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


Last month I discussed the signs of an emerging new leadership within the conference of Catholic bishops. Such signs were evident in the June meeting of the bishops, where efforts to evade or delay taking a clear position on pro-abortion Catholics in public life were decisively turned back. The statement issued by the June meeting, “Catholics in Political Life,” was not as clear or as firm as the guidelines sent to the bishops for their consideration by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Because of maneuverings by some conference leaders, the bishops were not permitted to take Cardinal Ratzinger’s communication fully into account. Nonetheless, the June statement strongly challenged every bishop to address the grave scandal of Catholic public officials who publicly and persistently defy moral principle and Catholic teaching with respect to the protection of innocent human life.

Since June, many bishops have addressed this question with statements of their own or statements issued jointly with other bishops. Among the more noteworthy statements is that published by Archbishop John Donoghue of Atlanta, Georgia; Bishop Robert Baker of Charleston, South Carolina; and Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte, North Carolina. Herewith the full text, entitled “A Manifest Lack of Proper Disposition for Holy Communion,” followed by an observation or three:

As bishops, we have the obligation to teach and guide the Catholic faithful whom we shepherd in the body of Christ. A fundamental teaching of our Church is respect for the sacred gift of life. This teaching flows from the natural law and from divine revelation.

Life is a gift bestowed upon us by God, a truth underscored by the commandment: “You shall not kill”(Deuteronomy 5:17). The Old Testament also teaches us that human life in the womb is precious to God: “I formed you in the womb”(Jeremiah 1:5). The right to life is a value “which no individual, no majority, and no state can ever create, modify, or destroy but must only acknowledge, respect, and promote”(Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 71a). A law, therefore, which legitimizes the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion is intrinsically unjust, since it is directly opposed to the natural law, to God’s revealed commandments, and to the consequent right of every individual to possess life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.

Catholics in political life have the responsibility to exemplify in their public service this teaching of the Church and to work for the protection of all innocent life. There can be no contradiction between the values bestowed by baptism and the Catholic faith, and the public expression of those values. Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance (cf. Canon 915).

Holy Communion is where Catholics meet as a family in Christ, united by a common faith. Every Catholic is responsible for being properly prepared for this profound union with Christ. Participation in Holy Communion requires certain dispositions on the part of the communicant, namely, perseverance in the life of grace and communion in the faith of the Church, in the sacraments and in the hierarchical order of the Church (Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 35–38).

The Church also recognizes that there is a manifest lack of a proper disposition for Holy Communion in those whose outward conduct is “seriously, clearly, and steadfastly contrary” to the Church’s moral teaching (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 37b). A manifest lack of proper disposition for Holy Communion is found to be present in those who consistently support pro-abortion legislation. Because support for pro-abortion legislation is gravely sinful, such persons should not be admitted to Holy Communion.

We also take this opportunity to address all Catholics whose beliefs and conduct do not correspond to the Gospel and to Church teaching. To receive the great gift of God—the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ—we must approach Holy Communion free from mortal sin. Those who are conscious of being in a state of grave sin should avail themselves of the sacrament of reconciliation before coming to Holy Communion. To partake of the Eucharist is to partake of Christ himself, and to enter into sacramental communion with our Lord we must all be properly disposed.

Because of the influence that Catholics in public life have on the conduct of our daily lives and on the formation of our nation’s future, we declare that Catholics serving in public life espousing positions contrary to the teaching of the Church on the sanctity and inviolability of human life, especially those running for or elected to public office, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in any Catholic Church within our jurisdictions: the Archdiocese of Atlanta, the dioceses of Charleston and Charlotte. Only after reconciliation with the Church has occurred, with the knowledge and consent of the local bishop, and public disavowal of former support for procured abortion, will the individual be permitted to approach the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

We undertake this action to safeguard the sacred dignity of the most Holy Sacrament of the altar, to reassure the faithful and to save sinners.

In sharp contrast to the above statement by Archbishop Donoghue, et al., some episcopal statements issued since the June meeting have shied away from or categorically rejected the discipline of nonadmission to Holy Communion. These statements typically contain three arguments: 1) The Church cannot judge the state of the soul of anyone coming to the altar; 2) Refusing Communion has the appearance and probable effect of being politically partisan; 3) Refusing Communion undermines the episcopal dialogue with offending politicians for which the June statement rightly calls. These arguments cannot bear close examination.

Regarding the first, the above statement and Cardinal Ratzinger’s guidelines underscore that the question is not about the private state of one’s soul, where decisions must be made in conscience by each person, but is about public and objective sin. For instance, a person may in conscience—albeit a wrongly formed conscience—support racial segregation or the cloning of human beings. Such a person may be, to use a traditional phrase, invincibly ignorant, suffering from a serious impairment of intellect or will. We should have sympathy for such a person, but that does not change the fact that his position is objectively wrong and sinful. The person who knowingly, publicly, and persistently supports the unlimited abortion license has objectively violated his communio with the Church and excluded himself from the Communion in which that communio is sacramentally enacted. The duty of the ministry of the Church is simply to alert a person to what he has done to himself with respect to the communio of the Church. As for the state of the inner sanctum of his soul, that is for God alone to judge. The decision for the ministers of the Church is about, as the title of the above text puts it, “a manifest lack of proper disposition for Holy Communion.”

The second argument offered by some bishops has an element of truth. Refusing Communion to offending politicians may have the appearance and effect of being politically partisan. But are not bishops who offer this argument the ones who are surrendering the Church’s witness to political partisanship? After all, it is the Democratic Party that has made don’t-give-an-inch support for the abortion license the litmus test for party leadership. Is the Church impotent to protest a great evil because a major political party has embraced that great evil? Moreover, there are more than enough pro-abortion Catholics who are Republican and in urgent need of disciplinary attention from their bishops. The integrity of the Church, her faith, and her sacraments is the proper business of bishops. Attending to political perceptions and consequences, while not unimportant, is nowhere to be found in the rite of episcopal ordination.

The Purpose of Dialogue

Third, there is the matter of dialogue. Dialogue most certainly, but dialogue about what? Dialogue about whether or how moral truth and the Church’s teaching will be changed? Dialogue about whether knowing, public, and persistent rejection of the Church’s teaching is compatible with being in full communion with the Church? These questions have been settled for centuries. One might as usefully dialogue about whether Proust can posthumously be elected pope. (You can no doubt supply your own analogy.) Of course there can be dialogue about why the Church teaches what she does, about why many people, including Catholics, have problems with her teaching, about the exigencies and pressures entailed in the political life, and about much else. But in this dialogue the bishops are not conducting a free-floating and open-ended seminar. The dialogue is to lead to decision, in the hope of repentance, reconciliation, and amendment of life. It is finally the decision of the public figure, not that of the bishop, that matters. The bishop only acknowledges the decision made and acts accordingly. As Archbishop Donoghue and company put it, “We undertake this action to safeguard the sacred dignity of the most Holy Sacrament of the altar, to reassure the faithful and to save sinners.”

There is a fourth argument that is not made explicitly but is insinuated in some episcopal statements; namely, that abortion is but one of many questions to be taken into account in making political decisions. Presumably, the June statement of the bishops precluded that argument by saying: “It is the teaching of the Catholic Church from the very beginning, founded on her understanding of her Lord’s own witness to the sacredness of human life, that the killing of an unborn child is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified. If those who perform an abortion and those who cooperate willingly in the action are fully aware of the objective evil of what they do, they are guilty of grave sin and thereby separate themselves from God’s grace. This is the constant and received teaching of the Church. It is, as well, the conviction of many other people of good will.” What is said of abortion cannot be said of other questions currently in dispute in mainstream politics. Yet some bishops persist in suggesting that abortion is but one issue among others. Usually they add that it is the issue that has priority, but then undercut that claim with stringent warnings against “one-issue politics.” No other question currently in dispute in mainstream politics has a comparable bearing on one’s communio with Christ and his Church.

The June statement of the bishops conference, the statement by Donoghue, Baker, and Jugis, plus similar statements by other bishops may denote a historic moment in the American Catholic experience. Battered, bruised, and bloodied by vociferous criticism—deserved and undeserved, but mainly deserved—during the years of the sex-abuse crisis, a majority of bishops are, when faced with another unwelcome test of their leadership, neither cowed nor casting about for clever escapes. They have turned with new resolve to the tasks for which they were ordained. The above statement puts it tersely: “As bishops, we have the obligation to teach and guide the Catholic faithful whom we shepherd in the body of Christ.” With that premise in place, the duties that follow are obvious, if not easy.


“If you want a friend in Washington,”said Harry Truman, “get a dog.” Hyperbole, to be sure, but a half century later Washington, more so than New York, impresses me as a place of intense rivalries and strategic, even tactical, friendships. Not, of course, that there are not much deeper friendships, but little escapes the influence of the dominant, indeed only, business of the place, which is politics. It was not a good thing when, twenty or more years ago, intellectuals and writers, notably from New York, began to gravitate toward Washington, everyone finding a niche and cause to serve in the ceaseless networking anchored in think tanks and government office. And yet, in the same world there are places where partisan fervor is tempered by a serious engagement with ideas. One such place is the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), now headed by Ed Whelan. (To the charge that my having served on the board for many years makes me biased, I respond that it only informs my appreciation.) Among the good things EPPC does is hold “center conversations” that bring together bright people of diverse biases to discuss questions of mutual interest. This comment is occasioned by a recent center conversation, “Understanding American Evangelicals.”

Here, for instance, is Mark Noll, the distinguished historian at Wheaton College, on different ways of answering the question “How many evangelicals are there in America?” Noll answers:

Like the meaning of ‘evangelical,’ the question of how many evangelicals there are depends on how the concept is used. A redoubtable team of political scientists—John Green, Jim Guth, Bud Kellstedt, and Corwin Smidt—has concluded that about 25 percent of the adult American population is associated with the mostly white Protestant churches and movements that have historically been known as evangelical. Of that number, about two-thirds (or roughly 16 percent of the total population) are actively involved in their congregations. These political scientists argue that, for any correlation with social views or political behavior, the fact of activity is much more important than mere identification.

But the bigger picture is considerably more complicated. If we use as the standard the four identifying markers of evangelical Christianity defined by David Bebbington (conversion, the Bible, activism in evangelism, and the cross of Christ), then a very substantial number of African Americans (perhaps five to six percent of the national population) also look like evangelicals. In addition, a very substantial number of individuals associated with the mainline Protestant churches (Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal) also affirm all four of the characteristic evangelical markers, as do a substantial number of Roman Catholics. Taken together, there are probably about as many Catholics, black Protestants, and mainline Protestants who tell survey researchers they embrace the four evangelical characteristics as there are adherents to the conservative Protestant denominations. This would suggest, then, that about 30 percent of American adults practice a religion that looks more or less evangelical.

Alan Cooperman of the Washington Post suspects that we are witnessing in contemporary America “the most philo-Semitic Christianity in history.” To which Noll responds: “One might say there’s a fault line running through the evangelical world. On one side are those who feel that the nation of Israel is vital to the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. On the other are those who think that whatever was promised of good to Israel is now being fulfilled through the work of Christ in the Church. But even those people would recognize a special category for the Jewish people. And I think this has been one of the reasons for the offense given by evangelicals to some Jews: it’s not just that Jews are included among those who are to be evangelized, but that they are singled out, as it were, as the prime target of evangelization—albeit with philo-Semitic feeling.”

David Shribman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes that it has been fifteen years since Pat Robertson ran for President. Some years from now “will he be regarded as someone who has been less on God’s errand than on a fool’s errand?” Noll: “The short answer is that Pat Robertson will disappear from history when his TV program goes off the air. His significance is to have embodied the politicization of a part of the evangelical world that had not been politicized before. The point about the evangelical world’s mostly monopartisan politics not matching its internal religious diversity is important. The people that Robertson brought in had been outsiders religiously, if not politically. And the coalition that took place politically on the right did bequeath more unity—albeit unity of a partisan political character—than had ever existed in the religiously variegated evangelical community.”

Many observers have noted that evangelical Protestants are a great deal more variegated, also politically, than the stereotypes allow or their leaders admit. If the frontal assault issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, were taken out of play, evangelicals might be spread across the liberal-conservative spectrum in about the same proportions as the general population. But that is a gigantic If. Abortion is the key. The Roe v Wade decision of 1973 is, one can reasonably argue, the most important event in American politics in the past three decades. More than any other factor, it has shaped present political alignments. That is a reality touched upon but not thoroughly addressed in this EPPC conversation. But then, EPPC and its programs can’t do everything. They just try to.


Steven Ozment has done a remarkable thing in A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People (HarperCollins, 416 pages, $26.95). Ozment, a professor of history at Harvard, declines to see the history of Germany through the sole prism of the Third Reich. Rather, he begins with the beginning, going back to Tacitus in the first century a.d. The early story line is that of interaction with and, later, succession to the Roman Empire. In a manner reminiscent of Peter Brown’s The Rise of Western Christendom, Ozment shows how the “barbarians” did not so much invade the Roman Empire as they engaged, over a long period of time, in complicated negotiations of identity and power from which Frankish and then German dominance gradually emerged.

Ozment believes that this way of telling the story is crucial to the future of the young democracy that is the Germany unified in 1990. He wants to offer a “fuller and fairer” depiction of German history. Historians who see the whole of that history stamped with the Nazi swastika are projecting, “both in fear and fancy,” an impossible future. “On the one hand, there remains Germany the eternal land of obedience, with its documented modern history of aggression and totalitarianism. On the other, there is Germany the prostrate penitential state, an idealized egalitarian democracy with its gates thrown open to all, as portrayed by Güünter Grass. Each of these options projects an abject German people on their knees either out of docility and fear of their rulers or in utopian self-sacrifice—highly unlikely future scenarios for the latter-day survivors of the twentieth century.”

Moving somewhat rapidly from the first century to the sixteenth—it is, after all, a small book for such a big subject—Ozment finds the German character (he does not use the term “character”) marked by an oscillation between “self-transcendence and self-abasement” grounded in the theology of Martin Luther. Simul iustus et peccator—at the same time sinner and justified—is at the heart of the German sensibility. “In Luther’s view the German Christian, unlike the Roman, did not see his life on a spiritual continuum from diminishing sinfulness to increasing righteousness. His soul spanned two poles and he led a double life—hopeless and mad in the life he alone could sustain on earth, yet eternally secure in the heights to which his faith momentarily lifted him.” This duality had its parallel in the political doctrine of the “two kingdoms.” “Luther envisioned two coeval authorities ordained by God to govern the secular and ecclesiastical spheres of life—the princes and lords to oversee body and property, the pastors and priests to safeguard consciences and souls.” In the absence of traditional ecclesiastical governance (the bishops did not go over to the Reformation), the princes became also “emergency bishops,” thus conflating and confusing the two kingdoms. A small item indicating the impact of Luther: between 1520 and 1546, one third of everything published in the German language was written by Martin Luther. Luther’s popular catechetical writings, later imitated by Catholics, “made the Germans Europe’s most theologically literate people.”

Sometimes explicitly, more often between the lines, Ozment offers a revisionist account of the role of Jews and Judaism in German history. Revisionist, that is, by contrast with the many post-Holocaust books on Germany that make anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism the leitmotif of the entire story. The Nazis—and many contemporary historians follow them in this—drew a direct line between their anti-Semitic views and Luther’s notorious writings against the Jews late in his life. Ozment suggests that those writings were an aberrant eruption and notes that Luther’s close associates, such as Melanchthon and Justus Jonas, in no way subscribed to Luther’s fulminations. “Luther’s anti-Jewish tracts lived on in the complete editions of his works but did not as a rule find their way into Lutheran confessions, catechisms, and hymns.” An eighteenth-century anthology of anti-Jewish writings, Judaism Unmasked, has been called the anti-Semite’s “literary munitions arsenal.”Ozment notes, “Nowhere in its more than two thousand pages is the name of Martin Luther so much as mentioned.”

Contrary to the conventional notion that eighteenth-century Pietists were given to social and political quietism, Ozment observes that Frederick William I converted from Calvinism to Pietism precisely in order to forge a stronger link between religion and the public order. Lutheran leaders of Pietism such as Johann Arndt, Philip Jakob Spener, and August Hermann Francke very deliberately put Christianity into the service of state and society. While maintaining a link with Luther’s duality of worldly and spiritual orders, Spener also wrote, “We are under an obligation to achieve some degree of perfection.” There is a moral duty, he contended, to be guided by the Holy Spirit in one’s moral actions. Ozment offers an unexpected but, on second thought, plausible observation: “Here he anticipated Immanuel Kant’s secular notion of a categorical imperative in conscience, demanding a universally applicable response to moral challenge.” From Kant to Nietzsche, it is suggested, Germany’s modern intellectual history is the product of “lapsed Lutherans” wrestling with irrepressible returns of a rejected theology.

Dialectic and Bipolarity

And of course there is no Germany without Johann Sebastian Bach, whose music was, says Ozment, in sharp contrast to that of the Enlightenment, and especially of the French Enlightenment. “What distinguished Bach’s work and made it lasting was the musical-emotional demonstration of humankind’s need for transcendence and majesty, yet utter inability to encompass and master either.” The Enlightenment believed in man’s ability to resolve the riddle of history, both to mock and to play the gods. “By contrast, Bach’s music reasserted the dialectical character of reality and the bipolarity at the center of the human heart, each mysterious and complex beyond all human fathoming. . . . The alternating loss and restoration of harmony left the auditor with an intermittently pleasurable, but never final or secure, sensation of reconciliation, which was also the intention of the juxtaposition of Law and Gospel in the Lutheran sermon: oneness only in division, righteousness only in sin.” Ozment makes much of the similar dialectic in Goethe’s Faust. It may suggest something important about the German mind and spirit that in 1914 soldiers on the battlefront were sent three books: The New Testament, Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and Goethe’s Faust.

In Ozment’s concluding discussion of Germany’s present and possible futures, one misses any treatment of what appears to be the striking triumph of secularism in today’s Germany. That may be because Ozment believes that triumph occurred in Wilhelmine Germany around the turn of the century. “If not Europe’s most deeply religious land, Germany had been its most theologically engaged since the Reformation. Because of, or perhaps despite, such literacy, increasing numbers of inward Germans abandoned the traditional spiritual refuges for those promised by enlightened reason, empirical science, or post-Enlightenment fringe spiritual movements. Behind this transfer . . . lay centuries of excessive familiarity with, and estrangement from, mainstream religion.” And this: “Finally, the long nineteenth-century deconstruction of German history and tradition, particularly the unprecedented intellectual and spiritual assault on mainstream morality and religion, had taken its toll by the 1920s, leaving many Germans confused, cynical, and exploring dark and unfamiliar pathways, not least that leading to National Socialism.” In this light, one may infer that what appears to be a fairly recent triumph of secularism is, in fact, a return to the deep disillusionment of the early twentieth century which had been only momentarily interrupted by a religious resurgence in the immediate aftermath of the horror of the Third Reich.

Why Hitler?

In his account of the Third Reich, Ozment is particularly suggestive, and sometimes provocative. Nazi theory, especially its racial theory, was premised upon the Nietzschean motif of the highest and lowest man. In this, Hitler set himself against Christian egalitarianism, including the Lutheran simul iustus et peccator that portrayed Everyman as both the highest and the lowest. Although he never gained a majority vote and probably never had the support of a majority of Germans, Hitler gained power because—after the oppressive reparations imposed by the Allies following World War I, after years of desperate depression and runaway inflation, and after the manifest failure of the Weimar Republic— “he conveyed, like no other, the image of a leader more outraged over the people’s plight than they, and possessed of the will and wit to end it—something Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic had long since lost the ability to do.” In Germany’s darkest days, everyone else had failed. “In the end it was that fact that gave Hitler, a politician who knew how to stuff a void with promises, a decisive advantage.” Enough people went along, but after seizing power “the party ruled supreme only by fear and terror, and never succeeded in making Germany the voluntary, cohesive national community that its propaganda desired.”

Jews and Judaism, Ozment emphasizes, were by no means in the forefront of Hitler’s appeal to the German people. But they were always on his mind. “Hitler hated Christianity and communism for their social leveling and static societies, and he identified the supremely hated Jews as the mother root of both plagues.” Contra Daniel J. Goldhagen and others who depict Germans as a nation of “willing executioners” just waiting for a Hitler to give them permission to go out and kill Jews, Ozment contends that hostility to Jews was not entrenched in German culture. “By comparison with most other states, nineteenth-century Germany had been a good place for Jews to live.” There was resentment that Jews, less than one percent of the population, occupied so many places in the elite professions, but the majority-Protestant population desired only Jewish conversion and assimilation into Christian society. There was a similar resentment of the Catholic minority. “The perception that German Catholics and Jews had a prior allegiance to a religious community deemed higher than the German state endeared them neither to their secular and areligious, nor to their devoutly Protestant, fellow citizens. Still, as late as 1900, anti-Semitism was far rifer in France and Czarist Russia than in Germany.”

Ozment emphatically rejects the claim of some historians that World War II was waged primarily to exterminate Europe’s Jews. “The original motives for the war were completely self-centered, not Judeocentric or anti-Semitic. Germans wanted to avenge and repair, by total victory, the draconian reparations they had been compelled to pay and the terrible suffering they had endured since World War I.” As for Hitler’s personal motivations, his chief target was Christianity, through which, in his view, the Jewish corruption worked its evil. “Pure Christianity,” Hitler said, “leads quite simply to the annihilation of mankind; it is wholehearted Bolshevism under a tinsel of metaphysics.”Ozment writes, “Thus, while Hitler subjected German Jews to a ‘final solution,’ he singled out the removal of the ‘rotten branch of Christianity’ as the ‘final task’ of National Socialism, with the removal of Slavs, Gypsies, and homosexuals in between. Beyond the Jewish Holocaust lay the eradication of Christianity.”

“German Christians”

The eradication would begin with co-optation, which Hitler attempted in establishing a church of “German Christians” to displace Protestant leadership. Ozment observes, “The liberal Protestant theology of the Enlightenment and the left-wing Hegelians was far more vulnerable to being co-opted by National Socialism than was traditional Christianity.” With the encouragement of the Vatican, Catholics ducked their heads in the hope of weathering the storm and maintaining enough institutional strength “to preserve a base from which to fight principled moral battles,” which they did in combating a euthanasia program that, before it was stopped, killed 72,000 physically or mentally impaired children and adults between 1939 and 1941.

In sum, says Ozment, “Through Christianity and Bolshevism, the ancient empire-destroying power of the Jews lived on in the modern world. Therein lay, for Hitler, the imperative of a ‘final solution’ for the Jews and of a postwar terror for the Christians.” As for the implementation of the Holocaust against Jews, Slavs, and others, it was more of an opportunistic, jerry-built, improvisational affair dictated by circumstances rather than a well-coordinated imposition of a master plan. On this, Ozment’s version is similar to the recent and much acclaimed study by Christopher Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution.

When the much smaller and economically enfeebled East Germany was unified with West Germany in 1990, the oddity appeared that Easterners were much more at peace with German history than their Western cousins. West German President Richard von Weizsacker observed that East Germans had a “more stable, serious, and truthful consciousness of German history,” notwithstanding Communist Party lapses into “ideologization.” Actually, those lapses largely explain the oddity. Easterners were taught that the Hitler years had nothing to do with them; the horror was the product of decadent capitalism against which Communists had heroically battled. For West Germans, and especially for intellectuals, the Third Reich is German history and everything that had gone before was discredited as having led directly to the horror. Among intellectuals espousing that view, Ozment singles out the novelist Günter Grass and the philosopher Jürgen Habermas. By almost equating Germany with Hitler and by insisting that Germany has a permanent “democracy deficit,” such thinkers hobble the efforts of former leftists such as Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to lead the now united nation into an era of confident democracy. Similarly, Ozment excoriates those—mainly Jewish organizations—who demand never-ending “shakedowns” as reparations for what was done by dead Germans of a time now long past. All who make National Socialism and the Holocaust “the bookends of German history,” Ozment contends, stand in the way of Germany’s pressing need to meet the challenges of its democratic future.

Spiritual Deficit

The challenges are daunting. Ozment gives detailed attention to the complicated question of immigration, mainly Muslim and mainly from Turkey. Originally welcomed as “guest workers” who would do the work that Germans no longer were willing to do, legal and illegal immigrants are now as much as ten percent of the population and are not assimilating culturally and politically. Curiously, Ozment does not refer to a major factor exacerbating the problem, namely, the “baby deficit” created by the fact that German reproductive rates fall far short of replacement levels. And despite the centrality of religion suggested both by the book’s title, A Mighty Fortress, and by the substance of Ozment’s narrative, his conclusion entirely skirts the “spiritual deficit” of a secularist culture consumed by consumerism.

Ozment is insightful about the ambivalence of Germans toward the European Union, an ambivalence that he apparently shares. On the one hand, Germany’s commitment to the transnational experiment is a bid to be accepted as a “normal” and no longer threatening people. On the other, most of the people, unlike the aforementioned intellectuals, want Germany to be a nation among the nations, while also fearing that its status as the richest and most powerful of the nations in the EU will once again arouse the fears of others.

While not downplaying the twelve-year nightmare that was the Third Reich, Steven Ozment insists that that is not the whole of German history, nor even the most important part. He rather likes and admires the German people and believes it is long past time to give their still young democracy a chance to vindicate that favorable disposition. His disposition is commendable and his argument is generally persuasive. But as with the music of Bach, one might observe, Germany’s “alternating loss and restoration of harmony” may provide even the sympathetic observer with “an intermittently pleasurable, but never final or secure, sensation of reconciliation.”


Edward Norman, the canon of York Minster, has written many books. I suppose my favorite is House of God, an intelligently annotated and magnificently illustrated history of Christian architecture. It was published some fifteen years ago and if you come across it in a used bookstore, don’t miss the opportunity of picking it up. Norman’s latest is Anglican Difficulties (Continuum), in which he concludes that Anglicanism has irretrievably lost what was once “a faithfully preserved deposit of Christian doctrines,” and announces that he is entering into communion with the Catholic Church. The book is reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement along with Anglican Identities, a collection of essays edited by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.

In his review, Father Peter Cornwell, a former Anglican who was vicar at the University Church at Oxford, writes: “In all honesty we have to turn back to the real questions which Edward Norman puts to the Church of England. . . . Ever since the national Church followed the Empire to become a worldwide communion, it has had troubles. Escaping from the authority of the Crown in Parliament, what now could hold this burgeoning body together and help resolve its inevitable disputes? Although Williams repudiates ‘the necessity of a central executive authority,’ pressure of events has moved his Communion in that direction, with the evolution of the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, the regular meetings of the Primates, and now what may emerge from the Eames Commission on gay clergy. The more complicated a game becomes, the more players are involved, the more you find you need a referee or umpire, not to create the game—only players can do that—but to serve the game, to let it move forward. Roman Catholics may be tempted to think that Anglicans will wake up one day to find that they have reinvented the papacy.”

If a new Anglican papacy is both pointless and impossible, Anglicans may be rescued from impending death by the existing papacy. But, Cornwell observes, “If the papacy is really to serve unity, then Catholics have to make sure that it is more clearly a gift which can enable Anglican gifts to flourish and not be crushed.” Much as John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, with primary, but by no means exclusive, reference to the Orthodox. By the time this sees print, the Eames Commission may have issued its report. It is to address, inter alia, the fragmentation of the Anglican communion precipitated by the unilateral action of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. in installing as bishop of New Hampshire a married man who left his wife and children to live with his male partner.

I recently had dinner in Europe with a UK bishop who serves on the commission. He opined that the entire “unpleasantness” was due to the fact that bishops in Africa and elsewhere had not yet caught up to the Americans, and the cultural laggards would have to be told in no uncertain terms that they can’t hold back the entire communion. He predicted that the commission would “come down hard” on bishops from the Southern hemisphere who are engaged in “outrageous irregularities,” such as offering episcopal oversight to “fundamentalist Anglicans” in the U.S. What was striking in his conversation is that there was not a single reference to the possibility that the New Hampshire matter might entail questions of theological or moral consequence, never mind truth. It was entirely a matter of some slow learners making themselves a bother. Advised that, if he is right about the commission report, it almost certainly means the end of the “special relationship” between Canterbury and Rome and the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue’s hope for ecclesial reconciliation, the bishop seemed quite untroubled. Having abandoned even nominal adherence to Scripture and tradition, Anglicanism would likely be viewed by Rome as simply one more Protestant denomination. The prospect appeared to faze the bishop not at all. It would be a very nice denomination in which he felt very much at home. I hope, and rather expect, he was wrong about the report of the Eames Commission. We should know in short order.


Father Jeremy Driscoll’s moving and instructive reflection on Czeslaw Milosz in this issue was written shortly before Milosz’s death on August 14 at age ninety-three. In discussions with the great poet before his death, Driscoll had the opportunity of exploring with him his own understanding of his life’s work, and especially the religious character of his controlling vision. Since the death of Milosz, others have weighed in with their interpretations, not least being the irrepressible British commentator Christopher Hitchens. Writing for Slate, Hitchens would have us believe that the key to understanding Milosz was his opposition to “the oldest form of oppression known to the mind: that of religion.” Possibly because he can find no support for that judgment in the work of Milosz, Hitchens invokes Leo Strauss on the importance of indirection and “writing between the lines.” It turns out that Milosz, like Strauss, was practicing the subversion of “religious tyranny—in this case Christianity.” “The long-term achievement of Milosz,” Hitchens declares, was to surreptitiously undermine “the party ‘lines’ that claim for themselves exclusive truth.” Hitchens’ unsurprising effort to recruit Milosz to his weary campaign against the baleful influence of religion is severely embarrassed by what the poet wrote and what he said about what he wrote.

It is not as though Milosz “got religion” in his declining years. Upon the occasion of his death, the New Republic reissued online Leon Wieseltier’s review of Milosz’s 1983 book, The Witness of Poetry, based on his Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard. I have in this space been critical from time to time of Mr. Wieseltier’s strident attacks on Christianity. It is the more gratifying, therefore, to discover that twenty-plus years ago he wrote so sympathetically of Milosz’s faith. At Harvard, Milosz asked, “Is non-eschatological poetry possible?” Critics at the time attributed such unfashionable musings to Milosz’s being “so very Slavic.” Wieseltier protested: “Milosz’s stark spirituality cannot be easily evaded. The poet’s Polishness is finally beside the point. Terror is not the only condition for transcendence, though it helps.”

The Witness of Poetry, Wieseltier wrote, “is the credo of a great poet. It reveals that Milosz is really a religious thinker.” Unlike Hitchens, Wieseltier can cite Milosz in support of his claim. Milosz wrote of his devotion to “Latin as the language of the Church and of literature, the theological quarrels of the Middle Ages, Latin poetry as a model for Renaissance poets, white churches in the baroque style.” Wieseltier observes, “His reverence for human custom is based upon the personal participation in it. The same is true of his religiousness. He does not shill for the spiritual life, or for its civil utility; he lives spiritually.” The critical reaction to Milosz by secularists leads Wieseltier to write, “Perhaps the most paradoxical feature of this century is that it is the century for which the spiritual should be most obvious. How could the slaughters of Hitler and Stalin, and the Communist captivity of half of Europe and most of Asia, not shake the soul?”

Wieseltier writes that, like another great Polish thinker, Leszek Kolakowski, Milosz “long ago exchanged the scholastics of the Party for the scholastics of the Church.” “There are sufferings that put the purely secular to shame, that create a need for meanings that neither reason nor society can satisfy. The secularization of modern life was anyway an exaggeration; a lot of religion remained. But there is no way that some of the traditional themes of religion can be dodged after the scale and style of contemporary carnage.” As for Milosz, he said that he and his poetry and prose are to be understood as “the passionate pursuit of the Real.” To which Wieseltier adds, “The capital R refers to something more than ordinary cognition but not quite to mysticism.” Driscoll’s essay suggests that Milosz was not quite so chary about the mystical. Wieseltier recognizes, however, that, in rejecting the secular utopianism of Marxism, Milosz represented “a necessary exchange of new lies for old truths.” Intellectually, spiritually, and aesthetically, Milosz’s ambition was not modest. “His solution,” wrote Wieseltier, “is the resacralization of the world.”

After the death of Milosz, Wieseltier wrote again about the greatness of the man, this time in the New York Times Book Review. Their friendship was cemented, he says, by a long conversation in 1982 in which they discovered that “we shared an envy of mystics.” Milosz, he notes, “was not embarrassed by the crudities of religion: they were the imagination’s answers to the mind’s questions. They created the ‘second space’ without which he saw no possibility of human flourishing.” He continues: “For Milosz, the journey was not the goal, the goal was the goal. Irony, for which he had a wicked appetite, was not adequate as a meaning for life. He was a man without illusions, holding steadfastly to a confidence in what he could not see.” Wieseltier concludes his tribute with these words by Milosz:

You gave me gifts, God-Enchanter.
I give you thanks for good and ill.
Eternal light in everything on earth.
As now, so on the day after my death.


• When I spoke at ceremonies marking the inauguration of Robert Sloan as president of Baylor University some years ago, I noted that atheist faculty members who support the idea of a Christian university are less of a problem than devout Christians who don’t (see FT, “Eleven Theses,” January 1996). It seems that is turning out to be the case at Baylor. Last May the Board of Regents fell one vote short of asking for President Sloan’s resignation, and it was rumored that he would be forced out in July. Sloan and his ambitious program “Baylor 2012”are still standing, although shaken. Baylor 2012 is based on the premise that, in Sloan’s words, “Baylor University has the opportunity to become the only major university in America, clearly centered in the Protestant traditions, to embrace the full range of academic pursuits.” Baylor, which has close to 15,000 students, has been attracting some academic superstars under Sloan’s regime. Not surprisingly, this has generated resentments among some of the faculty who liked things the way they were before Baylor aimed for the big time. Labels such as conservative and liberal get muddled here. Under the old regime, devout Bible-believing Christians operated with a “two spheres” approach to education. Science and reason were in one sphere, faith and piety in another, and there was an agreement that neither sphere would be allowed to interfere with the other. When in 1991 some Baptists demanded that their understanding of faith be in control, Baylor withdrew from the Southern Baptist General Convention. Now his opponents claim that Sloan is once again violating the truce. While for understandable reasons Sloan does not usually quote John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio, which is not recognized as authoritative by many Baptists, that is essentially the argument he makes in contending that the truce was fundamentally wrongheaded. Because the ultimate source and object of truth is one, there is finally only one sphere of truth, no matter how various the disciplines and perspectives at work within that sphere. Faculty, insists Sloan, should be encouraged to teach with an undivided mind. This is the understanding classically set forth in Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge, and it is noteworthy that, when Sloan invited William Dembski to establish a major program at Baylor, it was called the Michael Polanyi Center. Dembski, famous for advancing the “intelligent design” argument against dogmatic Darwinism, ran into ferocious opposition from proponents of evolution who are defenders of the old truce. There are other complaints against Sloan, such as his allegedly heavy-handed and top-down management style, but these are the rumblings common in most faculties. The crux of the conflict at Baylor is over the nature of truth, and whether it is possible under evangelical Protestant auspices to build a world-class research university and thus provide a counterforce to the dreary history of the declension of Protestant (and Catholic) higher education from Christian seriousness, a declension powerfully narrated by James Burtchaell’s The Dying of the Light. (For a summary of Burtchaell’s thesis see FT, “The Decline and Fall of the Christian College,”June 1991.) The cultural and intellectual influence of Christian higher education in this society has a lot riding on the bold, and predictably embattled, experiment underway at Baylor.

• It’s all so unfair. According to Nancy Halpern of the Strickland Group, a New York “executive coaching organization,” the metrosexual men celebrated by the TV show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” are moving ahead rapidly in business. If men who cultivate their softer and feminine side are doing so well, asks Seattle Times columnist Carol Kleiman, “Why is the glass ceiling still so firmly in place for women? Why are so few women in the ‘glass elevator’ that propels men to the top?”(A glass elevator goes through a glass ceiling?) “Because,” says Halpern, “women not only are a minority, but they also get conflicting advice. For twenty years they’ve been told to be more like men—and clearly that doesn’t work.” The system works for men who are like women but not for women who are like men. One might expect Ms. Kleiman to conclude that women should be like women. But that would imply an idea, i.e., stereotype, of what it means to be womanly. It’s so, so unfair.

• It was once known as the home of the Acadians, and Longfellow immortalized the British expulsion of the French in “Evangeline.” In more recent history, people knew of Halifax, Nova Scotia, for its heroic part in World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic. But now it’s slim pickings in the struggle for cultural distinction. “Halifax is One of the World’s Capitals of Lesbian Pulp Fiction” is the heading of a full-page story in Canada’s National Post. It seems that Mount St. Vincent College in Halifax, which is described as “a small liberal arts university best known for its women’s studies programs,” has 119 titles of lesbian pulp fiction in its library. Count them: 119! With a nod to Oklahoma, everything is up to date in Halifax, they’ve gone about as fer as they can go. In Kansas City, never mind New York, I expect there are hundreds of closets stacked with more than 119 dirty books. Just think: so many world capitals of pornography. Yes but, at Mount St. Vincent “some of the books are suggested reading for the students.” Well, that is a distinction. At most schools, from Harvard to Podunk State, they are required reading, especially in women’s studies programs. But stifle your giggles, please, and remember that this is Canada, where a national paper must stretch to assure Canadians that they should not be as forgotten as they are. Oh yes, Mount St. Vincent is a nominally Catholic school; so nominal that the news story doesn’t mention it. The school is receiving no complaints about its being on the cutting edge, except for one. “You could tell he was a fairly religious, conservative person,” said librarian Meg Raven. “He said something like, ‘You are going to burn in Hell for having this material on display.’” To which the reporter has the snappy wrap-up line, “Sounds like he’d been reading Satan Was a Lesbian.” Oh, those Canadians.

• It was not “withdrawn,” it was just “not published,” insists the staff of the bishops conference (USCCB). At issue is the “Presidential Questionnaire” that the conference sends to candidates every four years. It’s a kind of checklist of candidates’ positions in comparison with those of the USCCB. Pro-life groups did not like this year’s questionnaire at all. It is, they complained, all apples and oranges. Said Austin Ruse of the Culture of Life Foundation, “It improperly equates doctrinal issues like abortion with judgment calls like the minimum wage.” In short, it was skewed in favor of a candidate who, while supporting abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, also favors a long list of items favored by the staff of the USCCB and therefore comes out as being more in agreement with Catholic teaching. The USCCB wants it understood that the questionnaire was not withdrawn because of pro-life criticism. The communications office said it “decided not to publish the results of the questionnaire because neither of the candidates responded to it before the deadline.” Perhaps it is more accurate to say that they decided not to publish the results because there were no results. On the other hand, maybe one or both candidates completed their assignments late. (Apparently Ralph Nader and the fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-party candidates were not asked.) The most likely explanation is that the Bush campaign saw the questionnaire as a booby trap, and the Kerry campaign, in one of its makeovers which included firing two “religion outreach” directors who turned out to be flaming lefties, either lost the form or decided that the less said about Kerry’s Catholicism the better. Either way, the implication is that the opinion of the USCCB is not high on the list of things requiring attention in presidential politics.

• My first contact with William F. Buckley, Jr. was many years ago when I was still viewed as a man of the left and wrote him a stiff note protesting something he had said about civil rights leaders. He wrote back, politely pointing out that I had misquoted him and inviting me to lunch. For some reason I don’t remember, that lunch didn’t come off, but in the years since then there have been many lunches, dinners, and meetings on his long-running but now discontinued show “Firing Line.”(Dinner invitations to his residence off Park Avenue direct one to “73 East 73rd Street at 7:30.” He assures me the number 73 has no occult significance.) We have disagreed on matters of substance (see, for example, While We’re At It, October), but I count Bill Buckley a dear friend and admire him as the exemplification of what it means to be a gentleman. His has been an extraordinary life of achievement and adventure: essayist, novelist, lecturer, editor, sailor, musician, candidate for mayor of New York, and the alchemist who turned a conservatism of irritated gestures into an intellectual, cultural, and political movement of great consequence. (I still have a matchbook printed with a photo that, taking off from a New York Times ad campaign in those years, has President Reagan reading Bill’s magazine under the caption, “I got my job through National Review.”) Bill is nearing eighty now and slowing down a bit, but he’s slowing down from what most mortals never dreamed of getting up to. He has now brought out Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography (Regnery). It’s as big (594 pages) as it is irresistible, collecting some of his best and more personal pieces and providing me hours of learning and remembering what I once knew. In his review of the book, William McGurn notes that some have criticized Bill for obsessions such as sailing and the harpsichord, to which McGurn responds: “The concern seems to be that enjoying oneself so thoroughly, at a time when So Many Serious Issues Still Threaten The Republic, violates some precept. But that is only true when measured against the nasty calculus of a utilitarian age that forgets what it means to be human. Miles Gone By is a bracing reminder of an essential conservative principle: that the state exists so that we might have private lives, not vice versa. ”I know a little less than next to nothing about sailing, but greatly admired this passage toward the end of the book: “You have shortened the sail just a little, because you want more steadiness than you get at this speed, the wind up to twenty-two, twenty-four knots, and it is late at night, and there are only two of you in the cockpit. You are moving at racing speed, parting the buttery sea as with a scalpel, and the waters roar by, themselves exuberantly subdued by your powers to command your way through them. Triumphalism . . . and the stars seem to be singing for joy.” Of that passage, McGurn writes, “You could say the same thing about the satisfaction that comes from writing a fine paragraph. Or a life that set itself, with astounding success, against most of the prevailing winds of his day.” I do not take too seriously Bill’s asseverations (as he might say) about retiring from this, that, and the other thing. He may have shortened the sail to get more steadiness, but I am among the many who count on his continuing company to alert us to the stars singing for joy.

• In Winslow Homer’s 1899 painting “The Gulf Stream,” a black sailor is trapped on a sinking boat that is surrounded by sharks. The sharks encircle the boat, writes the noted art critic Nicolai Cikovsky, “with sinuous seductiveness.” They “can be read as castrating temptresses, their mouths particularly resembling the vagina dentata, the toothed sexual organ that so forcefully expresses the male fear of female aggression.” Reviewing Roger Kimball’s The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), David Gelerntner writes: “Why would a critic write such stuff? Peer pressure, says Mr. Kimball: ‘to ensure his own place as a “brilliant” “scholar” in a “great” contemporary university.’ But he provides the raw material for a deeper explanation. A century ago, professors could regard themselves as socially superior to artists and could afford to be generous and admiring without jeopardizing their own self-regard. But modern professors can no longer pull rank on anyone. Accordingly, two mammoth projects were launched. Since the early decades of the twentieth century, intellectuals have built a case that criticism can itself be a species of literature. There is something to that. But the educated public has continued to regard great artists as geniuses and great critics as critics. Hence the remarkable follow-on project of the past thirty-odd years: cutting the geniuses down to size. Mr. Kimball quotes Professor Keith Moxley, speaking for thousands of like-minded colleagues: “‘Genius” is a socially-constructed category.’ Thus Michelangelo merely appeared to be a genius to the long-ago (pre-industrial, profoundly religious, all-but-incomprehensible) mind of sixteenth century Italy!” The title of Mr. Kimball’s book will likely arouse critical theorists to further erotic frenzies, but his brief against intellectuals who write things that only other intellectuals could believe is not exaggerated. And Mr. Gelerntner’s shot at a sociological explanation of what has brought us to our present pass is entirely plausible. “Many writers have discussed the death of authority; we ought to ponder the death of admiration too,” says Gelerntner. When critics put “genius” in sneer quotes, they are really saying, “That was then, I am now. Don’t look at what the ‘genius’ painted or wrote. Look at me!” It is not a pretty sight.

• From The Cresset, published by Valparaiso University and edited for some twelve years by our former editor, Jim Nuechterlein, Martin Marty’s Context picks up on some suggestive ponderings by William Placher, a Protestant theologian at Wabash College in Indiana. (Wabash is, I am told, one of only two all-male colleges left in the country and is the alma mater of two of our former editorial assistants, Matthew Rose and Vincent Druding.) Placher writes, “Belief in the Trinity seems as if it ought to be at the center of Christian faith.” We are baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, other sacraments and sacramentals are in the same trinitarian name, and churches, colleges, and institutions beyond number are called “Trinity.” “And yet,” writes Placher. His reflection is, mutatis mutandis, as pertinent to Catholics as to Protestants, or at least to Catholics who have unreflectively internalized an individualistic American culture. Here is Placher: “And yet. My guess is that a great many of us have rarely if ever heard a sermon on the Trinity. The average contemporary preacher hopes that Trinity Sunday will come on Father’s Day or Flag Day or some occasion that provides an excuse for preaching about something else. [Theologian] Karl Rahner observed that, if the doctrine of the Trinity had to be dropped as false, most Christians today would carry on their lives pretty much as before. The Trinity may be in the printed catechism, he said, but it is not in the catechism of the heart. When the bishop and theologian Gregory of Nyssa moved to Constantinople in the fourth century, he heard debates about the Trinity on every street corner. ‘Garment sellers, moneychangers, food vendors,’ he wrote, ‘they are all at it. If you ask for change, they philosophize for you about generate and ingenerate natures. If you inquire about the price of a loaf of bread, the answer is that the Father is greater and the Son is inferior. If you speak about whether the bath is ready, they express the opinion that the Son was made out of nothing.’ . . . I don’t think I’ve ever heard an argument about the Trinity in the grocery store. Is it because we all agree? Or is it because we just don’t much care? Dorothy Sayers, theologian and writer of mystery stories, once remarked that to the average churchgoer today, the mystery of the Trinity means, ‘The Father is incomprehensible, the Son is incomprehensible, and the whole thing is incomprehensible. Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult—nothing to do with daily life or ethics.’ . . . One of the things that philosophers and psychologists teach us is that we exist as persons only in relation. A Robinson Crusoe or Tom Hanks confined to his island alone from infancy doesn’t become a fully human person. There’s no one with whom to interact. Likewise, if Mary is the child of a loving family and Sally is the product of an abusive home, there is not in either case some core identity of who they really are [that is] unaffected by environment. If you get up in the morning—don’t try this at home, as they used to say on TV—and everyone you meet looks at you with puzzled concern and says, ‘Are you feeling OK?’ you’ll be queasy by lunchtime. For good or ill, we become who we are in relation with others. That relations so shape our identities constitutes a central element of what makes us persons. A rock isn’t a person, because a rock is what it is whether there’s another rock next to it or not. But we’re different. We’re persons because our relations contribute to the constitution of our identities. Human sin pushes us to think of ourselves in radically individualistic terms, and our society is particularly inclined toward individualism. We Americans, if our ancestors were not Native Americans or slaves forced here against their will, are generally the descendants of people who didn’t fit in, who weren’t comfortable with the communities in which they lived, who were willing to go off and start up by themselves. Their genes are in us, and they provide us with many virtues, but they can also make us remarkably self-centered. To steal an old joke, the most popular picture magazine used to be one called Life. All of life. That was succeeded by People. Not all of life, but at least all people. Then People was challenged on the newsstands by Us. Not even all people—just us. And now I see on the newsstand a magazine called Self. I can’t think where we could go from here. A lot of social forces contribute to our self-centeredness. Still, I wonder if a misguided philosophy of what it is to be a person doesn’t play at least a small role. I think that I, by myself, define my essential identity and that everything else—my friendships, my obligations, my relation to my environment—is all secondary to who I really am. Such an assumption about who a person is slides easily into the ethical conviction that how I treat the rest of you isn’t nearly as important as the care and feeding of me. The doctrine of the Trinity, by contrast, reminds us that persons are essentially in relation. Our relations aren’t an ‘add-on,’ they’re at the core of who we are. To the extent that this isn’t true for human persons, it’s a sign of our failure to be persons in the fullest sense, after the model of the divine persons.”

• Older physicians, according to a recent medical journal report, are more likely than younger physicians to prepare advance directives for how they want to be treated if they are incapacitated, but they are much more skeptical about whether such directives will have a significant bearing on the treatment they actually receive. They know from experience. I suppose there is no surprise in their being more likely to prepare directives since, being older, they have more occasion to think about the end of life. It turns out, however, that their skepticism about how they will, in fact, be treated is fully warranted. This study reports that doctors, whether older or younger, do not follow advance directives in 65 percent of cases. It turns out that other factors, such as prognosis, perceived “quality of life,” and the wishes of family and friends, are much more determinative of treatment. All in all, the study is reassuring. To be surrounded by family and friends who genuinely care for you is an irreplaceable blessing. Advance directives assume a knowledge of contingencies and complexities that cannot be foreseen. As important, when we are in the fullness of health, it is too easy to say there are conditions under which we would no longer want to live. As I wrote in As I Lay Dying, a personal account of having been there, one discovers that a circumstance that others may view as “worse than death” is vibrant with life. That is something one learns only when it happens. Advance directives written in the absence of advance knowledge provide very uncertain guidance. The study prompted me to go back and read again our Ramsey Colloquium statement, “Always to Care, Never to Kill.” It stands up very well, and you might want to check it out on the website (

Time magazine and others did some heavy breathing about deep cultural change in reporting that, from 1993 to 2002, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Protestant dropped from 63 percent to 52 percent. The number identifying themselves as Catholic remains stable while “other”—Eastern Orthodox, Muslim, and sundry Eastern religions—has increased from three to seven percent. I’m not sure about the significance of the decline in those identifying themselves as Protestant. Many who used to call themselves Protestant now prefer to be known simply as Christian. The term Protestant always had an unecumenical over-againstness about it, meaning chiefly that one is not a Catholic. Over the last decade, and for many reasons, Protestants have felt less urgency about making a point of their not being Catholic. Witness the generally positive response to Evangelicals and Catholics Together, launched in 1994. Plus, many of the large non-Catholic “megachurches” studiously eschew denominational labels of any sort, and “Protestant”is often viewed as such a label. My hunch is that the survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, says something interesting about changing Protestant attitudes toward Catholicism, and about the anti-denominational and anti-institutional character of religion in America, which remains emphatically Protestant.

• I don’t know how many times, perhaps three or four, I have referred to Father Andrew Greeley in these pages. My usual point is to acknowledge his longstanding contributions when he sticks to what he knows as a sociologist, and especially when he criticizes secularization theorists opining on the inexorable decline of religion. Each time I make a favorable mention, however, I receive protests from readers who wonder how I can be so nice to a man who is so outrageously wrongheaded on a thousand other subjects. Part of the answer, of course, is my famously irrepressible niceness. For readers who fear that I am uninformed about “the real Andrew Greeley,” herewith an excerpt from a recent column of his in the Chicago Sun-Times on President Bush. “He is not another Hitler. Yet there is a certain parallelism. They have in common a demagogic appeal to the worst side of a country’s heritage in a crisis. Bush is doubtless sincere in his vision of what is best for America. So too was Hitler. The crew around the President—Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Karl Rove, the ‘neo-cons’ like Paul Wolfowitz—are not as crazy perhaps as Himmler and Goering and Goebbels. Yet like them, they are practitioners of the Big Lie—weapons of mass destruction, Iraq democracy, only a few ‘bad apples.’ Hitler’s war was quantitatively different from the Iraq war, but qualitatively both were foolish, self-destructive, and criminally unjust. This is a time of great peril in American history because a phony patriotism and an America-worshipping religion threaten the authentic American genius of tolerance and respect for other people. The strongest criticism that the administration levels at Senator John Kerry is that he changes his mind. In fact, instead of a President who claims an infallibility that exceeds that of the pope, America would be much better off with a President who, like John F. Kennedy, is honest enough to admit mistakes and secure enough to change his mind.” George W. Bush as Adolf Hitler? A reader asks how Fr. Greeley can still be a priest in good standing. That is a question best addressed to the Archbishop of Chicago, but I expect his answer would be that, if he kicked out every priest who is a political nut case, there would be a lot of empty altars in Chicago. The problem is not unique to Chicago, although it is no small blessing that Fr. Andrew Greeley is.

• It was my first visit to Australia. Invited by George Cardinal Pell, the engagingly orthodox archbishop of Sydney, to give a series of lectures in Sydney and Melbourne, I received a most positive impression of the place. Upon my return, I read an article on Australia that lamented the “cultural cringe” to which Australians are prone. It did not seem that way to me. But that may be because I could not help but draw comparisons with Canada, where I was born and reared. When I was a schoolboy we all took considerable pride in the classroom maps that depicted one quarter of the world in the pink of the British Empire, of which Australia was very much part. To my young mind, the Empire and the King (later, the Queen) were ever so much more impressive than “the States” where there was a President named Truman (later, Eisenhower). Since Pierre Trudeau & Co. declared that Canadian history began with the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, Canada has been in a cultural cringe much more pronounced than anything I detected in Australia. Of course, Canada had the problem of being two nations, French and English, with the English clearly dominant, and some argue that there was no alternative to Trudeau’s way of resolving the problem. But the dropping of the British identity gave birth to the dominant—sometimes it seems the only—public discussion in what continues to be two nations: What constitutes Canadian identity? And that discussion turns, with wearying repetition, on the ways in which Canadians are not like Americans. Australians, by way of contrast, seem much more confident about who they are. They are, among other things, decidedly pro-American. Perhaps that would be different if, like the Canadians, they lived side-by-side with the U.S., with 80 percent of their population living within a hundred miles of the U.S. border. In Australia it is said that they will not let their geography defeat their history. Theirs is a huge British island, with a small aboriginal minority, in a huge Asian sea. Canada has a much more respectable European history, with distinguished French components, but Australia seems much more comfortable with its history, which is based in its being a British penal colony in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. That is no doubt one reason why they have, again just recently, decided to maintain connections with the Queen. Although I might mention that Cardinal Pell is a strong and public proponent of republicanism, which he believes would increase confidence in Australian identity. Perhaps he is right about that. We met with parliamentarians in Canberra, the nation’s capital, and afterwards sat in on “question period” in which members baited the prime minister, John Howard, who seemed to relish the ordeal. I noted that Parliament was opened by the Speaker’s leading the body in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Very unlike America, although not so unlike what Americans might think appropriate were it not for “the separation of church and state.” Very, very unlike Canada in its determination to be unlike America. Don’t get me wrong. I love Canada, and try to spend some time there each summer at the family cottage in Quebec. But I could not help making comparisons with Australia, and decidedly to Australia’s advantage on some scores. I hope I get invited back to Australia. And that the Canadians will still let me in.

• When the Catholic Church says something is a “scandal,” the reference is not to bad publicity but to endangering the souls of others. Here’s the official definition: “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense”(Catechism A4 2284). Hence the concern about politicians who publicly and persistently support the abortion license. But what about nuns? Twenty years ago, on Respect Life Sunday, twenty-six nuns signed a full-page ad in the New York Times declaring that there is more than one authentically Catholic position on abortion. The Vatican got on the case and notified their superiors that the nuns must retract or face expulsion from their orders. Dominican Sister Donna Quinn was one of the signers. Twenty years later she says, “We held firm. The Vatican backed off actually, but they’ll never admit it.” Quinn, along with four other nuns, marched in last April’s raucous “March for Women’s Lives” in Washington. Ann Carey of Our Sunday Visitor notes also that the National Coalition of American Nuns gave its “national medal of honor” to Francis Kissling, founder of Catholics for Free Choice. Ms. Carey is puzzled that these nuns seem to have an untroubled relationship with their orders and with the Church at a time when bishops are trying to clarify the meaning of communio and Communion. Ms. Carey is not alone.

• Father Michael Prior, author of Zionism and the State of Israel: A Moral Inquiry, was a main speaker this spring at a conference of six hundred people, one half from the U.S., sponsored by the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center and held at the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem. The conferees met with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in his Ramallah compound, and he thanked them for their efforts to counter Christian support for Israel in the U.S. The title of the conference was “Challenging Christian Zionism: Theology, Politics, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict.” Fr. Prior attacked churches and Bible scholars who “buy in very comfortably to the biblical narrative that allows legitimacy to preferential treatment on the part of God in favor of one people, that not only legitimizes but actually mandates genocide.” The Book of Exodus, “which we read with great piety, is actually a con job.” The authors of these biblical stories, he continued, “were narrow-minded, xenophobic, militaristic, pin-headed bigots.” Joshua, who led the occupation of Canaan, is “the patron saint of ethnic cleansing.” Shortly after his return to the U.S., Fr. Prior was hit by a massive heart attack and died. Christian Zionists discern the hand of YHWH. They would, wouldn’t they?

• Survey research and common sense combine in telling us that children tend to share the values of their parents, including their political views and way of life. It is far from the most important factor in abortion, but there are enormous political consequences in the forty million children aborted since the infamous Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. In the June issue of the American Spectator, policy wonk Larry Eastland does the number crunching on “missing voters.” “There were 12,274,368 in the Voting Age Population of 205,815,000 missing from the 2000 presidential election, because of abortions from 1973–82. In this year’s election, there will be 18,336,576 in the Voting Age Population missing because of abortions between 1973 and 1986. In the 2008 election, 24,408,960 in the Voting Age Population will be missing because of abortions between 1973–90.” Moreover, according to a major survey by Wirthlin Worldwide, Democrats account for 40 percent more abortions than Republicans (49 percent versus 35 percent). Statistically, the more liberal Democrats are, the more abortions they have; the more conservative Republicans are, the fewer abortions. Eastland writes, “Examining these results through a partisan political lens, the Democrats have given the Republicans a decided advantage in electoral politics, one that grows with each election. Moreover, it is an advantage that they can never regain. Even if abortion were declared illegal today, and every single person complied with the decision, the advantage would continue to grow until the 2020 election, and would stay at that level throughout the voting lifetime of most Americans living today.” Given the partisan distribution of “missing voters” as a result of abortion, says Eastland, in the 2000 election Gore would have won Florida by 45,366 votes instead of Bush winning by 537. The abortion factor powerfully affects not only presidential elections but also congressional elections in the most crucial swing states. Eastland concludes: “As liberals and Democrats fervently seek new voters and supporters through events, fundraisers, direct mail, and every other form of communication available, they achieve results minuscule in comparison to the loss of voters they suffer from their own abortion policies. It is a grim irony lost on them, for which they will pay dearly in elections to come.” I’m not vouching for Eastland’s argument. I suspect there are variables not taken into account. But it does seem blindingly obvious: killing your offspring is not a good way to multiply your kind. As I say, this is very far from being the most important consideration regarding abortion, but it is not uninteresting. It should not be necessary to say that, whatever gratification conservatives may draw from the working of a rough justice suggested by these statistics, they must not forget that being pro-life means being pro-life also with respect to the children of those who aren’t.

• All in all, Adam Kirsch, book editor of the New York Sun, seems to want to like Gertrude Himmelfarb’s new book, The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (Knopf, 284 pages, $25). He says nice things about her argument that intellectual elites have been strongly biased in favor of the French version of enlightenment, including this: “Such elitism helps to explain the philosophes’ enthusiasm for enlightened despots, and their lack of interest in political liberty. This marks the central difference between France and America. The America Founders, she writes, devised a Constitution based not on pure reason but on practical checks and balances; they did not theorize about the best imaginable government, but actually created the best possible one. They even managed to make liberty and religion mutual allies, to the surprise of Tocqueville: ‘Among us,’ he wrote, ‘I had seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom almost always move in contrary directions. Here I found them united intimately with one another.’” But then there is Kirsch’s remarkable caveat that Professor Himmelfarb fails to appreciate that British “benevolence” masked an increasingly rapacious capitalism, “while Voltaire and Diderot showed greater moral courage in confronting religious questions than did the rather evasive [Adam] Smith.” A good Straussian may here discern the influence of Leo Strauss. Were he not so evasive (read cowardly) Smith might have joined Voltaire in crying, “écrasez l’infame!” The infamous thing, of course, was Christianity, and the Catholic Church in particular, although the cleverly obnoxious Voltaire used the phrase also in connection with other irrationalities, an irrationality being any idea or practice of which he disapproved. Mr. Kirsch does restrain himself from suggesting that Tocqueville was also evasively “writing between the lines” against religion’s dolorous influence on American democracy. He ends up with the evasive observation that the book “is meant to start debates, not to settle them; in that purpose, Ms. Himmelfarb succeeds admirably.” No, Prof. Himmelfarb clearly wants to settle the debate about the relative merits of eighteenth-century enlightenments, and Mr. Kirsch just as clearly disagrees. One has to wonder what oppressive regime—unless it is the conservative Sun’s friendly disposition toward Gertrude Himmelfarb—compels him to write with such Straussian indirection.

• “One-size-fits-all solutions are often inadequate. We must renew our efforts to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. Therefore we do not support mandatory sentencing that replaces judges’ assessments with rigid formulations. . . . Finally, we must welcome ex-offenders back into society as full participating members, to the extent feasible.” Thus spake the U.S. bishops in a November 2000 document on the American criminal justice system, “Responsibility and Rehabilitation.” Less than two years later, meeting at Dallas in June 2002, they took it all back, at least insofar as the teaching applies to priests accused of sexual abuse with minors. The “essential norms” hastily adopted at Dallas come up for review by Rome this December. There is every reason to believe that review will be informed by “Rights of Accused Priests,” a recent article by Avery Cardinal Dulles in America. The “zero tolerance” policy of Dallas, he writes, is in fifteen ways unjust, unwise, or in violation of church law and Christian morality, or all of these combined. Most of the points made by Dulles have received repeated attention in these pages. They include the denial of a presumption of innocence and due process, a definition of sex abuse so malleable as to mean almost anything, an abandonment of proportionality between offense and punishment, an abdication of the episcopal duty of judgment, betrayals of confidentiality, the “forced laicization” of priests contrary to the doctrine of priestly consecration, and other actions reflecting “an attitude of vindictiveness to which the Church should not yield.” I expect my favorable mention of Dulles’ article will again produce protests that he and I are “soft” on sexual abuse. Nonsense. There must be zero tolerance of crime. The punishment of the innocent and the demonstrably reformed sinner who poses no credible threat to anyone is itself another crime. The denial of the power of conversion is a denial of the Church’s very reason for being. The Dallas document quoted from the Pope’s address to American cardinals in April 2002: “There is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young.” Nobody should deny that, but the document omitted what the Pope also said: “At the same time, we cannot forget the power of Christian conversion, that radical decision to turn away from sin and back to God, which reaches to the depths of a person’s soul and can work extraordinary change.” Minimally, one might expect the bishops to rise to the norms they prescribe for the criminal justice system of the secular order. In a more hopeful mode, one might even dare to look for an understanding of sin, forgiveness, conversion, and justice consonant with the gospel the Church proclaims. When it comes time for Rome to reconsider the gravely flawed norms of Dallas, the pertinent parties should have Cardinal Dulles’ checklist of necessary remedies close at hand.

• John F. Kennedy wore his Catholicism as “unselfconsciously and elegantly as he wore his London clothes,” wrote the late John Cogley, Commonweal columnist and Kennedy adviser. Icon is the word to describe Cogley’s status among “Commonweal Catholics” in the years during and immediately following the Vatican Council II. Before he died in 1976, Cogley joined the Episcopal Church, believing that there he could live a lower-case catholicism free of the cumbersome burden of authority. Many years later, commenting on John Kerry’s failure to make a plausible connection between his pro-abortion politics and Catholic faith, the current editors of Commonweal cite the above quote and offer this reflection: “Historians now tell us that Kennedy’s Catholicism was perhaps not so much unselfconscious as it was unthinking. In any event, forty-four years later the potential conflict between a President’s duty both to uphold the Constitution and to abide by Catholic teaching is perhaps even more acute. This time the divide is not over issues like the constitutionality of tax support for religious schools but the much more fundamental question of what obligations the state has to protect fetal life. The social context has also changed. Kennedy was the charismatic symbol of Catholic material success and cultural assimilation, not Catholic distinctiveness. At the dawn of a new century, Catholics are asking if assimilation has not become simple co-optation, and they increasingly wonder what must be done to preserve any distinctive Catholic practice or identity.” Catholics are indeed asking that, and many of them—including perhaps a majority of the bishops—have arrived at the answer that the “acceptance” of Catholicism represented by JFK’s election was a poisonous prize.

• Paul Holmer died this past June. Michael Linton, who writes on music in these pages, tells me that as a young man Holmer was both pianist with Dimitri Metropolis and lead piano for Mordecai Ham, a famous Baptist gospel crusader. That suggests a person with a certain cultural reach. Born in 1916, he was the son of free-church dissenters from Sweden’s establishment Lutheranism. Inspired by David Swenson of the University of Minnesota, Holmer was instrumental in introducing Søren Kierkegaard to an American audience. It was as professor of philosophical theology at Yale, however, that Holmer helped to form generations of pastors, theologians, and philosophers. Linton writes: “These are issues of the human heart and Holmer insisted that theology was a kind of therapy, or care, for the human heart. Once a discussion at the Yale Divinity School common room was devoted to the question of whether or not the institution was a ‘caring’ place. Henri Nouwen (with whom Holmer shared a deep friendship), spoke at length about the importance of ‘caring’ and a colleague seconded his remarks, at equal length. Holmer, a bit irritated, said, ‘You get the feeling we’re all a lot of hothouse plants just crying for attention. I thought that Christian caring was something specific. A doctor cares for the patient by restoring the patient’s health. The teacher cares for the student by expunging ignorance in the student. Now Christian care means helping to overcome human sinfulness by the grace of God. That’s Christian care.’ Holmer’s Christian care was to clear away confusions and to allow various capacities to be nursed and others to be starved. Students would ask Holmer what he thought was required to be a theologian, thinking that perhaps he would say Syriac as well as Greek and Hebrew plus a good foundation in modern philosophy and psychology. Instead Holmer would say, ‘Well, I would think that a hunger and thirst for righteousness would be required. And meekness. It helps to be poor in heart.’” Michael Linton visited Holmer in Minnesota shortly before his death. He had Parkinson’s and his wife Phyllis was in frail health, but he could still read and was as alert as ever. “He talked with gratitude about his life, his children, and his colleagues. We shared some chocolate and prayed and said our goodbyes.” Paul Holmer, Requiescat in pace.

• It would seem to be a slam dunk for Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The fellow works so hard at dividing Americans over fake alarms about First Amendment violations, but this time he is on to something. Sun Myung Moon, under apparent U.S. Senate auspices, put a big costume shop crown on his head and another on his wife’s and read a declaration that “declared to all heaven and earth that Reverend Sun Myung Moon is none other than humanity’s Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord, and True Parent.” The declaration was read in Korean, so the senators and representatives present weren’t sure what was happening. Said Roscoe G. Bartlett, Republican of Maryland, “We have the king and queen of the prom, the king and queen of 4-H, the Mardi Gras and all sorts of other things. I had no idea what he was king of.” The politicos claimed they were lured to the meeting because their constituents were getting citizenship awards from one of Mr. Moon’s front organizations. Never mind, it’s the sort of thing that should not be happening in a Senate meeting room. Huffed Barry Lynn, “You had what effectively amounted to a religious coronation in a government building of a man who claims literally to be the savior.” I am grateful for the opportunity to agree with Mr. Lynn. We are also indebted to the New York Times for highlighting this outrage on its front page. As the Lord Mayor of Dublin, John Philpot Curran, said on July 10, 1790: “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.”(See also Elmer Davis, 1954.) Admittedly, coronations in the U.S. Senate office building are not a regular thing, since most senators would respectfully decline the demotion, but staunch friends of this constitutional republic will follow the advice of Madison in taking alarm at the first experiment with our liberties. A tip of our crown to Barry Lynn and Americans United.

• Despite our unflagging efforts, aided by outside proofreaders, typos still crop up from time to time. With new technologies of electronic transmission we cannot even blame the fabled “printer’s devils.” So it is with considerable relief that we received the following item forwarded by a reader who found it on the Internet: “I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deson’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig.” Amazing indeed.

• New groups of ROFTERS (Readers of First Things) are cropping up at a most remarkable rate. In fact, there are so many that there is no longer space enough to list them all here. We will post newly formed groups and contact information for their conveners as promptly as possible, along with already established groups, on the website, Please go there to see if there is a group near you. If you wish to convene a ROFTERS group, please contact Erik Ross at These are independent groups. How often they meet and the format of discussions are questions left entirely to conveners and their ROFTER friends. Of course it is very gratifying to the editors that there is such interest in exploring with others the questions addressed in the journal. We thank you.


New books about Anglicans, Times Literary Supplement, July 9, 2004. Hitchens on Milosz, reprinted in New York Sun, September 1, 2004. Metrosexuals in glass elevators, Seattle Times, August 8, 2004. Lesbians in the library, National Post, August 21, 2004. Kimball review, Wall Street Journal, September 3, 2004. Placher on the Trinity, Context, September 2004. Advance directives,, July 26, 2004. Greeley, Chicago Sun Times, June 11, 2004. Abortion nuns, Our Sunday Visitor, July 18, 2004. Prior to Zionism, Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation press release, July 26, 2004. Kirsch on Himmelfarb, New York Sun, September 1, 2004. Dulles on Dallas, America, June 21–28, 2004. JFK’s Catholicism, Commonweal, June 18, 2004. Moon’s coronation, New York Times, June 24, 2004.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift