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

In ” Will All Be Saved?
(Public Square, August/September) Richard John Neuhaus uses
an interesting argument to establish his hope of universal
salvation: a) Christians are to pray for the salvation of
everyone, b) one cannot pray for something that one certainly
knows will not be granted, hence c) universal salvation
is a legitimate hope.

But the basic issue here involves the different ways in which various petitionary prayers are offered up. For example, a Christian may pray that God would put an end to a drought and send rain. In doing so, he will be aware that should God answer his prayer, the answer will assume the form of a clear“cut, unilaterally performed act. But when a Christian prays for the salvation of human beings”either individually or en masse”does he do so in the same manner? I think not (unless the Christian is a Calvinist). Rather, he does so with the awareness that God’s granting his request is”in some mysterious but real sense”dependent on the will of the individual(s) for whom he is praying.

Hence, a prayer such as “Lord, save everyone” is a perfectly legitimate cry of a Christian’s heart, since it is rooted in his love for his fellow human beings. But in the final analysis it can only mean “Save all those whom it is possible to save,” for the salvation of those who are finally impenitent is an intrinsic impossibility (just as it would be an intrinsic impossibility for God to send rain and withhold rain in the same place simultaneously). And Christ’s parable of the sheep and the goats makes it clear that some people will indeed fall into that dark category.

John Harutunian

Newton, Massachusetts

Richard John Neuhaus’ defense of the hope that all be saved requires him to explain away the Gospel texts (Matthew 7:13“14, 21“23; 8:12“13; 13:41“42; 22:13“14, 49“50; 25:31“46; Luke 13:23“28) in which Jesus says that few will be saved, describes the punishment of the reprobate, and indeed portrays himself as personally rejecting them. Father Neuhaus’ argument is to read these reprobation texts as “suggesting a destiny of separation from God,” while reading other texts (Colossians 1:19“20, 1 Corinthians 15:20“28, Romans 5:18, 11:33“36) as “suggesting the redemption of the entire cosmos,” leaving us free to choose between these mutually exclusive alternatives, since the Church in her wisdom has not pronounced on the matter. But I’m afraid that the argument is not persuasive on a number of grounds.

Jesus does not “suggest” that some will not be saved; he comes right out and says it. Furthermore, the reprobation texts are not inconsistent with the cosmic redemption texts. In 1 Corinthians 15:20“28, the only such text involving sustained explanation, the leitmotif is the subjection of all to Christ and Christ to God, “that God may be all in all” (v. 28). God’s being all in all is manifested precisely by the salvation of the righteous and the punishment of the reprobate. Christ “must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (v. 25“26). This language hardly suggests ultimate reconciliation with those enemies; indeed, it chiefly brings to mind Revelation 20, where Death, Hades, and those whose names are not written in the book of life are all thrown into the lake of fire. As for the other cosmic texts, their brief references to universal mercy and reconciliation are made in contexts that do not involve the issue of universal salvation, but do involve judgment and punishment (see Romans 2:5“10, 11:21“22; Colossians 2:6).

Finally, if the reprobation texts do not mean what they say, they are utterly incoherent. What sense does it make for Jesus to warn people that they may not make it through the narrow gate by telling them that most people will not make it”particularly if the truth is that in fact they may all make it?

Given the reprobation texts, I don’t think that the hope that all be saved can avoid sliding into Origenism; and I am flabbergasted that Fr. Neuhaus does not recognize that Origenism, which entails a super“salvation not tied to doing God’s will in this life, cannot be squared with the Church’s ordinary and universal Magisterium.

John A. McFarland

Ellicott City, Maryland

I write to counter an impression left by Richard John Neuhaus’ ” Will
All Be Saved?
” That article, like Hans Urs von
Balthasar’s book on the same subject, tries to convince
the reader that anyone who thinks some will not finally
be saved cannot legitimately “hope for all.” I
think this is a mistake. I think that in an important sense
one can both “hope for all” and yet hold to “the
damnation of some” as a doctrine.

Permit me to preface my remarks by saying that I do not wish to take a position on the thorny doctrinal question whether we know that some (unknown) persons will be damned, although I take it for granted”as do von Balthasar and Neuhaus”that Catholic theology does not hold or teach that we know all will be saved, a proposition it is unlikely even the optimistic Origen affirmed with certainty, and is surely difficult to square with Jesus’ repeated teaching on the “two ways” (e.g., Matthew 7:13“14), especially his answer to the question whether only a few would be saved. Catholic theologians normally have been shy about answering that question with any more certainty than Jesus himself projected when he responded indirectly but not reassuringly (Luke 3:23“29). On the other hand, the long list of distinguished twentieth“century Catholic theologians affirming the hope of universal salvation seems to have made it a fait accompli that Catholic theology permits one to hold that all may be saved. The real possibility of apokatastasis may even have been affirmed by the Holy Father.

Rather, I wish to question one line of argument in favor of universal salvation as a hope . This argument tries to establish that a genuine “hope for all” presupposes that universal salvation is a possibility. Since as Christians we are obliged by the gospel to hope for the salvation of every individual, we must suppose, this argument says, that the salvation of all people is at least possible. Since God would not expect us to hope for what could not someday really be the case, indirectly God has revealed that in the end all may be saved. Here I have rephrased Fr. Neuhaus’ “thought experiment,” an argument that echoes a similar line of reasoning found in von Balthasar’s Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?”

I think the above reasoning is flawed inasmuch as it entails an equivocation on the phrase “hope for all.” We must distinguish between the salvation hope for each individual person who has lived, now lives, and will ever live and the hope that the entire collective of mankind will be saved. Are these two versions of “hope for all” the same? Not necessarily. This can be illustrated by another “thought experiment.” Suppose I am told that one unknown person from a group of five will certainly die from cancer within the year. Suppose that all the persons are unknown to me so that I have no reason to wish that one person from the group will die rather than another. Out of human sympathy, I can and should hope that no single one of them will die from cancer. None theless, I can be certain that one of them will die, so that the lives of all of them collectively will not be preserved. Therefore, I cannot legitimately hope that all five together will make it to the end of the year alive.

Precisely because the identities of the damned are unknown, it remains possible to “hope for all” (all the individuals) without necessarily having a “hope for all” (the collective). Even if it were revealed that some are damned, it would still be possible and requisite to hope for the salvation of all individuals. But it would not be possible to hope for the salvation of the complete collective if we knew that the possibility of such a future state of affairs was already nullified by, for example, someone exercising his freedom in such a way as to cancel out that possibility. Had that already occurred by the time of Christ, there would be no reason why this could not have been revealed to the apostles by Jesus as a caution against soteriological presumption. Moreover, if God in His foreknowledge saw that some would finally reject His love, there is no reason why that fact could not also be a revealed datum.

Those who think that some will be damned or are already in hell can still pray with the whole Church for the salvation of all. To demonstrate the Church’s hope that all will be saved, Fr. Neuhaus quotes the Fatima prayer asking that Jesus “lead all souls to heaven.” Yet the same messenger told the children that souls were going to hell because there was no one to offer prayers or make sacrifices for them. Those who received that message in faith saw no contradiction between Mary’s prayer of “hope for all” and the knowledge that some will be lost. Nor do the arguments presented in Fr. Neuhaus’ article prove we need to see any contradiction either.

Thomas Zebrowski

San Jose, California

I don’t know how anyone can hope that something will happen without at least believing that it can happen, no matter how small the probability of that may be. It seems to me that Scripture and tradition are pretty clear: not all will be saved. Therefore I can’t hope that all are saved but I can hope that, one at a time, all will be saved. In other words, I can hope that I will be saved, and I can hope that you will be saved, and in that manner I can, by aggregation, extend the hope to every individual. I believe that this is in accordance with revelation.

Jim Roth

Ridgefield, Washington

I would like to add a postscript to Richard John Neuhaus’ insightful Public Square piece, “Will All Be Saved?”

Karl Barth also gave impetus to apokatastasis as an article of hope, and not an article of faith, in Church Dogmatics IV/3/1, 477“478. Left unanswered is how this could come to be for those who have never heard the gospel. More than a few Catholic theologians speak about a “final fundamental option” on the boundary of death, rather than a purgatorial option, as the latter has to do only with those who die as “just souls” yet to be fully cleansed (see Edmund Fortman, Everlasting Life After Death ).

Theology in the Reformation tradition has explored other alternatives, as in the “Andover theory” which views biblical texts such as 2 Peter 3:19“20 and 4:6 and Christ’s descent to the dead referenced in the Apostles’ Creed as warranting belief in the Hound of Heaven pursuing the last and the least. Neither the former fundamental option nor the latter divine perseverance beyond the gates of death constitutes universalism, as the possibility of a “No” from us is always there.

Gabriel Fackre

Abbot Professor of Christian Theology, Emeritus

Andover Newton Theological School

Newton Centre, Massachusetts

RJN replies:

The foregoing letters are a sampling of the many responses received to my essay. We can go back and forth on all this until the cows come home. The question of whether we may hold to a hope (not a doctrine!) that all will be saved is both important and deeply intriguing. In speaking about the last things and the eschatological consummation of God’s purposes, we must be very modest. Much of what we can say is highly speculative. Realities and relationships of space, time, infinity, eternity, and the promise that God and His Christ will be “all in all” (see, for instance, 1 Corinthians 15:28, Ephesians 1:23) surpass our experience and powers of conception. In the final consummation of God’s saving plan, will evil find an everlasting holdout in the rejection of that plan by those who are everlastingly damned? Or is what seems to us to be a holdout of evil in fact the perfect justice of God, and therefore not evil but good?

Christians who desire to be orthodox rely upon the testimony of Scripture, and, when biblical texts are ambiguous or appear to be in conflict, upon the “rule of faith” as expressed in the Great Tradition of the worshiping community, the teaching of the Fathers, and conciliar definitions. At least for Catholics, that Great Tradition includes the authoritative teaching of the living Magisterium exercised by the bishops with and under the Bishop of Rome. On several occasions, and notably in a general audience of July 28, 1999, John Paul II has cautioned against excessive certitude in speaking about hell and damnation, while emphasizing that “eternal damnation remains a real possibility.” It is Christ’s victory over evil and the promise of eternal life with God, however, that is at the center of evangelization. “This prospect, rich in hope, prevails in Christian proclamation,” he declared.

So where are we? There are biblical passages that seem to invite the hope that all will be saved. In addition to the above mentioned, we are told, for instance, that God desires the salvation of all, that Christ will draw all men to himself, and that grace is more abundant than sin, but these and other passages do not clearly affirm that all will be saved. We speak of the “deposit of faith” which is found in Scripture as authoritatively interpreted in the apostolic tradition under the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit. To the best of my understanding, the deposit of faith clearly affirms the following: that God desires the salvation of all and offers the real possibility of salvation to all; the offer can be accepted or rejected and, if accepted by faith, such faith is recognized as the gift of God; if the offer is knowingly, freely, and definitively rejected, even at the very last moment of life, one goes to hell, which is eternal; but the deposit of faith does not tell us clearly that anyone is in fact eternally damned.

That, I believe, is the teaching of the Church, and that is what I believe. Nothing in that teaching precludes, and much in that teaching seems to invite, the hope that everyone”past, present, and future”will be saved, even as we are painfully aware that that may not be the case, and even as we guard against the sin of presumption, which is to take for granted that it will be the case with us.

The discussion of whether all will be saved has been around for a long time. The current round of discussion, in these pages and elsewhere, was prompted by reflections in my book Death on a Friday Afternoon . My point was and is that our joy in the saving gospel and our mandate and desire to share that gospel with others are not contingent upon a certain knowledge that many or most or any are eternally damned. A more than sufficient reason for our joy and the desire to share that joy with others is the universal offer of life with God, now and forever, through the redeeming work of the crucified and risen Christ. As John Paul says, “This prospect, rich in hope, prevails in Christian proclamation.” And with that we can perhaps give this discussion a rest, at least for a while.

Lights Out for Lutheranism?

It seems that James Nuechterlein asks us to love Lutheranism “just because”
(” Turn
Out the Lights
?” August/September). It is a culture
and a denomination in which many Christian hearts have made
a home, many ethnicities have found a habit of being, discipleship
has been sincerely lived, and deep affections for the gospel
have been formed. Of that there is no doubt.

But Mr. Nuechterlein’s writings of his church and his (female) pastor are rarely theo“logical and intellectually persuasive. His argument in past articles that it is a good thing that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ordains women flies in the face of church unity, orthodoxy, and good theological thinking.

This current article is also an affront to the ELCA’s stated ecumenical goals as well as Pope John Paul II’s oft“repeated hope of a full visible (historical) church unity. I know that Mr. Nuechterlein speaks for most Lutherans when he says that he does not believe that it is possible this side of the Eschaton to expect church unity, but the weight of numbers does not make that position any less depressing. To say that “we continue to consider Lutheranism a confessional movement in the one comprehensive Church of Christ whose full lineaments will be made clear only in the End Time” is a neo“gnostic myth which refuses to believe that Jesus Christ founded a historical church that we are to take seriously.

Strictly speaking, it is unreasonable for an evangelical catholic of the Lutheran tradition not to aspire to full communion with the Roman Catholic Church in some form, this side of heaven. As the Pope demonstrated in Fides et Ratio in good Catholic tradition, faith and reason cannot function apart from one another in the mystery of redemption. It is understandably human to cling to the separate Lutheran reality, but ultimately it is not theologically tenable.

“Forever Lutheran” is an unholy posture. It is a deal struck in the face of an overwhelmingly complex and sinful situation, but it involves inconsistency and the abandonment of reason. It is a willingness to abandon all hope at the outset of the ecumenical project, an attitude that is not worthy of the pages of First Things. For Christians, Rome is the ecumenical touchstone and centerpiece in this limited existence of ours, which is the only one we have.

It may be that Lutheran doctrinal reflections have run their course over the five“hundred“odd years of Reformation existence. The gift of the doctrinal insight from the Reformation has already been given and received. The remaining ecumenical contribution is what we ought to call “Lutheran culture,” one filled with blessed pieties, a love of Jesus Christ and Sacred Scripture, a sense of being a company of saints that is often lost in Roman Catholic parishes, and other collateral graces stemming from the passions of the Reformation. These are true treasures of the Christian tradition, not to be lost.

But the abandonment of reason, a habitual Lutheran tendency in the face of overwhelming popular opinion through history (one need only think of Nazi Germany and the current collapse of Lutheran will in the face of the abortion and homosexuality conflicts), strikes a deal with the devil. While warmly recognizable in our daily lives, it is not the stuff of good theology or churchly reflections.

(The Rev.) Jeffrey C. Silleck

Reformation Lutheran Church (ELCA)

Eastlake, Ohio

I would like to thank James Nuechterlein for his essay. His view of the ELCA mirrors my own experience and disillusionment. Synod assemblies and gatherings of pastors do little more than put a serious kink in my soul. I stopped attending my local text“study group because I got tired of being the dissenting voice to the liberal viewpoints of my colleagues.

I’m not as optimistic as Mr. Nuechterlein about the local parish. Most of the pastors with whom I have any contact see abortion as okay, homosexuality as just another lifestyle choice, and so on. I plan to retire soon and the question that weighs on my mind is, Where do I go for spiritual and liturgical sustenance in the wasteland of the ELCA?

(The Rev.) Terry D. Hudson

St. John Lutheran Church

Sioux City, Iowa

James Nuechterlein replies:

Pastor Silleck thinks I have done some quite terrible things”abandon reason, adopt an “unholy posture,” embrace a “neo“gnostic myth,” and “strike a deal with the devil””because I believe it highly unlikely, in any foreseeable future, that Lutherans and Catholics will achieve ecclesiastical unity. I’ll try to avoid reciprocal sneers (although his reference to Nazi Germany makes the temptation all but irresistible), but I do want, very briefly, to unmuddy what he has made of my position.

I pray for unity among all Christians, Lutherans and Catholics included. I pray further that God will achieve Lutheran/Catholic unity”and do so in history, short of the Eschaton. But, as Pr. Silleck puts it, I do not “expect” such unity. Pr. Silleck finds that position “depressing.” So do I, but that’s not the point. The point is whether, given the reality of the differences between the two churches, it is reasonable to expect ecclesial reunion. I have given my reasons, which I will not repeat here, for answering that question in the negative. I have not, contrary to Pr. Silleck, abandoned reason. He simply does not like the conclusions my reason has led me to.

My estimation of the situation is hardly peculiar to me. Why have prominent Lutherans such as Richard John Neuhaus and Robert Louis Wilken made the decision to go to Rome? Precisely because, among other reasons, they concluded that that which they had hoped and struggled for all their lives”repairing the breach of the sixteenth century”was simply not in the cards. Having reached that conclusion, they had to make a decision. I reached the same conclusion, but made a different decision.

Pr. Silleck apparently believes”though his letter seems not entirely clear on the point”that Lutherans of an evangelical catholic persuasion have no such necessary decision to make. I think, with all due respect, that he is deceiving himself, and that he will in time be forced to make the painfully difficult decision he appears to want to avoid. In the meantime, I would urge on him a more charitable, or at least less insulting, attitude toward those of us who find ourselves resigned to exercising our evangelical catholicity within the Lutheran communion.

Finally, I thank Pr. Hudson for his sympathetic comments, and I pray that he finds a parish community that reflects the best of a great Lutheran Christian tradition.

Should Parents Be in Charge?

Hurrah for Theodore Forstmann’s impassioned and tightly reasoned plea for placing
parents in charge of education and for allowing the principles
of democratic capitalism to guide this vital sector of our
society (” Putting
Parents in Charge
,” August/September).

Mr. Forstmann brilliantly demolishes the premises of the state monopoly that presently controls primary and secondary schooling in America, except for the wealthy and fortunate who use their clout to escape from its clutches or bend its rules on behalf of their children. He shows how that monopoly has failed in practice as well as theory. He outlines a profoundly superior alternative. And he knows what he’s talking about; he has put his own energies and resources where his principles are. The Children’s Scholarship Fund that he cofounded (with John Walton) is the sun around which most privately funded school“choice efforts now revolve. It has illuminated the demand for education alternatives in America and has made those dreams come true for tens of thousands of youngsters.

But I must add two additional perspectives to Mr. Forstmann’s analysis. In my view, he underestimates the degree to which Americans cherish the concept of “public education” even as they chafe under its present reality. This ambivalence is carefully examined in Terry Moe’s fine new book Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public (Brookings, 2001). Moe’s data are sobering for the school“choice advocate, and they help to explain why so many efforts have foundered that sought to create the sort of regimen that Mr. Forstmann (and I) favor.

Second, one must ask what besides freedom may be needed for an education marketplace to succeed. Most successful markets follow certain ground rules, such as the clarity and comparability of information about suppliers, so that consumers can make informed decisions. In my view, the education market will work well only if the public has a wealth of accurate, comparable information about every school (or other education provider). In this domain, customer satisfaction is a necessary but insufficient criterion for a successful market. Society’s interests require that we also look for improved academic achievement. To get there through the marketplace, we need agreed“upon academic standards and tests that every school participates in. Hence I join the Bush Administration in favoring state“level standards and mandatory testing. But I join Mr. Forstmann in believing that the “accountability” mechanism that should be attached to those standards and test results is a parent“driven marketplace rather than state“imposed rewards and sanctions.

Chester E. Finn, Jr.

John M. Olin Fellow

Manhattan Institute

New York, New York

Forstmann’s essay
on education addresses an area of
education that is often ignored”parental involvement. Unfortunate
ly, Mr. Forstmann is guilty both of going to the opposite
extreme and of misdiagnosis.

Parental choice in education is indeed important, but not to the point of ignoring common standards all should follow. While basic literacy was higher before the days of Horace Mann, it was so because all had a basic understanding and agreement with respect to standards and common values, two things lacking in our society today. Those two things must exist before any meaningful reform in education can take place.

As a teacher, I am well acquainted with modern parents, most of whom have little involvement in the life of their children. On the one extreme there are poor single parents who work too much to have time for their children, and on the other the affluent parents who are too self“absorbed to take an interest in the life they brought into the world.

Can the parents who allow their children to watch unlimited hours of unsupervised television, who drop their children off at the mall for an entire day without direction, who allow their children unlimited rein on the Internet really have an interest in them? They have already made their choice for the life of their children, and unfortunately they are the majority of parents in our society. Ask any teacher what percentage of parents take an active role in their child’s education, take responsibility for their child’s work and behavior, attend parent/teacher conferences and open house, or are simply able to be contacted at all about their child. You’ll find that in almost every case the percentages are woefully low.

As a teacher I would love for every parent to be what Mr. Forstmann thinks they all are. It would make teaching much easier. Unfortunately, almost all the social problems we face are fundamentally caused by the breakdown in the family. What affects the household ultimately affects the city”any Greek tragedy will tell us as much. Once family life becomes stabilized, then education and many other problems in society will be remedied as well.

Jude A. Huntz

Prince of Peace Catholic School

Dallas, Texas

Putting Parents in
” is one of those feel“good statements that
a writer knows one cannot refute without sounding like an
unreasonable extremist. However, in Theo dore Forstmann’s
article it seems that several important issues are glossed
over, specifically when it comes to the historical and economic

Where to begin? How about the statement, “For the first 230 years of our history, parents, not government, were in charge. Competition kept quality high and costs low. Competence in reading, writing, and arithmetic was nearly universal at the time of the American Revolution.” It’s difficult to dispute the first statement, but the second sentence is laughable. The costs were low because almost universally parents”usually the mother”taught children at home. High quality? Well, that was restricted to how well the mother could teach, but it was not likely for her to get beyond the 3R’s, as that was all that was required of a literate person of the time. Children were educated to be able to read the Bible, as well as keep household accounts. None were expected to learn algebra or geometry”addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication sufficed in math. Children were expected to write letters to family and friends once they got older, not essays on the soliloquies of Hamlet.

In the cases where there was a school as an alternative to a mother’s lessons, the teacher”who was boarded around the neighborhood given a salary that would not sustain him or her otherwise”taught lessons not much more advanced than what was previously learned at mother’s knee. Of course, homeschooling, the ultimate in putting parents in charge of their children’s education and the historical model which worked for 230 years, is legal and practiced in all fifty states. You wouldn’t know that from Mr. Forstmann’s essay.

What Mr. Forstmann seems to ignore is that there is more educational choice available now to parents than ever before. There are the traditional public schools, magnet public schools, the new movement of charter schools, religious schools, and secular private schools. One can buy lectures from the Teaching Company about anatomy, Chaucer, math, and the history of the English language (at a very reasonable price, I might add). There are also websites like “How Stuff Works” (, which explains topics from how MP3 players work to how kidneys work. With libraries across the nation having public Internet access, this kind of free education is available to almost everyone. I am supposed to think that parental choice in education is lacking?

Of course, all this talk of “parental choice” is really another term for “vouchers.” A noncontroversial way to put this would be to explain what is intended with vouchers”to have government provide the money for education, however people want to spend it for their children’s education. I’m sure there is a case to be made for this type of vouchers, but trying to make historical claims and claims to limitation of educational choice is disingenuous. If we went back to the “old” model in which parents were in charge and government had no control over education, we would be in the old situation in which parents had to pay for any education outside the home. Another part of the old model is private benefactors who set up schools in their towns, and there are currently private organizations that raise money to pay for private school and college for deserving students.

It’s obvious that Mr. Forstmann is not advocating getting rid of the “government funding” side of education, simply the “government running” side. As it is, parents have plenty of choice over their children’s education, but now instead of one free choice, homeschooling, they have a plethora of free choices.

Mary Pat Campbell

New York, New York

Theodore Forstmann is right that additional school days, longer school hours, smaller classes, and higher teacher salaries are not answers to the crisis in education. Schools with the best facilities and the highest“paid teachers often fail because they are ultimately accountable to bureaucrats for regulatory compliance, instead of to parents for results.

Jersey City, New Jersey, where I live, has some of the highest paid teachers in the nation. Yet more than half of the students entering its public high schools drop out, and fewer than half of those students who remain are able to pass a state“required test for graduation.

Low“income families in places like Jersey City know very well that their children realize their best chance for success in schools that are directly accountable to parents. That is why in Jersey City, where 42 percent of all school families receive public assistance, one quarter of the city’s children attend privately managed schools.

The teachers’ union also knows that many more parents would like to choose privately managed schools. In 1995 when PepsiCo offered to assist our nonprofit scholarship foundation with private charitable contributions, the Jersey City Education Association threatened a state and national boycott of all Pepsi products. The unions are willing to hold poor families hostage to a failed system even while a majority of Jersey City teachers and their union president send their own children to private schools.

Daniel J. Cassidy

Children’s Scholarship Fund

New York, New York

Kerrey Under Fire

I am quite surprised at Andrew J. Bacevich’s naive and facile condemnation
of Senator Robert Kerrey (” The
Vietnam Wars
,” August/September). He obviously
never read Chairman Mao’s work on guerrilla warfare. He
also must not have talked to Vietnam vets or he would have
known that women guerrillas dressed like peasants would
send their little children out to the GIs to get candy”with
grenades strapped to their bodies. The professor did not
note that the woman describing the “massacre”
in question said that she was Viet Cong in the war.

Somalia should have reminded the good academic that guerrillas often use civilians as screens when attacking regular troops. Guerrillas want GIs to fire on civilians to make them seem the enemy of all civilians. This is easy to achieve in the ambiguity of a night attack. This is basic guerrilla war strategy against a militarily and technologically superior foe. Men in severe combat often have great difficulty in recalling and talking about their experiences. It makes them easy to exploit.

Howell A. McConnell

Retired Department of Defense Analyst

Riverdale, Maryland

Andrew J. Bacevich says
that “Kerrey the good soldier and Calley the war criminal
did not differ as much as previously advertised” and
that “Kerrey himself was complicit in blurring the
distinction . . . characterizing his involvement as an ‘atrocity’
for which he felt guilt and shame.”

Senator Kerrey, as an officer, was responsible for the moral behavior of his men and for the lives in his command. When fired upon, he could have assumed the village was defended. If wrong, he would be responsible for killing innocent civilians. He could have assumed that the village was not defended, and if wrong he would have been responsible for the deaths of men in his command. The awful moral choice forced on Senator Kerrey is a commonplace aspect of war, not understood at all by professors and editorial writers who imagine, with obscene hubris, that they could avoid the guilt feelings associated with combat. Does Senator Kerrey feel guilty? Of course. He has lived with his guilt for thirty years, without complaint, a vivid contrast to the moral posturing and outrageous hubris of some commentators.

Hal J. Breen, M.D.

Combat Veteran, 18th Cavalry

Recon Squadron

Phoenix, Arizona

Andrew J. Bacevich replies:

Ad hominem attacks do not merit a response, but Mr. McConnell can rest assured that I have spoken to Vietnam vets”indeed, I am one. As to the “obscene hubris” of professors who imagine that they can avoid feelings of guilt, I am not sure who Dr. Breen is referring to.

For the Record

I would like to set the record straight on a statement
made by Richard Doerflinger in his review
of Wesley J. Smith’s book Culture of Death
Mr. Doer flinger, summarizing Smith, writes that “modern
secular bio ethics often sets itself against religion, and
[Smith] even quotes ethicist Daniel Callahan as saying that
the ‘first thing’ bioethics had to do to establish itself
was ‘to push religion aside.’”

I did indeed write that, but I was simply describing what seemed to me to have
gone on in the early days of bioethics, not endorsing that
development. On the contrary, I found that a deplorable
trend, a mixture of an academic turf struggle on the part
of philosophers who wanted to play a dom-inant role in the
new field and not a little hostility to religion on the
part of many of them. As I wrote in the Fall 1999 issue
of Daedalus , “The decline of religious contributions
[to bioethics is] a misfortune, leading to a paucity of
concepts, a thin imagination, and the ignorance of traditions,
practices, and forms of moral analysis of great value.”
I made similar points in an article “Religion and the
Secularization of Bioethics” in a special supplement
to the Hastings Center Report (July/August 1990),
which was an offshoot of a project at the Center on religion
and bioethics. And I made a particular effort to get Gilbert
Meilaender, a frequent contributor to First Things, elected
a Fellow of the Center some years ago.

Daniel Callahan

Hastings Center

Garrison, New York

Tolerance for Tertullian

Must we keep dragging out Tertullian’s Quid Athenae Hierosolymis? ””What
has Athens to do with Jerusalem?””as the quintessence
of narrowness and intellectual intolerance (A. J. Conyers,
,” August/September)? We fail thereby
to do justice to a trenchant question and to an able and
engaging thinker who apparently had done a fair bit of listening
to the philosophers.

Tertullian was quite typical in thinking that the philosophers borrowed from Moses but mixed truth with error. His main objection was to the “mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition” that served as cover for the deceits of the heretics. Nor should we forget that this element of De Præscriptione has roots in Apologeticus , which is precisely an argument for religious toleration.

A more “tolerant” attitude towards Tertullian, in Conyers’ own sense of the word, might have afforded him a further opportunity for redeeming this notion from the Lockeans and other relativists.

Douglas Farrow

Associate Professor of Christian Thought

McGill University

Montreal, Quebec

A. J. Conyers replies:

I think Professor Farrow has helped my larger argument by calling attention to the complexity of Tertullian’s thought. It was not my intention to suggest that Tertullian’s oft“repeated question discredited, or even fully captured, his argument. Nor was it my intention to analyze his thought, although, as Prof. Farrow suggests, there are some lessons to be learned there that would do much good in understanding the philosophical openness of first millennium Christianity. I was merely attempting to acknowledge that every utterance and every act of the early Church is not consistent with what I will insist was a widespread spirit of openness toward alien thinkers. Although Tertullian’s full argument suggests to some degree what I am trying to demonstrate, in terms of the range of thought one finds in the Church in its first millennium, other Christian writers illustrate better the kind of openness I was suggesting. There are, after all, reasons that Tertullian, and not Clement or Justin Martyr, was more subject to the temptations of Montanism, and I would not hesitate to say that it had something to do with a disposition toward rejecting thought tinged with pagan roots. To suggest, after all, that philosophers could speak the truth insofar as they “borrowed from Moses” is hardly the high“water mark of Christian tolerance in any century.

Disagreeable Disagreements

What a difference a page makes! On page 80 of the August/September
2001 issue, Richard John Neuhaus editorializes about ” How
to Disagree
” by quoting the rule of Richard Baxter
(which Father Neuhaus points out was reiterated by John
XXIII): “In necessary things unity; in doubtful things
liberty; in all things charity.” Yet on the very next
page (” We
Piped and You Did Not Dance
“), he exhibits none
of these qualities.

When, in his visit to Syria, Pope John Paul II did not respond when President Hafaz Assad referred to Jews in crudely anti“Semitic terms, many throughout the world were disappointed. Abraham Foxman and the Anti“Defamation League referred to the Pope’s behavior as “the sin of silence.” For Fr. Neuhaus, such an accusation “is of course intended to evoke the old canard about Pius XII’s alleged silence during the Holocaust.” Canard? Why the use of such a harsh term when there are still so many questions left unanswered regarding Pius’ actions during the war years, and more than a half century later the Vatican recently announced that it could still not open its archives on Nazi“Papal relations for “technical” reasons. Canard? What happened to Richard Baxter’s “unity, liberty, and charity”?

Fr. Neuhaus’ comment continues by criticizing Mr. Foxman for his “rudeness” and “misbehavior,” with the ADL acting like “petulant children in the marketplace throwing a tantrum,” and reminding Foxman and the ADL that the Pope is not “anybody’s lackey.” This is “How to Disagree”? Try concluding, as Fr. Neuhaus did, that a change in the ADL’s approach is necessary, even if it “may put a crimp in ADL’s fundraising.” Talk about a “canard”! What was that remark “intended to evoke”? What happened to “In necessary things unity; in doubtful things liberty; in all things charity”?

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg

Congregation Beth Tfiloh

Baltimore, Maryland

RJN replies:

Truth is a necessary thing. It is, in my judgment, true to say that talk about
the “silence” of Pius XII is a canard. (See Robert
Rychlak, Hitler, the War, and the Pope , reviewed
in FT by John Jay Hughes
, October 2000.) The truth is
that the Jewish“Catholic committee assigned to study the
documents pertinent to the Holy See and the Holocaust was
recently suspended not for “technical” reasons
but, according to public statements by Walter Cardinal Kasper
and William Cardinal Keeler, because of the noncooperation
and bad faith of two Jewish members of the group. The factor
of ADL fundraising was raised by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, whom
I quoted. In view of ADL’s long“established pattern of advertising
and fundraising, I do not think it doubtful that that was
a factor in Mr. Foxman’s statements, nor was it a violation
of charity to mention it.