It comes in three fat volumes published by Blackwell, The Rise of the Network Society. A thoughtful cardinal friend put me on to it while we were in Rome participating in the Synod for America. The author is sociologist Manuel Castells, a Spaniard now at Berkeley who has over the years taught at universities from Paris to Hong Kong to Hitotsubashi. Virtual reality, according to Castells, is old hat. The new and totally revolutionary thing is real virtuality. The new digitized world, says Castells, segments markets and breaks up the uniformity of a mass audience. “These processes induce the formation of what I call the culture of real virtuality. It is so, and not virtual reality, because when our symbolic environment is, by and large, structured in this inclusive, flexible, diversified hypertext, in which we navigate every day, the virtuality of this text is in fact our reality, the symbols from which we live and communicate.”
This is intelligible Marshall McLuhan, he of “the medium is the message” fame. More intelligible, but not necessarily more persuasive. Illustrating what he means by “hypertext,” Castells cites Dan Quayle’s 1992 criticism of Murphy Brown’s deciding to have a baby, followed by the next television episode showing Murphy Brown watching Quayle’s criticism and railing against his interference with the choices that women make. Here is what Castells makes of that: “The unsolicited presence of Murphy Brown’s imaginary world in the real life presidential campaign induced the transformation of Quayle (or rather of his ‘real’ television image) into a character of Murphy Brown’s imaginary life: a supertext had been made, blending in the same discourse passionately argued messages emitted from both levels of experience. In this case, virtuality (that is Murphy Brown being in practice what many women were, without being so in the name of any woman) had become real, in the sense that it actually interacted, with some significant impact, with the process of election to the most powerful political office on earth.”
This is the kind of thing that helps explain why sociology departments are being shut down in our better universities. The commonsensical telling of the story is that Dan Quayle criticized the Murphy Brown program for encouraging wrongheaded behavior, and the Murphy Brown program attacked Dan Quayle as an oppressive prude. There is no evidence that the episode contributed to the defeat of the Bush-Quayle ticket, and at least one person close to the campaign tells me it helped the Republicans. Whether it helped or hurt, all but the thoroughly unhinged recognized that what happened is as old as the orator who puts an empty chair on the stage and proceeds to make sport of his opponent. It is not helpful to call the imagined opponent in the empty chair a “hypertext” or to say that we are witnessing an instance of real virtuality. We are witnessing an age-old instance of the games people play in order to make (usually unfairly) a point. What Castells also fails to point out is that a few years later almost everybody agreed that Barbara Whitehead was right when she wrote her famous article in the Atlantic Monthly, “Why Dan Quayle Was Right.” The supposedly media-sotted public was quite capable of perceiving the difference between reality and the clever games of a television sitcom.
“The inclusion of most cultural expressions within the integrated communication system based on digitized electronic production distribution, and exchange of signals, has major consequences for social forms and processes.” Castells goes on to say what all this means for religion. It is true that religion can employ the new communications system, but: “By having to concede the earthly coexistence of transcendental messages, on-demand pornography, soap operas, and chat-lines within the same system, superior spiritual powers still conquer souls but lose their suprahuman status. The final step of secularization of society follows, even if it sometimes takes the paradoxical form of conspicuous consumption of religion, under all kinds of generic and brand names. Societies are finally and truly disenchanted because all wonders are on-line and can be combined into self-constructed image worlds.”
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Or so it seems to me. The disenchantment of the world is what worries the cardinal, and was the theme of his eloquent intervention at the Synod. Many years ago Max Weber disseminated the message of a world that had been disenchanted under the pressures of science and specialization, but I would suggest that today we are witnessing the re-enchantment of the world. Certainly this is the case in the hard sciences that are taking an “anthropic” turn in disclosing the “irreducible complexity” of a world wondrously designed for a purpose. These developments are winsomely described in Patrick Glynn’s recent book God: The Evidence-The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World (Prima Publishing). All generalizations creak under too much weight, but “postsecular” captures the tenor of our times much more adequately than “the final step of secularization.”
And why should a prince of the Church, of all people, fret about the gospel message conceding “the earthly coexistence of transcendental messages”? Christians, and Catholic Christians in particular, have always understood that we live in a world of signs and symbols that do not themselves have a “suprahuman status” but are effective signals of transcendence. They are the sacraments and the words of the Word. And it is hardly new that the gospel must contend against contradictory signs and symbols.
Cassells writes that “the new communication system radically transforms space and time, the fundamental dimensions of human life. Localities become disembodied from their cultural, historical, geographic meaning, and reintegrated into functional networks, or into image collages, inducing a space of flows that substitutes for the space of places.” I don’t have quotations readily at hand, but I know I have read in the history books almost exactly the same things being said upon the advent of the telegraph, the telephone, radio, and television.
Please don’t get me wrong. I do not doubt for a minute that there are nerds surfing the Internet for whom that is a world more “real” than family, friends, or ingrown toe nails. That, too, is nothing new, as witness Walker Percy’s marvelous novel of a long time ago, The Moviegoer. Nor do I deny that someday the technology of “virtual reality” may be developed to the point where even the less neurotic will have difficulty in differentiating between reality and the images produced. But that day is not now, and our hype about the revolutions being worked by the media can only produce its own sense of unreality. Communicating the truth amidst the cacophony of untruths on sale has never been easy. We will not get any better at it by blaming the media. In fact, the undoubted segmentation of media markets-for instance, the Internet, CD-ROMs, and five hundred channels of television-create stunning opportunities for the concentrated communication of the truth. That the story of salvation is only one mouse click away from designer pornography is but another instance of God’s unlimited condescension in becoming man.
Meanwhile, the ten year old who has watched hours of television every day still turns to her mother and asks, “Is that just television or is that true?” Just as the father in the dark of night picks up the little boy who is having a nightmare and tells him everything is all right. The little boy holds on tight, dries his tears, and is immeasurably grateful to have been returned to “the real world.” Whenever things like that happen, they ward off the nightmares of virtual reality and real virtuality, and we know again that the world is enchanted. Castells is wrong to think that religion, at least Christian religion, is about things of “suprahuman status,” and that the loss of that status is the opposite of religion, called secularization. The Christian truth is the most secular of things-sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum.
It is the world that is charged with the grandeur of God (Hopkins) and man who is the cantor and caretaker of creation (Heschel)-a creation of wonder that evokes and ever transcends all our wondering. The enemies of wonder we will have always with us, and some will come with erudite theories and intimidating jargon to announce, ever so reluctantly, the end of wonder. They should not impress those who know that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only son of the Father.”
“We Remember,” the Vatican statement on the Holocaust published in this issue, is tightly packed and bears very close reading. The New York Times editorial on the subject also bears close reading. “Critics contend,” say the editors, “that Pius XII’s silence was a form of collaboration, inspired by anticommunism and the Church’s anti-Jewish traditions.” The editors leave no doubt they sympathize with, if they do not entirely agree with, that contention. This despite the fact that numerous Jewish voices, including the Times, praised Pius XII’s outspokenness during World War II. All that changed with Rolf Hochhuth’s 1963 play, The Deputy. The editors now write that the Vatican statement “offers evidence of church efforts to save Jews and recalls the thanks Pius received from Jewish leaders. It is regrettable that the Vatican has not yet found the courage to discard this defensive, incomplete depiction.”
The editors find nothing out of the way in the presumption that they are conducting the trial and the Catholic Church is in the dock. They constitute themselves as prosecutor, judge, and jury in a way that is wonderfully insouciant. One might be permitted to ask when the Times will find the courage to acknowledge that its star reporters such as Walter Duranty and Herbert Matthews served as Communist shills in systematically covering up the massive atrocities of Marxist-Leninism. But of course to this very day, after no less than 100 million killings by Communists, “anticommunism” is still a term of opprobrium in the lexicon of the New York Times. One might even ask the Times about its own silences while the Holocaust was happening, and before that when Jews were desperately trying to get into the United States.
The editorial’s supercilious conclusion is noteworthy: “It now falls to John Paul and his successors to take the next step toward full acceptance of the Vatican’s failure to stand squarely against the evil that swept across Europe. With its repudiation of anti-Semitism, the new document provides a useful starting point.” Now isn’t that nice, the editors pat the Church on the head for taking a first step. To “stand squarely” against Nazism apparently means that the Vatican should have become a belligerent and declared war on Germany. There was, of course, the inconvenient fact of Italy’s alliance with Germany and later occupation by Nazi forces.
The editors are quite explicit in their criticism of Pius XII: “He did not encourage Catholics to defy Nazi orders.” And what if he had done what the Times says he should have done? The Hitler government would have correctly declared the Catholic Church, also in Germany, to be an enemy power and faithful Catholics to be guilty of treason. Does anybody in his right mind believe that would have helped save the lives of Jews, or anybody else?
Perhaps Piux XII could and should have done other than he did. We can argue about that, and I assume God has already rendered judgment. But one cannot help but be struck by the contrast between the editorial of the Times, so smug and simplistic, and the Vatican statement’s recognition of the complexity of moral judgment about people caught in the tentacles of great evil. “We Remember” is subject to legitimate criticism, and we will be returning to that in these pages, but it evinces a humility that comes from an awareness of sin and grace, of historical ambiguity, and of both human frailty and grandeur-an awareness entirely missing from the self-righteous carping of the Times and some other, mainly Jewish, critics. Fortunately, other responses, including Jewish responses, to the Vatican statement demonstrate a greater humility and sophistication about the complexities of human action.
Mother Angelica is, as they say, a piece of work. Her Eternal Word television and radio enterprise (EWTN)has become a veritable empire that is said to reach fifty-four million homes in the U.S. and uncounted others in thirty-four countries. She is a woman of definite views, and last November she definitely did not like a pastoral letter on liturgy issued by Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles. She went on the air to criticize it as a mish-mash of liberal platitudes that sacrificed the mystical to the sociological and came close to denying the real presence of Christ in the Mass, concluding her review with the statement that faithful Catholics owe “zero obedience” to the Archbishop. The Archbishop let it be known that he was not amused, and Mother said she regretted the zero obedience crack but then went on to expand and deepen her critique of the pastoral letter.
Now, according to the spokesman for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Father Gregory Coiro, Mahony has taken his unhappiness with EWTN to the Vatican. “The Cardinal wants the Holy See to do something about Mother Angelica’s whole attitude that she is not responsible to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops or to any of the individual bishops,” says Coiro. “It goes beyond her criticism of the Cardinal-it’s about how the network operates and to whom it is accountable.” The phenomenal success of EWTN has long been a sore point with some bishops. Some years ago the bishops conference raised from the faithful millions of dollars to launch a Catholic television network and it turned out a complete cropper. Then up crops from Birmingham, Alabama, this nun with an attitude who, with a secondhand camera and a prayer, builds a media network that sweeps the field. Just who does she think she is?
Cardinal Mahony wrote her last December, “When a network features programs that attack and criticize its own bishops publicly, how can that build up the body of Christ, the Church?” Mother Angelica is of the view that criticizing bishops or anyone else who misrepresents the faith is indeed a service to the Church. While generally opposed to clericalism, Cardinal Mahony apparently tends to the view that it is for bishops and not for upstart nuns to present Catholic truth in public. Fr. Coiro says the Cardinal has invoked canon law, specifically Canon 753, which says that Catholics are forbidden to show disrespect to bishops and specifies that only the Holy See may correct a bishop’s teaching. Canon 1373, he continues, provides for “just penalties” for those who break the rules, including the penalty of imposing an interdict, which could mean denying the sacraments to Mother Angelica and her coconspirators.
Mother, it should be noted, has a record of not being intimidated by clericalist threats. At a conference a couple of years ago, she is said to have refused to interview several bishops on EWTN and they questioned her authority to turn them down. “I own the network,” she explained. The bishops said she wouldn’t always be around to call the plays. “Well,” she offered in further explanation, “I’ll blow the damn thing up before you get it.” As to what Cardinal Mahony expects from the Vatican, Fr. Coiro says, “Is he looking for Rome to slap an interdict on EWTN, which technically would be justified under the circumstances? Probably not, though I wouldn’t rule it out. But what other options are being explored, I don’t know.”
This is somewhat surprising since the Los Angeles Archdiocese under Cardinal Mahony is famed for its hospitality to dissenters from magisterial teaching and its seemingly unlimited devotion to nonjudgmental dialogue with a wide diversity, indeed a glorious mosaic, of views espoused by Catholics. Surely this openness might be extended also to Mother Angelica. His official spokesman notwithstanding, it is simply not credible that a cardinal who is so very tolerant of theologians who call for zero obedience to the Pope wants Rome to slap an interdict on a nun who presumes to criticize him. That could, no doubt unfairly, expose him to the charge of being, among other things, inconsistent.
Le Livre Noir du Communisme (The Black Book of Communism) is, as we have noted before, causing quite a storm among French intellectuals, who love nothing more than storms. Put Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and the Communist bunch together and they killed, by conservative estimate, at least 100 million people. Everybody knew that, or should have known that. The Black Book has raised hackles by insisting that the murderous intent was there from the beginning, that the evil is inseparable from the ideology. For instance, by March 1918, when it had been only five months in power, Lenin’s Bolshevik regime had deliberately killed more of its political opponents than Czarist Russia killed in the entire preceding century.
But fur really began to fly over the Black Book’s claim that the evil of communism was equal to, and in some ways greater than, that of Nazism. The Nazis, admittedly in a much shorter time, killed some twenty-five million, if one includes a war against the democracies that were allied with the Soviet Communists.
Prof. Tony Judt of New York University tries to sort matters out in the Times. “Nazis applied ‘special treatment’ to the useless people they murdered, Communists ‘liquidated’ those whom history, in their eyes, had already condemned,” he writes. “The road to Communist hell,” he continues, “was undoubtedly paved with good (Marxist) intentions. But so what? In the words of the Italian novelist Ignazio Silone, revolutions-like trees-are known by their fruits.” (Jesus said something similar about trees and fruits.) Good intentions? Really? Even with the qualifying parenthesis? One doubts Mr. Judt would say that the road to Hitler’s hell was undoubtedly paved with good (Nazi) intentions.
Even generally sensible people have a hard time shaking the leftist virus that leads them to insist that there was something “idealistic” about the Communist catastrophe. “Liberals in a hurry,” and all that. Mr. Judt finally cannot abide the Black Book’s conclusion that Communist sympathizers are as guilty as Nazi sympathizers. He does say that “in the sorry story of our century, communism and Nazism are, and always were, morally indistinguishable.” But he cannot leave it at that. He then introduces an “analytical” factor that cannot help but bear on the moral judgment. “But if we are not to wallow in helpless despair when it comes to explaining why it came to this, we must keep in view a crucial analytical contrast: there is a difference between regimes that exterminate people in the inhuman pursuit of an arbitrary objective and those whose objective is extermination itself.”
First, who is it that is in danger of wallowing in helpless despair? Presumably those who, in one way or another, sympathized with or supported communism. For them, as for those who were favorably disposed to Nazism, there is an alternative to wallowing in despair: contrition, confession, and repentance. Second, is the “difference” between Nazism and communism that the former killed for the sake of killing while the latter killed to achieve “an arbitrary objective”? However arbitrary (meaning mad), the Nazis, too, had an objective: a racially and ideologically pure super-nation that would dominate world history in a Thousand Year Reich. Mr. Judt, like so many others, cannot recognize that as an objective, no matter how “arbitrary.” On the other hand, his argument betrays a still lingering sympathy for the Marxist objective of a dictatorship of the proletariat ushering in the utopian dream of a classless and stateless society. Neither the Nazis nor the Communists believed that their objective was “extermination itself.” Their mass murders were not, as is commonly said, senseless. The actions of both made “sense” in the context of the objectives they were pursuing. Their objectives, and the means employed to achieve those objectives, were equally evil.
Why does someone as thoughtful as Tony Judt say that these causes were morally indistinguishable and then feel the need to quickly vitiate that judgment by saying they were analytically different? Sloppy thinking is one answer. The more important answer is that-in France, the U.S., and elsewhere-it is simply intolerable to acknowledge that Communist sympathizers are as guilty of complicity in mass murder as are Nazi sympathizers. Anyone who is exposed as having sympathized with Hitler is, understandably, a pariah excluded from any position of influence. By way of sharpest contrast, those who throughout their careers urged sympathy and understanding for Lenin, Stalin, and Mao occupy endowed chairs in our most distinguished universities and positions of highest influence in the media, think tanks, and churches of our nation.
That apologists for communism are as morally culpable as apologists for Nazism is a truth that, if honestly acknowledged, would exact too high a price from our several establishments. That is the truth convincingly set forth by Le Livre Noir du Communisme, and it is as unacceptable to intellectuals here as in France. Indeed the truth is harsher than that. Nazism was in power for twelve years. Until 1941 and even later, almost nobody, including the great majority of Jews in Germany and elsewhere, thought that Hitler was really set upon a course of mass extermination. In the 1930s there was a widespread disillusionment with the decadence of the democracies. The German economy and national self-confidence were revived; in Italy the trains ran on time, or so it was claimed; and Mussolini and Hitler looked like the wave of the future. Although much more was known by people who seriously wanted to know, the Holocaust, when it did happen, was largely hidden by the exigencies of world war.
Communism, on the other hand, conducted a reign of terror that spanned seventy years. The concentration camps, the purges, the politically perpetrated mass starvations by famine-all were on the public record. Some denied their existence; many more explained their necessity. The means are regrettable, they said, but the end is noble; you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, and so forth. That was the anti-anti-Communist line that dominated mainstream intellectual discourse in the West. Those who carefully and candidly spoke the truth about communism-and there were many, such as Malcolm Muggeridge, Robert Conquest, Whittaker Chambers, and Midge Decter-were scornfully dismissed as anti-Communists, meaning troglodyte reactionaries. They threatened “peaceful coexistence” with communism, which was declared to be a permanent fact of life.
Yes, there are distinctions to be made, but when it comes to moral judgment they are mostly distinctions without a difference. During the long years of communism’s evil empire, more of the brightest and the best belonged to the anti-anti-Communist camp than were ever supportive of Hitler in the 1930s, at least outside Germany. But what does that suggest? That moral responsibility is mitigated by a head count of the like-minded? It also overlooks the now easily forgettable fact that many decent and intelligent people looked with hope to fascism’s answer to democracy’s apparently terminal illness. It is true that Marxism attracted powerful intellectuals who arrayed it with elaborate and sophisticated theories, and that was not generally the case with National Socialism, which had a strong populist and anti-intellectual element. That demonstrates only that many people are intimidated by intellectuals, while intellectuals are charmed by one another’s company. It needs to be added that many felt themselves pushed toward anti-anti-communism by thoroughly obnoxious forms of anti-communism. As for Christians, it is true that the discerning saw the anti-Christian character of Nazism, while Marxism’s apologists often presented it as a fulfillment of Christian ideals. But what is to be said of Christians who excused, or even actively embraced, an atheistic attack against Christianity and against millions of fellow Christians for the sake of realizing putatively Christian ideals? Of the making of distinctions there is no end. Whether they make a difference is another matter.
Here is the painful reality to be faced: This century has witnessed a treason of the intellectuals immeasurably greater than that described in Julien Benda’s 1927 La Trahison des Clercs. Soon, I am told, The Black Book of Communism will be published in this country. Perhaps it will stir the necessary debate that is taking place in France. One fears that will not happen, however, among those who agree with Prof. Judt that facing the truth will leave people with no alternative but “to wallow in helpless despair.” There is another alternative: self-knowledge, the painful acquisition of wisdom, confession, forgiveness, and amendment of life. Admittedly, that alternative rests upon a biblical view of reality. For those who have convinced themselves that that view is not available to them, perhaps there is no future other than that of continuing self-deception or helpless despair.
There are few things more gratifying than to witness a capable generation of young people eager to carry on what you have tried to do. This business of getting older is of course as old as the human story, but each of us has to experience it for himself. I distinctly remember that as a young man of twenty-five I looked at those who were ten years older as the generation that had failed. My job and that of my friends was to set right what they had, for the most part, so badly bungled. I was viewed, and was inclined to view myself, as something of a wunderkind. In any project or committee, I was accustomed to being the youngest member, and I well remember the shock of the day when in a meeting someone younger than I included me in his somewhat dismissive reference to what was done by “your generation.” Or the day I was walking by the police academy around the corner on East 20th Street and was struck by the fact that the city was hiring kids to be cops. At the same time, I have always had an intuitive reverence for really old people, and have frequently remarked over the years that I rather look forward to playing the role of the wise old man. At age sixty-two that time has come. At least to the young I am the old man. Whether I am wise or not is quite another matter. I expect and even rather hope that the brightest of them think it their task to set right the projects that, for all my limited achievements, I have badly bungled. Such aspirations, or delusions as the case may be, are necessary to keep history moving. Young academics are writing dissertations about me. One asks in an interview if I have any “final thoughts as you look back at your life’s work.” That’s sobering. Now that I’m more than five years beyond that nasty cancer business and am feeling great, I think it quite possible that I’ll have another twenty productive years, but I play along with those who are preparing the obituary. It’s flattering in its fashion. And they do sometimes ask interesting questions. For instance, twice in the last few weeks I’ve been asked about my work routine, and whether there is anything I do to get ready when I sit down to a serious bout of writing. The answer is yes, and that is the excuse for this little reflection on getting older. I begin by praying a prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas, “Ante Studium.” Perhaps others might find it of benefit. Here it is, first in Latin, and then in English:
qui de thesauris sapientiae tuae
tres Angelorum hierarchias designasti,
et eas super caelum empyreum
miro ordine collocasti,
atque universi partes
tu inquam qui
luminis et sapientiae diceris
atque supereminens principium
super intellectus mei tenebras
tuae radium claritatis,
duplices in quibus natus sum
a me removens tenebras,
peccatum scilicet et ignorantiam.
Tu, qui linguas infantium facis disertas,
linguam meam erudias
atque in labiis meis gratiam
tuae benedictionis infundas.
addiscendi modum et facilitatem,
loquendi gratiam copiosam.
Tu qui es verus Deus et homo,
qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum.
From the treasures of your wisdom, you
have established three hierarchies of angels,
have arrayed them in marvelous order
above the fiery heavens,
and have marshaled the regions
of the universe with such artful skill,
You are proclaimed
the true font of light and wisdom,
and the true origin
raised high beyond all things.
Pour forth a ray of your brightness
into the darkened places of my mind;
disperse from my soul
the twofold darkness
into which I was born:
sin and ignorance.
You make eloquent the tongues of infants.
Refine my speech
and pour forth upon my lips
the goodness of your blessing.
Grant to me
keenness of mind,
capacity of remembering,
skill in learning,
subtlety in interpreting,
and eloquence in speaking.
guide the beginning of my work,
direct its progress,
and bring it to completion.
You are true God and true Man, and you
live and reign, world without end.
AmenI should add that the prayer is always answered, although, alas, I do not always act on the answer, as the readers of these pages know too well. I should also add that this and other jewels, in both Latin and English, are available in Devoutly I Adore Thee: The Prayers and Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas, published by Sophia Institute Press in Manchester, New Hampshire. As for that young woman who wanted my “last words,” I will leave that to Him who alone knows what it means to bring a work to completion. For that last word, all of life is a getting ready.
• The ACLU gets morality. An alert reader in St. Louis sends me a fundraising letter from Ira Glasser, executive director of the ACLU, dated simply “Wednesday morning.” (I, too, sometimes find Wednesday mornings disorienting.) He writes, “You may be surprised that the executive director of the ACLU is writing to you on the subject of morality rather than on law or the Constitution or some civil liberties emergency.” But it seems the “reactionary merchants of virtue” are prevailing with the argument that America is in a state of moral decline. “I believe,” writes Mr. Glasser, “that we are fundamentally a more moral nation today than we were in the 1950s.” He and others are a “saving remnant” who want to preserve moral advances against a return to the oppressive 1950s of racial segregation, of women “limited to the kitchen and bedroom,” of “gay men and lesbians forced to live secret lives of terror,” of disabled people “furtively hidden and closeted away,” of loyalty oaths, and, above all, of women “subject constantly to the risk of death and certain degradation if they needed to terminate a pregnancy.” The reactionaries want to limit personal behavior, whereas “the true public morality of a nation is measured by justice and fairness, freedom to be different, to be free of the tyranny of the majority.” The worst thing the reactionaries are doing is to campaign against what they call the judicial usurpation of politics. “If they succeed,” warns Mr. Glasser, they “would gut the independence of the federal courts and make them politically subservient to the very excesses the Constitution was designed to protect us against!” And so he continues in his appeal for help in preserving “civic virtue and the public morality.” That the ACLU is attempting to coopt the language of virtue and morality is not uninteresting, but we should not take too much comfort from it. They may succeed. The new tack taken by Mr. Glasser is a plus, however, in that it concedes the point that many of us have been making for years: the culture war is not between moralists and amoralists but is a conflict of moralities; the one grounded in tradition, religion, and concern for the common good, the other premised upon the liberation of the autonomous self; the one accountable to democratic deliberation and decision, the other imposed through the manipulation of the judiciary. “The true strength of great movements has never been political,” concludes Mr. Glasser. “Their strength has always been moral.” Now that the ACLU has recast itself as the Moral Minority, we may perhaps anticipate a greater measure of clarity in our continuing contentions.
• The distinction is so elementary that it seems to elude most experts in complexification. When President Clinton and Vice President Gore come out for ending “discrimination” against homosexuals, they put the gay and lesbian cause solidly in the tradition of a civil rights movement that most Americans tend to approve. But David Walsh of Catholic University, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, says this overlooks a very basic difference: “Americans do not wish to deprive homosexuals of their ordinary civil liberties simply because they are homosexual. On the other hand, they do not wish to see aggressive enforcement of homosexual civil rights because they sense that it cannot but entail an equally aggressive endorsement of the homosexual way of life. Homosexual rights are unlike the notion of civil rights employed to protect other minority groups. Those who discriminated against blacks or women knew they were doing wrong. Those who disapprove of homosexuality are profoundly convinced that they are right. This is a moral fact of elemental significance, and all sides would do well to take note.” Neither, says Walsh, is “neutrality” the answer. “An aggressive assertion of the validity of the homosexual preference cannot be reconciled with a public disapproval of its practices. A neutrality that effectively blocks even the discussion of the moral worth of different lifestyles is nothing more than a political sleight of hand. Like all such deceptions, it cannot long endure.” With respect to those who practice what most people continue to believe is a perversion, Americans want to be both publicly decent and publicly disapproving. Depicting the gay cause in terms of civil rights inevitably implies that disapproval is indecent, which-unlike other discriminations associated with civil rights-puts the discriminating in the bind of denying what they believe to be morally true. Prof. Walsh is right in saying this “cannot long endure”-unless people are coerced by law into acting as though they do not believe what they do. Regrettably, the historical record suggests that the denial of freedom can long endure.
• A retired bishop of the Church of Sweden, which is Lutheran in its way, remarks to a friend, “Christianity in Sweden is like the post office; you can’t very well get along without it, but it doesn’t figure large in one’s life.” He thinks this a very nice thing about Sweden.
• Those who are skeptical about the moral progress of humanity must make an effort to ignore such heartening developments as the ASPCA program to create “no kill” cities. In San Francisco, for instance, the organization has announced that “no adoptable animal with a treatable disease will be euthanized and [ASPCA] will pay for medical care for an animal with a long-term health problem after it is adopted.” Milwaukee, St. Louis, and New York are also taking steps toward becoming “no kill” cities. Now if we could only extend this caring vision to include human babies.
• An alert reader in Kalamazoo, Michigan, says she sighted this Planned Parenthood billboard picturing a laughing and hugging young black couple and bearing the message, “Planned Parenthood. We’re more than you think.” They are obviously worried about what people think about the business they’re in. They should be.
• Thanks to an alert reader in Florida, I have here the venomous gushings of Steve Gushee, an Episcopal minister, who writes a religion column in the local tabloid. The Rev. Gushee is much exercised by Catholic bishops who are considering the reintroduction of meatless Fridays. “Can weekly confessions, fasting before communion, and knuckle-knocking nuns be far behind?” (Dare we hope?) The Second Vatican Council worked a revolution, according to Gushee. “Many discovered for the first time that religion was not meant to control their life but unleash it for unlimited growth.” There you have it, aggiornamento as slipping the leash. Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston favors the fast, which prompts Gushee to write, “But Law is the kind of religious conservative who thinks the Spanish Inquisition was enlightened evangelism. . . . Some churchmen just can’t get accustomed to the freedom and joy their faith proclaims.” Nor others to the humility and charity that it enjoins.
• Another in the “Whither Incest?” genre of public advocacy. The British medical journal Lancet runs an article titled, “Should organs from patients in permanent vegetative state be used for transplantation?” Such a shame to let the organs of those “vegetables,” who are so expensive to care for, go to waste. After discussing at length the great benefits to be gained by killing off the incapacitated, the article concludes: “For religious, cultural, and other traditional reasons, it is likely that the proposal would be rejected; nevertheless, the arguments in favor are sufficiently compelling to justify serious debate.” But, of course, serious debate is only justified on the premise that those religious, cultural, and other reasons are not compelling. The serious debaters assume the outcome of the debate.
• These requests are a fairly regular thing, asking me to mention in this corner a conference that is coming up, a position that is open, tapes that are available, and on and on. But, dear friend, that’s why we started the “classified” section a while back. Rates are reasonable, exposure is vast, and you can find out more about placing your ad by contacting Richard Vaughan, Publishing Management Associates, 129 Phelps Avenue, Suite 312, Rockford, IL 61108; phone (815) 398-8569; fax (815) 398-8579;
e-mail Ravaughan@aol.com • The New Nationalists are coming! The New Nationalists are coming! That was last week’s alarum. New Nationalism is the buzz term for a convergence of forces opposed to free trade that is bringing together Pat Buchanan, the Sierra Club, labor unions, and that funny little man from Texas. Inside the beltway it is viewed as a great threat, and terror was intensified when the new nationalists denied the President “fast track” authority in trade agreements. With that action, the world was transformed, if we believe Peter Beinart’s long article on the subject in The New Republic. “Many things that seemed inevitable last week no longer do. And a lot of powerful people went to bed on Sunday night afraid of what they might wake up to.” Think about it. Living in a world so small that a congressional vote means that many things you thought inevitable no longer are. Washington, as sober observers have long recognized, is not a city but a company town in which the only business is politics. One of the most debilitating factors in our intellectual life in the last quarter century is the number of publications and think tanks that have attracted to Washington people who are capable of thinking. I quickly add that some of them are my best friends, but they face formidable odds in a place where what Russell Kirk called “the permanent things” have a life expectancy of a week or less, until the next magazine deadline or congressional hearing. “Many things that seemed inevitable last week no longer do.” Think about it. • Hadley Arkes went over the top, or so some said, when he suggested in these pages that we should brace ourselves for a Jewish and Christian Removal Act. He employed, to be sure, a touch of hyperbole, but the idea is not so farfetched. We are witnessing, in both government and corporate policies, an increasing exclusion or marginalization of religious folk who dissent from ruling secular orthodoxies. Major law firms do not appoint as partners or members of personnel committees anyone who is known to think, for example, that homosexuality is a grave disorder. Even if the person did not let that belief influence his decisions, why should the firm open itself to a discrimination suit? In Washington State a judge is threatened with impeachment for appearing at a pro-life meeting, although other judges routinely attend Planned Parenthood events. And now here is an AP story about a lesbian woman in Australia who has “won her right” to be a Catholic teacher. The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission has found the Archdiocese of Sydney guilty of discrimination because it would not certify as a teacher in the Catholic schools Jacqui Griffin, cofounder of the Gay and Lesbian Teachers and Students Association. Said Ms. Griffin, “The decision is only one of many steps needed to create a climate of tolerance and acceptance for gay and lesbian students in Catholic schools.” And one more step toward a legal regime in which individuals and communities that dissent from prescribed opinion will not be tolerated. A Jewish and Christian Removal Act? A touch hyperbolic perhaps, but definitely not paranoid. • I have been accused from time to time of being too hard on our parish newspaper. Ha. Meet Roger Kimball, writing in the New Criterion. (Not, mind you, that I think he’s being too hard.) Kimball writes: “‘Of all horrible religions,’ G. K. Chesterton once observed, ‘the most horrible is the worship of the god within. . . . That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones.’ We had occasion to ponder Chesterton’s remark on Sunday, December 7, when the New York Times Magazine favored its readers with a special issue on religion. Elsewhere, the media was full of recollections about the bombing of Pearl Harbor-the event, as Franklin Roosevelt put it, that made December 7 ‘a date which will live in infamy.’ For its part, the Times gave us ‘God Decentralized,’ a miscellany of a dozen or so short articles by divers hands on subjects ranging from the problems of interfaith marriages, young American Muslim girls who wear nose rings and baggy jeans, and the monthly meetings of the ‘Freethought Association’ in Talladega, Alabama, where ‘devout atheists gather for their Sunday social.’“ The caption on the cover of the magazine read, “Americans are still among the most religious people on the planet. But these days, they’re busy inventing unorthodox ways to get where they’re going.” Kimball is not impressed by the truism of the first sentence, but it’s the second that gets him going. “Then there is the second sentence, about ‘inventing unorthodox ways’ of practicing religion. ‘Unorthodox’ is a favorite word in this special issue-partly, no doubt, because spiral dances in the woods by Lake Geneva make for colorful copy. But the more important reason is that on all moral and religious matters the Times long ago declared itself an enemy of orthodoxy. Hence when it endeavors to cast a friendly eye on religion it winds up producing a carnival of psychobabble in which genuine religious feeling is indistinguishable from the most flagrant forms of pseudo-spirituality. Indeed, the conceptual muddle is precisely their point. For the Times, religion can go unchallenged only if (as one caption puts it) faith is an ‘option,’ an innocuous item in that great consumer smorgasbord that includes expensive shoes, exquisite chocolates, and churches in the Ozarks where real estate entrepreneurs dispense enlightenment along with mortgages and bedizen their chapel altars with the Star of David, images of Jesus, Shiva, Vishnu, and John F. Kennedy. We do not doubt that editors at the Times intended to produce a thoughtful reflection on religious diversity in contemporary America. What they have given us with ‘God Decentralized,’ however, is a grotesque parody in which religion emerges as little more than a matter of lifestyle, the latest form of equal-opportunity kitsch.” • Viewed at one level, it’s simply one more quirky entry in the what-won’t-they-do-next sweepstakes. But I suspect there is something deeper at work. At a museum in Mannheim, Germany, there is an exhibition of corpses that is drawing huge crowds. A Dr. Gunther von Hagens has invented a method of “plastination” whereby skeletons can be displayed as though in various activities, with their muscle structure preserved to exhibit the complexity of the body. Among the exhibits is a woman with her womb gashed open to show a five-month-old fetus. Anti-abortionists have asked the doctor to plastinate other fetuses that can be used for educational purposes, but he says he doesn’t want to be political. Protestant and Catholic religious leaders are protesting the entire exhibit as a desecration of the body. Catholic moral theologian Johannes Reiter of the University of Mainz says, “The Mannheim exhibition fits somewhere between art and commerce, one in which the likely damage to taboos has been factored in as a cost.” The “likely damage to taboos,” of course, gives the exhibition the panache of being “transgressive,” a merit greatly valued in contemporary art. Reiter adds, “He who styles human corpses as a so-called work of art no longer respects the importance of death.” The corpses on display are obtained from people who donate them for this purpose. The radically dualistic notion that the body is not oneself but is a thing that one can give away may be seen as a further extension of the donation of body parts for transplant purposes. If I can donate my body for medical purposes, why not for the purposes of “art”? It is, if not immortality, at least an extension of life in the denial of death. A few years ago there were stories about how many Germans no longer have funerals or even announce publicly that someone has died. The dead just disappear; one day they are no longer there, and everybody goes about their business as though nothing had happened. The Mannheim exhibition, then, can be seen both as a denial of death and as a denial of that denial in the return of the dead. It is a ghoulish business, but also a testimony to the profound wisdom of the biblical truth that we are to commend the dead to the elements from which they came, in the sure hope of the resurrection of the body. The Mannheim exhibit is a pathetically futile rejection of that truth further cheapened by pandering to the fashions of “shock art.” It makes a kind of perverse sense in a gnostic culture in which the self is divorced from matter, and the body is a “thing” to be used for pleasure, entertainment, or, as Dr. von Hagens would have it, the education of the public. As he might say, a body is a terrible thing to waste. That assumes, of course, that the body is not inseparably part of a person with another destiny. • The title of the piece tells the story: “Abortion Now Divides Americans as Deeply as It Ever Has Since 1973-And in the Same Proportions.” This is in Public Perspective, a publication of the Roper Center, and it summarizes a quarter century’s polling of opinion on abortion. In 1987, according to one poll, 34 percent of Americans said abortion should be “a woman’s decision in all cases,” and 63 percent said abortion should be “legal only in extreme cases or illegal in all cases” (12 percent taking the last position). According to that poll (Time/CNN), the pro-abortion position reached a high of 47 percent in 1992 and in the same year the anti-abortion position dropped to a low 47 percent. Since then, the anti-abortion position has been gaining, but modestly so. A CNN/USA Today poll has 65 percent saying that abortion should not be “generally legal” in the second trimester, and that jumps to 82 percent in the third trimester. A poll sponsored by a consortium of media shows no difference between Protestants and Catholics. Thirty percent in 1992 said abortion should be “legal in all cases” and 21 percent said that in 1996. The Roper report does not include some polls commissioned by organizations directly involved in the abortion dispute that report significantly higher opposition to abortion. The Roper article is one more confirmation of the fact that, contra the Supreme Court and many others, the unlimited abortion license is supported by a small and declining minority of the public. What that means for the prospect of more protective laws, or even for personal behavior, is another question. • “Christian socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat.” At least that is how The Communist Manifesto puts the matter. There is something of a revival of talk about Christian socialism in the New Labor party of Tony Blair. Chris Bryant, a former priest in Latin America who pushed liberation theology and was later a Labor party official, is at the center of a new socialist talking group that meets at the posh Scott’s restaurant on Mount Street. According to the Spectator‘s Sion Simon, “The group is avowedly ecumenical, which in practice means much higher church than traditional Labor Christians, who tend to be dour left-wing Methodists.” Simon doesn’t think the group is socialist at all, just New Labor Christians. But on both sides of the drink there is a certain moral superiority attached to calling oneself socialist. After all, in conventionally dichotomous minds, the alternative is to be a capitalist. It was precisely the tone of moral superiority that I found off-putting, even in my youthful wanderings on the Left. It was somewhere around 1968 that I was at a fashionably liberal party at an elegant apartment on Central Park West and scandalized the host by remarking that I did not consider myself a socialist. “Surely,” he insisted, “you agree that we live in an unjust world where the poor should have more of the necessities of life.” When I allowed as how I did agree with that, he pronounced his satisfaction that I was a socialist after all. The entrance price into the socialist “constituency of conscience,” as these folk liked to call themselves, seemed absurdly cheap. Of a colleague who fancied himself the keeper of the social conscience, the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel remarked that he was so confident of his righteousness that, if he died and was condemned to hell, he would assume he was sent there to save souls. I admit this is not an argument against socialism. The argument against socialism is that it is very bad for people, including poor people. I hope the Spectator is right in thinking that Chris Bryant and friends are not really socialists. The tragedy of liberation theology in Nicaragua would play as farce in London. Anyway, it appears that Mr. Blair aspires to being Bill Clinton, not Danny Ortega. Without the sleaze factor, of course. The oysters at Scott’s are said to be excellent. • In a haughtily dismissive review of several recent books on the papacy, Patrick Collinson, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, notes that one, in its discussion of Pius XII, has the Croats being Orthodox and the Serbs being passionately Catholic. Collinson writes, “As Private Eye might put it, shorely shome mishtake here?” He does have the good sense to approve of Eamon Duffy’s achievement in Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes. But then he writes, “A Protestant might understand Saints and Sinners differently: all equally sinners and saints. In Luther’s words, the Christian is ‘simul justus ac peccator.’“ As Private Eye might put it, Shorely . . . • “Averting Our Eyes from Slavery” is a forceful column by Nat Hentoff in the Washington Post excoriating American leaders, black and white, for their refusal to address the horror of slavery in North Africa. Our familiar critic Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR, “an Islamic advocacy group,” excoriates Hentoff and others for fomenting “Islamophobia.” A letter in the Post from the American Anti-Slavery Group, signed by Charles Jacobs and Dominic Mohammed, responds to CAIR: “In Mauritania, Islam is used to justify slavery. . . . In Sudan, an Islamic holy war mounted on the black Christian south employs slave raids. To know and to say these things is not anti-Arab or anti-Muslim: It’s anti-slavery. Should we let the slaves languish in order not to offend extremists and terrorists?” With the possible exceptions of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Minister Farrakhan, and the folks at CAIR, most everyone will recognize that as a rhetorical question. • U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich says she finds it “difficult to conceive” how stories of miracles and resurrection could be taught as history. In a suit brought by the ACLU, she allowed the school board of Lee County, Florida, to offer courses on the Old Testament but not on the New. Apparently items such as the Red Sea, Sinai, and Elijah’s raising of the widow’s dead son all have perfectly natural explanations. • “Policies that restrict access to abortion not only deter pregnant women from obtaining abortions, but also deter women from becoming pregnant in the first place.” That is the complaint expressed in a recent issue of Family Planning Perspectives. It is one of many statements that greatly heartens Mark Crutcher of Life Dynamics Incorporated, a Texas organization that presses malpractice suits against abortionists. He has put together a remarkable booklet (Access: The Key to Pro-Life Victory) that includes numerous statements by pro-abortionists who contend that, even without any change in the law, the abortion industry is being terminated by the shortage of medical terminators. For the booklet and more information, write Life Dynamics at P.O. Box 2226, Denton, TX 76202. • . . . where angels fear to tread. But here I go into an explosive dispute among Jewish thinkers. Elliott Abrams, Michael Horowitz, Michael Medved, and some other Jews have written a letter to the director of the Holocaust Museum in Washington protesting the depiction of Christianity in a film that is shown there on the origins of anti-Semitism. They complain that the film unfairly and simplistically blames Christianity. For instance, it depicts without comment Hitler claiming that, in his effort to rid the world of Jewish influence, he is only completing the work started by the Church. The letter of protest greatly excited Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic. The writers-whom Wieseltier, ever the gentleman, calls “fools”-noted the film’s omission of any reference to “the brave anti-Nazi resistance groups comprised of Catholic and Protestant clerics and leaders.” Wieseltier reacts: “They adduce ‘righteous Gentiles,’ unaware of the terrible admission that is contained in that honorific.” What terrible admission is that? That most Christians were not heroes, which is what “righteous Gentiles” is intended to connote? Wieseltier continues: “And they cite Dietrich Bonhoeffer, of course. They are not aware that in 1933 he reported that, in the matter of the Jews, ‘the most sensible people have lost their heads and their entire Bible.’“ Note the scornful “of course.” Wherever he got that Bonhoeffer quote, it is subject to benign interpretation. But is his point that Bonhoeffer-who was killed for, among other things, rescuing Jews-was not a righteous Gentile? If so, he would seem to be aligning himself with Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners, even though it was Wieseltier, I assume, who commissioned his magazine’s devastating review of that slanderous tract. His conclusion is of particular interest: “They [the writers of the letter] declare that ‘the film repeats and propagates libels of Christianity.’ Libels! These Jews are conservatives who have made a career out of the charge of ‘moral equivalence.’ Do they know anything about the history of ‘libel’ in the entanglements between Christians and Jews? This is not only error. It is also dishonor.” Wieseltier’s reference to moral equivalence implies that Jews are responsible for the film in question, which may well be the case, although the Holocaust Museum is presumably a national and not just a Jewish institution. There is no doubt that many Christians did, and some still do, libel Jews. Does this mean that it is not possible for Jews to libel Christians and Christianity? That Daniel Goldhagen is not possible? That Wieseltier’s apparent contempt for Dietrich Bonhoeffer is not possible? Such a line of argument is not only incoherent. It is also hysterical. • “I’m History” is Joseph Epstein’s 92nd and last essay as editor of American Scholar. As noted here earlier, the Phi Beta Kappa’s Senate fired him for refusing to toe the line of what Epstein calls O.K.isms-multiculturalism, radical feminism, queer theory, speech-act theory, victimhoodism, and other excitements that only intellectuals could take seriously. Very serious, however, is their devastating impact on institutions such as American Scholar. Writing in the Baltimore Sun, columnist Michael Packenham recalls a 1991 essay by Epstein in the Hudson Review, “The Academic Zoo: Theory-in Practice.” There he depicted the political program of tenured radicals: “It is an intellectual version of the Whole Earth Catalog-a pallid, boiled-down, warmed-over, unisexual, blandified Woodstockian version of heaven on earth. Heaven for them, as I see it, hell for the rest of us.” You can see why Joseph Epstein didn’t fit in. Packenham concludes: “Get angry. Get active. Write. Shout. Demand. Complain. Campaign. Withhold contributions and other support. Ridicule and torment. The alternative is passive collaboration in the trashing of what’s left of the liberal tradition, the wan hope of civilization.” I don’t know about anger, shouting, complaining, and the such, and I would want to add prayer to the list of things to be done, but he is certainly right about the liberal tradition, rightly understood. • All the scholarly tomes devoted to trying to make sense of the many parts of Christianity in America can now be safely ignored since Bruce Bawer has come up with a taxonomy that cuts through the complexities. There are really only two groups according to Mr. Bawer, the liberal churches of love and the conservative churches of law. There you have it. Bawer is author, most recently, of Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity (Crown), a book with the merit of having a nuanced title that will assure most people that they can safely spare themselves the trouble of reading it. Before that, he wrote A Place at the Table, a spirited apologia for the religious acceptance of homosexuality. Now, writing in the Times, Mr. Bawer is upset at the very positive response to Robert Duvall’s remarkable film, The Apostle. He allows that Duvall turns in a magnificent performance, but faults the film for its favorable portrayal of Pentecostalism, a religion that, he notes, teaches the inerrancy of the Bible and the damnation of the unsaved. “Most telling, the official faith statements of the Pentecostal Holiness Church cite Christ’s Great Commission-to evangelize the world-but omit his Great Commandment, to love God and one’s neighbor.” Duvall’s film, he complains, depicts Pentecostalists as loving when we all know that they are hate-filled fanatics. On somewhat more solid ground (it could not help but be more solid since his main allegation is preposterous) he notes that in the film nobody is seen speaking in tongues. “Doubtless Mr. Duvall has omitted this sensational-but crucial-aspect of Pentecostalism for fear of alienating moviegoers,” says Bawer. It is hardly doubtless, although it is possible. What Mr. Bawer makes doubtless is his own fury at a film that might lead an uncritical public to think that law and love are not mutually exclusive. • “If we listen to these opinions, we are likely to come to two conclusions. The first is that many homosexuals are correct to suggest that they, perhaps more than any other group in America, are severely stigmatized. But the second is that those Americans who have qualms about homosexuality are also correct if they believe their views to be widely shared.” What I think Alan Wolfe of Boston University means to say on the second point is that those who have qualms about homosexuality are correct in believing that their views are widely shared. That was his finding in a recent study he discusses in the New York Times Magazine. Because I know Wolfe to be an intelligent fellow, I expect he’s being a bit disingenuous-just disingenuous enough to get his article past the thought police at the Times-when he suggests there is a tension between the “Thou shalt not judge” tolerance of most Americans and their continuing aversion to homosexuality. He craftily insinuates into his article three reasons why that combination of attitudes may make sense. First, people perceive that homosexual activists want not only tolerance but moral approval of their way of life. Second, the predatory actions of some homosexuals, especially in relation to children, occasion understandable fear. Third, the rhetoric of gay liberation that presents homosexuality as “socially constructed” and a matter of choice makes “people feel that they have the similar choice of condemning it.” “There is no culture war in America,” Wolfe wrongly asserts, “but on the question of gay rights, fairly severe battles are likely to be fought for the foreseeable future.” Which being translated means that most Americans will never extend their general tolerance to homosexuality. In forums where free speech is not so limited, the reason is not hard to state. Unlike the case of, say, blacks or Jews, the “gay community” is defined exclusively and without remainder by what people do, and what they do is deemed to be wrong. The last-ditch argument of gay activists is that they are driven by uncontrollable desire. Whether with regard to alcohol, gambling, violent anger, adultery, homosexual temptation, or something else, most people think they know about desires that sometimes seem uncontrollable. They are reluctant to approve the proposition that people should act on such desires, which is the core proposition of the homosexual movement. I expect Mr. Wolfe knows that, too, and he therefore knows as well that there is no paradox at all in the general tolerance of most Americans and their disapproval of homosexuality. • The television channel Comedy Central has this cartoon program called South Park, created by Trey Parker, who has said, “I can guarantee it’s gonna be the raunchiest thing on TV and it’s gonna p—-a lot of people off.” A recent episode had “Jesus” and “Satan” in a boxing match. The bout, accompanied by sexually explicit songs, ends up with “Satan” winning and “Jesus” complaining that he lost because everyone bet against him. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League is, as you might expect, unhappy with this. One might also expect that the sophisticated editors at certain publications will again take Donohue to task for lacking both a sense of humor and theological insight. “It is all too often the case that Jesus does lose and Satan does win,” one anticipates their editorial opining, “because deep down we are all guilty of betting on the power of evil.” As for the foul language, “mature Christians understand that the drama of the gospel must be depicted in the realistic context of the world as we find it, not as we wish it to be.” And so forth. As has been oft remarked, a liberal is someone who refuses to take his own side in an argument. Donohue, on the other hand, thinks the program is out to offend Christians, for which there is no penalty in Mr. Parker’s world. Donohue issues a challenge: “To those who say that South Park is just a cartoon, I have a suggestion. Write to Mr. Parker and ask him to deliver the same message of blasphemy, sex, and violence by substituting Martin Luther King for Jesus and Bull Connor for Satan. After all, that should tick a lot of people off, too.” That is a dangerous challenge, as Parker might just take him up on it. There would be an awful fuss, of course, and he might lose his job, but he would have the satisfaction of having proved himself perversely brave. It would not do much to lift popular culture out of the gutter, although it would give some editors the opportunity to discover something that is simply beyond the pale. They might even be tempted by the frisson of being accused of censoriousness, for it must be a terrible bore to be inexhaustibly understanding toward the banal pranks of the avant garde. • Elevating the level of public discourse. That’s a fine phrase, and we sometimes employ it in explaining what we’re trying to do here. There are those who think it means using more religion-talk in public, which is not quite right. For instance, Vice President Al Gore recently gave a talk on race relations that is laced with biblical references. Those who oppose racial quotas, he said, are hypocrites who refuse to recognize that the sin of racism persists. “The Gospel of Luke tells us of Jesus’ reaction to people who willfully refuse to see the evidence before their eyes.” Jesus addressed them as “ye hypocrites.” In Washington State 280,000 people have signed an initiative for the November ballot that would ensure “the state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” (Private businesses and organizations are free to do as they wish with preferences.) But according to the Vice President, there you see 280,000 hypocrites at work. Ditto for the majority of voters in California when the same question was posed in the last election. Ditto for the great majority of Americans, according to every poll. Cut through the cant about there being legitimate arguments pro and con. The brutal fact is that we are a nation of hypocrites. This does not seem like a promising way for the Vice President of the United States, who may soon be the President of the United States, to elevate the level of public discourse. • “Ask the persecuted.” That is always good advice when one encounters the argument that protesting persecution “will only make matters worse.” That argument is regularly advanced by those opposing the Wolf-Specter bill known as the Religious Persecution Act. Elliott Abrams of the Ethics and Public Policy Center very ably takes on that argument in the center’s publication American Purpose. His essay is titled “Nazi Gold and Chinese Christians” and concludes with this: “Will we allow commercial objectives to dictate national policy? Will we really contrive to ignore the Laogai, the slave-labor system in which China’s rulers imprison millions of men and women in eleven hundred camps? Will we spend Mondays tut-tutting about how the Europeans sought only money and ignored persecution in the 1930s, only to seek money and ignore persecution yet again on Tuesdays? The analogy is no doubt weak in a number of ways, but it has great strength in another: for the real comparison being drawn is not between Nazi gold and Chinese Christians, but between Western reactions then and Western reactions now. What if the Swiss had said then, ‘This is wrong, it is monstrous, and we will have no part of it. We will not do business as usual’? While we are in the midst of condemning them for not saying that, we might pause a moment and think twice about just what we are saying to China’s millions of political prisoners and to Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Muslims there. Fifty years from now, will Chinese thank us-as today Poles and Czechs do-for helping them win their freedom? Or will we be compared to the Swiss, who loved gold more than they hated persecution?” • There he goes again. The story in the San Francisco paper says that Father Andrew Greeley has “an acerbic wit with a self-described ‘shanty Irish mouth,’“ and this time he is putting his talents in the service of ABC in its defense of the program Nothing Sacred. He appeared on a panel with Father Bill Cain, the Jesuit co-writer of the series. The only criticism they had of ABC is that the network delayed the broadcast of an episode dealing with a priest who is HIV-positive. Greeley is scornful of the Catholic League, which has been lambasting the series. He says, “I don’t know anyone else that’s criticized it. I don’t know of any other person or group claiming a Catholic voice that has been opposed to it.” Fr. Greeley is a professor of sociology. He and two other priests on the panel asserted that Nothing Sacred is a terrific advertisement for Catholicism. Fr. Cain was more correct: “The show is not designed to get anybody into a Catholic church. The show is designed to tell stories. I didn’t start to write a show in order to proselytize.” Apparently it would be a violation of artistic integrity to serve the Church. Fr. Cain may also be more cautious these days, since, under the implied threat of a lawsuit, he had to write a letter of apology to Dr. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League withdrawing his charge that Donohue had said Jews had no right to work on a show about Catholicism. Donohue never said any such thing. There may be nothing sacred, but some things are still libelous. • Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works has received extensive notice in these pages, as has his argument that we should try to be more understanding toward people who commit infanticide-or “neonaticide,” as he prefers. One should always hope for worthy adversaries, even though the hope is so regularly disappointed. On the subject of religion and morality, I am afraid it turns out that Professor Pinker exposes himself as a bigot and a deeply confused ignoramus. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson posited against Pinker’s position on neonaticide the ancient view of Christians that “human beings were persons from the start, endowed with a soul, created by God, and infinitely precious.” Pinker rejoins that appeals to religion will not help in solving our moral dilemmas. The opposite is the case. “That solution,” he writes, “has given us stonings, witch-burnings, crusades, inquisitions, jihads, suicide bombers, abortion-clinic gunmen, and mothers who drown their children so they can be happily reunited in heaven.” Some people who believe that people have souls have done horrible things, ergo we should not believe that people have souls, or something like that. In fact, it seems Prof. Pinker knows that people do not have souls. “Unfortunately for that theory, brain science has shown that the mind is what the brain does. The supposedly immaterial soul can be bisected with a knife, altered by chemicals, turned on or off by electricity, and extinguished by a sharp blow or a lack of oxygen. Centuries ago it was unwise to ground morality on the dogma that the earth sat at the center of the universe. It is just as unwise today to ground it on dogmas about souls endowed by God.” The logic would seem to be that there is no immaterial soul because the material brain can be bisected with a knife, etc. Slam dunk. And one must stand in amazement at Steven Pinker’s apparent agreement with the view of the intellectual and scientific establishment of Galileo’s time that their morality depended on the dogma of an earth-centered universe. Regrettably, some church officials uncritically went along with the establishment view of the day, which is a salutary caution against doing the same with the Pinkers of our time. • “The media is sliding not only down the scale of respectability, but also back toward its disreputable roots. In his classic work The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, the historian Jacob Burckhardt identified Pietro Aretino, the sixteenth-century blackmailer and pornographer, as ‘the father of modern journalism.’ Aretino’s method was simple. He published a kind of newsletter with a wide circulation. If you paid him off, he praised you in the most extravagant terms. If you didn’t, he attacked you viciously and obscenely.” That’s from Richard Brookhiser’s column in the New York Observer. The historical reference might come in handy in discussions of current affairs, which used to be called talking dirty. • First there is assisted suicide, and then there is assisted grieving for suicides. Hallmark cards of Kansas City has come out with a line of cards for the suicide market. The idea has been tested in six cities, with the cards appearing on shelves under a “suicide” category. The company reports “an overwhelmingly positive response.” The news item does not say whether there will be the usual sideline of humorous cards. (“Hooray! She finally did it!”) Hallmark’s decision is a testimony to the infinite creativity of capitalism, and to our culture’s continuing determination to mainstream the aberrant in the hope that the very concept of the aberrant will one day be eliminated. • Judge Lawrence E. Walsh earned a reputation for prosecutorial ruthlessness when he was independent counsel for the Iran-Contra affair, a story painfully documented by one of his victims, Elliott Abrams, in his book Undue Process. Now Judge Walsh is a leader of the pack attacking independent counsel Kenneth Starr. His lead article in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books is accompanied by a cover cartoon picturing Mr. Starr holding hammer and spikes and seated beside a large wooden cross. Think about it. The editorial judgment is as execrable as Judge Walsh’s current disservice to justice. • There have been forty-six of them, but this was the first time I was in attendance at a National Prayer Breakfast. I was in Washington the evening before to receive the William Wilberforce Award from Prison Fellowship and stayed over for the breakfast, which has become a major institution since it was established during the Eisenhower years. Some four thousand people from more than 160 countries, or so the brochure says, gather under mainly evangelical auspices to invoke God’s blessings on the nation, which is no doubt a very good thing to do. The event is held in connection with the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters, making this the largest assembly of the leadership of evangelicaldom short of the anticipated rapture. Attendance by the President is mandatory and this year Clinton came in the midst of the latest scandal of sex and lies, looking nervous and almost penitent. He read from 1 Kings 3: “And now, O Lord my God, thou hast made thy servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. . . .” The Vice President led a prayer in which he alluded to the pluralism of our society and cited John 17, “that they may all be one,” which is an interesting ecclesiological twist. The applause for Clinton was tepid, with a good number of us standing for the office but not applauding the man. There was no applause at all when the President and his party shuffled off the stage. The silence was impressive. The applause greeting Billy Graham, on the other hand, was loud and long. Contrary to some press reports, Graham did not “absolve” Clinton but offered a carefully crafted prayer reminding us that we are all sinners, which nobody seemed inclined to contest. Most of the prayers were offered “in your name,” leaving unspecified just whose name was being invoked. Presumably it is a matter of sensitivity to the Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and nonbelievers in attendance. The booklet handed out contains the chiefly banal remarks of Presidents and others who have spoken at past breakfasts. I notice that Mother Teresa’s more pointed remarks about abortion a few years ago are not included in the printed excerpt. There is a section titled, “Thoughts on Jesus’ Message to Be Considered.” The selections are strictly moral and might well have been chosen by that great bowdlerizer of the New Testament, Thomas Jefferson. The National Prayer Breakfast is a grand, some might say gross, exercise in civic religion. I am not entirely disdainful of civic religion, but I could not help but notice that in attendance were some prominent evangelical critics of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” who relentlessly castigate us for not dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” of theological exactitude. But here they were together, brothers and sisters with all and sundry, praying to a mainly unknown, or at least unnamed, god. It gives one pause for thought. • Week after week Monsignor George Higgins churns out his columns for the Catholic diocesan press. His formidable energy over these many years cannot help but elicit admiration. It is regrettable that in recent years he seems unable to get through a column without attacking those awful “neoconservatives.” This week’s column takes note of an important new book by Thomas Frank, The Culture of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (University of Chicago Press). Frank’s point is that since the 1960s corporate America has exploited to the hilt the decadent fashions of a counterculture that is, in fact, the cultural establishment. Exactly. Inexplicably, Msgr. Higgins thinks Frank’s argument discredits neoconservatives who “flatly refuse to put any of the blame for the [cultural] problem on corporate America. They prefer to blame it on what they call the ‘new class’ of liberal intellectuals.” I don’t know where Msgr. Higgins has been, but as one who is regularly dubbed a neocon (I have absolutely no investment in the label) I should point out that over the years I and others such as Irving Kristol, Peter Berger, and Michael Novak have written repeatedly and at length about corporate America’s domination by the “new class” and its exploitation of the pseudo-rebellion of the counterculture in order to make big bucks. Higgins writes, “The moral corruption that neoconservatives condemn in American society owes more to commercial imperatives than to the failures of some autonomous culture. . . . It was bankers, investors, real estate developers, and manufacturers-not liberal intellectuals-who made these mistakes.” I don’t know what an “autonomous culture” might be, but as for liberal intellectuals, from whom does Msgr. Higgins suppose the bankers et al. get their ideas? His simplistic either/or between intellectuals and corporate leadership rather completely misses the import of Frank’s book: leftist intellectuals shape the fashions, including the fashion of being anti-business, which are then profitably coopted by corporate leadership. By now I nearly despair of changing the mind of my friend George Higgins, but let it be said once again: Support for free enterprise is perfectly compatible with criticizing the rascals who are largely in charge of it. • It didn’t start with the Clintons, of course. Push the point far enough and one must admit that it started with that unfortunate afternoon in the garden. But without doubt we are witnessing a marked increase in the general tawdriness of our public culture. Pat Moynihan came up with the nice phrase, “defining deviancy down.” Alternatively, it is the raising of the “yuck” threshold. Back in my college days, the ordinarily phlegmatic Dr. “Big George” Beto at Concordia in Austin, Texas, would wax eloquent on the infamy of the Duke of Windsor who, having shirked his duty, was consigned to a life of pitiable celebrity. That came to mind this morning with a full page ad in the Times, titled “A Royal Occasion.” The supposedly royal occasion is that Sotheby’s is holding an auction of the Duke and Duchess’ personal effects. “Own a piece of royal history,” says the ad, which notes that some items will go for “as low as $100.” It is very low indeed. For as little as $500 you can own a pair of red velvet shoes worn by the Duchess. (As it turned out, most items sold for many times more than the auctioneers anticipated. More the pity.) “Net proceeds from the auction of the Collection of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor will benefit the Dodi Fayed International Charitable Foundation.” Of course. How wondrous the cunning of history that perfectly closes the circle by bringing together these four who reduced public dignity to kitsch. “A former king and his love,” as the ad puts it, together with Dodi, a playboy who lived off his father’s billions and achieved notoriety by getting killed in a car crash with a deeply confused young woman celebrated for trashing the family that was her only claim to public notice. A royal occasion? Hardly. It is a matter of exploiting the detritus of parasitical lives that drew their glitteringly shabby sustenance from the connections they betrayed. And all this, mind you, under the auspices of Sotheby’s, which styles itself the world’s most distinguished dealer in finer things. P. T. Barnum would be embarrassed. And Big George Beto, may he rest in peace, would explain once again the inexorable connections between duty and dignity, between dishonor and tackiness. • Now in his ninetieth year, Dr. Erik Kuehnelt-Leddihn is undertaking another American lecture tour this October-November. A Roman Catholic who contends that much of the best in Catholicism is owed to Luther, a dissenter from liberalism who makes an engaging argument as to why he is not a conservative, Dr. Kuehnelt-Leddihn is one of the more ingenious intellects of our time, and a good friend. For bookings, write him at A-6072, Lans, Tyrol, Austria. • When asked-and I am asked with some degree of frequency-I always say that the New Oxford Review is better than you might think from those sensationalist ads for it that you see, it seems, almost everywhere (including here). One fears, however, that the gap between hype and reality might be narrowing. “The Church is at a major crossroads in her history,” begins an editorial announcing that NOR is from now on going to increase the number of pages in each issue. It appears the editor has been talking with “orthodox Catholics” who are getting cold feet. They caution that “it’s entirely possible we’ll get a Bernardin-style Pope” (referring to the late Archbishop of Chicago) who will wimp out on the hard questions. “In orthodox Catholic publishing,” we are told, “some of our astute colleagues have apparently decided to take a low profile or in effect sit on the sidelines.” They think it is “imprudent to alienate the people who may one day soon be running the Church.” Tell me it ain’t so, Deal Hudson at Crisis, Phil Lawler at Catholic World Report. Et tu, Father Fessio? Not to fear, however. Editor Dale Vree is standing tall. “We at the NOR refuse to be an accomplice to that. We will keep our light burning-and in full view-come what may. The savvy game plan devised by certain of our orthodox colleagues has not diverted us from our purpose, and will not. So, beginning with this issue, the NOR has forty pages (instead of thirty-two) and will continue to have forty pages indefinitely into the future. . . . Yes, our strategy is risky, both financially and in terms of further alienating powerful people, but we feel called . . . to forge ahead-and we will go forward with the signature words of John Paul’s pontificate, ‘Be Not Afraid,’ ever in our minds and hearts.” One pictures those powerful people with their savvy game plan gathered in a glitzy corporate board room: “Gentlemen, despite our warnings, Vree says he’s going ahead with the forty pages. We’ve got to stop him before he corners the market on Catholic orthodoxy.” I have always appreciated the Dale Vree of two minds, the one that writes those silly ads and the one that edits a generally sensible NOR. And I cannot help but respect a magazine whose survey of its own readers indicates that the favorite publication of the overwhelming majority is First Things. It is with the friendliest of intentions, then, that I express the hope that Mr. Vree will not get his minds together. Unless, of course, it would mean that the ads become as sensible as the magazine generally is. • We will be pleased to send a sample issue of this journal to people you think are likely subscribers. Please send names and addresses to First Things, 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, New York, NY 10010 (or e-mail to Ravaughan@aol.com). On the other hand, if they’re ready to subscribe, call toll-free 1-800-783-4903.