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

The Public Square

With the enormous attention paid The Bell Curve, the book by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray that is inevitably described as “controversial” (or worse), another book appearing about the same time, and addressing some of the same questions, went almost unnoticed. It is a shame, because Thomas Sowell’s Race and Culture: A World View (Basic Books) is an invaluable resource in a time such as ours when very basic questions are being asked about the limits of human behavior and the ethics of social policy. Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, is a prolific author and columnist. Race and Culture is not merely another of his always suggestive publications, but a summing up of what he has learned from many years of examining human behavior in cultural contexts as various as Los Angeles, Sri Lanka, and remote islands of the South Pacific. It warrants the subtitle “a worldview” by virtue of both global scope and the range of questions addressed.

Why is it that some groups “succeed” and others don’t? Sowell is impatient with intellectual complexifiers of what is meant by success. To succeed, in his view, is to make your way economically, to build a solid material base on which life is stable and pleasant enough to afford the luxury of indulging other interesting concerns, including, if one is so inclined, the question of what it means to succeed. Sowell’s argument is that some cultures do and some cultures do not support the values, dispositions, and character traits that, everywhere and always, have produced material success. Backing up the argument with a stunning array of historical illustrations, he shows that hard work, an ability to organize others, a gift for rational thinking, and an eagerness to learn from “superior” cultures are among the characteristics essential to material success.

Sowell is, to say the least, not intimidated by “multiculturalists” who insist that all cultures are equal-or, more frequently, imply that all cultures are equal except their own, which is inferior. He writes: “Plain and obvious as cultural differences in effectiveness in different fields should be, there has developed in recent times a reluctance or a squeamishness about discussing it, and some use the concept of ‘cultural relativism’ to deny it. After archaeology and anthropology have revealed the cultural achievements of some groups once dismissed as ‘primitive,’ and especially after the ravages of racism shocked the world when the Nazi death camps were exposed at the end of World War II, there has been an understandable revulsion at the idea of labeling any peoples or cultures ‘superior’ or ‘inferior.’ Yet Arabic numerals are not merely different from Roman numerals; they are superior to Roman numerals. Their superiority is evidenced by their worldwide acceptance, even in civilizations that derive from Rome.

“It is hard to imagine the distances encountered in astronomy, or the complexities of advanced mathematics, being expressed in Roman numerals, when even expressing the year of American independence-MDCCLXXVI-takes up more than twice the space required by Arabic numerals, and offers far more opportunities for errors, because a compound Roman numeral either adds or subtracts individual numbers according to their place in the sequence. The Roman numbering system also lacked a zero, a defect of some importance to mathematicians. Numbers systems do not exist in a vacuum or as mere badges of cultural identity. They exist to facilitate mathematical analysis-and some systems facilitate it better than others.”

Some things work, and some things don’t. And if one culture facilitates the doing of things worth doing better than another culture, hurray for the culture that works, and (sotto voce) too bad for the culture that doesn’t. In the real world of Thomas Sowell, inequality is the name of history’s game, and we should not let sentimentality about “cultural identity,” “roots,” and “self-esteem” obscure that fact. Sowell does not view it as a brutal fact, since, all in all, the historical contest between unequal persons and peoples is the stuff of progress. Along the way, there are indeed brutalities, and we have to live with that. About some of the great wrongs of the past, there is very little that we can do, and only great mischief results from trying to redo the consequences of contests past. The following gives the flavor of Sowell’s determinedly unsentimental thinking:

“It is difficult to survey the history of racial or ethnic relations without being appalled by the inhumanity, brutality, and viciousness of it all. There is no more humane or moral wish than the wish that this could all be set right somehow. But there are no more futile or dangerous efforts than attempts to redress the wrongs of history. These wrongs are not to be denied. Wrongs in fact constitute a major part of history, in countries around the world. But while the victims of these wrongs may live on forever as symbols, most have long ago died as flesh- and-blood human beings. So have their persecutors, who are as much beyond the reach of our vengeance as the victims are beyond our help. This may be frustrating and galling, but that is no justification for taking out those frustrations on living human beings-or for generating new strife by creating privileges for those who are contemporary reminders of historical guilt.

“After territorial irredentism has led nations to slaughter each other’s people over land with virtually no value in itself, merely because it once belonged in a different political jurisdiction at a time before any living person’s memory, what is to be expected from instilling the idea of social irredentism, growing out of historical wrongs? What can any society hope to gain by having some babies in that society born into the world with a priori grievances against other babies born into that same society on the same day?

“The biological or cultural continuity of a people does not make guilt inheritable. Nor can the particular economic and social consequences of particular past actions necessarily be isolated or quantified in the lives of contemporaries-not when innumerable other influences have intervened in the meantime. Moreover, no group was a tabula rasa to begin with. Yet a vast literature in many countries confidently attributes intergroup economic ‘gaps’ or statistical disparities in occupational ‘representation’ to particular historical evils, often with little or no examination of the specifics of history, or of contemporary demographic, cultural, or other differences. In keeping with this approach, statistical theories of random events are often applied to group differences, not only in intellectual speculation but also in courts of law-as if people were random events, rather than members of groups with pronounced, enduring, and highly disparate cultural patterns.”

What Ought To Be

“What can any society hope to gain by having some babies in that society born into the world with a priori grievances against other babies born into that same society on the same day?” The question is a forceful challenge to schemes of affirmative action, quotas, and other policy devices premised upon “social irredentism.” Yet policy might-and most of us would argue that it should-take into account that one baby has severely limited life prospects, while others are greatly favored. One baby’s deprivation is not caused by the better fortune of the other babies, and there is therefore no question of its having a grievance against the others, but there is surely an obligation to do what can be done to improve its life chances. This is the other side of Sowell’s bracingly realistic critique of efforts to “redress the wrongs of history.” It is the side that tends to be neglected in Race and Culture.

This is not to fault Mr. Sowell for lacking that great liberal virtue called compassion, a virtue that no longer covers many sins. But one is mindful of Eliot’s observation that “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” The realism of Race and Culture, while offering a convincing description of the world as it really is, shortchanges something that a more comprehensive realism (dare one say a more realistic realism?) takes into account: humanity’s unstoppable penchant for challenging what is with what ought to be. Of course that penchant has at times miscarried, producing utopian projects both sentimental and totalitarian, but it is also a part of culture, of moral culture, that is slighted in what is meant by culture in Race and Culture.

Nonetheless, this is a book to be read and read carefully. It is packed with information and analysis in support of positions incorrect and unfashionable. Thomas Sowell is a great believer in Dr. Johnson’s maxim, “Clear your mind of cant.” He is also a bit of a contrarian, which is perhaps understandable in one who has for years been berated by establishmentarian writers, both black and white, as a traitor to his race. “Sowell lacks soul,” as one critic so very cleverly puts it. The truth is that Thomas Sowell looks unblinkingly at some unbending, and often unpleasant, facts about the world, and he would not serve us better if his eyes teared up more often; that would only blur his vision, and ours. Race and Culture puts one in mind of Edward Banfield’s The Unheavenly City (1968), and that is intended as high praise. Both authors argue forcefully that our political culture has overdosed on the cant of compassion and equality. Both rub the reader’s nose in powerful evidence that some social problems may be intractable. In some instances, it may be that the best we can do is not make them worse. There is much to be said that thinkers such as Sowell and Banfield do not say. But people who want to be taken seriously on the subject of changing the world for the better are well advised to attend closely to what they do say.

Pluralism That Makes a Difference

The still new (and maybe the last) president of the Public Broadcasting Service, Ervin Duggan, spoke at the fall convocation of his alma mater, the distinguished Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. He underscored the irreplaceable importance of competence, courage, and commitment. The following is under the rubric of commitment: “When I was at Davidson in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this institution was already beginning its flight from what we believed to be the pinching, limiting strictures of its Calvinist past. Most of us as students, and many bright, promising faculty members, believed that the old churchy ways of Davidson-its remaining ties to its Presbyterian heritage, its quaint belief that religious faith could be a path to Truth-were not only anachronistic, but also incompatible with free inquiry.

“We wanted Davidson to shed its parochialism, its starchy, teetotaling Calvinism. We couldn’t wait for Davidson to free itself from the embarrassing, suffocating embrace of its church relationship; to liberate itself from the antiquated notion that Truth could be validly interpreted through a lens called Faith. We wanted Davidson to be a national institution; to hold its head up in the secular and pluralistic world of true higher education, not kneel with bowed head, mumbling by rote the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

“It was only years later that I came to understand that I had been wrong, dead wrong, about pluralism. Pluralism does not mean becoming like everybody else. Pluralism is about differences; pluralism is about robust assertions of one’s distinctive background and beliefs. Genuine pluralism does not ask people, or institutions, to suppress their individuality or their convictions so that they blend invisibly into the whole; rather, it encourages a rich mix of individualities. The old Calvinist Davidson, however much I might have deplored it, was making a genuine contribution to pluralism by insisting on being different; by refusing to be all things to all people.

“It was years later before I understood that Davidson, by asserting the authenticity of religious Truth-of Christian Truth-was asserting something profoundly important: the validity of a religious way of knowing. Davidson College did not reject the scientific way of knowing and interpreting the material world; that is how Davidson turned out future physicians and scientists. Davidson accepted, as well, the validity of an aesthetic way of knowing; that is why it built fine arts buildings and encouraged oboists to practice, out under the trees. But Davidson also asserted the validity, alongside these other valid ways of knowing, of a religious way of knowing: a way to Truth that leads along a lighted path called Faith.

“Only years after leaving this place did I realize that the religious tradition honored by those starchy old Calvinists was what brought into being many of the things I cherished most. The teaching that all persons are created in the image of God, for example: that religious idea gives the only transcendent depth and meaning to our notions of human rights, of human beings as sacred. The ancient doctrine of Original Sin, for example: it led James Madison and John Adams to insist upon limitations on power, upon a system of checks and balances. The Judeo-Christian idea of covenantal laws and relationships, for example: this led, in time, to modern democratic constitutions and Bills of Rights. Indeed, our modern ideas of tolerance and pluralism owe much to great assertions of human universality like that of St. Paul: ‘I am persuaded that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek. . . .’

“It was years before I realized that this valid religious way of knowing-a way of knowing which gave us the Sistine Madonna of Raphael, the Divine Comedy of Dante, and the St. Matthew Passion of Bach-was not an embarrassing artifact of small-minded Calvinists. No, it was instead a kind of glory: a glory worth defending and cherishing; a glory, yes, worthy of handing down from generation to generation.”

The Perfectly Revised Version

The New Revised Standard Version, the New New Revised Standard Version, The New Revised American Version, and on and on. It started five decades ago, and it seems, as the Preacher might have said, “Of the multiplication of Bible translations there is no end.” Of course the publishing houses make a lot of money from this, and there are Bible translation committees and individual Bible translators who might otherwise have nothing to do with their time. But what purpose is served? Among others, the unholy purpose of destroying a common biblical vocabulary. It’s a Catholic problem as much as a Protestant one. The missalettes used in most parishes (missalettes for Christianettes?) even have different translations for the same passages used in the same Mass. (For instance, psalm antiphons frequently differ from the same passage in the psalm itself.) Most Christians under thirty no longer have in common a reservoir of biblical texts recognized by all, and are likely unable to recognize the biblical allusions woven throughout our English literary history. In addition, with few exceptions, the new translations represent a dismal declension from any understanding of elevated, even attractive, language. Way on back in the 1950s when J. B. Phillips was publishing parts of the New Testament in everyday language, it was exciting stuff, precisely because we had a standard translation with which to compare it. Now all most folk have is a cacophony of everyday languages descending into ever deeper everydayness.

You know we wouldn’t bring the problem up unless we had a solution. The solution is simple: For all public purposes, liturgical and catechetical, only the Revised Standard Version may be used. Now if only we could find some authority that could effectively implement such a rule. Alas, the Bible translators you have always with you, and, to make matters worse, they are now in cahoots with sundry ideologues who are eager to put feminist, liberationist, or other spins on the text. Where will it all end up? Christopher Seitz, professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School, has sent us a sampling of what he thinks the future might have in store for us. This is an excerpt from the Perfectly Revised Version (PRV):

1.Bereshith adam. In the beginning, Humankind. Humankind reflected on itself and saw that humankind was very good, neither male nor female. Humankind rested after reflecting.
2.Humankind spoke and marvelled on the word, which showed perfectly what humankind felt. The word did not last forever, and humankind reflected on time. Bereshith now meant something, though beginning and ending were abstractions. All time was one, as adam was one. “Day” two.
3.Seeing the power of the word to be other but to include all, humankind divided itself into two creatures, “she” and “he,” “male” and “female.” These two joined themselves on occasion back into the original one, and new life came forth, of one type or the other. And all three saw that they were good, diverse yet the same. “Day” three.
4.And humankind said, let us make God in our image, in the likeness of our threeness we will make God. Sometimes male, sometimes female, sometimes Godself, always our creation. And God was formed by the word. And humankind saw Godself. While not “very good,” Godself was “good.” “Day” four.
5.And humankind saw the world that had always been, with stars, and sun, and day and night, and animals, and plants, and now also with God, and humankind said, We shall launch forth and explore. And laws were formed so that all would be equitably shared. The God they had made was put in charge of these laws, so that if they were broken, Godself would be judge. And humankind saw that this arrangement was good. “Day” five.
6.Humankind was very fruitful and multiplied and covered the earth. When laws were broken through inequitable sharing, God’s justice was called into question. God sent Godself to rectify the sharing, even to the extent of becoming adam through perfect obedience. But it was one against many, and the many knew God was not adam, but the work of humankind’s own hands. “Day” six.
7.And humankind said, We are sorry we made God. A void is felt among us. So God was taken back into humankind from whence God came. And humankind set about to perfect the system of laws, so that humankind could remain very good and enjoy life forever and ever. And this just striving was the word and the word was with humankind and the word was humankind. And the word became the Perfectly Revised Version, which you are hearing this day. And humankind rested from all humankind’s labors.

Economics in Verse and Prose

Christian thinkers who propose correspondences between Christian morality and democratic capitalism are frequently challenged by others who contend that biblical ethics requires a “radical alternative” to the market economy. More often than not the challenge is from the left, but things are not always so simple. For instance, among Catholic challengers are many who are much taken with the ideal of “distributism” espoused by G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. Distributism is favored by, among others, the New Oxford Review, which prompted James K. Fitzpatrick to a response in that magazine’s letters column: “Whenever I read Chesterton and Belloc, the imagery captures my imagination: small villages, self-employed craftsmen, religious schools, social life revolving around the local parsonage, evenings with a pint of ale in a cheery pub. And then I come back to earth. The goal of distributists is to use the state to limit unjust concentrations of wealth; their objective is to use the law to set the framework for a less materialist society, one where home and hearth and family count for more than the lounge-lizard life of the [Donald] Trumps and certain stock market gurus. Well, it sounds great, but, who is going to be in charge of all this social engineering? Who is going to define what it means to be ‘excessively’ materialist?”

Fitzpatrick recounts a conversation with a monsignor who advocated a system that would assure a “living wage” that enables a man to support his family “in dignity.” When this monsignor of a suburban parish got to listing the things required for dignity (good house, reliable car, college education for the kids, retirement savings, and so forth), it added up to an income of well over $100,000 per year, pretty much what his parishioners were working for in this despised “capitalistic system.” Fitzpatrick concludes: “Chesterton and Belloc remain favorites of mine. They are writers of great importance, as are the Southern Agrarians in our country who viewed society from a similar perspective. But what they offer on these issues is closer to verse than prose. Their essays provide an antidote to the preoccupation with money that can overtake us in capitalist societies. They provide perspective on what monied interests can do to the political process. All of that is to be commended, without reservation. But after that? From where I sit, there simply are no position papers for the candidates for public office to be found in their pages.”

Of course our society is riddled with dreadful problems, but it is a sloppy and widespread habit of mind that blames the failings of this or any other social order on “capitalism.” Some problems can be ameliorated by political or economic changes, although every proposal for change is afflicted by the law of unintended consequences. Today it would seem that there are no alternatives to the market economy. Nor, if we have a thoughtful appreciation of the productive benefits and the virtues attending the market economy, need we be urgently seeking alternatives. What we should be seeking is not an alternative to capitalism but better ways to include everybody in the benefits and virtues of what the encyclical Centesimus Annus calls “the circle of productivity and exchange.” Even when that is done better than it is now, however, there will still be dreadful problems that are endemic to the human condition.

The beginning of wisdom about politics includes agreement with Dr. Johnson: “How small, of all that human hearts endure,/That part which laws or kings can cause or cure./Still to ourselves in every place consign’d,/Our own felicity we make or find.” The wisdom applies equally to fiddling with economic systems or fantasies. Actually, while politics and economics can do little to cure human misery, they can do a great deal to cause it. As witness the doleful history of those societies that have been mobilized to establish “radical alternatives” to freedom.

But To Be Fair . . .

Once again the irresistible penchant to be fair gets the better of us. The proponents of distributism would understandably cry foul if we left the description of that ideal to someone who thinks it is but fetching poesy. So here is Dermot Quinn, Professor of History at Seton Hall University, on “Distributism, Democratic Capitalism, and the New World Order.” It appears in a special issue of the Chesterton Review that contains a number of papers given at a conference in Croatia in which American and English Catholics cautioned formerly Communist societies against adopting the model of democratic capitalism allegedly espoused by certain American neoconservatives.

No one, writes Professor Quinn, has described the distributist ideal “with greater wit or lucidity” than Chesterton himself. Here is himself’s description of what he wanted: “The truth is this; and it is extremely, even excruciatingly simple. Either Private Property is good for Man or it is bad for Man. If it is bad, let us all immediately become honest and courageous Communists. . . . But if it is good for Man it is good for Everyman. There is a case for Capitalism; a case for Landlordism; a case for complete Despotism; . . . there are arguments for Trusts, for Squires, for big employers. But they are all arguments against Private Property. They are all more or less philosophical reasons why a man, as such, should not be an owner, as such; why the tenant should not own his house; why the workman should not own his workshop; why the farmer should not own his farm. The moment Private Property becomes a privilege, it ceases to be private property. . . . But [distributists] are not ashamed of private property; for we would give it to everyone.”

Quinn defends distributism against the charge that it is a form of cultural fetishism and nostalgia. “According to critics, distributism was compounded of nostalgia and a sort of sancta simplicitas. It attached undue moral significance to objects or styles. It was inverted snobbery. It was a creed of cranks. There is an element of truth here: some distributists were faddists, pure and simple. What of it? The criticism misses the point. Distributism was radical, but not egregious. The standard complaint-it was rural, backward, poujadiste-is caricature. In fact, it was not anti-industrial or opposed to machines. Rather, it had more to say about ownership itself than about any particular form of economic activity. ‘Even while we remain industrial,’ Chesterton remarked, ‘we can work towards industrial distribution and away from industrial monopoly. . . . Even while we are the workshop of the world, we can try to own our tools.’ Here was no machine-wrecking, no horrified flight to the land. Monopoly more than industrialism was the target. Indeed, because distributists celebrated variety and heterogeneity, they did not envision a world entirely of small farmers or shopkeepers. The absurdity of ‘mathematically equal sub-division of property or the imposition from above of universal one-man independence’ held no charm. Self-sufficiency-call it economic freedom-was the goal. The form of that freedom was a matter of choice.”

Against the ravages of consumerist capitalism, Quinn posits his vision of a better world. “Distributism offers more coherent discernment: a regime of small ownerships and local attachments, a creed of property but not possessiveness. Central to it is a nation of life in community, whether in the town or the family farm or the parish or the religious order: human organizations with a soul. The rootlessness of city or suburb, however affluent, holds no appeal. And it is precisely modest proprietorship which permits individual independence while preserving social responsibility. Owning one’s own land, one’s shop; practicing a trade or a skill; sharing profit or loss with one’s fellow workers: these were the distributist ideals.” Professor Quinn concludes with this: “’Our business is business,’ claimed [Calvin] Coolidge. ‘What,’ he seems to demand of the distributist, ‘is yours?’ Quietly, and with no great claim to originality, the distributist answers: ‘Our business is the business of life itself.’” Quietly, and with no claim at all to originality (for Mr. Fitzpatrick and many others have asked it before), one asks, And what policies or platform do you propose to advance that worthy end?

The conclusion, no matter how fair one strives to be, is that distributism is poetry and preachment. It is in some respects necessary poetry and preachment, for in a sinful world people need always to be recalled to community, to self-reliance, to neighborliness, and all that constitutes what Russell Kirk called “the permanent things.” But until the distributist “ideal” engages the structures and practices of the world of economics daily chronicled by, say, the Wall Street Journal, it cannot help but seem vacuous and naive. It seems particularly imprudent for Catholic intellectuals to tie the Church’s social teaching to the shadow of an economic idea that, in the view of some thoughtful people, once held out hope for a “third way” beyond capitalism and socialism. With the end of socialism, dreams of a third way are irrelevant. As John Paul II makes explicitly clear in section 42 of Centesimus Annus, the choice today is between acceptable and unacceptable forms of capitalism.

Another contributor to the special issue of the Chesterton Review, David Schindler, says he resents the charge that his alternative to capitalism is “unrealistic.” Christians who honor the martyrs, he writes, do not have “success” as their goal, and he is certainly right about that. Christian martyrs, however, are prepared to die for Christ, not for a dispute over an economic theory that is now chiefly of antiquarian interest. Anyway, nobody to date seems to have suffered much as a consequence of attacking the neoconservative proponents of democratic capitalism-unless one counts lost credibility and poetry diminished by self-dramatization. Chesterton, to his great credit, took himself ever so much less seriously. Which is one reason why he will be celebrated long after everybody has forgotten the wan attempt by some of his devoted disciples to rescue his unfortunate foray into economic theorizing from the past to which it belongs. Were he around today, one expects he might-with his accustomed wit and lucidity, and, above all, charity-try to dissuade his disciples from persisting in that attempt.

Back to the Fifties?

When Nations Die is a book by Jim Nelson Black that is just out from Tyndale. The subtitle is America on the Brink: Ten Warning Signs of a Culture in Crisis, so you can sense right off that the author is not the bearer of unqualifiedly good news. He concludes with a testimony by Chief Justice Earl Warren at a Washington prayer breakfast in 1954. Warren said: “I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses. . . . Whether we look to the first charter of Virginia . . . or to the Charter of New England . . . or to the Charter of Massachusetts Bay . . . or to the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut . . . the same objective is present: a Christian land governed by Christian principles. . . . I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it: freedom of belief, of expression, of assembly, of petition, the dignity of the individual, the sanctity of the home, equal justice under law, and the reservation of powers to the people. . . . I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion. I like also to believe that as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country.”

That got us to thinking about an acquaintance, not an unsophisticated fellow, who sums up his conservatism in one simple command, “Back to the Fifties!” For a number of reasons we find that formulation unpersuasive, not least because of the shoddy mix of religion and Americanism so common to that era. Admittedly, it may be too much to expect politicians and jurists to be theologically literate, but the sentimental and smug conflation of Christianity and the American Way got way out of hand back then. For everything there is a season. Forty-plus years later, some may think that talk about “a Christian land governed by Christian principles” sounds pretty good compared with the anti-American and anti- Christian rhetoric that has gained ascendancy since the countercultural assault of the sixties. But, at the risk of repeating ourselves, the choice is not between a sacred public square and a naked public square. The goal is a civil public square in which the convictions, including the religiously grounded convictions, of a democratic people are engaged in deliberating how we ought to order our life together. In a nation “under God”-which means, first of all, under judgment-that deliberation is conducted in the awareness that we must never presume that “we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion” or that because of our righteousness “no great harm can come to our country.” Then of course there is the fact that Chief Justice Earl Warren, together with other justices, declared it an unconstitutional establishment of religion for the public schools to teach children what he in 1954 declared to be the foundational truths of the republic. Warren and his brethren said, in effect, that no one can read what he says is the history of our country, at least in the public school, without violating the Constitution. From such incoherence, great harm has in fact come to our country.

America’s Spiritual NORAD

Focus on the Family is but the largest of dozens of national Christian organizations that have relocated in Colorado Springs. Marc Cooper, who styles himself a radical reporter, has some cautionary words for the readers of the very leftward Nation magazine: “But over the last handful of years, Colorado Springs has become the new capital and staging ground for America’s Christian Right. More than seventy evangelical and para-church groups-ranging from small oddities like the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys to midsize operations like Every Home For Christ to the mammoth multinational of conservative Christian activism, Focus on the Family-have been lured to set up their headquarters here. The concentration of all these groups with their 2,500 employees plus family members has given the Christian right enormous influence in Colorado Springs, and has consequently endowed the city with disproportionate clout with the national Christian conservative movement. No wonder Focus on the Family leader Dr. James Dobson declared Colorado Springs to be the ‘Gettysburg’ of America’s culture war. What’s happening in Colorado Springs is more complicated and more portentous then just a freakish case of a small minority coalescing in a political critical mass. For too long now the secular left has mistakenly written off Christian conservatives as a radical fringe skilled in stealth politics who, when exposed to the light of scrutiny, shrivel and dissipate. I would argue, especially in the wake of the November 8 vote, that as nary a populist can now be found on the left (save Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson), as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s yearning for the ‘beloved community’ has been supplanted by liberals calling for boot camps and public executions, and as the Democrats in general deteriorate into the Republicans’ caricature of a party of lobbyists and lawyers in tasseled loafers, it is the Christian right that has best taken up the challenge to fill the growing emptiness in American life, to soothe the fears and uncertainties provoked by the global market, the darling of both parties. I am not suggesting that the radical right is any less radical or right than progressives have always claimed. I’m merely arguing that in the desert landscape of American politics, the radical right position is increasingly becoming less extremist and more mainstream. Its success in Colorado Springs is particularly worrisome because this is a city of the future, not the past. With plentiful high-tech, nonunion jobs, ‘good schools,’ and a relatively low crime rate, Colorado Springs is exactly the sort of midsize, semi-rural city that tops the relocation list of millions of disaffected blue- and white-collar workers eager to flee their decaying big cities or suburbs and start a new life.”

A local fundamentalist pastor, Pastor Jim, with whom Cooper talks, is overwhelmed by the growth of his own church and almost everything else in Colorado Springs that does business under the banner of Bible- believing Christianity. “God himself,” says the pastor, “has raised Colorado Springs to be a strategic center for our nation. . . . Colorado Springs is America’s spiritual NORAD. By the year 2000 this chapel could be one of the ten most influential churches in the country.” Cooper concludes his not unsympathetic account with, “It would be silly to bet against Pastor Jim.”

The words and mannerisms of the religiously fervent tend to seem fevered in the cold print of a magazine article, and it is all too easy to parody the hype that attends much evangelical entrepreneurship. Mr. Cooper does not take unfair advantage. Everything about Colorado Springs, not only its religiousness, is a reproach to the readers of the Nation in their “decaying big cities or suburbs.” Those who live in this decaying big city-on the Upper West Side, Chelsea, and the Village-tell themselves that Colorado Springs represents everything that they came to New York to escape from. As a nearly incorrigible New York chauvinist, this writer is not untouched by that bias. In reality, however, Colorado Springs and other places to which “disaffected” Americans are fleeing to “start a new life” are not what we escaped from. They are something new. For some of us, they are nice places to visit, briefly. We have friends and colleagues there. But we wouldn’t want to live there.

As historians have pointed out, great spiritual revivals of the past have mainly been urban phenomena. Can national spiritual renewal come from gated cities of refuge, connected to the rest of the world chiefly by fiber optics and satellite dishes? Once in the American story, the big city was the future; now it seems increasingly consigned to the past. Once it was the road to success; now it is the holding pen for society’s losers. That’s a bleak picture, and we should not accept it too readily. For millions of Americans, especially immigrants, the city is still the arena of seemingly unlimited possibility and promise. They, too, are very much part of the American future. There is nothing wrong with Colorado Springs as a high-tech center of communications and mass mailing, but the entrepreneurs of spiritual renewal must, if there is to be something like a national renewal, engage the decaying worlds that they fled. If they do not, the result is not a great awakening but a nation of people, from the Upper West Side to Colorado Springs, congratulating themselves on having escaped from one another.

The Best of Possible Religions in the Best of Possible Worlds

An acquaintance with the conceits of times past can provide a measure of immunization against the conceits of our own time. The following is from the preface to the 1838 reprinting of the Coverdale Bible, first published in 1535. The author reflects with unqualified satisfaction on the happy history “to which we gratefully ascribe the establishment of our present national religion.” (Meaning the Church of England.) “Accustomed in the present day to the highest degree of civil and religious liberty that man perhaps can ever expect to enjoy, free to express our opinions without the terrors of the stake or the tortures of the rack to awe us into silence, or force us into dissimulation, it is with a mixture of curiosity and indignant surprise that we cast back our glance over a space of centuries, and see our ancestors struggling in all the mazes of ignorance and the labyrinths of superstition, alike passive under the mental tyranny of their monkish rulers and the bodily servitude of their despotic Lords. But every thing in this world changes, and excessive tyranny only more effectually prepares the way for perfect freedom. The minds of men in some degree induced to reason by the measures of Henry the Eighth were no longer to be blinded by false pretenses or intimidated by impotent threats, and the commencement of the Reformation dawned steadily and beautifully through the mists of papistic craft that the mental sloth of ages had permitted to accumulate. It is difficult for us to imagine the despotic control at that time exercised over the whole faculties, whether physical or mental, of our ancestors, and it requires some effort to picture to ourselves the revivifying effect that must have attended the spreading of the reformed doctrines. Men, who had seldom exerted their reasoning powers, were at once invited to discuss theological difficulties, and to solve the deepest mysteries of religion: and as by the reformed tenets every matter was open for discussion, there were few bounds set to inquiry; but various tenets and various opinions were as quickly spread, as eagerly adopted. The light that thus broke through the mental darkness of the reign of Henry the Eighth, fed as it was by the Holy Word of God, burnt purely and steadily; and although adverse winds and hostile gusts shook its flame for a time during the reign of Mary, they could not extinguish it, but left it to throw its calm and heavenly rays on our own and future ages.” It would perhaps be unkind to mention that all the elements are there for the making of what the national religion would become a century and a half later, so we won’t mention it.

While We’re At It

  • We don’t make these things up, you know. A history professor in New York remarked at lunch the other day on how very little he can take for granted with respect to what his students know. For instance, he accompanied a class on a tour of French cathedrals and art museums. After a week of this, one of the brightest young things in the class observed that they had been viewing all these paintings and statues of mothers with a child, and in every case the child was a boy. “How can anyone deny that that’s not evidence of sexism?” she wanted to know.
  • Here’s a big chart published in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Judeo-Christian Sexual Ethics Through the Ages.” A big subject requires a big chart. According to this chart, there were two important developments in sexual ethics prior to Christ, seven from the birth of Christ to the Year 1000, eleven from the beginning of the Second Millennium to 1900, and fifteen so far in this century. So you can see that history is really speeding up. Looked at from the truly big perspective of “through the ages,” the first major development in the twentieth century was in 1939, “Birth of Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority.” Other transformative events were Reform Jews approving ordination of gay rabbis (1990), a Catholic bishop resigning after an affair with a woman is exposed (1993), and the 1994 launching of a feminist organization to promote the goddess worship advocated by the 1993 “RE-Imagining” conference. In sum, Everything You Wanted to Know About Judeo-Christian Sexual Ethics for people who only have time to read the newspaper.
  • Last summer, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine ran an article titled “Regulating Physician-Assisted Death.” Getting implicit support from NEJM was a big score for the pro- euthanasia side. In a letter to the editor, Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Center, one of the foremost authorities on ethics related to death and dying, put the question into perspective: “First, the article fails to acknowledge the most difficult, indeed insuperable, regulatory problem: How would it be possible to monitor agreements and conversations between doctors and patients, given the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship? Are we to station a police officer at every bedside and in every doctor’s office? The plan advanced in the article is, in effect, nothing other than a self-regulatory scheme, requiring that physicians voluntarily subject themselves to oversight; only at that point does the scheme kick into operation. Moreover, if the practice of physician-assisted suicide is already widespread but currently carried out with legal impunity, why should we expect doctors who now freely break the law to pay attention to new regulations any more than they do to the present one? If they now feel they can violate a long-standing moral prohibition in medicine to assist a suicide, why should we expect a sudden new respect for medical morality in the future? Second, the notion of ‘independent and impartial oversight’ of an issue as morally and emotionally volatile as this one would be merely amusing if the authors were not serious. Or maybe their plan shows that they really do have a sly sense of humor. Presumably, no physician or lay person opposed to physician-assisted suicide would be allowed to serve as a palliative-care consultant or be a member of the palliative- care committee. By definition, such people would lack the requisite impartiality, as would the many hospice workers who believe that pain and suffering can be relieved in all but the rarest cases and who claim never to have seen such cases anyway. In short, only those who passed an initial ideological test could be certified as independent and impartial. How convenient that would be. Third, the authors combine a liberal conception of who would be eligible for assistance with a view that the ‘situation and values’ of prospective candidates should be determinative. It is thus hard to see how any reasonably determined patient could fail to get what he or she wanted. Indeed, it would take an uncommonly dense patient not to be able to figure out how to play the game with such a system. The authors of this article have created a regulatory Potemkin village-all facade with nothing behind it.” Callahan’s argument echoes key points in last year’s report by the New York State task force on law and ethics, the key point being that “regulating” doctor-assisted suicide is a charade, as Oregon’s new law will likely demonstrate in short order, if the courts let it go into effect.
  • A Christian’s Guide to Worry-free Money Management is a book just out from Zondervan. The suggestion that there is a specifically Christian way to do what comes naturally always raises a suspicion. The book has a chapter explaining why “Christians should practice tax avoidance-legally reducing taxes to the lowest possible amount.” Uh huh. Those who need a Bible passage to justify acting upon God-given common sense will be pleased that the authors have one readily at hand. Tax avoidance, we are told, is biblically mandated by “Render unto Caesar . . .” Next: A Christian’s Guide to Coming In Out of the Rain.
  • Writing in the Phi Beta Kappa publication, the Key Reporter, John P. Burgess, Associate for Theology at the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church (USA), has this to say: “A Society like Phi Beta Kappa can help remind us of the role of traditions and communities of interpretation in safeguarding knowledge. At a time in which all traditions are fragile, we need more than a scholarship that shakes its own foundations. We also need a scholarship that helps preserve and strengthen its own foundations. Scholarship, at its best, involves mastering traditions and wrestling with their methods and claims, in order to free us to new insight. It is like jazz piano. Those who have a classical training are best able to improvise and to test musical limits.” Burgess concludes: “Scholarship that shakes its own foundations is not necessarily good or responsible scholarship. Phi Beta Kappa can be most helpful when it carefully examines the philosophical and cultural assumptions that inform gender, race, class, and postcolonial inquiry, and when it engenders a vigorous, sustained debate across traditions and communities of inquiry, including those that do not take gender, race, and class to be ultimately determinative of human identity.” In some circles, such homely wisdom is enough to induce an identity crisis.
  • You likely won’t see the prestige media crying “McCarthyism!” but that is what it is. Richard Couser of Concord, New Hampshire, sends along a copy of the “New Hampshire Religious Right Directory,” a blacklist put out by a Massachusetts outfit calling itself the Institute for First Amendment Studies (for First Amendment studies but obviously not for the First Amendment). On the list are the names of some 325 New Hampshire citizens who have committed un-American acts such as sending a contribution to the American Family Association or attending a meeting of the Christian Coalition. While labeled “confidential,” the list was circulated to school boards, employers, and others who might want to “do something” about these dues-paying members or fellow travellers of the religious right. When the Manchester Union Leader exposed these nefarious goings on, the Governor, State Board of Education, and others appropriately condemned the witchhunt. The blacklist suggests that tolerance is fine so far as it goes, but it should not be extended to folk who go to the extreme of opposing liberalism.
  • Since the Warren Court, which was greatly bolstered in this way of thinking by the Brown decision on school desegregation, many constitutional scholars have advanced the idea that it is the role of the judiciary to moderate a national dialogue on the values by which we are to live. The idea was expressed in an extreme form by a majority of the Supreme Court in the 1992 Casey decision, wherein the Court claimed that citizens were obliged to follow the lead of the Court now that it had reached a conclusion on the national debate over abortion. This is a novel and dangerous idea, writes Gregory C. Sisk, Professor of Law at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. The idea that the judiciary is to be a national forum for moral deliberation has no basis in the Constitution itself and for 175 years of American history would have struck jurists as absurd. Writing in the Rutgers Law Review, Sisk says, “Our foundational charter begins with the words, ‘We the People of the United States,’ thereby proclaiming in whose name the Constitution is written and by whose sufferance the government holds power. We, the People, still grow up in families, live in neighborhoods, attend local schools, and belong to churches, synagogues, and voluntary organizations. It is here, in our local communities, that we must nourish values and a sense of belonging. It is here, where the moral bonds of voluntary attachment have not yet been stretched beyond the breaking point, that true dialogue, especially over the highest things- matters of ultimate truth and value, can be maintained. It is here that we must seek and realize our aspirations for the future. The Constitution is an anchor for our ship of state, not the sail for our voyage to tomorrow. The Framers did ordain certain enduring principles, which guard us on our journey and keep the passing waves of tyranny from crashing over us. When the winds of change blast us forward at dangerous speed or when we tack too hard to port or starboard, we depend upon judges of fortitude and legal wisdom to cast the anchor overboard and keep us moored in our traditions of liberty and democratic government. We have not, however, appointed an oligarchy of judges as our governors in law or our counselors in morality. The commission to seek a better and more virtuous society belongs to each of us as individuals and as a collection of diverse local communities and institutions of voluntary attachment. We, the living, must work out our own passage to the new millennium.”
  • We are often asked where to get hard-to-get books. There are a number of excellent sources around, some of which advertise regularly in these pages. And others of which should. For instance, Eighth Day Books, 3700 E. Douglas #40, Wichita KS 67208. Their catalogue of classics in religion, philosophy, history, and literature is very much worth having.
  • Our readers include some very fervent proponents of getting the Brits out of Northern Ireland, to judge by the letters received in response to a small item on Hollywood’s lionizing of Gerry Adams. We quoted British journalist Simon Jenkins who said the Hollywood celebrities, including Oliver Stone, were getting a second-hand “thrilling tingle” by their association with IRA violence. Whatever the merits of the Irish question, William D. Livingston of Colorado Springs writes to say that Jenkins got Oliver Stone all wrong. Livingston, himself a veteran of Vietnam, reports that Stone volunteered for the U.S. Army and served fifteen months in Vietnam, much of it in the combat that formed the basis for his movie Platoon. Livingston concludes, “In short, stuff Jenkins and his false assumption.” (I think that’s one of those Brit expressions.)
  • Karl Keating is President of Catholic Answers in San Diego and he was displeased by our comment on the criticism of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” by one of his colleagues that was published in the organization’s magazine, This Rock. Mr. Keating wants us to know that that was simply the opinion of one staff member, and that Catholic Answers is favorably disposed toward the declaration. We are pleased to take note of the fact.
  • “Adoption reform” sounds like a dandy idea. Unfortunately, it is the language frequently employed by those who are adamantly opposed to adoption. As with so many other questions, adoption is embroiled in the debate over abortion, with pro-abortion forces claiming that adoption is a stratagem of pro-lifers aimed at limiting “reproductive rights.” In December, the New Jersey Assembly voted to tear up promises of confidentiality made to women who had placed their children for adoption. This was after hearings in which it was repeatedly claimed that adopted kids are sick and in need of “healing reunions.” The anti- adoption groups turned out people who complained that adoption had ruined their lives. Of course those whose lives would be ruined by opening the records could not testify, since to do so would destroy the very privacy they want to protect. So the Assembly voted to pass out the names of birthparents when an adopted child turns eighteen. Thousands of women who trusted the promises of confidentiality when they placed their children for adoption may have their lives severely disrupted. The next step feared by the National Council for Adoption is that legislatures will tear up the other half of the adoption covenant, informing birthparents about adoptive families and giving them the legal right to make contact with the child at his or her adoptive home, or even at school. Some birthparents might, for any number of reasons, want to do that, but the result, says the Council, is tantamount to “co-parenting without any corresponding responsibility.” Millions of American parents want to adopt children. With sensible laws and public policies, many more children would be adopted. Confidentiality all around is essential to encouraging adoption. The New Jersey Assembly-and other states might well follow its lead-is, in our view, headed in exactly the wrong direction. The key person to contact is Senator Louis Bassano, 324 Chestnut St., Union, NJ 07083.
  • This past Christmas, Barney’s, a big men’s clothing outfit in New York, had in its display window a nativity scene with the several figures depicted as animals, including Mary as a very seductive feline wench. The Catholic League got on their case and Barney’s pulled the display. Not so with Hallmark and a good many “Christian” book and gift stores around the country. They carried a “Cherished Teddies Nativity Creche” peddled by Enesco Imports (P.O. Box 1427, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007). It’s part of the enormously popular “Precious Moments” line. Mrs. Kathleen Miller of Arlington Heights, Illinois, was not amused by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph being portrayed as teddy bears. Unlike, for instance, the fairy tale “The Three Bears,” she wrote to Enesco, “The birth of Jesus Christ is not fictional. It is not ‘cute.’ . . . The central message of Christmas is that Jesus Christ became a human being, born of a human mother, to begin a process that would transform human beings into heirs of the One Who Cared Enough to Send the Very Best.” Enesco responded that the nativity scene “is only interpretive and not meant as an act of sacrilege.” “While we respect your personal feelings regarding this representation of the Nativity, we also must take into consideration the opinions of those other consumers who enjoy and appreciate a particular artist’s artistic interpretation of a familiar Christmas scene.” First, Mrs. Miller is some kind of philistine who fails to appreciate the “art” of “Precious Moments.” Second, Enesco has a moral obligation to consumers who, like Enesco, do not recognize sacrilege when they see it. Third, albeit unstated, there is a dollar to be made (if we are correctly informed on the popularity of these things, very big dollars to be made) from suggesting to children that God in Christ became a teddy bear. In sum: You have your idea of Christmas, Mrs. Miller, and we have ours, and there are sentimental suckers out there who don’t know the difference. So don’t try to impose your values in a way that prevents us from imposing our demand on stores that they take the entire line, including the teddy bear nativity and other profitable vulgarities, or nothing at all. After all, as with other forms of pornography, you are free not to buy it. It’s the American Way. (Readers who believe that corporate responsibility is another facet of the American Way might want to drop a note to Enesco or have a word with the manager of their local Hallmark store.)
  • Leafing through an issue of Reflections, a Yale Divinity School publication that contained a lecture I had delivered there, I came across a sermon by Howard Moody, the recently retired head of Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village. The biographical sketch of Mr. Moody included the fact that he had organized “the Clergy Consultation Services on Abortion (1967) which championed the rights of women to choose childbearing.” An intriguing formulation, that. The reader might protest that it is simple nonsense. When did women not have the right to bear children? But that is to miss the point. The accent is on “choose,” and the implication is that one cannot truly choose one thing unless one is equally free to choose the opposite thing. One cannot choose to give birth to the child unless one can choose to kill the child. It is nonsense, to be sure, but it is deep nonsense-nonsense at the heart of a culture that knows no higher good than choice.
  • Our local paper advertises with billboards depicting someone happily at work over the legend, “I got my job through the New York Times.” Back in the bad old days of the Cold War, a favorite conservative cartoon showed such a billboard with Fidel Castro’s picture. What kind of church is it that would boast, “We got our pastor through the New York Times”? It is the Congregational Church of South Dennis, Massachusetts, which placed this in the classifieds: “PASTOR F/T Dynamic, exp’d prof’l sought to lead & aggressively build all phases of 175-yr-old Cape Cod parish. Goal-oriented emphasis on membership growth, visitation, Christian Education & financial growth. Incentivised compensation pkg.” The last item presumably means that s/he gets a piece of the take. Church growth comes to Cape Cod. Where does Lyle Schaller take his vacations?
  • Clause Four of the charter of the British Labor Party calls for “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.” Socialists view Clause Four as the heart of their creed, and were understandably upset last year when Labor leader Tony Blair, eager to modify the perception that Labor is stuck in radicalisms past, called for its elimination. “Socialism is the name of our dream,” wrote Irving Howe, and many of his persuasion agree. It may be that in 1995 socialism is no longer a believable option, but must we disown the dream? That seems to be the plaint of the Tablet, a Catholic journal that asks, “If Clause Four must go, what would replace it?” Blair had declared in a speech that “those who seriously believe we cannot improve on words written for the world of 1918-when we are now in 1995-are not learning from our history, but merely living in it.” Yes, responds the Tablet, “But where is that alternative form of words?” What should Blair do? The editor proposes that he should clearly commit himself and Labor to renationalizing the British rail system, which has been denationalized by the Conservatives. This is public policy serving as a “form of words.” Returning to a socialized railway is a long way from the grand goal of “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange,” but at least it would keep alive the name of the Tablet’s dream.
  • Animal Theology, published in the UK last year, is authored by Andrew Linzey, who holds what is described as the world’s first post in theology and animal welfare, at Mansfield College, Oxford. Some issues back we made a whimsical comment on some observations by Mr. Linzey that were reported in the Tablet. Mr. Linzey was not amused, as we learned in an outraged telephone call from Oxford demanding that we publish a piece by him refuting the position attributed to him. We assured him, in our most mollifying editorial manner, that we only reported what the Tablet had quoted him as saying, and we could not commit ourselves to publishing his statement sight unseen. He was not happy. Now here is Andrew Linzey once again back in the pages of the Tablet and charging that “Traditional Roman Catholic teaching puts animals beyond the moral pale-we are seen to have no direct duties to them.” As evidence, he points to the assertion in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that it is “contrary to human dignity” to cause animals to suffer needlessly. “The point being made,” says Linzey, “is not that such suffering offends animals, but that it offends humans.” An author of Animal Theology may perhaps be excused for not knowing, but anyone familiar with Catholic theology or, for that matter, Christian theology knows that human beings are uniquely capable of sinning, and every morally wrong act is contrary to human dignity. Whether or not animals are capable of being offended, they are certainly subject to being harmed, and it is contrary to human dignity to inflict harm unnecessarily. Human beings are morally accountable; animals are not. Any effort to suggest some kind of moral equivalence-whether in terms of rights or duties-between animals and human beings is, in our view, quite wrongheaded. The well-being of the nonhuman world, including animals, is deeply dependent upon our continuing to accent the singularity of human dignity, a dignity that entails responsibility for all of God’s creation. That is the point being made by the Catechism, and it is a pity that it seems to be lost on the likes of Mr. Linzey. . . . Excuse me, I’m told there’s an urgent call from Oxford.
  • Also in the Tablet, Father Richard McBrien, formerly chair of theology at Notre Dame, reviews David L. Edwards’ What is Catholicism? An Anglican Responds to the Official Teaching of the Roman Catholic Church (Mowbray). According to McBrien, the book challenges Catholic teaching on a host of subjects ranging from papal authority to sexual ethics to the ordination of women and clerical celibacy. He says the response of Catholics “who are up to date in their grasp of theology and biblical studies” will be similar to his own judgment: “good book, good ideas, but nothing new.” The book might achieve its purpose, says McBrien, “if it prompts one or two Catholic theologians to forsake their customary inhibitions and write the same kind of honest book from a Catholic perspective.” That would be something new? Father McBrien is being much too modest in failing to mention that he and a host of others have already written that book many times over.
  • New Yorkers, or at least New Yorkers who live in Manhattan, are inveterate walkers. It is therefore not surprising that snippets of overheard street talk are a staple of conversation. For example, the other day two bedraggled derelicts brown-bagging Thunderbird or perhaps some more choice vintage while tottering against the fence of Gramercy Park on East 20th Street. Says the one to the other, “I didn’t say it wasn’t a good idea. I said you’d never get it funded.” Which perhaps answers the question of what happens to failed directors of think tanks. It occurred to me that they might have been failed academics, but failed academics have tenure.
  • Part of the charm of Anne Roiphe’s style is that one is really not sure where parody leaves off and where she is unfurling her banner of personal conviction. Whatever she intends, the following column in the New York Observer nicely catches the apocalyptic tonalities among those accustomed to occupying the commanding heights of our political culture. “Boys and girls, the liberal Tinker Bell lies dying. You can hardly hear her tiny ding-dong. Clap, clap, if you want her to survive the long Republican night. There she lies, poisoned by Captain Rush and all the other pirates of the American Dream. Her voice was never loud, but her wings were once diaphanous, catching the light of human hope. Lately, they’ve turned soggy and ragged in the political rain.” Ms. Roiphe goes on and on with a catalogue of the terrible things in the offing now that conservatives have presumed to declare themselves the political majority, and she ends with this: “These days I’m feeling as if the Rosenbergs died in vain, as if the roar of American Firsters is coming over the mountaintops, as if the cruelty of politics, me and mine, not you and yours is here again-as if Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street with all its hypocrisy and its sanctimonious clubbiness has become Pennsylvania Avenue and Fifth Avenue. The Republicans are not really in power. It’s the Dixiecrats in Republican clothing that are preening on our national stage and they say nice words about equality but they don’t mean it. They will go out and find another Vietnam if they can. They will toss weapons into space so that God will not be safe in His house and they will let the trees and the waters of the earth die for their greed. And all this will go on until the liberals stop choking on old ideas and old failures and speak out in a voice that will reach the outer precincts with furious, lusty battle cry. Till then I’ll stay in never-never land, where the New York Times has no home delivery and Mayor Giuliani never vacations, and even fools don’t take bell curves at full speed. If you believe in fairies, boys and girls, clap as hard as you can, with both hands, please. The curtain is coming down.”
  • The school prayer amendment seems to be an on-again off-again thing with this Congress, and there’s no telling where it will be by the time this sees print. Amid all the usual and weary arguments surrounding that question, refreshing common sense pops up here and there, sometimes from unexpected quarters. This, for example, from Jeremy A. Rabkin who teaches government at Cornell: “It may not always be possible to satisfy everyone. If a school prayer amendment removes the federal judiciary from its current role as umpire of cultural etiquette in this area, some families are sure to find the consequences disturbing to their sensibilities. If the most insistently liberal or secularist students find their schools to be intolerably religious or conservative or whatever, they are free to attend private schools more to their liking-which is exactly the advice given to students who sought some acknowledgment of religion in their schools over the past thirty years. Indeed, many and perhaps most conservatives would support some form of government aid to these private liberal havens-as long as the courts would also allow aid to private schools operated under religious auspices. Even if not finally adopted, a prayer amendment would send a strong signal to the Supreme Court to leave difficult issues such as accommodation of religion to the good sense of accountable officials at the state and local levels. Whatever those officials might do, they are unlikely to offend more people than the federal courts have done.”

Sources: James K. Fitzpatrick criticism
of “distributism,” New Oxford Review, December 1994. Dermot
Quinn on distributism, Chesterton Review, May-August 1994. Marc
Cooper on the Christian right in Colorado Springs, Nation, January
2, 1994.

While We’re At It: “Judeo-Christian Sexual Ethics Through the Ages” in San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 1994. Daniel Callahan letter on physician-assisted suicide, New England Journal of Medicine, December 15, 1994. John P. Burgess on scholarship, Key Reporter, Autumn 1994. Gregory C. Sisk on Supreme Court rule, Rutgers Law Review, Summer 1994. On “the rights of women to choose childbearing,” Reflections, Summer-Fall 1994. Pastor’s ad in New York Times classified, January 15, 1995. On British Labor Party, Tablet, January 14, 1995. Andrew Linzey on animal rights, Tablet, January 14, 1995. Richard McBrien review of What Is Catholicism? in Tablet, January 7, 1995. Anne Roiphe on the current liberal mood, New York Observer, January 23, 1995. Jeremy Rabkin on the proposed school prayer amendment, American Spectator, February 1995.