"The defense of life," declares Princeton University’s Robert P. George, "calls America back to the founding principles of our regime and to reflection on the justifying point and purposes of law and government."
That was in last month’s Erasmus Lecture, the annual event we sponsor in New York. And now it’s in the new issue of First Things : " Law and Moral Purpose ," a tour de force from one of America’s most influential teachers. What’s more, it’s this month’s free article, available here online even to non-subscribers.
That’s just one of many gifts we’re giving away, this time of year¯including our new group blog . Two years ago, as we made some changes on the website, we added on the homepage what we thought of at the time as a blog. Over the months, however, it gradually evolved into something a little different: more of a daily article than a blog. The response to that has been good, I think, but it lost some of the original purposes we had in mind. And so we’ve decided to keep the daily article on the homepage but to add on an inside page of our website a true blog of smaller, even more timely items written by our staff and our friends¯a present, from First Things to you, that begins today.
Of course, we’re hoping a few presents come our way, too. The annual fund-raising letter should have come to you this week by snail mail¯our yearly request for aid from all those who support and enjoy our work. Or, rather, it should have come to you if you subscribe to the magazine. For those who use the site online, you’ll find this year’s premiums and thank-you items listed on the revamped contributions page .
We’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers. Errrr, maybe I mean the kindness of friends and acquaintances. Anyway, the magazine really does need your help. Circulation and advertisements are at an all-time high¯but our expenses, too, remain high, particularly with our junior-fellows program and our changing website. Please do donate as generously as you can.
One additional way to help is simply to subscribe to the magazine. If you subscribed , you could be reading this month’s issue¯not just the free article from Robert George, but everything in our pages .
You could read, for instance, Richard John Neuhaus’ perennially popular column, The Public Square , which this month notes, among much else:
Stevie Fields served time for manslaughter and also committed a series of rapes, kidnappings, and robberies. It seems he’s a bad character. Then he murdered Rosemary Cobbs, a student librarian at the University of Southern California. That was the last straw, and a jury imposed the death sentence. His lawyers appealed the sentence, however, claiming that it violated the no-establishment provision of the First Amendment’s religion clause. It seems that during deliberations the foreman of the jury drew up a list of pro and con arguments regarding the death penalty, in which, among many other references, he cited what the Bible says. In a 9-6 decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the appeal. Judge Pamela Ann Rymer, writing for the majority, explained that there had been no violation of no-establishment because "we are persuaded that [the foreman’s] notes had no substantial and injurious effect or influence." Presumably, if there was evidence that jurors were swayed one way or the other by what the Bible says, it would have been quite a different matter. Thus, today’s lesson in the law of the First Amendment: Ineffectual references to the Bible pass constitutional muster.
Or you could read the brilliant biblical scholar Gary Anderson as he examines¯not altogether favorably¯Robert Alter’s a new translation of the Psalms . Alter’s "initial work on narrative prose was greeted, at the time, as a breath of fresh air in what many considered a stuffy environment," Anderson writes. "Yet the attraction has cooled over the years, at least for me."
Or how about " As Justice Kennedy Said . . . " That’s an article this month in which law professor Stephen Gilles provocatively argues that "it would be an enormous mistake for the pro-life movement to ignore the opportunities" presented by supposing Anthony Kennedy actual means what he has said in his opinions on abortion, from Stenberg to Carhart .
If you’re still in a mood to be provoked, you might try " No Friend in Jesus ," in which Meir Soloveichik argues that Jacob Neusner got taken to the cleaners by Pope Benedict XVI. Neusner, you remember, is the author of A Rabbi Talks with Jesus , a book Benedict quotes favorably in his bestselling Jesus of Nazareth .
And well Benedict ought to quote it, Soloveichik suggests, for it gives Christianity an enormous advantage in its dialogue with Judaism: "For Jews, Neusner approaches Jesus in the wrong way, for Jesus is not someone with whom we can have this sort of ‘dialogue.’ If we deny his divinity, then we can respond with nothing short of shock and dismay when we read the words of a man who puts himself in the place of God. Thus, in his admirable attempt to distinguish between Judaism and Christianity, Neusner elides the most important difference of all."
In the end, Soloveichik claims, "Because they believe in truth, traditional Jews cannot and will not find a friend in Jesus¯but because they do believe in truth, they can find a friend in followers of Jesus such as Benedict. A friendship founded on our mutual resistance to relativism is one that can unite us despite our theological differences."
Meanwhile, the new issue also features Robert Louis Wilken’s " Catholic Scholars, Secular Schools ," an intelligent and hard-nosed analysis of the current condition of believing students and teachers in contemporary academia: "Mature faith is nurtured by thinking, and the renewal of Christian culture will happen only with vigorous and imaginative intellectual leadership. The valuable pastoral work of Newman Centers needs to be complemented by serious Catholic scholarly institutes organized with intellectual integrity at the same level of excellence as that of the university."
Add to that the provocative articles¯yow, it’s starting to sound like all provocation, all the time, here at First Things , but somehow this month we’ve managed to collect a number of pieces that take a counterintuitive claim and show its relevance to our current situation. " Not Your Father’s Pornography ," for instance, Jason Byassee’s provocative argument that the X-rated world of today is different from any the world has ever seen. Or " Nietzsche’s Deeper Truth ," R.R. Reno’s even more provocative argument that Friedrich Nietzsche was essentially right in On the Genealogy of Morals ¯or righter, at least, than his present admirers typically understand.
On and on the new issue goes, one interesting page after another. There’s Christian Smith’s stern review of Robert Wuthnow’s After the Baby Boomers . And Robert Miller’s even sterner review of Brian Z. Tamanaha’s Law as a Means to an End . And for relief from all that sternness, there’s David Yezzi’s happy review of the Hollanders’ new translation of Dante’s Paradiso . And add on top of all that the correspondence and the new poems by Amit Majmudar and Alan Sullivan .
Please help us with a donation this year, if you can possibly afford it. And come back throughout the day to visit our new blog , together with our daily article on the homepage . (And if you ever miss a daily article, they are all archived here .) But, most of all, subscribe to First Things . That way our best gifts can match yours.