Educated Europeans know that their own histories, far more deeply than American history, are entwined with that of the Jews. This is not only because Jews were for many centuries the most prominent "other" within most European cultures, and it is not only because of the Holocaust. It is also because the enormous influence of Christianity over everything that Europe is and will be¯as the Pope suggested so brilliantly at Regensburg¯owes much at its roots to the Hebrew Bible and to the experience of Israel in the world. As Jews were for centuries at the epicenter of Christian theology in Europe, so today, in a largely post-Christian Europe, Israel is at the epicenter of the European political worldview. It is a secularized view, to be sure, but it is at the same time a vestige of a religious obsession so deeply rooted in the European psyche that it cannot be readily named. Just as the Pope challenged Europe’s post-Christians to plumb the moral epistemology of their own secular humanism, knowing they would have no honest choice but to affirm its Christian origins, so the European fixation with Israel has similarly obscured origins.I’m not sure what it means to say that Jews were at the epicenter of Christian theology, but it is certainly the case that Christianity is inexplicable apart from Judaism. Up until the toleration of Christianity under Constantine and its later establishment, it is fair to say that the Roman world viewed rabbinic Judaism and Christianity as two versions of Judaism, and in many ways that was, in fact, the case. Contemporary Europe is haunted by nationalisms past that drew it into unspeakably destructive wars, and most particularly by Hitler’s National Socialism. Hitler made no secret of his belief that the war on the Jews was aimed at exterminating the "root causes" of the Christianity that he despised. The sadness of Europe today, with its increasing anti-Semitism and rejection of its Christian identity, is that it is dying of a "metaphysical boredom" (David Hart) that creates a spiritual vacuum that is an irresistible invitation to the very demons of the past that it is trying to exorcise. And, of course, the vacuum is a great opportunity for jihadist Muslims in and near Europe who are anything but metaphysically bored.
In her book Moral Minority , Brooke Allen is the most recent in a long line of writers who try to counter "the religious right" by contending that the American founders were thoroughgoing secularists. Yes, they did say all those very religious and specifically Christian things cited in, for instance, Michael Novak’s On Two Wings . But they spoke that way only for public consumption and really didn’t mean it. In supposed praise of the founders, we are assured that they were, in effect, hypocrites. Over on National Review Online , Michael and Jana Novak offer a sharp dissection of that line of argument. They note that Gordon Wood of Brown University, one of the most distinguished scholars of the American founding, is becoming increasingly impatient with historians who engage in a denial of the self-evident religious devotion of almost all the founders. Even Thomas Jefferson, who, according to more orthodox secularists devised our constitutional order almost singlehandedly (although he was not in the country at the time), had a keen sense of the purposes of the Almighty. As for that other secularist hero, Ben Franklin, he said toward the end of his life that he was not sure about the various doctrines of the divinity of Christ but thought there was no compelling reason for him to make a decision now since, contemplating his imminent death, he expected to find out the truth of the matter in short order. The entire reflection by the Novaks is well worth reading. They conclude with this: "In sum, the most astonishing thing to say about the religion of the Founders is how little it has been studied during the past hundred years, and how cavalierly and unsympathetically¯most often by historians who paint their own portrait while painting in pale colors the faith of their fathers. As a nation of countless students, writers, and professors, surely we can do better than that."
The New York press, and the Catholic press nationally, is paying close attention to eruptions in the Archdiocese of New York. In the first week of October, an anonymous letter was circulated by a "Committee of Concerned Clergy" listing dissatisfactions with Edward Cardinal Egan and calling on the priests of the archdiocese to register a "no confidence" vote in his leadership. The idea, apparently, was to bring pressure on Rome to accept his resignation immediately when, as required by church law, he submits it upon turning seventy-five next April. The initiators of the letter claimed that their dissatisfactions with the cardinal are widely shared among the priests of the archdiocese, and there is a strong measure of truth in that. The cardinal responded with alacrity by calling a special meeting of the Priests Council, which issued a statement deploring the anonymous letter and expressing confidence in the future of the archdiocese under Egan’s leadership. Most of the press played this as a vindication of the cardinal, and it seemed that the controversy had been more or less resolved. Then, on October 20, Cardinal Egan sent a letter to the hundreds of priests of the archdiocese. That letter is almost unanimously described as angry and confrontational, and it included the allegation that the anonymous protest was motivated by priests who had been found guilty of sexually abusing minors and were unhappy with their treatment by the archdiocese. The New York Times headline read " Cardinal Egan’s Angry Response to Priests’ Critical Letter Revives Diocesan Dispute ." In his letter, Egan said he would set aside other duties in the months ahead in order to counter the complaints in meetings with the priests. (The first letter and the cardinal’s letter can be found on Whispers in the Loggia .) The Times says that priests would only speak of the affair off the record "because they said they feared reprisals." There is a measure of truth in that, as well, although it may say more about timorous priests than about their putatively tyrannous archbishop. The anonymity of the original letter is despicable and its intention is plain dumb. The attempt to bring pressure on Rome to immediately accept Egan’s resignation letter is likely to have precisely the opposite effect. Rome does not look kindly on priestly rebellions against a bishop. As Cardinal Egan knows, for he deserves the candid counsel of his priests, I think that his October 20 letter was ill-advised and that the approach he has outlined is more likely to exacerbate than to resolve current discontents. But he is our bishop and it is his call. I have no doubt that he is conscientiously doing what he believes is in the best interest of the archdiocese. It would seem that these melancholy circumstances will be with us for some time, and readers are invited to pray for the archbishop, priests, and faithful of the Archdiocese of New York.