The question of universalism—whether all will, in the end, be saved—is perennially agitated in the Christian tradition. A notable proponent of that view was the great Origen, who, in the third century, set forth a theologically and philosophically complex doctrine of “Apocatastasis” according to which all creatures, including the devil, will be saved. “Origenism”—which is not necessarily the same thing as Origen taught—has been condemned from time to time, with the Emperor Justinian trying, unsuccessfully, to get a total condemnation at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553. Among theologians and church historians, there has been something of a rediscovery and reappreciation of Origen in recent decades, helped along in significant part by the voluminous writings of Hans Urs von Balthasar. The universalism question came in for broader discussion with the publication of Balthasar’s little book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? (1988). Balthasar’s is a very careful argument, clearly distinguishing between universal salvation as a hope and universal salvation as a doctrine. He supports the former and rejects the latter. In sum: we do not know; only God knows; but we may hope.
While my book Death on a Friday Afternoon, published last year, is intended not as an exercise in systematic theology but as a poetic-devotional reflection on the seven last words from the cross, I do indicate there my essential agreement with Balthasar’s position. I confess to being caught off guard by the vehemence of some criticisms on that score, and not only from putative defenders of orthodoxy who have personal axes to grind. Let me not exaggerate the problem: the book has been marvelously well received, for which I am grateful, and many people have expressed their disagreement with the published criticisms, for which I am also grateful. Nonetheless, when some people whose judgment you generally respect have misunderstood what you wrote, a clarifying word may be in order. Of course, I also hope that people will go back and read what I actually wrote in Death on a Friday Afternoon.
The hope that all will be saved is precisely that, a hope. It is not a doctrine, never mind a dogma. But some respond that we cannot even hold the hope, since it clearly contradicts the revealed truth that many, if not most, will be eternally damned. A different and much more troubling objection is that it makes no sense to be a Christian if, in fact, one can be saved without being a Christian. In this view, the damnation of others, maybe of most others, is essentially related to the reason for being a Christian. The joy of our salvation is contingent upon the misery of their damnation. If it is possible that all will be saved, it is asked, why not eat, drink, and be merry?
One critic goes so far as to write about all the wrong things that he would really like to do, that he would prefer to do over what he is doing, and that he would do, were it not for the fear of eternity in hell. It follows, he contends, that, without the damnation of many, perhaps of most, there is no point in being a Christian. This, I suggest, is profoundly wrongheaded and spiritually perverse. For one thing, one cannot rationally and knowingly choose to live contrary to God’s will, since to do so is contrary to one’s own nature, which nature is to live in accord with God’s will. One avoids sin because to sin is to act against God and against oneself, not because, or not chiefly because, of the threat of future punishment. More precisely, punishment, understood as damnation, is the culmination of having lived against one’s highest good, namely, God. It is doubtful that one could really want life with God forever if one does not want life with God here and now.
The Generosity of God
Such a perverse view is also more than a little like that of the laborers in the vineyard who complained that those who came at the last hour received the same reward as those who had worked all day. The master replies, “Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20). Some of the critics of the hope for universal salvation do indeed seem to begrudge the generosity of God entailed in that outcome. Theirs is a position of resentment dressed up as a claim of justice. “What was the point of my working so hard and so long if God is going to let in the riffraff on equal terms? It’s unfair!” The eschatological upsetting of such attitudes (the last will be first and first last) is a constant in the teaching of Jesus.
Others, however, raise questions that should be taken very seriously. It would be absolutely wonderful, they say, if all were to be saved, but the Bible is very clear that that is not the case. There is no denying the powerful presence of passages suggesting a destiny of separation from God (e.g., Matthew 7:13ff., 25:31-46; Mark 9:45-48; Luke 16:23; John 3:36.) As there is also no denying the New Testament passages suggesting the redemption of the entire cosmos (e.g., Colossians 1:19-20; 1 Corinthians 15:22,28; Romans 5:18, 11:33-36; Philippians 2:10-11). If one gives priority to the latter passages, then the former may be understood as admonitory and cautionary, solemn warnings of a terrible possibility. If one gives priority to the former passages, it is not clear how we are to understand the latter. The passages cited in support of universal redemption can and often have been interpreted in other ways, as have the passages cited in support of the damnation of some or many. The Church in her wisdom has not definitively settled these exegetical disputes.
It is objected that Matthew 25, for instance, is “predictive.” The outcome is certain: “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Yes, certainly, people who live that way until the very end will go to hell. But what if, having lived that way, they at the very end repent? Recall the thief on the cross. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want ‘any to perish, but all to come to repentance’“ (1037). How can we know that anyone persists in mortal sin until the end? We cannot. Must we not hope that, according to God’s desire (2 Peter 3:9), all will repent? If not, how can we pray that that is the case? Is it possible to pray for an outcome without hoping for it? Is it possible to pray and hope for something that you know cannot be?
In Death on a Friday Afternoon, I write: “From the cross Christ has already counted them all. And he assures us that none of them will be lost. He also sends out those whom we call missionaries to let them know they have been found.” The second sentence is susceptible of misunderstanding, and some have done their best to misunderstand it. The point of the sentence is not that everyone will be saved. The point, repeatedly underscored elsewhere in the book, is that absolutely no one is beyond the reach of God’s love in Christ. All are found, and therefore are not lost. That some may choose not to accept the gift of being found is quite another matter. We pray and hope that all will accept the gift of salvation that is most surely available to all. At least for Catholics, the teaching is definitive: God denies no one the grace necessary for salvation.
A Sordid Reality
Make no mistake: Hell is real. Eternal separation from God is a distinct possibility to be feared, and to be feared first of all for ourselves. The passages of warning are to be taken with utmost, indeed ultimate, seriousness. God only knows who, if any, are damned. Our unqualified prayer is that God’s will be done. Do I know beyond a possibility of doubt that I will not be damned? Of course not. To answer otherwise is the sin of presumption. I believe, I have a confident faith, that I will be saved because of the mercy of God in Christ. It is sometimes said that Protestants, who subscribe to “justification by faith,” know they will be saved, while Catholics only hope they will be saved. That is a distinction without a difference. Faith is hope anticipated, and hope is faith disposed toward the future.
“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That is the prayer that is absolutely without qualification. Only God knows God’s will completely, and it is enough that God knows. In the splendid notes to the new translation of Dante’s Inferno by Robert and Jean Hollander (Doubleday) we are told:
Beatrice’s insistence [in Canto II] that she is not “touchable” by the grim powers of the pains of hell underlines the marginality of sin for the saved. Hell is simply not of concern to them. It is important to know, as one begins reading the poem, what one can only know once one has finished it: no soul in purgation or in grace in heaven has a thought for the condition of the damned (only the damned themselves do). Their concern for those who do not share their redeeming penitence or bliss is reserved for those still alive on earth, who have at least the hope of salvation. Hell, for the saved, is a sordid reality of which it is better not to speak.
We know that some are saved. At least Catholics know, on the basis of infallible teaching, that Mary, the mother of the Lord, is saved. And, although theologians are not of one mind on this, it is commonly accepted that those who are formally canonized are definitively declared to be in heaven. With respect to all the faithful departed, we are invited to have a generous expectation, “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Moreover, there is plenty of room for the saved in the New Jerusalem, which we are told is approximately fifteen hundred miles in height, breadth, and length (Revelation 21:16). That’s a city of a size that would cover more than half the continental U.S., and it will be more than a thousand miles high. It would seem there is ample space for everybody to be saved. (Where people who don’t like cities will go, I don’t know.) The details may not be meant literally, of course, but the picture of a well-populated heaven can, I think, be trusted.
How About Judas?
By way of contrast, we do not know who, if any one, is in hell. As John Paul II points out in his remarkable little book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, the Church has never taught that even Judas Iscariot is damned. A critic writes me that he will not be satisfied until I publicly declare my certain belief in a “populated hell.” I am afraid that he will have to remain dissatisfied. How on earth (emphasizing on earth) can I know for sure that hell is populated? One day we will know even as we are known (1 Corinthians 13), and presumably the saints in glory know now (although, as Dante suggests, they’re not much interested), but we—here on earth and now—simply do not know.
There is that enigmatic statement of Jesus about Judas, “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24, Mark 14:21). He does not explicitly say that Judas is in hell but, on the other hand, it would seem that he cannot be in heaven. Were he in heaven—or in purgatory on his way to heaven—how could one say that it would have been better for him if he had not been born? Some theologians have speculated about another possibility. Since evil does not have independent ontological status but is the absence of good, perhaps the fate of Judas is that of total annihilation. Such a fate, joined to his terrible betrayal, would seem to warrant saying of him that it would have been better had he not been born. In any event, as John Paul II notes, the Church does not teach that even Judas is in hell. That does not mean he is not in hell; only that we cannot teach what we do not know.
The Demands of Justice
Here enters another consideration that is commonly expressed: our sense of justice requires that we believe some people are eternally punished. It seems the favorite candidate here is Adolf Hitler. As one critic writes, “If Hitler is not in hell, there is little reason why I, with my much lesser sins, should be in fear of going there.” There are all kinds of things wrong with that argument. Hitler may have repented, turning to the mercy of God, even as his finger pressed the trigger. Plus, rating “big” and “little” sinners is a very dubious business. I expect there are many petty tyrants in homes and offices who are every bit as disposed to evil as was Hitler, but who have a more restricted range of opportunity for acting on that disposition. Moreover, consider the Apostle who writes, “I am the chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:16), and so should we all say of ourselves, since, when it comes to sinners, we know chiefly about ourselves. Further, it is not our sense of justice but God’s perfect justice that is to be satisfied. And, be it noted, that perfect justice is satisfied by the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Then, too, there is the matter of purgatory. Not only Catholics, but thinkers such as C. S. Lewis and the contemporary Methodist theologian Jerry Walls suggest it is only fitting that there be an experience, and perhaps a long and painful experience, of purgation before we are ready for the beatific vision. The master’s reproach to the disgruntled laborers in the vineyard (“Do you begrudge my generosity?”) notwithstanding, there is something that seems not right about the idea that Hitler or Chairman Mao or (enter your favorite villain here) should get to heaven without paying a steep price for their crimes here on earth. Are they finally to be treated the same as, say, Mother Teresa? That too seems not right. So maybe they have thousands of years (as we reckon time) in purgatory. And maybe, as one friend whimsically suggests, Hitler in heaven will be forever a little dog to whom we will benignly condescend. But he will be grateful for being there, and for not having received what he deserved. (As will we all be grateful for being there and not receiving what we deserve.) But with such thoughts we are in a realm of speculation and whimsy far beyond things on which we have a certain word from God, and far beyond our capacity to understand.
So may we hope that all will be saved? Answering that question in the affirmative, some contend, undercuts the rationale of Christian evangelization. I respond to that objection in Death on a Friday Afternoon and in an extended commentary on John Paul’s encyclical Redemptoris Missio (The Mission of the Redeemer) (FT, October 1991). I will not expand on that response here, but the gist of the argument is that the command and impulse to evangelize is premised not on the bad news that we do not know but on the good news (i.e., “gospel”) that we do know. To be sure, good news may be good in relation to the bad, but there is enough bad news that we know for sure that we do not need to pretend to know more bad news than we do in order to make the good news good. We know about God’s saving work in Christ, and that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). As both Redemptoris Missio and the year 2000 statement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, make clear, everyone who is saved is saved because of Christ, even if they have never heard the gospel. If they are in heaven, they will certainly know then that it is because of God’s reconciling work in Christ. As it is usually put, faith’s response to the gospel proclaimed and enacted in word and sacrament is the “ordinary means” of salvation. That is exactly right. At the same time, God is not limited to the ordinary. Why evangelize? Evangelization is most importantly driven by the means of salvation revealed, by Christ’s clear command, and by the sharing of fellowship so that “our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:4). We know what we are to do, and why. But the fullness of what God can and will do for the world that He loves is not limited to what we do.
We may come at our question in a different way by trying this thought experiment: Do you know anyone of whom you would not say that you hope he or she is saved? Imagine that you could know everyone who now lives, who has ever lived, or will ever live in the future. Of whom could you say that you hope they are eternally damned? Perhaps in a fit of anger—or in an act of presumption in which you identified your moral indignation with God’s perfect justice—you have said that you hope somebody is eternally damned, but you know you were wrong in saying or thinking that. “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Is it possible to forgive someone and, at the same time, hope he goes to hell? I think not. After you have, in this thought experiment, said to absolutely everybody, “I hope you will be saved,” have you not declared your hope that all will be saved?
Quite apart from such a thought experiment, the fact is that we all pray that all may be saved. Is it possible to pray for that without hoping for that? I think not. It follows that we pray, and therefore we hope, that all will be saved. Catholics by the millions pray the rosary every day, adding at the end of each decade, O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy.
We pray and we hope, but we do not know that that will be the case. I have a terrible fear that it will not be the case. If all are not saved, if many or most are lost, I do not know-despite the many elegant explanations that have been proposed-how to square that with biblical passages and the theo-logic that suggest universal redemption. But God knows, and that is enough. We know that we are to proclaim the saving gospel, we know what we hope will be the case, but we know these things in the full recognition that the ultimate working out of God’s mercy and justice eludes our certain grasp.
How to Disagree
Nevertheless, I expect that I may not have convinced everyone that we can and should hope that all will be saved. In that event, I hope we can disagree without quarreling, remembering Chesterton’s observation that the problem with a quarrel is that it spoils an argument. And, as in all such disagreements, we do well to keep in mind the rule of Richard Baxter (famously reiterated by John XXIII), “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.”
To which one need only add this necessary thing: all our puzzling, disputing, and speculating must finally give way to the most pure act of faith, which is doxology. So it was with St. Paul in his perplexity at the end of Romans 11, and so it must be with us. At the end of all our trying to understand, we join in declaring:
For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.
We Piped and You Did Not Dance
Rabbi Daniel Lapin has just about had it. He heads up a renewal organization called Toward Tradition and takes sharp exception to the statements of Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League. You remember when, during the Pope’s visit, Syrian leader Assad said some rudely stupid things about Jews. The Pope declined to get into a spitting match with Assad then and there, so Foxman complained about the Pope’s “sin of silence.” Reference to papal “silence” is, of course, intended to evoke the old canard about Pius XII’s alleged silence during the Holocaust. A very odd kind of silence that was, with Jewish organizations at the time gratefully praising Pius for being “a lone voice of conscience” when other leaders, such as Roosevelt and Churchill, were indeed silent about the Holocaust.
But that doesn’t stop Abe Foxman. About the same time as the Syrian visit, there was a media flap over some prominent Christians who opined that candor compels a recognition that the Jews of the time were not entirely uninvolved in the crucifixion of Jesus. Talk about pushing Mr. Foxman’s buttons. He charged that “It seems to be open season on Jews and Judaism.” Right. Next week come the pogroms. Back to Rabbi Lapin: “I wish we could all calm down a little. I mean, were it not for the ADL’s screaming, hardly anyone would know about Assad’s pathetic insults. And just what was the elderly pontiff supposed to do as Assad blathered away in Arabic—jump up, run across the stage, and start strangling the guy? But I imagine Abe Foxman was facing a shortfall in fundraising this quarter, or something like that. Ten thousand little old Jewish grandmothers must be really worked up and writing their checks to ADL.”
Foxman even took out an ad in the New York Times censuring the Pope. Mr. Foxman did temper his criticism with the generous acknowledgment, “He’s earned our patience.” Pope John Paul has earned Mr. Foxman’s patience. Talk about testicular brassworks. Of whom does one say, “We must be patient with him”? Maybe a retarded child or a recovering alcoholic. The Pope is no doubt grateful that Mr. Foxman is willing to be patient with him.
To be fair, Mr. Foxman was not alone. The Jerusalem Post also editorially ranted against the Pope’s “sinful silence.” Eugene Fisher of the U.S. bishops’ office for Jewish affairs has just about had it, too. He wrote the paper, “I must protest your editorial characterizing of Pope John Paul II’s recent actions in Damascus as ‘silence’ and ‘sinful.’ Simply because the Pope did not respond to President Assad’s pathetic and transparent appeal to hoary religious bigotry in the way you would prefer does not justify your excoriation of him.” Fisher then went on to quote what the Pope actually did say on the occasion about Jews, Muslims, and Christians working together for peace and in mutual respect. Reasonable people might have taken that as a response to Assad’s tirade.
Not Cragg Hines of the Houston Chronicle, however. He devotes a column to comparing the Pope in Damascus with centuries of putative crimes by Catholicism against all and sundry, concluding with a sneer that popes don’t have to say, “We’re sorry.” Never mind that a good many people think that this Pope has said “We’re sorry” more than one time too many. I hasten to add that I don’t think so. It’s part of his well-considered campaign aimed at the “purification of memories.” One does wish, however, that others would show at least some inclination to reciprocate his honesty and humility.
Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of Houston has also just about had it. He wrote, “Hines wondered how long it will take for the Catholic Church to apologize for John Paul not responding to the Syrian leader for defaming Jews and Israel. I wonder how long it will take Hines and the Chronicle to apologize for the defamation of Pope John Paul II, a great servant of peace and the strongest moral voice in the world.”
Jewish Week, published in New York, obtained a letter sent to Mr. Foxman by Walter Cardinal Kasper, the new head of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. “To defame the Holy Father by attributing ‘silence’ to him is quite unjust and cannot go uncontested,” the Cardinal wrote. “I must make clear that such an offensive intervention does nothing to serve your desire for a good and effective relationship with the Catholic Church. It wounds our relationship.” One veteran of the Catholic-Jewish dialogue said that it was the “toughest” message from the Vatican in thirty years. In a response to Kasper, Foxman said, “It was in the context of the Pope’s accomplishments that we were so distressed by the Vatican’s lack of comment. Indeed as of this writing the Vatican has not addressed this matter.” The ADL’s patience is wearing thin.
Foxman’s ADL ad in the Times declares in big type, “Pope John Paul II, we were greatly saddened by your silence.” To which the proper response is, We are greatly saddened, and more than a little impatient, with your rudeness. Foxman, Hines, the Jerusalem Post, and too many others put one in mind of the words of Jesus in Luke chapter seven: “To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’“ It is true that the Pope is servus servorum Dei, servant of the servants of God, but that does not mean that he is anybody’s lackey. The partisan pipers who expect him to dance to their tunes will just have to get used to it. They’ll no doubt keep acting as they do, at least for a while, since it apparently plays well with their hard-core constituency. But I expect it is the case that for most Americans, Jews and non-Jews alike, such misbehavior looks increasingly like that of petulant children in the marketplace throwing a tantrum because the world does not jump at their bidding. It is not entirely unlike the tantrum thrown by Assad in Damascus. Grown-ups will agree with Rabbi Lapin that it’s time to calm down. Adult behavior may put a crimp in ADL’s fundraising, but count that as a price well worth paying for the civility on which we all depend.
Bobos in Paradise, but Maybe Not For Long
You may remember that I was at first sharply critical of David Brooks’ argument in Bobos in Paradise (FT, August/September 2000). But his response (Correspondence, December 2000) prompted me to take a long second look. There is much more there than I thought, so our Ramsey Colloquium invited Brooks to a day-long discussion of his thesis. The thesis is that America’s ruling class is composed of Bobos, meaning people who have successfully combined values bohemian and bourgeois. The further argument is that Bobos will remain the ruling class because they are able to co-opt challenges to their rule. In short, says Brooks, Bobos have resolved what many years ago Daniel Bell called “the cultural contradictions of capitalism.” If true, that is an important development.
James Davison Hunter, the University of Virginia sociologist who has written very influentially about the culture war, was there, and he agreed with much of the Brooks thesis. Bobos, he suggested, live in a world very much like a high school where kids are divided into geeks, nerds, jocks, and so forth. Except that in this world the status differentiation is based almost exclusively on consumption. Bobos have lifestyles, he said, instead of lives ordered in obedience to perceived truth. Their serious commitments always come with an exit strategy attached. This fits Brooks’ observation about the morality of Bobos, that theirs is “a house of obligation built on the foundation of choice.” Hunter also agrees that, at least for the most part, the culture war is over for Bobos. It is kept going by organizations that are able to elicit support from 10 percent at either end of the cultural and ideological spectrum. As he puts it, “The middle has no mailing list.”
Hunter and others pointed out that the Bobo world is more fragile than it appears, however. It is completely dependent upon economic prosperity and the lack of serious testing. Emerson was cited: “Adversity introduces a man to himself.” Bobos are more than a little like Nietzsche’s pitiful “last man” who goes on living the manners of morality after the moral bottom has fallen out. It can’t last, and it won’t. Others noted that Brooks’ more recent writing about college students (see “The Organization Kids,” Atlantic Monthly, April 2001) suggests that Bobodom may be a one-generation phenomenon. These students are uncritically committed to the disciplines of achievement. Put differently, they have quite abandoned the bohemian half of what it means to be a Bobo. Unlike their parents, they feel no obligation to maintain even the pretense of the rebelliousness of the sixties.
Brooks says he is often asked whether Boboism is not largely a Jewish phenomenon, and he thinks there is something to that. When Harvard dropped its ethnic quota system in favor of meritocracy, Jews were first in line. Jews, he observes, have been on the cutting edge of meritocracy. This is not a subject discussed in his book, however, and others insisted that the Jewish factor should not be exaggerated. Although it is not generally appreciated, Catholics, especially Irish Catholics, are not that far behind Jews in having taken advantage of meritocracy. As for the old WASP establishment, some said it committed suicide, others that it had altruistically decided to share power, and yet others that it was happy to be assimilated to Bobodom. In any event, there was general agreement that Bobos in Paradise accurately describes what looks very much like a new ruling class.
It was altogether a rewarding discussion. I have always found great merit, however, in the opinion that American society is so vast and so various that almost any generalization made about it is amply supported by the evidence. And here things move so quickly that, just as you get a concept that seems to capture the cultural moment, it is made obsolete by change, usually unexpected change. And so it may turn out to be with the Bobo thesis. I was therefore most particularly interested when participants turned to the question of what we know for sure is different now from, say, fifty years ago. The resulting list is not exhaustive, and things are not necessarily listed in order of importance, but here are some changes that it seems we know for sure. Of course, some items are pretty obvious, but I think it is a useful list. You can add or delete at will.
1) The pervasiveness of fertility control (e.g., contraception and abortion), resulting in people having fewer children.
2) Meritocracy in the university and other avenues to achievement and reward
3) The obsession with safety, especially the safety of children. Childhood freedom is replaced by regimentation.
4) Child-rearing based on the moral imperative of achievement. Thus parents jockeying to get their three-year-old into the “best schools,” from day care through graduate school.
5) The increase many times over of kids going to college. A young person with only a high school education is simply out of the loop of achievement and reward.
6) The movement toward having “designer children” through new reproductive techniques.
7) The pervasiveness of pharmaceutical relief from life’s anxieties—i.e., Prozac et al.
8) The creation of a “mass upper class.” There are today, it is reported, more than thirteen million Americans who are millionaires.
9) Mass market spirituality. Consult the “spirituality” section of any chain bookstore. Religious identity is not inherited but elected. (Some dissented on this one, arguing that America has always been a spiritual and religious marketplace.)
10) The moralization of health. For instance, the anti-smoking campaign and obsession with exercise. Health displaces salvation. On New York buses, there is this ad for a gym: “Heaven and hell have the same address.”
11) The extension of adolescence. The twenty-five-year-old at home or living on allowance is “finding himself.” This connects with marrying later and having fewer children.
12) The nexus between “symbolic knowledge” and monetary reward. The route to success is not through making things but communicating things.
13) The absence of a hierarchy of value in literature and the arts. Art is rated by whether it is expressive or transgressive. And who reads poetry anymore? The “Western canon” is, for the most part, consigned to the dustbin.
14) The intellectual and cultural elite has made its peace with commerce, and then some. The anti-bourgeois tradition is displaced by getting rich.
15) The dramatic increase of women in the professions, with the resulting conflict between “having it all” and wanting children. (See above on marrying later.)
16) Selective mating, meaning that men choose women and women choose men of the same status. Bobos marry (or cohabit with) Bobos.
17) A public culture of biblical illiteracy. Related, in part, to the influence of secular Jews who have benefited from meritocracy, and are hostile to, or feel threatened by, biblical (meaning mainly Christian) referents in public.
18) The increase in, and moral imperative of, tolerance. Notably with respect to race, but extending to homosexuals and others previously censured as deviant.
19) Issues of morality and character replaced by the therapeutic. See Philip Rieff’s prescient book, The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966).
20) The polarization of the two major parties along religio-moral lines. As dramatically evident in the 2000 election, churchgoers vote Republican, non-churchgoers vote Democratic.
21) The uncritical acceptance by young people of authority figures—i.e., parents, teachers—who control the bestowal of grades, which means access to achievement. (There was dissent on this one; some saying it is not so much the case, others that it is not a change.)
22) There is no widespread rebellion against “the system.” Because that style was exhausted by the sixties, and, perhaps more important, because there is no big alternative system—e.g., Marxist socialism—being proposed today.
You may disagree with some items, but I think the list is suggestive. Keeping in mind that American society is so vast and various that almost any generalization is amply supported by the evidence. And you may want to explore for yourself what sparked this discussion, in which case I recommend David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise. It is, not incidentally, great fun to read.
New York Glory
New York University Press has now published a fine book of essays on religion in New York City by the above title, edited by Tony Carnes. Here are excerpts from my preface to the book, including, I expect, a warmed up chestnut or two.
When you’re tired of London, the great Dr. Johnson observed, you’re tired of life. More than two hundred years later, the same might be said of New York City. In fact, people have, in various ways, been saying essentially that about New York for more than two hundred years. In his fine introduction, editor Tony Carnes touches on the ways visitors to New York from Europe and elsewhere have intuited, to their satisfaction or alarm, that the city betokens the future of the modern (postmodern?) world.
Shortly after being appointed Archbishop of New York in 1984, John Cardinal O’Connor visited Pope John Paul II. The Pope greeted him with his arms spread and declared, “Welcome to the archbishop of the capital of the world!” This from the Bishop of Rome, the city to which, or so we are told, all roads lead.
New Yorkers are regularly reminded, and not always in the kindest tones, that New York is not America. They just as regularly, and happily, agree. One way in which New York is presumably not like the rest of America is that the rest of America is very religious while New York is determinedly secular. It is one of the great merits of the present book to challenge, sharply and convincingly, that assumption.
I have encountered sociologists who, with respect to America’s religiosity and New York’s secularity, speak of “New York exceptionalism.” My own experience of living here more than thirty years, reinforced by the stories and data in these pages, suggests that we should view such a notion with robust skepticism. In general, secularization theorists have done something of a turnabout in recent years. In the more militantly secular versions of eighteenth-century Enlightenment and up through recent times, it was thought that secularization was something of an unstoppable juggernaut. As the world became more modern (i.e., enlightened), religion would either wither away or be hermetically sealed off from public life as a private eccentricity. Secularization theorists tended to be European and agreed with Max Weber that there appeared to be an unbreakable link between modernization and the “disenchantment” of the world. All is rationalized, specialized, bureaucratized, functionalized. In short, all is secularized.
Among those subscribing to this general theory, puzzlement was regularly expressed as to why religion, in maddeningly diverse ways, is so vibrantly alive in America, despite the fact that America is a modern, perhaps the most modern, society. The agreed-upon answer to this puzzlement was expressed in the notion of “American exceptionalism.” Today there is a growing consensus that it may be more accurate to speak of European exceptionalism, or at least of Western European exceptionalism. While Germany, France, and the Netherlands, among others, seem to be in thrall to a numbing secularization, around the world—in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere—there is a resurgence of religion, with all the cultural and political consequences that attend such a resurgence. This is the reality examined by Harvard’s Samuel Huntington in his much controverted, but I think essentially accurate, “clash of civilizations” thesis. I am inclined to risk going a step further and say that, if the proverbial man or woman from Mars asked about the most important single thing happening on planet earth at the beginning of the twenty-first century, a very good answer might be the desecularization of world history. This is not, according to the textbooks still used from grade school through graduate school, how history was supposed to turn out.
A City of Many Cities
The present book suggests that the myth of New York exceptionalism is as dubious as is the myth of American exceptionalism. As America is, with respect to religion, more like than unlike the rest of the world, so New York is more like than unlike America. But, of course, New York is also different. The difference, however, may be quite the opposite of what is usually supposed. The conventional wisdom for a long time was that the city is the preeminently modern expression of Weber’s rationalized “disenchantment.” It seems to me more likely, however, that the raucously variegated disjunctions of everyday life in New York open up spaces of enchantment—both wondrous and bizarre—unknown in more domesticated forms of human society. The city is a city of many cities, a world of many worlds.
My first parish assignment was to a medium-sized town of fifteen thousand people in far upstate New York. The life of that town was tight as a drum, predictable, rational, and in all its dimensions run by the rules of a family, a business, and an Episcopal church that had dominated it for generations. I and the small flock I shepherded were most decidedly outsiders. Then, still in my mid-twenties, I came to Brooklyn, New York, and plunged into the community activism that went with being pastor of a poor black parish in those days. Within months, I was leading demonstrations, testifying before the City Council, meeting with the Mayor, and generally playing the part of a public person of importance in a way that would have been impossible in the upstate town of my first parish. A person of importance? It was partly true and partly a delusion, and the truth and the delusion were hard to separate. That is what is meant by saying that New York is a world of many worlds.
Everybody with a taste for it and a modicum of talent gets a chance to be important in New York. There are so many worlds in which to be important, or at least to feel important. It is the city of finance and business, of fashion and theater, of publishing and the arts, of hustling and fervent piety. This book is mainly about the last dimension of life in New York. Former Mayor Edward Koch frequently said that religion, and the Catholic Church in particular, is the glue that holds the city together. I don’t know if that is the most apt image, but for many, if not most, New Yorkers, religion defines a place to be, a piece of the whole from which it is possible to view the whole through the eyes of enchantment. As the late Christopher Lasch wrote of the family as a refuge in a heartless world, so it is possible to view the religious communities described in these pages as such refuges. For many members of these communities, they may be that. Yet it is the case, I expect, that for many others religion provides the story line by which to make sense of, and to make livable, the whole.
I have sometimes suggested, less than half-jokingly, that over the heavenly gates will be a sign: “From the Wonderful People Who Brought You New York City, the New Jerusalem!” I add that those who in this life did not like New York City will have another place to go. I say that less than half-jokingly, but not very much less.
The Church You Mean . . .
The editor notes, correctly, that Roman Catholicism in New York is very much slighted in the accounts provided here. I share his puzzlement as to why that should be. After all, somewhere around 44 percent of all the people in New York claim to be Catholic, and it is a Catholicism of stunning variety. I am told that in New York the Mass is said every week in thirty-two different languages. (Some say it is thirty-nine different languages, but I think they are counting somewhat similar Chinese dialects.) So the dearth of research on Catholicism is hardly due to lack of “color” or variety. And in many ways the presence of Catholicism in the city is religiously overwhelming. As comedian Mort Sahl said back in the 1950s, “The Catholic Church is the church you mean when you say ‘the Church.’“ In terms of public presence, no religious figure is in the same league as the Cardinal Archbishop. When gay activists decide to protest what they view as religion’s oppressive ways, the demonstration is, of course, at St. Patrick’s.
It is not as though the media, theater, and entertainment worlds based in New York ignore Catholicism. On the contrary, at any given time there are half a dozen or more plays deploring the allegedly terrible things done to pupils by Sister Immaculata in parochial school, and sitcom and talk-show jibes about Catholic guilt (usually sexual) are a staple. Yet academics in history and the social sciences seem to be paying little attention to the reality of Catholicism in New York. Perhaps it is like the elephant in the living room. Everybody knows it is there and has rather definite views about it, but there seems to be little to be done about it except to ignore it in the hope that it will go away.
I do not have a satisfying answer to Tony Carnes’ puzzlement about the lack of academic interest in Catholicism in New York. I do know that G. K. Chesterton was right when he said that Catholicism is ever so much larger from the inside than from the outside. There are such rich lodes to mine in research and writing. Based on my own experience in the Archdiocese and Brooklyn Diocese, I would love to see, to cite but one instance, a thorough examination of the Filipinos in New York. In the past half century, in parish after parish, the Filipinos have been a catalyst of change in charismatic renewal, catechesis, and the revival of popular eucharistic and other devotions. Then there are the many determinedly disciplined “renewal movements”—from Opus Dei and Focolare to the Neocatechumenal Way and the Legionaries of Christ. Who are all these people, mainly young people, who are bent upon evangelizing the capital of the world and thus, or so they believe, changing the world?
Suffice it to say that New York Glory should be viewed as a beginning. Religion in New York City is a subject as inexhaustible as the human story itself. And were a definitive account ever to be written, it would immediately need to be rewritten. When I came here as a young man, I was showing a friend from out of town around. Pointing to all the construction sites where buildings were being torn down and others erected or rehabilitated, I said in my innocence, “This is really going to be a beautiful city when they get it finished.” But, of course, the finishing of New York City is an eschatological concept. Meanwhile, New York Glory provides overviews, assessments, and snapshots of a city on its way to the New Jerusalem.
Why Christianity Needs Judaism
In these pages there is frequent reference to “the Judeo-Christian tradition.” The phrase is much more than the jargon of interreligious politesse or a piece of what some call the American “civil religion.” We speak of a Judeo-Christian moral tradition, not of a Judeo-Christian religion. Yet the moral tradition presupposes common beliefs about God, covenant, history, and final promise. Here too, morality and religion cannot be neatly separated. Nor can personal belief and public decision making.
Both Christianity and Judaism are emphatically public. They are not private “spiritualities,” to use the term so prevalent in our day. They have to do with public revelations making public truth claims. The giving of the “Ten Words” at Sinai was a public event, visible to anyone who was there, and is recorded in the public texts of the Torah, open to the examination of anyone who can read them. Similarly public is the life and mission of Jesus, and the history of the Church, beginning with the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and all this is recorded in the New Testament. Moreover, Judaism and Christianity are public in that each is attached to a people—a determinate, countable, flesh-and-blood people through time. There is no Judaism apart from Jews, nor Christianity apart from Christians.
In this respect, Judaism and Christianity are dramatically different from the “mystery religions” and various gnostic cults of both the ancient world and our own times. Back in the 1960s, some liberal Christian theologians promoted what they called “secular Christianity,” and it caused a stir at the time. Few understood what they were getting at, and the media soon lost interest. But there is an important sense in which both Christianity and Judaism—what some prefer to call simply “biblical religion”—are undeniably secular, which is closely connected to their being public in character. They have to do with the saeculum, with the present age, with the real world; they do not float above the world or apart from the world in a sphere called “religion” or “the spiritual.” Nor can they be contained within religion as defined by—in the words of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead—what a man does with his solitude.
Christians, more than Jews, are prone to forgetting this. Jews must always cope with the stubbornly resistant fact of the existence of the Jewish people. Christians can and do forget the historical embodiment of Christianity. This forgetfulness is the subject of Harold Bloom’s 1992 essay, American Religion, an exaggerated but instructive description of Christian America as Emersonian Gnosticism. Christians forget who they are, and forget what Christianity is, when they forget Jews and Judaism.
Christianity is Jewish. Not simply as a matter of historical accident or ancient origins, but as a matter of its constituting beliefs and continuing existence. In the early twentieth century, the great Franz Rosenzweig, who struggled with becoming Christian before his reconversion to Judaism, went so far as to call Christianity “Judaism for the Gentiles.” This should not sound strange to Christians who have attended to St. Paul’s reflections on the relationship between Jew and Christian. The earliest Christians were Jews, while other Jews rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah. That rejection does not mean that God has broken His covenant with Abraham and his descendants. That covenant and that people remain “the root,” to which the Gentiles are now joined. Paul writes to the Gentile Christians in Rome: “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you” (Romans 11).
A critical figure in Jewish-Christian relations is Marcion, who died in a.d. 160. Although he was condemned by the Church as a heretic, many Christians of the second century nonetheless rallied to Marcion’s teaching that Christianity is not only separated from but is antithetical to the root of Israel. The God of the Old Testament, Marcion said, was the Creator God or Demiurge who is the very antithesis of the God whom Jesus called Father. The Creator God is the God of Law; the Christian God is the God of Love. The God of the Old Testament, the Demiurge, was contradictory, fickle, capricious, despotic, and cruel. The Supreme God of Love was revealed in Jesus in order to overthrow the rule of the Demiurge. In condemning Marcion, in embracing the Hebrew Scriptures as part of the Christian Bible, in affirming the unbreakable continuity with Judaism, the Church made the single most critical decision in defining the relationship between Christians and Jews. It is a decision determinative of our relationship in the twenty-first century, and until the end of time.
Yet it must be admitted that, for many Christians, Marcionism is by no means dead. I do not mean that Christians today subscribe to the doctrines taught by Marcion, although among some fringe groups there are possibly some who do. But in what is viewed as the mainstream of Christianity, also in America today, there is what we might call an operative Marcionism in which it is assumed that Christianity and Judaism are two different religions that have little or nothing to do with one another. It is Marcionism without the animus, or at least usually without the animus. In this view, the People of Israel lived back in the olden days of the Old Testament, and the fact that there are still Jews in the world is little more than a curious anomaly.
For such Christians, the reality of Living Judaism simply makes no religious sense. This does not mean they are anti-Jewish, never mind that they are guilty of what in the modern world came to be called anti-Semitism. As hard as it is for some of us who live in New York to believe, many, perhaps even most, Americans do not personally know any Jews. Jews are a little over 2 percent of the population and heavily concentrated in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and a few other urban centers. For Christian America, by and large, Jews are a people apart. For the majority of Americans, Jews and Judaism are perceived at a distance—in the distant past of the Old Testament, and on the distant commanding heights of contemporary culture.
Note also that in the modern era the Marcionite divorce of Christianity and Judaism has been championed by leading lights of the liberal theological tradition in Protestantism. The great German church historian Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) considered it the great achievement of the Apostle Paul that he “delivered the Christian religion from Judaism.” According to Harnack, Christianity, unlike Judaism, has to do not with corporate salvation but with the individual soul. “Anyone who wants to know what the kingdom of God and the coming of this kingdom mean in Jesus’ preaching,” Harnack writes, “must read and meditate on the parables. There he will learn what the kingdom is all about. The kingdom of God comes by coming to individuals, making entrance into their souls, and being grasped by them. . . . Everything externally dramatic, all public historical meaning vanishes here; all external hope for the future fades also. [It is] a matter of God and the soul, of the soul and its God.”
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), the acknowledged father of modern theological liberalism, did not go so far as Immanuel Kant, who denied that Judaism has the dignity of being a religion at all, but he was sure that it was a religion of a decidedly inferior sort. Christianity’s connections to “Mosaic institutions,” Schleiermacher asserted, are purely historical and accidental: “As far as concerns its historical existence and its aim, Christianity’s relation to Judaism and Heathenism are the same.” The Christian theologian, he said, may safely ignore the Old Testament, which is to be “utterly discarded” since it is no more than the “husk or wrapping,” and since “whatever is most definitely Jewish has least value.” The “essence” of Christianity is for Schleiermacher, Harnack, and many contemporary thinkers something that must be liberated from a particular history and a particular people. Schleiermacher defined authentic religion as a “modification of feeling” or a “taste for the Infinite,” which, like Harnack’s religion of “the soul and its God,” is strikingly similar to Harold Bloom’s celebration of Gnosticism as the archetypically “American religion.”
It is a safe bet that whenever religious thinkers start talking about the “essence of Christianity” they will end up by divorcing it from the stubbornly historical reality that is Christianity, and by pitting it, implicitly or explicitly, against the stubbornly historical reality that is Judaism. Many Jews are more comfortable with the tolerance that they associate with liberal rather than conservative Christianity. That is, both logic and historical experience suggest, a grave mistake. Christianity that is liberated from the normative story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus, and the Christian people through time is no friend of Jews or Judaism.
While We’re At It
• Please join us in welcoming Damon Linker as the new Associate Editor of this journal. He replaces Daniel Moloney, who has been a splendid colleague and has made invaluable contributions over the last several years, but now intends to finish his doctoral dissertation at the University of Notre Dame. He is writing on Anselm of Canterbury’s theory of justice, and we look forward to his definitive clarification of that much misunderstood subject. After studying at Ithaca College in upstate New York and New York University, Damon Linker received his Ph.D. in political science from Michigan State University in 1998. He has taught at Michigan State and Brigham Young University, and was most recently a speechwriter for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York. He has published extensively in, inter alia, Commentary, Policy Review, the Review of Politics, and the Wall Street Journal. He and his wife Beth, née O’Donnell, met at Ithaca College and she is currently a Ph.D. student in the history of medicine and science at Yale University. Damon was received into full communion with the Catholic Church at this year’s Easter Vigil. We are grateful that he has accepted this position and look forward to a long, congenial, and productive collaboration. As for Dan Moloney, we have secured his firm promise that he will continue to provide us with his good counsel and written contributions to these pages. If I may be permitted a personal word: One of the joys of this enterprise is that, from the beginning, we have been blessed with a staff of remarkable energy, reliability, and spirited cooperativeness. The commitment of talented young people, such as Dan, Damon, and our Managing Editor, Alicia Mosier, bodes well for the future of this work, and for that I am very grateful indeed. I am also grateful, of course, for talented old people, such as Editor Jim Nuechterlein.
• It appears that Dinesh D’Souza is striking out with his latest book, The Virtue of Prosperity: Finding Values in an Age of Techno-Affluence (Free Press), and he is getting very little help from his conservative friends. The techno-affluent society is producing a new kind of human being, says D’Souza. There are those who are unhappy about that, “the party of Nah,” and those who think it’s just great, “the party of Yeah.” D’Souza definitely belongs to the second party. Reviewing the book in the Public Interest, David Skinner notes that D’Souza puts his Yeah vs. Nah concept to work on all kinds of questions: “It becomes another way of distinguishing ancient versus modern political philosophy, with the Greeks in the Party of Nah and Francis Bacon, John Locke, and the American Founders in the Party of Yeah. The Yeah people get to claim credit for building the United States of America and the Nah people end up on the losing side of slavery, poverty, disease, and various other assaults on human dignity. So, don’t complain about your word-processing software unless you’re ready to take blame for the Crusades. One is reminded of Virginia Postrel’s book, which crudely divided the world between ‘the future and its enemies.’” D’Souza does have a measure of respect for the continuing relevance of the Nahs. Skinner writes: “When the discussion finally turns to the question of posthuman man, D’Souza pays respect to Leon Kass’ great contributions to the bioethics debate. But while recognizing such Party of Nah views, D’Souza makes clear that he believes many of the changes technology offers—designer children, increased life span, brain implants—are simply inevitable. Which leaves the Party of Nah on the wrong side of history. But wait, D’Souza believes these ‘whiners,’ as he calls them, will still have a job to do in the future. With thinkers like Plato and Aristotle on their side, the Party of Nah can ‘supply us with personal horizons of understanding and significance.’ Put another way, they can help everyone ‘find values in an age of techno-affluence’—something D’Souza himself promises in his subtitle, but only halfheartedly pursues in this book.” I’m not sure that Skinner and others have been entirely fair to the book. In conversation with D’Souza, who is a very bright and affable fellow, I am impressed with his idea that revivals of virtue have usually been spurred by want, whereas we now may be witnessing a revival of virtue spurred by prosperity. I am by no means convinced, but it is an interesting idea worthy of more careful development in another book, on which Dinesh D’Souza may be working even as I write.
• I would not be surprised were a reader or two surprised by the generally favorable reflection on R. J. Rushdoony in this issue. After all, the editors have left no one in doubt about their belief that his movement to reconstitute society on the basis of “Bible law” is fundamentally wrongheaded. See, for but one instance, my article “Why Wait for the Kingdom? The Theonomist Temptation” (May 1990). In an obituary, however, the maxim comes into play, De mortuis nil nisi bonum. And Rushdoony undoubtedly warrants an obituary in a journal devoted to religion and public life. Far beyond the relatively small circle of those familiar with his name or movement, Rushdoony’s peculiar brand of Calvinism has influenced the ways in which countless Americans think about God’s will and the public order. We disagreed with him, as we disagree with those who simply dismiss him as a kook. Aspects of his thought, for better and for worse, are not entirely alien to the experience of the American founding and continue to play a part in how people try to make connections between revealed truth and the tasks of culture, law, and politics. Whatever our disagreements, it cannot be denied that he, too, was working on “first things.”
• The more refined exit polls on election 2000 are now in and the numbers crunchers are busily dissecting them in order to find out what really happened. Columnist and political analyst Mark Shields revisits the answers to the question, “Which issues, if any, were most important to you in deciding how you would vote for President today?” The number one answer (35 percent) was “moral and ethical values.” Close to 15 percent said abortion was their top issue. That, of course, includes both pro-lifers and pro-choicers, but among those for whom abortion mattered most, 58 percent voted for Bush and 41 percent for Gore. Shields writes, “Simply put, that translates into a Bush advantage on the abortion issue of 2.5 million votes in an election that Gore won nationally by more than 540,000 votes.” As Shields notes, the elite media consistently claim that being pro-life is an electoral handicap and urge the Republican Party to be a “big tent” that welcomes those who support the unlimited abortion license. “The nation’s leading and most influential editorial pages,” writes Shields, “almost never urge the Democratic leadership and nominee to welcome pro-life Democrats into their platform or onto their program.” But you knew that.
• In your examination of conscience you might want to add the sin of “transphobia.” That’s the transgression of not approving of people who try to surgically change their sex. “The Transgender Revolution” is the latest political cause being promoted by those of heightened consciousness. Columnist John Leo notes that San Francisco now pays for city employees who want sex-change operations, and a number of television shows are in the works portraying the joys of transgendered liberation. The Los Angeles Times had a sympathetic story on a husband and wife who are both having the operation. They will stay married, but the husband will become the wife and vice versa. Not everybody is supportive of the cause. Dr. Paul McHugh, director of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a FT contributor, compares a patient’s feeling that he is a woman trapped in a man’s body with an anorectic woman’s feeling that she is drastically overweight. “We don’t do liposuction on anorectics. Why amputate the genitals of these poor men? Surely the fault is in the mind, not the member.” McHugh stopped sex-change operations at Hopkins in the 1970s, calling them “perhaps with the exception of frontal lobotomy, the most radical therapy ever encouraged by twentieth-century psychiatrists.” Others make the comparison with apotemnophilia, a psychiatric condition in which people think their limbs don’t really belong to them. Last year a surgeon in Scotland drew publicity when he amputated the healthy legs of two patients. University of Minnesota bioethicist Carl Elliott suggests that unpredictable pathologies arise in certain societies at certain times “seemingly out of nowhere,” and then disappear just as suddenly. Leo writes: “In nineteenth-century France, young men commonly lapsed into a ‘fugue state,’ often coming to in a foreign country with no idea of how they got there. In the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of Americans came to believe they had multiple personalities as a result of childhood trauma. Fifty years ago, Elliott says, nobody suspected that tens of thousands of people would want to have their genitals surgically altered as a way of relieving suffering. He thinks transgender activism and many social cues may have resulted in a temporary boom for sex-change surgery. It’s a tentative analysis, and maybe he’s wrong. But at least he is pushing the discussion back into the right arena—psychiatry and medicine, not politics.” As for your examination of conscience, forget about the sin of “transphobia.” You undoubtedly have a enough to worry about as it is.
• Younger readers cannot remember, and many can hardly conceive of, a time when people were ostracized from the best circles of America for being anti-Communist. In the universities and media, anti-anticommunism was regnant, with some claiming that Communists were merely idealistic “liberals in a hurry,” while most predicted a peaceful “convergence” between Western democracy and “Soviet-style socialism,” and almost all agreed that the highest goal was “coexistence” with a reality that was deemed to be an unremovable fact of history. On the world-historical stage, there were a few leaders wise and bold enough to dissent from that orthodoxy: most notably John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. But there were many others less well known, but crucially important to the ending of the greatest tyranny the world has known. Michael Bourdeaux, for instance, the founder of Keston College, which for many years, with tireless determination and careful scholarship, tracked the innumerable victims of Communist oppression. Bourdeaux, now retired from Keston, writes an obituary for yet another, Richard Wurmbrand, who died this year at age ninety-one. In America almost all right-thinking, meaning left-thinking, people viewed Wurmbrand as a nut, but Bourdeaux pays tribute to his heroism. Born in Romania in 1909, Wurmbrand became a Lutheran pastor and, for his outspokenness, was imprisoned both by the Fascist Romanian regime and, later, by the Communists. In 1965, for a ransom of $10,000, Romania let him and his wife Sabina go. Bourdeaux writes that the deal was the worst that the Communists ever made. “Ten billion dollars would have been a cheap ransom for a man who opened up the first hairline cracks in the Communist domination of the international Christian agenda, cracks which would expand into fissures in the 1980s and become a contributory factor to the eventual collapse of the Soviet system itself.” With relentless energy and great rhetorical skills, Wurmbrand charged institutions such as the World Council of Churches with being apologists for communism. At a U.S. Senate committee hearing he famously (notoriously, most thought) took off his shirt to display the marks of torture from his prison years. Bourdeaux writes: “He could and did make enormous mistakes, but his fourteen years of solitary confinement in a Communist prison and the appalling treatment both he and his wife received conferred on him the right—indeed the duty—to speak out with emotion once he was free. For several years after his release he became perhaps the most imposing orator on the Christian world stage.” Like countless martyrs before him, his spirit was honed by persecution. “In his isolation and in the intervals between sessions of torture, Wurmbrand preached himself Sermons in Solitary Confinement, which was to become the title of his finest book (1969). His torturers promised him liberty and elevation to church leadership if he would travel and persuade international church agencies to adopt a pro-Communist agenda. They had picked the wrong man.” Bourdeaux concludes: “But the final decade of Wurmbrand’s life was a happy one. He and Sabina visited Romania to a heroic welcome and to appear on television. Most remarkably of all, they visited Richard’s former prison, to find there a repository for his books.” Against the vulgar determinists who now say that communism collapsed of its own weight, it is necessary to remember the part played by those who bore witness to the truth by which, then and now, we are made free. Richard Wurmbrand. Requiescat in pace.
• “Do Poles, along with Germans, bear guilt for the Holocaust? It is hard to imagine a more absurd claim.” So writes Adam Michnik, a Jew and editor of Poland’s largest daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, in the New York Times. “Not a single Polish family was spared by Hitler and Stalin. The two totalitarian dictatorships obliterated three million Poles and three million Polish citizens classified as Jews by the Nazis.” Of course some Poles did terrible things. He cites this from a letter written about a wartime incident on a Warsaw bridge: “Another time, on the Kierbedz bridge, a German saw a Pole giving alms to a starving Jewish urchin. He pounced and ordered the Pole to throw the child into the river or else he would be shot along with the young beggar. ‘There is nothing you can do to help him. I will kill him anyway; he is not allowed to be here. You can go free, if you drown him, or I will kill you, too. Drown him or die. I will count . . .1, 2—’ The Pole could not take it. He broke down and threw the child over the rail into the river. The German gave him a pat on the shoulder. ‘Braver Kerl.’ They went their separate ways. Two days later, the Pole hanged himself.” Michnik does not deny the anti-Semitism in Polish culture. “The anti-Semitic tradition compels the Poles to perceive the Jews as aliens while the Polish heroic tradition compels them to save them.” And many thousands did engage in heroic actions to save Jews, even at the risk of their own lives and the lives of their families, during the time of Hitler. “I feel guilty,” he writes, “when I read so often in Polish and foreign newspapers about the murderers who killed Jews, and note the deep silence about those who rescued Jews. Do the murderers deserve more recognition than the righteous?”
• The largest group of Christians in the Middle East are the Copts of Egypt, and they are the object of relentless persecution by militant Muslims, with little or no response from the Mubarak government. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is taking a heightened interest in what is happening there, and Freedom House has published a 130-page meticulously documented book, Massacre at the Millennium, on one aspect of the persecution, the murder of twenty-one Christians in Al-Kosheh. For more information, write Freedom House at Center for Religious Freedom, 1319 18th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.
• As has been frequently pointed out, the right to die almost inevitably morphs into the obligation to die. The Oregon Health Division (OHD) reports that in the third year of that state’s euthanasia law 63 percent of those who sought and received physician-assisted suicide gave as their reason that they feared being a burden to family, friends, and other caregivers. That compares with 23 percent in the second year. In 1999 37 percent were referred for psychiatric evaluation before being euthanized, compared with 19 percent in 2000. The process is also speeding up. It was on average eighty-three days from first request to killing in 1999, compared with a much more efficient thirty days last year. Our Gilbert Meilaender might suggest that it is the family and friends who need to be referred for evaluation. See his “I Want to Burden My Loved Ones” (October 1991), also included in The Eternal Pity (University of Notre Dame Press), edited by Richard John Neuhaus.
• “The Pure American Woman and the Wicked Catholic Priest.” That’s a snappy title for Marie Anne Pagliarini’s article in Religion and American Culture on one aspect of anti-Catholic propaganda in antebellum America. Most people know about Maria Monk’s Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery, written by a group of men headed by J. J. Slocum and published in 1836. But that was only one of some 270 books, twenty-five newspapers, thirteen magazines, and innumerable tracts serving the anti-Catholic market between 1830 and 1860. They all specialized in lurid and frequently pornographic depictions of what Catholic priests allegedly do with women, and with nuns in particular—including seduction, rape, torture, and the killing of unwanted children. Dr. Pagliarini’s article breathes outrage, which is understandable, but the object of her outrage is not the slander against the Catholic Church but the patriarchal Protestant bigots who were exploiting and thereby reinforcing the stereotype of women as pure, innocent, and “passionless.” Such bigotry, she writes, is an instance of “gender roles” employed in what the polymorphously and suicidally perverse Michel Foucault called “bio-power.” A reader might almost draw the conclusion that Dr. Pagliarini would be happier if the priests had been guilty of doing what their enemies accused them of doing, thus constituting themselves as the “transgressive vanguard” of her and M. Foucault’s campaign against oppressive gender roles.
• Not at all fictional, unfortunately, is the pattern of priests raping and otherwise abusing nuns that has been reported to the Vatican. This is happening mainly in Africa, where it seems almost everything is breaking down. Especially heartbreaking in recent years has been the massacre of hundreds of thousands in Burundi and Rwanda, carried out by people who are overwhelmingly Christian, mainly Catholic. In other countries, such as South Africa, a quarter of the adult population is infected by AIDS, and in some the epidemic is reducing life expectancy by as much as twenty years. Massive dislocation is caused by the fact that men must find employment in urban centers far from their wives and children, and therefore from the traditional tribal regulations of sexual relationships, including old-fashioned polygamy. And now it seems the Church is caught up in these commotions even as it seeks to counter them. Nuns are particularly vulnerable, says an observer, because they are not claimed by a man and African customs make it almost impossible for an adolescent or young woman to oppose a man who is older or in a position of authority. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls says the problem is receiving urgent priority, and bishops are working with heads of religious orders both to address particular cases of abuse and to restore discipline among the clergy. I have a long-standing interest in Africa and have traveled extensively there. Recently an African bishop visited, urging me that we should report also on the many positive things happening there. He spoke movingly about the vitality of the people’s faith under calamitous conditions, and I am sure he is right about that. But perhaps one may be forgiven, at least for the moment, for being overwhelmed by the calamity. To think of Africa is to weep. Better, to pray.
• Slight attention has been paid the artistic value of the golden calf that Moses smashed, burned, ground into powder, and then poured into the water that he made the Israelites drink. Until the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan started blowing them up, slight attention, even by art historians, had been paid the Buddhist statues in that faraway country. But all of a sudden the world was in a mode of high moral dudgeon over this unspeakable sacrilege. Crispin Sartwell, author of The Art of Living: Aesthetics of the Ordinary in World Spiritual Traditions, is bemused by our ignorance of the strength of iconoclasm in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic history. He holds no brief for what the Taliban did, but he thinks there is something deeper at work. “But the idolaters that the Taliban are attacking are not the worshipers of the Golden Calf or even of the Buddha. Buddhism has been dead in Afghanistan for a thousand years. The idols they’re obliterating are ours. We of the secular West have to some degree replaced religion with art. Art for us is something holy that must be preserved: housed in fortress-like buildings to which we make pilgrimages, preserved or restored in perpetuity. Art has not always been thought of that way by other cultures. Navajo sand paintings, as beautiful and difficult to make as they are, are traditionally destroyed after the ceremonies for which they are made. Art for us is spiritual, eternal, transcendent. We have made of art a cult, and the work of art is our idol. So the iconoclasts of the modern era horrify us as much as the iconoclasts of the ancient world horrified the pagans. It has seemed at times in the past few days that we are moved more by the plight of the sculptures of Afghanistan than the plight of the Afghan people, who are suffering from a drought and from the oppression of the Taliban rulers themselves. But the Taliban know very well how to horrify us: they know our religion, and they know their own. They’re both enacting a central feature of theirs, and achieving maximum provocation by assaulting ours. This leads to the sad destruction of beautiful things. But it also testifies to the continuing power of images and the continuing power of the great religious traditions.”
• To be fair, an author is not responsible for what the people in the publisher’s publicity department do. To be fair to the people in the publicity department, they probably got their impressions from Father Hans Küng. Those who know Fr. Küng, your scribe included, know it is the impression he gives. The publicity for his little book in the Modern Library, a once prestigious series, describes Küng as “the primary author of Vatican II and one of the Christian world’s great reforming voices.” Elsewhere we are told that he “played the key role in the writing of Vatican II.” The book is called The Catholic Church: A Short History and it concludes with Pope John XXIV and Vatican Council III, of which Hans Küng is undoubtedly the primary author. As you might expect, the Third Vatican Council makes explicit all the changes that for thirty years Küng has been arguing were implicit in the Second Vatican Council. If only in fiction, Fr. Küng got the story to turn out his way after all.
• Randy Gordon, age seventeen. Bryan Zuckor, age fourteen. You never heard of them? You probably did, very briefly. But we have heard a great deal about Charles Andrew Williams, the schoolmate who killed them and wounded thirteen others in Santee, California. Media critic Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal has been listening to all the chatter about what made young Williams “tick,” and all the testimonials by friends and neighbors about what a very nice boy he is. Young killers like Williams, says Rabinowitz, have been given an “inner assurance” that people will understand, and that they will get a great deal of sympathetic publicity. What has been removed is “the most profound inhibition of all—namely, fear of what people would think, what friends, teachers, and authorities would say of them in the face of an act so unimaginable in its horror.” Young Williams was apparently upset by school bullies who had been bothering him. States are now discussing anti-bullying programs for their schools. “Indeed,” writes Rabinowitz, “a newcomer to this story who [listened to the media discussions] could easily have concluded that it was all about a terrible crime that had taken place in a California school-and that the victim was a youth called Charles Andrew Williams.”
• You may recall that a few years ago there was much media hype about a rash of burnings of black churches across the South. It turned out to be just that, hype. But the National Council of Churches and others raised about a million dollars for rebuilding churches that were not burned. The money was spent, of course, on “fighting racism.” Now in Canada, the federal Multiculturalism Minister (yes, they have such an office), Hedy Fry, raised an alarm about racist cross-burnings. That, too, turned out to be fictional. But Lorne Gunter of the Edmonton Journal notes there really was an instance of cross-burning a year earlier in Montreal, when feminists stormed the Catholic cathedral on International Women’s Day, an observance much encouraged by Multiculturalism Minister Fry. “The feminists, hiding behind ski masks, set alight homemade crosses, then stormed the cathedral. They vandalized the walls and altar with spray paint proclaiming No God, no masters. They knocked down elderly nuns, destroyed hymnals and prayer books, smeared the walls with used sanitary napkins, and strewed condoms around, all in the name of tolerance. It seems these protesters could not bear any views on abortion or women’s rights that disagreed with their own. And since the Catholic Church believes all abortion is sin and chooses not to ordain women as priests, well then, its cathedrals were fair game for a good ransacking.” You will probably not be surprised to learn that the Ministry of Multiculturalism had nothing, as in absolutely nothing, to say about what happened in Montreal.
• Writing in Commentary, our new Associate Editor Damon Linker examines the claims of the animal rights movement as very influentially advanced by Steven Wise of Harvard and Peter Singer of Princeton. His conclusion: “It is a curious fact that in virtually all of human history, only in liberal democracies—societies founded on the recognition of the innate dignity of all members of the human race—have animals enjoyed certain minimum protections codified in our own country in the Animal Welfare Act. It is a no less curious fact that these same liberal democracies have become infected over the past decades with a corrosive self-doubt, giving rise in some educated circles to antiliberal, antiwhite, antimale, anti-Western, and now, with perfect logic, antihuman enthusiasms. The proponents of these various but linked ideologies march under a banner of justice and the promise of extending the blessings of equality to one or more excluded Others. Such piety is to be expected in a radical movement seeking well-meaning allies; but it need not deflect us from the main focus of their aggressive passions, which the euthanasia-endorsing Peter Singer, for one, has at least had the candor to admit to. Can anyone really doubt that, were the misanthropic agenda of the animal rights movement actually to succeed, the result would be an increase in man’s inhumanity, to man and animal alike? In the end, fostering our age-old ‘prejudice’ in favor of human dignity may be the best thing we can do for animals, not to mention for ourselves.” Along the way, he writes, “Until the day when a single animal stands up and, led by a love of justice and a sense of self-worth, insists that the world recognize and respect its dignity, all the philosophical gyrations of the activists will remain so much sophistry.” Aside from the possibility that his reference to “stands up” may be a vestige of what the animal rights activists call “speciesism,” Mr. Linker’s argument is entirely on target. But then, you would expect that of someone who is our Associate Editor.
• “God gets a bum rap in ‘Soldiers in the Army of God,’ an unnerving HBO documentary about the most radical segment of the anti-abortion movement,” writes Julie Salamon in the New York Times. Her review leads one to believe that she was indeed unnerved by the program. “Their opposition to abortion is their business, but their righteous murderousness is repellent (and, of course, illegal).” She almost says that killing abortionists is wrong—a position frequently argued in these pages—but apparently does not wish to sound “righteous.” It is sufficient to go on record that she is repelled by people killing other people. Or, as it is usually put these days, it is “inappropriate behavior.” Reminding us that it is also illegal is a nice touch; the law is on the side of her feelings and against theirs. One notes parenthetically that it is a mark of our time that “righteous” and “self-righteous,” which is what she meant to say, are thought to be interchangeable. Ms. Salamon goes on to write that, since the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, seven abortionists and their helpers have been killed. She does not mention that approximately forty million unborn children have been killed. Since, as she notes, the people in the HBO film think abortion is murder, the ratio seems wildly disproportionate. In weighing the life of an unborn child against the life of an adult who kills unborn children, it might be argued that the adult life “counts” for more. Weighing the comparative value of human lives is a dubious business, but one may ask—purely for purposes of discussion, mind you—how many unborn lives it takes to equal the value of one adult life. Ten? In that case, the killing of four million people involved in or supportive of the killing of unborn children would seem to be proportionate. But perhaps there are those who would say that one adult life equals the value of, say, a thousand unborn babies, in which case forty thousand would achieve a form of symmetry. But forty million versus only seven? Little wonder that pro-abortionists frequently taunt pro-lifers, claiming that they can’t really believe that abortion is murder. If they did, it is said, they would have long since blown up every abortuary and every abortionist in the country. It is indeed remarkable that there has been so little violence over these almost thirty years. But the “fanatics” depicted in the HBO film are beyond the pale. Ms. Salamon writes, “These are not rational people agreeing to disagree.” She contrasts them unfavorably with the “clinicians and escorts at abortion clinics who keep doing their job despite the danger.” The reasoning goes like this: “We kill babies, you object to killing babies, so let’s be rational about this and agree to disagree as we get on with our job. Nobody is forcing you to kill babies. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. You should be grateful that we’re willing to do it. It’s almost as though we’re doing it for you.” As I noted, Julie Salamon’s review begins with God getting a bad rap. It ends on a happier note: “As if to restore God’s credibility, the producers end the documentary in a Unitarian church at a memorial service for the two men murdered in front of the Pensacola clinic.” That’s the rational way to handle things. We agree to disagree, unless you disagree. As for Ms. Salamon’s final “as if,” one need only add that God’s credibility was never in question.
• Sola scriptura is the basis of democracy. That overstates somewhat the thesis of Benson Bobrick in Wide as the Waters (Simon & Schuster), which tells the story of Wycliffe, Tyndale, and others who gave the Bible in English to ordinarily believers. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Marc Arkin says the book is a fine read but goes somewhat overboard. “This is the Whig view of history taken to the extreme—the story of a steadily triumphant, Anglocentric liberalism unfolding down to modern times, with the vernacular Bible leading the way. Thus Mr. Bobrick underplays the economic and political forces that contributed to the growth of parliamentary democracy in England, and to the literacy levels that made Bible reading possible. After all, Luther placed Scripture at the center of the faith and gave Germany a vernacular Bible well before England had one. Yet Germany did not attain a stable democracy until the latter half of the twentieth century. Vernacular Scripture may be a necessary condition for egalitarianism, but it certainly isn’t sufficient. Even in communities where the English Bible held sway, the road to democracy was not smooth. In Massachusetts, where devotion to the Bible was once a requirement for the franchise, Quakers were last hanged on Boston Common in 1661; it was the autocratic Catholic sympathizer Charles II who ordered the executions stopped. Not until 1691 was toleration finally imposed on a reluctant Bay Colony by the mother country. Indeed, well after 1800, New Englanders still addressed their betters with their hats in their hands and church pews were assigned according to community status, with the wise and well-to-do placed nearest the Almighty.”
• The words of Moby-Dick, writes theoretical mathematician David Berlinsky, bring a world into being. But what brings the world into being? Scientists addressing such really big questions have in recent years been attached to a number of theories: chaos and nonlinear dynamics, catastrophe theory, game theory, evolutionary entropy, and various notions of complexity and self-organization. “The history of science,” says Berlinsky, “resembles a collection of ghosts remembering that once they too were gods.” Today, information theory is riding high. “Viewed at the most abstract level,” says New York Times science writer George Johnson, “both brains and computers operate the same way by translating phenomena—sounds, images, and so forth—into a code that can be stored and manipulated” (emphasis added). After examining in detail the arguments being made for that proposition, Berlinsky writes: “We are thus returned to our original question: How do symbols—words, strings, DNA—bring a world into being? Apparently they just do.” Current cosmology suggests that the universe began with a big bang, erupting from nothing whatsoever fifteen billion years ago. “Plainly, the creation of something from nothing cannot be explained in terms of the behavior of material objects. This circumstance has prompted some physicists to assign a causative role to the laws of physics themselves. The inference, indeed, is inescapable. For what else is there? ‘It is hard to resist the impression,’ writes the physicist Paul Davies, ‘of something—some influence capable of transcending space-time and the confinements of relativistic causality—possessing an overview of the entire cosmos at the instant of its creation, and manipulating all the causally disconnected parts to go bang with almost exactly the same vigor at the same time.’“ The laws of physics begin to sound something like a deity. They are, says philosopher Mary Hesse, “universal and eternal, comprehensive without exception (omnipotent), independent of knowledge (absolute), and encompassing all possible knowledge (omniscient).” Such scientific-philosophical thought, says Berlinsky, edges up to the very limits of the plausible. “A novel brings a world into creation; a complicated molecule an organism. But these are the low taverns of thought. It is only when information is assigned the power to bring something into existence from nothing whatsoever that its essentially magical nature is revealed. And contemplating magic on this scale prompts a final question. Just how did the information latent in the fundamental laws of physics unfold itself to become a world? Apparently it just did.” One might be tempted to dismiss Berlinsky’s ponderings as an instance of taking the very long way around to get to You Know Who, but the temptation should be resisted. For those who view faith as an alien imposition on reason, as well as for those who hold to a reasoned faith, it is always important to demonstrate again and again, even by long ways around, that all that is true is ordered to the truth.
• Here’s a fine dustup. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is suing the new American Unitarian Association (AUA) for using the name Unitarian. AUA accuses UUA of abandoning “classical,” “traditional,” and “historic” Unitarianism. The AUA press release edges dangerously close to saying “orthodox.” The release charges that “Unitarian-Universalism has fully embraced polytheistic religions that totally contradict the name Unitarian.” Since it started as a protest against the Christian doctrine of the Trinity—the three Persons in one God—the AUA would seem to be on solid ground in claiming that Unitarianism is incompatible with belief in an open-ended number of gods and goddesses. But I confess that figuring out how an anti-credal tradition determines who is faithful to its creed is beyond my powers.
• “It is absolutely shocking to see some of the people who have been chosen to help create federal policy on church-state partnership,” declares Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. His reference is to a largely honorary advisory committee appointed by the Republican congressional leadership. Lynn, ignoring the well-established rule of the homiletical suspension of rhetorical temperance, cites insensitive remarks about other groups made by black clergy on the committee. I mention this only because of my interest in contemplating Mr. Lynn—whose job, like that of Captain Renault in Casablanca, requires being routinely shocked—in a state of absolute shock. It is a terrifying prospect.
• Yes, I am intensely interested in, but I hope not obsessed by, the reception of James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews. The other week at a Barnes & Noble book signing for Death on a Friday Afternoon, copies of Carroll’s book were stacked six feet high at the entrance and the manager told me it is selling briskly. It seems likely that many minds and souls are being poisoned, for this is a deeply bad book. In addition to our own review by Thomas F. X. Noble (May), I have noted in this space critiques of Carroll’s self-indulgent travesty of history and theology appearing in other publications. What is left to be said? I have not noticed elsewhere this observation by the distinguished historian John Lukacs: “Yes, during two thousand years there were, and presumably there still are, Catholics who hate Jews and wish to have them killed. Laymen and laywomen but also priests and friars and preachers (though no popes). But in his very American and anti-authoritarian way, Carroll misses the focus of the danger wholly. The danger, not only to Jews but to the Church and faith itself, is not authoritarianism but populism. Here and there Carroll notices this without paying attention to it. The persecution of the Jews in Spain was a populist demand, to which the King and the Queen reluctantly agreed (though the Pope did not). Why was Hitler dangerous? Because he was both populist and popular.” If Constantinianism means the Church compromising herself in accommodating the powers of the world, it takes a quite different form today, says Lukacs: “And now, when popular sovereignty is the dominant political configuration throughout the globe, the trouble is not that a cross stands on a hill at Auschwitz. It is that a pastor of a church where I attended Mass on the last Sunday of January in a.d. 2001 should have begun his sermon thus: ‘Let me tell you now the story of the angels and saints in heaven as they are watching the Super Bowl.’“
• Here’s a double standard that may have escaped your attention. Columnist Terry Golway writes in the New York Observer that religious organizations are worrying out loud about the dangers of being corrupted if they accept government money for their social service programs. “This is not the kind of introspection one associates with some other beneficiaries of federal largesse, i.e., the artists, museums, and other cultural organizations whose consciences are untroubled by the flow of money from the National Endowment for the Arts and from the budgets of local governments. Rather than wring their hands about the possible corrupting influence of government money, a generation of artists has come to believe that publicly funded grants are an entitlement, and those who either oppose them outright or seek some kind of review process are nothing more than neo-Fascist shredders of the right to free expression. Faith-based organizations may torture themselves about the rules that accompany federal money; artists believe that rules simply don’t apply to them. Free expression, don’t you know? It’s in the Constitution! Indeed it is—contained in the same amendment that guarantees religious freedom.” Artists, Golway notes, plead the First Amendment when government (a.k.a. Rudy Giuliani) suggests that it has a right to withhold money from artistic exhibitions that taxpayers find offensive. “That’s a valid and indeed honorable argument, so one might expect right-thinking artists to stand alongside their brothers and sisters in the First Amendment as the nation’s religious organizations attempt to balance their right to religious belief with the acceptance of government money. One suspects, however, that the denizens of Dante’s Inferno will be turning triple axles before the nation’s artists will person the barricades on behalf of Pat Robertson’s right to worship as he sees fit while taking federal money to minister to the poor. So some of the very same people who believe cultural organizations owe no obligation to public sensibilities when they take taxpayer funds are prepared to argue that religious organizations must abide by the government’s political dictates if they take the government’s money. If that infringes on religious belief—well, nobody is forcing these organizations to take tax dollars. Those who use a similar argument on matters artistic, of course, will find themselves condemned as censors.”
• Michael Joyce has retired as president of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee. It is not the kind of thing I would ordinarily mention here, except that he is a very dear friend and colleague, and except that you might not be reading this journal were it not for Mike Joyce. Bradley is by no means the largest foundation in the country (it ranks about seventieth), but under Mike Joyce’s fifteen years of leadership it has probably been the most imaginatively constructive. Catalytic is the word. You can do a lot with a little, if you know what you’re doing, as was demonstrated in working with Mike Joyce. Through subscriptions, advertising, and the generous support of readers—especially in response to the annual appeal—this journal manages to survive, but it and the other programs of the Institute on Religion and Public Life are also sustained by Mike Joyce and Bradley. By his strategic thinking and judicious funding, Mike has made a singular contribution to many good causes, notably to parental choice in education and opening opportunities for children in the inner city. His is the gratification of knowing that, many years from now, kids who might have been in jail will be productive citizens, in large part because of the good citizenship of Mike Joyce and Bradley. I don’t know what Mike will do next (he is, from my perspective, a relatively young man), but I hope to be part of it.
• My colleague Jim Nuechterlein wrote recently about the moral ambiguities that attend being identified as German (“Pride and Patriotism,” May). Germans in Germany are sensitive about that, and it was a factor reportedly underscored by almost all Catholic and Lutheran bishops in their Easter sermons this year. The occasion was the Dutch decision to become the first nation to legislate a broad legalization of euthanasia. Karl Cardinal Lehmann, head of the Catholic bishops conference, declared that the Dutch action was a betrayal of the European moral and cultural tradition. “We are already in the midst of a culture of death,” he said. Joachim Cardinal Meisner of Cologne asserted that only a “sick and psychologically degenerate” society could approve such a law. The Germans, of course, have powerful reasons to be alert to the violation of the fragile protocols of civilization. Their universities have denied a platform to Princeton’s Peter Singer and his advocacy of infanticide, euthanasia, and eugenics, and strict limits are placed on what can be said in public about, for instance, the growing presence of Muslim immigrants in Europe. Free speech absolutists protest such limits, of course, but, in view of its history, one is inclined to cut Germany considerable slack on this score. As for euthanasia and related aspects of the culture of death, the poignant oddity of the Germans reproaching the Dutch is that, during the latter’s occupation by the former in World War II, the Dutch had a sterling record of resisting the lethal policies of the Nazis. It is suggested that the Netherlands should be given to understand that it is fast turning itself into a pariah nation. To someone who is planning a vacation or meeting in Amsterdam, one might innocently ask the question, “They kill old, weak, and unhappy people, don’t they?”
• Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen says he has “qualms” about abortion, but he certainly doesn’t want to be associated with people who advocate killing abortionists. James K. Fitzpatrick’s article, “A Pro-Life Loss of Nerve?“ (FT, December 2000), to which Cohen twice refers, is of course an argument against the use of violence in the pro-life cause. But what with two columns per week and other deadlines, Mr. Cohen’s is undoubtedly a very busy life. And, after all, he gets paid for writing, not reading.
• Oh, dear. The editors of America, the Jesuit weekly, are at it again, railing against the “inquisitorial methods” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and demanding that it “be dismantled without delay.” “Father [Jacques] Dupuis joins a long list of eminent Catholic theologians who have been harassed by the congregation,” the editors declare, and then go on to list precisely four others who have run into trouble with CDF during the entire twenty-three years of this pontificate. Actually there have been more than four, perhaps six or seven. But, according to the editors, “The congregation has gone full speed ahead with its investigations of theologians around the world.” Moreover, America complains that when CDF has determined that the writings of a theologian may be dangerously erroneous, it notifies the author and his ecclesiastical superiors of its concern. “Since the media usually learn of the judgment, the author’s reputation is stained,” the editors say. If leaking to the media is the problem, it would seem to follow that there should be more secrecy rather than less in CDF procedures. Needless to say, the workings of CDF are not beyond criticism, but the fact is that it is typically the theologian in question who goes to the media. Hans Küng, for instance, has made a very good thing out of his difficulties with CDF many years ago when Rome still took him seriously. And then there was the former priest Matthew Fox, who took out a full-page ad in the New York Times with the headline, “I HAVE BEEN SILENCED!” The core wrongheadedness of the America editors is that they entirely ignore the uniqueness of the Church’s responsibility to guard “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Their only criterion is what they call “modern notions of due process.” They condemn CDF for referring to ideas as “erroneous” and “dangerous.” “Only totalitarian states use such expressions,” the editors harrumph. They’re right about that, of course. Democratic states do not presume to judge erroneous and dangerous ideas, but what does that have to do with the Church? Vatican City is a tiny state, but Vatican City is not the Church. The Church is not a state, democratic or otherwise. There are, to be sure, political and legal dimensions of the life of the Church, but the constituting definition of the Church is theological, and it is theology that is entirely missing in America‘s discussion. The editors speak as if they might be discussing due process with respect to policy disagreements in the Department of Health and Human Services. The Church is constituted by revealed truth, and, while truth is more than ideas, it is also inseparable from ideas. Certainly distinctions should be made. “There is a difference,” the editors write, “between denying the faith and being in error on some minor issue. There is also a difference between being truly dangerous and being judged dangerous by some fearful people.” The first statement is a truism, and the second is a most uncharitable-and, in my experience, grossly inaccurate—judgment of those who work in CDF, beginning with its prefect, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. “Finally,” says America, “no human court is immune to mistake. Appeals must be allowed.” True, CDF may make mistakes, but to whom should a judgment be appealed? The editorial has already noted that the Pope approves CDF decisions (the implication is that the Pope doesn’t realize that he is being used by CDF), so it would seem that appeals cannot be directed to the Pope. Perhaps the appeal should be to the guild of academic theologians? Review by peers who are frequently partners in dissent is not likely to carry much credibility. There is the additional problem that the mandate and charism for authoritative teaching is given to Peter and the apostolic college, not to the academy. Going outside the community of theological discourse, dissenting theologians do appeal to America and, to the best of my recollection, are without exception found appealing and granted a favorable judgment. But, of course, the judgments of the editors of America are determinative of nothing, and there’s the rub. The editorial, “Due Process in the Church,” is argued in such strident and slapdash fashion that perhaps not too much should be made of it. Were one to take it more seriously than it deserves, however, it would not be inaccurate to say that it is, at least by implication, a denial of what the Catholic Church holds regarding the teaching authority, or Magisterium, of the Church. Perhaps to the disappointment of its authors, the editorial received little attention and, while clearly erroneous, did not rise to the status of dangerous in the judgment of CDF or anyone else. Maybe that is because CDF is too busy, what with its going “full speed ahead with its investigations of theologians around the world.” Theologians first. The editors of America will just have to wait their turn.
• Publishers Weekly, in a special issue covering LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) books, says this niche market has been sliding since 1993, which was widely celebrated as the Year of the Gays, when “major publishers became intoxicated by an irrational exuberance for lesbian and gay titles.” Will Schwalbe, the gay editorial director of Hyperion, says, “I just don’t see gay men reading much or getting excited about books. In addition to movies, they’re watching cable programs like Queer as Folk and TV shows like Will and Grace.” Perhaps predictably, LGBT writers and publishers are turning to younger people. “The real new story,” says David Rosen of InsightOutBooks, “is the emergence of what I call ‘hijinks in high school’ books dealing with sexuality in high school.” PW comments: “This phenomenon is reflected in the fact that two mainstream houses are openly addressing the issue of same-sex teen experience in novels directed to an ages twelve-and-up readership.” The youth of today are the market of tomorrow, and, for that matter, of today.
• Uh-oh. The headline in the Washington Post reads, “Ashcroft’s Faith Plays Visible Role at Justice.” Visible, as distinct from invisible, faith is, it seems, doubtfully constitutional. The gist of the story is that the Attorney General begins the day with a brief Bible study session in his office. The session is open to anyone who wants to come, and attendance ranges from a dozen or so to as many as thirty. The reporter, Dan Eggen, called up the usual suspects and elicited their deep worries about Ashcroft violating the separation of church and state. There is no reference to President Thomas Jefferson having regularly attended Sunday services in the Senate chamber. The story does mention that President Bush also begins the day with Bible study, but he does so alone and therefore, presumably, without visible faith, or without his faith playing a visible role, or whatever. In addition to its many other responsibilities on behalf of the common good, the Post has assumed a heavy task in determining whether the faith of public officials has a role, visible or invisible, in how they do their jobs. This requires, I should think, the most careful examination and spiritual discernment. And, of course, one counts on the Post to take account of the variety of faiths and non-faiths involved. For instance, we might look forward to a story by Mr. Eggen with the headline, “Deputy Secretary’s Secularism Plays Visible Role at State”—or Defense, or HHS, or wherever. The inquisitor’s lot is not an easy one.
• It is a major development in the public argument about homosexuality. The study presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) is by Dr. Robert Spitzer, Chief of Biometrics Research and Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University in New York. Dr. Spitzer describes himself as a secular humanist Jew and was the leading figure in the 1973 APA decision that removed homosexuality from the official diagnostic manual of mental disorders. “Like most psychiatrists, I thought that homosexual behavior could only be resisted, and that no one could really change their sexual orientation. I now believe that to be false. Some people can and do change,” said Spitzer. The study included hundreds of men and women who have experienced a significant shift from homosexual to heterosexual attraction and have sustained the change for at least five years. Three-quarters of the men and half of the women are now married. Not surprisingly, the study has met with furious criticism from gay advocates. Dr. Spitzer’s principled view is very simple: “I believe patients should have the right to explore their heterosexual potential.” (For more information on the study and other pertinent research, write to the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, 16633 Ventura Blvd., Suite 1340, Encino, California 91436, or visit www.narth.com.)
• It is true that, from time to time, I have offered a barbed, even caustic, comment on what purports to be our newspaper of record. Then there are those moments when I am forced to wonder how those whose matinal routine does not include perusing the Times manage to get by. Here, for instance, is the headline of a major story: “School Bullying Is Common, Mostly by Boys, Study Finds.” Sociologists of knowledge describe such moments as “Ah, ha!” experiences. Just when you’re thinking of giving her up, the old painted lady once again demonstrates her indispensability.
• Over lunch with a cardinal of the Roman curia, the discussion turned to perennially troubled relations with Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims. “What you have to understand,” the cardinal told me, “is that this Pope has no shame.” By that he meant that it is not possible to shame the Pope into not trying again. You can revile him, rebuff him, and insult him, but he keeps coming back, holding out his hand in a relentless search for understanding and reconciliation. The Pope’s determination was sorely tested again during his May pilgrimage to Greece. There some Orthodox clergy publicly invoked curses upon the “arch-heretic” and “two-horned grotesque monster of Rome” (referring to his bishop’s miter). Christodoulos, the head of the Greek church, greeted him by reading a bill of indictment, listing centuries of Orthodox grievances against the West. In accord with his call for a “purification of memories,” John Paul calmly responded with an acknowledgment of sins against Orthodoxy by Catholics, and prayed for God’s forgiving and healing love. Some Catholics have given expression to an impatience that the Pope always manages to contain. Here, for instance, is Rod Dreher, writing in the Wall Street Journal: “Seizing the moment, he has not only asked forgiveness for the historical sins of Catholicism, but has also gone to astonishing lengths to accommodate the obstreperous Orthodox—even putting the nature of the papacy on the table for discussion. He has suffered repeated insult from Eastern churchmen—including a scandalous 1991 rebuke at a ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica—yet returned hatred with affection. To little avail, alas. If the fathomless humility and charitable witness of this great and good pontiff (great because he is good) bear fruit in the East, it will almost certainly not be in his lifetime. Word has not yet reached Mt. Athos that the new Babylon is not Rome but Hollywood and the shopping mall. (How’s that for a two-horned monster?) But it will. By the time the Orthodox awaken from their self-satisfaction and grasp the true nature of the spiritual and moral crisis engulfing their respective cultures, what will they do to fight it? Perhaps they will consult Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae, as well as other prophetic writings of John Paul II, an authentic Christian humanist who truly grasped the promise and the peril of the postmodern world. Too late, it may dawn on the Orthodox religious authorities what kind of wise and holy man they, in their narrow-mindedness and pride, rejected out of hand. Tragic? Yes. But in the Gospels, you’ll find precedent for this sort of thing.” As it happened, Christodoulos seemed very much taken with John Paul’s response to his bristling indictment, and even went so far as to join him in publicly praying the Our Father. That was no little step, since prayer with an “arch-heretic” is strictly forbidden. Moreover, Christodoulos seemed to suggest that he would use his influence to soften the hostility of the Moscow Patriarchate, perhaps making possible, at long last, a papal visit to Russia. Shamelessness, rightly understood, may be a virtue to be cultivated.
• The new Progressive Religious Partnership, an organizational potpourri of radicalisms past and present, held its organizing conference in Washington. “Between the speeches and plenary discussions,” reports the Christian Century, “conference participants broke into workshops on AIDS, the 2000 presidential election, missile defense, sweatshops, welfare, school vouchers, capital punishment, ecology, reproductive rights, and same-sex unions, among other topics.” Said Rabbi Steven Jacobs of a Reform temple in Los Angeles, “We are not spraying bullets all over the place. . . . Sexual justice is part of the threat that runs through all of these issues and all are part of the progressive agenda for America.” I don’t know what that means; perhaps that missile defense, for instance, might trigger a nuclear conflict that could have devastating consequences for gay, lesbian, and transgendered persons.
• In the May issue I ran a fictional letter to Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the popular giver of advice, in which the author joshed her for quoting the Bible in condemning homosexual acts as an “abomination.” In a humorous vein, the author asked her how we ought to implement the death penalty for other capital offenses specified in Exodus and Leviticus. I said that the letter was a useful reminder that the case against same-sex relations cannot be made by cherry-picking Bible passages but requires a considered understanding of human sexuality based on both natural law and revealed truth. Several readers tell me that I should have added that the tradition of rabbinical commentary on Torah contains clear and sophisticated distinctions in applying the proscriptions mentioned in the letter, and they are right. The item was directed at a style of “proof-texting” common among some Christians, and should not have been directed at Dr. Schlessinger, who is an observant Jew. For an example of the kind of considered statement by Jews and Christians that I was recommending, see the Ramsey Colloquium’s “The Homosexual Movement“ (FT, March 1994). As for the letter to Dr. Laura, the writer was trying to be too clever by half, and I should not have run it. Even Homer nods, and I’m no Homer.
• President Bush seems to be meeting with everyone, so we should not be surprised that he got around to meeting with the bishops of his own United Methodist Church. There wasn’t a mention of the meeting in the general media, so I thought you should know that the bishops rebuked Bush for his anti-missile defense system, insisted that the U.S. cease its “war games” in Korea, and reduce aid to Israel for its oppression of the Palestinians, among other things. They also promised to pray for the President. Mark Tooley, a United Methodist with the Institute on Religion and Democracy, says there are several reasons why nobody paid any mind to the meeting. First, reporters know that the bishops do not speak for United Methodists, who overwhelmingly vote Republican. Then there is the fact that United Methodists are so dull. Southern Baptists can be “entertaining when they want to be,” and “Catholics are good at shows and ceremony,” and Episcopalians are forever into “squabbles over sex,” while “There are few things more middle American and therefore less exciting than a Methodist.” (This is Tooley, please note, not me.) But the main problem, he suggests, is that the UM bishops are just so fatuously and incessantly dumb in their sanctimonious reiteration of leftist bromides. (That’s my paraphrase of what I think he is suggesting.) But he’s glad the bishops said that they’re praying for the President. He recalls the Republican Senators who met with a gravely ill President Woodrow Wilson and assured him of their ardent petitions to heaven. “For which result are you praying?” Wilson asked.
• Some kind of medal for doggedly persistent ideological commitment is owed British Columbia’s College of Teachers, which certifies educational programs and teachers. Or doesn’t, as the case may be. As, in fact, was the case with Trinity Western University, which asks students and teachers to sign a “community standards agreement” that precludes involvement in “premarital sex, adultery, and homosexual behavior.” The school also asks students to refrain from cheating and stealing, so you can see what a nest of fanaticism Trinity Western is. But it was the homosexuality bit that pushed the buttons of the College of Teachers. Despite losing at every level, they pushed the case through the courts for six years. This spring the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 8-1 that there was no evidence that Trinity Western teachers had discriminated against or otherwise mistreated homosexual children. A great victory for religious freedom? Perhaps not. Critics claim that the ruling turns on the premise that religiously based moral conviction is not a problem if one keeps one’s convictions to oneself. If a teacher had suggested in a classroom that there might be something wrong with premarital sex, never mind homogenital sex, the logic of the ruling would seem to require that the Court come down on the other side. Nonetheless, the 8-1 decision is to be welcomed. For the moment, it is legal in Canada to believe what almost all Christians have believed for two thousand years, as long as you keep it to yourself. Having said that, I should add that my friend Iain Benson, a distinguished lawyer with the Centre for Cultural Renewal, takes a much more hopeful view of the Court’s decision, and of course I hope he is right.
• What do you suppose the New York Times knows that the U.S. State Department, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, the Atlantic Monthly, the Baltimore Sun, and others do not know? Here is a story by Jane Perlez claiming that Africa expert Chester Crocker wants assurances from Secretary Colin Powell that he will be shielded from political pressure by religious conservatives if he accepts the position of special envoy to deal with the atrocities in Sudan. Ms. Perlez writes: “The conflict has become a lightning rod for Christian advocates and for black lawmakers because of what they call the Sudan government’s policy of allowing Christian black Sudanese to be abducted and sent into slavery in the Islamic north. Some church groups have financed ‘redemption’ missions, in which visiting Americans pay money to ‘free’ abductees.” That snide and dismissive “they call” is interesting. In fact, the U.S. State Department official reports (also under President Clinton) and the above-named human rights groups and publications have all documented in detail that the Khartoum regime is engaged in slaving. Of at least equal interest is putting “free” in quotes. If there are slaves (and there are), and if they are being bought back from slavery (and they are), it would follow that they are being freed. So what does the Times know that nobody else knows? Nothing. Except that it believes no opportunity should be missed to take a whack at the insidious influence of religious conservatives, especially when they succeed in roping in some gullible “black lawmakers.” Imagine a story in the Times with this line: “Gay advocates are seeking ‘protection’ from what they call discrimination.” Imagine away.
• Abraham Brumberg was clearly not the person to review Jan T. Gross’ best-selling Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland. The accepted story for years was that the 1941 slaughter of 1,600 Jews in the town of Jedwabne was carried out by the Nazis. (Investigations now going on suggest that the number of people killed may be much less.) In his book Gross contends that, in fact, the anti-Semitic non-Jewish half of the town, freed to do so by the Nazi occupation, killed off the Jewish half, and did so with unspeakable brutality. Brumberg, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, goes farther, offering a sweeping indictment of inveterate Polish anti-Semitism and eager collaboration with the Nazis. That prompts Norman Davies, the distinguished British historian of modern Europe, to a spirited response: “On the wider aspects of collaboration, Brumberg does his best to associate wrong-doing exclusively with Poles. He does so by saying nothing about collaboration with the Soviets, who in 1939-41 were killing and deporting considerably more people than the Nazis were, and by harping on Polish police, Polish round-ups, and Polish Jew-haters. It is all done on the false assertion that it is somehow ‘insensitive’ to mention Jewish policemen, Jewish round-ups, Jewish informers, Jewish Pole-haters, Jewish kapos, or the Jewish Councils which administered the Nazi-built ghettos. The bias is blatant. The fundamental fact is that the totalitarian regimes could tempt or coerce members of any ethnic community to do their dirty work for them. We should take note of everything, but should treat it with compassion. Brumberg writes of the nasty, anti-Semitic ‘reptile press’ which flourished in Nazi-occupied Poland. It should not be forgotten. There was definitely one sector of Polish opinion that was hostile to Jews, and there were certainly people around, as there would have been in Britain or America, who were willing to consume the filth. What Brumberg fails to mention is that all wartime newspapers in the Greater Reich were overseen by Nazi propagandists, all were controlled by Nazi-appointed editors, and all were subject to Nazi censors. They did not reflect public opinion as a whole, and were widely boycotted.” On these and other scores, Davies concludes that the readers of TLS “have not been well served” by Brumberg’s review. As best I can tell from the conflicting accounts, the most accurate way of putting it is that what happened in Jedwabne was part of the Nazi-directed extermination program, carried out in this case with the enthusiastic help of some Polish thugs. In this and similar tragedies, there is no place for making excuses. And the French maxim that “To understand all is to forgive all” must be firmly rejected. Just as surely, however, ethnic identity provides no license for slandering an entire people, as Mr. Brumberg does. As for Davies’ point about Jewish collaboration with the Nazi exterminators, it is an exceedingly delicate subject, as Hannah Arendt discovered after publishing Eichmann in Jerusalem. But Davies is surely right: “The fundamental fact is that the totalitarian regimes could tempt or coerce members of any ethnic community to do their dirty work for them.” The appropriate response is to be grateful that we do not live under such terror and, remembering those who did, to walk humbly with our God.
• The planners of the painfully correct Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York almost certainly did not intend such a fitting combination. In a series of presentations on “The Phenomenon of Heroism,” Alexander Sanger of Planned Parenthood, the grandson of Margaret Sanger, is scheduled for one day, followed the next day by Theodore Fenstermacher, the assistant prosecutor at Nuremberg.
• More than two hundred Lutheran pastors participated in the ordination of out-of-the-closet lesbian Anita Hill (no, not that Anita Hill) at St. Paul-Reformation Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. In Forum Letter, Editor Russell Saltzman opines that this represents the “critical mass” that gay advocates have been working for, making it almost certain that no bishop or congregation will in the future pay a price in connection with the ordination of sexually active homosexuals. At the same time, very Protestant opponents in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are successfully opposing the provision of the full communion agreement with the Episcopalians which requires that future Lutheran ordinations be brought within the orbit of what Episcopalians understand to be apostolic succession. It appears now that “exceptions” will be countenanced, even “planned,” by the ELCA, thus threatening the Lutheran-Episcopal agreement spelled out in Called to Common Mission. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church has written the ELCA, “Our church voted for CCM as it stands, we want CCM to work, and we believe that it can.” The ELCA nonetheless approved a bylaw allowing for exceptions and will submit it to the churchwide assembly, where it stands a very good chance of passing. As for the matter of ordaining the homogenitally active, Saltzman believes it will not be brought to a vote by the churchwide assembly, where it would almost certainly lose. Rather, the practice is established as a fait accompli that effectively nullifies the standards that will remain officially on the books. Saltzman declares that “the ecclesial unity of the ELCA is at an end. . . . When official standards are regularly excepted, informal exceptions will swiftly become unofficially official. That means the ELCA is nearly over in all but form.” As one of those Neuhaus Laws has it, When orthodoxy is optional, it will sooner or later be proscribed. As for whether the ELCA is at an end, one may paraphrase General MacArthur: “Old denominations never die . . .”
• The judicial usurpation of politics you know about, but the judicial usurpation of sports? That, it would seem, is clearly what is in prospect with the Supreme Court’s 7-2 ruling in PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin that the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) gives Martin the right to ride a golf cart in tournaments. Here we have the Supreme Court overruling the PGA on the question of what does and does not belong to the essence of the game of golf, and only Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia caught the sad humor of it. What’s next? We don’t have to guess. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, and the Dwarf Athletic Association were among organizations entering briefs for Martin. In progressive circles it has been argued for decades that sports violate the principle of equality because they are competitive. It is not entirely improbable that somewhere in those famous penumbras of the Constitution will soon be discovered a prohibition of competitive sports, at least when they result in there being winners and losers. Competition guaranteeing equal outcomes will likely pass constitutional muster.
• This is very nice. Christianity Today has polled its large panel of judges and bestowed its annual book awards. Of the top twelve for the year, Death on a Friday Afternoon is listed as third. Whether that means it came in third, I don’t know, but I’ll accept the honor, gratefully. I note also that it is the only book in the top twelve that is not by an evangelical Protestant and is not from an evangelical publishing house. What does that say about Christianity Today and its judges? What does that say about me? How should I know?
• I speculated some months ago that the reason there is no anxious chatter about who is going to run the Village Voice is that the Times has in recent years pretty much co-opted the countercultural turf that used to be commanded by the Voice. As though to complete the takeover, the Times has announced that, for the first time in history, it will publish (gasp) personal advertisements. Another paper, the Observer, gives us an idea of what to expect: “PORTNOY’S NOT COMPLAINING! Sixty-something DJM, writer, seeks buxom shiksa goddess under thirty for long discussions about self, constipation. Just looking for fun, but possible tragic romance. Must agree that: Bellow is overrated; Updike is goofy-looking. Have plenty of passports on hand for those last-minute impulse trips.” The Times assures its readers that they will monitor for “taste.” All the angst that’s fit to print.
• Dominican Father Paul Philibert addressing the National Federation of Priests’ Councils in Baltimore: “Like Jesus, our ministry is not about doing things for other people, but empowering them to become—like the seventy-two disciples—evangelizers in the culture, in the economy, in the family, in the neighborhood, and in the world.” As he said, “I have come neither to be served nor to serve, but to empower you.”
• Now she’s gone and done it. She’s been promising to for a long time, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting it. Midge Decter has written the story of her life. It’s called An Old Wife’s Tale and is published by Regan Books, a HarperCollins imprint (208 pages,, $26). Of course I read with particular interest her account of the five years when she was distinguished fellow here at the Institute. Her account is generous and tender, although she is excessively self-deprecating about the contribution she made to First Things. There was not a day that I was not grateful for her being with us, as I cannot imagine a day when I will not be grateful for her friendship. Starting out as a precocious child in St. Paul, Minnesota, determined to make it in New York, Midge’s life has engaged most of the movements and arguments that have shaped and misshaped American life in the past half century. Especially the Cold War and the sundry feminisms that have come down the pike. One great merit of An Old Wife’s Tale is to remind us of how long our cultural disorientations have been around. Midge still serves on our board, and at the annual meeting a while back another member was going on about how this development and that spelled defeat for all we cherish. Midge’s succinct and utterly characteristic response: “It’s never over.” She is a master of polemics touched by grace. Readers will remember her Erasmus Lecture, “A Jew in Anti-Christian America” (FT, October 1995). It took more than a little courage to make the case that the much traduced “religious right” is, all in all, also good for the Jews. But Midge is a person who makes courage seem like something that comes naturally. An Old Wife’s Tale, however, is not only, is not even chiefly, about public battles. It is about being a woman, a mother, and a grandmother, all of which could not be without being a wife. She is married, as all the world knows, to Norman Podhoretz. She makes it sound easy, which to those who know Norman will come as something of a surprise. But then, there is an easiness to so much of Midge’s way of being; a gratitude for so much good in life, if only we did not stupidly complexify it with crazy ideas and impossible attempts to live against the grain. She has many public achievements to her credit, and An Old Wife’s Tale is not without an argumentative edge, but mostly it is the story of an enormously gifted woman who is enormously grateful. Which is why I cannot imagine a time when I will not be grateful for her friendship. And why many thousands of readers will, I am confident, give thanks for An Old Wife’s Tale.
• “We have learned that nature made us to ask big questions that have no answers,” said the very bright college senior to her uncle. “Now why do you suppose nature would do that?” he asked. “I don’t know. That’s precisely my point. That’s a big question that has no answer. Or at least we’ll probably never know the answer completely. Nature is very mysterious.” That’s a fairly commonplace exchange. It or something very much like it is probably happening in some college dorm room at this very moment. Frederik Jozef Belinfante, who with Wolfgang Pauli did famous work on the statistical laws of electron interaction, said this: “If I get the impression that Nature itself makes the decisive choice what possibility to realize, where quantum theory says that more than one outcome is possible, then I am ascribing personality to Nature, that is, to something that is always everywhere. Omnipresent eternal personality which is omnipotent in making the decisions that are left undetermined by physical law is exactly what in the language of religion is called God.” That striking observation is quoted in Jeffrey Satinover’s new book, The Quantum Brain (Wiley). He also quotes the great English physicist Sir Arthur Eddington, who warned: “It would probably be wiser to nail up over the door of the new quantum theory a notice, ‘Structural alterations in progress—No admittance except on business,’ and particularly to warn the doorkeeper to keep out prying philosophers.” Satinover, a contributor to these pages, is a prying psychiatrist of a philosophical bent who for some years now has been getting around the doorkeepers of scientific secrets that, as a matter of fact, are not so much secret as they are little noticed or little thought about by almost everyone except those who attend to them “on business.” The Quantum Brain is an adventuresome book that, as they say, presses the envelope. The adventuresome George Gilder calls it “the first great book” of the twenty-first century. Satinover makes the science accessible, although it will provide a vigorous workout for the scientifically challenged. While looking forward to our review of the book, written by a scientist with a better command of the pertinent facts and theories, I feel confident in recommending The Quantum Brain to readers with a particular interest in the overlapping truths of physics, philosophy, and religion. I was going to stop there, but I cannot resist one more of the many elegant quotes with which the book is spiced. This is from Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary (1906): “Mind: A mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain. Its chief activity consists in the endeavor to ascertain its own nature, the futility of the attempt being due to the fact that it has nothing but itself to know itself with.” As I say, we will be returning to the mysterious mind of Jeffrey Satinover exploring the transcendence of matter in ways that matter.
• Here’s a nice kind of problem to have. The kind you can do something about, at least if you have any influence with libraries or bookstores that do not carry FT. Especially university and college libraries (and sometimes departmental libraries), as well as parish libraries. The big book chains usually have FT, but then we get inquiries as to why some don’t. In some cases, the answer is that they only carry a few copies and they’re soon sold out. In others, we have no idea what the answer is. In all cases, the customer on the spot is in a good position to help rectify what is wrong. Many thanks.
• The couple whose romance and flourishing marriage began when he sighted her reading First Things in the college library may not be typical. But all kinds of good things can happen through First Things connections. We will be happy to send a sample issue of this journal to people you think are likely subscribers. Please send names and addresses to First Things, 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, New York, New York, 10010 (or e-mail to subscriberservices@ pma-inc.net). On the other hand, if they’re ready to subscribe, call toll free 1-877-905-9920, or visit old.firstthings.com.
“We Piped and You Did Not Dance,” Anti-Defamation League ad, New York Times, May 13, 2001; Rabbi Daniel Lapin, Toward Tradition press release, May 14, 2001; Cragg Hines, Houston Chronicle, May 9, 2001; Bishop Joseph Fiorenza letter, New York Times, May 11, 2001; Eugene Fisher letter, New York Times, May 15, 2001; Walter Cardinal Kasper letter to Abraham Foxman, Jewish Week, June 8, 2001.
While We’re At It: David Skinner on Dinesh D’Souza, Public Interest, Winter 2001. Mark Shields on the election, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 5, 2001. On Richard Wurmbrand, Tablet, March 3, 2001. Adam Michnik on Polish guilt, New York Times, March 17, 2001. Statistics on euthanasia in Oregon, National Right-to-Life News, March 2001. “The Pure American Woman and the Wicked Catholic Priest,” Religion and American Culture, Winter 1999. Catholic violence in Africa, ZENIT, March 21, 2001. Dorothy Rabinowitz on school shootings, Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2001. Damon Linker on animal rights, Commentary, April 2001. Review of HBO film “Soldiers in the Army of God,” New York Times, March 31, 2001. Marc Arkin review of Wide as the Waters, Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2001. David Berlinsky on information theory, Commentary, April 2001. Unitarian dustup, American Unitarian Association press release, April 5, 2001. On Barry Lynn’s absolute shock, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State press release, April 17, 2001. John Lukacs on Catholic anti-Semitism, Inside the Vatican, March/April 2001. Terry Golway on double standards in public funding, New York Observer, April 16, 2001. German bishops on the Netherlands, SPUC Information, April 20, 2001. Richard Cohen on killing abortionists, Washington Post, April 24, 2001. CDF harassment, America, April 9, 2001. Gay book market, Publishers Weekly, April 23, 2001. Prayer at the Justice Department, Washington Post, May 14, 2001. Bullying study quoted in Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2001. Rod Dreher on John Paul II and the Orthodox, Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2001. On the Progressive Religious Partnership, Christian Century, April 18-25, 2001. Mark Tooley on Methodism, Institute on Religion and Democracy press release, May 8, 2001. Susan Martinuk on Canadian school standards, National Post, May 21, 2001. Jane Perlez on Africa policy, New York Times, May 31, 2001. Abraham Brumberg and Norman Davies on Jedwabne, Times Literary Supplement, May 4, 2001. Anita Hill ordination, Forum Letter, June 2001. On personal ads in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2001. Father Paul Philibert on empowerment, Catholic Trends, April 14, 2001. German morality lessons, ProLife Infonet, May 25, 2001.