The Public Square
Our reviewer had some very positive things to say about Cynthia Gorney’s Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars (Dave Andrusko, “The Pro-Life Movement Then and Now,” November 1998). Phyllis Orrick interviews Gorney in the New York Press, and the interview sheds light on the troubled minds and souls of people who know there is something radically wrong with the abortion regime of Roe v. Wade (1973), yet hold on tenaciously to the claim that they are “pro-choice.” Orrick, who graduated from high school in 1970, says of that time, “If you even questioned the pro-choice position, it was blasphemy.” She asks Gorney, “Did you get unnerved when you began to understand the other side?” Gorney: “You sort of back into it. The first thing you learn is there are enormously intelligent and thoughtful people on both sides of this. I’m a fairly conventional modern American woman of my age group. . . . I should have been old enough to know these stories, but somehow they’re not part of our folklore, they’re not known.”
Among the things Gorney learned in the course of her research is that in the late 1960s and early 1970s “all the impetus for the right-to-life movement was coming from Catholics. It’s important to say Catholics and not the Catholic Church. Although the Church, capital C, was opposed to abortion, one of the things that really p——-off a lot of the people who were involved in early opposition efforts is this notion, which in part comes from old-fashioned anti-Catholic bigotry, that they were only doing what they were doing because they were snapping to attention under the orders of some leader, i.e., the Pope. That’s an old calumny that Catholics have been dealing with for decades.” As for the Protestants, evangelical and oldline, at that time they were all on the other side. “When Roe came down, the Southern Baptist position was, ‘We don’t like abortion; but it can be acceptable under certain circumstances.’ Second, ‘We don’t like these Roman Catholics shoving their collective position down our throats.’“ Only in the late 1970s did evangelical Protestants finally come aboard the pro-life cause, where today they are frequently in positions of leadership.
Gorney has definite views also about pro-abortion organizations such as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL): “They have a very nice suite of offices in downtown Washington; they have a massive fundraising campaign every year. They have a lot of employees, good people all, and what do they do if the battle’s won? I don’t know the answer.” But she has some advice for the pro-abortion movement: “You need to get out of the defensive crouch, and you need to see that to a large extent you have won the battle. It’s not going to be illegal in this country unless five members of the Supreme Court drop dead tomorrow and a Republican is President.”
In researching the book, Gorney came to the conclusion that there is no doubt about it being a baby that is killed by abortion. Her explanation of how she deals with that, which is both candid and confused, is not without interest. “If we’re going to make policy on it, we probably should see what it is that we’re making legal. Then we may do what we need to do, which is to say, ‘this is really horrible, and we have to do it anyway.’ See, that’s what I think the tactic ought to have been on some level from the very beginning. . . . Like you have to take responsibility for what you’re doing. Another problem is, if you’re going to take a pro-choice position in this country, you have to be willing to say, ‘I understand this is moral hypocrisy, I wish it weren’t so, but it’s better than the alternative.’ It is moral hypocrisy when we say, ‘In this room, you get to get rid of your twenty-weeker and we’ll call it a fetus, and in that room, we’re going to do everything we can to save your twenty-weeker and call it a baby.’“
Recall Paul Swope’s article, “Abortion: A Failure to Communicate” (FT, April 1998), which describes how women who acknowledge that they are killing their children nonetheless say it is the least of three evils. The two greater evils, in this view, are keeping the child or giving birth to a child who will be adopted, either of which, these women believe, would be a kind of “death” for them. Better the baby should die. In the Gorney interview, the “alternative” to this “really horrible” thing is illegal abortion, or at least that’s the way the editors played it, picturing her against a field of opposing placards, one depicting coathangers and the other unborn children. But, of course, the coathanger is not the alternative. Were abortion entirely outlawed, there would no doubt be some illegal abortions, and they would be as “safe” for the woman as are today’s abortuaries. The technology of abortion is inexpensive and readily available, and abortionists will not need to—and, in fact, never did—resort to coathangers.
The Price of Admission
One real “alternative” is for Cynthia Gorney and people of like conviction to stop calling themselves pro-choice. That would come with a price, however. She would not then be given a flattering interview in New York Press, or almost anywhere else outside the pro-life movement. And it is very doubtful that Simon & Schuster would be interested in her next book, at least if it dealt with abortion. Saying that you are pro-choice—no matter how reluctantly pro-choice—is the admission ticket to the American establishment. The discussion of the “alternative” raises a yet more interesting question. Several years ago in the New Republic, Naomi Wolf launched the argument among feminists and pro-choicers that abortion should be defended with the candor and moral anguish that befits the killing of a child. The pro-abortion movement has resisted that argument, and understandably so. Its leaders rightly fear that their cause cannot survive the truth of what is done in abortion.
Championing “moral hypocrisy” is not a winning platform. One cannot coherently say that innocent human beings have an inherent right not to be killed and, at the same time, say that people have a private right to kill innocent human beings. Some people, perhaps many people, can live with such a flagrant contradiction, but it is not sustainable over the long run. Its unraveling would not require the sudden death of five Supreme Court justices. NARAL and Planned Parenthood know that. Their defense of the license created by Roe is utterly dependent upon perpetuating the lie, denying what it is that abortion does.
For Cynthia Gorney and those of like conviction, the “alternative” is acting on the truth they know. It is saying something like this: “I have been forced to recognize that abortion is the killing of an innocent child, and that is always wrong. We must do everything we can to work toward a society in which every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. I don’t know exactly how we do that, but I do know there is no more urgent and public question than the question of who belongs to the community for which we accept common responsibility. I am not pro-choice.” Unlike the embrace of “moral hypocrisy,” that alternative will exact a social price.
On Not Doing Without
The Rev. Diane Walker is a United Church of Canada minister serving four rural parishes outside Hamilton, Ontario, and a great fan of this journal. Which is another reminder that you cannot always judge clerics by their denomination. She also very much likes my book Freedom for Ministry, and uses it in supervising pastoral interns and seminarians. But . . . she thinks my discussion there of money and ministry must have been written by a celibate. She doesn’t quite put it that way, but she would be right if she did. Others have raised similar questions about that part of the book—which, I should add, is not a big part of the book—but nobody has put it so well as she does in her letter, which, with her permission, I herewith propose for your reading:
“Some years ago, when our four children were little I agreed wholeheartedly with what you wrote about the simplicity of the pastoral home operating on a rather limited budget. We lived in a manse, on one pastor’s income, and a little extra that came in from supply preaching by the other preacher in the house. The children had home-made cookies and home-made trousers and we lived very carefully, below the government-defined poverty line and eligible for full subsidy at nursery school and the YMCA. For the past year, we have been living on one and three-quarters pastoral incomes, putting us about the middle of the middle class. We have purchased our own home, with a big mortgage. Our income is bigger but so are our expenses: the mortgage of course, but also high levels of savings for children’s education and our own retirement. It would not do to rely on inheritances from parents or the benefices of our children for our own old age, and while manse living means being free of the headaches of home ownership (the hot-water tank and the roof are someone else’s problem), retiring from a manse means retiring homeless, and few can save from a minister’s salary to take on a mortgage at age sixty-five. Yes, the denomination does provide a ‘retirement village,’ but the thought of spending one’s golden years in a never-ending presbytery meeting is a mighty spur to saving. So here we are with an income bigger than we could ever have imagined, which outgoes as quickly as it incomes.
“But, because you have written in a rather idealistic way about the gracious simplicity and peacefulness of living with great financial constraint, now that I have done that, I want to tell you about the freedom that has come to our household with the injection of a little extra cash. To know that we can order pizza for supper a couple of times a month, and go on a vacation every third year, and tell the orthodontist to go ahead with the treatment plan, these are wonderful luxuries. Yes of course, all of our sports equipment is still second hand, and we buy no-name groceries, and we drive our cars until they lie down and die. We still only eat steak a few times a year and a roast of beef is a big occasion. But oh, the luxury of walking into the grocery store and knowing I can buy pretty well what I want, the delight of being able to hand the eleven-year-old the ten dollars to go to the movies with the other girls on the block.
“You see, even when their parents have made decisions about simplicity and aiming for a nonmaterialistic life, children still need shoes, and while they may not need Nikes or Reeboks, unfortunately ministers and their families tend to live in middle-class neighborhoods and have middle-class friends. So when the class trip lasts four days and costs three hundred dollars, it is important that your thirteen year old be able to afford to go. After all the years of ‘Perhaps next time’ and ‘Well we’ll see,’ I had so much fun that back to school season when, for the first time, each of them got a new back pack and new shoes.
“I do worry about us getting caught up in the mindless, rampant consumerism of our culture, or, more specifically, I worry about it happening to our kids. We undertake all manner of attempts to counteract it, by giving and encouraging them to give, and by making the really conspicuous consumerism in our house focus on books and music, concerts and tuition fees. There is a mighty spiritual danger in having, owning, acquiring, desiring. But my caution is that we not idealize, too much, the notion that doing without is always the very best training for our children. It can teach them envy, discontent, and resentment, even when our goal is to teach them the joys of living simply and in accordance with God’s will.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel
I first met Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1965, when he was fifty-eight and I a kid of twenty-nine. The occasion had to do with defending protestors against the Vietnam war, which led to the formation of Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam (CALCAV). We hit it off in a big way, and ours became an intense intellectual and spiritual friendship until his death in December 1972. We both loved to argue, and mainly we argued about the connections and conflicts between the Jewish and Christian ways of being children of Abraham. I thought he was too enamored of what I viewed as an excessively easy pluralism. He thought I was too insistent in my Christian particularism. For hours beyond number we went back and forth, often in his book-crammed office high in the tower of Jewish Theological Seminary, he smoking his cannon-sized cigars and I puffing on my pipe until the air was so thick we had to open the window even in the dead of winter. (He quit the cigars after a minor heart attack a few years before he died.) Of course I learned much more than he did from these exchanges. Heschel was a very learned man, and a great soul.
His books are still in print (e.g., The Earth is the Lord’s, The Sabbath, Man is Not Alone, God in Search of Man) and I warmly recommend them. Since his death twenty-six years ago, something of a Heschel cult has sprung up. In fact, it had already sprung during his lifetime. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death, the first volume of the biography by Edward Kaplan and Samuel Dresner appeared, Abraham Joshua Heschel: Prophetic Witness (Yale University Press). It has been admirably and admiringly reviewed by Rabbi David Novak, one of Heschel’s star students, in these pages (October 1998). It is also reviewed in Commentary by Jon Levenson of Harvard, a frequent contributor to this journal, under the title “The Contradictions of A. J. Heschel.” While Levenson, too, admires Heschel, he has some big problems.
Heschel came from a dynasty of hasidic rabbis in Poland, took his doctorate at the University of Berlin, succeeded Martin Buber as head of the Lehrhaus in Frankfurt, and, after escaping Nazism to America, became the most read and most influential Jewish theologian of his time. He was a devoutly observant Jew who believed there are many ways to the truth. Kaplan and Dresner say it is a wonder that he was able to “reconcile” the different worlds of which he was part. Levenson is not sure that he did. “The question of the authority of halakhah, traditional rabbinic law in all its specificity, is the most obvious point of division between the traditionalist world of Heschel’s origins and Jewish secular modernity. But it is, or should be, a no less troubling point of division between the world he grew up in, and whose basic religious dictates he continued to follow, and the world of religious but non-Orthodox Judaism in which he spent his entire professional life both in Germany and later in the United States.” Levenson’s conclusion is that “it was not out of the reconciliation but out of the collision of the several worlds in which he traveled that his most profound reflections on Jewish theology and spirituality were born.”
It is for others to figure out the “contradictions” in Heschel’s way of being Jewish. I am interested here in another question about Heschel’s thought that Levenson raises, a question that was at the heart of our friendly but intense disagreement. He notes that at the University of Berlin Heschel immersed himself in the emerging fields of aesthetics, phenomenology, and psychology (a combination in which another Polish thinker of the time was also deeply immersed—Karol Wojtyla, later to be Pope John Paul II). From this he developed his crucial understanding that God is always the Subject and man the object of divine action; the initiative is always with God. In Heschel’s case this was combined with the dominant liberal Protestantism of Berlin that pitted the prophetic against the priestly, and the authentically spiritual against the religiously institutionalized. As Levenson observes, this “very dubious dichotomy . . . was a staple of Protestant biblical studies and was, moreover, often linked to anti-Jewish (and anti-Catholic) polemics.”
Truth in Tradition
I think Levenson is on to something here. I want to say this very carefully, but I did at times discern a liberal Protestant streak in Heschel’s thinking. In connection with my insistence on the particularity of Jesus as the Christ, he thought I should be more accommodating, like our mutual friends at Union Theological Seminary (across the street from Jewish Theological). Union was and is a bastion of liberal Protestantism. I will leave it to Levenson and others to worry about whether there was a contradiction between Heschel’s leanings toward liberal universalism and his being an observant Jew. But from a Christian perspective, Heschel’s uneasiness with my particularism reflected a suspicion of the incarnational.
His passionate fear, shared by liberal Protestantism, is that religiosity should somehow try to take God captive. It is a legitimate fear but, when unrestrained, leads to other equally grave distortions. There is a lovely phrase in Christian theology: Finitum capax infinitum—the finite is able to hold the infinite. Heschel said he believed that, but I am not sure how he did. It is precisely on the possibility of the incarnational that another Jewish theologian, Michael Wyschogrod, has made such valuable contributions. (See my discussion of Wyschogrod in FT, January 1997). Among all the reasons that I am sorry Heschel died so early is that we never got a chance to discuss Wyschogrod in this connection. Not to mention related contributions by David Novak and others. Serious theological engagement between Christians and Jews has, thank God, greatly advanced in these twenty-five years.
Make no mistake, however. Heschel had a great appreciation of the embodiment of truth in tradition. He was fond of telling the story of a woman who approached him in the synagogue, complaining that the service did not say what she wanted to say. “Madam,” he responded, “you have it precisely backwards. The idea is not for the service to say what you want to say but for you to want to say what the service says.” As many long-suffering congregations know, I am fond of using that in homilies.
Heschel was a great soul in a time of spiritual cripples. He looked like a prophet. It was not only little children who said that he looked like what you think God may look like. He was something of a showman, and he knew it. He knew so much, he understood so much, and he wrote like an angel. I count it among the very great gifts of my life that he was my friend.
Religion Within the Limits of Liberalism
The editors of Commonweal were taken aback by recent assertions by two sociologists, Father Andrew Greeley and Professor Peter Berger. Greeley, writing in Commonweal, says that the significance of Vatican II is that individual Catholics “decided that it was not wrong to be Catholic on their own terms.” In the Church today, says Greeley, people who disagree with official positions and want decisions to go in another direction simply “anticipate such decisions and change on their own authority.” In “Liberalism and Its Limits,” the editors indicate a deep uneasiness about such freelancing.
They also find surprising Berger’s essay in the Christian Century (“Protestantism and the Quest for Certainty”), in which he suggests that the future of mainline/oldline Protestantism may be to cater to those who see no alternative to “modern skepticism.” Sola fide—“faith alone”—means living with uncertainty, says Berger. This assumes a “contradiction” between belief and knowledge: “If we know something, there is no reason to believe; conversely, if we say that we believe something, we are implying that we don’t know.” Those who cannot or will not live with uncertainty may seek refuge in biblical fundamentalism or in what some sociologists call “strong churches” such as the Roman Catholic. The oldline Protestant market is among those who are able to “refuse the various offers of certainty.” Encouraging oldliners to consider the high promise of premising religious adherence on modern skepticism, Berger points to “the robust growth of Unitarian-Universalist churches in recent years.” (Today the Unitarian-Universalist Association counts 214,000 members, up from 176,698 ten years ago.)
The Commonweal editors seem to accept the Greeley-Berger analysis of “the realities of modern religious practices,” but indicate that more is required in order to sustain a church that is recognizably the Catholic Church. Priests and people must be accountable to a bishop who is, in turn, “accountable both to his fellow bishops and to a two-thousand-year tradition.” And, presumably, to the head of the college of bishops, the Pope. Citing Cardinal Newman, they note that “without a robust principle of authority, doctrinal development is an incoherent idea.” From a Catholic viewpoint, “relying ultimately on an individual appropriation of faith is not sufficient—practically or theologically.”
While the editors say it is not sufficient “practically or theologically,” and while they are undoubtedly right about that, their response to the Greeley-Berger thesis is almost entirely practical, indeed sociological. Touching upon the philosophical or theological, they speak of “the contest between reason and faith” in a manner remarkably similar to Berger’s view of the “contradiction” between knowledge and belief. If in fact there is such a conflict between reason and faith, belief and knowledge, as is here suggested, then it would seem that there is no reasonable alternative to the kind of uncertainty described by Berger, although Protestants might want to challenge his depiction of sola fide as an act of existential fideism. Of course a radically different understanding of these questions is advanced in the Great Tradition from Origen through Augustine and Anselm and Thomas Aquinas and Edith Stein and, most recently, John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason).
The editors are right that the Greeley-Berger argument poses problems both “practically and theologically.” The appropriate response, however, is an intellectually rigorous address to the theological, which necessarily includes the philosophical. Finally, I note in passing that Berger’s article, which is written in his typically feisty style and has deservedly attracted considerable attention, is right in noting that there are still vibrant local congregations in all the oldline denominations. They are—without exception in my experience—local churches that vehemently reject their denominational leadership’s adherence to the doctrine of modern skepticism.
The Way of Revolutions
In many ways, the best single book on the civil rights movement under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. is still the late Ralph David Abernathy’s 1989 autobiography, When the Walls Came Tumbling Down. Critics savaged the book, in part because it provided details of some of the less savory aspects of the movement, and of Dr. King’s private life, but there is no doubt that the book was intended as an act of homage to Dr. King. Each man was, beyond question, the other’s best friend. I knew them both reasonably well and am confident that was the case. Historians such as Taylor Branch (Parting the Waters and Pillar of Fire) treat Abernathy as something of a clown, an incompetent egotist who was out of his depth. But I suspect that what they have against Abernathy is that, when all is said and done, he was a deeply conservative man.
The most affecting part of his autobiography is the remembrance of his childhood in the deep South. His account radiates his immense pride in being part of the human dignity manifest in his parents and family, the Abernathies of Hopewell, Alabama. In a time when black history is told in monothematic terms of victimization, Abernathy recalled something else that once was and is now almost entirely lost. “The truth is,” he wrote in his introduction, “after a few years people tend to forget their past. . . . I find that idea a little frightening, particularly when I see so many blacks who neither remember nor understand their past. If we are to survive and prosper as a people, we cannot forget who we are or where we came from.” The autobiography is not polemical, but neither does it disguise his dismay at the still dominant fashion of blacks trashing their own history, turning it into an epiphenomenon of white racism.
Hopewell, Alabama, was a wonderful place to grow up. There were only two things, two interrelated things, terribly wrong with it: legally mandated segregation and the failure of whites to respect black folk as they deserved to be respected. When Ralph Abernathy hooked up with Martin King in the 1950s and the civil rights movement was launched, the goal of the movement was very clear: to right those two wrongs. Abernathy knew what it would mean for the movement to succeed. It would mean his parents did not have to go to the back of the line at local stores, and white folk would address them as Mr. and Mrs. Abernathy. But of course the movement became something else, an all-purpose vehicle on which sundry leftisms hitched a ride. By 1965, with the rise of “black power” and assorted “radicalizations,” the hitchhikers had taken the wheel.
Dr. King would live for three more years, but even before his death, Abernathy viewed with bewilderment what the movement had become. Who were these hordes of angry, vindictive, anti-American, countercultural, drug-tripping aliens who had hijacked his and Martin’s movement? Of course they viewed Abernathy as an anachronism, and, although it is conveniently forgotten today, they also dismissed Dr. King as “De Lawd” whose day was past. Both were derided as reformists in a time of revolution. As is so often the case with those who help set great historical forces in motion, Abernathy concludes his account, in effect, on the remorseful note: “That is not what we meant. That is not what we meant at all.” To be sure, there was all that movement rhetoric about turning the world upside down, and Abernathy contributed his share to it. But, finally, Ralph Abernathy just wanted to change Hopewell, Alabama, and other places like it—to make good places better by the decencies of freedom and respect.
These reflections are occasioned by John Lewis’ new book, Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement (Simon & Schuster, $26). Lewis, too, was from a small town in Alabama, and, like Abernathy, he remembers it lovingly. He, too, was caught up in a vortex of change he did not understand, ending up as the head of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). In the great 1963 March on Washington he was viewed as a firebrand, and almost denied his place at the podium by the older and “more responsible” leaders of the movement, including Dr. King. Soon Lewis would get his turn to be “it” in the game of more-radical-than-thou, when Stokely Carmichael and others took over SNCC to turn it into a non student violent dictatorship of “participatory democracy.” Almost overnight, yesterday’s firebrand was today’s has-been.
The first six sections of Walking With the Wind tell that part of the story, and tell it very well. The seventh and final section is about his surprise defeat of the elegant Julian Bond in a race for a Georgia congressional seat, and his reelection to that seat again and again and again. In Congress he is a conventionally liberal politician. The book does not so much conclude as it trails off into talk about keeping the faith, fighting the good fight, having a dream, and so forth. In the last chapter, titled “Onward,” we are told about his triumph in getting the plans for a freeway changed. Or maybe it was a shopping mall. Whatever. But the fragments of the dream come through in his final words: “As a nation, if we care for the Beloved Community, we must move our feet, our hands, our hearts, our resources to build and not to tear down, to reconcile and not to divide, to love and not to hate, to heal and not to kill. In the final analysis, we are one people, one family, one house—the American house, the American family.”
I’m sure John Lewis is a good and decent man. But where he has ended up is more Mario Cuomo than Martin King. That may not be an entirely bad thing, but it is yet another indication that the walls came tumbling down a long time ago.
Joseph Ratzinger, Christ’s Donkey
Born in Bavaria on Holy Saturday of 1927, Joseph Ratzinger’s life has been entirely within and for the Church, which, he is convinced, is the way of greatest service to the world. This and much else become evident in his remarkable account just published by Ignatius, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 (300 pages,, $14.95
paper), which takes the reader from his childhood to his appointment as Archbishop of Munich. The years in Rome as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will, one hopes, be the subject of another memoir. But there is a great deal in this first installment that casts light on the mind and soul of the man who, next to the Pope himself, has had the greatest intellectual influence in shaping the direction of the Catholic Church over these past twenty years.
Tolstoy was wrong, I believe, about happy families all being happy in the same way. It is unhappy families that exhibit a dreary sameness deserving of today’s dismal term “dysfunctional.” There is a freshness and wonder in Ratzinger’s depiction of the happy family in which he was reared, under the shadow of the horror that was the Third Reich. Family and Church were, for him, inseparable, and he clearly saw Hitler as the enemy of both. Nazism was at its heart a religious movement that, by its own evil lights, had to attack a Church that championed a “foreign Jewish and Roman” faith. His father, a village policeman, saw this from the beginning. “With unfailing clairvoyance he saw that the victory of Hitler would not be a victory for Germany but a victory of the Antichrist which would surely usher in apocalyptic times for all believers, and not only for believers.” Young Ratzinger had to spend some time in a military work brigade, always hoping for the victory of the allies, and being irritated by the way the Americans seemed to be taking their own sweet time in prosecuting the war. The chief lesson he draws from the war years, however, is a lesson about the Church. “Despite many human failings, the Church was the alternative to the destructive ideology of the Nazis. In the inferno that had swallowed up the powerful, she had stood firm with a force coming to her from eternity. It had been demonstrated: The gates of hell will not prevail against her.”
From his childhood to the present, the Church is exemplified, above all, in her liturgy. This, his memoir suggests, is what has gone most seriously wrong since the Second Vatican Council. As a young boy, “It was a riveting adventure to move by degrees into the mysterious world of the liturgy which was being enacted before us and for us there on the altar. It was becoming more and more clear to me that here I was encountering a reality that no one had simply thought up, a reality that no official authority or great individual had created. This mysterious fabric of texts and actions had grown from the faith of the Church over the centuries. It bore the whole weight of history within itself and yet, at the same time, it was much more than the product of human history.” As a seminarian and young priest he was a great proponent of the liturgical movement, and was later gratified to see its principles embodied in the Council’s constitution on the liturgy. “I was not able to foresee that the negative sides of the liturgical movement would later reemerge with redoubled strength, almost to the point of pushing the liturgy toward its own self-destruction.”
What happened is that the liturgy suddenly became something other than the lived experience of the Church through the centuries. The “new liturgy” of Paul VI was the product of liturgical experts imposed by official authority. Within half a year, the old Missal, which had its roots in “the sacramentaries of the ancient Church and had known continuous growth over the centuries,” was almost totally prohibited. This “introduced a breach into the history of the liturgy whose consequences could only be tragic.” The liturgy appeared “no longer as a living development but as the product of erudite work and juridical authority”; it became something “made,” something within our own power of decision rather than something received as a gift. “I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today largely derives from the disintegration of the liturgy. . . . This is why we need a new liturgical movement which will call to life the real heritage of the Council.”
Always a Questioner
Milestones testifies to a young man’s spiritual and intellectual excitement in engaging theological, philosophical, and scientific movements that opened up new worlds. “Being young, we were questioners above all,” he says. There were de Lubac and Danielou recovering the early fathers, Martin Buber and personalism, and in the sciences thinkers such as Planck and Heisenberg moving beyond the Enlightenment’s rationalist scientism and its hostility to religious thought. There was, above all, the encounter with Augustine, whom Ratzinger still calls “my great master.” He cannot say the same of Thomas Aquinas, “whose crystal-clear logic seemed to me to be too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready-made.” He allows that this is probably because he was presented with “a rigid, neo-scholastic Thomism,” but, in any event, he thought Thomas “simply too far afield from my own questions.”
He was most deeply engaged by biblical scholarship and writes that “exegesis has always remained the center of my theological work.” His academic career was almost derailed when his Habilitation (the degree beyond the doctorate and necessary for teaching) was not accepted the first time around. He wrote on the concept of revelation in the High Middle Ages, and especially in Bonaventure, and offended a teacher who thought himself to be the expert on such questions. Much Catholic theology, he says, had fallen into the habit of referring to Scripture—or to Scripture and tradition—as “the revelation,” as though it were a thing. From Bonaventure he learned that revelation is always an act. “The word ‘revelation’ refers to the act in which God shows himself, and not to the objectified result of this act. Part and parcel of the concept of revelation is the receiving subject. Where there is no one to perceive revelation, no re-vel-ation has occurred because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it.”
Later, as a peritus (theological expert) at the Council, he would come to see the importance of recognizing the Church as the apprehending subject in revelation. Theologians at the Council began to speak of the “material completeness” of the Bible, and Ratzinger suggests that this “catchword” resulted in a curious and mischievous version of sola scriptura. “This new theory, in fact, meant that exegesis now had to become the highest authority in the Church,” he observes. Everything was to be subjected to the judgment of biblical scholarship, and biblical scholarship was understood in “scientific” historical-critical terms. The consequence is that “faith had to recede into the region of the indeterminate and constantly changing that is the very nature of historical or would-be historical hypotheses.” Although the idea of the Bible’s “material completeness” was rejected by the Council, the after-life of the phrase has distorted the way in which the Council has often been understood. “The drama of the post-Conciliar era,” Ratzinger writes, “has been largely determined by this catchword and its logical consequences.”
Scripture and Magisterium
The crisis in biblical interpretation was the Cardinal’s subject when we invited him to give the Erasmus Lecture here in New York in 1988 (see Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The Ratzinger Conference on the Bible, Eerdmans, 1989). In the present book he puts it this way: “Scripture is the essential witness of revelation, but revelation is something alive, something greater and more: proper to it is the fact that it happens and is perceived—otherwise it would not be revelation. Revelation is not a meteor fallen to earth that now lies around somewhere as a mass of rock from which you can take rock samples and submit them to analysis in a laboratory.” The historical-critical method is the “analysis of rocks,” while the life of the Church is the tradition that apprehends the truth, and that apprehending subject is essential to what is meant by revelation.
In discussing other theologians with whom he worked in the university, Ratzinger has nothing but generous things to say about Hans Küng, who would later become the most famous of theological dissidents. Early on he worked with Karl Rahner, perhaps the most influential academic theologian in the post-conciliar period, on a number of projects and came to realize that “Rahner and I lived on two different theological planets.” Although they agreed on many things, including the above-mentioned question of Scripture and exegesis in the life of the Church, their approach to theology could not have been more different. Despite Rahner’s reading in the patristic literature, “His theology was totally conditioned by the tradition of Suarezian scholasticism and its new reception in the light of German idealism and Heidegger. His was a speculative and philosophical theology in which Scripture and the Fathers in the end played no important role and in which the historical dimension was really of little significance. For my part, my whole intellectual formation had been shaped by Scripture and the Fathers and by profoundly historical thinking.” It was only a matter of time before his “parting of the ways” with Rahner became evident to all.
Ratzinger was gratified by the decisions of the Council, but how they were being perceived among theologians was another matter. “The impression grew steadily that nothing was now stable in the Church, that everything was open to revision. More and more the Council [was viewed] as a big church parliament that could change everything and reshape everything according to its own desires. Very clearly resentment was growing against Rome and against the Curia, which appeared to be the real enemy of everything new and progressive.” The theologians at the Council were seen, and appeared to see themselves, as the real authorities in the Church, eclipsing the teaching office of the bishops. “In his time, Luther had exchanged his priestly robes for the scholar’s gown in order to show that the Scripture scholars in the Church were the ones who had to make the decisions.” Something very similar was happening again.
Later, during the student turmoil of 1968, the entirety of the Christian tradition came under scathing attack from Marxist ideologists in the university. Ratzinger suggests that he was naive in assuming that the theology faculties would be a bastion of sanity: quite the opposite turned out to be the case. While his own lectures continued to be well attended and well received, many of his theological colleagues were all too eager to get on the good side of the putative revolution. At this point he began to discover what would later be called “the ecumenism of the trenches,” as he made alliances with Evangelical (Lutheran) colleagues who appreciated what was at stake. “We saw that the confessional controversies we had engaged in up until now were small indeed in the face of the challenge we now confronted, which put us in a position of having to bear common witness to our common faith in the living God and in Christ, the incarnate Word.”
In the mid-1970s he was embarked on the ambitious project of writing a dogmatics when his academic life was disrupted by his surprise appointment as Archbishop of Munich (actually, Munich and Freising). His reflection on the way he was received as bishop echoes his earlier description of the response of the people when, as a young man, he had been ordained priest. “So many people were welcoming my unknown person with a heartfelt warmth and joy that could not possibly have to do with me personally, but that once again showed me what a sacrament is: I was being greeted as bishop, as bearer of the Mystery of Christ. . . . The joy of the day was something very different from the acceptance of a particular person, whose capacities had still to be demonstrated. It was joy over the fact that this office, this service, was again present in a person who does not act and live for himself but for Him and therefore for all.”
He does not live for himself but for Him and therefore for all. That would seem to pretty well sum up the life of Joseph Ratzinger. Not long after his appointment to Munich, the Pope asked him to come to Rome as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Augustine, his great master, had also chosen the life of a scholar but was called to be a bishop. Augustine wrote, “I am a draft animal for you, and it is in this way that I abide with you.” Ratzinger concludes his memoir with this: “I have carried my load to Rome and have now been wandering the streets of the Eternal City for a long time. I do not know when I will be released, but one thing I do know: ‘I have become your donkey, and in just this way am I with you.’“ Milestones makes it poignantly evident that, if he had had his way, Joseph Ratzinger would have fulfilled his life’s work as an academic theologian. The choice was not between being an academic theologian or a church theologian, for his understanding of his work in the academy was always to serve the Church. It was a question of how he would serve the Church, and he believes that was a decision for the Church to make and for him to obey. Some of his critics no doubt wish he had remained in the academy. Many of his admirers think his appointment as prefect of CDF deprived the Church of the enormous contribution he would have made through writing and teaching. Yet others are immeasurably grateful that John Paul II called him to a universal classroom where, in a time of darkened confusion, he has encouraged students beyond number in rekindling the lights of theological inquiry in service to Christ and his Church, and therefore in service to the world.
Literature and the Market
The question is, says a friend of decidedly libertarian propensities, whether or not you believe in the market. I’ve never been comfortable with this talk about “believing” in the market, or believing in anything other than God and His grace. Such talk smacks of idolatry. I suppose it’s the incorrigible theologian in me that weights “belief” so heavily. As for the market, I do have a devotion to freedom, a rough confidence in the common sense of most people in making decisions that affect their own lives, and a lively horror of the human costs exacted by history’s experiments in replacing the free economy with alternatives ranging from soft socialism to totalitarianism. So yes, given the options on offer, I suppose I do believe in the market.
Such heavy-duty questions were occasioned by our discussion of Charles Frazier’s best-selling novel, Cold Mountain. I had been lecturing in Cambridge at the big C. S. Lewis centennial bash and, passing through Heathrow, looked for some light reading, really bubble gum for the mind, to fill the time on the flight back. From what someone had said, Cold Mountain seemed to be just the thing, and it is, all in all, an entertaining read. It is also irritating, however. The phrase has become such a cliché that I try to avoid it, but in this case it seems exactly right. The novel is the quintessence of what is meant by political correctness. In its effort to be unconventional, it fits most neatly the conventions that are accepted by a large part of the book-buying public and demanded by the book-reviewing and book-promoting elite of the knowledge class.
My friend and former colleague Midge Decter has told me over the years, “The problem with you is that you don’t think low.” By that she means that I am inclined to respond to people with dumb ideas as though they really believe them, instead of asking what is their interest in expressing such ideas. There may be something to that. I don’t know Charles Frazier at all, but if one set out to write a best-selling novel with the economically relevant arbiters of taste in mind, the result would be something very like Cold Mountain. For all I know Mr. Frazier wrote the book with nothing but artistic integrity in mind. I should like to think so. He has produced a little romance of considerable artistry. It is also a book that could have been written from the basest motives of pandering to regnant fashions, or at least the fashions regnant among those who are determined to be fashionable.
The setting is toward the end of the Civil War, and a rebel deserter, disillusioned by the slaughter, is making his way toward his home and his sweetheart in Cold Mountain, North Carolina. His name is Inman, and he encounters numerous dangers and monstrosities along the way. Meanwhile, the heroine, Ada Monroe, a woman of beauty and refined sensibilities, is guided by Ruby, a plain-spoken creature of the earth, in making a go of a farm she’s been left by her recently deceased minister father, a kind of Unitarian half-believer who for some reason thought he had a mission to the backwoods of North Carolina. Among the many characters who come and go in the tale, all the white men, except Inman, are swinish, brutal, or phony. All the women are good, except for three sluttish daughters who have been abused by their father.The few people of color are dignified, kind, and helpful. There is the required hint of lesbian love between Ada and Ruby, but chiefly Ada learns from Ruby’s superior ecological consciousness and wondrous sensitivity to folk wisdom and Indian lore, all of which contrasts most favorably with what is called civilization.
Ada and Inman declare they don’t give “two hoots” for conventional morality, and preachers are depicted as fools and frauds. Except, of course, for Ada’s late father, who edified his hill country flock with long citations from the inspired Ralph Waldo Emerson, inviting them to join him in gnostic flight from the conventional. Inman and other rebel deserters, we are given to understand, are bitterly disillusioned with patriotism, having come to understand that the war was being fought not against unjust aggression but to protect the interests of rich slave owners. In this book the attractive Southern figures embrace the view of the war held in the North, where, conveniently, most buyers of books are to be found. Very nicely described is the encounter with an idiot hillbilly banjo player in a scene reminiscent of a memorable moment in the movie version of James Dickey’s Deliverance. In sum, the Southerners in Cold Mountain are as grotesque as enlightened Northerners have been taught to believe, except for the few who are, surprisingly enough, just like us—or at least like the way we like to think we are. And, of course, as is the way with such romances, hero and heroine are united at last and set to live happily ever after. One can almost hear the sighs of the women of Westchester upon turning the last page, languorously dreaming of their Inman who, through great trial and danger, is on his way to rescue them from a world unworthy of their elevated souls.
Writing to Demand>
As I say, it is a story entertainingly told, and the flight back to New York went fast enough. But when I complained to the friend mentioned at the start that Mr. Frazier might have been working off a check-list of politically correct positions and postures, he suggested that I failed to appreciate the wonders of the market. The greatest of artists, he asserted, have always supplied according to market demand. As examples he mentioned Picasso and Stravinsky, but that’s outside the sphere of literature, and those instances beg the question of what is great art. All right, he said, so what about Shakespeare? From what we know the Bard had a keen eye for business and catered, if he did not pander, to what audiences wanted. With this my friend touched a delicate nerve.
As it happens, each summer I try to spend some time at the family cottage in Quebec, and each summer I take along some big chunk of the Western canon to reread, or read for the first time. This summer it was the complete works of Shakespeare. So I felt ready for my friend’s challenge. Admittedly, it is not fair to compare Charles Frazier, or any writer, to the incomparable Shakespeare. Nonetheless, Cold Mountain can serve as representative of a vast genre that stands in stark contrast to Shakespeare’s treatment of what is called conventional morality. Frazier’s novel is far from being the most egregious example, but it is, for precisely that reason, the more representative.
I will not enter upon the much disputed issue of who wrote Shakespeare. (My unequivocal position is that Shakespeare was written by whoever wrote Shakespeare.) The point is that Shakespeare clearly distanced himself from the convention of not giving two hoots about conventional morality. From classical Greece through the Middle Ages and up to his own time, that convention was firmly in place. The appearance of being avant-garde and the reward of vulgar laughs were cheaply achieved by ridiculing or twitting the normative, especially in the realm of marriage and sexuality. Elizabethans such as Beaumont and Fletcher, for instance, were masters of the comic treatment of adultery and other infidelities. Not so with Shakespeare. Of course, like other dramatists of his time, he has jokes about cuckolds, but in his plays there is nothing funny about unfaithfulness or unchastity. They always invite disaster. All the troubles that come down upon the chief characters in Measure for Measure can be traced back to Claudio’s unchastity. Having wronged Mariana, Angelo must offer the only possible restitution, which is marriage. Cressida in Troilus and Cressida is neither amusing or attractive, but comes across as someone who is basically rotten to all decent men. Even in Romeo and Juliet, with its young people overwhelmed by passionate love, the fault is not with the lovers but with their parents, and the young people marry before they mate.
As the eminent G. B. Harrison observes, “His other favorite lovers, Rosalind and Orlando, Benedick and Beatrice, march naturally forward to love in wedlock. And in his later plays—The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest—Florizel and Perdita, Ferdinand and Miranda, pairs of lovers whom Shakespeare abundantly blesses, have the nicest regard for the sanctity of marriage.” I do not go so far as Joseph Sobran and some other Shakespeare buffs who find in his work most of the articles of the Catholic catechism, but he is notably respectful of religion, and of Catholicism in particular. Note, for example, the treatment of the friars Laurence (Romeo and Juliet) and Francis (Much Ado About Nothing) and the priest in Twelfth Night. Of course there is Cardinal Wolsey in Henry the Eighth, but it is perhaps impossible to make Wolsey an attractive figure; moreover—and some experts notwithstanding—I find it impossible to credit the claim that Shakespeare wrote a play so flat and prolix as Henry the Eighth.
The Stuff of Art
But I digress. The point is that greatness in art is manifest in exploring and exposing the depths and complexities in the conventional. The perennial wisdom and pieties, joined to the passions of love and ambition, and defied by vices such as greed and jealousy, are the stuff of great art and great literature. Emersonian flights of pretended uniqueness, Whitman’s unbridled indulgence of ego and desire, and off-Broadway’s latest sensation “boldly” flouting conventional morality are all, by comparison, little more than the artistic acne of troubled adolescence. But it is what the masters of the market demand, and what numerous formula writers, such as Charles Frazier (albeit with more elegance than most), are ready to supply. Fortunately—and this I must grant to my friend of libertarian leanings—the market is so maddeningly multifarious that nobody can master it completely. From that happy fact, which is not unrelated to the irrepressibility of talent and intelligence, we can derive the comfort that the conventional trashers of the conventional are not, not finally, in control. Critical readers of bestsellers such as Cold Mountain may think that cold comfort, but it is not nothing.
Why “Hate Crimes” Are Wrong
It is a sad story, and what they did to him was despicable. These guys were drinking in a Laramie bar and University of Wyoming freshman Matthew Shepard reportedly made a pass at one of them, whereupon two young men took him out, brutally beat him, robbed him, and left him tied to a fence. A few days later, he died in hospital. It immediately became a nationwide cause celebre for gay and lesbian groups agitating for hate crime laws that include “sexual orientation.” Mr. Shepard’s father expressed the hope that nobody would exploit his son’s death in order to push an agenda, but the agitators knew when they had come across a good thing. The lead editorial in our establishment paper was titled “Murdered for Who He Was.”
The editors remind us that African-Americans, Asians, Jews, Italians, Irish, and others have been victims of hatred. “Gradually, crimes motivated by hate have come to be seen as a category of their own.” It apparently took the editors some time to recognize that few such crimes are motivated by love. As to “Who He Was,” the editors describe young Shepard as being “slight, trusting, and uncertain how well he would be accepted as an openly gay freshman.” They add that he had spent time in Europe and “spoke three languages or more.” The point being made, it seems, is that this is not just another black or Puerto Rican kid who was brutally beaten and killed. The editors are saying that he is one of us. This is a young man with whom we can, as it is said, identify. This is a murder that matters.
The editors continue, “He died in a coma yesterday, in a state without a hate-crimes law.” It is hard to know what to make of that. He might have pulled out of it if Wyoming had a hate-crimes law? “Hatred can kill,” the editors portentously announce. Noted for the record. Observing with satisfaction that the killers will be tried for first-degree murder, the Times, which is otherwise adamantly opposed to the death penalty, adds, “But his death makes clear the need for hate-crime laws to protect those who survive and punish those who attack others, whether fatally or not, just because of who they are.” Apparently it needs to be made clear that beating people up and killing them is against the law. And, if it is done because of “who they are,” maybe the perpetrators should be executed more than once?
The admitted purpose of gay agitation for hate-crime laws is to have homosexual acts (which in the real world define “sexual orientation”) put on a par with religion, race, gender, and age as a legally protected category. There are many good reasons for thinking that a bad idea. But the very idea of “hate crimes” is highly dubious. Hate is a sin for which people may go to Hell. It is quite another thing to make it a crime for which people should go to jail. The law rightly takes motivation into account; for instance, whether someone is killed by accident or by deliberate intent. In the latter case, malice of some sort is almost always involved, but it is not the malice that makes the killing a crime. A murderer may have nothing personal against someone whom he kills for his money.
It is generally wrong to disapprove of people because of their religion, race, or gender, but it is not a crime. (An exception may be disapproval of someone whose religion includes committing terrorist acts.) The purpose of the gay movement and its advocates, such as the Times, is to criminalize disapproval of homosexual acts, or at least to establish in law that such disapproval is disapproved. Most Americans, it may safely be assumed, disapprove of homosexual acts. It is not within the competence of the state to declare that they are, for that reason, legally suspect. In a sinful world, sundry hatreds, irrational prejudices, and unjust discriminations abound. The homosexual movement is notable for its venting of hatred against millions of Americans whom it accuses of being “homophobic.” In whatever form it takes, hatred toward other people must be deplored and condemned. But it is utterly wrongheaded to try to make hatred illegal.
David Morrison, writing in the New York Post, offers a further reason for thinking more than twice about laws against hate crimes. He notes Newsweek‘s report that Mr. Shepard seems to have had a history of approaching “straight” men for sex. There is, says Morrison, who describes himself as a “former gay activist,” a substantial subculture of the gay subculture that goes in for “rough trade”—cruising in public places for sex with straight or semi-straight toughs. He writes, “Yet the fact that a significant number of men strongly desire and pursue public sex under occasionally dangerous circumstances should influence the ongoing conversation, spurred by Shepard’s death, about the necessity or wisdom of including sexual orientation in hate-crimes laws. . . . Americans should think long and hard about the making the feeling of repugnance at an unwanted sexual advance subject to additional penalties under the law. There is an old saying that hard cases make bad law. It seems to me that the 1990s have provided a corollary: Tragic cases can make bad laws more quickly. Americans should examine the calls for additional hate-crime legislation with extreme care. There is more at stake than any simple claim of human rights.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say, “The law cannot make you love me, but it can prevent you from lynching me. And, if you don’t lynch me, you may eventually come to love me.” We should certainly love our gay brothers, even as we disapprove of the acts that define them as gay. Loving them includes our saying, always lovingly, that they are wrong in trying to use the law to stigmatize those who disapprove of what they do, which is not, the Times to the contrary, the only or the most important thing that determines “who they are.”
While We’re At It
• It’s fine and dandy to be tolerant, but some people really do go too far. For instance, Alan Wolfe reviews Nancy L. Rosenblum’s Membership and Morals, a book on American pluralism put out by Princeton University Press, and has this to say: “Even as we pursue justice, equality, and diversity, we need to respect and to honor difference. That turns out to be a much harder task than most liberals recognize, for it also means that we need to accept a certain amount of discrimination, venality, religious orthodoxy, wrong-headedness, perversity, and snobbery. Since humans are human, politics is very hard.” Venality and perversity maybe, but do we really have to put up with religious orthodoxy?
• “These are difficult days for Reinhold Niebuhr,” writes Walter Brueggemann in Theology Today. Niebuhr (1892-1971) was this country’s premier champion of “neoorthodoxy,” which for a time successfully challenged what he viewed as the flaccid and sentimental liberalism that dominated the oldline Protestant churches. His major works, such as The Nature and Destiny of Man and The Self and the Dramas of History, had great and well-deserved influence. They stand up very well today as explorations of the human condition viewed from an Augustinian perspective and producing a “Christian realism” that takes account of the human capacity for both good and evil. But all that counts for naught in today’s faddish world of theological liberalism. Niebuhr’s difficulty, according to Brueggemann, is that “neoconservatives push him relentlessly into their camp.” He then suggests that that is where Niebuhr belongs. Critics of Niebuhr such as Stanley Hauerwas claim that Niebuhr had no real social location. On the contrary, says Brueggemann, his social context explains everything. “It is clear to me that Niebuhr is located in an immigrant community of Germans (my community too) that had endlessly to prove (through World War II) that ‘we are good Americans.’ I think his subsequent Cold War stance is dominated by that unending need. This does not make it much better, but it does deliver him from the charge of lack of context.” Note the dismissive pop psychology. Niebuhr’s liberal anticommunism can perhaps be excused in part because of his “unending need” to prove himself a good American. The poor dear wanted to belong. This despite the fact that he spent fifty years in places such as Yale and Union Seminary in New York City, was celebrated on the cover of Time and elsewhere as the most influential religious thinker of his time, and was acknowledged as one of the world’s most distinguished intellectuals. Never mind, it was all a pathetic effort to escape from the little immigrant community where he, and Brueggemann, began. (Mr. Brueggemann teaches at a theological seminary in Decatur, Georgia.) The apparent triumph of neoorthodoxy was very tenuous and very temporary. In the view of the Brueggemanns of the perduringly liberal theological establishment, Niebuhr’s unblinking recognition of human sinfulness, his uncompromised belief in the crucial difference between freedom and totalitarianism, and the fact that he is today appreciated by those terrible neoconservatives—all combine to put him beyond the pale. It does nothing to elevate the level of discourse to speculate about what “unending need” is being served by Mr. Brueggemann’s supercilious condescension toward his intellectual betters. (Brueggemann’s remarks come in the course of very favorably reviewing a new book by Hauerwas, to whom he offers “hearty thanks [and] hearty congratulations.” Hauerwas might someday write an interesting essay on why his relentless excoriation of theological liberalism is so warmly applauded by those whom he is presumably attacking.)
• The Sunday School teacher asked the class who wanted to go to Heaven and all but one boy raised their hands. “Don’t you want to go?” inquired the teacher. “Yeah,” replied the boy, “but I thought you were getting a load to go right now.” According to an Associated Press poll, nearly one out of every four Christian adults—about twenty-seven million people—expect Jesus to return in glory during their lifetimes. Only 61 percent of those are praying for his quick return. “Save me, Lord, but not yet.”
• Rivers of journalistic and scholarly ink are expended on the crisis of teenage pregnancy and promiscuity. Part of the problem, it seems, is that kids don’t know about the birds and the bees. The following is from the American Medical News: “Hanna Klaus, M.D., a natural family planning expert from Bethesda, MD, discussed her Teen STAR (Sexuality Teaching in the context of Adult Responsibility) program. Its goal is to reduce teen sexual activity by teaching them to understand their fertility. In a 1997 study of 293 female and 456 male high school freshmen, almost 12 percent of the girls and 22 percent of the boys reported that they were sexually active. By the end of the program, the percentage of teens who were sexually active dropped, with only 7.8 percent of the girls and 14.6 percent of the boys reporting engagement in sexual activity. The figures are significantly lower than those found in the general U.S. population. According to 1995 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, 22.3 percent of ninth-grade girls and 24.2 percent of ninth-grade boys are sexually active. Dr. Klaus said parents of girls reported that after participating in the program for three months, their daughters were more likely to avoid activities where sexual encounters were likely. ‘Only after coming to terms with the fact that one is now biologically capable of becoming a mother or a father can awareness of this capacity be integrated into choices about present behavior which are consistent with future life goals,’ she said. The Teen STAR program has been taught in fifteen countries since 1985.” For more information, write Dr. Klaus at 8514 Bradmoor Drive, Bethesda, MD 20817-3810. Or contact her by e-mail: email@example.com (Web site: www2.dgsys.com/~hklaus).
• Toronto’s Globe and Mail styles itself, with some justice, as Canada’s national newspaper. Even more than our Times, it is poignantly eager to be on what it nervously perceives as the cutting edge. In the last couple of years, for instance, the Globe has become particularly flagrant in promoting the cause of homosexuality. A Canadian reader suggests that the trendy turn is likely related to the paper’s theology, so to speak. He points to an editorial commenting on a claim by some archaeologists that the battle of Jericho in the Old Testament never happened. The editors write: “The story of Joshua is just one of many that have withered under the scrutiny of scientific investigation.” Unlike benighted “fundamentalists,” the editorial continues, “thoughtful and introspective people have learned to separate belief in God from systems buttressed by fact.” The editors would seem to prefer systems buttressed by fancy. “To a modern sensibility, faith is not a repeated recitation of events that happened thousands of years ago. It is imprecise, unregulated, and elusive, full of abstract wonder rather than concrete certainty, inspired by the heady miracle of existence rather than validated through religious wars and theological conflicts.” This heady muddle of opinionating is clearly incompatible with the classic Christian teaching that faith is the repeated recitation of events that happened thousands of years ago, and that truth is validated by war and conflict. To a modern sensibility, however, natural science does not necessarily lead to atheism. “We may need to make room for something else out there on the cutting edge of neuroscience and cosmology, something inexplicable, unsystematized, irreducible to dates in history, but a kind of Creator all the same: God, for lack of a better word.” Imagine reading the Globe and Mail over breakfast. Globaloney, for lack of a better word.
• It was on the radio this morning and I didn’t get the guy’s name, but apparently he made a bundle last year and has decided to do his philanthropic duty by giving a million dollars to a medical center to provide Viagra for the poor. I suppose it’s better than condoms. As Tocqueville observed, in the American democratic ethos, the egalitarian passion penetrates everywhere. Future historians might record the decline of an empire that distracted the populace with bread and Viagra.
• The self-righteous editorial pronunciamentos of the Times complaining that Pius XII was indifferent to, if he did not actually collaborate in, the Holocaust have been effectively answered by, among other things, citations from their editorials published during and immediately after the war, all praising that much abused pope for his singularly courageous witness. To this might be added an observation by the former publisher of the Times,
C. L. Sulzberger, who wrote in his 1976 book, Go Gentle Into the Night: “Pope Pius XII, the one pontiff with whom I was truly acquainted, was an interesting man who, after 1945, came in for what almost surely is an unfair amount of criticism because he didn’t stop the conflict Hitler started and because he didn’t do more to save Europe’s Jews from Nazi extermination.” (Thanks to gimlet-eyed Father James Burtchaell for bringing this to my attention.)
• This old Pope who is, as we are regularly told, out of touch with the real world continues to be the key to, among many other things, the pro-democracy revolution of our time. Adrian Karatnycky of Freedom House notes that dictatorships have been almost completely eliminated in countries with a Catholic majority. “When he became Pope in 1978, twenty-two of forty-two countries with a Catholic majority were tyrannies. All but two of these have now collapsed. These now-democratic countries include Argentina, Chile, the Czech Republic, Guatemala, Hungary, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Poland, the Philippines, and Lithuania. Mexico is also nearing the completion of its transformation to democracy, as is Croatia. Only two Catholic countries remain dictatorships: Equatorial Guinea and Cuba.”
• As it happens, I came across this on the very day that the Church celebrates St. Thomas More. James Wood of the New Republic is reviewing Peter Ackroyd’s magnificent new biography of More (just out from Doubleday) in the London Review of Books. Wood does not like the Ackroyd book and, even more, he does not like More. The wonderfully temperate More of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons is a myth, says he. In fact, as Lord Chancellor he was a fierce persecutor of heretics. It is true that More, like almost everyone else of his time, believed in religious uniformity. He was born some two hundred years too early to have a really informed appreciation of the Religion Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But that is not all that Mr. Wood has against him. “Thomas More died in defense of an authoritarian intolerance much more powerful than a mere king’s, however, for he died believing in God and in the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church. . . . He betrayed Christianity when he led it so violently into court politics and he betrayed politics when he surrendered it so meekly to the defense of Catholicism. Above all, he betrayed his humanity when he surrendered it to the defense of God.” Mr. Wood is very angry in an old-fashioned way. God should have made a better world. A little later he is writing in the New Republic about why there are things such as tornadoes and terrorism in the world. Christians say sin and evil are the result of free will, but he isn’t buying. “Either God omnipotently presides over these happenings in some way, or there is no God. But if God omnipotently presides over them, then he presides over our suffering. He watches us drown in our own incomprehension. I’m afraid that I must choose the latter explanation, even if it is not very edifying.” Free will, he writes, “is clearly important for humans, but why is it important for God?” One response is that God is love and created us for love, and love is not love if it is not free. Another response is that God does not “omnipotently preside” over evil but, in the cross of Christ, bore it and bears it to the end. Mr. Wood’s anger notwithstanding, it is good to see such fundamental questions raised in public forums, and I am sure St. Thomas More is beyond being offended by slander.
• While it’s encouraging to see the really big questions being taken on in unlikely places, one cannot help but notice that there are certain rules to the game. I feel rather certain, for instance, that the New Republic would not give Mr. Woods the same space to explain why the most plausible response to the problem of suffering is the cross and resurrection of Christ, were Mr. Woods convinced that is the case. In such forums, atheism and agnosticism are ecumenical while a Christian (or Jewish) answer is sectarian. Put differently, dissent from the orthodoxy of atheism or agnosticism is definitely suspect. Consider Ron Rosenbaum’s interview with David Berlinski in the New York Observer. Berlinski, an expert in microbiology and mathematics, has done a couple of dynamite articles in Commentary on the smug securities of evolutionary dogmatists. The interview has some great moments. For complicated reasons, Berlinski was at one point involved in the study of medieval history. “Studying medieval history put me in touch with very serious scholarship,” he says. “Very tentative and very disciplined. And I was shocked, moving into the sciences, how much less discipline there was. And how much unearned credulity was floating around current doctrine. . . . And there was a hole in the culture in that science as an institution had become a regnant priesthood, and people were taking this stuff with dreadful literalness.” After Stephen Hawking’s smashing success with A Brief History of Time, publishers rushed faddish books of cosmological theory to the market. “A lot of stuff that gets into print is simply nonsensical,” says Berlinski. “Alan Guth’s derivation of something from nothing [in The Inflationary Universe] is simply incandescent horse——. Don’t tell me you’re deriving something from nothing when it’s transparently obvious to any mathematician that this is incandescent nonsense.” Berlinski goes on in that take-no-prisoners mode, and Rosenbaum loves it. He asks him, “But if you’re willing to accept intelligent design, and you don’t trust the evidence for chance mutation creating complex systems, are we left utterly in the dark?” Berlinski passes the crucial test with flying colors: “I think that’s the reasonable explanation. Right now, the only explanation is intelligent uncertainty.” There you have it, the reasonable explanation of intelligent design is that there is no explanation. Had Berlinski said that intelligent design reasonably implies an intelligent designer, maybe even You Know Who, Mr. Rosenbaum’s worst fears would have been vindicated. He said he approached the interview with Berlinski with the anxiety that the man had an “agenda,” maybe he was even giving aid and support to the creationists and related kooks. But no, David Berlinski is safe, leaving Mr. Rosenbaum free to effuse: “The reward for living with doubt, in darkness, is occasional illumination: the thrilling glimpse we get of the unimaginable, of an exquisite complexity beyond the dream of mere mechanism and nucleic acids.” Maybe even of revelation, but it would not do to mention it. It is easier to live in the darkness; no demands, no consequences, just enjoy the thrilling illuminations. Like children applauding the cosmic show, and congratulating one another on being the kind of people who appreciate it. Rosenbaum suggests that evolutionary psychology “could not account for the creation of the mind of Vladimir Nabokov and the incandescent plenitude of a work like Pale Fire.” “Yeah,” responds Berlinski, “that’s just an unutterable mystery.” “I have nothing intelligent to say about it except that I’m glad it occurred.” Maybe he is even grateful it occurred. But grateful to nothing? That would be, as he perhaps recognizes, incandescent nonsense. But it is the price to be paid for admission to these forums that take on the really big questions.
• The Democrats are increasingly the party of the rich. That is the argument very persuasively made by David Brooks in the Weekly Standard. In 1980, Democrats won just 25 percent of the rich vote; in 1996, Clinton got 41 percent and carried thirteen of the seventeen richest congressional districts in the country. Why this dramatic change? Abortion has a lot to do with it. “Rich Republicans,” Brooks writes, “get their opinions the way they get their dress shoes. . . . If their trophy wives tell them that being pro-choice carries more prestige, then they write a check to Planned Parenthood.” And are more inclined to vote Democrat. While she agrees with Brooks’ general argument, Maggie Gallagher thinks he doesn’t get the abortion factor quite right. She writes: “Even if they themselves are past the point where unexpected childbearing looms as a major lifestyle threat, suburban moms who drive their kids around in SUVs are passionately for abortion, because they see it as being just as necessary to maintaining orderly lives (and passing on their class status to their kids) as Weed-B-Gon and a house in a good school district. . . . So when conservative Republicans even nibble at the fringes of abortion rights, no wonder affluent matrons grow faint with horror. In the dark womb, an intruder lies in wait, threatening to disrupt the clean, orderly, sensible, admirable world they have worked so hard to build for themselves and their children.” And the Democratic Party is the electoral beneficiary of fainting matrons—and, increasingly, their husbands. Needless to say, the benefit does not offset the growing appeal of the party of the common man, and woman.
• There are few things more exclusive than inclusivism. A few years ago I expressed a measured skepticism about the initiative of Episcopal Bishop William Swing of San Francisco to launch a religious equivalent of the United Nations. The United Religions Initiative (URI) dropped the “religious” requirement in 1997 in order to make clear that it welcomed all “spiritual” movements, including New Age, Neopaganism, and the such. URI has since been adopted by a team from the Social Innovations in Global Management program at Case Western Reserve University and has received support from the Gorbachev and Soros foundations, which see it as an instrument for promoting the “global good.” Conspicuously absent from URI are more traditional groups, such as Catholics and evangelical Protestants. New Age members are now insisting that the URI platform should make it clear that “fundamentalists” are not welcome. And so is born yet another very select club of universalist inspiration.
• “Religion’s in Vogue, and the Vatican is Scandalized,” runs the headline in the Times. Hardly scandalized, simply not amused by the adolescent pranks of an Italian fashion designer who was going to send a model down the runway to a soundtrack of the Pope celebrating Mass, electronically woven into a hip-hop beat. The Vatican publicly indicated its strong disapproval, once again demonstrating Rome’s cruel oppression of artistic creativity. The story continues: “Guillermo Mariotto, the designer for the Rome-based fashion house Gattinoni, made headlines during last year’s fashion week by holding his show inside an Anglican church (no Catholic church would accept such a proposal) with a runway model dressed as the Virgin Mary. Mr. Mariotto said he had planned to have the model wear a crown of thorns, but was gently dissuaded by Anglican officials, who told him such a gesture might offend the Catholic Church.” You know how touchy those Catholics are. Anglicans presumably have long since been offense-proofed.
• At Norfolk State University in Virginia there is a program involving “cultural learning” that includes visiting religious communities in the area. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) successfully protested the requirement that a Muslim student observe—not participate in—services at two local churches. Presumably, the program would include visiting a mosque in Norfolk, if there is one. CAIR claimed that “the program cannot have a requirement which conflicts with the fundamental tenets of any religion.” Said executive director Nihad Awad, “It is unconscionable for a federally funded program at a state university to ask that a student violate her religious beliefs. We are pleased that this situation was resolved successfully.” If gaining familiarity with non-Muslim religious observances violates the “fundamental tenets” of Islam, good for CAIR. On the other hand, the organization’s protest is hard to square with its oft-reiterated claim that Muslims are part and parcel of America’s religious and cultural pluralism.
• Admittedly, he is a librarian and so has an unabashed prejudice in favor of books and journals. Writing in the by now famous Nicotine Theological Journal (it has been mentioned here at least three times), D. G. Hart of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia says that the Internet and the attendant bells and whistles of the communications revolution are undermining “The Three R’s of Theological Education”—reading, writing, and religious community. The argument is spirited and of many parts; the purpose is to encourage educators to “question the hype and cost of educational technology.” He concludes with this: “To that end I close with a few sentences from the agrarian poet, Wendell Berry, whose reaction to electronic newspapers and ‘interactive novels’ provides a model for opposition to electronic libraries and ‘interactive’ technology. ‘It disgusts me,’ Berry writes, ‘because I know there is no need for such products, which will put a lot of money into the pockets of people who don’t care how they earn it and will bring another downward turn in the effort of gullible people to become better and smarter by way of machinery. This is a perfect example of modern salesmanship and modern technology-yet another way to make people pay dearly for what they already have.’ In other words, we already have a good way of learning theology and it is right in front of us, among our faculty and within the books in our libraries. As stewards of the tradition of book learning, librarians need to ignore the sales pitches of technophiles and argue instead for the crucial place of the reading and writing of books to the survival of religious communities and theological education.”
• My sister Johanna has more children and grandchildren than the little old lady who lived in the shoe, and I take her to be an expert on the subject of moral education, which is a concern close to the heart of this journal. We take our wisdom where we can get it, and I was struck by her story illustrating that it is sometimes necessary to punish children but it is equally important that they know precisely why they are being punished. Two little boys are lying in bed at night, Johanna tells me, and the one says he’s thinking about talking like a grownup. “I’m going to say ‘hell’ tomorrow,” he announces. To which his brother responds that he’s going to say “damn.” The next morning the mother asks the one boy what he wants for breakfast. “What the hell,” he says, “I guess I’ll have Cheerios.” The mother instantly grabs him, slaps him up side the head, rushes him into the bathroom, and washes out his mouth with soap. Returning to the kitchen, she asks his brother what he wants. “Oh, I don’t know, but I damn sure don’t want Cheerios.”
• Lovely may not be the best word for a book on such heavy-duty questions, but Regis Martin’s The Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell is lovely. Published by Ignatius (167 pages,, $12.95
), this little paperback is chock-full of items devotionally provocative and homiletically employable. Martin quotes von Balthasar who wrote: “It is something very astonishing that all of the ancient peoples reflected in so many diverse ways on the ‘hereafter’ while modern people are scarcely interested in the matter. It is as though their wings had been clipped; as though the spiritual organ for the transcendent had atrophied.” And Peter Berger, who writes that “with the onset of secularization the divine fullness began to recede, until the point was reached when the empirical sphere became both all-encompassing and perfectly closed in upon itself. At that point man was truly alone in reality.” Yes, people chatter about Heaven but in such a sentimentalized way that makes it an awfully boring prospect. Pagans of earlier times knew better. “Worshiping snakes or trees, . . . devils rather than nothing: crying for life beyond life, for ecstasy not of the flesh,” as Eliot put it. Regis Martin writes: “They remain, therefore, deeply kindred to Christian thought and practice in ways in which our secular neighbors are not. The merest savage dancing madly about the entrails of a disemboweled turkey in obscene search of God is surely a more sympathetic figure than some fussy-minded, post-Christian shopper, looking for turkey drumsticks under a cellophane wrapper amid the plastic perfections of a suburban supermarket. At least the savage is in search of authentic liberation from sin and death, which neither the post-Christian nor his vaunted machinery can confer. It is this terrible craving of the pagan soul for reassurance about its own essential immortality—the possibility of real purification from sin and iniquity; the aboriginal, consuming hunger for wholeness, for atonement with itself and God, the world, and others—that fundamentally describes the persisting, immemorial conditions for the very existence of religion itself.” From its unblinking treatment of evil through to its ending note on Dante’s “love that moves the sun and the other stars,” The Last Things is a little book very much worth getting, and pondering.
• Many corporations are licensing their brand names and logos to be used on shoes, sweatshirts, and whatnot. “We live in a secular society, but people still love to surround themselves with icons that move them,” said Seth M. Siegel of the Beanstock Group, which handles licensing for, among others, Coca-Cola and Harley-Davidson. Among the others is the Vatican Library Collection. In that connection, said Mr. Siegel, he would like to “push a little bit away from religious items” in favor of inspiration and fine-art products. Whoever is in charge of licensing at the Vatican might take note that Mr. Siegel seems to think that religion is weak on inspiration and fine art.
• We received letters of appreciation for publishing St. Thomas Aquinas’ prayer Ante Studium a while back, and some suggested we should do that kind of thing more often. Dr. Patrick Riley of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, says that when he taught college students he would ask the class, “Anybody want St. Thomas’ prayer for getting your life in order?” and all of them did. Herewith the prayer:
Ad vitam sapienter instituendem
Concede nobis, quaeso, misericors Deus, quae tibi sunt placita, ardenter concupiscere, prudenter investigare, veraciter agnoscere, et perfecte implere ad laudem et gloriam nominis tui. Amen.
For the wise ordering of life
Grant us, I beg You, merciful God, to desire ardently the things that please You, to investigate them prudently, to understand them truly, and to fulfill them perfectly, for the praise and glory of Your name. Amen.
• McCarthyism Redivivus. Or so we are led to believe by a full page in the National Catholic Reporter protesting the demotion of Sister Barbara Fiand. She will be permitted to teach lay people but not seminarians at the Athenaeum in Cincinnati. The ad says she is “faithful” to the Church’s teaching but has been stabbed in the back by the mongerers of rumors that she dissents on the question of women’s ordination. She has been condemned without a fair hearing or the chance to confront her accusers, and so forth. In a typically McCarthyite tactic, an alert reader went to the library and consulted the chapter “Androgynous Ministry” in Sr. Barbara’s book, Releasement: Spirituality for Ministry (Crossroad). There she writes: “In Jungian terms, our churches have lost their anima or, perhaps more correctly put, they have so repressed her that she has in many cases turned negative. . . . She holds them captive in the neurotic insecurities of legalism and protectionism that pretend to preserve values which have long lost their meaning due to the intellectual game playing and the rationalization which now surround them. The stubborn resistance to the ordination of women which uses nothing less than Scripture and tradition (misinterpreted though these may be) to justify itself, is probably the clearest example of the repressed feminine now turned sour. . . . Jung warns us, however that the animus-anima archetypal character-structure within each of us can be brought to light in a fruitful and creative way only through successful interaction with persons of the other sex. Only then can projections be recognized and withdrawn. This task will be somewhat difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish in a virtually all-male Church.” If this is her position, one may wonder—I hope without animus—why she is still teaching lay people. Of course there may be another side to this, in which case we will try to fruitfully and creatively withdraw our projections, or whatever.
• I touched here on the unseemliness of writers who, grading their betters, presume to rate popes. Typically, John XXIII is given an A+, in invidious comparison to his successors. Perhaps I verged on unseemliness myself by noting that John XXIII, undoubtedly a holy man, was very old and relatively inactive, and his brief pontificate is chiefly remembered for his calling the Second Vatican Council. A retired Benedictine abbot writes in agreement, but thinks something more should be said. “He was a man filled with the spirit and love of his Lord. He was not closed, narrow, suspicious, or ill-tempered. And the Spirit that filled him was recognized by everyone with any good will, especially the poor, the suffering, and sinners. Of course, we his fellow Christians, and especially his fellow priests, betrayed Pope John and his Council. God was very kind to take him so that he did not experience that betrayal.” And then this thought about today’s younger generation: “It is very sad to hear good young students for the priesthood speak of Pope John as that old man who ruined everything. Of course he did not ruin it; we did.”
• Most Jews, as more thoughtful Jews regularly lament, are emphatically on the wrong side of the abortion divide. The Washington Times reports on STOP (Standing Together to Oppose Partial-Birth Abortion), a group founded by Jewish women artists and literati, who have taken up the battle cry at the risk of sounding “real right wing.” One Susan Roth, a publisher, was forced to realize how close to home the matter really is, remarking that “my husband was a Holocaust survivor. I know about the experiments in the concentration camps. This sounds like something Mengele would do.” Sandi Merle, a lyricist and songwriter, also expresses the historical déjà vu: “If Jews go along and sanction this, we become the pharaohs who instructed the midwives, as in the days of Moses’ birth, to kill unwanted children in the society. On Yom Kippur, we read the martyrology of ten rabbis who were murdered. I feel that as a Jew, I must not allow the world to have twelve-inch martyrs, the length of a ruler.” Still, it goes against the grain of most American Jews to impede the abortion cause. Miss Merle acknowledges the tension: “Because I am a Jew, I find this must be my call. This goes against everything we’ve been taught all our lives. To the Democrats, I say it’s more important to be on the side of God because you’re a human being than to be on the side of the President because you are a Democrat.” Barbara Leeden of the Independent Women’s Forum and a member of STOP says, “The central fact of Judaism is social justice. In Judaism, the question of when life begins is not central.” In this case, social justice begins with the question of who is included and who is excluded from our definition of society.
• The Jesuits come in for enough criticism these days without my erroneously saying in the October 1998 issue that Judge Raymond Novak of a Pennsylvania county court was a former Jesuit priest. Judge Novak, who lectured anti-abortion protesters on the sacredness of his oath to do justice, was a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The original point stands, for diocesan priests, too, are bound by solemn vows.
• What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, and I’m accused of employing a double standard. There has been no mention here, it is pointed out, of “the Johnson affair.” Paul Johnson is a conservative hero, and in his influential book Intellectuals he excoriated the personal immorality of figures such as Rousseau, Marx, and Sartre. Now it turns out that, for many years, Johnson had a mistress. Infuriated by a tribute he wrote in honor of his wife and his marriage, and believing that she was about to be rejected for a new girlfriend, she went public and gave a tabloid the tape of a conversation with Johnson in which he admits his adultery. On the tape, she attacks him for his hypocrisy as a Catholic and asks why he goes to daily Mass, to which he responds, “Because I am a sinner.” That is the right answer, but no excuse for what he did. While the personal credibility of Paul Johnson has been damaged, does this discredit the argument he made in Intellectuals and other writings? The answer is no. The intellectuals he reproached declared a new morality by which their way of life was justified. Paul Johnson affirms the old morality by which he is judged and judges himself. He is, in short, a forgiven sinner, a species with which we are all on intimate terms.
• We may never hear the end of it. The controversy over religious symbols at Auschwitz is heating up again. It is hard to overestimate the degree to which Poles resent the suggestion that Auschwitz and Nazism were things that they did rather than things done to them. Some aggrieved patriots have taken to planting crosses around the former death camp as a form of nationalist protest. That is wrong, but not necessarily for the reasons that some employ. Walter Reich, for instance, the former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, writes that there should be no religious symbols of any sort, whether Christian or Jewish, at Auschwitz. “Let there be,” he says, “only words of accurate history in that kingdom of boundless evil.” Neither Christians nor believing Jews can accept that any evil is boundless. Not finally. The Messianic promise is that nothing is beyond redemption. The symbolic expression of hope in that promise must be undertaken with excruciating care, but the hope cannot be denied. That would be to give the last and final word to the horror.
• In the event you thought that at least the economy is doing well, you might round out your melancholy by reading Harry Shutt’s The Trouble with Capitalism: An Enquiry into the Causes of Global Economic Failure (St. Martin’s). Publishers Weekly says, “Shutt’s solutions posit an encompassing ‘collective responsibility,’ whose lack he consistently laments.” If I remember, that used to be called socialism. The rave concludes, “Shutt is one of the few to expose capitalism’s lies and imperfections, faults that critically threaten our democratic survival into the next century.” One of the few? Woe to you, Michael Novak, when all the scribblers speak well of you.
• When it was mentioned that Senator Daniel “Pat” Moynihan said that partial-birth abortion is “too close to infanticide,” the lady on the talk show was obviously impatient. Her brisk response: “All that does is impose yet another moral judgment.” I can only suppose she had in mind the Senator’s assumption that there is something wrong with infanticide. The following is from the parish newsletter of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Arlington, Texas. “Dear Mom, Gosh, can you believe it’s 2023 already? I’m still writing ‘22’ on nearly everything. Seems like just yesterday I was sitting in first grade celebrating the century change. I know we haven’t really chatted since Christmas. Sorry. Anyway, I have some difficult news and I really didn’t want to call and talk face-to-face. Ted’s had a promotion and I should be up for a hefty raise this year if I keep putting in those crazy hours. You know how I work at it. Yes, we’re still struggling with the bills. Timmy’s been ‘okay’ at kindergarten although he complains about going. But then, he wasn’t happy about day care either, so what can I do? He’s been a real problem, Mom. He’s a good kid, but quite honestly, he’s an unfair burden at this time in our lives. Ted and I have talked this through and through and finally made a choice. Plenty of other families have made it and are much better off. Our pastor is supportive and says hard decisions are necessary. The family is a ‘system’ and the demands of one member shouldn’t be allowed to ruin the whole. He told us to be prayerful, consider all the factors, and do what is right to make the family work. He says that even though he probably wouldn’t do it himself, the decision is really ours. He was kind enough to refer us to a children’s clinic near here, so at least that part’s easy. I’m not an uncaring mother. I do feel sorry for the little guy. I think he overheard Ted and me talking about ‘it’ the other night. I turned around and saw him standing at the bottom step in his PJ’s with the little bear you gave him under his arm and his eyes sort of welling up. Mom, the way he looked at me just about broke my heart. But I honestly believe this is better for Timmy, too. It’s not fair to force him to live in a family that can’t give him the time and attention he deserves. And please don’t give me the kind of grief Grandma gave you over your abortions. It is the same thing, you know. We’ve told him he’s just going in for a vaccination. Anyway, they say it is painless. I guess it’s just as well you haven’t seen that much of him. Love to Dad . . . Jane.”
• Os Guinness of the Trinity Forum passes this on. In May of 1780, the Connecticut House of Representatives was in session when there was an eclipse of the sun and everything turned to darkness. Some thought the Day of Judgment had arrived and a clamor arose for an immediate adjournment. The Speaker of the House and a man of strong faith, a Colonel Davenport, rose to the occasion. “The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles be brought.” Mr. Guinness says that Trinity Forum, an evangelical education project, is trying to bring the candles. Of course, there is also the related motto of the Christophers, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” No doubt. But as long-term readers of this space know, I think a measured cursing of the darkness is also in order. For one thing, when candles are in short supply, it prevents us from feeling at home in the darkness.
Jon D. Levenson on Abraham Joshua Heschel, Commentary, July 1998. On “the realities of modern religious practices”: the editors of Commonweal, September 25, 1998; Andrew Greeley in Commonweal, September 11, 1998; Peter Berger in Christian Century, August 26-September 2, 1998. On hate crimes, New York Times, October 13, 1998; New York Post, November 6, 1998.While We’re At It: Nancy L. Rosenblum’s Membership and Morals reviewed by Alan Wolfe, New Republic, June 1, 1998. Walter Brueggemann on Reinhold Niebuhr, Theology Today, April 1998. Statistics on expectation of Jesus’ return, Denver Post, October 31, 1997. Statistics on teen sex, American Medical News, April 6, 1998. Toronto Globe and Mail quoted and critiqued by one of its Canadian readers, Catholic Insight, May 1998. On Pope John Paul II and worldwide democracy, Religion Watch, June 1998. James Wood on Thomas More, London Review of Books, April 16, 1998. Ron Rosenbaum interview with David Berlinski, New York Observer, June 8, 1998. David Brooks on rich Republicans, Weekly Standard, June 22, 1998; Maggie Gallagher commentary on Brooks, New York Post, June 22, 1998. On the United Religions Initiative (URI), Religion Watch, July-August 1998. On Italian fashion designer using model dressed as the Virgin Mary, New York Times, July 16, 1998. On Muslim students refusing to visit a church, CAIR press release, July 23, 1998. On licensing brand names and logos, New York Times, June 12, 1998. National Catholic Reporter Protest, May 1, 1998. Retired Benedictine abbot on Pope John XXIII, personal correspondence. Washington Times on STOP, Julia Deyn quotes “partial-birth abortion splits pro choice women” September 8, 1998. Walter Reich on religious symbols at Auschwitz, Washington Post, September 8, 1998. Harry Shutt’s The Trouble with Capitalism reviewed in Publishers Weekly , June 29, 1998.