The Public Square
“If I had the authority,” declared the leader of an evangelical parachurch empire, “I’d almost be ready to decree that we go back to the King James.” That in response to my having written here that, if I had the authority, everybody would use the Revised Standard Version. The sorry fact is that English-speaking Christians have largely lost a common biblical vocabulary as a consequence of the proliferation of translations—and of paraphrases passing as translations—over the last forty years. I am told that there are nearly two hundred English translations on the market now, and Bible printers keep churning out new ones, for there seems to be a near insatiable market. There are designer translations for teenagers, mothers, business people, speakers of ebonics (stereotyped black talk), and just about any other market niche or itch that one can imagine.
The result is that little or nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to the recognition of biblical passages or phrases. It is not exactly a matter of biblical illiteracy, for it would seem that millions are regularly reading the Bible, which is a very good thing. But there is little shared biblical language among Christians, and, predictably, ever fewer biblical references in the public culture. The last consequence is not entirely due to the multiplication of versions, of course, but that, one cannot help but believe, is part of it.
When in the 1950s J. B. Phillips published his loose but suggestive translation of parts of the New Testament, it seemed like a breath of fresh air. No less a literary authority than C. S. Lewis wrote an appreciative introduction for Phillips’ Letters to Young Churches. But now things have gotten quite out of hand, as every Bible student who has a new idea about what the text really means decides not to write a commentary on the text but to rewrite the text. Catholic lay people, it is no secret, were not heavy-duty Bible readers before the Second Vatican Council. But for public and private purposes, the English text was the Douay-Rheims translation of the Latin Vulgate, first appearing in the sixteenth century and updated until 1763. After the Council, Catholics, too, got into new translations, notably with the Jerusalem Bible, the New Jerusalem Bible, and then, from the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, regular updatings of the New American Bible.
At present, three translations are approved for Catholic liturgical use: the New Jerusalem, the RSV, and the New American Bible (NAB). The lectionaries and the several publishers of Mass guides, however, use only the NAB. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a wretched translation. It succeeds in being, at the same time, loose, stilted, breezy, vulgar, opaque, and relentlessly averse to literary grace. The bishops had the NAB updated to the Revised New American Bible (RNAB), but Rome had objections to that and hurriedly appointed a committee to fix it up into what might be called the Amended Revised New American Bible (ARNAB), which will soon become mandatory in lectionary use. Technically, the RSV and New Jerusalem are still permitted but, with ARNAB as the mandatory translation of the future, nobody has any interest in printing lectionaries or Mass guides using those versions. There is the additional oddity that you cannot buy an ARNAB Bible, since only the pericopes (liturgical readings) exist in ARNAB-talk. So Catholics do not have a Bible for personal or group reading that uses the same text that they hear at Mass.
An additional wrinkle is that the Canadian bishops approved for liturgical use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), with its gender-inclusive and dumbed-down language. Rome overruled the bishops, but the Canadians said, in effect, “Too bad, but thousands upon thousands of lectionaries have already been printed in NRSV.” So Rome said that no more could be printed, but the ones already printed could be used. Not surprisingly, there is reportedly a very brisk business of “progressive” priests in the U.S. importing Canadian lectionaries. It is, all in all, a sorry tale.
As if the above is not confusion enough, there is in addition the Liturgy of Hours, the breviary for daily prayer. There the psalms are from the 1963 Grail translation, with other biblical canticles translated by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and yet others by the International Consultation on English Texts (ICET), with the result that, as also in daily Mass guides used by the people, the very same texts frequently appear in different translations. The antiphon to a psalm that is taken from the psalm being read, for example, is often worded differently from the way it appears in the psalm. The banality of the translations does not invite the memorization of biblical texts, and the different and frequently conflicting translations make such memorization impossible. The incessant patchwork meddling and updating of liturgical reform in the last several decades has produced what critics describe as a “destabilizing of the sacramental order.” That destabilization is dramatically evident also in the mish-mash that has been made of biblical translations.
The Conciliar Vision
That, one may suggest with considerable confidence, is not what the fathers of the Council had in mind. Section 22 of Dei Verbum (The Word of God): “But since the word of God should be available at all times, the Church with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And if, given the opportunity and the approval of Church authority, these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them.” At least in the English-speaking world, that maternal concern has been seriously delinquent; there are no common translations among Catholics, never mind translations used by all Christians in common. Again, the word of God in the ARNAB version to be used in liturgy, unsatisfactory as it is, is not available at all in the form of a complete Bible. In the absence of a quality English text, it seems that Catholics will have to put up with a linguistic destabilization of Babel-like proportions.
A not uninteresting sidelight is that St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, sometimes described as a training camp for liturgical terrorists, is spending several million dollars to have a scribe illuminate on vellum the entire Bible. You may have noticed the news stories on that. It’s a lovely idea, except that the text to be used is the NRSV. So here we will have a beautifully illuminated vellum manuscript that will last a thousand years, with a trendy text—and, not incidentally, a text officially disapproved by Rome—that is as dated as last year’s edition of the politically correct handbook.
There are some fine and generally felicitous translations available: The New American Standard, the New International Version (NIV), the New Jerusalem, and, above all, the RSV. The NIV is by far the most used among evangelical Protestants who don’t use the King James Version (which is often used in one of several modified forms, such as the New King James, which pretty much limits its revisions to replacing obsolete words and phrases that would not be understood today). Catholics will, for the foreseeable future, be stuck with ARNAB in public reading, and then whatever version for personal and group study. Of the many versions available, one hopes they will choose to counter the rude liberties taken by ARNAB with the gracefully accurate text of the RSV.
Cradle Catholics, and Others
At the risk of generalizing, let me generalize. It applies to Catholics but not to Catholics only, as we will see. A reviewer of Avery Cardinal Dulles’ fine little introduction to Catholicism, The New World of Faith, was puzzling over why he really didn’t like the book. Then it struck him that Dulles, as an adult convert, treats Catholicism as a discovery, while for the reviewer, a cradle Catholic, the Church is the inherited and taken for granted reality. Dulles writes about Catholicism as a “magnificent artifact” to be cherished and cared for, whereas for the reviewer being Catholic is mainly a matter of, as he puts it, “negotiating an accommodation with the larger culture.”
In other words, for Dulles that “larger culture” is the inherited and taken for granted reality, while Catholicism is the new and exciting thing. The pastor of a Catholic parish tells me that he would not want a priest on his staff who does not read the New York Times every day. He said nothing about whether the priest should pray his office, the Liturgy of Hours, every day. Clearly, the pastor is in the mode of negotiating with the larger culture; the goal is rising above the Catholic thing, not deeper immersion in the Catholic thing.
Similarly, a friend who taught at an Ivy League university for years underwent a born-again experience under Baptist auspices. For his sabbatical year he decided to teach at an evangelical college. He discovered, he said, that his most self-consciously sophisticated evangelical colleagues at the college were the most parochial. They were so touchingly eager to demonstrate to him and others that they were in conversation with what he viewed as the stiflingly parochial discourses of the Ivy League that he knew all too well. They evidenced, he said, a practiced aloofness from, bordering on contempt for, the Baptist faith and life that was for him a refreshing alternative to “the larger culture.”
The Catholic counterparts of those colleagues are legion. Priests and academics born into Catholicism tend to know all the inside stories, the flaws and foibles and legendary figures of the Church, and can regale one another with the rich lore of its characters and scandals. It is one big extended family. In that company, status is often contingent upon demonstrating that one has transcended the “Catholic ghetto.” That explains, at least in large part, why dissent from official teaching carries the panache of being sophisticated. The disposition is: “Yes, I am a Catholic (or a priest, or a theologian), but I think for myself.” The remarkably improbable assumption is that what one thinks up by oneself is more interesting than what the Church teaches.
That view is frequently marked by what might be called ecclesiastical fundamentalism. The fundamental realities that constitute the Church are so taken for granted that it is simply inconceivable that dissent or taking liberties at the edges could do any real damage. Typically, such people really do love the Church, it really is their mother, but, like adolescents breaking loose from parental tutelage, they feel a need to distance themselves from her embrace. That would seem to be the case with the reviewer who is puzzled by Cardinal Dulles’ discovery of Catholicism as a “magnificent artifact.” It may be easier for converts, but for everyone that sense of discovery and rediscovery is the key that opens the door to what Cardinal Dulles calls The New World of Faith.
Eliminating the Soul
Today we speak of clinical depression, but going back as far as we have records of what people thought, the phenomenon was called melancholy. It is from two Greek words, melas (black) and khole (bile). Melancholy has to do with humoral states, the Greeks taught. As there are four elements—earth, air, fire, and water—so human health depends upon the right balance among four humors or substances in the body: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. The spleen was commonly thought to be the villain in producing black bile, an excessive amount of which produced melancholy, although sometimes blame was attached to the gallbladder as well. (The fact that I had both removed some years ago may help explain my relentlessly sunny disposition.) These matters are treated in a manner both charming and instructive by Jennifer Radden of the University of Massachusetts in a new anthology, The Nature of Melancholy: From Aristotle to Kristeva (Oxford University Press).
The anthology includes, of course, an extensive excerpt from the seventeenth-century Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton, who wrote, “The Tower of Babel never yielded such confusion of tongues as this Chaos of Melancholy doth variety of symptoms.” Burton went on to write, “I would advise him, that is actually melancholy, not to read this Tract of Symptomes, lest he disquiet or make himselfe for a time worse, and more melancholy than he was before.” Radden offers a most catholic selection of thinkers, from Galen to Cassian the monk and Teresa of Ávila, up through Kant, Freud, and today’s pharmaceutical managers of depression. Melancholy is most generally understood as feelings of intense sadness or fear without sufficient cause. But, as Radden makes clear, almost each word in that sentence—feelings, sadness, fear, cause—has been subjected to centuries of theorizing and dispute.
A remarkable fact is that contemporary thought about melancholy or depression has come full circle back to the theory of humors. Kant proposed that melancholy, indeed all mental disorder, has its cause in illogic, false belief, or delusion. Almost nobody today is a Kantian on that score. Freud had, as one might expect, fascinating fantasies about loss, narcissistic retrojection, and longing for the mother’s breast, or whatever. And of course he still has his true believers. Others, notably feminist theorists, contend that melancholy is culturally constructed. But after all these centuries, the dominant scientific view is that of the science of Greek antiquity: Melancholy is caused by an imbalance of something or the other, call them humors, in the body. The big difference today, of course, is that relentless experimentation has discovered that drugs can somehow or another—nobody quite knows why—affect such imbalances and relieve the symptoms of melancholy, now called depression.
Among the merits of The Nature of Melancholy is its modesty. Implicit in Radden’s presentation is her warning against the simple-minded reductionism of those who, still today, claim scientific authority for their belief that moods, emotions, and mind itself are all to be explained by material causation. The advanced thinkers of Germany in the nineteenth century produced a school of thought known as somatism, which, joined to the multiplying classifications of psychiatry, produced phrenology. Phrenology was proclaimed as an exact science in which the study of the shape of the skull was thought to reveal mental faculties and character. Such pseudo-science, then and now, was explicitly aimed at downgrading or denying the moral, spiritual, and intellectual dimensions of human thought and action.
Aristotle, Galen, Cassian, and other worthies understood that man is both soul and body—an embodied soul or, as some preferred, an ensouled body. The body affects the soul, and the soul affects the body. The first affect depends on what, for lack of a better term, they called the humors. It is not evident that we have a better term today. What we do have is much greater experimental knowledge about the pharmaceutical manipulation of whatever-they-are-to-be-called. That is, for many people, a great blessing. Unless they are seduced into believing, with the materialists of yesterday and today, that such manipulation means that they do not have a soul.
Something Like, Just Maybe, a Catholic Moment
(The twelfth in a series on the idea of “Christian America.”)
There are three main constellations of American Christianity—mainline/oldline Protestantism, evangelical Protestantism, and Roman Catholicism. I turn now to Catholicism, the third force in the confused religio-cultural mix of Christian America. Before he died in 1967, Father John Courtney Murray, who had a key role in the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on religious freedom, speculated that the day was not far off, and perhaps had already come, when Catholics would succeed establishment (read mainline) Protestantism in providing a moral and philosophical rationale for the American experiment in liberal democracy. At the time, most thought that a highly implausible suggestion. But again, history has many ironies in the fire.
Harvard historian John T. McGreevy, writing in the June 1997 issue of the Journal of American History, tracks the curious course of Catholicism from being the perceived enemy of democracy to becoming a candidate for its intellectual rejuvenation. “Thinking on One’s Own: Catholicism in the American Intellectual Imagination, 1928-1960,” to which I have referred before, is a masterful documentation of the pervasiveness of anti-Catholic prejudice among the brightest and best of America’s intellectual class. This was not a prejudice that can be lightly dismissed as bigotry; it was a reasoned prejudice, based upon an apparently plausible logic. In an era when public intellectuals such as John Dewey seemed to reign supreme, it was understood, first, that devotion to democracy is the preeminent American value. The second doctrine was that democracy requires people who are disposed to “thinking on one’s own.” Third, the Catholic Church is the sworn enemy of that disposition. Conclusion: the Catholic Church is the enemy of democracy.
What is most striking from McGreevy’s research is the pervasiveness, the sheer taken-for-grantedness, of the above prejudice. In major research universities, the appointment of a Catholic in fields such as history, political science, or philosophy sparked heated controversies, quite explicitly about whether a Catholic was free to be honest in his teaching and research. Defenders of such appointments argued that candidates were qualified despite their being Catholics, or offered assurances that they were not very serious Catholics. Much in the manner, one might note, that John F. Kennedy was elected after he assured the Baptist ministers of Houston that he was not a very serious Catholic—although, to be sure, not in quite those words. (One notes in passing that, contrary to some tellings of the story, Fr. Murray, far from being party to Kennedy’s statements on religion in the 1960 campaign, was appalled by them.)
As mentioned earlier, the certification of Catholics as Good Americans was bestowed under liberal auspices. In the more than two hundred Catholic colleges and universities in America, older faculty members well remember the bad old days documented by McGreevy. They vehemently resist the current trend toward strengthening the “Catholic identity” of these institutions, fearing a return to what is called an “intellectual ghetto.” Any association with authoritative Catholic teaching is thought to threaten an authoritarianism that would be the death of academic freedom, understood as “thinking on one’s own.”
McGreevy offers a different reading of the current circumstance. The idea of the autonomous individual “thinking on one’s own” is no longer what it was once cracked up to be. “An emphasis on individual rights, in this view, can occur at the expense of the more prosaic politics of compromise and institution building. Some philosophers extend this point to argue that moral traditions mark the beginning of genuine discussion, not simply a roadblock to thinking on one’s own. The cumulative effect of this fascination with intellectual and social ‘community’ changes lingering apprehensions about the threat posed to social cohesion by Catholic schools and churches into admiration.” The impetus toward parental choice and genuine pluralism in education, for instance, has in recent years been largely driven by admiration for the academic and moral achievements of Catholic schools. The philosophical extension of this change is evident in the work of thinkers such as Alasdair MacIntyre on the indispensability of authoritative moral traditions.
I once wrote, a few years before I became a Catholic, a book titled The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World. Some, both among those who loved it and those who were less than pleased, mistook it for a “triumphalist” argument that Catholicism now had the upper hand and was more or less in charge of the religio-cultural redirection of the American experiment. The argument, in fact, was and is that Catholicism is uniquely situated to work with other Christian communions, and very specifically with evangelical Protestantism and Judaism, in reconstituting the public culture of that experiment. We have already considered the ways in which Catholics have been deeply ambivalent about the idea of Christian America. Chesterton’s “nation with the soul of a church” runs up against allegiance to a universal Church that was here long before America, and will be here long after the sun has set upon the American Moment in world history.
Six Ages of the Church
This is not to suggest that America is incidental or of little consequence in the self-understanding of the Catholic Church. The Church has had sobering experience, however, with those who propose grandiose schemes about what God is doing in history. Among the more spectacular instances is Joachim of Fiore, a twelfth-century Cistercian monk, who divided all of history into three ages—an age of the Father, an age of the Son, and a dawning age of the Holy Spirit. While Joachim tried always to be orthodox (Dante placed him in his Paradise), the following centuries saw sundry fanaticisms that picked up on Joachim’s grand scheme, turning it to revolutionary purposes that continued into the twentieth century—a story compellingly told by Norman Cohn in The Pursuit of the Millennium. Similarly, American Protestantism has witnessed “dispensationalist” prophets who read the signs of the times with the Bible (notably the books of Daniel and Revelation) in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other, sometimes setting specific dates for the various stages leading to the End Time. It is not only the marginal and eccentric, however, who have made prophetically charged proposals about the meaning of America in world history. In Ernest Tuveson’s Redeemer Nation and other studies, we find ample documentation of the most careful thinkers, both secular and religious, who have been convinced that the discovery and ascendancy of the New World heralds a New Age of cosmic consequence.
A justified skepticism about such intoxicating visions can too easily slide into the jaded conclusion that there is no purpose or sustained narrative to be discerned in history. The course of wisdom for those who believe that God is also the Lord of history is to avoid both cynicism and enthusiasm in trying to discern the unfolding narrative. Within this larger story, one may try to understand the possible meaning of Christian America in God’s purposes. In the 1930s, the great and very sober historian Christopher Dawson was thinking about “the six ages of the Church,” with specific reference to America.
To very briefly summarize, Dawson said there was first the Apostolic Age, which “stands in a sense outside the course of Church history as the archetype of spiritual creativity.” The second age began with the fourth-century conversion of the emperor Constantine, the establishment of Christendom, the theological writings of the great Church Fathers, the doctrinally pivotal decisions of Councils, the flourishing of art, architecture, and letters. The second age came to an end with the loss of the Christian East and the seventh-century conquest of Islam in Syria, Egypt, North Africa, and most of Spain. The third age witnessed a new Christian culture in Europe—“ineptly termed ‘medieval,’” according to Dawson—in which “the relation between religion and culture was closer than in any other period.” Irish and Anglo-Saxon missionaries created a new Christendom of a “Latin ecclesiastical culture” that would be the basis of subsequent civilizations, and found its most ambitious expression in the Carolingian Empire, all of which would finally succumb to the barbarian invasions from the North and East. The fourth age began with the reform movement of the eleventh century that united the papacy and monasteries in resisting the secularization of the Church and its absorption into feudal society. Among the great heroes of that age were Gregory VII, Anselm of Canterbury, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Francis of Assisi. They asserted the independence of the Church and broke with the traditional order to make the papacy an instrument for the evangelization of the masses and international mission.
But the princes, such as Philip IV of France, would in time have their revenge. Secular rulers, with an assist from radical movements of reform such as the Wycliffites and the Hussites, would lead to the Great Schism in the papacy itself, with competing popes, Rome debauched, and the stage set for what is called the Reformation, which separated most of Northern Europe from Catholicism, and thus delivered a large part of Christianity into the custody of the secular authority. The fifth age of the Church, according to Dawson, is the Counter-Reformation or the Tridentine Reform, which witnessed also great missionary expansion in the Far East and the Americas, as well as the highest development of Catholic mysticism and the art, architecture, literature, and devotional practices that go by the name of Baroque. But the Catholic revival that was Baroque culture was short-lived, being too closely tied to Catholic monarchies, and everything was swept away by the French Revolution and allied enemies of the ancien régime. At the start of the nineteenth century, “In the eyes of secular opinion, the Catholic Church had been abolished as a superannuated relic of the dead past.” Then began the sixth age.
“Yet in spite of all these disasters,” Dawson writes, “the Church did recover and the revival of Catholicism took place, so that the Church was in a far stronger position by 1850 than it had been a hundred years before when it still possessed its ancient wealth and privileges.” Key to this recovery is the American experience. “Indeed the whole history of Catholicism in the United States belongs to this sixth age and is in many aspects typical of the new conditions of the period.” Catholicism in America is essentially urban, whereas in Europe it was still mainly rooted in the peasantry, and it is vigorously independent from the state. “At the present day it is the American rather than the European pattern which is becoming the normal condition of the Church everywhere.”
Historians know that there is inevitably an element of the arbitrary in putting vast stretches of history into periods. The real world does not work, things do not happen, in obedience to our chronological schemes. Dawson knew that, as he also knew that the story is far from over. “I have spoken of the Six Ages of the Church—there may be sixty before the universal mission of the Church is completed. But each age has its own peculiar vocation which can never be replaced, and each, to paraphrase [Leopold von] Ranke’s famous saying, stands in a direct relation to God and answers to Him alone for its achievements and its failures. Each, too, bears its own irreplaceable witness to the faith of all.”
Springtime and Springboard
This, then, suggests the world-historical context within which one should think about the part of Catholicism in Christian America. Nor should one think of Catholicism in any exclusive sense, for it is the teaching of the Catholic Church that she is the gravitational center through time of the entire Christian movement. Needless to say, not all Christians agree with that, or, if they do agree, they do not understand it in the same way. The Catholic view is that the story of the Church, which is the reality of Christ through time, is the story of the world, the axis mundi, the center upon which world history turns, and the end toward which it presses. Of course that is a theological proposition that will not be convincing to those who do not accept certain truth claims about Christ and his Church. Dawson’s idea of the importance of the “American pattern” for the future, however, does not depend entirely upon those theological truth claims.
The pontificate of John Paul II has paid closer and more appreciative attention to the American experience than any pontificate since the discovery of the New World. Major teaching initiatives of the pontificate have drawn on the American experience in important ways. I examined in the book Appointment in Rome: The Church in America Awakening the ways in which this American prominence poses problems for Rome. It would not do for the world’s premier spiritual center to be too closely associated with the world’s premier political and economic power. That is why, incidentally, it is most unlikely that there will be a pope from the United States in the twenty-first century. It is also why, when the Pope convened a Synod for America at the end of 1997, “America” was in the singular. A greater consciousness of unity between North, Central, and South America is, he believes, essential to holding the United States accountable to the diversity of the cultural, economic, and political worlds present in the one America. To be held accountable to the countries South of us is to be held accountable to the similar worlds of, for instance, Africa and Asia. At the same time, America is now the demographic center of the universal Church, with about two-thirds of the more than one billion Catholics in the world living in the Western Hemisphere, which includes the countries with the three largest Catholic populations—Brazil, Mexico, and the United States, in that order. (By some counts, the Philippines is neck and neck with the U.S.)
As noted earlier, the two largest and fastest growing sectors of the Christian movement in the world are Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism (the latter including Pentecostalists, who frequently distinguish themselves from evangelicals). In his 1999 post-synod apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in America, delivered in Mexico City, John Paul II reiterated his belief that the third millennium holds the promise and imperative of a “springtime of world evangelization.” He stressed that the imperative of evangelization must be joined to the imperative of ecumenism, so that, in Latin America and elsewhere, Christians will evangelize with one another rather than against one another. Christians in the United States are uniquely situated for this anticipated springtime of evangelization.
Among evangelical Protestants, it has long been a commonplace, going well back into the nineteenth century, that God has so arranged things that America is to be the springboard of world evangelization. That way of thinking is haunted by memories of the Redeemer Nation, manifest destiny, cultural imperialism, and associated excesses of national hubris. Such excesses are at least tempered, if not precluded, by the understanding of a Christian movement that locates any American Moment within the context of ages past and ages to come, and within a community of faith that is truly universal. Such is the perspective provided, or the perspective that should be provided, by Catholicism, the third major player in our religio-cultural story. To think we know God’s precise purpose for Christian America in world history is presumption. To assume there is no such purpose is a loss of intellectual and spiritual nerve.
While We’re At It
• Am I not aware that many Jews oppose the State of Israel? The question is asked from time to time in response to our references to Judaism and Israel. The answer is that I am keenly aware of such opposition. During my years as a Lutheran pastor in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, I was intensely involved in community leadership and had regular and interesting dealings with the Satmar community, a Hasidic group that, along with other sectors of “Torah Jewry,” believes that Zionism and the State of Israel directly contradict God’s plan of exile and redemption. These communities cannot be dismissed as irrelevant “sects,” as some more established Jewish organizations tend to dismiss them. Until after World War II, anti-Zionism was the dominant position among Jews in the U.S. and the world. Torah-based anti-Zionism can invoke venerable rabbinical authority and is today a significant force, especially in Israel. For those seriously interested in the subject, the literature of Neturei Karta International makes an articulate case for the anti-Zionist position (102 Saddle River Road, P.O. Box 81, Monsey, New York 10952). That having been said, however, it is worrying that the question of Jewish anti-Zionism is typically raised to me by non-Jews who are pro-Palestinian or, for whatever reason, critical of U.S. support for Israel. Whether Zionism and the State of Israel contradict what the Torah teaches about exile and redemption is a question for rabbinical scholars. For the rest of us, and most particularly for Christians, the inescapable imperative is to recognize the connections between Israel and the survival of living Judaism. There is much to criticize about the actions of the Israeli government, and the country’s founding was undoubtedly attended by serious injustices, but our devotion to the security and flourishing of Israel should be beyond question. There are well-informed Jews who are deeply committed to Israel and yet say privately that they do not think the nation will outlive this century. Only God knows. We know, however, that, with respect to the safety and well-being of living Judaism, Christians must never again be found wanting. So yes, I am well aware that there are Jews who are opposed to Zionism and the State of Israel. That is a reality for Jews to work out. For the rest of us, our duty is clear. Or so I have been led to conclude after years of pondering, with more than a little prayer, the tortured history of Jews and Christians through the centuries, and not least in the unspeakable wickedness of the century just past.
• How will the Supreme Court decision, Bush v. Gore, and its consequences look in “the cold light of history” from the perspective of 2050? That was the question that the editors of the Chronicle of Higher Education put to nine scholars and writers. Most of the answers were not cold; they were not even cool. Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago condemns the decision, but says that from the perspective of 2050, it put paid to a short period of liberal judicial activism. The result was that the courts retreated from lawmaking and, as a result, democratic principles were revived. “It is ironic but true that the illegitimate, undemocratic, and unprincipled decision in Bush v. Gore deserves much of the credit.” He’s wrong about the decision, but I hope he’s right about its consequence. Harvey Mansfield of Harvard writes of the election and the role of the Court: “The two parties were very much themselves throughout. The Republicans stand for the rule of law, and the Democrats for the rule of the people. . . . It really was a contest of principle between two parties.” That strikes me as true, in largest part. In his contribution, Gore Vidal says we need a new Constitution. He would say that. Sanford Levinson, professor of law at the University of Texas, says that crises in subsequent elections did in fact result in a new Constitution being approved by popular referendum, which caused considerable civil unrest, but in 2050 is almost unanimously accepted. Eric Foner, professor of history at Columbia, says the decision was a raw act of partisanship and discredited the Supreme Court for decades. Richard Rorty of Stanford writes: “Now, in 2050, it still seems incredible that the Justices whom legal historians call ‘the Scalia five’ could have thought it more important to ensure Bush’s election, and thus the nomination of Justices who would enlarge their majority, than to retain the respect almost all Americans had for the Court.” It is bittersweet that so many on the left are now alarmed by the judicial usurpation of politics. My own view is that the Supreme Court decision that prevented Mr. Gore from counting in Florida until he got the result he wanted was legitimate, but we need not have a big fight about that, if only we get the ironic outcome that Professor Sunstein anticipates.
• Sydney Smith, who died in 1845, deserves to be better remembered than he is. Not that it would do him any particular good, but it might lighten the weight of our burdened times. A worldly clergyman, staunch Whig, and canon of St. Paul’s who favored a Church of England on friendly terms with the world as it ridiculously was, Smith was a man of singular wit and good humor. He was also the founding spirit of the Edinburgh Review, a journal of erudition, vivid writing, and striking intelligence launched in March 1802 and unmatched in the history of publishing until, some say, March of 1990. G. K. Chesterton deemed Smith to be the originator of the English “nonsense” genre, to which of course the great GKC made inestimable contributions. Smith practiced with a vengeance Dr. Johnson’s admonition to clear the mind of cant, which some targets of his critical scintillations did not appreciate. He was with some frequency accused of being arch and uncharitable (a formulation employed, I notice, by a critic of these pages in the course of writing in Commonweal a generally favorable review of books I’ve recently committed). My sympathy for Smith was reignited by the reissue of Hesketh Pearson’s 1934 celebration, The Smith of Smiths (Akadine Press), a delightful read to be warmly recommended. My sympathy is tempered, to be sure, by the inconvenience of Smith’s being so often wrong. But, whether right or wrong, he was seldom dull. When, for instance, a church commission recommended steps toward equalizing pay among the clergy, Smith protested that this ignored the legitimate and inescapable part that Mammon plays in inducing able men to scramble for ecclesiastical prizes. We are living, Smith wrote, “not in the age of the apostles, not in the abstract, timeless, nameless, placeless land of the philosophers, but in the year 1837, in the porter-brewing, cotton-spinning, tallow-melting kingdom of Great Britain, bursting with opulence, and flying from poverty as the greatest of human evils. . . . I must take this people with all their follies, and prejudices, and circumstances, and carve out an establishment best suited for them, however unfit for early Christianity in barren and conquered Judea.” As admirable as is Smith’s alertness to the particularities of circumstance, his was also a formula for the perfect cultural accommodation of Christianity that produced the decline and distemper of the Church of England so evident in the last century and more. Yet his manner of expressing himself, albeit too often in the service of views unworthy of his talents, makes The Smith of Smiths such a pleasure. Like his lesser heirs in the writing of what GKC called nonsense, he was happier and made others happier by refusing to take undue notice of humorless critics complaining that he was sometimes arch and uncharitable.
• First published in 1956, One Shepherd, One Flock by Oliver Barres, now reissued by Catholic Answers of San Diego, California, is the kind of book that went out of favor for a long time following the Second Vatican Council. It is a form of apologetics that used to be unapologetically called a “conversion story.” Told with literary and intellectual grace, it is the story of Barres and his wife Marjorie, both Congregationalist ministers, seeking the truth and finding it in the Catholic Church. In the original introduction, which is included in the new edition, the legendary Catholic apologist Frank J. Sheed quite despairs of what today we call ecumenism. For him, there were the endlessly splintering heretical sects blown hither and yon by the whimsy and passions of “private judgment,” and then there was the sure voice of the Shepherd heard by those gathered around the successor of Peter. The new edition also has a foreword by Avery Cardinal Dulles, who as a young man in 1940 entered into full communion. He writes, “The republication of books such as this fits well into the present-day spiritual climate.” That climate, he suggests, is one in which people are moving beyond ecumenism-as-niceness to the search for what is abidingly and certainly true. “By showing how they came to believe in doctrines such as these [Petrine office, infallibility, Mary and the saints, et al.], converts such as Oliver Barres can make a special contribution to authentic ecumenism and to the reinvigoration of Catholic Christianity.” I agree with Dulles (I almost added “of course,” so often do I agree with him), yet it cannot be denied that there is still today a felt tension between Catholic apologetics such as One Shepherd, One Flock (and, for that matter, the entire mission of Catholic Answers) and what John Paul II has repeatedly described as the Church’s “irrevocable commitment to ecumenism.” I well remember hearing Cardinal Willebrands declare at the Extraordinary Synod in Rome in 1985, “‘Return’ is not a word in our ecumenical vocabulary.” But “return” is very much the theme of much contemporary apologetics, such as Scott and Kimberley Hahn’s immensely popular book, Rome Sweet Home. And, as I can personally testify, “return” and “coming home” is the irrepressible sensation of one making the ecclesial transition into full communion with Rome. It is also, as our interlocutors in ecumenical dialogue testify, a source of uneasiness in our conversations. There is an undeniable asymmetry between the Catholic community and others—in size, history, influence, and ecclesial claims. For Protestants in dialogue there is the unspoken, or usually unspoken, question, “Why aren’t you a Catholic?” Catholics in dialogue, by way of contrast, do not sense that anyone is seriously asking why they are not Lutherans or Baptists or Presbyterians. Cardinal Dulles is right that there should be no conflict between authentic ecumenism and reinvigorated Catholic apologetics. But there can be such a conflict, and attention must be paid lest the integrity of the search for visible unity among Christians, based upon respect for others and their convictions, is undermined. The compelling beauty of a testimony such as One Shepherd, One Flock should not be muted, even as ecumenism engages proposals for other ways toward the realization of the hope asserted by the title of Oliver Barres’ fine book.
• Martin E. Marty quotes Katha Pollitt, who writes in the Nation that it is wrong that nurses and other hospital workers are allowed, for reasons of conscience, not to assist in abortions and other aspects of what she calls “modern reproductive health care.” Pollitt is especially exercised by the influence of Catholic hospitals on health care. She writes: “What about the idea that if my ‘conscience’ doesn’t permit me to do my job, maybe I’m in the wrong line of work? Would an Orthodox Jew take a job at Virgil’s Barbecue and then refuse to serve the pork ribs?” Marty comments, “We’ll let others enter the fray over what she points up. Discretion says: Sit back, and learn.” Learn what, exactly? That abortion is a mandatory part of medicine that trumps conscience? That Catholic hospitals should not be permitted to follow their understanding of what is morally normative? At the risk of entering the fray, one may offer the suggestion that the voice of timidity sometimes sounds like discretion speaking.
• How the Grinch Stole Christmas was a spectacular box office success, and that worries Jonah Goldberg of National Review. In the movie, the Grinch, the victim of a cruel childhood, is done wrong by the smug, uptight folk of Whoville. The original Grinch, according to Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), was really bad. “The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! / Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.” Hollywood asked and answered: people were mean to him. This revisionism is part of a pattern, says Mr. Goldberg, that includes the treatment of the Devil himself. Starting in 1997, with The Devil’s Advocate starring Al Pacino, there has been a stream of Devil movies, with over a dozen in the past year, including Stigmata, The Ninth Gate, and Bedazzled. “Virtually all these films make Lucifer either very cool or profoundly mechanical,” writes Goldberg. In End of Days and Bless the Child, for instance, the protagonists fight and defeat the Dark Prince with handguns. James Bowman of the American Spectator observes that “It seems hardly worth the trouble to bring the Enemy of Mankind onto the stage at all if he is to be disposed of like a clumsy burglar.” All of which makes Goldberg grateful for the rerelease of the 1973 movie The Exorcist. “No popular film in the last two decades treats the Devil with more seriousness or subtlety; indeed, it is stunning to watch the film today. We all remember the vomiting and head-spinning, but what stands out now in an age of special effects is the dialogue about the nature of good and evil, the Devil’s aim to confuse the two, and the unreliability of modern science in clarifying the issue. Satan is not treated as someone or something that can be reduced to petty human motivations or simplistic ambitions or explanations. He is what he is: a mystery, the omnipresent tempter. He is the Devil without quotation marks.”
• So are the Irish going secular or not? To judge by their holding to central Catholic teachings and by Mass attendance, the answer is no. On the other hand, confidence in Church leaders has dropped dramatically in the last ten years. Such are the findings of a new study codirected by Father Andrew Greeley of the University of Chicago, who observes that the Irish are “irredeemably Catholic.” Greeley has long been an opponent of secularization theories, and I have considerable sympathy for his position, but I think he overestimates the sustainability of religious belief and practice detached from institutional supports. Witness what has happened in Quebec and the Netherlands in the last thirty-plus years. Whether his position is warranted or not, Greeley offers a cheerful counterpoint to the usually doleful reports about Catholicism in today’s Ireland. One may be permitted to hope it is not entirely unwarranted.
• “We have to get this stuff paid for,” said Dr. Herbert Benson at a Harvard Medical School conference on “Mainstreaming Spirituality: The Next Step.” Wouldn’t you know it, capitalism raises its ugly head again. In recent years there has been a dramatic growth in the number of studies demonstrating the mind/body connections between physical health and spiritual well-being. But there are big problems in getting health insurance plans to pay for spiritual care. The growing recognition of the role of the spirit and the Spirit in human flourishing—also evident in the encouragement of “faith-based” approaches in social programs—is encouraging. But, when it comes to “getting this stuff paid for,” it would seem that some lines will have to be drawn. I expect we do not really want people filing insurance claims for a particularly effective sermon or stress relieved by going to confession. There is something less than edifying in the prospect of clergy, like lawyers, calculating billable hours. I know the “rational choice” theorists and other market champions of an economistic persuasion will dismiss my qualms as nothing more than a curmudgeonly refusal to face up to the realities of a changing world, but on this one I think I will stand athwart and say Stop.
• Yes, the reader from Austin, Texas, is right, this space does have axes to grind. We try to grind them in interesting ways, so that the grinding does not become tedious, but grind we do. We keep returning, for instance, to the urgency of Christian mission to the nations, the mission ad gentes, as the tradition puts it. The International Bulletin of Missionary Research, an ecumenical publication to which we have called attention before, devotes a special issue to Catholic evangelization, taking off from the huge World Mission Sunday in Rome at which John Paul II told seventy thousand participants from 124 nations, “The world cannot live without missionaries.” In an overview of Catholic missions since Vatican Council II, Maryknoll Father William B. Frazier suggests that people are just catching on to the maxim of Protestant theologian Emil Brunner, “The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.” Protestant missiologist Gerald H. Anderson is highly appreciative of what the Catholics are saying, and of what many are doing, as evident in the worldwide growth of the Catholic Church, but he has a question. “I have been puzzled by what appears to be the rather marginal and declining overall involvement in world mission of the Catholic Church in the United States. I have frequently asked myself, and some of my Catholic friends, why a church of some sixty-five million members and growing, and with such a strong tradition and official teaching about the essential missionary nature of the Church, does not have a more significant commitment, involvement, and participation in global mission.” He observes, for instance, that only one diocesan seminary in the U.S. regularly offers courses in missiology, and even there no such course is required. He asked an archbishop why his seminary offered no course in missiology, to which the archbishop responded, “You have to understand that I have very little influence with the seminary faculty, and I have to be careful not to interfere with the curriculum.” Anderson writes, “At that moment my Protestant preconception about the power of Catholic bishops was shattered.” Anderson’s point is that a vision of world mission is not only necessary for those who will be missionaries abroad, but also for parish clergy who can communicate that vision to their people here. It is a point well taken.
• In the same issue of the International Bulletin is the annual statistical table on global mission, compiled by numbers-crunchers David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson. There are four major “ecclesiastical megablocs,” they report. At present, there are somewhat over one billion Roman Catholics and it is anticipated there will be 1.3 billion in the year 2025. They count 215 million Orthodox and anticipate 252 million twenty-five years from now. Anglicans, who are declining in this country, are growing elsewhere. There are close to 80 million now, with 113 million anticipated in 2025. Other Protestants are 342 million now, with an expected 468 million in twenty-five years. There are two other “megablocs” of interest. “Marginal Christians” include Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others who are defined by one or both of these traits: they are non-Trinitarian or anti-Trinitarian; they claim to have a source of divine revelation in addition to the Bible. This group has 26 million adherents now and is expected to have 45 million by 2025. Another, and very rapidly growing, megabloc they call simply “independents.” There are 385 million now (larger than the Protestant category) and they are expected to grow to 581 million in the next quarter century. The “independents” include over twenty thousand movements, networks, or new denominations, with most of them sharing the characteristic of having split away from some other church group. Many are gathered around charismatic leaders, some have borrowed liberally, and eccentrically, from Catholic ritual and teachings (especially in Africa), and all are emphatically “post-denominational” in spirit, even if they are, de facto, new denominations. Of the independents in the U.S., the largest is the Fullness/Praise Network, with six thousand churches and 3.3 million members. So there, in brief statistical compass, is the state of Christianity at the beginning of the millennium. “Go, therefore,” the Lord said, and the apostles went. They could not have anticipated that it would come to this.
• The Burlington Free Press of Vermont reports that atheists there find religious—most prefer the term “spiritual”—fellowship at the First Unitarian Universalist Society. Minister Gary Kowalski (a stray Polish Catholic, it would seem) says, “Our congregation welcomes all beliefs.” In a survey of members’ “religious orientation” (this orientation is apparently not in the genes), most identified themselves as humanists, while the second most popular choice was pagan. According to the report, “Becky Logan, fifty, of Monkton has been a devout Unitarian for fifteen years. She also is an atheist.” Devout? The word is from devovere, to swear by or avow allegiance. By whom and to whom? one might ask. In the Letter to the Hebrews we are told that God swears by Himself, there being no higher authority. I expect it is much the same when we make ourselves our gods.
• One can always quibble with schematizations of history, while acknowledging that they are inevitable and, at least sometimes, useful. Professor Ralph McInerny of Notre Dame writes that there have been three phases since the Second Vatican Council. He begins by invoking Newman on how it is the laity, as in the dark days of the Arian heresy, who keep the faith. “For I argue,” wrote Newman, “that unless they had been catechized, as St. Hilary says, in the orthodox faith from the time of their baptism, they never could have had that horror which they show of the heterodox Arian doctrine. Their voice, then, is the voice of tradition.” That postulate being put in place, McInerny says that the first twenty years after the Council were a time of liberal “triumphalism,” of “tumult and dissent,” all of which moved Pope Paul VI to remark that he detected the smoke of Satan within the Church. The second phase was launched with the publication of The Ratzinger Report in 1985, which set the agenda for the Extraordinary Synod of bishops in the same year, a synod that initiated work on the new Catechism. This phase also witnessed the birth of new lay-edited publications and other efforts supportive of orthodoxy, while the bishops still “pandered to theologians whose main skill seemed to be the manipulation of the secular media.” The third phase began with the Jubilee Year of 2000, which brought to full expression the leadership of John Paul II, who “has dominated the post-conciliar period and put things in place for the belated flowering of the Council.” Without detracting from McInerny’s point about the crucial role of the laity (as Newman is said to have remarked to a fellow cleric, “We would look pretty silly without them”), it is worth noting that Ratzinger, John Paul II, the members of the Extraordinary Synod, and those who produced the new Catechism are, after all, bishops. As are a good many prelates in the U.S. today who can hardly be accused of pandering to the zeitgeist. But let McInerny have the last word: “When one recalls the optimism with which Pope John XXIII convened the Council and what can seem his mindless cheerfulness as it opened, the sequel may seem only ironic. But why should we imagine that John XXIII was thinking only of the present and immediate future? That wise and holy prelate served the Church of the future as well as the present, and John Paul II has carried his predecessor’s hopes and aspirations to the third millennium. Now it can begin. And the main burden lies, as it always must, on the faithful, on the Christifideles laici.”
• Somebody has to maintain intellectual standards. Here is a review in the New York Times by Caleb Crain of the new translation of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (University of Chicago Press) by Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop. Mr. Crain makes much of the fact that the translators, both of Harvard, “thank the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the John M. Olin Foundation, widely known for their support of the intellectual right wing.” Try to imagine the Times indicting a book because it was funded by the MacArthur and Ford Foundations, “widely known for their support of the intellectual left wing.” I suggest you not waste much time trying. Crain notes that Mansfield and Winthrop were hesitant about including a subject index. “We do this,” they write, “somewhat against our inclination, as such an index may give a sense of false security to those users who are pressed for time.” Mr. Crain seizes upon this evidence of blatant elitism: “That’s how the rabble get in, you know—through the subject index.” If I understand Mansfield and Winthrop, however, they want everybody to actually read Tocqueville, and not just skip and dip with the help of a subject index. In fact, I have it on good authority that they would not object if millions of Americans bought and read Democracy in America. In that unlikely event, Caleb Crain would undoubtedly decry the support of Bradley and Olin for right-wing populist rabble-rousing. Either way, if Bradley and Olin are for it, Mr. Crain is against it. In a time of collapsing intellectual standards, it is reassuring to encounter a thinker who adheres to enduring verities.
• Dismissive is the word for Eric Michael Mazur’s treatment of Stephen L. Carter’s The Dissent of the Governed: A Meditation on Law, Religion, and Loyalty, reviewed in Society. Mazur teaches religion at Bucknell University and has written extensively on religion and public life. He quotes Carter, who identifies himself as “a legal theorist, as a citizen of a democracy, and as a Christian,” and goes on to complain that those self-identifications are not equal since everyone knows what it means to be a legal theorist and a citizen “but the history of Christianity is filled with people specifically not agreeing on what it means to be a Christian.” Really? Among Christians there has been, is, and undoubtedly always will be vigorous disagreement over what it means to be a true Christian, but is the disagreement any sharper than that between, say, Robert Bork and Alan Dershowitz over what it means to be a true legal theorist? They would surely excommunicate one another, were there such a thing as excommunication in the institution of law. And as for what it means to be “a citizen of a democracy,” the entirety of our politics is continuing conflict, and sometimes reasonable debate, over what that should mean. This singling out of religion as being peculiarly contentious and conflictual is nothing more than a secularist prejudice. The daily news provides ample evidence of conflicts and disruptive contentions over law, politics, and ideology. Where in our society is there disruption over what it means to be a Christian? In a similar vein, the director of a recent foundation study on American religion remarks that there is a “paradox” in the fact that America is so very religious but, at the same time, so tolerant. Apparently it does not occur to her that Americans are tolerant because they are religious, believing, as they do, that tolerance is related to the command to love one’s neighbors. Returning to Mazur, who writes, “Telling me that you oppose abortion because your God demands such a position is interesting but hardly compelling if I do not share your religious sensibilities. This is exactly the point missed by Carter, as well as in others’ work (for example, Richard John Neuhaus in The Naked Public Square).” Permit me to suggest that it is Mazur who misses the point, indeed several points. First, religion is not merely a matter of “sensibilities.” It is also a matter of truth claims that are eminently public and susceptible of reasonable argument. For instance, whether we live in a world ordered by “Nature and Nature’s God” who has endowed persons with certain “inalienable rights.” Such claims are at least as publicly debatable as are claims about economic equality, racial justice, and the desirability of same-sex marriage. To be sure, some Christians make nonrational and even irrational claims in public, invoking their own eccentric understanding of Divine authority. But are they any more irrational than people who insist that the law should ignore, for instance, the humanity of the unborn child? Citizens who contend that our polity should abide by the foundational truths expressed in, for example, the Declaration of Independence cannot be ruled out of order simply because those truths include encompassing claims that are commonly described as religious. Mazur writes that “convincing arguments in the public sphere require a greater attention to cross-cultural rhetoric,” and he is right about that. That is required for reasons of political effectiveness, and also to maintain civil amiability. It is a requirement generally observed by Christians active in the political arena, at all points on the ideological spectrum. Stephen Carter’s complaint is that such Christians are viewed as suspect (usually by liberal secularists) because, it is said, behind their “cross-cultural rhetoric” is a desire to see God’s will done. And, of course, they do want that, as in “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” With the exception of a few marginal theonomists, as they are called, Christians do not expect that prayer to be answered fully short of the Eschaton, and certainly don’t expect it to be answered through politics, although they have some hope that God’s will might be more nearly approximated in aspects of public life and policy, or at least that hostility to God’s will might be significantly tempered. Trying to do something about that is really a very modest program. The point of Stephen Carter and others is that that program should not be traduced—and it is widely traduced—as a violation of the civil compact. That is the point missed by, among many others, Eric Michael Mazur.
• Critical theory is, in largest part, Marxism for Western academics. David Macey, author of Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory, knows that after decades of dismal and bloody experiments with it most people have consigned Marxism to the dustbin of history. Nothing daunted, he writes: “Paradoxically, Marxism has always flourished best under non-Marxist regimes and the many variants of Western Marxism are much more sophisticated than anything developed in the ‘socialist’ countries. . . . This suggests that Marxism may outlive the collapse of communism in the East.” In other words, it’s a great theory so long as you don’t try to put it into practice. That’s not paradoxical. It’s self-indulgent silliness.
• Some critics have said that James Hynes’ new academic novel, The Lecturer’s Tale, is a little over the top. Hynes writes this about a candidate for a tenured position at a distinguished department of English: “In a discipline where scholarly heft was defined by being more postcolonial than thou, Lester Antilles was the heftiest of the lot. As a graduate student at an Ivy League school he had announced to his dissertation committee that doctoral theses at major Western universities were a primary locus of the objectifying colonialist gaze on native subjects, and he refused on principle to participate in the marginalization of indigenous voices or to become complicit with the hegemonic discourse of Western postcolonial cultural imperialism. In practice, this meant that for six years he refused to take classes, attend seminars, or write a dissertation. As a result of this ideologically engaged nonparticipation, he was offered tenured positions even before he had his Ph.D. . . . Columbia won by offering him an endowed chair and a full professorship, and on Morningside Heights he courageously continued his principled refusal to teach any classes, hold any office hours, publish any books, serve on any committees, or supervise any dissertations. For this demanding and theoretically sophisticated subaltern intervention in the dominant discourse, Antilles made well into the six figures, more money than the President of the United States.” Well, maybe that is a little over the top.
• In the January issue, I had an extended reflection on the Orthodox theologian Father Alexander Schmemann, occasioned by the publication of his journals by St. Vladimir’s Press. I remarked on the similarity between him and the Protestant theologian Karl Barth in the way they pitted authentic Christianity against the generic phenomenon called religion, but said that I did not know whether he had been influenced by Barth. Now Fr. Thomas Hopko, Schmemann’s son-in-law and his successor at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, tells me that Schmemann did indeed do extensive reading in Barth, although he is not sure how much he was influenced by him. Of course there are many theologians, past and present, who insist that the Christian gospel is the end of religion. If religion is understood as a human construct aimed at appeasing or manipulating the Divine, there is a great deal to that claim. Christ, it is said, is the radically new reality that explodes all the delusions of human religion. That is usually followed by the lament that the radically new reality is distorted by being domesticated within the conventions of Christian religion. I confess that I have always been ambivalent about that line of argument. “Domestic,” after all, is from domus, Latin for house, and surely it is central to the Christian claim that God in Christ “came to his own home” and “became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1). God inhabits the world as His house, thus making it our home. To be sure, it is our home on the way to home, which is our imperfect communion with God made perfect. Christianity practiced is Christianity domesticated, meaning that the grace of Christ embraces and transforms the everydayness of human existence. It is true that “domesticated” can also mean routinized and trivialized, and the gospel needs always to challenge potentially deadening habituation. So I understand what people intend when they pit Christianity against religion, but I do not think the idea should be pushed very far. In the final analysis, Christianity is on friendly terms with the domestic, the routine, the trivial, and the habitual, and its practice in everyday life inevitably looks like what most people mean by religion. In Christ, God stoops very low.
• If we lose the word “marriage,” David Blankenhorn writes, we lose marriage. But in some circles today, relationships are in, marriage is out. Blankenhorn of the Institute of American Values is commenting on a report issued by the Law Commission of Canada, tellingly titled, Recognizing and Supporting Close Personal Relationships Between Adults. He goes on to note that a study sponsored by his institute and demonstrating that school curricula today prefer “relationship” to “marriage” was discussed at a recent conference where it was candidly pointed out that local school officials around the country “will not accept course material that seems to endorse marriage.” All of which is enough to drive Blankenhorn back to an earlier source of wisdom. “But they are wrong to suggest that marriage is simply one version, and quite possibly an inferior version, of a private relationship. To remind yourself of what marriage is, listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing to a young bride and groom from his prison cell in Nazi Germany in 1943: ‘Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man.’ And then, about what does the elevating, this remarkable sentence: ‘It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.’ I don’t know how it could be said any better, and in today’s marriage debate, I don’t know of anything more important to say.”
• Britain has become the only country in the world officially to endorse human cloning and allow human embryos to be used as commercial medicinal products. Part of the debased public debate that led to this unhappy circumstance was a revival of raw religious bigotry. Journalist Matthew Parris got the ball rolling with a piece in the London Times titled “Declare Your Interests” and arguing that Christians, and Catholics in particular, should disqualify themselves from speaking to these questions since their religious beliefs precluded their having an objective judgment. The BBC, other media, and parliamentary debaters soon joined the game. “Are Catholics the New Jews?” asks an editorial in the Catholic Herald: “The game is not, of course, a new one, but it has now been given the official Parris seal of approval. Nice one, Matthew. Champion of antidiscrimination in matters of sexuality, you have now invented a nasty game which unleashes the ghosts of religious intolerance. Is there, perhaps, some identification badge you would like Catholics to wear?”
• Here’s an unusual advertisement: “CELEBRANTS for weddings at hotel churches, bridal halls, and restaurants. Ordained pastors welcomed. Experienced religious Christians are also acceptable. Daily Japanese conversation ability required.” It’s not all that unusual in Japan, however, where the ad appeared in Japan Times, the major English-language newspaper. Reader Charles de Wolf of Keio University sent it along, noting that over the thirty years he has been in Japan “Christian-style” weddings have become the norm, with family members and guests who have never been in a church stumbling over the Japanese version of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The ceremonies typically take place in “hotel churches,” and it is preferred that the person dressed up as the pastor should be an Occidental male. An American priest friend who is a missionary in Japan puzzled a hotel manager by turning down the suggestion that, since he was a “professional” and already had his own “costume,” he could make a lot of money presiding at such ceremonies. The fact that he, as an “experienced religious Christian,” had some problems with the deal appeared to be quite beyond the manager’s ken. Professor de Wolf adds, “The public square in secular Japan is not naked. It is filled with myriad monuments to the eclectic worship of kitsch.”
• I have lawyer friends who belong to that worthy organization, the Federalist Society, but I expect few of them would know what to make of a book called Federal Husband. Written by Douglas Wilson, it examines “covenant headship” in marriage and is part of an impressive theological publishing program in the Reformed tradition by Canon Press of Moscow, Idaho. Federal theology (from foedus or “covenant”) is today little known outside certain Calvinist circles but played a major role in Puritan thought about salvation, holiness, and politics as well. For many of the writers and ratifiers of our Constitution, federal theology provided the theological and philosophical (the two being hardly separable) framework for understanding the American experiment in republican government, as it also played a significant part in John Locke’s contractual model of polity. The almost total ignorance of this tradition contributes to the current deformations of political theory and jurisprudence. As for religious thought, evangelical Protestantism of an individualistic, experiential, revivalistic, and typically anti-intellectual bent has largely overwhelmed another stream of Reformed evangelicalism nurtured mainly in smaller Presbyterian groups. Among the many offerings of Canon Press is, for instance, The End of All Things by C. Jonathan Seraiah, a rigorous polemic against “preterism” (the teaching that the eschatological promises of the Bible have already been fulfilled) and the more radical form of preterism called “pantelism.” One of the bracing things about rigorously orthodox Reformed theology is that it has a storehouse of heresies most Christians have never heard about or had the wit to commit. Such rigorism comes with the price of endless factions and schisms, of course, but it is understandable that some folk are willing to pay the price for an alternative to the flaccidity of popular religion that excludes clear thinking about theological truth. Of course, rigorist factionalism and feel-good latitudinarianism are not the only ways of being Christian, nor do I suggest that the people of Canon Press belong to the first camp. I do suggest that they are keeping alive an important tradition of Christian thought that should be better known than it is.
• Be careful what you say about musical schlock in worship. People get very upset. A reader sends me a clipping from Parade with a photo of a young black man, long dreadlocks, electric guitar in hand. A member of a hip-hop noisemaking group, you think. But no, under the photo there is this: “My parents didn’t want to lose me to the streets. So my mom got me a guitar to play in church. Suddenly, I found another avenue to channel my energy. I never stole again.” So, the reader wants to know, am I against getting kids off the street? Not at all. But the point of our getting together is to worship God in the beauty of holiness, which is never to be equated with, but is not unrelated to, the holiness of beauty. Providing an alternative to juvenile delinquency is among myriad important things to do, but another time and another place, please.
• Except for a few reviews such as Andrew Sullivan’s in the New York Times Book Review, James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword is taking an awful drubbing. And deservedly so. Our review in this issue makes points not made elsewhere, but already our Dan Moloney, writing in National Review, has highlighted historical and conceptual gaffes that wobble between the grotesque and hilarious. Elsewhere, in Slate, Katha Pollitt writes: “Carroll is welcome to rediscover—or invent—a form of Christianity that leaves out the parts he disapproves of, and is, in his view, closer to what he believes—or wishes—Jesus to have had in mind, although how he would know what that was is hard to say. But that religion would not be Catholicism. It might not even be recognizably Christian. It might even be . . . Judaism.” Robert Louis Wilken, reviewing the book in Commonweal, makes the yet more incisive point that in the absence of the biblically demanding and often troublesome kind of religion that Carroll rejects, the world would be left without either Christians or Jews. I may be indulging in wishful thinking, but after Garry Wills’ Papal Sin and John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope, the response to Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword suggests that the latest effluence of blockbuster books bashing Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, may be subsiding. Only for a time, of course.
• A few years ago I commented favorably on the remarks of Archbishop Eden Curtiss of Omaha who suggested that what is commonly called the crisis of priestly vocations may be something else. He said, “It seems to me that the vocation ‘crisis’ is precipitated and continued by people who want to change the Church’s agenda, by people who do not support orthodox candidates loyal to the magisterial teaching of the Pope and bishops, and by people who actually discourage viable candidates from seeking priesthood and vowed religious life as the Church defines these ministries.” Now Michael S. Rose, who is writing a book on the subject, describes in the Catholic World Report the ways in which theological and psychological screening is used by some vocation directors and seminaries to weed out men who are excessively “rigid,” which too often means that they agree with the Church’s teaching on such questions as women’s ordination, contraception, and homosexuality. Rose has done extensive interviewing with those who have left or were expelled from seminaries, and one must make allowances for some exaggeration in their horror stories. That being said, I and almost anybody who has interested himself in the questions raised by Archbishop Curtiss have heard many such stories from unimpeachable sources. There are refreshingly notable exceptions, but in diocese after diocese there are bishops who emphasize the need to prepare for a time of priestless parishes rather than the recruitment of priests. A large diocese in the East recently declared its shortage of priests to be a “crisis.” The media reported its vocations director going on and on about how overworked and demoralized the priests of the diocese are. That’s a great way to appeal to young men: Why would you want to give your life to manning a sinking ship? The lesson of dioceses such as Arlington, Peoria, Lincoln, and Denver, where vocations are flourishing, is that vibrant orthodoxy and an invitation to the high adventure of radical devotion attracts. The great sadness of the last several decades is not the drop in the number of priests. It is that so many whom Christ called were not encouraged in their readiness to follow. Many vocations flickered out, many were snuffed out. In the latter case, those responsible might well ponder the words of Jesus about the sin against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29).
• On his last day in office, in what may have been his last official act, President Clinton signed a statement that was part of a deal whereby he paid a fine and accepted a five-year suspension of his right to practice law in return for not being indicted and standing trial for crimes committed as President. The statement included the following, which may serve as a coda for his presidency: “I tried to walk a line between acting lawfully and testifying falsely, but I now recognize that I did not fully accomplish this goal and that certain of my responses to questions about Ms. Lewinsky were false.” Forget the Ms. Lewinsky part. Here is a statement, carefully vetted by Mr. Clinton and his lawyers, declaring that his “goal” was to avoid acting lawfully while, at the same time, avoiding the penalty for acting unlawfully. One can hardly imagine a more unvarnished acknowledgment of the mindset that created the most morally corrupt administration in American history. George Will is right in saying that, if he was not the worst President, he was the worst man ever to be President. It is an observation made with a measure of sadness, for as I wrote in “Clinton and the American Character” (FT, June/July 1999), at the time of his election in 1992 I held some modest hopes for his leadership, but soon after his inauguration it became apparent that, as I put it then, “we are witnessing a man stumbling through the rubble of a ruined presidency.” The indisputable liberal bias of the establishment media notwithstanding, one is struck by what is now the bipartisan consensus in support of that judgment. His graceless exit from office and shameless efforts to make policy with last-minute executive orders reinforced that consensus. To be sure, there will be revisionist efforts to refurbish the Clinton “legacy,” and it is fair to note that in some ways he moved the Democratic Party to the center, as, for instance, in his acquiescence in Republican proposals for welfare reform. But the above-cited coda encapsulates the legacy of a President who habitually betrayed his oath of office and debased almost everything he touched. I have never been among those who are aptly described as Clinton-haters, nor do I think his failure achieved the status of tragedy. He was a little boy, egotistical and petulant, with extraordinary gifts of manipulation. His unbridled appetite for attention ensures that he will not disappear from the public stage, but now that he has no official command upon our noticing, the kindest thing is to avert our eyes from the embarrassing spectacle.
• Among more theologically conservative Protestants, one frequently encounters a declared determination to “keep faith” with the sixteenth-century reformers such as Luther, Calvin, or Zwingli. It is a matter of defending a tradition, including the tradition of positing sola scriptura (Scripture alone) against tradition. David C. Steinmetz, church historian at Duke Divinity School, discusses in Theology Today, the journal of Princeton Theological Seminary, the ironic twists by which a later Protestant identity became something very different from the self-understanding of the original reformers. By the middle of the sixteenth century, a permanent and self-perpetuating Protestant culture was developing. “The older ex-Catholic leadership of former priests, nuns, friars, and monks was slowly replaced by a new leadership that had never attended Mass, much less said one, and by a laity that had never confessed its sins to a priest, gone on pilgrimage, invoked patron saints, made a binding vow, or purchased an indulgence.” In truth, some of the first generation did not think of themselves as ex-Catholics. It is probably the case, for instance, that when Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s friend and chief aide, died in 1560 he understood himself to be a Catholic, despite what he viewed as the temporary rupture with Rome. Steinmetz nicely summarizes the general situation: “While Protestants continued to write anti-Catholic polemics, their treatises lacked the passion and sense of betrayal of the polemics written by the first generation. Protestants were permanent outsiders with their own fixed institutions, parishes, confessions, catechisms, and settled sense of identity. They harbored no illusions about reunion and felt no twinges of nostalgia for a church that had never been their home. Unlike their grandparents, they cherished no hope for an evangelical reformation of the Catholic Church and settled into a mode of permanent opposition. In all these respects, the third generation of Protestants differed from the first. The Reformation began as an argument among Catholic insiders; it continued as an argument between Catholics and former Catholics until well past the middle of the century. The transformation of a movement led by former Catholics into a movement led by traditional Protestants took two generations to effect. Unless we understand the Catholic background, context, and character of the early Protestant Reformation, we shall inevitably misunderstand it. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Hubmaier, Hooper, and Melanchthon were not Protestants in the way Voetius, Ames, Turrettini, Perkins, Wollebius, and Spener were. In the nature of the case, they could not be.”
• When you’re going against the grain on so many issues as I am, there is a temptation to try to be conventionally correct on some issues, lest you be dismissed as a complete contrarian. For example, years ago I tried to pass the correctness test on what is called campaign finance reform. I failed miserably. I could not persuade myself that the solution to whatever is wrong with our political system is to give more control to politicians. I was also impressed by the fact that money has a slippery way of getting around obstacles to the purposes for which people want to spend it, with the result that every reform makes almost inevitable a subsequent reform of the reform. Most of all, however, was the implausibility of the idea that stifling free speech is the way to a more vibrant democracy. These and other concerns are brilliantly addressed by Bradley A. Smith in a book just out from Princeton University Press, Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform. Smith is a law professor and a member of the Federal Election Commission who knows of what he speaks and speaks it with wit and persuasiveness. On the complaint that too much money is spent on campaigns, for instance, he notes that we spend more on both potato chips and Barbie dolls. Campaign finance reform, he contends, is driven by obsessive reformers who cannot restrain their penchant for fixing what is not broken. His chief argument, however, is that such reforms simply cannot be squared with the First Amendment. Whether he convinces you or not, Smith offers a most enjoyable and instructive read. As to what to do about my contrarian reputation, I have signed a petition that forthrightly calls upon all of us to be much nicer to animals. At least my dog Sammy knows that I have a heart of gold.
• As you may have heard, the Brooklyn Museum has done it again, provoking Mayor Giuliani to call for a commission on decency. First it was the “Sensation” exhibit with the black Madonna and clumps of elephant dung. Now it is Yo Mama’s Last Supper, in which photographer Renee Cox poses her nude self standing in the place of Jesus. That very sensible art critic Hilton Kramer notes that “decency has now become a concept all but impossible to define in legal terms, and socially the need to give it a legal definition has to be seen as a sign that the idea itself has already been lost to our society as a widely observed voluntary moral imperative.” Kramer thinks the mayor will likely lose in the courts, as he did in the “Sensation” episode, but maybe that’s not so bad. “In assessing the mayor’s call for decency standards, however, it is worth observing that even lost causes are not always entirely lost. They have been known to leave in their wake a significant moral residue that lives on to haunt the very institutions that appear to have succeeded in surviving the censure mounted against them.” He cites the instance of the National Endowment for the Arts, which funded Robert Mapplethorpe’s sex photographs and hijinks such as Karen Finley’s “performance art” in smearing her nude self with chocolate, noting that today nobody takes the NEA seriously. Of course the New York Times led the pack in baying against the mayor’s idea of a decency standard, claiming that it would imperil New York’s reputation as an international art center. “If unfettered permissiveness was all that was required for the existence of a thriving international cultural center,” Kramer observes, “Amsterdam would today be the arts capital of the universe.” He concludes: “Artistic talents of every variety flock to New York today from all over the world because this is where ideas, money, opportunity, and creative energy—and yes, critical controversy, too—nowadays exist in greater abundance than anywhere else on earth. The truth is that art institutions like the Brooklyn Museum, which has abandoned rigorous artistic standards for short-term political and commercial advantage, pose a greater threat to New York’s reputation as an arts capital than anything the Mayor of New York can say or do.”
• In a campaign that is barely distinguishable from extortion, Stuart E. Eizenstat, deputy treasury secretary in the Clinton Administration, succeeded in getting European banks and governments to cough up more than seven billion dollars as “restitution” for what they did or didn’t do during World War II. While the rapidly diminishing number of Holocaust survivors may get a few thousand dollars each, the bulk of the money will go to fuel other enterprises of what is aptly termed the Holocaust industry. Here is an item in the Times reporting the campaign’s success in discovering that the Library of Congress has 2,300 items, mostly books, periodicals, and other items in its Hebraic collection, that were obtained by American occupation forces in Europe. For some reason, this fails to evoke the frisson of horror that the report apparently intends. The holdings of the Library of Congress include thirty million books and millions of periodicals and other items, and it seems thoroughly unremarkable that a couple of thousand were received through occupation forces in Germany. One rather doubts that Mr. Eizenstat intends to track down magazine subscribers to deliver the issues they missed a half century ago. Yet the Times trumpets the achievements of his campaign, including the claim that one result is that some European nations “have begun teaching about the Holocaust era in schools.” Presumably their textbooks skipped over World War II until Mr. Eizenstat brought the omission to their attention. One notes, once again, the world’s indebtedness to the moral tutelage of America.
• Mention nervousness about government funding for faith-based social services and, almost inevitably, Catholic Charities will be mentioned as a cautionary example. Catholic Charities is a huge enterprise predominantly supported by and tailored for government funding, and is therefore not very Catholic. That is the generalization that must be quickly qualified by noting that Catholic Charities can be very different from diocese to diocese. In a few places, it accepts no government money and the generalization does not hold at all; in other dioceses, leaders strive earnestly against letting government grants call all the plays, and the generalization holds only in part. But Catholic Charities is still thrown up as the example to be avoided. That is in part because the national voice is Catholic Charities USA, a Washington-based coordinating office, and its president, Father Fred Kammer, S.J. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Fr. Kammer offers a painfully qualified endorsement for the Bush faith-based policy. One sentence says it all: “Catholic Charities’ experience is that poverty has many and complex causes and that effective solutions come in many packages, including personal and social responsibility, individual and community empowerment, religious and secular social services, and attention to physical, mental, emotional, familial, systemic, and, at times, spiritual factors.” There, in the jargon of social service policy wonkery, is the reason why seriously religious folk are nervous about their programs becoming, through dependence upon government, indistinguishable from secular enterprises for which “spiritual factors” are, or so it would seem, an afterthought.
• Thomas Friedman is foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times and a great enthusiast of “globalization” as the way to world peace, also in the Middle East, as outlined in his 1989 book From Beirut to Jerusalem. Daniel Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, has long been critical of Friedman’s views, but is pleased that, with the collapse of the “peace process,” he may have learned something. Friedman has written, “What troubles me most about the mood on the Arab street today is the hostility I detect there to modernization, globalization, democratization, and the information revolution.” To which Pipes responds: “Why, he wonders, are Egyptians, Palestinians, and Iraqis unwilling to forgo political dreams for a nice apartment and a late-model car? The answer is simple. Arab hostility toward globalization was there all along but Friedman (along with Clinton) did not want to see it. He overlooked the Middle East’s realities and instead imposed onto it an alien pattern. Sadder but wiser, Thomas Friedman is learning a deep truth about the Middle East. This is one region where politics trumps economics.” To which one might add that it is politics driven by culture, and culture defined by religion—in this case Islam and the political exploitation of Islamic sentiment. What Friedman apparently does not realize, and Pipes realizes but does not mention, is that for many, if not most, Arabs, the State of Israel is a tool of the American-led resumption of the Christian crusades. That is among the sobering truths advanced by Samuel Huntington’s thesis about the “clash of civilizations” that is dramatically reshaping our world.
• In an editorial against President Bush’s tax cut, the editors of Commonweal take issue with his statement, “The surplus belongs to the taxpayer, not to the government. Taxpayers know better than the government how to spend their money.” To which the editors respond, “But do we?” It is obvious that the editors mean, “But do they?” since the editors make perfectly clear that they, the editors, know how the money should be spent. They go on to urge increased spending on international organizations, foreign aid, welfare, health care, and so forth. “In fact,” they say, “taxpayers don’t always know better how to spend their money, because they often can’t see the larger picture or focus on what needs to be done.” We may be grateful for editors who see the larger picture, while at the same time hoping that they might entertain the possibility that, when enough people learn to take care of their own little worlds, the larger picture will, for the most part, take care of itself.
• In the November 2000 issue, we published Dabru Emet (Speak the Truth), a statement on Jewish views of Christianity signed by more than 170 rabbis and Jewish scholars. Edward Kessler, director of the Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations at Cambridge University says the statement may be the most important for Jewish-Christian relations since the Second Vatican Council’s Nostra Aetate (In Our Time). He notes the long history of Christian hostility to Jews and Judaism, and why it is still difficult for many Jews to agree with the affirmations made in Dabru Emet. “Judaism reciprocated the contempt. Although there is little evidence of any Adversus Christianos tract, Christianity was dismissed as a religion practiced by morally and culturally inferior gentiles, based on unbelievable claims such as God-in-the-flesh, which had degenerated into idolatry. Three historical factors were the precursors to a change in attitudes: the Enlightenment, the Shoah or Holocaust, and the creation of the state of Israel.” Dabru Emet, Kessler concludes, holds the promise of a different future: “It is likely that some Jews who oppose theological dialogue will simply resist or ignore the declaration. Others, whose residual Jewish memory triggers a knee-jerk reaction of fear and anger at Christianity, will also refuse to go along with its findings. Both these groups carry the unhealed wounds of the past two millennia. It is also possible that Dabru Emet will be abused by some Christian fundamentalists in order to advance their missionary efforts. Hopefully, however, the declaration’s emphasis on a pluralist affirmation of Judaism’s eternal covenant will be respected by even the more extreme Christian groups. Ironically, this affirmation of Christianity shows that Judaism’s vitality is undiminished; it too can self-correct.”
• Science is a very good thing. The false religion of scientism is a very bad thing. Among the striking features of the latter is its pathetic grasping at straws to maintain its believability. Item: For more than a decade we have been subjected to the incessant media hype about the Human Genome Project. Materialists who subscribe to a billiard balls theory of causation have talked excitedly about finding and fixing a gene for this and a gene for that. Now the map of the genome is published and it turns out that the human being has fewer than was thought—slightly more than a mouse, about three times more than an ordinary house fly. So what makes the difference between a man and a mouse? Apparently the answer is not in the genes after all. Our daily paper’s hyper-in-chief goes on and on about how scientists have now discovered that what produces the uniquely human is a multi-layered and complex interaction of dynamics among and between genes, and blah, blah, blah. In other words, they haven’t the foggiest. What is man? The question is about where Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas found it. It’s past time to rise above the superstitious delusions of materialistic scientism. What is needed is relentless, humble, hard-nosed, rational thinking about, for instance, the soul.
• This whimsical item of anonymous authorship floated in on the e-mail. It purports to be a letter to Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a popular radio and television giver of advice. I publish it not to mock Dr. Schlessinger and certainly not to make light of scriptural authority, but as a reminder that the case against same-sex relations cannot be sustained by cherry-picking biblical passages but requires a considered understanding of human sexuality based on both natural law and revealed truth. In addition, it is quite funny.
Dear Dr. Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to follow them.
1. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Leviticus 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Leviticus 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
4. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Leviticus 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?
7. Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19:27. How should they die?
9. I know from Leviticus 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/ polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Leviticus 24:10-16) Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Leviticus 20:14)
I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging. Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.
• They had to call out the police at the University of Texas, Austin. Justice for All: Students for Bio-Ethical Justice had put up posters with photographs of aborted fetuses. A protest by about two hundred students and faculty, organized by International Socialist Organization, got a little rough. They called the display “offensive and grotesque.” Exactly right. What was displayed, that is.
• Oh boy. Here’s a scorching letter from a reader offended by James Nuechterlein’s description (March 2001) of a service marking the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It was held in a Catholic church and Nuechterlein said the liturgical and musical goings on were, among other things, “jarring,” “strained,” “unsingable,” and “inane.” The reader accuses him of “mocking” the Catholic Church. Not at all. Many practices in contemporary worship, and not only Catholic practices, fully warrant those adjectives and more. What should have offended the reader was Nuechterlein’s suggestion in his column, titled “Ecumenical Conundrums,” that the Catholic Church has no proposal for advancing Christian unity other than to say everybody else should return to Rome. About that he is quite wrong. But that’s a subject for another day.
• Here is the bulletin of St. Nicholas Church, a Catholic parish in Evanston, Illinois, declaring that “there are all kinds of ways to fulfill the Lenten obligations to fast, pray, and give alms.” The ways recommended, however, do not include fasting or prayer, although there is perhaps an extenuated version of giving alms. There is no reference to the passion and death of Christ or to Lent as preparation for the Pasch. So how are the faithful to fulfill their Lenten obligations? According to St. Nicholas: by working to abolish the death penalty, by increasing state control over medical care, by protesting the School of the Americas (now called the Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation), by opposing sanctions against Iraq, and by fighting against Bush’s proposal for a missile defense program. So why bother mentioning this? Because a good many people seem to think that the legendary “Church of What’s Happening Now” is a thing of the past. St. Nicholas is a useful reminder that where we have been is where many local churches, Catholic and Protestant, still are.
• When former President Bill Clinton tried to explain in a New York Times op-ed piece why he pardoned Marc Rich, he gave a bundle of reasons that amounted to his saying that the American criminal justice system could not be trusted to treat the fugitive financier fairly; and he offered a final reason, pressure from Israel and its supporters. In other words, “The Jews made me do it.” And, indeed, the agitation of prominent Jewish leaders for the pardon has become a major embarrassment. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, issued a strong reproach: “We should be ashamed of ourselves: we have undermined our community’s moral fabric, jeopardized our political standing, disillusioned our youth, and compromised the sacred values of our tradition. In short, the moral stain of this sordid affair has begun to engulf us.” Leon Wieseltier writes in the New Republic, “Are there Jews anywhere who have not taken some of Marc Rich’s money to the bank? If so, it was an oversight.” He then gives Mr. Rich’s address so that they can request a handout and adds, “So many Jews, so little time.” He cites Jewish testimonials to Rich, observing that “none of them allude to the financier’s illegal business with states that are consecrated to the extermination of the Jewish state.” Also with Clinton, Elliott Abrams of the Ethics and Public Policy Center writes, Jews made the big mistake of thinking they could get what they want by bankrolling Democrats. He draws this lesson from the Marc Rich debacle: “The Jewish community cannot afford the errors of the Rich case, nor can it afford a leadership that is in many ways inferior to what it was one hundred years ago. At that time, the community, with all its troubles, was vibrant with growth and immigration. Today it is a smaller and declining piece of American demography, its size steadily reduced by intermarriage and assimilation. Whatever the Jewish community’s fortunes in the financial sense, its political standing is precarious and its influence will be difficult to maintain over the coming decades. The embarrassments connected with the Clinton pardons are a price worth paying if they alert the Jewish community to that fact and to the new political approaches it requires.”
• The story began with the Boston Herald and then went out over the wires all over the world. Little Jenny Richardson of Natick, Massachusetts, has Celiac Disease and cannot eat wheat. She was getting ready for First Communion and her parents offered to provide a wafer made of rice flour that could be consecrated just for Jenny. Her pastor said this was not possible and was backed up by a pastorally patient explanation from the archdiocese indicating why the Church cannot change the elements of the sacrament as instituted by Christ. She could, it was suggested, receive just the consecrated wine in which, according to Catholic teaching, Christ is present whole and entire. This was unacceptable to the family, which left for a Protestant church that is more accommodating in matters sacramental. A chorus of pundits joined the Herald in excoriating the Catholic Church for its insensitive ways. Rabbi Jacob Neusner, in an article to appear in a forthcoming issue of the British New Blackfriars, came to the defense of the Church, explaining why Jewish tradition agrees with the Church on “the logic that requires for the dough-offering given to the priests, and for the matzo eaten at the Passover Seder [which provides the context of the Christian eucharist], bread made of a grain that participates in the processes of fermentation, that is to say, life.” What a fuss little Jenny and her parents stirred, highlighting how difficult it is in a consumer culture for people to understand that the Church is under Divine command and not in the business of offering a product that can be tailored to demand. The sad oddity of the affair is that it all began with the parents’ worry that Jenny would feel “different” if she did not receive the host along with the other children in her First Communion class. The result is that they made her the object of worldwide attention over not wanting attention drawn to her difference. One suspects that Jenny would just as soon have achieved her fifteen minutes of fame in some other way.
• Whatever your feelings may be about the abortion of more than a million children each year, the bright side is that, all in all, the right children are being killed. That’s the finding of a Stanford Law School paper by John J. Donohue III and Steven D. Levitt, published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. “Our results suggest that an increase of one hundred abortions per one thousand live births reduces a cohort’s crime by roughly 10 percent,” the authors report. “These estimates suggest that legalized abortion is a primary explanation of the large drops in murder, property crime, and violent crime that our nation has experienced over the last decade. Indeed, legalized abortion may account for as much as one-half of the overall crime reduction.” At the same time the prison population rose by 50 percent. “Thus, together abortion and prison growth explain much, if not all, of the decrease in crime.” Moreover, “the social benefit to reduced crime as a result of abortion may be on the order of $30
billion annually.” Things look even rosier for the future. “Our results suggest that all else equal, legalized abortion will account for persistent declines of 1 percent a year in crime over the next two decades.” If, however, there are restrictions placed on abortion, “this prediction might be overly optimistic.” While legalized abortion has had “relatively modest” effects on the fertility of white women, the good news is that “black women who were exposed to abortion reforms experienced large reductions in teen fertility and teen out-of-wedlock fertility.” In addition, “the marginal children who were not born as a result of abortion legalization would have systematically been born into less favorable circumstances if the pregnancies had not been terminated.” They would, for instance, have been much more likely to live in poverty, have only one parent, collect welfare, and, of course, commit crimes. So it seems the abortion regime is very effectively targeting unwanted and burdensome African-Americans, although the long and assiduously documented paper does not say whether we are doing as well with Hispanics. Nonetheless, many children in the crime-prone “cohorts” are not being aborted, and prisons are expensive. Clearly, the preventive policy of choice is to kill them early. The authors write: “While falling crime rates are no doubt a positive development, our drawing a link between falling crime and legalized abortion should not be misinterpreted as either an endorsement of abortion or a call for intervention by the state in the fertility decisions of women.” Of course not. They’re simply reporting the good news and offering their “optimistic” assessment for the future. By a utilitarian calculation of social costs, aborting the poor is a bargain. The authors acknowledge that equivalent benefits might be obtained by alternatives to abortion, such as “providing better environments for those children at greatest risk for future crime.” But that would be terribly expensive, and the last thirty years of wars on poverty demonstrate that we don’t know how to do it very well, whereas abortion is quick, cheap, and, most important, certain. Children who have no future are not at risk, and cannot put us at risk, of future crime. While one sympathizes with the authors’ reluctance to call for state intervention in the fertility decisions of women, there is still a very large number of children in the crime-prone cohorts—disproportionately composed of poor, black, and Hispanic males—who are getting through. One looks forward to future public policy contributions by Professors Donohue and Levitt, perhaps drawing on the thought of Jonathan Swift and with the active collaboration of innovative thinkers such as Peter Singer of Princeton. A society of historically unprecedented tranquillity may be within reach if we do not let moral fastidiousness get in the way of our willing the means to that end. With our current capacity for sex-selection it should be possible to target male children for terminal measures (see Exodus 1:16).
• Marvin Olasky of World quotes the great G. K. Chesterton on how you know if a creed is true. GKC said, “If a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key.” To which Olasky adds that “atheists who complain about the key are often most angry at the existence of locks.”
• Today’s charlatan is tomorrow’s pioneer. In “Quote . . . Unquote” I found this: “From the astrologer came the astronomer, from the alchemist the chemist, from the mesmerist the experimental psychologist. The quack of yesterday is the professor of tomorrow.” I had heard it many years ago in this form: “From astrology came astronomy, from magic came medicine, from alchemy came chemistry. What, do you suppose, will ever come from economics?” It is adaptable to whatever quackery you disfavor. Experimental psychology, for instance.
• A medieval monk, it is said, worked all day on a manuscript, finally writing in the margin, Nunc scripsi totum, pro Christo da mihi potum—I have now written everything, for the sake of Christ give me a drink. That I was told by an author whom I invited over for a drink at the house when he delivered his article. It may be true. At the end of some days it is certainly apt.
• Geoffrey Hill has been called the greatest British poet of our time, and some would extend that to the English-speaking world. Upon receiving the T. S. Eliot Prize at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina last September, he had this to say: “I observed at the start of this talk that whereas my approach to the making of a poem remains, now that I am sixty-eight, essentially the same as it was when I was twenty, nonetheless, in some respects, it has changed radically. I was close enough to Eliot to believe that—and I know now that I wasn’t reading him aright—if any residue of the author’s personality could be detected in the finished poem, this was to be accounted a dangerous, possibly fatal, flaw in the work. I see now how the extreme form of my misapprehension was little better than a variety of obsessive-compulsive disorder, a source of writer’s block, and as demoralizing as a five-hundred miles round-trip to check whether you have left the stove on. While still deploring as strongly as ever the prevalent notion that self-expression issues from the supposedly authentic self like ectoplasm at a seance, I now entirely accept that the flawed self will, indeed must, be embodied in some way in the finished work; and, further, I now concede that the all-consuming desire to achieve the flawless object may itself be evidence of a more drastic flaw, a fall into gnosticism. Since these particular terms take us into the domain of theology, it may be worth adding that anyone who, as I do, accepts the full implications of John Henry Newman’s allusion to the ‘aboriginal calamity’ infecting even the noblest instances of human nature, is bound to understand the religious dimension of his or her work in such a sense. The great work, even, will be greatly flawed: a sign of its humanity. One would not wish Paradise Lost to be other than it is. Language engages our fallibility at the heart of our greatest achievement.”
• “I don’t know how I knew what I thought before I started reading First Things,” writes a college student from Virginia. That’s intended as a compliment, but it is also a bit worrying. Not that we’re above trying to persuade people what to think, mind you. But we would like to think that our purpose is to provide good company for people who want to think for themselves with others. Admittedly, the distinction is a delicate one, but it is important. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org). On the other hand, if they’re ready to subscribe, call toll free 1-877-905-9920, or visit old.firstthings.com.
: While We’re At It: On Bush v. Gore, Chronicle of Higher Education, January 2, 2001. Martin E. Marty on Catholics in health care, Context, January 1, 2001. Jonah Goldberg on the devil in movies, National Review Weekend, January 6-7, 2001. Fr. Andrew Greeley on Catholicism in Ireland, Irish Independent, November 28, 2000. Faith-based health care, Religion Watch, January 2001. On missionary activity, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, January 2001. Devout atheists, Burlington Free Press, August 12, 2000. Ralph McInerny on Vatican II, Catholic Dossier, November/December 2000. Caleb Crain on new translation of Democracy in America, New York Times Book Review, January 14, 2001. Eric Michael Mazur on Stephen L. Carter, Society, January/February 2001. David Macey on critical theory, Context, January 15, 2001. David Blankenhorn on marriage, Propositions, Winter 2001. On British debate over cloning, Catholic Herald, January 13, 2001. Hip-hop liturgy, Parade, February 4, 2001. Archbishop Curtiss on vocations, Catholic World Report, February 2001. Protestant identity in “The Intellectual Appeal of the Reformation,” Theology Today, January 2001. Hilton Kramer on Yo Mama’s Last Supper, New York Observer, February 26, 2001. On Holocaust reparations, New York Times, January 17, 2001. Fr. Fred Kammer on faith-based social services, Washington Post, February 10, 2001. Daniel Pipes on the Middle East, Middle East Forum press release, February 14, 2001. Commonweal on Bush tax cut, February 9, 2001. Edward Kessler on Dabru Emet, Tablet, February 3, 2001. University of Texas protest, Daily Texan, February 21, 2001. Rabbi Eric Yoffie on Marc Rich pardon, Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2001; Leon Wieseltier on same, New Republic, March 5, 2001. Jenny Richardson’s First Communion, Boston Pilot, February 2, 2001. Rabbi Jacob Neusner on bread for Communion, personal correspondence. Stanford study on crime and abortion, Quarterly Journal of Economics, May 2001. Marvin Olasky on GKC,World, December 30, 2000. Quackery in Quote . . . Unquote, January 2001. Geoffrey Hill on poetry, Image, Fall 2000.