The Public Square
The long history of colleges and universities betraying their founding purposes is well told in Father James Burtchaell’s doleful and instructive The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches (Eerdmans). It is a complex of problems facing all church-related schools, but is now coming to a head among Catholics. Throwing down the gauntlet to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), Fr. J. Donald Monan, chancellor of Boston College, and Fr. Edward A. Malloy, president of Notre Dame, assert in an article in America that the bishops’ provisions for implementing the 1990 apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church), are unacceptable. The purpose of Ex Corde Ecclesiae is to revitalize the authentically Catholic character of the Church’s colleges and universities. The gist of the Monan-Malloy protest is that, whatever may once have been the case, these institutions are no longer in any way the Church’s.
Their position is that of the opening paragraph of the 1967 Land O’ Lakes Statement: “To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.” The one authority external to the academic community that is not challenged is that of the government. Indeed that authority is invoked and exaggerated in order to deny the authority of the Church. Monan and Malloy write: “Catholic colleges and universities in the United States were established and hold their degree-granting charters from the several states. Under civil law, it is their board of trustees or directors who hold ultimate governing authority and responsibility for carrying out the university’s mission.” The syntax is garbled, but they would seem to be making the remarkable claim that Catholic colleges and universities were established by the states, which is obviously contrary to fact, and are governed by civil law, which no state has presumed to claim.
The historical fact is that, until the Land O’ Lakes declaration of independence, Catholic schools established by Catholics had boards of directors responsible for seeing that they continued to be what they were established to be. The Monan-Malloy objection is to the proposals “that Catholic teachers of theological disciplines hold a mandate from ecclesiastical authority; that theology professors and some administrative officers make a profession of faith and take an oath of fidelity upon assuming appointment; and that colleges condition an individual’s appointment on integrity of doctrine and good character.” They cannot honestly be afraid that any state in the Union would say that a Catholic institution cannot implement such proposals. Of whom, then, are they afraid?
It comes back to what Land O’ Lakes meant by “the academic community itself.” Monan and Malloy write, “The universities’ acceptance of the obligations [proposed by the bishops] would mean the sacrifice of many of those prerogatives that make Catholic universities and their professional staffs the respected and influential members of the higher education community that they are.” Even more revealingly and poignantly, they say at another point that the colleges and universities desire a bishops’ document that “they would be proud to display to sister institutions of higher education.” In sum, they want to be Catholic without embarrassment, which means being Catholic in a way that entails no embarrassing differences from the institutions of “the academic community” that they emulate. Message to Harvard, Princeton, and Dartmouth: “Yes, there is that vestigial ‘Catholic thing’ about us, and we don’t want to disown it outright (that would upset both the alumni and play havoc with recruitment), but in fact we are just like you, or are trying hard to be. Please let us continue to be ‘respected and influential members’ of your community.”
In the Monan-Malloy view, Catholic schools are concerned about three players: the government, the prestige institutions that define “the academic community,” and the Catholic Church. The first two are enlisted against the third. The enlistment of the first is an obvious ploy. To the second they are positively obsequious. Only the third is not deserving of deference. The bishops will, one hopes, continue to make clear that this is not acceptable on the part of institutions that want in the future to be recognized as Catholic by the Church. Fr. James J. Conn, dean of St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, argues in the same issue of America that there are many important questions still to be worked out, but, contra Monan and Malloy, they are questions about how, not whether, Ex Corde Ecclesiae will be implemented.
When the vagaries of American life and culture seem too much to bear, a dramatic change in perspective is in order. Break Point, a new book by Slovak Catholic layman Silvester Krcméry may be just the thing (Crossroad, 315 pages,, $19.95
). It is the story of his arrest and imprisonment by the Communist government of the former Czechoslovakia during the critical years of 1951-1964. Krcméry paid a stiff price for his “treasonous” commitment to the gospel and the Church. He tells the story as “the true account of brainwashing and the greater power of the gospel,” and his account of thirteen years under brutalizing circumstances both horrifies and inspires. Michael Novak says in the preface, “By his witness, Silvo has ennobled the entire Slovak nation,” and he is right.
Krcméry’s telling is simultaneously disinterested and passionate. As a medical doctor, he offers a cool and clinical analysis of the techniques employed by the persecutors to induce mental submission, and his techniques in resisting theirs. Then there are the physical tortures: standing for fifty-two hours straight, long exposure to below-freezing temperatures, beatings by drunken interrogators. In dredging up these painful memories, the author is again assailed by the wrenching headaches and backaches he experienced in prison. But, as painful as it is, he believes he must remember: both to witness to God’s mercy in upholding his people, and to expose the evil done to them, in hope that it will never be repeated. There is no personal vindictiveness, however. Simply and convincingly, he forgives his enemies.
It is not too much to say that Dr. Krcméry accepted his cross gladly, and received solitary confinement as a divinely ordained spiritual discipline. He fondly recalls his daily “program” in prayers, contemplation, recitation of the Gospels, and translation of those memorized texts into other languages. He studied foreign languages with other prisoners, and regrets learning only eight hundred Chinese characters. All the while he was evangelizing, trying to extend the mission of Catholic Action, the outlawed group which it was his crime to belong to. His enthusiasm for the Eucharist, and constant vigilance lest it be defiled by the haters of God who surrounded him, stands out like a light in his grim circumstances.
It might be presumptuous to say that one was humbled by the book, but it does put one in touch with authentic humility. The utter transparency with which Krcméry examines his heart and actions to see what he might have done differently, and how, is striking. More than once he tried to get a transfer to the uranium mining camps where many of his fellow Christians were dying slow and terrible deaths, but he was kept working in the prison infirmary, both because of his medical skills and to hinder his evangelizing. He declined offers of amnesty, since experience taught him that the release of some inmates meant worse treatment for those left behind. He even protested his nine-month-early release from the camps in 1964, wishing to serve out his entire unjust sentence. It almost strikes one as perverse, except he makes it seem so self-evidently right. He writes about leaving the camp: “Thus, with a strange feeling of defeat, with expectations as well as sadness, I began to pack my things. I said goodbye to friends, acquaintances, hooligans, thieves, and warders. And to those thirteen, at least from the Christian point of view, beautiful years of my life. Even though they were spent behind bars and barbed wire.” Bracing stuff, that.
The third big thick volume of The Catholic Social Science Review has arrived, and I see it has a symposium on “David Schindler vs. Neoconservatism.” As long-term readers know, Professor Schindler is editor of the theological journal Communio and for some ten years now he has taken upon himself the task of taking to task the Catholic neoconservatives (Michael Novak, George Weigel, and your scribe) for their alleged compromise of Catholic social doctrine in their dalliance with the liberal tradition, of which the American experiment is part. In his part of the symposium, Mark Lowery of University of Dallas offers an overview of the controversy and concludes with a list of propositions to which he thinks all parties could agree:
a. While the Church respects the proper autonomy of the temporal order and never favors any one particular political regime in principle, the liberal state is compatible, in practice, with Catholicism, as articulated in Dignitatis Humanae.
b. The extent to which the liberal political order is a good setting for the Catholic faith is a legitimate matter for continued discussion. The “Catholic Moment” theory ought not be construed in such a way as to suggest that the liberal regime is necessarily the ideal home for the Catholic faith in this world, even if it is the best available home at the present time.
c. The liberal state is something of an indeterminate and, hence, vulnerable entity. While in its current American manifestation it is less than promising, it contains a capacity for improvement. Liberal ideology need not accompany liberal institutions.
d. Concretely speaking, the liberal regime, for all its vulnerabilities, is the best political option currently available. This is not to say that the Church endorses it (a strategic alliance) as her favored choice of all conceivable political regimes, which would violate the Church’s principle regarding the proper autonomy of the temporal order.
e. The liberal state in America will never totally harmonize with the richness of the Catholic onto-logic (nor could any temporal regime); still, the cultural dimension of a liberal regime (as well as the economic and political dimensions insofar as they are affected by the cultural dimension) can participate in that logic. While shunning a strategic alliance with liberalism, we can make varying kinds of tactical alliances with it.
f. The degree of that participation, and the ways in which such participation might be increased, is an important matter for continued discussion. Varying kinds of tactical alliances can and should exist side by side. Undoubtedly, a Protestant ethos pervades much of American life, but even that ethos can and does participate in Catholic truth, and can be nourished by contact with the Catholic tradition.
g. Catholics should strive to bring the fullness of their faith to their engagement in the temporal order, even though the temporal order never will echo perfectly that fullness (the “eschatological principle” in Catholic social thought).
h. Because that faith is so much under siege, we must be especially dedicated to work in harmony with one another, nourished by a theological and pastoral magnanimity within the parameters of the authentic Catholic faith.
I might have an editorial quibble with a phrase or two, but sign me on. I haven’t checked with Novak or Weigel, but would be surprised if they did not agree. Whether or not this means a ceasefire is mainly up to Prof. Schindler, who, one notes with all respect, has been doing 90 percent of the firing. (The Catholic Social Science Review, an annual, is available for $10 plus $3 postage from Franciscan University Press, Steubenville, OH 43952.)
Who Is a Jew? What Is Israel?
The beginning of the year witnessed a new and virulent eruption of Israel’s perennial identity crisis. At a time already confused by turbulent campaigns in the national election, the courts handed down decisions challenging the Orthodox rabbinate’s control of religious affairs, which, in a state that defines itself as Jewish, means also affairs that in other countries would not be defined as religious. “Isn’t this the lesson one recalls from American history?” asks Rabbi Uri Regev, a leader of the small Reform movement in Israel. “A recalcitrant Congress motivated by less than noble considerations and a Court that emerges as the beacon of light and defender of civil liberties.” Judicial usurpation of politics, anyone?
But the parallels between the U.S. and Israel are limited. The U.S. in its founding was a Christian, mainly Protestant, society, as it is still, however confusedly, a Christian society today. The polity adopted here is religiously neutral, which does not mean—contra the jurisprudence of recent decades—that it is anti-religiously secular. Any religious test for citizenship or public office, for instance, is forbidden. Since the days of the Romans, by way of contrast, there was no Jewish state until the establishment of Israel in 1948. Unlike Christianity, which has had two thousand years of numerous experiments with different polities, Judaism as a collectivity completely missed the experience of nation-building and statecraft, including the modern emergence of liberal democracy.
The Zionist founders of contemporary Israel were typically secularists and frequently antireligious. But a deal was struck in which the Orthodox rabbinate would have control over religious matters such as marriage, Sabbath observance, food laws, and, very importantly, determining who is and who is not a Jew. The Orthodox, for instance, do not recognize as Jewish someone who converts under Reform or Conservative auspices. Backed by Reform and Conservative leaderships in North America (where there are more Jews than in Israel), the constituting compromise of the State of Israel is now under severe challenge. In the vanguard of the challenge are the courts. Deborah Sontag of the New York Times puts it this way: “By their very existence, the courts are a threat to the strictly Orthodox when they rule on religious matters. The laws they interpret are secular and not religious, and the principles that they uphold are democratic and not theocratic.”
That strikes one as dangerously simplistic. Like the rabbi quoted above, many secular liberals in Israel seem to be reading their circumstance through the prism of the American experience, with the assertive and growing Orthodox (usually called “ultra-Orthodox”) cast in the role of what here is called the “religious right.” Neither here nor in Israel should the choice be posed in terms of democracy vs. theocracy. That way lies religious warfare, with secularism being every bit as much an aggressive belligerent as the parties designated as religious. In America, those advocating anything like theocracy are a very small band of “reconstructionists” or “theonomists” on the far fringes of our political culture. In Israel, ironically, those accused of advocating theocracy are in some cases sectarian Orthodox who do not even recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel, believing as they do that a Jewish state must await the Messianic Age and the restoration of the Temple.
This is the Middle East, which means that nobody is an expert. Some people are just more informed in their confusion than others. But we have to hope that Ms. Sontag got it wrong when she writes: “Given the ferocity of the battle, many believe that it can only end in a showdown in which Israel will be forced to reconcile the contradictions of being the Jewish homeland and a secular democracy.” If these are indeed contradictions, they can, by definition, not be reconciled. Perhaps it is better to view them as tensions that were finessed by compromise in Israel’s founding, and require constant statecraft to keep the constituting settlement in repair. But that will not happen if “secular democracy” is pressed in terms that are perceived as antireligious, which can only further inflame the passion of the Orthodox to achieve control in a culture war that, in this case, would not be warfare by other means.
It does seem to come down to the question of who is a Jew. The crunch point here is not over which rabbinical group certifies conversions but, or so it seems to me, what is the religious factor, if any, in being a Jew. After all, the number of converts is relatively small. The striking oddity is that some anti-Orthodox champions of secularization have chosen as their cause the question of conversion, which is undeniably a matter of religious doctrine and ritual. Thus they would appear to be reinforcing, however inadvertently, the Orthodox in stressing a religious definition of who is Jew, which has everything to do with how a “Jewish homeland” understands itself and orders its common life. As for the more militant secularists who would eliminate the religion factor entirely, it would seem that, for them, being a Jew is entirely an ethnic or tribal matter. That way lies the “blood and soil” nationalism from which Jews have suffered so unspeakably, and an invitation of the infamous charge of the UN General Assembly, now rescinded, that Zionism is racism.
Thinking the Unthinkable
Columnist Charles Krauthammer, one of the most astute students of these matters, has written about the need to “think the unthinkable,” namely, the possibility of the dissolution or destruction of the State of Israel. Christians, too, need to ponder the significance of that ominous prospect. Some evangelical Protestants hold to End Time scenarios in which Jews and Israel are cast in a role not of their own choosing. Such scenarios aside, all Christians who have pondered the logic of St. Paul’s reflection in Romans 9 through 11 know that the world has a deep stake in the Jewish people, and even those who are indifferent to the theology of St. Paul must know the Jewish people has a deep stake in the State of Israel. Further complicating matters, Israel is radically dependent upon the U.S. for its security—short of the nuclear Masada option, which is no security at all.
Americans are strongly supportive of Israel and, God willing, will continue to be. But the reasons for that support need to be clearly and freshly articulated. One reason, without which the State of Israel would not have come into being, was the Holocaust. I say “was” advisedly, for that memory fades, and with it the sense of obligation to those who suffered. Moreover, Israel’s treatment of its neighbors, especially of the Palestinians, and most especially of the Palestinian Christians, has confused for many people who is the victim and who the victimizer. Even the most fervent defender of Israeli policy recognizes that Israel has had the upper hand, and that hand has sometimes been brutal. The result is that, in the twenty-first century, few Jews and even fewer Christians will understand the Holocaust as a compelling reason to support the State of Israel.
Another reason, persuasively offered during the long years of the Cold War, is that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and therefore an American ally in the contest with totalitarianism. The Cold War, thank God, is past, and with it that reason for U.S. support of Israel. Today some advance the reason that Israel is America’s friend against enemies in the region such as Iraq, but most Americans understand that we would likely not have so many enemies in the region were it not for the State of Israel. What reason, then, is left for an incorrigibly and confusedly Christian America to support the State of Israel? I think the answer is this: Because Israel is inextricably entangled with the safety and well-being of the chosen people, the children of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. For the sake of the spiritual integrity of Judaism—in which Christians, too, have a profound interest—and for the safety of the State of Israel, we must hope that the militant Israeli secularists and their American Jewish abettors will not succeed in undermining the believability of that reason.
A Gift for Canada
Those fortunate Canadians. I have several times expressed sympathy for people who have to put up with the ideologically driven inanity of the Toronto-based Globe and Mail, Canada’s “national newspaper.” Now publishing mogul Conrad Black has decided to do something about it. A new paper, National Post, was launched late last fall and within just a few months bids fair to overtake the circulation of the Globe and Mail. It is thick, handsomely designed, and with a thoroughly centrist editorial policy that does not hesitate to challenge the dominant leftist fashions of political culture north of the border. Consider, for instance, National Post‘s lead editorial on December 24, and ponder why it is nearly impossible to imagine a comparable statement in any national or regional newspaper in the United States.
Christmas In The Real World
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.” St. Luke names the time yet more precisely. It was “when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” The gospel account is attentive to the thereness, the thus and soness, of what happened. A real mother, a real baby, a real promise kept. He is called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” “In Him was life,” writes St. John, “and the life was the light of men.” The darkness will rage against the light in a real cross and a real death. Nonetheless, John writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Christmas is family and song and food and sentiment and gifts, but Christmas is not time-out from the real world. For the billions who have believed, who believe today, and who will believe until the end of time, Christmas is the real world. God becoming one of us so that we may become the children of God is the axis mundi, the center on which the world turns. It happened. Not in the timelessness of myth, nor in antiquity beyond recall, nor in the virtual reality of cyberspace, but in the real world in real time. In the only time there is. In our time.
To kneel before this Jewish baby and his Jewish mother is to face up to reality. Or so we are told, and so Christians believe. God said to Abraham, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven,” and He is keeping his promise to this day. To every child, and to every adult mature enough to become a child again, comes the invitation to be a star, reflecting the light that came into the world on Christmas day. To love as, in Him, we are loved; to forgive as we are forgiven; to understand as we are understood; to bear with others as He bears with us. To live, as He said, in the truth that makes us free. And then to die, in the sure hope of Heaven’s dawn.
In the real world. In real time. In a world of wars and famines and dreadful plagues, of loves disappointed and loves betrayed, of promises broken and innocent lives cut short, of affluent masses rich in things and poor in soul, of cruelty triumphant and kindness scorned, of dishonesty praised and honor debased. Into such a world and such a time, into our world and our time, came the light that shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it. The darkness will never, never ever, overcome it.
John Paul II in and on America
As discussed in my recent book, Appointment in Rome: The Church in America Awakening (Crossroad), one of the big subjects at the Synod for America that was held in Rome at the end of 1997 was the relationship to non-Catholic Christians, especially in Latin America, where the interaction between Catholics and Protestants has been typically hostile, sometimes violently so. The synod is advisory to the Pope, and he officially states its conclusions, which he did this January in a lengthy post-synodal “apostolic exhortation” titled Ecclesia in America, delivered in Mexico City. The exhortation closely tracks what happened at the synod, also on the question of Catholic-Protestant relations, following the initiative “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT), which has been pioneered in this country.
A major complaint of Latin American Protestants (mainly Evangelical and Pentecostal) in the past is that they were dismissively referred to as “sects.” Ecclesia in America makes the necessary distinctions that many of us urged at the synod in Rome. (Keep in mind that “America” in this context means North, Central, and South.) John Paul II says: “The evangelization which accompanied the European migrations has shaped America’s religious profile, marked by moral values which, though they are not always consistently practiced and at times are cast into doubt, are in a sense the heritage of all Americans, even of those who do not explicitly recognize this fact. Clearly, America’s Christian identity is not synonymous with Catholic identity. The presence of other Christian communities, to a greater or lesser degree in the different parts of America, means that the ecumenical commitment to seek unity among all those who believe in Christ is especially urgent.”
The Pope repeats the resolve of the synod “that Catholic Christians, pastors, and faithful foster cooperation between Christians of the different confessions, in the name of the gospel, in response to the cry of the poor, by the promotion of justice, by common prayer for unity, and by sharing in the word of God and the experience of faith in the living Christ.” Then comes the crucial distinction: “Although the Second Vatican Council refers to all those who are baptized and believe in Christ as ‘brothers and sisters in the Lord,’ it is necessary to distinguish clearly between Christian communities, with which ecumenical relations can be established, and sects, cults, and other pseudo-religious movements.” Later, the document criticizes “the proselytizing activity of the sects,” noting that proselytism “has a negative meaning when it indicates a way of winning followers which does not respect the freedom of those to whom a specific kind of religious propaganda is directed.” It then goes on to emphasize again that these sects are to be distinguished from “the sisters and brothers [who are] in true though imperfect communion” with the Catholic Church, and that that communion “must enlighten the attitudes of the Church and her members towards them.”
It should be noted that the “sects, cults, and other pseudo-religious movements,” of which there are many indigenous instances in Latin America, are as much of a concern for more orthodox Protestants as they are for Catholics. In addition, one notes with satisfaction that the exhortation conspicuously omits any reference to Protestant missions as an “invasion” from the North, a claim asserted by some Latin American bishops at the synod. Most welcome also is John Paul’s calling on the bishops to ask why people leave the Catholic Church, and pointing to the need for more effective evangelization and catechesis. If Catholics are joining other Christian and doubtfully Christian groups, he suggests, it is, at least in largest part, because the Catholic Church has not been doing its job as well as it should. In these and other respects, Ecclesia in America again confirms the effort of ECT, an effort that is now gaining ground also in Latin America, as evidenced in an unprecedented meeting this March of Catholic bishops and Evangelical and Pentecostal leaders from all over Latin America in Quito, Ecuador. (More on that in a later installment.)
I should add that I was among those at the synod who urged that the term “sects” should be dropped altogether from the Church’s ecumenical vocabulary. When I first learned that it would be used in the apostolic exhortation, I was, quite frankly, worried. But in fact, it turns out to be used in a way that does remove it from ecumenical vocabulary, since ecumenism has to do with relations between those who are brothers and sisters in Christ. The use of the term “sects” is helpful in distinguishing authentically Christian communities from cults and pseudo-religions that are no part of our common Christian mission. The result is to strengthen a shared Christian identity between Catholics and Protestants, underscoring the hope that in the next century we will evangelize the Americas with, rather than against, one another. This is precisely the prospect proposed in Appointment in Rome, and its confirmation by the apostolic exhortation is cause for thanksgiving. The credit for this development goes to the Latin American bishops at the synod who recognized that existing Protestant-Catholic hostilities are wrong and dead-ended, to Edward Cardinal Cassidy and the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity who have vigorously advocated necessary change, and, of course, to John Paul II who has given such lucid expression to the deliberations of the Synod for America. Deo gratias.
William Bentley Ball (1916-1999)
William Bentley Ball, that doughty champion of religious freedom and the underdog, is dead at age eighty-two. He was vacationing in Florida and was found unconscious in a swimming pool. He died a few days thereafter. A frequent contributor to these pages, Bill Ball argued numerous cases before the Supreme Court, including Yoder, which secured Amish parents the right to control the education of their children, and Zobrest, which vindicated the right of a handicapped child to government aid in a religious school. The latter is widely perceived as a breakthrough pointing toward vouchers and other instruments of parental choice in education. He was a devout Catholic, which, he said, is why evangelical Protestants, Mennonites, Mormons, and anyone else could count on his help in protecting their right to the free exercise of religion. Bill was a dear friend and a happy warrior. He loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and I envy the angels his good company. Requiescat in pace.
But more needs to be said. The following tribute is by Edward McGlynn Gaffney, Jr. of Valparaiso University School of Law:
I have always regarded it as a great grace, or gift from God, that I studied law at the time and place that I did. The place was Catholic University of America in the nation’s capital. The time was the early 1970s. Because of our location, my professor of constitutional law, Albert Broderick, urged us to skip classes once in a while (not too often!) to hear oral argument at the Supreme Court of the United States.
Following the advice of my professor led to my first encounter with William Bentley Ball on December 8, 1971, the day on which he argued for Jonas Yoder and his family. I recall vividly Bill’s crisp, clear voice as he cited the 1925 decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters: “The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” Chief Justice Warren Burger must have been moved by this citation, which he included in his opinion for the Court in Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972). Even when the Court was to announce a sea-change in free exercise standards in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), it did not abandon Yoder, which still stands as a valid precedent requiring states and local public school boards to accommodate the religious concerns of parents. Bill’s skillful advocacy in Yoder has benefited not only the Old Order Amish, whom he represented, but also literally hundreds of thousands of parents, including home schoolers, who have derived great benefit from this opinion.
At a symposium at Notre Dame on the fiftieth anniversary of the Pierce case, Bill noted the anti-Catholic roots of the Oregon measure challenged in Pierce, and he reminded us of the strong interreligious coalition that made its first appearance at the Court in this case (the American Jewish Committee, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, several Presbyterian ministers, and a conference of Seventh-day Adventists). Bill was a living example of that sort of generous collaboration in the common cause of preserving religious liberty. Although Leo Pfeffer, counsel for the American Jewish Congress, argued the opposite side of many of the cases in which Bill espoused financial support for children attending religious schools, notably Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), Bill developed a friendship with Pfeffer; and in the last period of his career Bill came to accept Pfeffer’s warning about the danger of strings attached to public assistance. In Bill’s paper on Pierce, he gave special credit to the American Jewish Committee for blasting the Oregon act in its amicus brief with this trenchant comment: “If the children of the country are to be educated in accordance with an undeviating rule of uniformity and by a single method, then eventually our nation would consist of mechanical Robots and standardized Babbitts.”
These words epitomize the style that characterized Bill’s courtroom style—unflinching advocacy that spoke the truth to power. He argued nine cases before the Supreme Court and assisted in more than two dozen others. His views on financial support for freedom of choice in education eventually prevailed in Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District (1993). For decades he provided sage counsel to those of us who have worked in the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom.
On June 25, 1989, a prominent group of legal authorities, including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, joined with civic leaders of both political parties, prominent businessmen and labor leaders, religious leaders and educators in signing the Williamsburg Charter. Bill was a member of the small drafting committee that crafted this remarkable document, which was styled “A celebration and reaffirmation of the Religious Liberty clauses, drafted by representatives of America’s leading faiths on the occasion of the two hundredth anniversary of the call for the Bill of Rights.” I don’t know whether Bill penned the following two passages in the Charter, but they bear his stamp as a public citizen and champion of religious freedom: “Religious liberty finally depends on neither the favors of the state and its officials nor the vagaries of tyrants or majorities. Religious liberty in a democracy is a right that may not be submitted to vote and depends on the outcome of no election. A society is only as just and free as it is respectful of this right, especially toward the beliefs of its smallest minorities and least popular communities. . . . [T]he chief menace to religious liberty today is the expanding power of government control over personal behavior and the institutions of society, when the government acts not so much in deliberate hostility to, but in reckless disregard of, communal belief and personal conscience.”
In 1994 Bill published some of his essays on education, religion, and the courts under the title Mere Creatures of the State?: A View from the Courtroom. Father Richard John Neuhaus put it well when he wrote in the preface to this volume: “Given the formidable force of the wrong opposed by this book, and given what may appear to be the improbability of achieving the right for which Bill contends, some may think his effort just a bit Quixotic. But that would be a serious mistake. He is not jousting against windmills but against patterns of thought and practice that have achieved an awesome dominance in American life and law. Moreover, his life’s work has demonstrated again and again the power of the individual to effectively challenge that dominance. From the Supreme Court to school board hearings in humble villages, the voice of Bill Ball has championed the cause of ‘little people’ who have dared to question the authority of their supposed betters. His advocacy joins fortitude to compassion, learning to eloquence, and earnestness to humor. It is a mix of virtues too rarely encountered.”
William Bentley Ball died at the age of eighty-two on Sunday, January 10, 1999. He will continue to have a powerful impact on the deepest desires of Americans for religious freedom. Though Bill was a very able advocate, he was first of all a faithful disciple of the Lord. In calling our brother Bill to a place where advocacy is unnecessary, the Lord Himself can be heard to say again: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:31).
While We’re At It
• So I guess it’s final now. Dr. Frederick Cook of Brooklyn didn’t scale Mount McKinley back in 1908 after all. They’ve found the original negative of that famous photograph purporting to show him atop McKinley holding the American flag, and it turns out it was cropped. The negative includes topography that proves he was in fact standing on what is called Fake Peak, a hill some fifteen miles away that looks like the peak of McKinley. Of course people have long suspected that Cook had cooked the books about his achievements, including his claim to have beaten Robert Peary to the North Pole, but now his credibility appears to be irreparably shattered. Not for everybody, however. Russell W. Gibbons is executive director of the Frederick A. Cook Society in upstate New York, and he says, “It doesn’t really matter where the photograph was taken. Even if it wasn’t taken on the summit, he could still have gotten there.” That’s touching. Bradford Washburn of the Boston Science Museum has climbed McKinley three times, and he says, “The tragedy is that Cook would have been remembered as a good explorer if he’d just truthfully reported what he accomplished near McKinley. But the Devil took him up onto a mount, and the doctor listened.” That’s both morally on target and a heartening indication that biblical literacy is not quite dead. Also heartening, and unusual, is that the editor at the New York Times did not think it necessary to explain the allusion to the temptation of Christ. It would be uncharitable to think he didn’t get it.
• The headline reads, “Finding a Common Foe, Fringe Groups Join Forces.” Conspiracy theorizing on the left has long been a fascinating phenomenon, and the Southern Poverty Law Center has served as a hatchery of Oliver Stone fantasists. The story under the headline in the Times is by John Kifner, who has consulted a Frederick Clarkson of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and “reports” that “fringes of the anti-abortion movement are linking up with a new ally: the right-wing militia movement.” Mr. Clarkson, we are told, is “author of a study” done for the center on the subject. If you think that is not authority enough, Mr. Kifner has also gone to the internet where he discovered that many militia types are also anti-abortion. The wacky world of websites provides an efflorescence of conspiratorial connections. There one can undoubtedly find internet chat rooms chock full of pro-abortionists, animal rights activists, and man-boy love proponents. But don’t expect to find anything in the Times about fringe groups of the left joining forces. “An undercurrent running through much of the violence,” writes Mr. Kifner, “is the mysterious Army of God.” Very mysterious indeed. “Who or what is the Army of God?” Clarkson asked in his study. “That question has plagued investigators for years. Whether it is a concept—a handy moniker for whoever takes up the cause—or a permanent underground group is not clear.” He admits, in other words, that there is no evidence that there is such a thing as the Army of God, mysterious or otherwise. In fact, under pressure from the pro-abortion Clinton Administration, the FBI has conducted exhaustive investigations and concluded that there is no conspiracy or network among violence-prone anti-abortion activists, never mind a collusion with the militia movement. Nothing daunted, the Times reports as news a phantasm of proportions that would make the John Birch Society blush. Well, that may be going too far. In their secret counsels the Birchers may have conspiracy theories to equal Mr. Kifner’s, but they don’t publish them in the Times. (For younger readers who come to these matters late and need a primer on fringe groups: the John Birch Society was an anti-Communist organization founded by a Boston candy maker in 1958 and last heard from during the Nixon presidency. I haven’t checked whether they have a website. The Times is a newspaper published in New York City, and it definitely does have a website. Among fringe institutions, it is distinctive in having convinced itself that it has been given the authority to define the fringe, which is really cool, as in amusing.)
• When Galina Starovoitova was murdered in St. Petersburg last November, the story received major coverage in the international press. She was celebrated as a leading Russian liberal, but nowhere did I see it mentioned that she was most particularly a champion of religious freedom. Shortly before she was killed, according to the Keston Institute, she was received into communion with the Orthodox Church, despite the fact that the leadership of the Russian Church is no friend of religious freedom. The circumstances surrounding her death are as murky as the collusion between some Orthodox prelates and old Communists who together seek a return to the “stability” of the old regime. The witness of Galina Starovoitova reminds us that, in Russia and elsewhere, the time of the martyrs is not over.
• The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have become part of the scenery in San Francisco. The group of drag queens whose one running joke is to mock the Catholic Church recently held a benefit for the American Cancer Society (ACS). Not surprisingly, William Donohue of the Catholic League complained. Patricia Fells responded on behalf of ACS: “We do not judge our donors based upon their religious beliefs or sexual preferences. We draw our donors and volunteers from all religions, races, and socioeconomic groups.” And from antireligious hate groups, one may add. The benefit produced a paltry $1,300. Bigotry aside, one wonders if the American Cancer Society did a cost-benefit analysis of the potential loss of support from people who are less indulgent toward the malevolence promoted by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
• The bishops of England and Wales have reiterated the traditional Catholic teaching that receiving the consecrated elements at Mass means that “we are in full communion with the Catholic Church, united with the bishops of this local community and with the pope.” Therefore, except in extraordinary circumstances and with the approval of the bishop, those who are not in full communion should not receive. A rabbler whose column still appears in several Catholic papers (he is also former chairman of theology at Notre Dame) complains about this “step backward,” noting, with approval, that Catholics and non-Catholics ignore such rules “all the time.” The bishops say that those at Mass who should not receive have the opportunity to make a “spiritual communion.” A spiritual communion, snorts our columnist, “is about as satisfying and nourishing as a ‘spiritual dinner’ would be.” If eucharistic participation is a matter of getting a satisfying and nourishing dinner, a small piece of bread and (when offered) a sip of wine would seem to fall somewhat short as well. With respect to a theology of the Eucharist, even Zwingli appears to be several steps ahead of our Catholic columnist.
• The Institute sponsored a while back a festive celebration of the eightieth birthday of Father Avery Dulles, S.J., no stranger to the readers of this journal. Part of the occasion at Our Saviour Church in Manhattan was an incisively brilliant lecture by Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, on the place of national episcopal conferences in the teaching authority of the Church. Those who are critical of the conferences, the Cardinal suggested, sometimes make the mistake of saying they have no real part in the Church’s Magisterium, whereas the remedy for whatever is rightly criticized is to elevate the importance of the conferences, pointing out their responsibility within and to the college of bishops in union with the pope. That is an important insight to which we will be returning. The celebration was on September 8, the Nativity of Mary, which happens also to be the day that I was received into full communion and, precisely a year later, ordained a priest of the Catholic Church. Fr. Dulles was my sponsor on the first occasion and my vesting priest on the second. So John Cardinal O’Connor, who was also at the birthday bash, had some gracious and implausibly extravagant things to say about the inestimable contributions of Fr. Avery and myself (implausible in my case, I mean). Fr. Avery preached at the Mass on “Our Lady of Faith,” noting that the subject of faith has preoccupied him since his student days at Harvard (and is the subject of his recent book, The Assurance of Things Hoped For). “Through all these years, faith has remained for me what it was in the beginning, the pearl of great price, for which I would be willing to pay all that I have and much more, if I had more to give.” He concluded by recalling the fifteenth-century French poet Francois Villon’s ballad on his mother’s faith. Fr. Dulles said, “After recalling the wonderful intercession of Mary on behalf of several notorious sinners, she invokes the mercy of Jesus who left Heaven to help us and gave up his youthful body to be our ransom. Each stanza ends with the unforgettable refrain, ‘In this faith I wish to live and die’: ‘En cette foi je veuil vivre et mourir.’ I cannot find any words that better sum up my own hopes and prayers at this stage of my career. In the faith of the Church, of the apostles, and of the blessed Queen of Heaven and Earth—In this faith I wish to live and die.”
• There has been considerable interest in the new Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, soon to be erected near the Catholic University of America and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The chief mover in this project has been Adam Cardinal Maida of Detroit, who conceived the idea a decade ago. The center, which is expected to cost around $60 million, will be designed by the high-tech, hyperintercommunicative masters at Edwin Schlossberg Incorporated in Manhattan, and plans for the structure have recently been unveiled to mixed reviews. Catesby Leigh, an architectural critic writing in Sacred Architecture, is less than enthusiastic. He describes the design as little more than a poor imitation of the academic modernism of Le Corbusier, finding some elements “baffling,” others downright “ugly.” Beyond description are the various interactive displays—the Gallery of Wonder, for example, or the “exit experience” awaiting visitors on the main floor (a computer voice says “peace be with you” and projects a light beam through which the visitor walks). Says Leigh: “Though some might regard it as the wave of the future so far as our museums are concerned, one might wonder whether all this electronic gadgetry amounts to a sort of instinctive by-product of, or compensation for, the reductive architectural character of the building. For here, too, the medium is the message. That is, modernist architecture’s esthetic poverty lies precisely in the dogma that the medium—the mechanical facts of construction—is the architect’s message. A dogma, by the way, which Michelangelo would rightly have regarded as hopelessly perverse. Next time the architects (or their clients) opt for an academic design, perhaps they should cast their net a little further afield than the last seventy years of architectural history, which, truth be told, have been distinctly inglorious.” The opposite can be said of Sacred Architecture, a very fine medium for an important message. You can get a copy of its inaugural issue by writing the Institute for Sacred Architecture, P.O. Box 556, Notre Dame, IN 46556.
• It was a four-day conference in Atlanta, and the AIDS National Interfaith Network brought together two hundred representatives of gay advocacy, religious, and public policy groups at the Carter Center. A reporter interested in why conservative Christians were not represented was told by Network director the Rev. Kenneth South that they would like to have them participate. “Evangelicals are doing great ministry, as long as they don’t try to change people,” said South. That’s been the problem with Christianity right from the start, ministries that try to change people.
• The general rule is not to multiply explanations. When stupidity is sufficient, seek no further. And it often is sufficient to explain the more egregious offenses of the New York Times. Under the heading “An Indulgent Pope,” there is this in the Sunday news of the week in review: “For the year 2000, Pope John Paul II has introduced a fast track to heaven. Throughout the yearlong millennium celebration, Roman Catholics who quit smoking or drinking for a day can earn indulgences to avoid punishment in the hereafter.” In this instance, an additional and likely explanation is maliciousness, since just three days earlier a front-page story in the Times made clear that indulgences are not what the Sunday edition claims they are. The Pope “introduced” nothing. He simply reiterated a teaching and practice that is grounded in the New Testament understanding that the members of the Body of Christ are so conjoined that the virtues of each can benefit the others, and goes back to the early Church’s penitential practice by which those who had fallen away, especially during times of persecution, could be reconciled with the community. As the practice of indulgences later developed, it became subject to grave abuses in which it was sometimes popularly thought that the forgiveness of sins could be purchased, and such abuses triggered the protest of Martin Luther. The abuses had also been protested by popes and other theologians for centuries before that, but to slight effect. Finally, the sixteenth-century Council of Trent put an end to the corrupting pecuniary factor in obtaining indulgences. The history of the theology and practice of indulgences is utterly fascinating. It is a subject thoroughly misunderstood by almost all non-Catholics and, one expects, by many Catholics. In view of the renewed attention to the subject, it might make for a useful article. We’ll have to give that some thought. In any event, in his recent statement about the Jubilee Year of 2000 (called a bull, from the Latin bulla, meaning “seal”) the Pope did offer a long list of spiritual disciplines and acts of devotion that might be practiced, including giving up cigarettes and alcohol. Given the anti-smoking fanaticism of the Times, one might have thought the editors would be pleased. At any rate, and as the doctrine of indulgences makes clear, the only track to heaven (which is not a fast track) is through patient endurance and faith-filled reliance upon the merits of Christ and the saints—the latter also and always being the merits of Christ. It is perhaps too much to expect journalists to be religiously literate, but it would be a good thing (maybe worth an indulgence) were they to abstain from vulgar displays of their ignorance. I expect the Pope would be amenable to adding that to the list of recommended disciplines for the Jubilee.
• In the conclusion of his provocative article, “United Methodists at the End of the Mainline” (FT, June/July 1998), William J. Abraham suggested that the idea of theological pluralism (on which most of mainline religion is based) may not be sustainable. Lyle Schaller, writing in Circuit Rider magazine, argues that it may be possible to turn Abraham’s problem into a virtue. Schaller suggests that United Methodists cannot be held together in their present polity, and as an alternative proposes both an expansion of the “institutional tent” and a decentralization of control, with authority dispersed among annual regional conferences. “Should United Methodists continue to quarrel under the roof of a relatively small tent with a shrinking number of people in that tent,” Schaller asks, “or split up and move into two or three or four smaller tents, or design and build a larger tent?” In situations like this, one is reminded of Lyndon Johnson’s pithy observation about the merits of having difficult people relieve themselves from inside out rather than from outside in.
• Gloria Steinem recently remarked how awfully chauvinist it was for New Yorkers, of all people, to be celebrating the millennium as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. What about all the Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists in our midst? Who are we to impose our belief-system on the rest of the world—on its very calendar, no less? The subject was the occasion for some similarly deep thinking by the New York Times in its lead editorial for January 1, 1999. (Some have acccused me of being obsessed with the Times. It’s just that it comes with breakfast. You should see all the items I don’t comment on.) Anyway, here is this hefty chunk of commentary, published on this auspicious date, announced with the portentous title “Why the Millennium Counts,” all clearly intended to represent the intellectual heavy lifting of the editorial board of the Times. I won’t keep you in suspense: their conclusion is that the millennium counts because it has allowed us all to learn to set our clocks in the same way. The editors allow en passant that perhaps the importance of the millennium has something to do with Jesus Christ, but it would be “chauvinist” to say that it has much to do with it. (Besides, as everybody knows, the dating of Jesus’ birth is all wrong, thanks to a pitifully earnest little monk named Dennis.) In addition to inadvertantly reminding us yet again how boring it is to be a skeptic, the editors tell a most peculiar story of the history of the West. Up until apparently very recently, human beings were “groping in the dark.” “A scholar could yearn to read a certain book without ever learning that it was available in a nearby monastery. A peasant could pass life without meeting a stranger. People had little sense of belonging to a nation, a culture, or any secular group larger than the men and women they could see around them.” Has the Times never heard of Augustine? Anselm? Thomas Aquinas? My goodness, the discovery of the New World? People who set out to write portentous editorials with titles such as “Why the Millennium Counts” might be well-advised to revisit their history books. Otherwise they end up suggesting that there’s nothing worthier of celebration than the marking of time.
• Among those who have strong convictions about the truth there is a perennial debate as to whether toleration is a virtue, never mind a Christian virtue. My own position is that while the axiom “error has no rights” may be true, errors are attached to people, and people do have rights. The question why we should tolerate those we find disagreeable is taken up again in a small and engaging book by Michael Walzer titled On Toleration. By way of definition, Walzer offers the following neat aphorism: “Toleration makes difference possible; difference makes toleration necessary.” Adam Wolfson, writing in the Public Interest, thinks Walzer gets it about half right. With the second half of the aphorism he has no quarrel: “The fact of difference, even in its attenuated form, makes toleration necessary, as it always has.” But whether it is toleration that makes difference possible is a more complicated question. Much as academics and other such are loath to admit it, Wolfson wryly notes, it is likely the case that differences existed before toleration. They may even have been louder and livelier before that ideal arrived than they are today. In days past, toleration was “a way by which differences were accommodated and, equally important, mitigated. It probably could not have been otherwise. For what made toleration acceptable was the discovery that deep down, under all the layers of history and culture, all humans are created equal.” Not so in our age. Whereas modern toleration gave space to the pagan because it recognized that “deep down” he was in some sense one of “us,” postmodern toleration gives him space primarily because he is not one of “us.” “It is almost as though the pagan, having been domesticated by the various forces that brought on the End of History, is desired back in all his original otherness.” Wolfson agrees with Vaclav Havel that we should seriously reconsider the reasonableness—not to mention the consequences—of this desire for “accentuated otherness.” For starters, he suggests a rewrite of Walzer’s formulation: “Rather than saying that ‘toleration makes difference possible,’ I would begin with the idea that our common humanity makes toleration possible.” This, it seems to me, gets closer to the toleration that is a virtue, even a Christian virtue.
• The gates of Hell, we know, will not prevail against the Church, but Jesus didn’t say anything about American higher education. A week after its release, the Columbia University daily newspaper asked students about the encyclical Fides et Ratio and, more generally, about their understanding of this Pope. Herewith some excerpts. “Q. Do you have any opinions on the Pope? A. I really don’t follow institutionalized religion—I’m just not a believer in it. I have my own personal view of Catholicism—that it’s incredibly hypocritical and the Pope is the prime example of that.” “Q. Do you know anything about last week’s encyclical, Faith and Reason? A. Um, no, I don’t. Q. Do you know how many years this Pope has been serving? A. No, not too long, right? Q. How about his name, where he lives? A. John Paul, right? In the Vatican. Q. Do you know any Pope jokes? A. Not really. I know one that he’s in, but it’s really a Monica Lewinsky joke.” “Q. Do you know anything about last week’s encyclical, Faith and Reason? A. No, will you tell me? I have a big problem with organized religion, much less having one key authority figure that interprets the Bible, which has so many different interpretations—it’s just crazy. I heard for a while that he denied that he used the bathroom. Q. What? A. Yes, I have a problem with someone who denies they use the bathroom. The Bible is an archaic document full of contradictions. There are some key principles, being nice to other people, but it’s filled with contradictions. I mean, myself being a gay man, apparently I’m doomed to Hell. I’m a walking abomination. I don’t like Christianity.” The reference to the bathroom puts me in mind of what I’m told is a true story, and it is a bit of a joke, although not a pope joke. It was told me by a nun who was a friend of a Sister Teresa who taught fourth grade. Sister had an impossibly elevated view of the priesthood and of priests. One day a student screwed up her nerve and asked Sister whether priests go to the bathroom. A long and embarrassed silence, followed by Sister’s answer, “Yes, but not very often.” That’s funny at the fourth grade level. I don’t know what they might make of it at Columbia.
• The common opinion is that adoption, all in all, has served society, women, and children very well. It’s a better choice than abortion or single parenting for unmarried women; it stems the tide of poverty and misery that can flow from illegitimate births; it gets children into more stable family structures than they might find with biological or foster parents; it allows childless couples to create families. Unfortunately, adoption is under attack nowadays by generally well-meaning but often badly misinformed activists. Their standard criticisms of adoption go something like this: adoption promotes a view of women and children as property, punishes those who become pregnant outside of marriage, distributes children as commodities to the wealthy, and causes psychological damage in women and children alike. In this vein, the Adoption Rights Movement (ARM) contends that adoption is ultimately destructive to everyone involved. ARM thus wants all adoption records to be kept open so that healing reunions can be actively facilitated, even without the consent of the birth mother. Despite the good intentions of “reunion” advocates, however, it now appears that their arguments are unreliable, and for some very simple reasons. Often those who become active in ARM are part of a small minority of persons hurt by the adoption system; their experience is simply not representative of adoptive children and their families as a whole. Furthermore, ARM’s position is based on research that has recently been challenged by E. Wayne Carp in Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption (Harvard University Press). Employing faulty methodological practices and overlooking contradictory facts, the social scientists behind this research (Annette Baran, Reuben Pannor, and Arthur Sorosky) have done little more than elaborate a preconceived and misguided agenda, according to Carp. He writes: “Their arguments in support of open adoption represented the triumph of a long series of pseudoscientific psychoanalytic studies, usually confined to academic journals, that stigmatized adoption and portrayed triad members [birth mother, adopted child, and adoptive parent] as pathological victims.” Though Carp is no friend of traditional adoption procedures himself, his book blows the whistle on the false claims of ARM. A more measured and honest approach to adoption can be found in the efforts of the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), which is currently fighting bills that would force records to remain open, contrary to the wishes of the vast majority of birth mothers. For more information, write to NCFA, 1930 Seventeenth St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009-6207.
• The reasons may have more to do with organizational rivalries than with high moral principle, but it is nonetheless gratifying to see the growing Jewish opposition to the Holocaust mercenaries. The latest evidence is an article by Theo Klein, a leader of the Jewish community in France. “The true issue is the dignity of the Jewish people,” he writes. “How is it served by campaigns to seek compensation in the manner of enterprising law firms that initiate class-action suits as soon as a plane crash has occurred?” Behind his criticism is a resentment, not even thinly veiled, of American Jews who, in grasping for the international gold, presume to be acting on behalf of all Jews. Klein speaks of “Jewish organizations based in the United States that often know nothing about the [crimes] for which restitution is requested.” Klein declares that he rejects their “blind and arrogant approach.” It is not insignificant that Klein’s statement appears on the op-ed page of the New York Times, signalling a broader challenge to the campaign led by the World Jewish Congress. In that connection, one recalls Voltaire’s observation that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. The World Jewish Congress is neither a world organization nor a congress. It is a private project bankrolled by billionaire Edgar Bronfman and led by the very aggressive Rabbi Israel Singer. Whatever the institutional politics involved, the challenges to the WJC campaign raised by such as Abraham Foxman of ADL and Theo Klein are welcome. The latter is right to say that at issue is the dignity of the Jewish people, and of the victims of the Holocaust. Their memory is desecrated when it is exploited in money-grabbing schemes that are hard to distinguish from extortion.
• So long as it’s in a good cause. We noted that the autobiography of Nobel laureate and Guatemalan political activist Rigoberta Menchu has been exposed as fraudulent. Yale’s Greg Gandin and journalist Francisco Goldman, writing in the Nation, suggest that not too much should be made of that inconvenient fact. “Menchu relied upon a classic Dickensian technique of pulling together different individual experiences into one character’s heart-rending story. Such distortions were probably necessary to break through the wall of media indifference.” Perhaps it makes a difference that Dickens made no secret of the fact that he was writing fiction.
• Poor Georgetown. It does seem to get more than its share of battles over what it means to be a Catholic university. Recently another fracas erupted within its halls, this time over mandatory orientation classes in which student “peer educators” demonstrated the application of condoms. Citing their institution’s “responsibility for public health education,” university officials argued that it was their duty to provide sexually active students with “information about the choices that they make.” It is perhaps not peculiar to administrators of Catholic universities to assume that kids wouldn’t know what condoms are for without instruction by professional educators. At the same time, Georgetown comes under blistering criticism from the American Life League, which calls for the firing of the university’s president, Father Leo O’Donovan. It seems he gave an enthusiastic welcome to Mrs. Bill Clinton, whose stance on abortion is, let us say, not exactly one a Catholic university ought to encourage. That she was there to speak on the UN Declaration of Human Rights does not help matters. We don’t know if the welcome warrants the dismissal of Fr. O’Donovan, but it would seem an explanation is in order, if he can fit it into the long list of other things to be explained at Georgetown University.
• The Claremont Institute has issued a feisty and informed fifteen-page pamphlet, “We Pledge Allegiance: American Christians and Patriotic Citizenship,” written by Larry P. Arnn and Douglas A. Jeffrey. Just the thing to launch a lively discussion at your church or civic association, or maybe around the kitchen table. For a free copy, write the Institute at 250 West First Street, Suite 330, Claremont, CA 91711.
• Herewith the statement of George D. Lundberg, M.D., editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, on abortion: “Americans are constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom. This editor considers abortion to be a religious issue—a decision to be reached by the pregnant woman, after consultation with the father (if possible), members of her family, perhaps a religious adviser, and the woman’s physician. I believe that one woman’s abortion is not the business of police, lawyers, courts, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, the Congress of the United States, various state legislatures, or anybody else except the individuals named above. This editor has not performed an abortion and believes that he could not. Abortion is killing—regardless of length or state of gestation. However, as a practical matter, this editor recognizes that abortion is considered necessary by many people on a situational basis and that many abortions will be done, often unrelated to what beliefs may have been held previously by the participants and regardless of any laws.” Perhaps, like many Americans, Dr. Lundberg would allow that abortion is the same thing as murder, but go on to observe not that it is necessary at times but that it is “considered necessary” at times and therefore murder should be allowed. As a “practical matter,” of course. (Dr. Lundberg has since been fired as editor. Not, alas, for his views on abortion.)
• It is a singular, albeit dubious, honor to be the recipient of the “Silver Sewer Award.” As part of their campaign to clean up the “cultural pollution” of the American media’s atmosphere, William J. Bennett and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) bestow the SSA on “individuals and/or corporations that, in our considered judgment, are doing the most to harm and degrade American popular culture.” The first award-winner last year was the Seagram Corporation for its support of The Jerry Springer Show and the “musician” Marilyn Manson. This year the much-undesired award was fetched by a rather significant cultural influence-cum-polluter, the CBS network. Its offense is not only televising the supremely vulgar Howard Stern Radio Show—which would be enough in itself—but also, in an executive decision utterly lacking in taste, decency, and integrity, airing the death of a patient, so to speak, of Dr. Kevorkian. Said Bennett, “There was no journalistic merit to 60 Minutes airing those eighty-three seconds of fatal injections, and Mr. Wallace, Mr. Hewitt, and their colleagues should put an end to the charade that there was. Those eighty-three seconds were intended to ensure a ratings winner, and they accomplished their goal. . . . It turns out there is a sizable market for the culture of death.”
• The Washington-based Capital Research Center, which describes itself as “The Philanthropic Watchdog,” has for years been on the case of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (the “Catholic” was recently added). The Center notes with satisfaction that CCHD has recently revoked a $31,000 grant to an organization it had supported for two decades, the Center for Third World Organizing (CTWO) in Oakland, California. The organization supports, among other things, “reproductive rights” and “safe sex” seminars. Capital Research complains, however, that the new name and guidelines adopted by CCHD don’t begin to get at the larger problem of using Catholic dollars to support distinctly un-Catholic projects. For reasons that surpass my understanding, CCHD is unresponsive to our requests for clarifications, although it did recently send to the bishops what appears to be a misleading letter in response to the charges of Capital Research. Interested readers can, perhaps, get one side of the story from Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, chairman of CCHD (Catholic Campaign for Human Development, National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference, 3211 Fourth Street, NE, Washington, D.C. 20017-1194) and can, certainly, get the other side from Patrick Reilly at Capital Research Center (1513 16th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20035-1401).
• “We are the sheep, where are the shepherds?” That’s the theme of a special issue of National Right to Life News which offers a survey of what is happening on the pro-life front in a broad array of American churches. Especially helpful are the first-person stories of clergy who have addressed the abortion question in congregations and denominations unsympathetic to the pro-life position. For copies, write National Right to Life News, 419 Seventh Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20004.
• At about the same time the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican communion was overwhelmingly turning back the homosexual agenda (although with many American bishops saying they would go on with Zeitgeist business as usual), the United Methodist Council of Bishops reaffirmed their church’s commitment to biblical standards and the Methodist Book of Discipline. In January, however, the national media highlighted a blessing of same-sex “holy unions” in which ninety Methodist clergy in California participated (and seventy more in absentia), apparently with the blessing of their bishop. Good News, a renewal movement within the United Methodist Church, issued a statement: “We grieve at the impact these continuing events are having on the life and well-being of our local churches. The actions of the California/Nevada Annual Conference are undermining the ministry of thousands of our United Methodist pastors who are living with the fallout of this divisive controversy. A growing number of pastors are claiming angrily that their witness in their communities is being damaged and diminished because they bear the name United Methodist. This is a tragic development and one that the Council of Bishops cannot ignore.” It would seem that William J. Abraham’s analysis of the impossibility of maintaining moral and theological pluralism (see “Methodism at the End of the Mainline,” FT, June/July 1998) is coming to a head sooner than even he anticipated.
• Once again the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (PLAGAL) was prevented from participating in the big pro-life march in Washington on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. “Many members of PLAGAL were strong pro-life leaders before they identified themselves as gays and lesbians,” said Moses Remedios, newly elected president of PLAGAL, who spoke from the March for Life stage four years ago when he was president of American Collegians for Life. Some organizers of the march claim that PLAGAL is there to “push a gay agenda.” The organization undoubtedly does push that agenda, but they are at the march, in the words of PLAGAL founder Tom Sena, “to show that, contrary to stereotypes, we care about the unborn as much as any other pro-lifers.” Which leads me, once again, to urge that PLAGAL be permitted to march, and that precisely in order to challenge stereotypes of the pro-life movement.
• Several alert readers have written to say that their editions of the New American Bible got the Luke 18:9 translation of righteousness/self-righteousness right. My comment (in February) was based on the NAB text used in the 1998 missal guide published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Apparently there are several NAB versions out there, but this one is presented as what currently passes for the NAB.
• Jerry Falwell has stepped in it again. Speaking at a conference in Tennessee he said the second coming of Christ will happen very soon and therefore, according to his interpretation, the Antichrist must be alive today. The Antichrist will try to pass himself off as Jesus, and therefore he must be, among other similarities with Jesus, a Jew. It was a one-day media sensation, but Roman Catholic Bishop Walter Sullivan of the Richmond, Virginia, diocese was not willing to leave it at that. In a letter to his priests, Sullivan calls Falwell’s statements “outrageous” and “reprehensible.” In a letter to the Richmond Times Dispatch, he said that “by defining as he does the Antichrist to be a Jewish ‘counterfeit’ of Christ, Falwell recklessly targets the Jewish people as the fountainhead of evil itself.” Oh tosh, Your Excellency. Criticize Falwell if you wish for his biblical exegesis, which is outrageous, but do you suppose that someone aiming to pass himself off as Jesus would show up as a female Pakistani? (The Rev. Falwell has issued the usual non-apology to anyone who might have been offended.)
• In the 1960s, Saul Alinsky was a figure hard to ignore. At least if you were, as it used to be said, a man of the left. Based in Chicago, Alinsky was an agnostic (he sometimes said atheist) Jew who made his mark by, as he frankly put it, capturing the churches for his vision of social justice. Writing in Theological Studies, a Jesuit journal, Lawrence J. Engel of Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, celebrates what others have denied as an unfair accusation. “The Influence of Saul Alinsky on the Campaign for Human Development” gives a detailed account of the way in which the Catholic bishops embraced Saul Alinsky and his ideology when they established the Campaign for Human Development (CHD) in 1969. Engel calls CHD “the most significant and longest-running experiment of twentieth century U.S. Catholic social action.” Since its founding, CHD has funneled more than $30
0 million Catholic dollars into sundry “community organizing” efforts—many of them, according to critics, in conflict with Catholic moral teaching. Thirty years later, the bishops conference is developing new guidelines aimed at insuring that CHD funding is more tightly controlled. Mr. Engel’s article will be of undoubted interest to those working on the guidelines. At the end of the longish article on the history of institutional politics, the author appends the observation, “Without a doubt, CHD is a unique resource within the North American theological enterprise.” Ah, so that’s why it appears in a journal called Theological Studies. The journal, I notice, also has a new cover design and new logo. In the new design, the “Theological” in Theological Studies is now on the side.
• The new edition of Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage, revised by Erik Wensberg and published by Hill and Wang, says “good usage is what people who think and care about words believe it to be.” Exactly. I am of the prescriptive rather than descriptive school, the chief prescription being that you think and care about how something is written, and then test it by whether it sounds right. There are right and wrong ways of saying things. The descriptivists speak of “standard” and “nonstandard” English, the latter being a weasel word for substandard. John Simon reviews the new Follett’s and thinks it very good. Rules of good usage, he writes, are like good manners. “One can muddle through without them, but they make the world infinitely more civil, efficient and livable in.” Surely “immeasurably” would be the better word. But it is with “livable in” that Mr. Simon indulges his sense of mischief. Better, and less pedantic, to say “more civil, efficient and livable.” (I will not even mention the missing comma before “and.”) Livable-as in tolerable, bearable, enjoyable. Livable in? Really. Put it to the sound test.
• An international affairs expert at the Naval War College in Rhode Island sends me an article from the French magazine Le Point, which concludes its discussion of the Clinton mess with this: “Selon l’expression du révérend John Neuhaus, rédacteur en chef de First Things, le magazine de l’aile droite du Parti républicain, le départ forcé de Clinton serait un ‘salutaire lavement culturel, politique et moral.’“ They got the allegiance of FT all wrong, but I admit that “emetic” does sound better in French.
• It all depends on where you live. If you live in the heartland of Christian America, it is easy to be convinced that secular humanists are running the world. If you are a secular humanist in New York, the reverse is true. With some puzzlement at the success of the journal Faith and Philosophy, published by the Society of Christian Philosophers, the Society of Humanist Philosophers has started up a journal of its own. Their effort, entitled Philo (after David Hume’s skeptic), is meant to provide “a single source for the best articles . . . by nontheist philosophers on topics relating to the philosophy of religion and religious apologetics.” Such defensive imitation by one’s humanist friends will no doubt be gratifying to the Society of Christian Philosophers. As for ourselves, we are not displeased that the first article in volume one, number one, of Philo is entitled “First Things First.”
• And now it seems to be gearing up in India. In the more than thirty years since 1964, there were fifty-three violent attacks by Hindus against Christians and Christian churches. In 1998 alone, there were ninety such attacks. Bloodlettings between Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs in India have been a tragic commonplace, but now Hindu nationalists are waging a campaign against “foreign influences,” including Christians, despite the fact that Christianity came to India in the first century a.d. Last year Catholic nuns were assaulted, priests killed, and churches burned to the ground. Tunku Varadarajan, a Hindu writer living in New York, observes: “But the current battle is not over the historical record. It is a battle for India’s soul. The secular state is not about to crumble overnight. What is imperiled, however, is India’s tolerant, secular civilization.” Studies suggest that India is the most religion-sated society in the world. It is a little odd to speak of a battle for “India’s soul” in strictly secular terms. With respect to India, Turkey, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and other battles, well-intentioned Westerners and Westernized natives speak of overcoming religion-based hostilities by rational appeals to modern secularity. But modern secularity is a spent force. In a world that is being radically desecularized, the only tolerance that endures is a tolerance that is legitimated by the very religious convictions that can also produce conflict. This is true, mutatis mutandis, also in the United States. The great mistake of Western intellectuals, followed by their epigones in the rest of the world, has been to pit tolerance against religion. Again and again, it has produced secular intolerance that, with utter predictability, generates increased religious resentment and, in too many instances, violence. Whether it is India’s soul or Turkey’s soul or Arabia’s soul or America’s soul, the only tolerance that will work is a tolerance that speaks to the soul.
• So the book is out now, and I pay close attention to the responses. I’ve never understood writers who say, as though it were a point of pride, that they don’t read their reviews. Maybe it makes sense with a novel. Just maybe. There you have created another world that is really known only to you, and perhaps, in part, to an intimate or two. Others are outsiders to that world, and what they have to say about it is of limited value, and may even violate the integrity of what you alone know. But for the kind of writing most of us do—making arguments, proposing directions, trying to persuade—of course you pay attention to what readers and reviewers say. Such books are best understood as part of a continuing conversation, and in a conversation it is both dumb and rude not to listen to what others have to say. Especially when they have done you the courtesy of spending hours in listening to what you have to say. I’m glad to report that the responses so far to Appointment in Rome: The Church in America Awakening (Crossroad) are very gratifying indeed. One complaint is that it does not provide the actual texts and other details of the 1997 Synod for America (meaning North, Central, and South America). But the book is not intended as an official report on the Synod. I simply took the occasion of the Synod—to which the Pope had appointed me a member—to provide an overview of Catholicism in the Americas, its problems, possibilities, and opportunities for working with others, especially with evangelical Protestants. I am told the book has ruffled the feathers of a few bishops, which does not surprise me. I tried to be candid, while staying on the near side of disrespectful. Particularly satisfying are the number of people who have said that Appointment is not only informative but fun to read, keeping them up half the night. That’s the kind of thing that warms the cockles of the authorial heart. But mainly it’s a matter of continuing the conversation about things that really matter, and I am grateful to all of those who have joined in.
• In his State of the Union address President Clinton solemnly committed himself to “keeping alive what George Washington called ‘the sacred fire of liberty.’“ Just as well that he stuck to those five words from Washington’s first inaugural address. Washington continued, “The foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality.” Quoting the full text might have taken the President, as they say in Washington, seriously off-message.
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On Ex Corde Ecclesiae, America, January 30, 1999. On who is a Jew, New York Times, January 7, 1999.
While We’re At It: On Frederick Cook and Mount McKinley, New York Times, November 26, 1998. On right-wing fringe groups, New York Times, December 6, 1998. On Galina Starovoitova, correspondence with Lawrence Uzzell of the Keston Institute. William Donohue on Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Catholic League press release, December 2, 1998. Richard McBrien on non-Catholics receiving the Eucharist, Catholic Northwest Progress, November 26, 1998. Catesby Leigh on John Paul II Cultural Center, Sacred Architecture, Fall 1998. On the AIDS National Interfaith Network, Ottumwa Courier, December 12, 1998. On the Pope and indulgences, New York Times, December 6, 1998. “Decentralization for United Methodists?” in Christian Century, November 18-25, 1998. On why the millennium counts, New York Times, January 1, 1999. Adam Wolfson on toleration, Public Interest, Winter 1999. Theo Klein on abuses of the memory of the Holocaust, New York Times, December 15, 1998. On Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu, National Review, January 25, 1999. On Georgetown condoms, Hoya, December 4, 1998; also American Life League News Release, December 4, 1998. George D. Lundberg on abortion, Journal of the American Medical Association, August 26, 1998. On Silver Sewer, Empower America press release, December 7, 1998. “We are the sheep, where are the shepherds?” in National Right to Life News, January 22, 1999. On controversies within Methodism, Good News press release, January 22, 1999. On PLAGAL members being excluded from pro-life march, PLAGAL press release, January 22, 1999. On Jerry Falwell and the Antichrist, catholic trends, January 23, 1999. J. Engel on Saul Alinsky and the CHD, Theological Studies, December 1998. New edition of Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage reviewed by John Simon, Wall Street Journal, January 6, 1999. French magazine Le Point on Richard John Neuhaus, December 31, 1998. “Why Philo?” by Keith M. Parsons in Philo, Spring/Summer 1998. On intolerance in India, Turkey, and Arabia, New York Times, January 11, 1999.