Roman Polanski was arrested for the decades-old rape of a child—and a bunch of Hollywood types defended him. Old news, at this point. But the interesting thing about the case is not that some people defended him but how quickly the tide turned against his defenders. The most leftist magazines and websites in America, which had once published pieces in praise of child sex, were among the most relentless at hammering Polanski.
“So what happened to turn yesterday’s ‘intergenerational sex’ into today’s bipartisan demands to hang Roman Polanski and related offenders high?” asks Mary Eberstadt in “How Pedophilia Lost Its Cool,” her powerful essay in the new issue of First Things.
Mainly, it appears, what happened was something unexpected and momentous: the Catholic priest scandals of the early years of this decade, which for two reasons have profoundly changed the ground rules of what can—and can’t—be said in public about the seduction and rape of the young.
In other words, it logically created a whole new class of anti-pederasts. And since the Church’s harshest critics are, generally speaking, the same sort of enlightened folks from whom pedophilia chic had floated up, there lurked in all of this a contradiction.
Meanwhile, the indefatigable theologian Paul Griffiths seems to have had enough of the idea of Natural Law. In his essay in the December issue, he writes, “The nature of human desire, then, is that no particular desire is natural. A full appreciation of human nature—a sort of meta-naturalism—properly denies the natural. And this denial applies even to the drives we have genetically: our urges for sex and food and violence. Even these are capable of formation, reformation, and deformation, to the point of their own erasure. This is why we have Casanovas and celibates, gourmands and hunger artists, torturers and pacifists.”
Even the editor of First Things has had enough—in his case, enough of the growing attack on religion. In “A Demand for Freedom,” in The Public Square column in the new issue, Joseph Bottum writes:
The real problem is that Christians in America today feel embattled and hemmed in—nagged and teased and bullied from a hundred directions. This is not a good situation for the Church, and it is a terrible situation for the nation. To travel much among believers is to feel a growing sense that the day is rapidly coming when religious people will not have the freedom to live ordinary lives in accord with their faith. Oh, the Amish option is always available: Retreat from the world, forego the technologies and enjoyments that others have, and build an isolated refuge. But, otherwise, the ordinary things of life seem increasingly to require not just acquiescence but participation.”
As Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants of many denominations, Christian believers do not hold all the same beliefs. But all believers must stand up now and make a declaration. We must demand from the powers of the world genuine freedom for believers: the freedom to earn their livings, the freedom to educate their children, the freedom to practice their charities, and the freedom to speak the truth—all without compulsion to violate, along the way, the conscience formed by faith in Jesus Christ.
Wesley J. Smith, too, has had enough. In “Pulling the Plug on the Conscience Clause,” he writes: “Society is approaching a crucial crossroads. It seems clear that the drive to include death-inducing techniques as legal and legitimate methods of medical care will only accelerate in the coming years. If doctors and other medical professionals are forced to participate in these new approaches or get out of health care, it will mark the end of the principles contained in the Hippocratic Oath as viable ethical protections for both patients and medical professionals.”
Then, Reuven Kimelman adds a sharp and careful reading of the Theology of Abraham Joshua Heschel, and, in “The Needle’s Eye: Why America’s Economic Recovery Needs the Global South,” the economist Reuven Brennan joins First Things’ senior editor David P. Goldman to argue:
The destinies of the aging but affluent people of the West and the young but impoverished people of the Global South are joined—and joined by a very simple economic fact: The old tend to have savings, while the young tend to have energy. To fund their retirements, old people must find young people to whom they can lend. And to start families and businesses, young people must find old people from whom they can borrow.
We ought to help the poor, and we need to improve our own economic situation—and yet, somehow, we seem unable to do either. . . . If America looks outward, toward the young people of the Global South, rather than inward, toward the exhausted consumers of the baby boom, the ensuing economic boom could outpace the great expansion begun by the Reagan administration.
Out of the present crisis, the world might enjoy one of the longest and fastest economic booms in history. Or it might remain in an economic mire for the foreseeable future.
And then there all the books covered in the new issue—’cause it’s almost the Christmas season, you know, and the time is coming when you have to fill some stockings, and, besides, no one has ever had enough of books. So, a special Christmas section opens with “Wondrous and Silly,” a survey of new picture books by Margaret Perry, who writes, “Anyone who thinks there are few worthy children’s books being produced these days just isn’t looking carefully.”
It’s followed by “Lives and Legacies,” in which Justin Torres takes up the year’s crop of new biographies, and by “Thrillers and Throwbacks,” in which the great Edgar-award-winning mystery reviewer Jon L. Breen sketches the year in detective stories.
Next, the great critic John Sutherland reads the posthumous Nabokov novel, The Original of Laura, the philosopher Thomas Hibbs reads David Walsh’s The Modern Philosophical Revolution, and the theologian Gary Culpepper reviews N.T. Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision:
Nearly five hundred years after the Reformation, debate over the doctrine of justification continues to divide Christians. What is interesting about the current form of the debate, however, is that it has returned to scriptural foundations. The focus is no longer on Martin Luther’s condemnation of late-medieval works righteousness but on Paul’s epistles—and the decisive question is this: What does Paul mean
by “the righteousness of God”?
Then Thomas V. Berg reviews Neither Beast Nor God: The Dignity of the Human Person by Gilbert Meilaender, Richard W. Garnett reviews In Defense of Religious Liberty by David Novak, and Robert Bruce Mullin reviews The New Shape of World Christianity by Mark Noll: “This vitality is transforming the face of world Christianity. As Noll shows, the missionary wave no longer flows from Europe and North America to Africa and Asia. It goes, instead, in the other direction: At present 35,000 foreign missionaries labor in the United States, while thousands more serve in Britain, France, Germany, and Italy.”
Just to spice up the mix, the December issue of First Things features a poem by former National Endowment for the Arts chairman Dana Gioia, his first new publication in some time—together with new poetry from Sr. Lou Ella Hickman, Julie Stoner, Timothy Murphy, Rhina P. Espaillat, and Gail White.
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