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It was a mighty battle and alleluias ascended when, in the late 1990s, religious freedom was institutionally ensconced as a goal of U.S. foreign policy. It would not have happened without the heroic labors of people such as Nina Shea, Paul Marshall, Abe Rosenthal, Michael Horowitz, and Representatives Frank Wolf and Chris Smith. And, let it be admitted, Arlen Specter in the Senate. In 1998, the International Religious Freedom Act was passed by Congress, creating a desk in the National Security Council, an office in the State Department, and an independent commission, all charged with making sure that”along with political, economic, and military concerns”those responsible for making policy would make religious freedom a priority. In 1999 the State Department issued its first and comprehensive Annual Report on International Religious Freedom .

To be sure, not everybody was suddenly converted to the importance of religious freedom. In the mandarin world of foreign policy experts, a good many “realists” viewed, and still view, this initiative as an unwelcome intrusion that distracts attention from the cold calculations of power that should guide our thinking about world affairs. The more perceptive, however, recognize that, whatever their personal disposition toward the “soft” phenomenon called religion, it has become an increasingly “hard” factor in the global reconfiguration of power relationships.

There is a justifiable anxiety that in the current war against terrorism religious freedom is once again being put on a back burner as the U.S. cuts deals with some of the most notorious violators”China, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia, for example”in order to secure cooperation and gain momentary tactical advantages. Such maneuverings are understandable. Religious freedom is not and cannot be the only priority in foreign policy, especially in a time of war. But those who worked so hard to make it a priority are justifiably worried that this great achievement could be undermined by the foreign policy establishment’s habits of facile expediency. The religion factor will be and should be vigorously debated in the months ahead. That debate does not pit “realists” against “idealists,” but is, rather, a debate about the hard reality of religion in defining, more and more, the lines of conflict in politics among nations. The war against terrorism is”more than it is politic for world leaders to say in public”also a war of religion.

To understand what this necessary debate is about, it is necessary to keep in mind the long and scrambled history of religion in our foreign policy. The International Religious Freedom Act has an impressive pedigree. The history is very nicely laid out by Leo P. Ribuffo of George Washington University in a new book resulting from conferences held by the Ethics and Public Policy Center and published by Rowman & Littlefield, The Influence of Faith: Religious Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy .

America’s understanding of itself as a new thing on the world scene (recall the words novus ordo seclorum on the Great Seal) gave rise to a powerfully moral, often moralistic, and sometimes explicitly religious vision of its mission among the nations. At times, American “exceptionalism” meant remaining aloof from the conflicts generated by the corrupt interests of morally lesser nations; at other times, America’s “manifest destiny” called for waging wars of the righteous against the forces of darkness”notably of Protestant righteousness against Catholic darkness, as in the case of Mexico, Cuba, and the Philippines. The story runs through Woodrow Wilson’s expansive mission to “make the world safe for democracy,” Eisenhower’s World War II “crusade in Europe,” and the long years of cold war struggle against “godless communism.” In the Vietnam War, the moral consensus was shattered, seemingly beyond repair, until, quite suddenly, it reasserted itself in response to the attacks of September 11. Once again, we are in a war portrayed as a conflict between, to use Reinhold Niebuhr’s phrase, the children of light and the children of darkness.

A Mission Vindicated

This history of America’s world mission is usually treated condescendingly by scholars, and Ribuffo’s account is not untouched by such conventional condescension. But in the century past that sense of mission has also been dramatically vindicated, notably in the defeat of Hitler and of what now almost everybody agrees was the evil empire of Soviet communism (never forgetting that, when Ronald Reagan spoke of the evil empire, the bien-pensant establishment was unanimous in condemning his reckless offense against the dream of “peaceful coexistence”). Nor is it evident in retrospect that U.S. action in Vietnam did not contribute to containing the expansionist ambitions of communism, although there is no end in sight of debate over that intervention. So also, President Bush’s strongly moral construal of today’s war against terrorism is, I believe, justified and, we must hope, will be vindicated.

Intellectuals are inclined to think that they are certified as intellectuals by virtue of their capacity to complexify, and the messiness of history is such that any conflict provides ample opportunities to highlight evidence contrary to the general truth. In the present war and the larger story of which it is part, I continue to believe that America is”on balance and considering the alternatives”a force for good in the world. And I continue to be impressed by how many otherwise sensible people criticize that proposition as an instance of uncritical chauvinism rather than the carefully nuanced moral judgment that it is.

A very smart ethicist from Harvard asks me, “Why does America have to have a mission in the world any more than Luxembourg has to have a mission in the world?” Which is yet another occasion for observing that there is smart smart and then there is dumb smart. America’s unparalleled influence in the world is attended by unparalleled responsibility; responsibility entails moral accountability; and moral accountability is defined by purpose. Some call it a mission, a word that secularists associate with zealotry but others understand to mean determination. The International Religious Freedom Act is part of that history of determined resolve, as is the American commitment to advance the cause of human rights across the board. Religious freedom is the first of human rights, for it is religion that grounds the dignity of the human person in his relation to an authority that transcends temporal powers.

What Counts as News

The 1998 act did not introduce a new factor into U.S. foreign policy, but reflected renewed urgency about a dangerously neglected factor. There is also the sheer fact of the dramatic growth in religious persecution, mainly, but not only, of Christians. Christians were and are systematically persecuted, chiefly in Communist and Muslim countries. The list is long and includes China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Sudan. Using rigorous criteria, Paul Marshall estimates that 200 to 250 million Christians are relentlessly persecuted for their faith, while 400 million others live “under non-trivial restrictions on religious liberty.” The 1998 act passed because a remarkable coalition of Jews and Christians was prepared to do battle not only with the foreign policy mandarins but also with oldline liberal churches and secular human rights organizations who complained that concern for persecuted Christians is an instance of “special pleading.” That complaint overlooks the fact that all speaking out for human rights”whether for Buddhists in Tibet or Jews in the former Soviet Union”is special pleading for those who cannot plead for themselves.

It is true that the media generally ignore or downplay religious persecution. For people in the news business, the news business is big news. A journalist jailed in Iran is likely to get more attention than two million Christians killed or enslaved in Sudan. Justified outrage is expressed at Islamist laws requiring women to wear veils, but much less notice is paid the fact that in some countries conversion to Christianity by a Muslim is punishable by death. After all, why would anyone want to convert to Christianity? Exotic religions, such as Tibetan Buddhism, get a modicum of respect, but one would not want to be found pleading the cause of Baptists or Catholics. To the mind steeped in the mythology of secularism”and, while some still deny it, the antireligious bias of the major media has by now been documented beyond reasonable doubt”Baptists, Catholics, and others who are assertively Christian represent the religious oppression from which the enlightened are only tenuously liberated. I exaggerate but slightly. It is true that in the last five years more attention has been paid to religious freedom by human rights groups and the media, but the general pattern is still one of indifference and incomprehension. The persecution of religion, and especially the persecution of Christians, simply does not fit the secular story line of oppression by religion. Liberal opposition to the 1998 act and the campaign for religious freedom was solidified by the sure sign of great evil afoot, namely, the support of the cause by the “religious right.”

Four Scenarios

This picture is changing, however, and it is reasonable to think that the change will accelerate. An essay by the estimable Samuel Huntington in The Influence of Faith recounts the ways in which, for more and more governments in the world, religion is the chief source of, or threat to, their legitimacy. Contrary to secularist expectations in the West, we are witnessing what is aptly described as the desecularization of world history. States seek to control religion, if necessary through repression and persecution, precisely because religion is becoming more important. Christianity in particular is, around the world and in almost all its forms, the carrier of democracy and political liberalization. Huntington cites a Chinese government publication that, taking note of the Church’s role in the collapse of Soviet communism, pointedly concludes: “If China does not want such a scene to be repeated in its land, it must strangle the baby while it is still in the manger.” And strangling religion is precisely what the Chinese regime is determined to do.

But, of course, it is the war with Islamically inspired terrorism that is most forcefully changing the perception of religion, and of religious persecution, in world affairs. Huntington asks, What can be done? and proposes four possible answers. First, the U.S. and others who share its purpose can employ their resources in pressing the concerns mandated by the 1998 act and related human rights agreements. But Huntington is skeptical. “Some of these measures might make some difference; a few could be counterproductive; most are likely to accomplish little in promoting progress toward religious liberty.” “Second,” he writes, “if religious persecution is in part a consequence of the power and importance of religion as a source of identity, legitimacy, and conflict, then logically religious persecution might be reduced if religion became less important in the lives of people.” But he acknowledges that it is doubtful that states can do much to make that happen, and trying to make it happen would likely increase religious persecution, which, in turn, might increase the importance of religion in people’s lives. Remember Tertullian on the blood of the martyrs.

The third possibility that Huntington entertains is that, since religious freedom is mainly a Western and Christian cause, and since religious freedom is most egregiously violated by non-Christian, mainly Islamic and Chinese, societies, the answer is for non-Christians to become Christians. But such a mighty missionary initiative, he writes, would likely provoke an equally mighty resistance, including increased persecution of Christians. “Religious liberty would come about only if Christianity were victorious in a global war of religions.” So Huntington is left with the fourth scenario, which is encouraging tendencies in non-Christian religions that are supportive of religious freedom, in the hope that the “ecumenical personality” of such religions will prevail over their “darker personality.” “Moving in this direction would at best be a long, slow process, but it may be the only practical one.” “Religious liberty,” he concludes, “is an issue where it is difficult to be optimistic without being utopian.”

I am not optimistic by disposition and I am anti-utopian by conviction, but I am inclined to a somewhat more hopeful set of possibilities. Whether or not some efforts are “counterproductive””and the law of unintended consequences is always hard at work”it is a great and necessary thing, and a thing necessary to American greatness, that this country be the champion of human rights, and of religious freedom in particular. History is not the inevitable march of progress, but there can be progress in history, and the last half century’s widespread promulgation of the belief that there are universal human rights is an instance of progress. We will have been defeated if we acquiesce in, or are perceived to have acquiesced in, the claim that the promotion of that belief is no more than an instance of the “cultural imperialism” of the West.

As for a decline in religious influence, Huntington is probably right in thinking that is neither likely nor desirable. For better and for worse, the indicators are almost all in the other direction. But a vibrant expansion of Christianity need not mean “a global war of religions.” A longer historical perspective is required. In his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio (The Mission of the Redeemer), John Paul II spoke of the third millennium as “a springtime of Christian evangelization.” In the same encyclical he declared that “the Church imposes nothing; she only proposes.” When the Chinese dictatorship is replaced by a more humane regime”and one may reasonably think it is more a matter of when than if”the Christian proposal could have a world-transforming effect in aligning that society with the cause of human dignity. That is not optimism, and certainly not utopianism. It is a reasonable hope that may or may not be vindicated.

Islam is the great question for this century, and perhaps beyond. Christians need not abandon their evangelizing mission by joining with others in trying to create a dialogue with Muslims in the hope of eliciting Islamic support for human rights, including religious freedom. But, of course, whether or not that is possible must be answered by those who credibly speak from the heart of Islamic faith and practice. The aim of the current war is to demonstrate decisively that the murderous global ambition of the political ideology called Islamism has no future whatsoever. Once that is demonstrated, Muslim leaders will be free to search for a usable past that can help in constructing, also for Islam, a more sustainable future. Meanwhile, and it may be a very long meanwhile, the United States must be, and must be seen to be, the uncompromising champion of human rights, including the first and the font of all rights, which is religious freedom.

Jews and Christians: Attention Must Be Paid

Over the years, many readers have said how much they appreciate this journal’s attentiveness to Jewish-Christian relations. It must be admitted, however, that a good many others have indicated their puzzlement about that. My own reflection on Jews and Judaism in Christian America comes out of a complicated mix of theology, sociology, political philosophy, and autobiography. Perhaps an autobiographical word may be permitted here. I was born and reared in the Ottawa Valley of Ontario, Canada, and my childhood world was that of a German Lutheran working class in which the “others” were French-speaking Catholics and the Anglo-Scot establishment that ran almost everything. There were several apparently well-to-do Jewish families in the small town of Pembroke, involved in clothing and furniture businesses, but none of us really knew them.

I was told in catechism class that the Jews were responsible for killing Jesus, which is why they had had such a hard time through the centuries. They brought the curse on themselves, we were told, when they cried out, “Let his blood be on us and on our children.” (This was before the widespread awareness of what had happened in the Holocaust.) No big deal was made of this, and it was not joined to any overt animus against Jews. It was simply stated as one of the unhappy facts of history. There were sometimes statements that in today’s climate would be deemed anti-Semitic. For instance, trying to get a lower price on a purchase was regularly called “jewing” somebody down. I mentioned that to a twenty-something editor the other day. She had never heard the expression. But I cannot say that the few passing references to Jews and Judaism in my childhood”and they were no more than passing references”made much of an impression on me, except to make me suppose that it must be unfortunate to be born into the troubled history of the Jewish people.

Then, in the late 1950s, Rabbi Sol Bernards came to speak at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Working for the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith, Bernards was going around the country, much in the manner of an itinerant preacher, alerting people to a new thing under the sun, “the Jewish-Christian dialogue.” I was immediately hooked, and “the dialogue,” as it is commonly called, has been an integral part of my life and thought ever since. Not too many years later, when I was pastor of a black parish in Brooklyn, I came to know Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and we formed a fast friendship, first in shared activism against the Vietnam War and later in countless hours of intense theological and philosophical conversation”usually in his smoke-filled office (he with his cigar and I with my pipe) high in the tower of Jewish Theological Seminary up on Morningside Heights. More than twenty-five years after his death, Heschel”or Father Abraham, as some of us called him”is widely acclaimed as the most important American Jewish thinker of the twentieth century. Heschel and I disagreed strongly about what Jews and Christians, qua Jew and qua Christian, must disagree about, namely, the person and work of Jesus in the purposes of the God of Israel. It was always disagreement in the service of truth, and within friendship and civility bounded by a shared acknowledgment of covenantal accountability.

Among most Christians and Jews, it is fair to say, the Jewish-Christian dialogue is viewed as something of a curiosity carried on by people who are “interested in that kind of thing.” I am convinced that it is critical to our common future, and to the future of the American experiment. It must be admitted, however, that the dialogue is often banal and something of a bore. In 1989, I wrote with Rabbi Leon Klenicki Believing Today: Jew and Christian in Conversation . In that book Rabbi Klenicki offers withering comments on what he calls the “tea and sympathy” aspect of the dialogue. For many years there was, for instance, the annual Brotherhood Week, sponsored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. The idea was that you would take somebody to lunch whom you otherwise had no reason to talk to all year round. I recall an early dialogue experience in Kansas City. The speakers were a rabbi, a Catholic priest, and myself (then a Lutheran pastor). The priest wound up the proceedings with some observations of the “only in America” genre. There are many important differences between Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, but what unites us is stronger than what divides us, he opined. On what unites us I expected him to say something about our common devotion to the God of Israel and the covenant with Abraham. But he drew a different lesson from the dialogue. “When we scratch beneath the surface of our differences,” he triumphantly concluded, “we discover that we’re all good Americans.”

In many years of working with Catholics and Protestants of all varieties, I am not sure that I have ever heard a word that could fairly be described as anti-Semitic. For most Christians, and especially for the evangelical Protestants now increasingly prominent in our public life, the attitude toward Jews and Judaism is entirely benign. It is simply that it is no big deal. For Jews, a small minority in an overwhelmingly Christian society, the relationship with Christians is necessarily a very big deal indeed. Therefore, it should be a big deal for Christians as well. Not only because a decent respect is owed to the more than five million Americans who are Jews, but also because the anxieties and cultural influence of Jews are a major factor in creating a new conversation about the future of “Christian America.” I should add, however, that while American Jews typically worry a lot about the Christian majority, in my experience most Jews show slight interest in the Jewish-Christian dialogue. That is a curious phenomenon best addressed by Jews.

There is a genuinely new thing happening, and it is connected to the “only in America” theme. Only in America and only today is there a sustained and intellectually rigorous engagement between Christians and Jews”albeit a small minority of both”about what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a Jew, and what it means to be Christians and Jews together. In Europe before the Holocaust there was”with the exception of a few individual dialogues such as that between Franz Rosenzweig and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy”slight motivation for such an engagement; and after the Holocaust there were not enough Jews left for such an engagement. In Israel, there is not the critical mass of Christians necessary for authentic dialogue, and the Palestinian Christians native to the area are politically traumatized and, to put it gently, disinclined to dialogue. So it is “only in America” after all.

What is happening here, for the first time in two thousand years, for the first time since the apostle Paul pondered the continuing “mystery” of Living Judaism, for the first time since the Church condemned Marcion as a heretic in the second century, for the first time since so many things in our tortuously entangled relationship, is that believing Jews and Christians are encountering one another on a footing of civil equality in a shared exploration of the way through history of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. This is a new thing, and a thing of inestimable importance to all who care about the future of Judaism and Christianity. It is also of importance to Muslims and people of other religions and of none, as we think about the future of an American experience in which civil tolerance and religious devotion are not enemies but allies. These two concerns converge and reinforce one another. While the spiritual and theological encounter between Jew and Christian is immeasurably more important, civil amity is no little consideration, and is indispensable to the encounter concerning higher and deeper things.

It is fair to say that, apart from small special interest publications expressly devoted to the subject, this magazine pays more attention to the Jewish-Christian connection than any other in the country or, to my knowledge, in the world. Many readers love it, some are puzzled by it, and perhaps there are a few who dislike it. Never mind, we will continue to pay attention, in the hope that the circle of the attentive, both Jewish and Christian, will one day be greatly expanded.

Home Schooling and Social Capital

When it got seriously underway in the mid-1980s, many thought home schooling was little more than another gesture of disgruntlement on the part of “the religious right.” Today, it is estimated by some that two million children are being home schooled, and the movement is beginning to look like that great thing ever chased by liberals, the wave of the future. In the Atlantic , Margaret Talbot sympathetically reviews Mitchell Stevens’ study of the phenomenon, Kingdom of Children (Princeton University Press), and notes some odd twists. For instance, in the 1960s it was leftist thinkers such as Ivan Illich, Paul Goodman, and A. S. Neill (of Summerhill fame) who promoted, under the banner of “unschooling,” the revolt against standardized education. Through circuitous routes, the idea caught on among conservative Christians worried about the militant secularism promoted by the public schools, and mainly among evangelical Christians who, unlike Catholics, did not have a school system of their own.

In home schooling, women are the chief teachers, and one may think that their decision to stay at home with the kids is a protest against regnant feminisms. Talbot’s essay suggests it’s a bit more complicated than that. “Deeply immersed in these values as they were, however, the women Stevens interviewed were hardly immune to the more mainstream ideals of womanhood shaped in part by liberal feminism. Like their contemporaries who had chosen to combine outside careers with the raising of children, they felt the attractions of using their minds and education in systematic, diligent ways; of possessing a sense of purpose independent from their husbands’; and of avoiding the tedium of housecleaning. The daily life of, say, the stereotypical 1950s housewife, trussed up in an apron and a short strand of pearls, seemed pallid and irrelevant to them, too. They wanted, as several women told Stevens, to be recognized as more than ‘just moms.’ Home schooling was in some ways the perfect solution; a souped-up domesticity with higher stakes and more respect.” The home-schooling movement may also assist another feminist goal, getting dads to assume more responsibility. Talbot writes: “Moreover, fathers are actively encouraged to help their wives in whatever way the wives find useful, since the job of training young minds is regarded as both singularly important and singularly demanding. Christian home schoolers are ‘refreshingly explicit about the human costs of raising children,’ Stevens found. ‘They devote considerable energy trying to explain why children “need” full-time mothers, and they also are careful to celebrate the doing of that work.’”

Necessary Tensions

Talbot discusses the work of Christian Smith and David Sikkink published in these pages (“ Is Private Schooling Privatizing? ” April 1999), which shows that home schooling families are at least as involved in civic activities and the building of “social capital” as those who send their kids out for education, and she ends with this thought: “I don’t think we need worry much about their socialization in the narrow sense, either. With the exception of a few wackos in the Idaho panhandle, home-schooling parents are not bent on isolating their children, and most home-schooled kids make friends through the Scouts or church groups or volunteering. Indeed, in a study conducted a few years ago the sociologists Christian Smith and David Sikkink found that home-schooling families are actually more enmeshed in their communities than public school families. They are more likely, for example, to have voted in the previous five years, participated in an ongoing community-service activity, or gone to the public library. And the few psychological studies that have looked at categories such as ‘self-concept’ and sociability have detected no problems and some advantages for home-schooled kids. It would be ill-advised to set much store by such studies, given the difficulty of measuring something like self-concept, but at least they don’t raise any alarms.”

But Talbot knows there are other concerns. “More difficult, I think, is the question of whether home schooling poses any sort of a problem for society; a threat to social cohesion, for example, or a brain drain from the public schools. Smith and Sikkink’s study suggests that there is little reason to worry that home schooling diverts people from civic life. What may be more worrisome is the prospect that home schooling will attract new recruits motivated mainly by disenchantment with the quality of their public schools. There is some evidence that recent converts to home schooling fit this profile. In a Florida state survey conducted from 1995 to 1996, for example, ‘dissatisfaction with public schools’ edged out ‘religious’ motivations for the first time as the leading reason for home schooling.” Home schooling creates tensions, Talbot admits, but that may be for the good. “Secular liberals may not much care for the particular forms of social capital that evangelicals and fundamentalists build, but build them they do. And if one shares the worry that the American citizenry is growing more selfish and monadic, the home schoolers’ brand of civic participation is no small thing. Of course, one might argue that the home schoolers’ activism is too narrow and self-interested to count as social capital. But that may be too narrow a way of thinking. As Smith and Sikkink argue:

American democracy thrives on the widespread participation of its citizens in a host of different kinds of associations that mediate between the individual and the state, often even when those associations are not manifestly political or liberal . . . . [T]he experience of association and participation itself tends to socialize, empower, and incorporate citizens in ways that stimulate democratic self-government, even if they involve some particularity and conflict in the process.

”Christian home schoolers,”Talbot concludes, “embody a coherent, living critique of mainstream education and child-rearing that can be bracing, a model of carefully negotiated, mildly irritating separateness, of being in but not of modern consumer society. For the rest of us, the tensions that creates may be the most useful thing about them.”

While We’re At It

• President Bush’s August 9, 2001 speech on embryonic stem cell research, his first major address to the nation, was an unprecedented moment of presidential pedagogy on the beginnings of human life and the moral obligations attending such life. On that almost all pro-lifers agreed. As for his actual decision about federal funding for stem cell research, however, there has been sharp disagreement. Stem cells and Congressman Whatshisname, who may have had something to do with the death of his lover, were the hot items in the news until September 11, when the subject was abruptly changed. But even in a time of war, the world goes on. In this issue, we are pleased to offer an uncommonly lucid and persuasive account by Dr. Maureen L. Condic of what is involved in the stem cell debate. Next month we hope to have a comprehensive analysis of the various, and often strongly conflicting, arguments now being advanced about the future of embryonic stem cell research, and the alternatives to it.

• Sales figures for the apocalyptic “Left Behind” books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins flew off the charts long before September 11, and now their flight must be measured in light years. Little noticed, however, is that Muslims have also cashed in on millennial excitements occasioned by the year 2000. The Day of Wrath by Saudi theologian Sifr al Halawi is especially popular. It mixes conspiracy theories, UFOs, and standard Muslim and Christian apocalyptic scenarios in depicting the final cosmic battle over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. According to Richard Landes of the Center for Millennial Studies, the story has a Zionist coalition of Christians and Jews, led by al-Dajjal (Islam’s Antichrist figure), sparking a united Muslim assault on Israel and on the U.S., the other “twin tower” of Western evil. The problem with such apocalyptic enthusiasms, whether Christian or Muslim, is not, as some commentators would have it, that some believe too fervently. The problem is with what they believe so fervently.

• Coming out against the war on terrorism, the United Methodist Board of Church and Society declared that “war is not an appropriate means of responding to criminal acts against humanity,” and urged that the U.S. rely on the United Nations to resolve the problem. The statement continues, “We continue to say ‘no’ to war and encourage our leaders to respond cautiously.” To respond cautiously to their saying ‘no’? To wage war cautiously? The United Methodist in the White House surely deserves clearer counsel from his church.

• You know about the automatic grape juice dispensing machine for Protestant communion services. Nor have you been kept in the dark about those odious electric votive “candles” in too many Catholic churches. I was expecting next the microwave crematorium. But here is a promotion from an outfit called Belltron. It asks the priest to imagine he has a funeral at ten o’clock in the morning but then discovers that there are neither altar boys nor organist. No problem. Belltron has “Incenser,” which at the push of a button lights and attends to the charcoal. As for the music, there is “Sanctuary Musician,” which provides recorded organ accompaniment for the funeral Mass, and, finally, there is “Model 4 Carillon,” which sounds a tolling bell for the entrance and exit of the casket. The promotion piece concludes, “Now with all that time saved, have that second cup of coffee.” Coming soon, “Autopriest.” Then you can just go back to bed.

• For some reason the press coverage suggested that it was a small step toward the eventual”and, as some would have it, inevitable”recognition of same-sex marriage. In fact, as Philip Horgan points out in the Catholic Register of Toronto, the October 2, 2001 decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia is a decisive setback to that goal. Legal jargon notwithstanding, the decision should interest nonlawyers too. Writing for the Court, Justice Ian Pitfield declared: “Under Canadian law, marriage is a legal relationship between two persons of the opposite sex. The legal relationship does not extend to same-sex couples. Marriage was defined by common, or judge-made, law. Judges should only change common law in incremental steps. A change to define marriage as the legal union of two individuals, regardless of sex, is not incremental. The change would have broad legal ramifications and would require, at the least, rules to govern the formation and dissolution of same-sex unions. Any permitted changes to the common law of marriage must be made by legislation. Parliament may not enact legislation to change the legal meaning of marriage to include same-sex unions. Under s. 91(26) of the Constitution Act, 1867, Parliament was given exclusive legislative jurisdiction over marriage, a specific kind of legal relationship. By attempting to change the legal nature of marriage, Parliament would be self-defining a legislative power conferred upon it by the Constitution rather than enacting legislation pursuant to the power. Parliament would be attempting to amend the Constitution without recourse to the amendment process provided by the Constitution Act, 1982. Alternatively, Parliament would be attempting to enact legislation in respect of civil rights exclusively within the legislative authority of the province. ‘Marriage,’ as a federal head of power with legal meaning at confederation, is not amenable to Charter scrutiny. One part of the Constitution may not be used to amend another.” (The reference to the Charter has to do with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.) A few other statements in the ruling are worth noting: “The importance of the essential character of marriage to Canadian society is a matter of common sense, understanding, and observation,” Pitfield wrote. “There is nothing that should compel the equation of a same-sex relationship to an opposite-sex relationship when the biological reality is that [the] two relationships can never be the same. That essential distinction will remain no matter how close the similarities are by virtue of social acceptance and action. No means exist to equate same-sex relationships to marriage, while preserving the fundamental importance of marriage to the community.” Both here and in Canada other efforts are underway to have the courts usurp the political process in redefining marriage, but now, at least in Canada, they will have to overcome the cogent reasoning of the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

• There were, as you might expect, papers and more papers at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR). The irrepressible curiosity of researchers, combined with tenure track ambitions, came up with a number of findings you might want to file for future use. For instance, religion on the Internet is not a substitute for traditional religious participation, but is used by the most religiously committed to complement and reinforce such participation. And a couple of researchers at Georgetown University have determined that Catholics who have an image of Mary in their home are more likely to name their children after saints. (Don’t mock. We’re talking the scientific study of religion here.) Another paper documents that ELCA Lutheran clergy are more liberal than those of any other mainline Protestant body, although they tend to keep their politics out of the pulpit. Finally, evangelicals in Canada continue to grow, while the number of mainliners and Catholics has stabilized. Across the board, there is a significant uptick in Canadian young people going to church weekly, except in Quebec, where thirty years ago Catholic clergy and politicians joined hands and happily jumped into the deep end of secularization’s very deep pool. Even in Quebec, however, there is an increase in church weddings and funerals. Maybe Quebec, too, has touched bottom.

• A friend suggested a possible connection, so I checked it out. Sure enough, the attack that turned back the Ottoman Empire at the gates of Vienna in 1683 began on September 11. The relief of the Siege of Vienna was led by a united German and Polish army under Charles of Lorraine and Jan Sobieski, and marked the end of Muslim ambitions to conquer Christian Europe, the “abode of the infidel.” The coincidence of September 11 attacks more than three hundred years apart may be nothing more than coincidence. On the other hand, Osama bin Laden and his supporters were very explicit in their obsession with the Ottoman Empire and their determination to wreak revenge for humiliations suffered at the hands of the West. At the least, the symmetry of dates is yet another reminder of the long and complicated history of which the present conflict is part.

• During the century past, evangelical Protestants in this country fell willy-nilly into the cultural habits of contraception and divorce, and even, until turned around in the late seventies, supported the abortion license decreed by the infamous Roe decision of 1973. Evangelicalism’s subsequent embrace of what John Paul II calls “the culture of life” includes increasingly frequent statements of appreciation for Natural Family Planning (NFP)”not to be confused with the much pilloried “rhythm method.” Sam and Bethany Torode have a new book coming out soon from Eerdmans, Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception . An excerpt appears in the mainline evangelical magazine Christianity Today . They write: “Some readers may ask, ‘What’s the difference between natural and artificial birth control? Don’t couples who use either means have the same goal in mind?’ The fundamental difference between spacing children by NFP and by artificial methods of contraception is that periodic abstinence (prudent self-control) preserves the integrity, symbolism, and sacramental wholeness of each sex act. The one-flesh union is neither diminished nor compromised. Elisabeth Elliot, one of the few well-known evangelicals to espouse NFP, explains: ‘The distinction that became so clear to me is the difference between the deliberate interruption of the transmission of life during the fertile period, and the responsible use of the natural rhythms which are imminent in the reproductive system. In other words, the difference between impeding a natural process, or making legitimate use of the natural disposition which God the Creator has built into the reproductive system.’” The authors report: “We have never heard a Christian parent say, ‘You know, I really regret having that fifth child’ or ‘I wish I hadn’t had any children at all.’ We have only heard regrets from those who chose not to have more children, and sorrow from those who are physically unable to have any. We have read many stories from Christian couples who gave up artificial contraception”none regret it.” They conclude with this: “Completely self-giving love between spouses is never sterile. It cannot be contained in just two bodies. It overflows, spilling into love for others. For married couples, this love finds expression in its openness to participating with God in the creation of new life. It’s time for us, as Christians, once again to embrace childbearing with joy, as a gift, and fertility as a mystery to be reverenced.”

• There are many arguments against designating certain actions as “hate crimes.” People should be punished for what they do, not for what they think. Granted, the law takes into account factors such as “malicious intent,” but, if you’re beating somebody up, it may reasonably be assumed that your intentions are not benign. And how do we distinguish “hate” from intense dislike, ignorant bigotry, or rational hostility? Do we really want government thought-police presuming to make a psychological diagnosis of why you rammed your neighbor’s car? It’s against the law to deliberately ram your neighbor’s car, and that’s that. Plus, “hate crimes” make doing bad things to some people subject to greater punishment than doing bad things to other people, which clearly violates equal protection. A sociologist friend points out another factor. Interracial crimes are twelve times more likely to be black-on-white than white-on-black, which means, he says, that hate-crimes laws will disproportionately penalize black criminals. Hey, you take your arguments where you can get them.

• To the ancient Greeks it seemed that everybody outside their beloved polis didn’t know how to speak. They all seemed to be saying “bar, bar,” and so they were called barbarians. George McKenna of the City University of New York says that something similar has happened with liberalism, which has become not so much a theory of government or cluster of doctrines but an ethnic group. In “Why They Help Them Lie,” published in the Human Life Review , McKenna explains why liberal ethnic solidarity requires right-thinking (i.e., left-thinking) people to go along with the mendacities of pro-abortion advocacy. He reminds us that it was not always so. “The surprising thing is that many liberals did disagree, at least at first. In 1971 Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy was writing constituents that ‘the legalization of abortion is not in accordance with the values which our civilization places on human life.’ Wanted or unwanted, Kennedy wrote, ‘human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized”the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.’ Even in 1976, three years after Roe v. Wade , Kennedy was insisting that abortion ‘is not a legitimate or acceptable response to any problem of society,’ adding that ‘unwanted as well as wanted children must be unfailingly protected.’ As late as 1977 the Rev. Jesse Jackson was demanding that funding for abortion be cut and the money spent on ‘human needs’ instead of a ‘federal policy of killing.’ And, closer to present memories, Al Gore and Bill Clinton were firmly pro-life in the early 1980s. None of these politicians has ever offered an explanation for why he changed his views, beyond saying that his views ‘evolved.’ This is rare for converts. Usually they are only too anxious to tell us what led up to their change of heart. Dr. [Bernard] Nathanson, for example, has written and spoken at length about the ultrasound pictures of life in the womb that turned him around. But the reverse-converts say nothing about any experience, thought, or revelation that turned them around. So what made them convert? I suppose that if we gave truth serum to the Democratic politicians I just quoted, their answer would be that they worried about challenges in primary elections (which bring out liberal ideologues) and a drying-up of campaign funds (which come from wealthy ideological liberals). But that still would not answer the question of why they , the ideologically liberal voters and Democratic contributors, are so angrily determined to link liberalism with ‘abortion rights.’ The real answer, I think, is that, whatever the philosophical merits of the pro-life position, whatever its doctrinal compatibility with liberalism, pro-life has become identified with the ‘outsiders’”the strangers, the barbarians, the people who talk funny.”

• To judge by some accounts, religious orders for men in the Catholic Church are on the ropes, and some are. But according to the Catholic Research Center, an independent agency, the facts are, all in all, encouraging. There are 258 religious communities for men approved by the Church, with 225,136 members engaged in sundry ministries around the world. Between 1966 and 1999, 23 percent of the older communities have increased their membership, but the real news is with the twenty-five new religious communities, which are growing rapidly. In addition to the officially approved communities, there are more than a hundred growing communities awaiting approval. The report, written by Dr. Patrick A. Metress, quotes Father Benedict Groeschel, a founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal: “Religious life always comes back to life when people are willing to accept the reforming power of the Holy Spirit,” and the data suggest that that is precisely what is happening now. For more information, write the Catholic Research Center, P.O. Box 12522, Burke, Virginia, 22009.

• The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) goes back to 1847 and practices “close” communion (not, mind you, “closed” communion). The LCMS also has a more or less congregational polity, which means that any local church can submit memorials or proposals to the national convention. Grace Lutheran Church in Queens Village, New York, submitted the following to last summer’s convention. “Memorial 3“45 TO INCLUDE COMPANY OF HEAVEN IN COMMUNION FELLOWSHIP: Whereas, the LCMS only communes those who are members of the LCMS and are in fellowship with it; and Whereas, Jesus and many of the saints in heaven were on earth long before the establishment of the LCMS; and Whereas, during the Lord’s Supper we celebrate the holy meal ‘with angels and archangels & with all the company of heaven’ ( LW pp. 146-48); therefore be it RESOLVED, That we make all the company of heaven honorary members of the LCMS, even if they were not Lutheran in life, so that we are not breaking our own rules when we come to the Lord’s Table; and be it further RESOLVED, That we declare Jesus the Christ to be an honorary member of the LCMS so that in His second coming He will not be turned away from a Lutheran altar.” The memorial was not adopted. Moreover, it is reliably reported that many delegates made it emphatically clear that they were not amused.

• Frankly, Stanley Kurtz is able to muster more generosity toward Alan Wolfe’s Moral Freedom: The Impossible Idea That Defines the Way We Live Now (Norton) than I can. It will be remembered that Wolfe argues in that book that the nineteenth-century achievement of economic freedom, followed by the twentieth-century achievement of political freedom, have now produced freedom’s fulfillment in moral freedom. Writing in Policy Review , Kurtz says that Wolfe’s analyses are sometimes brilliant, even if his sociological research is badly skewed, and he is taken with Wolfe’s ingenious turning of Tocqueville on his head. He is taken with it, but by no means convinced. Kurtz writes: “Assuming that moral freedom’s opponents face certain extinction, Wolfe paints conservative social critics such as William Bennett and Gertrude Himmelfarb as the doomed aristocrats of the present. The analogy is questionable. Aristocratic privilege was a part of a complex and interlocking total social system. Once feudal bonds between the aristocracy and the peasantry had been swept aside, restoration became impossible short of a radical counterrevolution. Tocqueville, for example, singled out America’s legal rejection of primogeniture as a structural key to democracy’s inevitable triumph. Without the ability to concentrate wealth, power, and title in the first-born son, an indispensable social prerequisite of aristocracy had effectively been destroyed. The social underpinnings of contemporary cultural conservatism are by no means subject to that sort of all-or-nothing choice. And this raises an interesting possibility. Wolfe is describing the triumph of a surprisingly moderate and palatable form of moral freedom”a new cultural framework slowly pushing out its antiquated predecessors. But what if many of the redemptive elements of moral freedom touted by Wolfe are actually rooted in moral traditions that have not died and cannot die without taking moral freedom to the grave also? In that case, the conservative social critic is no doomed aristocrat, but a permanent and necessary fixture of the new social order. And that, in turn, would mean that our contemporary culture war, rather than being a decisive struggle from which moral freedom will emerge the victor, with traditional morality the vanquished, is actually the signature feature of this new moral era”an era in which moral freedom and moral traditionalism will alternately reconcile, merge, and vie for dominance. Perhaps instead of the dawning of the age of moral freedom, we are witnessing the onset of a permanent and inconclusive culture war.” I think that’s about right. Although I believe we witnessed “the onset” of the culture war in the early twentieth century and, as James Q. Wilson has argued, its “great interruption” during the Depression and World War II. The great resumption of the culture war began in the 1960s and, as Kurtz indicates, its end is nowhere in sight. Or at least it wasn’t until September 11, and that reported sighting is still much in dispute.

• Here is a long, about three thousand words, interview with Father Donald Cozzens, author of the controversial book The Changing Face of the Priesthood (see the review essay by Msgr. Earl Boyea, “ Another Face of the Priesthood ,” in FT , February 2001). This is the opening question by U.S. Catholic : “You talk about the challenge for priests to be loyal men of the Church on the one hand, and their own person on the other. What’s the tension in that challenge?” Cozzens: “This challenge for priests is similar to what any individual faces when working for a large institution or company.” You can stop reading right there, although I read it all. Everything that follows logically flows from the assumption of similarity between working for a large company and ordination into the priesthood of Christ and His Body, the Church. The interview is bereft of any reference to prayer, grace, faith, union with Christ’s eucharistic sacrifice, or the call to holiness. In both vocabulary and substance, Fr. Cozzens’ reflections can be found in any pop psychology book or management manual picked up at Barnes & Noble. Is the Church also a human institution? Of course. Are there similarities with a corporation? To be sure. But for every similarity there are a dozen dissimilarities. The question is whether seminarians and priests believe that the Church is what she says she is. It is not a matter of toeing “the company line,” as the interview has it. Nor is it a matter of being faithful to the Church “on the one hand” and to oneself “on the other.” There is no on the one hand and on the other hand. At ordination the priest places both hands into the hands of the bishop and pledges, in radical abandonment to the grace of God, nothing less than his all. The question is and always has been the question put by Our Lord, “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)

• John C. Maxwell, described as a New York Times best-selling author, publishes with Thomas Nelson, an evangelical house. He has written The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, The 21 Most Powerful Minutes in a Leader’s Day, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, and his latest, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork . Only seventeen? Apparently the infallibility machine is running down. Maxwell, a former pastor, is featured in a Publishers Weekly special on books that combine religion and self-help, reflecting “a uniquely American approach to religion and spirituality”faith should work , it should achieve results.” It’s tempting to sneer. Remember Adlai Stevenson’s quip about Norman Vincent Peale, “I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.” It turns out that Stevenson didn’t read either, nor much of anything else. Popular religion is, more often than not, vulgar; vulgar being but another word for popular. It is not fastidiousness but honesty to point out that popularity does not excuse hype, which is exaggeration, which is falsehood. Although there is no denying that hype, too, “works.” Not, however, in the service of truth.

• For purposes of perfect whimsy, following Josef Pieper’s counsel that leisure is the basis of culture, I take time out for Nigel Rees’ ”Quote . . . Unquote” Newsletter . Never does the indulgence go unrewarded. From the present issue is this, which is, perhaps, by Hilaire Belloc: “There were the Scots who kept the Sabbath and everything else they could lay their hands on. Then there were the Welsh who preyed on their neighbors. Thirdly there were the Irish who never knew what they wanted but were willing to fight for it anyway. Lastly there were the English who considered themselves a self-made nation, thus relieving the Almighty of a dreadful responsibility.” Yes, I know, since September 11 the English have been stalwart friends, but surely a little joshing is permitted. Anglophobia is something else. Anglophobia is disliking things English more than is absolutely necessary.

• She comes from a strictly, if somewhat confusedly, observant Jewish family, as she tells it, and when Hanna Rosen was appointed religion reporter for the Washington Post , she wasn’t quite prepared for other religious worlds. This from a conversation about evangelicalism at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington: “I now find myself, moreover, a religion reporter. I wrote about evangelicals a little bit at the New Republic , mostly contemptuously and without much understanding. When I first heard the former California Congresswoman Andrea Seastrand, I thought that her descriptions of her apocalyptic visions of California and the Second Coming were absolutely off the wall. But after a year of spending a lot of time in the evangelical world, I’ve come to think it’s the Washington Post newsroom that’s crazy. I now have the feeling that everyone is an evangelical, that I could get on any plane in America and ask the person sitting next to me, ‘When did you accept Jesus Christ?’ and he or she wouldn’t even blink. Back in my newsroom, however, no one will believe me when I tell them that 44 percent of Americans are biblical creationists. They think it’s time to transfer me off my beat.”

• The reason we no longer have “freak shows” at county fairs, opined my friend the late Christopher Lasch, is not because we have become more sensitive to the afflicted but because our society will no longer tolerate freaks. Some twenty years ago, “wrongful life” suits were being brought in our courts on behalf of children who were somehow malformed and would have been aborted had the parents been alerted by the doctors involved. Under relentless protest from organizations for the handicapped, such suits seem to have disappeared here, but France is catching up. The country’s highest court of appeal, the Cour de Cassation , has awarded damages to a mentally retarded boy because he had not been aborted. His “right not to be born” was violated, said the court. An intriguing metaphysical puzzle, that: a being capable of possessing a right not to be. What was really declared in this case, of course, is a parental right not to be burdened. Yves Richard, a lawyer representing the medical profession and critical of the decision, observed, “The ruling means that the handicapped have no place in our society.” Just as Kit Lasch said.

• Martin E. Marty complains about economist Robert J. Samuelson, who says it is “moral self-indulgence” to rant against economic inequality. Americans, Samuelson writes, don’t care that much about inequalities. They do care about everyone having a chance to improve himself. If the poor are less poor, it doesn’t matter whether the rich get richer. As Samuelson puts it, “Reducing inequality matters only if we reduce poverty.” Marty demurs: “Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and a host of others in the book Who’s Who in Israel certainly would be classified, then, in the ‘morally self-indulgent group.’ Next time you read them, remember: They live with illusion.” It is my wont to take Marty very seriously and so, while I do not have a copy of Who’s Who in Israel , I do have a copy of the Old Testament. For the life of me, I didn’t find a prophetic reference to equality. Equality does come up in the New Testament. For instance, there are the vineyard workers in Matthew 20 who complain against the generous householder who made the latecomers “equal to us who have borne the burden of the day.” And then there is reference to equality of goods in 2 Corinthians 8 where Paul is urging a generous contribution to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem. The Apostle goes on to say, “The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Now, if only Marty could help us think through a non-compulsory and cheerful public policy for the equal (or more equal) distribution of wealth, we would all be greatly in his debt. True, being in Marty’s debt does smack of inequality, but then, we are all enriched by his more than equal achievements. As for the economics lesson, Samuelson is right: we do better for everyone by focusing not on equality but on the expansion of opportunity.

• Oakland, California, is getting a new cathedral. That’s where Jerry Brown is mayor. Designed by European architect Santiago Calatrava, the cathedral will be in the shape of “hands joined in prayer.” Big hands, 180 feet high, costing $78 million. The building is orthogonal, it says here, in the spirit of Buddhist and Hindu temples. Chairs will be arranged around the altar, with the intention that liturgical “performances” will be “center-stage.” “My ambition,” says the architect, “is to give Oakland’s cathedral a universal character independent of the Catholic Church. Pluralism is universality.” Others persist in claiming that catholic, as in Catholic, means universal. According to the official Catholic directory, Jerry Brown is not Bishop of Oakland.

Modern Liturgy is a monthly magazine that, reflecting the fact that “modern” is no longer in vogue, has changed its name to Ministry & Liturgy . In the current issue, the editor advocates a rite of general absolution, as distinct from individual confession and absolution. He writes, “Until we can shift the pendulum more toward the Vatican II vision of the Church as people of God, it is unlikely that our pastoral practice will change significantly regarding the celebration of the sacrament of penance.” That “vision” of Vatican II, as distinct from the teaching of Vatican II, has, in fact, significantly changed the celebration of the sacrament, reducing it to virtual desuetude in many parts of the Church. But it is heartening that the editor recognizes that the pendulum is swinging in the other direction, even if, to paraphrase the Bard, Modern Liturgy by any other name smells like modern liturgy.

• Why do some people desire euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide? That’s the question studied in a major article in the British medical journal the Lancet . The researchers did in-depth interviews with people suffering with HIV-1 and AIDS in Canada, and came up with this answer: “Participants desired euthanasia or assisted suicide because of disintegration and loss of community, which combined to create a perception of loss of self.” The sick and helpless said, in various ways, “I am no longer who I was,” leading to the conclusion,