The Public Square
For my sins, part of my misspent youth was misspent in Texas. I’ve never regretted the time in Cisco, a depressed and dust-driven town that was kind to me and is perfectly evoked in the film The Last Picture Show. Of West Texas it was said that there is nothing wrong with it that some water and a few good people would not remedy. To which the response was that the same might be said for hell. But that’s Texas hyperbole, of course.
We were fifteen and my friend Tyler was thought to be a bit slow. Retarded was the word that people used then. But there was a wondrous calm about him, as though he had a secret world where he really lived. He was devoutly religious; a Baptist, I think. One hot day some of us were swimming in a rural tank, which is what Texans call a man-made pond for watering cattle. The rest of us were impressed by, indeed envious of, Tyler’s fearlessness in diving from a huge rock into what must have been no more than five feet of water. He was unruffled and told us—not bragging, but with smiling ingenuousness stating the obvious—”I’m under the shadow.” The reference was to Psalm 91: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. . . . He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.” I don’t know whatever became of Tyler, although years ago somebody told me was a drummer with an evangelistic musical group that played the Southwest. More recently, I was told that he had died.
It’s a long way from Cisco to Georges Bernanos, but the unlikely connection was made while reading Hans Urs von Balthasar’s huge study—among his many huge studies—Bernanos: An Ecclesial Existence (617 pp., Ignatius). Best known for Diary of a Country Priest and Dialogue of the Carmelites (the latter turned into a captivating opera by Poulenc), Bernanos also lived “under the shadow,” and the passage from Psalm 91 appears again and again in his writings. As is the way with Balthasar, the book is frequently rambling and prolix, but filled with striking allusions that reflect his almost unbelievable literary erudition. Bernanos, who died in 1948, was enraptured by saints and heroes, and obsessed by discerning the real and the counterfeit in the spiritual battle between the Light and the Darkness. The ambiguities are explored with excruciating exactitude in almost all his writings, but especially in Carmelites and the story of Joan of Arc, Joan, Saint and Heretic.
In examining the relationship between freedom and obedience, Bernanos discovered in “ecclesial existence” the luminosity of the shadow. In obedience to the truth borne by the sacramental life of the Church, Bernanos knew himself to be free. Under the darkening shadow of Stalin and Hitler, he raged against the propaganda—induced conformity that was producing “mass man,” and against those in the Church who welcomed that counterfeit obedience.
Balthasar describes it this way. “The logical conclusion, for Bernanos, is that nothing could be more devastating than a confusion, or even an approximation, of both phenomena: the drive to produce mass-man and the power of ecclesial obedience; as if the universal malleability and steerability of modern man nicely coincided with the Catholic principle of obedience, indeed, as if the weakening of human freedom and individual power of decision represented an advantage for the Church! The contrary, in fact, must be vigorously affirmed: Whatever weakens the interior powers of the ethical person by the same token deprives the Church of a portion of her efficacy in the world. If each and every Christian is a part and a representative of the Church in the world, then each and every Christian must, by the active engagement of his whole person, make the world realize something of the total freedom from and transcendence above the world that are the Church’s.”
To compromise that transcendence was, for Bernanos, to let the principalities and powers write the script of the human drama. Of one of his characters, standing in for the culturally corrupted Christians of the time, he wrote disdainfully that “he was more afraid of his wife than of Satan.” Such a person lived and partly lived (Eliot) oblivious to the real drama of his life. Bernanos was even more disdainful of les petits cures progressistes—petty progressive priests—who reduced the mystery of the Church to pathetic efforts to make “the Christian legacy” useful to the world. As a faithful layman, Bernanos embraced the Church’s social teaching and relentlessly addressed questions of social justice, even as he deeply resented the petty clerics who knew no higher mission than “marching in step with the times.” The Church and those who sacramentally represent it, he insisted, have the great task of sustaining the transcendent shadow that is the ambiance necessary for the flourishing of Christian freedom.
The cultural, intellectual, and theological differences between Georges Bernanos and my boyhood friend in Cisco could hardly be greater. I doubt that Tyler would have made much sense of Bernanos’ “ecclesial existence.” But both lived under the shadow; standing fearlessly on the heights, falling into the bottomless mystery of grace. I should like to think that they have met by now.
In the Via Tasso is the Museum of the Liberation of Rome. Felicity O’Brien, an historian at King’s College, London, recently visited the museum and got to thinking about the many attacks of the past thirty years on Pius XII for his alleged indifference to the plight of the Jews under Hitler. Writing in the Tablet, she notes that stretching across one wall of the museum is a framed list of 155 religious houses, parishes, and church institutions that sheltered thousands of Jews during the Nazi occupation. She goes on to relate how many and how effusive were the statements of gratitude to Pius XII by organizations such as the National Jewish Welfare Board in New York, the United Jewish Appeal, and the American Jewish Committee.
At the Pope’s death in 1958, the Committee described him as “one of the greatest spiritual guides of our time. His Holiness raised his voice in an eloquent appeal for the basic principles of justice, charity, and hospitality for refugees of whatever religion or race, thrust from their countries by shameful persecution.” Dr. O’Brien concludes that the “unbridled criticism” of Pius XII not only does a disservice to him “but also can be said to cast at best a shadow, at worst a slur, on the integrity of those Jews—leaders and ordinary people—who said thank you to him. They, and he, deserve better.”
Of course the many Jewish expressions of gratitude were before 1963. That was when Rolf Hochhuth’s play, The Deputy, changed everything with its searing indictment of Pius XII for being not only indifferent to but, at least indirectly, implicated in the persecution of the Jews. Hochhuth, together with Peter Weiss and Heinard Kipphardt, was a founder of the “Theater of Fact,” aimed at exposing the guilt of Germans and, more generally, of what would come to be called “the establishment” for unlimited crimes against humanity. The Deputy stirred enormous controversy at the time, but its line on Pius XII and the Holocaust has become the conventional wisdom in most circles.
Recently these questions have been agitated again in discussions of a draft for an encyclical condemning anti-Semitism that, according to some, Pius XI was preparing to issue shortly before his death in 1939. While condemning anti-Semitism, the draft contained sharp criticisms of Jews and Judaism that are, at least in tone, inconsistent with subsequent developments in Catholic teaching. So there are those who think it just as well that Pius XII put the draft encyclical on a back shelf, while others see it as another proof of his indifference to what was happening to the Jews.
Felicity O’Brien is among those who are rightly disturbed by the injustice done Pius XII and, more inclusively, the Catholic Church in many accounts of the Holocaust. The Deputy and, more recently, Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners, which condemns the German people tout court, are exercises in scapegoating that only obscure the intricate patterns of good and evil in human behavior. While it is necessary to reject the simplistic claims of such as Hochhuth and Goldhagen, that is hardly sufficient. As long as human beings are capable of moral judgment we will be sorting through what people, including Pius XII, could have done and should have done in a time when the lights of decency were largely extinguished. Always, of course, in painful awareness of our own moral fragility in a time and circumstance not entirely dissimilar.
The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orthodoxy
I’ll presume to call it Neuhaus’ Law, or at least one of his several laws: Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed. Some otherwise bright people have indicated their puzzlement with that axiom but it seems to me, well, axiomatic. Orthodoxy, no matter how politely expressed, suggests that there is a right and a wrong, a true and a false, about things. When orthodoxy is optional, it is admitted under a rule of liberal tolerance that cannot help but be intolerant of talk about right and wrong, true and false. It is therefore a conditional admission, depending upon orthodoxy’s good behavior. The orthodox may be permitted to believe this or that and to do this or that as a matter of sufferance, allowing them to indulge their inclination, preference, or personal taste. But it is an intolerable violation of the etiquette by which one is tolerated if one has the effrontery to propose that this or that is normative for others.
A well-mannered church can put up with a few orthodox eccentrics, and can even take pride in being so very inclusive. “Oh, poor Johnson thinks we’re all heretics,” says the bishop, chuckling between sips of his sherry. The bishop is manifestly pleased that there is somebody, even if it is only poor old Johnson, who thinks he is so adventuresome as to be a heretic. And he is pleased with himself for keeping Johnson around to make him pleased with himself. If, however, Johnson’s views had the slightest chance of prevailing and thereby threatening the bishop’s general sense of security and well-being, well, then it would be an entirely different matter.
So it was that some church bodies muddled through for a long time with leaderships that trimmed doctrine to the dictates of academic fashion and popular prejudice (the two, more often than not, being the same) while permitting the orthodox option as a kindness to those so inclined, and as testimony to the “balance” so cherished by placeholders radically devoted to the middle way. It was not always an entirely unattractive accommodation. In religion, too, sensible people prefer to be neither fanatic nor wimp. Considering the alternatives, and if one has the choice, it is nice to try to be nice.
But then what used to be called orthodoxy came up against a new orthodoxy. The new liberal orthodoxy of recent decades is hard and nasty; compared to it, the old orthodoxy was merely quaint. The old orthodoxy was like a dotty old uncle in the front parlor; the new orthodoxy is a rampaging harridan in the family room. The old orthodoxy claimed to speak for the past, which seemed harmless enough. The new orthodoxy claims to speak for the future and is therefore the bearer of imperatives that brook no opposition. The choice of a few to live in the past could be indulged when the future was thought to be open and undetermined. Tolerating the orthodox was also a way of playing it safe. You never know: maybe the ways of the past would come around again. But the old orthodoxy that is optional is proscribed by the new orthodoxy, which is never optional.
The easy—going liberal tolerance that long prevailed was at home with accommodating preferences but uneasy about the question of truth. Not that it denied that there is a truth about this or that, but, then, who was to say what that truth might be? When the question of truth is bracketed—that is, when it is denied in practice—one can choose to be tolerant of a splendid array of “truths.” Or one might decide that there really is no truth that makes tolerance necessary, and choose another course. The alternative to the course of tolerance is the course of power. Tolerance suspends judgment; the will to power acknowledges no reason for restraint.
In some churches, the new orthodoxy is most aggressively manifest in feminist and homosexual (or, as it is said, “lesbigay”) agitations. These, however, are but the more conspicuous eruptions that follow upon a determined denial of the normative truths espoused by an older orthodoxy. Proponents of the new orthodoxy will protest, with some justice, that they, too, are committed to normative truths. These truths, however, are not embodied in propositions, precedent, ecclesial authority, or, goodness knows, revelation. They are experiential truths expressing the truth of who we truly are—”we” being defined by sex, race, class, tribe, or identifying desire (“orientation”).
Identity is Trumps
With the older orthodoxy it is possible to disagree, as in having an argument. Evidence, reason, and logic count, in principle at least. Not so with the new orthodoxy. Here disagreement is an intolerable personal affront. It is construed as a denial of others, of their experience of who they are. It is a blasphemous assault on that most high god, “My Identity.” Truth-as-identity is not appealable beyond the assertion of identity. In this game, identity is trumps. An appeal to what St. Paul or Aquinas or Catherine of Sienna or a church council said cannot withstand the undeniable retort, “Yes, but they are not me!” People pack their truths into what Peter Berger has called group identity kits. The chief item in the kit, of course, is the claim to being oppressed.
Nobody denies that there are, for instance, women, blacks, American Indians, and homosexuals beyond number who do not subscribe to the identities assigned their respective groups. This, however, does not faze those in charge of packing and distributing identity kits. They explain that identity dissidents, people who do not accept the identities assigned them, are doubly victimized—victims of their oppressors and victims of a false consciousness that blinds them to the reality of their being oppressed. Alternatively, identity dissidents are declared to be traitors who have been suborned into collaboration with the deniers of who they are. The proponents of truth-as-identity catch the dissidents coming and going. They say their demand is only for “acceptance,” leaving no doubt that acceptance means assent to what they know (as nobody else can know!) is essential to being true to their authentic selves. Not to assent is not to disagree; it is to deny their humanity, which, especially in churches credally committed to being nice, is not a nice thing to do.
This helps explain why questions such as quota—ized representation, women’s ordination, and homosexuality are so intractable. There is no common ground outside the experiential circles of identity by which truth is circularly defined. Conservatives huff and puff about the authority of Scripture and tradition, while moderates appeal to the way differences used to be accommodated in the early church (before ca. 1968), but all to no avail. Whatever the issue, the new orthodoxy will not give an inch, demanding acceptance and inclusiveness, which means rejection and exclusion of whatever or whomever questions their identity, meaning their right to believe, speak, and act as they will, for what they will do is what they must do if they are to be who they most truly are. “So you want me to agree with you in denying who I am?” By such reasoning, so to speak, the spineless are easily intimidated.
An Instructive Tale
Contentions between rival orthodoxies is an old story in the Church, and the battles that have been fought are riddled with ironies. An earlier round of the difficulties encountered by optional orthodoxy is nicely recounted by John Shelton Reed in a new book, Glorious Battle: The Cultural Politics of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism (Vanderbilt University Press). The Oxford Movement associated with John Henry Newman set out to restore to the Church of England an orthodox and catholic substance that it had presumably once possessed. By the middle of the 1840s, Newman and others came to the conclusion that the via media they had championed as an Anglican alternative to both Rome and Protestantism was in fact a “paper church,” quite devoid of apostolic reality. After Newman and his companions left, the work of orthodox restoration was continued under the banner of “Ritualism” or “Anglo-Catholicism.” It enjoyed the impressive leadership of such as John Keble and Edward Pusey, but in the public mind was more closely connected with sundry aesthetes and eccentrics for whom Anglo-Catholicism was, says Reed, a “countercultural” assault on the Victorian establishment.
It is a mark of the restorationists’ success that they were soon perceived as a serious threat by the bishops at their sherry, and by Englishmen of consequence (their wives tended to be more sympathetic) who resented any departure from the unapologetic Protestantism of the national religion. In 1874, unhappiness led to parliament passing the Public Worship Regulation Act, which landed a number of Anglo-Catholic clerics in jail for short stays. Checked by this establishment opposition, Reed notes that the ritualists did an about—face.
In their earlier restorationist mode, they had insisted that the entire church should conform to the normative orthodoxy that they claimed was constitutive of the Anglican tradition. By the 1870s, however, it had become evident that any steps toward uniformity would be at the expense of the Anglo-Catholics. Whereupon Anglo-Catholics became the foremost opponents of uniformity and enthusiastically championed ecclesiastical pluralism. All they were asking for, they said, was “tolerance and forbearance” for their way of being Anglican. In 1867, the Rev. Charles Walker was urging upon the Royal Commission on Ritual that peace could be found in the agreement “that the National Establishment embraces in its bosom two separate religions.” Of course that appeal failed to carry the day, as is almost inevitably the case when previously tolerated options threaten the establishment.
Reed, an Episcopalian who teaches at the University of North Carolina, sums up the irony of Anglo-Catholicism: “A movement that originally championed orthodoxy had come to defend freedom; begun in opposition to religious liberalism, the movement now appealed to liberal values for its survival. Cardinal Manning, once an Anglo-Catholic clergyman himself, saw the irony, and maintained that ‘Ritualism is private judgment in gorgeous raiment, wrought about with divers colors.’ He declared that ‘every fringe in an elaborate cope worn without authority is only a distinct and separate act of private judgment; the more elaborate, the less Catholic; the nearer the imitation, the further from the submission of faith.’” Reed adds, “Although some denied it, Manning had a point.”
It took a long time for Anglo-Catholicism to be thoroughly routed, but the job seems now almost complete. Among Anglo-Catholics in this country, many have left for Rome or Constantinople, some have joined up with groups of “continuing Anglicanism,” and a few are determined to make yet another valiant last stand, despite a long and depressing record of failed last stands. In England there is the peculiar spectacle of “flying bishops,” a kind of parallel episcopate ministering to parishes that are no longer in communion with their own bishops. That is generally conceded to be a transient arrangement.
Within the Episcopal and other liberal church bodies, it is still possible, here and there, to defend parochial enclaves of orthodox teaching and catholic sensibility. But those who seek safe haven in such enclaves frequently suspect that Cardinal Manning was right: there is something deeply incoherent about sectarian catholicity. There are numerous groups in this country—Baptist, Missouri Lutheran, Reformed, Pentecostalist—that maintain their version of orthodoxy in a way that is not optional. Setting aside the theological merits of their orthodoxies, such groups are sociologically secure; in their world, they are the establishment, and to that world the new and nasty orthodoxy of truth-as-identity is not admitted. Some of us may think such immunity comes at too high a price. But for those to whom sectarianism is no vice, and may even be a virtue, such withdrawal and disengagement seems like no price at all.
The circumstance is very different for those Christians to whom it matters to be part of the Great Tradition. One thinks especially of Lutherans, Anglicans, and those Reformed who claim the heritage of John Nevin and Philip Schaff; all think of themselves as “evangelical catholics” in ecclesial bodies temporarily separated from upper case Catholicism and upper case Orthodoxy. Anglo-Catholicism was the most impressively institutionalized form of this self-understanding. But, whether in its Reformed, Lutheran, or Anglican expressions, movements of normative restoration were compelled to settle for being tolerated options, and now it seems even that is denied them.
Almost five hundred years after the sixteenth-century divisions, the realization grows that there is no via media. The realization grows that orthodoxy and catholicity can be underwritten only by Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Perhaps more than any other single factor, the influence of Anglo-Catholicism among Protestants obscured this reality for a long time. It is a considerable merit of John Shelton Reed’s Glorious Battle that it contributes to our understanding of why movements of catholic restoration, posited against the self—understanding of the communities they would renew, turn into an optional orthodoxy. A century later, an illiberal liberalism, much more unrelenting than the Victorian establishment, will no longer tolerate the option. It is very much like a law: Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.
Israel and the Body Of Christ
Without doubt, one of the most important Jewish theologians of our time is Michael Wyschogrod, now teaching at the University of Houston. At a theological conference in Germany, where he encountered considerable hostility from some Christian theologians, he read his paper “A Jewish Perspective on Incarnation.” The great disagreement between Jews and Christians, said Wyschogrod, is over the Christian claim that Jesus is God. Many Jews, following Maimonides, say that claim is decisively precluded because God is pure spirit and cannot be incarnate in space and time. Wyschogrod disagrees. In the Hebrew Scriptures there is no doubt that God “dwells” in Jerusalem in a way that he does not dwell in Berlin; as he dwells also in his elect, albeit sinful, people, and in the Temple of Solomon.
“Judaism is therefore incarnational if by this term we mean the notion that God enters the world of humanity, that he appears at certain places and dwells in them which thereby become holy. Christianity somewhat concretized this tendency, pushing it toward a specific incarnation so that the Jewish tendency toward spatiality takes on a corporeal form. While in Judaism the dialectic between transcendence and immanence is always kept alive rather sharply, in Christianity the aspect of immanence receives perhaps somewhat stronger expression even though it must be remembered that trinitarian thinking complements the incarnate son with a transcendent father. In any case, it must be emphasized that the Jewish objection to an incarnational theology cannot be based on a priori grounds, as if something in the nature of the Jewish concept of God made his appearance in the form of humanity a rational impossibility. Very often, Jewish opposition to the incarnation is based on just such grounds without realization of the implications of such a posture. If we can determine a priori that God could not appear in the form of a man or, to put it in more Docetistic terms, that there could not be a being who is both fully God and fully human, then we are substituting a philosophical scheme for the sovereignty of God. No biblically oriented, responsible Jewish theology can accept such a substitution of an ontological structure for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob whose actions humanity cannot predict and whose actions are not subject to an overreaching logical necessity to which they must conform. It is for this reason that I consider clarification of the reason for Jewish opposition to the incarnation so important.”
This Jewish Flesh
Wyschogrod is taken with the story, which may or may not be apocryphal, that when Pope John XXIII saw the pictures of bulldozers pushing Jewish corpses into mass graves at the newly liberated Nazi murder camps, he exclaimed: “There is the body of Christ.” Wyschogrod urges Christians and Jews to reflect on the possible implications: “Somehow, in some way which is perhaps still not altogether clear, the church decided that in Jesus there was God, more so than in other people who are also created in God’s image. This man, this Jew, this servant, this despised, crucified Jew, was not just human but in him could be detected the presence of God. The church held fast to this belief because it held fast to this Jew, to his flesh and not only to his spirit, to his Jewish flesh on the cross, to a flesh in which God was present, incarnated, penetrating the world of humanity, becoming human. The church found God in this Jewish flesh. Perhaps this was possible because God is in all Jewish flesh, because it is the flesh of the covenant, the flesh of a people to whom God has attached himself, by whose name he is known in the world as the God of Israel. Perhaps for some mysterious reason, the church, the gathering of Gentiles drawn to the God of Israel, could not see this incarnation in the Jewish people but could see it in this one Jew who stood, without the church realizing it, for his people. Perhaps the crucifixion of Jesus can only be understood in the context of the crucifixion of the people of Israel, whose physical presence challenges those who hate God because in this people they see the God they hate. Perhaps the bond between Jesus and his people is much closer than has been thought.”
Wyschogrod is not certain that the word “incarnation” is the best way to describe God’s relation to the Jewish people, but he is sure of the scriptural witness that God dwells in the Tabernacle, the Temple in Jerusalem, and in the Holy Land. More important, more holy, than these is the people. “The holiness of the land of Israel is not equal to that of the people of Israel who enter it as a holy people and who leave it as such. God’s covenant is with the people and when the Temple is destroyed, the rabbis tell us, God goes into exile together with his people. And now, wherever a congregation gathers, wherever there are Jews, the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) gathers. Is this incarnation in a people? It is a movement in that direction. It is not identical with Christian incarnation. It is a less concentrated incarnation, an incarnation into a people spread out in time and place, with its saints and sinners, its moments of obedience and disobedience. But I do think that he who touches this people, touches God, and perhaps not altogether symbolically.”
While We’re At It
• Now that we have your attention, please help us get the attention of others. If you send us a list (it can be ever so long) of family members, friends, and associates who should be reading FT, we’ll send them a sample issue. Giving you full credit, of course. Think how grateful they will be.
• Back in 1985, the late Allan Bloom delivered a paper at a family and law conference at the University of Louvain in Belgium. The subject was no—fault divorce, a practice that today is viewed with increasing disfavor in this country. Bloom notes that many children of divorce have to undergo “therapy.” “This means that they have been told how to feel and what to think about themselves by psychologists who are paid by their parents to make the whole thing work out as painlessly for the parents as possible. This, it seems, is a part of no—fault divorce. If ever there was a conflict of interest, this is it. There are big bucks for therapists in divorce. . . . Psychologists are the sworn enemies of guilt. And they have an artificial language for the artificial feelings with which they equip children. Prosthesis for spiritual amputees, which unfortunately does not permit them to get a firm grip on anything.”
• The battle over the religion clause of the First Amendment, writes Frederick Mark Gedicks, is between the “secular individualism” embraced by the courts and our cultural elites, on the one hand, and the “religious communitarianism” that better fits the American social reality. In recent decades, secular individualism has been winning in the courts almost every time. For example, in Lee v. Weisman the Supreme Court protects a dissenting student from the burden of having to hear a prayer at graduation exercises, while in Lyng v. Northwest the same court approves the building of a logging road through sacred lands, making it impossible for a whole tribe of Indians to practice their religion. Gedicks writes: “Unfortunately, while secular individualism may provide an explanation of certain aspects of religion clause jurisprudence, as a general matter its account of the jurisprudence is simply implausible. Secular individualism’s confinement of religious belief and action to private life is neutral between religion and nonreligion only if one can demonstrate the undemonstrable—that religion is inherently and intrinsically private. Similarly, secular individualism can defend the parochial school aid decisions as neutral between religion and nonreligion only if one makes the ridiculous assumption that contemporary government aid to public elementary and secondary education is insignificant. Secular individualism can justify the religious symbol, religious college aid, and tax exemption cases only by disingenuously arguing that sacred celebrations and potent symbols of religious faith—the Sabbath, the creche, the menorah—have little or no religious significance; that religious colleges and social service organizations are not significantly religious; and that churches and other religious organizations look and act like secular nonprofit organizations. Finally, secular individualism can defend legislative, but not judicial, free exercise exemptions only by draining the free exercise clause of substantive content and effect. Thus, for secular individualism to become a plausible account of religion clause jurisprudence, this jurisprudence must abandon the ideal of neutrality between religion and nonreligion in justifying decisions; it must eliminate any kind of direct financial or other assistance, including religiously defined tax exemptions, to religious institutions; and it must refuse to countenance even legislatively approved free exercise exemptions.” Of course there are formidable political barriers that prevent secular individualism from consistently, and ruthlessly, outlawing religion entirely from public life. An alternative proposed by Gedicks and others is that religion is inherently public and that the “group rights” of free exercise should be recognized by the courts. He is not sanguine about carrying the day with that argument, but he is convinced that the self-acknowledged shambles of the Supreme Court’s religion clause decisions means that the days of secular individualism are numbered. All of this is persuasively argued in The Rhetoric of Church and State: A Critical Analysis of Religion Clause Jurisprudence (Duke University Press, 196 pp., $18.95
• Then there is Susan von Struensee, a single Boston lawyer who moved into a new house and, in order to ward off prank callers, added a man’s name to her phone book listing. As the junk mail began arriving, she was “astonished” to discover how much of it was addressed to her fictitious husband “Wilhelm.” So, of course, she filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, charging three solicitors with gender discrimination. She reports “with a hint of satisfaction” (it says here) that one of the solicitors “took my claim seriously and fired its marketer.” The relentless pursuit of justice. How sweet it is.
• Johan Heyns was a ruddy-faced, robust fellow in his late fifties when I first met him in the early eighties. I interviewed him for a book I was then writing, Dispensations: The Future of South Africa as South Africans See It (Eerdmans, 1986). Heyns was professor of theology at the University of Pretoria and was viewed by many as tilting toward the verligte (enlightened) side of Dutch Reformed opinion. Yet in 1983 he had been elected to the very influential position of moderator in the Transvaal. A close student of Karl Barth, Heyns told me, “In the theological world, and more generally, South Africa is judged negatively because we have invited a negative judgment. We reap what we sow. Until the last decade we tried to theologically legitimate what is manifestly illegitimate. Now we’re paying the price.” Heyns repudiated the theologizing of Afrikaner dominance, but he was also uneasy with liberationists who theologized the armed struggle against apartheid. Should the story of South Africa be understood as tragedy? I asked him. He answered, “Is it a tragic history? Of course tragedy is involved in all of history, but I would not say that our history as a whole is a tragedy. No, I would have no right to say that. I don’t know that, I have no basis in the word of God for saying it. If I said that, I would be guilty of the same presumption practiced by [the ideologists of apartheid] who say our history is the revelation of God’s purposes. All I can say is that it’s our history, it’s not the history of our choosing but we have to do our best with it.” Johan Heyns made his peace with the new all—race government under President Nelson Mandela, but to some more militant Afrikaners he was viewed as a sellout. One of them paid a visit on November 5, 1994. Reverend Heyns was sitting in the living room of his Pretoria home with his wife and grandchildren when an assassin, standing only six yards away, fired a high—powered rifle through an open window. The bullet had been modified to do maximum damage. It blew off Johan Heyns’ head. That is the opening scene in a new book by June Goodwin and Ben Schiff, Heart of Whiteness: Afrikaners Face Black Rule in the New South Africa (Scribner). “It’s not the history of our choosing but we have to do our best with it.” I believe Johan Heyns did that. He was an honorable man. Requiescat in pace.
• This suspiciously populist and potentially dangerous idea is attributed to James Gardner: “An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” Next thing you know they’ll be saying the same thing about theologians.
• In a political movement, rhetoric isn’t everything but it’s a lot. So this from catholic eye, a very lively newsletter reportedly edited by a certain Jim McFadden: “Why do we eschew ‘pro-life’ and call ourselves ‘anti-abortion’? The short answer is, honesty: ‘pro-life’ is a euphemism that has been effectively countered (with endless media support) by ‘pro-choice’—we do not ‘link’ abortion with any other issues; that led to the ‘Seamless Garment’ which in effect holds that, in a perfect world, abortion would disappear. No, we see Roe v. Wade as our Dred Scott, and abortion as the analogue to slavery; the Abolitionists were not afraid to be ‘negative’—they fought not for Utopia but against slavery alone—they saw it as a singular evil that could be defeated in both the moral and political realms.” We’re not entirely persuaded, but we’re thinking about it.
• An old monk was asked what they do in a monastery and he replied, “Oh, we fall and get up, we fall and get up, we fall and get up.” That was told by the master general of the Dominicans, Father Timothy Radcliffe, in a recent address on the “identity” of those in religious orders. With modesty and humor, he reflected on the ways in which the very idea of vocation is increasingly alien where people are valued and identified only by their function, where function is divorced from who we are. In such a world, he suggested, religious communities, composed of people who have given up the usual marks of identity, must provide identity. “That is why I have great sympathy with the young religious who today often demand clear signs of their identity as members of a religious order. The adventure for my generation, who grew up with a strong sense of Catholic and even Dominican identity, was to cast off the symbols that set us apart from others, like the habit, and immerse ourselves in modernity, let ourselves be tested by its doubts and share its questions. And this was right and fruitful. But the young who come to us today often are the children of that modernity, and they have been haunted by its questions since childhood. They have sometimes other needs, clear signs of being a member of a religious community, to sustain them in this very odd way of being a human being.” Fr. Radcliffe concludes with this nice reflection on that “odd way of being a human being.” “The value of being a religious is that it gives vivid expression to the destiny of every human being. For every human being discovers his or her identity in answering the summons of God to share the divine life. We are called to give particular and radical expression to that vocation by leaving behind any other identity that could seduce our hearts. Other vocations, such as marriage, give alternative expressions to that human destiny.” Along the way of his thoughtful reflection, he refers to the recent apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata (The Consecrated Life) which reaffirmed a truth much neglected in recent years—that the “odd way” of the monastic life is, along with the lay life and that of the ordered ministry, constitutive of the fullness of being the Church. Knowing that they are there helps us, who so often fall, get up.
• Pastor Keith Krebs of Emmanuel Lutheran in Walla Walla, Washington, says he and his friends are puzzled by the use of the word “religion” in these pages. “What is meant by the word religion? What is the difference between religion and ersatz religion? Is Islam religion? Is Christian faith religion? Were Nazis religious? Hymns, crooked crosses, Heil Hitler? Is pounding two sticks together at midnight under a full moon and chanting in a monotone religion? Is Judaism religion? Is what I say religion is religion? I have a friend who tells me, ‘I have my own religion.’ He means his Masonic Lodge. I have heard people speak of real religion and false religion and ponder the difference.” Fair enough question, although numerous tomes have attempted, without success, a definitive answer. I thought it would be convenient to cite Webster but found only this: “The service and worship of God or the supernatural.” That is too narrow. Religion, from religere, has to do with what is binding, what holds things together. I would venture a definition somewhat along these lines: A religion combines (1) a more or less systematic correlation of beliefs that purports to offer a comprehensive explanation of reality, (2) the practical truths normative for living in accord with that reality, and (3) the practices or rituals that provide a measure of communion with the vital center of that reality. All three elements are explicitly present in what are explicitly called religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. But there are also movements, communities, or ideologies that are functionally religious—e.g., Marxism, Nazism, New Age, psychoanalysis, scientific materialism—that do not admit to being religions, although they clearly propose, if only incoherently and partially, the three elements mentioned above. For their adherents, they are frequently substitute or ersatz religions. A “false” religion may be a “real” religion, but it proposes doctrine, morality, or ritual that is not true. In these pages, however, “religion” usually refers to the worship and service of God, as in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. There now, with one bold definitional stroke we have made obsolete all those learned tomes, and we would not be surprised if our friends in Walla Walla are more puzzled than before.
• I’ve been trying to put it to rest for years, but this cat has nine times nine lives. She appears again in another incarnation in an interview that Jeff Greenfield did with Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition. Greenfield asks whether one can derive from Christian faith a set of public policy specifics. Reed: “I guess my argument on that would be what Martin Luther said, which is: I would rather be operated on by a Turkish surgeon than a Christian butcher.” The usual form of it is, “I would rather be ruled by a wise Turk than by a stupid Christian.” I had used it for years in speeches and writing until I was challenged. My curiosity piqued, I launched an inquiry that ended up involving scholars and librarians both here and in Europe, only to discover that Luther never said it. It fits Luther’s “twofold kingdom” approach to civil governance, and he said much of the same purport, but please take this as yet another effort to put it to rest.
• Several months ago was the news that the first woman ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England had been received into the Roman Catholic Church. Now Pastor Sharon Zanter Ross, a prominent figure among “evangelical catholics” in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), has been received into the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). She writes to friends in the ELCA: “In the past, I encouraged you to stay and resist the various idolatries that have plagued us. Naively, I believed that the evangelical catholic vision would, because it should, win the hearts of all Lutherans. Without a right appraisal of the complexity of the problems as well as the depth of the deterioration of our church (and indeed, of all Western Protestantism), I could continue to hope that even a small group could rescue it from its worst tendencies. But over the last six years I have been made to face, with great anguish and many tears, the truth about the future and come to some difficult decisions.” She writes that it might have been possible to stay in the ELCA were it not for her children. “Since 1990, as my understanding of motherhood and the responsibilities of the spiritual guidance of children has grown, I have come to see that it would not be fair to the little flock entrusted to my care to stay.” She wrestled with the fact that, as a member of the Orthodox Church, she would be giving up her ordained status, but concluded, “After all, what good is my ordination in a church body which witnesses less and less the faith of the apostles and fathers which is the essential core without which the reformers would have nothing to confess?” “Sharon’s decision,” says an ELCA theologian who is remaining, “puts further pressure on all of us as to what we will do, since we cannot disagree with her description of what has happened in the ELCA.”
• You may recall the report on the great brouhaha involving John Finnis, Robert George, and Martha Nussbaum and their testimony in the Colorado Amendment 2 case (Gerard V. Bradley, “In the Case of Martha Nussbaum,” FT, June/July 1994). Opponents of the amendment claimed that opposition to homosexuality is either irrational animus or a peculiarly religious teaching (in the latter case, the amendment would allegedly have violated the “no establishment” provision of the First Amendment). Nussbaum testified under oath that such as Plato and Aristotle were neutral or approving toward homosexual acts; that moral disapproval entered the picture only with Christianity. Finnis and George caught her cold on her misrepresentation of key texts, the clear implication being that Nussbaum had perjured herself. An extensive reprise of these events in the academic magazine Lingua Franca written by Daniel Mendelsohn vindicates Finnis and George on the facts, although it goes on to partially excuse Nussbaum on the grounds that, as an academic humanist, she was not familiar with the “discourse level” of a trial, as distinct from a university symposium. In other words, truth and precision matter in a trial. Our broad-mindedness is evident in our subsequently publishing Edward T. Oakes’ largely favorable review of Nussbaum’s recent book, The Therapy of Desire (August/September 1995). But in the future she would be well-advised to stay out of courtrooms.
• Freedom House, based in New York, is one of the most respected monitors of human rights throughout the world. It has just brought out In the Lion’s Den: A Primer on the Mounting Persecution Around the World and How American Christians Can Respond. Among the report’s findings: “In China, 1996 has been ‘the most repressive period’ for Catholics and Protestants since the late 1970s, according to American Christians working there. Chinese police are currently circulating an arrest warrant with the names of three thousand evangelical preachers on it while thousands of others languish in China’s religious gulag for defying Communist government orders that ban free worship. In Sudan, the militant Muslim government continues its religious war against the Christian southern part of the country, where thousands of Christian children are captured from their families and sold at open—air slave markets for as little as $15 a piece. In Saudi Arabia, no public expression of Christianity is permitted. It is illegal to wear a cross necklace, to read a Bible, or to utter a Christian prayer even in the privacy of one’s home. In December 1995, seven Indian nationals were arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for conducting a private Christmas service.” In addition to those three, Pakistan, North Korea, Vietnam, Egypt, and Nigeria are among the countries where persecution of Christians is especially virulent. The report includes the splendid “Statement of Conscience” on persecuted Christians issued this past year by the National Association of Evangelicals. In the Lion’s Den is available for $5.95 from Bristol House Publishing, 1-800-451-READ.
• I admit it. I very much dislike rock and all its pomps and its works and its ways. Others have explained better than I why it is so dislikable. Allan Bloom, for instance, in The Closing of the American Mind. And Richard Brookhiser in a piece occasioned by reading that megachurches favor rock music for their “entertainment worship.” Just like the political conventions, just like the Olympics, just like everyone everywhere, says Brookhiser. Those of a certain age say they remember when rock was better. “It hasn’t changed for forty years,” he responds, “and it never will, because it is so easy to do well enough.” The music requires no talent, the words are dumb, and there is easy money to be made. Brookhiser: “It is easy to make a buck selling it. Because the product is so generic, primitive, and witless, the distributors and marketers can know nothing, ingest huge quantities of drugs, and still not be too addled to make millions. The fields I know best are journalism, publishing, and politics, so I do know something about laziness and empty pretensions. But if there was ever a land of opportunity for the feckless, the modern music industry is it. Rock is a form of popular culture that aims downward in terms of class and age, instead of aiming up. Rather than aspiring, it despires. The preceding phase of popular music, encompassing jazz, dance bands, and show tunes, was urban and adult. Rock is kids channeling the rhythms of bumpkins. The worst thing about rock is not that it fails the culture, but that it fails on its own terms—and hence fails us. Popular music is a marker and a memory aid. Most of the important events in life—romance, courtship, celebration—are accompanied by it. We remember them because of their importance to us, no matter what was on the radio. But if the music is crude and blank, does not some of its crudity and blankness infect the experience and the memory? And while popular music mostly amplifies pre-existing emotion, at its best it can tug us, tease us, make us grow. Not rock. For all its supposedly revolutionary ethos, rock is a binary switch of angst and hormones—Kafka without humor, or centerfolds in notes. The emotions that unsettle, like stones under a sleeping bag—hope, regret—are beyond its ken. And so they are beyond our ken, to the extent rock stuffs our ears. It’s Bottom Forty, all junk, all the time. And it’s here to stay.” He’s probably right, and megachurches that debase the beautiful, trim the true, and detach the good from uncomfortable demands will likely continue to flourish with the help of it. Upon this rock they’ve built their church.
• An academic reader was asked by a publisher to review the manuscript of a textbook called Practicing American Politics. In the chapter on “Political Socialization,” he came across this: “Many of these religions (Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism) resemble one another because of their common Middle Eastern and European origins.” Ah, so that’s the connection.
• A biography of former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Runcie, has caused a great furor over there. It seems that Humphrey Carpenter, son of an old friend of Runcie’s, got his lordship into a mellow mood and tape recorded all kinds of indiscreet reflections on all sorts of people, including the Royals. Lord Runcie says he thought his informal reflections were for the “archives,” but Mr. Carpenter went ahead and used them, as did that other pillar of the establishment, the Times, which ran juicy excerpts in advance of the book’s publication. Lord Runcie apparently has a dim view of the mental capacities of the Princess of Wales: “When you began on abstract ideas, you could see her eyes cloud over.” Bruce Anderson retorts in the Spectator: “Did it never occur to him to blame the poverty of his exposition?” Runcie reports that Prince Charles doesn’t think much of the Church of England, holding that clergy should devote more attention to spiritual matters and to actually serving the poor rather than telling the government what it should be doing. Runcie says “these were not seriously sustained arguments. My relationship with him was friendly, but I couldn’t get much depth out of it.” To which Anderson observes, “One man was incapable of depth or serious argument; it was not the Prince of Wales.” Anderson writes: “A solicitor or doctor who broke confidences could face dismissal from his profession. No similar sanctions apply to Primates of all England, except infamy, from which there can be no reinstatement.” Then Anderson gets seriously critical: “When Lord Runcie was consecrated as a bishop, he joined an apostolic succession stretching back to St. Peter. He has now proved himself to be a worthy successor of a different disciple: Judas Iscariot.” As for his lordship, he has said that, when he found out what Carpenter was going to use in the biography, he had hoped to die before it appeared. From the excerpts I have seen, Runcie did not say anything all that scandalous, unless one is so fervent a monarchist as to be scandalized by any criticism whatever of the Royals. And he may have thought his remarks would not be published until after, say, the death of Charles III. But there is no doubt his lordship violated confidences, and there is no doubt he exhibited astonishingly bad judgment in having no control over the publication of his uninhibited gossip. Judas Iscariot is decidedly going too far, but it does look like Lord Runcie is ending his days by further diminishing the radically diminished dignity and credibility of the Church of England.
• When I first started writing about the “culture wars” many years ago, I would occasionally use the German term Kulturkampf, and some critics thought that a bit of a stretch. I don’t think it is, and I’m glad to see that Jeremy Rabkin, professor of government at Cornell, also draws out the striking parallels with Bismarck’s efforts in the 1870s to reduce, if not eliminate, the presence of the Catholic Church in German public life. Writing in the Public Interest, Rabkin notes that besieged Catholics then, like conservative Christians in this country now, responded by forming political coalitions that successfully turned back the secularist assault. The counterpart to Bismarck today, says Rabkin, is the Supreme Court. “For the most striking aspect of the Court’s stance is how strangely anachronistic it is. Its overriding concern, to protect ‘secular’ government from improper ‘religious’ influence, rests on a dichotomy that is no longer very clear. Does the Declaration of Independence, in claiming that men are ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,’ rest on a premise that is ‘secular’ or ‘religious’? When the Court itself demands that government respect its latest notion of ‘equality,’ does it rest, in the last analysis, on scientifically ascertainable truth or mystical faith? This is the age of postmodernism. It is an age when the leading universities sponsor professors and publish books denouncing the ‘masculinist’ or ‘logocentric’ or ‘Eurocentric’ bias of modern science. But the Court still seems to live in the mental world of Victorian liberalism, rushing to enlist in A. D. White’s ‘war of humanity against unreason.’ The religious right, to the extent that it has become an effective player in the ‘culture war,’ has done so by making alliances and building coalitions across the divides of earlier times. It is not at all particular about whether its allies are ‘religious’ or ‘secular’ and eagerly disavows such sharp dichotomies. In an age of confusing transitions, the justices are the last dogmatists. It requires such dogmatists to sustain a culture war.”
• “Heretics in the Laboratory” is the heading of a story in Newsweek. It seems that there are quite a number of (gasp) creationists among scientists doing research in reputable institutions. “The overwhelming weight of evidence supports evolution,” says Newsweek in its concluding paragraph. “The presence of creationists in the lab, then, is a valuable reminder that scientists are only human.” Ah, so the presence of an alternative position helps keep the evolutionists humble? No, no, that’s not what is meant at all. The final sentence clarifies things: “A powerful ideology, be it creationism or capitalism or anything else, can shape some scientists’ conclusions as strongly as any empirical evidence.” In other words, creationists and capitalists have a powerful ideology while evolutionists are ideology-free. I hold no brief for what is usually called creationism, but surely there is no conceptual scheme that is more precisely ideological, in every accepted meaning of the term, than the theory of evolution, especially the evolutionary materialism espoused by the Newsweek article. Ideology is not necessarily a bad thing. The question is whether an ideology is true. By pounding the table and insisting that evolution is fact and not theory, evolutionists reject a rational testing of their claims, thereby increasing the number of creationists who, if it comes down to an act of faith, trust the Bible (or their understanding of it) more than Darwin.
• Many observers of the American religious scene have remarked—sometimes with approval, sometimes with anger, but more often with puzzlement—on the dismantling of student Christian movements in the sixties and seventies. It was a phenomenon that involved almost all the major denominations, and the Summer 1995 issue (which has just arrived) of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies devotes an entire issue to what happened and what, if anything, might be done about it. Interested parties can write the journal at Temple University (022-38), Philadelphia, PA 19122.
• People have stopped counting how many millions of copies of the Catechism of the Catholic Church have been sold since it was first published in 1992. That doesn’t mean that Catholic catechesis is now in dandy shape. In a book that is the more devastating by virtue of its detailed documentation, Msgr. Michael Wrenn and Kenneth Whitehead explain how “the catechetical establishment” that opposed the Catechism in the first place is, at least in many cases, doing its best to undermine the use of the Catechism (Flawed Expectations: The Reception of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ignatius, 418 pp., $17.95
paper). It is really not surprising, however, that religious education experts say the Catechism is “over the heads of the people.” If the people can get the real thing by themselves, maybe they would not be quite so dependent on the experts. Wrenn and Whitehead do find some commentaries and guides to the Catechism that are a real help, including these: “‘Essentials of the Faith’ by Father Alfred McBride, O.Praem., and ‘The Mystery We Proclaim’ by Francis D. Kelly (both published by Our Sunday Visitor), as well as ‘A Concise Companion & Commentary for the New Catechism’ (Christian Classics) by James Tolhurst, ‘The Splendour of Doctrine’ (T&T Clark) by Aidan Nichols, O.P., and ‘New Vision, New Directions’ (Thomas More) by Robert J. Hater.” The authors end up on the hopeful note that, now that the real thing is out there in millions of copies, the forgeries will, in time, be consigned to the dustbin of the irrelevant. We can hope.
• Maggie Gallagher, prominent advocate of a feminism that makes sense, went to see The First Wives Club, the smash movie, and it got her to thinking. She notes the research that indicates that in only one out of five divorces do both parties really want out of the marriage. Gallagher has suggested a five—year waiting period for contested no—fault divorces. This, she says, drew a lot of mail. “After thirty—six years of marriage, one woman’s husband decided to leave her for someone younger, who could, as she put it, ‘rejuvenate, excite, and feed his ego. . . . All my dreams, hopes, and looking forward to some well-earned “golden time” were dashed to smithereens.’ With what casual cruelty did the law facilitate her husband’s desires and ignore her own? For twenty—five years we’ve lavished all our concern and attention on the needs, feelings, and interests of the spouse who wants out. Maybe it’s time we developed at least a little empathy for the abandoned spouse, whom the law now treats like a piece of unwanted trash, a loose end to be tidied up as rapidly as possibly. For, as the overwhelming public response to The First Wives Club reminds us, whatever the courts and legislatures may say, in the deepest places in the human heart, there is no such thing as a no—fault divorce.”
• Book banning is a very bad thing and I’m adamantly opposed to it. So you may think I’m terribly grateful that there are organizations like People for the American Way (PAW) that monitor and combat such nefarious activities. Not really. The problem is in countering censorship with lies. Marc Herman’s job with PAW, he writes in Harper’s magazine, “was to research book banning in the public schools and, particularly, to investigate evidence of censorship promulgated by the religious right.” Each year he wrote PAW’s annual report on “Attacks on the Freedom to Learn”; each year the report said things were getting alarmingly worse; each year he was making it all up; and each year the media loved it. “The problem is,” says Herman, “the numbers are cooked.” For example, the PAW annual report features the “the most challenged book in America,” conventionally a leftist book that has established its literary merits. The Most Challenged Book, says Herman, “usually has elicited fewer than ten complaints among the country’s roughly eighty thousand public schools,” and the challenge is typically one parent’s gripe, about which nothing is done. Only once did a reporter question the spiraling year—to—year statistics on increasing censorship. “We just lied to him until he went away,” says Herman. “It’s no news that people in Washington lie. PAW’s report is certainly not the only example of a problem being kept ‘alive’ for the sake of an organization’s press profile.” And for the sake of demonizing that awful “religious right.”
• “We are pleased to stand with many devout Christian brothers and sisters throughout the United States who have likewise chosen to sever all ties with an organization whose actions we find to be morally reprehensible as well as antithetical to the values they formerly professed.” That is Father Edward J. Weisenburger, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, announcing that the archdiocese and the diocese of Tulsa have sold approximately $30
0,000 in stocks in the Walt Disney Corp. Specifically, they are protesting Priest, a movie that, said Fr. Weisenburger, “portrayed Catholic clergy as morally destitute and emotionally troubled due to church teachings,” and the promotion of “fantasy weddings” at a Walt Disney World wedding pavilion. The fantasy weddings, it is claimed, parody the Christian understanding of marriage. The Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, and American Family Association are among other groups that have called for a boycott of Disney. The Disney Corporation has recently appointed Fr. Leo O’Donovan, President of Georgetown University in Washington, to its board. Fr. Weisenburger said that would make no difference in the archdiocese’s position. Fair or not, the impression is widespread that Fr. O’Donovan is, from Disney’s viewpoint, a safe cleric who will not get in the way of business as usual.
• About forty—five million of the fifty—five million people of France have been baptized, but now a “debaptism movement” is underway. Not in a big way, mind you, but its self—described atheist promoters claim that one to three thousand people have asked to have their names stricken from parish baptismal rolls. Church leaders claim that fewer than eight hundred people have requested debaptism, a request that cannot be granted in any case. Father Olivier de la Brosse, speaking for the bishops, points out that baptism is a permanent gift and marks one’s “birth as a Christian.” “You can’t deny a birth,” he said. “The Church cannot accept that someone is giving back the gift of God.” The movement, such as it is, caught national attention when anticlericals used it to protest the Pope’s recent visit to France. “Although I am anti-God and anti-religion, this is more a political way to protest,” explained one marcher against the visit. “It took me a long time to decide” to ask for debaptism, said a young state worker, who has yet to work up the nerve to tell his parents. “You have to be deeply convinced you don’t believe in God.” It takes something like a leap of faith.
• “It was precisely [for] that reason that law enforcement officials believed that taping the confession, like taping a meeting between a suspect and his lawyer, held particular promise of revealing information that would help secure a conviction.” That is from a friend—of—court brief filed by the U.S. Catholic Conference in support of an appeal to the Ninth Circuit to order the destruction of a tape that was made of a sacramental confession by Conan Wayne Hale to Father Timothy Mockaitis in the Lane County Jail in Portland, Oregon. The brief, joined by a wide array of Protestant and Jewish organizations, declares: “These actions of the state are not simply ‘wrong’ but, we will argue, clearly violate the First and Fourth amendments to the Constitution. Furthermore, by conducting this surreptitious taping, the district attorney potentially violated the Fifth Amendment by creating a situation in which a suspect, Hale, may virtually have been forced to incriminate himself in order to participate in one of the church’s sacraments. The preservation of this ill—gotten gain compounds the wrong and perpetuates the violation. The only appropriate remedy is to restore the status quo ante—to destroy the tape and transcript so that no further violations can occur.” As the brief documents, the privileged nature of penitential communications to clergy is supported in federal law and that of most states. On a recent visit to Oregon, I was told by clergy, both Protestant and Catholic, that prison ministries have been severely crippled, which is just what one would expect when nobody knows who is listening in. This is an outrage that needs more outrage.
• Sex and Longing, a play by Christopher Durang, had a run at the Cort Theater here. Critic Donald Lyons of the Wall Street Journal was not amused. “Thanks to Lincoln Center Theater, the producer of this 2 1/2—hour skit, Mr. Durang has bigger toys to play with than would a high school wit. But his imagination is as unsurprising. His theme: Christians and Republicans are diabolical rapists or genocidal monsters. His problem: how to embody these cliches in character and story. His solutions: 1) have two cute sexual compulsives—a straight woman and a gay man—fall into the clutches of a raping reverend and a homophobic, Mariolatrous first lady; 2) have sets dominated by giant crucifixes (even, implausibly, in Protestant homes) or American flags as emblems of evil; 3) have a serial killer pose as Jesus Christ. There is, in a word, no story, just attitude, deployed without wit or nuance. About Mr. Durang’s attitudes it is scarcely necessary to speak, any more than one would correct a stand—up comic going on about the crime rate in New York City. They are the small change of showbiz chic. Today it takes courage not to voice but rather to oppose them. A small example: In a recent Entertainment Weekly, critic Lisa Schwarzbaum, noting the use of crucifixes by psychos in two recent flicks, says: ‘At the risk of sounding like Michael Medved . . . the implication at which nobody bats an eyelash [is that] Catholic symbols are a shorthand way of saying, “Beware, cuckoos at work!”’“ When I run an item like this, I can always count on some readers saying that Christians, and Catholics in particular, are too thin-skinned. Their message is: “Grow up and get used to it.” Even if we prescind from the Christian and Catholic factor, however, we should not get used to it. Adolescent pranks such as Sex and Longing pass for art in what is laughably called high culture, and attention must be paid. We should not weary of pointing out that no other group is advised to get used to vicious defamation. Not blacks, not Jews, not women, not the handicapped, not anybody. Only Christians, and especially Catholic Christians. I’ve great sympathy for my friend Bill Donohue over at the Catholic League. He’s always being asked, “Can’t you take a joke?” His job is to be angry, as in righteous indignation. Our job is to cheer him on, along with others who are in the protest business. The unkindest thing is to let Christopher Durang and the herd of untalented bigots think that they are, as they say, creative. We should not let them get used to it. A culture is a terrible thing to waste.
• After the presidential election—allowing time for inaugural solemnities—come indictments, trials, and, at least according to some, impeachment. Maybe so. Not least among the acts waiting in the wings is the Paula Jones case. Liberal journalist Stuart Taylor, formerly legal correspondent for the New York Times, has written on that in the American Lawyer. He says he started out being very skeptical about Jones’ allegations that Bill Clinton got her into a hotel room and made bizarre sexual advances, but the more he investigated the matter the more plausible the allegations seemed. Generally overlooked by the media, Taylor writes, “has been the fact that the evidence supporting Paula Jones’ allegation of predatory, if not depraved, behavior by Bill Clinton is far stronger than the evidence supporting Anita Hill’s allegations of far less serious conduct by Clarence Thomas.” Particularly reprehensible in his view is the feminist response to the Jones case. “Not a single one of the feminist groups that clamored first for a hearing for Anita Hill, and then for Clarence Thomas’ head, has lifted a finger on behalf of Paula Jones. . . . And most striking, in my view, is the hypocrisy (or ignorance) and class bias of feminists and liberals—who proclaimed during the Hill—Thomas uproar that ‘women don’t make these things up,’ and that ‘you just don’t get it’ if you presumed Thomas innocent until proven guilty—only to spurn Jones’ allegations of much more serious (indeed, criminal) conduct as unworthy of belief and legally frivolous.” A small blessing, maybe, is that, because of President Clinton’s vulnerabilities on that score, the election campaign gave us a brief respite from the incessant talk about sexual harassment. On the other hand, there really is such a thing as sexual harassment, and people should not be exempted from the norms of decency, never mind from the law, for reasons of political partisanship.
• The shameless behavior of U.S. companies and the Clinton Administration in not letting massive human rights violations interfere with making a buck has reached new highs. China has announced that Pharmacia & Upjohn, a U.S. company, has entered into an agreement with China’s Family Planning Commission to invest a hundred million dollars in contraceptive research to assist that country’s program of population control. At the signing ceremony, Lars Birgerson, the company’s vice president, donated to the Chinese regime five thousand packets of Depo-Provera, a contraceptive injection. According to the news release, he did so “expressing his hope that the contraceptive provides a new choice for the Chinese women.” It may not exactly be choice, but some women may prefer it to being forced to undergoing an abortion for violating China’s law against more than one child per couple.
• Please, spare us the letters of protest on this one. Some readers—a small minority, I am glad to say—are outraged when one of our writers is less than fully orthodox. They are only partially appeased when we point out that in a serious journal of ideas things are published with which the editors do not necessarily agree. Such is the case in this issue with Professor Postman’s concluding reflections on biblical faith as a “limited human rendering of the Truth.” Biblical faith is, of course, much more than that, but this is Prof. Postman’s article. And a splendidly wise and engaging article it is, which I warmly commend for your careful reading.
• Few have the nerve to say it. The conventional line is that it is everybody’s moral duty to get out and vote. In his debate, so to speak, with Bob Dole, President Clinton even suggested that the voting period be extended over several weeks so that people who were “too busy” on voting day could cast their ballot. Linda Chavez disagrees. She refers to a survey that indicates, inter alia, that 40 percent of adult Americans cannot name the Vice President (he is easy to forget) and almost 50 percent don’t know who is the Speaker of the House (despite a zillion dollars in Democratic television ads attacking him). Chavez concludes: “Democracy entails more than a willing electorate. Those who do vote have a responsibility to understand the political process and know something about the issues and candidates before they enter the polling booth. Those who can’t be bothered to educate themselves jeopardize democracy with their ignorance. All of us would be better off if the ill-informed stayed home on Election Day.”
• In October the Pope sent greetings to a pontifical meeting of scientists and, in the course of his remarks, observed that evolution is not merely a “hypothesis” but a theory supported by impressive evidence. That was splashed over the front page of our parish newspaper and received much comment in the broadcast media. But was it news? Not really. He said nothing that has not been the received wisdom in Catholic teaching for a long time. So why the fuss? Here the ancient maxim applies: Do not seek further explanations when ignorance will do. Journalists are, as a group, notoriously ignorant of religious teaching. An additional explanation suggests itself, however. It was a lovely opportunity to score two points. First, the Catholic Church is opposed to those conservative Christians who are so bothered by evolution and the Genesis accounts of creation. Second, the Catholic Church is at long last catching up with the modern world. One expects that few newsrooms have a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or, if they do, that it is gathering dust. Consulting it would have killed what was viewed as a great story. “The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms, and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers” (283). The Catechism goes on to list theories of origins that are incompatible with Christian faith, such as pantheism, Manichaeism, Gnosticism, Deism, and materialism. When evolution is proposed, as it commonly is, in the form of philosophical materialism, it is clearly rejected by the Church. As for the inspired texts of Genesis, the Catechism asserts: “Read in the light of Christ, within the unity of Sacred Scripture and in the living Tradition of the Church, these texts remain the principal source for catechesis on the mysteries of the ‘beginning’: creation, fall, and promise of salvation” (289). Biochemist Michael J. Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box, comments on the Pope’s October statement. He notes that the Pope is careful to point out that it is better to speak of “theories of evolution” in the plural. As discussed in these pages (see Phillip E. Johnson’s review of Behe, October 1996), Behe makes a strong scientific case for the “irreducible complexity” of cellular life, for which the best explanation is intelligent design, and therefore a Designer behind the design. He argues that religion has made ample room for science, but many scientists very unscientifically exclude religion. Behe concludes: “Intelligent design may mean that the ultimate explanation for life is beyond scientific explanation. That assessment is premature. But even if it is true, I would not be troubled. I don’t want the best scientific explanation for the origins of life; I want the correct explanation. Pope John Paul spoke of ‘theories of evolution.’ Right now it looks as if one of those theories involves intelligent design.”
• So, in reviewing a book on the Holocaust, I wrote, as I have written before, that “the Holocaust is our only culturally available icon of absolute evil.” To date I’ve heard from Armenians, Mexicans, African-Americans, and from one reader writing on behalf of American Indians. What about what other people did to them? they all want to know. I was particularly taken with a protest from a Celtic Coalition based in California and claiming 3,500 members. What about what the Brits have done to the Irish? they want to know. In addition to protesting the above statement, the coalition is unhappy that, in a different comment, I listed “Brittany” as one of the frivolous names given girls. “Brittany,” I am instructed, “is the name of one of the six Celtic nations. It happens to be incorporated into France at this time but had a long independent history, as it will again. In France it is known as Breton or Bretagne.” The association deplores my ignorance of “history, geography, and French imperialism.” Brittany shall be free! It has a nice ring to it. As for my remark on the Holocaust, and as I explained in the review, the crucial phrase is “culturally available.” The Holocaust is not the only icon of absolute evil, but it is the only one about which everybody, or almost everybody, is agreed. Most readers, no doubt, could come up with a more extensive list of icons of evil, although I confess that I’m going to have to think a bit more about Brittany.
• Among my reportorial tics is that I keep an eye on the Thanksgiving proclamations issued by Presidents. A couple in the Clinton Administration were notable for being thoroughly secular and self-promoting in their implicit references to Clinton’s supposed accomplishments. We happen to know that issues of FT are snuck into the White House, and maybe somebody there read our complaint. Or maybe the 1996 proclamation is simply part of Clinton’s famous triangulating shuffle toward a more conservative image. In any event, the 1996 proclamation is a very explicit call to worship and to reawaken America “to the genius of our founders in daring to build the world’s first constitutional democracy on the foundation of trust and thanks to God.” It even refers, in a manner refreshingly incorrect, to our responsibility for the larger family of “mankind.” Also restored is the traditional use of “the year of our Lord.” I expect this is the only page in the entire country that will take note of these changes, and hope that my pointing them out will not get anyone in the White House in trouble.
• Note the ad in this issue for that neat little organizer for your back copies of FT (gold embossed, yet). Each handsome cover holds a year or more of issues for permanent reference. To get yours, write Subscriber Services, 129 Phelps Avenue, Suite 312, Rockford, IL 61108.
• Were you thinking of putting cousin Herbert on your list?