The Public Square
The term hypocrisy is much over-used and much misused. It comes from the Greek, of course, and means to act on the stage, to pretend to be what one is not or to believe what one does not believe. For all of us, and in various aspects of our lives, there is a gap between who we represent ourselves to be and who we really are; between what we say we believe and what we, at least at times, really think. That is not hypocrisy. That is the consequence of human frailty, confusion, cowardice, or, sometimes, a simple desire not to hurt the feelings of others.
Hypocrisy is something much more deliberate and calculated. Hypocrisy aptly describes much discussion, or non-discussion, about the role of Jews in American life. It is commonly practiced among Christians, and my Jewish associates assure me it is as common among Jews. A significant difference is that there is a large literature produced by Jews on Jews in American life, whereas non-Jewish discussions of the subject tend to be confined to the shadowed world of bigotry and conspiracy-mongering. For non-Jews who understand how things are done, Jews in American life is a forbidden subject, at least in public.
Consider the recently released tapes from President Richard M. Nixon’s Oval Office when, in 1972, he and Billy Graham discussed what they obviously viewed as the Jewish problem. Referring to Jewish domination of the media, Graham says, “This stranglehold has got to be broken or this country’s going down the drain.” “You believe that?” responded Nixon. “Yes, sir,” said Graham. “Oh, boy. So do I,” said Nixon. “I can’t ever say that, but I believe it.” “No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something,” Graham said. Mr. Nixon turned the conversation to Jewish influence in Hollywood, and Mr. Graham said, “A lot of Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them.” Nixon replied, “You must not let them know.”
Graham’s office promptly issued a statement on behalf of the evangelist, now eighty-three and ailing, saying that he did not remember the conversation with Nixon and the reported remarks certainly do not reflect his thinking about Jews and Judaism. A source familiar with the Nixon White House and with Mr. Graham says he is sure that the conversation was very specifically about leftist Jews, which, as we shall see, does not quite fit the definition of anti-Semitism. But the press played it as an instance of anti-Semitism, and that does provide an occasion for trying to understand a phenomenon usually obscured by dissembling, evasion, fear, and, yes, hypocrisy.
No Dirty Little Secret
Anti-Semites—and there really are anti-Semites—think they have a corner on a dirty little secret. Their supposed secret is that Jews have a disproportionate influence in American society. But of course that is no secret at all; it is the obvious fact. About 2 percent of the population, a little over five million people, exercise an influence far out of proportion to their numbers. In certain sectors of American life—notably in media, entertainment, prestige research universities, and to a lesser extent in finance—people in that 2 percent hold 20, 40, or even more than 50 percent of the positions of greatest influence. It is quite astonishing. It is clearly disproportionate. Some say that it is not only disproportionate, which is obvious, but that it is inordinate, meaning that it is excessive and contrary to the right order of things. People who say that are also given to suggesting that the disproportionate influence of Jews is baneful. Certified anti-Semites say out loud, and many others say sotto voce, that America has a Jewish problem.
A recent survey, confirming many earlier surveys, indicates that Jews and Judaism have a very high approval rating. Asked about religious groups in America, 90 percent had a favorable view of United Methodists. What’s not to like about United Methodists? In second place were Jews, at 88 percent. “Only in America,” one might say, and there is truth in that. One might also add, “Only in opinion polls.” I have been critical in this space of Jewish defense groups that are forever sniffing about in paranoid fashion and detecting signs of imminent pogroms. But one need not be paranoid or even inordinately suspicious to be skeptical about such survey research findings. Who except a declared anti-Semite would tell a pollster that he has an unfavorable view of Jews, or even that he does not have a favorable view of Jews? The stigma of anti-Semitism has been so effectively employed that it makes most survey research on the question virtually useless.
What people say over the kitchen table, or even at the more formal dinner party when there are no Jews around, is something else. There is no way or proving it, but I expect that most non-Jewish Americans were not surprised, never mind shocked, by the 1972 discussion in the Oval Office. This does not mean they agree with what was said, only that they have heard it before. I also expect that few Jews were surprised, although many were shocked. It is the shock of being so frontally encountered by a reality that you hoped, but did not really believe, had disappeared.
America as “Host” Society
I had a small part in Charles Silberman’s very useful 1985 study, A Certain People: American Jews and Their Lives Today. Silberman’s conclusions about the Jewish circumstance in America lean toward the optimistic, and he has a kind word about my efforts to deal with our differences in a way that “will strengthen rather than weaken our pluralistic society.” He goes on to say, “Unfortunately, the approach Neuhaus himself proposes would have the opposite effect, for once again it would make Jews strangers in their own land.” The approach he has in mind is my argument that we must come to terms with the fact that America is—incorrigibly, confusedly, and conflictedly—a Christian society. Silberman agrees with the Reform rabbi who told me many years ago, “When I hear the phrase ‘Christian America,’ I see barbed wire.” The question of Jewish “at homeness” in America has run through numerous studies over the years by Jewish scholars such as Nathan Glazer, Milton Himmelfarb, Ludwig Lewisohn, and Oscar Janowsky, as well as by non-Jews such as E. Digby Baltzell and John Murray Cuddihy. The Jewish complaint is typically against the slightest suggestion that America is the “host society,” thereby implying that Jews are somehow guests or are here on probation.
In his strongly philo-Semitic book, A History of the Jews, the British writer Paul Johnson puts it this way: “For all these reasons it became perhaps misleading to see the American Jewish community as part of the diaspora at all. Jews in America felt themselves more
American than Jews in Israel felt themselves Israeli. It was necessary to coin a new word to define their condition, for American Jews came to form, along with the Jews of Israel and the Jews of the diaspora proper, the third leg of a new Jewish tripod, on which the safety and future of the whole people equally depended. There was the diaspora Jew, there was the ingathered Jew, and, in America, there was the possessing Jew.” Perhaps “possessing Jew” is not the best phrase, suggesting as it does the stereotype of the possessive, or even grasping, Jew. Better to speak of the Jew completely at home, or at least as completely at home as anyone can be short of the Messianic Age.
But is the American Jewish community completely at home? If one can speak of a community feeling, does it feel completely at home? There is reason to doubt it. Not long ago I was invited to a gala dinner at the Waldorf Astoria to honor the head of a major Jewish organization. It was a lavish affair, with about 1,200 of the rich and famous in formal attire in unabashed display of their having made it. There was a sprinkling of goyim (no disparagement intended), and I was the only Christian cleric. The book of tributes to the honoree, placed on each chair, was as thick as the Manhattan telephone directory. Politicians from the President and mayor on down, stars of stage and screen, and numerous other celebrities all paid tribute, either in person or by live video. The tributes went on and on for well over two hours before we got to dinner. Between the speeches were film clips of the skeletal survivors of Auschwitz and Dachau, along with heaps of corpses and scenes illustrating Hitler’s rise to power. Almost every tribute included at least one declaration of “Never again!”
Most Americans would, I am sure, have found the evening surreal. Here assembled in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria in New York were over a thousand of the richest, most powerful, and most influential people in America. It was, on the one hand, a community’s exuberant display of its unparalleled success. On the other, the unmistakable message of the evening was that this is a community perilously poised on the precipice of the abyss, of Auschwitz happening again, and this time in America. It was not a community that appeared to be securely at home, or at least did not appear to be for the purposes of that evening.
The last point is critical, I am told by a Jewish friend who was there. After all, he observes, the purpose of the occasion was to celebrate the leader of a Jewish defense organization, and a defense organization is only important if it can fuel the fear of the horrors against which it is defending the community. On such an evening, allowances must be made for hyperbole. Moreover, as many Jewish writers have argued in recent years, a community requires commonalities, and for most American Jews the religion of Judaism no longer provides that. The de facto religion is remembering the Holocaust, commitment to the State of Israel, and keeping alive a sense that, if the community lets down its guard for even a moment, they (whoever “they” may be) will do it again. Rabbi David Novak has famously said, “As a Jew, I do not get up in the morning cursing Hitler but praising the God of Israel.” That is no doubt true of the minority of American Jews who are in any way observant. But, as Elliott Abrams has written (FT, June/July 1997), it is Jewishness and not Judaism that holds together “the Jewish community” in its tribal identity. Praise of the God of Israel was not conspicuous at the Waldorf.
That evening does not tell the whole story by any means, but neither, on the basis of my own experience over the years, was it entirely atypical. It seems that the discordant notes of security and danger, of achievement and vulnerability, of belonging and otherness, are constantly contending in Jewish thinking about the American circumstance. The various notes wax or wane in response to discernments of what “the others” are thinking about Jews. There are those—Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic comes to mind—who make no secret of their contempt for Christianity, and are as offended when the “others” do not think about Jews as when they do think about Jews.
“We” and “Them,” and Vice Versa
Serving on a university panel discussing Jews, Christians, and the American experiment, I was confronted by a question from the audience. “Do you have any idea,” the woman asked, “how offensive it is to me as a Jew to hear you speak of Jews as ‘them’? In America, we are all ‘we.’“ Well, yes and no. Yes, we must affirm as much as possible what we have in common as Americans and, I would add, as children of the covenant. And no, the very fact of a panel on Jews, Christians, and the American experiment assumes differences of consequence. I am not a Jew. As with the Jewish participants in the discussion, there is a “we” and a “them.” The purpose is to understand what and how the other thinks. The alternative to doing that is to accept Richard Nixon’s counsel to Billy Graham: “You must not let them know.”
Until fairly recently, there were those who thought it was the better part of wisdom for Jews to maintain a low profile in public. It seems odd now, but in 1965 when Abraham Beame first ran for mayor of New York, there were prominent Jewish voices publicly fretting that a Jewish mayor might provoke a backlash. (He lost that year, but then ran successfully in 1973.) Since then we have had what seems like a lifetime of Ed Koch as mayor (he frequently appears to think he still is mayor) and now there is Michael Bloomberg, and nobody gives it a thought, at least not in public. In politics, both nationally and in the states, the low-profile days are long past. This is not true in the media, in entertainment, or in the prestige universities, where nobody is supposed to notice the disproportionate Jewish influence. Why does 2 percent of the population carry such weight? Anti-Semites, who think the disproportion is inordinate, and those who flirt with anti-Semitism, typically resort to conspiracy theories of one sort or another. Others refer to a prodigiously achievement-oriented subculture, and yet others (very quietly) to genetic superiority. Then there are those, Jews and Christians alike, who would not discount the importance of Jews being God’s chosen people.
Jewish influence was viewed as a “Jewish problem” when Jews were conspicuously prominent in attacking what was taken to be the American way of life. This was the case with the Old Left in the first part of the last century, when Jews were portrayed as predominant in the leadership of Communist and socialist movements, often because they were predominant. Irving Howe and, more recently, Ronald Radosh and David Horowitz have written compellingly about that Jewish world of the Old Left. The role of Jewish activists and ideologues in defining the newer leftisms of the sixties and onward is also notable. In what is aptly described as the culture wars, and especially in the central dispute over abortion, Jews are overwhelmingly on one side. In electoral politics, Jews tend to be Democrats, and on the left of the party. As Milton Himmelfarb has memorably written, Jews have incomes like Episcopalians and voting patterns like Puerto Ricans. One great Jewish dissent from the left is on affirmative action and quota systems. Jews are, understandably, not enthusiastic about a notion of equality that would limit them to no more than 2 percent of anything. The other great dissent from the left, for obvious reasons, is on support for Israel. (In such generalizations, important exceptions must be made for some of the Orthodox, but they are a small minority.)
On an array of questions that come under the rubric of “church-state relations,” Jews have in the last fifty years been at odds with most Americans. Generally speaking, they have thought the naked public square a very good thing. The more secular the society, the better it is for Jews. That was the rule advanced by the late Leo Pfeffer of the American Jewish Congress, for instance, and, beginning in the 1940s, he persuaded the Supreme Court to rule again and again against religious expressions and symbols Christian in nature—in our public life. Public secularism had not always been the position of Jewish leadership, as is admirably demonstrated by David Dalin and Jonathan Sarna in a study sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, Religion and State in the American Jewish Experience. The older Jewish position, and the position of the Orthodox today, is not in favor of a naked public square but of fair treatment of all religions in the public square. There are signs that that position may be in the ascendancy today, but a half century of what I have called “the Pfefferian inversion”—subordinating the “free exercise” provision of the First Amendment to the “no establishment” provision—is still taking its toll.
An Adversarial Subculture
Jews have been part of the American experiment since its constitutional beginnings. Until fifty years ago, they were very much viewed as guests in the host society of Christian America. Many older Americans well remember the days when clubs, societies, neighborhoods, and prestige law firms made no bones about being “exclusive,” and when universities such as Harvard and Columbia observed a “Jewish quota” in admissions. It is understandable that most Jews think the secularization of our public life has been good for Jews. Whether or not the connection is causal, over the last half century secularization and full social enfranchisement have proceeded apace. As with other ethnic and religious groups, the Jewish ways of negotiating a relationship with American society have changed over the years. Now it appears that a devotion to public secularism is no longer, if it ever was, a source of Jewish security and flourishing. It has become, rather, a liability that unnecessarily places American Jewry in an adversarial relationship to the culture, provoking the perception that Jews really are, in Silberman’s phrase, strangers in their own country.
We may well be entering a new chapter in the long story of the Jewish experience in America. The promise and complexities of this new period are addressed in a book of essays I have edited that is just out from Eerdmans, The Chosen People in an Almost Chosen Nation. I expect historians may designate people such as Will Herberg, Irving Kristol, Milton Himmelfarb, and Midge Decter as the prophets of this new era in the American Jewish experience. Over the years, they and a few others vigorously dissented from the proposition that it was good for the Jews to be a secularizing adversarial culture. They have proposed a more promising way toward unqualified “at homeness.” In this view, anti-Semitism is not the great threat. As Kristol has remarked, “The problem is not that other Americans hate us; the problem is that they want to marry us.” To the very real possibility of complete assimilation leading to the disappearance of the Jewish community, thinkers such as David Novak and Elliott Abrams have argued that the answer is for Jews to become more serious about the religion of Judaism, as distinct from the ethnic habits of Jewishness.
To Speak the Truth
In the fall of 2000, more than two hundred Jewish scholars issued Dabru Emet (To Speak the Truth), proposing a Jewish understanding of Christianity in response to the many statements of recent decades offering a Christian understanding of Judaism. The first purpose of Dabru Emet is to advance religious and theological understanding, but the premise is also that Christians and Jews will live together in greater security and mutual respect if they understand one another as participants in covenantal purpose seeking to be faithful to the God of Israel.
Some Jewish thinkers have reacted to Dabru Emet very negatively. Affirming religious commonalities, they contend, will obscure the differences between Christianity and Judaism, leading to more intermarriages and the loss of Jewish children to Christianity or to religious nothingness. The argument is that a degree of interreligious hostility—even, as one critic puts it, an “instinctive repugnance” toward Christianity—is necessary to preserve Jewish identity. This is what sociologists used to call an “out-group identity strategy.” It has been tried, and it has not produced a very healthy relationship between Christians and Jews. More important, and whatever its sociological merits or demerits, it is not true to how Jews and Christians should understand one another religiously. That at least is the position of the Jewish scholars who produced Dabru Emet, and I am convinced they are right.
Jews should not be viewed, and should not view themselves, as strangers in their own land. It should be obvious to all that this is their land as much as it is our land. Yet, if there is to be a distinct Jewish community, there will of necessity continue to be a “we” and a “them.” Silberman titled his book A Certain People. He could not quite bring himself to use the more biblical phrase, “a peculiar people.” Among the peculiarities of this people is that they will almost certainly continue to exercise an influence dramatically disproportionate to their numbers. Those who think that influence inordinate must just get used to it. It should be viewed as a permanent feature of American life.
As to what the future actually holds, very different scenarios are proposed. One can envision a religious awakening, with more Jews adhering to Judaism, having more babies, and rearing them in the tradition. That, combined with a growing awareness of the spiritual bond between Jew and Christian, and that bond being reinforced by the hostility of radical Islamism to both Jew and Christian, suggests one possible future. Many Jewish leaders see a more doleful prospect: secularizing forces further loosening adherence to Judaism, continued or increasing levels of intermarriage with most of the children and almost all of the grandchildren lost to the community, resulting in a dispirited remnant headed for virtual oblivion. Another prospect little discussed in public but on the minds of many is that, God forbid, the State of Israel could finally fail, with the great majority of Israelis coming here and almost doubling overnight the size of American Jewry.
Then there are the discussions such as that in the Oval Office of 1972, which are by no means a thing of the past. Such ugliness feeds on the secretive presumption of Nixon that “You must not let them know.” The story of The Chosen People in an Almost Chosen Nation has matured to the point where both Jew and Christian can and must let one another know what we think. It is necessary that we do so if we are not to be strangers to one another in our own land.
Bernard Lewis on Understanding Islam
The mention of his name is usually accompanied by descriptives such as “the distinguished,” “the eminent,” or “the renowned.” Frequently he is simply called “the doyen of Middle Eastern studies.” All such honorifics are amply deserved. Going back many years, Bernard Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern studies at Princeton, has been a personal friend and, more than anyone else, my guru on matters Islamic. His new book is What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (Oxford University Press). It is a mix of lectures and essays from the 1990s, and a font of wisdom on which to draw in order to put the world after September 11 into perspective. I don’t say Lewis is right about everything, and I know there are scholars who criticize him for over-generalizing, but that is the kind of criticism to be expected from academics who specialize in specializing. Lewis, whose command of his subject nobody can challenge, specializes in making careful and accessible arguments. His exercise of that gift and calling is on magisterial display in What Went Wrong?
For instance, Lewis writes that, during the period that we call medieval, most Muslims viewed Christendom in terms of the Byzantine Empire, “which gradually became smaller and weaker until its final disappearance with the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453.” “[In the Muslim view] the remoter lands of Europe were seen in much the same light as the remoter lands of Africa—as an outer darkness of barbarism and unbelief from which there was nothing to learn and little even to be imported, except slaves and raw materials. For both the northern and the southern barbarians, their best hope was to be incorporated in the empire of the caliphs, and thus attain the benefits of religion and civilization. For the first thousand years or so after the advent of Islam, this seemed not unlikely, and Muslims made repeated attempts to accomplish it.”
We understandably view history in terms of the rise of the West, and seen from today’s circumstance, that makes sense. But that is not how, for a very long time, Muslims viewed it. From its beginnings, Islam was on a millennium-long roll. Advancing from Arabia, Muslim armies conquered Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa, all of which had been part of Christendom. They then went on to conquer Spain, Portugal, and Sicily, and to invade deep into France. In 846, Arab forces sacked Ostia and Rome. Only then did Christendom begin to organize a counterattack, leading up to what we call the Crusades aimed at recovering the Holy Land. In many tellings of the story, the Crusades were the horrible thing that Christians did to Muslims, and there is no doubt that horrible things were done on all sides. What is frequently overlooked in those tellings, however, is that the Crusades were a response to Muslim aggression and, very important, that they failed. The Christians were repelled. The Muslims won, reinforcing their sense of invincibility against the infidels.
The Tables Turn
The Christian powers had occasional successes, such as the great naval battle of Lepanto, in the Gulf of Patras in Greece, in 1571. Pope Pius V attributed the victory to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and in gratitude made October 7 the feast of the Rosary. While Lepanto was a crushing defeat for Muslim forces, they viewed it as a setback at the margins of world affairs. Lewis describes Lepanto as “a great shot in the arm in the West, a minor ripple in the East.” Islam was still on a roll. By the eighteenth century, however, the tables were beginning to turn. On numerous fronts—science, politics, economics, military prowess—Christendom increasingly had the initiative. Western travelers began to penetrate Muslim lands, and “experts” of various sorts sold their services to Muslim states. “For Muslims,” writes Lewis, “first in Turkey and later elsewhere, this brought a shocking new idea—that one might learn from the previously despised infidel.” Here entered for the first time the problem of how to keep Western influence in check. For a while, the Greek Christians, who deeply resented their treatment by the Catholic West, were a help to Ottoman rule. As the patriarch of Constantinople is supposed to have said, “Rather the turban of the Turk than the tiara of the Pope.”
By the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, some Muslims realized that they were falling behind. A few leaders even began to send students to the West in order to learn about the new things—especially military things—to be found there. This raised the religious and legal question as to whether it was permissible to imitate the infidels. “The answer of the religious authorities,” writes Lewis, “was that it is permissible to imitate the infidels in order to more effectively fight against them.” Modernization, understood as catching up, could be endorsed with careful qualifications. Westernization, understood as cultural imitation, was something else. The West was always Christendom, and therefore the enemy of the true faith. More progressive Muslim leaders looked for the secret to success in those aspects of the West that were most different from their own experience and, Lewis adds, “not tainted by Christianity.” This is why there was great sympathy for the French Revolution, which projected itself in the East as anti-Christian. But under the Empire and the Restoration, France lost its appeal. “For the whole of the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century the search for the hidden talisman concentrated on two aspects of the West—economics and politics, or to put it differently, wealth and power.”
The Christian “taint” made cultural influence forbidden, with the consequence that Islam also gained little economically. According to the World Bank, Lewis notes, the whole of the Arab world, with about 300 million people, exports less to the rest of the world than does Finland with its five million people. Apart from oil, of course, and its effective exploitation is in Western hands. Unlike the rising powers of Asia—such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, et al., most of which started from a lower economic base than the Middle East—Muslim countries have not caught on to the rudiments of investment, capital formation, job creation, and productivity. “The difference between Middle Eastern and Western approaches,” Lewis writes, “can be seen even in their distinctive form of corruption, from which neither society is exempt. In the West, one makes money in the market, and uses it to buy or influence power. In the East, one seizes power, and uses it to make money. Morally there is no difference between the two, but their impact on the economy and on the polity is very different.” I’m not sure he’s quite right about there being no moral difference. Money influencing power can be corruption, but it is not an evil of the same magnitude as perpetuating grinding poverty or ruling by a system that is aptly described as tyranny tempered by assassination.
The differences between the West and the Near East are evident, Lewis emphasizes, in different attitudes toward women, science, and music. Islam, like most non-Christian societies, permits polygamy and concubinage, and Western visitors to Muslim lands have traditionally evidenced a predictable interest in the harem system and have spoken with ill-concealed envy of what they take to be the rights of Muslim men. “Muslim visitors to Europe,” on the other hand, “speak with astonishment, often with horror, of the immodesty and frowardness of Western women, of the incredible freedom and absurd deference accorded them, and of the lack of manly jealousy of males confronted with the immorality and promiscuity in which their womenfolk indulge.”
There were three groups of people who did not benefit from the general Muslim principle of legal and religious equality—unbelievers, slaves, and women. Lewis does not depict dhimmitude—the system under which non-Muslims, mainly Christians and Jews, live in Muslim societies—in terms as severe as those employed by Bat Ye’or, whose work has been discussed at length in these pages. Yes, he suggests, the infidels were definitely second-or third-class citizens, but for the most part their lot was tolerable, so long as they did not challenge Muslim dominance. Slavery in the Middle East, he also says, was not so harsh as slavery in the Caribbean or North America. Actually, slavery was not officially abolished in some Mideast countries until the 1960s, and still flourishes today in, for instance, Sudan.
Keeping women in what is thought to be their place is deeply entrenched in Arab societies. “Westerners tend naturally to assume that the emancipation of women is part of liberalization, and that women will consequently fare better in liberal than in autocratic regimes. Such an assumption would be false, and often the reverse is true.” Some notoriously oppressive regimes have advanced the legal emancipation of women, while in somewhat more open societies, such as Egypt, the weight of tradition has successfully prevented such change. For radical Islamists, such as the former Taliban in Afghanistan, the confinement of women to their traditional roles is at the top of their agenda. “The emancipation of women,” Lewis writes, “more than any other single issue, is the touchstone of difference between modernization and Westernization.” Modernization is the adoption of technologies, especially those of warfare and propaganda. But the emancipation of women is Westernization. “It must be kept from entering the body of Islam, and where it has already entered, it must be ruthlessly excised.”
Muhammad His Own Constantine
There are odd twists and turns here. For instance, in the military, civil service, and often in everyday street wear, men have adopted Western styles of clothing. Even the diplomats of the Islamic Republic of Iran wear Western suits, “with only the missing necktie to symbolize their rejection of Western culture and its symbols.” Why the rejection of the necktie? “Perhaps because of its vaguely cruciform shape,” Lewis suggests. In the final analysis, it all does come back to religion and what Muslims continue to view as Christendom. In its view of the right ordering of the world, Islam has nothing remotely comparable to the Christian understanding of sovereignties in tension, as evident in Christ’s words about rendering what is due to Caesar and to God. Lewis emphasizes that Christianity, until its legal toleration and later establishment in the fourth century, had the experience of three hundred years struggling against authority. “Christianity was a persecuted religion—different from, sometimes opposed to, and often oppressed by the state authority.”
The contrast with Islam could not be more dramatic. Lewis puts it nicely: “Muhammad was, so to speak, his own Constantine. . . . At no time did [Islam] create any institution corresponding to, or even remotely resembling, the Church in Christendom.” There have been and are, to be sure, conflicts between religious and political authorities. But, unlike the case of the Church in the West, there is no institutionalizing of a claim to a distinct sovereignty in tension with the sovereignty of the state. Put differently, the “Constantinianism” of Islam is radically monistic. And again, far from having gone through a long period of struggling and persecution, Islam understood itself from the very beginning to be a force of all-encompassing conquest, and the success of its first millennium powerfully reinforced that self-understanding.
Muhammad achieved victory and triumph in his own lifetime. He conquered his promised land, and created his own state, of which he himself was the supreme sovereign. As such, he promulgated laws, dispensed justice, levied taxes, raised armies, made war, and made peace. In a word, he ruled, and the story of his decisions and actions as ruler is sanctified in Muslim scripture and amplified in Muslim tradition. . . . The state was the church and the church was the state, and God was head of both, with the Prophet as his representative on earth. In the words of an ancient and much cited tradition: “Islam, the ruler, and the people are like the tent, the pole, the ropes and the pegs. The tent is Islam, the pole is the ruler, the ropes and pegs are the people. None can thrive without the others.”
Lewis continues: “Such terms as clergy or ecclesiastic cannot properly be applied to Muslim men of religion. These were in time, and in defiance of early tradition and precept, professionalized, and thus became a clergy in a sociological sense. They did not become a clergy in the theological sense. Islam recognizes no ordination, no sacraments, no priestly mediation between the believer and God. The so-called clergyman is perceived as a teacher, a guide, a scholar in theology and law, but not as a priest.” Nonetheless, and perhaps inevitably, something like a church and a clergy has emerged, at least functionally. In the Ottoman Empire, for instance, the government appointed a Chief Mufti who exercised ecclesiastical jurisdiction, so to speak, over a city. “One sees it even more dramatically,” Lewis writes, “in the ayatollahs of Iran, a title dating from quite modern times and unknown to classical Islamic history. If the rulers of the Islamic Republic but knew it, what they are doing is Christianizing Islam in an institutional sense, though not of course in any religious sense. They have already endowed Iran with the functional equivalents of a pontificate, a college of cardinals, a bench of bishops, and, especially, an inquisition, all previously alien to Islam.” Because the implied distinction of sovereignties has no secure basis in Islamic thought, this is a very fragile innovation and is subject to challenge by monistic purists.
Making Laws, Making Music
In Islam, the law is already given. At least theoretically, there is no place for debate or legislation. All that is required is submission (submission being, of course, the meaning of the word “Islam”). In the first account we have of a Muslim visiting the British House of Commons in the eighteenth century, the writer expresses his astonishment at the sorry fate of a people who, unlike the Muslims, did not have a divinely revealed law, “and were therefore reduced to the pitiable expedient of enacting their own laws.” The monism of Islam, Lewis suggests, is also evident in its aversion to polyphonic music. In polyphony, voices and instruments—whether in duets, trios, or full orchestra—are “following different routes in a common purpose.” “Different performers play together, from different scores, producing a result that is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Lewis has an extended excursus on this musical dimension of “the difference” between East and West, and, whether or not one finds his explanation entirely convincing, there is no denying that Western music is not well received in the Middle East. “To this very day the Middle East—with the exception of some Westernized enclaves—remains a blank on the itinerary of the great international virtuosos as they go on their world tours.” They are celebrated almost everywhere—even in Japan, China, and India—except in the Middle East. Maybe polyphony is the key, or maybe it is part of a more general aversion to Western culture, “tainted” as it is by Christianity. The Christian West is curious about, and eager to welcome, other cultural traditions. Witness the magnificent Islamic holdings in any Western museum or library of note. Throughout the huge swath of the world dominated by Islam, there are no comparable holdings of Western art, music, or literature, never mind of philosophy or theology. It would seem that the Arab world in particular really is, in the phrase of David Pryce-Jones, a “closed circle.”
The conclusion of What Went Wrong? is grim. After its millennium-long roll of conquest and great cultural achievement, the Muslim world fell further and further behind. Its consolidation in the Ottoman Empire fell apart after choosing the wrong side in the First World War, and the subsequent hegemony of the British and French, and now of the Americans, has left Islam seething with resentments. “Worst of all is the political result,” says Lewis. “The long quest for freedom has left a string of shabby tyrannies, ranging from traditional autocracies to new-style dictatorships, modern only in their apparatus of repression and indoctrination.” The question asked by Muslims is “Who did this to us?” rather than “What did we do wrong?” A few people, however, are beginning to ask the second question, Lewis writes, and in that there is a glimmer of hope. But it is only a glimmer. Lewis concludes with this:
If the peoples of the Middle East continue on their present path, the suicide bomber may become a metaphor for the whole region, and there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression, culminating sooner or later in yet another alien domination; perhaps from a new Europe reverting to old ways, perhaps from a resurgent Russia, perhaps from some new, expanding superpower in the East. If they can abandon grievance and victimhood, settle their differences, and join their talents, energies, and resources in a common creative endeavor, they can once again make the Middle East, in modern times as it was in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, a major center of civilization. For the time being, the choice is their own.
If. . . . It seems a wan hope, but hope we must. The better part of wisdom, it would seem, is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
Homosexuality and Abuse
A reader in Princeton, New Jersey, says we are “pandering to anti-Catholic hysteria” by even paying attention to priestly sexual scandals. “Remember the maxim that the Church thinks in terms of centuries. Ignore it and it will go away.” No, I don’t think it will go away anytime soon. And the questions now raised should not go away anytime soon. But one may hope that hysteria will, in time, give way to more careful deliberation. Such deliberation is offered by Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, who has been studying issues such as child pornography and clergy abuse for many years. Jenkins, who is not a Catholic, notes that there is nothing specifically Catholic about the sexual abuse of children. Every denomination and religious group has its share of abuse cases, “and some of the worst involve non-Catholics.” For many reasons, some of them related to anti-Catholicism, the Catholic Church gets the public attention.
Nor, as many allege, is celibacy the problem. “My research of cases over the past twenty years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination—or indeed, than non-clergy. However determined news media may be to see this affair as a crisis of celibacy, the charge is just unsupported.” But what is the incidence of abuse by Catholic priests? Jenkins writes, “Just to find some solid numbers, how many Catholic clergy are involved in misconduct? We actually have some good information on this issue, since in the early 1990s the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago undertook a bold and thorough self-study. The survey examined every priest who had served in the archdiocese over the previous forty years, some 2,200 individuals, and reopened every internal complaint ever made against these men. The standard of evidence applied was not legal proof that would stand up in a court of law, but just the consensus that a particular charge was probably justified. By this low standard, the survey found that about forty priests, about 1.8 percent of the whole, were probably guilty of misconduct with minors at some point in their careers. Put another way, no evidence existed against about 98 percent of parish clergy, the overwhelming majority of the group. Since other organizations dealing with children have not undertaken such comprehensive studies, we have no idea whether the Catholic figure is better or worse than the rate for schoolteachers, residential home counselors, social workers, or scout masters.”
Jenkins cautions against the careless use of the word “pedophilia,” which is a psychiatric term meaning sexual interest in children below the age of puberty. “But the vast majority of clergy misconduct cases are nothing like this. The vast majority of instances involve priests who have been sexually active with a person below the age of sexual consent, often sixteen or seventeen years old, or even older. An act of this sort is wrong on multiple counts: it is probably criminal, and by common consent it is immoral and sinful; yet it does not have the utterly ruthless, exploitative character of child molestation. In almost all cases too, with the older teenagers, there is an element of consent.”
A man who desires to have sex with an eighteen-year-old boy is ordinarily described as homosexual. The very mention of this obvious fact is condemned as “homophobic” by some gay activists. The press keeps talking about pedophilia when, in fact, that is not the chief problem. According to some experts, real pedophiles are as frequently heterosexual. Of the many true or alleged cases of abuse that have come to light, only a tiny fraction involve pedophilia. The rest have to do with men having sex with teenage boys. But to suggest that homosexuality is the problem is to go up against powerfully influential gay advocacy that homosexuals are no threat to children and therefore should be permitted to adopt, to be Boy Scout leaders, etc., etc. Of course there are homosexuals in the priesthood, which is to say men with dominantly same-sex desires. I don’t know how many, nor, I expect, does anyone else. I have read guesstimates of 50 percent, and others putting the figure at 10 percent. On the basis of years of interaction with hundreds of priests, I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter figure is about right.
If it is as high as 10 percent, it would seem that the great majority of those are fine priests who are faithful to their vow of celibacy. There are gay advocates urging that faithful priests with a same-sex orientation should “come out of the closet,” thus giving the lie to the claim that homosexuals pose a threat to young people. That does not seem like a very good idea. Should the overwhelming majority of priests who are heterosexual then publicly declare their orientation? Catholics are not expected to declare their temptations in public. And homosexual priests coming out of the closet can only focus further attention on the minority that is, in fact, at the heart of the current scandals. That is the bind in which the media and gay advocates are caught. The more they press the sex-abuse scandals, the more attention turns to homosexuality in the priesthood, and to behaviors associated with homosexuality more generally. That is one reason why the current level of public sensation about priestly scandals is not likely to be sustained. What must be sustained, however, is the now powerfully reinforced sense of urgency about the oversight of priests by bishops and heads of religious orders. Priests of whatever orientation, temptations, or feelings must be held to account. If it was not obvious to some before, it now should be obvious to all that there is no alternative to violations of the vow of celibacy except obedience to the vow of celibacy.
For Protestants and some Orthodox, the ecumenical movement began with the Edinburgh Missionary Conference in 1910. For Catholics and the general public, it dates from the Second Vatican Council some forty years ago. I say it began then for the general public because, until then, it was no big news that Protestants were getting together, whereas friendlier relations between Catholics and Protestants struck most people as a very dramatic change, and it was that. But what about the future of ecumenism? That question is addressed by Walter Cardinal Kasper, now head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. “To a certain degree,” he said, “the crisis of the ecumenical movement is the consequence of its success. . . . The more we come closer to one another, the more painful is the experience of not yet being in full communion among ourselves, which creates a certain dissatisfaction and frustration.”
The other side of that, of course, is that many Christians lack a deep ecclesiology or doctrine of the Church that requires full communion, as in communio with Christ and his Body the Church. For them, friendlier relations was the goal of ecumenism, and that goal has been more or less achieved. In his address, published in the Italian biweekly Il Regno, Kasper notes that “the new generation of faithful and priests has not lived through the council and does not understand how things have changed.” For them, ecumenism is old hat; certainly it does not have the cutting edge excitement of even twenty years ago. Moreover, the results of the many ecumenical dialogues, says Kasper, “have yet to penetrate the heart and flesh of our church and of the other churches.” This is known as the problem of “reception.” It is one thing for theologians to arrive at breakthrough agreements, and quite another for such agreements to make a difference in the life of the several communions.
The situation with the Orthodox, says Kasper, is grim. “We are increasingly conscious of the fact that an Orthodox Church does not really exist. At the present stage, it does not seem that Constantinople is yet capable of integrating the different autocephalous Orthodox churches. There are doubts about its primacy of honor, especially in Moscow.” In a conversation with an ecumenical veteran in Rome a couple of years ago, I was told that the most important thing he had learned over years of working with the Orthodox is that they do not have anything like a Catholic understanding of “the universal Church.” In theory they do, of course, but not in practice. And in both theory and practice, he added, they do not reciprocate our recognition of their ecclesial fullness. Vatican II very deliberately did not say that the Church of Jesus Christ is (est) the Catholic Church but that it subsists in (subsistet in) the Catholic Church. There has been no comparable development in Orthodoxy, he noted. In addition, it is not a simple matter of going back to the formal division between East and West of 1054. As one ecumenical theologian puts it, “A thousand years is, after all, a thousand years, and not being in communion with Rome has become a constitutive part of the self-understanding of Orthodoxy.”
At Georgetown University in 1998, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople flatly declared that the Orthodox have an “ontologically different experience of the Church.” Ontological differences, one notes, are not easily overcome; and it may be that, by definition, they are not resolvable. In his address, Kasper says that relations with the Greek Orthodox have improved since the Pope’s visit there last year, and “in the Middle East, in the territory of the ancient See of Antioch, the situation is completely different, and there already is almost full communion.” The unhappy truth, however, is that probably most Orthodox in the world do not believe that Catholics, never mind Protestants, are even validly baptized.
The larger ecumenical circumstance is further complicated by the fact that theological dialogues with the mainline/oldline Protestant churches have not yet required institutional changes. As the dialogues move on to questions of ecclesiology—including apostolic order and the Petrine ministry exercised by the Bishop of Rome—agreements may run into institutional inertia on all sides. Then too, the mainline/oldline is a declining phenomenon, and ecumenism must now engage the evangelicals and pentecostals who are, far and away, the largest and fastest growing part of non-Catholic Christianity. Nor can it be forgotten that, especially with the mainline/oldline, some of the most divisive questions today have to do with moral issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and marriage. That was a point “controversially” touched on by John Paul II on his first visit to the U.S. in 1979, and thirteen years later it is even more urgent. This leads some to say that dialogue with the oldline will increasingly require a theologically serious engagement with Christian anthropology, man created in the image of God, male/female differences, and what John Paul II calls “the theology of the body.”
In his address, Kasper concludes that ecumenism in the years ahead will have to move at different “speeds.” “There is no realistic alternative,” he says. Orthodoxy, the oldline, the evangelical/pentecostal insurgency—and each of them engaged in their own internal developments—have all complicated the ecumenical play in unprecedented ways. But as John Paul II has repeatedly declared, the Catholic Church’s commitment to ecumenism is “irreversible,” and it may well be that, with so many unpredictable factors, the cutting-edge excitements of forty years ago will be seen as but the prelude to excitements to come.
Israel and Anti-Semitism
There are some questions of which we may be exceedingly weary, but they will not go away. Such a question is, What is anti-Semitism? Hillel Halkin, an Israeli essayist, comes back to it in Commentary under the title “The Return of Anti-Semitism.” His thesis is starkly stated: “One must not give an inch on this point. The new anti-Israelism is nothing but the old anti-Semitism in disguise.” He cites the UN “conference against racism” in Durban, South Africa, last summer, and rightly notes that the nations of the world solemnly assembled to tacitly, and sometimes explicitly, affirm the notorious formula that “Zionism is racism.” (To its credit, the U.S. withdrew from the conference in protest.) He also cites mainly anecdotal, but deeply ominous, indications that in Europe today it is becoming increasingly “respectable” not only to deride Israel but also to make overtly anti-Semitic remarks in public.
But then he takes his argument a step too far. “One cannot be against Israel or Zionism, as opposed to this or that Israeli policy or Zionist position, without being anti-Semitic. Israel is the state of the Jews. Zionism is the belief that Jews should have a state. To defame Israel is to defame the Jews. To wish it never existed, or would cease to exist, is to wish to destroy the Jews.” Drawing an analogy, Halkin writes that “only an anti-Semite can think the world would be better off without Israel, just as only a Francophobe can think the world would be better off without France.”
Not quite. To be French is inexplicable apart from France. Jews and Judaism, by way of contrast, had a clear identity long before the establishment of the State of Israel only fifty-four years ago. The Zionist belief that Jews should have a state was, until World War II, rejected by most of the world’s Jews. To “wish it never existed,” to believe that the establishment of Israel was a mistake, is certainly not the same as “to wish to destroy the Jews.” It is, rather, a matter of making a historical and moral judgment that the wrong thing was done. One may disagree with those who have arrived at that judgment without accusing them of wanting to destroy the Jews. Some of them argue that it is precisely the establishment of the State of Israel that is putting so many Jewish lives at stake.
To wish that Israel “would cease to exist” is something else. But even that is not necessarily a wish to destroy the Jews, since one might at the same time hope that the minority of the world’s Jews living in Israel would find a secure home elsewhere, notably in the U.S. Halkin admits that Zionism was wrong about one very important thing. It was thought that providing Jews with a homeland would be the end of anti-Semitism, since anti-Semitism could not exist without Jews. “Today we know that it can exist without Jews, or at least without focusing on them—and precisely because there is a Jewish homeland to represent them. But admitting this is tantamount to admitting that Zionism has failed in a central objective,” Halkin writes. Which returns him to the central claim that “the new anti-Israelism is nothing but the old anti-Semitism in disguise.”
Trivial and Non-trivial Pursuits
There is no doubt that much that is aptly described as anti-Israelism is inseparably admixed with anti-Semitism, and not only in its Arab and Muslim expression. But it is, I believe, a grave mistake to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Halkin quotes a 1992 article by Norman Podhoretz, “What is Anti-Semitism?”, in which Podhoretz wrote, “All criticisms of Israel based on a double standard, rooted as this is in the ancient traditions of anti-Semitic propaganda, deserve to be stigmatized as anti-Semitic.” Certainly one wants to reject double standards. At the same time, there is much that is unique to Israel. Halkin acknowledges as much in discussing American support for Israel: “Support for Israel, which is difficult to justify on cold grounds of national interest, ultimately depends on broad public backing—and this is especially true of the United States, where such support entails not only large sums of money but also, more than ever since September 11, large perceived risks. The potential for slippage in the willingness to pay a price for this friendship, should Israel be seen as morally undeserving of it, is there. And at this juncture in history, the moral undermining of Israel is anti-Semitism’s primary goal. Compared to it, such arcane pursuits as Holocaust denial are trivial. Only the isolation of Israel to the point that it might one day have to stand alone against enemies stronger than it can possibly lead to another Jewish catastrophe.”
Precisely. Ninety-eight percent of Americans are not Jewish, and the great majority of them strongly support Israel for explicitly moral reasons, and those moral reasons are inseparable from a religious and theological understanding of the bond between Judaism and Christianity. It is therefore hard to understand why so many Jews and Jewish publications—Commentary very much included—are preoccupied with trivial pursuits such as the fringe phenomenon of Holocaust denial, and with emphatically non-trivial pursuits such as attacks on Pius XII and the Catholic Church, and on serious Jewish-Christian theological dialogue. Such unremitting attacks—which in some cases, such as Daniel Goldhagen and Leon Wieseltier in the New Republic, are of a viciously anti-Christian character—can do nothing to enhance “broad public backing” for Israel or positive attitudes toward Jews and Judaism.
During the Cold War, many made the argument that U.S. support for Israel was justified on the basis of what Halkin calls “cold grounds of national interest.” Israel, it was repeatedly said, is the only democracy and the only reliable friend of the U.S. in that part of the world. The Cold War is over. Today, almost nobody tries to argue that, for the U.S., the tie with Israel is more of an asset than a burden. Most Americans are prepared to bear that burden, and one must hope that will continue to be the case. Toward that end, it is not helpful to suggest that support for Israel requires conversion to Zionist ideology, or that doubts about the wisdom and justice of Israel’s establishment in 1948 are tantamount to the desire to destroy the Jews, or that criticism of Israel is “but the old anti-Semitism in disguise.” Hillel Halkin is certainly right in saying that, after September 11, the perceived risks in U.S. support for Israel are greatly increased. There needs to be a civil conversation about why we should be prepared to accept those risks. It is distinctly unhelpful to poison public discourse with the suggestion that those who disagree or have doubts are, in fact, simply anti-Semites.
While We’re At It
• Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Wales, is being touted as the likely successor to George Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury. In the Times Literary Supplement, Arnold Hunt reviews a book edited by Williams and others, Love’s Redeeming Work, and has this to say: “The defining mood of Anglicanism is a conservative skepticism, self-critical rather than iconoclastic, striking a ‘note of sobriety and penitence, of realism interwoven with reticence and indirectness born of gratitude or wonder,’ and finding its most characteristic expression in a language of ‘concentrated but unhurried delight.’ This is some way away from the classical Anglican triad of Scripture, reason and tradition, let alone the Thirty-Nine Articles; and it signals a shift away from a purely doctrinal or dogmatic definition of Anglicanism to something more subjective and elusive: an Anglican attitude rather than an Anglican orthodoxy. It is a deeply attractive vision of Anglicanism. . . . Yet there are considerable difficulties in applying it retrospectively to the Anglican tradition of the past five centuries.” I have mentioned before a conversation of some years ago with another archbishop in which I asked him how he would define the mission of the Church of England. After some hesitation, he opined, “I suppose it might be to keep alive the Christian alternative for people who are interested in that sort of thing.” It is perhaps too easy to make fun of the C of E, and the English are very practiced in doing just that. The truth is that I would wonder about anyone who has never felt the attractiveness of Anglicanism. It may well be argued that no other communion has provided a spiritual ambiance of such gentility, combining aesthetic appeal and intellectual nuance. The “Anglican attitude” is undoubtedly a winsome way of being Christian. It is also ethnocentric, vestigial, and averse to the truth claims, disciplines, and passions that make for mission. The more vibrant, orthodox, and missionary Anglicanism of Africa and Asia is now making a bid to transform the Anglican communion. One watches with considerable interest to see whether such a transformation is compatible with maintaining what Arnold Hunt and many others admire, not without ambivalence, in the “Anglican attitude.
• For a prognosis somewhat more hopeful than is usually found among serious scholars, see Graham E. Fuller’s “The Future of Political Islam” in Foreign Affairs. Political Islam, or Islamism, is frequently a democratizing force, says Fuller, which uses religion, sometimes in its extreme expression, to challenge the corrupt regimes dominating almost all Muslim societies. Perhaps so, but his argument would be somewhat more persuasive if backed up with examples. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, Wahhabism is, to put it gently, not markedly democratic, and the ruling princes buy it off by lavish funding of its terrorist purposes. In any event, Fuller’s argument leads him to this more general conclusion: “Most great religions have elements of both tolerance and intolerance built into them: intolerance because they believe they carry the truth, perhaps the sole truth, and tolerance because they also speak of humanity, the common origins of mankind, concepts of divine justice, and a humane order for all. Violence does not flow from religion alone—even bigoted religion. After all, the greatest horrors and killing machines in history stemmed from the Western, secular ideologies of fascism and communism. Religion is not about to vanish from the face of the earth, even in the most advanced Western nations, and certainly not in the Islamic world. The West will have to deal with this reality and help open up these embittered societies. In the process, the multiple varieties of Islam—the key political realities of today—will either evolve in positive directions with popular support, or else be discredited when they deliver little but venom. Muslim publics will quickly know the difference when offered a choice.” He’s right, of course, about the bloody history of militant secularism in modern times. But his conclusion reflects a common confusion abut the connection between truth and tolerance. If they are pitted against one another, truth—whether religious, philosophical, or ideological—will always be a threat to tolerance, and vice versa. Tolerance will never be secure unless people believe that it is an imperative demanded by what they acknowledge as the commanding claims of truth. Still today—and, indeed, increasingly today—those claims are carried by religion. For Christians, with relatively few exceptions, tolerance is affirmed because of, not despite, religious truth. Although secularists find it almost impossible to understand, the apparent paradox is that it is the “sole truth” of Christianity that requires the acknowledgment of universal truths such as “the common origins of mankind, concepts of divine justice, and a humane order for all.” In other words, the humanly universal is discerned and affirmed through the religiously particular. A more hopeful view of Islam and Islamism must not be based on the prospect of secularization or the expectation that Islam will become less Islamic. Tolerance and other aspects of modernity can be secured in Muslim societies only by the truth that Islam claims to carry. Whether, in fact, Islam is capable of religiously legitimating tolerance and other necessary goods is, of course, one of the most important and unsettling questions of our time.
• The rule was quite clear. The Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (USA) specified that ordained leaders were “to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.” Last year, PCUSA’s General Assembly voted to delete that language, allowing single homosexuals and those involved in same-sex unions to be ordained. The change had to be approved by a majority of 173 presbyteries around the country, and by early this year it was clear that it had been rejected, and massively so. A similar proposal for change in 1997 was defeated 114 to 57, and this time around it is projected that the final vote will be 124 to 49 against the revision. The vote has, of course, greatly cheered conservatives in PCUSA. At the same time, the denomination’s highest judiciary had earlier ruled that congregations could conduct blessings of same-sex unions, so long as they are not called marriages. That ruling was upheld by a 58 percent vote of the presbyteries. Gay advocates understandably ask why, if people are living in a morally acceptable and, indeed, blessed relationship, they should be deemed unqualified for ordained leadership. So it would seem PCUSA still has some work to do in putting its Book of Order into moral and theological order.
• One does not ordinarily expect rarefied theological dispute over listings in the telephone directory. But the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), which has offices all over the country, is pressing phone companies not to list messianic Jewish congregations under “synagogues.” Says Philip Abramowitz, director of the New York JCRC Taskforce on Missionaries and Cults (that’s NYJCRCTMC), “These people are becoming more brazen.” Messianic Jews, says the Forward, the New York-based Jewish paper, “observe some Jewish customs but also deify Jesus.” Well, not quite. Like other Christians, they believe he really is true God and true man. Jews are not united in the telephone book campaign. Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel, a very Orthodox group, says that the very liberal Reconstructionist movement and groups such as the Society for Humanistic Judaism should not be permitted to advertise themselves as Jewish. “The Jewish community draws the line at messianic [Jews].” “Why?” he asks. “Why is that the line? Is Judaism just the rejection of Jesus? It’s unfortunate that that’s the way the Jewish world sees Judaism.” The argument among Jews as to whether Jesus is or is not the Messiah has been going on for almost two thousand years. I expect that Peter, Paul, and, for that matter, Maimonides would be surprised that so many centuries later some Jews are asking the telephone companies to decide the question.
• I don’t know whether the gods are getting ready to destroy them, but they’ve sure done something funny to their minds. Here is Julie Bosman writing in the New Republic: “As Cass Sunstein, the University of Chicago constitutional law expert, notes, giving legal protection to a fetus doesn’t undermine Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision establishing abortion rights in America. ‘I don’t think it gives any ammunition to the critics of Roe. If the state says that it’s a crime to kill an unborn fetus, that doesn’t do anything to intrude. Roe v. Wade doesn’t say that fetuses can’t receive legal protection.’ Indeed, a number of states already have laws protecting unborn children. But those laws haven’t led to the arrest and imprisonment of doctors performing abortions or women seeking them. Rather, it has merely led to murder and manslaughter convictions for people who attack pregnant women, an outcome in which most people can find certain satisfaction. ‘Many people who want Roe to remain on the books agree that it’s important for the state to protect unborn children,’ Sunstein says. ‘There’s no necessary conflict between concern for unborn kids and the commitment to freedom of choice for the mother.’“ Now let’s see if we’ve got this right. There is no conflict between the state saying it is a crime to kill unborn babies and the state saying it is all right to kill unborn babies. Or maybe the key word here is “necessary.” Or maybe . . . oh, forget it.
• Here’s another column, this one by E. J. Dionne in the Washington Post, about Catholic priests being so embarrassed by the sexual-abuse scandals that they no longer wear their Roman collar in public. To put it delicately, that is wimpish wrongheadedness of grotesque proportions. Sure, some bad priests have brought disgrace upon the Church. So what else is new? We should not be complicit in letting that small minority of miscreants define the public presentation of the priesthood. In another column, a priest is quoted as saying that the scandal has discredited the Church’s teaching on sexuality. Quite the opposite is the case. As Father C. John McCloskey of Washington says in a letter to the New York Times, appearing the same day as Dionne’s column, if the wayward priests had lived according to the Church’s teaching, there would be no scandal. This is not a time for craven retreat but for unfurling the flag, and wearing the collar is one small way of doing that. Each day on the streets of New York, I encounter hundreds of people who greet a priest with friendly respect. Who knows what they’re really thinking? Perhaps their smiles hide suspicion or even contempt. I doubt it, but it is no matter. This is who I am, one who bears the immeasurable honor of being, all undeserving, a priest of Christ and his Church. There are few things so shameful or sinfully presumptuous as a priest who is ashamed of the Church. The question is not whether she is worthy of us but whether we are worthy of her. Allegiance is tested only when it exacts a price. This is no time for self-pity and whining about being misunderstood. When the earthiness of the vessels is on such embarrassing public display, all the more is the need for bold identification with the treasure, bearing witness to the truth that “the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). So there. End of homily for the day.
• Oops. In the March issue I said that, since John O’Sullivan left as editor, National Review had pretty much dropped the question of immigration policy. I sit corrected. It has been pointed out to me that the issue has been regularly addressed in the pages of NR, although not so regularly as under O’Sullivan’s editorship. For instance, NR gave major attention to the very Christopher Jencks article in the New York Review of Books that was the occasion for my comment. This, I am told, is a sensitive point at NR because both the “immigration reform” and the “abolish national borders” parties claim that NR has lost its nerve on the immigration question, and it ain’t so. NR lose its nerve? Get real
• “One Nation Under Many Gods“ (Public Square, October 2001) was an extended reflection on the many meanings of “religious pluralism” in America, occasioned by the book A New Religious America by Diane Eck of Harvard. Among my points in that reflection was that America remains an overwhelmingly Christian society, which, needless to say, is not without its problems. Now the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago has rendered a useful service by pulling together the numbers. Aside from Christianity and Judaism, the three largest religious groups in the U.S. are Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. In the 1970s, these three accounted for a little under 1 percent of the American population, and the best estimate today is that they are 2.4 percent. The three make up about half of all those following religions other than Christianity and Judaism. The other half is made up of religions so numerous and so minuscule that it would be impossible to list them. Top among these other groups are Native American religions, pagans and witches/Wiccans, and followers of what are described as “personal” religions, each of these having about 0.1 percent of the population. Using its own data and that collected by others, NORC’s best estimate is that there are about 1.4 million adult Muslims, or a total population of 1.9 Muslims, in the country. The report offers some analysis of why the presence of non-Christian and non-Jewish religions is so frequently exaggerated in the media and elsewhere. For instance, “New temples, celebrity converts to Buddhism, turbaned Sikhs, and visits by the Dalai Lama have all created an impression of prominence beyond the actual size of these groups.” A second reason is that so many Americans have come in contact with aspects of Hinduism and Buddhism through Transcendental Meditation, New Age fashions, and practices such as yoga and meditation. A reason for the exaggeration that is not mentioned is that media attention is focused in parts of the country, New York City, for example, where religio-ethnic diversity is on inescapable display. Yet another unmentioned reason is that so many champions of multiculturalism—Diane Eck, for example—desperately want American society to fit their idea of “religious pluralism.” For some of them, as well as others, the exaggeration also serves the purpose of challenging the Judeo-Christian “hegemony” and opposing the “privileging” of Judaism and Christianity in our public life. The NORC study is an important reminder that we cannot escape the problems, ambiguities, and opportunities implicated in our being at present, as in the past and in the foreseeable future, “Christian America.”
• In the department of things that only an intellectual could believe is an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled, “The BBC: How to be Impartial in Wartime.” Anthony Collings, former Newsweek bureau chief in London, holds up the BBC as a model in contrast to “the cramped and jingoistic bias” of the American media. He notes, for example, that in speaking about terrorists the BBC prefers the term “attackers.” Why, of course. The bin Laden gang “attacks” the World Trade Center and the Bush gang “attacks” the bin Laden gang. They are both attackers. The delusion of moral symmetry has a long and dishonorable pedigree. During the Cold War years, those who were “impartial” in the conflict between the evil empire and the free world were rightly compared to a fellow who saw someone push an old lady into the way of an oncoming bus and someone else who pushed an old lady out of the way of an oncoming bus. “What’s the difference?” he opined. “They both push old ladies around.” News reporting should be honest and truthful, to be sure. But, between the world of al-Qaeda and the West they have vowed to destroy, what is there to be impartial about?
• “As God Intended” is an article by a San Francisco therapist and graduate of a Jesuit high school. Writing in America, the Jesuit weekly, he reports on being invited back to the school as a homosexual to speak about his experience there. “The head of the school asked me to say what I had needed to hear at Prep in 1963 and what gay Prepsters need to hear today. I believe they need to hear three things. First: you are created exactly as God intended you to be. Second: you are not damaged goods, neither sick, nor evil. Third: you and the love you provide are essential, mysterious graces in God’s plan for the world.” In other words: God is responsible for the way I am; my sexuality is untouched by human sinfulness; the way I express my sexuality is in accord with God’s will. His advice to the school is quite simple: it should teach that he is right and the Church is wrong about human sexuality. The editors do not say that Jesuit educators should accept the advice, but obviously think they need to hear it. Perhaps it is just as well not to speculate about why they think that. Surely it cannot be because they think Jesuit educators are not aware that there are people who reject the teaching of the Catholic Church. Jesuits do not lead such sheltered lives as that, even when their society is limited to other Jesuits.
• In deciding what does and does not count as defamation, Catholics, and Christians more generally, frequently claim that media or artistic attacks aimed at them would never be tolerated if aimed at Jews or blacks. It is an often legitimate although somewhat tired complaint. Here is a different twist. New York City’s Jewish Museum is sponsoring an exhibit, “Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art.” It is very “creative,” including “designer” poison-gas canisters, cute concentration camps made with Lego sets, and a campy photographer holding a Diet Coke as he stands among skeletal survivors at Buchenwald. An organization of Holocaust survivors has called for a boycott of the exhibit, and it is seconded by the Catholic League. Good for both of them. Trivializing the Holocaust is obscene, and anyone to whom that has to be explained would not understand. What is deemed to be the cutting edge of “the artistic community” is increasingly an awful bore. The goal, obsessively pursued, is to be “transgressive.” Creativity and artistic courage consist in giving the finger to any piety, convention, or authority figure suspected of being respected by the less talented masses. What is respectfully, even reverently, referred to as “the arts” by the uncritical critics of the cutting edge is little more than a sustained snit of adolescent rebellion. So what else is new? As has been said, everything changes except the avant garde. Now the Jewish Museum presents the equivalent of “Yeah, yeah, yeah, so what’s the big deal about Auschwitz?” My, but aren’t they the clever ones. In response to the protests, the museum has put the controverted items in a separate room, with a sign indicating that some viewers might find them offensive. That should draw the crowds.
• Keep it simple, stupid. The admonition is frequently in order, especially when simplifying does not result in the simplistic. “Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Sciences” is simple without being simplistic, and it comes with ample footnotes for those with a penchant for nuances. Put together by thirteen distinguished scholars of marriage and the family, the twenty-five page booklet is ideal for classrooms and discussion groups and is available from the Institute for American Values at 1841 Broadway, New York, New York 10023 or its website, www.americanvalues.org. Granted, the findings cited in favor of marriage do not deal with the deepest levels of spiritual fulfillment, but they do appeal to self-interest, rightly understood. For instance, keeping kids out of jail and off drugs; helping them do well in school and get good jobs; reducing litigation and miseries such as suicide among parents; and so forth. Those may not be the highest ends in life, but they’re pretty good.
• Tunku Varadarajan, an editor with the Wall Street Journal, attended a meeting in Istanbul between the foreign ministers of the European Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the latter being, he notes, “the only international organization of states defined purely in terms of religion.” The meeting, he thought, was a farce, with the Europeans declaring how wonderfully peaceful and humane Islam is, and the Muslims warmly agreeing. He quotes Amre Moussa, Secretary General of the League of Arab States, who said that “the people who carried out the Sept. 11 attack do not represent Islam, just as the Baader Meinhof doesn’t represent Germany or the Red Brigade Italy.” Varadarajan observes, “Neither group claimed to speak for Germany or Italy in the way that al-Qaeda claims to speak for Islam. Yet this point was lost on Mr. Moussa, and this failure of analogical reasoning, so common among so many Muslim interlocutors, is part of a general intellectual calamity in the Islamic world. That world, with the valiant exception of Turkey, has yet to graduate from self-pity to self-criticism, and unless its spokesmen and thinkers are able to know themselves, there is no hope that they may ever be able to know the West.” In the Islamic world, only Turkey has embraced the ways of the West, and Mr. Varadarajan is full of praise for the fact that the Istanbul conference was sponsored in part by a Turkish winemaker and brewery, and that the Turkish imam he met wore a pinstripe Western suit and only the slightest trace of a beard. The way of Kemal Ataturk, who in the 1920s radically secularized Turkey, is the only way for Islamic societies to go, according to Mr. Varadarajan. Ataturk’s policy, imposed by the military to this day, is to create a naked public square in which the religio-cultural influence of Islam is coercively confined to what is defined as the private sphere of life. As some of us have been arguing for many years, the goal in a just and democratic society is not a naked public square and not a sacred public square but a civil public square. Almost all Muslims, supported, it would seem, by their authoritative texts, believe that Islam mandates a sacred public square. Outside of Turkey, as Bernard Lewis and other scholars have explained at length, there is determined opposition to the kind of naked public square imposed by Ataturk and his military successors. Lewis was at the Istanbul conference and said that “there are many civilizations and have been through history, but there’s only one modernity.” Mr. Varadarajan thought nobody was listening to him. One has to hope that he is wrong. One has to hope that there are thinkers and political leaders within the Islamic world who can, in the decades ahead, find an authentically Islamic way of legitimating modernity. Until now, the assumption has been that secularization is a necessary condition of modernity. Indeed, many thinkers have come close to equating the two. It seems safe to say that, if the only choice is between a naked public square and a sacred public square, Muslims will, with near unanimity, choose the sacred public square. The great new fact of our time—in the Islamic world, in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, and almost everywhere else except Western Europe—is the desecularization of world history. A much neglected aspect of globalization is the global search for ways of embracing modernity on religious terms. Nowhere is that search more urgent—with enormous stakes for all of us—than in the world of Islam. Kemal Ataturk is historically interesting, and wine—bibbing imams may be charming, but they do not represent a believable way for Islamic societies to secure a civil public square.
• Almost half a century ago, Episcopal Bishop (as distinct from a non-episcopal bishop) James Pike and Eugene Carson Blake, Presbyterian, said there was not a doctrine’s worth of difference among the several Protestant denominations and so they should all get together. Thus was born the Consultation on Church Union (COCU), which many people wrongly thought had gone out of business ages ago. As of this year, COCU is CUIC—Churches Uniting in Christ, which they hope to do by the year 2007. The CUIC members include the African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Episcopal Church USA, International Council of Community Churches, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church. The constituting vision of CUIC includes a commitment to ongoing dialogue to “deepen the participating churches’ understanding of racism.” Lest there be any misunderstanding, the statement says that the purpose of such deepened understanding of racism is “in order to make a more compelling case against it.” It says here that a chief obstacle to the merger of the nine bodies is disagreement on ordained ministry, specifically on the meaning of “bishop” (cf. above aside on “non-episcopal bishop”). It is possible we may be hearing more about all of this, so you might want to go to your Rolodex or database and change COCU to CUIC. On the other hand, if you have never bothered to enter COCU, you might want to wait to see whether in the years ahead there are further sightings of CUIC. Acronyms come and go, but denominations denominate the ties that bind.
• The best-selling Bible translation in the English-speaking world is the New International Version (NIV). It is the overwhelming favorite among evangelical Protestants. In 1997 there was a very big fuss when it was reported that the International Bible Society, which holds the copyright, and Zondervan, the exclusive publisher, contemplated a “gender inclusive” version of the NIV. As a result of the ruckus, they agreed to cease and desist. But now, lo and behold, Today’s New International Version. Many evangelical leaders are furious. Here is a statement of protest noting that “evangelical Christians confess the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture. Plenary means ‘every,’ verbal means ‘word.’ Thus God inspired each of the words of the original text of the Bible, not simply the concepts behind those words.” Never mind that plenary actually means full, or that many evangelicals and most other Christians do not subscribe to a “dictation theory” of divine inspiration. TNIV, like some other contemporary translations, does have big problems. For instance, Hebrews 2:6, echoing Psalm 8 and other Old Testament passages, has it, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” TNIV has this: “What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” Apart from the clumsy language, there is a theological distortion in that “son of man” has been understood, from the apostolic era to the present, to be a messianic reference to Christ. Revelation 3:20: “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” TNIV: “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.” The latter is simply grammatically wrong. And what’s the point? Does anyone seriously fear that people will think that Jesus does not eat with women? There are numerous other such examples. One need not get worked up to a high dudgeon over theories of biblical inspiration to find repugnant this incessant meddling with texts, aimed at pandering to people who are too sensitive for decent company. And, of course, aimed at selling “new, improved” Bibles that nobody needs.
• I’m a bit late on this one, but the New York Times had a lovely picture of young nuns and a huge crowd of others at the annual March for Life in Washington. The caption read: “Roe v. Wade, Pro and Con. People on both sides of the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that legalized the right to abortion converged in Washington yesterday for the anniversary.” Crowd-counters estimated that about 100,000 were in the pro-life march, while ten to fifteen pro-abortion proponents demonstrated in front of the Supreme Court. Some “convergence.”
• Georgetown, a university “in the Jesuit tradition,” offers GOVT 463 on “Political Terrorism.” Here’s the course description: “This course is not about passing moral judgments on terrorism and terrorists. Its first objective is to understand terrorism as an alternative political action that certain people and organizations resort to under certain conditions. Its second objective is to figure out the evolutionary dynamics of terrorism and to answer the most significant question about the terrorist phenomenon: How and why do good people get involved in committing terrible acts? The course tries to reach these objectives through the study of historical cases as well as theoretical discussions. Though short, the course covers terrorist organizations from the French Revolutionaries to September 11, 2001.” The phrase “terrible acts” does seem to be edging dangerously close to a moral judgment, although on terrorism, not terrorists. The latter, presumably, are “good people.” Do you have any idea what tuition is at Georgetown?
• It didn’t really get my attention until one of our parishioners was arrested and spent a night in jail. The charge? He was drinking beer with his buddies and he is only eighteen years old. Then there was the business of one of the Bush daughters using a phony ID to buy beer, although she didn’t go to jail. Why have we been so passive about this cock-eyed business of making twenty-one the legal age for drinking? There are, it seems to me, many things wrong with that, not least the violation of federalism when the national government blackmails the states into raising the drinking age by threatening to cut off federal revenues. Brett Deal of North Carolina writes: “I have lived in several college towns, and the ridiculous consequence of these laws is to burden the college administrations and communities with problems inherent in criminalizing a conduct for three-quarters of the student body that is not criminal for the other 25 percent. It doesn’t stop the drinking in the younger group, yet threatens their futures with criminal records or places them in the loving care of the substance-abuse business, which has no reason to put itself out of a job by actually mitigating the problems attendant to drinking. This situation creates a culture in which most college students are instructed that they are not adults. I’m not surprised they often make no attempt to behave as adults. In my more irritable moments, despairing of a return to the eighteen-year-old standard, I have suggested that colleges should try a policy of making twenty-one the minimum age for enrollment; at least the college-bound might spend that three years earning some of their own tuition and becoming familiar with the working world.” In addition, one might reasonably expect that raising the drinking age increases problem-drinking by moving eighteen-to-twenty-year-olds from bars, where other people can see them, to binge drinking in dorm rooms. But the craziest thing is that young people who are thought to be old enough to enlist in the military and risk dying, and mature enough to exercise their franchise in elections, are deemed to be too irresponsible to buy a beer. Goodness knows, I’m not looking for additional causes, but, if anyone is launching a campaign to change this law, sign me up.
• On what he describes as the protection and sheltering of priests involved in child molestation, Andrew Sullivan writes, “This was a policy organized in detail, and approved at every level of the church hierarchy. Rome knew. Of course they knew. And they knew what they were doing was evil.” That is a very ugly slander, in no way excused by Mr. Sullivan’s manifest ignorance of how the Church works. But of course, and once again, the occasion for his being so upset is the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, the subject that is, regrettably, the polestar of his journalism. He cites a story in the New York Times in which a Vatican official, speaking of homosexuals, is quoted as saying, “People with these inclinations just cannot be ordained.” The official, says Sullivan, is using “the ancient slur of associating pedophiles with homosexuals.” It is not an ancient slur but an evident connection, when, as in the instances of abuse that have come to public attention, boys are involved, and, when the other sexual activities of the offending priests are known, it turns out that they are homosexual. There may be some exceptions, but that is the general rule. Of course there are priests who have same-sex desires and yet are entirely chaste and faithful to their vow of celibacy. But it is not surprising that disorder breeds disorder, and it is the Church’s teaching that homosexuality is “objectively disordered” that drives Mr. Sullivan to such furious distraction. That teaching he labels as “hate and bigotry,” and it is why, he says, “I couldn’t go to Mass today.” In the same piece, he attacks that “reliable Vatican—defender Richard John Neuhaus” and my comments reported in the Boston Herald, which he characterizes this way: “Another pernicious trope from the reactionaries is the notion that the pedophile explosion was a function of liberalizing attitudes in the Church after the Second Vatican Council.” I did say and do believe that widespread dissent from authoritative teaching on faith and morals—including what was called the acceptance of alternative lifestyles—is related to the laxity that has been only partially remedied under the pontificate of John Paul II. On such matters, it seems to me, people should be able to disagree in a civil manner. In Washington a few days before Mr. Sullivan’s attack, he and I publicly debated the connection between religion and violence. I was impressed, and deeply saddened, by his anger at the Church. Not that there is not a good deal to be angry about. But righteous anger is prevented from becoming self-righteous by remembering that we are all disordered in various ways—objectively and subjectively, innocently and culpably. Which is why Christ gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Which is why we prepare for each Mass by saying together, “I confess . . .”
• It’s not as though peccant clerics were unknown in the good old days, but it really is disingenuous of commentators who have promoted sundry revolutions, including the sexual revolution, in the name of “the spirit” of Vatican II to now claim that their promotion has no bearing on the priestly misconduct now so much in the public eye. It is a major factor, as evident in this personal testimony recorded by California journalist George Neumayr: “Psychologist William Coulson knows this well. In the 1960s, he counseled priests and nuns to ‘get in touch with their feelings,’ as he told me in an interview for a 1997 story in the San Francisco Faith newspaper. ‘My theories made priests and nuns feel good about being bad.’ Working with his mentor Carl Rogers, an icon of the 1960s relativistic nondirective therapy, Coulson conducted ‘sensitivity’ training and ‘self-esteem’ workshops for the Jesuit Order and several other religious groups eager to absorb the New Morality. ‘Once we began to peel the onion at these workshops, there was no end to the shocking things people would say,’ he said. ‘They became persuaded of this subjective theory of morality which says that the highest morality is the one you locate within you. And after a while these religious forgot about the teachings of the Church. After our workshop at Alma [the Jesuit seminary then in California], one of the young Jesuits wrote, “Never in my life before that group experience had I experienced me so intently.” He added, ‘The Franciscans were so enamored with our psychology that they introduced it to Saint Anthony’s seminary in Santa Barbara. Years later, eleven or twelve friars were accused of molesting thirty-four high school boys. I’m afraid we planted the seeds and they carried the seeds to the next generation and they germinated.’ Both Coulson and Rogers later repudiated their relativistic theories. ‘I greatly underestimated the reality of evil,’ said Rogers. ‘I hope Rogerian theory goes down the drain.’
• Before he was Imam Jamil Al-Amin, he was H. Rapp Brown, the 1960s incendiary who persuaded blacks that burning down their neighborhoods was a great revolutionary strategy for overthrowing “Amerika.” He has now been convicted in Atlanta of shooting two Fulton County sheriff’s deputies, killing one and wounding the other. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and eleven other Muslim groups are steadfast in their support of Jamil Al-Amin. Citing prejudice against minorities, they say he was railroaded and will be exonerated on appeal. These are the groups that would persuade us that Muslims are, in the memorable phrase of Mr. Brown, as American as cherry pie.
• Since moving from Brooklyn to Manhattan many years ago, I have not owned a car. And, if I did have one, it almost certainly wouldn’t be one of those huge SUVs. So I have no dog in this fight. Bill McKibben, author of Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families (no doubt a big hit in dying Europe), has an article titled “Driving Global Warming.” About the world-destroying threat of global warming he has no doubts. Writing in the Christian Century, he says, “If you care about the people in this world living closest to the margins, then you need to do everything in your power to slow the rate at which the planet warms, for they are the most vulnerable. I was naked and you did not clothe me. I was hungry and you drowned me with your Ford Explorer.” I knew they had a reputation for flipping, but drowned by a Ford Explorer? That’s what the man says. Forget about the war on terrorism. The SUVs are out to do us in. “This,” McKibben writes, “is a moral issue every bit as compelling as the civil rights movement of a generation ago, and every bit as demanding of our commitment and our sacrifice. It’s not a technical question—it’s about desire, status, power, willingness to change, openness to the rest of creation. It can’t be left to the experts—the experts have had it for a decade now, and we’re pouring ever more carbon into the atmosphere. It’s time for all of us to take it on, as uncomfortable as that may be.” He adds, “Calling it a moral issue does not mean we need to moralize.” Oh, good. For a moment there, I thought he was stepping—not driving, mind you—over the line.
• The debate went on until after midnight at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Colorado Springs, but the resolution rejecting “open theism” finally passed by 70 percent. Open theism—a.k.a. free-will theism—is the teaching that God does not know the future because people shape it through their own decisions, and that’s the way God made the world to be. The catholic (also upper case) tradition, of course, affirms God’s omniscience, while acknowledging that the Divine epistemology, so to speak, far surpasses what we know about knowing. Irenaeus, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and a host of other worthies have pondered this mystery in depth. Evangelicals are inclined to launch questions from scratch and demand knock-down proofs from explicit biblical passages. In the absence of a Magisterium, or authoritative teaching office, this makes for lively arguments. One proponent of open theism described the vote as the work of the “evangelical Taliban,” and said it was laying the groundwork for kicking him and his friends out of the society. The leaders of the society said he should cool it. As to whether the society will kick them out, only God knows.
• The European Parliament was set to debate a report from its Women’s Rights Commission that was vetted also by the Citizens’ Liberties and Rights Commission. (The duplication of commissions is simply reflective of the Brussels bureaucracy and should not be taken to mean that women are not citizens.) The report condemns “religious organizations” and “extremist political movements” that are guilty of “the exclusion of women from leading positions in the political and religious hierarchy.” Read women priests. The report also deplores “the interference of the churches and religious communities in the public and political life of the state, in particular when such interference is designed to restrict human rights and fundamental freedoms, for instance, in the sexual or reproductive sphere.” Read abortion. But the really interesting phrase is “interference . . . in the public and political life of the state.” Statist hostility to social pluralism as articulated in, for instance, the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity is deeply entrenched in the political culture of Europe, and is unquestionably established in the European Union and its Brussels apparat. Mussolini first came up with the formula, “Everything within the State. Nothing against the State. Nothing outside the State.” It is still the most useful definition of totalitarianism, which is, in aspiration if not in fact, very much alive in Europe. And not only in Europe. (After some of the more extreme anti-Catholic language was removed, the report was approved, 242–240.
• In a review titled “Unpardonable,” Robert S. Wistrich once again gives evidence that he is incorrigible. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, he praises David Kertzer’s polemic against the papacy, The Popes Against the Jews, concluding that Pius XII’s alleged silence about the Holocaust “was less the result of any special moral insensitivity than it was a reflection of the long-established and pervasive culture of Vatican anti-Semitism.” See the discussion of Russell Hittinger’s critique of the Kertzer book, in which he devastatingly demonstrates that Kertzer is apparently ignorant of the major sources for the pontificates he presumably studied, and gravely distorts a number of minor sources, making his book virtually worthless as historical scholarship (While We’re At It, March). None of that bothers Wistrich. It is enough that Kertzer’s book serves the purposes of his ongoing campaign. In the same review, Wistrich discusses Jose M. Sanchez’s Pius XII and the Holocaust. “It is also unfortunate,” he writes, “that Sanchez concludes his otherwise valuable survey by implying that many critics of Pius XII have an ax to grind against the papacy or the Church.” Who could Sanchez possibly have in mind? Wistrich was part of the Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission, and Vatican officials reproached him for torpedoing the commission’s work by his egregious public criticisms. Wistrich describes the Vatican reproach as an instance of “absurd conspiracy theories out of the repertoire of classical anti-Semitism.” No, he was reproached for violating the rules of the commission of which he was part; and yes, he is a Jew; and no, that does not make the reproach anti-Semitic. And there were no “conspiracy theories,” absurd or otherwise. By his obsessive ax-grinding, Wistrich has thoroughly discredited himself as a scholar and putative authority on Christianity and anti-Semitism. Very different is the review of Kertzer in the New York Review of Books by Owen Chadwick of Cambridge, who is an authority on the history of the papacy. Kertzer, writes Chadwick, wrongly assumes, first, that anything done or said by Catholic priests (many of whom have been anti-Semitic) represents papal policy. Second, he writes, “the more damning parts of the book rest on arguments from silence.” He points out that the Pope did not condemn the Allied obliteration bombing of Dresden—a blatant war crime—which can hardly be taken to mean that the Pope approved of it. Third, Kertzer attributes to the Vatican statements made by Catholics overtly in opposition to, and condemned by, the Vatican. Fourth, Kertzer criticizes Pius XII for helping only some Jews, to which Chadwick asks the commonsensical question, “Is it safe to infer from this that the Pope, because he helped a small number of people, could not have wished to help a larger number of people if he or his advisers thought that to be possible?” “The Holocaust,” Chadwick declares, “was born in Germany, with roots in the German nineteenth century. It was not born in the last years of dilapidated papal [states of] Rome. Nor was it born in the anti-Semitism of some members of the clergy.” He very generously concludes with the allowance that Kertzer’s book is nonetheless “valuable” and “makes a case that calls for an answer.” After critiques such as Hittinger’s and Chadwick’s, one has to wonder whether any further answer might not be an instance of overkill.
• An article in the Christian Century argues for the “right of return” for more than a half million Palestinians to what is presently the State of Israel. Marc Ellis is quoted favorably: “This future of integration, under two flags or one, will one day see the creation of a new identity for Jews and Palestinians in Israel Palestine that will carry aspects of each people’s past and elements of joint experiences forged in blood, struggle, and solidarity.” A “new identity,” as in defeated Jews and triumphant Arabs. It would be more straightforward to call for the death of the State of Israel. Which, not incidentally, is what its enemies have been calling for over the last fifty-four years, and call for today.
• Melle Pufe is a big advertising agency in Germany that has had great success in promoting the Afri-Cola soft drink and various tobacco products. The Evangelical (Lutheran) Church is a new client, and Melle Pufe is launching a huge campaign centered on the motto, “Protestants Ask Questions.” If you’re looking for questions, go to church this Sunday. Barbara Kotte, creative director of the agency, says Protestantism is a “problematic brand” because it has no pope or other symbol to “feature the church’s history and identity.” Billboards in a hundred cities will display the campaign’s motto. I’m sure ecumenical sensibilities will preclude putting up next to them billboards declaring, “Catholics Have Answers.”
• The Brownback—Landrieu bill in the Senate is scheduled for early debate. It would ban all human cloning. Senators Ted Kennedy, Arlen Specter, and others are backing another bill, misleadingly called the “Human Cloning Prohibition Act.” It allows “therapeutic cloning” while outlawing bringing such clones to birth in “reproductive cloning.” J. Bottum, writing in the Weekly Standard, has got the number of these “prohibitionists.” “The attempt to allow cloned embryos and then to ban the birth at which they naturally aim is a bizarre and unworkable compromise. How exactly could we enforce it without the courts ordering women to have abortions? How could we prosecute violators without an unattainable knowledge of a scientist’s intention in creating a clone? And how could we call the compromise ethical when it would establish in law a class of embryos that it is a crime not to destroy, not to treat as disposable tissue? The attempt to ban only reproductive cloning will prove simply an invitation for scientists to get their techniques right until the pressure to bring one of those clones to birth becomes overwhelming. In truth, the only way to ban reproductive human cloning is by banning all human cloning, and the only bill now before the Senate that will do that is the Brownback—Landrieu bill.” Bottum writes that the biotech project is like a giant jigsaw puzzle, the picture only becoming apparent after the fact. “But this is how the brave new world project advances. Each small piece of the jigsaw puzzle is held up by its advocates as though it existed in isolation, as though it implied nothing about what is to come. And then we are asked how we could possibly be opposed to it. Last year, it was how we could object to embryonic stem-cell research when that doesn’t require cloning embryos for research. This year, it is how we can object to cloning embryos for research when that doesn’t require bringing clones to birth. And next year, it will be how we can object to bringing clones to birth when that doesn’t require the genetic redesign of our descendants.” And, of course, a year or two after that comes the genetic redesign of our descendants. “Why not?” as the serpent said to Eve.
• Remember “consciousness raising”? The phrase was big about thirty years ago, mainly in connection with the feminisms of the day. Yes, the activists admitted, most women do not view marriage as a trap or sex as rape, and they don’t hate men as they should, but that is only because they don’t understand their own oppression. They need to have their consciousness raised, and consciousness raising workshops sprang up all over the country. Now we have a similar thing with Indians. According to Native American activists and the wildly out of control U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the use of Indian names, mascots, and symbols in sports is an outrageous offense against Native Americans. So Sports Illustrated hired the Harris Research Group to poll Native Americans, with the result showing that 81 percent favor the use of Indian nicknames for high school and college teams, while for professional sports the approval rate is 83 percent. The civil rights establishment is not deterred. Its response is, What do you expect from people who have not had their consciousness raised? Maybe the commission will find funds for reeducation workshops. “Ve know best. You vill be offended.”
• I earlier remarked on a Maine-based operation that sells “Brother Curry’s Breads.” These include pumpkin bread, date nut bread, blueberry ginger loaf, all baked “in the Jesuit tradition.” The latest ad in America reads, “NEW!!! Brother Curry’s Dog Biscuits.” Also in the Jesuit tradition, of course. I feared it might come to this.
• We all know about the Red and Blue Americas. The first voted overwhelmingly for Bush and the second overwhelmingly for Gore. (I’ve never heard a satisfactory explanation of how the colors were chosen for that famous map, since red has traditionally signified the left and blue the right, as in “true blue.”) David Brooks, who is among our favorite observers of the American follies, examines what are supposedly two Americas in the Atlantic Monthly. His article, “One Nation, Slightly Divisible,” based on his comparison of upmarket, and very Blue, Montgomery County, Maryland (where he lives), and downmarket, and very Red, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, about sixty-five miles north. He did his admittedly unscientific research before and after September 11. Among his findings is that neither class warfare nor culture warfare explains much of anything. There are big differences in religious belief and observance, but the real divide is what he calls “the ego curtain.” The liberal Blues in Montgomery County think they are very big and special, while folks in Franklin County insist they are small and very ordinary. Brooks concludes with this: “If the September 11 attacks rallied people in both Red and Blue America, they also neutralized the political and cultural leaders who tend to exploit the differences between the two. Americans are in no mood for a class struggle or a culture war. The aftermath of the attacks has been a bit like a national Sabbath, taking us out of our usual pleasures and distractions and reminding us what is really important. Over time the shock will dissipate. But in important ways the psychological effects will linger, just as the effects of John F. Kennedy’s assassination have lingered. The early evidence still holds: although there are some real differences between Red and Blue America, there is no fundamental conflict. There may be cracks, but there is no chasm. Rather, there is a common love for this nation—one nation in the end.” I expect that’s true after September 11, and we’ll see how long it holds. But I also expect that Brooks is too ready to discount the reality of the culture war. On the “ego curtain,” on the importance of religion, on marriage, family, and homosexuality, on abortion, on patriotism, and on much else, the cultural divide is very deep. What has happened since September 11 is that the Reds with their normative morality are dramatically in the ascendancy (although their principled humility prevents them from gloating about it) and the Blues with their expressive individualism have been temporarily sobered. Real crises tend to have that effect. The driven self-indulgence and blithe nihilism of Montgomery County is dependent upon being secure and affluent. There, and even more in New York City, the sense of security has been severely shaken. The people of Franklin County, on the other hand, did not really need the President to tell them, as he did in the State of the Union message, that there is evil in the world, that life is fragile and must therefore be grounded in truth—as in Truth. As has often been said in these pages, the aggressors in the culture war are the Blues. Deep down, it is more true than not that Harvard hates America. More precisely, Harvard hates America as it imagines it to be and wants to remake it in its own image. Blues are inclined to be not very nice when it comes to what they think is wrong with America, which is just about everything. Like sociologist Alan Wolfe in One Nation, After All, David Brooks has discovered that people in Red America, by way of sharp contrast, tend to be, with few exceptions, nice. In visiting “middle America” both Brooks and Wolfe admit to a sense of venturing into terra incognita. Both express surprise that these folk do not come across as angry partisans in the culture war. Of course not. They are nice. That doesn’t mean they don’t know what side they’re on.
• It is true, there are millions of evangelical Protestants who don’t read FT. Also millions of Orthodox, Catholics, Jews, and people who aren’t sure what they believe. In remedying this sad state of affairs, we suggest starting small. For instance, send us the names of friends and acquaintances who you think might subscribe, and we’ll send them a free issue. Please send names and addresses to [First Things—>old.firstthings.com], 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, New York, New York 10010 (or e—mail to subscriberservices@pma—inc.net). On the other hand, if they’re ready to subscribe, call toll free 1–877–905–9920, or visit old.firstthings.com.
Israel and anti-Semitism, Commentary, February 2002.
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