Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Fathers and Sons in Black and White

After having read the article by Russell E. Saltzman entitled “Better Than Their Fathers” in your October 1992 issue, I’m a bit puzzled. Why did the First Things editorial hoard accept this piece? Other than the fact that it was written by a Lutheran pastor, what does this article have to do with “Religion and Public Life,” as FT’s subtitle proclaims?

Richard John Neuhaus spends a lot of time in his Public Square section rightfully decrying the wrong side of the “culture wars.” One can only conclude that the inclusion of Pastor Saltzman’s article was intended to he a pedagogical tool demonstrating what happens when a religious person has allowed the relationship with his son to come to the point where the son willfully chooses that wrong side.

One wonders: has Pastor Saltzman attempted in his relationship with his son to show that his fixation on clothes as status symbol, bad music, and bad television represents a slavery to the vicious and vapid culture of modernity? Pastor Saltzman knows (or should know) that his son can he freed from this slavery by putting on the Christ that Pastor Saltzman is charged with preaching.

Pastor Saltzman asks himself why he wants to know whether a kid’s name comes attached with a black or white face, implying that he has not yet overcome the oh-so-intractable racism of the white male. I hope he asks himself this question for another reason. It is unfortunate but true that much of what passes for “black culture” today is ridiculous at best and dangerously cruel at worst. It springs not from the common core of humanity that black and white people share, but from a liberal establishment intent on remaking black people into its preconceived notion of them as inherently ungovernable. Not that “white culture” is significantly better, but at least Pastor Saltzman should know which poison his son is choosing.

Maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe Pastor Saltzman isn’t a victim of white guilt. Maybe he has valiantly striven to introduce his son to the person of Christ as an antidote to accepting the culture as it is presented. His article was short; there was undoubtedly much that was left unsaid. I have two very small children and realize that I will face the same (or even more difficult) challenges that Pastor Saltzman faces, perhaps successfully, perhaps not. I just think it’s important that all of us in Christ’s Church are constantly aware of the enormous stakes in the “culture wars” and of the power of our faith to tilt the battle in our direction.

Gregory W. Black
Oak Park, IL

Thank you for Russell Saltzman’s article reflecting on his and his son’s experiences of race relations. As a senior at an Ivy League university, I hear a lot about the problems of race in America from all quarters. There is constant talk about “proper ideology and discourse” towards the eradication of “racial hegemony,” but Saltzman’s article was edifying in quite a different way. He did not use the sensitive terms and abstractions of the academy; rather he spoke openly about his own reactions to racial interaction, and his inner negotiations on the subject with respect to his own son. He illustrated the day-to-day experiences of a white reacting to black culture (rap music, Malcolm X, etc.), and though such experiences may seem awkward to some, they exemplify the real power of cultural differences to divide and alienate.

It is just such honesty as Saltzman’s that seems to me too often suppressed in the discussion of race, for fear of causing offense, yet to the detriment of real, personal dialogue between blacks and whites. At my college our reading lists are integrated, the cafeteria is not. Whereas students all agree on the issue in the abstract, they are unable to initiate substantial friendships . . . We cannot talk because we do not know each other. We do not know each other because that would require an uncomfortable discussion of the attitudes that still set us apart.

Ultimately, as Mr. Saltzman reminds us, the issue is friendship. Even the (very important) work of the ideological struggle against racism must have for its final end the creation of such friendship. Indeed, we are a country perversely interested in color, yet the remedy to such perversity is not the denial of internal feelings, but a mutual, open sharing of our experiences in order that we may learn, in the midst of difficulties, how to proceed toward the goal of racial unity. Saltzman, with respect to his son, shows the proper sensitivities.

Seth White
Providence, RI

Russell E. Saltzman replies:

Let me understand: My brief opinion published last October prompted letters from two guys named Black and White? Something could be made of this, but I’ll do everyone a favor and let it pass. In any case, replying first to Mr. Black, what came in season with early spring when the piece left my desk has passed with summer, such are the rapid changes in children leaving middle school to enter high school. Now the kid is into haircuts for Junior Naval ROTC inspections, spit shines on stodgy oxfords, honors classes, and, praise God, we haven’t seen Doogie What’s-His-Face in weeks. In time, as happens to us all, the boy will find his balance. So, much has changed for his friends and him, except the friendships. Which brings me to Mr. White. The issue is friendship? Yes, I think, exactly so.

For Women Only

Concerning the continuing abortion debate in First Things: A man’s obligate role in the species preservation is a few minutes of ecstatic pleasure⁠—period! All other involvement (if any) is voluntary.

A woman’s obligate role, beyond her brief pleasure (assuming that she is not raped), is nine months of carrying and nourishing a parasitic growth which (in addition to its toll on her health) eventually practically disables her. She then “walks through the valley of the shadow” in the agony of childbirth (which is ten times more dangerous to her life than a properly done therapeutic abortion), followed by two or more years of intensive care and nursing of her offspring, plus a decade or so of decreasing, but ongoing, caring bondage.

When men can get pregnant as easily as women, and suffer the same obligate bondage involved, then⁠—and only then⁠—can they give valid opinions on the question of abortion.

Until then, pontificating by men [about abortion] is only a subtle but still ugly part of men’s age-old domination of women. The unprovable ethereal religious notion of the “soul,” spun from thin air by men (as is most of religion), has been used to justify dominion, discrimination, and unspeakable cruelties against women, witches, infidels, etc.

In reproduction, men are spooked by women, who are the real producers of life, while men are merely carriers of genetic information. Quit pretending to speak for the deity: such pious egotism is revolting! Study life, not an old book, and practice humility!

Lew W. Wallace, M.D.
San Gabriel, CA

Wittgenstein, not Pascal

Edward Oakes’ appreciative review of Cyril Barrett’s Wittgenstein on Ethics and Religious Beliefs (October 1992) is marred only by an error of attribution: the final quotation cited in the review (“If [Christ] did not rise from the dead . . . he is a teacher like any other and can no longer help . . . . ”) comes not from Pascal but from Wittgenstein himself. Indeed, any who remain skeptical of Wittgenstein because of his connections with the Vienna Circle should invest an hour browsing through Culture and Value, where the remark appeared (p.33). Such an examination will show that one can learn more about the relation between religious belief and intellectual inquiry from Wittgenstein than from any number of contemporary theologians, who seem to think that the way to resolve the tension between faith and reason is by the abandonment of one or the other. Wittgenstein, like Pascal, saw the need to respect the rights of both, in their proper spheres.

Jeffrey Peterson
New Haven, CT

The misattribution occurred because of an error in editing. Our apologies to Professor Oakes. ⁠—The Editors