Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

I was surprised to find in James Nuechterlein’s “ Pride
and Patriotism
” (May) a chain of arguments that struck
me as rather un-Christian. I am not surprised to hear that
“a great many Americans” find the German language quite
revolting, being well conditioned to think immediately of
Hitler, the Holocaust, and Nazism. Did they think of Bach,
Beethoven, Kant, or Goethe at any other time between 1900
and today? Were any of them ever grateful to the German
nation for having produced such extraordinarily gifted human
beings, the likes of whom we have not met again and probably
never will?

The moral burden on the German nation is a special one insofar as any moral
burden is a special one. As for comparisons, I suggest a disinterested look
at the crimes of Joseph Stalin, whose responsibility for mass murder surpasses
Hitler’s. Nevertheless, there is no hint of repulsion from the use of the Russian
language, nor has there been any suggestion of a special burden on the Russian
nation. We know why that is so: the Russians and the Red Army were the most
useful allies the United States had in World War II.

That is why the indescribable atrocities committed by the Red Army in Germany,
especially in Eastern Prussia, are not registered. The same applies to the torturing
and murdering of Germans by Czechs and Poles, mostly after the war. They were
allowed to drive twelve million Germans from their homes, more than two million
of whom died of malnutrition, wounds, and diseases that were not treated because
the persons afflicted were Germans.

Bombing German cities, American and British forces killed about 600,000 civilians,
mostly women and children, outrageous examples being Hamburg and Dresden, where
fire bombs were combined with other means of destruction in a way to make escape
impossible. The will of destruction behind this can certainly be compared with
that of the planners of concentration camps. It would appear to be quite impossible
to take a lofty moral stance when you have to take responsibility for these
acts of depravity.

More than a million German soldiers died in Soviet POW camps, and hundreds
of thousands were left to die in open fields as POWs under American orders.
One must bear in mind in considering this matter that these and other atrocities
were committed by an alliance that claimed to fight for a better world, led
by high moral standards. But then we know that the victorious party writes the
history of past wars.

In short: in order to have the right to condemn Germans to all eternity the
winners of 1945 would have to be able to present a totally clean conscience”not
one that is whitewashed by closing one eye and substituting the other by a magnifying

Gerald Frodl
Erlangen, Germany

James Nuechterlein replies:

Gerald Frodl has misread what I wrote. In the process of doing so, he raises
large moral questions that I can respond to only in summary fashion.

I nowhere suggested that “the winners of 1945””or their descendants”have the
right “to condemn Germans to all eternity.” Indeed, I clearly indicated that
most Germans of today do not bear responsibility for the crimes of the Nazi
regime. The great majority of them were not alive or not of age in those years,
and the Germany they have built since 1945 bears no resemblance to that of the
Hitler years. Therefore, I concluded, those Germans who today express normal
patriotic pride in their country “seem to me correct.”

Mr. Frodl goes much further than this. He suggests that the Nazis themselves
could and can be criticized only by those “able to present a totally clean conscience.”
This argument fails on several grounds. First, tu quoque is not an adequate
moral defense. The fact that the Allies themselves committed atrocities”as they
did”does not exonerate the Nazis for their crimes nor require that those who
fought them in sometimes deplorable ways abstain from moral criticism. Mr. Frodl
seems one of the very few of today’s Germans unable to recognize that point.
(As for the implication that Bach, Beethoven, Kant, and Goethe somehow balance
the ledger against Hitler, Goebbels, Göring, and Himmler, the less said of that
the better.)

Second, the argument for moral equivalence between the Allies and the Nazis
is repugnant. The Allies on occasion committed evil deeds, some of them horrific,
in fighting Hitler. But their regimes (the USSR excepted) were not in themselves
evil. The principles for which they fought were just, and the Nazi regime they
rightly opposed was evil in essence and to its core. The moral burden associated
with Nazi Germany is not a special one only “insofar as any moral burden is
a special one.” Nazi Germany rightly remains the icon of evil of the twentieth
century. Does Mr. Frodl actually believe that that statement requires elaboration?

Third, while it is true that the presence on the Allied side of Stalinist Russia
complicates moral judgment, it does not render it impossible. The other Allies,
fully cognizant (some of them anyway) of Stalin’s crimes, nonetheless fought
alongside the USSR against Germany because they judged, surely correctly, that
the Nazis represented the clearest immediate threat to civilization. And after
the Nazis were taken care of, the Western Allies saw to the containment of the

Finally, I can only wonder what it is in my argument that makes it “un-Christian.”

The Decline of Philosophy?

I very much appreciated Peter Simpson’s essay on “ The
Christianity of Philosophy
” (May). I agree with the
author’s viewpoint that modern and contemporary philosophy
is much more like a worldly profession than what philosophia
used to be in its ancient context. I would like to comment
on three points in Professor Simpson’s paper.

First, it should be noted that not even Greek philosophy understood philosophia
as something ultimate. According to both Plato and Aristotle, philosophia
does not only purport to reach wisdom; as Prof. Simpson rightly notes, it strives
too to reach “salvation.” Philosophical salvation, in accordance with their
views, cannot be “reached” in the ordinary sense of the word: this is the moral
of many passages in Plato and in Aristotle. In other words, what later became
the dualism between philosophy and theology was already present in the classical
Greek conception of philo­ sophia . Greek philosophy was understood as
a kind of “introduction” to some “brighter world” which cannot, properly speaking,
be gained, but only somehow given (cf. for instance Republic , 531d; 518a;
Second Letter , 313b).

Second, it needs to be considered whether modern philosophy can be treated
exclusively in the context of decline or the breaking up of an original philosophical
unity. I agree with Prof. Simpson’s argument as to the role of Descartes in
modern thought. I would, however, ask what in fact has taken place in the modern
development of philosophy, or, more generally, in human history. I do not think
that an approach based merely on a theory of decline is sufficient to understand
this development”the development of our contemporary world. John Paul II’s Fides
et Ratio
is indeed an important text which answers this problem only in
an implicit way: it encourages its readers to reestablish “philosophy’s sapiential
dimension”; it invites its readers to continue fearlessly their inquiry for
truth”a gesture you find also in Plato, for instance in the Theaetetus .
Plato clearly thought that there was a certain logic in the course of any development,
cosmological or philosophical, as is shown by his cosmological myth in the Statesman .

The third comment concerns the role of contemporary philosophy. My impression
is that Etienne Gilson’s approach to contemporary thought is not sufficient
to understand either the relationship between Christianity and philosophy, or
the very nature of philosophy itself. I find Prof. Simpson’s skeptical comments
on Hegel and Heidegger somewhat oversimplifying. It seems that as soon as we
understand the classical conception of philosophy not only as a way to salvation
but also as a kind of development described symbolically in the cosmological
myth of the Statesman , then we may have a key to modern and contemporary
philosophy as well. Or at least it becomes easier to understand the role of
Hegel and Heidegger”or even that of Kant”in this development. True, none of
them can legitimately aspire to the status of being the representative of “ultimate
wisdom.” But at least Heidegger did not intend to do so: he understood that
philosophy can never have the final word.

It may be important to note that Christianity has an eschatological sense that
is hardly expressed in philosophical terms. Philosophy, however, as Plato makes
clear, was originally conscious of this dimension.

Professor Balazs Mezei
Department of Philosophy
Budapest University

Peter Simpson replies

I am grateful to Professor Balazs Mezei for his comments on my essay. It is
gratifying to learn that others have ideas similar to one’s own. It is no less
gratifying to receive from them responses that help one to clarify and correct
those ideas.

Prof. Mezei’s first comment about my essay concerns the fact that philosophy
in its original sense was not understood, even by the Greeks, as ultimate but
as a preparation or introduction for something “brighter” that one could not
gain but only receive as a gift. In this sense Prof. Mezei sees Greek philosophy
as already containing within it what later became the dualism between philosophy
and theology. I certainly agree that philosophy was not viewed as ultimate insofar
as it was desire for wisdom and not yet possession of wisdom (the message of
Diotima’s speech in Plato’s Symposium ). In this sense there is something
beyond philosophy, namely, wisdom or sophia itself.

But this is not the sense I meant to speak of in my discussion of how medieval
Christian theologians distinguished theology from philosophy. For in this sense
there is something beyond theology too, namely, the beatific vision in which
wisdom is finally seen face to face. Christianity did, indeed, give us a great
deal more of wisdom, and a surer path to wisdom, than Greek philosophy was able
to discover, but even Christianity does not give us final possession of wisdom
this side of the grave.

The difference between philosophy and theology that I was trying to trace is
rather a difference within the traditional sense of philosophy, or within
the range of discursive reasoning. It is the difference between what we can
know by unaided reasoning and what we can know by reasoning aided by Divine
Revelation. I was not intending to trace the difference between discursive reasoning
generally and mystical or beatific vision. I take it that what Plato is talking
about in the passages Prof. Mezei refers us to is this difference between discursive
reasoning and mystical vision.

Second, Prof. Mezei wonders whether one can properly treat modern philosophy
as a decline or as a breakup of an original unity. He says there is in fact
more to philosophy in our contemporary world than I seem to allow, and specifically
that one can find there a continuing drive for truth and for wisdom. I do not
disagree with the latter view, but my point was slightly different. I did not
want to say that modern philosophy has declined so much as that it has absolutized
a medieval Christian abstraction (though I think that did also, in fact, involve
a decline).

The whole philosophical phenomenon of the ancient world embraced in one what
medieval theologians, for purposes of analysis and clarification, factored into
a part they called philosophy and another part they called theology. Modern
philosophers took this medieval part called “philosophy” and made it the whole,
which at once separated them not only from the medieval theologians but also
from the ancient philosophers. In fact, most of them went further and made “philosophy”
the handmaid, no longer of theology, but of science. Science became the source
of superior wisdom”and for most people today it still is. But Prof. Mezei is
right to say that there is no need to do this. One can, even today, philosophize
while keeping philosophy’s original sapiential dimension very much in mind.
Prof. Mezei and I agree, following John Paul II, that that is what indeed we
should be doing.

Third, and continuing on from this point, Prof. Mezei says that at least some
of the great modern philosophers must be understood as retaining the sapiential
dimension in their thinking, and he specifically mentions Hegel, Heidegger,
and Kant. I agree with this as well, and my own too brief mention of Hegel and
Heidegger in my essay was meant as a concession on that point. My skepticism
was not about whether this was how they were to be understood but about how
far their speculations really were wise. It is certainly true of Heidegger,
and I would say of Kant too, that neither thought they had penetrated to the
ultimate reality. They both thought there was a something beyond, which thinking
could not reach. In this sense they were both Platonists and both mystics. Of
course, the sapiential dimension they included within their thinking was that
of the tradition of German Idealism, not that of the medieval theo­ logians.
And about German Idealism we have good reason, I think, to be skeptical.

The Jews and Jesus

Professor Thomas F. X. Noble
has done a marvelous job of demolishing James Carroll’s
horrible book, Constantine’s Sword , about Catholic-Jewish
relations (May). In addition to all he said about the lack
of scholarship, balance, and objectivity, he might have
observed how insufferably boring the book was.

I wish, however, to make another observation. It is clear to all sides by now
that the Christian break with Rabbinic Judaism and the Jews was essentially
the work of Jewish Christians who saw in the Christian faith the true heir of
biblical Judaism. What I would wish were more clear is that very large numbers
of Jews, how many we cannot know, became Christians in the pre-Constantinian
period. The Jewish rejection of Jesus as described by Paul of Tarsus was true
largely during the period a.d. 40-60. Estimates of the Jewish population of
the Roman Empire identify about 10 percent of the imperial population as Jewish.
What happened to these people and their heirs so that by the end of the fifth
century the Jews in the Empire, East and West, were a much smaller minority?
Rodney Stark suggests persuasively that the mission of the Church to the Jews
largely succeeded ( The Rise of Christianity ) and that these converted
Jews disappeared as Jews, much I should say like the Ten Lost Tribes were not
really lost but ceased to be Israelites and became, what, Syrians? Arabs? Who
knows? Thus a lot of ink is spilled about the rabbinic remnant we call “the
Jews,” but little about the vast numbers who became Christian.

Professor Norman Ravitch
Department of History
University of California, Riverside

Abortion and Crime

Richard John Neuhaus offers a lively discussion of the paper Steve Levitt and
I wrote concerning the impact of legalized abortion on crime
( While We’re
At It, May
). It seems that he thinks we shouldn’t have
written the piece, but I wonder if he can imagine why it
might be helpful to know why crime has dropped so sharply
in the 1990s. If the legalization of abortion is the reason,
wouldn’t that be important information? Our paper makes
clear that reducing the number of unwanted births seems
to have had important social benefits, but those benefits
can be obtained by reducing unwanted pregnancies, which
I would think Father Neuhaus would be interested in encouraging.
I know that religious believers are often willing to sacrifice
the truth to conform to some religious dogma, but I hope
that First Things is not engaging in that historically discredited
and socially harmful practice.

Professor John J. Donohue
Stanford Law School
Stanford, California

RJN replies:

The doctrine (or dogma, if one prefers), which is not uniquely religious, is
that it is a grave wrong to kill an innocent human being. The problem with the
study in question is not that it explores the relationship between abortion
and crime but that, the authors’ disclaimer notwithstanding, it at least implies
that the unlimited abortion license contributes to the common good rather than,
as I believe is the case, undermines the foundation of civilized order, and
does so at the cost of millions of innocent lives and untold injury to women
who are complicit in the killing of their children.

A Tumult of Translations

In “ Bible Babe l” (Public Square,
May) Richard John Neuhaus argues, as he has before, for
the superiority of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) over
other English translations of the Bible. I would like to
address a few comments made by him regarding his favorite

Not including the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the RSV itself can
be found in three editions. There is the original, which finds its completed
copyright in 1952, a revision that was copyrighted in 1971, and a Catholic edition
that is based on the original copyright with certain revisions to conform to
Catholic tradition and copyrighted in 1965 and 1966. Interestingly, all of these
editions are more or less “felicitous” translations of the Greek text; however,
in spite of Father Neuhaus’ assertions, none of them is exactly “above” all
the others.

For example, in translating the words malakoi and arsenokoitai
in 1 Corinthians 6:9, the 1952 edition uses the word “homosexuals” with a footnote
indicating that two Greek words have been rendered by the one English word.
The New American Standard Bible (NASB), the modern translation that most “gatekeepers”
regard as the most true to the Greek texts, renders the two words as “effeminate”
and “homosexuals,” indicating the true meaning of what St. Paul is trying to
convey. The 1971 edition of the RSV, however, renders the two words by the phrase
“sexual perverts” and thereby removes any reference to homosexuality, leaving
open to interpretation exactly what it is that St. Paul is condemning. What,
one must ask, constitutes a sexual pervert? As a friend of mine has observed,
“Sexual perversion is anything that goes one step beyond what I would do.” So
much for language conveying meaning. Even the NRSV, the edition that Fr. Neuhaus
charges with being gender-inclusive (true) with dumbed-down language (arguable),
renders the two Greek terms by their English equivalents: “effeminate” and “homosexuals.”
So much for the charge of this translation being “politically correct.”

But all of this isn’t necessarily to pick a fight with the RSV. It’s just
a point of indicating that there are, perhaps, better translations of the Scripture
to be had. The updated NASB is an excellent translation, though I do wish that
the word “bishop” had been retained for the Greek episkopos in 1 Timothy
and Titus, and that “firepans” in the Old Testament had been left as “censers”
(the latter being much less a theological nuance than the former, and even then
both of these being much less so than the RSV-CE rendering of “brethren” for
“brothers”). And the New International Version (NIV), another translation that
receives Fr. Neuhaus’ nod of approval, reads so closely to the NRSV that with
the exception of the gender-inclusive language I’m not sure how it can escape
the same charge of being “dumbed-down.” Perhaps the New KJV is the closest thing
to something that is both modern and “familiar to the ear,” but neither is it
free from its problems. So in the end, I’m not sure that either the RSV in the
1952 edition, or the 1971 edition, or the RSV-CE of 1965 is substantially better
or more “felicitous” in its translation of the Greek texts than are the others
mentioned. All, it seems, have their faults; some more, some less.

But I do sympathize with many of Fr. Neuhaus’ views. The proliferation of
English translations has crippled Bible memorization and virtually eliminated
a common biblical language (and by the way, while there are perhaps over two
hundred study editions of the English Bible, there are only a handful
of actual English translations ). And the exclusion of the Apocrypha from
many of these translations seems to brighten the divide not only between those
used by Protestants and those used by Catholics, but also the divide between
the groups themselves.

So maybe in the end the real solution isn’t to be found in an English translation
that is used by all of English-speaking Christendom (although that would be
nice), but in one of the traditions carried on by our Jewish friends. Before
young boys or girls are officially brought into the faith, they are taught the
language of their fathers. Perhaps we would be better served to once more return
to the Greek texts in order to find out what the Bible really says (at
least the New Testament, and I’m ignoring textual variations here), and perhaps
part of the Confirmation process should be translating the Gospel of John from
Greek into English. But since this isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, perhaps
all we can do is dream that one day we will all be “reading off the same page.”
Until then, we’ll just have to make do with what best conveys the Word of God
into our minds and into our hearts.

(The Rev.) Michael L. Ward, SSA
St. Mark’s Church (Anglican)
Vero Beach, Florida

The “linguistic destabilization” of which Richard John Neuhaus complains not
only deprives Catholics of a common biblical language, it severs one generation
from another and, in so doing, debilitates the Church’s most powerful engine
of evangelization. Since Vatican II, we have focused far too much attention
upon “experts” and our ecclesial bureaucracy (both clerical and lay) as vehicles
of evangelization and catechesis. We have paid far too little attention to the
fact that the Catholic faith is, for the most part, lived in and passed on through
families, through the “domestic churches.” Most of us do not become Catholic
because we read a magazine article or attended a debate or had a striking conversion
experience; most of us remain Catholic because we remember how our grandmother
taught us the Rosary, or how the family always celebrated our grandfather’s
saint’s day, or how our mother so naturally resorted to St. Anthony to find
a lost household item, or how our father, never saying a word about it, took
us to Mass every single Sunday.

For us “cradle Catholics,” i.e., for most Catholics, these devotional family
ties, so much and so foolishly denigrated by ecclesiastical intellectuals, are
the ties that bind. They have powerfully inducted us into the family of God,
into the very household of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. By introducing supernatural
realities into the comprehensible earthly context of our everyday lives, they
explain such realities, not on an intellectual, verbal level, but on a deep,
emotional level. Here, on this deeper level, is where the faith resides. Within
this living context, nourished by the grace of the sacraments and by prayer,
such a faith acquires the strength to survive doubt, persecution, and sin.

By destroying the continuity of biblical language over time, biblical translators
deprive Catholic families of a scriptural idiom that resonates across generations
and instead raise linguistic obstacles to the passing on of the faith within
the domestic church. If one were to be cynical, one could say that it is in
the experts’ own interests to do so. Were scriptural language entrusted to all
the faithful, and were families allowed to continue as the main evangelizers
of Catholic children, then the means of evangelization and catechesis would
remain dispersed. But in order for experts to control a process, in order for
them to be able to reshape traditional teachings to make them more relevant
to the passing fashions of each successive generation, that process must be

Joseph E. Rendini
Medford, Massachusetts

Miss Anscombe and Mr. Lewis

John M. Dolan’s “ G.
E. M. Anscombe: Living the Truth
” (May) was fascinating
and informative. It also provided a profound example of
how God nudges or jolts the responsive into the place and
the work that He wants for them. Without his philosophical/
theological “defeat” by Anscombe, combined with his own
humble teachability, C. S. Lewis might have spent his life
as just another competent academic philosopher/theologian.
Instead, he became the inspired common sense interpreter
of Jesus Christ to the nonscholarly. Hundreds of thousands
of those who never heard of Anscombe, and many who never
read Aristotle, Aquinas, Anselm, or Frege for themselves,
read and were won over by Lewis.

For all her wonderful exposition of truth and living of that truth, perhaps
Anscombe’s greatest service to her Lord and to the human race was prompting
Lewis into becoming the apostle to the nonacademic.

Dorothy T. Samuel
St. Cloud, Minnesota

More on Sydney Smith

You never know what improbable gem will pop out when you open up First Things.
My favorite historical character who usually got things
wrong was Sydney Smith, and I’m relieved to see that Richard
John Neuhaus agrees with that opinion ( While
We’re At It, May
). When the House of Lords defeated
the political reform bill of 1831, it was the bishops of
the Church of England whose negative vote was decisive,
a very unpopular position to have taken. Smith noted that
“it was not safe for a clergyman to appear in the streets.”
Nine years later he recalled the incident in a letter: “The
bishops never remained unpelted; they were pelted going,
coming, riding, walking, consecrating, and carousing; the
Archbishop of Canterbury, in the town of Canterbury, at
the period of his visitation, was only saved from the mob
by the dexterity of his coachman.”

Herbert Schlossberg
Burke, Virginia

Church Weddings in Japan

Reading the comments of Richard John Neuhaus about Japanese “Christian-style”
weddings ( While
We’re At It, May
) prompts me to offer another side to
the story.

My wife is Japanese”she is from Kobe and belongs to a small Baptist church
there. The pastor, who is an uncompromising sort, regularly gets requests to
officiate at such ceremonies and as regularly rejects them. There was one particular
case, however, where, to the scandal of his congregation, he insisted that he
would officiate. He said that, while praying about it, he felt that God was
prompting him in this case”a claim greeted with some skepticism by the independent-minded
congregation. However, he went ahead, acted as minister, and made the small
resources of the church available for the service. After this, the newly married
couple found themselves more and more involved with the life of the church.
Some twenty years later, the couple are both active Christians”in fact, the
husband is now pastor of a sister Baptist church in Kobe.

Of course, this is not the usual outcome of a church wedding in Japan. Nevertheless,
there are occasions where believing Japanese Christians cooperate with “the
eclectic worship of kitsch” in order to evangelize.

Edward Curran
London, England

Briefly Read?

In addition to its obvious, intended meaning, the heading “ Briefly
” (where my Why Religion Matters appears
in the books section of FT, March) also means briefly read.
The book’s “main point is [not] to propose, against the
innumerable ‘spiritualities’ with which we are culturally
inundated, that ultimate wisdom and human flourishing are
to be discovered in the historically grounded and communally
normative religious traditions of the world.” I touch on
the way spirituality seems to be nosing out religion as
a good word in my chapter on higher education and devote
two pages to it in my closing chapter. That’s all.

Paul Griffiths has me right when (in his June 1 Commonweal review of
the book) he writes that “for Smith, our fundamental problem is . . . the scientism
and materialism of modernity . . . which make it impossible for us to take seriously
any non- or anti-materialistic Big Picture. As a result, we cannot be seriously
religious”or at least, those in charge, the intellectuals and the media barons
and the aggressively materialistic advocates of scientism, cannot be, and that
means that serious religion is no part of our public life.”

Thank you, Professor Griffiths, for setting the record straight.

Huston Smith
Berkeley, California

The Editors reply:

The reviewer says he should have written that the point about spirituality
and religion is what was mainly of interest in the book.

In Defense of Critical Theory

“Never stay up on the barren heights of cleverness,” Ludwig Wittgenstein advised,
“but come down into the green valley of silliness ( Dummheit ).”
Alas, so long as Richard John Neuhaus insists on dismissing
Marxian-revisionary critical theory as “self-indulgent silliness”
( While We’re
At It, May
), he could do worse than to follow Wittgenstein’s

Indeed, if critical theory is a valley of Dummheit in Wittgenstein’s
sense, it is so, I submit, because its floor is rich with nourishing if bitter
fruit: Max Horkheimer’s Critical Theory , Theodor W. Adorno’s Aesthetic
, Herbert Marcuse’s Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis , Franz
Neumann’s Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, 1933-1945 ,
Otto Kirkheimer’s Political Justice: The Use of Legal Procedure for Political
, Jürgen Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere .
As Wittgenstein also advised: “One must go down to the original sources so as
to see them all side by side, both the neglected and the preferred.”

John F. Maguire
Natural Law Jurisprudence Center
Berkeley, California