“I’ve been looking for something not to like,” a reader writes, “and now I’ve found it. You’re a Yankee fan.” I’m surprised he had to look so hard. But it’s true, the season is over. I’ll admit, however, that there’s a twinge of interest in the fortunes of the White Sox. That’s probably because of my seminary internship in Chicago when I came to love a city of which most New Yorkers are only vaguely aware. And yet, the White Sox winning the series? On the other hand, my friend Gilbert Meilaender, a frequent contributor to FIRST THINGS, says the Cubs are going to do it one of these years. No doubt we all have weird things going through our heads when we pray “Thy kingdom come.”
Wayne C. Booth has died at age 84. He was for years professor of English at the University of Chicago and wrote compellingly about the importance of rhetoric. I’m not sure exactly what I learned from reading him, except that, as people are wearied of hearing me say, rhetoric is never mere rhetoric. Booth supported explicit ethical judgment in literary criticism. He wrote, “If the powerful stories we tell each other really matter to us — and even the most skeptical theorists imply by their practice that stories do matter — then a criticsm that takes their ‘mattering’ seriously cannot be ignored.” It was not a concern of Booth’s (who was an ex-Mormon), but he occasioned thinking about the morality of rhetoric, and of language more generally, in liturgy, Bible translation, and preaching. I’ve been fiddling with a piece on the New American Bible (NAB), the clunkiest of widely used translations, and now mandated for use in Catholic liturgy. Maybe I’ll have the piece ready for the December issue. I was thinking of Booth as I wrote it, and then came the notice of his death in this morning’s paper. There may be little point in lamenting the NAB. The bishops are not going to change the mandate any time soon. But maybe Catholics should know that somebody shares their pain, that they are not alone in suffering through those dumbed-down scriptural readings of tone-deaf and tone-deafening banality. And, who knows, putting our pain on the record may someday prompt second thoughts among those responsible for this linguistic affliction.
I mean like I was reading this story about like alternatives to the use of embryonic stem cells and I thought like this isn’t half bad, for the Times . It’s a fairly straightforward account of the efforts of Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford and others who propose ways of getting the necessary stem cells for research without creating and destroying human embryos. As you know, we’ve given this subject considerable space in FIRST THINGS, and support for the alternative strategies is strong among some of the most solid moral theologians and ethicists. (On the other hand, the correspondence section of the next issue includes a statement by thoughtful dissenters.) But then there is this in the Times story: “Dr. Leonard Zon, a stem cell researcher at Harvard Medical School, said some of the ethicists’ ideas sounded like good, but he added: ‘Are they practical? And if they are practical, are they necessary?’” Some of the writing in the Times is like good.
Last Sunday the “public editor” of the Times had a long piece on his survey of how the paper’s editors and reporters think of their audience. Almost without exception, they think the readers of the paper are intelligent, well-educated, and eager to learn. What is not said explicitly is that the editors and reporters assume that they are in a position to teach such intelligent, well-educated, and intellectually curious readers. I suppose we all harbor delusions that keep us going from day to day. I’ll probably have another entry on this website tomorrow.