The Public Square
We did it in 1992, and now we’ve gone and done it again. After five full years of publication, we thought it time to survey our subscribers once more. We thank all of you who received the detailed questionnaire and took the time to answer our questions. Of course such a survey cannot tell us who you are in all your irreducible singularity. But it does offer a statistical profile of subscribers to FT, and I thought you might be as interested in the results as we are. To tell the truth, the results are not all that different from 1992, which is another indication that the readership is pretty stable. (That, we are told, is good. In marketing terms, it means FT has found its “niche.”) Of course there are many more readers now than there were in 1992.
I will take the items as they come in the report, not necessarily in order of importance. (The plus and minus signs in parenthesis indicate changes from 1992.) And please note that we’re talking about subscribers. As we shall see, there are many more readers than subscribers, despite our best efforts to get the freeloaders to subscribe. First, you are (collectively speaking) 85 percent male and 15 percent female. We don’t take that too seriously, however. Many subscribers are “Mr. and Mrs,” and it seems that in most households it is the husband’s job to fill out questionnaires, women having more important things to do.
Forty-two percent of you are Roman Catholic (+ 2), 49 percent are Protestant (-5), and 8 percent are “Other” (+2). The Jewish readership is still much lower than we would like, and we don’t know how to explain that. Given all the evidence that Jews are unusually big on reading, and given the level of Jewish participation in institute programs and in FT, one would expect that we would have more Jewish readers than simply the proportion of Jews in the general population. We’ll keep working at it, and will in no way reduce the attention given to the Jewish–Christian connection, which is crucial to the religious and cultural renewal that FT seeks to advance.
We’re pleased that the Protestant–Catholic ratio has remained quite steady. In view of the high-profile ecclesial transition of the Editor- in-Chief, there was a worry about a possible Protestant drop-off, but that hasn’t happened. FT will continue to be determinedly ecumenical. Among Protestants, the denominational distribution is like this: 20 percent Presbyterian (-5), 20 percent Lutheran (+2), 14 percent Episcopalian, 14 percent Baptist (+7), 10 percent Methodist (+3), and 19 percent “Other” (-6). One percent are Eastern Orthodox. Relative to their percentage of the general population, Presbyterians are high and Episcopalians are very high. (I’m speaking here about the number of subscribers.) One can speculate that the increase in Baptists and Methodists may be related to FT’s increased attention to evangelicals in the last three years.
Eighty-eight percent of all subscribers attend church once a week or more, and another 5 percent attend at least once a month. Eighty-two percent say they pray once a day or more, and another 9 percent pray two or three times per week. Fifty-eight percent hold a leadership position in their church. Comments sent back indicate that some respondents were not happy with the categories we proposed, but, when asked about their theological orientation, 7 percent checked charismatic, 62 percent conservative/traditionalist, 21 percent evangelical Protestant, 7 percent liberal, 2 percent fundamentalist, and 1 percent New Age. We’ll have to work at refining that question, but if we assume that conservative/traditionalist and evangelical Protestant fall on the conservative end of the spectrum (which may not be a safe assumption about all evangelicals), it would seem that 83 percent of you consider yourselves theologically conservative.
Liberals & ConservativesIn trying to determine the “fit” between how subscribers view themselves and how they view FT, we used a number of questions in which respondents rated themselves and FT on a scale of one to ten. Fifty-one percent think FT is strongly conservative theologically, while 59 percent rate themselves that way. Similarly, 49 percent say FT is strongly conservative politically, while 56 percent identify themselves that way. So it would seem that a majority of readers think FT is somewhat less conservative both theologically and politically than they are. Five percent of readers say they are, both theologically and politically, strongly liberal.
As I say, there’s a great deal of uneasiness these days about what is meant by conservative and liberal, and you can do numerous variations in crunching the numbers from a survey such as this. On a scale of 1 to 10, for instance, 1, 2, and 3 would be “strongly” liberal and 8, 9, and 10 represent “strongly” conservative. Thus 4, 5, 6, and 7 represent something like the “moderate” range. By that measure, 48 percent of respondents say that FT is, theologically and politically, in the moderate range, but it is moderation tilted clearly toward the conservative side of things.
Another complicating factor is that the L-word is so unpopular now that, as has been demonstrated in several other surveys, even in liberal circles liberals hesitate to call themselves liberals. In such circles, however, there is an equal or stronger reluctance to identify oneself as a conservative. Some analysts say that anyone today who does not assertively call himself a conservative is in fact a liberal. Crunching the numbers by that rule (about which I have my doubts), 45 percent of FT subscribers are liberals of one sort or another, which is counterintuitive. And I haven’t mentioned the additional factor that theological self-ratings depend, to a significant extent, on one’s ecclesial placement. To cite an obvious instance, to be a liberal in the Southern Baptist Convention is very different from being a liberal in the Episcopal Church. So the usual dash of salt is in order for these findings on liberal/conservative propensities.
Confusions & CuriositiesAsked to write in who is “the most influential religious figure in America today,” 38 percent of Catholics and 17 percent of Protestants said John Paul II. Obviously, we should have said “American religious figure.” Billy Graham got the vote of 13 percent of Catholics and 42 percent of Protestants, with John Cardinal O’Connor coming next (19 and 1 percent), followed by Pat Robertson (3 and 6 percent), James Dobson (2 and 9 percent), and then, trailing off, Richard John Neuhaus, Charles Colson, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, and Mother Angelica. An office wag notes that I tied with Jesus, both of us being named more often by Protestants than by Catholics. Some things are better left unanalyzed.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents are age fifty-five or above (+8), which of course means that 41 percent (-8) are under fifty-five. Part of the graying of the readership is that steady subscribers are now three years older than they were in 1992, but we don’t know how to account for the other 5 percent increase in age. We’re not really worried about it. Some of us think that fifty-five or sixty is the peak of life and professional influence, and FT is designed for “influentials.” But we probably should be doing something—although we know not just what—to reach younger readers.
Sixty-nine percent of respondents are married, 6 percent (+5) are divorced or separated, 21 percent (-5) have never been married, and 4 percent are widowed. The “never married” category is larger than might be expected because of the number of priest subscribers. Subscribers are a very highly educated lot, with 24 percent (-9) having a Ph. D. or equivalent, and another 41 percent (+10) having a masters degree. So that’s 65 percent with a postgraduate degree. Three percent did not go to college. Fourteen percent (-20) of respondents say they are currently in graduate courses, seminary, or other post-college study.
Sixty-nine percent of respondents are currently employed, 28 percent (+ 7) are retired, and 3 percent are unemployed. More Protestants are employed than Catholics (74–61) and more Catholics are retired than Protestants (38–22). At 25 percent (-4), the largest occupational group is clergy, with “professor,” “teacher,” “business,” “editor/writer,” and “lawyer” following in that order. Forty-seven percent are professionally in the business of producing and communicating ideas. (Fifty-two percent if you count lawyers.) Sixteen percent of Catholic subscribers are clergy, compared with 35 percent of Protestants. This is not surprising if one keeps in mind that the clergy–laity ratio among Protestants is more than three times higher than among Catholics.
Thirty percent of subscribers live in the Northeast, 11 percent on the West Coast, 18 percent in the South, and 28 percent in the Midwest. Most journals of intellectual seriousness have a much stronger concentration on the two coasts. The difference with FT, it is reasonable to suppose, is the “religion factor.” Moving on to other things, 67 percent of respondents own their principal residence, and 39 percent have children at home, with 38 percent of those children being preschool or in elementary school. Twenty-one percent of all children of respondents are considering attending a Christian college or seminary.
Despite the 25 percent of clergy, who are generally lower-paid, subscribers are an affluent lot. Six percent have a total household income of $25
0,000 or more, and 31 percent are over $75,000. Eleven percent report a household income of less than $25
,000. Although we didn’t ask the 1992 question in quite the same way, it is evident that, taking inflation into account, subscribers are more affluent now than then. That likely correlates with the fact that they are, on average, somewhat older. Eighteen percent of subscribers have been with us since the very first issue, and 56 percent have subscribed for more than two years, which is about what one would expect in view of subscription growth and FT’s very high renewal rates.
What You ReadSeventy-six percent say they read everything or most everything in each issue. Respondents were asked to rate their favorite sections in FT. (Since sections were rated separately, the total is considerably more than 100 percent.) Fifty-seven percent gave top ratings to the articles, 15 percent to correspondence, 8 percent to the “This Time” column, 3 percent to poetry, 22 percent to book reviews, 32 percent to editorials, 29 percent to opinion pieces, and 71 percent to “The Public Square.” Obviously, the poetry is not a big favorite among our readers, and we’re not entirely surprised. This reflects the status of poetry in today’s culture, but also the fact that, despite the heroic efforts of poetry editor Jill Baumgaertner, great poetry is hard to find. It is said that there are more people today writing poetry than reading poetry. Were there more great poems, one expects there would be more people reading poetry. We’re thinking about what might be done about this.
Eighty-eight percent report that they spend two hours or more reading each issue, with 36 percent spending four hours or more. (A doctor writes to complain that her practice is suffering because she takes out two days for each issue.) Sixty-six percent save their issues after reading them, while 24 percent pass them on to others or donate them to a library. The editors are shocked, shocked, that 10 percent discard their issues after reading them. Sixty-one percent report that their issues are read by two or more people. And of course there is much copying for use in classrooms and study groups, plus passing around of individual items. This is the multiplier effect which is very important to the influence of a journal. The publishing rule of thumb for a journal such as FT is that there are four readers for every subscriber, which means that, for instance, 30,000 subscribers translates into 120,000 readers. That is a rough estimate; it could be more or less, and is obviously more when items are reprinted in other publications. (We are very generous in giving reprint permission, but please note that we do like to be asked.)
FT readers are also voracious readers of books. Ninety-five percent report that, on average, they read one or more books per month, with 49 percent reading three or more. Sixty-three percent buy ten books or more per year, with 22 percent buying thirty or more. Seventy percent have joined a book club at some time, and 35 percent are members of a club now. As to what people read, the top areas of interest are religion, politics, and theology, with strong showings for history, social issues, and philosophy.
On average, respondents subscribe to 3.4 magazines other than FT. The list goes on and on, many of them being professional publications. Publications to which 5 percent or more of respondents subscribe are: American Spectator (5), Christianity Today (6), National Review (8), U.S. News & World Report (6), and Newsweek (5). Of publications that address the mix of questions similar to those addressed by FT, 3 percent subscribe to America, 3 to Catholic World Report, 2 to Commonweal, 2 to New Republic, 2 to American Scholar, 4 to Atlantic Monthly, 2 to Christian Century, 2 to Commentary, 3 to New Oxford Review, 2 to Chronicles, and 2 to Crisis.
Almost without exception, only Catholics subscribe to the Catholic publications and only Protestants to the Protestant ones. While only 2 percent subscribe to Christian Century and Crisis, it appears they are enthusiastic subscribers, since two percent also rate those as their favorite magazines. Of the more than 380 magazines mentioned by readers, 36 percent of our subscribers report that FT is their favorite publication. And when we eliminate the hobby, entertainment, travel, sports, and unrelated professional magazines, it seems that FT is almost everybody’s favorite, which is very gratifying indeed.
A few more snippets from the survey. Fifty-one percent of you addressed a public forum in the past year, 54 percent wrote a letter to the editor, 88 percent are involved in civic or charitable activities, 11 percent in work for a political party, 64 percent are Republican, 20 percent Democrat, and 16 percent belong to another or no party. Ninety- three percent voted in the 1994 Congressional election. As for leisure activities, travel, music concerts, sports, and gardening rate high, but everything else is swamped by reading, which 85 percent rate as their top leisure activity. Only 15 percent put television near the top, slightly under movies at 17 percent. As for music, you are big classical buffs (73 percent). Interest descends through jazz, opera, and country until it gets to rock music at 11 percent. Twenty-four percent of you bought ten or more records, tapes, or CDs in the past year. Forty-five percent made ten or more purchases by mail at an average price per purchase of $40
or more. Sixty-nine percent have a personal computer, and 44 percent spent more than $100 on software last year. Seventy-two percent took at least one domestic flight and 29 percent flew overseas in the past year.
Sorting Things OutI’m not sure what to make of all this, but I confess that my interest in who out there is reading the journal is near insatiable. I get to meet some of you personally when speaking around the country. You always have such nice things to say about FT, and that’s a great encouragement. I have an uneasiness, though. This is a very big country, and the number of people who read anything serious is relatively small. But should it be worrying that there is so little overlap among readerships of different publications?
I started to count the other day, and stopped at sixty-four periodicals that I read more or less regularly. Of course that’s crazy, but it’s a craziness that attends a perhaps obsessive need to be “on top of” different conversations-and a need to churn out all the words for this section and other forums each month. Numerous comments from readers indicate that many count on The Public Square to keep them abreast of what is being said elsewhere, which is fine. But I still wonder about these many discrete and apparently quite separate conversations that are going on.
That’s what a journal is, a conversation. It seems there are these many conversations—FT, Commentary, Christian Century, American Scholar, Commonweal—passing like ships in the night. Even with much larger circulation magazines such as New Republic and National Review, there is very little overlap. Mass circulation magazines such as Time and Newsweek can declare something to be the very epicenter of the national consciousness that week, and the overwhelming majority of people are quite unaware of it. Perhaps it has always been that way, and we kid ourselves when we think that there is a national conversation about anything.
And yet I suspect there is something like a national conversation about the mix of questions involved in religion, culture, society, and politics. The conversation is certainly not through television or newspapers, which are mostly just bulletin boards on which people paste notices about a relatively few things that are happening. What is something like a conversation is FT and similar publications in which writers who are engaged in other conversations set forth their views, enabling readers to get an indirect account of what is being said elsewhere. It is a little like television surfing where you hit on a channel that is itself surfing but has access to more channels than you do, or like an Internet site that serves as a clearinghouse for numerous other sites.
A homelier analogy is a small town where, if one hangs out at Frank’s General Store, one will sooner or later learn about almost everything of interest that is said or done in the town. It is probably the congeniality of the company—meaning, very importantly, a respect for the intelligence of those involved in the conversation—that most determines where one hangs out. In any event, the editors and writers of FT are grateful that so many of you have decided to hang out here.
There is room for a lot more regulars, however. Here we have a problem. We enlist new subscribers primarily through direct mail solicitation. For that you need lists, mainly obtained from other periodicals, of people who would likely be interested in FT. The many lists we have used during the past five years are like the “burned over” territories of nineteenth-century evangelism; most of those who are winnable have been won. Subscription growth in the future will depend more and more upon you who are already subscribers. Gift subscriptions, talking up FT with friends and associates, sending us names of potential subscribers to whom we can send a complimentary copy—these things are important. If you can put them to good use, perhaps at your local church or study group, we’ll gladly send you brochures describing FT. In sum, we have to depend upon your interest to interest others who should be part of the conversation. How many are out there? We have no idea. But then, five years ago we didn’t know that so many of you were out there either.
The “Lessons” of Vietnam
The “Lessons” of Vietnam
With the debate over the U.S. role in Bosnia, there is once again much fretting over “the Vietnam syndrome.” President Bush said after the Gulf War that the syndrome had finally been put behind us. President Reagan said much the same at different times. Of course they were wrong. The explanation of why they were wrong is one of the many contributions of a new book by Adam Garfinkle, Telltale Hearts: The Origins and Impact of the Vietnam Antiwar Movement (St. Martins, $24.95
The Vietnam syndrome, albeit in changing permutations, will be with us for a long time. Garfinkle writes: “Consider the fact that between 1959 and 1975—the first and last years that there were U.S. casualties in Vietnam—about sixty million Americans turned eighteen years of age. In 2020 these generational cohorts will be at the height of their social power. At least four presidential elections may be influenced decisively by them, the first one having been in 1992. What they learned from their seminal political experience—the Vietnam War and the antiwar movement—is therefore of more than marginal importance.” (The figures don’t quite work, since someone who turned eighteen in 1959 will be seventy-nine in 2020, but the point is clear enough.)
The author’s tone of understatement gives added credibility to what is certainly one of the more important books written about the Vietnam experience. Garfinkle, who is a resident scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, has to make an effort to maintain that tone in describing the conceits and self-serving lies of the radical antiwar movement of the era. Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Jane Fonda, Stokely Carmichael—although Garfinkle does not put it quite this way, he has come to despise them all. One gathers he came to that view reluctantly. He despises them not because they prevented the U.S. from “winning” in Vietnam. It is the burden of his book that the radical antiwar movement had very little bearing on the outcome of the war; if anything, it may have protracted U.S. involvement in Vietnam. No, he despises that radical claque because of what it did to a generation of young Americans, with consequences that will reverberate through decades to come, and because of what it did to liberalism in America, and especially to the Democratic Party.
The central boast of Hayden and company is that it was their historic achievement to have stopped the war in Vietnam. In these pages, witness after witness comes forward, many of them from tenured perches in elite universities, to declare that, whatever may have been wrong with what they did in the sixties, they ended the war in Vietnam. “You can’t take that away from us,” they defiantly assert. And that is precisely what Garfinkle intends to take away from them, and for the most part he succeeds.
The Turning of OpinionIn the years prior to the emergence of the radical antiwar movement in 1965, according to Garfinkle, the military policies pursued under Kennedy and Johnson were both confused and ineffectual. Nonetheless, U.S. actions in Vietnam had overwhelming public support at home, and Lyndon Johnson used public antipathy to the radicals in order to increase that support. Only with the media’s misrepresentation of the 1968 Tet offensive as a U.S. defeat, and, more definitively, with Johnson’s March 31, 1968 speech suggesting that commitment to the war was under reappraisal, and announcing that he would not run for reelection, did public opinion begin to turn against the war. The stepping back from the war that Johnson began was completed by Nixon and Kissinger. Not, says Garfinkle, because of pressure from the antiwar movement but because Nixon and Kissinger viewed Vietnam as an inconvenient obstacle that stood in the way of their more ambitious strategy for a global realignment of power.
Garfinkle makes his case persuasively, but on at least one important point he is less than convincing. Throughout, he tries to make a clear distinction between the “radical” and “liberal” (sometimes he says “right liberal”) antiwar movements. He describes with intelligent relish the arcane conflicts and internecine wars within the radical factions— the socialists, communists, anarchists, pacifists, counterculturalists, and how they were variously entangled with the rock and drug worlds bequeathed to us by the Woodstock Nation. His contention that that conglomeration of radicalisms did little or nothing to end the war, and maybe even prolonged it, is persuasive.
But he seems not to know quite what to do with that other antiwar movement of the liberals and right liberals. At this point I must declare interest, for I was intensely engaged in some of the organizations discussed by Garfinkle. I was for years on the national board of SANE, the organization most publicly associated with Norman Cousins, Norman Thomas, and Dr. Benjamin Spock. (To my later regret, I sided with Spock against Cousins in opening SANE to the left, which led to its eventual assimilation into the anti-Amerika posture of the radicals.) And, in the fall of 1964, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and I started Clergy Concerned About Vietnam (later called Clergy and Laity Concerned [CALC], which also veered sharply to the left by 1971, after I had withdrawn from a leadership role).
Garfinkle seems ambivalent about the more liberal and “establishment” antiwar movement represented by SANE and CALC. In his account, such organizations segue into the discussion of “Congressional antiwar influence” as exercised by, for instance, Senators William Fulbright and Mark Hatfield. It is true that “our” part of the antiwar movement, although it had its moments of high drama, was not nearly so colorful as the countercultural antics of the Yippies, Maoists, Motherf______, and assorted anarchists. But it takes a contorted redefinition of influence to deny that the liberal pressure against the war had a significant bearing, for better or for worse, on decision-making.
Prior to the abandonment of fixed war aims in his March 1968 speech, Johnson was consulting regularly with the “Wise Men”—including Dean Acheson, George Ball, McGeorge Bundy, General Omar Bradley, John J. McCloy, and Arthur Goldberg. Garfinkle attributes to the Wise Men great influence in turning Johnson against the war, and rightly so. But he suggests that the antiwar movement had little or no impact on their thinking. “If anything, the movement served as a once—or twice—removed psychological factor in the irresoluteness of a small group of important people already tormented by their own doubts.”
Well, yes, but psychological factors are what inner torment is about. We know from their public and private statements that some of these men were deeply anxious about what was happening in the streets, and especially on the campuses. Moreover, most of them were very much part of the world of liberal discourse (as “liberal” was then understood) and were in regular conversation with people in what Garfinkle calls the “liberal right” antiwar movement. Then too, the slogan of the radicals, “We Are Your Children,” had a good measure of truth. They were disproportionately the children of the affluent and powerful; and their elders in the elite were not only eager to appease them but also to “identify” with their protest as an expression of moral idealism.
OverlappingsI confess I found myself cheering Garfinkle on in his attack against the radical anti-Amerikanists. They were an awful pain in the neck-self- important, self-righteous, self-indulgent, dime-store nihilists. Yet the overlap between liberals, “radicalized” liberals, and all-out leftists and revolutionaries (both political and cultural revolutionaries) was greater than Garfinkle usually allows, as was the overlap between that confused combination of antiwar pressure and decisions about war policy. Moreover, in that confused combination Garfinkle generally neglects the role of religious organizations. Not simply groups such as CALC, but the powerful organizational and cultural force of almost all the oldline churches of the time. At points Garfinkle acknowledges this neglect of religion, explaining that his chief interest is in the radicals, and for them the movement was their religion.
About that he is entirely right. I recall a bizarre meeting of CALC, when it was fast turning to the left, in which the proposal was seriously debated whether CALC should declare itself to be a church, since that is where thousands of people found their real “spiritual meaning.” Garfinkle is especially good in detailing the ways in which the radical antiwar movement peaked at the Chicago convention of 1968 and then fell into faction-ridden disarray. More attention might have been paid, however, to the fact that the largest, best-financed, and most stable organizational base for radical politics continued to be the liberal churches and ancillary institutions. He quotes Michael Ferber, a radical activist who wrote in the Nation in 1987, “The religious left is the only left we’ve got.” Not all the countercultural enthusiasms but certainly the politics of 1968 had a long afterlife in the churches. In some ghettoized religious circles, it is still 1968, although what goes on in such circles has in recent years been overshadowed by political activism on the conservative end of the religious spectrum.
Why It HappenedSo who lost Vietnam? Or does that question make any sense? Here is Garfinkel’s answer: “The antiwar movement neither lost the war nor caused the subsequent bloodbath in Southeast Asia. In the broadest sense, the war was lost because the American ship of state itself had lost its bearings. The expansion of containment to Asia and its post- Korean War militarization merged with a rapidly expanding economic base to produce a level of American hubris that was bound to send its ship of state onto the rocks sooner or later. However morally motivated, the U.S. commitment to Vietnam was strategically unsound; thus, even had the war been won the costs might well have exceeded any strategic benefits. But the war was not won because U.S. administrative, diplomatic, and especially military strategies failed. In other words, even beyond a flawed decision to commit itself, which flowed from the lack of a realistic strategy for containing polycentric communism in the geostrategic peripheries of the Cold War, the Vietnam War was lost by some combination of the U.S. military’s inability to adapt to politico- military counterinsurgency warfare, ill-advised micromanagement of the war by Pentagon civilians, and maladroit meddling in South Vietnam’s stygian political system. None of these sources of American defeat was set in motion or significantly worsened either by antiwar activism or by fear of it in Washington.”
The book makes a good case for that conclusion, except, as I said, that in Garfinkle’s determination to discredit the antiwar crazies he underestimates the impact of the “liberal right” opposition to the war. I am sometimes asked whether, thirty years later, I regret having opposed U.S. policy in Southeast Asia. Of course there are some things I said and did that I regret, but no, I do not regret opposing the war. Successive Administration statements about the aims of the war—a factor critical to judging the justice of any conflict—were obscure and frequently contradictory; the human cost of the war was indeterminable; the prosecution of the war was mired in military incompetence and political mendacity. Blame for the disaster that was Vietnam is broadly shared, but the person chiefly responsible, I thought then and think now, was Lyndon Johnson.
But I also thought then and think now that I could have been wrong to oppose U.S. policy. During those years, I had two brothers fighting in Vietnam, I had parishioners killed in Vietnam, and I had my dear friend, the late Paul Ramsey, a moral theologian of great distinction, hammering away relentlessly at my every argument. Opposing the war seemed to me a morally solemn and risky thing to do, which is no doubt why I share Adam Garfinkle’s revulsion from radicalisms that exploited the war to indulge revolutionary fantasies or to excuse the trashing of civilizational constraints.
Telltale Hearts is by no means the last book on Vietnam, but it is one of the best so far. Among its merits is that it helps us understand why for many years to come Americans will be trying to sort out “the lessons of Vietnam.” And we may be sure that at the end of the road there will be an ultimate sorting out in which all of us who were around then will learn what we should and should not have done during the sixties. In the view of many of us, those years started out with such stirring promise—the civil rights movement of Dr. King, the election of JFK, John XXIII, the Vatican Council—and then they turned out to be, in Auden’s apt phrase for the thirties, a slum of a decade. Telltale Hearts recounts some of the seedier aspects of life in the ideological, cultural, and spiritual slums, and helps us understand why the rehabilitation that is perhaps now underway is going to take a very long time.
And a Footnote
And a Footnote
Adam Garfinkle writes, “Robert S. McNamara has an unusual—perhaps unique—talent for error in that he has not only been ineluctably wrong in all the major policy judgments he has made in his life, but he has subsequently been wrong about how and why he was wrong.” That is a hard judgment, but Garfinkle supports it by reference to the public record and to McNamara’s recent memoir, In Retrospect. Last November I was struck by McNamara’s “reconciliation” visit to Hanoi to meet with the former North Vietnamese commander, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap. According to the New York Times, McNamara said he found remarkable “the lack of hostility and the willingness to meet and discuss what was in a very real sense a tragedy for both nations.” He added, “There’s really no difference between him and me.”
If he meant that merely as a personal comment about himself and Giap, the Kennedy “whiz kid” and former Secretary of Defense may have said more than he knew. But if the implication is that there is no difference between the U.S. and Hanoi, that is moral equivalence on a grand scale, assuming one can associate Secretary McNamara with anything grand. Thirty years late he has caught up with the Tom Haydens and David Dellingers. The Times report continues: “The Vietnamese general sat comfortably, smiling and talkative. He posed for pictures with the journalists gathered nearby. He looked like a grandfather holding court in the family room. Mr. McNamara appeared more the eager and slightly nervous technocrat, furiously scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad as General Giap spoke.”
It took me back to a 1967 meeting in McNamara’s office at the Pentagon. William Sloane Coffin, Rabbi Heschel, and, I believe, Dick Fernandez of CALC were also there. McNamara was assisted by Cyrus Vance, later Secretary of State under Jimmy Carter, as they earnestly displayed charts illustrating an electronic corridor that would run across the width of Vietnam and would, McNamara assured us, bring the war to a sure and successful conclusion. We, on the other hand, spoke about the criteria of justified war, about prudential judgments, about the failed military–technical fixes of the past, and why it was so difficult to credit the Administration’s optimistic claims about the progress being made in Vietnam. While we talked, McNamara, like an eager and slightly nervous technocrat, furiously scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad.
As we parted, he effusively thanked us for all he had learned from the discussion. I wanted to believe him then, but it was not easy. Thirty years later, after In Retrospect, after the Hanoi visit, after his tearful public appearances confessing the “terribly wrong” things the U.S. did in Vietnam, his credibility is not increased. If he is asking forgiveness, of course we should not refuse, although there are others whose forgiveness he needs more than ours. One’s impression, however, is not so much of someone asking forgiveness as of a septuagenarian whiz kid eagerly explaining to us how at last he has figured out how he got it wrong, and in the course of his explanation getting it wrong, albeit very differently wrong, all over again. The kindest thing is simply to look away.
A Disruption But Not a Rupture
A Disruption But Not a Rupture
The issue of the Weekly Standard was dated Christmas Day. Against a black background, the cover blazons “ABORTION and the Republican Party,” with the subhead, “A New Approach, by Noemie Emery.” Apart from the infelicity of the date, one wondered why TWS thought a new approach was needed. A few months earlier, in the very second issue of William Kristol’s new-born magazine, a strikingly lucid and forceful editorial set forth what was presumably the TWS approach to the abortion question. And who is Noemie Emery? Described as a freelance writer, she is (or was) an unknown with absolutely no public record or credibility on issues related to the abortion debate. She was an improbable choice to write an article that seemed to position TWS against its own declared convictions.
Her “new” approach, it turns out, is but another turn on the old “personally opposed” lament. Abortion is simply awful but there’s not much to be done about it politically or legally; pro-lifers are only hurting their cause by being perceived as extremists and should content themselves with working for cultural change and helping women with crisis pregnancies. Thanks a lot. Hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers who have over the last twenty-five years given their all to working for the protection of the unborn and have, at great sacrifice, established thousands of crisis pregnancy and postnatal care centers across the country really don’t need advice like that from TWS.
The puzzlement deepened when William Bennett’s office faxed the Emery article to all and sundry, suggesting that it helped explain what many viewed as his own recently confused thoughts on what should be done about abortion. National Review directed its editorial fire at the Emery–Bennett approach, declaring it morally incoherent and politically dumb. The Republican platform’s proposed constitutional amendment to bring the unborn within the protections of legal due process, NR said, was key to Republican success in 1980, 1984, and 1988; to withdraw that proposal now would alienate a large constituency that is crucial to the party and would surrender what most Americans recognize as the moral high ground in the abortion controversy.
It is hard to know what to make of all this. Bennett—who is fond of saying that if you aren’t playing offense you’re playing defense— complains that he has been misunderstood and issues clarifications. It seems unlikely that TWS intended with its Christmas issue to spurn the pro-life movement and undercut its own editorial position, although the flap reflects a certain want of editorial purpose, which is perhaps not surprising in a magazine’s initial phase. It would be very surprising were TWS and Bennett to align themselves with Governors Weld, Whitman, and Wilson—and with country club and Wall Street funders—in trying to remove the constitutional amendment from the Republican platform.
The fracas has aroused suspicions among many conservatives that the “neocons” associated with TWS and Bennett are not as committed as they had claimed to the cultural and moral concerns that drive the conservative insurgency. The immovable keystone in the political architecture of that insurgency is the abortion question, and there is no doubt that some neoconservatives have revealed their ignorance of—or, worse, indifference to—the compex worlds of the pro-life movement. The “paleoconservatives” who rally around Pat Buchanan have long contended that the neocons are really secular liberals who use religion and the cultural issues for their own dubious purposes. The criticism is grossly unfair, but there is no doubt that it is now getting a more sympathetic hearing. Suspicions once aroused will not easily be dispelled. There is good reason to hope, however, that this disruption will not mean a rupture of the remarkable coalition that in recent years has begun to restore a measure of moral sanity to our public life.
Dialogue and Diversions
Dialogue and Diversions
Rabbi Alan Silverstein is president of the Rabbinical Assembly of America, the main association of Conservative rabbis. He is alarmed about religion in politics, and about the Christian Coalition most particularly. He writes, “The official Catholic Church, most mainline Protestant groups, and the vast majority of the Jewish religious community urge the Christian Coalition to turn away from partisan imperatives.” Rabbi Silverstein proposes that Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews “launch a dialogue across America” without “public policy diversions.” The purpose is to isolate and discredit the Christian Coalition.
In support of his proposal, he cites selected passages from my writings and also invokes the authority of the Catholic bishops conference. While all of us should join the rabbi in warning against the dangers of turning political disagreements into religious warfare, purposeful dialogue about the role of religion in our common life can hardly dismiss concerns for real change as “public policy diversions.” Specifically, Rabbi Silverstein suggests that measures aimed at protecting the unborn “would deny Jews the free exercise of our religious rights” because Judaism teaches that abortion is permissible “if the mother’s emotional health is in jeopardy.” Leave aside the fact that many Jewish authorities challenge such a liberal reading of the tradition, the rabbi’s logic would seem to be an instance of doing precisely what he criticizes others for doing, namely, “imposing their beliefs upon the rest of society.” Judaism says that abortion should be available when wanted for reasons of a woman’s “emotional health,” and therefore “the rest of society” is prevented from legally protecting the unborn.
Rabbi Silverstein is also opposed to vouchers and other means of supporting parental choice in education because they would “tamper with our church/state separation.” “Moreover,” he writes, “only in destitute, inner-city neighborhoods will public vouchers for the proposed $500 per child enable poor children to opt for low-cost private education. Certainly in the suburbs, several hundred dollars is not the breaking point between attending or avoiding prestigious prep schools.” Well, yes, but the campaign for parental choice is most particularly aimed at helping the poor to escape the devastated and devastating government school systems in our cities, not to help wealthy Jews or gentiles get their kids into prestigious prep schools.
Rabbi Silverstein’s call for dialogue and civil discourse is no doubt sincere, and I am honored by his appeal to what I have said on these questions. But I must decline, as the Catholic bishops must surely decline, his invitation to be recruited to his defense of the status quo on abortion, school choice, and much else. Most oldline Protestants and almost all of organized Jewry are terrified by the insurgency represented by the Christian Coalition. However wrongheaded, some of that fear is understandable. Much of it, if not most of it, is simply resentment of a political and moral challenge to the policies and the people that have dominated our public life over the last half century and more. It is perhaps good that the Rabbinical Assembly has been awakened to the challenge, but it is much too late in the day for Rabbi Silverstein’s proposed “nonpartisan” dialogue to oppose it. Some of those whom he invites to join him in opposing the challenge are very much part of the challenge. At this late date, the Christian Coalition cannot be isolated, nor should it be. The dialogue that is long overdue is one that would address the increasing isolation of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and other organizations of American Jewry.
While We’re At It
While We’re At It
• Very slowly and carefully, those committed to Christian unity are taking the measure of the ecumenical consequences of the ordination of women. Dr. Eugene Brand of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) usually speaks with great care. Addressing a recent consultation on women in Geneva, however, it seems he got carried away by the need to assure them that the LWF would “not sell out the ordination of women” to gain communion with the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches. “We should not ask, ‘Is it possible to ordain women?’ We should ask, ‘Is there any earthly reason why women should not be ordained?’ The only answer to that question is no.” The only answer? In fidelity to a tradition of almost two thousand years, the three bodies that hold to a sacramental view of ministry in apostolic succession—Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican—unanimously answered the question otherwise. In 1994 and 1995 the Catholic Church again—this time in a form that clearly makes the teaching unchangeable in the future—declared that the Church is not authorized to ordain women to the priesthood. As much as we can say “never” about anything in history, we can say that the Orthodox will never ordain women to the priesthood. The fact is that, among churches with a sacramental and apostolic view of ordination, the tradition was unbroken until 1974 when a few Episcopalian women were illegally ordained. The illegality was later regularized by the Episcopal Church in this country, and now the Church of England has followed suit. But the worldwide Anglican communion, counting fifty to sixty million members, is still divided on the question. The Catholic Church has more than a billion members, and the Orthodox approximately 200 million. It follows that, among the churches holding to a catholic view of ministry, those who have broken with the tradition—and that only within the last few years—claim about 3 percent of the membership. In addition, the great majority of Protestants who do not subscribe to a catholic view of priesthood (Baptists, Missouri Synod Lutherans, orthodox Calvinists, et al.) believe that ordaining women is precluded on biblical grounds. The inescapable conclusion is that ordaining women is a very recent North American–European innovation accepted by a very small part of world Christianity. Whether that very small part represents the wave of the future or a temporary aberration of our theologically confused times is a question about which people can disagree. But to say that no is the “only answer” to the question of whether there is any reason why women should not be (or cannot be) ordained is to write off two millennia of tradition and the practice of the overwhelming majority of Christians in the world today. The assertion is confrontational rather than dialogical. It is a sectarian affront to the ecumenism that the Lutheran World Federation was formed to advance. And it is most atypical of the carefully considered statements that we have over the years come to expect from Dr. Eugene Brand. A small minority of Christians, and a much smaller minority of those holding to a catholic view of ministry, have in recent years decided that it is possible to ordain women to the priesthood. Through reasoned argument they can try to make the case for their innovation. Nobody’s interests are served, and least of all is the interest of Christian unity served, by the obiter dictum that it is self-evident that everybody else is wrong.
• Joan Brown Campbell heads the National Council of Churches (NCC), which still manages to keep an office open in New York, and she is asked by the Christian Century whether it is possible she might meet with the Christian Coalition. “From my side it is. We would have serious disagreements, but I would welcome an honest conversation. When the Pope was here, I was invited to a small reception that included Pat Robertson, Charles Colson, Bill Bright, and others from the far right.” Read: We talk with everybody else, so why not with those right-wing kooks as well? Ms. Campbell notes that she met with Billy Graham, “And in one of his crusades he publicly urged people to pray for the NCC.” As well we all should while there is still time. For Catholics, who also pray for the dead, the urgency is not so great. She observes that the Reagan and Bush Administrations kept the NCC at a distance. “But there’s a dialogue between ourselves and this Administration. There is a feeling that suddenly the NCC is perhaps too close to the Administration. But the fact of the matter is simply that now we have the possibility of dialogue.” No doubt the President and the NCC feel one another’s pain.
• The cult of physical fitness has replaced religion in England, according to a writer in the Spectator. Nonsense, says John Ashworth–Pearce, who both goes to church and works out at the gym. His letter to the editor continues: “To conflate decisions of this kind into the decay of religious belief may be a good enough idea for a couple of paragraphs in a diary column, but to spin it out to a thousand words is an exercise in the elaboration of the trivial and the complication of the self-evident. It is my conviction that the churches are dying essentially because the gospel they preach sorts ill with what is seen as the twentieth century’s greatest human good—continual and increasing material prosperity. The notion of an eternal reward does not appeal to a society increasingly insistent on a regular increment of jam today, if not sooner.”
• A while back we praised a reflection by the then editor of the Spectator (London) on why he and his wife were so very grateful for their Down’s syndrome baby. Andrew Sullivan, Editor of the New Republic, was also impressed by the piece and asked for permission to reprint it, which was readily granted. Then Marty Peretz, Editor-in- Chief, got into the act and vetoed the idea. Apparently, the idea that there’s an alternative to aborting handicapped babies seemed to him suspiciously like, well, a pro-life position. An embarrassed Sullivan reported that they wouldn’t be able to run the article after all, and the Spectator, in response, twitted Sullivan about his having left England, where at least editors have editorial freedom. Sullivan does not refer to this unpleasantness in a subsequent comment in TNR, but one may read it as his apologia for coming to America. He had just been on a book tour in Britain and was depressed by the shallowness of public discussion over questions such as British participation in the European Union. “But in Britain, the shrinking of the country’s role in the world, the tininess and chumminess of its cultural elite (most of whom have known each other since freshman year), have cumulatively deoxygenated the public space. The result is that constructive public argument has become rarer and rarer.” The roots of this unhappy circumstance, Sullivan suggests, go deep. “There may be deeper, cultural reasons for this, as well. The decline of religion is probably one. It’s simply not part of most English people’s upbringing to consider—let alone believe—the possibility of universal truths. Since the sixteenth century, when the state brutally extirpated Catholicism, English faith has been resolutely parochial. (As one Oxford friend of mine put it: ‘I believe in the Church of England—as a bulwark against religion.’) Equally insidious is the dominance in England of analytic philosophy. Virtually no English undergraduate reads, say, the Nicomachean Ethics with a view to seeing whether Aristotle might be voicing eternal truths about human nature. So the intellectual muscles that allow serious public debate to take place atrophy young.” Sullivan allows that American universities have problems, but they are superior to the “nests of pragmatism and relativism” that pass for universities in England. “When I first came over to America to study at Harvard twelve years ago, I was struck by a simple difference between Oxford and Harvard undergrads. Both were as smart and knew about as much. But the Harvardites were keen to ask about what they didn’t know; the Oxonians devoted their entire energy to convincing you that they already knew it. The skills required to do that—rhetorical sleight of hand, on-your-feet wit, exquisite condescension-are, of course, what many Americans admire about English culture. But they’re not the same as sophistication. Or knowledge. Believe me.” In hiring personal secretaries, museum curators, and professors, an English accent still has a certain cachet in the U.S., but Sullivan urges Americans to get over it. “In filling cultural and academic institutions with British imports, Americans would do well to ask if they’re not importing manners that are ultimately corrosive of civil discourse. The English elites chatter marvelously. They stopped believing in anything half a century ago.” In sum, and even if Mr. Peretz does clip his editorial wings from time to time, it seems that Mr. Sullivan is here to stay.
• Johanna is the youngest sister and she lives in Valparaiso, Indiana. She’s the normal one in the Neuhaus family. Except she reads and loves FT. We estimate that there must be at least fifty thousand people of a similar eccentricity, and many of them are not being treated by a subscription. Send us your list of candidates from among your family members, friends, and associates and we’ll send them a free sample issue in your name. Like Johanna, they may otherwise be quite normal people. Please do it soon. Like right away.
• Moment is a Jewish publication of consequence, and Suzanne F. Singer is its reflective managing editor. In a comment titled “Jewish Insensitivity” she reflects on a meeting between Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) at which Reed reassured his Jewish hearers that the Coalition is alert to their concerns. Singer observes, “But there is something Reed didn’t say. Sensitivity—a word made wimpy by overuse—has sometimes been lacking not only by Christians toward Jews, but also by Jews toward Christians. Jews, especially but not exclusively secular liberals who constitute the bulk of visible, media-active Jews, have a sad record of disrespect and mistrust of religious people, and that includes religious Jews as well as religious Christians. People who talk God, who place religion centrally in their lives and see it as a guide and source of their values, who actively and openly practice their faith, are too frequently derided and suspected of narrow-mined anti-intellectualism.” While she agrees that it is necessary to support the separation of church and state and to stand up for Jewish interests, Singer criticizes Jews who “have rushed to build a wall around the debate” in a way that tries to exclude “religion’s voice” from our political discourse. Singer’s is still a minority voice in American Jewry, but the view she proposes is getting a more sympathetic hearing these days. In a recent presentation at Jewish Theological Seminary here in New York, I made similar points. Some of the responses suggested, in effect, that Jews, who constitute 2 percent of the American population, had the duty to maintain a strictly secular society against the threat of the more than 90 percent of Americans who are Christians. Most of those in the dominantly Jewish audience, however, recognized that such a suggestion is both strategically impossible and a denial of the moral tradition shared by Jews and Christians. For those who have worked on Christian–Jewish relations over the years, the progress in mutual understanding sometimes seems painfully slow. But there is progress, and any pains involved should only prompt us to redouble our efforts.
• In recent years Catholics have had to put up with the ugly usage of “Sundays in Ordinary Time,” when in fact Sundays in the well-ordered time of the Church’s Year of Grace are never ordinary. In any event, on the “Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time” the first reading is Exodus 17, where Moses needs help in keeping his arms raised so that Joshua can defeat the enemy. The Liturgical Press of Collegeville, Minnesota has a Sunday bulletin service that is used in who knows how many parishes, and on that Sunday it contained a commentary by a Fr. Daniel Durken, O.S.B. It is in the form of “A Memo to Moses,” in which Fr. Durken tells Moses that, instead of propping up his hands, he should have “propped up peace.” He goes on: “Whether or not you would have considered such an alternative tactic, I want you to know, Moses, that most of the men and women, young and old, in the Bible classes I teach get mighty tired—yes, sick and tired!—of reading about all those bloody biblical battles, those massive massacres, those wholesale killings of combatants and civilians alike, that ‘putting to the sword all living creatures in the city: men and women, young and old, as well as oxen, sheep and asses’ (Joshua 6:21). I remember that you were not allowed to enter the Promised Land of Israel’s kingdom. But I am sure you have long since entered the Promised Land of God’s kingdom. I suspect that you were mighty surprised to discover that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not the God of War, Destruction, and Death but rather the God of Peace, Love, and Life.” Now isn’t that clever? If the folk at Liturgical Press were given to thinking about such things, they would recognize that the “Memo to Moses” implies that God should never have elected the people of Israel, should not have delivered them from the Egyptians, and should not have given them the promised land, with the result that there would never have been the salvation history from which came the world’s redemption. Fr. Durken and his friends would likely protest that that is not what they had in mind. What they had in mind, so to speak, was simply to exhibit their refined sensibilities and utter superiority to the primitive ways of the Bible. One wonders what the thousands of parishioners thought who were confronted by “A Memo to Moses.” The long- suffering patience of the Catholic people is one of the mysteries of the faith. Perhaps some of them consoled themselves with the observation of Flannery O’Connor that one is called to suffer ever so much more from the Church than for the Church.
• A Richard Weil writes to the New York Times: “Recently, a close friend of mine, a former West Side Democratic political activist, switched from straight to lesbian. Two former political colleagues of hers met at a dinner party in the Hamptons. One asked the other if she had seen Arlene lately. The friend replied that she had and ‘haven’t you heard,’ Arlene has switched. Horrified, he said, ‘You mean she became a Republican?’” Nothing so drastic as that.
• Pastor Russell Saltzman, my successor as editor of Forum Letter (Lutheran), says he received a flyer from his local drugstore in Missouri. In the upper left-hand corner, Trojan condoms are on sale (twelve-pack for $5.99). Next to it, in the upper right-hand corner, First Response One-Step Pregnancy Test Kit ($9.99). In the lower left-hand corner, Value Wise Diapers (thirty medium or twenty large at $3.99), and on the lower right-hand corner, Evenflow baby bottles (no price given). One-stop shopping to cover every contingency, Pr. Saltzman suggests. Happily missing, however, is the second and lethal response to the First Response Pregnancy Test. In New York it’s different. A local drugstore over on Third Avenue advertises itself as full-service. They do referrals (and get kickbacks?) for contraceptive users who refuse to accept life’s negation of their negation.
• Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity. That is the title of a book of previously uncollected essays by the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Grandeur and audacity are what marked the work and persona of the one whom we called Heschel, when we didn’t refer to him as Father Abraham (which he much enjoyed). Heschel is, I believe, the foremost spiritual figure of American Jewry in this century. Of course I am prejudiced, if that is the right word, by knowing him as a dear friend and treasured mentor. Farrar, Straus & Giroux has just reissued his classic The Sabbath in a handsome new edition. Read it, and be prepared to be transformed in your understanding of time and holiness. As for the book of essays, one can dip in almost anywhere and come up with wisdom for long ponderings. This, for example, from “Death as Homecoming”: “The ultimate hope for a life beyond the grave was not born in reflection about the soul but rather in reflection about God and what He does and means to the soul. God’s being a shelter and a refuge forever held meaning to life here and now as well as to life beyond. The meaning as well as the mode of being which man hopes to attain beyond the threshold of dying remains an impenetrable mystery. Yet it is the thought of being in God’s knowing that may be both the root and the symbol of the ultimate hope. As said above, man’s being in the world is, according to the Bible, preceded by man’s being known to God. Human existence follows divine anticipation. ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you’ (Jeremiah 1:5). We live in the universe of His knowing. What guides and sustains our thinking about afterlife is relatedness to God. Apart from such relatedness and trust, there is no ground for such a hope. The real issue is whether my existence here and now is exclusively being-in-the-world or whether it is also being-in-God’s-knowledge, whether being in the world is not also living in the presence of God, transcended by His knowing, escorted by His radiance.” Grandeur, audacity, radiance. That was Heschel. That is Heschel.
• By the narrowest of margins, Ireland voted to allow divorce under very limited circumstances. If the vote survives legal challenges, be sure that in short order there will be agitation to “liberalize” divorce law. And in Britain the Lord Chancellor is pushing a “divorce reform bill” that, twenty-five years later, picks up on the no-fault idea that has had such miserable consequences in this country. Writing in the Tablet, Melanie Phillips says that Lord Mackay is possessed by a really dumb idea: “Removing fault from divorce kills off marriage as a concept with any legal meaning at all. Fault describes what happens when someone is held responsible for their bad behavior. Abolishing fault in divorce abolishes the concept of responsibility in civil marriage. Since the obligations in marriage to be faithful or stay together or treat each other reasonably are merely inferred from the legal remedies in divorce, their removal renders marriage a vapid concept. Moreover, refusing to acknowledge bad behavior makes divorce unjust and is likely to increase bitterness rather than diminish it. True, fault has already become a pretty etiolated concept. But removing it still matters because of the rhetorical and declaratory effect of law upon public policy and attitudes. It would introduce the no-pain, no-blame, no-shame justice system. In every other area of the law, the prime consideration is not the avoidance of pain but to make people who have done wrong face the consequence of their actions. Removing fault from divorce is an attempt to sanitize proceedings by getting the parties to collude in an evasion of truth. The argument runs that matrimonial disputes are too sensitive and complex for anyone to apportion blame, and that the law has no business poking its nose into personal behavior. But that is an argument for abolishing the whole of matrimonial law. It certainly does not apply in the law of contract which enforces agreements and penalizes broken promises.” Ms. Phillips is not an alarmist, but she is rightly alarmed about where all this is heading. “That agenda is the erosion and ultimate abolition of the legal concept of marriage. It is a theme that family lawyers have been promoting for years through both statute and case law. The wonder is that Lord Mackay, a man of stern and unbending religious principles, has become its accomplice. The most likely explanation for this astonishing paradox is that Lord Mackay believes that law is helpless before the crushing tide of cultural forces. It cannot change behavior; it should not impose morality. All it can do is fiddle around on the margins to minimize the worst of the consequences. But law does directly affect behavior, illustrated by the dramatic rise in divorce after every divorce reform over the past twenty-five years. Of course the law did not create the cultural primacy of individual choice and moral equivalence which fuels the divorce rate. But law and morality cannot be divided. Law reflects but also asserts and reinforces the moral values of a society. Assuming neutrality merely helps impose a code of moral relativism. The law cannot ever opt out; and those who shape it shape our moral choices, whether they like it or not. Those choices are currently amoral, hedonistic, and pretend to be consequence- free. Those who support the proposed divorce reform will be reinforcing those values. To suppose the measure takes us in the other direction is merely wishful thinking.”
• Stories regularly appear on the gap between Protestant and Catholic financial giving. The usual indication is that Protestants give to their churches almost twice as much as Catholics. Now comes a study funded by the Lilly Endowment suggesting that the difference should really not surprise us. Overwhelmingly, both Protestants and Catholics view stewardship not as a spiritual discipline but as a matter of “paying the bills,” and there are fewer bills to pay per Catholic. Compensation is much less for Catholic priests than for Protestant ministers; Catholics have a much higher parishioner-to-clergy ratio; and the number of services per Catholic church building makes for greater efficiency in capital costs. It makes sense. Having settled that one, maybe everyone can now move on to stewardship as spiritual discipline.
• “Call to Action” had its big fest in Chicago again. With four thousand in attendance, which is not unimpressive. The usual goings on, including a “traditional yet broadly inclusive” liturgy in which eight women attempted to celebrate the eucharist. With one priest at the altar, just in case. Although the report notes that he did not wear a stole. They didn’t want to be that traditional. There were the usual speakers, including “silenced theologians such as Frs. Charles Curran and Matthew Fox.” Silent theologians are very popular speakers on the progressive circuit. One recalls Fox’s full-page advertisement soliciting money in the New York Times a few years ago. It began with the banner headline, “I Have Been Silenced!” Since then he has become a San Francisco Episcopalian, but when you have had the distinction of being silenced by Rome you don’t discard it just because you changed churches. The National Catholic Reporter story on the Chicago gathering begins this way: “Some 400 thirsting priests, 1,200 toiling sisters, 2,400 hungry seekers from the laity—they came here to the water of progressive Catholicism.” Water? What about rest? What about food? Old habits such as clericalism die hard. Even among the super- progressive, the priests are still the only ones who get what they want.
• Remember the incident at the Addenbrooke Hospital in Cambridge, England, where lab tests got mixed up and a healthy baby was aborted instead of the Down’s syndrome baby who was supposed to be aborted? It has caused quite a flurry of public discussion, and Dominic Lawson, editor of the Daily Telegraph, has a good grasp of the basics. He notes that the only sure way to find out whether the unborn baby has Down’s syndrome is through invasive surgical techniques which have a one in two hundred chance of causing spontaneous abortion. Since the test is very widely used both there and here, it seems certain that hundreds, if not thousands, of babies with no genetic abnormalities have been aborted by—to use the term of Addenbrooke’s director of medical genetics— “mistake.” Lawson thinks some rather elementary truths are being slighted: “Modern medicine, however, regards these babies as necessary, if unfortunate, casualties in the war against abnormality. And Down’s syndrome is far and away the commonest form of genetic abnormality. But a Down’s child is not an unhealthy child. Down’s is not a disease. Such a child is not infectious—or no more than any other child. Such a child suffers no pain or distress—or no more than any other child. I would not have believed that such obvious points needed to be made, until I read the newspaper reports of the Addenbrooke’s incident: all of them consistently insisted on referring to the horror of the abortion of ‘the healthy baby,’ as if the Down’s child which was also aborted after the mix-up of samples was discovered was, by definition, ‘unhealthy.’ I am the parent of a child with Down’s syndrome, Domenica, and she is a picture of rude health, strong and robust. Indeed, on a couple of occasions, while the rest of the family has gone down with heavy colds, Domenica has maintained an almost brutal imperviousness to the germs hurtling around her little head. It is true that Domenica will have some degree of mental retardation. It could be severe. It could be very slight. We will not know for some years. But mental handicap is not the same as mental illness. A slow child is not a lunatic. And above all, a child suffering from Down’s syndrome will not necessarily be unhappier than any other child. Indeed, children with this condition very often seem capable of greater love and happiness than those with a normal chromosomal make-up. Again, I would not have thought this point needed making, except that the barbaric consequences of modern eugenic screening seem to be gratefully accepted by many parents-to-be on the basis that children with Down’s syndrome will be so unhappy that they would be better off dead.”
• You may recall the famous headline in the English daily: “Heavy Fog in Channel, Europe Cut Off.” You’ll see the connection in a minute. Thomas C. Fox is one of the progressives whose public statements throw into question the widespread assumption that the silly season in American Catholicism is finally coming to an end. He is author of Sexuality and Catholicism, a heavy-breathing tract that denounces Catholic sexual teaching for being not only medieval but still stuck in moral hang-ups that go all the way back to biblical times. Fox is best known, however, as Editor of the National Catholic Reporter, a lefty weekly published in Kansas City. Recently he had a piece on the op-ed page of the New York Times, denouncing the Vatican’s statement that the Church lacks authority to ordain women. “Conservatives,” Fox writes, cheer the statement because they “want a church that reaffirms a clear moral vision.” The implication is that that is a really dumb thing to want. But Fox knows that the statement on women’s ordination is “a fearful act by a small group of men who are out of touch with the wider society.” Out of touch like John Paul II, for example, whose words and example galvanize millions upon millions of young people from Manila to New York to Nairobi. Leaving that aside, the point of Mr. Fox’s article is that of course the Church will eventually ordain women, and then those who support the Church’s teaching as articulated by John Paul II may find themselves in schism. “How sad,” Mr. Fox concludes, “that those who share his views may cut themselves off from the Church one day.” Which brings us back to that famous headline. Heavy Fog in Kansas City, Catholic Church Cut Off.
• “Do you know the name of the gay gene?” the joke runs. Back comes the answer, “Levi 501s.” This is from David Starkey, a homosexual writing in the London Spectator. He explains that Levi 501s are the favorite jeans of gay men, fitting very tightly and worn with the bottom fly button unfastened. Starkey, like many homosexuals, doesn’t like the idea that homosexuality is genetically determined, and is pleased to note that “research” to that effect has been widely discredited. He especially does not like the argument of Andrew Sullivan, Editor of the New Republic, that marriage is natural and universal and therefore same-sex “marriage” should be available to homosexuals who have no control over the way they are. (See Elizabeth Kristol’s review of Sullivan’s Virtually Normal in FT, January). Marriage, says Starkey, is a social construct “whose time, as eventually happens to all human institutions, has passed.” “I too, like Mr. Sullivan, am a gay Conservative. But he is a Burkean Conservative who believes that society is natural. I, on the other hand, am in the tradition of Hobbes and Oakeshott and think that human society is a human construct. For Mr. Sullivan, the ‘gay gene’ is to be welcomed, because it makes gayness natural. I see it as a thing indifferent, since our sexual orientation is not in our genes but in ourselves. But the fact that our sexual orientation is artificial does not separate us from modern society. On the contrary, modern society is the most artificial thing there is. That is what distinguishes its comforts from the state of nature in which, as Hobbes pointed out, life was ‘nasty, brutish, and short.’ We homosexuals should rejoice in modernity; we should also be proud that, as Mr. George Steiner points out, modernity has been created by two groups, Jews and homosexuals. The joke was right after all: Levi’s jeans tell us more about the gay condition than bits and pieces of genetic tissue, even when rightly identified.” Whether homosexuality is a matter of genes or of jeans may seem like a frivolous way of framing the question, but the question itself is important to the determination of the debate over same-sex “marriage,” as that debate is currently being engaged in Hawaii and elsewhere. A painful life circumstance that is genetically determined elicits more public sympathy than a propensity for going about with one’s fly unbuttoned.
• Seldom is a doctrine stated so flatly. Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri writes a long letter to the Wall Street Journal protesting Speaker Newt Gingrich’s claim that failed government programs, especially in welfare and education, should be scaled back and thoroughly redesigned. Gephardt acknowledges that many of these programs have not worked, mainly because they were not designed for the kind of criminal and violent world that many of our inner cities have become. The answer, he says, is more generous funding for more expansive programs. He writes, “So even though these programs were not intended to serve as substitutes for broken or dysfunctional families, maybe they should be—not just in poorer communities, but in all communities.” This is a particularly lucid statement of public policy designed by pathologies rather than by strengths. Instead of asking how policy can support and expand the number of strong families, policy is premised upon family failure. The government provides “substitutes” for failed families, thereby giving families an interest in qualifying as failed in order to obtain government benefits. Policy by pathology has contributed powerfully to the devastation of the urban underclass, and Mr. Gephardt would now expand the same approach to “all communities.” For people who really care about the disadvantaged, it is at this point that the argument needs to be joined. Is it to the advantage of the poor (economically, culturally, and morally poor) to have the government take over their lives, or to have policies that provide incentives and disincentives that encourage them to accept responsibility for their own behavior? There are many ways of putting that question, and there are many parts to any plausible answer. But that is the critical domestic policy question that will, for better or worse, shape the American future. We are indebted to Mr. Gephardt for the clarity with which he gives one answer to it.
• Pity the poor abortionists who want to be known as compassionate, courageous caregivers devoted to helping women in trouble. No, don’t. They are a sleazy, greedy, murderous gang making big bucks in the death business. Maybe twenty and more years ago there were more innocent types who had not thought very carefully about what they were doing, but today that is most improbable. Howard J. Silverman of Brookline, Mass. runs for-profit clinics that are said to do a third of the thirty-five thousand abortions per year in that state. In 1984 he was disciplined for sexual misconduct with an eighteen-year-old patient, and now has to rely on other doctors to admit patients to hospitals in emergency cases. Nothing so unusual about that. That’s the kind of people attracted to the profession of killing babies. Silverman’s innovation, according to the papers, is in manipulating ultrasound tests. His clinics charge $30
0 to $500 for a first-trimester abortion, but after fourteen weeks more complicated terminations are $700, and at twenty-two weeks can cost $2,100. Telling women that the tests show that their pregnancies are farther advanced than they thought is a big bonus for the Silverman enterprise. Some years ago, repentant abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson used ultrasound to produce The Silent Scream, a film that graphically depicts the suffering of the child being aborted. It was thought that facing the stark reality of the deed would turn people against abortion, and that often happens. The Boston Globe, the paper that broke the Silverman story, is outraged. Not by what Silverman does, of course, but by his overcharging for the doing of it. I remember reading years ago about a much-publicized scandal in Germany in 1943 or 1944. It seems this railroad official was getting kickbacks on the coal burned by the trains running to the death camps, which greatly outraged the public sense of moral rectitude.
• When Alexander Kwasniewski narrowly defeated incumbent Lech Walesa—Solidarity hero, Nobel Prize-winner, and household name—for the Polish presidency, the New York Times and others declared it a great defeat for the Church. It is true that, while not endorsing anyone, most bishops and priests favored Walesa. It is also true that even his supporters acknowledged that Walesa had been an inept president and plodding candidate. Anne Applebaum, that astute observer of Central and Eastern Europe, puts the outcome in perspective: “What this election really proves, in fact, is not that Poland has rejected the legacy of Solidarity, or that Poles long for bread queues and censorship, but that Poland is finally—at last—becoming a normal country. As in a normal country, the more telegenic candidate won. As in a normal country, the candidate with the most money won. As in a normal country, the candidate who kept talking about the past emerged the loser; Walesa’s attacks on Kwasniewski, mostly focused on his Communist career, were not powerful enough to sway even an essentially anti-Communist country like Poland. As in a normal country, the winning candidate is a super-professional political operator, with a handful of shady friends and the odd hidden business deal kicking around in the background. Perhaps we should not have expected any less.”
• Give a boy a hammer and he discovers that the whole world needs hammering. Certify somebody as a liturgist and he discovers that every liturgy needs to be changed, and changed, and changed. . . . The Catholic Church once had a liturgical movement; Vatican Council II blessed it, and it turned itself into a liturgical change machine. Now, quite spontaneously, two efforts have been launched to try to go back to that liturgical movement and get it right this time. One, led by Fr. Joseph Fessio of Ignatius Press, is called Adoremus, a Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy. The other, led by Msgr. Francis Mannion of Salt Lake City Cathedral, is the Society for Catholic Liturgy. (Fr. Fessio can be reached at Ignatius Press, 2515 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94118 and Msgr. Mannion at Cathedral of the Madeleine, 331 East South Temple Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84111.)
• Monsignor George Higgins writes a column that is widely published in the Catholic press. In a recent time around he deplores, quite rightly, the cultural decline represented by pornography and other vices. Then this: “Neoconservative proponents of democratic capitalism tend to argue, as a general rule, that capitalism is independent of the moral cultural order and that its moral failures are due to people outside the system.” One can hardly imagine a proposition more contrary to the argument made over the years by any identifiable neoconservative, and especially by Michael Novak, whom Msgr. Higginshas most particularly in his sights. Falsehood is compounded by silliness when Msgr. Higgins in the same column cites in support of his charge Llewellyn Rockwell, Jr. Rockwell, who flaunts his identification as a “paleoconservative,” publishes a newsletter that is a sustained rant against “the neoconservatives.” Msgr. Higgins’ columns are enough to make one despair, at least at times, of the very possibility of public conversation or civil disagreement. ‘Tis a pity.
• Although typically from the margins of evangelicaldom, the attack on “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT) shows no signs of abating. Articles and books keep appearing, and at an airport recently my eye was caught by a front page story in USA Today, “Growing Debate Over ECT.” That, I thought, was a bit much. It turned out the story was about shock treatment, otherwise known as Electroconvulsive Therapy. Which is what I suppose “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” has been for some. Be assured that the polemics have in no way obscured the fact that the ECT initiative continues to be warmly welcomed by most influential figures among both Catholics and evangelicals, and for that all of us are very grateful.
• “Acts of Reconstruction: The Sistine Chapel.” That’s the title of a conference in Santa Barbara, California, sponsored by the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities. The dates are March 8 to 9, and a stellar cast of art authorities from the U.S. and Europe is scheduled. For information, contact Simon Williams, 3591 Davidson Library, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106 (805-893- 7660).
• Once again, the three-week seminar on “The Free Society and Centesimus Annus” will be held in Krakow, Poland. Faculty includes Michael Novak, George Weigel, Maciej Zieba, and your scribe. The dates are July 1 through 21. There are ten fellowships available for American graduate students or those who will be college seniors this coming fall. An essay and other materials required. Students will be chosen in April. For information, write Brian C. Anderson, American Enterprise Institute, 1150 17th Street, NW, Washington D.C. 20036, or call (202) 862-7152.
• To whom are we supposed to send these sample issues?
• Congratulations to the New Oxford Review on its twentieth anniversary. That’s the little magazine with the big ads in every other magazine in the country, or so it seems. Around here we rather like NOR, not least because in their survey of their readers so many NOR subscribers say that FT is their favorite publication. And because editor Dale Vree is an engaging fellow, despite his lefty background. When he comes across the word “compassion” in the Church’s social teaching, he tends to translate it “socialism.” But of late he seems to be getting that ideological twitch under control. Almost every issue of NOR has something of particular interest. In the November 1995 issue, for instance, there is a report by Thomas M. Gannon on a forthcoming decision by the Supreme Court, dated June 24, 1996. NOR doesn’t say how Mr. Gannon got hold of an advance copy. It seems the Court has decided that laws requiring noncustodial parents to support minor children violate the parents’ right to choose. Some states suspended the driver’s license of parents who refused to pay up. The 6–3 ruling draws heavily on the Court’s 1992 decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed a woman’s right to an abortion. Parental support provisions, says the Court, impermissibly encroach on the substantive guarantees of personal liberty in the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The report continues: “Justice Souter’s majority opinion noted that the Court had afforded ‘constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to family relationships,’ and had ‘respected the private realm of family life which the state cannot enter.’ Like the abortion decision, the justice wrote, the decision not to pay child support is one of ‘the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy,’ and therefore ‘central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.’ That liberty includes ‘the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.’ Thus, Justice Souter reasoned, if a noncustodial parent decides that child support is not a personally meaningful concept, a state cannot compel the parent to accept that concept as meaningful by requiring the parent to pay child support or risk losing a driver’s or professional license. The choice not to pay child support is a ‘substantive liberty of the person,’ the justice wrote. Moreover, he maintained, it is not only unconstitutional but un-American to tie possession of a driver’s license to the payment of child support. Justice Souter unequivocally stated that ‘a driver’s license is an essential component of the American dream.’“ We advise readers to wait for the official publication of the decision, since NOR does say that “satirical notions come unbidden” to Mr. Gannon and it is therefore just possible that he is making this up.