After two full years of publication, we thought it time to survey our subscribers and the findings are now in. Of course such a survey cannot tell us who you are in all your irreducible uniqueness, but it does offer a profile of subscribers to First Things. We thought you might be as interested in some of the details as we are.
We’ll take the items as they come in the report, not necessarily in order of importance. And please note that we’re talking about subscribers. As we shall see, there are many more readers than subscribers. First, you (collectively speaking) are 84 percent male and 16 percent female. That could be misleading, since many subscribers are “Mr. and Mrs.” and it seems that the husbands generally responded to the survey. As to age, 49 percent of you are under 55 years old and 51 percent over, with 29 percent being over 65. That pretty well fits demographic expectations. Sixty-nine percent are married, 26 percent are single, 4 percent are widowed, and one percent say they are divorced, which presumably means divorced and not remarried. So you are, all in all, a stable and mature representation of the human species.
And you are an exceedingly well-educated group. Ninety-eight percent have been to college, 33 percent have a Ph.D. or its equivalent (D. Min., M.D., S.T.D.), 31 percent have a masters degree, and another 10 percent have been or are in graduate studies. So 74 percent have gone beyond the college undergraduate degree. Most of you seem to be in moderate financial circumstances, especially when we consider that the average is dragged down by the many clergy subscribers. (Not their fault, of course.) Fifty-seven percent of you have an annual household income of $54,000 or less, while 43 percent have $55,000 or more. Twenty-nine percent report an income of $70,000 or more.
As to occupation, by far the largest group is composed of clergy (29 percent). If we add to the clergy those of you who are teachers, college professors, editors, and writers, fully 45 percent of you are professionally engaged in communicating ideas to others. Other occupations that register 4 percent or more are business people, medical doctors, lawyers, and full-time students. Twenty-one percent of you are retired, which is somewhat less than might be expected. Religiously, you are 54 percent Protestant and 40 percent Catholic, with no other group over much more than one percent except for the 2 percent that report no religious affiliation. We were surprised by how few Jewish subscribers there are. Given the level of Jewish participation in the programs of the institute and in First Things, we had expected more than a few hundred. Upon reexamination, however, it appears that we have not targeted Jewish audiences in our promotion of the journal. We will remedy that in the future.
Of the 54 percent of you who are Protestant, the largest denominational representation is Presbyterian (25 percent), followed by Lutherans (18 percent), Episcopalians (14 percent), and Baptists (7 percent). Twenty-three percent belong to churches other than the eight major denominations listed in the questionnaire. (When we do such a survey again, we will include more denominations in order to get a better fix on religious affiliations.) Of the 57 percent of you who hold a leadership office in your church, 18 percent hold an office at the regional level and 9 percent at the national. Fifty-nine percent of you have made public addresses in the past year, and 56 percent wrote your newspaper editor or congressional representative at least once. You are obviously people who have something to say (as we well know from your correspondence with First Things).
Reading With Care
Twenty-five percent of you read every issue of the journal cover to cover, and 53 percent say they read “most” of every issue. As to favorite departments, articles come out on top (23 percent) and The Public Square rates second (20 percent). The other departments (correspondence, editorials, opinions, and book reviews) are pretty evenly preferred. Only 4 percent say that the poetry is their favorite department, but that’s not surprising, considering that relatively little space is devoted to it. You obviously read the journal with care. Sixty-six percent devote three or more hours to each issue, and the average time spent on each issue is 3.4 hours. We are told that how people dispose of a publication says something about how they value it. So we are encouraged that 62 percent of you save each issue, 31 percent pass it along to others, and only 7 percent discard after reading.
There is this question of the “multiplier effect.” That is, how many readers, as distinct from subscribers, are there? Fifty-seven percent of you share your issues with at least one other person, 26 percent of you with two to eight or more persons. There is a great deal of copying selected articles for classroom use and study groups. (May we gently remind you that you should get permission if you do that on a regular basis?) Then too, many subscriptions go to local or institutional libraries, where it may be assumed there are multiple readers. (We really need more library subscriptions. It would be much appreciated if you would check with any libraries with which you may have connections to make sure they subscribe.) It is hard to put a precise figure on the multiplier effect. We are advised that an informed estimate is four or five to one. In that case, 20,000 subscribers translates into 80,000 or 100,000 readers. Needless to say, we would like to have 100,000 subscribers. As it is, however, in its first two years First Things has set publishing records in the rapidity of its growth and the loyalty of its readership (as indicated by, inter alia, renewals), and that is very gratifying.
Buying With Zest
You are voracious readers and buyers of books. Ninety-six percent of you read at least one book per month, 48 percent read three or more books per month, and 26 percent read five or more. Eighty-four percent buy five or more books per year, and 36 percent buy twenty or more books. The average number of books purchased per year is 13.5. The subjects of greatest interest in your reading are (ranked in order) religion, history, theology, social issues, politics, philosophy, and biography. Eighty-two percent have joined a book club at some time, and 46 percent are members of one or more book clubs at present.
As to your favorite leisure activities, reading comes out well ahead, with music, travel, and sports following in that order. Twenty-nine percent say classical is your favorite music, with (in order) jazz, opera, folk, and “easy listening” making strong showings. Eight percent list rock music as their favorite. (That’s alright, we try to be tolerant.) Sixty-one percent of you purchased five or more compact discs, records, or tapes in the past year, and 21 percent purchased fifteen or more. The average music purchase per subscriber per year is 8.7.
Now we come to an oddity. While you are voracious book readers, you apparently are not so big on some of the periodicals that we expected to show up with greater frequency. Fifteen percent subscribe to National Review and, aside from newsweeklies, the next highest is 8 percent subscribing to the New York Times Book Review. The New Yorker, Commentary, and Atlantic Monthly each get 6 percent, America and Christian Century get five percent, and Commonweal 2 percent. Other publications mentioned with some frequency are New Republic, the New York Review of Books, Harpers, and Public Interest. By an oversight, Christianity Today was not listed in the questionnaire. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a good many of our evangelical subscribers also subscribe to Christianity Today, and we will be sure to include it when we do this again.
Keeping Good Company
To judge by the many comments that came back with the questionnaires, many of you once subscribed to these other magazines but, for whatever reason, dropped them. Again and again, you say that First Things is exactly the publication you had been waiting for. You should know that the editor in chief had to caution his colleagues against letting your many fulsome comments on the journal go to their heads (the editor in chief, of course, having his ego well under control). Many of you mention that you have given gift subscriptions. That is very important to the growth of the journal and we hope others will follow your good example.
There were also a few criticisms. Some say that the articles tend to be too long. We try to give authors as much space as is necessary to present effectively the argument or viewpoint in question. Authors tend to think that we cut too much—more precisely, that we cut their articles too much. There is no iron rule about length, but we will do our best, keeping in mind that others say they like the longer articles that let authors explore thoroughly the subject at hand. Others say that the journal is harder to read than need be because there is too much print on the page. We have attended to that. If you look closely, you will see that, beginning with the May issue, there is more white space, which we hope will make the reading easier.
We are told that the response to the survey was remarkably high. Of a little under one thousand sent out at random, more than half, as of this writing, were completed and returned. From the returned questionnaires and the accompanying comments, we feel very good indeed about the company that we’re keeping. We, the editors, hope that you will continue to be as happy as you say you are with First Things. And, oh yes, please do tell your friends.
A Well-Known Dirty Little Secret
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with South Africa being second. At a private luncheon a while back, a mayoral candidate in New York remarked, “Politicians, myself included, have not found a way to talk about crime without being accused of racism.” Of the 1.1 million inmates in America, almost half are black. Black males are 6 percent of the general population and about 47 percent of the prison population. A 1990 study found that, on any given day, almost one in four black men in America between the ages of 20 and 29 is either in prison or on parole or probation. (Of all felons, black and white, sentenced to probation, 43 percent are arrested again on felony charges within three years.)
The mayoral candidate is right about the perceived linkage between crime and race. Note, for instance, the continuing brouhaha over the Bush campaign’s Willy Horton ad in the 1988 presidential race—an ad that made no reference to race, it being the Democrats who made an issue of the fact that Horton was black. When politicians are intimidated into not addressing the question of crime for fear of being dubbed racists, they play into the hands of real racists who do not hesitate to posture as courageous in “exposing” what they depict as the dirty little secret of the racial factor. The racial factor is no secret to almost all Americans, black and white. Blacks, who are the main victims of black crime, are more oriented to “law and order” than most whites when it comes to addressing these problems. Those black “leaders” who blame crime on a racist society are too often spinelessly accommodated by white journalists, politicians, and clergy who are terrified of being accused of racism.
To take account of race is not racist. Not to take account of it is to expand the corrupting influence of mendacity in our political culture, and provides an easy target for those who are racist. Although enormously important, crime is but one part of the pathology of the urban underclass. (See “What Should We Do About the Poor?” April). High among the moral imperatives in our public life is the need for clergy, and especially black clergy, to create a climate in which crime can be addressed with candor but without racial rancor. Admittedly, that is a tall order. In the worlds of political and religious leadership, very few dare to respond to it.
The “Black Pope” on the Virtues of Communism
Much has been written in the last two decades, both from the right and the left, about the transformation of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits. The left has generally cheered, and the right lamented, that the Jesuits are no longer the “shock troops of the pope” that Ignatius Loyola established them to be. In Central America, but not only there, Jesuits were in the forefront of “liberationist struggles,” employing a mix of Christianity and “Marxist analysis” that has been sharply criticized by the Holy See. Many of them are still engaged in that dubious enterprise, although it is generally acknowledged, even by the Jesuits involved, that liberation theology is undergoing an “identity crisis” in the aftermath of the collapse of Communism.
In this country, the Society is seen to be insisting more and more upon the toeing of a party line. One Jesuit who publicly criticized his superiors’ vocal opposition to the Gulf War was dismissed from his university post. Others have been cautioned by superiors that public dissent from the Society’s political positions will not be tolerated. Internal censorship in support of the Society’s turn to the left is variously explained. The former Jesuit Malachi Martin has gained a good deal of attention with popular books alleging a grand conspiracy against the leadership of John Paul II. Others contend that the turn to the left is much exaggerated, that it involves mainly a few “radicalized” mavericks who receive an inordinate amount of media attention.
A somewhat different perspective on the guiding mindset of the Society is obtained by reading various official and quasi-official sources, such as Civilta Cattolica, the Jesuit-edited paper issued from Rome (see George Weigel’s “A Roman Cautionary Tale,” April). For many years it was thought that major statements in CC were vetted by no less an authority than the pope, but it now seems more plausible to many that the editors are countering papal positions on crucial questions. Or one might read the statements of the Superior General of the Jesuits, who used to be called “the black pope.”
Following the recent Synod of European Bishops, the Superior General, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, wrote a longish letter to Major Superiors of the Society, reflecting on what it all might mean. It is, for the most part, a rather downbeat letter. The collapse of Communism is discussed in terms of “the surprising events” that led to “the upheaval in Eastern Europe.” Fr. Kolvenbach notes that the bishops from the former Communist countries portray themselves as the martyrs who suffered under “the antitheism imposed by the Communist regime.” Fr. Kolvenbach seems to be not much impressed, noting that the church in the East has not been very good at resisting “the challenges of a secularization which was invading it.” In general, the view of the Superior General is that the future is “full of worry and uncertainty.” This is, he makes clear, no time to celebrate the end of Communism.
He explains that the Synod reinforced the view that terms such as “evangelization” and “communion” refer to the promotion of justice and social change. The “Gospel” does not simply include these political tasks; these tasks are the only components of the Gospel, of evangelization, and of communion that he mentions. Some might describe this as a remarkably a-theological notion of the Church’s mission, but of course that would be protested by those who have exhaustively “translated” theology into politics. Perhaps the most noteworthy part of Fr. Kolvenbach’s reflection is this: “Now that a certain form of Communism has lost its credibility, the poor, who may be a whole world—the third world—have lost something like a defender and are exposed, with no defense, to forms of new capitalism such as an unlimited free market economy.” The end of Communism, he says, has created a “void” that the Church, and Jesuits in particular, will have to fill.
The notion that Communism was in any way the defender of the poor and that capitalism is the enemy of the poor could hardly be more antithetical to the entire argument of John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus (see “The Economics of Human Freedom,” August-September 1991). Quite apart from the question of adherence to papal teaching, however, Fr. Kolvenbach’s statement is a striking departure from adherence to common sense and historical truth. Where, one might ask, has Communism been a defender of the poor, or even “something like” a defender of the poor? In Russia and the subject states of the former evil empire? Did the entire world, save Fr. Kolvenbach, miss the masses of boat people fleeing neighboring countries in order to get into Communist Vietnam? Did the poor—including the immigrants in Europe about whom Fr. Kolvenbach expresses such concern—risk their lives to cross the Berlin Wall into the East? Have hundreds of thousands of people undertaken death-defying ventures to live under the revolution in Cuba?
That the Superior General of the Society of Jesus expresses regret, at least implicitly, over the passing of a Communism that the Pope has explicitly called both “evil” and an “empire”—and which the Pope, more than any other single factor, was instrumental in undermining—should not go unnoticed. It may suggest that the frequently bizarre doings of the Society in recent decades have less to do with grand conspiracies or radicalized mavericks than with a measure of muddle-headedness at the top.
How to Handle Tough Questions
Parishes of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are debating a fifty-five-page draft study of sexuality and Christian faith. A final draft is supposed to be ready for the 1993 national assembly of the 5.2 million member body. Bishop Herbert Chilstrom, executive head of the ELCA, is among those worried that the church may be headed for a wrenchingly divisive battle, similar to the conflicts that have wracked Presbyterians and Methodists, especially over the question of homosexuality. In a recent interview he suggested that it might be better to let the church deal with sexuality in its own time and in its own way, without the necessity of voting things up or down. “That is exactly what happened with the issue of divorce,” Chilstrom said. “In the field of divorce, a sea of change has taken place. We have bishops who are divorced. That would have been unheard of ten years ago. We’ve become realistic, acknowledging that there are some marriages that should not continue.” He suggests that, in time, the church might become equally realistic about homosexuality, refusing to judge the question “by aberrations among homosexuals.” Homophobia, we are given to understand, gets in the way of calm deliberation.
The bishop has a point. Among Lutherans, as with other oldline churches, it was not long ago that divorce was cause for removal from the church’s ministry. Today the divorce rate among clergy in such churches is about the same as in the general population. It is not that unusual for pastors and seminary professors to be divorced several times, in some instances having swapped spouses. So what’s the big deal about divorce? Many people have difficulty remembering that not long ago these churches spoke with apparent seriousness about the indissolubility of marriage as a sacred bond. “What God has joined together,” and all that. As the bishop says, no decision was made to change the church’s teaching on marriage and divorce. It just happened.
And so ten years from now out-of-the-closet homosexuals will he ordained to the ministry and it will all seem quite natural. What was the big deal about homosexuality? folks will ask. The trick, as Bishop Chilstrom suggests, is to avoid forcing people to make decisions about what is true and false, what is right and wrong, and other institutionally disruptive questions. In sum, go with the flow. Unless churches learn to transcend the outdated dichotomies of true/false and right/wrong, they will never know the institutional peace that can only be securely grounded in theological and moral indifference. As the bishop says, “a sea of change” is underway.
Sensitivity and Insensibility at Harvard
The same issue of the Harvard Crimson contains two stories on different developments driven by one principle. The first is that the Civil Liberties Union of Harvard (CLUH, a kind of hard-core ACLU within the ACLU) is pushing for coed rooms. Jolyon A. Silversmith of that organization says that, in assigning student rooms, it shouldn’t make any difference that “the friends they want to live with are of the opposite sex.” After all, students of the same sex are permitted to room together and, from what one hears of Harvard these days, that is likely to be just as libidinous. Apparently the administration is listening to the CLUH proposal with sensitivity. The second story is that a tutor at Dunster House is pushing to overturn a practice in which one toaster in the house is reserved for kosher use. It is, he claims, an establishment of religion.
Of the proposal that boys and girls should be allowed to room together, CLUH says, “In general we found students’ responses to be very positive.” The tutor’s anti-toaster campaign is meeting with greater resistance. It seems that some students detect something suspiciously anti-Jewish about it, although the tutor pleads innocent, pointing out that he’s against all religions. The principle that drives both developments, of course, is that justice requires absolute nondiscrimination. Incidentals such as sex and religion must not he permitted to impinge upon equality of treatment. The Dunster tutor allows that Jews can’t help being Jews since they’re born that way, “but they choose to eat kosher.” The university is thereby, presumably, violating the constitution of the American Way by endorsing their religious choice.
On the coed room campaign, we wonder if CLUH should not examine the problem more carefully. What is this business about respecting the choice of “the friends they want to live with”? Surely nothing could be more discriminatory than selecting some people as friends while not selecting others. A closer look, we cannot help but suspect, would reveal that factors such as “looksism,” “ableism,” “heterosexism,” and “being-a-pleasant-person-to-be-withism” all enter into student decisions about whom they want to room with. The insensitive may dismiss the seriousness of such concerns, but do they know how it feels to he the victim of “selectivism” when you’re not chosen by the person you wanted to room with? We expect better of CLUH. Maybe an affirmative program for the victims of selectivism. Better yet, room assignment by lottery.
It’s important to be sensitive, but if sensitivity to human particulars gets in the way of justice, sensitivity will just have to go. And those Jewish kids who insist on being Jewish can go live with their own kind. They’re lucky that this secular university lets them attend classes. That they want to live with the rest of us is a bit too much. Equality requires that they be equal like us, which means that they be like us. Such is the elevated level of moral discourse in the Craven Old World that is Harvard. For this parents, desperately hoping that their child will be admitted, are eager to pay $30,000 or more per year. There’s a Harvard parent born every minute, as Phineas Taylor Barnum did not live to observe.
Left Over From the Sixties
The Campaign for Human Development (CHD) is an annual collection supported by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (see The Public Square, January and April). It raises about ten million dollars per year, which is of course a very small part of the Church’s myriad programs aimed at meeting human needs. When, however, CHD is criticized, as it has been criticized by many over the years, the standard reaction is that the critics are undermining the Church’s ministry to the poor. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
CHD is a program narrowly targeted to fund political activisms of sundry sorts. Its official statement of funding policies defines the kind of programs to which CHD will give money. “Projects must work to bring about institutional change by attacking the basic social, economic, and political causes of poverty.” The notion of the Church as change agent, redolent of the 1960s from which CHD emerged, focuses on “modification of existing laws and/or policies” and the “establishment of alternative structures and/or redistribution of decision-making powers.” In a manner that would undoubtedly surprise many who contribute to CHD, the official guidelines explicitly exclude funding programs that provide “direct service” to poor people.
Then there is this under “Projects That Do Not Meet CHD Criteria”: “Projects controlled by government (federal, state, local), educational, or ecclesiastical bodies.” CHD does not fund projects sponsored by, among others, the Catholic Church. Thus, a Catholic school in Harlem cannot receive CHD help with its community programs, while secular groups agitating for “systemic change” in the country’s social and political order can and do receive large amounts of money. It is a truly curious policy, since CHD is typically presented to the people in the pews as a program that supports the Church’s work for and with the poor. A measure of confusion is understandable, and may help to explain the relatively tepid response of the people to the annual CHD appeal. Twenty years after CHD was established, ideas about “basic social, economic, and political causes of poverty” have dramatically changed, and it is perhaps past time for the bishops to reevaluate a program that is based upon the ideological certitudes of an earlier era. With or without such a formal reevaluation, careful attention should he paid to truth in advertising when presenting the CHD appeal to the Catholic people.
The Unclouded Academy
At the University of Toledo, a state university, a chair in Catholic thought has been established through private funding. It has stirred something of a brouhaha. The university newspaper huffs: “UT President Frank Horton recently said this is the ‘first endowed professorship in Catholic thought at a public university in the United States.’ This just may he because other public universities in the United States have refused to sell professorships in any religious discipline in order to maintain a curriculum rooted in objective thought, unclouded by religious beliefs of any kind.” The paper’s eagerness to preserve the unclouded discourse of contemporary academe is touching.
The Ohio ACLU finds the precedent “troubling” but notes that the chair is only for electives and therefore “there’s not as strong a case for an establishment clause violation.” The ACLU spokesperson continues, “If it’s true that the course need not he taken by any student at UT in order to obtain his or her undergraduate degree, there is a much lesser element of coercion.” As, for instance, in none at all. An alumnus grumbles in the newspaper that you can’t believe the claim that the chair will not be used for proselytizing. “Five of the instructors are Catholic priests. How can they present Catholicism in an unbiased manner?” The alumnus should he reassured by the knowledge that among the five priests who will serve as initial lecturers are Fathers Richard McBrien, Richard McCormick, and Arthur McGovern, none of whom is thought to be excessively biased in favor of official Church teaching.
If the Catholic chair is allowed, opines this unhappy alumnus, “Even humanists and atheists may establish professorships.” We, too, would find it strange if in the contemporary university humanists and atheists had to resort to private funding and limit themselves to elective courses. The question, of course, is whether Catholic thought or, for that matter, Protestant or Jewish thought is a subject worthy of attention in higher education, and, if it is, whether it can only he taught by people who are certified as not believing in what they teach. As the ACLU and its like never fail to remind us, the price of maintaining the wall of separation between education and the university is, like that of liberty itself, eternal vigilance.
After the Long March
A colleague reports on a postprandial stroll in Greenwich Village with some friends on the evening of Passion Sunday. They happened on a store named “Condomania.” In the window was Rocky the Rabbit, done up as an Easter bunny, and urging the public to “Keep Your Carrot Covered.” On sale were Easter eggs to be filled with condoms colored to the season. When it comes to discerning new eruptions of the sacred, the distance from the Village to putatively serious theological reflection is not so great as one might expect.
For instance we came across materials on the very creative doings around “HIV/AIDS Awareness at Harvard Divinity School.” The HDS students are producing, for instance, a musical parody of “The Wizard of Oz” that is titled “The Wizard of A.I.D.S.” (Aware Individuals Demanding Survival). Then there is the very venerable Harvard institution of the Weekly Dean’s Tea. The theme of a recent tea was “Sacred Condoms,” and the announcement says that displays will be handled in order, through familiarity, to relieve anxieties about imaginative sex. The tea is followed by a “Blessing of Sacred Condoms.” On display are “sculptures” made of stuffed condoms. There is, for example, a “C. Everett Koop Doll” celebrating the former Surgeon General’s contributions to “AIDS awareness.” What ten years ago was the calculated outrageousness of the Village and San Francisco (remember Sister Boom-Boom?) has now found a home in the prim Ivy League parlors of Protestant sociability. Forget the long march through the institutions. That was yesterday. Today it’s dancing on the corpses.
Brian Wren is a great rewriter of hymns and liturgies. He urges the invoking of “strong Mother God,” “warm Father God,” “old aching God,” and so forth. Says Mr. Wren: “The fact that Jesus called God Father doesn’t mean he was teaching us to use that name for time and eternity . . . the biblical tradition is that God cannot be contained in human language.” Perfectly true, of course. God cannot be contained in any human language or concept. It does not follow, however, that any language or any concept designates the One whom Christians call God. In his self-revelation, God has denoted Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Father of Jesus. The revealed name of God, according to historic Christianity, is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is how He is to be named and addressed for all time and—since God’s self-revelation must correspond with eternal truth—for eternity as well. Although in the Coming Kingdom we will see him face to face (1 Corinthians 13) and will presumably have a fuller understanding and a better language. Even then, if the revelation is to be trusted. He will always be the One whom Jesus called Father.
The ploy employed by Wren and others has become very familiar in recent years. It used to he said that liberal revisionists denied the transcendence of God, focusing exclusively on His immanence. It is now more commonly the case, however, that they accentuate His transcendence—His utter otherness and unnameability—in a manner that denies His self-revelation in history. In either case, it leaves human beings in the position of conceiving and naming God in whatever way they find “meaningful.” Whether the accent is on immanence or transcendence, the result is Ludwig Feuerbach’s God made in our own image. The question is not whether God can he contained in human language or thought. He cannot. The question is whether our language and thought is obedient to whom He has declared Himself to be.
More on What to Do About the Poor
In the wake of the Los Angeles explosion, as is quite predictable, much is being said about poverty, race, and welfare. Some of what is being said is far from predictable, however. For instance. The New Republic ponders the dilemma of the urban underclass and concludes: “If we are to break through this culture of idleness, poverty, illegitimacy, and crime, we have to cut off its lifeline.” Its lifeline is welfare, and TNR proposes replacing welfare in all its forms (including Aid to Families with Dependent Children) with the “offer of a government-provided job” to the able-bodied poor. This proposal, we are told, is spelled out in detail by TNR Senior Editor Mickey Kaus in a forthcoming book, The End of Equality.
TNR continues: “Our conviction that something this drastic must he attempted is motivated by belief that what is at stake in the events in Los Angeles is the entire notion of a common American citizenship that can transcend race and class and connect one civic obligation to another civic need. The liberal welfare state, for all its good intentions, has done much to undermine this notion of citizenship. The liberal obsession with purely racial paradigms has weakened it still further. Conservative cynicism has compounded its demise. If the flames of Los Angeles do not spur us to recover it, nothing will.”
It is a suggestive and partially persuasive argument. On the eve of the Los Angeles events, this journal addressed these questions in “What Should We Do About the Poor?” We characterized the proposal of a complete cut-off of welfare benefits as the “cold turkey” option favored by some conservatives. We came out against it. The idea that government-provided jobs might replace welfare is not new. One problem with the idea of government as “employer of last resort” is that it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to contain the definition of last resort. If jobs are to be “meaningful” and “decently paid” (and most people, especially liberals, will insist that they be that), government-provided jobs will incrementally be made “more attractive” and therefore increasingly compete with employment in the mainstream economy.
That is among the arguments made by the present writer in his forthcoming book Doing Well and Doing Good: The Challenge to the Christian Capitalist (Doubleday). There we take up the reasons why John Paul II, in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, comes out so flatly against the idea that the government should be employer of last resort. It may be that Mickey Kaus and TNR will demonstrate that they have moved significantly ahead of earlier discussions of government-provided work. It is not promising, however, when TNR says it is a matter of returning to FDR and the New Deal. The realities of the urban underclass are hardly comparable to those of mass employment during the Great Depression. Nonetheless, discussions such as that advanced by TNR provide welcome evidence that the serious debate about poverty, race, and welfare has left behind the fatuous and destructive dispute about whether we should spend more or less on the cities. The good news in the aftermath of Los Angeles is that we are, just maybe, in the process of disenthralling ourselves from that dispute in which both left and right have been trapped for decades.
The Real World of the Midwest
A Midwestern reader writes that our commentary is too preoccupied with the quirks of the coasts. “It’s not that way out here in the real America,” she asserts. We respectfully disagree. When it comes to encountering the great questions in the culture wars, one doesn’t have to go to New York or San Francisco anymore to be in New York and San Francisco. Across the country, it is commonly observed, our cultural tutors take their cues from the coasts. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Detroit, for example, would seem to qualify as the presumably real world of the Midwest.
Here is a big Sunday spread, two full pages of unmitigated advocacy, in the Detroit Free Press titled “Revolution in Religion.” The revolution is that gays and lesbians are forcing Michigan churches to change their teaching on homosexuality and bless same-sex connections. The story features, among others, Pastor Bob Rimbo, assistant to Philip Wahl, the bishop of the Southeast Michigan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Pr. Rimbo’s “scientific research” has led him to the conclusion that “two men or two women in a monogamous union are the same before God as a married couple.” No less a biblical authority than the Detroit Free Press informs us that “the oft-cited condemnation of homosexuality in the book of Leviticus is among a series of rules deemed ridiculous for modem times, including bans on eating shellfish and wearing clothes made of two kinds of material.”
The patent ridiculousness of the last proscription is underscored. “Rimbo and Wahl glanced down at their attire, which included cotton and polyester. If the Bible was taken literally, they were draped in sin.” While wearing polyester is no doubt in seriously bad taste, there is no plausible ground for calling it a sin. The truly grave offense is that of clergy complicity with the media in trivializing Christian teaching on human sexuality. The Free Press would have us believe that the dispute over “lifestyle” choices is attributable to “traditional” hang-ups about how one most pleasurably deploys one’s genital plumbing. That human sexuality might, as Paul tells the Ephesians, engage the mystery of Christ’s relationship to his Church, that it might image God’s creative work in procreation, is quite beyond the ken of the sexual “revolutionaries” and their clerical collaborators. It is much easier to lampoon selected passages from Leviticus.
Pr. Rimbo is involved in an ELCA study reconsidering sexual ethics. Preliminary documents from the national office urged the ELCA to “dialogue” with Scripture and “listen to” those who are unhappy with traditional teaching. (One might expect Christians to put it the other way around: listen to Scripture and dialogue with those who disagree.) If the church does not agree with him and bless homosexual unions, Pr. Rimbo says he might feel compelled to leave his church post. “I’d be hard pressed to comply with integrity with what the church says. That’s how strongly I feel.” With that quote, the Free Press underscores the threat to the churches if they do not go along with its campaign for the “Revolution in Religion.” It apparently does not occur to the editors that most Lutherans might feel thoroughly unthreatened by Pr. Rimbo’s threatened departure.
To indicate the impact of the revolution that it has declared, the Free Press puts in a sidebar titled “Religious Support” a list of the “growing number of churches and religious groups” that agree with its position on homosexuality. There are five groups on the list: two gay caucuses, one Episcopalian and one Catholic; a non-denominational “Agape Community Church”; a “Simcha Jewish”; and of course the small homosexual denomination, Metropolitan Community Church. Among the several million Christians and thousands of churches in the Detroit area, it is a pretty feeble showing of “Religious Support” for the paper’s revolution. Of course there is no denying that there may be thousands of people in unlisted churches who endorse the revolution. But the striking thing for this naive New Yorker is to see what one takes to be a major metropolitan paper pulling out all the stops in advocating a revolutionary assault on Christian teaching. We could not imagine our local parish paper, the New York Times, doing that in a manner nearly so crass. But then, perhaps New York and San Francisco will, in due course, catch up with the real America of the great Midwest.
The Necessity of Mortality
Octogenarian Hans Jonas, distinguished emeritus philosopher at the New School for Social Research, recently held an audience in thrall with a lecture on “The Burden and Blessing of Mortality.” Embracing an evolutionary scheme, he suggested that all organisms exist by virtue of an elementary act of trust in Being. With the advent of metabolizing life, there appeared an aspiration toward something higher. “I am inclined to suspect the infinitesimal beginning of it in the earliest self-sustaining and self-replicating cells—a germinal inwardness, the faintest glimmer of diffused subjectivity long before it concentrated in brains as its specialized organs.” According to the “materialist axiom,” consciousness remains inexplicable. “In other words,” says Jonas, “evolutionary mechanics, as understood by its proponents, explains the evolution of brains, but not of consciousness.” Subjectivity and consciousness may be viewed as evolutionary “means” to the “end” of survival, but Jonas suggests that means and ends cannot be so neatly distinguished.
“Such ‘means’ of survival as perception and emotion, understanding and will, command of limbs and discrimination of goals are never to he judged as means merely, but also as qualities of the life to be preserved and therefore as aspects of the end.. . . The self-rewarding experience of the means in action make the preservation they promote more worthwhile. Whatever the changing contents, whatever the tested utility, awareness as such proclaims its own supreme worth.” Awareness as such is not too far from what some theologians have called the Absolute, and Jonas not too far from affirming human aspiration and destiny as communion with God. In fact, that may be exactly what he is saying, whether he knows it or not.
One suspects he may know it. His reflection begins with a reference to Psalm 90, “Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” And to know our days is to know that we will die, says Jonas. The alternative is too awful to contemplate. He cites Jonathan Swift’s “harrowing description” of Gulliver’s encounter with the Struldbrugs or “Immortals” who are doomed to live on, and on, and on. For the sake of civilization, the old must give place to the vitalities of the young. But also, considered only egotistically, the prospect of living two or three times an expected lifetime is not a happy one. There is a finite capacity for experience and memory. We would have to have technicians who could periodically clear the mind (like a computer memory) of its old contents to make place for the new.
“The simple truth of our finiteness is that we could, by whatever means, go on interminably only at the price of either losing the past and therewith our identity, or living only in the past and therefore without a real present. We cannot seriously wish either and thus not a physical enduring at that price. It would leave us stranded in a world we no longer understand even as spectators, walking anachronisms who have outlived themselves. It is a changing world because of the newcomers who keep arriving and who leave us behind. Trying to keep pace with them is doomed to inglorious failure, especially as the pace has quickened so much.” It is a duty of civilization to combat premature death as much as possible. But then he adds, “As to our mortal condition as such, our understanding can have no quarrel about it with creation unless life itself is denied. As to each of us, the knowledge that we are here but briefly and a nonnegotiable limit is set to our expected time may even be necessary as the incentive to number our days and make them count.” And, although Hans Jonas does not quite say it, such living is the means that participates in the End that surpasses our days.
We are told that not everybody reads Arkansas’ Pine Bluff Commercial where Paul Greenberg was, until recently, the editorial page editor. A shame. But his column is syndicated and he has even appeared in these pages. Those who have been missing Greenberg can remedy their deprivation by getting Resonant Lives: 50 Figures of Consequence, which gathers together wonderful little column-essays on people named, inter alia, Becket, Borges, Fulbright, Kennan, Lincoln, Mencken, Moynihan, Nixon, Orwell, Swaggart, and Wallenberg. Here is Greenberg on the death of Jorge Luis Borges:
“Borges was never enthusiastic about any political system; he just knew what he didn’t like—totalitarianism, nationalism, or anything else that would not leave people alone. He preferred to call his country the Argentine, a place name, rather than Argentina, with its national overtones. He was not more enthusiastic about the generals’ war to conquer the Falklands than he had been about Perón, but he was not much interested in politicking. Giving a lecture in the United States, he was badgered by a young radical—it must have been the sixties—who wanted him to endorse some particular utopianism. ‘Does your cause have a flag?’ he wanted to know. ‘Yes,’ said the radical, who was about to explain its deep significance when Borges said: ‘Then it can’t be my cause.’
“Born into two cultures, if not more, he had as his personal code politeness, tolerance, and a refusal to reduce man to the abstract. ‘I don’t think I’m capable of abstract thinking,’ he once said. That he was denied the Nobel Prize, presumably because he would not mouth the correct slogans, became an international embarrassment—for the Nobel committee. His manners remained unaffected, his stories continued to tell of wonders and horrors, mainly those in the minds of men. He was sheltered by his mother, who would live to be almost one hundred. To her, he was always El Niño, The Lad. Slowly he retreated, or maybe the word is advanced, into a world of memory and imagination, always refining his view, simplifying his language, till his stories were ever starker, more powerful, more stirring. He saw worlds within worlds, translucent, dizzying, and frightening . . .
“The loneliness of man was not strange to Borges, who more than once tried to imagine in turn the terrible loneliness of God. His was a strange calling: historian of the soul. Was Borges poet, storyteller, critic, seer? Or simply a blind old man, frail after years of exploration, who had finally reached the center of his labyrinth in time?
“What is certain is only that the world is suddenly flat, dismal, one-dimensional in his absence, and civilization and its dreams poorer. Tiempo Argentino in Buenos Aires headlined its Sunday edition with the one salient, indisputable fact about the world in the wake of the news: ‘Without Borges.’ He leaves us with echoes upon echoes, tastes upon tastes, and marvelous stories that—more marvelous—are about ourselves.”
Resonant Lives (187 pages) is available for $19.95 from the Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1015 15th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.
Among the Philanthropoids
John D. MacArthur, it seems, was a truly strange fellow. Living parsimoniously, he accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars, now liberally expended by the foundation that bears his name. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is best known for its “genius” awards to people who have done putatively brilliant things and might still have a trick or two in their bags. MacArthur, an eccentric right-winger, might have had some misgivings about what is being done with his money. The foundation is perhaps the most notorious, or famous, leftist source of big bucks in America, as explained by Joshua Muravchik in The American Spectator. Muravchik ends with this:
“Late in 1991, the foundation awarded $100,000 to a juvenile justice reform project run by Bernardine Dohrn. Those too far from the cutting edge may have trouble recalling that Miss Dohrn, as leader of the Weather Underground in the 1960s, once declared war on the United States. At a public meeting before going underground she celebrated the Charles Manson family’s murder of Sharon Tate as a paradigm of revolutionary daring. According to the account of the Weathermen by Peter Collier and David Horowitz, it was Dohrn herself who planted the bomb that destroyed part of the US. Capitol. Given that John D. MacArthur’s clearest political philosophy seems to have been his antipathy to big government, it might he said that Miss Dohrn had the courage of his convictions, and that the foundation had finally found a way to express fidelity to its benefactor.”
The question of fiduciary responsibility in the worlds of philanthropy and education is hardly new. Consider, for example, the constituting purpose to which Harvard University was once solemnly pledged. The Capital Research Center has recently published The Culture of Philanthropy, a study led by Stanley Rothman of Smith College. The team examined the 225 foundations that made grants of more than one million dollars during the mid-1980s in the field of public policy. They found that most of the money ($212 million) went to groups with a politicized agenda, and four times more dollars went to liberal groups than to conservative groups. (The team was fair—to the point of scrupulosity—in defining what counts as liberal and what as conservative.)
In addition to MacArthur, the big foundations on the left include Ford, Roderick MacArthur, ARCO, Carnegie, Rockefeller Family Fund, Rockefeller Foundation, Pew Memorial Trust, Henry J. Kaiser, Joan B. Kroc, Richard King Mellon, and Andrew W. Mellon. Commenting on the study in Forbes, Michael Novak writes:
“You have to ask yourself, were the donors of these funds—Joseph N. Pew, Henry Ford, Ray Kroc, Andrew Mellon—as liberal as those who now spend their fortunes? Did they want their fortunes spent this way? Even more important, what could they have done to prevent it? At present, very little. They cannot trust their trustees, the foundation staffs, or the courts. Trustees win many benefits from giving to liberal causes: intellectual prestige, free seats at the opera, television coverage. Foundation staffs tend to be made up of bright persons trying to avoid a ‘grubby’ business career, in order to find more ‘noble’ work ‘helping’ others. Against these pressures the courts at present do little to enforce fidelity to the donors’ intentions. My hope is that sometime some single state will do for fund donors what Delaware does for corporations—provide a legal structure that would enforce a donor’s legal intentions for the distribution of his fortune. Such fiduciary seriousness would be a boon for that state, attracting many foundations. It would he greeted with joy by those already contemplating sadly how their fortunes will be spent to advance causes they have opposed with a passion all their lives.”
WHILE WE'RE AT IT
♦ The “mission statement” of Holy Names College in Oakland, California, declares that the school is “committed to the humanistic and spiritual values of Catholicism.” (“When I hear the word ‘values,’ I reach for my Bible,” says a colleague, borrowing from Goebbels.) Holy Names’ chief claim to notoriety is that it is the home of Father Matthew Fox and his Institute on Culture and Creation Spirituality. Father Fox is being given a hard time by church authorities who decline to be persuaded that, for instance, witch covens are the sacramental equivalent of the eucharistic assembly. But the catalogue indicates that the Institute does offer interesting courses. There is, for instance, “Massage as Meditation” and “Core Energetics and Holotropic Breathing.” What we take to be the generic course in the explosion of coastal spiritualities is simply titled “New Consciousness.” It is passing wonderful how capacious is the category of “the humanistic and spiritual values of Catholicism.”
♦ The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, like many other black organizations, has come upon hard times, as evident in declining membership, declining funds, and increasing organizational fractiousness. Columnist William Raspberry suggests that the NAACP and others in the old civil rights establishment are fighting yesterday’s wars in their unrelenting polemics against a racist society, etc. “The leading cause of death of young black men is not the Klan but young black men themselves. Our neighborhoods are terrorized not by white-sheeted nightriders but by drive-by gunmen who look like our own children. Our problems fester within our community, but our focus remains outside on those who no longer see much justice in our demands. As the Rev. Buster Soaries of Trenton once put it, ‘We are still telling old Pharaoh to ‘let my people go,’ when what we need are leaders with the courage to say, ‘My people: Let Pharaoh go.’”
♦ So, asks a reader, where does one find literature on homosexuality that does not conclude that the course of Christian faithfulness is the course of doing what comes unnaturally? We, in turn, asked a friend who has years of experience in the pastoral care of homosexual persons. He says that there are more wise books for Christians struggling with homosexuality than is generally thought. Among those recommended: John Harvey, The Homosexual Person: New Thinking in Pastoral Care (Ignatius Press); Benedict Groeschel, The Courage to Be Chaste (Paulist); Gerard van den Aardweg, Homosexuality and Hope (Servant); Leanne Payne, The Broken Image (Crossway).
♦ Several years ago Randy Shilts wrote the best-selling And the Band Played On. It is a book about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, but is also very much worth reading as an account of the subcultural reality of what is euphemistically termed “the gay lifestyle.” Now Shilts reflects on the public response to the death of Kimberly Bergalis some months ago. It will he remembered that Ms. Bergalis contracted AIDS from her dentist. She and her family were widely quoted as protesting her suffering from the disease despite the fact that she “didn’t do anything wrong.” Shilts comments: “Gay men express their love differently from the majority, it’s true, but those who contracted AIDS didn’t do anything ‘wrong.’ People who were infected by H.I.V from dirty needles usually committed the ‘wrong’ of being black or Hispanic in a society that offers them largely despair and poverty. Their plight is no less tragic than Ms. Bergalis’.” It is a logic not without interest. Nobody did anything wrong, except, of course, society. Ms. Bergalis is not at fault, as the patrons of homosexual bath houses are not at fault. If there is wrong, it is the “wrong” of what a person is, not of what a person does. If one is black or Hispanic, “society” offers little alternative to becoming an intravenous drug user. And so the catechism of victimology erases all moral distinctions. Mr. Shilts ends on the note that Americans should “extend to all people dying of AIDS the same compassion that [Ms. Bergalis] received.” Yes, the same compassion, but not the same discernment of moral responsibility. If compassion is contingent upon denying the truth that behavior has consequences, there will be much less compassion in the world than is, lamentably, already the case.
♦ The Lilly Endowment has been doing research on the state of the black church, and C. Eric Lincoln of Duke University comments on some of the findings: “The future of the clergy in general is equally problematic. Black Christendom has an aging clergy (the median age is 52) and is ‘barely replenishing’ the ranks because there are so many other opportunities for black college graduates today,” Lincoln says. And since only one-fifth of black pastors have seminary degrees, they are lagging behind a growing number of their congregants in educational level. Despite the stereotype of the high-living preacher, the survey found the vast majority of pastors have modest incomes and some 40 percent hold down second jobs to make ends meet. There is a shocking lack of medical insurance (available to only one-fourth) and pension coverage (provided to a mere 15.7 percent of pastors in the survey). Both are in stark contrast with the situation in white denominations. This economic reality, Lincoln observes, forces pastors to cling to their jobs long past normal retirement age, undermining the vitality of their congregations.
♦ We are told that we should not gloat over the demise of Marxism in theory and practice. “So when do I get my chance to gloat?” asks a friend. Good question. If reporting with a certain pleasure on the discomfort of peddlers of discredited fatuities counts as gloating, we may be guilty in taking note of Stephen P. Dunn, a director of social science research in Berkeley, California. Mr. Dunn writes to our local newspaper to protest an article on how intellectuals are responding to the death of Communism. He complains that the people interviewed “never accepted the validity of the Soviet experiment in the first place.” “Therefore,” he continues, “they haven’t learned anything new from the recent events in the Soviet Union and have merely had their prejudices confirmed. Essentially, what they’re saying to the rest of us is, ‘We told you so,’ which is a mean-spirited and not very illuminating statement, even when it’s true.” Especially when it is true, we might add. If these anti-Marxists are right, Mr. Dunn faces the awful prospect of a world that he cannot explain. He writes: “If we are witnessing the end of ‘the all-encompassing model to explain human behavior,’ the implications of this are simply shattering, given that we’re now well on the way to building an all-encompassing model to explain the structure and dynamics of the natural world. If human behavior, alone among the elements of this world, is fundamentally inexplicable, then the entire Western philosophical tradition is called into grave question. I’m convinced that the Marxist hypothesis can be effectively replaced only by a better hypothesis of equal scope, and that until that happens, Marxism will retain its intellectual force and attraction for those who think in terms of broad hypotheses.” If human behavior were not fundamentally inexplicable, Mr. Dunn’s argument would be, well, inexplicable.
♦ British author A. N. Wilson has written a slew of books on religious subjects, including a curious biography of C. S. Lewis. Now he announces that he has jettisoned religion en toto as a fraudulent and exploitative enterprise that no serious intellectual should credit for a moment. The conclusion of the essay in which he declares his newly discovered irreligion raises to new levels the definition of serious intellectuality (those mentioned at the end are prominent Protestants in the U.K.): “But we can do our best to ignore all such moral blackmail, and all the threats of ayatollahs, popes, and mullahs by being as consistently and truthfully offensive as we can. We cannot stop the Pope appearing on his balcony and telling us how to think and behave, any more than we can stop fatwas being issued from the Ayatollah. But we can do more than turn a deaf ear to them when they do so. We can cheer when their own people have the spirit to rebel against them, and we can boo whenever these religious bullies open their mouths. It is true that they are frightening, particularly when they issue threats of death. But it is a definition of cowardice that we should feel frightened of saying boo to a goose. The Pope is a very powerful goose. The Ayatollah Khomeini is an even greater goose. Mrs. Whitehouse is a minor goose. The Reverend Tony Higton and Ian Paisley are noisy little ganders. Boo, boo, boo to them all.”
♦ Now is the time to praise neglected men, and women. Actually, we are almost a year late for Father Lazlo Ladany who died in Hong Kong last September at age 76. Way back in the early 1970s, we worked with a journal called Worldview, and there we published articles by, among others, Ivan and Miriam London. The Londons, like Fr. Ladany in his China News Analysis, documented the horrors of famine and ideological campaigns in which millions of Chinese died under Chairman Mao. That was a time when almost the entire sinological establishment in the West was hailing the great achievements of Maoism, and our oldline churches were routinely and “prophetically” declaring him to he a “Christ figure” who had brought salvation down to earth. Ladany, the Londons, and people like Olga and Blaho Hruby (who did the same unwelcome research on the ghastliness of Communism in East Europe) were viciously pilloried as anti-Communist right wingers, when they could not be entirely ignored. Ivan London, Blaho Hruby, and now Lazlo Ladany are dead. They told the truth and they have been vindicated. They were prophets against the flatulent false prophecy of our religious and academic elites who betrayed the poor of the world in the name of the poor of the world. Not so much for their sake as for ours, those who told the truth must he remembered, and honored.
♦ The Boston Globe went to interview Judge Edmund Reggie, father of Victoria Reggie, fiancée of Senator Ted Kennedy. Yes, he knows all the dirt about the Senator’s “womanizing.” “When does dating become womanizing?” the Judge asks derisively. He does not wait for an answer. He says he has known the man for many years and nobody has a better record than Kennedy when it comes to supporting the rights of women. “So, how do I feel about Vickie marrying a person who’s been dating a great deal? Well, if you look at Ted Kennedy’s commitment record as a U.S. Senator, I don’t know of a member of the Senate who’s been there 30 years who’s more committed to a more definable or predictable position than Ted Kennedy. So he’s a person capable of the finest definition of commitment, and marriage is the ultimate commitment.” Speaking of Joan and ultimate commitments, the Judge is unhappy with Bernard Cardinal Law who has been quoted as saying that in the eyes of the Church Kennedy is still married to her and is therefore not free to marry Vickie. “Do you think you would have heard that if Cardinal Cushing were alive?” asks the judge. “Poor Cardinal Law. He’s just so out of step. We’ve known him since he was a parish priest in Mississippi, and he used to be a very progressive fellow.” There was, we are given to understand, none of that indissolubility of marriage nonsense with good old Cardinal Cushing.
♦ “And I came before you to talk of what was not a Christian or a Jewish war, not a Muslim war. It was a just war. And in the Persian Gulf we fought for good versus evil—it was that clear to me—right versus wrong, dignity against oppression. And America stood fast so that liberty could stand tall. And today, I want to thank you for helping America, as Christ ordained, to be ‘a light unto the world.’” President Bush’s discovery of what Christ has ordained would be of theological interest were it not so patently political balderdash. Balderdash spiced with nationalistic hubris, a generous sprinkling of mendacity, and more than a hint of blasphemy. He also told the annual convention of religious broadcasters that “the word for 1992 is: Today, the times are on the side of peace because the world, increasingly, is on the side of God.” Really? As if that were not enough, he quotes no less a spiritual authority than Walt Whitman to the effect that it is religion that gives America its “real and permanent grandeur.” Who writes this stuff for our President of singular rhetorical ineptitude? The report says that thousands of Christian leaders, mainly evangelicals, responded with standing ovations. One hopes that they felt themselves to be caught in something of a dilemma. They wanted to indicate moral and political support for Bush, which may be fair enough considering the alternatives. But surely they must have winced at his vulgar exploitation of civil religion. If he really believes what he said, the problem is even more serious. Liberty, especially religious liberty, “stands tall” in, for example, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia? We are quite prepared to make the case for the justice of the Gulf War, and we do not expect this President or any President to match Lincoln’s nuanced discernment of America as an “almost chosen nation,” but when political braggadocio attempts to recruit Providential purpose one may be forgiven for contemplating the merits of the naked public square. Putting religious integrity before political partisanship, the broadcasters would have done better to sit on their hands.
♦ When Peter J. Gomes, the minister of Memorial Church at Harvard University, publicly declared earlier this year that he is homosexual, it created quite a sensation. Although the forty-nine-year-old Gomes claims that he has never been sexually active, he has quickly become a champion of Harvard gays and lesbians, and seems to relish attacks by conservative Christian students who formerly viewed him as a spiritual mentor. Says Gomes, “I now have an unambiguous vocation, a mission, to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia. I’m convinced the rot is from within the church tradition, not outside it. I will devote the rest of my life to addressing the ‘religious case’ against gays.” Opposition frequently forces people to clarity. There is poignancy in the observation that, after twenty years of preaching evangelical Christianity at Harvard, Gomes only now senses that he has an “unambiguous vocation.”
♦ Editorializing on the brownshirts of the campus sensitivity patrols. National Review notes that the “fascists” are meeting with resistance here and there. For instance, “The National Association of Scholars (Princeton, N.J.) has been expending its membership rapidly.” While the NAS has experienced gratifying growth, we do hope that it is carefully targeting those expended scholars.
♦ When in Dallas one reads the Dallas Morning News. This morning there is a story about Jamie Tellier, a fourteen-year-old who has been suspended from school for handing out anti-abortion literature. Pictures of chopped up babies, that kind of thing. Explained school officials, “She was passing out extremely graphic and explicit material that is not appropriate for that age level.” Principal Beverly Sellers asked Jamie to consider passing out literature without the pictures. “I’ve tried that before and it’s just not as effective,” said Jamie, who heads Teens Rescuing Unborn Tiny Humans, or TRUTH. What is appropriate, apparently, for the age level in question is the availability of abortion without knowing what abortion does. (Texas also has no parental notification law for teens getting abortions.) Were she pregnant, Jamie could get an abortion, but she cannot hand out literature against abortion. The school district in question distributes condoms to teens and insists upon utmost candor in sex education. Somewhere Jamie Tellier got the idea that abortion has something to do with the consequences of sex. Her teachers are trying to help her understand that her advocacy of chastity and adoption is “disruptive” of the educational process. We would not be surprised if Jamie gets herself certified as ineducable. The same edition of the News has a story on some fishermen in Shawnee, Oklahoma, who found a package containing 173 dead babies near a dump. The fishermen noticed a little hand sticking out and thought at first it was a box of toys. The abortionist, who says he tried to burn the remains, claims it is not easy to find ways to dispose of his handiwork. Texas has more sanitary ways of handling these matters. “What the gentleman up in Oklahoma did could not he done here,” said Pat Garland, a special waste officer at the Texas Water Commission. “Special waste officer”—it has a nice clean ring. Daniel Eddy, who runs Planned Parenthood in Oklahoma, called the discovery of the corpses “a tragic example of a lack of professionalism and sensitivity. Those who oppose choice pick up on incidents such as this to justify their position, but those of us who are pro-choice are just as offended by it as are our opponents.” Considering what it so graphically says about abortion, we would not he surprised if Mr. Eddy were even more offended by the incident.
♦ We have previously noted the controversy over Georgetown University’s giving official recognition and support to a pro-abortion student group, GU Choice. The organization has now been disbanded. We are reliably informed that, contrary to some press accounts and statements by university officials, the Holy See had a very direct and assertive role in the decision to disband the group. In Rome and elsewhere, the university’s earlier claim that a Catholic school had to sponsor a pro-abortion organization in order to make sure that students were exposed to views contrary to the Church’s teaching was not deemed to he amusing.
♦ We hesitate to draw attention again to the parochial world of the New York Times, but some items simply beg for notice. Under the latest Sulzberger to run this richest of rags, the Times has for the first time allowed straightforward homosexual advocacy in its news columns. We will not he surprised if, within a year or less, the weddings and engagements page includes “same-sex unions.” And a case can perhaps he made for it in a paper that purports to publish “all the news that’s fit to print.” There is no doubt that the homosexual subculture is a big part of what is happening in the general culture, and especially in New York. We were struck by a recent story celebrating the red ribbon that a lot of people were wearing for a while. You may remember Jerry Brown sporting the red ribbon during his campaign. And at the Academy and Grammy awards it seemed that everyone had one. The red ribbon presumably signaled that one cared about people with AIDS, distinguishing one from those who do not care about people with AIDS. The Times comments: “Crosses took almost two millenniums to change from handmade icons of fervent belief into abstract decoration worn anywhere but church. In less than one year, the AIDS ribbon has come nearly as far.” The statement is ludicrous of course. But consider that, to some people in the stylish little worlds of the Times, it apparently seems that the AIDS ribbon is as culturally pervasive as the cross, maybe more so. Many social critics measure the decline of the culture by the decline of the Times. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we are tempted to agree. The more likely truth, however, is that the Times and the mass media that it so powerfully influences are rapidly spinning into their own orbit far removed—although not yet safely removed—from the world occupied by us ordinary mortals.
♦ Within broad limits, we do not accept responsibility for what is advertised in the pages of this journal. But there are limits. There are no ads for cigarettes or liquor (despite the fact that more than one member of the editorial board think that a Beefeater martini desperately dry, straight up with a twist, is a distinguished grace note in God’s creative purposes). And we irritated a publisher by refusing an ad for a book that we deemed a reckless attack on homosexuals. More recently we declined an ad for a writer’s sophomoric and scurrilous diatribe against his political opponents (including this writer). Is this censorship? Of course it is. Is it discrimination? We certainly hope so. Censoring and discriminating is what editors do, and we trust that every aspect of the journal indicates that we are not shirking our duty. There is great leeway when it comes to advertising, but it is not unlimited.
♦ Here’s an invitation to a conference sponsored by the Center of Concern at Georgetown University. The title is “Beyond Tomorrow: The Future of Social Justice.” Apparently tomorrow doesn’t look very promising. Speakers include distinguished authorities on Catholic social teaching such as Judy Woodruff of public television, David Halberstam, author of The Next Century, and Patricia Derian, who launched and almost sank the State Department’s human rights office in the Jimmy Carter administration. The conference planners have carefully targeted two subjects to he addressed: first, “The State of the World”; second, “The Major Trends in Economics, Politics, and Culture, Especially Mass Media.” The invitation adds the assurance, “The respondents will highlight their implications for the Third World.” Good. It seemed for a moment that they might have left something out. The conference runs from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Presumably “the state of the world” gets the first two hours. We decided not to go.
Sources: Data on crime and race, New York Times, February 11, 1992. Letter “TO ALL MAJOR SUPERIORS OF EUROPE (and, for their information, all other Major Superiors),” dated January 25, 1992. Chilstrom interview in National and International Religion Report, February 10, 1992, Vol. 6, No. 4. On CLUH and Kosher toasters. Harvard Crimson, March 12, 1992. On Toledo University, The Blade, February 24 and 28, 1992. On AIDS awareness at Harvard, Boston Globe, March 27, 1992. Brian Wren cited in the Wall Street Journal, April 27, 1992. Detroit Free Press on religion, April 12, 1992. Hans Jonas on mortality in the Hastings Center Report, January-February 1992. Joshua Muravchik on the MacArthur Foundation in the American Spectator, January 1992; Michael Novak on The Culture of Philanthropy in Forbes, June 10, 1991. William Raspberry on NAACR nationally syndicated column in New York Daily News, February 25, 1992. Randy Shilts on AIDS, New York Times, December 10, 1991. C. Eric Lincoln on black clergy. Progressions, February 1992. Stephen P Dunn letter on the demise of Communism, New York Times, September 22, 1991. A. N. Wilson essay, “Against Religion: Why We Should Try to Live Without It,” CounterBlasts, No. 19. Boston Globe interview with Judge Reggie, April 2, 1992. President Bush’s remarks to religious broadcasters reported in New York Times, January 28, 1992. Peter J. Gomes quoted in Washington Post, April 15, 1992. On the National Association of Scholars, National Review, April 27, 1992. On Jamie Teller, Dallas Morning News, April 16, 1992. On AIDS ribbons, New York Times, May 3, 1992.
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