The Public Square
Come December 31, 1999, there’ll be a big millennium party in Times Square. According to Gretchen Dykstra of the business group that runs such things, it will be a twenty-four-hour affair with giant television screens conveying multicultural messages from the planet’s twenty-four time zones. There was a contest in which 641 people in twenty-one countries submitted ideas. One idea that was rejected would have an angel descending at midnight to recite the Lord’s Prayer, and a giant hand lowering the traditional New Year’s ball to the accompaniment of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Another rejected idea had a flying saucer landing in Times Square with two aliens emerging to abduct some earthlings and take them to a safer place.
Ms. Dykstra’s committee says a stumbling block is that much of the world—Jews, Muslims, and most Asian countries—use a different calendar, but that will not get in the way of holding a great global bash. Nowhere in this report is it mentioned what or who it is that makes the Year 2000 significant. To that observation some would reply that the party is a matter of looking forward, not backward. In this view, it is an interesting accident of antiquity that we number the years from the birth of Whatshisname, but the world has moved quite beyond that. To mention such antique particulars would be sectarian and divisive, whereas the events planned for Times Square and other places around the world aim, as they say, at uniting the global village.
Christians may be tempted to react to such thinking by claiming a religious copyright on the observance of the millennium or, even worse, settling for some acknowledgment of the “contributions” of Christ and his followers. That is a temptation to be resisted. The apparently secular yearning for human unity is a good thing and, whether secularists know it or not, the result of the cultural diffusion of the Christian message. It might be described as a triumph of Christianity without Christ. Christianity without Christ, however, cannot be sustained.
The Christian response to secular observances should not be one of churlishly grumbling about the neglect of Christ and Christianity. We should, rather, gratefully affirm what is true and worthy in such observances, while ourselves marking the millennium with a powerful and winsome testimony to the One who is the source and summit of all human hope. That is the proposal so compellingly offered in John Paul II’s apostolic letter of 1994, Tertio Millennio Adveniente (As the Third Millennium Nears). Regrettably, most Christians, including most Catholics, seem to be doing little in response to that proposal. The time really is drawing near. The great fault will be ours if—in Times Square, Berlin, Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, and elsewhere—the Year 2000 is observed with glitzy entertainments and vague utopian yearnings without a luminous witness to the One who is the Alpha and Omega of the human story.
Tongue-Tied in Public
I forget who said it, but I’m fond of quoting it: “America is so large and various that any generalization one might make about it is amply supported by evidence.” It was a British visitor in the last century, and it is a generalization amply supported by the evidence. Witness the publications coming out of a big project run by James Davison Hunter and Carl Bowman under the title of The State of Disunion. With the help of the Gallup organization, they have attempted a massive survey of the current political culture, and it makes for fascinating reading.
With Peter Steinfels of the New York Times, however, I wonder how much we really learn from such research. Nearly nine out of ten Americans agree that “America’s contribution is one of expanding freedom”; that “with hard work and perseverance, anyone can succeed in America”; and that the nation “was founded upon biblical principles” and “always had a destiny to set an example for other nations.” Fewer than 10 percent think America is improving as a nation, and more than half say it is in decline. Steinfels is fascinated by “the complexity, orneriness, and sheer self—contradiction of the American people.” He cites as an example that the same majority thinks the federal government is too big and also agrees that “Government often does a better job than people give it credit for.” That is not necessarily a self—contradiction. I could easily affirm both.
More to the point is the 85 percent who agree that “values are something that each of us must decide without being influenced by others,” and an even higher percentage agreeing that “what is true for me is not necessarily true for other persons.” At the same time, three—quarters agree that “we would all be better off if we could live by the same basic moral guidelines,” and that “those who violate God’s rules will be punished.” There would seem to be contradictions here, but maybe not. Most people are not philosophers or social critics, which is just as well.
The impression I take from browsing in The State of Disunion is a confirmed sense of how overwhelmingly conservative are the sensibilities of most Americans. Those sensibilities only sporadically come across as convictions that lend themselves to action, however, because the same people do not have a public language for the confident assertion of what they believe. From the media, the educational system, and elsewhere, they learn that the respectable answer in public must be framed in what Alasdair MacIntyre calls the vocabulary of individualistic emotivism. Thus the same people say that what’s right for me is not necessarily right for you, and that moral rules are objective and given by God.
Depending on how the question is put, people get chased from one vocabulary to the other. But they have internalized the cultural expectation that public language is relativistic and permissive, while the language of obedience to what Hunter elsewhere calls “the commanding truths” of normative moral tradition is essentially private. In fact, the language of, say, the biblical tradition is as public as can be. But the first language is one of permission, while the second threatens to impose; and most Americans have accepted the imposition of the view that it is a sin, or at least un-American, to impose one’s views upon others.
Hunter and Bowman come up with typologies to cluster these various beliefs and attitudes: “Traditionalist,” “Pragmatic,” “Permissivist,” etc. For the most part, however, the typologies track the conventional distinctions of conservative/liberal, right/left. I plan to do more mulling of the data, but at present they seem to reinforce the view that the great majority of Americans are privately conservative but feel forced to use a liberal vocabulary in public. The great success of liberalism has not been to change the minds of the American people but to make them publicly inarticulate about what they know they know.
Who’s Who in World Religions
I first met David Barrett in 1971 in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was doing pioneering work on indigenous religious movements in Africa, a subject on which I was going to write a book, until my attention was diverted by developments in South Africa. In recent years, Barrett has been running the research office of the AD2000 Global Evangelization Movement in Rockville, Virginia. Among numbers crunchers on world religion, Barrett is at the top of his field. He publishes an annual summary in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research and edits the relevant sections of the Britannica Book of the Year and Britannica World Data. While Barrett’s data are state of the art, he cautions that the art is precisely that, an art. Estimates involve some delicate distinctions and carefully controlled guesswork. But it is fascinating stuff.
For instance, there are 1.9 billion Christians in the world and slightly over one billion Muslims. Barrett estimates that in the year 2025 there will be over three billion Christians and 1.8 billion Muslims. Among Christians, there are 56 million Anglicans, 4 million Catholics (non-Roman), 20 million “marginal Protestants” (non-Catholic but also not identified with any Protestant tradition), 167 million nonwhite indigenous Christians (mainly new African groups combining Christianity and tribal religions), 187 million Eastern Orthodox (Russian, Greek, et al.), 347 million Protestants, and somewhat over a billion Roman Catholics.
Not everyone is happy with the way that Barrett counts Jews. He says that in 1900 there were 12.2 million Jews, 15.5 million in 1970, 18.2 million at present, and he projects that there will be 25.5 million in the year 2025. These figures are in tension with the common claim that “half of world Jewry” was wiped out in the Holocaust, and that the number of Jews is declining. For twenty-five years, Barrett has been in discussion with Jewish specialists who generally give a much lower figure for the number of Jews living today. One Jewish publication claims, “Statistical data are difficult to obtain among Jews owing to the lack of public sources.” Barrett challenges that: “Half of all nations in the world enumerate religious Jews and ethnic Jews in their decennial population censuses, and I have records of them all going back 140 years. Polls, partial censuses, sociological studies are all legion. Making sense of them is more difficult, but again the literature is enormous.”
He says that Jewish statistical experts use the concept of “core Jew,” meaning “real Jews” who are known, professing, affiliated, and usually practicing. Barrett, however, uses the larger category of “adherents” based on the definition in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He also includes adherents of “Jewish sects or cults, crypto-Jews, Third World adherents of Judaism who are ignored or disowned by core Jews, Black Jews, Black Hebrews, African groups like the Bayahuda in Uganda, and Asian groups like the Cochin Jews in Kerala and the Bney Israel in Bombay.” There are also groups that are somewhere between Christianity and Judaism or Islam and Judaism, but are more Jewish than Christian or Muslim. Then, of course, there are Messianic Jews, and ethnic Jews who are Christians or atheists. “If one examines every source figure in this rigorous fashion,” says Barrett, “no conflicting figures emerge, although proponents of core Judaism may not like the larger totals that result.”
Then there is the question of Christian martyrs. During the Cold War, Barrett’s figure of 300,000 martyrs per year was widely used. His definition is important: “A martyr is a Christian believer who loses his or her life prematurely, in a situation of witness, and as a result of human hostility“ (emphasis in original). So, for example, while forty million Christians were killed in World War II, only three million can be called martyrs. In that number he includes the one million of the six million Jewish martyrs killed in the Holocaust who were Christian Jews. Since 1991, when organized Soviet assassinations of Christian leaders and other oppressions ceased, Barrett estimates that there are 150,000 Christian martyrs each year. He adds, “Naturally, these have to be estimates because, although I am on the lookout for new information regularly, often I do not hear of even dreadful massacres for months or even years after the event.” He notes that media coverage is always spasmodic, so we only hear about a fraction of even the most egregious cases.
Just to round out the picture, there are a little over a billion people classified as “non-religious” or “atheist,” 766 million Hindus, 337 million Buddhists, and 20 million Sikhs. And of course within every group there are disputes over who really belongs—who is a “real” Jew, a “real” Muslim, a “real” Christian or, for that matter, a “real” atheist. God alone searches hearts, but among those who crunch numbers and keep spread sheets up to date, there is probably none more conscientious than David Barrett.
Sorting Out Historical Horribles
Invoking the most frightful of alternatives to having to deal with women, Professor Higgins sings, “I’d prefer a new edition / Of the Spanish Inquisition.” Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” and Dostoyevsky’s “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” are among the many literary masterpieces that have indelibly imprinted upon our minds the Spanish Inquisition as what historians call the “Black Legend.” Now here comes along Professor Marvin O’Connell of Notre Dame, writing in Catholic Dossier. He wants it understood that he is no apologist for the Spanish Inquisition, but he is one of those rare historians who suffer from scrupulosity when it comes to facts and he thinks some things should be set straight.
For instance, Isabella and Ferdinand wanted the Inquisition established in 1478 for what seemed at the time unexceptionable political reasons. It is ridiculously anachronistic, says O’Connell, to speak of the Inquisition in terms of “church and state,” since there was only the state that, in centuries of conflict with the Moors, defined its aspiration to control the Iberian peninsula in terms of Christianity—as its opponents defined their imperial ambitions in terms of Islam. To be a heretic was a religious offense but a political crime. In short, heresy was treason. That was also the case, it should be noted, in Elizabethan England where Catholics were persecuted and killed.
But in the modern lexicon of historical horribles, the Inquisition is right up there with the Gulag Archipelago and Auschwitz, and in its first decade and a half (technically, it lasted three hundred years) it was very cruel. A high figure for the number of people executed as heretics in that early period is two thousand. With tragic irony, almost all of these were conversos, Muslims and Jews who sought to escape expulsion by becoming Christians. The irony is that, had they remained Jews or Muslims, they could not have been deemed heretics. Of course not all conversos ended up at the stake. Historian William Monter, cited by O’Connell, writes that the New Christians “represent the first known large—scale and long—term assimilation of Jews into any Christian society. Although the process included many painful adaptations, some severe backlash, and even a decade of brutal persecution under the Inquisition, it ended with their general integration into Spanish society. Their descendents quietly flouted racist codes and contributed to the vibrant Catholicism of Golden Age Spain; St. Teresa of Avila was the granddaughter of a New Christian penanced by the Inquisition.”
The Inquisition soon began to wind down. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when Spanish sovereignty extended from Italy to most of Latin America, on average less than three persons a year were executed by the Inquisition, which was set up wherever Spain ruled. O’Connell writes that, in a century in which mass atrocities have reached a quantitative and qualitative pitch that would have been inconceivable to Torquemada, “I think a measure of discretion would be appropriate when bemoaning the wickedness of the Spanish Inquisition.” No letters of protest, please. Let the record show that I, with Professor O’Connell, think the Spanish Inquisition was a very bad thing, and I will do all in my power to oppose any attempt by the Supreme Court to bring it back.
To Live Well
“If I had been asked to choose the course of my life I would not have done as well as the leading of Providence and the direction of superiors have done for me. I can honestly say that there is no one in the world whom I have cause to envy. All of this is not of my own deserving. It is God’s gift, and he alone deserves the praise.” That is Father Avery Dulles in a long appendix to a new edition of A Testimonial to Grace (Sheed & Ward), an account of his conversion to Catholicism first published fifty years ago.
In the appendix, called “Reflections on a Theological Journey,” Fr. Dulles, undoubtedly the most widely respected Catholic theologian in the U.S. and a frequent contributor to these pages, is not entirely uncritical of the influence of the Second Vatican Council: “While many of the conciliar and postconciliar reforms were no doubt prudent and necessary accommodations to the times, they did not all strike me as improvements. It was difficult for me to accept the virtual banishment of Latin from the liturgy and the substitution of new popular tunes for the imposing Gregorian chant or the mellifluous Renaissance polyphony. The depreciation of devotion to the saints and the removal of shrines and statues from the churches struck me as impoverishments that had to be regretfully endured. It might be necessary, I concluded, to live through a barren season of slovenly improvisation until the Church could experience some kind of cultural revival.”
Although bureaucracy and social action were not his fields, Fr. Dulles did get involved in the bishops’ ambitious plans for a National Pastoral Council. That plan became the victim of a massive “Call to Action” conference which met in Detroit in October 1976. “The assembly at Detroit was nothing if not dramatic. More than 100 bishops were in attendance. A total of 1,340 delegates came from 150 dioceses and 94 national Catholic organizations as varied as the Catholic Committee for Urban Ministry, Network, the Center of Concern, the Quixote Center, and a variety of questionably Catholic organizations representing gay and lesbian activists, resigned priests, and the like. In three short days the carefully nuanced working papers were gutted by a series of radical amendments, resulting in some 182 resolutions, including some that called for ordination of women, acceptance of married priests, the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments, freedom of conscience regarding contraception, amnesty to those who had evaded military service, condemnation of the production and threat to use nuclear weapons, support for the Equal Rights Amendment, and the end of all discrimination against homosexuals. Many of these resolutions could not be accepted by the bishops, either because they were contrary to Catholic doctrine or because they were beyond the competence of the national conference.”
That was twenty years ago, but it was, as they say, a defining moment and we are still living with the consequences. Dulles observes: “The Call to Action assembly provided an object lesson in how a small group of militant activists could manipulate a large majority of open-minded liberal delegates, thus aligning the assembly with an agenda that had little in common with the Catholic tradition, the social teaching of the Church, and the concerns of the great majority of worshipers. The process exhibited the naivete of the organizers and led to a defeat of the intentions of the bishops, who had hoped to usher in a new era of coresponsibility and participation in the life and government of the Church in this nation. What eventuated was a polarized situation that pitted reformers against conservatives. To this day the ‘Call to Action’ movement continues to press for the adoption of the rejected proposals of the Detroit meeting and thus gives a voice to groups that would like to see a Catholic Church organized along liberal democratic lines.”
The experience with Call to Action reinforced Fr. Dulles’ determination to stick to his theological last. Very much a Jesuit, he concludes his reflection with this: “I am immeasurably grateful for the years in which the Lord has permitted me to serve him in a society that bears as its motto: Ad majorem Dei gloriam. I trust that his grace will not fail me, and that I will not fail his grace, in the years to come.”
When the Church “Interferes”
Herewith the opening paragraphs of a statement adopted by the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (FCS) and sent to all the bishops in the U.S.: “A great deal has been said about the difficulties of the application of Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae on Catholic universities in this country, particularly the application of Canon 812 of the Code of Canon Law, which requires that teachers in theological disciplines have a mandate from competent ecclesiastical authority. This is held by some to constitute an unwarranted ‘outside’ interference in the institutional autonomy of a university, and this in turn is said to be unacceptable by current United States academic and university standards and practice. The real difficulties supposedly posed for American Catholic institutions by Canon 812, however, have surely been greatly exaggerated. For one thing, American universities regularly and routinely accept many requirements imposed from ‘outside’—requirements established by local, state, and federal governments, by accrediting associations, by foundations and other funding entities or donors, by professional associations in fields such as engineering, medicine, law, nursing, the sciences, and so on. American universities think nothing at all of accepting these requirements constantly imposed on them from ‘outside’; it is standard practice, in fact. Only when the subject is theology and the outside entity is the Church, apparently, does the question of outside ‘interference’ in the governance of Catholic higher education institutions normally even get raised. Yet the very data of Catholic theology as a science necessarily contain within themselves the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium; Catholic theology fails both academically and professionally if it does not accept this; Catholic institutions undermine their own necessary foundation when they try to pretend that they can do Catholic theology independently of the Church.”
Exactly how Catholic institutions should be accountable to the Church is eminently debatable, but that they should be accountable would seem to be beyond dispute if they are to represent themselves as being Catholic. The concern that FCS has expressed to the bishops is that the bishops’ committee responsible for the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae has apparently decided that it should not be implemented in the U.S. The statement’s argument about institutions accepting “outside” requirements of government, foundations, and other agencies is much to the point. The history of Catholic higher education in recent decades is not so much one of seeking independence as it is one of exchanging the requirements of the Church for the requirements of institutions that have no interest in, and are frequently hostile to, education that is distinctively Catholic. And, of course, the problems of religious identity and academic freedom are not limited to Catholic schools. Evangelical Protestants who do not want their schools to go the secularizing way of their liberal Protestant counterparts might well wish they had an authoritative framework such as that proposed by Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Catholics have it, but, according to FCS, seem unprepared to use it. One must hope that the bishops are not so timorous as their critics suggest, and as the academic opponents of ecclesial accountability count on. Regrettably, last November’s meeting of the bishops did little to enhance that hope.
Coming Clean About Brown
The above is the title of an important article by Richard E. Morgan, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Constitutional Law and Government at Bowdoin College, in City Journal, a publication of the Manhattan Institute. Arguing that we should get over the almost universal deference paid the 1954 Brown decision of the Supreme Court ending racial segregation in schools, Morgan brings together impressive evidence of a consensus among constitutional scholars that Brown was wrong legally but right morally. Yet allowing a moral override of the Constitution in that case, says Morgan, gave the courts a license for the judicial usurpation of politics that has taken place in the past four decades.
In their 1995 book The New Color Line, Paul Craig Roberts and Lawrence Stratton argued that the roots of Brown are to be found in Gunnar Myrdal’s very influential 1944 study, An American Dilemma, in which he contended, as they put it, that “America’s racist impulses were so strong that segregation could not be overturned through the democratic process.” Now, however, a growing number of scholars are saying that Brown, far from hastening the civil rights movement and the end of segregation, actually delayed a process of desegregation that was taking place under the pressure of cultural, economic, and demographic forces. Truly effective action against racial segregation was legislative, in the civil rights and voting acts of 1964 and 1965, which Brown did more to hinder than help.
Whether or not one agrees with that reading of the history—and I am inclined to the view that there was a positive correlation between Brown and, for instance, the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956—Morgan’s observation is convincing: “After decades of conservative electoral outcomes and hundreds of state and federal judicial appointments intended to end ‘judicial legislation,’ and with public opinion sullenly resistant to much of the social engineering ordered from the bench, how is it that legally unjustified judicial interventions into policy making and administration still occur routinely? Why does our sprawling ‘rights industry’ continue to grow and succeed so often in persuading judges to establish policies that cannot be put in place through the normal democratic processes of election and legislation? No single factor satisfactorily accounts for the powerful persistence of judicial activism in a period in which it is intellectually discredited and widely unpopular. The atavistic radicalism common in law faculties is certainly part of the answer. But a neglected key to understanding why judicial activism has proved so hard to stop is the aura of legitimacy bestowed on it by Brown.”
Morgan continues: “In the wake of Brown constitutional law came to exercise the same sort of appeal to progressive reformers as economics did in the 1930s. Courts were now seen as a source of governmental power that could force unpopular changes that could not be secured through representative institutions—a shockingly illiberal proposition when made explicit, but wonderfully exciting as long as it is cloaked in euphemisms about helping democracy overcome ‘deadlocks.’ If judges could sidestep the electoral and legislative processes, bypassing the very forms of the Constitution, in order to serve the higher good of ending Jim Crow, then judges could do many things about which the country was deeply divided.”
Even principled opponents of judicial usurpation are customarily intimidated when “the Brown card” is played. “Well then,” it is said, “you must be opposed to Brown v. Board of Education.” At which one mumbles something about “exceptions to the rule,” lest one be accused of racism. Morgan thinks that response is a big mistake. “Once one admits a role in one case for the Court as extra—constitutional promoter and architect for social change, it is impossible to explain why that justification should not apply to other situations.”
I am not sure that that necessarily follows. History is not a script written according to exceptionless principles. In retrospect, one may allow that there were instances in which only the judiciary could do something that needed doing. The catch is that, in principle, the judiciary is not authorized to decide when such an extraordinary circumstance exists. And, if there is a popular consensus that something needs to be changed, it can then be changed democratically, by legislation. To put it differently, one may allow that in a particular case the wrong means achieved a good end without affirming that wrong means should be employed to achieve good ends.
The claim that Brown was rightly decided on constitutional grounds is defended also by notable conservatives such as Robert Bork. We do not need to take a position on that, however, in order to oppose the subsequent exploitation of Brown to provide legal and moral cover for the judicial usurpation of politics. Morgan favors a constitutional amendment. “Above all, we must seek to secure passage and ratification of a constitutional amendment specifically barring government at any level from making decisions that either advantage or disadvantage persons based on race. This would finally complete the work of Reconstruction, align the text of the Constitution with our national ideals, and bury Jim Crow the way he should have been buried in the first place—by votes in legislative assemblies.” Morgan was writing before the citizens of California democratically approved just such a measure, Proposition 209. Predictably, the opponents of the measure moved, immediately and successfully, to tie it up in the courts. This only increases the urgency of Morgan’s proposal.
The merits of such an amendment would extend far beyond ending the nastiness and injustices generated by affirmative action, quotas, and other race—based social engineering. It would be a powerful declaration of independence from judicial tyranny, and heartening evidence that the American people still have an appetite and capacity for self-government, preferring to be citizens rather than subjects.
While We’re At It
• How many subscribers does FT have? Not enough. More than any other publication dealing in a serious and sustained way with questions of religion and public life, but not enough. Not enough to pay for producing the journal. More important, not enough in view of all the people who should be reading FT. You can help by sending us names of family members, friends, and associates who might subscribe, and we’ll send them a sample issue. Think of how grateful they will be to you. Think of how grateful we will be. Please do it soon. Like right away.
• The following news item is from Sunstroke magazine, whose editors say they picked it up on the internet. We have not been able to authenticate the story. “SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—In a surprise move that left competitors stunned, Microsoft has followed up its successful merger with the Roman Catholic Church by announcing a cash buyout of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In recent weeks, high officials of the LDS church (more commonly known as the Mormons) had been rumored to be in negotiations with both Novell and Lotus, but the Microsoft move came as a complete surprise to most industry/religious observers. With much of Microsoft’s competition based in Utah, many current employees of WordPerfect and Novell commented (anonymously) that they would feel morally obliged to jump ship to Microsoft. Novell is countering by pointing to noncompetitive clauses in senior personnel’s contracts and urging conversion to the Reorganized LDS Church, with whom Novell has entered into hasty negotiations. Microsoft officials denied any intent to pirate Novell employees with this move, though they indicated that they were willing to sell Novell their Eastern Rite Catholic subsidiaries to avoid antitrust action. According to the official press release, Microsoft CEO and Pontiff Bill Gates said, ‘We’ve been hoping to acquire the Mormons for a long time. They’re a fast growing organization with a large, mobile, and highly dedicated sales force which will work synergistically with our worldwide Catholic retail outlets. More importantly, we’re acquiring the LDS “convert the dead” technology which we will incorporate into OLE 3.0 (scheduled to arrive in the next versions of Windows and Windows NT, currently code named “Rome” and “Jerusalem” respectively.)’ Gates went on to say, ‘This will expand our user base to generations of users who never before had the chance to purchase Microsoft products.’ Microsoft insiders who declined to be quoted predicted record profits from requiring deceased church members to purchase annual upgrades in order to maintain their eternal salvation.”
• The terrible thing about those religious rightists is that they don’t understand the virtue of civility. Analyzing contemporary conservatism in the New York Review of Books, Jason Epstein illustrates a more elevated political discourse. He explains why moral conservatives and economic conservatives are in common cause: “What binds the two is their hostility to federal regulatory and taxing power or, in a larger sense, their shared conviction that the United States ought to be a largely homogeneous culture, a fairy-tale version of its disheveled self, a Disneyland whose brave citizens are free to make their fortunes no matter what the damage to competing interests, where differences are settled man to man, where women sing in church when they are not at their stoves incubating embryos, where overt nonconformists aren’t welcome and the income tax has been repealed.” It is this convergence of interests, Epstein says, that has turned the Republican Party “into a congeries of fiery eccentrics.” Interestingly, Epstein lifts what used to be a trump card from the deck of economic conservatism to argue that declining production and the national deficit “are the greatest challenge to the United States in its history.” In its entire history? Writers in the New York Review are big on superlatives. Those who know more about economics than Jason Epstein or I have persuaded me that we are facing a really big problem of unfunded obligations to the generation now getting ready to retire. If politicians are to face up to the issue as Epstein wants, however, it might help to cultivate some of those conservatives from whom he stole the issue, instead of dismissing them with contemptuous, and contemptible, incivility.
• “Welcome to the archbishop of the capital of the world!” said Pope John Paul II when greeting John O’Connor after his appointment as Archbishop of New York in 1984. Cardinal O’Connor is still going strong and I look forward to his being my bishop for another five years or so. (He handed in his resignation when he turned 75 in January 1996, but the Pope, who is the same age as O’Connor, seems to think they are both far from completing the work they have been given to do.) As for the capital of the world, my friends know that I am less than half joking when I conjecture that over the heavenly gates will be a big sign: “From the Wonderful People Who Brought You New York City, THE NEW JERUSALEM.” Those who didn’t like New York in this life will have another place to go. Nathan Glazer of Harvard shares that salutary passion for New York and, reviewing some new books on the city in the Public Interest, has some heavy-duty reflections. He is led to think of one of Parkinson’s laws: “When the capital is complete, the empire is ready to fall. Or perhaps, more grandly, Hegel’s owl of Minerva, which takes flight at dusk.” He observes that the Economist recently had a piece on the United States as “the old country,” which leads him to this: “The first thing one must note is that, if the United States is now, in certain respects, ‘the old country,’ New York is, if we consider its place in the United States, ‘the old city.’ I think the interest in New York is sparked and maintained because it is a city that was shaped and, in large measure, completed before the age of the automobile. It is dense; its center is not pockmarked by parking lots; its streets are edged by unbroken lines of buildings and crowded with pedestrians; its architecture, even though so many of its grand structures (I think of Pennsylvania Station, modeled after the Baths of Caracalla, and perhaps as strongly built) have been prematurely destroyed, contains more examples of the buildings of the past 150 years than any other American city, and some of these, such as the cast-iron buildings of Soho, form large and unique neighborhoods of the past. Many of its great bridges are structures of the nineteenth, rather than the twentieth century. Its icons, the Statue of Liberty, the skyscraper forest of lower Manhattan, the Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building, all took their shape before one-third of the twentieth century had unfolded. And we are now at the end of that century.” Of course Glazer, like most people talking about New York, is referring mainly to Manhattan, not to the “outer boroughs” of Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and, dare one say it, Staten Island. He is right about New York as “the old city.” Most every day I walk from the house on 19th Street to the parish church on 14th and over to the office at Fifth Avenue and 20th, and I have only to squint my eyes a little to see the New York that was in 1897 and even earlier. The physical ambiance bespeaks continuity and conservatism, which is maybe why New Yorkers feel they can risk being so crazy in their ideas and behavior. But what excuse does the rest of the country have?
• The big money on the lecture circuit is with corporations and their myriad business associations. I’m no good at it. I tried it once. An acquaintance on the board of a Fortune 500 company persuaded me—with the lure of the largest fee I’ve ever been offered—to speak to a workshop of its top executives on the subject of business and spirituality. I did my democratic capitalism shtick, emphasizing the connections between economic, political, and spiritual freedom and the importance of competition in human creativity. It was a complete bust. That is not what they wanted, it was not what they wanted at all. What did they want? Afterward, the CEO showed me their lineup of most popular speakers: new age gurus, friends of the inner child, advocates of male vulnerability, feminist opponents of hierarchical organizations, and soi-disant socialists who lay on a guilt trip about making money. I don’t know how typical that company is but I was reminded of the experience while reading Andrew Ferguson’s wickedly amusing Fools’ Names, Fools’ Faces (Atlantic Monthly Press). He has a marvelous discussion of corporate America’s mindlessly eager sponsorship of a cultural revolution that makes no secret of its contempt for corporate America. “The revolution proceeds without a shot being fired, with scarcely a peep of protest. . . . The white-male power structure of late-twentieth-century America is the first to pay people to dismantle itself.”
• The man admitted to being shameless in publishing his opinions about almost everything (some of us have reason to be reticent on that subject), but the nice thing is that the Chesterton Review can keep coming up with things that haven’t seen the blight of print for many decades. For instance, here is a 1909 newspaper column by G. K. Chesterton on the always lively subject of religion in government schools. Apparently a Dr. Clifford had proposed (as so many Dr. Cliffords still propose today) that the Bible should be taught as literature. Chesterton was unconvinced: “Therefore, in the struggles of which Dr. Clifford is so largely the center, I sympathize with secular education, but not because any sympathy is with the new-fashioned Puritan who wishes the Bible to be treated as literature. My sympathy is with the old-fashioned Puritan, who does not want the Bible to be treated as literature, because he happens to have a religion which is about the most interesting thing a man can have. It is the old-fashioned theologians who ought to insist on secular education. It is the orthodox Puritans who ought to want the Bible kept out of the schools. The truth can, indeed, be put in a kind of dilemma. Either the Bible must be offered as something extraordinary or as something ordinary. If it is offered as something extraordinary, that is certainly unfair to the agnostics and the doubters. If it is offered as something ordinary, that is grossly and atrociously unfair to the theologians and the believers. There really seem to be only three possibilities in connection with the matter, and they all have objections against them of the most ultimate and iron sort, objections of principle. Suppose a child says, ‘Did Jesus really come out of the grave?’ Either the teacher must answer him insincerely, and that is immorality, or he must answer him sincerely, and that is sectarian education, or he must refuse to answer him at all, and that is first of all bad manners and a sort of timid tyranny; and it is, moreover, gross and monstrous idolatry. It is something darker and more irrational than a religion—it is a silence.”
• A reader sends us a magazine called POZ, a very slick publication for people living with AIDS and their friends. Prominent among the advertisers are companies offering to buy up life insurance policies so that people afflicted with the disease can spend the money before they die. Andrew Sullivan, the former editor of New Republic, is a contributing editor of POZ. Sullivan says, “Of all the magazines in America, POZ is the one I most admire and wanted to write for,” which may be saying something about the New Republic. In this issue Sullivan has a conversation with Larry Kramer, author of Faggots and founder of ACT UP. Sullivan says he met Kramer in “a dark corner of the Spike, a gay bar in New York City, where he accosted me about my own indolence in the time of the plague.” Apparently that prompted this conversation in which Kramer goes on and on, in the manner for which he is famous (the editors of POZ call it “screaming”), and Sullivan gently suggests that Kramer is indulging in hyperbole. Sullivan thinks Kramer goes too far when he claims that politicians who have not stopped AIDS are murderers and that the disease is a “holocaust” deliberately perpetrated against homosexuals. On politics, Sullivan indicates that he agrees when Kramer says that “it doesn’t really matter who’s in office because the system stays the same.” Sullivan says that gays lack political clout because they’re invisible and they remain invisible because they’re scared. Leaders of the gay community such as Kramer and himself “should aggressively confront the gay community” to become more visible. Infighting among gays is also a problem. “Our foes have more discipline,” observes Sullivan. As he has on numerous occasions, Sullivan discusses his being Catholic and gay. “Part of me thinks I should be in a monastery,” he says. Sullivan says that he does not have the hope to believe that AIDS could become a survivable disease. “I don’t know whether it’s my Catholic upbringing, but I regard these natural events as ‘Oh, well, we’re all [expletive].’ There is no cure to anything. Life is a series of calamities which we survive with whatever serenity we can muster.” Toward the end of these odd reflections on matters moral and spiritual, Sullivan declares, “I think the most important decision for gay men to make . . . is whether to have oral sex without a condom.” Kramer says he hopes Sullivan is wrong. “Would you let someone perform oral sex on you?” asks Sullivan, and Kramer responds in the negative. Nor does he share Sullivan’s great interest in condoms. “I think our AIDS organizations have made a major blunder in promoting ‘healthy sexuality,’“ Kramer says, “because I don’t know where you draw the line. If you say you can take marijuana, who’s to say you shouldn’t take cocaine?” “I used to think you looked very cute,” declares Kramer, “but now I’m a married man.” A demure Andrew Sullivan responds, “But now I look like a wreck, you mean. I was out too late last night.” And so it goes with this curious exchange. Since this curious interview in the subcultural press, Sullivan has resigned as editor of TNR (reportedly with the help of a not-so-gentle push), announcing that he has AIDS but expects to be writing for many more years. As best we understand the situation, Mr. Sullivan is a gifted gentleman who earnestly believes that he is trying to bring a measure of moral sanity to the gay movement—and refuses to recognize the essential madness of the cause to which his person, his politics, and his faith have become so largely captive.
• There was a period of confusion from 1970 to 1980, says Monsignor William Smith, about whether Catholics could also be Masons, but he thinks it quite definite now that the answer is no. After citing pertinent canon law, he remarks: “Perhaps a religious Naturalism is better than no belief at all but for the professing Christian this is a retreat from the Gospel. Freemasonry clearly rejects dogma and the possibility of absolute truth. The Inspiration of the Bible and the Divinity of Christ cannot be periodic lay—asides for believing Catholics. When revealed doctrines are relegated to the harmless status of private opinion, will it or not, one contributes further to the endemic relativism that John Dewey so much fostered in education and Oliver Wendell Holmes advanced in jurisprudence.” Although Freemasonry claims to be religiously “anti-particularistic,” says Smith, its symbols, oaths, and rituals clearly constitute a particular religion. This, he hastens to add, does not preclude fruitful dialogue between Christians and Masons, just as one can dialogue with Muslims but cannot be both a Christian and a Muslim.
• “Money is the biggest threat to the democratic process.” So says Ronald Dworkin, professor of law at Oxford and New York University, who is noted for espousing the view that judges should override popular sentiment by putting their own moral judgments into law. Judges, Dworkin contends, are like novelists working collectively on a story line that is open-ended. His theory, largely embraced by the judiciary, is of course “the biggest threat to the democratic process.” It is a comfort to note, however, that in this article in the New York Review of Books Dworkin is prepared to challenge judges when he disagrees with them. He disagrees strongly with the 1976 Buckley decision of the Supreme Court which ruled that constitutionally protected free speech is an obstacle to regulating the amount of money spent in political campaigns. “We should feel no compunction in declaring the decision a mistake, and in attempting to avoid its consequences through any reasonable and effective device we can find or construct.” (As in concoct?) Buckley, says Dworkin, “misunderstood not only what free speech really is but what it really means for free people to govern themselves.” Really, really, Mr. Dworkin. I confess to a certain skepticism about his belief that it would be a good thing if politicians had less money for television because then campaigns “would have to rely more on reporters and events directed by nonpartisan groups,” but it is reassuring to know that Ronald Dworkin, the paladin of the imperial judiciary, does believe in self-governance, of a sort, after all.
• In 1992 when Time compiled a list of the ten people who had contributed most to this millennium, four were Italian speaking: St. Francis of Assisi, Columbus, Michelangelo, and Galileo. Four were German speaking: Luther, Gutenberg, Mozart, and Einstein. Two spoke English: Shakespeare and Jefferson. Father John Navone, an American teaching at the Gregorian in Rome, includes that in “Obiter Dic ta” appended to his delightful little book, The Land and the Spirit of Italy: The Texture of Italian Religious Culture. While he is getting things off his chest, Fr. Navone offers a scathing critique of anti-immigrant sentiment directed against Italians in this country. For example, in his 1902 history of the American people Woodrow Wilson wrote: “Now there came multitudes of men of the lowest class from the south of Italy and the man of the meaner sort out of Hungary and Poland, men out of ranks where there was neither skill nor energy nor any initiative of quick intelligence; and they came in numbers which increased from year to year, as if the countries south of Europe were disburdening themselves of the more sordid and helpless elements of the population.” But most of the 215-page book is devoted to what the title suggests. This engaging tribute to the greatness of things Italian is available at a cost of $20
(plus $2.50 postage) direct from the publisher: Legas, P.O. Box 040328, Brooklyn, NY 11204.
• The idea that Stalin betrayed the more benign revolution of Lenin was a myth successfully championed by Trotsky. Richard Pipes of Harvard vigorously destroys the myth in The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive (Yale University Press), which is reviewed by Eugene Genovese who writes: “Pipes repeatedly expresses outrage over Lenin’s words and actions, which is understandable. Yet his outrage blurs the essentials of his own argument. He is so determined to destroy Lenin’s image as a revolutionary saint that he sometimes comes dangerously close to obscuring what I believe he knows to constitute the heart of the matter: the nature of revolutionary saints. There is no point in condemning people for adhering to a murderous ideology and then condemning them for doing what that ideology requires. There is no point in berating Lenin for having acted like a savage, since savagery is what has always distinguished the saints of social revolution.”
• Entrepreneurship is a thing of wonder. No sooner did Australia’s Northern Territory adopt the world’s most permissive euthanasia law than an Australian doctor develops computer software that is a great advance over Dr. Kevorkian’s labor intensive and generally messy ways. It’s called the “Deliverance” program, and it asks the patient who is hooked up to an intravenous drip line three questions to make sure he is aware of what he is doing. The last question is, “If you press YES, you will cause a lethal injection to be given within thirty seconds and you will die. Do you wish to proceed? Yes/No.” Let’s hear no more of this alarmist talk about “the culture of death.”
• Writing in Commonweal, Father Charles Curran of Southern Methodist University complains about an alleged disconnect between papal social teaching and papal teaching on personal and sexual ethics. He contrasts Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae with the Pope’s 1995 address at the United Nations. The methodology of the former, says Curran, is stuck in a static preoccupation with universal moral truths while the UN address reflects a hermeneutic attuned to historical change. Personal and sexual ethics, he says, should be similarly attuned to history while maintaining “very significant continuities in the teachings.” First, encyclicals and an address to the UN are not texts of comparable authority. Second, the encyclicals comprehensively set forth Christian and specifically Catholic teaching, while a UN address is pitched to the public square most broadly construed. Third, Curran is right that the social teachings reflect the lessons of history with respect to democracy, religious freedom, the market economy, and other questions. But what have we learned from history about, for example, abortion, homosexuality, and fornication that suggests the Church should change its teaching? Fr. Curran does not ask that question. The answer, I believe, is that everything we have learned in, say, the last thirty years confirms the wisdom of traditional teaching. Curran says that in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Paul VI reaffirmed the teaching on contraception “primarily because he could not accept the inference necessarily to be drawn from any change that the past teaching was in any way erroneous.” On the contrary, in the encyclical Paul VI explained why the teaching was necessary, among other reasons, in order to avoid all the consequences of divorcing sex from procreation and the responsibilities of parenthood. In view of all that has happened in the last three decades, Humanae Vitae was obviously prophetic. Fr. Curran worries about the “consistency and coherency of papal moral teaching.” If consistency and coherence is his concern, he might have foregone publishing what is but another confused swipe at the teaching authority from which he is, alas, a chronic dissenter.
• “Wojtyla’s tragedy, of course, is that he began by benefiting from the popularity born of resilience in the face of persecution, and only later proceeded to expose his Church to ridicule for its moral intransigence.” Why, of course. Why didn’t we think of that? Tony Judt of New York University thinks of a lot of things that are not so. He allows that John Paul II has done some good things. For instance, “under his direction the Vatican has ceased to hold Jews responsible for the Crucifixion.” (In fact, that was done by Nostra Aetate, a document of Vatican Council II.) But mostly the Pope has done bad things. For instance, “he turned his back on a 1966 commission on contraception” that suggested birth control might be acceptable in some circumstances. (That was done by Paul VI in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.) But Judt’s point is that the Pope is “a man of many extremes.” For instance, “For this Pope, marriage is not just a sacrament but a vocation.” How extreme can you get? “This is a man,” Judt complains, “whose central contention about the modern world, as expounded in his many writings, is that it has undertaken for three hundred years a war against God and Christian values, a conflict in which he has now sought to engage himself and his Church to the full.” The Pope is a man of careful distinctions. Judt apparently has not read the many writings, including encyclicals, in which the Pope lauds modernity’s progress in economics, politics, and devotion to freedom. And Judt is apparently of the eccentric view that the militant secularism issuing from the Enlightenment is not at war with God and Christian values. Although he, along with most other critics, says that His Holiness, the book by Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi, is virtually worthless, he accepts at face value their claim that John Paul believes that “social questions are best left to sociologists.” That does make it difficult to explain the numerous writings of this Pope on Catholic social doctrine. For Tony Judt, as for others who indulge in similarly uninformed rants, everything they don’t like about this pontificate, and about the Catholic Church, is attributed to “Catholic fundamentalism.” Most fundamental in their fundamentalism is the obsession with the Church’s alleged “obsession with marriage and abortion.” Judt is deeply offended by John Paul’s “utter unconcern with the widespread offense given by his moral pronouncements.” The Pope is no doubt profoundly concerned about many things, but it is probably true that he loses no sleep over the fact that the message of which he is the servant is not inoffensive. The gravamen of Judt’s essay is that the author is offended that the Pope does not think the way he does. One must wonder whether it is worth more than five pages of the distinguished New York Review of Books to let the world know that Tony Judt really doesn’t like the Pope.
• According to the Rocky Mountain News, the one word everyone could agree on to describe a recent meeting in Denver was “incredible.” The meeting of sixty clergy and an expected crowd of hundreds was sponsored by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights and aimed at exploring “the religious roots of abortion rights.” The Planned Parenthood spokesperson said, “Clergy from all major denominations except the Catholic Church are represented.” Surely there are, say, Southern Baptist and Assemblies of God churches in Denver? Keynote speaker was Prof. Tom Troeger of Iliff Seminary, who refused to state his own position on the abortion license. He said, “What I am in favor of above all things is the freedom of people to exercise their extraordinarily varying religious understandings of abortion.” In short, he is pro-choice. “There are complexities and ambiguities in life,” said Troeger, “that no organized human society should be empowered to rule over the conscience.” One might observe that John Calhoun could not have said it better but, in fact, he was considerably more articulate in his defense of slaveholding.
• John Thavis is Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service and reviews, critically, His Holiness by Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi. Tavis writes: “His fourth trip to his homeland in 1991 is presented here as a moment of ultimate betrayal, as a crowd listens with detachment while the Pope shouts out his denouncement of abortion. ‘This people worships me with its lips, but not in the depths of its heart,’ the Pope is quoted as saying. A poignant moment and a great quote, if it’s accurate. But, as elsewhere, the book offers no specific attribution.” Perhaps some philanthropic Catholic could send a Bible to the Rome bureau, marking Isaiah 29:13.
• The mischievous Michael Lind’s book of the month, Up From Conservatism, might confuse people on a number of scores, including his claim that there is no crisis of illegitimate births. He contends that there is no change in the last fifty years in the percentage of births out of wedlock; there only seems to be because birth rates among married couples have dramatically declined. This is poppycock, as carefully explained by John DiIulio of Princeton in the October 21, 1996 Weekly Standard. In the most impacted urban areas of welfare dependency, children born without any father accepting responsibility for them approaches 90 percent of all births. Examining the figures of policy experts across the political spectrum, DiIulio makes a convincing case for a correlation with abortion and contraception, and comes out strongly for, inter alia, bringing back shotgun marriages. Talk about turning the clock back to tell the right time.
• Stepping down after a distinguished stint as editor of the independent Lutheran Forum, Pastor Leonard Klein surveys the state of Lutheranism and of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in particular, drawing connections with the continuing decline of the oldline Protestant denominations. Klein is one of many “evangelical catholics” in Lutheranism espousing what might be called the originalist position that the Lutheran reform is to be a movement within and for the one Church of the West. The vision of “reclaiming Lutheranism’s catholicity,” he writes, depends upon “a reconstruction of normative ethics, legitimate authority, and a lively sense of the communion of saints.” Against that vision, the denominational machinery in Lutheranism and other oldline churches is “married to the status quo.” Klein is not terribly sanguine about the likelihood of reform, but “one encouraging sign . . . is that the denominations show increasing signs of exhaustion. In their bankruptcy lies hope.” That is a turn on the old reformist or revolutionary maxim, The worse things get the better things get. It is true that the prospect of catastrophe can trigger radical change. More commonly, however, a long course of decline and drift ends up in institutions disappearing with a whimper rather than a bang. In any event, the work of Lutheran Forum and cognate efforts among Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and others make certain that, whatever the future of the oldline bodies, they did not lack prophetic warning.
• “The Tillichian Spell: Memories of a Student Mesmerized in the 1950s.” That’s the title of a reflection by Tom F. Driver, who was for many years the Paul Tillich Professor of Theology and Culture at Union Seminary, New York. Tillich was known as an apologetic theologian. Driver writes, “I felt that his apologia was not addressed to unbelievers nearly so much as to persons like me who had been Christian all our lives and had now come to a time when we did not really know what Christianity was about, for it seemed so at odds with our culture.” The comment reflects the confusion of generations of liberal Christians brought up to assume a neat fit between faith and culture. When culture and Christianity were at odds, it was Christianity that was thrown into question. Although Driver says his background was in liberal Methodism, “that was in the South where the surrounding population tended toward fundamentalism.” Fundamentalism was in the 1950s and is now the great bugaboo for liberal Christians. Oldline Protestantism is riddled through and through with the consequences of “the narrow escape syndrome.” Press the most flamingly liberal theologian and he will almost always have a story to tell about having narrowly escaped from fundamentalism of one sort or another. And it is usually evident that he fears the possibility of being drawn back into its thrall. The same is true today of liberal Catholics who regale all who will listen with stories about the bad old days of “the pre-Vatican II Church.” Catholic priests and religious fret, too, about any association with conservative Protestants on questions such as abortion, lest they be drawn into the orbit of what they view as the fundamentalism of the unspeakable “religious right.” For Catholics who think of themselves as victims of the narrow escape syndrome, the new ecumenism with evangelicals poses the double threat of both Catholic and Protestant fundamentalism. Tom Driver’s long career almost perfectly exemplifies the liberal propensity to split the difference between Christian faith and cultural respectability, with the benefit of the doubt usually given to culture. Driver’s reminiscence ends with a story. Twelve years after Tillich’s death, Driver published a book that was somewhat critical of his teacher. At a discussion of the book at Union, a colleague contrived a telegram from Tillich, with accent and all, and read it at the beginning of the meeting. “Dear Tom Driver: I am zo zorry zat I cannot be wiz you ziss evening, because I am detained elzevere. But I haf read ze book zat you haf written, and I zend my congratulazions. It is good to know zat you do not follow your teacher like a slave but zat you haf ze courage to go into ze deep waters and to sink for yourself. [signed] Paul Tillich.”
• We vote our fears. And a very good thing that we do, according to the formidable Dennis Prager. In his newsletter, he lists the major interest groups of the two major parties and then suggests that we ask ourselves: “If all the listed Republican groups had their way, what would happen to America? If all the listed Democratic groups had their way, what would happen to America?” Mr. Prager asked himself and concluded that, while he supports almost none of the organizations on the Republican list, he fears them less than the groups on the Democratic list, and so he “nearly always” votes Republican. Here are his lists. Republican: National Rifle Association, Christian Coalition and Religious Right, Big Business, Black Conservatives (e.g., Clarence Thomas), Pro-Life Organizations, Conservative Justices, Tobacco Companies. Democrats: American Civil Liberties Union, Hollywood, Teachers’ Unions, Black Leaders (e.g., Jesse Jackson), Feminist Organizations, Liberal Justices, Trial Lawyers, Alcohol Companies.
• “So now you’re against hungry children.” No, no, I’m against using hungry children in hype aimed at expanding statist programs. This clarification is prompted by another report from Bread for the World (BFW) that hunger in the world has decreased in the past twenty years, except in Africa and the United States. In the United States? Yes, says BFW, despite more than five trillion dollars spent on combating poverty in recent decades, there are more poor people than ever. According to BFW, all the children who are in homes under the poverty level are hungry. Hunger is defined as “having inadequate access to food so as to consume fewer calories than required for an active and healthy life.” This is rampant nonsense. Having a healthy diet is one thing; having “access” to a healthy diet is another. Numerous medical reports suggest that millions of children in the U.S., the great majority of them not in poverty, do not eat properly. Not because they do not have access to good food but because their parents let them indulge their appetite for junk food. There is no evidence that American children in poverty eat less food than other children. Of course there are hungry children—because their parents neglect them, because the money is spent on drugs and liquor, because many things. But it is very doubtful that in the U.S. there is a significant number of hungry children simply because there is not money to buy food. Many years ago, I was a cofounder of BFW and early on argued against the deceptive practice of exploiting suffering in order to promote the statist poverty industry. That argument was lost, and this “Christian citizens lobby for world hunger” embraced the doctrine that charity is out and government action is in. The mantra is endlessly repeated that a dollar spent on helping the poor is only a dollar, while a dollar spent in lobbying the government can produce millions in government programming. Thus BFW, a wonderful idea, became but another inside-the-beltway lobby for feeding the insatiable appetite of the behemoth that is the modern state. ‘Tis a great pity.
• Although nominally second-in-command, some thought Father Vincent O’Keefe was the dominant force at Jesuit headquarters in Rome during the seventies and early eighties. He figures prominently as a critic of John Paul II in His Holiness, the recent book by Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi. The authors write: “[Archbishop Rembert] Weakland and others, however, are convinced that John Paul’s doctrinal rigidity has also driven out of the Church large numbers of Catholics who otherwise would have wished to remain it it. ‘A lot of people feel, rather than this heavy-handed dogmatic approach, he should take a pastoral approach,’ says Father Vincent O’Keefe, a former vicar general of the Jesuits who had his own struggles with Wojtyla.” While some observers believe that this pontificate has been more sympathetically attentive to Catholicism in the United States than any in history, Fr. O’Keefe is of a decidedly different view. “O’Keefe, like many American bishops, believes the Pope has a cultural bias, that ‘he has a really deep antagonism to the West, certainly towards the United States. I think he feels we’re too materialistic, we’re too loud, we talk too much, we’re spoiled.’ The Jesuit father asks, ‘How available is he for this universal Church that a lot of us are looking for? That was the great thing at Vatican II. That was the first time you had a universal Church in action.’“ The suggestion that the universal Church began almost two thousand years after its founding is curious. Less entertaining is the charge that a Pope who had his giblets shot out by a would-be assassin and has undergone several serious surgeries and yet continues to travel relentlessly to almost every corner of the globe, in addition to receiving each week hundreds of people from all over the world, is not “available” to the universal Church. Charity invites the thought that Fr. O’Keefe was misquoted.
• The Bible wins hands down when people are asked what is “the most influential book in human history.” The Bible gets a 79.8 percent rating, followed by Dr. Spock’s baby book (4.7 percent), Darwin’s Origin of Species (4.1), Orwell’s 1984 (2.4) and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (0.8). Nonetheless, people in the industry report that Bible sales are down. The King James still sells best, but recent decades have witnessed a plethora of translations aimed at boosting sales by catering to almost every imaginable niche—Bibles for runners, new mothers, teenagers, corporate executives, and children of dysfunctional families (which by today’s definition is a niche that includes nearly everybody). Dumbing down is at the heart of sales strategies. Last fall Zondervan brought out its New International Bible. Of Bibles on the market for adults, it is geared to the lowest reading level: third grade. This is for adults, mind you. I expect future historians will count as one of the great degradations of our era the loss of a common biblical vocabulary. We can, in largest part, thank the Bible industry for that. Of course they piously claim, and some no doubt sincerely believe, that they are only interested in getting out the message. But this industry, like others, is driven by the bottom line. It would be a blessing beyond measure were it mandated that, for English-speaking Christians, the standard text is the Revised Standard Version (not the New RSV), but it seems that is not possible. Even as they read this, the niche-sniffers in the marketing departments at Nelson, Zondervan, and Tyndale may sense an unexploited opportunity: a new Bible for those unhappy with new Bibles.
• “Most evangelical Protestant churches” do not ordain women, I said in the November issue. Robert Patterson of Prison Fellowship points out that that is, at least technically, not quite right. When on the staff of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), he did a thorough study of the question and found that only a fraction of member denominations “constitutionally prohibit” the ordination of women. Pentecostal and Holiness groups, which are a majority in the NAE, have historically ordained women, although in recent years the practice has declined. Some Baptists “permit” it, although the Southern Baptist Convention (not an NAE member) seems to be opposed. “Part of the confusion we face on this issue,” adds Patterson, “is that, lacking a clear doctrine of the church, evangelicals do not generally have a clear understanding of ordination.”
• A staunch advocate of the abortion license, Mary McGrory of the Washington Post drew the line at partial-birth abortion. She expresses puzzlement that the strong opposition of the Catholic bishops and others had so little effect on the last election. She thinks she remembers when a nod or a frown from a cardinal archbishop could determine the outcome of elections. “Clerical clout, it seems, is a thing of the past,” she writes. “So is single-issue voting.” But there were other factors: “The obvious reason why partial-birth abortion faded as a wedge question that could have separated Clinton from Catholic voters is that Dole chose not to bring it up. Before the second debate, he said he would. But he never did. It came up in the vice presidential debate and Jack Kemp gave such a soft answer about the difficulty of consensus that some advocates of banning abortion complained that he was ‘almost apologetic’ about opposing abortion.” Nervous about their tax exemption, the Catholic bishops, unlike many other leaders, stopped far short of anything like an explicit endorsement of candidates. She also thinks the bishops may be reaping the consequences of their long insistence that voters should keep a laundry list of “social justice issues” in mind when they enter the ballot box. She writes: “In April, it seemed that Clinton had gone out of his way to offend Catholics and would pay a heavy price for it.” But soon it would become “obvious that Catholics were heeding earlier advice from the bishops to take into account a number of social issues. Catholics who were captivated by Ronald Reagan were lured back to the Democrats by Clinton’s initiatives on crime and education. The strictness implicit in his espousal of curfews, school uniforms, and ‘V-chips’ also helped bring them around. Liberals were grateful that a President from the South could discuss crime without a whisper of race. The only visible penalty that Clinton has paid has been to be left off the guest list of the Alfred E. Smith dinner, the high gala of the hierarchy and the political establishment that is an annual event in New York City. But Vice President Gore, who subscribes fully to Clinton’s views, was invited and appeared to trade jibes with Jack Kemp. Little notice was paid, and partial-birth abortion has been consigned to the cemetery of Dole issues like character, liberalism, trust, campaign sleaze, failure to wear the uniform, Clinton press fans, and the balanced budget.”
• Among the things it may be better not to know is the story in the December 1996 issue of Penthouse. Suffice it that a group of Episcopalian priests in Brooklyn reportedly have been for some time importing boys from Brazil to engage in orgies at the altar, including S&M and Satanic frolics that push the limits of the grotesque. The suggestion is that the bishop of Long Island was not uninformed about what was going on. The Brooklyn cleric who is at the center of the story denies some of the charges and says he is suing Penthouse. The bishop has announced he is taking a leave of absence. A large number of Episcopalian bishops have in response to the story issued a statement, “Where It Is Corrupt, Purify It.” They take note of the recent Righter trial, which concluded that there is nothing in the church’s teaching against ordaining gay clergy, and of the many statements of Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning trumpeting gay rights. “In a Church in which nearly half of the active bishops have declared their support—in principle—of the ordination of non-celibate homosexual persons, we must not be surprised when some of their clergy take them at their word,” the statement asserts. One of the priests involved in the Brooklyn goings-on is a member of Bishop Browning’s staff. The protesting bishops call for a thorough investigation and for the Episcopal Church “to provide clear and binding standards regarding the sexual behavior of clergy.” Under Browning’s administration, it seems the church has had hardly a month without some major scandal, fiscal or sexual, and some Episcopal clergy and laity are agitating for his resignation and replacement by an interim leadership that can bring a measure of order to a deeply troubled and demoralized communion. Please note that nothing said here should encourage anyone to buy Penthouse. There is nothing to be learned from it. Just imagine the malformed libido run amuck, and you have the story.
• The “revitalization” of organized labor has been a big item in the press since the ascendancy of John Sweeney to the presidency of the AFL-CIO. And there does seem to be a lot of frenetic activity, even if it is not clear how such activity relates to the interests of American workers. There is, for instance, this report from a Washington think tank: “As part of its efforts to ‘build solidarity among many kinds of movements,’ organized labor gave its blessing to an April 1996 ‘Summit on Ethics and Meaning’ organized by Michael Lerner, a 1960s radical who has emerged more recently as a sort of New Age ‘politics of meaning’ guru to Hillary Clinton. AFL-CIO President Sweeney was the featured dinner speaker at the conference, which was convened by, among others, People for the American Way, the Utne Reader, the Institute for Policy Studies, and Planned Parenthood of America’s Clergy Advisory Board. In his speech, Sweeney declared that participants in the conference were the ‘core of a progressive coalition that will expand the frontiers of social justice.’ One of the key goals of the conference was to educate the public about ‘the deprivation of meaning in daily life, and how our hunger for meaning is used and manipulated by racist, xenophobic, nationalist, fascist, and fundamentalist religious groups in ways that set people against each other.’ The AFL-CIO’s bias was made even clearer by an attack in the AFL-CIO News on the Christian Coalition, the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and the National Association of Christian Educators. The AFL-CIO News alleged that these ‘religious extremists pose a significant threat to those candidates who would best represent America’s working families.’ At the same time, the AFL-CIO and the Letter Carriers Union have given political action committee donations to the quasi-religious Natural Law Party. This party, founded by adherents of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, claims that a few government-run centers for Transcendental Meditation would reduce crime, illness, terrorism, and war by reducing the global stress level. Professionals skilled in the meditative technique allegedly can become smarter, halt the aging process, and levitate.” Having spent, with little effect, $35
million (some say more than twice that much) of union members’ dues in trying to defeat Republican members of Congress, it is perhaps not surprising that the AFL-CIO has developed an interest in defying gravity.
• During the election campaign, it came out that billionaire Mohammed Riady of Indonesia and the Lippo Group had remarkable access to the White House, frequently discussing substantive policy with President Clinton and top aides. Indonesia is one of the worst human rights violators in the world, and the hundreds of thousands slaughtered in East Timor by Indonesia’s Muslim government were mostly Christian. Catholic Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo last year won the Nobel Prize for his defense of persecuted Christians. The Clinton Administration has appointed a State Department committee of religious and human rights leaders to study the problem of persecuted Christians in East Timor and elsewhere in the world. The committee will issue a report. Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute, who has been championing the cause of religious freedom, fears the Administration’s thinking is, “Let’s appoint a committee, and the problem will go away.” One hopes he is wrong, but the Indonesian and Chinese connections that poured millions into Democratic campaign coffers are probably not so dumb as not to know what they were buying.
• Before and after every election, the pro-abortion media (meaning almost all the prestige media) declare that abortion is no longer a big issue, and then go on to say that candidates opposing abortion are hurt by that position. Washington Post columnist Mark Shields is unconvinced. He cites a huge Los Angeles Times survey of people leaving their polling places that found that 9 percent of voters said abortion was the “most important” factor in their presidential decision. That includes, of course, both those who favor and those who oppose the abortion license. Of that 9 percent (8.3 million voters), 60 percent favored Bob Dole and 34 percent Bill Clinton. Shields cites a journalistic colleague who says, “When abortion rights supporters win, it’s perhaps more easily accepted than it should be that their pro-choice position was the reason; and when pro-life candidates win, it is more easily accepted than it should be that abortion was irrelevant to the outcome.” Shields comments that in the last election “abortion was quite relevant to 8.3 million American voters, and Bob Dole carried them over Bill Clinton by nearly 2.5 million votes.” “That,” he adds, “qualifies as a mini-landslide.”
• You may remember the controversy over the long and detailed 1986 pastoral letter of the Catholic bishops, “Economic Justice for All.” With considerable justice, the pastoral was sharply criticized by economists and others as an egregious instance of prelates getting in way over their heads. Some journalists had fun pointing out that bishops they interviewed didn’t know the difference between marginal tax rates and deficit financing, although they had voted in favor of episcopal pronouncements on these and numerous other questions. At their meeting last November, the tenth anniversary of the pastoral, the bishops issued a short document called “A Catholic Framework for Economic Life.” Some papers inaccurately reported that the bishops had simply reaffirmed the principles of the 1986 pastoral. In fact, the new document is just that, new. It was drawn up in consultation also with some of the critics of the 1986 statement, and sets forth ten propositions that are, I think, worthy of very careful consideration. Here they are: “1. The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy. 2. All economic life should be shaped by moral principles. Economic choices and institutions must be judged by how they protect or undermine the life and dignity of the human person, support the family, and serve the common good. 3. A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring. 4. All people have a right to life and to secure the basic necessities of life (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, economic security). 5. All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions, as well as to organize and join unions or other associations. 6. All people, to the extent they are able, have a corresponding duty to work, a responsibility to provide for the needs of their families, and an obligation to contribute to the broader society. 7. In economic life, free markets have both clear advantages and limits; government has essential responsibilities and limitations; volunteer groups have irreplaceable roles, but cannot substitute for the proper working of the market or the just policies of the state. 8. Society has a moral obligation, including governmental action when necessary, to assure opportunity, meet basic human needs, and pursue justice in economic life. 9. Workers, owners, managers, stockholders, and consumers are moral agents in economic life. By our choices, initiative, creativity, and investment, we enhance or diminish economic opportunity, community life, and social justice. 10. The global economy has moral dimensions and human consequences. Decisions on investment, trade, aid, and development should protect human life and promote human rights, especially for those most in need wherever they might live on this globe.” Of course these principles are very general. That is what principles are supposed to be. That they are general does not mean that they are vapid. Those who, unlike bishops, have the public responsibility of filling in the details will find, if they take them seriously, that the ten propositions do not lack a cutting edge.
• Dialogue is a lovely word, but it often seems that those most enamored of it are chary of practicing it. As readers know, I keep an eye on numerous publications—including such as America, Commonweal, Christianity Today, and Christian Century—and frequently comment on what appears in them. Although FT has a larger range of readers and interests than, for example, those four, we try to pay serious attention to their worlds. Each of them, however, seems to plod along in its own track, maintaining an enclosed universe of discourse. Even within their worlds, the inclination is to ignore the disagreeable. I am asked, for instance, what America, a Jesuit publication, has had to say about the scandal, first reported in Catholic World Report, of the New England Province’s mendacity and defiance of Rome in supporting the pro-abortion political career of Father Robert Drinan. The answer to date is: nothing. Maybe the assumption is that America readers only read America and are not aware of what appears elsewhere. The National Catholic Reporter, which maintains an image of leftist muckraking, has not touched the story and continues to carry a column by Fr. Drinan as though nothing has happened. Other examples can readily be multiplied. There are numerous publications out there and nobody can read all of them, but the editors of most of them seem to read none of them except their own. Among the purposes of such publications, one would think, is the joining of civil argument—as in “dialogue.” Some editors may be reluctant to give attention to what they view as their “competition,” but I believe that is a mistake, as witness the gratifying success of FT that is forever drawing attention to what is said elsewhere. While polemic and simple assertion are sometimes appropriate, the persuasiveness of an argument depends in large part upon the evidence that alternative arguments have been taken into account. That, presumably, is what dialogue does, but it is disappointingly absent from some publications that chatter incessantly about the importance of dialogue. Not, I quickly add, that FT is without fault on this score, but we work at it, and invite other editors to at least embrace the goal. It would also make going through all those publications somewhat more scintillating if they were talking with one another. Remaining within their enclosed discourses no doubt has its attractions, but our experience suggests that the livelier and better the public argument the more interested readers there will be for everyone. So put me down as strongly in favor of dialogue.
• It was a handsome coffee mug in the bookstore of a university I was visiting, and I had my money out when I noticed on the bottom, “Made in China.” No thanks. My gesture will make no discernible difference to U.S. businesses exploiting slave labor, but one must do something. A. M. (Abe) Rosenthal is a real bulldog on the subject and keeps coming back to it in his column in the Times of the Big Bagel (as Taki of Spectator notoriety calls our town). A recent column begins, “America at election time: two Chamberlains and not a Churchill in sight.” A touch of hyperbole? Not really. What China is doing to its own people and Tibet—and is probably getting ready to do in Hong Kong—is monstrous. Recent months have witnessed a renewed and massive crackdown on Christians, Protestant and Catholic, but few here seem to take notice. Clinton had promised to do his peaceful best to address human rights violations in China, but on May 28, 1993, he abandoned that promise, fatuously claiming that economic engagement with China would improve the lot of everyone. Some thought it reminiscent of Reagan’s “constructive engagement” with South Africa under apartheid, but the parallel does not hold. A good case was made at the time, and it is strengthened in retrospect, that constructive engagement did contribute to the toppling of the apartheid regime. Not so with China. Rosenthal writes, “From that day in May when Mr. Clinton publicly and without apparent shame canceled his own promise to use tariff pressure for human liberties, there was no doubt what would happen. The incarceration and torture meted out to dissidents in China increased. So did China’s military strength and influence abroad.” Many of the biggest enterprises in China are in fact owned by the military, and there is no shortage of documentation that the regime is brazenly using U.S. contracts to build up its military, while insisting that nobody has a right to “interfere” in its internal affairs. And of course corporations argue that, if the U.S. was not getting the trade, other countries would. Some of us are still of the quaint view that America should be different, and should be willing to pay a price for it. Rosenthal again: “At least the Communists are true to their own principles and system. Repression is the government’s bloodstream. Tens of millions have sweated their lives away in slave labor camps. Thousands of political prisoners are still incarcerated.” I don’t feel righteous about doing without that mug, but with it I know the morning coffee would get the day off to a sleazy start. For further grist for the mills of your intercessory prayer, you might send for “Anthems of Defeat” (Asia Watch, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017).
• Martin E. Marty cites Max Scheler’s observation that the apostate is one “who is engaged in a continuous chain of acts of revenge against his own spiritual past.” Marty offers as examples Thomas Cranmer, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Methodist theologian Thomas Oden. Cranmer persecuted those who held the views he would later embrace; after a long life of lechery, Muggeridge was converted to the faith and spent his remaining years excoriating lechers; Oden is sharply critical of the theological liberalism he once espoused. Marty comments: “Cranmer turned often, Muggeridge cannot turn again, and Oden is likely to stay put this time—while the rest of us try to unlearn what they taught us so eloquently before their various turns.” I doubt that Marty was ever taught by Oden and, while he has been around for a long time, he surely did not sit at the feet of Cranmer. As for learning lechery from Muggeridge, I don’t believe it for a moment.
• You know that I do a lot of hanging around with evangelical Protestants and it is, as they say, a blessing. But I do have a complaint that I’ve hesitated to bring up, so I’m grateful that Randall J. VanderMey, who teaches English at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, has said it better than I could. This is from “Phrase the Lord” in a recent issue of New Man, the publication of Promise Keepers: “Suppose all Christians wore uniforms simply because they saw others wearing them and figured it must be the Christian way. Once that trend got started, we would know they were Christians by their . . . love? No, by their plaid Bermudas, bow ties, and little beanies. I know, that’s silly. But have you ever noticed how we Christians sometimes wear funny little verbal ‘uniforms’? They’re otherwise known as Christian cliches, Christian lingo, Christianese, Christian jargon, or God talk. I’m talking about a word like ‘just,’ which often shows up in prayer, as in, ‘Father God, I just want to pray right now, Lord. . . .’ A couple of years ago, I went on radio talk shows across the country discussing the spiritual costs of ‘God talk.’ What do you suppose was the number one verbal mannerism my callers complained about? Surprise: it was that little word ‘just.’ It struck listeners’ ears as an irritating bit of false humility. The phrase ‘right now’ qualifies as evangelical lingo, too. So does the distracting habit of inserting the word ‘Lord’ after almost every other phrase in prayer. You could make your own list of Christian phrases that have gone dull. In church, after listening to ‘special music,’ we ‘share joys and concerns.’ Then we ‘come before our Maker in prayer.’ So-and-so is a great ‘prayer warrior.’ She provides ‘prayer cover’ and asks for a ‘hedge of protection’ around the young couple who just had their first ‘gift from God.’ The pastor has a ‘heart for missions.’ The television evangelist says, ‘Let go and Let God.’ God, we say, has a ‘wonderful plan for your life.’ He ‘never sends us burdens greater than we can bear.’ We greet one another with ‘how’s your walk?’ and admonish one another to ‘walk your talk.’ We ask others, ‘Have you had your quiet time?’ If the answer is yes, it’s ‘Praise the Lord.’ If no, it’s ‘I’ll pray for you.’ Is spiritual groupthink and groupspeak the way of the gospel? I don’t think so. Men who want to follow Christ in spirit and truth will care when language starts to fail. They’ll want to avoid the robotic verbal behavior that deadens the conscience and strikes a cold chill in the observer. How many people are there in dire need of redemption who would not ever consider joining the church because Christians ‘talk funny’? How would you feel, cowboy, if you were hanging on a split-rail fence, staring in at the Christian corral, and all the talk you heard sounded like just so much mooing of contented cows? Would you say to yourself, ‘Man, I want to join that herd?’“
• In Krakow, Poland, the sixth annual “Centesimus Annus Seminar on the Free Society.” The subject is Catholic social teaching and the challenges of democracy. The faculty includes Michael Novak, George Weigel, Father Maciej Zieba, yours truly, and experts from Central Europe. The dates are July 2 to 18, and there are scholarships for ten Americans. (You pay your own travel.) There are always applications from many times that number, so you should get your bid in early. Applicants must be college seniors or graduate students, and should send a writing sample and curriculum vitae to Brian Anderson at the American Enterprise Institute, 1150 Seventeenth Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20036. Deadline for applications is May 1.
• The great majority of our readers say they save every issue. But how to organize them? I’m glad you asked. That’s why we offer those handsome back-issue organizers. Please see page 48 in this issue.
• Surely you have not forgotten about sending me that list of potential subscribers?