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Beyond Good Will

Alan L. Mittleman’s “Christianity in the Mirror of Jewish Thought” (August/September) sets forth an uncommonly interesting and well-crafted thesis. Considering the trivialization of the Judeo-Christian dialogue, its reduction to an exchange of condescension on the one side and dissimulation on the other, I appreciated Mittleman’s clear and persuasive revision of the subject.

At a recent meeting, I found myself hectored and abused by the [moderator] for insisting that there really were substantive theological obstacles to dialogue, and that unless these are forthrightly addressed, no authentic intellectual bridges can be built. In exchange, he offered friendship and good will between individual Christians and Jews. When I insisted that religion is public, shared, and a fact of the social order, not to be reduced to Mrs. Cohen’s and Mrs. Wigglesworth’s having tea together, he closed the meeting with some very unfriendly remarks.

The monumental irrelevance of mere good will is exposed in Rabbi Mittleman’s compelling schema.

Jacob Neusner
Dept. of Religious Studies
University of South Florida
Tampa, FL

Contra Dannhauser

Werner J. Dannhauser’s “Letter from Jerusalem” (June/July) calls for a response. Dannhauser correctly comments that when he arrives in Jerusalem from Paris, he has “delved into what used to be called the mysterious East.”

The mystery for Dannhauser is his basic alienation from the culture he describes. He looks at and comments upon a culture, grounded in a religion that is strange to him because he is estranged from it, from the perspective of the alien. Unfortunately, too many Jews are alienated from their religious culture.

First, the facts. Dannhauser is incorrect in his claim that the skull cap is not mentioned in the Shulhan Aruch, the standard code of traditional Jewish law. On one occasion, Rabbi Karo opines that it is a requirement, and yet on another he requires that the headgear be worn [only] when entering a synagogue. In Talmudic times, the male head was covered only by sages, and it is this usage that is recorded by Maimonides. Today, religious Israelis wear the head covering. It is ironic indeed that those who believe that Judaism “evolves” are quick to point out that the Jewish male headgear is not specifically legislated by Talmudic law. As if they were committed to living with community “under the law.” . . .

While Dannhauser is prepared to suffer quaint superstitions on aesthetic grounds, he is also prepared to violate the Sabbath in Tel Aviv, albeit while celebrating the tradition of “family life.” If Judaism is mere ethnicity, it is religiously trivial, and if Judaism is an ultimate concern, it makes demands and it issues commands, however inconvenient.

I share Dannhauser’s impatience with those whom he calls, out of convention, “ultra-Orthodox,” but for radically different reasons. Dannhauser deems them to be unduly parochial and unpatriotic, for they do not serve in the Israeli army. As a Jew committed to Jewish law, which does not recognize a priori political or ideological slogans as part of Jewish law, I judge the hareidim (which means those who quake at the word of the Lord, not unlike the American Shakers) before the grid of Jewish law. The Law does not require that one dress in heavy black in the heat of summer, but it does require all Jews to defend their Jewish state in the face of hostile aggressors. Jewish law makes no exemption in cases of defensive war for full-time, lifelong yeshiva students or for women. Maimonides goes so far as to contend that those who claim that society owes them a living because they are religious scholars are profaning God’s name and have forfeited their portion in the world to come . . . .

When First Things reports the Judaism of assimilating, inter-married Jews, or Jews whose religiosity is expressed in non-Jewish terms, it is not doing justice to truth . . . . By viewing Judaism as a quantitative commitment to ritual, without viewing those rituals in the context of what Jewish Law actually requires, one unwittingly imposes a Christian value grid upon Jewish life. Allowing a religiously inconsistent Jew to express this view does not make it any less offensive to practicing Jewish believers . . . .

Rabbi Allan J. Yuter
Congregation Israel
Springfield, NJ

Werner J. Dannhauser’s “Letter From Jerusalem” was a poignant description of the dynamic variety of Jewishness one can find in Israel. But for me there was a painful omission. Nowhere is the Christian presence in Israel even mentioned.

Dannhauser has every right to write what he saw, and he did set his sights on describing Israeli Jewishness. But surely the presence of many edifices in Jerusalem of great historic importance to Christians should have led him to inquire what Israeli Jews thought about those Christian families whose roots in Israel go back centuries. Of the estimated 130,000 Christians in Israel, around 37,000 are Palestinian Christians with ancient ties to the country. It is sad to think that the fate of this population is simply submerged into “the Palestinian problem” in the minds of so many.

For Dannhauser’s next visit to Jerusalem, permit me to recommend a stop at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center. It houses three restaurants and is located near the New Gate of the Old City. He may even want to visit the Ecole Biblique, the foremost Christian institution of biblical studies.

George B. Pepper
Brewster, MA

Indian Democracy?

I read with interest “Hindu Nationalism, Indian Democracy” by Myron Weiner (June/July). One wonders how this academic intellectual failed to grasp the truth about India. I will briefly dwell on the issues raised:

1. On the first anniversary of Indian independence, Mr. Purshottam Das Tandon, the Congress party president, declared, “There should not be any more talk of separate culture and language in the Indian union. There should be no room for such persons in India who advocate separate culture and separate language . . . .” Nehru’s idea of secularism had a different meaning: he constructed a Hindu temple after demolishing a Mosque at Somnath—all paid for by the “secular” state in 1951 . . . . Nehru wrote Article 25 of the Indian constitution, declaring the Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains [to be] Hindus, thereby converting en masse millions of people to Hinduism.

2. The 1992 annual report of Freedom House has downgraded India’s democracy to the category of “partly free.” I refer the reader to the memorandum of the National Center for Public Policy Research of June 1987 which stated, “India in 1987 is a nation in which religious persecution is encouraged by law, where the government does not protect citizens from a system of permanent servitude . . . .” [In addition,] the Forty-fourth Amendment to the Indian constitution abolished the right to private property . . . .

3. Perhaps unknown to Mr. Weiner, groups such as Amnesty International (AI), Asia Watch, and the International Red Cross have all been barred from entering India for many years. In spite of that, AI reports on India are enormous. One should read the 195 pages of AI’s March 1992 report, India: Torture, Rape & Deaths in Custody. There are also reports prepared by the U.S. Congressional Research Service outlining India’s gross violation of human rights. There also exist numerous reports on India’s terrible human rights record prepared by human rights organizations located within India . . . .

4. Mr. Weiner talks about free elections in India. Free elections for what purpose? In the last two parliamentary elections, Rajiv Gandhi and other senior Hindu political party leaders promised the Hindu masses that they would bring about Rama Rajya—a Hindu utopia, hardly anything resembling a democracy. You often hear announcements that the citizens of respective Indian states elect their own local state governments. How wonderful! But nobody will tell you that since 1950 more than one hundred duly elected state governments have been dissolved arbitrarily by India’s central government.

G. B. Singh
Waynesville, MO

Myron Weiner replies:

Mr. G. B. Singh argues that my article fails to report that India is neither democratic, since there are numerous human rights violations, nor secular, since, he writes, the government has been converting peoples to Hinduism.

The charge by Amnesty International that India’s poorly disciplined paramilitary forces and police have used excessive force in Kashmir, Punjab, and Assam is well substantiated, leading Freedom House to downgrade India’s rating to “partially free.” Such abuses, alas, are not uncommon where terrorist movements are active and they make a political settlement more difficult, but it would be a gross exaggeration to assert therefore that India is not democratic. Nor has the government abolished the right to private property. India has a vital and expanding private sector, encouraged by the liberal economic reforms pursued by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao.

Is India converting millions to Hinduism? Article 25 of the Indian constitution provides that Hindu temples must be open to all Hindus, a provision intended to end the ban on the entry of untouchables into temples. The article goes on to say that for this purpose the term “Hindu” shall include Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs, who are thereby guaranteed the right of temple entry. India’s Hindu leaders regarded this provision as an expression of Hinduism’s inclusiveness. In recent years many Sikhs have pointed to this provision as an indication that Hindus do not recognize an independent Sikh, Jain, or Buddhist identity. In a political environment in which religious communities are seeking to draw sharp boundaries around their identities, the inclusiveness that characterizes the Hindu self-image is now seen as threatening to others. Advocates of an independent Sikh state, Khalistan, have denounced this provision, but this is a political posture; there is no Hindu campaign to convert Sikhs.

In practice, moreover, Indian law permits both religious and linguistic diversity. For example, on matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance Muslims can follow their own religious laws. Indeed, many secular-minded Indians argue that there ought to be a uniform civil code applicable to all Indians. In deference to Muslim sensibilities the government of India banned Salman Rushdie’s book, another policy opposed by many secular democratic-minded Indians. As for linguistic freedom, there are a dozen official regional languages in India.

In my article I argue that Hindu nationalism is a growing political force in India and that it has exacerbated relations between Hindus and other religious communities. Popular support for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has grown with the rise of Sikh separatism and Islamic fundamentalism; as elsewhere, religious extremists nurture one another.

Meilaender on Marriage

Thanks to Gilbert Meilander for “Marriage in Counterpoint and Harmony” (June/July). It is the most thoughtful treatment I’ve seen on the “problem of attempts to take seriously headship within marriage.” Would that many would think so deeply on these matters, and begin to deal with the paradoxes as well as the profound realities and mysteries of gender.

Leanne Payne
Milwaukee, WI

I began reading “Marriage in Counterpoint and Harmony” anticipating that “The Lutheran Difference” (Mark Noll, February) would be significant for fellow Lutheran Gilbert Meilaender when unraveling the mystery of faithfulness and unity in marriage. Almost immediately I wondered whether the “embarrassment” [of St. Paul on headship in marriage] is that Paul says the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, or that Meilaender neglects to ask what Paul means by kephale, the Greek for head. He assumes that being head is a role associated with the place and concept of “headship.” What about the wife and the role of “bodyship”? I kept reading in hope of some reference to Luther’s understanding of the Church as the body of Christ, but found only an appeal to Barth’s concept of order.

Interpreting what Ephesians 5 teaches about marriage must include understanding what kephale meant to the original readers. There are seven passages in the New Testament where Paul uses kephale in a figurative way . . . . One of the most comprehensive Greek lexicons, a work by Liddell, Scott, Jones, and McKenzie, gives no evidence that kephale was associated with a role exercised by one having the final say. Numerous instances have been found where kephale denotes originator and completer, source, top or crown, provider, and being preeminent as a person or thing from which something else is derived or obtained. If kephale did not normally mean the role to which a last ditch appeal is made for permanence in a relationship, what might Paul be saying of the husband as kephale ?

Paul uses kephale to give a rich exalted picture of the living Christ and His present relationship to the Church. When kephale is read with recognized Greek meanings familiar to Paul’s original readers, the passages where Paul refers to Christ as kephale are consistent with what the Church confesses of Christ, the One from whom she came into being and whose love brings forth her faithfulness and their unity. Neither equality or interchangeability enter a discussion that has to do with recognizing what Christ continually gives from within Himself to the Church . . . .

Paul is confident that God created a living Church faithful to the head from and for whom she came into being. Neither head or body are associated with either a role, a requirement, or an ideal toward which Christ and the Church must strive. If the permanence of their relationship is linked to Christ having the last word when they might otherwise separate, it is the Law that binds them to each other . . . .

Paul would have husband and wife live believing they are members of the one holy catholic Church. A husband cannot be head as Christ is his head unless he, in faith, knows and “sees” self as the body of Christ. Then being kephale is not an ideal, however lovingly and well-intentioned it is perceived, toward which the husband must struggle. Rather, he is called to the obedience of faith, i.e., to live believing that he has been given the will to be head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church.

Paradoxically, Paul’s understanding of kephale does not diminish, but gives glory to being the body. He uses the embodiment of the wife, not to teach that she has a prescribed role of “bodyship,” but for all who are the church to understand who they are as body in relationship to Christ . . . . Neither husband or wife need fear submission and unity with the other any more than they fear being the Church in relation to Christ.

Paul makes no distinction between husband and wife in their willingness to be faithful and surrender self to one who is totally other. Unity and permanence in marriage must come from outside both through One who is united to each and from whom both receive the will to love selflessly. Both need to be free from the idea that they have responsibility for the “last word” that holds marriages together . . . .

It seems to me that husband and wife are indeed two distinct melodies, who, when brought together, combine into a single harmonious melody where each retain their distinctiveness. It is in being distinct that the wife can know who they are as the Church. Maintaining the independence of the wife is not for her self-realization, but so that she may be a counterpart embodying a dimension of humanity that gives the husband a sense of self-awareness and sociability rooted in sexual difference and attraction . . . . Her submission to the husband is significant precisely because she is surrendering the totality of who she is as an independent person, not simply filling a role determined by her embodiment . . . .

Today, the idea of roles is helpful in explaining why people behave the way they do. Certainly behavior can be enhanced when one has a “role model” to observe and follow. But Paul does not establish separate fixed patterns of behavior for husband and wife to maintain their unity of heart and mind. Neither husband nor wife were created for a “role” to which they must aspire, but to be of one heart and mind in their distinct bodies . . . .

I am convinced that Professor Meilaender and I share a common concern for faithfulness in marriage. For this reason I look forward to further discussion of how husband and wife receive the grace to be of one heart and mind in a monogamous, heterosexual procreative union . . . .

Marie Meyer
Garden City, NY

Gilbert Meilaender replies:

I confess that almost the whole of Marie Meyer’s long letter (here edited to somewhat shorter length) is unclear to me. Any response that I make runs the risk, therefore, of misconstruing her position. Still, I will do my best and offer apologies for where I have failed.

In my article I discuss two different notions of headship (building on passages from C. S. Lewis and Helmut Thielicke). Ms. Meyer does not seem to distinguish carefully between these. As best I can tell, she thinks the Thielicke approach mistaken but actually has a good bit of sympathy for the Lewis approach. For we are agreed, I think, that husband and wifethough unitedare not interchangeable. And we may even be agreed that the distinctiveness and otherness of each is necessary if we are to learn what it means to relate to the ultimately other Lord who is head of his body, the Church. But she seems unwilling or unable to say anything about the nature of this differentiation, which in turn makes it hard to know what we might learn from it. Still, since my inquiry was partially about whether anything could be said on this matter, and since I was very tentative in my discussion, there may be room here for some meeting of the minds.

For some other matters in her letter I have a hard time working up sympathy. She takes me to task, it seems, for being insufficiently Lutheranan old Lutheran trick, I should warn readers who lack the necessary personal history. I suspect, though, that we have quite different notions about what is needed here. I do not think that theological ethics can usefully be done on the basis of word studies, since for me the unit of thought is not the single word. I think Lutherans who ignore Barthon this or quite a few other mattersdo so at their theological peril. I do not think being Lutheran means one must shrink from describing marriage as a task. And I firmly believe that the attempt to spin all moral wisdom out of the gospel is the characteristic failing of Lutheran ethics. Of such sins, therefore, I am unable to repent.

Wittgenstein’s Religiosity

While Edward T. Oakes’ article “Ludwig Wittgenstein Confesses” (June/July) has an interesting thesis, I feel it missed an opportunity for examining the profundity of Wittgenstein’s Jewishness upon his later work. Nowhere is this influence more apparent than in the Philosophical Investigations where, as Oakes rightly points out, Wittgenstein turned away from philosophy’s efforts to find a single essential meaning for words to locating the meaning of words in their uses. One of the reasons Wittgenstein was able to make this shift was because his imagination was primarily captured not by the Greek visualist paradigm of reality, but by the Hebraic dynamism of the spoken word. Wittgenstein himself, in conversation with O. C. Drury in response to Drury’s Origenist sympathies, said, “Your religious ideas have always seemed to me more Greek than biblical. Whereas my thoughts are one hundred percent Hebraic” (cited by Fergus Kerr in Theology After Wittgenstein). Furthermore, Wittgenstein stated that a motto for the whole of his later philosophy might be Goethe’s phrase from Faust, “In the beginning was the deed.” Here we see Wittgenstein’s reliance upon the Hebrew davar, which means both word and deed. Such Hebraic formation at the depth of Wittgenstein’s imagination enabled him to make the radical philosophical moves he made. And such formation is, as Oakes notes, certainly ignored in most philosophy departments in what Wittgenstein himself called “the darkness of this time.”

Beth Newman
Saint Mary’s College
Notre Dame, IN

The beauty of Ray Monk’s biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein is that it presents a balanced account of Wittgenstein’s life. Its author refrains from harnessing his story to a cherished ideological load. Precisely this balance enables Edward T. Oakes to raise his stimulating questions concerning, chiefly, “Wittgenstein’s deep religiosity” and “the influence of his Jewishness on his life.” Both topics would seem to merit finer differentiations.

Scholars have endeavored to glean something about Wittgenstein’s religiosity from his writings as well as from his statements reported by contemporaries. However, it is well to be cautious in the extreme when employing like common coinage Wittgenstein’s precisely chosen words, especially when, of necessity, they are pried loose from their rigorously argued context.

To be sure, Wittgenstein’s texts, like those of other writers, are open to multiple interpretations; moreover, Wittgenstein himself incorporated differences in understanding in his epistemology . . . .

Wittgenstein’s apparently unambiguous “God does not reveal himself in the world” is regarded by Ingeborg Bachmann as “one of the bitterest sentences in the Tractatus,” whereas G. H. von Wright, less emotively, deduces from its juxtaposition with the preceding sentence that Wittgenstein was not a pantheist. Not mutually exclusive, these two responses illustrate how one of Wittgenstein’s concise statements elicits differing responses . . . .

Seeking answers to our questions in Wittgenstein’s texts may be an undertaking justified in its own right, but it leads away from Wittgenstein because each of his formulations struggles with an answer to his own questions. We may serve Wittgenstein better by listening for his questions than by looking for solutions to crucial problems in our own minds. In particular, Oakes’ note of triumphalism in winning Wittgenstein for the cause of religion has a ring alien to Wittgenstein’s approach.

This is not to say that Wittgenstein may not have been religious—he may well have been. One who on various occasions considered joining a monastery was probably not anti-religious or even areligious.

If Wittgenstein was religious, he was so in and on his own terms, not in our everyday understanding of that notion. We would require a demonstration that Oakes’ and Wittgenstein’s assumptions regarding “religion” were at all comparable.

Oakes sees in Wittgenstein’s need for “confession” at various times in his life one proof of Wittgenstein’s religiosity. However, such a need, for Wittgenstein and in general, is not necessarily or chiefly a religious one . . . .

Fania Pascal’s assessment of Wittgenstein’s Jewishness, quoted by Monk and paraphrased by Oakes, needs careful reading. Fania Pascal, Wittgenstein’s teacher of Russian, identified herself as “a Jewish girl from the Ukraine, who had been through pogroms during the Civil War, whose childhood was darkened, branded by the anti-Semitism of Tsarist Russia.” Her Jewish self-awareness differed radically from the Jewish self-awareness of the assimilating Jews of Vienna—if, for the moment, Wittgenstein might be reckoned as one of them. Furthermore, Pascal herself, with unconcealed irritation at her own bad memory and/or her failure at the time to make distinctions she should have made, later said of their conversation:

I cannot be sure, but in his precise way he [Wittgenstein] may have used the term Aryan, non-Aryan throughout, not Jewish or non-Jewish, a very significant difference in his case and at that time. Mistakenly I took it for granted at the time that his words implied that he had three Jewish grandparents, in the sense that they were members of the Jewish community . . . .

At the time of this “confession” to her, six months before the Anschluss, Wittgenstein had returned from a visit to Austria. In view of the fact that Austria and Germany were working on political agreements, one can assume with virtual certainty that members of Wittgenstein’s family, baptized into the Christian faith, were seriously and justifiably concerned how the Nürnberg legislation (1935) about race might soon affect their status . . . .

It is important for us today to be aware that, before the spread of Nazi race theories, baptized Jews in Vienna were converts to Christianity and members of the Catholic or Protestant Church. They had ceased being Jews. Jewishness had hitherto been a matter of creed. Only after the imposition of Nazi race laws did the term “non-Aryan” become synonymous with Jewish—hence Fania Pascal’s admitted confusion. Oakes employs these terms interchangeably. If “Aryan” and “non-Aryan” were the words Wittgenstein used in his “confession” to his Russian teacher, he had adopted Nazi terminology.

It is Fania Pascal’s evaluation of Wittgenstein’s confession that should be of interest to Oakes and to us. She implies that it would have been an offense if Wittgenstein had been actively or passively misleading with respect to the exact admixture of racial strains in him. Note that her understanding of his words does not relate to religion, creed, or Wittgenstein’s religiosity. It has to do with whether or not he saw himself as a Jew in Hitlerian terms, and whether or not he gave the impression of distancing himself, actively or through inaction, from the Jewish community as defined by Nazi laws. Pascal condemns Wittgenstein for disloyalty to the Jewish community as a racial group, as Hitler stipulated.

Oakes appears to adopt Pascal’s premise uncritically, while at the same time using it as a proof of Wittgenstein’s religiosity: he appears to accept at face value Pascal’s perception of Wittgenstein’s need to confess, namely his need to confess that he conveyed or permitted a misleading impression about racially belonging to a group, in percentile terms different from the true ones.

This “confession” proves little about Wittgenstein’s religiosity, one way or the other. It does show, however, how completely Hitler’s terminology prevailed in Pascal’s perception, and prevails unrecognized even now when Wittgenstein’s (Jewish) religion is unquestioningly measured with Hitler’s yardstick.

At the time of his “confession” to Pascal and others, a bewildered Wittgenstein may have felt guilt for any number of reasons, so that the bewildering quotation attributed to him, complete with Pascal’s doubt about its literalness, may have been a psychological displacement of sorts.

In short: the adoption, for our own purposes, of Wittgenstein’s crafted utterances, our utilization of his philosophical road signs, as it were, may lead to pleasurable digressions, to finding “sermons in stones,” but surely away from Wittgenstein’s frame of reference.

Elizabeth Petuchowski
Cincinnati, OH

Edward T. Oakes replies:

Elizabeth Petuchowski is right of course: both topics merit finer differentiations. First of all, let me add to her clarifications one of my own: it was far from my intention to expropriate Wittgenstein “for the cause of religion.” His was clearly an honesty and an integrity that was fashioned out of intense internal reflection and not from any receptiveness to organized religion, whether Jewish or Christian. But that does not mean the issue is quite so ambiguous as Ms. Petuchowski seems to aver. (“He may well have been [religious]. One who on various occasions considered joining a monastery was probably [!] not anti-religious or even areligious.”) “Religion” is perhaps not a happy term in this context, but what I specified in the article as his “deep religiosity” was meant to refer to something much deeper than occasional moments when he thought of becoming a monk.

Indeed, I think it would be to misunderstand Wittgenstein to say that he was primarily a philosopher of religion, for that too would imply the same narrow category that seems to have prompted Ms. Petuchowski’s letter. But I do claim that Wittgenstein became a philosopher in the first place because of an intense mystical experience he had before World War I—a point missed by Monk in his otherwise fine biography and stressed, to the best of my knowledge, only by Russell Nieli in his book Wittgenstein: From Mysticism to Ordinary Language (1987). According to Nieli (and Wittgenstein’s sister Hermine confirms this), Wittgenstein never would have turned from aerodynamic engineering to philosophy without having experienced the Unutterable, an experience that later led him to say in the Tractatus, “We feel that even if all possible scientific questions have been answered, our life problems have not even been touched in the slightest”; or, “The solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time.” My claim was solely that attempts by the logical positivists to see Section 8 of the Tractatus merely as the appendicized musings of a logician who had finished his main work are utterly wrong.

Finally I am grateful to Ms. Petuchowski’s “clarification” (if that is the word, for her information muddles an already cloudy picture) of Fania Pascal’s memories of Wittgenstein’s confession of his Jewishness. I suppose that, as so often with Wittgenstein, naming that experience with a label will only keep us from an exact description of the nature and power of his mind. Let me say that whether as an insider or an outsider to either Judaism or Christianity, Wittgenstein has been a model to me of unsparing honesty, relentless pursuit of moral purity (however successfully or unsuccessfully effected), and radiant, if dauntingly lonely, holiness. If I understand him correctly, I do not think I could agree with him that “God does not reveal himself in the world,” but that only heightens the challenge that so noble a figure represents to me.

Orthodox Concerns

As it stands, Richard John Neuhaus’ “Orthodox Healings” (The Public Square, June/July) is badly in need of a summary. As one conversant in the matters that he addresses, I would like to venture one.

There is a most obvious deduction from the facts—(1) that Orthodox leaders are incensed at “missionary incursions” being made by Roman Catholics and Protestants, and (2) that the Orthodox Church suffers from internal discord—which Mr. Neuhaus cites. It is a deduction belying his muddled treatment of the issues. Simply put, we Orthodox are far more concerned with the reality that our Eastern brethren are being inundated by seductive (and anyone who has had contact with these formerly culturally sequestered Easterners knows how attractive anything Western seems to them) Western half-truths such as Roman Catholicism and Protestantism than we are about the non-dogmatic divisions within our own Church. If, as Mr. Neuhaus seems to be suggesting, there is some inconsistency in this stance, I fail to see it.

Furthermore, we do not see how the cited divisions give license-and this seems the only logical inference from Neuhaus’ apparent indignation at the Orthodox Church’s “agitation” and his confused contrast of it with internal ecclesial disharmony-for the “missionary incursions” that he so lightly dismisses. Perhaps he would do well to look seriously into some of the atrocities being committed in Eastern regions on the behalf of his own (Roman Catholic) denomination. This might serve as the remedy for his unbefitting frivolity concerning the matter, as well as providing his readers with something a bit more intellectually substantial than an introduction to ecclesiastical intrigues attendant on the downfall of Communism . . . .

Br. James Miller
St. Herman’s Orthodox Monastery
Platina, CA

Church and State, Then and Now

I trust that when Augustine Thompson (“The Pope, the Emperor, and the First Amendment,” August/September) teaches his students about the Investiture conflict he does not deal with it simply in terms of “state control of religion” versus “free ecclesiastical administration.” An eleventh-century bishop was a great deal more than a mere “ecclesiastical administrator”: he was a prince, and had at his disposal lands, revenues, and armies. Henry IV certainly had a legitimate interest in ensuring the loyalty of these men to his rule.

The real tragedy of the conflict is that it was not effectively resolved: the entanglement of church and state persisted until Reformation times and beyond, and always to the disadvantage of the church.

Paul C. Fox
Farmington, PA

Change of Heart?

Two years ago in Dijon a friend arranged a lunch with Rémi Brague, at the time his colleague. Brague was among the younger scholars from whom the Catholic Church expected help to reverse the devastating anti-Catholic and desacralizing trends. A little later Brague moved to Paris, a proof of his merits and a sign that he was appreciated in high places, both secular and ecclesiastic.

The more reason, then, why I was astonished to read his article, “Christ, Culture & the New Europe” (August/September). Brague hardly pursues a coherent line of argumentation; the text is wavering, uncertain, trying to please various contradictory sides. His deprecating words about the Church’s “reconquista” (an ironic term, a bit hostile) sound like those of critics of “triumphalism” two decades ago.

Question: should the Church or shouldn’t it gain ground, culturally too—or does Rémi Brague prefer a syncretistic form of “humanism”? Would it be detrimental for our culture if sacred inspiration were manifest again in architecture, music, literature, and the fine arts? Or is it better to be condemned to a lifelong viewing of Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” and to hearing hard rock?

The same issue of First Things contains reviews of books suggesting that Christianity should be erased or reabsorbed in earlier forms. Rémi Brague seems to encourage such a course. Is this how he acquired points that took him from Dijon to Paris?

Thomas Molnar
Ridgewood, NJ

Rémi Brague replies:

Prof. Molnar’s last and most important question is libelous and mirrors a paranoid cast of mind. I moved from Dijon to my present position in Paris, where I teach Medieval Arabic Philosophy, because I can read Hebrew and Arabic. In France, the Churches and the State are completely independent of each other and all the universities are State institutions.

Answers to the other questions: Yes. No. No. No. But they betray Professor Molnar’s own obsessions, not a careful reading of my article.

I apologize for what remains unclear in the latter. For a fuller and clearer version, see my small book on European culture: Europe, la voie romaine.

Photo by Philippe Krief on Unsplash. Image cropped.