The Public Square
The U.S.-NATO attack on Serbia was a good occasion to go back and read Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia. A big book of more than a thousand pages, it was first published in 1941 and is available in Penguin paperback. Dame Rebecca attained the age of ninety-one, dying in 1983. (When I mentioned the book to Bill Buckley, he said he knew her. I’m not surprised. He knows everybody.) Black Lamb is as remarkable for its grand historical sweep as for its fine writing. It had, at least in part, a political purpose at the time it was published. London was going through the blitz, and Dame Rebecca believed the British could take inspiration from the Serbs and their brave resistance to the Nazis—as they had resisted the Ottoman and other empires through the centuries, usually ending up as the “black lamb” sacrificed to the ambitions of imperial falcons. The book is devastating on the role of the Germans and Austro-Hungarians in the Balkans.
But Black Lamb is not chiefly about politics. Here, for instance, is a reflection on the women of Bosnia. They had to wait on their men while they ate, take beatings at regular intervals, work until they dropped, and walk while the master rode. Dame Rebecca writes: “Yet, I wonder. Dear God, is nothing ever what it seems? The women of whom this tale is told, and according to all reliable testimony truly told, do not look in the least oppressed. They are handsome and sinewy like their men; but not such handsome women as the men are handsome men. A sheep-breeder of great experience once told me that in no species and variety that he knew were the male and female of equal value in their maleness and femaleness. Where the males were truly male, the females were not so remarkably female, and where the females were truly females the males were not virile. Constantly his theory is confirmed here. The women look heroes rather than heroines, they are raw-boned and their beauty is blocked out too roughly. But I will eat my hat if these women were not free in the spirit. . . .
“I suspect that women such as these are not truly slaves, but have found a fraudulent method of persuading men to give them support and leave them their spiritual freedom. It is certain that men suffer from a certain timidity, a liability to discouragement which makes them reluctant to go on doing anything once it has been proved that women can do it as well. This was most painfully illustrated during the slump in both Europe and America, where wives found to their amazement that if they found jobs when their husbands lost theirs and took on the burden of keeping the family, they were in no luck at all. For their husbands became either their frenzied enemies or relapsed into an infantile state of dependence and never worked again. If women pretend that they are inferior to men and cannot do their work, and abase themselves by picturesque symbolic rites, such as giving men their food first and waiting on them while they eat, men will go on working and developing their powers to the utmost, and will not bother to interfere with what women are saying and thinking with their admittedly inferior powers.”
Dame Rebecca hastens to make clear that, for a number of reasons, she does not think this approach to marriage would work in the West. It depends upon too many tacit understandings that need to be entrenched in tradition. In the West, for instance, women who give up their economic and legal rights have no protection when the man leaves. “A man who is tied to one village and cannot leave his wife without leaving his land is not so dangerous a husband as a man who can step on a train and find employment in another town. . . . But the greatest objection to this artificial abjection is that it is a conscious fraud on the part of women, and life will never be easy until human beings can be honest with one another. Still, in this world of compromises, honor is due to one so far successful that it produces these grimly happy heroes, these women who stride and laugh, obeying the instructions of their own nature and not masculine prescription.”
From the battle of Kosovo in 1389, the Yugoslavs (which means southern Slavs) and the Serbs in particular have understood themselves to be the defenders of the West against the threat of Islam. They were not always heroes, and under Slobodan Milosevic some of them have acted atrociously, but their demonization by U.S.-NATO propaganda in the last several months is as wrong as it is preposterous. Black Lamb helps the reader understand the thousand years of passionately entangled history into which we have been mindlessly dropping bombs. Many people, including some good friends, were loudly calling for a ground invasion with hundreds of thousands of troops, and the redrawing of national and ethnic boundaries, creating “protectorates” for which the U.S. would be responsible for decades into the future. “In war, there is no substitute for victory.” “Now that we’re in, we have to win.” Such were among the slogans. But we were not at war. In one of the great blunders of diplomatic history, the Clinton Administration saw the threat of bombing as a bargaining chip in negotiations. At Rambouillet, Milosevic was told that if he did not sign the terms imposed by the U.S., we would bomb his country. He refused and we bombed, in the naive expectation that he would change his mind in a few days. It was apparently conceived by Madame Albright as a measure comparable to spanking a bad boy in school. The aftermath of the sorry affair and its humiliating consequences for America—patently spurious claims of “victory” notwithstanding—are now known to all.
But enough of that. The current bunglings in the Balkans provided an occasion for my going back to Dame Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. But you do not need the excuse of another war or diplomatic calamity to avail yourself of the great pleasure and instruction of one of the great books of the century now coming to an end.
Those Unsecular Evangelicals
Christian Smith (see “Is Private Schooling Privatizing?” April 1999) has published a book deserving of very serious attention, American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving (University of Chicago Press, 310 pages, $45
cloth, $16 paper). It is about American evangelicalism, of course, but also takes on much larger issues. For a long time, the spinners of theories of secularization tended to take Western Europe as the norm and to view the religious vitality of the United States as yet another aspect of “American exceptionalism.” The assumption was that there is a necessary connection between modernity and secularization; the more modern a society the more secular it will become. All kinds of complicated explanations were offered to account for the anomaly of vibrantly religious America, presumably the most modern of societies. In more recent years, something like a consensus has formed that earlier theorists got it backwards. In a world that is becoming, simultaneously, more modern and more religious, the oddity to be explained is the “exceptionalism” of Western Europe, which appears to be on an unremitting course of ever greater secularization.
American Evangelicalism makes an exceedingly valuable contribution to these larger questions by offering a carefully analyzed case study of one ongoing encounter between religion and modernity. Smith, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, comes up with almost unqualified good news for evangelical Protestants in the U.S. Based on extensive survey research by himself and others, he tells us that “modern American evangelicalism enjoys a religious vitality—measured sociologically—that surpasses every other major Christian tradition in the country.” Evangelicalism is, as his subtitle puts it, “embattled and thriving”-and in some ways thriving because it is embattled.
Evangelicalism in this context is defined by several negatives. First, evangelicals are definitely Protestant, which means they are not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox (although Orthodoxy is not a significant presence in the minds of most evangelicals). Second, evangelicalism is not mainline or liberal Protestant. Admittedly, the line between mainline and liberal is not always clear. The Protestant mainline—now often called the oldline—is composed of those churches that, until about forty years ago, enjoyed a religio-cultural hegemony in the U.S.: Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist, and Congregational. Groups traditionally called liberal, such as the Unitarian-Universalists, are small but are carriers of ideas that have made significant inroads in the mainline bodies. The third defining negative of the evangelicals is that they are not fundamentalists. The fundamentalists were the cultural losers in the modernist-fundamentalist battles fought in the early part of this century and symbolized by the Scopes “monkey trial” in Dayton, Tennessee, depicted with such devastating acidity by H. L. Mencken. After their defeat, fundamentalists went into cultural exile, to lick their wounds and exult in the purity of their separation from a world on its way to perdition.
The story of “modern evangelicalism” began during World War II, when a number of fundamentalist leaders, led by people such as theologian Carl Henry, called for reengagement with the culture on the basis of orthodox doctrine and for the purpose of evangelizing the larger world. The cause of the old fundamentalists who were now the “new evangelicals” was represented by Christianity Today magazine and, above all, by the ministry, over more than four decades, of evangelist Billy Graham. Measured by the usual criteria, evangelical Protestants constitute as much as 25 percent of the American population (with Catholics and mainline Protestants having roughly comparable shares among the religiously affiliated). The usual criteria for counting someone an evangelical Protestant include: 1) a strong view of the authority of the Bible; 2) a personal experience of regeneration, or being “born again”; 3) a belief that Jesus is the only way to heaven; and 4) a commitment to “winning others for Christ.”
By employing somewhat different and stricter criteria, Smith’s study narrows the number of evangelicals to only 7 percent of the population. In doing so, he says he is using the self-definition of respondents in his survey, but of course he decides which self-definitions will qualify for his purposes. In any event, the evangelicalism that is “embattled and thriving” in this study is less than a third of what is ordinarily meant by evangelical Protestantism in America. This is not necessarily a weakness in the book, but it is important to keep it in mind.
The third chapter, “Explaining Religious Vitality in America,” is of most particular interest. Here Smith takes on the theories and theorists that have dominated these discussions over the last fifty years and more. There is the “sheltered enclave theory” that suggests people huddle together to reinforce their beliefs and protect themselves from an unbelieving culture. The “status discontent theory” proposes that believers mobilize when their previous social standing is threatened. The “strictness theory” says that, the stricter the rules for belonging, the more coherent a group will be—and, not incidentally, the more attractive to many outsiders. This is countered in part by “rational choice” or “competitive market” theory, which argues that America has become increasingly religious with the increase of religious pluralism, thereby accenting “choice,” which is the culture’s chief value. Smith finally comes down in favor of a variation of the last as representing “the new paradigm” for explaining America’s religious vitality.
Culture or Aggregated Individualisms?
For all the merits of American Evangelicalism, some rather obvious problems cannot be overlooked. Smith’s approach to culture is highly individualistic, a matter of aggregating individual attitudes and opinions rather than studying the interaction of persons and communities that constitute what is ordinarily meant by a culture. This is key to Smith’s running attack on a distinguished student of evangelicalism, James Davison Hunter of the University of Virginia, who in these pages and in books such as Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation (1987) contends that evangelicalism is making perhaps fatal “accommodations” with secularization. Hunter is associated with the “sheltered enclave” theory, but also gives ample attention to the “cognitive bargaining” that constantly goes on between the enclave and the surrounding world. Although Smith has no theory of the development of doctrine along the lines of a John Henry Newman, he does recognize that changes and accommodations have been made by evangelicals. But he is inclined to take such changes as signs of “vitality,” on the assumption of an underlying and unchanging orthodoxy of belief. This is not persuasive.
For instance, when he started out in the 1940s, Billy Graham made no bones about preaching hellfire and damnation for those who have not accepted Christ. He hasn’t been featuring that for a very long time now. Not to put too fine a point on it, one may assume that Mr. Graham knows what does and what does not sell. Is this a mark of vitality or, as Hunter suggests, accommodation? It is a notable and implausible conceit of many evangelicals that they are preaching an “old time Gospel” that goes back substantively unchanged to the New Testament. Smith fails to challenge that conceit and in fact, perhaps inadvertently, tends to reinforce it. In contemporary evangelicalism, the market-driven “church growth movement,” with its preoccupation with building “megachurches,” has clearly relocated the center of religious authority from the pulpit to the felt needs of “seekers.” Individuals may still say the same things their grandparents said about the authority of the Bible and the way of salvation, but the religio-cultural dynamics have dramatically changed. This is a dimension of evangelicalism to which Hunter pays assiduous attention but is largely missed by Smith’s methodological individualism that is content to report what people say they believe.
In addition, the book’s repeated assertion that evangelicalism as defined by the author is the most vibrant of America’s religious communities is skewed by the criteria employed. For example, “historic Christian doctrine” is framed in distinctively evangelical terms, beginning with the authority of the Bible and including items such as having “committed one’s life to Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior.” If orthodoxy is defined by evangelical distinctives, it is not surprising that evangelicals come out being more orthodox. We would undoubtedly have a very different result were orthodoxy defined by, for example, Catholic distinctives such as, to mention a few, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the pope as successor of Peter, the authority of tradition, and belief in the intercession of the saints. In fact, by some of Smith’s own criteria of “vitality”—such as the retention of members—Catholics come out well ahead of the evangelicals in his study. Pushing the point a little further, one could imagine that mainline/liberal criteria of vitality—for instance, sensitivity to issues of race, class, and gender—could produce the conclusion that liberal Protestantism is the most vibrant of communities.
No Free Evenings
Smith takes it as a mark of vitality that, in addition to Sunday worship, evangelicals spend more time than other Christians at church and in church-related activities. I’m not so sure. One is reminded of Oscar Wilde’s complaint about socialism and the frenetic activism of its proponents. The problem with socialism, he said, is that it leaves one with no free evenings. There are many ways of being Christian in the world; being much preoccupied with activities identified as “Christian” is only one of them. There is no doubt about the enormous institutional vitality of evangelicalism, driven by intense religious entrepreneurship in evangelism, education, publishing, and uplift programs without end. One can simply look at the massive evangelical advertising in, for instance, Christianity Today. It seems that almost everybody is hawking some new wrinkle on that “old time Gospel.” But I believe James Hunter is right in sensing something frenetic, even desperate, in the multiplication of these enterprises and the tone in which they are pitched. The more thoughtful and theologically attuned voices in evangelicalism suggest with increasing urgency that there is a connection between intensified marketing and a sense that evangelicalism has lost its direction.
American Evangelicalism supplies many and sometimes important surprises. For instance, Smith’s “7 percent evangelicals” are, in absolute numbers, mainly in the Northeast and, especially, in the Upper Midwest—not in the South and Southwest, as the conventional view would suggest. For another instance, Smith’s evangelicals are, by some measures of evangelical Protestant orthodoxy, frequently more orthodox than their fundamentalist cousins. The reason, Smith plausibly proposes, is that evangelicals are in regular engagement with those who do not share their beliefs, which requires them to think more carefully about what it is that they do believe. The more insular fundamentalists, on the other hand, live in their own and less troubled world, which is conducive to shared belief being taken for granted and becoming flaccid.
Throughout his argument, Smith treats evangelicalism as an “embattled and thriving” subculture. This is crucial. Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) famously distinguished religious groups along the lines of three models—church, sect, and mysticism. Smith’s evangelicalism is of the sect model, although in the background assumptions about individual experience and attitude there is an element of mysticism, understood as the “gnosticism” described in Harold Bloom’s The American Religion (1992). Years earlier, in 1969 to be precise, sociologist Peter Berger, a mentor and colleague of James Davison Hunter, wrote about secularization as the loss of “the sacred canopy,” by which he meant an overarching religious belief system that provides personal and communal meaning. Smith agrees that our culture may have lost the sacred canopy, but offers the piquant suggestion that people now put up their own “sacred umbrellas,” which work just fine. Perhaps so, but the umbrella image does suggest that the storm of secularization is very real, and finally does not seem that different from Hunter’s “sheltered enclave.”
Make no mistake about it, however: American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving is a book very much worth reading. Christian Smith takes on the big questions, and I believe his intuition is right that there is no necessary connection between modernity and secularization, and that America should be seen more as the norm than as the exception in thinking about the religious future of the world. If his argument is not as convincing as his intuition is sound, I believe the reason is to be found in an evangelical Protestant bias that too often comes close to special pleading. That being said, American Evangelicalism both provokes and informs, and is a most welcome contribution to understanding important aspects of our religious situation.
The “Autonomy” of the University of St. Dympna
The scholarship of Father James Burtchaell, author of The Dying of the Light (see review by John Peter Kenney, FT, October 1998), has made an inestimable contribution to the cause of keeping Christian schools Christian. Writing on the apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which will be a major subject for the meeting of Catholic bishops this fall, Burtchaell notes in Crisis magazine the curious insistence of some college and university administrators that any accountability to the Church will compromise their institutions’ independence and integrity. But let Fr. Burtchaell tell it. (St. Dympna is a seventh-century Belgian martyr and patroness of the mentally disordered.)
The presidents have been so accustomed to trumping with the dogma of “institutional autonomy” that they have evidently not realized the absurdity of their repeated claim that no “outside authority” could hold their institutions answerable. Take, as typical, the well respected University of St. Dympna. The first outside authority to which she regularly defers is the Federal Government, incarnate in the Departments of State, Justice, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Veterans Affairs; also the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Library of Congress, the U.S. Patent Office, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowments for the Humanities and for the Arts, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Washington forbids her to ask the race of applicants, but requires her to report the racial breakdown of her personnel and students; makes it worth her while to include in every employment notice the assurance that she is an equal opportunity employer; forbids her to save the trees on her campus by spraying DDT; determines and inspects the housing for her laboratory animals (which therefore costs roughly twice as much per square foot as faculty office space); requires protection of all human subjects of any funded research, subject to elaborate guidelines and reporting; requires a minimum number of credit hours to be taken by students receiving tuition grants or guaranteed loans; and regulates the emissions from the power plant.
A typical professor of biology, for instance, might answer to the American Heart Association which funds his research, the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care which is licensed under the Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation to ensure that his rats are well cared for; the Environmental Protection Agency which superintends his disposal of their bodies; the Department of Energy which governs his usage and storage of radio isotopes; the Department of Transportation which must issue a clearance for him to ship pathogens; the Office of Safety and Health Administration which monitors the safety of his technicians; the Immigration and Naturalization Service which must always be apprised of the status of foreign nationals collaborating in his research; the Department of Labor which requires proof that no qualified citizen is available before it will agree to a visa to a foreign national; and the National Institutes of Health which provide norms to the internal Human Subjects Committee that must give appropriate projects ethical approval.
The Comptroller of the Currency regulates the faculty credit union. The Library of Congress certifies copyrights to faculty members and sets standards for the book cataloguing. The U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy decide what facilities are required by their ROTC programs on campus. And obviously there is the jurisdiction of the courts.
This is, of course, only a small and suggestive sample of the federal authorities to which St. Dympna defers. The North Central Association, her regional accrediting agency, develops multiple standards or expectations regarding advanced placement, exceptions for athletes, adequacy of research funding, expenditures on library materials, allowable retirement ages, obligatory amenities for the disabled, proportion of faculty on leave, management of financial aid to veterans, economic stability and management of long-term debt, mandatory insurance coverage, participatory decision-making, the academic calendar, integration of professional with academic programs, the rights of various employee groups to require collective bargaining, adequacy of funding for new degree offerings, languages to be used in instruction, etc.
In addition, St. Dympna must face the regularly recurring scrutiny of specialized accrediting agencies: the National Association of Schools of Music, the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada, the American Psychological Association, the American Chemical Society, the American Bar Association, the Association of American Law Schools, the Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation of the American Medical Association, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Engineering Technology, the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, and the Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. The Financial Accounting Standards Board has set the parameters and format for her financial statements. The National Collegiate Athletic Association feigns to regulate the amount of practice time before the beginning of the academic year, all financial adhesions of varsity athletes, the authenticity of their academic progress, and variances in their class attendance due to events away from campus. ETS and ACT largely shape the comparative assessment of prospective freshmen and of their high schools, and the linguistic competence of applicants for whom English is not their first language.
The county health department has regulations governing burials on campus, and inspects the dining facilities. The fire inspector regularly prowls the physical plant and growls at code violations. The building inspectors have to sign off on all construction projects, and the zoning people will claim a say if the campus begins to creep in any direction. The county prosecutor decides which student misbehavior will be dealt with officially, which unofficially, and which not at all.
These are some of the external authorities or agencies to which St. Dympna is answerable for her various standards. She is also a party to policy-setting by the American Council on Education, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (which sometimes forgets that it too is an outsider to its member campuses), the State Conference on Higher Education, the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the Council of Graduate Schools, and generally expects to abide by the norms they adopt. To quote the Letter to the Hebrews, “What more shall I say?” The point is clear. No university is an asteroid. It is an organic member of a complex, very endocrine community.
“Fr. Neuhaus Should Withdraw his Book” is the heading of a five-page attack on Appointment in Rome: The Church in America Awakening by the editors of the (Houston) Catholic Worker. My book, claim Mark and Louise Zwick, “can only be considered a counter document to that of Pope John Paul II,” referring to his apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in America. The Pope’s exhortation is the official message of the Synod for America held at the end of 1997 and was delivered in Mexico City this past January. My book, say the editors, “presents a view shockingly different from that of the Holy Father.” There is neither reason nor space to respond to the numerous criticisms offered by the editors. The easy thing to do is to observe that the Pope has read Appointment in Rome and praised it highly, for which I am very grateful. I could just leave it at that, but the Catholic Worker and the movement it represents, founded by the great Dorothy Day and her mentor Peter Maurin, continue to be an inspiration for many, and the editors’ charges are, at least for that reason, deserving of some response.
The Zwicks begin their extended essay with embarrassingly flattering remarks about this author, but that is an obvious set-up to explain their great disappointment with me. With a reading of the subtext that is worthy of the more fevered disciples of Leo Strauss, they explain that I am really a “Calvinist” after all because I suggest that Max Weber was on to something with his suggested connection between “the Protestant ethic” and economic enterprise. As a Catholic, my problem is that I “attached [myself] to the thought of John Courtney Murray, S.J., who, with the best of intentions, exacerbated the dualism between faith and everyday life, faith and economics, faith and education, faith and culture which has plagued Christianity since the reformation.” Apart from how one could do such bad things with the best of intentions, this will come as astonishing news to students of Murray who celebrate his pioneering work, also at Vatican Council II, in bringing Catholic social doctrine into firm alliance with democratic freedom and justice. Perhaps scholars have overlooked the insidious Calvinist influences in Murray’s background as well.
The Zwicks’ essay is an extended polemic against neoconservatism, a.k.a. neoliberalism, a.k.a. capitalism. So, as might be expected, Michael Novak, George Weigel, and Father Robert Sirico come in for very unfavorable mention. The neoliberalism supported by this writer and his friends, say the editors, “mows down people who are in other countries through slave wages, international trade agreements and torture taught at the School of the Americas to ensure that ‘freedom’ prevails. It is very violent.” But the Zwicks go beyond the usual suspects. They write, “Another well-respected priest, Fr. Avery Dulles, S.J., defends slave wages as being better than no wages.” Fr. Dulles is not simply a well-respected priest, he is undoubtedly the most widely respected Catholic theologian in the United States (to whom, not incidently, Appointment in Rome is dedicated). And, if one really wanted to press the point, might one not be able to make the case that low wages, even very low wages, are better than no wages at all? But, in fact, what the Catholic Worker says is false.
Fr. Dulles tells me that he remembers meeting the Zwicks at a meeting in Washington and, in private conversation, asked them what they thought of the argument of an acquaintance of his who does business in Latin America and claims that, although the wages he pays are low by North American standards, they are much higher than his workers could otherwise obtain. He says he does not recall how the Zwicks responded to his question, if they did. Since then, however, they have more than once published the claim that Fr. Dulles “defends slave wages” in Latin America. Such libel does nothing to enhance the legacy of Dorothy Day which the Catholic Worker supposedly champions.
In Appointment in Rome, the Zwicks write, “Fr. Neuhaus forgot to point out, as the Pope did, that the ‘constant dedication to the poor and disadvantaged emerges in the Church’s social teaching, which ceaselessly invites the Christian community to a commitment to overcome every form of exploitation and oppression.’“ It is hardly surprising that I should forget to point that out, if, as alleged, I am in favor of slave wages and torture. But of course there is no disagreement with the Pope on the commitment to the poor. The disagreement is between the Catholic Worker‘s position that the poor are to be liberated through class struggle and resentment, on the one hand, and the Pope’s position that the poor are to be helped to become non poor by expanding the circle of productivity and exchange, on the other.
“Fr. Neuhaus,” we are told, “forgot to include this vision of love of the poor and the suffering in Appointment in Rome, as he encouraged joining forces with fundamentalists in what they sometimes call a theology of prosperity.” There is nothing in the book about a “theology of prosperity,” but there is a great deal about the initiative “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” and what it could mean also for Latin America. And I do note the many scholars who have suggested that there is a connection between evangelical missions in Latin America and the encouragement of economic enterprise. The Catholic Worker seems to be of the view that the authentically Catholic position is one of being in love with being in love with the poor and the suffering. The course of love, I would suggest in agreement with Catholic doctrine, is to do all we can to remedy poverty and suffering.
The editors declare themselves deeply disturbed about my book’s “mocking” the Latin American bishops. I do have some candid, and I thought humorous, observations about bishops at the Synod, from both the North and the South, who apparently thought they were doing their duty by the poor by reiterating weary slogans from now moribund liberation theologies. From my acquaintance with Dorothy Day, I think she would have appreciated the humor, which is obviously lost on those who purportedly keep her flame. In any event, I am pleased to report that a number of Latin American bishops who have read the book in English and praised it highly are eagerly awaiting the Spanish edition and intend to give it the widest possible circulation.
So what is one to make of the nastiness perpetrated by the Catholic Worker? Because of the vestigial connection with the much admired Dorothy Day, a general inclination is to cut a lot of slack for those who claim to be her heirs. As a friend says, “Of course what they say about economics and politics is mostly nonsense, but they are idealists and they keep the rest of us honest.” It is a benign view, but I cannot agree. Nobody is kept honest by their dishonesty, by their attempt to ideologically hijack Catholic social teaching, or by their misrepresenting of those with whom they disagree. That is not idealism. It is moral posturing that serves no purpose other than the inflation of self-esteem as people of ever so superior sensitivity to the sufferings of the poor. It is one of the things we must move beyond if we are to move toward what the Synod and John Paul II call us to—“An Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ, the Way to Conversion, Communion, and Solidarity in America.”
Crossing the Civility Line
I run no risk of surprising the reader when I say that I am not opposed to a little spirited polemic from time to time. But polemic, too, should be within the bounds of civility. A civil polemic leaves something to be said in response by the object of the polemic; it does not stop the conversation. The line of civility is not easily defined in the abstract, but you usually know when it has been crossed.
For instance, in this article by the celebrated gay playwright Tony Kushner published in the Nation and reprinted in Harper’s. Kushner writes: “Pope John Paul II endorses murder. . . . The Pope and his cardinals and bishops and priests maintain their cynical, political silence. Rigorously denouncing the abuse and murder of homosexuals would be a big sin against spin, denouncing the murder of homosexuals in such a way that it received even one-thousandth of the coverage his and his Church’s attacks on homosexuals routinely receive would be an act of decency the Pope can’t afford, for the Pope knows: Behind this one murdered kid stand legions of kids whose lives are scarred by the bigotry this Pope defends as Sanctioned by God.” And again: “The Pope, in his new encyclical, Fides et Ratio (‘Faith and Reason’), laments the death of civil discourse and cites ‘ancient philosophers who propose friendship as one of the most appropriate contexts for sound philosophical inquiry.’ Tell you what, Your Holiness, take the gun away from my head, and we can discuss the merits of homosexual sex, homosexual marriage, abortion, anything you like. A lot of people worry these days about the death of civil discourse and would say that I ought not to call the Pope a homicidal liar nor (to be ecumenical about this) the orthodox rabbinate homicidal liars nor Trent Lott a disgusting, opportunistic hate-monger. But I worry a lot less about the death of civil discourse than I worry about being killed if, visiting the wrong town with my boyfriend, we forget ourselves so much as to betray, at the wrong moment in front of the wrong people, that we love each other.”
Succumbing once again to my propensity for fairness, I speculate that perhaps the editors of Harper’s reprinted Kushner’s vituperation precisely in order to underscore the point about civility made at the beginning. There is no evidence of that, however, and I would be reluctant to attribute to Harper’s, in a fit of excessive charity, motives that are not their own. What can be said with near irrefutable certainty is that a diatribe of the same tone as Kushner’s but by an opponent of the homosexual agenda would certainly not be printed in the Nation or in Harper’s without its being very clearly indicated that it illustrates the violent extremism of those with whom they disagree.
Time for a Step Further
The criticism of CCHD is fine so far as it goes, says an old hand at inner-city community organizing here in New York, but it doesn’t go far enough. CCHD is, of course, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. In response to critics, the word Catholic was recently added to the name in order to indicate that it is, well, Catholic. The aforementioned old hand doesn’t think it means very much. He criticizes the critics of CCHD for concentrating on those cases where funding is given to organizations that directly violate the Church’s teaching, notably on abortion. The problem with that, says our old hand, is that it segregates the “life questions” from the fullness of the Church’s social teaching, giving the impression that abortion and a few other things are no more than Catholic “hang-ups” to which those receiving Catholic money need to be sensitive.
In an earlier life long ago, before he was converted to the gospel of life, our old hand was an executive with Planned Parenthood. That organization, he notes, would never dream of giving support to a group that did not back its entire agenda, and it is assumed that when a major lobbying effort is needed PP will call in its chits. Not so with Catholics. Through CCHD many millions of dollars are given each year to organizations that, while avoiding the hang-up questions, are indifferent and frequently hostile to the Church’s mission. In inner-city community organizing, Catholics provide, in addition to the funding, the great majority of the people and the bulk of parish-based institutional support.
Our old hand thinks part of the problem is with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), an effort launched more than thirty years ago by the late Saul Alinsky of Chicago, who made no secret of his strategy of hijacking the resources of the Catholic Church for his self-declared revolution. IAF is, under various names, still very much a force in community organizing around the country. But why are Catholic dioceses and CCHD so hesitant to insist that assisted programs be commensurate with Catholic support and teaching? Part of the answer is a good ecumenical impulse gone awry. In many urban areas, liberal Protestant churches are a small minority in community coalitions but exercise a large influence, often because Catholics don’t want to offend them by pressing issues such as support for crisis pregnancy centers or opposition to partial-birth abortion. Another part of the answer is that it is naively assumed that more “inclusive” groups will more impartially serve “the common good,” when, in fact, any viable organization has its particular goals—a.k.a. “interests”—for good or ill.
The Catholic interest, one might suggest, is to serve the common good, as that is richly and amply defined in the Church’s social doctrine. But to insist on that requires a measure of confidence in that doctrine, and such confidence is in short supply. The World Council of Churches had the slogan “The world sets the agenda for the Church.” There is an analogue in the Catholic understanding that grace perfects nature and, by extension, the Church’s mission is to support the good things already happening under other auspices. There is important truth in these claims, of course. But they are truths too easily subverted and turned to alien purposes when the Church’s people and resources are placed at the disposal of those who define the good in ways that are frequently unsympathetic to or at odds with the Church’s teaching. So what our old hand is suggesting is that the criticism of some of the more egregious abuses in CCHD funding is having its effect, and that’s good. But now it’s time to go further and make the case that the “Catholic” in the Catholic Campaign for Human Development should indicate more than the source of the monies and other resources employed. It should be an honest indicator of all the ends to which they are employed.
Gambling with Gaming
We’re willing to wager that you have mixed feelings about gambling. It’s hard to imagine what’s so objectionable about going to the racetrack on a Saturday afternoon to see the thoroughbreds on the misty green and enjoy a bowl of bread pudding with bourbon sauce, the classic Kentucky racetrack dessert. On the other hand, it’s not a particularly constructive pastime, and it results in places like Las Vegas. The Hon. Frank R. Wolf of the House of Representatives (Virginia) recently offered Congress a few more compelling reasons to challenge the gambling industry. For starters, it has spread like wildfire through our country in the last twenty years, legal now in forty-eight states, but it appears most often on Native American reservations—and gambling in those communities is as severe a plague as alcohol once was, and still is.
The rest of the population is hardly immune to the ill effects of gambling, though. Senior citizens in particular tend to be lured by bingo, making it one of the most popular activities in their age group and consequently a common cause of their financial ruin. At the other end of the scale, children are being targeted by casinos. “Family-friendly” enterprises offer arcade games to kids that get them hooked on the gambling high early in life, to such an extent that in places such as Louisiana, according to those who have studied the matter, one in seven 18-to-21-year-olds already has chronic gambling problems. Likewise it is alive and well in nearly every New Jersey high school, frequently backed by organized crime.
Gambling also hurts communities as a whole. Along with casinos come crime, gambling addictions, bankruptcy, and a higher rate of suicide. If that weren’t enough, the powerful gambling lobbies have managed to corrupt the political process, since their financial influence far outweighs that of grassroots action by families and neighborhoods to keep gambling out.
In the 1998 elections, especially in the South, a number of key congressional and gubernatorial races were, it is generally agreed, decided by gambling issues such as state lotteries and legalizing casinos. The anti-gambling candidates, swamped by money from “gaming” interests (they much prefer “gaming” to “gambling”), went down to defeat. The Democratic Party is fast adding to its other lovely attributes that of being gigolo to Lady Luck. There is a further corruption of government involved, especially with state-sponsored lotteries and other gambling. It’s a cheap and dishonest way of raising money. States typically claim that gambling revenues go to “education” and other motherhood programs, but it is simply a device for exploiting human weaknesses to generate funds that the government can slush where it will. It is taxation by another name, but taxation of the vulnerable, and taxation without accountability, which is another form of taxation without representation—which was once in American history a matter of lively concern. One raises this protest in fear and trembling, knowing that critics may take it as further evidence that this publication is, according to Andrew Sullivan who calls it “the spiritual nerve center of the new conservatism,” promoting “neo-Puritanism.” In view of the innumerable people and the public integrity that are at risk, we’ll take that risk. And thank Congressman Wolf once again for his leadership.
The Third Way, For the Umpteenth Time
Al Gore wants everyone to win, and he has some ideas about how to make that happen. David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values summarizes his plan. “In a recent speech to the Democratic Leadership Council,” Blankenhorn writes, “Vice President Al Gore firmly embraced what growing numbers of political strategists, both in the U.S. and abroad, call ‘third way’ thinking. As the Vice President put it, the basic idea is to go ‘beyond the false divisions and dichotomies of the past.’ For third way thinkers, the answer to most questions is not one conventional position or the other but a new blending of positions. What we typically face today are not zero-sum conflicts, requiring us to make decisions that necessarily produce winners and losers, but rather tensions that can be solved creatively in ways that permit everyone to win.”
Gore is thinking specifically of how families in which both parents work can win. Blankenhorn continues: “The Vice President is putting two propositions on the table. The first is that corporate-sponsored child care programs—the Administration currently recommends new tax breaks for corporations that provide day care for children of employees—are both good for business and good for children and families. The second is that ‘two-paycheck and time-off’ families deserve public support because they ‘really’ exist, whereas the family type consisting of employed father and at-home mother ‘no longer exists.’
“These two propositions are closely connected, since accepting the latter is a precondition for defending the former. After all, some people might worry about the fairness of using public policy to subsidize the child care choices of some families, while effectively punishing the choices of others. But you can’t unfairly discriminate against a family form that ‘no longer exists.’ The only two-parent families that we have left, according to the Vice President, are those two-earner couples in which one parent (thanks to Family and Medical Leave) can take time off for a few weeks or months when the baby is born, then start ‘juggling day care,’ preferably with the assistance of an employer-sponsored child care program.
“This is weak stuff. In the United States today, about half of all preschool children are cared for during the day by their mothers. Another 25 percent or so are cared for by fathers or other family members. Day care centers account for about 15 percent of all preschoolers; the rest are cared for by babysitters and other non-relatives. Among all married couples in the U.S. with at least one preschooler, only about one of every three mothers works full time outside of the home. Among all families with young children, those whom the Vice President describes as no longer existing, and therefore irrelevant for public policy, are in fact the largest single demographic group.”
It’s not just a matter of demographic ignorance, though. There’s something else at work here. Blankenhorn writes: “Instead of ‘win-win,’ think of most of these programs as intended to support one side in a battle. The battle being waged is for the time and attention of parents. One side consists of employers. The opposing side consists of children. More for one side means less for the other. Less absenteeism at work necessitates more absenteeism at home. In this generation, guess which side is winning? And guess who is cheering the winning side on, insisting that they deserve even more public money, all the while pretending, as if saying it made it so, that the conflict does not exist? None other than the leader-in-waiting of the very political party which, last time I checked, was supposed to be at least a little suspicious of the idea that whatever is good for big business must also be good for ordinary people.” The suspicion is once again confirmed: Those who talk about a third way are usually saying that we should do things their way.
“A Righteous Man in His Time”
Hackles were raised when the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See delivered, on behalf of his government, the judgment that the cause of Pope Pius XII should not proceed toward beatification and canonization until questions had been satisfied regarding his alleged failure to do all he should have done on behalf of Jews during the Holocaust. It struck some as an egregious instance of presumption (there is a fine Yiddish word for that) to suggest that Jews in general, or Israel in particular, should have veto power over whom the Church acknowledges as a saint. A priest in Rome who is defending the beatification of Pius did not help matters with an outburst against Jewish influence and a proposal that maybe it is time for the Church to examine Jewish attacks against Christianity through the centuries. That tu quoque reaction is logically fallacious and reflects a defensiveness hardly in keeping with John Paul II’s call for a healing of memories at the threshold of the third Christian millennium.
A thoughtful reflection on this controversy is offered by Rabbi Albert Friedlander of the Reform synagogue of Westminster in London. Writing in the Tablet, he indicates his uneasiness about playing the devil’s advocate, the biblical accuser usually played, as in the Book of Job, by Satan. But he does think we must together ask the question, “Who is a saint in the time of evil?” Rabbi Friedlander writes: “The rabbis take the Genesis text, ‘And Noah was a righteous man in his time,’ and examine it closely. Does ‘in his time’ suggest that the standards of righteousness were much lower: that anyone who was not totally evil could be called righteous? Or does it mean that in such an evil time anyone fighting evil had to be particularly good? The end decision was in Noah’s favor, even though his actions after leaving the ark cause much concern. In the time of the Nazis, we find a similar situation: does silence or indirect action when one does not put one’s life at risk constitute the moral resistance required? Many individuals had to make that choice. As I have already said, there were moral failures among the victims as well. But I am concerned with the apathetic onlookers. Does not ‘sainthood,’ by contrast, indicate a superhuman effort? Standing on the outside, I would not and should not act as a judge. But I must ask the Church to reassess its conscience, particularly if it wants to be a teacher and witness to everyone.”
His last point in particular must, I think, be taken very seriously. What the Catholic Church does is not just an “internal” matter of interest to Catholics and other Christians. The Church’s actions speak to everyone, and, for reasons both historical and theological, we must be especially alert to how they speak to Jews. I hold no brief one way or the other with respect to the beatification of Pius XII. However, the subject of the Church and the Holocaust and, more inclusively, Christianity and the Holocaust, has been a subject of intense interest to me over the years. I have had occasion to study and write about it more than I want to remember. My own judgment is that Pius was a great, holy, tormented, and sometimes courageous man whose decisions may sometimes have erred on the side of caution, but whose intentions were always and luminously honorable. Whether he should be formally celebrated as a saint is for others to determine. But there is no reason for Catholics to be apologetic about him. Quite the contrary. Nor should we hesitate to make clear that the slandering of his memory since Rolf Hochhuth’s 1963 play The Deputy is despicable.
Certainly Rabbi Friedlander is not guilty of that. He is asking a serious question to which we must attend if we want the Church to be “a teacher and witness to everyone”: “Who is a saint in the time of evil?” His implied answer is not persuasive, however. Thank God, there were those who publicly resisted the Nazi regime and paid with the price of their lives. One thinks, for instance, of the Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who joined the plot to overthrow the regime and was executed on the direct orders of Hitler on April 9, 1945. But was this course morally mandatory for everyone? Surely there were saints in that time of evil who did not engage in active resistance and who did not die as martyrs. The Church has in fact beatified and canonized such, and there were no doubt many more, as there are in every time, who will never receive formal recognition. Sainthood has to do with holiness—the actualizing of God’s grace in our lives—and there are many paths of holiness other than public moral witness, never mind political action. There were, in that time of evil, mothers, fathers, doctors, contemplatives, scholars, priests, and others who were saints in their faithful pursuit of the course to which they believed God called them.
Friedlander writes, “The dark history of the time of the Holocaust is the backcloth to any assessment of individuals during that testing period.” The backcloth, yes, but let it be said, at the risk of being misunderstood, that the Holocaust was not the only thing that was happening from 1942 to 1945. The sun also rose on days when there were prayers to be said, wounded to be cared for, courses to be taught, music to be played, and children to be fed. No doubt many who attended to these and other duties were saints. Holiness is an everyday thing. The Holocaust is in our culture the only uncontested icon of absolute evil. It ought not to be, but it is. Analogies should be indulged with caution, yet there are other historical periods of testing which likewise should not be made the litmus test of holiness.
Thoreau declared that a prison is “the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor.” He had all the makings of a self-righteous prig and, in fact, did not abide in prison very long. During the halcyon days of the civil rights movement, some of us were in and out of jail for acts of civil disobedience and were lionized for it, at least within the movement. It was frequently said then that only time in jail could certify the authenticity of one’s concern for racial justice. That, too, was self-righteous priggery. Today there are those who say, with considerable justice, “The dark history of the time of the abortion slaughter is the backcloth to any assessment of individuals during this testing period.” They believe, with reasonable hope, that a day will come in which we will look back upon this period in the same horror with which we now look upon slavery, segregation, and, yes, the Holocaust. In the last quarter century, in this country alone, more than thirty million babies have been killed. Countless people have selflessly devoted almost the entirety of their lives to protesting this great evil; many have been and some still are in prison. Yet would we say that during this quarter century there have been no saints except for those engaged in anti-abortion activism? I think not.
Were the Holocaust the only test of the holiness of Pius XII, it is possible that he may have failed, although I would not presume to say so. But the Holocaust, unspeakable horror though it was, is not the only test. No evil, not even an evil so great as the Holocaust, can be permitted an imperious claim that eclipses all the goodness, truth, and beauty that shines through the darkest hour in lives of holiness. Whether or not Pius XII was a saint, God knows; and in due course He may permit the Church to know as well. We can await the determination of that in patience; and in the hope that, if it is decided that he was, that decision will be communicated in a way that is persuasive to those who want the Church “to be a teacher and witness to everyone.” This assumes that Rabbi Friedlander and those who raise similar concerns really want the Church to be that.
While We’re At It
• Regrettably, I had a conflict and couldn’t make it, but I was impressed by the elegant invitation: “The Foundation for Academic Standards & Tradition requests the pleasure of your company at the First Annual Dinner in honor of Herbert I. London.” I agree that Herb London is a worthy man, but every year?
• First Robert Louis Wilken wrote an article in Communio called “In Dominico eloquio” about the interpretation of Old Testament passages in biblical studies. Then Richard B. Hays of Duke responded with approval to his article but wondered if perhaps Wilken discounted the benefits to be gained by the historical-critical method. Now Wilken replies to Hays, appreciative of the gains made by historical criticism but offering an insightful corrective to its excesses. “The history that was the key to the Scripture,” Wilken writes, “was the history of Christ. If Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, and the ‘end of the ages’ had arrived, it was the task of biblical interpreters to discover what the ancient scriptural words and promises meant in light of this new fact.” This, he says, is no longer the case with a great many theologians. “[F]ew biblical scholars are willing to make the move from the historical setting of the biblical text to the Church’s reception and use of the Bible. And when the attempt is made it often seems arbitrary and forced because the historical interpretation remains authoritative. The spiritual reading appears to be an unwelcome appendage. Though I agree with Hays that a theological interpretation of the Bible cannot ignore the historical setting, as long as the historical reading of the Scriptures is considered normative—as it is by most biblical scholars today—little advance will be made. How differently would one go about the task of interpretation if historical study of the Scriptures was preparatory and the spiritual meaning was the goal of interpretation.” He concludes with a noteworthy historical by-the-way: “In my reading of the history of Christianity, the Reformation is an event in medieval history, hence Luther and Calvin stand in the medieval tradition of biblical interpretation. . . . They were not historical critics and the excesses of modern historical criticism do not have their origins in their writings.” For them, as for the Great Tradition before them, the spiritual meaning was the goal.
• Mark Silk, the editor of a new quarterly called Religion in the News, writes, “The creation of dozens of new and expanded religion sections over the past few years has generally included moving the religion beat out of news departments and into feature sections. Religion, newspapers seem to be saying, has to do with human interest, not public business. This is ironic, because it was the irruption of religion into politics that attracted editors’ attention to religion in the first place.” But Silk suspects that something big is afoot. “Since the beginning of the republic, religion in American public life has ebbed and flowed through a succession of ‘disestablishments’ and ‘re-establishments.’“ The most recent disestablishment happened in the sixties. “Now,” Silk says, “the next establishment may be at hand.” To subscribe to Religion in the News, call (860) 297-2353.
• Seventy-five years is a long time for any magazine. FT will, Deo volente, reach that venerable age in the year 2065. Commonweal is already there and its year-long celebration will include an anthology of its best this fall. Along the way, the editors are running little snippets “From the Archives,” such as this on “Religion and Sex” by G. K. Chesterton, which appeared in November 1924: “Stated in human terms the plan is substantially this. That love which makes youth beautiful, and is the natural spring of so much song and romance, has for its final aim and issue a creative act, the founding of a family. While it is a creative act like that of an artist it is also a collective act like that of a small community. It is, perhaps, the one artistic work in which collaboration is a success and indeed a necessity. It takes two to make a quarrel. It also takes two to make a lovers’ agreement that their love shall be put before their quarrels. But by definition the agreement of the two is not merely the concern of the two, but, in a very terrible sense, of others. The founding of a family, like all creative acts, is an awful responsibility. In other words, the founding of a family means the feeding of a family, the training, teaching, and watching of a family. It is a work for a lifetime, and most married lives are too short for it. This continuity is secured not by ‘marriage laws,’ which our modern plutocracies can pull about as they please, but by a voluntary vow or invocation of God made by both parties, that they will help each other in this work until death. For those who believe in God and also believe in the meaning of words, it is final and irrevocable.” More final and irrevocable than the publication of magazines, one might add, but to Commonweal, ad multos annos.
• Patricia Dixon was a minister’s wife before the family entered the Catholic Church, and she has decided views on the proposal that priests should be allowed to be married. Including this: “It is a fact that most Christians see their clergy as men set apart, not quite ‘real people,’ regardless of the steps the minister or priest takes to counteract that view. This impression, strong in Protestant churches, is even stronger among Catholics, because Catholic priests are set apart by their ordination in a way Protestant ministers are not. This sense of separateness extends to the pastor’s family. A minister’s wife who is pregnant may find that church members are uncomfortable with her as a living symbol of the pastor’s active sexuality; a minister’s children often find the expectation that they will be models of good behavior, piety, and academic achievement a crushing burden. Close friendships within the church can prove impossible to establish, depriving the pastor’s family of the bonds with other Christians so important to spiritual growth. The difference between the Protestant and Catholic understandings of ordination means that a priest’s family would suffer this isolation to an even greater degree than a Protestant minister’s family does. In discussing the need for more vocations, it is easy to offer facile solutions, to say that many more young men would become priests if priests could be married. There is little evidence to support this contention; but even if it were true, the cure would be worse than the disease.”
• James Wood, a senior editor at the New Republic, comes back to it again. As noted here, he last year wrote in TNR about his inability to believe in a powerful and merciful God who permits so much evil to exist. The arguments about theodicy are hoary, and Wood adds nothing new to them, but he does now supply an autobiographical bite that is helpful in understanding his obsession. “The dilemma was the torment of my adolescent years, which were spent in a sternly Christian and evangelical environment. My youth was full of anxious ambitions of atheism. I used to write down all the reasons for God’s existence on one side of the paper and all the arguments against on the other side.” James Wood is perhaps suffering from what I have called “the narrow escape syndrome,” which means defining one’s life by a narrow escape from a stifling childhood religion, and by the fear that the escape is not entirely successful. He discusses a new book by novelist Reynolds Price, Letter to a Man in the Fire, that attempts to reconcile our suffering with the reality of an omnipotent and merciful God. Wood is not persuaded: “When I considered these matters last year, several correspondents wrote to me to agree that this problem is an intolerable mystery but to express surprise that I leap from the stubbornness of the problem to the decision that God cannot exist. Yet it is precisely this dilemma, of all, that should prompt such blasphemy. One can either, like Price, confess the intolerable mystery, and then assert by circular, if anguished, thought that we must continue to worship the God that maintains and promotes this black mystery. Or one can come to the more rational conclusion that this mystery is not soluble because one part of the calculation, God, does not belong there. What better reason, what hotter crux, is there for letting God go?” More likely, the part of the calculation that is missing is the message that the biblical God is a crucified God who accepts the unjust verdict of humanity that “God is guilty!” That truth, of course, is more mystery than calculation. The god of James Wood, like the god of David Hume, whom he cites in support of his atheism, is not the God of the Bible. As Michael Buckley persuasively argues in At the Origins of Modern Atheism, Christians, too, do not (or should not) believe in the god in whom most atheists do not believe.
• Pornographer Larry Flynt spoke at Georgetown University recently. The university issued the following statement: “Although Larry Flynt is speaking on campus at the request of students, Georgetown does not in any way endorse Mr. Flynt or this event. Further, we believe that Mr. Flynt’s active attempt to profit by the humiliation and exploitation of women is shameful and wrong. Nevertheless, as a Catholic and Jesuit university Georgetown stands by academic freedom and the rights of students and faculty to invite speakers to campus—even speakers who are controversial or potentially offensive. In a university and in a democratic society, the best response to controversial or offensive speech is more speech, not censorship.” Bishop William Lori, speaking on behalf of James Cardinal Hickey, Archbishop of Washington, issued this statement: “It is unbelievable that Georgetown University would allow our nation’s premier purveyor of pornography, Larry Flynt, to speak on its campus. Mr. Flynt’s appearance has nothing to do with free speech, as some may claim. No Catholic university should provide a platform which furthers the degradation of women, immoral behavior, and the antireligious opinions Mr. Flynt represents. This is utterly contrary to the Catholic identity of Georgetown University. The University’s actions are indefensible.” Exactly. Except it is believable. It happened. “Catholic and Jesuit” nicely nuances the distinction between an institution that is Catholic Jesuit and one that is Jesuit Catholic. The adjective is all important. I was told the other day that you can tell the kind of Jesuit you’re dealing with by when he bows his head at the mention of the Society of Jesus. Some bow at “Society” and others at “Jesus.” A Jesuit friend, who was not amused, tells me that is an old one. He is a very Catholic Jesuit.
• The American Psychiatric Association has voted to reject any therapies that propose to heal homosexuals of their sexual dysfunction. In 1973 the APA removed homosexuality from its list of disorders, and has subsequently removed pedophilia, sadism, and masochism. Dr. Nada Stotland explained on behalf of the association’s latest decision, “The very existence of therapy that is supposed to change people’s sexuality, even for people who don’t take it, is harmful because it implies that they have a disease. There is evidence that the belief itself can trigger depression and anxiety.” There are very reputable psychiatrists who work with people in their desperate hope to overcome compulsive homosexual desires and behavior. These psychiatrists report a success rate comparable to other psychiatric therapies. The APA says such people should not be helped. They should not even know that such help is available. Their problem is, in fact, not a problem. The message from the APA, “Get used to it. Your sickness is in thinking you are sick.” Such ideologically driven callousness is yet another consequence of “defining deviancy down.” In this instance, deviancy is simply defined away, and anyone who challenges the new definition is defined as deviant. Don’t get used to it.
• Who, me? It is exceedingly tiresome when college and university administrators protest that they don’t do what they so obviously do do. While effusively affirming their devotion to their “Catholic identity,” they deny it by the most egregious of actions. One university president assures me that it has been made perfectly clear that this year’s commencement speaker will not be “honored” in any way. What twaddle. Being chosen as commencement speaker is as great an honor as most institutions provide. Chatter about “Catholic identity” or, even more tenuously, “education in the Jesuit tradition” is, a Jewish friend observes, comparable to advertising “kosher-like” hot dogs. Few things can constitute a more explicit, in-your-face, denial of Catholic seriousness than the choice of pro-abortion commencement speakers. Chosen from among the 230-plus Catholic colleges and universities in the country, herewith commencement speakers this year who, in their political actions or public positions, are very prominent defenders of the unlimited abortion license: John Brademas at Holy Cross College, Indiana; Bill Bradley at Mount St. Clare College, Iowa; Tom Brokaw at College of Santa Fe, New Mexico; Father Robert Drinan at St. John’s University Law School, New York; Michael J. Perry at St. John’s University, Minnesota; Anna Quindlen at Villanova University, Pennsylvania; Garry Wills at Niagara University, New York. Said Patrick Reilly, director of the Cardinal Newman Society: “Academic freedom is no excuse for inviting graduation speakers who publicly dismiss the truth about the dignity of human life, a truth that is fundamental to the Catholic faith. The reputation gained by inviting prominent commencement speakers must not supplant the Catholic educational mission.” He is right, of course, and charitable in assuming that these institutions put great stock in the Catholic educational mission. (In response to protests, Anna Quindlen withdrew at Villanova, emphasizing that her decision was “voluntary.”)
• “School vouchers will give more parents the resources and the choice to send their children to private schools. In these circumstances, more Jewish parents would be enabled to send their children to Jewish day schools. More Jewish children would then have the chance to obtain a grounding in Hebrew language, in Jewish history and ritual, and in the Bible, the Talmud, and other central texts. And this, in turn, would strengthen the Jewish community.” That’s Jeremy Rabkin, professor of government at Cornell. Intermarriage with non-Jews, which takes a heavy toll in children leaving the Jewish community, should be of concern, he says. According to a recent study, “Seventy-nine percent of [Jewish] day school graduates married other Jews, compared with fewer than half of those who had received only after-school instruction.” Rabkin concludes: “Jewish parents who support public education for their children will still find many excellent, conventional suburban schools. But the question is whether the Jewish community has a stake in ‘protecting’ public education by blocking government vouchers to private and religious alternatives. How much deference should be given to the vision of a common school, when school authorities around the country are now licensing more and more diverse school options? Can it really be in the Jewish interest to see that every sort of diversity has its claim on public support—except religious diversity?” As Norman Podhoretz has observed, Jews regularly, and with justice, ask, “What’s good for the Jews?”—and then promptly go out and support the opposite.
• A Texas reader passes on an editorial in the Houston Chronicle, “Justice Tempered,” that says it was all right for the governor of Missouri, at the Pope’s request, to spare the life of a convicted murderer, and it would have been equally all right had he declined to do so. Then this: “The same latitude grants to Americans the right to worship as they please while supporting capital punishment. The Pope, who presides over a church that over the centuries executed countless souls in the name of religion before adopting a more merciful doctrine, is in a poor position to fault Americans for this characteristic moral dichotomy.” That the Catholic Church executed countless people, or any people for that matter, is nonsense, but maybe the reference to “souls” has to do with something like spiritual executions. As to the moral dichotomy, maybe it is worshiping while supporting capital punishment, or worshiping as you please while supporting capital punishment, or having your mind on favorable thoughts about capital punishment while you’re supposed to be worshiping, or whatever. And I thought I had it rough having to begin the day with the editorials in our parish paper.
• The real world of politics is typically riddled with guile. Remarkably candid in that context is a letter by the president of the Massachusetts Log Cabin Club, a Republican homosexual group, to the gay newspaper Bay Windows, explaining how to defeat a “defense of marriage” bill that is aimed at precluding the recognition of same-sex unions as marriage. President Mark Goshko writes, “Sadly the strategy that now seems to be unfolding is playing right into our enemies’ hands. The danger of this type of legislation is that on its face it merely codifies the status quo ante; and states a position that is almost universally held even by our strongest supporters. Only a tiny handful of elected officials in the entire country at this point support gay marriage. This means that we must convince otherwise supportive legislators that this kind of legislation is mean-spirited and homophobic in its underlying intent, and is completely unnecessary to protect heterosexual marriage. They must be made comfortable that opposing such legislation will not be viewed as equivalent to supporting gay marriage. This is a very tricky and subtle task that requires lots of quiet hand-holding, behind-the-scenes-maneuvering and calling in of chits.” Goshko is hopeful that the judiciary will do their work for them, establishing same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, but gays must meanwhile apply themselves to the “very tricky and subtle task” of depicting their opponents as “mean-spirited and homophobic.” He concludes his letter with this: “So let’s keep our eyes on the prize and hopefully we can all get to work and bring this to a happy conclusion.” The politics of happiness, anyone?
• When more than seven hundred Anglican bishops met for the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference of 1998 they voted 526-70 (with 45 abstentions) to uphold the teaching that homosexual acts are contrary to Scripture and to firmly oppose the ordination of homosexually active priests. On the losing side was, most notably, recently retired Bishop John Spong of Newark, New Jersey. At Lambeth the bishops from Africa—where, in contrast to the Anglo-American scene, Anglicanism is thriving—took the lead in advocating classic Christian doctrine, and Spong did not help his cause by publicly complaining, in effect, that African Christians are only a generation away from swinging in the trees, and know nothing about the modern world. In his valedictory speech to the Newark diocesan convention, he told an enthusiastic crowd of eight hundred, “It is sometimes amazing how hostile and how divisive religious extremism can become.” He described Lambeth as “the most disillusioning experience I have had in my entire ordained life. I never expected to see the Anglican Communion, which prides itself on the place of reason in faith, descend to this level of irrational Pentecostal hysteria.” Crossroad is for some reason publishing a collection of Spong’s occasional essays, memos, dinner toasts, and whatever called The Bishop’s Voice. Spong is ever a man ahead of his time. At Lambeth, he writes, “The archbishop of Canterbury gave a talk on his vision for the church of the future. It revealed, rather, how far in the past his own life was rooted. I suspect that to the leaders of some of the undeveloped nations his words sounded visionary, but to me they were at least thirty years out of date. He and I simply do not live in the same world.” Were the archbishop a thousand years out of date he might be respected as a traditionalist, but thirty years is simply an embarrassment. Perhaps part of Spong’s appeal is his way with a phrase. There is this, for instance: “Until we address these issues, all that we do as a church will be akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” He says he is called as a bishop to walk into the “future of our faith” and he would prefer “to walk in concert with others in the body of Christ, but if this institution is unresponsive, I am prepared to walk alone.” So much for the Body of Christ. The book concludes with the assertion that “I am a Christian and I am not willing to assume that there is no way other than the way of yesterday to process the eternal Christ experience.” Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever; processing the Christ experience is something else. But enough. I believe it has been some years since I have commented on Bishop Spong, yet he is a religious phenomenon of our time and his retirement should not go unremarked. In person and in his writings, he is a man of breathtaking intellectual and spiritual vulgarity. His towering self-approval, clearly intended to intimidate, only astonishes. He has succeeded, where many others have only come close, in rendering liberal religiosity immune to caricature. Pray that in his retirement there will be occasion for, if not wholehearted repentance, at least the insinuation of a doubt about the infallibility of John Shelby Spong. That could be as painful, and as salutary, as is repentance for those whom he so obviously views as lesser mortals.
• Dave Andrusko, editor of National Right to Life News, notes a remarkable change at this year’s big—he thinks surely more than 100,000—pro-life march on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. For the first time, there were no pro-choice demonstrators heckling and hectoring the marchers. Andrusko writes: “What to make of this non-appearance? A major reason, I would suggest, is that our opponents are growing weary. They have had very limited success recruiting younger women and the trendlines are not moving in their direction. Even the pro-abortion establishment is beginning to concede that attitudes are changing. While we can’t look into their hearts, I have long believed that to traffic in the blood of unborn children and the misery of desperate women must sap their strength, leaving them bone-weary, riddled with guilt, and deeply unhappy. If that weren’t bad enough, as they get older, holes will appear in the layers of defense mechanisms they have put on like coats to keep the chill from their hearts. Unbeckoned, memories they’ve managed to repress begin to invade even their dreams.” He cites a recent article in Mirabella magazine on Kate Michelman, head of the pro-abortion NARAL. She complains about the “dangerous apathy” among pro-choicers, which is the “true enemy” of abortion rights. Michelman says, “Watered-down rhetoric may ease some of the public’s squeamishness about abortion. But it does little to galvanize grassroots activism. The last national pro-choice march was seven years ago; NARAL’s membership has declined significantly since the ‘92 elections.” Good news, all in all. Although I hope Ms. Michelman knows that her cause has more formidable enemies than apathy.
• The president of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A., Inc., the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, has been convicted in Florida of fraud and embezzlement involving millions of dollars, including hundreds of thousands raised a few years ago in connection with the scam alleging a national conspiracy to burn black churches. He still faces a long list of federal charges. It is one big sorry mess. The NBC has long claimed to be the largest black organization in the country, claiming 8.5 million members. Now prosecutors and others charge that those figures are grossly inflated, that the NBC may have no more than one million members. The inflated figure was used in rackets whereby Lyons sold access to the membership to corporations selling insurance, cemetery lots, and so forth. Lyons is appealing. If or when he goes to jail—and it seems more a question of when than if—he will presumably be replaced as president, but the remarkable thing is that his Florida congregation and the NBC leadership are steadfastly standing by him, apparently not so much claiming that he is innocent as that it doesn’t matter. His defense attorneys repeatedly argued an overtly racist line, that what looks like fraud and extortion to others is excusable because of “cultural differences” in the black community, and especially black religion. During the Clinton era of moral degradation, no objective observer can fail to note the connection with the uncritical, apparently fanatical, support of President Clinton by blacks. Clinton is, said novelist Toni Morrison, “our first black president.” It is a great sadness. The last luminous moment of liberal moral progress in American life was the civil rights movement under Martin Luther King, Jr. At that time, many people found it credible that black America would be the agent of a morally renewing—even, as some said, “redemptive”—change in our national life. That light dimmed even before Dr. King’s death in 1968, and developments since then—especially the hardening of underclass crime and dependency—have been almost uniformly depressing. There is some heartening counterevidence in the form of pioneering efforts by black clergy and community leaders in programs stressing faith and self-reliance (see Daniel P. Moloney’s “‘Saving’ the Poor,” FT, May), but they face a formidable obstacle in the corruption of a black establishment represented by Henry Lyons, the leadership of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A., and others who have so wantonly betrayed the dream of Dr. King.
• Cal Thomas, a widely syndicated columnist, and Ed Dobson, a former aide to Jerry Falwell and now a pastor in Michigan, will confuse, disappoint, and anger a good many readers with their new book, Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? (Zondervan). Others will be relieved and edified. Their answer to the question in the title is emphatically in the negative. But they go further than that, coming close to contending that Christian engagement in politics is a snare and delusion. The argument is very much like what might be called, to borrow computer technology, the default position of fundamentalism/evangelicalism prior to Carl Henry’s 1947 book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. The only way to change the world is to save individuals one by one. Blinded by Might is the story of disillusioned enthusiasm. Its exposure of the hype and hubris that mark much of the “religious right” is a necessary cautionary tale. The alternative, however, is not retreat from the public square but a religiously informed public philosophy that can sustain the quest for the common good over the long haul. That was the argument of a much earlier book that Dobson wrote with Ed Hinson, The Seduction of Power: Preachers, Politics, and the Media. I was honored when they dedicated that book to me. It was the right argument then, and it is the right argument now. Blinded by Might notwithstanding, one must resist the charge of critics that evangelical Protestants are incapable of a measured appreciation of both the importance and the limits of politics.
• A little more than three years ago Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the militant atheist who succeeded in getting prayer banned from public schools, disappeared without a trace, along with her son and granddaughter. Since there’s still no sign of her, and the IRS still wants the $25
0,000 she owes in taxes, her personal belongings were confiscated and auctioned off in January. A separate auction will be held for her private papers, and the hottest items among those are her diaries. The few excerpts made available to the public point towards a sad, lonely, and vulgarly materialistic life. The pages not devoted to dreams of mink coats, Cadillacs, and “humiliating Billy Graham on television for money” express her despair: “The whole idiotic hopelessness of human relations descends upon me. Tonight, I cried and cried, but even then feeling nothing.” Ronald Ingalls, the lawyer handling the auction of her diaries, comments that “This is more her personal stuff, her family tribulations. . . . This is not the place to come to find the fine points of her theories or logic.” One might be permitted to suspect that the two are not unrelated.
• A survey of college freshmen, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute in California, reports that only 51 percent of those surveyed believe that abortion should be legal, down 14 percent from the early nineties. In a similar vein, only 40 percent of the freshman, a record low proportion, agreed with the proposition that “if two people really like each other, it’s all right for them to have sex even if they’ve known each other for a very short time.” Twenty percent of the students labeled themselves “conservative” or “far right” and 24 percent opted for “liberal” or “far left.” A high of 57 percent consider themselves to be “middle of the road.” Admittedly, middle of the road may be short on excitement, but, in view of the excitements recently on offer, give it a chance.
• In my book Dispensations: The Future of South Africa as South Africans See It (1986), I gave major and sympathetic attention to anti-apartheid activist, the Rev. Allan Boesak, who was at the time also president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. I found him an extremely engaging person, but I was sharply criticized by his friends both here and there for suggesting that he had rich tastes for a proponent of a “theology of the poor.” At the time, some thought Boesak a likely candidate to head up the first post-apartheid government. Then came adultery, divorce, partisan infighting, and now a prison term of six years for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars, donated to help the poor but used by Boesak to buy, among other things, luxury homes and a personal recording studio. It is a sad story of a hero who lost his way. The story is replicated in the lives of many leaders of movements in this country, on both the left and the right. In highly moralized struggles, both leaders and followers succumb to the error of what Shelby Steele calls virtue-by-identification, which means that personal virtue is not important as long as one is identified with the right causes. In this country it is perhaps a benefit of the last annus horribilis that we are newly reminded of an elementary truth that so many had apparently forgotten: character matters.
• One gathers that the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Richard Holloway, is feeling especially good about himself. He has led a move by which his church will withdraw its funds from the Bank of Scotland because the bank is involved in an investment venture with Pat Robertson Financial Services. In reporting the story, the Times of London describes Robertson as “a leading figure in the American right-wing Christian Coalition, who has expressed his hatred of homosexuals, feminists, and liberals.” At least that is called reporting at the Times of London.
• “What is it that holds the Catholic Church together?” I was asked by an Italian journalist, who was surprised when I answered immediately, “That’s easy. The Mass.” More accurately, of course, Christ in the Mass. I thought of this again when reading about the “New Faith Community” started by Father James Callan after he and his followers were declared excommunicate by Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, New York. At their services, the breakaway community, which meets in several Protestant churches and of course insists it is still Catholic, distributes hosts consecrated at a nearby and undoubtedly Catholic parish. The New Faith Community defies the authority of the bishop, supports same-sex unions and women in the priesthood, and does much else in contradiction to Catholic teaching. But, when it comes to receiving Christ in the Eucharist, they want “the real thing.” Of course, as Bishop Clark has pointed out, their position is theologically incoherent and institutionally unsustainable, for Christ in the Mass entails, inter alia, Holy Orders, and unity with the universal Church through the bishops in communion with the Petrine Ministry. Nonetheless, the intuition on which the breakaway group acts underscores what it is that holds the Church together.
• Writing in the New York Times Magazine about anti-abortion activists, David Samuels says, “It is a shared if unspoken premise of the world that most of us inhabit that absolutes do not exist and that people who claim to have them are crazy.” Any further questions? Or do you inhabit a world elsewhere?
• Bill Clinton’s altar boy? It sounds highly improbable, but there is this curious passage in the book by his former aide George Stephanopolous, All Too Human, where he describes serving as altar boy to his father, a Greek Orthodox priest: “But most of my work was backstage. Maybe one reason I’ve never been queasy about the grubby work of politics, the mechanics of running campaigns and making laws, is that I spent so many of my early days behind the altar screen, where mystery is rooted in the mundane, where faith and duty are one, where my father’s prayers were my cues. Behind the screen, I learned to stay composed in the presence of power and was swayed by the illusion of indispensability. After all, the miracle of transubstantiation couldn’t happen that Sunday if I forgot to boil water on the hot plate in the room off the altar. Altar boys are as much like young operatives as little monks. We serve the priest so he can save everyone else, doing the little things that need to be done. Sometimes I got lost in the details, lost sight of the spiritual essence of the service we were producing, but I hoped that doing the right thing in the right place at the right time would help do some good and save some souls, including my own, even when I was just doing my job.”
• Fourteen days into the U.S.-NATO bombing that precipitated a million Kosovars fleeing from the terror, president Gloria Feldt of Planned Parenthood announced the organization’s funding of “reproductive health” measures for the women refugees. How very thoughtful to help ensure there will be fewer survivors of the survivors.
• According to ZENIT news service, a Christian radio station in California fired a disc jockey for playing John Paul II’s new CD “Abba Pater.” The management, it is explained, “was worried about content because they couldn’t understand it.” There’s no telling what the Pope was trying to put over in that secret tongue, Latin.
• Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is, with justice, acclaimed as one of the prophetic voices of the century. Herewith his comment on U.S.-NATO policy in the Balkans: “Hurling aside the United Nations and trampling its Charter, NATO proclaimed to the whole world and to the next century an ancient law—the law of the jungle: He who is mighty is completely right. If you are technically superior, excel your condemned opponent in violence a hundredfold. And they want us to live in a world like this from now on. In the sight of humanity a beautiful country is being destroyed while civilized governments applaud. And desperate people leave bomb shelters and come out as living targets to die for the salvation of Danube bridges. . . . Is this not antiquity?”
• A passel of gimlet-eyed readers write in to protest that the May issue referred to Paul VI as Giovanni Battista Martini, when of course the family name is Montini. Some went so far as to suggest that we were, in anticipation of the next conclave, lobbying for Martini, the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan. Nothing of the sort. Even with six pairs of eyes examining two sets of proofs, these things sometimes slip by. Just as though we editors were human.
• Johnny Wink of Arkadelphia, Arkansas, took sharp issue with my strictures regarding Charles Frazier’s novel, Cold Mountain (Correspondence, April). I indicated he is probably right about, inter alia, the book having more than one good white male, but I really was swamped with too many things to take the time to go back and check. In response to my saying I was swamped, he kindly sent along the following excerpt from a Henry James short story, “The Great Good Place.” “George Dane had opened his eyes to a bright new day, the face of nature well washed by last night’s downpour and shining as with high spirits, good resolutions, lively intentions—the great glare of recommencement in short fixed in his patch of sky. He had sat up late to finish work—arrears overwhelming, then at last had gone to bed with the pile but little reduced. He was now to return to it, for the time, over the bristling hedge of letters planted by the early postman an hour before and already, on the customary table by the chimney-piece, formally rounded and squared by his systematic servant. It was something too merciless, the domestic perfection of Brown. There were newspapers on another table, ranged with the same rigor of custom, newspapers too many—what could any creature want of so much news?—and each with its hand on the neck of the other, so that the rows of their bodiless heads was like a series of decapitations. Other journals, other periodicals of every sort, folded and in wrappers, made a huddled mound that had been growing for several days and of which he had been wearily, helplessly aware. There were new books, also in wrappers as well as disenveloped and dropped again—books from publishers, books from authors, books from friends, books from enemies, books from his own bookseller, who took, it sometimes struck him, inconceivable things for granted. He touched nothing, approached nothing, only turned a heavy eye over the work, as it were, of the night—the fact, in his high wide-windowed room, where duty shed its hard light into every corner, of the still unashamed admonitions. It was the old tide rising, and it rose and rose even under the minute’s watching. It had been up to his shoulders last night—it was up to his chin now.” Precisely.
• The nice thing about being an expert is that you get to define the problems that you have the expertise to fix, and thus, if you can get enough people to believe you, permanent employment is guaranteed. In what is touted as the most comprehensive American sex survey since the 1948 Kinsey Report, it is revealed in the Journal of the American Medical Association that 40 percent of women and 30 percent of men regularly have no interest in sex, seldom reach orgasm, “or suffer from some other sexual dysfunction.” Note that those who are not interested in sex are suffering from a sexual dysfunction. One of the article’s authors, Edward Laumann, a University of Chicago sociologist, said, “I think it gives us a base for explaining why we had this enormous response to Viagra.” What would we do without social science? The fact that Viagra sales shot up so quickly and then went limp may give us a basis for thinking that a lot of people discovered that sex is not all it is cracked up to be. The study apparently presupposes but does not spell out the criteria of sexual non-dysfunctionality. From common sense and the literature of several millennia, my own hunch is that almost everybody is, at least during part of their lives, sexually challenged. “Over all,” our experts report, “43 percent of women and 31 percent of men said they had one or more persistent problems with sex.” One is reminded of the little boy in the cartoon: “I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it.” Look for a forthcoming study on the high incidence of children suffering from spinach dysfunctions.
• The Witness is published by the Biblical Witness Fellowship, a renewal movement within the United Church of Christ. In answer to the question “How many mainline church leaders does it take to change a light bulb?”, the editors published the following statement: “We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that a light bulb works for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your light bulb (or light source or non-dark resource), and present it next month at our annual light bulb Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long life, and tinted—all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.” For some inexplicable reason, the Witness is regularly charged with generating more heat than light.
• From Origen to Dante and from Immanuel Kant to C. S. Lewis, the idea of purgatory has been near irresistible. Kelton Cobb of Hartford Seminary writes, “The doctrine of purgatory is one of those wonderful excrescences of the Christian imagination. It has only the slimmest authorization in Scripture, but it is a story the very absence of which hollered out its need to be told in some form of midrash.” Cobb is reviewing Richard Fenn’s The Persistence of Purgatory (Cambridge University Press), and he is greatly impressed. He writes: “In its classic form purgatory was, first, an ordeal that transpired in the afterlife, a realm that shared the same ‘time zone’ as life on earth. Sins were measurable there in terms of time—each sin had units of time corresponding to it. Second, purgatory was a way of describing transactions between the living and the dead. The living had obligations to the dead to say prayers and make offerings on their behalf in order to ease their torments and to relieve them of time they had ahead of them in purgatory. Third, time was itself counting down to an end. At the end of time the soul had to be clean, purged of its accumulated sins by having suffered torments equal in weight to the evils it had imposed on others. This original ‘purgatory complex’ evolved as it aged. The realization that one could, through penance and avoiding sin, influence one’s future condition in purgatory began to sink in, and the gravity of actions in this life become a more serious matter. This carried with it a sense that much had to be done before the day of one’s death. Time began to feel scarce, deadlines came to matter, and people became anxious to have something to show for their time. A strong sense that time was running out came to preoccupy Western societies.” With the Protestant Reformers, “purgatory began to dissolve into a more abbreviated scheme of salvation,” and with the Enlightenment the afterlife appeared to disappear altogether. But this only intensified the sense of time: “Whatever atonement for sin that could be achieved and whatever salvation might be attained must occur entirely within the short span of this life. The modern self was thus conceived—the purification of the soul in purgatory was transformed into a quest for the self through education, discipline, and self-cultivation. In this way the ancient doctrine of purgatory persists in the modern reflexive self.” Cobb says that Fenn would have the “purgatory complex” do the heavy lifting Max Weber had assigned to the Protestant work ethic, which turns out to be not so Protestant after all. The argument of The Persistence of Purgatory both fascinates and rings true. Within a few blocks of this office there must be at least a dozen gyms where you can see from the street all these people pushing, pummeling, punishing, and generally purging themselves. Don’t they know what purgatory is for?
• Brace yourself for some good news. It’s time for the annual survey of the names baby boys and girls will bear through life, and the headline reads, “Parents Take a Turn Toward Tradition: Old Standards Are Making a Comeback in Children’s Names.” The story says, “Parents still want their children to stand out, if only through their names, but they are returning, perhaps, to the Bible and family roots for inspiration, rather than television and the mass media.” Note the “perhaps.” Girls still get the glitzier and more trivial names, but I’m glad to note that Tiffany is falling into disfavor. Destiny is big for black and Hispanic girls, and an academic expert suggests that is because poor people feel “buffeted by destiny,” which strikes me as an instance of pc over-reading. The top names for black girls are, in order, Ashley, Brianna, Imani, Kayla, and Destiny. Imani is Arabic for faith, and for some reason blacks in the Northeast, but not in the rest of the country, are favoring Muslim names even when the parents are not Muslim. Malik is the seventh most popular for black boys. Across the board, Michael is coming on strong for boys, and, for nonwhite girls, Ashley seems to be a big winner. The top names for white boys are, in order, Michael, Joseph, Nicholas, Matthew, and Daniel. Again this year, Asians, for some inexplicable reason, have Kevin at the top of the list. If we really had investigative reporters, somebody would ferret out an elusive Irish-Asian connection here. While the rest of the commentariat is wrinkling its collective brow over what the Clinton Mess tells us about the character of the American people (not very much, in my opinion), I invite you to ponder the leading cultural indicator that is the giving of names. Would you believe that Emily is in the top five for whites and Asians? One of my best friends was an Emily. I feel like a boy again.
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Sources: James Burtchaell on St. Dympna in Crisis, July 1999. Appointment in Rome reviewed in (Houston) Catholic Worker, March-April, 1999. Tony Kushner’s “Necessary Incivilities” reprinted in Harper’s, January 1999. On Al Gore and child care, David Blankenhorn in Propositions, published by Institute for American Values, Winter 1998. Albert Friedlander on Pope Pius XII, Tablet, January 2, 1999.
While We’re At It: Robert Louis Wilken reply to Richard B. Hays, Communio, Fall 1998. Mark Silk on religion and American society, Religion in the News, Fall 1998. G. K. Chesterton on “Religion and Sex,” cited in Commonweal, January 29, 1999. On the separateness of Christian clergy, New Oxford Review, January 1999. James Wood on God, New Republic, February 1, 1999. On Larry Flynt speaking at Georgetown in April, Georgetown University press release. On the American Psychiatric Association and homosexuality, Catholic World Report, February 1999. On “Catholic identity,” Cardinal Newman Society press release, May 4, 1999. Jeremy Rabkin on Jews and school vouchers, Policy Review, January-February 1999. Editorial “Justice Tempered,” Houston Chronicle, February 3, 1999. Mark Goshko on gay marriage, cited in Massachusetts Family Institute press release, February 24, 1999. On Bishop John Spong at Newark convention, Christian Century, February 17, 1999. Dave Andrusko on pro-life march, National Right to Life News, February 19, 1999. On the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, New York Times, March 1, 1999. On Madalyn Murray O’Hair, “Closing a Chapter: A Missing Atheist’s Belongings Are Sold,” New York Times, January 23, 1999. “Survey of Freshmen Finds a Decline in Support for Abortion and Casual Sex” by Leo Reisberg, Chronicle of Higher Education, January 25, 1999. On the Rev. Allan Boesak, New York Times, March 25, 1999. On Richard Holloway, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, London Times, March 21, 1999. David Samuels on anti-abortion activists, New York Times Magazine, March 21, 1999. On Planned Parenthood and Kosovo, American Life League press release, April 13, 1999. On the Pope’s new CD, ZENIT, April 25, 1999. On study of sexual dysfunction, New York Times, February 10, 1999. Richard Fenn’s The Persistence of Purgatory reviewed by Kelton Cobb, Journal of Religion, January 1999. On popular baby names, New York Times, February 16, 1999.