We made a mistake in a recent public symposium by saying, in response to a question, that we had not listened to enough rock music to have an intelligent opinion about it. A journalist reporting on the meeting cited this as evidence certain that this writer is entirely out of touch with the culture of which he presumes to be a critic. There is something to that, at least when it comes to what is called popular culture. Actually, we do have a rather definite opinion about, for example, heavy metal and related tumults, but at the time we didn’t want to get off the subject under discussion, which was not rock music.
As much as one admires Allan Bloom’s self-disciplined research in which he apparently submitted himself to hours upon hours of barbaric assault in order to produce his withering critique of rock music in The Closing of the American Mind, one need not go to so much trouble in order to have a rather definite opinion. An occasional stop at MTV while flipping through the channels for LOP (Least Objectionable Program) or hearing from time to time the noises issuing from boomboxes carried on the streets of New York is quite enough. Of course we’re over fifty and don’t expect to persuade young people about the sheer ugly awfulness of these masturbatory excitations set to the thumping accompaniment of anti-music. The rejoinder is that the “older generation” has always deplored the culture of the young, being certain that they are on their way to Hades in a handbasket.
There is something to that, too, but not much. This writer’s cut-off point with popular music was somewhere around the later Simon and Garfunkel. “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” still sounds good of a nostalgic evening. A piece or two from the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band once a year or two can he fun, even knowing that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was, it is said, intended to go with drug tripping. But to compare such stuff with today’s heavy metal and rap is just silly. “The Yellow Submarine” is as much like the feeble-minded filth of 2 Live Crew as is Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” Yet many parents are easily intimidated by the charge that they have forgotten that they too were once young, that their parents also disapproved of their music, and so forth.
Dyspeptic ruminations about popular culture need no particular excuse, but this one is occasioned by a fine address that Michael Medved delivered at Hillsdale College. Medved, watchers of PBS will know, is co-host of “Sneak Previews.” His jeremiad is mainly about movies, but the indictment ranges more broadly. He comments on a 1990 film, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. “This is not a film for the faint-of-heart—or the delicate of stomach. It begins with a scene showing the brutal beating of a naked man while the main character gleefully urinates all over him. It ends with that same character slicing off a piece of a carefully cooked and elegantly prepared human corpse in the most vivid and horrifying scene of cannibalism ever portrayed in motion pictures. In between, we see necrophilia, sex in a toilet, the unspeakably bloody and sadistic mutilation of a nine-year-old boy, another victim smeared with feces, a woman whose cheek is pierced with a fork, and an edifying scene with two naked bodies writhing together ecstatically in the back of a truck filled with rotting, maggot-infested garbage. There is, in short, unrelieved ugliness, horror, and depravity at every turn. Naturally, the critics loved it.”
A Deeper Perversity
Medved says that all around us “we see evidence of the rejection of traditional standards of beauty and worth.” Well yes, but that seems a bit prosaic. There is a deeper perversity that can only be glimpsed by those who are open to the reality of evil. Consider the obscenity trial of the rap group 2 Live Crew last year. The newspapers that championed their freedom of rap and hailed the promotion of rape as a creative expression of black culture steadfastly refused to publish the group’s lyrics, so to speak, in their reports on the trial. The jury heard the words, however, and we are told that they giggled nervously. It can’t be obscenity, opined one juror afterwards, for he had himself heard such language on the streets. So there.
Medved writes: “One of the expert witnesses who helped secure the group’s acquittal was a professor of literature at Duke University, Henry L. Gates. Under oath, mind you, he testified that these poetic souls, whose lyrics exalt anal rape and the mutilation of female genitalia, had created a ‘refreshing and astonishing’ body of work. Professor Gates went on to compare their achievements to those of Shakespeare, Chaucer, and James Joyce. As George Orwell once commented, ‘There are some ideas so preposterous that only an intellectual could believe them.’ “We don’t know Mr. Gates, but we doubt that he believes what he said in the sense that Medved, and most sensible people, understand “believe.” Of course Mr. Gates may be mad. Judging by the departments of literature in some of our distinguished universities, it is obvious that the streets of our large cities are not the only beneficiaries of the deinstitutionalization craze of twenty years ago. More likely Mr. Gates was being “playful” in the chic ironic mode to which cultural criticism is currently enthralled.
Medved is against censoring groups such as 2 Live Crew. He thinks that government efforts to limit the expression of anything at all only turns the villains into celebrities. There is also something to that, although we find considerable merit in Irving Kristol’s argument over the years that a society that cannot censor has little of importance that it holds dear. In any event, Medved wants to rely on market forces, consumer boycotts, and the cultivation of small communities of decency. He himself, however, observes that market forces don’t seem to he of much help in the movie business. Many of the most egregiously offensive films have failed miserably at the box office while, again and again, those films affirming traditional values, and especially those more sympathetic to religion, have done astonishingly well. Medved offers impressive evidence in support of that observation. The conclusion would seem to be that the moguls and mini-moguls of Hollywood are not driven by the buck. They really want to produce really bad stuff. In these worlds, art is, almost by definition, repugnant. (See above on evil.)
The television networks, on the other hand, have to turn a profit. Medved runs through the dismal data on youthful pathologies—thirty times more 14 to 17 year-olds arrested in 1990 than in 1950, a 500 percent increase in out-of-wedlock births since 1960, etc. He thinks these unhappy developments have something to do with sex and violence in the media. Of course media executives insist that there is no demonstrated correlation, never mind causal connection, between what people see and what they do. Medved comments: “This same industry then turns around and asks advertisers to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for thirty seconds of air time in the hope that this fleeting exposure will directly alter the public’s buying behavior. Don’t they grasp the contradiction here? On the one hand, we’re told that an hour of television programming has no real-world consequences, and on the other we’re led to believe that sixty-second spots that occasionally interrupt this program are powerful enough to change public perceptions of everything from canned goods to candidates.” Clearly, this Medved fellow is limited by left lobe, linear thinking patterns that used to be associated with sanity.
A New Concern with Culture
A few months ago, the Brady Foundation brought together a passel of mainly neoconservative types in Chicago to ponder the shape of struggles ahead. There was a ready, and perhaps remarkable, consensus that the cultural questions—as distinct, albeit not separate, from the economic and political questions—are now center stage. It was further agreed that, at the heart of culture, is religion. Since that is, in brief, the raison d’etre of this journal, you can be sure that this writer did not dissent. But there is culture, and then there is culture. The troubling issue of popular culture kept erupting during the three days of deliberation. There were those who insisted that it is not enough to defend or restore high culture in our institutions, especially the universities. They favored direct efforts to influence the lethal lunacy of pop culture.
How that might be done was left unclear, and some thought it should not even be attempted. For example, Samuel Lipman, publisher of The New Criterion, a bracingly elitist organ of high culture. “You are dangerously deluded if you think popular culture is a tiger that you can ride,” warned Lipman. And indeed it does seem to he a tiger out of control, and a very hungry tiger at that. If enough people heap upon it the contempt, aesthetic and moral, that it so richly deserves, perhaps it can he buried. More positively, the dangers and degradations of pop culture can be exposed by contrast with the arts that are in conversation with human dignity and destiny. But people devoted to restoring our civilizational story are likely to fare poorly in the Gadarene sweepstakes of pop culture.
Michael Medved was not at the Chicago meeting, but his conclusion probably fits the thoughts of many who were. “What matters ultimately in the culture wars is what we do in our daily lives—not the big statements that we broadcast to the world at large, but the small messages we send through our families and our neighborhoods and our communities.” That may sound excessively modest, so he adds: “And those small messages, reinforcing each other from every direction across this country, can become a force powerful enough to change the world. The future will depend not so much on the movers and shakers in the centers of power, but on the hopes that we generate in our own communities, our schools, our churches, synagogues, and families. What we do there will count for even more, in the long run, than what celluloid shadows do on screen.”
Medved is Jewish, but his proposal sounds a lot like that old Sunday School song, “This little gospel light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” And of course that sounds very much like “the thousand points of light.” Sophisticates who are disdainful of the thousand points of light don’t have a light. They walk in darkness and call it enlightenment. We should not be surprised that their pop epigones are like unto them. (See above on evil.)
Islam in the West
It has been said, with some exaggeration, that there are more Muslims in the United States than Episcopalians. For reasons that should be obvious, however, nobody suggests that Episcopalians constitute a “minority” requiring special treatment. In truth, there is only the slightest and very occasional mention of Islam as a “minority” of consequence. America is so very large and so very diverse that a million or two more of this group or that—Korean, Mexican, Filipino, whatever—does not seem to make that much difference.
The Muslims in the United States, however, did come in for considerable attention during the war in the Gulf. Also visible in an unprecedented way were various communities of Christians from the Middle East, notably the Chaldeans from Iraq. But interest understandably focused on the Muslims, since the war was depicted, both in the Middle East and by its domestic critics, as a conflict between the Christian West and the world of Islam. One of the arguments against the allied response to Saddam Hussein’s aggression was that it would destroy any possibility of understanding between Islam and the West for generations to come. That is at least arguable.
The more immediate prospect, now that the war is over, is that Islam will disappear from the consciousness of most Americans, having had Warhol’s prescribed fifteen minutes in the media sun. We hope that will not happen. Muslims are not simply one minority among others. Their presence among us could be an important and positive challenge to the American experience. In this connection, Americans might attend to the cultural impact of Islam in Western Europe.
Unlike Europeans, all Americans, if they care to think about it, belong to a minority of one kind or another. More important, the American reality is based not upon ethnicities or nationalities but upon public propositions. Americans are a people not by virtue of their shared experience of historical “peoplehood” but by tacit agreement to the assertion that “We hold these truths . . . “
An Acute Problem in Europe
It is very different with Europe. Very different. That is where the question of “Islam in the West” is taking on proportions that some Europeans call a crisis. Writing in The National Interest, Anthony Hartley notes that British opinion, for instance, is sharply divided over what to do about the growing Muslim presence. It is estimated that there are 1.5 million Muslims in Britain, served by some 600 mosques. Some Muslims are quite militant and are beginning to take a separatist turn. In 1990, they issued “The Muslim Manifesto”a Strategy for Survival.” It declared, among other things: “We are an autonomous community, capable of setting our own goals and priorities in domestic and foreign relationships . . . . We are sick and tired of headmasters and teachers discriminating against our children. We are sick and tired of being told to ‘free’ our women from ‘slavery.’ Our women will never be available to become sex slaves of the West. Our message to our tormentors is short and simple—get off our backs.” Many of the hard questions about Islam in the West were brought to a head by the controversy over Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, and Iran’s subsequent call for his assassination.
The British, by virtue of historical experience, are a people (actually, three or four peoples) in the sense of being—to use a term no longer in favor—a race. But now the patriotism and imperial glory of “Rule Britannia” has been transmogrified into a threadbare Commonwealth that entitles Muslims from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Africa to British citizenship. Britain has never experienced anything like this before. The separatist vs. integrationist arguments with which Americans are familiar in our own white-white relations press upon core components of “British identity.” As Hartley notes, Muslims are understandably anxious about assimilation, about losing their children to a society ordered by what he calls “the norms of Western life.” A suggestive phrase, that, and we will come back to it.
Britain is by no means alone in being faced by the challenge of Islam in the West. The Muslim population in France is estimated to be between 2.5 and 3 million. Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians, and others visit themselves upon France in not always fond remembrance of that country’s imperial sway. Muslims have successfully challenged the rules of the highly centralized and emphatically secular school system, claiming a right to observe their own codes of dress, sex separation, and even religious teaching. And so it goes through other countries. Germany has almost two million Muslims, mainly doing the menial tasks assigned to “guest workers.” In little Belgium there are 200,000 North Africans and Turks; in the Netherlands 285,000 Turks, Moroccans, and Surinamese.
There are ironies involved. For example, Turks in Germany and elsewhere can express the more radical Islamic political views that are suppressed in Turkey itself. Muslims in all these countries sometimes press for a more rigorous morality, in some cases a morality that was once part of “the norms of Western life.” “There is,” Hartley writes, “deep disquiet among Muslims about sex education in schools, particularly about homosexuality.” In Britain, where a more flexible education system allows parents to “opt out” of what Americans call public schools, groups can form their own schools with financial grants from the government. Anglicans, Catholics, and Jews have been doing that all along. Now the Muslims want their own “grant-aided” schools, and some Britons are uneasy about that.
There is the additional worry that Muslim communities in Europe are loyal to and controlled by foreign governments. The Algerians, Saudis, and Iranians figure prominently in this connection. In Britain and France, for instance, the government provides massive funding and controls the appointment of religious teachers. Many Muslims in these countries make no secret of the fact that their primary allegiance is to their countries of origin and continuing support. While in Britain most Muslims can vote and in Germany few can, the problems of Islam as a self-consciously “foreign” presence are similar. Hartley notes that the Rushdie affair sharply divided liberal opinion in Britain. Some who are enthusiastic about Britain becoming a “multicultural” society had second thoughts about a minority culture that does not consider itself to be bound by the rules of the majority. Burning books and sentencing authors to death for “blasphemy” does not fit well into the liberal tradition.
The Challenge to Modem Liberalism
Hartley sees some worrying convergences at work. “Liberals opposed to any restriction on the right to publish find themselves faced with Muslim demands for an extension of that [blasphemy] law to protect Islam from insult. Their reply has been to demand the removal of the blasphemy law from the statute book—but this would hardly satisfy Muslims, even though it would put them on an equal footing with their Christian brethren. Indeed, on this and other issues (including religious education in the schools) there have recently been signs of an incipient alliance between British Muslims and some fundamentalist Christians.” Liberals favoring multiculturalism tend to talk about the wonders of diversity (as in “rainbow coalition,” “gorgeous mosaic,” etc.). However: “Such phenomena as the infliction of the death penalty for apostasy or the social subjection of women were not considered as being ‘rich’ or ‘exciting,’ and it came as a shock to find that Islam had to be accepted as a whole.”
So what is to be done? “For the host governments in Europe, there is only one course to pursue,” Hartley confidently concludes. “European countries will not for long take on a penitential stance about their past imperial dealings with Islam, nor will they forever make allowances for wounded religious sensibilities. The application of law is their only answer to the paradoxes of Muslim expansion and renewal. If the European Muslims get no more and no less than that, they will not have done badly.”
Mr. Hartley’s is an informative and fair-minded discussion of Islam in the West. But it is in the end deeply unsatisfying and unpersuasive. At the beginning of his discussion, he speaks about “the norms of Western life.” At the end, he can speak only about “the application of law.” Throughout, he assumes, as do most people who discuss these questions, that the West’s liberal tradition of democratic tolerance is a thoroughly secular achievement. Therefore, it finally comes down to secularism vs. Islam’s disruption of our habits of tolerance by “dragging” in the religion factor once again. Historically, however, the achievement of democracy and tolerance was in tandem with, not against, religion. The American experience, for instance, owes an immeasurable debt to the struggles of Puritans and others in England for the freedom to give public expression to their conscientious allegiance to an Authority higher than the state. Tolerance is the product of such allegiances in tension. Tolerance, as an end in itself, is vacuous and cannot stand on its own.
Liberal political theory has almost consistently overlooked that fact. When confronted by “the norms of Islam,” the liberal response is to appeal first to “the norms of the West,” and then to abandon that appeal in favor of the invocation of legal positivism”the law is the law is the law. Positive law is very little, however, if it does not have a believable connection with what is perceived to be morally normative. The appeal to “the norms of the West” is quickly abandoned because secular liberal theory cannot specify what those norms might be, and in many cases rules out such norms in principle. Most of the countries of Europe are far more secularized than is the United States. But there, as here, the content of “the norms of the West” was supplied by what we call the Judeo-Christian or biblical tradition. Confronted by the challenge of Islam in the West, the maxim applies: You can’t fight something with nothing.
The word “fight” might be off-putting, suggesting a revival of wars of religion. Such a revival is not likely to occur, however. The biblical tradition in the West supplies a normative rationale for the tolerance that is required for genuine pluralism. It is wrongheaded to fret about “an incipient alliance between Muslims and fundamentalist Christians.” One does not need to be a fundamentalist to recognize that human community requires moral normativity. A Western society that can no longer publicly name “the norms of Western life” is dangerously vulnerable to normative challenges—whether that challenge comes from Islam or from reactionaries who would squelch diversity in the name of their highest good, law and order.
Restating the Case for Democratic Pluralism
The challenge of Islam in the West will almost certainly become more pressing in the years ahead, also in this country. If that challenge takes the shape of religion and moral normativity, on the one hand, against secular liberalism and positive law, on the other, we are in for some very rough times. The more promising response to the challenge is to articulate anew the moral and religious undergirdings of our social experiment in democratic pluralism. A key part of that response is a Jewish and Christian readiness to engage in serious dialogue with Islam. It may be, as some scholars argue, that Islam has no religious resources for morally legitimating a public order that is democratic and pluralistic. That has yet to be explored adequately. What can be said with confidence is that, unless Islam in the West prompts us to recover and rearticulate what is morally normative for our way of life, Islam will be—as many Europeans believe is already the case—a serious threat to that way of life. Whether an increasing and increasingly assertive Muslim minority in America threatens or helps to renew our common life depends chiefly on the response of those who can, with the Founders, persuasively say, “We hold these truths . . . “
Multiculturalism” is the classy word that designates an indiscriminate assault on Western culture. Is that putting it too starkly? Not really. In academe and certain religious worlds, the drive for “inclusivity” and “diversity” is premised upon the claim that there is no normative tradition. Further, the tradition (“canon”) that has dominated in the past is exclusive and oppressive. The delicious irony in all this is that the claim that there is no normative tradition is derived from the normative tradition of the West. That is, no other culture known to us insists upon the moral need to be critical of itself and open to other, often hostile, views of the world. In a similar way, it has been argued that secularism is the illegitimate offspring of biblical religion. The biblical insistence upon the reality of reality, the dignity of man, the communication between divine and human reason, the purposefulness of history, and the presence of the transcendent in the immanent (e.g., the doctrine of Incarnation)—all this, taken in a deviant direction, results in secularism’s “death of God.”
The ironic character of multiculturalism is beautifully caught by Edward Rothstein, writing on multiculturalism and the arts in The New Republic: “Multiculturalism is a twisted version of Western teachings, flourishing in the hothouse of a democracy that renders all distinctions suspect and all learning elitist. The multiculturalist is a Western liberal with so large a power of empathy that liberalism itself is dissolved, a rationalist with so transcendental a perspective that reason itself is discarded. The multiculturalist is a universalist without universalism, an artist without a vision of art; a monster child of Western culture; a baleful, unwitting tribute to the tradition he hungers to depose.” Try that one out on the next person you come across urging equal time between Zonk Rock and Bach, or between Krishna and Jesus. You say you don’t meet such people? Count your blessings. On the other hand, maybe, as we Westerners feel compelled to say, your world is too small.
Mentioning the Unmentionable
Our parochial newspaper has a longish feature on Dr. Allan Sandage of the Carnegie Institution in Pasadena, California. Sandage is frequently called “the father of modern astronomy,” and the article is about the far-out debates among cosmologists about matter and meta-matter. Sandage got on to the question of the limits of science. “Science cannot answer the deepest questions. As soon as you ask why is there something instead of nothing, you have gone beyond science. I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery, but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing.”
The Times report continues: “Dr. Sandage, wishing he had never brought up his religious beliefs, stops himself with a quip. ‘That’s the reason people think my scientific career is over—I reveal myself as much as I do.’” Sandage goes on to say that he keeps his theology separate from “the hard-nosed business of the laboratory.” But what does it mean to say that Sandage “brought up his religious beliefs”? In fact, the entire article is about exploring the nature of reality, a question that, it is acknowledged, entails philosophical and metaphysical inquiries that elude laboratory testing. Apparently, neither Dr. Sandage nor the reporter was embarrassed about “religious beliefs” until the G-word was mentioned.
The lesson is that it is alright to talk about God so long as you don’t mention God. Ours is not a secular society. Our culture is awash in ultimate beliefs that are maddeningly various and, usually, quite unreflective. It is simply that our cultural elites are typically averse to what they identify as “religion.” References to, say, “the X Factor” are admissible. But, of course, biblical believers will continue to name the Name, thus assuring that the language cops patrolling respectable public discourse will continue to be terribly nervous about “bringing up religious beliefs.”
Religion in the Secular University
It is only a full-page advertisement in the New York Times, but it speaks volumes. In the advertisement, which has appeared a number of times, Columbia University offers seven graduate programs leading to the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (M.A.L.S.). The seven areas are laid out in bold type across the page: AMERICAN STUDIES, ANCIENT STUDIES, EAST ASIAN STUDIES, ISLAMIC STUDIES, JEWISH STUDIES, MEDIEVAL STUDIES, and SOUTH ASIAN STUDIES. The obvious question: Where is CHRISTIAN STUDIES?
In fact, given the size of their constituencies in New York City and the world, one might assume there would be warrant for offering programs in, for instance. Catholic Studies, Eastern Orthodox Studies, Evangelical Protestant Studies, and Liberal Protestant Studies. Surely, one might think, the number of people and levels of presumed interest in all of these would be greater than is the case with Islamic studies. But, for peculiar reasons, perhaps not.
Why no Christian studies? A number of possible answers come readily to mind. Perhaps Columbia assumes that people study what they do not know about and, since this is a Christian culture, everybody already knows about Christianity. If that is their thinking, it is an intriguing assumption worthy of further exploration. Or perhaps, because there are so many different kinds of Christians, Columbia thinks a program in Christian Studies would open a can of worms, with various Christian groups complaining that they are not treated fairly. If that is their thinking, it implies that variations within Islam and Judaism can be safely ignored. In any case, the avoidance of differences that might be “controversial” would seem to be alien to the purposes of a university.
Or perhaps Columbia thinks that the examination of Christianity is included in Medieval Studies. This would imply, among other things, that Christianity is a dead religion of antiquarian interest. In fact, the description given of Medieval Studies would seem to be only obliquely related to Christianity (“Chaucer, Medieval Philosophy, The Crusades, and Medieval Manuscript Illumination.”) A fourth possible reason for not offering a program in Christian Studies is that Columbia assumes that such programs are available at other universities and colleges in the region, some of them explicitly Christian. But then, all the areas of study advertised by Columbia—including Chinese religion under East Asian Studies and Hinduism and Buddhism under South Asian—are available also at other institutions, some of which are explicitly Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim. So that can’t be the reason for no Christian Studies. Or maybe Columbia thinks that offering Christian Studies would raise some kind of church-state problem. But Columbia is a private university, and the administration could consult its quite reputable law school in order to be relieved of that anxiety.
So why isn’t there a program in Christian Studies? Each of the above reasons may be pertinent in part, but the larger reason has to do with the secular ethos of the modern university. Nervousness is caused by the awareness that there are an awful lot of people who really believe in Christianity. The university is a cosmopolitan space where “religious traditions” can be subjected to critical examination but are not to be taught as though they might be, well, you know, true. Even in religious studies departments, faculty members who are Hindus, Buddhists, and believers in Mystical Crystals can quite openly profess their faith. Muslims and, usually, Jews can, too. Nobody raises a question about their “proselytizing.” Not so with Christians. The fear is that Christianity might be taken altogether too seriously. The absence of Christian Studies in the Columbia program, it turns out, is not an insult to Christianity. Those of other faiths, however, might have reason to be offended.
While We’re at It
♦ Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago gets a bum rap from the far-left National Catholic Reporter. The editors rightly note that there was special interest in Bernardin’s views on the Gulf War because he was principal author of the 1983 bishops’ peace pastoral. As the war was coming to its successful conclusion, Bernardin wrote in his diocesan newspaper that he had very much opposed it at the start. As the ground war was impending he admitted to having “greater doubts about [the war’s] long-term implications,” yet was “not prepared to state categorically, as some have, that it is unjust or immoral.” The editors of NCR go on this way: “Why would he not have written: ‘It seems a land war is likely, and I begin to have greater doubts about its long-term implications. I am not prepared to state categorically, as some have, that it is just or moral? Why, we ask, must the burden of proof always fall upon the peacemakers?” Two comments may be in order: In light of what happened in the Gulf, who turned out to be the true peacemakers? Second, the Cardinal’s saying that he was not prepared to state categorically that the war was unjust or immoral clearly implies that he was strongly leaning to that view but was not prepared to say so publicly and categorically. Contra the misguided criticism of NCR, there would seem to be little doubt that the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago was on NCR’s side in opposing the war. Certainly he refused to say categorically, or even conditionally, that the war was just or moral. Apparently he was in no way even inclined to say that.
♦ Waltraud Schoppe, the Minister for Women’s Affairs in the German state of Lower Saxony, addressed a church group on why the Six Week War in the Gulf instanced a “patriarchal crisis” in the West. The Lutheran World Federation deemed her analysis worthy of global distribution. Minister Schoppe opined that there would have been no war if women had been able to make the decision. It is a well-known fact, she said, that American fighter pilots “particularly like watching pornographic videos” before going into action, thus underscoring the connection between sexuality and violence. Because they recognize that connection, women would oppose this and all wars, she said. The week we read that, there was a luncheon for Britain’s Margaret Thatcher. We did not ask Mrs. Thatcher what she thought of the Waltraud Schoppe theory.
♦ In his newsletter, Context, Martin Marty, a Lutheran at the University of Chicago, quotes at length a letter from an unnamed party in Switzerland who goes on about the terrible right-wingers in European Catholicism, and how Opus Dei is taking over the church. As further evidence of dirty work afoot, Marty cites no one less than Gary MacEoin, liberation enthusiast and champion of ultramundane theologies, who writes in the National Catholic Reporter about how a “gulf grows between rightist bishops and their flocks.” Marty comments: “I bring this up because Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger, Opus Dei, and the like often get a good press from hardlining nostalgic Catholics who think their whip-cracking is faith-serving. I wonder. I wonder whether the final effect of the cracking and crackdown efforts will not be a loss of morale, if not of faith, among thousands.” It is a comfort to know that Dr. Marty “and the like” worry so about the wellbeing of the Catholic Church.
♦ Those who read James Burtchaell’s sobering articles on the decline of Christian higher education may be interested in an item from Georgetown University, a putatively Catholic institution in Washington, D.C. “GU Choice” has been approved by the Student Affairs Commission and by the administration as an official organization. The group is entitled to office space, mailing privileges, and access to university financing. Some while back, Georgetown also accepted a homosexual activist organization. The university required that GU Choice refrain from providing abortions or publishing brochures recommending abortion clinics. The “co-chairwoman” of the organization said that such restrictions are “touchy,” but GU Choice went along with them in order to get official recognition. About having an officially recognized pro-abortion group on campus, John J. DeGioa, Dean of Student Affairs, said this: “It is my intention with this decision to balance Georgetown’s commitment to the free exchange of ideas with a 200-year commitment to the moral tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.” Two observations: Whatever he intended to say, the dean is saying that the moral tradition of the Catholic Church does not include, and indeed must be balanced against, the free exchange of ideas. Paul Blanshard could not have said it better. Second, apparently voices promoting ideas antithetical to Catholic teaching are in such short supply in our culture that they must be supported by Catholic universities. Students of Georgetown, we are to believe, would not be able to engage pro-abortion arguments unless they are university sponsored. These developments, it is to be feared, have less to do with the free exchange of ideas than with the exchange of the university’s soul for a measure of cultural respectability.
♦ A number of books have recently appeared on the problems that celibacy poses to Roman Catholic priests. W. W Meissner, a Jesuit and a psychiatrist at Boston College, suggests that much talk about celibacy fails to take seriously the cultural context that has had such a negative impact on vocations to the priesthood. “The concepts of a life of service in the church, of dedication to the work of saving souls, of service to others, of commitment and loyalty to a noble cause even at personal sacrifice seem to have evaporated from the contemporary horizon.” Meissner is intelligently skeptical about those who so blithely assume that the answer is a married priesthood. “The problem, I would submit, does not inhere exclusively within the church and its clergy. Fully half of all contemporary marriages end in divorce. The issues here seem to me to extend beyond the level of merely sexual conflicts. Workers in the mental health field know well the variety of problems that arise from conflicted sexuality; they are legion. None of us—neither married nor unmarried, neither priest nor layman, neither male nor female—is exempt. A married clergy would not solve the problem. If the church ever does change its discipline regarding celibacy, it will do so with full awareness of what problems it may or may not be solving.”
♦ Galloping along, once again, we came across this: “Despite the aggressive espousal of atheism under Communist rule, there is actually a lower percentage of ‘convinced atheists’ in Lithuania than in many Western European countries. Just 2 percent of ethnic Lithuanians and 4 percent of other Lithuanians say they are convinced atheists. The average for Western Europe is 5 percent, ranging from 1 percent in Ireland, 3 percent in West Germany and Scandinavia, 4 percent each in Great Britain, Italy, and Spain to a high of 10 percent in France. In the United States, 5 percent of Americans say they do not believe in God.” George Gallup keeps us well supplied with numbers to ponder. For instance, 64 percent of respondents in Ireland say that they consider themselves to be religious, while 82 percent of the Irish attend church at least once per week. On the other hand, 83 percent of Italians describe themselves as religious while only 36 percent go to church each week. Perhaps it is easier to be religious in Italy. Put differently, it seems the Irish have a more demanding notion of religion. In this survey of more than a dozen national populations, the Americans are closer to the Italians, with 81 percent saying they are religious and 43 percent attending church at least weekly. People were also asked about the importance of God in their lives, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means one does not consider God at all important and 10 means God is of paramount importance. Here the United States comes out on top with 8.2, while the Irish register 8, the Italians 6.9, and it’s down from there to the French at 4.7 and the Danes at the bottom with 4.4. Make of it what you will.
♦ Among formidable intellectual traditions, Calvinism is seldom given the attention it deserves. But not because Reformed thinkers”most of whom are comfortable with being called Calvinists”do not make the effort. That thought is brought to mind by Grant Wacker’s review of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism: A Guide to the Sources, a new book by Edith Blumhofer and Joel Carpenter (Garland). Wacker, who teaches religious studies at the University of North Carolina, asks himself whether the guide is not too much focused on the Reformed tradition, in both its mainstream and fundamentalist forms. After all, evangelicalism is a wildly variegated phenomenon. In response to his question, Wacker writes: “My unscientific answer is yes, this is principally a Guide to the Reformed evangelical mainstream, but no, ‘The Others’ are not thrown in as an afterthought. The latter appear in the Guide at least as frequently as they appear in American public life. For at least a century Reformed evangelicals have proven themselves by far the most culturally aggressive members of the evangelical family. While other evangelicals were nurturing piety or losing themselves in ecstasy or maintaining a quiet peace witness. Reformed evangelicals were elbowing their way into the secular arena, publishing with university presses, commanding the air waves, tirelessly proclaiming their reformist agendas. If the Reformed tradition claims the lion’s share of the entries in this volume, it may be because the Reformed tradition has long claimed the lion’s share of the entries in the corridors of influence and visibility. What this Guide makes clear, more by what it does not say, is that it is high time for other species of evangelicals to make their voices heard, strong and clear, in the chorus of American public life.”
♦ There is an inescapable poignancy in growing up and losing the security of childhood beliefs. George Black reviews in The Nation Jacobo Timmerman’s devastating report on Cuba today (Cuba: A Journey). He reluctantly accepts Timmerman’s dismal conclusions. “The new alternative paradigm for Latin America,” writes Mr. Black, “is likely to come from quarters as unexpected today as Cuba was in 1958.” He lists some liberationist candidates who might produce that paradigm, and then adds, “But it won’t come from Castro’s Cuba, which is the crippled offspring of the cold war. It is time we swallowed that unpalatable fact, both those of us who grew distant from Cuba’s excesses and those of us who remained faithful fidelistas to the end.” Nonetheless, the new alternative paradigm will come from somewhere. That is an unshaken article of faith. The political pilgrimage continues.
♦ In the same hospital where Nancy Cruzan died last December 26 lies 20-year-old Christine Busalacchi, who has been sustained by a feeding tube for three years following an automobile crash. Three days after Ms. Cruzan’s death, Ms. Busalacchi’s father tried to get a court order to remove the tube and “let her die.” The hospital administrator objected, noting that Ms. Busalacchi is “cognitive of her surroundings and does have significant mental functions.” For instance, he said, she waved at nurses on duty. Her father protested, “I’m not going to let my kid stay like that. If she knows what’s going on, it’s pure torture. If she doesn’t, it’s not worth going on.” Either way, it’s not worth going on. She may want to be dead; in which case the father wants to help her die. She may want to live; in which case the father wants her dead. If he can’t get the food and fluid removed in Missouri, he wants her moved to more liberal Minnesota where that can be done without having to show that the patient wanted to die. The hospital administrator says he doesn’t want to stand in the way of her being moved. It’s not a matter of principle with him. He just doesn’t want Ms. Busalacchi killed in Missouri where the hospital could be held legally liable.
♦ Father Francis Canavan observes, “Water naturally runs downhill. So do our human passions.” He was provoked to think about this when watching a program in which a fellow declared that Christian opposition to the current sexual revolution resulted in the Church “losing its credibility.” “If he had said,” writes Canavan, “that the Church was losing popularity, I would have understood him, because chastity has never been popular. But why did he say that the Church was losing credibility, i.e., the ability to be believed?” What is being demanded of Christians, he writes, is that they go with the flow of human passions. “It is a morality that has flowed, like water, downhill to its lowest level. In the nineteenth century, even that great exponent of liberal freedom, John Stuart Mill, could still declare: ‘It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.’ Today the satisfied pig declares Socrates to be lacking in credibility.”
♦ A colleague driving on the New Jersey Turnpike was tailgated by a yellow Toyota Corolla for a mile or more before the Toyota zoomed by on his right. Catching up with the same car at the toll booth, our colleague had time to write down the bumper stickers on its backside: KEEP ABORTION LEGAL, SAVE THE CHIMPS, FUR IS DEAD, DEFENDER OF WILDLIFE, VEGETARIANS ARE SPROUTING UP ALL OVER, SAVE OUR HOME EARTH, and NATIONAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL. The dangerous driver was obviously a person deeply committed to politically correct opinions. Our colleague could not help wondering, however, why he cared not for the whales.
♦ On March 7, President Bush met with a number of rabbis and evangelical leaders to thank them for their moral support during the Gulf crisis. At the end of the discussion, an evangelical preacher gave the President a large package of chocolate chip cookies and told him that more than ten thousand such packages were shipped to the troops in the Gulf. Hidden in each cookie, he explained, was a Scripture verse. This might be viewed as the gospel equivalent of the Stealth Bomber, a creative way of getting in under the religious radar screen of Arab allies. Fortunately, there are no reports of casualties from soldiers choking on Bible verses.
Michael Medved speech from Imprimis, February 1991, published by Hillsdale College. Rothstein on multiculturalism in The New Republic, February 4, 1991. Allan Sandage featured in the New York Times, March 12, 1991. On Cardinal Bernardin, National Catholic Reporter, March 1, 1991. Waltraut Schoppe address in Lutheran World Information, February 28, 1991. Martin Marty on the Catholic Church in Context, February 15, 1991. On “GU Choice,” the New York Times, March 4, 1991. Meissner on celibacy in America, February 2, 1991. Statistics on atheism and belief, Princeton Religion Research Center, January 1991. Grant Wacker on the Guide in Evangelical Studies Bulletin, Fall 1990 (Vol. 7, No. 2). George Black review of Timmerman book in The Nation, February 11, 1991. On Christine Busalacchi, the New York Times, December 31, 1990. Father Canavan on human passions in catholic eye, January 10, 1991.