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Racism, Old and New

OK, David Horowitz, I get your drift (“The Radical Paradigm and the New Racism,” November 1990). I too wish that certain religious, academic, and media people would stop giving so much attention to the flake-left movements. I too think their proposals are more than merely wrong, that such actions would work direst evil on the people for whom the protestors claim to speak.

But take a good look: are you being any less polemical? “Left” this, “left” that, “left” missabib (Jeremiah 20:3, 10). But they are definitely not all around. They’re stuck in their own little orbits, far removed from real people’s real daily decisions which are made based upon reasons dramatically different than those the “left” presumes. I know; I have to operate close-up to the little worlds of Baraka, Farrakhan, and Refuse and Resist. Every week. And I know these people that you castigate. The “minority group” people among them have one thing in common: they’ve been burned. They’ve felt the searing heat of what you term the “old” racism, either on themselves or on those they hold most dear. They know from bitter experience that “the system” sometimes works against justice (as all human systems sometimes do.) And they know it’s wrong. Their experiences are so searing that they are blinded to the complexities and possibilities in a society with as many mini-centers of power as ours has. They’re left not knowing true friend from true enemy, not trusting anyone.

How do you fight this “left,” then? By wasting breath and print space lambasting their foolishness? No. You start by spending those breaths on the effort to end racism at personal and institutional levels. You fight this “left” by being a true friend to those burned by that racism and the poverty it creates. You fight it by recognizing that our nation will often have to go the extra mile for those who are victims of racism, and will have to turn the other cheek to those who lose themselves to their anger at injustice. You fight it by helping them find their just place in a society that is (contra Farrakhan) theirs in more ways than even the most aware of us can know. And you fight it by finding, and choking off, the racist in yourself.

Ultimately, our real enemy is still the new “old” racism, not the “left.” 

Bob Longman, Jr.
sayville, ny

David Horowitz responds:

No, Bob Longman does not get my drift, which was that the new racism spawned by the left is not a defensive reaction to real racism in American society but an unappeasable aggression against America itself. The left is driven by a “motiveless malignity” in exactly the sense that Shakespeare used to describe Iago—the usurper. Its psychological roots are planted in resentments so deep and fed by hungers so insatiable that it is an exercise in futility even to attempt to plumb them.

Mr. Longman, nonetheless, tries: “They’ve been burned,” he explains. Well, who hasn’t? Ah, but “their experiences are so searing that they are blinded to the complexities and possibilities in a society with as many mini-centers of power as ours has.”

Really? Leroi Jones, a.k.a. Imari Baraka, a man of minor talents and limited intelligence, has parlayed racist bravado and grievance-mongering into a five or six figure salary, a personal fiefdom at a prestigious university, and star status as cultural icon. If Mr. Longman were not so blinded by a patronizing attitude towards blacks, he would see that Baraka understands the “complexities and possibilities” of America’s overly generous society better than he does.

Cults & Mind Control

Richard John Neuhaus castigates court action by those claiming to have been victimized by cults such as the Unification Church (“The Anti-Cult Business,” The Public Square, November 1990). He asserts that judicial involvement in such cases necessarily entails improper regulation of religious belief and practice. And he may be right.

But it is disappointing that Neuhaus’ article failed to acknowledge that there is such a thing as coercive mind control. There are many groups, of which the Unification Church is a notable example, who, as a matter of conscious and systematic policy, use techniques of deceptive mind control to recruit and mentally enslave vulnerable seekers. (If anyone doubts this, I would suggest he read Combatting Cult Mind Control, by Steven Hassan.)

Such evil practices deserve to be condemned by Mr. Neuhaus, who has forthrightly criticized a host of other activities that give religion a bad name. The practice of deceptive mind control may not call for judicial action, but it certainly calls for exposure, education, and support for non-coercive exit counseling (not forcible deprogramming).

Daniel Love Glazer
chicago, il

Religion and Homophobia

As a committed supporter of gay rights, I have to agree with part of your editorial, “The Uses of Homophobia” (November 1990). It is inaccurate and condescending to imply that all anti-gay feeling is based on fear; some of it is just plain bigotry, and ought to be called that.

Equally inaccurate is your characterization of Judaism and Christianity as univocally opposed to homosexuality. That may still be the majority view, but it is certainly not the only one. As early as 1964, in a pamphlet entitled, “Towards a Quaker View of Sex,” British Friends stated that homosexuality is a natural state, no more to be condemned than left-handedness. More recently. Reform Jews have decided that homosexuality is no bar to ordination. Even within more conservative churches, there are voices speaking out for the view that homosexuality can be a moral, loving, and fulfilling way of life. James Nelson, among Lutherans, and Margaret Farley and Gregory Baum, among Roman Catholics, come immediately to mind.

For a fascinating discussion of parallels between Christian anti-Semitism and Christian prejudice against gays, I recommend John Boswell’s “Jews, Bicycle Riders, and Gay People: The Determination of Social Consensus and Its Impact on Minorities,” Yale Journal of Law and Humanities (1989).

Dena S. Davis
cleveland state university

Catholics & Evangelicals

I applaud Richard John Neuhaus’ critique of the Catholic bishops’ attitude toward Evangelicals in Latin America (“Christians vs. Christians,”The Public Square, November 1990). As a Roman Catholic, I am ashamed.

Too often over the years we have heard our spiritual leaders. Catholic and Protestant, echo John’s plaintive cry to Jesus: “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we tried to stop him because he is not of our company.”

They seem deaf to Jesus’ telling reply: “Do not try to stop him. No man who performs a miracle using my name can at the same time speak ill of me. Anyone who is not against us is with us” (Mark 9:38–40).

Evangelicals preach a radical commitment to Jesus Christ and the Word of God, an excellent beginning. While they lack the developed fullness of our Catholic theological heritage, the cultural result of our monopoly in Latin America for the last 450 years is less than impressive.

But their “converts’ “ lives reflect the very practical, sustained miracle of living out gospel values each day in an often hostile environment. This evidence strongly suggests they are not “against us” but “with us” in bringing Jesus to their neighborhoods and the world. Surely the bishops must see that.

Christian fellowship among men of different creeds, Jacques Maritain wrote (in his essay “Who Is My Neighbor?”), “is not fellowship of beliefs, but the fellowship of men who believe.” This fellowship is based upon a transcendent fraternal love, he continues, which “does not go out to essences nor to qualities nor to ideas, but to persons; and it is the mystery of persons and of the divine presence within them which is here in play.”

A simplistic and naive exegesis of Mark’s Gospel? Perhaps, but fifty million Catholic charismatics worldwide have been living, working, and worshiping side by side with many stripes of Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, including those in Latin America, for more than twenty-five years.

The practical ecumenism of these renewal movements allows grassroots Christians to go beyond the truths and errors of particular dogma, and to recognize and respect, in faith, the divine spark of love in the other which makes us one in Christ. 

Peter Etzell
mankato, mn

Religion and Modernity

David Singer’s “The Orthodox Jew as Intellectual Crank”(August/September 1990) especially impressed me because, although I am quite unfamiliar with Hebrew literature or contemporary Israeli culture, I was forcibly struck by many similarities with the debates over the relations between Christianity and modern secular culture in general. Much of the article’s emotional weight comes from an amazement that any serious intellectual could argue for “the absolute rejection of modernity’s key operative assumption: man as the center of value.” For anyone not sharing that sense of amazement, the article’s argument loses most of its capacity to convince.

So these two Orthodox Jews share “a religious problematic defined in rigidly [rigorously?] either/or terms”? Baruch Kurzweil holds that by placing man at the center, we moderns have paradoxically ended in diminishing humanness, not exalting it. Yet even within Israel that perspective is not confined to the Orthodox, let alone cranks. J. L. Talmon made a similar case. Outside Judaism, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac within Catholicism have offered a very similar critique of modernity. Amongst Protestants, on perhaps a less intellectually elevated plane, Francis Schaeffer has as well (also Os Guinness from a younger generation). Where Christians generally (not universally—see for example some Dutch Calvinists) differ from Kurzweil is whether modernity is a permanent condition. Certainly the Protestant Evangelicals do not see the impact of modernity as permanent: conversion is possible.

As to Yeshayahu Leibowitz, the influence of Kierkegaard does indeed seem strong, as with quite a number of the Dane’s Christian followers in this century. It is worth note that many Christians would make exactly the same comparison between Christ’s sacrifice and that demanded of Abraham towards Isaac.

The most dubious part of the whole argument is the second proposition of “radical openness.” Singer expects of Kurzweil a merely negative closure towards all modern culture (an attitude that can be found in some parts of American Fundamentalism). He is not prepared to see an active critical engagement with modernity. That “loving detail” is the scandal to Singer. But it is entirely possible to love the sinner while hating the sin.

Leibowitz is not alone in recognizing two quite different sorts of questions. In response to “how does it work?” he is prepared to accept “empiricist descriptions of reality.” But in response to “what does it mean?” he looks for “normative direction” in Torah since “religious language is totally prescriptive.” This is neither new nor cranky. One need only look at the relation between Ockhamist fideism and interest in science (see Frederick Copleston’s History of Philosophy, volume 3, or more recently Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose ).

It may well be that both Kurzweil and Leibowitz profess an ultimate allegiance that negates the basic thrust of the modern experience. But that will only be alarming to those who considered “modern experience” to be a candidate for “ultimate allegiance.” Many Christians are quite willing to put Gospel in place of Torah and regard it as “a timeless absolute that transcends the limitations of human history.”

What Singer fails to consider is that “radical openness” is not necessarily acceptance. The fideist has made his “bargain” (to borrow Peter Berger’s term) by insisting that faith need have no justification nor serve any purpose outside of God’s revelation. In turn he fears those (like Aquinas or Scholem) who try to find a firm foundation for faith in a new pagan milieu—whether in Aristotle’s pre-Christian philosophy or in modernity. Schaeffer for example was deeply suspicious of Aquinas’ project and those of all his modem followers.

Certainly the views of Kurzweil and Leibowitz are “a coping mechanism” by which men of deep faith attempt to come to terms with a world that denies their faith. But they are not “forever unable to decide”; instead they have made a different sort of bargain. I am not convinced that “Kurzweil and Leibowitz feel drawn to and repulsed by modernity at one and the same time.” They seem to me not “attracted” (i.e., “drawn” in that sense) to modernity. Rather they feel compelled to critique it; and even at times perhaps to pity those trapped inside it.

Peter A. Russell
casselman, ontario