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Breast Cancer and Abortion

I’d be the last one to defend the ideological bias of the New England Journal of Medicine (Brind, “Abortion, Breast Cancer, and Ideology,” May), but if breast cancer was increased by induced abortion, then one would expect to see it epidemic in places like Russia, where the average woman has nine abortions, and Japan, which legalized abortion in 1948. I don’t know the breast cancer rate in Russia, but breast cancer is quite rare in Japan, a fact usually attributed to prolonged breast feeding and/or the low-fat diet of the average Japanese. Hormone changes due to induced abortion may indeed be related to breast cancer, but there are other known causes of hormone changes that we should worry about, including the widespread use of chemical contraceptives, fertility drugs that cause hormone surges, increased obesity and fat content in the diet that change the body’s estrogen metabolism, and last but not least, chemical contaminants in the environment that mimic estrogen....  Ironically, nulliparity, i.e., having no children, is associated with an increased rate of breast cancer, even in nuns, who presumably do not have abortions.

Nancy K. O’Connor, M.D.
Red Lake, MN 

Joel Brind replies:

Dr. O’Connor has raised several important questions in regard to abortion and breast cancer in other countries. In Russia, where abortion was legalized in 1955, the age-standardized breast cancer rate tripled between 1960 and 1987, rising from nine to twenty-seven cases per 100,000 women per year. The only completed study of which I am aware that compared Russian women with and without induced abortions was published (in Russian) in 1978. It showed an 89 percent risk increase (odds ratio = 1.89), although statistical confidence intervals were not given. In Japan, the breast cancer rate is much lower than in the West, but so is the abortion rate, even in the absence of oral contraceptives. Between 1957 and 1985, four studies were published that compared Japanese women with and without a history of induced abortion, and all showed between 50 percent and 150 percent increased risk. Two of them also examined the effect of multiple abortions, and both of these found the risk of breast cancer to increase with the number of induced abortions. Yes, there are many dietary and environmental factors that affect breast cancer risk, most of which are presumed to act via increasing or decreasing the levels of estrogens or estrogen-like substances to which women are chronically exposed. What is unique about abortion is that a single exposure measurably increases breast cancer risk, presumably because maternal estradiol (estrogen) reaches such high levels during a normal pregnancy. By the end of the first trimester, estradiol levels are elevated twenty-fold over the level present at conception; seven-fold higher than the peak level present just before ovulation, which is as high as it ever gets in the nonpregnant state. In contrast, in most spontaneous abortions, maternal estradiol levels never even reach the preovulatory peak level. Not surprisingly, therefore, spontaneous abortions are not generally associated with increased breast cancer risk. Finally, it is true that having no children also increases the risk of breast cancer, for two likely reasons: (1) The breasts never receive the benefit of a full-term pregnancy, which renders the breast tissue more mature and thus less susceptible to cancerous change; (2) The breasts are chronically stimulated with more cyclic surges of estradiol, without interruption by periods of pregnancy and lactation. True, nulliparity confers increased risk even in the absence of abortion, but abortion is also one way by which parity is artificially reduced. Consequently, abortion actually confers increased breast cancer risk in two ways. 

The Moral World of The English Patient

David Aaron Murray’s critique of The English Patient (“The English Patient Plays Casablanca,” May) reminds me of Stanley Fish’s belief that all preferences are principles. In Murray’s case, the force that underscores the principle of good filmmaking is his own moral preference regarding a traditional “recognition of a larger struggle between good and evil.” However, his discontent concerning the loss of a transcendent moral approach to filmmaking seems to rest more with some ethnocentric reasoning than with any universal maxim. Take for instance his references to things said by Juliette Binoche’s character, Hana. According to Murray, Hana reveals to us a moral or spiritual isolation when expressing that in life there are “No boundaries,” and that “We are the countries.” Murray believes that these sentiments do not emerge from her own cosmopolitan ideals but rather are emblematic of a contemporary celebration of narcissism. Of course, if the film concluded with Hana’s words, then Murray’s argument would be compelling. But the story-line leading to the final credits defies his conclusion. In fact, the film projects an antithesis to Murray’s conclusion by clearly depicting the tragic consequences that issue from unaccountable and adulterous behavior. A more provocative interpretation is that Binoche’s words help explain a world shaped and formed by political power, and how moral demands have followed this pattern, thus becoming the real business of cultural map-making. Understanding this, Hana concludes that her identity and longing for love cannot be comprehended in terms of geopolitics. Driving his point further, Murray argues that comparing Casablanca and The English Patient would help us detect how postmodern filmmaking has deconstructed traditional moral thought. This is an interesting thought, but I believe Murray mishandles the comparisons, not because of what he does with them, but because he doesn’t take the comparisons far enough. Consider Rick and what he demands of his situation in Casablanca. Although his situation is desperate, Rick remains unperturbed, and naturally takes matters into his own hands, even to the point of taking the life of another man. No doubt his love for Ilsa was true, but the truth of his love was empowered by the demands of his will. Neither law nor moral code was going to stand in the way of what he believed he needed to do. Why would this be understood differently in the case of Almasy’s love for and commitment to Katherine Clifford? The sin of adultery had nothing to do with Rick’s nor Almasy’s decision to follow through with a commitment. Both did what was right in their own eyes. When we compare the two stories, the only real difference was that everyone in the 1940s anticipated a “moral” to the story and a happy ending to their cinematic experience.... What The English Patient reveals is the undeniable presence of moral conflicts in our world, and thus the complexities of our own stories. In Bogart’s moment in film history, his character’s stories could never be that complex. He just did what Americans needed him to do. And because there was a perceived consensus of moral principle, Bogie was able to just do it. But for those of us living in this postmodern moment, we have to choose to act in the context of a multitude of moral preferences and a lack of cultural consensus....

Stephen R. Nelson
Wheaton, IL 

 I found David Aaron Murray’s article on The English Patient quite interesting in drawing the parallels between this year’s “Best Picture” and the time-honored Casablanca. But beyond Professor Murray’s comparison and contrast effort, I was astonished to see how he, a university teacher of humanities and literature, so glibly misses the point of this powerful film. For the modern intellectual with “moral sensibilities” (as Professor Murray calls them), The English Patient offers a poignant and disturbing look at the power of sin to destroy those who choose it and ... to radiate outward to hurt the community at large.... Private agonies drive public actions, and can be so soul-shattering as to totally possess the inner mental life of a crippled dying man.... We of the compassionate religious persuasion might understand that the passionate connection between Almasy and Katherine was a tragic soulful awakening. Unfortunately, it did not lead the lovers to God––on the contrary, it led to death without God––but the yearnings-against-their-will, their overwhelming attraction and desire despite their efforts to avert them are of the very same emotional and spiritual and factual material that dramatic religious conversions are made of....

Sheryl Cornett
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 

David Aaron Murray replies:

I question Stephen Nelson’s belief that Casablanca embodies a supposedly simpler world of moral certainties and noncomplex characters, while The English Patient better comports with today’s “complexities.” I find plenty of complexity in Casablanca (bearing in mind that we’re still talking about a Hollywood movie!); on the other hand, I find “We are the countries” and “No boundaries” to be reductively simplistic. But I’m afraid that Mr. Nelson is mistaking moral clarity for simplicity and moral confusion for “complexity.” Mr. Nelson says, “No doubt [Rick’s] love for Ilsa was true, but the truth of his love was empowered by the demands of his will. Neither law nor moral code was going to stand in the way of what he believed he needed to do.” I’m not sure what this means. When Rick shoots Major Strasser, he is hardly being a Nietzschean. He is saving himself, Ilsa, and Victor Laszlo from capture and probable death. But more than that, he is also preserving Laszlo so that he can continue the fight against the Nazis. He willingly gives up the idea of resuming a relationship with Ilsa, although he loves her, partly because she’s married but also because Laszlo needs her to sustain him in his fight. How Mr. Nelson gets out of this that Rick is defying moral codes and laws is a mystery. Nor can we say that the ending to Casablanca is a completely “happy” one. Ilsa loses Rick, the man she really loves. Rick abandons the relative wealth, security, and neutrality of his position as owner of Rick’s Café to embark with Louis on a dangerous life of guerrilla resistance. The ending is only “happy” to the extent that Rick, Louis, and Ilsa make, in the end, the morally right choices. Nor is it true that “everyone in the 1940s” anticipated Casablanca's ending. As I noted, America in 1940 still had a strong isolationist tendency. That is precisely what Casablanca is about. The film’s writers evidently saw Rick at the opening of the movie as representative of prewar American opinion: “I stick my neck out for nobody.” Rick emerges from isolation and self-involvement to serve larger moral ideals that require self-sacrifice, and thus models the response that Americans were called upon to make. But contrary to Mr. Nelson’s blithe assumption that the film only provided Americans with what they wanted to hear, Casablanca was not a box-office smash, and only later acquired its status as a classic. Sheryl Cornett reads into The English Patient a concern with issues of “sin” or “God.” I find no evidence for these concerns in the film. Ms. Cornett argues that the love affair between Almasy and Katherine “is of the very same emotional and spiritual and factual material that dramatic religious conversions are made of”––namely, a certain sequence of strong feelings, including the experience of being led to do something against your will. I’ll leave aside the question of whether or not an experience of “passionate connection” is always a “soulful awakening.” But a number of different things can be made out of the same “emotional and spiritual and factual material.” You could find the same kinds of feelings in someone who has converted to Nazism or some other totalitarian ideology. This is precisely the kind of equivalence the film invites us to make. But does the fact that different experiences can be made out of the same “material”––the fact that similar emotions can accompany a love affair, a conversion to God, or a conversion to totalitarianism––mean that the experiences are morally equivalent? 

 Jews and Christians

Robert Louis Wilken’s essay “The Jews as the Christians Saw Them” (May) seeks the reconciliation of Christians with the Jews that they or their ancestors have wronged for centuries, and no one can or should find anything amiss in that. I wrote a not too dissimilar piece for Commentary over fifteen years ago. But can one expect also to see an appeal to contemporary Jews to understand the Christians among them? To sympathize with their fears of a totally secular Christmas and Easter season? To appreciate their fear of the consequences of too high a wall of separation between church and state, something vigorously supported by all too many secular and religious Jews? To acknowledge that historically Christianity is a form of first-century Judaism as valid and authentic as rabbinical Judaism? Too many Jews accept the distorted view that Christianity is pagan, idolatrous, superstitious, morbid, and inhumane. Having the greater guilt by far, Christians have surely the greater need for reconciliation, but when the Jewish authorities had political power they understandably used it in their own interest, including against the nascent Christians. Reconciliation, atonement, forgiveness, and understanding cannot be a one-way street.

Norman Ravitch
Department of History
University of California
Riverside, CA  

Robert Louis Wilken’s article “The Jews as the Christians Saw Them” raises the issue of Christianity’s relation to Judaism. While this subject is worthy of serious reflection, I find some of Wilken’s assertions disturbing. Part of Professor Wilken’s article touches on principles for the interpretation of Scripture. While one may agree that interpretation is not limited to understanding the words of Scripture in their historical context, it seems impossible to divorce the historical meaning from meanings we may discover within our own cultural setting. Unless the continuity between the significance of Scripture in our context and that which it had for its first hearers is both organic and evident, we must eventually find ourselves proclaiming “another gospel.” It seems out of character for First Things to open the door to a suggestion that we place ourselves under that anathema. Prof. Wilken writes of a “reorientation of history” as a result of the suffering of the Jews under the Nazi regime and the subsequent establishment of the state of Israel. Observing popular trends in both Catholic and Protestant thinking, I have wondered for some time whether we are moving toward the place where the 1940s Holocaust will join the crucifixion of Jesus as a “redeeming” event that defines our history.... However demonic the Nazi terror that was inflicted upon millions of Jews––and members of other groups (including many Christians) judged unfit to live in the Aryan paradise––can the Holocaust really bear this theological weight within the scope of historic Christian faith? As for the state of Israel, given the demographics of a volatile Middle East it seems risky to attach a reorientation of Christian theology to its continued existence. If we have learned anything from the dispensationalists’ repeated warning of an imminent return of Christ that somehow never seems to occur, it is the folly of basing Christian doctrine on current events instead of clear scriptural teaching. Prof. Wilken refers to Origen’s view that the destruction of the Temple was the evidence that the Jewish nation was finished. He is thankful that Origen is not St. Origen. But Origen was not alone; Eusebius and Chrysostom were among those who held similar views. One must admit that the idea goes back to the words of Jesus himself, who taught that the owner of the vineyard would “give the vineyard to others” who received his son (Luke 20:16), and that Jerusalem’s “house” would be left desolate (Luke 13:35). Expositors through the centuries have generally failed to deal with the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 as a fulfillment of the promise of “the end of the age” that looms so large in the pages of the New Testament. (Unless one is prepared to credit the apostolic church with a total lack of perspicuity regarding the “signs of the times” in the Jewish community of its own era, there is no compelling reason to accept Prof. Wilken’s assessment that most New Testament writings come from the period following the siege of Jerusalem.) Today, an emerging grassroots preterist movement is finally taking notice of the correspondence between the New Testament’s picture of “the end” and the events of the latter part of the first century, giving renewed weight to the arguments of Origen, Chrysostom, and other ancient fathers. The anecdote about the confirmation service attended by Prof. Wilken’s rabbi friend effectively dramatizes the uneasiness contemporary Jews must have when hearing the preaching of the New Testament church. The words of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch of Pisidia suggest that the Jews had repudiated the word of God and therefore judged themselves “unworthy of eternal life.” (Acts 13:36) Admittedly these are harsh words, but we must recall (and perhaps one could have interrupted the liturgical sequence to say so) that these words were spoken by Jews to Jews. The New Testament is witness to significant theological disagreement within ancient Judaism, and it should surprise no one that the apostles repeatedly touched the “hot button” of the leaders of their community and therefore endured persecution, as the rest of the passage brings out....

Richard C. Leonard
Arlington Heights, IL

... Robert Wilken reasons from the unexamined premise that the widespread tendency among Christians to concede to Judaism a kind of theological “right to exist” is a movement of the Spirit. I would have thought that unless the Spirit means the Zeitgeist, some argument for the point would be in order. I for one am not yet prepared to take The Holocaust Has Changed Everything as an article of faith; I need more proof and less question-begging, arm-waving, and browbeating. The more or less articulated notions of a continuing and independent Jewish covenant that follow from this premise tend toward more or less articulate heterodoxy. The New Testament could not be clearer in its proclamation that both Jew and Gentile are called to a single new and eternal covenant in Christ’s blood. The old covenant has not been revoked, but it has been fulfilled, and the essence of that fulfillment is the breaking down of the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. Both must now repent and believe the Gospel, or be condemned....

John A. McFarland
Boca Raton, FL 

 Robert Louis Wilken replies:

On the facade of the church of Santa Gregorio della Divina Pieta at the entrance to the Jewish ghetto in Rome and facing the present great synagogue of Rome there is an inscription from the book of Isaiah written in Hebrew and in Latin. It reads: “I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices, a people who provoke me to my face continually.” (Isaiah 65:2-3) In the Middle Ages Jews were forced to listen to sermons addressed to them from the steps of the church as they looked at the inscription. Today Jews walk by it daily and when Pope John Paul II visited the Synagogue of Rome on April 13, 1986 and spoke within sight of it he called the Jewish people “our dearly beloved brothers” and said that in discovering her “bond” with Judaism the Church was searching into her own mystery. It is not “lawful,” he continued, to say that the Jews are “‘repudiated or cursed’ as if this were taught or could be deduced from the sacred Scriptures of the Old or the New Testament.” Indeed, the Pope stressed, “the Jews are beloved of God who has called them with an irrevocable calling.” What the Holy Father said on that occasion is a form of biblical interpretation of the sort I was urging in my article. The point is not that “our own cultural setting” should determine the meaning of the Scripture, but that Christian engagement with the Jewish people in the twentieth century has helped us to see dimensions of the Holy Scriptures that were not apparent to earlier generations. Of course the interpretation of the Bible must be related to what we take to be the original sense, but if the interpretation is to be “organic,” as Mr. Leonard rightly insists, then it must grow out of the Church’s history and experience, and the experience with the Jews in the twentieth century has been unprecedented. The Old Testament reading for Trinity Sunday is from Deuteronomy 4: “Because he [God] loved your fathers and chose their descendants after them ... you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I [Moses] command you this day, that it may go well with you, and with your children, after you.” How differently this text would sound in our ears if there were no descendants of Abraham living today. That there are descendants of Abraham, and that many of them observe the law of Moses as an act of covenantal obedience, is hardly irrelevant to the interpretation of Deuteronomy, or Romans for that matter. I quite agree that the Christian efforts to understand the Jewish people and Judaism have raised new and perplexing theological problems. It is very difficult for Christian theology to acknowledge the ongoing validity of the covenant with the Jewish people and yet confess with St. Paul “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow ... and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Philippians 2:10-11) That is why all theological discussion about Christianity and the Jewish people has an air of tentativeness about it. How we are to make place theologically for the reality of Judaism, where the Law is the center of religious life, in light of the Church’s confession of Christ as Lord and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not at all evident to me. But I do know that we cannot ignore the evidence of our experience that interaction with the Jews has helped us to see with fresh clarity the scriptural teaching that Christians have a spiritual kinship with the Jewish people that is unlike our relation to anyone else. 

Catholicism and Catholicity

James Nuechterlein writes in a very reasonable and measured style that commands the reader’s respect. Yet there is something in certain parts of his “Catholics at Home” (May) that seems something less than forthright. He states that “The issue of contraception has created a crisis of conscience among many devout and thoroughly orthodox Roman Catholics. These are not ...  ‘cafeteria’ Catholics.” Though he does not name examples, Nuechterlein would be hard-pressed to give a true, working definition of “orthodox Roman Catholic,” and then name persons who fit but refuse to comply with Church teaching on contraception, or anything else, including Scripture. Perhaps the Catholics he wishes to describe are devout (as Luther certainly was), but they cannot in any real sense be thoroughly orthodox. Either the Church and the Pope who leads her have the authority to teach in Christ’s name or they don’t. St. Augustine stated: “I would put no faith in the Gospels unless the authority of the Catholic Church directed me to do so.” As the truly orthodox Catholic position, Augustine’s statement puts Martin Luther and the whole sola scriptura crowd first in line at the cafeteria. And, pace Mr. Nuechterlein, today’s “self-first, Church-second” Catholics are near the end of the same line. They may be devout and spiritual, but they cannot be honestly described as “thoroughly orthodox” if they refuse to submit to the Church’s magisterial authority. Part of what it means to be fully Catholic is to accept that Christ’s voice speaks through the Church’s magisterium....

Larry A. Carstens
North Hollywood, CA

The Rev. Leonard Klein’s article “Catholics in Exile” (May) was especially insightful as I tried to fight through the fog raised by James Nuechterlein (“In Defense of Sectarian Catholicity” [January] and “Catholics at Home”). I must admit a certain lack of understanding about Mr. Nuechterlein’s use of the term “catholic,” and I cannot help sensing a certain Orwellianism about the whole issue. Even if one grants to Mr. Nuechterlein his premise, namely, that one can be catholic without being Catholic or Orthodox, one is still left with the task of defining where catholicism begins and ends. In the absence of a teaching church with a functional magisterium, to whom does that task fall, especially when new issues arise? As Pastor Klein rightly points out, Mr. Nuechterlein inexplicably chooses women’s ordination and other modern issues as tests of catholicity, despite their negative effects on church unity and their radical departure from historical Christianity. Remarkably, Mr. Nuechterlein states in his earlier essay that “we do not consider our confessional position a matter of ‘private judgment,’” but he accepts the validity of women’s ordination because he “hasn’t been persuaded by any of the theological arguments against it.” Additionally, his reference to loyal Catholics who dissent on Humanae Vitae is a hidden appeal to reduce the teachings of Christ to a democratic process––we will simply reject the hard sayings by majority vote. In fact, Mr. Nuechterlein’s arguments really suggest that he does not understand the underlying theological concepts. With respect to the ministerial priesthood, he confesses belief in the real presence of Christ in the eucharist, but he also states that “our pastor’s theologically astute and spiritually evocative sermons convey the ... truths of the faith.... I cannot imagine that her holy orders should be in question.” Although the role of the priest necessarily involves preaching and teaching, those actions are not unique to the priesthood and do not define it––the priesthood is primarily about the action of Christ who, through the priest, re-presents His sacrifice of Calvary to the Father. The question of women’s ordination is not one of ability (and especially not about ability to preach) but of fitness to act in persona Christi in the sacrificial offering. That Christ was a male is an undeniable historical fact, as is His revelation of God as Father. Some might believe these were cultural accidents, but that has never been the understanding of the Church; to insist that the Church change its understanding to remain catholic is absurd....

John F. Rivera
Stamford, CT 

The exchange between James Nuechterlein and me should mostly stand as it is. We agree on the nature of the problems of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We seem to disagree on the possibility of solutions. I see “sectarian catholicity” as more fraught with danger than does he. And I continue to agree with Richard John Neuhaus (and Cardinal Manning) that when orthodoxy becomes a matter of private judgment, the point has already been lost. The irony that further unites us, though, is that in the ELCA you can be orthodox only by being a cafeteria Lutheran, creating a confessional position and churchly practice that selectively ignores or nullifies much of what the denomination assumes, promotes, or places on the agenda. At two points I do think I owe further explanation. First, while confessing to the insouciance of my claims about the modern dogmas, I would underscore my genuine conviction that they are much more defensible than Protestants and many Catholics generally assume. I would add only a reminder of the important conserving nature of infallibility. Infallibility does not authorize the Pope to do whatever he pleases. That’s what the infallibility of Protestant church conventions authorizes. Infallibility restricts the Pope from rashly undoing what he has received. It works much as tradition does in Orthodoxy. It prevents the Church from being redesigned by, say, Hans Küng. Vatican I’s highly restricted decree contains, if one grants the primacy at all, great truth about how the teaching office should function. The doctrine, I continue to believe, demands the serious and charitable consideration of all Christians. The second point is Humanae Vitae. I omitted discussion of it for reasons of brevity and because it does not state a dogma and because everyone must grant the crisis of conscience and credibility that it has brought about. That said, I rush to point out that it is a splendid document about human participation in God’s creative work, marriage, and the link between sex and babies. So far as I know, in recent years the only American church body to address this issue with any comparable integrity is the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; this is astounding. Those living in a denomination that attempted a statement on human sexuality that was blithely indifferent to these central things in its pursuit of human autonomy need to take a very close look at Humanae Vitae. In particular, its claim that every act of sexual intercourse needs to be open to the transmission of life must be affirmed, lest we engage in the morally and socially catastrophic separation of “sexuality” from marriage and reproduction. The only real point of honest debate, inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church, is whether married couples, understanding that any pregnancy must be accepted as the will of God for the transmission of human life, should be restricted to one particular form of limiting and spacing births. Of course, this teaching has created terrible turmoil and pastoral problems, and the leadership’s record in interpreting it and handling the debate and repercussions has too often been inadequate. Still, the warnings of Paul VI have been prophetic, even as the resistance of faithful laity continues to press the question of the correctness of one crucial conclusion of Humanae Vitae. But that’s not all that it is about. The rest commands respect and assent.

(The Rev.) Leonard R. Klein
Christ Lutheran Church
York, PA

James Nuechterlein replies:

Larry A. Carstens says it is incorrect for me to describe conservative Catholics who nonetheless dissent from the Church’s teaching on contraception as “thoroughly orthodox.” They can’t be orthodox, he says, “if they refuse to submit to the Church’s magisterial authority.” Well, yes, but that rather misses the whole point at issue, which is that the ban on contraception has created a crisis of conscience among Catholics who on every other point of faith and morality are obedient servants of the Church but who, as I put it, “find themselves unable to conform their beliefs or practices to Humanae Vitae.” These are, I repeat, “not liberal or ‘cafeteria’ Catholics,” and it is the present crisis of the Church that––as one study after another has shown––so many of her most loyal sons and daughters feel themselves condemned, so to speak, to unorthodoxy. John F. Rivera is right to suggest that only the Roman Catholic Church can define “catholicism.” But “catholicity,” I would argue, is for the universal Church––guided by the Holy Spirit––to determine. Post-Reformation issues such as papal infallibility, the Marian dogmas, ordination of women, and contraception are “tests of catholicity” precisely because they divide people who consider themselves part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. On the specific point of women’s ordination, I was not claiming for myself the right of private judgment. But I do include myself among those many Christians who find no compelling theological objections to it. We are not persuaded that the fact that Jesus was a man precludes women from officiating at the Eucharist. Jesus’ maleness is not at the heart of the eucharistic mystery. Finally, Mr. Rivera says that “to insist that the Church change its understanding to remain catholic is absurd.” I agree, and I cannot understand what leads Mr. Rivera to think otherwise. I agree with Pastor Klein that the exchange between us can stand as it is. 

 Open Borders?

Although I agree with Father Richard John Neuhaus that immigration and border policy is a legitimate area of public debate (While We’re At It, May), I think his view of the Mexican border situation is rather superficial in historical context. The Mexican War was driven by the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, which legitimated national expansion as the building of an “empire of liberty.” It was the early Texas settlers who refused to honor the terms of Mexican citizenship. I don’t regret this, but I do think American self-righteousness about borders and citizenship is absurd. Since I value the American heritage of religious, civil, and economic freedom, I would not wish the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo undone––even though my Hispanic New Mexican mother’s people were among those unwillingly annexed in 1850. I feel a distant sense of kinship with Mexicans but no political allegiance to the regime in Mexico City. Let us recall, however, that the demand for tight control of national borders and over the hiring of aliens is relatively recent. Quite early in our history, the Jeffersonians opposed the Alien and Sedition Acts; and even the nativists of the last century were concerned primarily about Catholic immigration and access to the franchise. Before World War I and the restrictive legislation of the 1920s, passports were not usually required in peacetime for those crossing national borders. Until recently, employers were not forced to act as law enforcement personnel because the hiring of workers––whether native or foreign-born––was rightly regarded as an aspect of the employer’s legitimate freedom of contract. Throughout most of American history, such control over borders, persons, and voluntary contracts would have been considered incompatible with the limited scope of our government. The Wall Street Journal is quite right about this issue.... One final thought: Isn’t it remarkable that we worry so much less about the Canadian border than about the Mexican border? If the porous nature of the northern border doesn’t threaten our sovereignty, then why should similar openness threaten us on the southern border? Surely the editors of First Things would not suggest that having family ties to Canada and to, say, German Lutheranism would be, somehow, Un-American! The free movement of people, goods, and cultural influences between neighboring countries in peacetime can only threaten those who have abandoned belief in limited government and a market economy.

W. Robert Aufill
Stillwater, OK 


For some reason, the May issue’s Public Square chose to pick two sentences out of my review of Jefferson Powell’s book on the Supreme Court and twist those few words to portray both Powell and me as at least “confused” and perhaps as defenders of an imperial judiciary. I won’t bore readers with the details of these strained interpretations. Instead I’ll point out what Father Neuhaus, irresponsibly, never mentions: a major theme of both Powell’s book and my article is that the Court can and does abuse the power of judicial review. As my review explicitly says, much of Powell’s book “attacks the secular myths by which we idolize the Constitution and the Court,” and it prefers the “corrigibility” of electoral politics to the “pretensions” of judicial review. I myself argued that the judges’ unelected status “creates the risk that [they] will simply enact their own policy preferences, leaving the citizenry no easy means of correction,” and thus judges should stick close to the text and history of a constitutional provision. I also attacked Roe v. Wade for “finding a highly controversial moral theory––this time of radical individual autonomy”in the ‘due process’ provision,... with little effort to justify the decision by the traditional standards of constitutional reasoning.” Did Fr. Neuhaus actually read my article? Contrary to Fr. Neuhaus’ charge, I understand the breadth of Roe ‘s holding quite well; my review just didn’t say anything about its breadth. What I did was refer to some state laws, undeniably on the statute books, that allow abortion in many or all cases. Yes, Roe makes these statutes mostly superfluous; but what if Roe were overruled? Some states would enact new abortion prohibitions, but others would likely protect abortion legislatively. Thus would arise the argument I discussed (and criticized) in my review: that the Constitution should be interpreted in light of certain natural law principles to require (not just allow) states to prohibit abortion.

Thomas C. Berg
Cumberland Law School
Samford University
Birmingham, AL 

RJN replies:

I am grateful for Professor Berg’s clarification, since it was not evident from his article that he understood the breadth of the abortion regime established by Roe and its judicial progeny. 

Hierarchy, Good and Bad

In Father Neuhaus’ insightful discussion of Amitai Etzioni and the new communitarians (Public Square, May) there is one slight misunderstanding that I would like to clear up. Fr. Neuhaus quotes the following passage from my book, The New Communitarians and the Crisis of Modern Liberalism : “Reeducation is by nature inegalitarian. In any program of reeducation a self-selected group of intellectuals asserts that it has the authority to decide what kind of character and belief everyone should have.” As Fr. Neuhaus points out, here I am arguing that communitarian reeducation (like all education) is by nature inegalitarian. But I do not do so on the assumption that egalitarianism is good. Rather, my point (made clear by succeeding paragraphs) is that we should not take new communitarians seriously when they claim they are merely reinforcing existing egalitarian values. My central concern with communitarianism in its current form is that its adherents seek to impose a new psychology, a new history, and even a new reality on the public. Rejecting tradition, religious doctrine and revelation, the intent of the drafters of our Constitution and laws, and the very facts of our history (all of which limit and lend authority to proper education), they seek to remold our characters according to their own left-liberal, secular ideology. My complaint is not that the new communitarians are inegalitarian. Indeed, my first book, Virtue and the Promise of Conservatism: The Legacy of Burke and Tocqueville, identifies hierarchy as an essential element of any decent society. I am against the new communitarian hierarchy because it is the wrong hierarchy––it would replace God and traditional limited leaderships with secular, left-wing elites.

Bruce Frohnen
Arlington, VA 

For the Record

Re While We’re At It (May): allow me to correct the record. The Franciscan arrested with Bishop Lynch in Dobbs Ferry was baptized Christopher, not Michael. His name in religion is Brother Fidelis, not Fidelius. And he’s a friar, not a monk. Monks for the most part live in monasteries; friars hit the streets––where they sometimes get arrested in front of abortion clinics. I know these things because I am Brother Fidelis’ proud father.

Joe Moscinski
Neshanic Station, NJ 

RJN replies:

I, and the report I relied on, stand corrected. 

Hauerwas No Enemy

In the May Public Square (“Michael Baxter and the Theological Salad Bar”) I am characterized as “the sworn enemy of [Stanley] Hauerwas,” a professor at Duke University. The statement is not true.

Richard P. McBrien
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN

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