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Right On about Gulf War

George Weigel’s “The Churches & War in the Gulf” (March) was splendid. It is quite simply the best exposition of the subject I have yet seen. My congratulations.

Charles Krauthammer
Washington, D.C.

Hook in Heaven?

I very much appreciated Michael Novak’s beautiful tribute to Jacques Maritain in the December 1990 issue. Maritain has also had a strong influence on my own thinking.

It is because I so appreciated this article that I was disturbed that Novak coupled Maritain with Sidney Hook. It diminished the reverence due Maritain, and it gave Hook a reverence he simply does not deserve”in death or in life. Even if Sidney Hook seemed to express some sense of transcendence at the very end of his life, the fact is that throughout his long and active career he epitomized the atheistic philosopher.

One can certainly admire Sidney Hook for his moral and political courage and wisdom, but putting him in heaven along with a soul like Jacques Maritain is a bit too much. I think this is a case where my friend Michael Novak’s neoconservatism has gotten the better of his Catholicism.

Among some more secular neoconservatives there is now a tendency to “canonize” Sidney Hook. Perhaps he is as close to a “saint” as they can recognize. But Michael Novak’s Catholic faith should better prepare him to make a much sharper distinction between a good man and a holy one.

David Novak
Department of Religious Studies
University of Virginia

Michael Novak replies:

I have such great respect for David Novak that it pains me to disagree with him on a serious point.

By no means would I pass judgment on Sidney Hook’s standing as a member of the Jewish community of faith. However, in a purely philosophical sense, my judgment of Sidney Hook goes back to my graduate school days at Harvard, when I was preparing to write Belief and Unbelief (1965). I judged him then to be that sort of serious unbeliever—faithful to honesty, courage, and the community of inquiry concerning God—who shares much in common with the serious believer who works in darkness. From his writings, I did conclude that on religion, Sidney was somewhat tone-deaf; all of us have some weak spots in our perceptive apparatus. But at the same time he took religion to be a serious question and considered critically the writings of most of his major contemporaries in the field of religious thought—Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, Jacques Maritain, John Courtney Murray, and others. He did not always understand their arguments, but he did not ridicule them; and he sometimes gave the impression that he wished they could do better. When he encountered truly flabby or cloudy arguments, he indicated that they were unworthy of the tradition and suggested ways to improve them.

Although I met Sidney Hook in person only once or twice, I always felt a sympathetic bond between us on this issue, and I had a chance to speak with him about it not long before he died. I told him that I abhorred terminological imperialism and did not intend to impose an unwanted definition upon him; nonetheless, I could not help judging that in his own writings he displayed many of the intellectual activities that for me count as evidence of the presence of God. You are determined to think of yourself as an unbeliever, I said, and I respect that; but you must also respect my report about what you are doing, seen from within my own horizon. Many times you act intellectually as a believer acts; but you do not see the full implications of what you are doing.

He allowed that that might be how I saw matters, but with a characteristic twinkle in his eye, he said he had always thought of himself as an unbeliever, and it was too late to change. He was obviously quite pleased by my words, however. In a number of passages, Hook reports passing judgment on himself as if from God’s perspective, having hope of a sort stronger than he could quite account for and experiencing within himself a surge of creativity of the sort a believer might point to. He always resisted the temptation to accept these evidences as a believer would but he did not destroy the record of these experiences in himself. On the contrary, he recorded them quite faithfully. I deeply admired this quality in him.

A Misreading?

As a subscriber to First Things and the author of Christianity Today’s November 19, 1990, cover story, “Brave New Harvest,” I feel I must respond to Richard John Neuhaus’ critique of my article in the February 1991 First Things (“The Courage to Say No,”The Public Square).

Mr. Neuhaus’ criticisms of the article fall into two categories: one, he believes the article was ethically muddleheaded, not being sufficiently pro-life. Two, he believes the article was intellectually deficient, not being sufficiently researched.

As to the article’s ethical deficiencies, he says that “the gist of the article is that harvesting for laboratory experiments can be clearly separated from the rightness or wrongness of abortion.” I am surprised at such an unfortunate misreading. It’s clear that Mr. Neuhaus failed to see that I was attempting to fairly represent both sides of a controversial ethical issue—not endorsing fetal-cell research. Is Mr. Neuhaus opposed to Christians hearing both sides of an issue so that they can intelligently respond?

Moreover, I carefully pointed out that ethicists on this issue can basically be divided into two camps: those that view aborted fetuses as cadavers of a medical procedure and think that some good should come from abortions, and those that view aborted fetuses as victims of oppression, sin, and thoughtlessness, and therefore think that these victims should not be further exploited—especially under the guise of a “good cause.” I concluded the analysis of these two camps with a quote from Dr. Vernon Grounds, president of Evangelicals for Social Action: “[The question of whether we should use aborted fetuses for this kind of research] comes back to ‘Shall we do evil that good may come?’” (quoting Paul from Romans 3:8). The answer to Paul’s rhetorical question is obvious, though it seems to have been lost on Mr. Neuhaus—just as the allusion of the article’s title was lost on him.

Next, Neuhaus says that “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 morally questionable.” He is correct that they don’t think they are doing anything immoral; it is a non sequitur, however, to conclude that my mere reporting of this fact is an endorsement of such immorality or “critical” to my analysis. It is neither.

Neuhaus asks why Christians shouldn’t just say “no” to diabetics and Parkinson’s sufferers who are considering a fetal-cell implant to improve their condition. The one-word answer is: compassion. As I said in my article, the church must call the idolatry of technology idolatry; the church must try to influence the researchers in this area; the church must not embrace the motto of Romans 3:8. However, in saying “no” to these people, Christians must also weep with those who weep and share in the suffering of these people. I’m at a loss as to why Neuhaus faults this.

His second criticism is that the article was insufficiently researched. First of all, Christianity Today is a popular magazine for intelligent readers, not a scholarly journal for professional researchers. Second, the fact that I failed to consult the Vatican’s statements on the subject is hollow criticism, given that the Vatican’s position on these kinds of issues is hardly any great secret. Third, the ethicists I consulted and quoted in the article are national experts on the issue—it’s not as if there is some key piece of information out there that the article overlooked.

While I’m pleased that Mr. Neuhaus read the article, I’m also disappointed that he felt compelled for some reason to turn it into a straw man.

Andrew Simons
Denver, CO

Jewish Knowledge of Christianity

Fr. John Pawlikowski questions why Jews are so ignorant of Christianity when mutual understanding is such a critical element of continuing Christian-Jewish Dialogue (“Challenging Jewish Attitudes,” The Public Square, February). Various explanations are offered in the article to explain the resistance of Jewish educators to teaching more courses on Christianity in religious schools—the hostility born of victimization, fear of opening Jewish children to proselytizing, and “monism” in Jewish thinking.

I would offer another possibility—Fr. Pawlikowski is wrong. The fact is, Jews know an enormous amount about Christianity by virtue of living in a Christian milieu. I would argue that most Jews actually know as much or more about Christianity than they do about their own faith. I have personally observed a hundred Jewish teenagers, most of whom could name the parents of Jesus, none of whom could name the parents of Moses. Arthur Hertzberg tells of a gathering of rabbis’ wives where more could say something intelligent about Aquinas than they could about Maimonides. Most college-educated Jews in America can offer a passable definition of Original Sin, but how many can explain the Jewish concept of the Merit of the Fathers?

This inequity is hardly surprising given the exposure to Christian concepts, symbols, and motifs that Jews experience every day in American art. literature, and public life. If there is a failure, it is a failure of Jewish religious education . . . I as a Jewish educator am profoundly reluctant to give up even more of my limited time with students to teach the fundamentals of other people’s religion. I hope that my Christian counterparts will understand what I am saying without thinking I am in any way slighting Christianity or the value of interfaith dialogue.

Geoffrey W. Dennis
Albuquerque, NM

Richard John Neuhaus wants to know (by his approving citation of Father John T. Pawlikowski) why Christians are “obliged to learn about Judaism while Jews remain largely ignorant of Christianity.”

Fr. Pawlikowski gives three “explanations”: Christian persecution, Jewish lack of emphasis on theology, and Jewish fear of proselytizing”the third introduced as “finally.” First of all, there are more than three explanations; second, the “explanations,” especially the first, need to be expressed with rather more vividness to convey their power as explanations. And third, the recourse to explanations based merely on Jews’ fears and shortcomings is revealing. It betrays Neuhaus’ and Pawlikowski’s inability to conceive that there are reasons, and not just explanations, for Jews’ ignorance of Christianity. They say, “Jews cannot continue critiquing the churches’ theological approach to Judaism without an equal opportunity for Christians to do the same with a Jewish statement.” They do not see that there are Jewish reasons because they do not recognize that the relationship is not symmetrical.

Christians are obliged by their own tenets to have a theological approach to Judaism, and Jews have every right to critique it: all too often Jews feel the consequences of Christians’ “understanding” of Judaism in their skins. Jews, on the other hand, are not obliged (to put it mildly) to have a theological approach to Christianity. If a Jew thinks Jesus is God, he should become a Christian. A Jew may have an interest in christology from a number of standpoints—sociological, historical, anthropological, or prudential—but not theological. If Christians want to critique such understandings, nothing can stop them—but I shouldn’t think it would be of much interest to a Christian.

For the right to critique Christian theological understandings of Judaism there is not a reciprocal obligation for Jews to give Christians an “equal opportunity.” Still, if he wants one, here is one Jew’s understanding of Christianity for Fr. Pawlikowski: it has two bases, Christ and Torah. We reject the first, and we’re not interested in the “faith traditions” of people who think the Torah is the “old testament.” I suggest that the less Jews are required to “articulate their understanding of Christianity,” the better we’ll get along.

This is not to suggest the futility of any dialogue, only that its subject not be theology. The notion that Christianity is “Judaism for the Gentiles” is condescending to Christians and should be rejected. An honest Christian should try to convert the Jews. Jews have never understood (to their credit) why indeed we cannot enjoy religious pluralism—why, that is, we cannot be respectful adversaries without resort to the rack and the stake. When the Messiah comes, we will see who is right, and our differences will be reconciled.

In the meanwhile, we confront a world that is inimical to both of us. Why, throughout history, have we not made common cause against Moloch? The orthodox of both faiths have no difference which necessarily impedes their alliance against pagan and secular evil. Here is a field quite large enough where mutual understanding is both necessary and possible.

Michael W. Gold
Richmond, VA

Afrikaner Theology

I continue to enjoy First Things tremendously. I wish, however, to clear up a small point in Dean C. Curry’s article “Religion and the New South Africa”(October 1990). While I can affirm, as a politically active evangelical, the basic drift of Curry’s argument, I must point out that it is inaccurate to suggest that the neo-Calvinism of Abraham Kuyper is responsible for the development of apartheid theology. It is true that Kuyper’s theology was briefly popular among Afrikaner theologians and that some of these theologians used terms borrowed from neo-Calvinism to justify apartheid. This does not as yet establish a causal link. At least in the last thirty years, neo-Calvinists have been among the most outspoken and principled Afrikaner opponents of apartheid. A friend of mine, Jan Lubbe, is doing research to establish exactly the link between the thought of Kuyper and the emergence of apartheid theology. For the time being, however, the jury is not in on this issue. I believe, personally, that we must seek the roots of apartheid theology rather in the pietist withdrawal of reformed theology from the public sphere under the influence of Andrew Murray and others, and in the influence of German theologians and philosophers on Afrikaner students during the 1930s.

There is much in neo-Calvinism as it has been developed by Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd, and some of their followers that recommends it to Christian intellectuals interested in the theory of democratic capitalism and mediating structures. The theory of sphere sovereignty is an admirable tool with which to understand the interaction among various societal relationships, such as the state and the economy, or the church and the family. The writings of “left reformationalists” in recent decades may have obscured the utility of this theory but has certainly not robbed it of its hermeneutic power.

Gideon Strauss
Bloemfontein, South Africa

Cults and Religious Freedom

I am writing to you as the President of the American Family Foundation, an organization of professionals, including religious leaders, mental health professionals, academicians, and attorneys who are committed to inform the public about the dangers of destructive cults . . .

In your November 1990 issue (“The Anti-Cult Business,” The Public Square), you imply that the American Family Foundation is “bad for religion and bad for the public order” as well as a potential contributor to “prejudice, fanaticism, and hysteria.” These are very serious charges, and I would have thought that contact with our group would have been appropriate before making such accusations . . . .

Since your article addresses legal matters, I would like to respond as an attorney with more than thirty years experience and a commitment—untarnished by pecuniary baggage—to the First Amendment and the preservation of individual liberty and our pluralistic society.

Concern about the risk of entanglement of secular courts in the business of regulating religious beliefs and practices, insofar as it relates to tort liability on the part of destructive cults, is misplaced. A like argument was urged and rejected generations ago, when actions based on religious beliefs and practices resulted in the deaths of children who were denied blood transfusions and other medical treatment and in the physical abuse of women and children. Concern about potential peril resulting from involvement of the courts in religion did not prevent every state in this country from rejecting the claimed denial of responsibility for injuries inflicted in hospitals operated by religious organizations. Rejection of the simplistic notion that adults are unqualifiedly responsible for all decisions they make was. at the heart of those determinations, which held purported practitioners of religion liable for selling credulous members of the public snake oil to cure illness and goat glands to enhance virility.

Reaffirmation of the doctrine that religious motivation does not override substantial secular concerns relating to health and welfare was recently evidenced by the United States Supreme Court determination that sale and distribution of drugs, even though religiously motivated, was not immunized from legal accountability.

The American Family Foundation is concerned with the infliction of injury through psychological manipulation, whether the manipulator be ostensibly religious or a part of a political group or a psychotherapeutic group. It would be regrettable if an espouser of the First Amendment sought to “check” the “present pattern” of AFF’s providing prophylactic information to those who seek it.

As for your criticism of those professionals who testify on behalf of plaintiffs as expert witnesses, their professional community provides ample support for their position. Moreover, the availability of expert witnesses to plaintiffs seeking redress for injury is an essential premise of our adversary system. Suppression of opinion is not consistent with the First Amendment.

Truly, the issues you raise are issues involving liberty (which extends to victims suffering injury as well as the groups responsible for it) and responsibility for harm caused others. Those carefully crafted decisions of courts upholding liability no more pose a threat to religious liberty than do the determinations that the doctrine of “charitable immunity” is an unnecessary shield for religious groups seeking to avoid tort liability for injury inflicted in charitable institutions.

Your article suggests that the decisions imposing liability on destructive cults will encourage a flood of litigation against established religions . . . Since, however, the decisions to which you refer relate to litigation started many years ago, one would expect, if you were correct, that the established religions would already be inundated by demands for damages from disaffected members. This has not occurred, and I doubt that it will occur because established religions do not employ the level of psychological manipulation observed in destructive cults.

I welcome the opportunity to demonstrate that the American Family Foundation is not an organization which deals in prejudice, fanaticism, and hysteria, or that its call for responsibility on the part of destructive cults is bad for religion or the public order. And I would like to correct any misapprehensions in this regard held by your publication, its editors, or its readers.

Herbert L. Rosedale
American Family Foundation
Weston, MA

Conservatism and Modernity

I was perplexed by Peter Berger’s article in the January issue of First Things (“Capitalism and the Disorders of Modernity”). His argument seems to be directed against a certain kind of historical “paleoconservative” who sees a Golden Age in the social institutions or social spirit of some past time; yet his refutation of such a perspective invokes progress in dentistry, rhetorically shifting the evaluative criteria from sociology to technology. By these standards, we ought to prefer the Soviet Union of the 1970s to the early American republic. Berger’s own non-historical, Augustinian “conservatism of pessimism” is of course an admirable tradition. But certainly Berger would agree that in addition to humanity’s perennial aptitude for making a royal mess of things (original sin), modernity presents us with a new and unique set of social and moral problems. Surely it is the alarmed recognition of this fact which animates the paleoconservative critique of modernity.

Perhaps the strangest part of Berger’s argument is his insistence on the superiority of capitalism to socialism, as it is dubious that paleoconservative critics of capitalism are liable to champion any kind of socialism. Still, in this context, Berger compares the deficiencies of every “actually existing socialism” with a vision of capitalism that seems to have little to do with any “actually existing capitalism.” For example, he argues that because capitalism respects private property, including the “property” of tradition, it is the best system for maintaining traditional communities and virtues. Leaving aside the evidence that arrives each day from Eastern Europe which seems to show that the opposite is the case, that socialism there has in some sense “frozen” traditional ways of life, there is a more important issue: one wonders if tradition, when purchased and consumed like a commodity, can really play the role which some conservatives believe it must in any healthy society.

Furthermore, actually existing capitalism is selective in deciding what shall be private “property” and what shall be public. This fact has become salient recently with regard to solid waste disposal. Since this has been a “public” function while the production and marketing of consumables is private, we have effectively “subsidized” a throw-away culture. Environmentalists take note of the harm to nature: conservatives who recognize the problematic of modernity note the moral harm of such an arrangement. Similarly, we have a public education system which has been an effective agent in dissolving the ties and virtues of a traditional society. Private options may exist, but at prohibitively high costs. And in the past several decades we have systematically moved the burden of taxation from singles to families, penalizing that social institution which is the crucial transmitter of tradition. On another level, the revolution in no-fault divorce law which has been of no help to the modem American family has been legitimated by the individualist rights-discourse of modernity, which Berger seems to believe is an unqualified good.

Berger describes his position as one in which each generation must move beyond critique to make hard choices. Who would disagree with this? But our choice is not between socialism and pristine capitalism. Rather, our choice is how we shall pragmatically organize our economic and political life in such a way as to foster living well together And any conservative understanding of such “living well” must include the “paleo” parts. While Berger champions the “creative destruction” of capitalism, it seems that some of capitalism’s destruction is not creative, and at least some paleoconservatives have offered policy options which might mitigate some of this “destructive” destruction. If an honest hearing were given to these proposals, perhaps much of the antagonism between neos and paleos could be avoided.

Mark C. Henrie
Somerville, MA

On King and Hypocrisy

Your editorial on Martin Luther King, Jr. (February) defends his status as an American hero in spite of his unrepented sins of adultery and plagiarism. In his defense, you borrow from St. Paul the term “earthen vessel” to characterize his “moral failings.” But St. Paul’s use of that term (II Corinthians 4:7) is in reference to human weakness brought on by a Christian confrontation with opposing forces of the sin of the world, not of himself.

While admitting that Dr. King was a hypocrite, you apparently are undervaluing the gravity of that sin and its effect on his credibility. King’s message certainly was valid, but so was that of the Pharisees. Jesus admitted the validity of the Pharisees’ teaching, but He condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, refusing thereby to honor them for their teaching (Matthew 23). Just so, few will argue against the rightness of the civil rights cause as articulated by Dr. King, but the issue is whether or not Martin Luther King, Jr. qualifies as the American unifying symbol of that just cause.

Hypocrisy is the profoundly disqualifying sin of any would-be hero.

The Rev Terry L. Wilkinson
Spring Valley, WI