The Public Square
Father Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) is one of the very important people in my life. It is not simply that he helped form some of my ideas, especially about liturgy, or gave me a feel for realities about which I knew little, such as Orthodoxy. He was a great spirit; he lived robustly; he had a confident but not corrosive disdain for the banalities of fashionable thought. He was older and more cosmopolitan than I. He was fun to be with, and one left every meeting with the sense that life could be more, and the resolve to let it be so.
As a young man I first encountered Fr. Schmemann through his books, especially For the Life of the World, Of Water and the Spirit, and The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy (all published by St. Vladimir’s Press). Later we would occasionally share the platform at ecumenical conferences, but I did not get to know him well until the days in Connecticut that produced “The Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation” of 1975. After that, I cherished Fr. Alexander as a friend and we would occasionally get together for lunch when he had business in the city, although not often enough, at least in my view. At our last lunch, on Lexington near 60th, not long before his final illness, he noted with disapproval the anorexic waitresses and expatiated engagingly on why the fashions of androgyny are part and parcel of the propensity for abstraction that is the fatal flaw of Western culture. I found the argument entirely convincing. There was for Fr. Alexander no divide between the sacred and secular, between the subjects of, for instance, unisex fashions and baptismal grace. Reality was all of a piece, and all charged with the presence and promise of Christ. In his case Tom Wolfe’s phrase applies: He was a man in full. Or so he seemed, and so he seems, to me.
St. Vladimir’s has now published The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983. It is a big book of some 350 pages and, after I had finished reading it, I wished for more. Much of it is very intimate, and there is always the matter of the ethics of publishing a private journal. But his wife Juliana (the beloved “L.” who appears on almost every page, Liana being the diminutive of her name) made the right decision in translating the journals from the Russian and French and putting them into book form. It is obvious that many of the entries were crafted with literary care, as though for publication, or at least as a first draft, with an eye toward publication. There were so many books that he wanted to write, and now there is a book that he may not have fully intended to write, but I suspect he would be pleased. I suspect he is pleased.
When Peter Berger and I organized the Hartford initiative, we very much wanted Fr. Alexander to be part of it, and his participation was vital to its success. He contributed an essay to the book that came out of that effort, Against the World for the World. It was titled “East and West May Yet Meet: Hartford and the Future of Orthodoxy.” Now I discover from the journals that he was not as fully participant in Hartford as I had assumed. Right after the meeting, on September 7, 1975, he wrote, “In spite of a friendly atmosphere, I strongly felt my Orthodox alienation from all the debates, from their very spirit. Orthodoxy is often imprisoned by evil and sin. The Christian West is imprisoned by heresies—not one of them, in the long run, goes unpunished.” (The Hartford Appeal criticized ideas in American Christianity that were “pervasive, false, and debilitating.”) I was surprised by that entry, for in later conversations he indicated such strong support for Hartford. Maybe he later changed his mind. Maybe not. The journals do not say.
Of the nineteen participants, he was the only Orthodox theologian at Hartford, and the problems of Protestants and Catholics were not, for him, first-order concerns. He had his head and heart filled enough with the evils, sins, and glories of Orthodoxy. “I firmly believe,” he writes, “that Orthodoxy is Truth and Salvation and I shudder when I see what is being offered under the guise of Orthodoxy, what people seem to like in it, what they live for, what the most orthodox, the best people among them, see in Orthodoxy.” The Russian émigrés, who did not share his vision of Orthodoxy’s universal mission, were the cause of endless frustration. As were the émigrés, so to speak, from Protestantism and Catholicism who sought out Orthodoxy as an escape from history. Fr. Alexander wrote, “Since the Orthodox world was and is inevitably and even radically changing, we have to recognize, as the first symptom of the crisis, a deep schizophrenia which has slowly penetrated the Orthodox mentality: life in an unreal, nonexisting world, firmly affirmed as real and existing. Orthodox consciousness did not notice the fall of Byzantium, Peter the Great’s reforms, the Revolution; it did not notice the revolution of the mind, of science, of lifestyles, forms of life. . . . In brief, it did not notice history.”
It is precisely that escape from history that many think is the glory of Orthodoxy. But the escape is delusory. Years later, this entry: “Once more, I am convinced that I am quite alienated from Byzantium, and even hostile to it. In the Bible, there is space and air; in Byzantium the air is always stuffy. All is heavy, static, petrified. . . . Byzantium’s complete indifference to the world is astounding. The drama of Orthodoxy: we did not have a Renaissance, sinful but liberating from the sacred. So we live in nonexistent worlds: in Byzantium, in Russia, wherever, but not in our own time.” (Here and elsewhere, “the sacred” refers to the artificial world of religiosity, churchiness, and clericalism separated from history and everyday experience.) May 24, 1977: “Orthodoxy refuses to recognize the fact of the collapse and the breakup of the Orthodox world; it has decided to live in its illusion; it has turned the Church into that illusion (yesterday we heard again and again about the ‘Patriarch of the great city of Antioch and of all the East’); it made the Church into a nonexistent world. I feel more and more strongly that I must devote the rest of my life to trying to dispel this illusion.”
The only Antioch in the gazetteer today is a city near Oakland, California. Ancient Antioch is in ruins, but, Fr. Alexander complained, Orthodoxy goes on playing a churchy game of Let’s Pretend. St. Vladimir’s Seminary, of which Fr. Alexander was dean, is part of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), which was granted autocephaly, or its own ruling authority, by the Russian church in 1970. By virtue of his early childhood in Estonia and his later years in the Russian émigré community in Paris, Fr. Alexander also had continuing interactions with the Russian Church in Exile after he came to the U.S. in the 1950s. When in his journals he speaks of Orthodoxy in America, it is not always clear whether he means the OCA or the more hard-line traditionalists of the Russian émigré community, the line between the two being frequently blurred.
Free Time to Quarrel
Russian Orthodoxy in the U.S. he found incorrigibly quarrelsome. “The function of a quarrel is in allowing people to feel principled, to serve the cause, i.e., to feel alive. . . . And free time can be filled with a quarrel. The law of émigré life: those who don’t like to quarrel organize balls and can also keep busy—endlessly—reconciling those who quarrel. And those who enjoy quarrels quarrel! But the function of both is the same.” He writes, “I mainly feel like a stranger in the midst of the typically Russian ‘cozy’ atmosphere of the Church: Russian piety, complete self-assurance, the absence of any anxiety, any doubt, any questioning. They serve well, sing well—but they serve and sing anything well, as long as it was ‘traditional’! One word missing and all would collapse. Russians accept as slaves, or deny as slaves—blindly and stubbornly.”
Again and again, he returns to what is intellectually and culturally stifling in Orthodoxy. “To change the atmosphere of Orthodoxy, one has to learn to look at oneself in perspective, to repent, and if needed, to accept change, conversion. In historic Orthodoxy, there is a total absence of criteria for self-criticism. Orthodoxy defined itself: against heresies, against the West, the East, the Turks, etc. Orthodoxy became woven with complexes of self-affirmation, an exaggerated triumphalism: To acknowledge errors is to destroy the foundations of true faith.” On December 23, 1976, after a series of difficult meetings at the seminary, Fr. Alexander writes: “My point of view is that a good half of our students are dangerous for the Church—their psychology, their tendencies, a sort of constant obsession with something. Orthodoxy takes on a different, ugly aspect, something important is missing, and the Orthodoxy that these students consciously or subconsciously favor is distorted, narrow, emotional—in the end, pseudo-Orthodoxy. Not only at the seminary, but everywhere, I acutely sense the spread of a strange Orthodoxy.”
A year earlier he had written: “What used to be an organic, natural style became stylization, spiritually weak, harmful. The main problem of Orthodoxy is the constraint due to style, and its inability to revise it; a prevalent absence of self-criticism, of checking the tradition of the elders by Tradition, by love of Truth. A growing idolatry.” Seminarians and clergy, he said, wear their cassocks and beards as an armor against life and thought. A pseudo-Orthodoxy. A strange Orthodoxy. A growing idolatry. These are hard words. Yet, against those who attacked Orthodoxy, Fr. Alexander came to its defense. “I feel myself a radical ‘challenger,’ but among challengers I feel myself a conservative and traditionalist.” He could never feel wholly at home in any one camp. “I cannot identify with any complete system with an integral view of the world or an ideology. It seems to me that anything finished, complete, and not open to another dimension is heavy and self-destructive. I see the error of any dialectics that proceed with thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, removing possible contradictions. I think that openness must always remain; it is faith, in it God is found, who is not a ‘synthesis’ but life and fullness.”
Liturgy at the Center
At times it seemed that Christianity itself had been permanently marginalized. Fr. Alexander had a somewhat grudging admiration for the energy and vision of John Paul II, but doubted that he could reverse the “collapse” of Catholicism following the Second Vatican Council. November 24, 1980: “According to human reasoning, the whole of our Orthodoxy hasn’t got a chance. If the Pope cannot cope, what about us? So, to worry about the Church that so obviously does not want to be saved by my recipes, by our recipes, is sinful in the final analysis: It comes from pride. For God has chosen what is totally meaningless and worthless” (1 Corinthians 1:26ff.). A month earlier, he notes that it is only in the Liturgy that things come together: “I become filled with disgust for the role I have been playing for decades. I have fear and apprehension at having to immerse myself in the affairs of the seminary and the Church. I feel that everybody around me knows what to do and how and what for, but I only pretend to know. In fact, I don’t know anything; I am not sure of anything; I am deceiving myself and others. Only when I serve the Liturgy am I not deceitful. And I will say it again: all of life flows out of—and is connected with—the Liturgy! I feel a collapse of any energy—especially spiritual. I would like to leave!”
Such passages, and there are many of them, will come as a surprise to those who saw Fr. Alexander as the very embodiment of self-confidence. The fall of 1980 was marked by repeated reflections on the phoniness of the “roles” he had to play. But what might at times be taken for a spiritual and vocational crisis is tempered by, for instance, this on September 10: “I don’t know how to evaluate these roles, what they are. Maybe simply laziness, maybe something deeper. To be honest, I don’t know. I only know that this alienation does not make me unhappy. I am essentially quite content with my fate and would not want any other. In a way, I like each of these roles, each of these worlds, and would probably be bored if I was deprived of them. But I cannot identify with them. I think roughly this way: I have an inner life, but my spiritual one is kept down. Yes, I have faith, but with a total absence of a personal maximalism, so obviously required by the gospel.” (In most of his reflections, “maximalism” is a pejorative, referring to the spiritual fevers of the religiously self-centered.)
The regularly recurring periods of dissatisfaction are just as regularly broken, usually by the Liturgy. February 25, 1974: “‘Clean Monday’—first day of Great Lent. I spent Saturday and yesterday in Endicott, New York. Joyful impression from the services and the people. After days of inner rebellion, such a clear indication: stop rebelling, there is nowhere to go. The Church is your body and blood; you are wedded to the Church through your priesthood.” For all the restlessness, ambiguities, and frustrations, there was nowhere else to go. He repeatedly invokes the phrase of Julien Green, “all is elsewhere.” But he knew that this is where he belonged.
Solzhenitsyn: Great and Flawed
Among his greatest frustrations, and satisfactions, was his relationship with Alexander Solzhenitsyn. During the years of the Cold War, Fr. Alexander’s sermons were broadcast into the Soviet Union by Radio Liberty, making him an enormously popular figure in Russia. Solzhenitsyn was a great fan, and when he was exiled in 1974, one of the first things he did was to ask Fr. Alexander to visit him in Zurich, his temporary home. In the following years, Fr. Alexander was often with Solzhenitsyn, including a long drive up to the Ottawa Valley of Canada in search of a place to establish a “piece of Russia” in the West, which turned out to be in Vermont. On that first visit, he and Solzhenitsyn were alone for a few days in a mountain cottage forty minutes outside Zurich. “S. is obviously a Russian intelligent. No comfort, no armchair, no closet. Everything reduced to a strict minimum. His clothes are those he wore when he came out of Russia. Some sort of cap, officer’s boots. ‘I have so many questions’—our conversation is prepared, he has a list of questions.” Upon Fr. Alexander’s return from Zurich, June 17, 1974: “Only much later will I be able to sum up what were these most significant days of my life.”
The friendship with Solzhenitsyn was often rocky. Solzhenitsyn was single-minded, obsessed, and something of a fanatic, although Fr. Alexander does not use that word. He unceasingly defended Solzhenitsyn publicly from his many detractors. His private thoughts were frequently very different. January 10, 1975: “The rapport with Solzhenitsyn made obvious for me our essential difference. For him there is only Russia. For me, Russia could disappear, die, and nothing would change in my fundamental vision of the world. ‘The image of the world is passing.’ This tonality of Christianity is quite foreign to him.” “I know that S. himself does not hesitate to offend people right and left in the rudest manner. I personally think that to defend him would be to tell him the truth. I really do not want to take part in that struggle. . . . As for Solzhenitsyn, I will defend what I heard through his creative art, but I remain free of his ideology, which for me is quite foreign.” March 4: “I am thinking about Solzhenitsyn and his idolizing obsession with Russia.”
In May, after just the two of them had spent every hour together for four days, Fr. Alexander reflects on the words of Jesus, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” He writes of Solzhenitsyn: “His treasure is Russia and only Russia; mine is the Church. He is devoted to his treasure in a way that none of us is devoted to ours. His faith, I think, will move mountains, while ours—mine in any case—will not. . . . A great man! In the obsession with his vocation, his mission, in the total identification with it—without doubt a great man. Truly, out of him flows strength!” Then this insight on the chemistry, so to speak, between them: “In these days spent with him, I had the feeling that I was the older brother dealing with a child, capricious and even spoiled, who will not ‘understand’—so better for me to give in (‘you are older, so give in!’) for the sake of peace, agreement, and in the hope that ‘he might grow up and understand.’ I am a student from a higher grade dealing with a younger one for whom one needs to simplify, with whom one has to speak ‘at his level.’”
Ecumenism: Travels in Another Country
Fr. Alexander and I discussed whether he had ever thought of becoming Roman Catholic. As a young man in Paris, he said, he mused about it, but it probably had more to do with Paris being a city of the Catholic West than with the Catholic West. My impression is that there was never a serious wrestling with the question, as in a crisis, although he drew deeply on the Catholic theology that informed the Second Vatican Council. In these journals of his mature years, interest in Western Christianity is very limited. He was intensely engaged ecumenically—lecturing and consulting everywhere, it seems—but these were travels in another country. Catholicism, especially in its Jesuit expression, he found distasteful for its preoccupation with rules, whether in enforcing them or breaking them. He cites favorably this from Leon Bloy: “It seems to me that St. Ignatius’ Exercises correspond to the ‘Method’ of Descartes. Instead of looking at God, one looks at oneself. . . . Psychology invented by Jesuits: a method consisting in continually looking at oneself in order to avoid sin. It is contemplating evil instead of contemplating goodness. The devil substituting for God. This seems to be the genesis of modern Catholicism.”
In 1976 he lectures for eight days at the Lutheran seminary in Chicago. “In all our conversations with students and professors I am struck by their unconscious tendency to follow fashion, to achieve success. They seem to need to ‘dress like everybody else’—the same in theology.” A few days later, he lectures at the Liturgical Institute of Valparaiso University, another Lutheran center. This moves him to try to formulate the difference between Orthodoxy and Western Christianity. “Put simply: the Orthodox man begins with the ‘end,’ with the experience, the breakthrough, the very reality of God, the Kingdom, Life—and only afterwards does he clarify it, but in relation to the experience he has had. The Western man rationally arrives at and evokes the ‘end’ from a series of premises. The Orthodox often expresses that ‘end’ quite poorly in theology. For the Westerner, the end somehow disappears, is diluted in elaborate constructions. (I need to express this problem better.)”
A year later, March 15, 1977: “Religion needs a temple, not the Church. The temple’s origin is religion. Thus in the Gospel: ‘I will destroy this temple. . . .’ The Church has a Christian origin. However, our Church has identified itself long ago with the ‘temple,’ has dissolved itself in the temple, and (this means) has returned to the pagan temple as its religious sanction. Protestantism was an attempt to save the faith, to purify it from its religious reduction. But the Protestants have paid a heavy price for denying eschatology and replacing it with personal individual salvation; and therefore, essentially, denying the Church. The greatest anachronism, on a natural level, was to be found in the Catholic Church. Catholicism was possible only while one was able to deny and limit the freedom of the person, the basic dogma of the new times. While trying to change its course, to merge with freedom, Catholicism simply collapsed, and I do not see how its revival could be possible (unless fascism can get hold of the human race and deny the explosive synthesis of freedom and the person).” Packed into that paragraph are, I believe, Fr. Alexander’s core convictions about Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism, and they reward reflection, whatever one’s ecclesial allegiance.
The Great Errors
If he complained about Orthodoxy living in an ahistorical world of religious Let’s Pretend, it was not because he thought the Church had that much to learn from history, especially the history of the West. April 6, 1977, and he has been reading about courses in Great Western Ideas: “It would be useful to teach a course entitled ‘Great Western Errors,’ following approximately this plan: Rousseau and ‘Nature,’ with a capital N; The Enlightenment and ‘Reason,’ capital R; Hegel and ‘History,’ capital H; Marx and ‘Revolution,’ capital R; and finally, Freud and ‘Sex,’ capital S—realizing that the main error of each is precisely the capital letter, which transforms these words into an idol, into a tragic pars pro toto.” The protest of Fr. Alexander’s life and thought was against the closures of totalism—whether political and ideological totalism, as in totalitarianism, or the total explanations proposed by theology or philosophy. Only Christ is total, he insisted, and Christ is unlimited openness.
In February 1979, Fr. Alexander is entranced by the appalling fanaticism of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, and at the same time thinking about John Paul II’s visit to New York. “So at the end of the twentieth century, here is the power of religion! What else could mobilize so many millions of people; provoke such expectation, such enthusiasm? The power, and, at the same time, the ambiguity of the Ayatollah; not one word about love, peace, the transcendence in God of all petty divisions. And the threat of a holy war. The Pope, in a sense, speaks only about love. Frightening face of Islam . . . hence, this Khomeini in the end will give nothing to his people (who are so happy with him) except grief, hate, and suffering. Whereas from the Pope’s visit, only joy, only hope—even if nothing comes of it.” And in the end Fr. Alexander suspected that not much would come of it—for the renewal of Catholicism, of the West, of the world.
Later that year, in October, he is lecturing at the Catholic Union in Chicago. He comments on the determinedly fashionable Jesuits and Franciscans, other priests and nuns, all in glaringly multi-colored lay clothing, all demonstrating that they are “with it,” and all quite indifferent to the renewal for which the Pope is calling. He reflects that in 1870, when infallibility was defined, there was the schism of the Old Catholics. “But at that time, the great majority of theologians were ultramontane and the schism was hardly noticed. Whereas now, it is not just a majority but theology as a whole, the whole thought in Catholicism that is against the monolith, against the papacy as it is now. After only a week of the unheard of triumph of the Pope and the papacy [during the New York visit], these Jesuits and nuns look and behave as if ‘nothing was the matter,’ as if all of it had nothing to do with them. They are not even angry, or sad, or hopeless.” On the one hand, the spiritual resurgence led by the Pope; on the other, the complacent progressivism of the Catholic theological establishment. One or the other would prevail, thought Fr. Alexander, leading to a schism that would make 1870 pale by comparison.
He was deeply disillusioned by academic theology. In his last years, he said he had stopped reading theology altogether, except for the papers and dissertations that his position required him to read. I told him about the admirable work of Wolfhart Pannenberg on eschatology, a subject very dear to him, and he was glad to hear about it, but he was not interested in reading tomes such as Pannenberg’s. His serious reading was in literature, especially Russian and French. May 21, 1975: “Rather than ideas and ideologies, I prefer the concrete, live, unique. When reading French contemporaries—Loisy and company—I am mainly interested in them as people, not so much in their ideas. What did the celebration of Mass mean to Loisy with all his ideas?. . . I am convinced that no general ideas can explain reality, so they are unnecessary—for me, anyway.”
He still went to theological conferences and consultations, as, for example, one organized in Geneva by the World Council of Churches. September 25, 1980: “A sort of nominal, unnecessary, and fruitless game. The subject is ‘Preaching and Teaching Christian Faith Today.’ Thirty people—some professionals from Geneva who can talk about anything, who have learned to perfection the technique of this sort of ‘consultation.’“ Theologians are professionals who can talk about anything. A subclass of the chattering class, as it were. Repeatedly he writes, as on October 6, 1975, “My dream is to write for the people, not for theologians. And when I find that it works—what joy!”
Then, on October 13, 1977, perhaps as succinct a statement of Fr. Alexander’s theology as is to be found: “I realized that ‘theologically’ I have one idea—the eschatological content of Christianity, and of the Church as the presence in this world of the Kingdom, of the age to come—this presence as the salvation of the world and not escape from it. The ‘world beyond the grave’ cannot be loved, cannot be looked for, cannot be lived by. Whereas the Kingdom of God, if one tastes it, be it a little, cannot be not loved! Once you love it, you cannot avoid loving all creation, created to reveal and announce the Kingdom. This love is already transfigured. Without the Kingdom of God being both the beginning and the end, the world is a frightening and evil absurdity. But without the world, the Kingdom of God is incomprehensible, abstract, and in some way absurd.”
The Sources of His Thought
In the afterword to the journals, Fr. John Meyendorff, Fr. Alexander’s successor as dean of St. Vladimir’s, writes that Fr. Alexander’s theological worldview was essentially shaped during the Paris years, and under the influence of Catholic thinkers such as Jean Danielou and Louis Bouyer. “It is from that existing milieu,” writes Fr. Meyendorff, “that Father Schmemann really learned ‘liturgical theology,’ a ‘philosophy of time,’ and the true meaning of the ‘paschal mystery.’ If the legacy [of these French Catholics] was somewhat lost within the turmoil of postconciliar Roman Catholicism, their ideas produced much fruit in the organically liturgical and ecclesiologically consistent world of Orthodoxy through the brilliant and always effective witness of Fr. Schmemann.” The journals leave no doubt that Fr. Alexander was not nearly so confident of the effectiveness of his witness, and certainly had no illusions about his vision flourishing in Orthodoxy.
Throughout Fr. Alexander’s books, and especially the journals, is a running polemic against religion, as distinct from authentic Christianity centered in the revelation of God in Christ. The unspeakably tragic error, he insisted, was to think that Christianity is a subcategory of “religion,” when in fact Christ explodes from within history all human constructions of reality, religious or otherwise, thus illumining with the divine the world of which we are part. I have not gone back to check out all the books, and I never asked him about it, but it is striking that in the journals there is no reference to Karl Barth. In twentieth century theology, that running polemic that pits Christ against religion is most closely associated with Barth. One wonders if there was not some significant influence, or, quite possibly, Fr. Alexander arrived at these insights on his own. He clearly had no use for the proponents of “religionless Christianity” who had their fifteen minutes in the 1960s, but he just as clearly wanted to distance Christ and Christianity from what he viewed as the stifling habits and thought forms of “religion.” Even “piety” is regularly dismissed as a distortion, and he rails against those who came to confession with all sorts of complicated “spiritual problems.” (He spent endless hours hearing confessions, and hated it.) His answer to the scrupulous and the spiritually self-preoccupied was, “Live!” Which is to say, his answer was, “Christ!” Although Barth is not mentioned, and maybe was never seriously read, Fr. Alexander’s thought was, in important respects, strikingly Barthian. Barthianism with a real Church and a real Liturgy.
And now I have reflected on The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann in a somewhat thematic manner. But I cannot leave the subject without relaying a few more of his scattered observations, some of them aphoristic in form, all of them suggestive, all of them worth thinking about, and some of them, to be sure, inviting vigorous argument. For instances: “At the hour of death, what will remain of life is a unique vision of an unchanging altar, an eternal gesture, a continuous melody.” The poet Joseph Brodsky, a Jew, gave a reading in New York, and afterwards a Jewish man asks him why he uses so much Christian symbolism in his poetry. “Because I am not a barbarian,” Brodsky responded. Fr. Alexander: “Who invented the idea that religion is the resolution of problems? [Authentic] religion is always a transfer to another dimension, another level, and is therefore the annihilation of problems, not their solution. Problems also come from the Devil, who filled religion with his fuss and vulgarity—thus religion became a problem in the modern world.”
“Eternal life is not what begins after temporal life; it is the eternal presence of the totality of life.” “There is no point in converting people to Christ if they do not convert their vision of the world and of life, since Christ then becomes merely a symbol for all that we love and want already—without Him.” Upon reading one of his favorite French authors: “He writes in such a way that I begin to regret I was not part of his life, nor he of mine. But that I was not part of Hegel’s or Kant’s life leaves me completely indifferent. The gift of life is in inverse proportion to the gift of ideas.”
After walking by the Seine in Paris: “Europe’s dream is ending; its ground is breaking. Europe is becoming a pitiful caricature of America, unable to become the ‘original,’ but an imitation denying its own originality. . . . The real France wants to become America. America does not want to become Europe, therefore it is genuine, whereas Europe is steadily losing its genuine character.” He admires the simplicity of a presidential inauguration (Jimmy Carter’s) and the peaceful transfer of power. “But what delights me is America, its deep essence, America which has found—alone in the whole world—a formula, almost miraculous, of government and society not turned into idols, but combining living tradition with life. I thought again of Solzhenitsyn: Here is what he should look at, research, humbly learn from. But no! only they can teach the world from under the rubble, only they know! Neither S. nor, in general, Europeans will ever try to understand.”
But then there is the American principle of equality, also between the sexes. “In that sense, our culture is demonic, for at its basis is comparison. Since comparison always, mathematically, leads to the experience and the knowledge of inequality, it always leads to protest. Equality is based on the denial of distinctions, but since they exist, the wish for equality calls to fight them, to force equalization on people, and, what is even worse, to refuse these distinctions, which are the essence of life. The person—man or woman—who hungers for equality is already emptied and impersonal because a personality is made of what distinguishes it from others and not submitted to the absurd law of equality. To the demonic principle of comparison, Christianity opposes love. . . . Equality cannot exist in this world because the world was created by love and not by principles. And the world thirsts for love and not equality.” At another place: “Man looks for rules; a woman knows exceptions. But life is a continuous exception to rules. Wherever there is genuine life, there reigns not a rule but an exception. Man fights for rules. Woman has a living experience of the exception.”
Another afternoon in the confessional: “Students’ confessions. Always sex. I am beginning to think that this sin is useful; otherwise they would consider themselves saintly and plunge into guruism. As it is, they are half convinced [of their spiritual achievements]. So this sting in the flesh is useful. It cuts us down to size.” He could not work up in himself the outrage against homosexuality that some thought appropriate, but it seemed to him very sad. “The question is not at all whether it is natural or unnatural, since this question is generally inapplicable to fallen nature, in which—and this is the point—everything is distorted, everything, in a sense, has become unnatural. . . . Homosexuality is a manifestation of the ‘thorn in the flesh’ which tortures in various ways, but tortures every one. In the fallen world nothing can be ‘normalized,’ but everything can be saved.” He reads Proust, Gide, Julien Green, and reflects on “the frightening burden of homosexuality.” “I think what matters most is the sense of a dead end, of insatiable thirst which cannot be transformed into life. At the end, there is not only a wall but a mirror. In the fallen world, everything strictly sexual is ugly, distorted, base. In a ‘normal’ human being, there is at least the possibility of transforming the ugliness and thus eliminating it. For homosexuals, this possibility, this promise, this appeal, this door—do not exist.”
There is this strange dialectic, of knowing faith in the encounter with unfaith. “Why do I enjoy so much reading those who have renounced faith, who believe in their nonbelief—Loisy, Roger Martin du Gard, Gide, Leautaud, etc.? I think that in them the genuine meaning of my faith is revealed to me. All that they deny I deny also, and then not only what my faith affirms but what its presence clearly implies is revealed to me.” Why is a world formed by Christianity now rejecting Christianity—with its understanding of cosmos, history, and ultimate promise—while embracing impossible dreams of human happiness? “Christianity has lost joy—not natural joy, not joy-optimism, but the divine joy about which Christ told us that ‘no one will take your joy from you.’ Only this joy knows that God’s love to man and to the world is not cruel; knows it because that love is part of the absolute happiness for which we are all created. . . . The paradox of the history of Christianity: Having ceased being eschatological, it made the world eschatological.”
I could go on, and I have. But I do hope others will want to read the journals, although perhaps not with an interest as intense as those who received the gift of knowing him personally. I am grateful that he was part of my life, and I, at least in a minor way, part of his. His son, the distinguished journalist Serge Schmemann, writes in the foreword: “Fr. Alexander was diagnosed with terminal cancer on September 21, 1982. After several months of silence in the journal, he made one final entry on June 1, 1983, describing how even those months became, in the end, almost a celebration. Six months later, he died at home in Crestwood, New York, with his family and colleagues around him. His last words, after receiving Holy Communion a day earlier, before lapsing into a coma, were ‘Amen! Amen! Amen!’”
In that final entry of June 1983, Fr. Alexander wrote, “For eight months I have not written in this journal. Not because I had nothing to say; on the contrary, never, I believe, did I have so many thoughts and questions and impressions; but because I was constantly afraid of the height where my sickness had lifted me, afraid of falling from it.” There follow words of gratitude for family and friends, and then this final line of The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann:
“What happiness it has all been!”
Amused by Evil
Imagine an American citizen who, bankrolled by millions of dollars from the Soviet Union, spent his entire life as an apologist for Communist oppression, including Stalin’s murder of many millions by planned famine and the terror of the gulag archipelago. The same citizen was, beyond dispute, actively engaged in encouraging espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union, and to his dying day advocated the revolutionary replacement of the American government by a Communist regime. Surely such a person would be held in deepest opprobrium by all Americans. Think again.
Gus Hall, general secretary of the Communist Party in the U.S., died at age ninety, and Victor Navasky, editor of The Nation, memorializes him on the op-ed page of the New York Times by attacking J. Edgar Hoover, who believed that Hall was an agent of the Soviet Union, which he was. Mr. Navasky is exercised by “a new cadre of Cold War historians” who claim that the Communist Party was “at the center of a nest of spies,” which it was. That is not all that upsets Mr. Navasky: “Hall was seized in Mexico City and abducted back across the border without the formality of an extradition hearing. In the domestic Cold War, the Communists were not the only lawbreakers.” The Soviet Union that Gus Hall served so loyally may have murdered fifteen million kulaks and starved ten million Ukrainians to death and killed another ten million in the gulag, but the U.S. failed to give Mr. Hall an extradition hearing. This is an implied moral symmetry of a very low order.
More remarkable still is an editorial appearing in the same edition of the Times, titled “America’s Bolshevik.” The encomium, and that is what it is, begins with this: “Don Quixote himself might have despaired at the prospect of leading America’s Communist Party during the Cold War, but not the indefatigable Gus Hall. His life story, improbably enough, is a genuine American tale.” Hall was born in Minnesota, and the editors speak admiringly of “his understated Midwestern manner, even after he became a New York character and an odd kind of international celebrity.” It is all very amusing, really. “Mr. Hall was on the wrong side of history, and stayed there with what ultimately became a comical consistency.”
The editors note that he “never attempted to transform the party of the proletariat into a more trendy leftist alternative. That would have offended his native Midwestern stubbornness.” The editors do not note that, had he chosen a more trendy leftist alternative, he might have won greater support from the Times. As it is, the very cosmopolitan editors, with condescending reference to the proletariat and the Midwest, view him simply as Good Old Gus, “a New York character,” “a genuine American tale.” Was he a Communist? An apologist for the bloody slaughter of millions? A declared enemy of the American government and a paid agent of its declared enemy? Well, maybe so, if you insist. But insist too much and you might be thought humorless; you might even be suspected of being an anti-Communist.
The Soviet Union produced more corpses than any other regime in history, more even than Nazi Germany under Hitler. Imagine, if you can, an ironically amused editorial encomium to an American who all his life loyally served the Nazi cause; an editorial describing him as a “Don Quixote” whose “indefatigable” devotion “is a genuine American tale.” More than a decade after its end, the editors of the New York Times still cannot bring themselves to speak simple truth about the evil of the most murderous movement in human history, or about those who devoted their lives and betrayed their country in serving that movement. With respect to history and moral judgment, the New York Times was and is on the wrong side, and stays there with pitiable consistency.
An Evangelical Charter for a New Century
During the Jubilee Year 2000, media attention understandably focused on the many events in Rome, such as the “cleansing of memories” service at the beginning of Lent and the extraordinary Jubilee gathering of two million young people in August. When the planning began several years earlier, John Paul II made it clear that he wanted the observance of the Jubilee Year to be thoroughly ecumenical. And there were such ecumenical moments, notably at the opening of the great doors at St. Peter’s. But, as spectacularly successful as the year was in almost every other respect, it must be admitted that it was very largely a Catholic observance.
There are many reasons why that was the case, a major reason being that the sheer size, vitality, and organizational strength of Catholicism is intimidating to other Christian groups. They are invited to cooperate, and frequently want to cooperate, but they fear being co-opted. There have been significant advances toward greater Christian unity in recent decades, but it is still the case that communities of self-identified affinity have greater confidence when they are gathering with their own. Which brings us to another extraordinary, and extraordinarily promising, event of the Jubilee Year.
At the initiative of Dr. Billy Graham, some ten thousand evangelists, theologians, mission strategists, and church leaders from more than two hundred countries gathered in Amsterdam to pray and plan for world evangelization. This great gathering is in continuity with earlier assemblies in Berlin (1966), Lausanne (1974), Amsterdam (1983), and Manila (1989). As with earlier meetings, this one issued a major statement, “The Amsterdam Declaration: A Charter for Evangelism in the Twenty-first Century.” The statement is, I believe, cause for encouragement in a number of ways.
What is meant by “evangelicalism”? That is a question often asked, and the opening two sentences of the preamble provide a very helpful answer. “As a renewal movement within historic Christian orthodoxy, transdenominational evangelicalism became a distinct global reality in the second half of the twentieth century. Evangelicals come from many churches, languages, and cultures, but we hold in common a shared understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, of the church’s mission, and of the Christian commitment to evangelism.” Evangelicalism is not a church nor a denomination nor what Catholics call an ecclesial communion, but a renewal movement. It is a renewal movement within historic Christian orthodoxy. It does not claim to be exhaustive of or coextensive with historic Christian orthodoxy. In other words, separatism is no part of evangelicalism’s self-definition.
In fact, quite the opposite is the case. Under the title “Christian Unity and Evangelism,” the Amsterdam Declaration says this: “Jesus prayed to the Heavenly Father that his disciples would be one so that the world might believe. One of the great hindrances to evangelism worldwide is the lack of unity among Christ’s people, a condition made worse when Christians compete and fight with one another rather than seeking together the mind of Christ. We cannot resolve all differences among Christians because we do not yet understand perfectly all that God has revealed to us. But in all ways that do not violate our conscience, we should pursue cooperation and partnerships with other believers in the task of evangelism, practicing the well-tested rule of Christian fellowship: ‘In necessary things, unity; in nonessential things, liberty; in all things, charity.’ We pledge ourselves to pray and work for unity in truth among all true believers in Jesus and to cooperate as fully as possible in evangelism with other brothers and sisters in Christ so that the whole church may take the whole gospel to the whole world.” That is an altogether heartening statement, and should be a great encouragement to all who have over the years supported initiatives such as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT).
On the relationship with other religions, the Declaration says: “Because God’s general revelation extends to all points of His creation, there may well be traces of truth, beauty, and goodness in many non-Christian belief systems. But we have no warrant for regarding any of these as alternative gospels or separate roads to salvation. The only way to know God in peace, love, and joy is through the reconciling death of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. As we share this message with others, we must do so with love and humility, shunning all arrogance, hostility, and disrespect. As we enter into dialogue with adherents of other religions, we must be courteous and kind. But such dialogue must not be a substitute for proclamation. Yet because all persons are made in the image of God, we must advocate religious liberty and human rights for all. We pledge ourselves to treat those of other faiths with respect and faithfully and humbly serve the nation in which God has placed us, while affirming that Christ is the one and only Savior of the world.” Readers will recognize that, in important respects, that parallels the recent declaration from Rome, Dominus Iesus (Jesus the Lord). Critics to the contrary, these parallels underscore that the Roman declaration serves ecumenism among all who adhere to “historic Christian orthodoxy.” The essential truth held in common is that there is one God and one universal plan of salvation revealed in Jesus Christ, true God and true man.
What Is Meant by “Church”
Particularly striking is the section of the Amsterdam Statement titled “Definitions of Key Terms.” It is frequently observed that the most divisive disagreement between evangelicals and Catholics is in the area of ecclesiology, or the doctrine of the Church. Here is what Amsterdam says about the Church: “The church is the people of God, the body and the bride of Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit. The one, universal church is a transnational, transcultural, transdenominational, and multiethnic family, the household of faith. In the widest sense the church includes all the redeemed of all the ages, being the one body of Christ extended throughout time as well as space. Here in the world, the church becomes visible in all local congregations that meet to do together the things that according to Scripture the church does. Christ is the head of the church. Everyone who is personally united to Christ by faith belongs to his body and by the Spirit is united with every other true believer in Jesus.”
It is not too much to say that Catholic doctrine is in accord with almost every word of that definition. This does not mean there is complete agreement. Not by a long shot. For instance, for Catholics, the “local church” is the people, priests, and deacons gathered around a bishop in apostolic succession and in communion with the Bishop of Rome. And, of course, Catholics do things—notably all the sacraments, which we believe to be “according to Scripture”—that evangelical Protestants do not do. But the great achievement here is that evangelicalism affirms a scripturally grounded conceptual framework that is shared by all who lay claim to historic Christian orthodoxy, thereby providing common points of reference for the continuing and candid engagement of our agreements and disagreements.
Also praiseworthy are the Declaration’s definitions of such constitutive realities as “Kingdom,” “Gospel,” and “Salvation.” Then there is this on what is meant by “Christian”: “A Christian is a believer in God who is enabled by the Holy Spirit to submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in a personal relation of disciple to master and to live the life of God’s kingdom. The word Christian should not be equated with any particular cultural, ethnic, political, or ideological tradition or group. Those who know and love Jesus are also called Christ-followers, believers, and disciples.” When the first ECT statement was issued in 1994, the most vigorously contested assertion in some evangelical circles was the claim that evangelicals and Catholics are “brothers and sisters in Christ.” The Amsterdam Declaration could not be clearer in its affirmation of that great truth.
Of course there is not in evangelicalism an institution of magisterium, or teaching authority, comparable to that of the Catholic Church. Evangelicalism is notoriously fissiparous, as are most movements, and there are undoubtedly many evangelicals who would protest this or that in the Amsterdam Declaration. Yet a gathering as large and representative as Amsterdam, under the auspices of the world’s leading evangelicals, does possess real teaching authority. It is a guiding point of reference in evangelicalism’s continuing reflection on Christian faith, life, and mission. The Declaration says of itself: “It is commended to God’s people everywhere as an expression of evangelical commitment and as a resource for study, reflection, prayer, and evangelistic outreach.” All of God’s people—oldline, evangelical, Orthodox, Catholic—should receive the Amsterdam Declaration in the spirit in which it is commended. It is a historic contribution to the renewal of historic Christian orthodoxy.
While We’re At It
• Churches stand ready to help in times of crisis. Or so one may think. The Barna Research Group telephoned 3,764 Protestant churches nationwide and in 40 percent of the calls were not able to get through to anyone, even after calling back as many as twelve times. Half of the churches in the 40 percent did not even have an answering machine. Schedule your crises for eleven o’clock Sunday morning.
• Of course it is not representative of academic theology today. But it does say something not unimportant about what the academy and its publishing arms, in this case Routledge, deem worthy of serious attention. The book is Indecent Theology and the author is Marcella Althaus-Reid of the University of Edinburgh. Herewith the catalogue précis: “Examining the dialectics of decency and indecency and exploring a theology of sexual stories from the margins is the focus of Indecent Theology. For the first time, liberation theology, queer theory, post-Marxism, and postcolonial analysis are brought together in an explosive mixture. This is an out of the closet style of doing theology and shows how we can reflect on the Virgin Mary and on Christology through sexual stories taken from fetishism, leather lifestyles, and transvestism. It is based on the sexual experiences of the poor, using economic and political analysis while unveiling the sexual ideology of systematic theology.” Explosive, as in laughter, or tears.
• Michael Ignatieff is a writer and thinker of rare talents. His 1998 biography, Isaiah Berlin: A Life, is a masterwork of insight and style that I have warmly recommended. Reviewing recently The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices by Elazar Barkan (Norton), Ignatieff writes: “A troubling question for any society, but especially a capitalist one, is what money can and cannot buy. We are all supposed to know that money can buy you sex but not love, power but not respect, and flattery but not self-esteem. Even in capitalist societies—which are supposed to know the price of everything and the value of nothing—it turns out that the most important things in life are still understood as goods that cannot be bought and sold without reducing their value to zero. If this is true, then what are we to think when a community or an individual has lost honor, dignity, and respect as a result of some crime or injustice, and the offending community or individual offers money by way of restitution? If honor and dignity cannot be bought and sold, can their loss be compensated with money? At first sight, most people would answer no. And more than no. If you were a victim you would think: They have persecuted, abused, and dispossessed me. Now they offer me money. Who do they think I am? And who do they think they are?” That strikes me as exactly right. But then Ignatieff turns around and writes: “Yet the past, however painful, must be faced, and wrongs must be paid for. And societies that do so—and pay the debt—are healthier and more decent places for doing so. Victims who have received the formal recognition and acknowledgment provided by restitution can look themselves in the mirror.” Yes, look themselves in the mirror and say, “Who do they think I am? And who do they think they are?” I have written in this space about “Grasping for Gold” (November 1998), especially in the case of lawyers exploiting the Holocaust, and have commended Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League and others who protest the unseemliness of those who play the guilt game for their own enrichment, with little or no benefit to those who suffered the crimes for which restitution is demanded. (See also William D. Rubinstein’s review of The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering by Norman G. Finkelstein, FT, December 2000.) There are wrongs in the past, usually the more immediate past, that can be righted, at least in part, and what can be done should be done. But extorting financial payoffs from fictive perpetrators of distant wrongs is but another wrong. In his biography, Ignatieff writes that Isaiah Berlin was fond of quoting Joseph Butler, the eighteenth-century Bishop of Durham: “Things and actions are what they are, and the consequences of them will be what they will be: Why then should we desire to be deceived?” That wisdom, Ignatieff says, was key to Berlin’s sense of tragedy and historical limits. Why indeed should we desire to be deceived into thinking that the extortion of blood money from descendants with national or racial ties to people who did great wrongs that cannot be undone will set anything to moral rights? That is a regression to the superstitions of a tribalistic past, a past that began to be consigned to the past with the words of Jeremiah:
And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
But every one shall die for his own sin; each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.
• An alumnus of a Catholic university (which, perhaps tellingly, advertises itself as a “Jesuit university”) writes to the president, asking why a prominent pro-abortion politician, now retired from the U.S. Senate, is invited to give the commencement address. The president writes in response that he “did not think it was necessary” to review the man’s voting record, and “to the best of my knowledge the Senator has not been vocal or visible in the abortion debate at least since his retirement from the U.S. Senate.” In fact, the politician has continued to state publicly his support for the unlimited abortion license of Roe v. Wade. But the university president’s argument would seem to be that, since the Senator is not now making a big deal about his abortion position, why should the university? If, my correspondent wants to know, the Catholic Church teaches that abortion is an unspeakable crime, the greatest violation of human dignity in our time, and the engine of what John Paul II calls the culture of death, and if one presumes, as one should, that the priest president of a Catholic university agrees with the Church’s teaching, how can such a university publicly honor a nationally prominent proponent of the abortion regime without giving the impression that abortion really does not matter that much? I am afraid I did not have a very satisfactory answer.
• Apropos the recent comment on the New York Times co-opting the turf previously occupied by “alternative” newspapers, national political correspondent Richard Berke, a longtime member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA), recently addressed a meeting of the association in Washington, D.C.: “This is at a newspaper where not so long ago—when I started there fifteen years ago—they were keeping lists—the department heads were asking for lists of the gay reporters on different sections so they could be punished in different ways. . . . I remember coming and wondering if there were any gay reporters there or whatever. Now it’s like, there are times when you look at the front-page meeting and . . . literally three-quarters of the people deciding what’s on the front page are not-so-closeted homosexuals. . . . It is a real far cry from what it was like not so long ago.” Considering his audience, Mr. Berke may be exaggerating somewhat, but the evidence delivered each morning at the doorstep strongly supports his observation that the old lady has come a long way.
• A survey of 5,603 adults discovers that the religious mainline is very mainline. Or, as the Christian Century puts it, “The study found the causes advocated by mainline groups are the issues the public cares the most about.” Examples given are racial reconciliation, environmental protection, and concern for the poor. The social scientists, led by Robert Wuthnow of Princeton, discovered that the great majority of people say they favor those good things. Religious people, says Wuthnow, “are not only focused on abortion or prayer in schools. Progressive issues do seem to be of enormous importance to people.” I don’t know how much this survey cost, but one wonders if the money might not have been better spent on a jar of really good spikenard.
• A reader writes that her life and her marriage were transformed by Joseph B. Stanford’s article, “Sex, Naturally” (FT, November 1999). She writes, she says, not to persuade anyone of the evils of contraception but to encourage others to explore the possibility of natural family planning. She also suggests it might be helpful if we alerted readers to the information about NFP available from the Couple to Couple League International (P.O. Box 111184, Cincinnati, Ohio, or www.ccli.org). We just did.
• Members of the attentive public, meaning almost all readers of these pages, can hardly not have come across references to Robert Putnam’s article, now expanded into a book of the same title, Bowling Alone (Simon & Schuster, 541 pages,, $26). The argument is that there has been a severe decline in “social capital” as, to cite one of numerous evidences, people bowling alone rather than in leagues. Putnam is alarmed, and not a little alarmist, at the signs of an “ominous plunge in social connectedness,” a “civic decay,” and a “virus of civic disengagement.” In social science, philanthropic, and think tank worlds, Putnam and his thesis is all the “buzz.” Timothy Burns of Skidmore College is skeptically cool. Writing in Philanthropy, Burns suggests that Putnam’s idea of community and civic life is a pretty limp thing. “This kind of civic life entails nothing morally demanding, merely a disposition to do anything that is done with others. Above all, any active and involved ties must be to strangers, and will entail a loosening of ties to one’s nearest and dearest. This is the second meaning of Putnam’s title: he likes league bowling because it requires ‘regular participation with a diverse set of acquaintances.’ The central teaching of the work, in fact, is a distinction between two types of social capital: ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging.’ Bridging social capital is a ‘concern for the generalized other,’ while bonding is a thicker or deeper concern with one’s close friends. Bridging is flexible, relaxed; bonding entails deep loves and aversions. While bonding social capital ‘bolsters our narrower selves,’ bridging social capital links one to distant acquaintances—it ‘can generate broader identities.’ Forms of bonding social capital like the family may have ‘positive externalities,’ but since they are exclusivist or unfriendly to outsiders, they are at odds with ‘bridging’ social capital, and so they are essentially worrisome, even dangerous. The end of our associational life is apparently not trustworthiness, sense of obligation, virtue, or wisdom, but merely moderation understood as tolerance.” In fact, in Putnam’s view, community that really matters, as in mattering ultimately, is deeply suspect. “For whatever their ‘positive externalities,’ orthodox or devout believers as such are limited, as Putnam never tires of reminding his readers, in what they can do for ‘social connectedness,’ and even pose a serious threat to ‘bridging’ social capital. Like a criminal gang, they are a form of social capital with ‘bad external effects’ or ‘out-group antagonisms.’ Their ‘cohesive nonethnic communities’ are, to some mainline Protestants, ‘exclusivist’ in character. They don’t ‘reach out’ to ‘the wider community.’ Or rather, they do, but by building a political community that sustains faith and virtue. To Putnam and mainline Protestants, the deep concern that the devoutly religious have about the souls of their fellow citizens is wrong, unprogressive, disrespectful of personal autonomy, intolerant. The devoutly religious, it seems, are guilty of ‘drawing both social and religious boundaries.’ Still worse, they are guilty of being too concerned about prayer, about reverence for God—of being ‘focused more on individual piety’ than on ‘progressive social betterment programs’ or ‘community projects.’ They are the cause of the growing divide in American society. They must become lukewarm, progressive, tolerant of all things.” Shelving the convictions and aspirations that make you who you are is a high price to pay for renewing Putnam’s idea of social capital. “Having eschewed appeals to our longings for the noble and substituted appeals to dry, cold duty (or ‘organized altruism’), Putnam would ensure that the demands of the new, identity-transcending connectedness will be made exciting and appealing by including new, innovative, fun things that will keep engagement ‘relevant’ or ‘meaningful,’ especially to young people. Philanthropists are asked to fund participatory cultural activities ‘from group dancing to songfests to community theater to rap festivals.’ And if your identity tells you there’s something wrong with the song? Putnam won’t hear of it. ‘Singing together does not require shared ideology or shared social or ethnic provenance.’ In Putnam’s America, an Orthodox rabbi would join with Madonna in a new ‘The Ballad of the Green Berets.’“ Current interest in “communitarianism”—to which Peter Berger and I are regularly said to have contributed with our writing on mediating institutions, beginning some twenty years ago—is, all in all, an encouraging development. Regrettably, current forms of communitarianism make a little god of community per se. As with happiness, aiming relentlessly at community is the surest way to miss it. Real community, the kind of community that Putnam and others tend to fear, is the result of commitment to the deepest things that those outside the community do not share. It is to be found, for instance, among those who are more interested in storing up treasure in heaven than in increasing social capital.
• You have heard it said, probably more times than you can remember, that more than one-half of marriages today end up in divorce. It isn’t true, as I’ve pointed out here before. (Why don’t they listen?) It’s a statistic regularly employed by those who want us to believe that marriage is a dysfunctional and outmoded institution. Now David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values has worked through the intimidating literature of the numbers-crunchers and explains how the statistic gained currency. The details are available in the Summer 2000 issue of Propositions, the Institute’s newsletter. The gist of it is that divorce rates peaked in 1979 and have been declining ever since. For a young couple getting married today the statistical probability of their staying together for life is at least 60 percent. And it may be higher, since the statistics include all marriages and divorces, and it is established that second and third marriages are more divorce-prone than first marriages. Why does the “more than half” claim continue to have currency? Blankenhorn answers, “Mostly, I suspect, because today’s aging baby boomers, who divorce so frequently themselves, find it hard to accept the fact that younger people are behaving differently, and better.” Also, I would add, because moralizers love doleful statistics showing that we’re going the wrong way in a handbasket. In any event, Blankenhorn offers this proposition, which he admits is a mix of evidence and hope: “In a few years, we will understand a divorce rate of ‘more than half’ not as a description of current reality, but as something that happened in the old days, when the sexual revolution was young and when today’s pot-bellied commentators, editors, and divorce lawyers were wearing bellbottoms and going to discos.” And, of course, young people at the altar who have their minds on statistical probabilities rather than on their love for one another sustained by the grace of God shouldn’t be there.
• Ireland is racing to catch up with Western Europe in the race toward secularization. Or so it seems to many observers. The Archbishop of Dublin, Desmond Connell, has a different view. He says that “hostility fatigue” will inevitably overtake the current fashion of Church-bashing. The children of today, he says, are being better formed spiritually and do not have the “reactions and resentments” of their elders. One must hope that he is right about that.
• We told you so. That’s the gist of an editorial in the Church of England Newspaper reacting to the Vatican declaration Dominus Iesus. The editors are critical of Anglican ecumenists for paying too much attention to Rome and neglecting relations with other Protestants. In the editors’ gross misreading (assuming they read it) of the declaration, Rome has now told the Anglicans to get lost. The editorial concludes: “Rome has spoken: Is it now time for our Anglican ecumenists actually to hear this message, and begin to take Protestant communions more seriously, rather than treating them as Rome treats us?” Yes, they should hear the message, and yes they should take Protestant communions more seriously, precisely by treating them as Rome treats the Anglicans and everyone else. Namely, by speaking the truth in love, and, as John Paul II says, in “irrevocable commitment” to Christian unity.
• Sometimes it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie. But in trying to refute charges in the London Times that the Russian Orthodox Church is riddled with corruption, Father Vsevolod Chaplin, official spokesman of the Moscow Patriarchate, went further and denied long-standing claims that the Patriarch of Moscow, Aleksi II, was an agent of the KGB during the Soviet era. This was too much for the Keston Institute, the foremost research agency on religion in Communist and post-Communist areas. They have now reissued the documentation, long known to scholars, showing that Aleksi was recruited in Estonia when he was twenty-nine years old, and was considered a most valuable agent. In February 1988, thirty years after his recruitment, he was given an award by the KGB for his faithful service. When, for instance, the monks of the Pochayev monastery in western Ukraine complained of harsh treatment by the KGB, including the beating to death of one monk, Aleksi was sent to do “educational work” among the monks. In 1982, the fourth department of the KGB Fifth Directorate, which was responsible for religious affairs, boasted that through “leading agents, the Russian Orthodox Church, Georgian, and Armenian churches hold firmly to positions of loyalty [to the Soviet State].” All this is pretty sordid, but Keston notes that “Aleksi’s collaboration was nothing exceptional.” Almost all senior leaders of all officially recognized religious groups were recruited as KGB agents, says Keston. The Keston report concludes: “In view of the compelling evidence that Aleksi was recruited as a KGB agent, it remains a mystery why such a senior figure in the Moscow Patriarchate would deny it rather than initiate a serious debate as to whether such collaboration had been inevitable and whether or not it had caused the Russian Orthodox Church or others any harm.” Since the fall of communism there has been much speculation as to whether such collaboration and other guilty secrets play an important part in the rejection of John Paul II’s overtures to the Orthodox churches formerly under the Soviet regime. It is time for these questions to be aired more openly, always remembering that those of us who were not there cannot know what we would have done were we in their circumstance.
• Hannah Arendt once described totalitarianism as “an experiment against reality.” The totalitarian impulse, she said, is driven by a curious mix of radical skepticism and fanatical faith. It fosters a world in which people believe, at the same time, everything and nothing. The reigning dogma is that everything is possible and nothing is true. The argument that socialism is an experiment against reality and therefore bound to fail is also at the heart of John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. Roger Kimball takes Experiments Against Reality as the title of his admirable new book of essays (Ivan R. Dee, 351 pages,, $28.50). Kimball’s book is in some ways similar to Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals, but he reads texts more closely and his criticism never descends to slash and burn polemics. The pleasure in reading Kimball is not simply in the demolition of bad guys but in the joy of learning things worth knowing. The essay on Nietzsche, for example, fully recognizes how wrongheaded, and even mad, was the genius, but also acknowledges the perverse nobility of his effort to reestablish morality on a ground firmer than that offered by what he viewed as an exhausted Christian tradition. He argues convincingly that Nietzsche is poorly served by the bargain-rate nihilists who today misrepresent his legacy under the postmodernist slogans du jour. Incisive, too, is the chapter on John Stuart Mill, in which Kimball makes a strong case that intolerance of an authoritarian, if not totalitarian, nature is clearly implicit in the argument of On Liberty. Mill’s “one very simple principle” that the liberty of others can be constrained only for reasons of self-protection is premised, by his own account, on everybody agreeing on his “rational” conclusions, at which point politics (the deliberation of how we ought to order our life together) effectively comes to an end. Today the “one very simple principle” flourishes under the banner of political correctness, which is a mild form (well, not always so mild) of what John Paul in the same encyclical describes as the “thinly disguised totalitarianism” that is the result of divorcing democracy from truth. There are nineteen essays in all, including the influence of T. S. Eliot today, the connections between aestheticism and decadence in nineteenth-century romanticism, the contemporary cult surrounding Michel Foucault’s love affair with death, the achievement of Muriel Spark, and why Robert Musil, author of The Man Without Qualities, was a man of qualities worth emulating. Kimball’s literary and cultural criticism is not in the attack mode, at least not usually. His is rather a learned and gracefully articulated exploration into the ideas and fashions that have brought us to where we are. The tone is one of puzzlement, exasperation, and occasional anger, but the purpose is always to try to understand. Of recent books on the derangement of those who control the commanding heights of culture, and there is a growing number of such books, few can match Experiments Against Reality for its incisive critique, mordant temper, and intellectual reach.
• Readers who are desperately determined to stay in step with the living language of a decadent culture will want to take note of an item in the Journal of Legal Education, titled “Using Students as Discussion Leaders on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Issues in First-Year Courses.” This from the opening paragraph: “One of the authors, Nyquist, is a nongay white biologically male law teacher. Ruiz is a heteroqueer evolved male (the now-antiquated term is ‘transsexual’) Hispanic law student. Smith is a gay white biologically male law student. Both Ruiz and Smith are active in the Les-Bi-Gay-Trans Caucus at the New England School of Law and have been involved in LBGT issues for many years.” Footnote #1 explains further: “Ruiz prefers the term ‘evolved male’ to ‘transsexual’ as a description of his gender. He is a biological female who is in the process of aligning his body with his male gender identity. ‘Heteroqueer’ refers to Ruiz’ sexual orientation; ‘heterosexual’ is too simple a term for his situation. ‘Hetero’ refers to Ruiz’ attraction to women and ‘queer’ to his evolved-male status.” Footnote 22 is also helpful: “For example, when Ruiz first arrived at the school, Nyquist and Smith identified him as a lesbian. In our initial planning session for the class, Ruiz corrected us: ‘A lesbian is a biological woman who identifies herself as a woman and is sexually attracted to women. Although I have a woman’s body and am attracted to women, I identify my gender as male. . . . The term I prefer, ‘evolved male,’ implies not only a physical transition, but also a personal journey, psychological growth, and a physical emergence. The term also serves to distinguish evolved males from biological males.’“ Watch for new studies on the missing kinks in evolutionary theory.
• Alec Guinness died some months ago. Olivier, Richardson, Gielgud, Guinness. And one searches for some other way to say an era has ended. I came across this in one of Guinness’ several, and always engaging, memoirs, Blessings in Disguise, which includes the account of his being received into full communion with the Catholic Church. “On 24 March 1956, Father Clarke accepted my reconciliation with the Church, with tact and kindness, at St. Lawrence’s, Petersfield. Like countless converts . . . I felt I had come home—‘and known the place for the first time.’” And then this: “Back in London, I was walking up Kingsway in the middle of an afternoon when an impulse compelled me to start running. With joy in my heart, and in a state of almost sexual excitement, I ran until I reached the little Catholic church there (St. Anselm and St. Cecilia) which I had never entered before; I knelt, caught my breath, and for ten minutes was lost to the world. Coming out into the glare of day, mingling with sensible citizens on their lawful occasions, I wondered what on earth had possessed me and if I had become momentarily deranged. I decided that I was still fairly sane; that it had just been an unexpected, rather nonsensical, gesture of love.”
• In the December 2000 issue we published Adam Garfinkle’s authoritative article (“That Lousy War”) on what went wrong in Vietnam and what, in the future, we might get right from what went wrong. One effort at getting things right is Vietnam Charities, an American project in support of Sister Elizabeth, a Vietnamese nun, and other Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. Their special apostolate is working with abused girls and helping poor children who are excluded from government schools to get an education. To find out how you can help, contact Monique O’Driscoll at Vietnam Charities, 4038 Tennyson, Houston, Texas 77005 (713-667-3179; www.vietnamcharities.org).
• You know about the churches of Canada (Anglican, Catholic, United) being sued into bankruptcy by legal sharks bringing thousands of cases of “cultural genocide.” You know, that is, if you read it in the November 2000 issue (“From the Northern Front,” Public Square). In the late nineteenth century, the churches contracted with the government to run residential schools that would teach Indian children the Christian gospel, among other things. Predictably, some suits (of which there are now over seven thousand) allege sexual and other abuses, but chiefly the charge is cultural genocide. The churches, especially the Anglican, are falling all over themselves to apologize for what they once thought was their mission, says Mark Steyn, writing in the London Spectator. “Onward, Christian soldiers, retreating into oblivion. As for ‘cultural genocide,’ if there’s any going on these days, it’s the genocide of the Britannic inheritance—in North America, in the Antipodes, in Blair’s Britain. Only a generation or two back, governments thought they were doing native children a favor by teaching them the English language and the principles of common law and the great sweep of imperial history, that by doing so they were bringing young Indians and Inuit ‘within the circle of civilized conditions.’ It’s only forty years ago, but that’s one memory the government of Canada will never recover. No civilized society legislates retrospectively: If you pass a seat-belt law in 1990, you don’t prosecute people who were driving without them in 1980. Likewise, we should not sue the past for noncompliance with the orthodoxies of the present.”
• The paper of the archdiocese of Baltimore reports on the declining number of priests and how they will have to be reassigned to make sure that essentials are attended to. A common enough story. Not to worry, however, a committee has been established. According to the paper, it is called the “Committee on the Allocation and Recruitment of Priests (CARP).” Acronymically speaking, one can understand why allocation precedes recruitment in the committee’s name, but one hopes the committee knows which must have priority.
• William Flynn of Tallahassee, Florida, says he appreciates my tolerance when it comes to what to end a sentence with. But he wants to test the limits of my tolerance with this: “Why did you bring that book I didn’t want to be read to out of up for?” I’m thinking about it.
• Of course I’m prejudiced in favor of Father Avery Dulles. As I am prejudiced for and against many persons and things. Prejudice simply means that you’ve given a matter prior thought and arrived at a considered judgment. The alternative to prejudice is to be entirely open-minded, which is almost always a pretense, and, when it is not, is usually equivalent to mindlessness. I have given a great deal of thought to the person and work of Fr. Dulles. We’ve been good friends for a quarter century; he was my sponsor when I was received into the Catholic Church and my vesting priest when I was ordained a priest. He writes frequently for these pages, we’re in regular conversation, often have dinner together, and the Institute’s Dulles Colloquium, a continuing conversation among notable theologians, is named in his honor. All of which reflects a heavy-duty prejudice. The occasion for bringing it up is Fr. Dulles’ newest book, The New World of Faith (Our Sunday Visitor, 175 pages,, $14.95
paper). It is a wonder. Here is a man who is rightly considered the most respected Catholic theologian in America writing a book of utter lucidity and beguiling simplicity that invites the inquiring lay person to the high adventure of Christian faith as that faith is taught and lived in the Catholic Church. It should be read also by priests and catechists—and by academic theologians who want to see how erudition can be put in the service of people. Like many priests, I am besieged by inquirers. To those who want to know what the Church teaches on this or that, I recommend the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and I will still do that, of course. But the Catechism is very big, and can be intimidating to some. Now I will also be recommending The New World of Faith. As an adult convert, Fr. Dulles knows the questions that bother people most. He responds to those questions in a manner that is completely straightforward, modest, and persuasive. I can imagine that some readers may think the book a mite impersonal, but, having discovered the inexhaustible marvels of the faith, Fr. Dulles is reluctant to let his own ideas get in the way of communicating that discovery to others. Anyone who has a say in what books are acquired for a parish or school library and doesn’t include a copy or three of The New World of Faith is guilty of dereliction of duty. Please take that as a statement of prejudice—prejudice carefully considered and once again confirmed.
• There is a fetching bravado about Christians who make up their own creeds. Writing in America, William J. O’Malley, S.J., complains that Catholic catechesis is too much concerned about doctrine. “Risking imprisonment in Castel Sant’Angelo, I propose four non-negotiables of Christian faith catechesis—even if kids lack knowledge of the filioque, the symbols in the Book of Revelation, and the insights of Teilhard. 1) Jesus is the embodiment of God. Somehow, God came from beyond time and space to show us how it’s done. 2) Jesus/God died in order to rise and show us that we are immortal and to share divine aliveness with us. 3) Those who belong to Jesus/God see the values of ‘The Kingdom’ (them first—God and neighbor) as more important than the values of ‘The World’ (me first). 4) We celebrate that incorporation in a serving community and a weekly meal of thanksgiving. Deny any of those and you can still be a fine human being—even a saint, like Camus—but not a Christian. To my fallible mind, everything else is, in varying degrees, negotiable.” The author convincingly demonstrates the state of his mind, but one wonders if it is really the case (happy thought) that there are thousands of children out there worrying about the filioque. In any event, he need not fear imprisonment, although in a well-ordered order he might be sent back to Theology 101.
• “The November election may well determine whether the religious clauses of the Constitution will continue to preserve and protect the values of religious freedom, diversity, and peace.” Thus writes Norman Redlich of the American Jewish Congress in the Nation. You know my long-standing point, which I’m glad to say is being picked up in some legal writing, that there are not two clauses but one. Enough on that. But “religious” clauses? No, they (i.e., it) is not religious. It is the religion clause, a clause dealing with religion. Until a few years ago, journalists writing on religion were called religious reporters, until some objected that they were nothing of the sort. They are religion reporters. As to the substance of Mr. Redlich’s comment, he is entirely right in his devotion to religious freedom, diversity, and peace, and, in my view, entirely wrong in his idea of how those great goods might be preserved and protected.
• Even in these flush times, $22billion is a hefty piece of change. That is how much evangelical Protestants spend annually in support of a vast array of parachurch groups, ranging from Campus Crusade for Christ, World Vision, and Prison Fellowship to countless evangelistic ministries. Michael S. Hamilton offers an instructive survey of the phenomenon in a Christianity Today article, “We’re In the Money!” Along the way, he notes that giving to politically oriented organizations of the “Religious Right” is less than 1 percent of parachurch support. “For every dollar we spend on political agencies, we spend nearly $10 on international ministries, almost $13 in Christian book and music stores, nearly $25
on evangelical higher education, and almost $31 on evangelical elementary and secondary schools. We spend more on summer camps than politics, more on urban rescue missions than politics, more on youth programs than on politics.” So has the success of the innumerable entrepreneurial empires of the parachurch world corrupted evangelicalism? Hamilton recognizes that being in the money is probably not what Jesus had in mind when he invited his disciples to take up the cross and follow him. He writes, “This particular Christian truth only rarely works its way into the decision-making process of our ministry organizations. The engine that drives us is a compelling vision for ministry, and who can say that the vision was not vouchsafed by God? So we pursue the vision by building and growing the organizations that embody the vision. Growth means more money; more money means more ministry. In the worst cases, means and ends become reversed, and growth and influence become goals unto themselves. In the best cases, more ministry means more people who become newly aware of the great gift God has given them in Jesus Christ—and who then, in gratitude, reach into their own pockets and give, so that others might also know.” If only the world, and the religious world as well, was limited to “the best cases.” What would seem to be missing here is a place to stand from which the driving, and sometimes demonic, logic of growth and success can be brought under judgment. I left the article wondering whether somebody might someday write a version of “The Grand Inquisitor” updated for the religion business of our day.
• The Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong has made his debut on the sex website www.theposition.com. His column is titled “Virgin Mary vs. Wonder Woman,” and his point is that the comic strip character “has done more to break the culturally imposed boundaries on women than the Virgin Mary ever did.” There is no reason whatever to take note of this, unless you are one of the few people who might be asked, “Whatever happened to that Bishop Spong?”
• How long can you keep a scam going? In the case of Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), as long as you can get leftist foundations to fund your campaign against the Catholic Church. As it regularly does come election time, CFFC once again took out a full-page ad in the New York Times in the name of a letterhead organization called “Catholics Speak Out.” “There has been a lot of talk about the ‘Catholic vote.’ Now it is time for Catholic voters to talk. We agree with our bishops on many issues, but not all.” Then follows a laundry list of sixteen liberal causes, beginning with universal health care and ending with lifting sanctions against Cuba and Iraq. Smack in the middle is “Reproductive Health,” affirming support for the worldwide availability of measures to avoid reproduction. In the tiniest type, there is a list of what must be thousands of names of people who presumably support “Catholics Speak Out.” “Anonymous” appears several times, and there is at least one “Father Anonymous.” That’s one way to speak out. Conversely, one recalls the full-page fundraising ad of some years ago taken out by a ditzy California priest who promoted moon worship and sundry less interesting heresies. He had been censured by his order, and his ad screamed the banner headline, “I HAVE BEEN SILENCED!” The anonymous speak out and the silenced hire a public relations firm. Are we living in wonderful times, or what?
• Attention was paid when former President Jimmy Carter, with great reluctance, resigned from the Southern Baptist Convention in protest against what he viewed as its increasingly narrow conservative direction. Technically he did not resign, since he still belongs to an SBC local church where he is very active in, inter alia, teaching Sunday School. But Carter made his point. Dr. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, an SBC conservative in good standing, and one of the more impressive theologians around today, says that some SBC leaders may respond to Carter’s decision with “Good riddance!” Not Dr. George, however. He thinks Carter has a point well worth making. He writes, “Especially troubling right now are isolationist forces within the denomination, some of whom oppose Baptist efforts even with other evangelicals. Combined with nativist politics and a virulent anti-Catholicism, this movement would actually restrict the missionary and evangelistic outreach at the heart of the Southern Baptist ethos. If left to grow like kudzu, it could reduce the Southern Baptist Convention to a mega-sect.”
• Among the little-noticed contributions of the Clinton Administration is National Character Counts Week, solemnly declared by presidential proclamation two weeks before the election. William Jefferson Clinton declared: “The term ‘character’ is derived from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘to inscribe,’ reflecting the conviction that character is not innate, but rather is instilled through the influence, example, and guidance of the people around us. One of our greatest responsibilities as adults and citizens, therefore, is to ensure that we teach our children, by word and deed, the values that will help them develop into men and women of strong character.” The proclamation goes on to note the Administration’s support for the V-chip in new televisions, and that “exercising our right to vote” is “a vital lesson about character.” So, you ask, where is the aforementioned contribution of the Clinton Administration? It is no little thing to have retired, at least for the foreseeable future, the term chutzpah.
• Lawyers are supposed to be tenacious, and Kenneth B. Kramer is certainly that. He was my tenacious Greek teacher at Concordia College, Austin, Texas, many years ago. He now practices law in Wichita Falls and has been tenaciously challenging my commentary on the Elian Gonzalez seizure in the June/July issue. I wrote, “What law warranted the raid? None. What was the hurry in removing the boy? The hubris of a government wanting to save face by doing what it said it would do.” I give up. Well, almost. Mr. Kramer notes that the Immigration and Naturalization Service had a “right of possession” that no one has challenged in court. Fair enough. So let’s stipulate, as lawyers say, that the government had the legal authority to do what it did. But does that warrant—in the sense of morally justifying—what it did and how it did it? I think not.
• What difference is “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT) really making? That is the question addressed by the noted evangelical theologian, Stanley J. Grenz, in the conclusion of his new book, Renewing the Center: Evangelical Theology in a Post-Theological Era (Baker). Evangelicalism—characterized by an emphasis on the experience of conversion that Grenz calls “convertive piety”—emerged as “neo-evangelicalism” after World War II, breaking out of its religious and cultural isolationism dating back to the early part of the century. Today, evangelicalism is flourishing by many measures, but, Grenz argues, is crippled by the lack of a coherent ecclesiology, or doctrine of the Church. Grenz writes: “Whatever else might be said about the ECT document and the debate that came in its wake, the ordeal has awakened the evangelical consciousness to several urgent issues that few evangelicals had considered at length prior to 1994. Above all, the discussion has jarred at least some evangelicals into considering the question of the breadth of vision that characterizes neo-evangelicalism after more than a half century of existence. The initial intent of the neo-evangelical movement was to provide a ‘third way’ in the aftermath of the great turn-of-the-twentieth-century controversy [between modernists and fundamentalists] within Protestantism. But the events since 1994 signal that the postmodern, global context has thrust upon the purveyors of convertive piety a new situation. No longer can evangelicals be content to limit the context in which they engage in the task of renewal to a church understood as bounded by the oldline Protestant denominations and the self-consciously evangelical groups. While not abandoning this aspect of their mandate, the postmodern condition challenges evangelicals to gain a vision of the church that is truly catholic, that is, a vision that is universal and comprehensive in scope. The globalized situation thrusts upon evangelicals the need to understand themselves as a catholic renewal movement, as a people committed to the renewal of the evangelical center within, as part of, and for the sake of the whole, global church.” Of course Grenz wrote that before the “Amsterdam Declaration 2000,” discussed elsewhere in these pages, but he and the Amsterdam assembly would seem to be of one mind. One might even suspect the Holy Spirit of having a hand in this.
• Monsignor George G. Higgins is the last of the breed known as “labor priests.” It is flattering, but also a mite annoying, that he has over the years, in column after column, attacked the relatively little I have had occasion to say about organized labor. More than annoying is his essay in Commonweal citing a recent interview on the late Cardinal O’Connor, in the course of which I said that organized labor “was one of the few areas in which we did not see eye to eye.” Higgins writes: “Neuhaus never publicly spoke this way about the Cardinal’s stand on labor issues while the Cardinal was alive. I think it is a great pity that he held his fire until it was too late for O’Connor to respond.” That is both false and offensive. The Cardinal was well aware of my public statements on the labor question and of our differing views on aspects of that question. My most extensive discussion of these matters is in the 1992 book, Doing Well and Doing Good: The Challenge to the Christian Capitalist, which the Cardinal praised highly, while not agreeing with all of it. The Cardinal made no secret of the fact that his passionate support for organized labor was part of his filial devotion to his father, a staunch union man of the old-fashioned type so often idealized by Msgr. Higgins. My friendship with the Cardinal was of the kind that accommodated respectful disagreement, as I hope is also true of my relationship with Msgr. Higgins, even when he makes it difficult. There is no doubt that Catholic social doctrine affirms the right of workers to join unions. Rather than spending his time misrepresenting those with whom he disagrees, Msgr. Higgins might attend to his unenviable task of explaining why fewer and fewer working people choose to exercise that right.
• Readers who are sated by commentary on the presidential election and its aftermath will note with gratitude that this issue is an election-free zone. It is not that we think the election unimportant, but a journal such as this examines events from a certain historical perspective, so we will have nothing to say about the election until next month. From the peanut gallery: “One month is historical perspective?!” Just kidding.
• Managing Editors manage, and there is a great deal to manage around this place. For ten years, Matthew Berke has been smoothing the feathers of ruffled authors, keeping the log on what’s on hand and what’s promised, compelling other editors to stay on deadline (including what seems like a daily reminder to this editor that “We need ‘The Public Square’ for next month”), and making sure that everyone from printer to proofreaders are on the same page and watching the same calendar. Whatever the confusions in this office, and there are many of them, the standard response has been, “Check it with Matt.” And now Matt has decided it is time to move on. We’ll miss him for all he does, and we’ll miss him almost as much for things not included in the Managing Editor’s job description; most notably, a wry and gentle humor worthy of Gary Larson’s “The Far Side,” which he keeps by his desk. The “Berkisms” offered in editorial meetings are legendary. His humor fails him only in his fanatical devotion to the New York Yankees. Matt came to us after completing his Ph.D. at Yale, where he wrote his dissertation on Reinhold Niebuhr, a figure very important to the philosophy of this journal. As a commitedly Jewish Niebuhrian, Matt has in numerous ways enhanced the interreligious dimension of our enterprise. Now he wants to devote himself full-time to scholarship and writing, which is perfectly understandable, and that will, we very much hope, include regular writing for these pages. Heartfelt thanks for these ten years, Matt. We pray you all the best in your new endeavors. And, setting aside for the moment more sensible allegiances, we will try hard not to begrudge you your hope for ten more years, at least, of World Series dominance by the insufferable Yankees.
• Gratifying. That is the word, when students from the U.S. and Central Eastern Europe stay in touch through FT and support one another in their vocations, including, over these past ten years, many vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. One of the great benefits of the Tertio Millennio Seminar held in Krakow, Poland, and generously supported by the Laffey-McHugh Foundation of Delaware, Maryland, is that young people in dominantly Catholic countries get to know Protestant and Orthodox Christians of high intelligence and commitment. Gratifications abound. For instance, the chaplain to the New York Yankees tells me that he frequently uses FT in his talks, and at least one team member is a regular reader, which may or may not have something to do with their winning their third World Series in a row. Of course, gratifications of this order cannot be guaranteed, but we will be happy to send a sample issue of this journal to people you think are likely subscribers. Please send names and addresses to First Things, 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, New York, New York 10010 (or e-mail to subscriberservices@ pma-inc.net). On the other hand, if they’re ready to subscribe, call toll-free 1-800-783-4903, or visit old.firstthings.com.
Victor Navasky on Gus Hall, New York Times, October 21, 2000. The Amsterdam Declaration can be found at http://media.amsterdam2000.org/declaration.asp.
While We’re At It: On unanswered phone calls to churches, Barna Research press release, August 22, 2000. Michael Ignatieff on reparations for victim groups, New York Times Book Review, September 10, 2000. Richard Berke on gay reporters, Lambda Report, April/May 2000. Survey on the religious mainline, Christian Century, May 17, 2000. Timothy Burns on Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, Philanthropy, July/August 2000. Archbishop Desmond Connell interviewed, Irish Independent, September 19, 2000. Church of England Newspaper editorial on Dominus Iesus, September 15, 2000. On the KGB and the Patriarch of Moscow, Aleksi II, Keston Institute press release, September 21, 2000. “Using Students as Discussion Leaders on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Issues in First-Year Courses,” Journal of Legal Education, December 1999. Quotes from Alec Guinness cited, Tablet, August 12, 2000. Mark Steyn on British culture and history, London Spectator, June 24, 2000. Fr. William J. O’Malley on Christian faith, America, September 16, 2000. Norman Redlich on the Constitution’s religion clause(s), Nation, October 9, 2000. “We’re In the Money!” by Michael Hamilton, Christianity Today, June 12, 2000. John Shelby Spong’s “Virgin Mary vs. Wonder Woman,” www.theposition.com, October 19, 2000. Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) ad, New York Times, October 23, 2000. Timothy George on Jimmy Carter, Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2000. Msgr. George Higgins on Richard John Neuhaus, Cardinal O’Connor, and organized labor, Commonweal, November 3, 2000.