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Arguing for Life

Although Paul Swope ought to be commended for his interest in better communicating the pro-life message (“Abortion: A Failure to Communicate,” April), I believe his essay is flawed in at least two ways. 

First, Mr. Swope is mistaken in thinking that Americans in general have accepted the pro-life view that the unborn are fully human even though they still support legalized abortion. It is true that polling data have consistently shown that a vast majority of people see abortion as wrong, even morally wrong. But in public discourse they relegate abortion to a question of personal preference, something they do not do when it comes to behaviors they consider seriously wrong, such as spousal and child abuse, torture, and human slavery. For example, imagine the public’s reaction to a politician who said the following: “I am ‘personally opposed’ to owning a slave and torturing my spouse, but if someone thought it consistent with his ‘deeply held beliefs’ to engage in such behaviors it would be wrong for me to try to force my beliefs on that person.” A person having said that would be considered a moral monster. Yet such language is perfectly acceptable when discussing abortion. 

Second, one can question whether the research cited by Mr. Swope is an example of good social science, and whether the inferences he draws from this data are justified. The study cited by Mr. Swope “suggests that women do not see any ‘good’ resulting from unplanned pregnancy. Instead they must weigh what they perceive as three ‘evils,’ namely, motherhood, adoption, and abortion.” Mr. Swope, however, does not entertain the possibility that because these women almost always choose to kill their fetuses rather than their already born children (if they have any) he is mistaken that they “know” their fetuses are fully human. 

Yet Mr. Swope confidently infers from this study that “the pro-life movement’s own self-chosen slogans and educational presentations have tended to exacerbate the problem, as they focus almost exclusively on the unborn child, not the mother. This tends to build resentment, not sympathy, particularly among women of child-bearing age.” Mr. Swope cites numerous statistics to prove that his approach, which emphasizes appealing to the pregnant woman’s self-interest, “works.” However, I believe Swope’s statistical case is flawed in at least three ways. 

 (1) Mr. Swope does not have counterfactual knowledge of how the world would have been if the pro-life movement had not emphasized fetal humanity from its genesis. Perhaps his approach seems to work because the pro-life movement’s emphasis on fetal humanity has helped impede a worse situation. 

 (2) Even if Mr. Swope’s approach “works” in reducing the number of abortions, it does not follow that our culture is becoming pro-life. His emphasis on appealing to the pregnant woman’s self-interest (rather than her moral obligation not to kill her own child) in order to persuade her not to have an abortion may result in nurturing the type of mentality that makes abortion more acceptable even though it may become (for a time) rarer in practice. After all, there are some cases where abortion may benefit the pregnant woman. Mr. Swope has no principled argument against that sort of abortion. 

Nurturing an unprincipled self-interested culture is not my idea of becoming more pro-life, for it may have the unfortunate consequence of increasing the number of people who think that unless their needs are satisfied they are perfectly justified in performing homicide on the most vulnerable of our population. 

 (3) Because Mr. Swope admits that women who have abortions oftentimes rationalize what they are doing, how can he trust these women to give an adequate assessment of their own reasons for the abortions he admits are the result of the perverse deliberations of self-interested moral agents? Mr. Swope is right that we should do more than stress the humanity of the unborn, but we should not do less. In my judgment, there are three things that must be done in order to facilitate cultural change. First, we must persuade our fellow citizens that the unborn are full members of the human community. Second, we must show that if the unborn are human persons, one cannot be “pro-choice” on abortion and at the same time maintain that the unborn are fully human, just as one cannot be pro-choice on slavery and at the same time say that slaves are human persons. Third, we must show, both in word and in deed, that living virtuously and not autonomously is the essence of the moral life. Mr. Swope seems to stress autonomy, the first principle of the abortion culture, rather than virtue, the moral goal of the Gospel of Life. 

In conclusion, we should never forget that the reason why many women suffer from abortion is because abortion is a serious moral wrong, the killing of an innocent human person. Abortion is not a serious moral wrong because the woman suffers. Suffering may or may not accompany the committing of a serious moral wrong, and sometimes suffering accompanies that which is morally obligatory or has no moral aspect whatsoever. When, in the name of helping women, we downplay the serious moral wrong of abortion we patronize the same women we are trying to help, treating them as less than moral agents. 

This is not to say that the pro-life movement should not be in the forefront of providing alternatives to abortion so that abortion will become rare. It should and it has. But we must never forget why we are providing alternatives: abortion is a serious moral wrong that kills one life and because of that scars another.

Francis J. Beckwith
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Culture, and Law
Trinity International University California Campus 

I’m not surprised by the results Paul Swope describes in “Abortion: A Failure to Communicate.” The rhetoric that resonates with most people is the rhetoric of feeling. Liberals understand this but conservatives are just learning. It’s interesting that several of the ads end with “Think about it.” If we can just get people to think, the battle for moral sanity will be nearly won.

Paul Swope replies:

I am reminded of the famous line in My Fair Lady, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” Indeed, why can’t women be more like Professor Beckwith? I very much agree with Prof. Beckwith’s pro-life convictions, including his trenchant analysis of the moral myopia of our culture. However, I would suggest his comments may display a lack of sensitivity to the difference between moral argumentation and personal persuasion. 

If a woman stands on the ledge of a twenty-story apartment building about to jump, believing that this act will end her pain and despair and thus be somehow in her “best interest,” how should I respond? Should I read to her from the code of canon law about the objective moral sin of suicide? Am I caving in to her lower tendencies and “nurturing an unprincipled self-interested culture” by instead reaching out to her in compassion, hearing her fears and gently speaking to her of a better self, of hope for her future? The ads of the Caring Foundation do not appeal to raw selfishness, nor do they violate pro-life principles; they simply urge women to listen to their own voice of conscience, and to see the choice of motherhood as more courageous than the choice of abortion. This more “woman-centered” approach has also been adopted by most crisis pregnancy centers, who clearly have the best interests of the woman and child at heart.

 My article stated clearly that other pro-life approaches, such as teaching fetal development, are not to be abandoned. In fact, it is a lack of sophistication in varying our message to suit different audiences and objectives that has handicapped our movement. A thirty-second ad with the objective of reaching women of childbearing age is simply not the place to teach about abstract moral obligations. I passionately wish that all Americans shared my and Prof. Beckwith’s embrace of moral absolutes, but given the facts to the contrary, we should utilize whatever positive and persuasive message is available that will help a woman make the choice that is in the best interest of both herself and her child. Nor is this approach just a short-term fix that undermines the longer-term solution to our cultural problems: speaking in a compassionate and personal manner will always be at the center of transforming our culture. 

To Ralph Gillman: It is fair to say that the ads of the Caring Foundation are more emotive than analytic. At the same time, the goal is to help women reconsider, or “rethink,” their position. Those who suggest these ads merely cater to short-term emotions do not appreciate the strategy at work. We do not avoid focusing on the fetus because the fetus is not important or to let the woman “off the hook.” Instead we build from the fact that women know, deep down, that abortion kills; we move on to the next step, which is to help women listen to their own voice of conscience. Yes, we should “just get people to think,” but to think for themselves is the goal if behavioral patterns are to change.

Appetite and Eros

I must thank Gilbert Meilaender (“Gays Marrying,” May) for his generous and thoughtful remarks on my Love, Covenant & Meaning. It is deeply gratifying to see the care he took to read and then outline the basic argument. I cannot agree, however, with the theory of “eros” he upholds to maintain that “we should not emphasize [covenant] in a manner that denies the importance of erotic attraction” in marriage. He says he is unsure “what this means for Mills’ thesis” [that marriages between women and nonhetero men are very common and have more or less the same capacity for happiness and unhappiness as marriages between women and hetero men]. But my fear is that nonhetero men who are loving and faithful life partners, friends, and soul mates for their wives will hear one more voice of opprobrium in Professor Meilaender’s unsubstantiated theory about an “importance” that erotic attraction has in some way or another for the validity of every marriage. 

The basic point I wanted to make in my booklet was a pastoral one: in my opinion, most nonhetero men in Western societies override our culture’s belief that they ought not to marry the woman they love and raise a family with her. So we should realize that the habit of defining marriage as an “expression of (hetero)sexuality” imposes on nonhetero men who are in every way faithful and loving husbands and fathers an enormous burden of fear that “the” truth about them will be discovered and the relationships most important to them will be dismissed as meaningless and a fraud. 

By every research study I’m aware of, heterosexual men are very far from experiencing marriage as the expression of their sexuality. Nevertheless, hetero men rightly promise to “forsake all others” in order to gain the rewards of marriage––love, belonging, and a sense of purpose in life, usually involving the raising of a family. My argument is that those rewards seem (and are) as appealing to nonhetero men as to hetero men; so we should suppose that there are many, many nonhetero men who get married and find more or less the same fulfillment as husbands and fathers as hetero men who marry. And indeed, many nonhetero husbands have written to me, grateful that I’ve “told their story” and assured them that they are not “living a lie” before God or their fellow human beings. These men feel and believe they belong with their wives––not in lifelong celibacy (a way of life to which only a few men are called), and not in exploring “gay sexuality.” Prof. Meilaender asserts that because I maintain that marriage is not an erotic identity but an identity through a covenant for love and meaning, I therefore imply that “our creation as male and female... is unimportant to human identity.” But I argue it is precisely from a recognition that “man and woman” expresses who we are as human beings that nonhetero men still marry, though their sexual drives remain mostly or entirely focused on men. 

Because I argue there is no reason to think a nonhetero man unfit for marrying the woman he loves simply because of his “orientation,” Prof. Meilaender maintains that I suppose marriage is a construct of “rational will” and thus void of all “passion.” I emphasize, however, not the will but the heart, and argue that the primary passion––content for any good and basically happy marriage––regardless of the husband’s “sexuality”––comes from heartfelt love, faithfulness, friendship, and affection in service of a covenant for meaning and belonging. “Passion” is a very broad category. There’s nothing wrong when there’s strong “sexual chemistry” between husband and wife, but I argue there’s nothing necessarily wrong with marriages that, for whatever reasons, have little such passion, which does not in any case provide the basis for marital happiness. 

Prof. Meilaender admits that (hetero)sexual desire is too fallen to constitute from itself the primary passion––content of marriage, but he maintains that an “eros” of some sort “personalizes and humanizes” a hetero man’s “lusts after all attractive women... in such a mysterious way that [he] now desires not just any [attractive] woman but one [his wife].” If there are men who experience a sustained eros of this sort toward their wives, I congratulate them on what I think is rare good luck. Yet what Prof. Meilaender himself goes on to say seems to imply such eros doesn’t exist at all: according to him, desire blessed by eros “is not always faithful.” “The chaos to which Mills points remains... so eros must be made steadfast by covenant.” Surely this means eros does not ensure that even a hetero man desires only his wife. Accordingly, is it right to theorize about “eros” in such a way that might seem to call into question the validity of marriages between women and faithful, loving (and therefore passionate) husbands?

Jonathan Mills
Regent College
Vancouver, Canada 

Gilbert Meilaender replies:

I do not believe that I anywhere said or implied that the presence or absence of erotic attraction determined the “validity” of a marriage. I only suggested that an approach that does not take eros seriously––as seriously as it has been taken by, say, Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, and the Song of Songs––is going to miss something important in human experience. And what it misses may turn out to be important for our understanding of marriage. “Falling in love” is not the same as lusting after sexual satisfaction. Unless and until Jonathan Mills can grant the truth of this––and our need to reckon with it––his view will be to some degree defective. This, too, is a pastoral point, which it may be perilous to ignore. I agree with Professor Mills that “there’s nothing necessarily wrong” with a marriage in which husband and wife experience no strong “sexual chemistry.” I never suggested it was wrong. If, however, it is a concern for either spouse, it is a problem for the marriage. That much we ought to recognize. 

What I find bracing and good in Prof. Mills’ depiction of marriage is his emphasis on the importance of vow, covenant, and will. That is important precisely because eros, in itself, is not always faithful. Prof. Mills seems to think that by granting this I somehow undercut my argument. I can’t see why. I allow the importance of appetite, eros, and covenant. He seems to find place for only the first and third of these, and the lacuna is, I suggest, pastorally worrisome. The question is not, as Prof. Mills puts it, whether eros will “ensure that even a hetero man desires only his wife.” It will not ensure it, but that is not the point. Such a man might on occasion seek sexual gratification with a prostitute or in a one-night stand. He might also “fall in love” with another woman. The first is appetite; the second eros. Each violates and endangers his marriage, but I incline to think that his wife may more easily forgive the first than the second, and he may more easily repent of the first than the second. In any case, they are different phenomena, raising different problems for faithful marriage. A fully developed view must recognize the difference. 

None of this alters my deep respect for the insight and argument of Prof. Mills. We need to take that argument seriously, while continuing to ask for a somewhat richer and fuller account of the place of eros than Prof. Mills has given.

After Emerson

Wilfred M. McClay’s fine essay (“Mr. Emerson’s Tombstone,” May) unwittingly perpetuated a bit of historic revisionism which we can lay at Emerson’s feet. The “shot heard ‘round the world” that started the first battle of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775 occurred not at the “rude bridge” in Concord as Emerson’s “Concord Hymn” poetically states, but rather several hours earlier that day, on the town green in Lexington. It was the sound of gunfire in Lexington, where eight colonial “Minute Men” were killed while British troops were on their way to Concord, that caused Samuel Adams to say to John Hancock, “What a glorious morning for America!”, words that have become Lexington’s motto. Such literary historic liberties (including Longfellow’s famous line that Paul Revere shouted, “The British are coming!”––not likely, as the colonists were British, too; he might have said something akin to, “The Regulars are coming”)––have become part of our popular culture but do little to serve the truth.

Douglas Yeo
Boston, MA 

 Wilfred M. McClay, in an otherwise thoughtful and well-written essay, leaves us Christians with a false dilemma. He would have us choose between an “unencumbered self,” a self prefigured and represented by Emerson on the one hand, and Protestantism rightly understood on the other. The former, though illusory, Professor McClay still insists we should “never repudiate entirely” because it is part of our collective past, while the latter argues for constraints upon the self by the individual conscience and the Bible. 

It is a false dilemma because neither direction is viable. In fact, it can be safely argued that the latter self gave rise to the former self. Prof. McClay intimates as much when he writes that “We now live in an environment in which the Protestant idea has been nearly universalized but at the expense of being truncated and diminished, la Whitman, into little more than an unrestricted right of individual judgment, unbounded by any limiting principle or any source of authoritative moral rules or prescriptions.” 

This “limiting principle” cannot simply be one’s conscience and/or the Bible. The early (pre-Nicene) Church essentially had no “authoritative text.” However, it did have the Holy Spirit as well as its life together as the Church. And within each community of believers, there existed mutual accountability. One was responsible for living a moral life, both to God and the brethren. 

Prof. McClay is entirely correct in writing “Protestantism is now paying the price for its textual ways, its low ecclesiology, and its neglect of the communal and countercultural dimension of the Christian life.” We must be mindful also that genuine authority is always in Christ and the Church. It is simply not present in either the “impersonal authority of a foundational text” (Scripture) or the individual’s own conscience. Thus, if we are to encourage the “noble spark” in humanity, which truly does exist in man, and avoid the “dangerous conflagration of its own excess,” we need to cultivate a healthy ecclesiology that underscores our interdependence as the Body of Christ.

Adrian Valentino
Fort Collins, CO

I read with avid interest Wilfred M. McClay’s fine article, “Mr. Emerson’s Tombstone.” However, with all due respect, I think he proved precisely the opposite of what he intended. Professor McClay’s programmatic questions are as follows: “How did the Emersonian ideal of the autonomous self arise, and then become so prevalent in American society? Was it implicit in the nation’s very beginnings? Or did it arise out of some detour from those beginnings?” Clearly, Prof. McClay wants the reader to say “no” to the second question, and “yes” to the third, but the facts and patterns he set forth led me to do the reverse. I have been pondering these questions for ten years, since I was ordained a priest, wondering why ministering in our contemporary American culture seemed such a Sisyphean experience. In prior years, I had followed the on-again, off-again debate between David Schindler of Communio and Neuhaus/Novak/Weigel, hoping beyond hope that Schindler was incorrect, that there were not fatal flaws in the American project, rather that it just needed a good tune-up, so that one could resume being heartily pro Deo et patria. By his own words, I think Prof. McClay shows that there is indeed a (more or less) “straight line from the ‘shot heard ‘round the world’ to... gangsta rap and NAMBLA.” McClay states: “There was a procession [through American cultural intellectual history] from self-control to self-culture to self-worship.” I’m afraid that he has chosen a most apt metaphor; a procession implies a slow but steady flow, in a more or less planned direction, from the procession’s source of impetus to its natural if not inevitable finish line. Prof. McClay does a great service in pinpointing Emerson (who was curiously absent from Allen Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind ) as the link between the satisfactory Protestant/Enlightenment founding and the highly unsatisfactory present state of affairs. Please don’t get me wrong: I treasure our Protestant brethren/allies, with whom we have infinitely more in common (i.e., Christ) than we do with “Voltaire’s bastards.” It’s just that I think Prof. McClay has unwittingly demonstrated that it is only a quantitative, not a qualitative, leap from private judgment to exposed privates. In this world contaminated with original sin, I think he places too much optimistic stock in “constrained individuality,” because the individuality would not be constrained by anything objective, like the Bible, but only one’s perhaps fanciful, self-serving, subjective interpretation of the Bible. Late in his essay, Prof. McClay curiously refers to the post-Emerson “me-first” mentality as a heresy; but who can declare a heresy except some sort of objective, non-Cartesian/subjective source, such as a council, a Pope, a magisterium?

(The Rev.) Joseph M. Hennessey
St. Ann Parish
Dorchester, MA 

Wilfred M. McClay replies:

I appreciate Mr. Yeo’s kind characterization of my essay, and very much admire his Lexingtonian patriotism. But with all due respect, I think he needs to lighten up. I should have thought it was perfectly logical for me to echo Emerson’s figure of speech in an essay built thematically around Emerson and in a sentence alluding to the “Concord Hymn.” And is it not a “historic liberty” of the highest order to claim that any of these shots, whether fired in Lexington or Concord, was in point of fact “heard ‘round the world”? 

I believe Adrian Valentino has misunderstood my essay. I am not forcing us to choose between either side of the dilemma he has articulated––precisely because I could not possibly advocate either of the sides of that dilemma as he has expressed them. When I say that we should never repudiate Emerson entirely, I say so in the same sense that we should never repudiate our fathers, unless we have life––or soul––threatening reasons for doing so. Emerson is, after all, dead––which was part of the point of my title. The question is, what are we the living now to do with his memory and legacy? There are ways of moving beyond our parents without repudiating them, indeed without withholding the love and honor and gratitude that are their due––but only if we accept that our past cannot be undone, and that it is the only past we have, and the flawed parents we have are the only real parents on offer. 

When I stress the necessity for “the impersonal authority of a foundational text”––a phrase Mr. Valentino has pulled entirely out of its original context, in which I was speaking of the communitarianism of the Massachusetts Bay Colony––I am certainly not speaking of a form of interpretationless and immediate Bibliolatry, of a sort that few intelligent Protestants, even many who might be labeled “fundamentalist,” would endorse. Not only is that a straw man, but it ignores the degree to which I am talking in the essay about secular laws and worldly constitutions, and about the evolution of the self, and not only (or even primarily) about theological doctrine. 

I couldn’t agree more about the mandate to “cultivate a healthy ecclesiology.” The formulation of the Nicene Creed, which would certainly qualify as a foundational and authoritative text, was an indispensable part of that very process. But what is (I believe) unique to our present task, a task that First Things has done so much to bring into focus, involves finding common ground and creating a common discussion between and among divergent confessions and traditions whose distinctiveness is historically and existentially rooted, and which are not going to collapse into one another anytime soon. (One reason for that fact being our human inclination, and divine requirement, to honor our fathers and mothers, a commandment that those who move away from their parents’ faith are much more likely to neglect.) Indeed, those diversities shouldn’t collapse into one another, unless and until the time is right. Given that, and given the fact that (let us say) Southern Baptists are not anytime soon going to accept the authority of a magisterium, or vice versa, I would argue that we need to be asking a different set of questions than the ones raised by Mr. Valentino. 

Many of these same considerations apply to Father Hennessey’s thoughtful letter. I genuinely don’t know whether anything like the “constrained individuality” I praise can be restored as a general feature of American life, and I don’t know what form it will take if it is. It is one thing to talk about what needs to be done, and quite another to imagine doing it, particularly in the fragmented culture we now live in. In that latter endeavor, it seems to me that we will have to move in modest steps, with the long haul in mind (though not always in view), never allowing the best to become the enemy of the good. I don’t think we have any choice but to work our way through modernity and postmodernity, devising messy and intermediate solutions along the way, walking by faith and not by sight. Which is another way of saying––again––that we have no choice but to revere, and build on, and work past, the only fathers and mothers that we have.

Who Was Dorothy Day?

Many of Geoffrey B. Gneuhs’ arguments (“Revolutionary of the Heart,” May) against the, as he says, “silly” attempts of secular leftists and liberal Romans to claim Dorothy Day as one of their own are exactly on the mark. He quite rightly remarks her profound orthodoxy, her love of and devotion to the Church, and her prayerful, thoughtful, and faithful Christian rule of life. 

At the same time, I believe Mr. Gneuhs’ picture of her obscures the quite radical nature of her critique of the socioeconomic order and what she took to be the Church’s complicity in it. He is led to some statements that are not congruent with the Dorothy Day that many of us knew. 

For example, it was not just “extreme capitalism” but capitalism per se that both she and Peter Maurin criticized. In the late fifties and early sixties, Dorothy and the Catholic Worker movement presented themselves quite forthrightly as anarchists. I had many spirited arguments with her about Catholic anarchism as a practical organizing principle of political economy. In August of 1959, Dorothy, I think somewhat exasperated with me after one animated exchange, challenged me to go out into the streets of New York without a penny to live there without recourse to friends or resources. I would there, she hoped, come to understand firsthand what she regarded as the profoundly dehumanizing effects of capitalism upon the poor and upon our society. It was a challenge I accepted and from which I learned much, if not about the intrinsically dehumanizing effect of capitalism, at least about the dehumanizing effect of living in those days penniless on the streets of New York. 

Nor is it completely accurate to say, as Mr. Gneuhs does, that she would never “countenance any protest against the Church.” Indeed, my first acquaintance with the Catholic Worker movement came from a chance encounter with Catholic Workers from the house on Spring Street who were picketing St. Patrick’s Cathedral on a Sunday morning. They carried signs condemning the Church for what Dorothy regarded as the Church’s complicity in the military-industrial complex and for the Church’s own accumulation of wealth rather than the care of the poor. Afterwards we all went to Spring Street for lunch with her. She not only “countenanced” the action but also commended it. 

It was not just a “revolution of the heart” at which she and the Catholic Worker aimed, but also a transformation of both society and the Church, a transformation both practical and radical. I write not in any partisan spirit nor from devotion to her political vision––a vision, as I say, about which she and I used to argue in a most ani mated way. I simply suggest that Dorothy’s complex vision of the relationship between God, the Church, and political economy is not entirely consistent with that of either conservatives, liberals, or the left. Perhaps this explains in part why so very many people of good will and of all political persuasions find so much in her thought and her life to honor and inspire.

(The Rev.) Henry Presler
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Monroe, NC 

Geoffrey B. Gneuhs replies:

I am not sure what the point of Father Henry Presler’s letter is, other than that he was at the Catholic Worker in August 1959 and met Dorothy Day. He seems not to have read my article closely. He uses words like “capitalism,” “anarchists,” “military-industrial complex,” and so forth without ever defining these glib expressions; moreover, nowhere does he quote from Dorothy to substantiate anything he says. 

In my article, I very clearly state that she and her mentor, Peter Maurin, rejected “Holy Mother the State,” whether that be state capitalism or state welfarism. I name the radical thinkers who informed their socioeconomic critique, especially the English Distributists. Doesn’t Fr. Presler know the Distributists rejected capitalism? Has he read Gill, Belloc, and Chesterton? Dorothy explained the Catholic Worker position as “our insistence on worker ownership, on the right of private property, on the need to de-proletarize the worker, all points which have been emphasized by the Popes in their social encyclicals.” 

Moreover, I note that Dorothy’s Distributism “was kindred to the manifesto of Allen Tate and the Southern Agrarians.” Has Fr. Presler read that manifesto and its critique of modernity, of industrialism, and its call to preserve family farms and communal life? All of this was central to Catholic Worker philosophy. Dorothy was a decentralist and sometimes used the word “anarchist,” but, as she put it, “not in the popular sense.” She quoted Thomas Jefferson: “That government that governs least governs best.” 

Dorothy’s style of criticizing the Church did not, contrary to Fr. Presler’s interpretation or wish, involve “condemning.” She pointed out frequently that the institutional Church had great wealth and that many bishops and priests lived in great comfort and security. She called for the empty rooms in rectories, seminaries, and monasteries to be filled with the poor; at the least, each parish should have a hospice for the poor. 

Too often today the style of criticizing the Church has taken on ways repugnant and abhorrent to Dorothy Day. Last year outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Catholic school teachers protested so loudly Mass was disturbed; Act-Up in 1989 invaded the cathedral and desecrated the Holy Eucharist; and the Women’s Ordination Conference has “alternate liturgies” as well as protests in churches during Mass. Such behavior, as I said in my article, Dorothy would not “countenance.” Dorothy did picket, for instance with the Catholic cemetery workers in 1949, quietly, prayerfully, quoting Scripture and papal social teaching––far different from the style of many critics of the Church today. 

I would conclude by urging Fr. Presler, if he wants to effect the “socioeconomic” order according to Dorothy Day’s vision, to use his position of influence by encouraging his capitalist friends to turn their businesses into worker-owned, employee-owned concerns. The Center for Economic and Social Justice, P.O. Box 40711, Washington, D.C. 20016, promotes that idea as the third way between socialism and capitalism.

Babel Redone?

Is it just my lack of understanding, or a semantic difficulty, or is Dr. Richard J. Mouw’s article “Babel Undone” (May) a reflection of the very sort of word and value confusion he is lamenting in American society? Somehow Dr. Mouw’s “I care about your psyche” comes across as the theological version of President Bill Clinton’s syrupy “I feel your pain.” Since when is it the purpose of the Christian religion to help heal people’s split psyches? I thought the role of religion, and especially the Judeo-Christian religions, was to offer a transcendent worldview and moral system of standards to live by. I can imagine that there are several secular worldviews like egalitarianism, environmentalism, or communism that would serve to integrate one’s divided “postmodern consciousness” equally as well, if not better, than Christianity. 

Although I agree with much that Dr. Mouw says, is not his article a reflection of the relegation of religion to only the personal, individual, and emotional spheres as has been the historical case in Communist and Socialist societies and under the secular religion of egalitarianism in the United States? How can we get historic transcendent religion back into the public life of a modern society without resorting to a theocracy if religion is something isolated to one’s psyche? People’s psyches need external or “mediating” institutions––a point made by sociologist Peter L. Berger. 

To accomplish this, transcendent religion needs to be reinstituted into public life, which is the purpose of First Things and the life work of Father Richard John Neuhaus. An integrated psyche may be a helpful by-product of religious life, but I don’t believe it is its raison d’être. Perhaps Dr. Mouw has been hanging out at the Fuller Seminary School of Psychology too much.

Wayne C. Lusvardi
Pasadena, CA 

Richard J. Mouw’s “Babel Undone” describing “Heather from Glendale,” who practices witchcraft but also believes in the resurrection of Christ, effectively illustrates a new challenge facing the missionaries of American suburbia. “I Want to Believe” is the implicit motto of the popular television series The X-Files and that attitude permeates our culture, including views toward Christianity. A few decades ago people were skeptical of the Resurrection because it challenged the cohesiveness of the modernist worldview. Today I find that people have no trouble accepting Christianity’s historical claims precisely because those claims don’t challenge any cohesive worldview; they are just more facts, which need not mean anything. Instead of operating with a few givens in life and interpreting new information according to them, many people now accept all (even contradictory) facts as givens, and have ceased altogether from constructing anything cohesive upon them. Thus, in the eyes of the world the Christian message has graduated from manifest falsehood to meaningless truth. 

How should we missionaries engage such a mindset? We must recognize that today’s Heather from Glendale actually represents one step forward and two steps back from yesterday’s Doubting Thomas. Many are those who have not seen, yet have believed, but few are those who, having believed, proclaim, “My God and my Lord!” We need to help people make that formerly obvious transition. Only then will our historical claims once again translate into moral claims. But we must expect scorn as we help translate, for to draw conclusions is to be as narrow as the Way.

(The Rev.) Peter A. Speckhard
Community of Faith Lutheran Church
Spring Grove, IL

 Richard J. Mouw states that “students don’t seem to put much stock on coherence and consistency” and describes how some students whom he has observed blend without apparent strain an evangelical Bible study one night with a New Age meditation group on another night, or join a commitment to Christianity with one to Wicca. Mouw is not the only one to have observed such inconsistencies; allow me to tell you my favorite such story. A few years ago, a bright young woman majoring in Chemical Engineering talked frequently with me about her religious life and her efforts to become a committed Catholic. Sometimes she would join me, along with one or the other student, on one of my brisk early morning walks during which we’d say the rosary and then debate current issues (the rosary lasted fifteen minutes, the walk forty-five). One of the last conversations I had with her left me concerned. She had discovered Ayn Rand and fallen in love with her philosophy of life. I tried to suggest to her that Rand was not the best guide for the Christian life, that her views practically made community impossible, and that her rationalism excluded any place for God. My warnings didn’t seem to dull any of my student’s enthusiasm for Rand. Three years after her graduation, I received a letter from her. She wanted me to write a letter of support for her as part of an admissions process to a contemplative order of nuns. I did so, but then included along with the letter of recommendation another letter recalling our conversation about Ayn Rand. I asked her how she made the journey from that way of thinking to the contemplative religious life. She wrote back to me the following letter: Thank you for the recommendation. I still agree completely with my understanding of the philosophy of Ayn Rand: every action should be purposeful; each person should be concerned with himself and no one else unless he chooses; non-achievers must take from achievers to survive; achievers make the world operate. I applied Rand’s principles to myself and decided to become a nun. The only purpose in life is to honor God. I need to greatly expand my relationship with God and pray much more often and with more concentration than I do. I am not an achiever in the secular world. I will be an achiever in the cloistered lifestyle because I enjoy silence and need to intensify my relationship with God. By choosing prayer as my vocation, I can help many people forever instead of spending the rest of my life performing tasks that will benefit a few people only during their earthly life. Thank you again for your letter of recommendation. I could never have made a transition from Rand to religious life. But I can see how this student made the transition... a transition marked by a strange sort of consistency and an almost logical coherence. Perhaps other students will also bring seemingly contradictory views together in ways that we cannot now imagine or even wish to imitate. In any event, I will continue to pray my rosary and write letters of recommendation.

James L. Heft, S.M.
Chancellor University of Dayton
Dayton, OH

Southern Comfort

Frederica Mathewes-Green (“Go Ahead, Offend Me,” May) observes, “The original languages of the Bible...use different terms for singular and plural ‘you,’ yet even the most emphatic proponents of literal translation aren’t insisting we go back to ‘thee’ and ‘thou.’” What’s wrong with “you” and “you all”? They were alive in 1611, and when I last checked they were still kicking. Perhaps the problem isn’t that “archaic, discarded terms can’t be resurrected, even if they’re more precise,” but simply that not enough of the translators are from the South.

J. Budziszewski
Departments of Government and Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin

Religion and the Founding

Christopher Wolfe’s review (May) is gracious and helpful but ultimately concedes too much to Michael Zuckert, whose book The Natural Rights Republic identifies the source of America’s founding neither in classical republican, Christian, Whig historical, or Scottish Enlightenment thought but rather in modern liberal conceptions. For “modern liberal” read secular. Perhaps “concedes” is too strong: rather I should say Wolfe “only murmurs where he should roar,” especially should he roar when Zuckert minimizes religion’s role in America’s founding. 

Zuckert should immediately be rapped on the knuckles for three points in particular. First, in dismissing the continuity between America’s natural-rights dominated political thought and earlier Puritan thought, Zuckert ignores Professor Quentin Skinner’s insight that it was the sixteenth-century Puritans of France, the Huguenots, who first developed our modern rights-based political concepts, concepts that then were taken by Calvinists to the Netherlands and from there to England during the Saints Revolution of the 1640s. Smells of religion to me. 

Second, Zuckert understands the Declaration of Independence to be a thoroughly “Lockean” document, thereby inferring it to be secular. Lockean yes, secular no. Locke did carve out a political sphere independent of churchly authority; however, the intellectual underpinnings for this separation of spheres were not secular/skeptical but profoundly theological. As Professor Richard Ashcraft has taught us, Locke with his theologically informed reasoning is a direct descendent of medieval and Reformation political thinkers rather than an agnostic, Enlightenment radical. 

Lastly, Zuckert’s reliance on the Declaration’s citing of “the laws of nature and nature’s God” as evidence of the modern liberal God of nature displacing the old-fashioned God of supernature seems misplaced. The concept of laws of nature is as ancient as the Bible. Indeed, the Bible’s highlighting of miracles is nonsensical without just such a backdrop of nature; miracles are only “wonders” or “signs” if they break from the normal and natural. If everything is a miracle then nothing is especially miraculous. Later, the medieval theologians’ disputations were laced with references to the “laws of nature”; the context of these references––theological disputations––and the identity of the disputants––theologians––suggest that the references were anything but secular. Later still, Locke’s own Second Treatise made clear that by positing a “state of nature” he did not thereby posit a modern, Hobbesian absence of a law of nature rooted in a transcendental supernature. To the contrary, Locke wrote, “A state of nature is not a state of license but... has a law of nature to govern it.... And reason is that law...which [is] the law of God.” Lockean yes, secular no.

Paul M. Miller
Bellevue, WA

The Price of Protest

The Public Square (“Remembering the Holocaust,” May) properly chastises the New York Times for an absurd attempt to blame Pope Pius XII, in effect, for not halting the Holocaust. Just how effective one Catholic protest of Jewish persecution was can be seen in Waltraud Herbstrith’s Edith Stein: A Biography

Outraged at Nazi deportations, the bishops of Holland issued a pastoral letter which was read at all Masses on Sunday, July 26, 1942, stating in part: “Let us beseech bring about a just peace in the world and to strengthen the people of Israel so sorely tested in these days.” 

Four days later, Dr. William Harster, Nazi security chief in the Hague, wrote in his journal: “Since the Catholic bishops have interfered in something that does not concern them, deportation of all Catholic Jews will be speeded up and completed within the coming week. No appeals for clemency shall be considered.” 

On Sunday, August 2, 1942, all Holland’s Catholic Jews, including Carmelite nuns Edith Stein and her sister Rosa, were arrested by the Nazis. As can best be determined, the Catholic Jews of Holland and enough other Jews to fill the boxcars of a train were shipped on August 7 to Auschwitz, where on August 9 all were exterminated. 

Edith Stein had been approved for transfer to a Carmelite convent in Switzerland, but chose to remain in Holland until her sister could also leave. Whether or not their lives might have been spared without the Dutch bishops’ pastoral letter will never be known.

Joseph F. Mattingly
Lexington, KY

Speaking Truth to Power

Regarding “The Case of the Uppity Nun” (Public Square, May): Mother Angelica has no choice but to challenge public statements that diminish the Church’s role as the vehicle for the Holy Spirit to bear the Incarnation through time. Politicized clergymen who attempt to build power bases by pandering to fringe groups distort the Christian identity along with the Truth. God has given Mother a razor wit and sharp tongue––she confronts without much diplomacy. I suppose that is why Cardinal Mahoney has adopted an “I’m going to tell my Pope on you” attitude. In many churches during Holy Week there are reenactments of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. One would hope that it would remind the powerful in the Church that once in a while they have to get down with the towel. Life is short. Eternity is long. Millstones are heavy.

Nancy E. Hanel
Ijamsville, MD

Father Neuhaus, the Sleuth

Regarding the New Oxford Review editorial comment where, as quoted by Father Richard John Neuhaus, we said, “In orthodox Catholic publishing, some of our astute colleagues have apparently decided to take a low profile or in effect sit on the sidelines” in the struggle for orthodoxy in the Church (While We’re At It, May): I can’t imagine why Fr. Neuhaus might have thought we had Deal Hudson at Crisis, Philip Lawler at Catholic World Report, or Father Joseph Fessio in mind. Good grief! They’re militantly orthodox. 

As for Fr. Neuhaus’ intriguing detective work on those “powerful people” in a “glitzy corporate boardroom” who are out to “stop” NOR lest we “corner the market on Catholic orthodoxy”: Is Fr. Neuhaus referring to the fact that our orthodox colleagues at Our Sunday Visitor and the National Catholic Register have banned NOR's highly effective ads? If so, is he trying to signal that the well-heeled corporations that publish those papers acted in concert to stifle healthy competition? If so, I’m grateful for the tip-off. 

Fr. Neuhaus slyly suggests that our move from thirty-two pages per issue to forty pages threatens the corporate types. Well, as of June we have forty-eight pages (again with no increase in price). So it’s time for Fr. Neuhaus to do some more boardroom eavesdropping. We eagerly await his next dispatch. 

I’m not at all surprised that Fr. Neuhaus has no sympathy for anyone who would try to “stop” NO, for I’ve always known him to be big-hearted and a good sport, but I am surprised he isn’t a big fan of our ads. As he notes, our Reader Survey showed that, among other religious periodicals, First Things is the favorite of our readers. Of the readers whom FT and NOR have in common, many came to NO, and now come in increasing numbers, via our ads in FT, and many others have come to FT via the NOR mailing list, who came to NOR in the first place via our ads in other periodicals. If, as Fr. Neuhaus opines, our ads are “hype,” “sensationalist,” “silly,” and not “sensible,” what does that say about a nice slice of Fr. Neuhaus’ readers? A word to our esteemed friend: It’s not very sensible to question the good sense of one’s own readers.

Dale Vree,
Editor New Oxford Review
Berkeley, CA