Surveys provide additional evidence that Americans are returning to “traditional values.” Traditional values is usually a synonym for common sense or moral platitudes. Such sense is common and such morality is platitudinous because they are powerfully confirmed and reconfirmed by human experience over thousands of years. We now may be entering a new period of reconfirmation, notably in the realm of sexuality, and also among young people at college.
To be sure, college campuses sometimes look like the last holdout, increasingly turning themselves into enclaves of countercultural madnesses. It may be, however, that even some of the more bizarre developments on campus indicate that students, too, are returning to the morally obvious—although, to be sure, they are taking the very long way back. Consider, for example, the nationwide controversy over “date rape.”
Here is a longish article in our most self-important local newspaper, reporting that students around the country are engaged in “a very public soul-searching unthinkable a generation ago . . . Men and women are asking themselves and each other: When is sex considered sex, and when is sex considered rape?”
The article is about very young men and very young women, otherwise known as boys and girls. And the question posed by the article is better understood as the difference between fornication (assumed to be OK) and rape (definitely bad). The current discussions about date rape that are lurching toward the self-evident were initiated, it is generally thought, by Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 book Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. Ms. Brownmiller’s polemic was hailed as yet another feminist broadside against “androcentric oppression” but, as we shall see, the debate that it sparked has thrown a number of feminist orthodoxies into severe question.
Date rape (also known as acquaintance rape) is when “sexual activity goes too far and becomes abhorrent to the woman.” Some putative experts in “male studies” complain that that definition slights the situations in which sexual activity becomes abhorrent to the man, but, for very sensible reasons, that complaint is not being taken very seriously in the current discussion. The entire discussion of date rape is premised, with justice, upon an assumed inequality between male and female.
Jennifer Volchko of Lehigh University, an expert on date rape, says that “giving the problem a name has increased understanding and awareness of it.” That makes sense. Presumably many boys, given the opportunity, have always tried to take sexual advantage of girls. One might speculate that the phenomenon has something to do with human nature, although, of course, talk about human nature is today banished from respectable academic discourse. What Ms. Volchko undoubtedly meant to say is that giving the phenomenon a “politically correct” name made it permissible to discuss it as a problem.
The thing under discussion has always had plenty of names: defilement, violation, debauchery, libertinism, wenching, and venery, for a few examples. None of those names would do, however, since they are associated with traditional moral discernments that are out of synch with contemporary orthodoxies about recreational sex. But now we have an ideologically acceptable name for the thing, date rape. This permits our experts to “discover” that boys in the heat of their libidinous prime frequently try to go as far as they can with girls. Science marches on.
A Readiness to Protest
Dr. Volchko explains that this generation of women was raised under the influence of the feminist movement and they are therefore more ready “to protest what is seen as men overstepping their bounds.” But there is another part of that feminist movement that was set upon erasing the differences between men and women, especially with respect to sexual behavior. Women were determined to demonstrate that they were every bit as erotically aggressive and insatiable as men. That doctrine has been dropped in the debate over date rape.
In the present debate, we are back to traditional views of the male as rutting aggressor and the female as defender of decencies. Of course, more radical feminists have insisted for a long time that all heterosexual intercourse is equivalent to rape or prostitution. The college girls involved in the controversy at hand do not go that far. They appear prepared to “go along” with what boys so desperately want to do, but only after they have clearly given their permission. We are not quite back to the time when young women were advised to “Lie still and think of England,” but maybe we’re getting there.
At Brown University some coeds were so incensed about date rape that they went around writing on rest room walls (presumably women’s rest rooms) the names of guilty boys. The fellows are not taking at all kindly to this. Some have protested that the women who now charge date rape did not say “no” at the time and did not physically resist. Others contend that the women encouraged their advances. According to the Times, “Women call that an after-the-fact excuse; sexual intercourse, they argue, should proceed from clear mutual consent.” Preferably in writing, one gathers, and preferably at the beginning of the evening. Were that the practice, however, whatever else was scheduled for the evening (movie, rock concert, dinner, etc.) might seem like an insufferable postponement of what some young people would likely view as the main event.
The federal government has not neglected to finance research in this area. A study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found that 7 percent of college girls “said they had experienced sexual assault in the previous twelve months.” The admitted margin of error might make that 9 percent or 5 percent, but it is a lot of young women. The definition of “sexual assault” includes “intercourse by physical force, intercourse as a result of intentionally getting the woman intoxicated, or forcible oral or anal penetration.” Terms such as “force” and “forcible” are subject to fine calibrations, it would seem, and presumably women are not to be held responsible for getting drunk. However shaky the findings, Americans will be glad to know that their tax dollars are at work in trying to figure but what boys will do in order to have sex with girls.
Equally gratifying is the fact that, according to this article, college administrators are also addressing the phenomenon. “One of the biggest reasons for date rape is the high level of consumption of alcohol on campus,” we read. It is authoritatively reported that, when boys and girls are drunk, they are likely to do things that they would not do when sober. Another factor in date rape, it has been discovered, is “the introduction of dormitories shared by both sexes.” One of the important things to know about this college generation, it seems, is that the proximity of nude or partially clothed members of the opposite sex in shared hallways, bathrooms, and bedrooms appears to increase the incidence and intensity of sexual arousal. Such arousal, in turn, frequently precipitates sexual suggestions and behavior. “Above all, assumptions about the roles of men and women seem to be shifting, with a resulting confusion on both sides about what is and is not acceptable behavior,” the report continues. “It is clearly a perception issue,” says Kim Gandy of the National Organization for Women, and it is hard to argue with that, whatever that means.
In any event, federal and state funds are being made available for the establishment of “Sexual Assault Recovery Services” at universities across the country. At the same time, insurance companies are threatening to withdraw from the college market because of the rising incidence of claims related to date rape. Dr. Volchko thinks the rise of feminism has created a quite new situation. Date rape was not discussed in the old days, she says. “You didn’t call it anything.” The conventional thinking then, she said, was to say to the girl, “You put yourself in a vulnerable position and it’s your own fault.” Now, we are given to understand, it’s the boy’s fault.
The report continues, “College women, almost uniformly, complain about men assuming that certain behavior, like kissing or heavy petting, is an automatic precursor to intercourse. And they complain about the pervasiveness of these behavioral assumptions.” In a family magazine such as this, we cannot detail what is meant by heavy petting, but we assume that a few readers, even those who are over thirty, have some familiarity with the practice. The new research, however, has determined that, with a surprising degree of frequency, young men who are in the heat of heavy petting become quite urgent about wanting, as it is commonly put, “to go all the way.”
These are among the remarkable findings of the studies of the current college generation, underscoring the truth that “assumptions about the roles of men and women seem to be shifting.” There is yet another disturbing discovery: “Women interviewed on several campuses said that when they talk about sex in their dormitory rooms there is a high level of distrust of men.” Women who went to college in an earlier time will no doubt regret the loss of innocence, remembering how they assumed that boys could be trusted not to be sexually importunate.
Public Confessions and Mixed Signals
At Lehigh University, the report continues, they have what appear to be Maoist-style “self-criticism sessions.” For instance, one sexually active (as they say) young man claimed that he had never raped a woman. Under pressure, however, he admitted that he had had sex with a girl when they were both drunk and she had struggled initially. “But they all do,” he added. “It’s the way it works,” he told the official in charge of the session. Finally he broke down and admitted that he was “very confused” and had in fact raped “some” of the girls he dated. “I was uninformed and incorrect in my actions,” he wrote in his confession that was published in the Lehigh student newspaper.
The Times report does not say, but we would like to assume that he was then forgiven his deviance from correct opinion. University administrators said that the behavior of young men “is reinforced by pressure from other men to ‘score.’” This novel turn is reinforced by other expectations. For instance, the experts say, “many men assume that when a woman enters their bedroom in a dorm or a fraternity house, it is an unspoken invitation to sex.” It used to be, we are invited to believe, that when a girl came into a boy’s bedroom both understood that she only wanted to have a heart-to-heart talk. But now, it seems, these boys always have sex on their minds. “College-age kids nowadays have a different attitude toward sex,” says Lawrence K. Pettit, chancellor of Southern Illinois University.
Girls and boys are missing signals. “At certain fraternity houses, when the girl goes upstairs, the guys start licking their chops,” says Brett Finn, a junior at Lehigh. “There is a real miscommunication.” At Lehigh, it seems, it used to he understood that girls go upstairs in fraternity houses for other reasons, like making sure the boys cleaned up their bedrooms.
Chancellor Pettit adds, “The kids regard sex almost as an entitlement, certainly as an expectation.” But why shouldn’t they? one might ask. They have repeatedly been told, not least in the schools, that regular genital exercise is a natural requisite of mental and psychic health. In these enlightened times it is understood that sex is recreational—good, clean fun, demystified of the moral inhibitions of the past. The old notion that sex has consequences has been nullified by the pill and by abortion-as-contraception. In the new context, a girl’s refusal to join in a refreshing little workout must seem irrational and downright unfriendly.
Date rape research has turned up other dynamics at work. For instance: “Many men have been conditioned to believe that initial refusals are an essential part of a ‘mating game’ ritual, one that dictates that women must resist somewhat to make themselves more attractive to men.” Note that the boys have allegedly been “conditioned” to believe in mating rituals. Perhaps what is missing in the background of some journalists and sex researchers is, quite literally, a measure of familiarity with the birds and the bees. A person has to be conditioned not to understand that human beings, like all God’s creatures, are programmed to engage in mating rituals involving male aggression and female submission. However, human beings, unlike other creatures, are not determined to follow the program. Over the millennia they have developed mores, taboos, and protective institutions aimed at inhibiting the male from doing what comes naturally.
Rape is a mortal sin and odious crime. One of the unhappier aspects of the controversy over date rape is that, under ideological pressures, rape is trivialized. Rape, as currently discussed, does not have to involve physical assault in any way. Cornell’s Andrea Parrot, who has pushed the idea that there is a date rape epidemic, claims that “any sexual intercourse without mutual desire is a form of rape.” An article in New York magazine explains the logic: “In other words, a woman is being raped if she has sex when not in the mood, even if she fails to inform her partner of that fact.” An expert in Columbia University’s date-rape-education program declares, “Every time you have an act of intercourse, there must be explicit consent, and if there’s no explicit consent, then it’s rape. Stone silence throughout an entire physical encounter with someone is not explicit consent.”
A training manual at Swarthmore College goes further: “acquaintance rape spans a spectrum of incidents and behaviors ranging from crimes legally defined as rape to verbal harassment and inappropriate innuendo.” Little wonder, therefore, that Catherine Nye, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, found that 43 percent of the women in a widely cited rape study “had not realized they had been raped.” Radical feminists insist that any sexual experience that involves confusion or ambivalence constitutes rape. If that is true, surely 100 percent of women who have had sexual intercourse have been raped, for it is difficult to imagine anyone “doing it,” at least the first time, without a measure of confusion or ambivalence. Such bizarre reasoning can only result in voiding the horror of what sensible people mean by rape.
No Reason for Saying No
Nonetheless, the date rape debate can be welcomed in other respects. For all the ludicrous social scientific jargon in which it is wrapped, it is an instance of confused groping toward the reinvention of the wheel. Most welcome is the acknowledgment of fundamental and incorrigible differences between men and women when it comes to sexual behavior. In negotiating the shoals of erotic passion and practice, women are at a distinct disadvantage—obviously in physical strength but also in controlling the dynamics of the sexual encounter. Every culture known to us has recognized this reality and has therefore nurtured habits, expectations, and institutions designed to defend the woman against male aggressiveness. The odd thing about our cultural moment is that the women who so enthusiastically liberated themselves from those defenses now complain that they are defenseless.
One need only add that the biblically supported patterns of defense and restraint center in chastity, marriage, and respect for persons. It is said that these traditional ways of dealing with sexual behavior are “unrealistic” when so many young people think they are entitled to regular sex. That is much like saying that driving sober is unrealistic when so many young people think it is alright to drive drunk. Putting the focus on chastity, marriage, and self-restraint will not solve the “problem” of youthful sexuality. Nothing will do that. There will be, as there always have been, frequent deviations from approved behavior. For that there is social censure and, for the repentant, forgiveness. But there is surely nothing more unrealistic than the notion that autonomous, liberated boys and girls at the height of libidinous commotions are going to invent for themselves, starting from square one and maybe in a dormitory bedroom, a new sexual ethic.
The date rape debate is a poignant cry for the reestablishment of the idea of moral limits that many, notably feminists, recklessly abandoned in the name of self-actualization. At the end of the Times article, one of the experts quoted manages, once again, to get everything entirely backward. He is describing the rape education programs now being initiated in freshmen orientation sessions. The freshmen are told, he says, “Don’t expect sex on every date. Ask a woman what she feels comfortable doing or not doing.” It is embarrassing to have to instruct instructors on the simple fact that, so long as many young men think sex might be an option that night, they are going to do their darndest to get it. And to ask a girl what she is comfortable with at six o’clock may have little to do with twelve o’clock. Too many young men think it is their role to push the comfort level as far as they can, and then some.
Most important, the expert in question misses the point that his “education” puts the entire burden on the young woman to draw the line. What women are demanding in the debate over date rape is that some lines be drawn that are binding on everybody”lines that are defined not in terms of “comfort” but of right and wrong. Unless a young woman can say no because it is morally wrong, she has—in the moment of sexual encounter with a companion of her own choosing—no very convincing reason for saying no at all. It is little wonder that, over the last twenty years or so, many men were very supportive of women who practiced unilateral moral disarmament in the name of liberation. The date rape debate, although coming too late for many women, was inevitable. It is, whether those involved realize it or not, a return to basics in one of the most basic spheres of human behavior. But, oh, what a long, long way we are taking to get back to the obvious.
The Return of Pelagius
Ancient heresies assume contemporary faces, according to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The fourth-century Pelagius, for example, seems to be enjoying something of a comeback. Pelagianism teaches, inter alia, that man can on his own, without complete dependence on divine grace, achieve salvation. Pelagianism is popular not only because it panders to human pride but because Christians who are embarrassed by theological affirmations think its focus on ethics provides a bridge to the unbelieving modern mind.
Ratzinger: “The Pelagian error has many more followers today than it would seem at first glance. Even within the Church today there is this temptation, which is understandable in human terms, to find ways to get the message across where there is no faith and it is thought that the bridge between the faith of the Church and modern attitudes could be morality. Everyone can see more or less the need for morality and so the Church is proposed as a moral guarantee, as an institution of morality, while [theologians] do not have the courage to present the mystery. The mystery is not accessible, they think. Let us omit these obscure things and talk about comprehensible things, about morality . . . This is what I mean about a Christian and Catholic temptation, the result of understandable but mistaken thinking, to reduce the Christian message to morality. In so doing, morality itself is being diminished.”
According to Ratzinger, when religion is reduced to ethics and ethics is reduced to politics, the almost inevitable result is the “liberation theology” that looks very much like Pelagianism hitched to ideological utopianism, as, for instance, in Marxism. 30 Days, an Italy-based magazine of increasingly quirky editorial direction, took a survey among bishops to find out who did and did not agree with Cardinal Ratzinger. The editors were not happy with the result, especially among Western bishops. “The opinions differed but all reflected general optimism, as if the worst of the storm had passed. But Ratzinger’s comments address the present.” It is to be feared, we are told, that the Cardinal’s “prophetic” warnings “fell on deaf ears.”
We are not sure about the magazine’s survey results, but we are quite sure that Cardinal Ratzinger is right about Pelagianism. The error of Pelagius is perennial. It has always been, although usually unspoken, the dogmatic foundation of liberal optimism. In the period of neo-orthodoxy, continuing for some time after World War II, the likes of Barth, the brothers Niebuhr, Tillich, and Emil Brunner heaped piles of recondite scorn on the slogan that dominated a debased form of ecumenism, “Creeds Divide, Deeds Unite.” Twenty-five years ago, one might have thought that the peddlers of such fatuities would be too embarrassed to ever again raise their heads. Not at all, as it turns out. The big difference now, as the Cardinal notes, is that many Roman Catholics have also embraced the gospel of optimistic moralism.
His point that reducing religion to morality also diminishes morality is critically important. We are sometimes distressed that readers mistakenly think that this journal is in that reduction business. “You are making an invaluable contribution,” a Michigan subscriber writes, “in making it clear that all religions find their common cause in teaching the basic morality of right and wrong.” That is surely well intended, but that is not what we are about as a journal. There are indeed profound moral commonalities between Christians, Jews, and nonbelievers—call it common grace, natural law, general revelation, or moral reason. But, for thoughtful Christians and Jews, those commonalities are informed by truth claims that transcend the moral—call it divine law and covenant, metaphysics, saving grace, ontology, or the way reality really is. “I don’t know why you have to run articles on theology when the purpose of the journal is ethical,” writes another reader. Ah well, we will just have to try harder. The career of Pelagius has flourished for 1,600 years, and there is no reason why we should expect it to end any time soon. The truth about the return of Pelagius is that he never went away.
Not the End of Ecumenism
Trinity Press International is a new house in Philadelphia and they’ve been bringing out some worthy titles. For example, Gavin White’s How the Churches Got to be the Way They Are. White is a church historian at the University of Glasgow and his ruminations range very widely. The present collection is composed of little essays on everything from the resurgence of fundamentalism to why Methodists behave as they do. It includes this on the ecumenical movement—a movement that he thinks came to a halt about fifteen years ago:
“The ecumenical movement was over. And the reason that it was over was that the theological stress on the importance of the church which came from the 1840s was no longer there. The cultural firestorm of the 1960s had centered on the rejection of institutions and of intermediate agencies between the observer and reality. That meant the church was no longer the chosen way to God but a barrier between us and God. It was now a positive virtue to ignore institutions, and to ignore the church. And yet there was a growth of fellowship between Christians which resulted, paradoxically, from exactly that factor which had scuttled ecumenism. If the church was now unimportant, it did not matter if Christians belonged to different churches, and they could all be happy together, Roman Catholics included, and indeed it was not long before they called this mutual happiness by the word ‘ecumenism.’ Going further, they even described it as true ecumenism and took great pleasure in pointing out that they did not believe in ‘ecclesiastical joinery.’ Against this, it might have been argued that the church was the work of a Carpenter in the first place, and those who followed him had a duty to use hammer and saw to make his work fit his will, but the climate was against such a reply.”
The anti-institutional mood of the 1960s certainly played the role that White suggests. One might suggest, however, that behind that move was another: the decision that what really matters is social and political transformation. The political community replaced the ecclesial community as a center of attention. Indeed, the church was increasingly viewed in instrumental terms, as something to be used in order to advance “systemic change” in the social order. In any event, Gavin White, taking the long view, is not about to despair. “That one ecumenical movement was over did not mean that there would not be another, and perhaps another and another after that. Divisions in the church have always existed, and there have always been occasions when it has been necessary for somebody, somewhere, to leave and to set up a rival body. Yet in time the reasons for the divisions become less pressing, or are overcome by new developments, and it is possible to put back together the fragments of an earlier age. In some climates of opinion this is made easy and in others it is made difficult, but it can be done, and in church history it is always being done. Ecumenism is not over, though one particular movement may be.”
Abortion Rhetoric, Again
The newsletter Life Insight offers some suggestions to pro-lifers on how to respond to pro-choice advocates. “They Say: Restricting abortion in this state will force women to travel to other states for abortions. We Say: That’s like saying that gun control laws will force criminals to use knives. They Say: When parental notification laws result in children having children, everyone suffers. We Say: This is the pro-abortion theory of relativity. When a teenager has a baby, it’s children having children. When a teenager gets an abortion, it’s a young woman capable of making sound decisions. It’s all relative. Just don’t involve your relatives.”
Of course a subject as momentous as abortion cannot be debated adequately with one liners. At the same time, and as much as we might lament it, political contests necessarily employ slogans and soundbites. The first exchange above touches on an interesting aspect of abortion rhetoric. The fact that legal protection for the unborn will make it more difficult to obtain abortions is often taken—even by people who claim not to have a firm position in the abortion debate—as a valid argument against protecting the unborn. In a similar vein, such people are impressed by the claim that, if abortion law is changed, the poor will not have the same chance as the rich to obtain an abortion. This is thought to be an ethical argument for justice. It is very odd.
If one believes that abortion is a great evil and the unjust taking of an innocent human life, then it is obviously not a good to which people should have easy and equal access. The rich can do many things—good, bad, and indifferent—that the poor cannot afford to do. Of course protecting the unborn will make it harder to get abortions. That’s the point. Not so incidentally, it discourages people from doing a great wrong and encourages men and women to care for the children they conceive. Thus it all turns on what one thinks abortion is. Those who are impressed by the argument for ready or equal access to abortion have, in fact, declared themselves for the pro-choice and against the pro-life position. The crucial position, calling for direct decision, is the moral significance of abortion. Chatter about access and equality is, at least, an evasion of that decision, and, more likely, a way of disguising from ourselves that we have decided that abortion is morally indifferent, or even a positive good.
Against Skepticism: Kicking Stones
In Boswell’s Life of Johnson we find the notable instance in which the great Doctor refuted Bishop Berkeley’s version of idealism. Coming out of church in Harwich, Boswell and Johnson were discussing the bishop’s “ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter.” Boswell observed that, though the doctrine is not true, “it is impossible to refute.” To this Johnson responded, “striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, ‘I refute it thus.’” That is an argument drawn, as the Doctor’s arguments were usually drawn, from what he called “the experience of mankind.”
This well-known incident sets John Sisk off on one of his fifteen admirable essays included in The Tyrannies of Virtue (edited by Chris Anderson, University of Oklahoma Press). Sisk allows that neither Berkeley’s theory nor Johnson’s refutation would hold much water with contemporary philosophers. But then, a great many philosophers now follow such as Rorty and Derrida in contriving sophistries of radical skepticism not too dissimilar from Berkeley’s. In response, says Sisk, we need something like Johnson’s respect for “the experience of mankind.”
“Perhaps this is why,” Sisk writes, “after the philosophers have with their fanciful theories put in doubt the experience of mankind, we take such comfort from those moments in their biographies when they seem close kin to us after all: Derrida, for instance, being mistaken for a drug smuggler by Czechoslovakian authorities; Wittgenstein enjoying Betty Hutton and Carmen Miranda movies; Nietzsche persuading a friend to duel with him so that he could be honorably scarred; Kant on his daily walk insisting that a servant follow with an umbrella even on clear days; Sartre in old age reading detective stories and drinking too much; Bishop Berkeley believing that tar water would cure practically anything. With such intimations of untranscended mortality in mind we can even believe that the philosophers sometimes find us as hard to refute as we find them. How often, knowing in their hearts what jerry-built structures our epistemologies are, must they, like Dr. Johnson, be content to counterargue with a frustrated kick at the nearest stone?”
While We’re at It
♦ We ran in February a rather upbeat report by Dave Andrusko on the 1990 election and the pro-life cause. Lest folk of that persuasion become too upbeat, listen in on another interpretation. This is Ann F. Lewis, Democratic political consultant, writing in Congress Monthly, the publication of the American Jewish Congress: “In sum: At the beginning of this past election season, the imminent threat to abortion rights propelled the issue to the forefront of public concerns. By the time voters went to the polls, the issue was one of several competing for attention, including the prospects of a national recession and spreading fear of conflict. The continued increase in pro-choice victories even at this time demonstrates that support for abortion rights is not just a short-lived phenomenon. It is deeply rooted in the expectations and aspirations of American society—and it is especially important to several groups of voters who are important to us: young voters, women, and Jews.”
♦ An acquaintance says that almost all his friends are conservatives, his closer friends are right wingers, but his very best friends are real wingers. A while back we commented in this space on a mailing from a real winger outfit that was raising alarums about the influence of sundry conspiracies, including the Bilderbergers. Who on earth are the Bilderbergers? we asked. A reader whose uncle sends him real wing literature has come to our help. It seems the Bilderberg group meets very secretly each year on the island of La Toja, off the Atlantic coast of Spain, bringing together the top financial, corporate, and political leadership that, along with the Trilateral Commission, really runs the world. According to the clipping we were sent, their most recent coup was removing Margaret Thatcher from power. So now, while reading the daily newspapers, we expect many of our readers will have occasion to say from time to time, “Aha, the Bilderbergers at work again!”
♦ CAFE is not what it might sound like. Christianity and the Future of Europe is a British-based association trying to bring together church leadership to chart a more promising course for Christianity in the European worlds following the Revolution of 1989. CAFE publishes a semi-annual newsletter that may be of interest to some readers. Write Dean John Nurser, 11 Minster Yard, Lincoln LN2 lPJ, United Kingdom.
♦ Fidel Castro recently told the Communist Youth Union that he would continue fighting alone for his “socialist revolution,” and would do so “even if 98 percent of the Cuban people did not believe in it.” You cannot accuse him of pandering to popular opinion. The other day we walked by the Revolution Bookstore on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was bedecked with a newly painted banner: “MAO MORE THAN EVER!! The End of One Stage, the Beginning of Another.” We are obliged to report that the store seemed to be doing a lively business. As Irving Howe, albeit a more sober man of the left, put it: “Socialism is the name of our dream.”
♦ World Health Organization says that in 1989 in the Republic of Ireland there were 1.3 diagnosed cases of AIDS reported for every 100,000 people. That compares with 13.3 per 100,000 in the United States. That is a difference of one thousand percent. Sheila Rule of the Times gets a full thirty-two column inches to explain why the Catholic Church’s opposition to “safe sex” (condoms) for homosexuals and free needles for drug addicts is the major obstacle to coping with AIDS in Ireland. “Campaigners against AIDS say that to prevent the disease from taking a grim toll, the Irish must challenge the church and other symbols of authority,” writes Ms. Rule. She leaves little doubt that she agrees. That approach has worked marvelously well in the United States. By ridding itself of traditional morality, Ireland, too, might be able to increase the incidence of AIDS by a thousand percent. As to the prospect that the Irish will follow our example, Fors fortis, as the bishop said.
♦ Mean for Jesus” is the title of an article on Senator Jesse Helms that recently appeared in Vanity Fair. Writing in response, psychoanalyst Thomas Ferraro had this to say: “Peter J. Boyer accurately portrayed the aggressive power of Senator Jesse Helms and the frightening passivity of Senator Claiborne Pell. As a psychoanalyst, I would say that Helms is an example of someone who denies most natural and pleasurable aspects of life. This denial eventually turns into intense aggression. Pell is a good example of a person not nearly so repressed, who, as a result, uses much of his energy in the pursuit of pleasure and life enhancement, including projects in the arts and sciences. Given a face-to-face confrontation between two such people, the repressed one will always win. This accounts for why so many conservative businessmen are winners in terms of monetary pursuits.” It no doubt accounts as well for psychoanalysts being so free of prejudice.
♦ Sullivan of The New Republic notes that a number of magazines are going belly up, including Wigwag, which in its final issue carried a reminiscence of an owling expedition in Mississippi. It also included the results of a reader survey. “Sixty-nine percent of Wigwaggers picked themselves as the person the world could least afford to do without, followed by Mikhail Gorbachev (21 percent) and Mother Teresa (7 percent). Jesus mustered 1 percent. The front-runner choice for president in 1992 was Jimmy Carter. More scarily, half the readers confessed to a short, private fantasy of killing someone.” Mr. Sullivan is not quite sure what all this means, but he notes that “the country should doubtless soon brace itself for a platoon of self-obsessed peacenik atheists, hell-bent on whimsically murdering disabled owls. Unless, of course, The New Yorker can take up the slack.”
♦ Many sound reasons have been offered why the distribution of condoms in high schools will not reduce the incidence of AIDS and may well increase it by encouraging promiscuity. Nonetheless, such distribution has been energetically promoted in New York City, notably by ACT-UP and other more radical homosexual activist groups, backed by the Mayor. The New York Times also supported the policy. The day before it was approved, the Times editorially declared, “The Board of Education has a choice: whether to be swayed by those who mind our children’s health or those who would mind their morals. May it cast its vote for health—and life.” As Deuteronomy 30 does not say: “I set before you this day health and morality; choose health, that you and your descendants may live.”
♦ As almost everybody knows, answers in survey research must be checked with the questions asked. The Harris Poll reports that only 20 percent of respondents have a “great deal” of confidence in the “people in charge of running organized religion.” Yet the Gallup Poll has over the years reported that confidence in “the church or organized religion” is higher than confidence in any other major institution (although the last time around, religion was edged out by the military). So who’s right? “Both questions are equally valid,” says Gallup, “and their comparison yields insight to how the public may distinguish between institutions and their leadership.” The dramatic gap between confidence in religious institutions and confidence in their leaderships should perhaps come as no surprise.
♦ “Young Pilgrims in Switzerland” (Les Jeunes Pelerins en Suisse) is a Christian summer program for children from 8 to 12. Michael Aeschliman, a frequent contributor to this journal, is one of the program leaders, and you can find out more about it by writing PO. Box 236, Free Union, VA 22940 (804-973-7960).
♦ The Institute on Religion and Public Life is very pleased that Midge Decter has joined us as a Distinguished Fellow. Extremely pleased, in fact. Ms. Decter is a noted writer and social critic and, most recently, director of the Committee for the Free World. (Shattering the rules of the sociology of institutions, the Committee went out of business when it had achieved its purpose—its purpose being to vindicate democracy in the struggle against Communism.) Ms. Decter’s responsibilities with the Institute include her own writing (also for this journal!), editorial counsel, and coordinating projects that advance the sane and vibrant interaction of religion and public life. Readers who know Midge Decter will understand, and those who don’t will soon come to understand, why we are so grateful for her company in the enterprise of the Institute and of First Things.
On boys and girls and date rape, the New York Times January 2, 1991 and New York magazine, January 21, 1991. On Pelagianism, 30 DAYS, December 1990. On abortion rhetoric, Life Insight, Vol. 1, No. 4. Ann Lewis quoted in Congress Monthly, February 1991. Castro quoted in Update on Cuba, December 1, 1990. Sheila Rule on AIDS in the New York Times, January 6, 1991. Psychoanalyst Thomas Ferraro quoted in Vanity Fair, December 1990. Andrew Sullivan on the demise of Wigwag in The New Republic, March 11, 1991. On condoms for New York City school children, the New York Times, February 26, 1991. Poll data on confidence in organized religion from Princeton Religion Research Center, January 1991.