The Public Square
Astute as ever, my friend Robert Louis Wilken, the distinguished church historian, is impressed by “We Hold These Truths,” but he also admits to having some problems with the declaration released on the Fourth of July and included in our last issue. He agrees with other historians that a statement on a question of great public moment and endorsed by a wide array of forty-six Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox leaders may be without precedent in the American experience. But he wonders whether an important opportunity may not have been missed. Why, he asks, did it not include a more explicit and fulsome statement of Christian belief?
The statement repeatedly invokes the Declaration of Independence and its allusion to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” but that, says Wilken, is a pretty weak reed on which to lean a presentation of Christian principles for public life.
His is a question both fair and important, and he is not alone in raising it. Other questions might be asked about the statement (hereafter WHTT). Where among the signers are the leaders of the oldline Protestant churches? Should it not have been a joint statement by Christians and Jews? And why did the statement receive relatively little attention in the general media?
Please note that my response has only the authority of this author’s opinion. While I helped convene the meeting that initiated the statement, assisted in the drafting (a process in which many were involved), and had a part in coordinating the entire effort, I do not presume to speak for the other signers, and, as it is said, the statement speaks for itself.
A Question of Timing
Taking the last question first, it is somewhat but not very surprising that the statement received relatively little attention in the general media. Media inattentiveness to religion is a commonplace. No doubt the familiar bias against things perceived as “conservative” also played a part. With notable exceptions, the signers are people perceived as conservative, although the argument of WHTT can hardly be fitted into the usual partisan boxes. In my conversations with reporters, a big problem seemed to be the timing of the statement. Scheduled for release on the Fourth of July, the final draft could not address directly the Supreme Court decisions that came down the week before and understandably dominated the news.
Reporters routinely operate by an established story line and, with respect to religion and the Court, that week’s story line was in perplexing disarray. On the one hand, the Court overruled the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (for reasons having little to do with religion) while, on the other, it relaxed a little its rigidly secularist reading of the no-establishment provision of the Religion Clause in Agostino. Moreover, on assisted suicide it appeared to step back from its much-criticized practice of the judicial usurpation of politics (an appearance that is, I believe, misleading, for reasons set forth by Robert P. George and others in our October symposium on the Court).
Without a clear story line, journalists were confused. An editor at a major daily asked, “Don’t these decisions mean that the Court has already heard and heeded the message of the religious leaders?” In his view, WHTT was news arriving a week too late. As welcome as the decision on assisted suicide is—although it is a great deal more ambiguous than many seem to think—the answer to the editor’s question is emphatically in the negative. There is slight consolation in being reminded that a power usurped can, now and then, be wielded more cautiously.
So the general media generally missed the story of WHTT. That is too bad, but it hardly detracts from the significance of the statement. We are all—church leaders definitely included—inordinately anxious about the media’s construal of reality. It is true, as we are regularly told, that many Christians get their news about religion—sparse as the reporting is—mainly through the newspaper and evening news. That is an indictment of Christian leaders who have not developed the means to address their people directly. Although one may hope for improvement in the general media’s coverage of religion, the remedy does not lie there. Effective communication will not be achieved by having more and better ecclesiastical spin doctors. For many reasons, the likes of the New York Times and ABC will never be a reliable means of communicating what needs to be communicated to the Christian people. Misplaced reverence for the news industry only compounds the delusion, also among many Christians, that nothing is really important unless it is declared so by the prestige media. We must robustly reject the notion that to be on TV is to be.
WHTT is addressed to the Christian community, comprehensively defined. There it has received widespread attention in the Catholic press and, most notably, through evangelical networks such as Focus on the Family. Charles Colson, for instance, reports an unprecedented demand for the statement in response to his discussion of it on his radio program. So millions of Christians are aware of the argument of WHTT, and one can hope that it will generate thoughtful responses in the forums where Christians engage arguments.
Why Not Others
The question about why these signatories and not others is not difficult to answer. For instance, many more Catholic bishops might have been asked to sign, but there are more than three hundred of them and that would have overloaded the list with Catholics. A few who were asked to sign declined to do so, not, they said, because they disagreed but because such a statement should come through the national bishops conference, a very improbable prospect given the ideological and ecumenical penchants of the conference staff. The general rule was to ask bishops who have a record of acting as apostolic teachers rather than as branch managers, so to speak, of a national denomination. It should be said also that the positive response of the bishops was no doubt due in great part to the strong support for the statement by John Cardinal O’Connor of New York.
It is true that the leaders of the oldline, sometimes called mainline, Protestant churches did not sign, although some were asked. One need not go far to find the reason why. It can be summed up in one word: abortion. At the heart of WHTT is the assertion that at the heart of our constitutional crisis is Roe v. Wade and related decisions in which the Court has usurped the democratic deliberation of the right ordering of our public life. The doleful fact is that the liberal oldline churches are incapable of challenging—and in some instances are actively supporting—the unlimited abortion license imposed on the country by the Court.
Thus has abortion become a determinative ecumenical factor. On his first visit to the U.S. eighteen years ago, John Paul II raised eyebrows among some of Catholicism’s ecumenical partners when he observed that Christian unity entails agreement on morality as well as on doctrine and ministry. In the more recent encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, he defined the common Christian cause as contending for “the culture of life” against “the culture of death.” This contention is the deepest level of the “culture wars” and finds expression in what has been called “the ecumenism of the trenches” in which Orthodox, evangelical Protestant, and Roman Catholic are allied—and are too often opposed by the leadership of liberal Protestantism. This circumstance might be deplored as an intrusion of social and political issues upon the quest for Christian unity were it not that abortion and the related life issues go to the heart of the Christian understanding of human nature and moral responsibility. It is not simply that Christians disagree about abortion. It is that this disagreement has forced the question of the theological rules by which liberal Protestantism determines the truth about abortion, or almost anything else.
There might have been merit in making WHTT a common statement by Christians and Jews, and that was discussed along the way. As some journalists point out, that would have had more media appeal. At the same time, one may ask why Christian leaders should be hesitant to speak as Christians to the Christian people of America. One reason for such hesitancy is that Christians have internalized a perverse notion of what it means that ours is a “pluralistic” society. It is thought that any public statement must include everybody, and must therefore fudge the differences that make the deepest difference. But pluralism means, inter alia, that the public is composed of discrete publics. A superficial homogenization is the very antithesis of pluralism. It is precisely in the service of pluralism that we attend to distinctive communities—always in a manner respectful of other communities that comprise what we call, in a much more attenuated sense, the national community.
There is an understandable nervousness, however, about speaking of “the Christian community,” since self-described Christians make up about 90 percent of the citizenry. For those who are not Christians, democratic adherence to majority rule is mixed with fear of majoritarianism. Political majorities, some insist, should be formed without reference to nonpolitical characteristics of the majority of the people—without reference, for instance, to their being Christians. This anxiety about majority status afflicts, not without reason, also many Christians who feel a vestigial guilt about the real and alleged oppressions perpetrated by an earlier Christendom. That uneasiness is further sharpened by a salutary concern for minorities. It is a salutary concern easily twisted into the obsessive anxiety that has produced the distinctly unsalutary “politics of victimization” that so fractures and degrades our common life.
A hundred or even fifty years ago, a declaration on the state of the nation by “Christian leadership” was deemed unexceptionable. But that reflected a time of oldline Protestantism’s cultural dominance that is definitely past. What happened in the past half century is a muting of the Christian voice in public not because of secularization but because of the reconfiguration of Christianity in America, meaning chiefly the ascendancy of Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism. More precisely, the Christian voice in its Catholic and evangelical expressions is not so much muted as it is viewed by the remaining liberal establishments as suspect, as an alien intrusion upon our public life.
It is now a matter of doctrine among the advocates of perverse pluralism that there is no moral consensus in this society, and certainly no consensus based on religion. One may at least entertain the possibility that debates about matters moral and cultural were in the past more pluralistic than at present. There were more arenas of discourse—politics, the university, professional associations, religious organizations—effectively engaged in such public debates. Today the news and entertainment industry aspires to monopolize such debates, indeed to monopolize what counts as “public.” Other voices, notably religious voices, are dismissed as being of only “sectarian” interest, even though the positions voiced are supported by the majority of Americans—and, perhaps, precisely because it is suspected that they are supported by most Americans.
In short, we are for many reasons in a terrible muddle about what it means to be a pluralistic society, and one result is that Christian leaders are inhibited from publicly addressing themselves to the Christian majority. (Shades of the Moral Majority!) Even as it overcomes that inhibition, WHTT attends to the sensitivities involved. The statement declares,
Let no one mistake this statement as an instance of special pleading for Christians or even for religious people more generally. Our purpose is to revitalize a polity in which all the people of “we the people” are full participants. Let no one fear this call for our fellow Christians to more vibrantly exercise their citizenship responsibilities. We reject the idea that ours should be declared a “Christian” nation. We do not seek a sacred public square but a civil public square. We strongly affirm the separation of church and state, which must never be interpreted as the separation of religion from public life. Knowing that the protection of minorities is secure only when such protections are supported by the majority, we urge Christians to renewed opposition to every form of invidious prejudice or discrimination. In the civil public square we must all respectfully engage one another in civil friendship as we deliberate and decide how we ought to order our life together.
All that being said, a Christian-Jewish statement would likely have been better received by those, Christians included, who are nervous about the majority status of Christians. But there is little point in issuing statements that do not say what needs to be said, and the unhappy fact is that leaders of major Jewish organizations would be institutionally, if not personally, constrained from saying what WHTT says. They could not affirm, for instance, that “every unborn child should be protected in law and welcomed in life.” As in ecumenical relations among Christians, so also in Christian-Jewish relations, the abortion question asserts itself and cannot be suppressed. Orthodox and more conservative Jews would agree on abortion, but perhaps not on other affirmations made. Thus trying to make it a Jewish-Christian statement would have resulted either in a glaring asymmetry between the prominence of the Christian and Jewish leaders or in a statement that did not say what we thought needed saying.
Because the Jewish-Christian connection is of extraordinary importance in our common life, a further word is in order. To the suggestion that it should be a Christian-Jewish statement, the question was raised: What about Muslims and others? That question is, in my judgment, of limited force. In terms of religious groupings and their social effect, we are not as far removed from Will Herberg’s Protestant, Catholic, Jew (1955) as some would have us believe. Nor should Christians hesitate to give priority to the singular relationship with Judaism, grounded as it is in revelation and a shared story of salvation. Moreover, Islam, Buddhism, and other traditions have yet to achieve a communal self-definition in relation to the American experience, and, while many of their adherents might subscribe to specific positions advanced by WHTT, these communities have no developed moral and theological perspective on the American constitutional order, which is the main matter of the statement.
The reader may think I have rather gone on about this, but a striking oddity of the response to WHTT is that it is considered odd that Christian leaders should issue a public statement that, while taking respectful note of others, is addressed to the public that is Christian. It is doubtful that it would be considered odd anywhere else in the world. It is certain that in this country it is thought quite natural that any other identifiable community should be addressed by those who are, in one way or another, recognized as leaders. The perceived oddity in this case has to do, as we have seen, with confusion about the meaning of pluralism, and that confusion is compounded by prejudices about the separation of religion from public life. There are two additional anxieties, or perhaps they should be called suspicions. First, that to speak of the “Christian community” is exclusive, meaning that it does not include everybody. Second, that speaking as WHTT speaks is to suggest that Christians have an identity other than and an allegiance higher than the identity and allegiance involved in being American. Both suspicions are, of course, entirely justified.
The Temporal and Eternal
Now to the beginning question of why WHTT does not offer a more explicit and fulsome account of Christian faith. In my view—and, again, this is no more than my view—there are several answers. The most obvious is that any statement can only do so much, and this one was intended to address, on the 221st anniversary of the nation’s independence, the moral status of our constitutional order and current threats to its integrity. In addition, theological agreement among all the signers is far from complete. Some signers draw what they believe is a sharp line between speaking together on matters of faith and speaking together on matters of public life, the latter having to do only with “general grace” (as distinct from saving grace) that is shared by all. Needless to say, I do not think the line is so sharp at all, but theirs is a viewpoint to be taken into account when enlisting the support of those who are nonetheless willing to be identified with others as “Christian leaders.” However much WHTT reflects a dramatic realignment of Christians around certain questions of great moral and political moment, the sad reality of Christian disunity remains.
At the same time, no apology is required for a statement that deals with the just order of temporal affairs rather than the order of eternal salvation. Forced to choose between the two, the latter is infinitely more important, but we are not forced to choose. And the two are intimately related, the former concern being required by the love for neighbor that is enjoined upon those who are embraced by the saving truth of the latter.
The Declaration of Independence may indeed appear to be a “weak reed” on which to lean a Christian statement about the right ordering of our public life. There is truth in the observation of some political theorists that this constitutional order was built on a low but solid foundation. Not so low, however, as some would have it. Talk about “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” is, in the academic jargon, a thin discourse compared with all that Christians want to say about God and his ways with the world, but it is not a discourse incompatible with all that Christians want to say.
In textbooks from grade school through graduate school, the minimalist reading of the Declaration is presented as the normative reading. The founding is sanitized—one might say Jeffersonized—of “thicker” descriptions of reality, and especially of religious descriptions. (To be fair, Jefferson, although undoubtedly heterodox, was not the antireligious zealot so often portrayed.) The great majority of those who signed the Declaration and of those who wrote and ratified the Constitution thought themselves to be orthodox Christians, typically of Calvinist leanings. It never entered their heads that in supporting this new order they were signing on to a minimalist creed incompatible with their Christian profession. Rather, they self-consciously built on a Lockean-Christian synthesis that is itself the product of long Christian reflection on the right ordering of the res publica.
Against the secular and bowdlerized telling of the story of the founding, WHTT is an effort to re-situate the story in its moral, philosophical, and religious context. Already a half century ago, Father John Courtney Murray, whose work on religious freedom was vindicated by Vatican Council II, anticipated the day when Catholics might have to take the lead in restoring the founding presuppositions of this constitutional order. What he could not have anticipated is the partnership of evangelical Protestants, who, after many years in exile (largely self-imposed) following the modernist-fundamentalist division of the 1920s, have returned to the public square with such energy and determination.
The Genius of the Founding
WHTT reflects the understanding that the genius of the founding vision is, above all, in the free exercise of religion. Religious freedom is, both in order and in the logic of the thing, the first liberty guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The no-establishment provision of the Religion Clause is entirely in the service of the free-exercise provision. Religious free exercise was and is the most innovative and audacious aspect of the American experiment. The tangled confusion of court decisions since Everson in 1947 notwithstanding, the Religion Clause is solely a restriction on government, not on religion. Government cannot coerce or prohibit religious exercise. In the past fifty years, the courts have turned the Religion Clause upside down, subordinating the end (free exercise) to the means (no establishment). Again and again, government respect for religious exercise has been judicially condemned as government coercion of religious exercise, resulting in the prohibition of religious exercise wherever the government’s reach extends.
WHTT should be seen as a solemn protest against this deep distortion and a warning about its fateful implications for the principles of self-government. More than one critic has noted that religious leaders are not constitutional scholars, and complained that they exceed their competence when they speak of a “constitutional crisis.” I will take second place to none among those who have cautioned religious leaders not to dissipate their credibility by promiscuous and ill-informed pronouncements on social and political questions. I have long urged the maxim: When it is not necessary to speak, it is necessary not to speak. I believe it is necessary to speak on the questions addressed by WHTT.
It is necessary to speak for the continued flourishing of this republic, which we, with the founders, recognize as a gift and trust from God. WHTT cautions:
If the Supreme Court and the judiciary it leads do not change course, the awesome consequences are clearly foreseeable. The founding principle of self-government has been thrown into question. Already it seems that people who are motivated by religion or religiously inspired morality are relegated to a category of second-class citizenship. Increasingly, law and public policy will be pitted against the social and moral convictions of the people, with the result that millions of Americans will be alienated from a government that they no longer recognize as their own. We cannot, we must not, let this happen.
A Dual Allegiance
The most urgent necessity for speaking, however, is not limited to the American circumstance, as important as that circumstance is for us and for the world. Christians of all times and places have had to think through the problems posed by their dual allegiance to the lordship of Christ and to the political orders in which they find themselves. Short of the right ordering of the universal polis in the Kingdom of God, Christians are always, in the phrase of the second letter to Diognetus, “alien citizens,” and are obliged to do justice to both aspects of that admittedly awkward status. The questions addressed by WHTT are nothing new. They are the questions addressed by Christian leaders as various as Paul, Justin Martyr, Augustine, Hildebrand, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Murray. If Christian leaders are not competent to speak to the question of Christian allegiance, who is?
The constitutional crisis is most importantly a spiritual crisis—precisely the kind of spiritual crisis that this novus ordo seclorum was designed to avoid. With few exceptions, it was designed and adopted by serious Christians, and they believed it would minimize, if not eliminate, any conflict of loyalties between Christ and Caesar. The bowdlerized version of our founding ignores the ways in which religious freedom and freedom of conscience are themselves achievements of religion. Admittedly, the story is complex and goes back long before the American founding, but the general proposition holds that religious freedom is an achievement of and for religion, not against religion. At the time of the founding, this society was of course much less socially pluralistic than it is today, but religious freedom would turn out to be the surest friend also of authentic pluralism.
If people don’t like pluralism, there is an alternative. Monism keeps erupting in human history, on the left and on the right, in forms both religious and aggressively secular. Human beings are driven by deep monistic hungers that are impatient of complexity and hostile to difference. In our Western history, there was the monism of the Roman empire that conflated allegiance to the emperor and allegiance to the gods. With the rise of Christianity and the assertion that Christ is lord, it was proposed that he is lord of all or he is lord not at all. Working out what that means for the public order took many forms, including Augustine’s magnificent conception of the earthly and heavenly cities. The monism of one form of Christendom reached a peak with Hildebrand, who as Gregory VII received in 1077 the humble submission of Henry IV in the snows of Canossa.
In the societas Christiana, according to Gregory’s twenty-seven “sentences,” the rule of Christ over all things was united in the office of the pope. The pope made and deposed kings and emperors, and he could both create and abolish kingdoms. It is easy to depict this as no more than a papal power grab, but Hildebrand was a holy and thoughtful man wrestling with the question of what today’s political philosophy calls “regime legitimacy.” The alternative to Gregory’s solution at that time was the conflation of sacred and temporal authority in the despotism of the absolute monarch, as in the Orthodox East and commonly, if somewhat inaccurately, called caesaropapism. In the messy process known as the development of doctrine, Christian thought and practice hit upon one solution after another, all of them unsatisfactory, as everything is unsatisfactory short of the Kingdom.
But a most promising answer was emerging from within the Christian tradition. With the Christian appropriation of Aristotle in the thirteenth century, the concept of the Church as the sole, organic, and corporate union of the societas Christiana began to give way to an understanding of the integrity and even autonomy of politics. The entity of the state, following natural and human laws, was seen to have a legitimate place alongside the Church. It was proposed that political authority or sovereignty resided in the body of citizens, and that the exercise of power is accountable to the people, or at least to those who counted as citizens. It was not until the closing of the thirteenth century that the concept and term “political” gained currency in the West, which led, in turn, to other differentiations such as the moral, religious, social, and economic. Long before the schisms of the sixteenth century, and even longer before the philosophes of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, here was the beginning of the “modern” problem of pluralism in public life and its governing institutions.
After the Reformation there were renewed and sometimes magnificently flawed efforts to reconstruct monisms in obedience to the lordship of Christ. One thinks, for instance, of Calvin’s Geneva, Cromwell’s commonwealth, or, in this country, the Bay Colony of Massachusetts. The turbulent emergence of democratic theory and practice under Protestant auspices is brilliantly told in A. D. Lindsay’s The Modern Democratic State. Still today there are vestiges of the monistic dream kept alive in American evangelicalism by movements such as R. J. Rushdoony’s “Christian Reconstructionism.” And I would not be surprised if there are some conservative Catholics who, in their heart of hearts, believe that Gregory VII and Innocent III had it right after all.
It is not accurate to say that Christianity has made its peace with pluralism and democracy, as though they were forced upon it and only grudgingly accepted. Nor is it accurate to say that pluralism and democracy are achievements of Christianity alone. But without Christianity they would not have been. The Church acknowledges these children as her own, even if some of the midwives involved in the delivery were less than friendly to the Church. Today, declares John Paul II in the encyclical Redemptoris Missio (The Mission of the Redeemer), “The Church imposes nothing. She only proposes.” She would not impose if she could, and that precisely for the sake of the mission of the Redeemer. Democratic theory and practice is not of first concern for the Church. Priority is and must always be given the mission of Christ. Among the things learned from the Church’s experience of religious monism is that it compromised and obscured the lordship of Christ by confusing his rule with ecclesiastical power in the temporal realm.
The 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus (The Hundredth Year) is a magisterial (in every sense of the word) summing up of the theological, philosophical, and practical case for the modern democratic society. It is an argument that can be and has been embraced also by Protestant and Orthodox Christians. At the heart of the argument is a caution that explains WHTT’s sense of urgency about our constitutional crisis:
Nowadays there is a tendency to claim that agnosticism and skeptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life. Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered unreliable from a democratic point of view, since they do not accept that the truth is determined by the majority, or that it is subject to variation according to different political trends. It must be observed in this regard that if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.
The development of the thirteenth century was to posit the integrity of the secular alongside the sacred. The American experiment was to respect and protect the sacred alongside the secular. The current course threatens to eliminate the sacred from all that is recognized as public. In reality, no society can survive without reference to the sacred; talk about legitimation is thinly disguised talk about the sacred. The real question is where the sacred will be located, and the sleight of hand worked by today’s courts is to locate it in the state, under the pretense of locating it in the autonomous individual. The sacralization of the state under ostensibly antireligious auspices is all too familiar from our experience with the undisguised totalitarianisms of history.
What John Paul calls the threat of “thinly disguised totalitarianism” is in the American circumstance posed not only by the judicial usurpation of politics. As WHTT notes, legislative dereliction is the other side of judicial usurpation. When the representatives of the people fail in their duty to engage the great questions, including the great moral questions, about the right ordering of our life together, it is not surprising that the courts take over. There is a symbiotic connection between legislative timidity and judicial arrogance. The crisis is deepened by other factors, including the entertainment industry’s assault on values and the efforts of educators to establish “agnosticism and skepticism” as the official belief system of society. But WHTT is right to direct its main attention to the judiciary, for it is there that these impulses receive systematic expression and attain the force of law.
WHTT takes note of the infamous “mystery passage” of Casey in which the Supreme Court declared that liberty acknowledges no higher law than the thought and will of the individual. Some constitutional scholars have urged that this and similar passages are but instances of reckless rhetorical inflation and entail no practical consequences. That is not persuasive. In Weisman the Court suggested that any ethic that is not of human invention is religious, and therefore its recognition in law violates the no-establishment provision of the Religion Clause. In Romer the Court cavalierly dismissed millennia of reflection on the right ordering of human sexuality as no more than an irrational “animus” comparable to racial discrimination. These are consequences of great consequence.
First of Second Best
In their anticipation of the heavenly city, alien citizens know that every earthly order is, at best, second best. But in the past, most Christians in America have viewed this order as the first of the second best. Christians embraced the promise of religious freedom by which a sovereign people could publicly name a higher sovereignty. They believed there were truths not of their own invention to which, individually and collectively, they were to adhere—as in “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Both individual license and majoritarian abuse were restrained by such truths to which the majority held itself accountable. It was a wondrously intricate system, designed neither for angels nor for beasts but for human beings capable of both barbarity and decency. Such was the Christian devotion to a temporal order not untouched by transcendent glory. WHTT does not say that order has been abandoned. It does say that it is gravely threatened.
What would it mean if religiously serious citizens were to become disillusioned with the American order and withdraw, if only inwardly, their allegiance? I earlier cited the pertinent passage from WHTT on popular alienation. Last November the editors of this journal started an enormous controversy when they wrote: “What are the cultural and political consequences when many more Americans, perhaps even a majority, come to the conclusion that the question is ‘God or country’? What happens not in ‘normal’ times, when maybe America can muddle along, but in a time of great economic crisis, or in a time of war when the youth of another generation are asked to risk their lives for their country? We do not know what would happen then, and we hope never to find out.”
The symposium The End of Democracy? is now a book by the same title, and there I discuss in great detail the controversy generated by the symposium. I continue to ask: Why the great controversy? What do the critics suppose are the likely consequences of a crisis of political legitimacy? Is John Paul II a reckless alarmist when he speaks of the dangers of “thinly disguised totalitarianism”? Perhaps the critics have not had opportunity to explain sufficiently the reasons for their serene confidence that it can’t happen here.
Consider what has happened already. The nonestablishment of religion, the Court decrees, means the exclusion of the deepest convictions of most Americans from our politics and law. In a raw exercise of judicial power, legal protection is withdrawn from a large sector of the human community as the unborn are made subject to the lethal whim of private choice. While holding back for the moment from discovering a constitutional right to suicide, the Court can find no principled reason why the elderly, sick, and others living lives deemed not worth living should not be relieved of the burden. Further, the Court invites the states to a new flirtation with the culture of death by experimenting with such programs of putatively merciful relief. All the time making clear that the Court, and the Court alone, will have the final say on the matter.
Yes, it is objected, but such measures, as wrong and even abhorrent as they may be, are only permissive in character. They may allow bad things to be done but do not require Christians to do them. Christians are not required to violate their conscience. They can go on living their lives and speaking their minds as freely as ever. Not exactly. They can speak their minds but it is forbidden that their speech be given legal effect. That would be to establish an ethic that is not of human invention; that would mean taking forbidden legal cognizance of an irrational animus. The engines of secular monism are relentless.
Powerful pressures are brought to bear to induce active complicity in the permission of great evil. Protest against the evil is to be punished, as witness the federal government’s marshaling of draconian laws—some originally designed to combat organized crime and international terrorism—in order to break organizations and punish individuals involved in antiabortion protest. Never—certainly not in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s—have so many American citizens been harassed, abused, arrested, and jailed for peaceful protest in a completely selfless cause. With honorable exceptions such as Nat Hentoff, civil libertarians either remain silent or cheer on the forces of government repression, while the prestige media successfully portray those who actively oppose the killing of children as “extremists.”
At Ease in the American Zion
“Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered unreliable from a democratic point of view, since they do not accept that the truth is determined by the majority, or that it is subject to variation according to different political trends.” Those words of John Paul are disturbingly close to the position enunciated in decisions such as Casey and Romer. The position is not that of the majority of Americans but of an elite political trend in support of the essentially nihilistic proposition that there is no truth apart from the “truths” constructed by the autonomous self. The distinguished philosopher Richard Rorty carries “ironic liberalism” a step farther when he charmingly opines that, when confronted by people who say they know the truth, we must try to josh them out of it, or, if that fails, lock them up.
Crisis-mongering from all directions has over time closed many ears to any talk about crisis. Critics respond that this is a wonderful country in which to live, and of course they are right, but that is hardly to the point. In a time of relative peace and unprecedented prosperity, the message of WHTT is not likely to grab the attention of those who are at ease in the American Zion. How, they ask, can there be a threat to religious freedom when religious leaders are free to speak as they do in WHTT? The curious logic would seem to be that the sounding of an alarm is proof that there is nothing to be alarmed about. WHTT is a calm and deliberate argument that something has gone deeply wrong; a trend is already far advanced.
All the signers may not agree with everything said here, but the argument of WHTT is that, more than two hundred years after its birth, the nation is on a course that has brought about a constitutional crisis that, if it is not remedied, has the makings of a crisis of allegiance for many millions of its citizens. It is a remarkable, indeed unprecedented, thing when cardinals, archbishops, and bishops join with the leaders of some of the most vibrant faith communities of the country in making such an argument. Whether in agreement or disagreement, it is an argument that should be engaged by those who care about Christian witness in the public square of the first of second best cities.
“Shatter the Silence” is the theme of the campaign to raise popular awareness of religious persecution around the world. The campaign is meeting with encouraging successes. Earlier this year the State Department issued a report on the massive persecution of Christians, shattering its near silence on the question. Establishment human rights groups are being embarrassed into paying more attention to religious persecution. The Wolf-Specter bill in Congress would give the concern economic and diplomatic teeth in U.S. foreign policy. On Sunday, November 16, tens of thousands of local churches will concentrate attention on persecuted Christians.
For bringing about this potentially historic change in our understanding of global responsibility, special credit goes to a few indefatigable individuals such as Nina Shea of Freedom House, a Catholic (see her report, “Atrocities Not Fit to Print,” on page 32 of this issue), and Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute, a Jew. It is chiefly evangelical Protestants, however, who have generated the momentum and provided the hard organizational work for the campaign. Catholic leadership has been, for the most part, embarrassingly hesitant, and some seem content to kibitz from the sidelines.
Taking note of the campaign, the editors of Commonweal tell us that the question of religious persecution is “complex.” Presumably our evangelical friends did not know that. Eager to be helpful, the editors offer what they call “some caveats.” The editors allow that there is a “legitimate concern for Christian persecution,” but question whether it is legitimate for the policy of a “pluralist society” to single out the persecution of Christians. They do not say what they think of the earlier and successful campaign on behalf of Soviet Jewry. In any event, the editors acknowledge that the National Association of Evangelicals and others have made clear that their concern includes Tibetan Buddhists, Baha’is, and all other victims of religious persecution. So what’s the point of the first “caveat,” apart from cultivating the perception of editorial superiority when it comes to nuance and complexity?
The editors offer the further “caveat” that there is a difference between religious persecution and discrimination. For instance, they note, England officially supports one established church. Our evangelical friends will no doubt be grateful for that intelligence. For another instance, “Some Islamic countries tolerate indigenous Christian groups but prohibit their growth.” True enough. But some, probably most, do not. And some that do put up with Christians “prohibit growth” by killing Muslims who become Christian or share the Gospel with others.
More interesting is a third “caveat.” The editors write, “Some of the conservatives leading the current effort seem unable to resist the impulse to make the issue a political football in America’s culture wars. They seem as interested in settling scores with the National Council of Churches and the United States Catholic Conference as in exerting effective pressure on persecuting governments.” That is a very serious charge, made only slightly less odious by the qualifying “they seem.” Nonetheless, there is an appropriate worry in this caveat. The campaign to ensconce concern for religious persecution in U.S. foreign policy is too important to be sidetracked by the usual conservative vs. liberal battles. At the same time, unlike the editors of Commonweal, the NCC and some of its member churches have not been content with superciliously raising complexities and caveats. They have repeatedly and openly attacked the campaign against religious persecution. The NCC, following its shameful pattern during the years of the Cold War, has belittled and often denied the persecution of fellow Christians, while the record of the Catholic Conference has been, shall we say, uneven.
After losing its lease in downtown Manhattan several months ago, Commonweal moved its offices to the Interchurch Centre at 475 Riverside Drive, a building once called the “God box,” where the NCC and, until recently, the operations of major oldline churches were headquartered. Up there on Morningside Heights are concentrated, in addition to 475, Union Theological Seminary, Riverside Church, and the Episcopal cathedral of St. John the Divine. Morningside Heights is a veritable mount of memorials to the now departed cultural hegemony of liberal Protestantism. In a recent issue, Commonweal editors worried, tongue in cheek, that they might be morally contaminated by the efficient elevators, fine cafeteria, spotless rest rooms, and other comforts of 475. Their editorial on the campaign against religious persecution suggests that they might better worry about other forms of potential contamination. Now that Commonweal and the ancien régime of liberal Protestantism are cohabitating, one watches with interest to see who will influence whom, and how. The campaign against religious persecution is a splendid opportunity for the editors to persuade their new neighbors that this is a cause deserving of the deepest commitment by all Christians, and everyone else. (For parishes and study groups there is a fine “Shatter the Silence” video and information packet available from Shatter the Silence, P.O. Box WEF, Wheaton, IL 60189; or call 1-888-538-7772.)
Taking Superstition Seriously
“Spontaneous combustion” is the term used to describe the growth of “autochthonous” Protestant churches in Latin America. These are groups that are radically indigenous, having no connection with evangelical missionary efforts from North America or elsewhere. Writing in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, two veteran observers report: “Latin American Protestants traditionally have been accused of subverting Latin America’s unity by introducing religious forms that run counter to Latin culture. Traditional Protestants may well stand accused of such foreignness. But the autochthonous churches—with their rhythms, charismatic leaders, passion, personal sacrifice, and openness to the miraculous—are not only highly contextualized but, according to some, may be more attuned to the region’s culture than traditional Roman Catholicism.” While “enculturation” is much discussed by Roman Catholics, the authors suggest that these new movements may be taking the lead.
“In recent years Catholic folk religion—religiosidad popular (“popular religiosity,” as it is known in Latin America)—has received much attention and analysis. Far from the lofty philosophical and theological heights of official Catholicism, and equally far from the politically radical views of liberation theology, the down-to-earth practice of Latin America’s masses revolves around tangible practices and objects such as pilgrimages to shrines, religious fiestas, water from sacred springs, and objects with curative powers. Some look with disdain upon this popular religion. Others countenance religiosidad popular and hold in prospect the possibility of building upon it to lift the masses to a higher and more spiritual faith.
“It has not escaped the attention of many that Latin America’s autochthonous Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on cures and material blessings, may be a Protestant equivalent of Catholic popular religiosity. Observers share the same contrasting perspectives—disdain or appreciation. Some see only the crude manifestations of Protestant ‘popular religiosity’; others, thanking God that the masses are being reached, anticipate a growing maturity in these movements.
“The charges that Protestant autochthonous movements are susceptible to syncretistic influence is countered by some autochthonous leaders who draw attention to syncretistic ‘Romish’ influences in the historic Protestant churches. Such leaders also point out that historic churches in Latin America pay little attention to the demonic and may easily overlook the persistent superstitious or even occult practices of their members. Autochthonous groups, in contrast, recognize the existence of the spirit world and demand that new converts renounce all non-Christian practices.”
It may be the case, we are told, that not all Christians must go through what Marx called “the fiery brook” of Feuerbach’s Enlightenment deconstruction of religion. “The real issue is whether mission-related churches can understand and adopt the best of a pre-Enlightenment worldview that is common to the masses in Latin America. This is a view that is open to the miraculous, to God’s intervention in daily experience, to biblical confrontation with the demonic, and to a focus in worship that emphasizes reveling in God’s presence rather than passive participation in a cerebrally oriented service.” The relationship between Catholics and non-Catholic movements in Latin America is very much on the agenda of the initiative known as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” And, one may hope, it will be very much on the agenda of the forthcoming Roman synod for America (meaning both North and South) that begins in November.
When Reporters Search Their Souls
When it comes to “journalistic ethics,” reporters are always searching their souls. The search usually doesn’t come up with much. Terry Golway, a reporter who writes a regular column in the Jesuit America, takes on the subject of when it is right to expose public hypocrisy. The occasion is the appearance of a magazine story that a New York politician—whom Golway names but I shall not—is guilty of marital infidelity. Golway censures the slick magazine writer and implies that the story is only gossip, but he gives it further currency anyway.
At the same time, he believes there are cases where public exposure is appropriate, even imperative. “What if a pro-life politician has an abortion, or arranges for one? What if a politician who votes against gay rights legislation is, in fact, homosexual? What if the politician who parades a spouse and children before adoring audiences is, in fact, a lousy parent? What if a politician who preaches about family values is a regular client at a pornography shop?”
Note that all his examples have to do with conservative figures or, as he puts it, “politicians who sell themselves as moral leaders.” The moral would seem to be that, if you don’t want to be charged with violating the standards you espouse, espouse no standards. But of course, moralism is at least equally pronounced among liberals. How about an antismoking crusader who smokes in private, a proponent of black rights who makes racist jokes on the side, or a gay rights supporter who disowns his daughter because she is lesbian? Whether the standards be about matters great or trivial, whether espoused by the right or the left, hypocrisy is an equal opportunity offense.
Where Golway goes entirely off the tracks is with another example he offers. “A friend of mine tortured himself before reporting several years ago that the wife of a Right to Life candidate had had an abortion years before. Was that fair? Absolutely.” If the friend really tortured himself, perhaps—although for some reason I am inclined to doubt it—he had deep pro-life convictions. In fact, stories of the kind mentioned appear with some regularity, and they have nothing to do with Golway’s subject of hypocrisy. For instance, Jean Garton, founder of Lutherans for Life, has frequently called attention to the number of women in the pro-life leadership who were once strongly pro-choice and had themselves resorted to abortion. In the case as described by Mr. Golway, the invasion of privacy was entirely unjustified, since his wife having had an abortion has no bearing on the credibility of the candidate’s position. Of course a smart candidate might, if his wife agreed, cite the horror of her experience as further reason for opposing the abortion license, just as Jean Garton and others do.
Mr. Golway’s confusion of hypocrisy with moral fragility and the possibility of repentance is not untouched by partisanship. The politician to whose alleged infidelity he draws attention (while indicating that we should ignore it) is not, we are assured, among those who present themselves “as moral leaders or vibrant personalities.” The politician in question, I expect, might be somewhat ambivalent about Mr. Golway’s odd endorsement. But Golway’s point is that Americans do not look to political leaders for moral leadership, and he thinks that may be a good thing. “In today’s money—poisoned politics, after all, there is no shortage of scandal in high places.”
Thus Mr. Golway ends his soul-searching about public hypocrisy and journalistic ethics with the suggestion that scandal in high places—could he possibly be thinking of the White House?—really doesn’t matter that much, but, to the extent it does matter, the blame should be placed on money poisoning, and the remedy is, of course, campaign finance reform. So much searching to come up with such a limited and partisan conclusion. At the end, Mr. Golway returns to the rumor about the politician’s infidelity and writes, “It’s too bad slick magazine writers are so limited in their fields of interest.” Quite. Not that anyone would call America slick.
Sin and Risk Aversion
Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal has done a great service in recent years by exposing the hysteria that seizes whole communities when someone accuses a teacher or nursery school of sexual abuse. Here and there all over the country, like witch hunts of old, the madness suddenly breaks out and hundreds of people are harassed, arrested, and sometimes jailed for years on the flimsiest of evidence. It is frightening, and, of course, many lives have been ruined. Naturally, there are lawyers and experts, usually psychologists of one sort of another, who make a living out of all this.
From the peanut gallery: Well yes, but what about the abused kids whose lives are ruined? A good question. We dare not belittle the seriousness of the sexual abuse of children. At the same time, sexual abuse is subject to wildly different definitions, and there is something terribly wrong when parents and other adults are afraid of the legal repercussions in the most innocent gestures of affection.
So why do I mention this? (Warning: Now it gets controversial.) In recent months I have received or been shown letters from a number of clergy, Protestant and Catholic, who are in jail for sexually abusing minors, male and female. Not surprisingly, some claim they were railroaded, and the studies of Rabinowitz and others make that all too believable. Guilt or innocence aside, however, there is another and profoundly disturbing factor here. A common lament of these clergy is that their bishops and fellow clergy have completely cut them off. One priest says he has not heard from or been visited by a priest for three years. “Risk aversion,” another says, is the order of the day, as bishops follow the advice of lawyers who tell them to keep their distance. Are these letters self-serving? Probably so. But one bishop tells me they ring true to him, although he maintains close contact with the one priest in his diocese who has been charged with abuse. A Methodist supervisor says, “I don’t care what he’s done, he’s one of ours.”
Catholics in particular should understand that a priest is still a priest, as in “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizidek.” Nowhere does the Bible say we should visit those in prison, unless they’re in for child abuse. I was discussing this with an acquaintance and mentioned the words of Jesus, “When I was in prison you visited me.” To which he immediately responded, “But Jesus would never be in prison for something like that!” So he would be in prison for insider trading?
The Diocese of Dallas has been hit with a huge $120 million judgment for its negligence over a period of years in letting a Father Kos get away with interfering with young boys. It appears the responsibility rests chiefly with the predecessor to the current bishop, but that in no way lets the diocese off the hook. In order to distance the diocese from the sleazy business, it has announced that it is appealing to Rome to nullify the priest’s ordination on the grounds that he, in order to be ordained, lied to the diocese about his sexual proclivities. Some may think that good public relations, but critics point out that the diocese is responsible for priestly formation and screening candidates for ordination. In addition, it is noted that the last time Rome nullified an ordination was forty-seven years ago.
An official of the diocese says the purpose of the appeal is to make emphatically clear that Fr. Kos is “isolated from the Catholic Church.” There is something disturbingly un-Catholic about such an expression. I have no idea whether this Fr. Kos is repentant or not, but even if he isn’t, isolating someone from the Church is not my understanding of the Catholic way. Many years ago, G. K. Chesterton responded to an anti-Catholic critic who charged the Church with tolerating a vast horde of criminals, prostitutes, and other unsavory types who hang on to its fringes. That is a fact, said Chesterton. “They cannot get the Church’s sacraments or solid assurances, except by changing their whole way of life; but they do actually love the Faith that they cannot live by. If you explain it by supposing that the Church, though bound to refuse them absolution where there is not amendment, keeps in touch with them and treats their human dignity rather more sympathetically than does the world, Puritan or pagan, that also probably refers to a real fact. It is one of the facts that convince me most strongly that Catholicism is what it claims to be. After two thousand years of compromises and concordats, with every sort of social system, the Catholic Church has never yet become quite respectable. He still eats and drinks with publicans and sinners.”
Whether sinners are on the fringes or presiding at the altar, the Church is still the Church. A priest’s betrayal of his office is a terrible thing, and crimes must be punished. More terrible to contemplate, however, is a Church that, for reasons of institutional risk aversion, isolates sinners from the redeeming love of God in Christ, which is the only reason for the Church’s existence.
While We’re At It
• I recently published, in Pro Ecclesia, an essay on John Henry Newman’s views of Martin Luther, set forth in his Lectures on Justification. While esteeming Newman highly, I think he saw too much coherence between Luther’s ideas and their consequences in the Protestantism of his day. Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Letters and Papers from Prison, I am inclined to accent more the “secondary motives” in history. Shortly before he was martyred by the Nazis, Bonhoeffer wrote: “Today is Reformation Day, a feast that in our time can give one plenty to think about. One wonders why Luther’s action had to be followed by consequences that were the exact opposite of what he intended, and that darkened the last years of his life, so that he sometimes even doubted the value of his life’s work. He wanted a real unity of the Church and the West—that is, of the Christian peoples, and the consequence was the disintegration of the Church and of Europe; he wanted the ‘freedom of the Christian man,’ and the consequence was indifference and licentiousness; he wanted the establishment of a genuine secular social order free from clerical privilege, and the result was insurrection, the Peasant’s War, and soon afterwards the gradual dissolution of all real cohesion and order in society. I remember from my student days a discussion between [Karl] Holl and [Adolf] Harnack as to whether the great historical intellectual and spiritual movements made headway through their primary or their secondary motives. At the time I thought Holl was right in maintaining the former; now I think he was wrong. As long as a hundred years ago Kierkegaard said that today Luther would say the opposite of what he said then. I think he was right—with some reservations.”
• Newsweek irresponsibly splashed this big story on how the Pope is getting ready to infallibly declare Mary co-redemptrix and mediator of all graces, causing considerable anxiety among ecumenically inclined Protestants and not a few Catholics. There are no doubt many Catholics who would welcome such a papal definition, and I believe a theological case can be made for the appropriateness of such Marian titles. As Cardinal Newman and others said of another definition of dogma in the nineteenth century, however, I also believe such a step would be “inopportune,” in the extreme. Vatican Council II made it clear that the proper course of Marian devotion is not to heap up additional privileges and exemptions that distinguish her from other Christians but to incorporate our understanding of Mary ever more fully into the life of discipleship as the icon of the Church. In any event, the Holy See has officially announced that the reported development is not being considered and will not happen. In sum, Newsweek and others who followed its lead were puffing a nonstory, creating a little temporary mischief in the ongoing quest for greater Christian unity.
• Of course you never know these days, but this seems not to be a parody. Roger Kimball of the New Criterion took it off the Internet and passed it along for possible comment. VHEMT (pronounced vehement) is the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. “When every human chooses to stop breeding, Earth will be allowed to return to its former glory, and all creatures will be free to live, die, evolve (if they believe in evolution), and will perhaps pass away, as so many of Mother Nature’s ‘experiments’ have done throughout the eons.” A VHEMT Volunteer subscribes to the proposition, “All of us should voluntarily refrain from reproducing further, bringing about the eventual extinction of Homo sapiens.” Those who sign up as VHEMT Supporters take a more moderate position: “Intentional creation of one more of us by any of us is unjustifiable at this time, but extinction of our species goes too far.” The group publishes a newsletter titled “These EXIT Times.” And a journal called Earth First!. The VHEMT website asks the question, “Do volunteers expect to be successful?” Answer: “VHEMT Volunteers are realistic. We know we’ll never see the day there are no human beings on the planet. Ours is a long-range goal.” If the goal is achieved, they will presumably not live to see it. As for other creatures that “believe in evolution,” one might observe, paraphrasing Orwell, that only a human being could do that.
• Grand constitutional theory and intellectual debates about the role of the judiciary in a democracy have their place, but Park Chamberlain of Woodside, California, thinks we should also be paying attention to some more mundane factors. “Now, the reason these judging jobs are and always have been eagerly sought is this: Lawyers as a class are not great moneymakers and, though they mostly earn decent day-to-day livings, find it hard to provide old—age economic security for themselves and their wives. Hence the possibility of enjoying a judgeship for such Golden Years—with its ulcer-free work hours and its honor, perks, and pension—becomes extremely appealing, even though to win it means that such an aspirant must expect to toil industriously in the Party vineyard, raising and contributing to Party funds, etc.” As things have turned out, federal judgeships are in the patronage of Senators who often take one position in order to appease one part of their electorate and then promote judges who will take the opposite position, thus pleasing another part of the electorate. Says Chamberlain: “This technique has been virtually impossible for conservatives to meet, because when an activist liberal judge makes some far-out decision, later conservative judges are called upon by liberal groups to respect precedent! And of course, conservative Senators—such as Bob Dole—found it impossible to escape the time-honored practice of you-vote-for-my-judge-and-I-vote-for-your-judge. You will remember that in the recent presidential campaign, Clinton successfully laughed off Dole’s complaints about the Clinton appointments by noting that Dole had voted for some 98 percent of them! Well, of course he had, alas!” Mr. Chamberlain, an octogenarian with time to think about these matters (time which he obviously puts to good use), has a further thought: “Finally, and in addition to the above reflections, which are factual in nature, I have a theory—and one that I admit is on the speculative side—that the new role of the bench is encouraging a quite different class of aspirant thereto-younger men and women who are reformist by nature, and have grasped that the best way to political power and Getting Things Done is not through the laborious, time-honored jumps from local government to state government to national officeholding of some kind, but rather through the judicial appointment route—federal, of course, being the best. The result may be that the federal bench will in the future become less occupied by elderly ‘lawyers-who-knew-politicians’ looking to a tranquil and economically secure old age, but by youngish persons consumed by political zealotry. However, as I said above, this is theoretical and it will not be until some years after my time that any proof of its truth will become available.”
• A poignantly confused article in the Nation is “Creating a New Gay Culture: Balancing Fidelity and Freedom.” Author Gabriel Rotello notes that, despite “one of nature’s deadliest viruses,” gay men, especially younger men, continue to indulge in unguarded promiscuity. The argument for “safe sex” or “fidelity” doesn’t work. “That argument might make sense if unsafe sex automatically or even usually led to HIV infection, and if HIV quickly and invariably led to illness and death. But the cause-and-effect relationship between unsafe sex is not followed by the swift and sure penalty of infection. One can expect to have unsafe anal intercourse dozens of times before becoming infected, even with an HIV-infected partner, and one can expect to have unprotected oral sex perhaps hundreds of times with an infected partner and still avoid infection. Biostatisticians grimly point out that the cumulative result of all these individual risks is the continued high prevalence of HIV in gay communities.” In the gay subculture, he reports, being HIV-positive is commonly viewed as a plus, since one is no longer worried about being infected. He proposes that gay men need to “feel socially supported . . . to settle down with partners for significant periods of time.” He then offers this candid evaluation of the politics behind the campaign for same-sex marriage: “The antimarriage sentiment in the gay and lesbian political world has abated in recent years, and the legalization of same-sex marriage is now an accepted focus of gay liberation. Yet prevention activists generally don’t include marriage as a goal because they generally don’t include monogamy as a goal. Belief in the condom code seems to render the subject moot. Meanwhile, most advocates of same-sex marriage fail to make the case for AIDS prevention because they are generally careful not to make the case for marriage, but simply for the right to marriage. This is undoubtedly good politics, since many if not most of the major gay and lesbian organizations that have signed on to the fight for same-sex marriage would instantly sign off at any suggestion that they were actually encouraging gay men and lesbians to marry. But while practical, it leaves unarticulated the argument that legalization of same-sex marriage and the right of homosexuals to adopt and raise children would create a solid foundation upon which a sustainable gay culture could arise. Fighting for those rights may turn out to be among the most important things gay men can do to assure our own survival.” Like the noted advocate Andrew Sullivan, Mr. Rotello assumes that same-sex marriage would have to be marriage with infidelity loopholes built in. Moreover, settling down “for significant periods of time” is something less than a “solid foundation” for the rearing of children. In this mimicry of marriage, however, the homosexual advocates may simply be reflecting the pattern of a divorce-prone culture.
• “Within the Jewish community there are some who see the public school as a central integrating unit in American society, while others recognize the importance of religious-sponsored schools in providing a sense of religious tradition and a training in faith and values.” That is Bishop James McHugh of Camden, New Jersey, reporting on a Jewish-Christian symposium on education vouchers held at Catholic University in Washington. Representative Floyd Flake, a black minister and member of Congress from Queens, New York, has broken with the Black Congressional Caucus by supporting vouchers. Bishop McHugh notes that those who are sympathetic to Flake nonetheless balk when it comes to Catholic schools. They shouldn’t, he says: “Over the years Catholic schools have been dedicated to serving the poor, immigrants, the disadvantaged and underprivileged. In fact, that is our history because the Catholic schools came into existence when Catholics were the poor, the immigrants, the victims of discrimination. Now Catholic schools are widespread in the suburbs but also retain their presence in the cities. Tuition is the basic source of income, but sustaining Catholic schools calls for substantial subsidy from parishes, benefactors, and the diocese. Nonetheless, fear of Catholic schools persists and it is stirred up by any mention of a voucher program. But vouchers are not the survival mechanism for Catholic schools. Enrollment has been increasing steadily over the past decade. Vouchers will not provide a massive influx of funds; they will help parents meet tuition costs. They will not create an explosion of new schools or expansion of the existing Catholic school network, but they will expand choice for parents and this will result in the growth of some schools and the creation of new ones in new areas. Voucher programs will have virtually no harmful effect on the funding of public schools, especially in the suburbs.” He ends on a hopeful note: “Those at the symposium, especially from the Jewish community, showed increasing awareness of this and the willingness to deepen their own understanding and possible support. It’s time to engage our neighbors and our politicians in a similar dialogue directed to a new understanding and some new initiatives.” I am not sure that vouchers would not have an impact on funding for government-run schools. It depends in large part on whether the teachers’ unions in those schools are up to making them competitive. The question on which this argument should turn is the right of parents to choose the education they want for their children. It is a right explicitly guaranteed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, at least theoretically, in American constitutional law. It is a simple matter of justice. Having said that, let’s hope that Bishop McHugh is right in sensing a turning of the tide.
• “‘Let all things be done in order,’ urged St. Paul, who was both a humanitarian and a stickler for lawful conduct.” That is from an article appearing in the Cedar Rapids Gazette and circulated by the Institute on Religion and Democracy in protest against a United Methodist bishop, Charles Wesley Jordan, who urged the 200,000 Methodists of Iowa to offer “sanctuary” to illegal immigrants. The reference is apparently to 1 Corinthians 14:40, where St. Paul is addressing liturgical confusions occasioned by speaking in tongues. Moreover, it would not occur to me to describe St. Paul either as a humanitarian or as a stickler for lawful conduct. Nonetheless, I expect the article is right in its contention that Bishop Jordan is wrong. (Jordan is also president of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, commonly described as the largest religious lobby in Washington.) Focusing on illegal immigrants begs the question of justice for those who are here legally and for those who want to immigrate legally, and it is far from evident that biblical morality requires unlimited immigration. That is, of course, the position of the Wall Street Journal, a publication of considerable, but not quite biblical, authority. With respect to immigration and much else in the public square, let all things be done wisely and justly, as St. Paul might say were he here to counsel the maddeningly confused movement for which he is largely responsible.
• Those foundations called conservative (Bradley, John Olin, Scaife, Earhart, et al.) are but a very small part of the American world of philanthropy that is dominated by the liberal likes of Ford, Johnson, Carnegie, MacArthur, and hundreds of others. The management culture of philanthropy—as distinct from the people who put up the money that they manage—has a strongly leftward bent, and the people within that world view with alarm the influence of the smaller conservative foundations in recent decades. The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), for instance, has recently issued a report crediting those clever right-wingers with having virtually taken the country captive to conservativism. Michael Joyce of the Bradley Foundation is not impressed. It is the natural state of affairs in a liberal society, he says, that we have liberals, whose passion is liberty, in tension with social democrats, whose passion is equality, and at war with civic republicans, whose passion is virtue. Civic republicans, a.k.a. conservatives, affirm what Tocqueville called “the practical intelligence and political good sense of the American people.” On most things, most of the time, ordinary people know what’s best for them and theirs. It is not surprising that NCRP reports that “free market ideology and antigovernment rhetoric will almost always hurt poor and low-income constituencies first and most disproportionately.” To this, Joyce responds: “In the final analysis, our vision of giving at Bradley is based on quiet confidence in the basic wisdom and fundamental decency of the average American citizen. The argument of the NCRP report—that voters today prefer smaller government, stronger values, and freer markets only because they were gulled by conservative advertising—rests on a very different assumption about the American people: the view that they are ignorant and easily deceived, desperately in need of the oversight and guidance offered by the progressive elites. As long as some parts of the philanthropic world continue to base their giving on that patronizing and insulting assumption, they will continue to spend millions, with little to show for it. As long as others are willing to work with the grain of human nature and in accord with the genius of the American republic, the returns will be so rich and rewarding that the envious but self-deluded critics will only be able to conclude that we are the cleverest and most guileful of conspirators.”
• Here’s a site on the Internet inviting folks to join an “Ecumenical Dialogue on Women’s Ordination,” sponsored by one Luis T. Gutierrez. The invitation cautions that the discussion must be conducted “in a spirit of Christian charity.” “No flaming is allowed from either side of the issue.” Then this: “IMHO [in my humble opinion], the male-only priesthood is not of divine will. However, our goal is to seek the truth in charity, with proper respect toward those who are in apostolic succession, and following the model of community discernment given to us in Acts 15. May God’s will be done.” Acts 15 on the Internet is an intriguing idea. In that chapter Peter and James speak the mind of the Church, and we read, “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church,” to support the ministry of Paul to the gentiles. The apostolic letter in the same chapter puts it yet more strongly, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . .” One imagines the conclusion of the proposed dialogue on women’s ordination, assuming such dialogues can ever conclude: “It seems good to 241 people accessing our website that women should be ordained, while 183 say the Church is not authorized to ordain women. Since there is no recorded hit by the Holy Spirit, the motion is carried that women should be ordained.” Mr. Gutierrez says, “IMHO, the male-only priest hood is not of divine will.” At least for a Catholic, such an opinion is hardly so humble. The opinion flatly holds that the Pope is wrong, as is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which, with the express authorization of the Pope, declares that the Church’s teaching on this matter is infallible. One may say one has difficulty understanding that teaching, or that one thinks the teaching has not been adequately explained, or even that one hopes that in the future there will be some presently unforeseeable development of the teaching that will, in a manner consistent with the teaching, allow what is now disallowed. The last hypothetical is a reach, to be sure, but arguably within the range of assent to the Church’s authoritative teaching. What is neither honest nor constructive, at least for faithful Catholics, is to claim to be seeking God’s will while rejecting the Church’s authoritative discernment of God’s will. It does not help at all to describe that rejection as a humble opinion.
• A chilling report on doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia in the Netherlands in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) includes this: “An illustration given by the attorney for the Dutch Voluntary Euthanasia Society of why it is often necessary for physicians to end lives of competent patients without their consent was the case of a nun whose physician ended her life a few days before she would have died because she was in excruciating pain but her religious convictions did not permit her to ask for death.” Forget about your conscience, Sister. We know what’s best for you.
• “The First Amendment was crafted to ensure that the religious rights of individuals would not be compromised by public authority. The Establishment Clause serves that purpose only to the extent that it advances the free-exercise rights of individuals; when disestablishment is invoked to burden free-exercise rights, it undermines the very Constitution of which it is a part.” So writes Joseph Viteritti of New York University in the Yale Law & Policy Review. In an impressive article of almost a hundred pages, he makes a convincing case for government financial aid for parents who choose to send their children to religious schools. Friends of the simple justice of school choice, take note.
• One of the great essayists of our time, John Sisk, has died at age eighty-three. From 1939 he was Professor of English at Gonzaga University and his reflections on everything from golf to satanism were published in almost all the intellectual and literary journals of the English-speaking world, including frequent appearances in these pages. In this office, any manuscript of rambling brilliance, filled with epiphanies of unexpected connections, was called “Siskian.” Most of them were by John Sisk. We will miss him greatly. Requiescat in pace.
• Egypt is one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid of various sorts. It is also among the countries with the worst record of persecuting Christians, specifically Coptic Christians, who constitute a large minority. “Christians in Egypt: Church Under Siege” is an excellent forty-page summary, with an informative bibliography, and is available from Christian Solidarity International. Write CSI-USA, P.O. Box 70563, Washington, D.C. 20024.
• Evangelical-Catholic cooperation grows and grows. Here’s a release from the Rutherford Institute indicating that they’re defending the right of two students at New Caney High School in Texas to wear rosaries. The principal says the rosary resembles a symbol worn by gang members in Houston, but the police say that’s nonsense, and Rutherford says the school is engaged in antireligious discrimination. Now I’m trying to convince Catholic friends that they should not be trying to get a high school in Florida to prohibit Protestant students from telling their Catholic classmates that they’re going to hell for “believing in Mary.” Not, of course, that there is a symmetry between the rosary and telling people they’re going to hell, but forbidding even wrongheaded religious expression is no way to protect religious freedom. Anyway, Protestants of the kind who believe in hell no doubt take the Bible seriously and therefore can hardly help “believing in Mary,” although they may not believe all that is to be believed about her. Just imagine: High school students excited about rosaries, Mary, and hell. What are things coming to? (This word just in: Rutherford won the case.)
• According to the British medical journal the Lancet, a serious move is under way to expel the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) from the World Medical Association (WMA). The last group to be expelled was the South African Medical Association during the years of apartheid. The issue with the IMA is its refusal to condemn, and indeed its complicity in, what human rights organizations call Israel’s widespread practice of torturing Palestinian prisoners. Israel officially calls the practice the application of “moderate physical pressure.” The government maintains that all detainees are “under constant medical supervision,” which is just the problem, according to the WMA. In addition, Dr. Ruchama Marton, an Israeli psychiatrist, was called before an IMA ethics committee and found guilty of slander for calling for an investigation of the abuse of psychiatry in Israeli prisons. Friends of Israel must hope that the IMA and Israeli government will make a more effective response to growing expressions of international concern than simply repeating the claim, undoubtedly true, that Israel is imperiled by very real enemies. The isolation of Israel as a rogue state outside the circle of human rights conventions is not a happy prospect.
• It’s not exactly a dirty little secret, but neither is it much discussed. Among evangelical Protestants, some of the most strident attacks on “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT) and similar efforts at reconciliation in the Gospel truth come from leaders of evangelical mega-churches for whom Catholics are a primary, if not the primary, market for recruitment. Some such churches boast that more than half their membership is composed of former Catholics, and their continued growth depends upon convincing more Catholics that the Catholic Church is, quite simply, not Christian. The ECT affirmation that Catholics and evangelical Protestants are “brothers and sisters in Christ” is fatal to their business. In November, John MacArthur, a vociferous opponent of ECT, is hosting an “ExCatholics for Christ Conference” at his Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. Speakers include a long list of anti-Catholic writers and activists, including a “panel of former priests and nuns,” who will expose “The False System of Roman Catholicism.” The nineteenth century’s awful revelations of Maria Monk get a new lease on life. Viewing religion purely as a business enterprise, one may be inclined to the opinion that all is fair in expanding market shares. But of interreligious warfare it is also true that the first casualty is truth. Please do not misunderstand. I have no reason to doubt that anti-Catholics such as John MacArthur, Dave Hunt, and Joe Jordan sincerely believe that the Catholic Church is the enemy of the Gospel and that they are rescuing souls from its clutches, in addition to building their little empires. Their sincerity only adds to the sadness. Fortunately, since the appearance of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” in 1994, the evangelical opposition has been marginalized and is now mostly limited to those in the anti-Catholic business. Meanwhile, ECT has been moving ahead with very careful theological consultations and meetings between Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders, both here and in Latin America, aimed at evangelizing the world for Christ with rather than against one another in the twenty-first century.
• According to Forum Letter, Pastor Rebecca Heber of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Gaithersburg, Maryland, filled out the forms and sent in the requisite $35
to have a display at the assembly of the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The problem was that it was a display in support of ministries aimed at helping people overcome their homosexual behavior. When asked by the bishop’s office to remove the display because some people found it offensive, Pr. Heber refused, showing her receipt and contract. So the assembly voted to have the display table removed. The same assembly asked the national ELCA to rescind its teaching that single Christians should be sexually chaste. Pr. Heber observed that the synod was less than consistent in its vaunted affirmation of diversity and inclusivity, and she wants her $35
• Congressman Joseph Kennedy has enlisted considerable support for his demand that the U.S. Army’s “School of the Americas,” based in Georgia, be shut down. The demand is vigorously supported by a wide array of Protestant and Catholic religious groups operating out of the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill, many of which have a long record of support for left-wing dictatorships in Latin America. The critics note that Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and the Salvadoran right-wing leader Robert D’Aubuisson attended the school, which is true. They do not note that they are hardly representative of the more than sixty thousand Latin American officers who have received training on the role of the military in democratic societies. I have no doubt that some of what is taught at the school is not the kind of thing learned in Sunday School. The officers are presumably being trained to fight bad guys, and it seems doubtful that kinder and gentler methods would be encouraged if they were trained by the French, Israelis, or Chinese. As former Senator Sam Nunn and others have pointed out, the argument against the “School of the Americas” is essentially an argument against a well-trained military, or any military in Latin America that might be sympathetic to the U.S. It may not be pertinent, but I see that, in view of Mr. Kennedy’s much-discussed annulment, Michael Kelly of the New Republic describes him as “the only Congressman to be certified by the Pope as mentally immature.” What excuse the National Council of Churches, the Maryknollers, and the U.S. Jesuit Confererence have, I don’t know.
• The last time we had occasion to refer to Dan Rather, a television newsperson, he was linking the Heaven’s Gate suicide group with “cults” such as the much admired Bruderhof community. Mr. Rather seems to have rather a problem with confusing religion and cultism. After a news segment on the Chinese government’s persecution of Christians, he concluded with this: “An editor’s note: When your reporter was in China recently, a very high-ranking Chinese government official was repeatedly asked questions about religious persecution. He told me, and I quote directly, ‘These stories are untrue. We do, as you do, have some trouble with cults and we, like you, deal with them accordingly, but that’s all.’ End quote.” High-ranking government officials, especially of the Chinese kind, do not tell lies.
• I had said that Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Naked Public Square (that isn’t quite the exact title) “served briefly as a United Church of Christ minister.” Nancy Krody of Temple University writes to inform us that Lynn “remains a member in good standing in the Potomac Association of the Central Atlantic Conference of the U.C.C.” I have a quirky mind and it’s probably unfair, but for some reason I immediately thought of William E. Miller’s Piety on the Potomac, which Miller says is, like the river, a mile wide and a foot deep. Actually, my impression is that Mr. Lynn is religiously committed and thinks others should be, too, so long as they don’t make a public issue of it. In any event, my original comment was intended to say that he served briefly as a parish minister.
• I haven’t seen Nothing Sacred, the ABC series about a young priest who is not sure he believes in God but knows that the Church’s teaching on sexuality is a crock. At least that’s the way Bill Donohue of the Catholic League describes it, and I expect he’s right. The gimlet-eyed Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal describes it in much the same way and concludes with this wise observation: “There is a hilarious book to be written, someday, about television’s notion—reflecting that of the culture at large—of what a dissenter is, and about who gets to be called an iconoclast. This series, brimming with all the received social wisdom of our times, all the reigning orthodoxies, should occupy a central place in such a study. What really would have been revolutionary, of course, would have been a television series about a priest determined to uphold the traditions of his church and the basic tenets of his faith. If such a series were ever made, it would be not only revolutionary but also something of a miracle.”
• In her new movie, G.I. Jane, Demi Moore insists on “one standard” and “no special treatment” and does succeed in turning herself into a virtual man. In the real world of the increasingly unreal military, double standards and special treatment are the order of the day, as also in police and fire departments under court orders to increase the number of women. Problem: Women can’t throw those heavy hand grenades far enough. Solution: Give them lighter and less explosive hand grenades. Winning wars has become the military’s number two mission. Unless you include the gender war. Maggie Gallagher thinks the whole business of women in combat is an exercise in looniness. She writes: “In any decent society men feel it is their job to protect women from physical attack. Ideologues who wish in the name of choice or gender equality, or any other idol, to strip men of this sensibility are not acting in the interests of women. Nowadays movies like G.I. Jane often show men and women engaged in hand-to-hand combat. In the movies, the one invariable rule is: Women win such battles. In real life, they get sent to emergency rooms or battered women’s shelters.”
• Yes, I know, there is no comment in this issue on the assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the meaning of its gyrations in declaring full communion with the Reformed, turning down the concordat with the Episcopalians, and approving the joint statement with Catholics on justification. We had hoped to have it ready for this month but Matt Berke, managing editor, has a thing about sticking to the production schedule. Of course, that’s a thing that managing editors are supposed to have. Stay tuned.
• Writing in Books & Culture, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, who serves on our Editorial Advisory Board, takes on Jaroslav Pelikan’s acclaimed Mary Through the Centuries, with specific reference to current feminist critiques of Marian devotion. The problem is not that Pelikan is on the wrong side on these questions but that he tends to evade them, thus reinforcing the wrong side. Fox-Genovese puts it this way: “But as we have seen, in Mary Through the Centuries, as in Jesus Through the Centuries, Pelikan has chosen to write about the place of Mary and Jesus in history and culture rather than about their place in religion. The decision spares him from engaging the controversies that surround the place of Mary and Jesus in religion, but it nonetheless carries some troubling consequences. In emphasizing the place of Mary in history and culture, Pelikan is tacitly acceding to the postmodern insistence upon the imperative to ‘historicize’ all aspects of culture and society. For true postmodernists, the point of ‘historicizing’ is, above all, to expose the power relations that shape and inform culture, thereby exposing the works of culture as so many exercises in one or another group’s defense of its interests and power. Under this leveling glare, the very notion of eternal truth melts away, leaving nothing more than a series of social ‘constructions.’ Indeed, Pelikan’s emphasis in Jesus Through the Centuries upon the infinite varieties of Jesus in our own time precisely, if inadvertently, captures the postmodern claim that Jesus is never any more than individuals’ or dominant groups’ construction of him.” Most offensive to feminist sensibilities is the devotion to Mary as the icon of obedience, indeed of submission. But obedience is offensive to sinful human nature, male or female, and that is precisely where the argument needs to be joined. Fox-Genovese writes: “Women have reason to protest attitudes and treatment that have too frequently suggested their denigration. But no amount of legitimate complaints justifies the reversal of the essence of that faith, the substitution of the individual—man or woman—for God. For the essence of the faith does lie in humility and, yes, obedience, both of which are anathema to the spirit of our times. And, as Jesus taught, the practice of Christian faith does not come from compliance with the spirit of the times. In the words of Balthasar: ‘Faith is the surrender of the entire person: because Mary from the start surrendered everything, her memory was the unsullied tablet on which the Father, through the Spirit, could write his entire Word.’”
• For some years now Trinitarian theology has been making a big comeback in theology, but it now seems to be infiltrating what we persist in calling culture. This from the August 11 “Milestones” column in Time magazine: “Died. William S. Burroughs, 83, novelist, cult figure, and perhaps the most audacious member of a Beat Generation trinity whose other two divinities were Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. . . . His life was as extreme as the experimental fiction he pioneered, involving alcohol, heroin, homosexuality, a celebrated obscenity trial in Boston, and, in 1951, his accidental killing of his wife while shooting a glass off the top of her head.” Some lament that our culture has regressed to paganism. With gods like these, paganism begins to look attractive.
• A bright undergraduate in an Ivy League university says she has decided to become a conservative and wants to know what books to read. I am at something of a loss. There are so many different kinds of conservatism, and one cannot help but wonder whether reading the books should not come before the decision. In any event, George H. Nash, author of The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 comes to the rescue. In the July/August issue of Policy Review he has an article, “Modern Tomes,” in which he lists and briefly describes the most influential conservative books and articles of the past twenty years. They are: A World Split Apart by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn; The Way the World Works by Jude Wanniski; Breaking Ranks by Norman Podhoretz; “Dictatorships and Double Standards” by Jean Kirkpatrick (Commentary, November 1979 ); Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman; Wealth and Poverty by George Gilder; The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism by Michael Novak; Reflections of a Neoconservative by Irving Kristol; “Address to the National Association of Evangelicals” (March 8, 1983) by Ronald Reagan; Modern Times by Paul Johnson; The Naked Public Square by Richard John Neuhaus; Losing Ground by Charles Murray; “Dan Quayle Was Right,” by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead (Atlantic, April 1993); The Book of Virtues by William Bennett; The Vision of the Anointed by Thomas Sowell; Not Without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism by Richard Gid Powers. We are eager to see what she decides after she gets through that formidable reading assignment.
• In my response to Dean Anthony T. Kronman of the Yale Law School in the matter of their policy of discrimination against religious organizations (Correspondence, August/September), I mentioned in passing that it was strange that we had not heard from Professor Stephen Carter of the law school, who has written so much and so well about bias against religion. Now information from Professor Michael Stokes Paulsen of the University of Minnesota Law School may throw light on that aspect of this discussion. Some months ago he and Carter were both on a program at Seton Hall University and Carter was asked about the Yale policy. He answered that those who were on the committee that devised the policy had agreed among themselves that they would not make individual statements on the matter. Therefore, said Carter, “I am unable to offer any words in defense of Yale’s policy.” He then added, “Even were I not a member of the committee, I would be unable to offer any words in defense of Yale’s policy.” Although Dean Kronman’s secularist ideology allows no exemptions for religion, one hopes the committee will see fit to allow Professor Carter to explain his own position more fully.
• We don’t hear that often from Trapper Creek, Alaska, but the Rev. Mark Christian reports on a new “state of the art” hospital, built with federal funds, that was recently dedicated there. It is being called “the crown jewel of Alaska Native healthcare,” and includes an “igloolike meditation room.” Natives are complaining that the room is more New Age than native. Since a large number of Alaska natives are either Roman Catholic or Orthodox, Fr. Christian expects the walls of the meditation room will soon be informally adorned with icons of the Blessed Virgin and other saints, at which point officials will no doubt complain about native resistance to the government’s solicitude for native religion. As Sam Goldwyn might have put it, “You try to be inclusive and they keep including themselves out.”
• Next month: The people of the stiff upper lip collapse into a blubbering mass of media-induced emotional excess. From bulimia to bathos, it was all anticipated in Lionel Trilling’s analysis of “the age of sincerity and authenticity.” Why that first week of September was not, as commentators claim, “the week of two saints,” and why a national newspaper asked for, and rejected, a column on Mother Teresa that cited her prophetic words to a culture gone astray. We are not making this up, although we wish we were.
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