be: He is a "manly man."
Stipulating, as the lawyers say, that Commonweal greatly overestimates my influence, that's a nice piece of writing, and the editorial goes on and on in a similar vein. I don't know where they got that martini bit. I had to give up gin years ago, contenting myself now with a bourbon or scotch before dinner. Of course, there are other and much more substantive questions raised by the editorial, and I will likely have something to say about them in a forthcoming issue of FIRST THINGS.
In addition to which:
Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has this to say about the new book by Father Richard John Neuhaus:
"When it comes to 'Catholic matters,' Father Richard Neuhaus' thoughts matter a lot. He unfailingly challenges, enlightens, fascinates, inspires, humors, and occasionally even vexes me. And I would not miss reading a word he writes."
The book is Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth and is just out from Basic Books. It can be ordered from Amazon by clicking here.