The distinction between pro-Palestine and anti-Israel is often hard to discern, and that between anti-Israel and anti-Semitic is sometimes exceedingly fine. Father Drew Christiansen, editor of America , the Jesuit magazine, is unhappy that some anti-Semites agree with him, but he nonetheless agrees with them in supporting divestment from Israel.
Of course, almost any cause can attract unsavory support. The trouble with Fr. Christiansen’s views in the current issue of his magazine is not that he has questionable supporters but that he has a fragile grip on some facts and totally ignores others. In his concern for the plight of the Palestinians, he protests Israeli policies but quite ignores almost 60 years of history in which Arabs have refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. Everybody agrees—and not least most Israelis agree—that the present territorial lines must be changed. As a result of aggressive Arab wars that failed, Israel now controls more than it wants to control. Again and again, Israel has proposed returning territories in exchange for peace; again and again, Israel has been rebuffed.
Especially troubling is Fr. Christiansen’s beginning his reflection with the case of Rachel Corrie. It will be recalled that she was a “peace activist” (Fr. Christiansen’s term) connected with the International Solidarity Movement—a movement with acknowledged terrorist connections—and was run over and killed by an Israeli bulldozer. The bulldozer was manufactured by Caterpillar, which is why the divestment movement is focusing, but not limiting, its attentions to the Caterpillar company.
Sister Ruth Lout, a Dominican who works with an organization called Fair Witness, writes: “The evidence indicates that Corrie died when she was trying to block an Israeli bulldozer and had put herself in a position where the driver could not see her. She was apparently accidentally dragged under the machine. We question why Fr. Christiansen’s article suggests that the Israelis deliberately killed her.” As well she might question why.
Fr. Christiansen is embarrassed by the anti-Semitic statements of some who have gravitated to the divestment cause. He says they should apologize and mend their ways. Good for him. Now if only he and his magazine would desist from employing the misrepresentations that anti-Semites find so very attractive.
A friend who teaches at Notre Dame stopped by the other day, and the conversation inevitably turned to the gravely disappointing performance of Father John Jenkins in his first year as president. Against the claim that Notre Dame’s Catholic identity has been severely compromised, Fr. Jenkins regularly notes that 54 percent of the faculty is Catholic.
Ah yes, my friend says, it is probably true that 50 to 54 percent of the faculty are “checkbox Catholics.” He is referring to the fact that new faculty are invited to check a box indicating their religious preference, so to speak. One box is “Catholic,” another is “Christian, non-Catholic,” and a third is “Other.” Check “Catholic” and you are forever after counted as a Catholic—regardless of whether you believe or are observant, and maybe only because you were baptized in the Catholic Church. “Catholic” is closer than the other options on offer. If you don’t go to church, it is not just any church you’re not going to; you’re not going to the Catholic Church. A very large part of the 54 percent, I am told, is composed of checkbox Catholics.
The philosophy department at Notre Dame has about 60 faculty members. In 90 percent of the courses, friends at Notre Dame say, eminently pertinent documents such as the encyclicals Veritatis Splendor and Fides et Ratio are not read and, probably, not even referred to. In the world of academic certification, the philosophy department ranks 13th in the nation. The question persistently asked is not, “How do we create an authentically Catholic philosophy department?” but, “How do we get to a single digit?” To play in the big ten, you play by the rules of the big ten. What does Catholic have to do with it?
Notre Dame has an endowment of around 4 billion. That is largely the work of Fr. Ted Hesburgh, who led the school for 35 years and is now nearing ninety. Fr. Ted recognized that the alumni of Notre Dame are, with exceptions, “meat and potato Catholics.” He knew Notre Dame’s constituency. The community of the Holy Cross which founded Notre Dame, is different from the Jesuits. The Jesuits, Holy Cross priests will tell you, have typically accented the production of graduates who are marked by worldly success and deracinated Catholicism. Witness Georgetown and Boston College. Now, it is said, the same dilution of Catholic thought and life is increasingly evident at Notre Dame.
That may be excessively grim. There is much evidence of a vigorous Catholic life at Notre Dame. It is simply that it has a tenuous connection to the education that is offered, especially where one might most expect it, as in philosophy. In any event, it is not terribly reassuring that 54 percent of the faculty once upon a time checked the Catholic box.
In addition to which :
In the 164th edition of the ever-popular section called “The Public Square,” Father Richard John Neuhaus offers lively comment on, inter alia , why non-Christian intellectuals are blind to the social force of Christianity in America, the significance of the passing of William Sloane Coffin, Jr., the pity of Karen Armstrong’s The Great Transformation , the surprising impromptu catechesis of Benedict XVI, Notre Dame’s problems with being Catholic, the dubious friends of Israel, how commentators are skewing the message of the encyclical Deus caritas est , flawed “scientific” measures of the effectiveness of prayer, what Catholic bishops got right and wrong on immigration policy, how to understand the hysteria of Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy , Orthodox challenges to Catholic piety surrounding the Real Presence, the wrong arguments about capital punishment, the crackup of the Anglican communion, the mischief in the term “theocon,” and what Paul Hollander has taught us about “political pilgrims.” As Father Neuhaus is fond of saying, “when a magazine defines its scope as ‘religion, culture, and public life,’ there is almost nothing of interest that is not fair game.” Isn’t it time for you to subscribe to First Things ?