The Search Institute is located in Minneapolis, and it succeeded in inducing the Lilly Endowment and six denominations to give it big bucks to study the “faith maturity” of members of Protestant congregations. (If you are one of those busybodies who wants to know where your money goes, the denominations are: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian Church (USA), Southern Baptist Convention, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church.)
The findings of the study have received considerable attention, not least because members of churches thought to be more “conservative” rated very low in “faith maturity.” An examination of the survey indicates why that should come as no surprise. The eight criteria of a “mature faith” include these: “Holds life-affirming values, including commitment to racial and gender equality, affirmation of cultural and religious diversity, and a personal sense of responsibility for the welfare of others,” and “Advocates social and global change to bring about greater social justice.” Faith is rated by the “vertical dimension” (spiritual concerns) and the “horizontal dimension” (social concerns). The criteria for measuring the “vertical dimension,” however, include no reference to belief or doctrine but are heavy on feeling (e.g., “I am spiritually moved by the beauty of God’s creation”). There is much that is conspicuously absent from this survey’s definition of Christian faith. Maybe we missed it, but it seems that there is, for example, no mention of Christ.
The “study” is almost charmingly naive in its certitude about what constitutes mature faith. Everything depends upon attitudes that are Good and attitudes that are Bad. Here are some of the Good Attitudes: I am concerned that our country is not doing enough to help the poor; I do things to help protect the environment; I take excellent care of my physical health; I am active in efforts to promote world peace; My life is filled with meaning and purpose. Then there are the Bad Attitudes of the immature in faith: I have a hard time accepting myself; I feel overwhelmed by all the responsibilities and obligations I have; My life is filled with stress and anxiety; I tend to be critical of other people; I do not want churches getting involved in political issues; I do not understand how a loving God can allow so much pain and suffering in the world. (Shucks, we feel-right Christians figured that last one out a long time ago. You’re still bothered by that?)
The document is called “Effective Christian Education: A National Study of Protestant Congregations.” Some might take it as evidence of the rot and banality of popular religious belief, but that is unfair. Its conceptual confusions notwithstanding, the study does document how some Protestant Christians respond to left-of-center moralisms. Those who are most smugly pleased with themselves for holding politically correct opinions are certified as mature in faith. They need no forgiveness. (“God, I thank thee that I am not like other men,” as the Pharisee prayed to himself in the temple.) Then there are the immature who think there is something radically wrong with themselves and the world. They are still hung up on sin, cross, redemption, and similarly childish obsessions.
Lutherans, it turned out, have an unusual number of Bad Attitudes. One Lutheran leader declared the study of the Search Institute “invaluable” because it shows that the church “has not been doing an effective job in Christian education.” What “Effective Christian Education” shows most effectively, however, is the fraudulence of what is presented as the “scientific” study of religion—and the credulity of church leaders who cannot distinguish between Christian faith and liberal sentimentalities. One is inescapably put in mind of H. Richard Niebuhr’s paraphrase of the gospel according to liberal Protestantism: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” Except here, as noted earlier, there is no need for a Christ.
The Courage to Say No
Evangelical Protestants sometimes remind themselves that they were not quick to catch on to the monumental questions posed by the abortion debate. Not until the later seventies, with the emergence of what was called “the religious new right,” did abortion become an urgent item on the evangelical agenda, along with issues such as school prayer and pornography On the eve of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the Southern Baptist Convention, for example, was formally calling for more permissive abortion legislation.
There were several factors contributing to evangelical tardiness on abortion, not least being a desire to avoid conflict. Christian communities of all stripes have a hard time resisting the idea that, if some wonderfully sincere and orthodox Christians are in favor of something, doing that something must be at least an “open question.” Fortunately for the prolife cause, evangelical leaders did, after a while, come to recognize that the only response to an evil practice is a firm no. Most evangelicals have learned to say the no that is premised upon our yes to God-given responsibility for the weakest among us. In terms of both constituency and leadership, evangelicals are in the forefront of the movement for more protective attitudes and laws regarding abortion.
As almost everybody recognizes, abortion is about more than abortion. It is, among other things, about practices that are parasitical on the abortion industry and that, at least indirectly, support that industry. It is about, for instance, the use of fetuses and embryos for medical experiments. The prolife leadership in the country has generally recognized these connections. But it seems that, once again, some evangelicals are slow to catch on. The cover story of a recent issue of Christianity Today, the “mainline” voice of evangelicaldom, is titled “Brave New Harvest.” (The crop being human embryos and fetuses.) There are perfunctory references to the moral ambiguities involved, but the gist of the article is that such harvesting for laboratory experiments can be clearly separated from the rightness or wrongness of abortion, can advance medical developments useful to the already born, and therefore should be approved.
Critical to the reasoning in Christianity Today is the fact that good Christians are engaged in such experiments, and they do not think that they are doing anything that is morally questionable. Attitudes toward abortion, the article acknowledges, will continue to influence the debate over the uses to which dead fetuses might be put, but the suggestion is that this is unfortunate. The article concludes: “For those Christians opposed to elective abortion, however, the issue becomes complicated because of the laudatory goals of those trying to help persons suffering from diabetes, Parkinson’s, and other diseases. The church cannot just say no to these people in regard to this procedure. It must also say yes to them in tangible ways.” In sum, Christians should go along. But why can’t the church say no? Because it is not morally permitted to say no, or because the church does not have the nerve?
Following the article in question, the editors run a piece of outright advocacy, “Why the Government Should Lift the Moratorium.” The author is a doctor at a Dallas medical center and his argument is, to put it gently, recklessly misleading. The suggestion is that the government ban on using fetuses for medical experiments was adopted in a willy-nilly fashion some twenty years ago and has not been carefully thought through. It is further suggested that the great beneficiaries of such research are sick infants, and that a large portion of the “human tissue” in question is from fetuses aborted spontaneously (e.g., in miscarriages). These and similar claims range from being doubtful to simply untrue.
The editors join in with a third piece, promisingly titled “The Eugenic Temptation.” After much ponderous language about “moral ambiguities” and the like, all they can bring themselves to say is that embryo and fetal experimentation “must always proceed with caution.” God forbid that Christians should say no.
There are indeed some knotty problems in the enterprise under discussion, and not all the answers are clear-cut. That is to say the obvious. Since people are going to have abortions anyway, why should we let all those dead fetuses “go to waste” when they might be put to good use for the living? And do we really believe that those “surplus” embryos resulting from new reproductive techniques have any claim to our respect, never mind our protection? Contrary to the impression given by Christianity Today, such questions have for a long time engaged the attention of some of our best thinkers. Some evangelicals seem to think a problem has not been thought about until they think about it. Having “discovered” the problem, they then proceed to invent the wheel.
Is it possible that the editors are not aware of the very detailed statements—theological, moral, and technical—issued by the Vatican on these questions? Or are Roman Catholic studies beyond the pale of “Christian” reflection? One wonders if the editors know about the panels of the National Institutes of Health that have taken up these questions. In that connection, they might read in particular the dissenting opinion written by James Burtchaell, author of Rachel Weeping and one of the most incisive minds today exploring the ramifications of the abortion debate (see This World , Summer 1989). At the risk of seeming immodest (although we are only the editor), we also recommend to their attention a recent volume that brings together some of the most careful examinations of these issues. Guaranteeing the Good Life: Medicine and the Return of Eugenics (Eerdmans).
People of integrity can disagree on precisely what policies are best, or are attainable, with respect to clearly moral questions in medicine and genetics. Regrettably, a voice as influential as Christianity Today is addressing some of these questions in a simplistic and tendentious manner that reflects an ignorance of, or indifference toward, the larger discussion. More regrettably, the idea is advanced that good intentions or possible good consequences can justify complicity in the doing of evil. Most regrettably, it is suggested that, if good Christians are doing had things, the church cannot say no.
The abortion debate, as weary as we may be of it, is just the beginning of intensifying contestations over technical control and manipulation of the humanum. The classic text in this connection is The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis. A splendid contemporary midrash on that text is a book by Leon Kass, Toward a More Natural Science (Free Press). Evangelicals and others have a lot of homework to do if they are not to find themselves abetting, however inadvertently, great wrongs—as most evangelicals did abet the great wrong of abortion twenty years ago.
A Compliment, Of Sorts
Rob Hershman produces television documentaries, among them “Judgment,” which aired on HBO some months back. It is about a priest in Louisiana who sexually abused little boys. The show got rave reviews in the industry. After it aired, says Hershman, he started getting calls from Hollywood producers who want to turn it into a full-scale movie. TV Guide asks Hershman: “But why the morbid fascination and preoccupation with the Catholic Church? Would the story have been so prime if a Jewish rabbi or Protestant minister had been involved?” Mr. Hershman answers: “Well, I guess if the rabbi had been molesting boys in the Hasidic community. But one of the reasons why the Catholic Church is such an interesting subject is that it has an institutional memory of 2,000 years. The hierarchical lines of authority are very clear. When the parents’ lawyer sued the church, he sued the Pope. The church is always fascinating because it is this extraordinary institutional center of people’s spiritual lives.”
It’s as good a reason as any for being anti-Catholic, we suppose. Actually, we have long supported the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, and its protests against anti-Catholicism are entirely legitimate. But you can’t get much dramatic mileage out of Protestantism, at least not mainline/oldline Protestantism. The chief achievement of Protestantism, said Mencken, is that it made God boring. That’s unfair, of course, as Mencken was almost always unfair, but there is enough truth to give it a bit of bite. It should also be noted that fundamentalist Protestantism comes in for ample sensationalist treatment by the media. The rule would seem to be that those religious groups that “stick out” are going to get more than their fair share of critical attention. That should not be surprising. While being firmly opposed to anti-Catholicism, anti-Hasidism, and anti-Fundamentalism, we also recall the words of the One who said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you.” Mr. Hershman was paying an unintended compliment. Or maybe he even intended it as such.
In Response: Weighing the Risks
Elsewhere in this issue, Phillip H. Harris, Solicitor of the United States Catholic Conference, raises important questions about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) currently before Congress. He is certainly right in noting that the bill has gathered a curious coalition of backers. Judging by the well-known record of some members of the coalition, it does seem likely that different, and perhaps even contradictory, motives are engaged. But then, curious coalitions are the very stuff of democratic governance.
Mr. Harris may be right in saying that the RFRA, if passed, would promptly be found unconstitutional. In that event, it does not seem that much would be lost. Without RFRA, we would be in the position that Mr. Harris wants us to be in. What would have been gained, however, is that the Congress would have conveyed a clear message to the Court that Smith’s denial of religious exemption is not politically acceptable. Even judicial “originalists” do not claim that the Court can be or should be entirely indifferent to such legislative expressions. Harris sees a contradiction in invoking the will of the majority to limit the powers of the majority to violate minority religious rights. But surely the very idea of our constitutional order is that the majority acts to limit the powers of the majority. Is that not how the Constitution came into being in the first place?
Mr. Harris, invoking the distinguished Judge John Noonan, is right to note the “dismal record” of courts overriding religious freedom in the name of a flatulent notion of “compelling state interest.” RFRA tries to put some spine into the phrase and give it more substance by using words such as “essential,” “demonstrate,” and “least restrictive means.” Mr. Harris says that Congress could define anything as a “compelling state interest.” He is right of course, even though that would fly in the face of the very purpose for which Congress passed RFRA. Politicians are not renowned for their consistency. But then, neither are courts. In fact, Mr. Harris’ favored alternative to RFRA is to depend upon the Supreme Court’s changing its mind, even “forgetting [Smith] as though it had never occurred.” Maybe it comes down to whose fickleness you are willing to bet on, that of the Congress or that of the Court.
If the Congress violates the intent of RFRA by playing fast and loose with “compelling state interest,” there is a political remedy. If, on the other hand, the new Court majority really does favor Scalia’s reading of “free exercise,” religious exemption is out the window for the foreseeable future. There is a judgment call involved here. It is possible that Congress will in the future undermine the religious freedom that RFRA is intended to protect. Many of us think it highly probable that the Court majority, following Smith, will continue to undermine that freedom.
Mr. Harris says that the limits of religious freedom will be “forever enshrined” in RFRA. In legislative politics and, for that matter, in Court doctrine, nothing is forever—an observation that is, as I understand it, at the heart of Mr. Harris’ argument. He does not say so, but Mr. Harris seems to believe that the Court, left to itself, might come up with a stronger protection of religious freedom. Instead of “compelling state interest,” some students of the subject prefer that the state be required to meet something like a test of “supreme and overriding governmental interest.” But it seems extremely unlikely that either Court or Congress would accept such language. Mr. Harris is right: there are risks in RFRA. There are, on balance, greater risks in leaving religious freedom to the Court that gave us Smith.
Among those opposed to abortion, opinion is sharply divided over Operation Rescue and similar efforts aimed at preventing abortions through civil disobedience. All people possessed of an elementary sense of decency, however, should be able to agree on the outrageousness of the way protestors are being treated by police and courts around the country. The courageous Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice writes, “The punishment Operation Rescue people have received has been barbarous.” Prolife advocates in southern California note that actor Martin Sheen, after his eighteenth conviction for antinuclear protest, got three hours of community service. Some first-time abortion activists get 300 hours, others receive jail terms of more than thirty days, while some have been bankrupted through the use of RICO laws that were originally designed to combat organized crime.
Hentoff, who opposes both legal abortion and illegal prolife actions, is particularly concerned about pain-compliance techniques routinely used on protestors who go “limp” instead of walking to the paddy wagons. The head of a Los Angeles police unit said in a court deposition that it was permitted to inflict pain because the prolife protestors “are religious and consider it necessary to absorb pain.” Sam Casey, an attorney with the California-based Western Center for Law and Religious Freedom, says, “There have been more Christians put in jail on behalf of the unborn than for any other civil rights movement in this country’s history.” Whatever the figures, police brutality and draconian court judgments are reliably reported from Hartford to Atlanta to Los Angeles.
Whatever one’s view of the protestors, it is important to keep a close eye on these developments and, where appropriate, contact mayors, governors, and congressmen about abuses of the criminal justice system. Holding a prayer meeting in front of an “abortuary” may not be your style, but those who do so are entitled to at least as much respect as people who protest in more fashionable causes. The law, after all, is supposed to be even handed. (Readers interested in more information may write Friends of Operation Rescue, PO. Box 370, Bronx, NY 10470.)
Challenging Jewish Attitudes
Why, in the Jewish-Christian dialogue, are Christians obliged to learn about Judaism while Jews remain largely ignorant of Christianity? That is the question candidly addressed by Father John T. Pawlikowski, a prominent dialogue participant, in the Jewish-sponsored magazine Moment. “Jews, including Jewish educators, show little interest in deepening their knowledge of fundamental Christian beliefs,” Pawlikowski writes. “Even Jewish centers of higher education . . . offer their students little exposure to Christianity apart from the history of Christian anti-Semitism.”
Of course there are explanations. A history of persecution casts Christians and Christianity as the enemy, and who wants to sympathetically understand their enemy? Then too, the very idea of theology, many Jews contend, is a Christian concept and alien to Judaism, which is grounded in commandments (mitzvot) and peoplehood. Finally, there is a powerful fear of Christian proselytizing. Jews who get too interested in Christianity, it is feared, may end up by becoming Christians. Pawlikowski understands these inhibitions. “But I am also firmly convinced of the Israeli ecumenist philosopher David Hartman’s contention that spiritual monism (nonpluralism) is a terminal disease that will destroy Judaism or any other faith—including mine—that adopts it. Therefore I reject all these reasons for Jewish reluctance to understand and appreciate Christianity’s faith traditions.”
Pawlikowski acknowledges that Christianity is, in many ways, more inherently dependent upon Judaism than is Judaism upon Christianity. “Still,” he writes, “Jews should not glibly maintain, as many do, that Christianity makes no difference for their own faith perspective.” With the great Jewish thinker of the early part of this century, Franz Rosenzweig, he believes that Jews need to understand anew that “the Jewish vocation, rooted in the biblical tradition, is to be an instrument for the redemption of all humankind.” In his sophisticated formulation, Rosenzweig construed that Jewish vocation in terms of Christianity being “Judaism for the Gentiles.” According to Pawlikowski, “From a Christian viewpoint, this approach is far superior to Jewish indifference to Christianity or outright hostility to the church’s tradition.”
For Jews to take up Pawlikowski’s challenge will not be easy. He believes that it requires that Christians “must first clearly affirm the continued validity of the Jewish covenant apart from what Christians may believe about the coming of Christ.” “Practically speaking, this means the termination of all organized efforts at proselytizing.” Note that Pawlikowski does not say, as some Christians have charged, that Christians should “withhold the gospel from Jews.” Christianity is inherently evangelistic, and Christians have no choice but to share their understanding of the grace of God revealed for all in Jesus Christ. At the same time, Christians who are scripturally serious must share St. Paul’s understanding of the “mystery” of continuing Judaism, and his certainty that God has not reneged on his promise to the children of Abraham (Romans 9-11).
Pawlikowski notes that in the last two decades churches have adopted statements on their theological and practical attitudes toward Judaism. It is time, he says, for Jews, to follow suit. “It is vital for Jews to have some concrete experience in writing a consensus document of this kind, if only to appreciate the difficulties Christian groups face [in making such statements].” There is also another reason why Jews should publicly articulate their understanding of Christianity, says Pawlikowski. “Jews cannot continue critiquing the churches’ theological approach to Judaism without an equal opportunity for Christians to do the same with a Jewish statement.”
Rabbi Irving Greenberg, responding to Pawlikowski in the same issue, endorses, albeit somewhat tepidly, aspects of his challenge. In a world of free communication and open encounters, Greenberg notes, Jews cannot live in isolation. “In this circumstance, religions that cannot do justice to the value of other faiths will be less and less credible to their own believers.” Jews should know more about Christianity, he proposes, if only for reasons of self-defense. “Losses of loyalty and credibility for Judaism are highest among Jews who live in settings which are heavily exposed to alternative lifestyles, religions, and cultural systems.” There is, however, a regrettable tone of truculence in the response to Pawlikowski’s challenge. “Given the history of the two faiths’ relationship,” Greenberg declares, “Jews owe nothing to Christianity.” It is a statement that does not bear close examination, and certainly does not advance the deeper engagement between Judaism and Christianity that Greenberg says he favors.
Because of his standing in the Jewish-Christian dialogue and his keen appreciation of its nuances and tensions, Pawlikowski’s challenge should be a continuing point of reference. “I believe,” he writes, “we are living in an era with monumental possibilities for permanently reshaping the historic relationship between Jews and Christians, and paving the way for an outreach by both to peoples of other faiths. Neither Christians nor Jews can afford to ignore the opportunity.”
Walking Away From Commitment
A reporter friend of ours has just read Shelby Steele’s The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America (Norton). The reporter is white, and he felt guilty about agreeing with the book so thoroughly. Steele is black, and his argument is that racial victimization games are, in the name of civil rights, turning young blacks into moral rip-off artists, and locking them into permanent inferiority of both feeling and social station. Steele’s text is from Frederick Douglass, who wrote in 1848: “What we, the colored people, want is character, and this nobody can give us. It is a thing we must get for ourselves . . . . It is gained by toil—hard toil. Neither the sympathy nor the generosity of our friends can give it to us . . . . It is attainable; but we must attain it, and attain it each for himself. I cannot for you, and you cannot for me.” The title of the book is, of course, from the “dream” of Martin Luther King, Jr. that one day people would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
So why was our reporter friend so troubled? “All of us who came up as good liberals knew that liberalism was measured, above all, by our commitment to racial justice. We were responsible for what was wrong, and we were responsible for setting it right. But now, if blacks like Steele and [Glenn] Loury and [Stanley] Crouch are right, we’re supposed to walk away from that commitment. There’s nothing we can do, there’s nothing we should do; in fact, we should do nothing. So it turns out Pat Moynihan was right twenty years ago when he called for benign neglect. It turns out the racists are right when they say that blacks are responsible for the problems of blacks.”
The anguish of this friend, unlike the anguish of some “good liberals,” is not feigned. He had marched, he had picketed, he had campaigned, he had voted the right way. He had, as they say, paid his dues. Talk about the black need for character is fine, but acting on the moral obligation that whites owe to blacks is part of his character. It would be cynical to say that he needs to feel that he owes blacks, with the concomitant assumption that their well-being is somehow dependent upon him. The reality is that commitment to helping blacks is part of his character. Fortunately, he and thousands of other white Americans need not “walk away from” that commitment.
The older form of commitment, the commitment that is discharged by political support for policies aimed at achieving “racial justice,” may now be outdated and counterproductive. Commitment in the form of personal involvement, however, has never been more urgent. The key reality of the black underclass is one of “radical isolation” (William Julius Wilson) from the rest of the society, including the two-thirds of the black population that is not in the underclass. Now is the time for churches, black and white, to explore new patterns of mutual instruction and support. There are numerous programs through which people can invite poor children into their homes for a time, getting them out of the ghetto. For a few children the experience can generate resentment at social inequities. For the great majority, it shows them another world to which they can aspire.
To agree on the priority of character formation does not mean walking away from concern about race and poverty. If antipoverty programs are about helping people get out of poverty, the most effective antipoverty program in America today is the parochial school. Most of them are Roman Catholic, some are Lutheran. By way of sharpest contrast, in our urban areas, less than 20 percent of the students in the public schools will leave school as functional literates. The majority are headed for joblessness, welfare, drugs, crime, and jail. On the other hand, more than 90 percent of the students in parochial schools, drawn from the same underclass population, go on to college or other advanced training. The cost per student in parochial schools is usually less than half the cost in public schools. Study after study over the last twenty years has demonstrated the dramatic disparity between government-run education and schools of choice.
People of commitment can give scholarships to enable more students to choose a quality education. Most parochial schools have sponsorship programs in which adults can become big brothers or big sisters, staying in regular and supportive contact with particular students. And, if the felt need is to do something political as well, there is ample opportunity for activism in moving public policy toward making existing public schools more accountable and in multiplying the educational alternatives available to the poor. Instruments such as vouchers or tuition tax credits can strengthen the financially strapped parochial schools, and give poor parents the educational choices now enjoyed by those who are financially better off.
In sum, our reporter friend and those like him should not feel guilty about agreeing with Steele, Loury, Crouch, and other writers who are waking us up to the disastrous consequences of policies promoted under the banner of “civil rights.” If one really wants to help, and not simply indulge the feelings of “commitment to racial justice” associated with yesteryear’s liberalism, waking up will not mean walking away.
Every once in a while there is a noteworthy wiggle on the religious survey charts, hut, to the consternation of those who look for dramatic declines or revivals, the story continues to be one of continuity. George Gallup caught one change of interest. In response to the question “Would you say you have made a commitment to Jesus Christ, or not?” a growing number of Americans say they have. Twelve years ago 60 percent said yes, two years ago it was 66 percent, and now it is 74 percent. The rise is pretty much across the board in terms of gender, age, education, income, etc. Except that only 58 percent of blacks say yes, which is odd, since blacks rate higher than whites on some “religiousness” scales.
Eighty-two percent of Protestants, 95 percent of respondents who say they have been born again, and 72 percent of Catholics say they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ. It all depends upon the question, of course. Talk about having made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ has, in this century, been associated with evangelical and revivalist religion. The rise in the number of people who are comfortable with that language may indicate not so much an increase in Christian devotion as an increase in evangelical presence and respectability in American life.
The indefatigable Gallup, who directs the important work of Princeton Religion Research Center, reports that other indices are fairly steady. Through the seventies and eighties, as at present, 40 percent of Americans say they attended church or synagogue in the last seven days. That figure went up to 46 percent in the late fifties, during the “religion boom” of the Eisenhower years. In the West only 28 percent say they attended services in the previous week. Church or synagogue services, that is. Gallup didn’t ask about covens, séances, and channeling sessions.
In another finding, 76 percent of teenagers say that “having a deep religious faith” is very important or somewhat important. But that’s beat out by “being well educated,” “working for peace,” “getting married,” “having children,” and “having lots of money.” In short, it seems that almost everything is very important to teenagers. Except for “being famous,” which only 16 percent rate as very important. That’s one thing that the kids probably recognize can’t be controlled, so why want it very badly? The really big winner among teenagers, however, is “having personal peace and happiness.” Ninety-eight percent say that is very important or somewhat important. We would like to meet the respondents who said that having personal peace and happiness is “not very important.” One might find some real Christians there.
Pity the Unliberated
Give a little boy a hammer, it is said, and he will discover that the whole world needs hammering. Give people a cause, and they’ll discover that the whole world is best viewed through its spectacles. In this case the cause is feminism and the way developments in the Gulf are reported from that angle. Here is what seems like the 1,000th story in the New York Times about our wonderful women in the Gulf and the poor unliberated women of Saudi Arabia who must surely envy them.
We are told that about 10 percent of U.S. troops in the Middle East are women, including a Major Fisher. “When ordered to Saudi Arabia, she had two days to get ready, she said. Her husband was away on business but got back just in time for a hurried one-hour farewell at the terminal. Saying goodbye to her children was perhaps harder. ‘My ten-year-old son knew something was wrong,’ she said. ‘I told him there was a crisis and I had to go—that it was my job.’” The story does not say whether her children understood that she was leaving them, perhaps not to come back, because she had something more important to do. Living with the troops in the desert has been an education. “‘I looked over and saw a guy taking a shower in the stall next to me,’ Major Fisher recalled. ‘We just laughed. You can’t get hung up about it. You’ve got a job to do.’”
“Major Fisher speculated that a kind of sexual revolution would come to Saudi Arabia too, even if slowly. ‘If I were a Saudi woman I’d look at the American women here and ask “Why can she do this and I can’t?”’” One can just hear the envious Saudi woman wondering to herself, “Why can she be ordered to leave her husband and children and go thousands of miles away to fight a war and take showers with men and maybe get killed, and I can’t?” The little Fisher boy was right. There is something wrong here.
WHILE WE'RE AT IT
♦ There was editorial hustling here to get in at the last minute the proper identification of William Bennett to accompany his article on drugs and morality (December 1990). But we managed to have it noted that he had resigned as drug czar. The issue barely hit the newsstands, however, before it was announced that Bill Bennett had been appointed chairman of the Republican National Committee. And now he’s not. It’s not easy to keep current when you’re writing about this fellow. The story of the announcement in the Times noted that Bennett has “controversial views.” Among the examples listed is that “he has said there are too many abortions in America.” Now what do you suppose might be a noncontroversial view on this matter? That there are not enough abortions? That 1.6 million abortions per year is just right? Those who earnestly desire to avoid controversy need to know.
♦ With a frequency that surprises us, although perhaps it shouldn’t, we are asked to recommend a solid introduction to the teaching and history of Christianity. Of course there are hundreds of hooks that might serve, but one rather obvious resource should not be overlooked—the current edition (Fifteenth) of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The articles on “Christianity” and “Jesus,” largely written by Jaroslav Pelikan of Yale, are more informative, readable, and authoritative than a good many book-length treatments that come to mind. We only mention it because today we were asked again.
♦ Richard Vigilante is writing in National Review about the changing forms of liberalism and conservatism, and the last line makes this one worth citing: “The future of conservatism seems to lie in a concern for the state not of the deficit, or of the defense budget, but of the culture.” No argument there. It’s what we’ve been saying all along, and it’s as true of liberalism as it is of conservatism. Vigilante continues: “Philistines, bullies, prudes, and fops; the New Agers, the new racists, the new Puritans, and the new class all but strangle us with their new rules on what we can say and think in polite society.” Then this: “America desperately needs a bonfire of the pieties.” Great line, that, although we would warmly recommend some discriminations between pieties.
♦ If you are a Baptist, read this book. Or a Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Whatever. Roman Catholics also should read Why Catholics Can’t Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste (Crossroad). Thomas Day is writing about the culture of American Christianity and what it does to our understanding of God, self, and community—as reflected in the way Christians worship. Scathingly witty and relentlessly honest, Why Catholics Can’t Sing is a bracing tonic for those who have just about given up on remedying the cultural debasement of the contemporary church. Day’s necessary polemic is not only against “bad taste,” but also bad theology and bad ethics. When the community is so debilitated at prayer, it is little wonder that its witness in public life is weak and confused. Be assured, you don’t have to be Catholic to enjoy, and learn from. Why Catholics Can’t Sing.
♦ We came across this interview by North American liberationist Jim Wallis with Latin American liberationist Jon Sobrino. The title is, “God’s Creation is in Very Poor Shape.” Acting on the principle that it is wise to quit while you can still agree, we didn’t read it.
♦ About twenty-five children, ages six to twelve, sing to a large crowd gathered at New York’s city hall. They are the “Homicide Victims Chorale,” made up of children whose parents or siblings were killed in the city’s approximately two thousand homicides last year. The welfare workers who organized the Victims Chorale no doubt feel good about what they’re doing. They say the children are being given a chance to sing out their sorrow and anger, while also learning at an early age to protest against injustice. Well, maybe. But there is something macabre about a Victims Chorale. And something cruel, no doubt unintentionally cruel, about impressing upon a young child that his public identity is that of victim. Young boys and girls taught to think of themselves as victims have been victimized twice over.
♦ One of the livelier publications around is Ultimate Issues, edited by Dennis Prager from a Jewishly serious perspective. A recent issue is devoted to the hot and convoluted debates surrounding homosexuality and current gay activisms. In surveying the relevant literature, Mr. Prager is struck by how much emphasis is placed on the allegedly universal acceptance of homosexuality in human history. Well, almost universal, since the point repeatedly made by those sympathetic to homosexuality is that there is something very odd about Jewish-Christian culture and its hang-ups with homoerotic love. Prager agrees that that is exactly the point. Jewish-Christian rejection of homosexuality cannot be, as some claim, a matter of “cultural conditioning,” since on this question it is obvious that Jews and Christians made such a determined, and successful, effort to resist the influence of surrounding cultures. There has to be some other explanation. There is. We cannot do Prager’s argument justice here, but readers who are weary of the propaganda of gay promotion and gay bashing alike might write for this issue of Ultimate Issues. (Send $5 to 6020 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232.)
♦ Plugs such as this one are not our usual thing. But when recommendations come with such enthusiasm, and from authorities that we dare not ignore, an exception seems to be in order. The group is called Gloriae Dei Cantores (Singers to the Glory of God) and is based in Massachusetts. Ranging in age from twenty-one to sixty, they have toured the world singing everything from Gregorian chant to Borniansky. Before that empire went into its final throes, they sang in the Soviet Union (and in Russian) religious works that had not been heard for seventy years. They are, we are assured, sensational. This March they are touring the Eastern seaboard from Washington, D.C. to Toronto. The New York concert is at Town Hall on March 7. For other dates, write Mrs. William Kanaga, 129 Rock Harbor Rd, Orleans, MA 02653, or call (508) 255-8361.
♦ “Bible prophecy” is very big these days. The impending new millennium, combined with events in the Middle East, has sent the predictions market soaring, or so we are told. We only get these mailings from time to time. Here’s one urging us to subscribe to a monthly called “The Omega-Letter.” “IT’S LIKE HAVING A BOOK ON BIBLE PROPHECY THAT AUTOMATICALLY UPDATES ITSELF EVERY SINGLE MONTH!” It seems that, among other things, some conspiracy of computer masters has already established a world government, setting the stage for the very last days. Readers of The Omega-Letter, we are told, “HAVE FRONT ROW SEATS TO THOSE VERY EVENTS THAT WILL CULMINATE IN THE SOON RETURN OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST!” It was with some relief that we noted that there is a special reduced rate for three-year subscriptions. We decided to put off subscribing for a while. Maybe we’ll think about it again when the end is “REAL SOON!” Like when the publisher will only take your money one month at a time. There was, however, one very attractive promise: “ONCE YOU UNDERSTAND BIBLE PROPHECY, THE EVENING NEWS WILL NEVER BE THE SAME.” Almost we were persuaded.
♦ Kenneth Myers was editor of This World, the predecessor publication to this journal, and he has written a book that we have been remiss in bringing to your attention. All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture is in paperback from Crossway publishers. The problem with the sleazier aspects of pop culture, says Myers, is not just the content but the sensibilities that it encourages and the sensibilities it destroys. Worse, some Christians (as in “Christian Rock”) think they are coopting pop culture when, in fact, they are being coopted by it. Myers knows there is a close connection between aesthetic and moral judgments, and he has a lot of both. He is almost always right, no offense intended to the dolts who disagree.
♦ The United Church of Canada, created in 1925 by a merger of denominational uncertainties, has been in the doldrums for a long time. Now its highest council has reaffirmed a 1988 decision to allow homosexuals to be ordained, and some are predicting that 80,000 or more additional members may defect. The moderator of the UCC, the Rev. Walter Farquharson, is worried and says he has a plan to address the spreading disaffection. Ministers, he says, should “invite such members back for a potluck supper, where instead of dealing with the issue in a confrontational way, they’re able to deal with it in a very human way.” Presumably it’s hard to get worked up about theology and ethics over a potluck supper. We may have no beliefs in common about God, Bible, and Christian morality, but what’s a church for if we can’t still have a good time together?
On saying no to abortion and fetal research, Christianity Today, November 19,1990. On anti-Catholicism. TV Guide, October 6-12. 1990. On brutality against Operation Rescue. Christianity Today, September 10, 1990. On Jewish-Christian dialogue. Moment, August 1990. Statistics on religious faith, PRRC emerging trends, June 1990. On women soldiers. New York Times, September 25. 1990. On William Bennett’s controversial views. New York Times, November 19,1990. Vigilante on liberalism and conservatism in National Review, November 19, 1990. “God’s Creation is in Very Poor Shape” in Lutheran World Information, November 8, 1990. On the Homicide Victims Chorale, New York Times, November 22.1990. On the United Church of Canada, Insight, September 10. 1990.