The Public Square
April 11: Remembering John Paul II
There, on the catafalque only a few feet away, was what remained. Kneeling at the prie-dieu, I had only a few minutes, certainly no more than ten, to think what I wanted to think and pray what I wanted to pray in this moment I had so long anticipated and so irrationally hoped would never come. Odd thoughts came to mind. His back was straight again, after all those years of being so pitiably hunched and trembling from the Parkinson’s disease. He seemed much smaller. Perhaps there was not much that could have been done by those who prepared the body. He was emaciated, beaten, and bruised. The purple spots on the hands revealed the efforts, toward the very end, to find one more vein for the intravenous feeding tube. Lying there before the altar, under Bernini’s magnificent baldachino, his head was tilted just slightly toward the right. Looking north, I thought—toward Poland.
He has fought the good fight, he has kept the faith. Well done, good and faithful servant. These and other passages came unbidden. Through my tears, I tried to see again the years of his vitality, his charm, his challenge, his triumphs; the historic moments when I admired from a distance and the personal encounters when I was surprised by the gift of an older brother who was the Holy Father.
I had seen him on October 22, 1978, in his first homily as pope, admonishing and encouraging the whole of humanity to be not afraid. I saw him again in Central Park, with hand on cheek in a Jack Benny gesture, mischievously complimenting the crowd’s appreciation of his singing a Polish Christmas song. “And you don’t even know Polish,” he said. I mentioned this when I ate with the pope months later and had to explain to him who Jack Benny was. In such conversations we discussed Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and the ideas that had shaped and misshaped the century, and whether the end of history was at hand. (He thought not.)
Kneeling there, I smiled through my tears. Then the time came to leave. Cardinals, bishops, heads of state, and other dignitaries were waiting their turn. And all the thoughts I wanted to think and all the prayers I wanted to pray were distilled in a half-sobbed, half-whispered, “Thank you, Holy Father.”
Walking out of the basilica into the sunlight, a shaken friend said, “That wasn’t him, he is isn’t there.” No, I said, he is there. These are the remains, what is left behind of a life such as we are not likely to see again, waiting with all of us for the resurrection of the dead, the final vindication of the hope he proclaimed.
This morning, three days later, I walked over to St. Peter’s Square where thousands and thousands were lined up to see the place where they had put the body. Many were disappointed in their hope of seeing the body when, in the early hours of Friday morning, the basilica had to be closed for the funeral. The crypt, I am told, will not be open to the public until Monday. There he lies in the place previously occupied by John XXIII, who has been moved up into the main church.
Of the 264 popes, 148 are buried in St. Peter’s. In his last will and testament, revealed after his death, John Paul indicated that he would like to be buried in Poland, but he said the wishes of the cardinals should be followed. They decided on St. Peter’s. There was a rumor that Poles were asking that at least his heart should be buried in Poland, a very Polish thing to do. But he is intact in St. Peter’s, the 149th.
These have been days that tax superlatives, with events that beggar words. It is reported that four to five million have journeyed to Rome to say goodbye, more than twice the population of the city. Yet everything has gone so smoothly. It seems, in fact, that the city is more peaceful than usual. Huge crowds of mourners packed the square and the Via della Conciliazione, stretching across the Tiber and into the side streets, waiting as long as twenty-six hours to get into the basilica and then, on Friday, to get near the funeral. One hesitates to say that anything is historically unprecedented, but it seems certain that never in human history have so many from so many places in the world gathered to say farewell. He went to the world, and the world came to him. The Poles were especially prominent, waving their flag and singing hymns and national songs. After a thousand years over which their existence was denied and despised by powerful neighbors, John Paul restored their nation to a place of honor in the world.
At the funeral, more than a hundred nations were represented. Despite all the presidents, monarchs, prime ministers, and other dignitaries, security was not conspicuous, which probably means it was very competent. Anyone familiar with the complex history of Catholicism and the American experiment could not help being struck by the presence of an American president, along with two former presidents, at the funeral of a pope. In the media and in conversations, however, nobody has remarked on this remarkable turn of events—but, then, his pontificate always turned the unprecedented into the taken-for-granted. It was unthinkable that President Bush would not be here. What was remarked was the large Jewish delegation and, even more remarked, the many representatives from Islamic nations. Among the titles of the pope is “Pontifex Maximus,” the great builder of bridges.
The funeral was exactly as it should have been. Solemn, pulling all the stops of sacred pomp, joining grief and gratitude in a grace-filled exultation of resurrection hope. Exactly right, too, was the homily by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals. He made room for the frequent outbursts of sustained applause and shouts of the crowd that John Paul be declared a saint, and be declared so right now.
There was a time in the ancient Church, long before procedures for canonization were codified in the sixteenth century, when saints were declared by popular acclamation, and it almost looked yesterday as though that might happen again. And the shout went up, “Magnus! Magnus!”
For many years I had written that he would be called John Paul the Great, and I do believe it is happening. Of the millions who came to say goodbye, the clear majority were young people in their teens or twenties. Among those impressed by this astonishing response are the cardinals who will elect the next pope, and some of them are saying today that the better part of wisdom is to stay the course of John Paul’s pontificate. If continuity is what they are looking for, that may speak well for Cardinal Ratzinger who is so closely identified with the major initiatives of John Paul. Even before yesterday, he was on everybody’s list of leading papabili.
It takes determination not to discern a providential hand in the convergence of events from the beginning of Holy Week through the funeral of the pope. All in all, the major media made an effort to rise to the occasion. There were notable exceptions, of course. On the Lehrer News Hour, I was pitted against the egregious Alan Wolfe of Boston College who railed against Republicans for politicizing the death of Terri Schiavo, thereby politicizing the judiciously countenanced crime in a manner most base. A few days later, the death of John Paul commanded the front page and a large special section of recycled conventional wisdom in the New York Times, along with an editorial drawing the moral that his rigid teaching about the sanctity of life denied Terri Schiavo the death with dignity that he himself enjoyed. When will they ever learn?
But, for the most part, the media coverage of the pope’s death has been intelligent, respectful, and even reverential. Although there is no way to measure the effect, this has been an extraordinary moment of evangelization. There was the small distraction of the death of Prince Rainier of Monaco, and the much larger distraction of the tawdry “royal wedding” of Prince Charles to his mistress of many years, a wedding postponed for one day so Charles could attend the papal funeral. It appears the monarchy will survive as a national embarrassment, along with a national church that continues, almost five hundred years later, to cater to the unbridled royal appetites to which it owes it existence.
I came to Rome to co-host with Raymond Arroyo the daily broadcasts of EWTN, the international television network founded by the formidable Mother Angelica, whose biography Raymond has just completed. (It is a remarkable story and should be out from Doubleday this fall.) My agreement with EWTN was not exclusive, so I also worked with other print and broadcast media.
George Weigel, author of the definitive biography of John Paul, Witness to Hope, came to Rome under exclusive contract with NBC and has been largely responsible for that network’s generally excellent coverage. Rome in my experience is endless conversations over lunch and dinner, mainly with media types and with friends and acquaintances in the worlds within worlds of the universal Church variously connected to the nerve center that is the Eternal City.
Of course most of the talk is about the next pope, with regular references to “the legacy of John Paul II.” It seems most every interview begins with, “What do you think is the chief legacy of John Paul II?” I have by now refined in response a dozen riffs on his “prophetic humanism,” his proposing and not imposing a more promising future for the human project, and other themes familiar to the readers of these pages. There are only so many things one can say in five or seven minutes, and one easily wearies of saying them.
Many years ago, when I was a young Lutheran pastor, I complained to my older friend Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel about the tedium of the lecture circuit. “The worst thing,” I said, “is that you get tired of hearing yourself saying the same things. Last week I was in Kansas City talking about Christianity and racial justice, and this Saturday I will be in Chicago talking about Christianity and racial justice.” Heschel listened patiently as I went on in this vein and then said, “Nuh, Richard, so you think in Chicago they know what you said in Kansas City? Go to Chicago, Richard. Go to Chicago.” When on airplanes going I know not where or why, I have over the years often heard the voice of Heschel, “Go to Chicago, Richard. Go to Chicago.” And so I once again manage to perk up and respond to the question “What is the chief legacy of John Paul II?” and “Who will be the next pope?”
In Rome and in circles closely connected to Rome, the chatter about the next pope begins the day a new pope is installed. It has understandably been more intense in the last several years of John Paul’s undeniable decline. Most of it is idle speculation, as idle as it is inevitable. For the record, this is the state of the chatter shortly after the funeral of John Paul:
• First in alphabetical order and the sentimental favorite of many is Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria. With long years of experience in the Curia, Arinze has many friends in the United States. First Things hosted him in New York last year for an ecumenical theological conference. As usual, he was disarmingly charming and candid in response to even the most difficult questions. Many of us think it would be a great thing to have a black African pope, but we don’t have a vote. The consensus is that Arinze, while greatly admired, has slight chance of election. “The Church is not ready for an African pope,” it is said. That can be read in many ways, some less edifying than others.
• Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires is high on every list. Known as an incisive thinker and intensely holy man living an austere life, it is held against him that he is a Jesuit, although he has suffered the slings and arrows of fellow Jesuits of a more “progressive” bent. No member of a religious order has been elected pope since 1831.
• If the Italians recapture the office, their man could be Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, a close associate of Ratzinger.
• Dario Castrillion Hoyos of Colombia, Claudio Hummes of São Paulo, and Oscar Rodriguez Maradiago of Honduras are Latin Americans mentioned. The last is young and eager—some think too young and too eager.
• Ivan Dias of Bombay is an astute theologian who has shown the way in protecting Catholic integrity in the engagement with religious pluralism.
• Among other Italians is Giovanni Battista Re, long in curial experience but without a pastoral track record. Camillo Ruini, vicar of Rome, is greatly respected and was very close to John Paul. Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan is something of a populist in his appeal and an expert in bioethics, a field of growing interest in moral theology. My impression is that Angelo Scola of Venice may be the leading Italian candidate, but that is perhaps because I have been listening to my friends who are also his friends and are greatly impressed by his intellectual and pastoral skills combined with a deep spirituality.
• Christoph Schönborn of Vienna is often mentioned, but it is deemed a liability that he is young (for a pope) and has shown no marked progress in revitalizing the Church in Austria.
• The only plausible English-speaking papabile is the formidable George Pell of Sydney, Australia. He is a friend and I confess I would rejoice in his election, but that seems an unlikely prospect. (The same is true of Francis George of Chicago, but it is thought to be a certainty that no American could be elected, and I tend to agree with the reasons for this.)
It would, I think, be a very good thing to have a pope from Africa, Latin America, or Asia, but the odds at this point favor an Italian. The real alternative is Ratzinger. His election would spark a firestorm of negative reaction from “progressives” in Western Europe and the United States. There is little love for Germans, and his long and thankless work as the chief doctrinal officer under John Paul has earned him a reputation as the “enforcer” of orthodoxy. Ratzinger is, in fact, a man of great personal charm and profound holiness. Some years ago he gave First Things’ annual Erasmus Lecture, and at the ecumenical conference following the lecture he most impressively won the respect and affection of the participating theologians. His homily at John Paul’s funeral winsomely displayed a pastoral dimension of the man that many had not suspected. While guaranteed to be labeled “controversial,” the election of Joseph Ratzinger would, I believe, be reassuring to many and would provide the Church with leadership in secure continuity with John Paul II.
But again, this is all speculation. The new pope will be chosen in the next month, and faithful Catholics will have no doubt that he is the choice of the Holy Spirit. He may be chosen to advance the great springtime of renewal of which John Paul so often spoke, or to test our faith. In either case, he will be the 265th successor of Peter, and we will, with full assent of heart and mind, acknowledge him as the shepherd of Christ’s pilgrim Church on earth.
But now, in the immediate aftermath of the funeral, we are keenly aware that he will not be, nobody could be, another John Paul II. That would be too much to expect. As we had no right to expect the inestimable gift of the man to whom and for whom we now, in grief and gratitude, offer our thanks.
April 21: Habemus Papam
Within hours of the announcement Habemus Papam from the loggia of St. Peter’s, those who have for years viewed Joseph Ratzinger as the embodiment of all they think is wrong with the Church were publicly exhibiting (to paraphrase Churchill) magnanimity in defeat. Led by Hans Küng, Ratzinger’s self-anointed nemesis, they proposed that Ratzinger should be given a grace period, perhaps a hundred days, to demonstrate that he has repented of his reactionary ways.
The responsibilities of his old work, as a prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the responsibilities of his new work, as pope, are significantly different. The pope, it is rightly said, must strive to be the father (as in “pope”) of all the faithful—which is a challenge for him but a greater challenge to those who are dubiously faithful.
With the election of Pope Benedict XVI, the curtain has fallen on the long-running drama of the myth of “the spirit of Vatican II,” in which the revolution mandated by the Council was supposedly delayed by the timidity of Paul VI and temporarily derailed for twenty-six years by the regressive John Paul II, as the Church inexorably moved toward the happy denouement of “the next pope” who would resume the course of progressive accommodation to the wisdom of the modern world. The curtain has fallen and the audience has long since left, except for a few diehards who say they are giving the new management a hundred days to revive the show. Some of them are perhaps thinking of going to another theater. There are worse things than not being a Catholic, when it is made unmistakably clear that being a Catholic is not what one is.
I very much doubt that Pope Benedict is going to engage in wholesale excommunications, but I have no doubt he will encourage people to ponder anew what is entailed in being in communion with the Church. He has over the years made evident that he believes we are engaged in a great battle for the soul of Western Civilization and, indeed, the soul of the world. The choice of the name is important. He is not John Paul III. That might have invited invidious comparisons with his illustrious and inimitable predecessor, John Paul the Great, now entombed close by St. Peter. It might also have suggested that the curtain has not fallen on the dramatization of the mythology of “the spirit of Vatican II.” The first round of commentaries proposed that the choice of a name is an allusion is Benedict XV, an early twentieth-century pope of limited distinction apart from his failed effort to stop World War I. I am rather confident, however, that the proper allusion is to the original St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism. In a time of deep shadows, the Benedictine movement sparked the spiritual, cultural, and moral rejuvenation of Europe.
Much has been made of the supposed contrast between John Paul II’s confident expectation of a “springtime of evangelization” and Joseph Ratzinger’s frequent references to a smaller but more faithful Church which has internalized the words of Jesus that the seed must fall into the ground and die before it can bear much fruit. In this account, John Paul the ebullient is to be contrasted with Ratzinger the dour.
There is a measure of truth in that contrast. Some of it is related to differences in personality, some of it to differences in intellectual formation. Avery Cardinal Dulles summarized the witness of John Paul in the phrase “prophetic humanism.” The Ratzinger of the past gave—and the Benedict of the future, will, I expect, continue to give—voice to a more explicit and insistent Christocentric humanism.
This is not to say that John Paul was not Christocentric. There were few passages from the Council that he quoted more often than the declaration from Gaudium et Spes that Jesus Christ is not only the revelation of God to man but the revelation of man to himself. The suggested contrast between John Paul and Benedict is not a disagreement, but Ratzinger’s accent has been more explicitly on the crucified Christ and the necessarily cruciform experience of the Church through time.
It has been suggested that the different accents may reflect the fact that Ratzinger is more Augustinian in his theology while John Paul was more of a Thomist. Both accents issue in the bold admonition, “Be not afraid.” That signature phrase of John Paul has been emphatically repeated by Benedict XVI. The crucified Christ is the risen and victorious Christ who, in a favorite passage of Ratzinger’s, tells the disciples, “Fear not little flock, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give to you the kingdom.” With an emphasis on the little in the little flock.
On the basis of his copious writings as Ratzinger, we know that Benedict is robustly skeptical of sociological depictions and analyses of the Church. The general media, as well as many scholars, are obsessed with statistical assessments of the Church’s fortunes and misfortunes in history. For Pope Benedict these assessments are almost beside the point. The media will have a hard time adjusting to this. They do not want to talk about revealed truth or the redemption worked by Jesus Christ. Benedict insists that to speak of the Church is to speak of Christ. Which may result in the secular elites in control of the commanding heights of culture declining to talk about either.
The circumstance was nicely summed up by a comment of Ted Koppel on Nightline the night of the election. The subject turned to interreligious dialogue, and I had referred to the radical Christocentrism of the new pope. “So which is it, Father,” Koppel asked, “Christ or interreligious dialogue?”
But, of course, it is interreligious dialogue because of, and upon the premise of, Jesus Christ as the redeemer of the whole world, including the world’s religions in which, as Catholic teaching holds, elements of truth and grace are to be discovered. The same confusion arises with respect to Dominus Iesus, a document issued by Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith a few years ago, which is regularly cited as claiming that “Catholicism is more true than other religions and even other Christian churches.” But of course. There is but one Christ and therefore, at the deep level of theological understanding, there can be only one Church, and the Catholic Church claims to be that Church most fully and rightly ordered through time. That is not in tension with ecumenism; it is the foundation of the ecumenical quest for full communion among all Christians.
The argument that Ratzinger has tried to make through these many years, and the argument that Benedict will undoubtedly be making, is that there is no tension, never mind conflict, between truth and love. The caricature is that liberals are big on love while conservatives are big on truth. As Ratzinger said in his homily before the conclave, love without truth is blind and truth without love is empty. Without truth, love is mere sentimentality and, without love, truth is sterile.
This is, of course, in perfect continuity with John Paul’s favored passage from Gaudium et Spes that Christ—who is the way, the truth, and the life—is the revelation of man to himself. If Christ is the truth about everyone and everything, then the way forward is by following the way of Christ. This is the genuine progressivism proposed to the Church and the world by John Paul and by Benedict. The Church does not seek to be countercultural, but it is unavoidably counter to the modern mindset in proposing that fidelity and continuity, not autonomy and novelty, are the paths toward a more promising future.
The chatter goes on as to whether Benedict will change this or that “policy” of John Paul, as though each new pope reinvents Catholicism. There is, beyond doubt, development in the life of the Church, but on questions of great theological and moral moment there is not change. The office of the papacy is very limited. The pope’s job is to defend, preserve, and transmit the “faith once delivered to the saints,” as that faith is received in Scripture and Spirit-guided tradition. A pope who acts as though doctrine is no more than a policy option is a very bad pope.
Within the continuing tradition, the Second Vatican Council is an extraordinary moment of development and refinement. Among the many achievements of the pontificate of John Paul II, some would say the most important achievement, was to secure the hermeneutic for the interpretation of that great council. Joseph Ratzinger was an invaluable partner in that achievement, and the partner has now become the heir who will build upon that achievement.
The day of his election was, in the calendar of the Church, the day of Leo IX, the last great German pope. Ratzinger is more a Bavarian than a German, Bavaria having a distinct identity that goes back long before the Prussian invention of modern Germany in the nineteenth century. But I am sure he sees some striking parallels between the eleventh-century reign of Leo and the needs of our time. Which is, once again, to recognize the bond with the first Benedict who set out to reconstruct, beginning with the Church, a civilization that had fallen into ruins. The new pope’s most determined opponents will be those who, in the words of St. Paul, boast of their shame and demand that the Church not only acquiesce in, but give her blessing to, the devastation conventionally called progress. The achievements of modernity, which are considerable, are fragile and prone to self-destruction unless grounded in the truth, and the truth, ultimately, is the Son of God who, as St. John puts it, was sent not to condemn the world but to save the world.
Pope Benedict XVI is seventy-eight years old, and some speak of a brief transitional pontificate. I do not expect it will be brief, and I am sure it will not be transitional, if transitional means a holding action until the next pontificate. He has very definite views on what needs to be reformed in the Church, including much that in recent decades was called reform, and he will in his self-effacing but determined way press for changes in the service of a continuity that has too often been recklessly violated.
In this respect, he will be carrying forward the work of John Paul the Great in bringing together again the great themes of the Second Vatican Council: ressourcement and aggiornamento. The reappropriation of the tradition and the conversation with the contemporary world are not two agendas, one dubbed conservative and the other liberal, but the two essential dimensions of the renewal of the Church.
And, if the Council is right in saying that the Church is the sacrament of the world, renewal of the Church is the way toward the renewal of the world, as the first Benedict believed and so powerfully demonstrated.
The Tyranny of the Minority
“There is strength in numbers, but there is not truth.” Leon Wieseltier is right about that. Writing in the New Republic, he is complaining about the Supreme Court justices who, in oral argument about the Ten Commandments case, keep saying “we are a religious nation.” Wieseltier writes, “But what does the prevalence of a belief have to do with its veracity or with its legitimacy?” Little or nothing, one might agree. But the justices were making a more modest but not unimportant point—that a government must be aware of the kind of people it governs, in this case a characteristically religious people.
Wieseltier continues: “If every American but one were religious, we would still have to construct our moral and political order upon respect for that one.” Well, yes, respect. That is required by our commitment to rights, a commitment firmly grounded in, among other things, the religious beliefs of most Americans. But Wieseltier seems to be saying that “respect” means that the one dissenter would have veto power over how we construct our moral and political order. That would be the death of our republican form of democratic government. The Constitution’s “We the People” never pretended to be unanimous. Whatever else democracy means, it means majority rule, and our form of democracy also assiduously protects minority rights.
Wieseltier seems to think that democracy requires eliminating the concepts of majority and minority: “The proposition that ‘we are a religious nation’ is like the proposition that ‘we are a white nation’ or that ‘we are a Christian nation’ or that ‘we are a heterosexual nation,’ which is to say it is a prescription for the tyranny of a majority.” Not quite. The statement that “we are a white nation” is redolent of a long and tragic history of oppression, and anyone who employs it is rightly suspected of racism. As a social description, however, it is true that about 80 percent of the population is ordinarily designated as white, about the same percentage is Christian of one sort or another, and fully 97 percent is heterosexual. These are simply social facts, not prescriptions for how we are “to construct our moral and political order.”
Our moral and political order does not require that we forbid the public mention of social facts. It would be a very fragile moral and political order that depended upon pretended ignorance of social facts. Consider the proposition that “we are a capitalist nation” or “we are an English-speaking nation” or “we are a sports-loving nation.” In each instance, there is not just Wieseltier’s one dissenter. Add up the socialists, non-English speakers, and those indifferent to sports, and we’re talking about millions of dissenters. That in no way affects the truth of the above generalizations about the kind of nation we are. Wieseltier apparently does not fear that the acknowledgment of those generalizations is “a prescription for the tyranny of a majority.”He fears only the acknowledgment that we are a religious nation. One has to wonder why that should be.
Is the government forcing anyone to be religious or penalizing those who are not? If, as is the case, there is absolutely no evidence that the government is doing or will do that, is not Mr. Wieseltier’s fear simply irrational? It would seem that that irrational fear is combined with the curious view that democracy requires a studied indifference to majorities and minorities and a pretended ignorance of the nature of the society of which we are part.
“We are a religious nation.” It seems Mr. Wieseltier wishes that were not so. He certainly does not want the fact to be publicly recognized by government officials. On both scores, I am rather sure, he is in a distinct minority. That is a perfectly honorable and securely protected status. We should “construct our moral and political order” to protect his right to his opinion, and, as a matter of fact, that has been done. There is no reason why we should construct our moral and political order to conform to his opinion. To do so would be, if I may paraphrase Mr. Wieseltier, a sure prescription for the tyranny of the minority.
The Polite Gentiles
Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Toward Tradition airs a question that I expect most Jews think should be aired, if at all, only among Jews. His reflections are prompted by the movie Meet the Fockers, starring Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand. He is especially disappointed with Streisand because he had coached her in the film Yentl and hoped she was above this kind of thing. “In spite of having several Jewish producers and several Jewish stars,” writes Lapin, “this film’s vile notions of Jews are not too different from those used by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.” The argumentum ad Hitlerum, as Milton Himmelfarb once called it, makes one nervous. Lapin continues, “The movie depicts the conspicuously Jewish parents as sexually obsessed, constantly concupiscent degenerates. Nice people, but depraved.” He is put in mind of the defamatory depiction of Jews in Woody Allen films: “If Woody Allen were not Jewish, surely every Jewish organization would have roundly denounced him.”
What is it with the Jews?—is Rabbi Lapin’s question. He mentions potty-mouthed sexpert Dr. Ruth Westheimer, as well as the execrable Howard Stern and Jerry Springer, who also flaunt their Jewishness. Then there is the Jewish pornographer who goes by the name of Ron Jeremy and boasts of having acted in or directed more than 1,500 porn films, explaining, “Jewish families tend to be more liberal than Christian ones; they aren’t obsessed by the fear of the devil or going to hell.” A profile in Jewish Journal reassuringly notes that Jeremy plans to be married in a synagogue. “You’d have to be a recent immigrant from Outer Mongolia,” writes Lapin, “not to know of the role that people with Jewish names play in the coarsening of our culture. Almost every American knows this. It is just that most gentiles are too polite to mention it.”
Lapin says he is describing “anti-Semitism perpetrated by Jews rather than by non-Jews.” He cites a passage from Hitler’s Mein Kampf describing the meretricious influence of Jews and observes: “It does not excuse Hitler or his Nazi thugs for us to acknowledge that this maniacal master propagandist focused on a reality that resonated with the educated and cultured Germans of his day. Not once in Mein Kampf did that monster charge Jews with being complicit in the killing of Christ two thousand years earlier. He knew that long-ago event, shrouded in mystery and theological profundity, would never goad enlightened people to murder. Instead, he drew attention to the obvious and inescapable; that which every German knew to be true.”
After listing more instances of the culture-debasing activities of Jews, Lapin writes: “We Jews routinely depict ourselves in repugnant caricatures of people you’d want nothing to do with in real life. Why do my colleagues in Jewish communal leadership never condemn this anti-Semitism? For, if it is not anti-Semitism, what is?” Yet Jewish organizations went all out in their assault on Mel Gibson’s The Passion. “A year after its release, and after polls show increased regard for Jews among the film’s audiences, Jewish organizations still condemn The Passion as defamatory to Jews. Yet, astonishingly, they don’t consider the examples I cite as defamatory to Jews.” “Do you suppose that people’s view of what Jews are really like is shaped more by Caius, an obscure two-thousand-year old character in The Passion or by the contemporary couple played by Streisand and Hoffman? Which movie more egregiously defames Jews?”
Rabbi Lapin makes serious charges which, although directed against his fellow Jews, should be taken seriously also by Christians. Some distinctions are in order. He is certainly right about the wrong of the organized Jewish attacks on The Passion, and it is true that some Jewish reviewers let their obvious indifference or hostility to that central Christian story control their evaluation of the film. And he is surely right that, if gentiles depicted Jews the way that Woody Allen and others do, they would immediately be accused of anti-Semitism.
Are Jews disproportionately represented in the pornography industry? It is regularly said so, also by Jews. But that, if true, is quite distinct from the self-deprecatory humor of Jews in theater and films that Lapin too readily, it seems to me, describes as self-defamation. Is Jackie Mason anti-Semitic either in intent or effect? I don’t think so. I haven’t seen Meet the Fockers, and it may be as bad as Rabbi Lapin says, but some of the films that concern him are aimed at mainly non-Jewish audiences, inviting them to join in the mainly good-spirited laughter at these crazy Jews. This has been going on in the American world of entertainment for many decades and is a sign of a Jewish sense of security in this mainly non-Jewish society. An argument might be made that this tradition of public self-deprecation by Jews has played an important part in defusing whatever hostility there is to Jews in America.
I’m not sure it is the case that most Christians are “too polite” to say anything about Jews behaving badly. Most Christians don’t think very much about Jews. It is possible that most Christians in America don’t know any Jews personally. And if some have negative thoughts about the culture-debasing influence of some Jews, it is not only politeness but intimidation that inhibits their expressing them. Nobody wants to be viewed as an anti-Semite. In my experience, Christians don’t talk much about Jews, at least not outside the relatively small circle of people who take a particular interest in Jewish-Christian relations. When concern is expressed, it is usually in the form of puzzlement that so many Jews are non-religious or stridently anti-religious.
That mix of concern and puzzlement was pronounced in events surrounding The Passion. On this score, there have been other rough spots in the past and will no doubt be more. While Rabbi Lapin’s reproach of offending and determinedly offensive Jews is no doubt warranted, I suspect that the usually humorous, if unflattering, depiction of Jews in popular entertainment contributes to making ours a society so friendly to Jews. Against the marginal anti-Semites of today and the ravings of Mein Kampf, most people, if they think about it at all, probably think, “If they take such delight in making fun of themselves, they can’t possibly be dangerous.” That’s not the whole of it, but I am inclined to think it is an important part of what continues to be the generally happy story of Jews and Christians in America.
Our Culture, Counterculturally Speaking
Paula Fredriksen of Boston University is concerned with “the moral complexity of our civilization,” which is a very good concern to have. But why am I also concerned about the opening paragraph of her long review of a book on morals in antiquity? Here it is: “Freedom, democracy, philosophy; art, education, law. Many of the ideas and ideals that define our culture and what we most value in it trace back across millennia to the civilizations of Greece and Rome. These two ancient societies constituted a fundamental stage in the historical development of the West. Later, refracted through medieval institutions, reclaimed in the Renaissance, and re-appropriated in the Enlightenment, this classical patrimony continued to exercise a decisive influence in shaping the culture and the politics of Europe.”
What is missing from that is, of course, Christianity. Which seems somewhat odd in view of the fact that Fredriksen is a historian of Christianity. True, there is a passing reference to “medieval institutions”—which I suppose is intended, by a considerable stretch, to cover the history of Christendom, including Augustine, Benedict, Abelard, Anselm, Dominic, the Gregorian Reform, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and the Puritan “errand into the wilderness” that became America. But “the ideas and ideals that define our culture and what we most value” are, at most, incidentally “refracted” through all that. Their source, reclaimed by Renaissance and Enlightenment, is ancient Greece and Rome.
The flagrant prejudice evident in this opening paragraph is carried through the thousands of words that follow. Fredriksen is not an ignorant person. How then to explain her mendacious rendering of the history of “the ideas and ideals that define our culture” except by a deep prejudice against Christianity? Of course, similarly distorted accounts can be found in many widely used textbooks. Fredriksen is to be commended for affirming, against powerfully assertive academic fashions, that there is such a thing as Western Civilization and that it is worthy of being valued. Yet her bowdlerized history of that civilization is at the root of the deepest divisions in our society.
What is called the culture war is not simply about this or that question disputed in the public square. It is most basically about the narrative of who we are. When Fredriksen says “our culture,” she means the continuum from ancient Greece and Rome that modernity restored after a medieval (i.e., Christian) digression. Her culture is the culture also of many others in the academy, especially in the humanities. That culture is a counterfactual and fanciful intellectual construct. It reflects the same prejudice that rejected the mention of Christianity in the preamble to the constitution of the European Union.
In historical fact, in honest scholarship, and in popular understanding, our cultural narrative is predominantly that of Jerusalem, which in the form of Christianity, and through centuries of conflict and devotion, appropriated, transmitted, and transformed also the legacy of Greece and Rome. To speak of “our culture” without defining reference to Jerusalem—to Sinai and Calvary, to Moses and Jesus, to the permutations of Christianity and the protests against its hegemony—is to speak of a culture not recognizable to the overwhelming majority of Americans. It is not recognizable because it is false. It is, in its sedately academic way, countercultural. What is called the culture war runs very deep.
While We’re At It
• It was far from the most important development as the Terri Schiavo case seized the nation’s attention, but it should not go unremarked. There were repeated statements by the Holy See, statements by William Cardinal Keeler of the pro-life office, by the bishops conference, by numerous individual bishops, and by the bishops of Florida collectively. All spoke with one voice on the moral impermissibility of killing Ms. Schiavo by removing her food and hydration. And then there was the statement by Bishop Robert N. Lynch, former general secretary of the bishops conference and bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, where Ms. Schiavo’s family lives. Bishop Lynch said, “At the end of the day (the judicial, legislative days) the decision to remove Terri’s artificial feeding tube will be that of her husband, Michael.” Of course, it is precisely this that the national protest and the extraordinary actions by Congress and the president aimed to prevent. There is no way of reading Bishop Lynch’s statement without concluding that he thinks the final decision should have been made by Michael Schiavo, who for years aggressively pursued his goal of making his wife dead. Compounding the inexplicability of his statement, Bishop Lynch compares the circumstance to one in which “families of the person in extremis agree that it is time to allow the Lord to call a loved one to Himself, feeling that they have done all they possibly might to provide alternatives to death, every possible treatment protocol which might be helpful has been attempted.” Anyone who has paid even cursory attention to the Schiavo case, and it seems the whole world paid more than cursory attention, knows that no part of that description applies to Ms. Schiavo’s circumstance. Bishop Lynch proposes “a single focus of achieving the best result for Terri.” The best result for Terri, we are given to understand, is that she should be dead. This is her own bishop speaking. How could the bishop be so astonishingly ignorant of her circumstance? Could it be anything other than willful ignorance, which entails grave moral culpability? I am only asking questions, but they are questions that his fellow bishops should be asking of Bishop Lynch. What is not a question but is an indisputable fact is that the bishop has—whatever his intention—publicly rejected the Church’s clear teaching on the care of the disabled and has lent the authority of his office to those whose undeniable purpose is to kill Ms. Schiavo. To my knowledge, no bishop or other church authority has publicly admonished Bishop Lynch for his very public offense. After the recent sex abuse scandals, there was much talk about the need for “fraternal correction” among bishops. Was it just talk? Again, I am only asking.
• Contributions to deep moral reflection on the Terri Schiavo ordeal came from many quarters. Herewith excerpts from Salon‘s interview with Jesuit Father John Paris, Walsh Professor of Bioethics at Boston College. Salon asks what the Schiavo case is really about. Paris: “The power of the Christian right. This case has nothing to do with the legal issues involving a feeding tube.” Salon: Are there any extenuating circumstances? Paris: “The law is clear, the medicine is clear, the ethics is clear.” Salon asks how Fr. Paris squares his view with the Pope’s statement that denying food and water is euthanasia by omission? Paris: “There are some radical right-to-lifers there [in the Vatican], and they got that statement out . . . . His comment wasn’t doctrinal statement, it wasn’t an encyclical, it wasn’t a papal pronouncement. It was a speech at a meeting of right-to-lifers.” Fr. Paris admits to being surprised by the response to the Schiavo case. “I hadn’t anticipated the power of the Christian right. They elected him [George W. Bush], and now he dances.” Boston College is a school “in the Jesuit tradition.”
• Criticizing Robert Sloan’s leadership, a former president of Baylor says, “Faculty are not here to engage in religiosity. They’re here to teach algebra, political science, the best way they know how, which is to me the Christian way to do it.” This is the “two truths” heresy with which Sloan, and other presidents of Christian colleges, have had to contend. There is the truth of fact and science, on the one hand, and the truth of Christian faith, on the other. Ne’er the twain shall meet, except at the level of subjective intentionality. Baylor is caught up in Texas Baptist politics but also, writes Robert Benne, in “the question of Baptist identity.” “Nonfundamentalist Baptists are in a quandary about who they are today . . . . The Sloan administration has proposed a view of Baptists as orthodox, doctrinal, evangelical, ecumenical, and in the Free Church tradition. It affirms that Christianity has intellectual content that should be shared by all Christians, and that provides the substance for serious faith/learning encounter. It has bolstered the university by inviting Christians from the great magisterial traditions—Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran—to enrich the rather thin Baptist intellectual tradition. It has hired and nurtured Baptists who are open to this kind of ecumen icity.” Some might question whether the “great magisterial traditions” of Lutheranism and Calvinism survive today outside distinctly unecumenical groups such as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church or the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. But Benne is right that scholars formed in those traditions do have, along with Catholics, intellectual resources for joining faith and reason that are largely absent from the Baptist tradition of anti-traditionalism and, too often, anti-intellectualism. Sloan’s candid acknowledgment of this Baptist intellectual deficit was no doubt a factor in his troubled efforts to cope with Texas Baptist politics.
• The times they are a-changin’—which is the one thing you can count on not to change. A couple of years ago, Colleen Carroll took a lot of people by surprise with her book The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. An engaging case study in that larger phenomenon is now on offer in Matthew Lickona’s Swimming with Scapulars: True Confessions of a Young Catholic (Loyola, 278 pages,, $19.95
). I will not be surprised if this becomes something of a niche classic. Lickona and his wife Deirdre are graduates of Thomas Aquinas College in California and live with their four (as of this writing) children in La Mesa, California, where he is staff writer for the San Diego Reader, an alternative newspaper. “Alternative” is the word for the ever-ancient, ever-new way of life they are striving to live, a life of self-discipline and spiritual struggles joined to the hilarity and high adventure of Catholic fidelity. (Four days into the honeymoon they were still virgins because, being committed to Natural Family Planning, the time was not right for Deirdre.) Thomas Aquinas is among the more prominent of alternative Catholic colleges established in recent decades, and this charming and frequently crazy book serves as a report card on what such schools are producing. If the Lickonas are representative, a rigorous (they would say vigorous) orthodoxy results in a way of being Catholic that has left behind the stale liberal-vs.-conservative squabbles about what went wrong and what went right after the Second Vatican Council and has moved on to living the faith in all its fullness. Theirs is not a return to the Catholic “ghetto” or “subculture,” nor are they part of an angry counter-culture. Rather, Lickona provides a delightfully high-spirited and candid account of living Catholicism as though it were true, scapulars included. The author is in lively engagement with the surrounding culture and the problems encountered by those who have chosen another way. “Let’s be open and clean,” he writes. “Let’s drag this out into the light and discuss. Let’s not be shocked and resentful; let’s love the lonely. Perhaps, coming from a fanatic, the message of God’s love will regain some of its wonderful outrageousness. ‘Listen. I have a secret. I eat God, and I have His life in me. It’s the best thing in the world; it leads to everlasting life. But first, you have to die to yourself.’” There is a good deal of Matthew Lickona’s self in Swimming with Scapulars, but with the guidance of St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church a new man is manifestly a-borning. This book may not be a portent of the Catholic future, but it is a compelling account of the Catholic present as experienced by a growing number of young people who have dared to accept Christ’s invitation to “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” In catching, Matthew Lickona has been caught, and with winsome enthusiasm he recommends the experiment to others. The times they are a-changin’.
• Stanley Milgram died—writes John Darley, professor of psychology at Princeton—”leaving us with the knowledge that evil is not inherent in all of us, yet showing us how evil can be performed by essentially ordinary people.” Well, yes and no. Stanley Milgram, it may be remembered, was a man famous, or infamous, for his “obedience studies” conducted at Yale in the 1960s. He recruited people from New Haven who would serve as “teachers” in administering a test to “learners.” When the learners made a mistake, the teachers would, at Milgram’s orders, administer an electrical shock. What the teachers did not know is that learners were actors who would fake severe pain, sometimes crying out for mercy. The key thing is that the teachers, when told to do so, would administer more and more severe shocks, even to the point of apparently endangering the lives of the actor-learners. Milgram described the results in a memo to the National Science Foundation: “In a naïve moment some time ago, I once wondered whether in all of the United States a vicious government could find enough moral imbeciles to meet the personnel requirements of a national system of death camps, of the sort that were maintained in [Nazi] Germany. I am now beginning to think that the full complement could be recruited in New Haven. A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act, and without pangs of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority.”In his review of a new book on Milgram, The Man Who Shocked the World by Thomas Blass, Darley describes his own research in support of a somewhat different theory called “situationalism.” The theory, which he says is currently dominant, “holds that the major determinant of a person’s actions is construction and internal representation of the meaning of the situation.” He admits that such a statement may seem “obvious,” and it does. He cites an experiment in which a research subject would stay in a room filling with acrid smoke, if two others also stayed. This presumably demonstrates a propensity to conform. In another experiment, a real student will conform by giving a wrong measurement of a line, if play-acting students also do. “Half a dozen of these others, whom the subject perceived to be equally naïve subjects, one by one all gave an obviously false answer to a simple perceptual question, which involved the length of a line that they could all see. The naïve subject often conformed.” I suppose some subjects were cowardly conformists, but others, seeing apparently bright students giving an apparently wrong answer, may have figured that the others knew something that they didn’t. As a theory, “situationalism,” like so many academic theories, seems embarrassingly self-evident. Who does not, in ways both worthy and ignoble, tailor his actions in ways appropriate to what he perceives to be his situation? That is true of both the craven and the heroic. That there are more cowards than heroes does not come as news. Which brings us back to “the knowledge that evil is not inherent in all of us, yet evil can be performed by essentially ordinary people.” Evil is not inherent in us, if by inherent one means it is intrinsic to being human. Otherwise, Adam before the fall and Christ would not be truly human. Christ, the new Adam, is more truly human by virtue of being sinless. However ethically dubious were Stanley Milgram’s “obedience studies,” and however he may have over-dramatized the results by invoking the Holocaust, he discovered nothing that should surprise those who are aware of Original Sin, which is aptly described as the only Christian doctrine that can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. At the time and still today, Milgram’s work was thought to be so controversial, in large part, because it offended against the delusion of the morally innocent and self-directed rational self. To the extent that he exposed that delusion, he rendered a service.
• “Civic friendship.” What a beautiful idea, but in our rancorous political climate some might be excused for thinking it is a pipe dream. In an instructive little book published by the Acton Institute, Trial by Fury, by law professor (and First Things contributor) Ronald Rychlak, applies the idea of civic friendship to tort reform. Here is how a tort system that encourages accepting responsibility in the context of community relations ought to work: “Those who have been harmed know that the legal system will guarantee that they are compensated, and those who have committed the harm know that society ultimately will not let them avoid responsibility. Above all those without genuine claims will know that neither will the legal system permit their compensation nor will society condone their immorality. This knowledge encourages potential litigants to resolve disputes justly and privately. The perceived superiority of courtroom justice over personal interaction (civic friendship) is neither part of Christian social thought, nor historically corroborated, and it is very harmful to the community and to justice itself. As the tort law system evolved over the past several decades, however, it has moved away from practices that promote community relations. Courts lowered barriers to litigation, dismantled immunities, lessened causation requirements, and increased monetary awards. These developments have transformed the legal landscape and the message that the tort system carries.” Rychlak thinks tort reform is on the way and proposes some directions: “Effective tort reform, therefore, must return the system to one based on fault and causation, that holds responsible those who caused the damage, makes the injured whole, and does not impose upon the innocent. This will require careful examination of the current incentives that exist to the filing of lawsuits, especially class action lawsuits. Among the first matters to be considered would be the restoration of some form of immunities to entities that are today held responsible for actions that are outside of their scope of responsibilities. At the very least, the concept of awarding punitive damages against charities and governmental agencies must be revisited. Judges and juries also need to have more structured guidance regarding punitive damages in all cases. A loser pays system for attorney fees would also go a long way toward easing the fear currently felt by so many individuals and entities in the society.” Civic friendship. An idea that is not only beautiful but, if we have the will and the wit for it, maybe possible.
• At Boston College in March, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, D.C., once again addressed the question of Catholics in public life. In the course of his remarks, he offers an interesting account of his much-controverted use, at the June 2004 meeting of the American bishops, of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s communication on exclusion from communion. He adds, “This, of course, did not stop the media critics on the extremes who continued their tactics of promoting division in the Church.” Without knowing who he has in mind, I really do not believe that, for instance, Commonweal and the Wanderer are out to divide the Church. Cardinal McCarrick is on more solid ground when he notes that the larger question is the proper disposition in receiving the Blessed Sacrament: “This is not only for politicians but for all of us. Many of us believe that the reception of the Eucharist in our churches has become something of a habitual practice and without the kind of prayerful preparation that it always needs to have. The way that it is organized in large churches, which tend to empty out row after row to approach the altar, promotes this kind of communion without thought or without the necessary preparation.” On the specific question of politicians who publicly and persistently oppose Catholic teaching on the culture of life, it would be good if the bishops could achieve greater clarity and unity in pastoral practice before the next electoral cycle is in full swing. One hopes that those bishops who in 2004 said they needed time to pastorally engage offending politicians have been energetically applying themselves to such engagement. The excuse is still heard that such engagement would appear to be “partisan” because it would likely involve more Democrats than Republicans. To which it needs only to be observed that the parties and the candidates are responsible for their positions, as the bishops are responsible for firmly and persuasively asserting the teaching of the Church.
• Some Muslims in the United States have suggested that apostasy from Islam should be discouraged by law. Syed Mumtaz Ali, president of the Canadian Society of Muslims, argues that Canada’s multicultural policy of granting group rights should allow Muslims to punish apostasy and blasphemy in their communities. In deference to non-Muslim sensibilities, Mumtaz adds that this need not necessarily entail enforcing the “Islamic punishment” of death for such crimes. In fact, Muslims who commit apostasy, mainly by conversion to Christianity, are very few in number. According to the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, “Christians and Muslims both send the bulk of their missionaries to people of their own faiths. In this sense, the foreign missionary enterprise of the world’s two largest religions is largely an attempt to renew their own traditions.” As, we may hope, Canadians will maintain their tradition of taking a dim view of people who kill or otherwise punish people for exercising religious freedom or saying uncomplimentary things about Islam.
• Of the thousands of books that deserve a review, relatively few get reviewed here or elsewhere. Sometimes we plan a review but, for one reason or another, it doesn’t pan out. Happily, that can be partially remedied by borrowing, as I here borrow from Daniel J. Mahoney’s excellent review of Samuel Gregg’s On Ordered Liberty: A Treatise on the Free Society. Writing in the Journal of Markets & Morality, Mahoney notes: “On Ordered Liberty exposes the radical limitations of utilitarian thinking and shows that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in the philosophy of academic liberalism. It also provides a much-needed alternative to libertarian dogmatism in all its forms. It shows that there is nothing authentically liberal about an approach that fails to distinguish between better and worse preferences and that refuses to acknowledge any rationally discernable distinction between the noble and the base. In truth, Gregg’s real target is not utilitarianism, as he declares, but rather the ‘contractualism’ that is at the heart of post-Hobbesian political thought. Social contract theorizing denies the naturalness of the political community and affirms that those authoritative institutions (family, church, and other intermediate institutions) that civilize and socialize human beings lack legitimacy because they limit the free choices of autonomous human beings. Defenders of the free society must finally choose between the contractualist and conventionalist denial of the Good and a more truthful and salutary concept of human freedom. They must choose between an older liberalism that freely acknowledged the dependence of modern freedom on premodern moral capital and a liberty that refuses to bow even before the requirements of Truth. It is to Samuel Gregg’s great credit that his book so thoughtfully clarifies this inescapable battle for the heart and soul of liberalism.”
• People of a delicate sensibility were made uneasy by Terri Schiavo’s being forced to die of hunger and thirst. Hurrying to the aid of the morally scrupulous, the New York Times offered the assurance of Dr. Sean Morrison of Mount Sinai School of Medicine that such a death is very quiet, very dignified, and very gentle. “Experts,” the Washington Post reported, “are virtually unanimous in saying that it does not appear to be painful.” And the Los Angeles Times offered the comforting information that “going without food and water in the last days of life is as natural as death itself” and that “contrary to the visceral fears of humans, death by starvation is the norm in nature—and the body is prepared for it.”Christopher Levenick of the American Enterprise Institute was among the many who were much relieved. He suggests that Governor Jeb Bush should introduce legislation requiring that the State of Florida use forced starvation as the preferred method of execution for its 368 inmates on death row. The objection might be raised that we do not know whether Terri Schiavo knew what was being done to her, while a prisoner would certainly know. To that objection, Levenick responds, “It is the tranquility of the death itself that should concern us. Conscious or not, if deprived of food and drink, a human being will enter into a uremic coma, chemical imbalances in the brain will induce a sedative-like effect, and the heart will, in due course, stop beating.” The experts are virtually unanimous in saying it is so.
• Easy virtue takes many forms. Staying at a hotel down in Washington, I was taken with a card prominently displayed by the management: “Being mindful of the environment and ultimately the world is the best way to serve our guests.” The service may be shabby, the carpet soiled, and the air-conditioner making loud rattling noises, but what is that in comparison with knowing that the management is mindful of the environment and ultimately the world? “Kimpton Hotels helps to keep our planet tranquil by changing bath linens by request only.” Dirty towels mean a tranquil planet. It seems a small price to pay. And it saves the hotel a lot of money on laundering. Then there is this by Danny Seo (who is described as Kimpton Hotel’s “eco-stylist”): “Small choices can really add up. Kimpton makes it easy for their guests to make a difference.” Ah, to go to sleep, the noisy air-conditioner notwithstanding, and know that your life has made a difference. And to provide me with such moral satisfaction my hosts were billed only $425 per night. At least in that respect it does not fall under Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s strictures against cheap grace.
• More than a few readers were taken aback upon reading an interview in the National Catholic Reporter with Roger Cardinal Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles. He is reported to have said, “Any priest coming in, knows that if he confesses to a reportable crime I have to report it.” Did he mean he would violate the confessional seal? We asked the cardinal, and he offers this clarification: “Please be assured that I was definitely not referring to the Sacrament of Reconciliation by using the word ‘confesses.’ Rather, I should have said that ‘Any priest coming in, knows that if he admits to a reportable crime I have to report it.’ This presumes that the priest is making this admission for the very first time to a mandated reporter under California law. Since January 1, 1997, all clergy in the State of California became mandated reporters of suspected child abuse. The Sacramental Seal of Confession is total and absolute, and no priest or bishop who learns of a reportable crime may pass that information on to anyone in any circumstances whatsoever. The priest or bishop could urge the penitent to take the reportable crime to the public forum, but he can never divulge that information learned in Confession to anyone.” Cardinal Mahony’s clarification is most welcome.
• “Atheist psychiatrist argues that gays can change.” That’s the subhead of a Christianity Today interview with Robert Spitzer, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. It is no criticism of Christianity Today to note that his being an atheist is viewed as a plus. It is to say, “Hey, it’s not just we Christians who think this way.” The Spitzer story is indeed interesting. Back in 1973 he was instrumental in having the American Psychiatric Association declare that homosexuality is not a clinical disorder. Thirty years later, after extensive research with homosexuals who had undergone reparative therapy (the preferred term now is “reorientation therapy”), he concluded that it was about as effective as most therapies. A storm ensued when he published his findings in the October 2003 issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior. Spitzer thinks his position is less controversial today. Asked if he is planning a follow-up study, he said, “No. I feel a little battle fatigue. But also I’m not sure what the study would be. Some people have said, ‘Follow these people, interview them five years later, see how many of them have switched back,’ since it’s well known that some ex-gays give it up. But suppose you found that 5 percent or 10 percent did switch back. I mean, so what? You’d find the same thing if you followed people who had treatment for drug addiction. Some are going to relapse.” That sounds about right.
• The sentiments are drearily conventional. Hendrik Hertzberg writes in the New Yorker, “Terri Schiavo’s life, as distinct from the life of her unsentient organs, ended fifteen years ago.” The whole fuss was organized by Republican politicians pandering to extremists, he explains. “Terri Schiavo has become a metaphor in the religio-cultural struggle over abortion.” And then the claim that “the fervor of Terri’s Christianist ‘supporters’ was motivated by dogmas unrelated to her or her rights.” The use of “Christianist” is interesting. I have seen it before here and there. I believe the unfortunate Gore Vidal is fond of the term. But I have not seen it in an approximately mainstream publication such as the New Yorker. I suppose it is thought imprudent to launch an assault on “Christians” in a country where 80 percent of the people identify themselves as such. Mr. Hertzberg invites Christians to separate themselves from the Christianists. The word has a certain resonance with the word “Communist.” I do hope this does not portend an interreligious form of McCarthyism.
• There are, according to a reader with too much time on his hands, hundreds of books for dummies. Catholicism for Dummies is ranked the number 4 bestseller, The Bible for Dummies number 48, Buddhism for Dummies number 78, and Religion for Dummies number 140. There are also Labradors, basketball, football, pugs, and bookkeeping—all for dummies. Sex for Dummies is way down the list at number 194. About some things people apparently do not want to admit that they don’t know.
• It is true that we have not paid attention to John Cornwell’s latest book, The Pontiff in Winter: Triumph and Conflict in the Reign of John Paul II, and it is not an adequate excuse that almost nobody else has either. Cornwell is author of Hitler’s Pope, the now notorious book-length slander of Pius XII. He doesn’t like John Paul II any better. Not that he knows much about him. In a chapter titled “Close Encounters,” he is reduced to quoting people who have met the pope and had critical things to say about him. Reduced further, he cites, apparently as evidence, dreams that novelist Graham Greene once said he had. Mr. Greene apparently did not like the pope either. Cornwell here repeats charges that he had retracted in the February 2001 issue of First Things and is sharply critical of the pro-papal cabal he calls “the First Things coterie.” Reflective of his penchant for painstaking accuracy, he says First Things is “a reactionary Catholic quarterly.” As one commentator observes, “He is wrong on all three scores.” At least we might all agree that First Things is a monthly. I expect the reason the book promptly sank without a trace is that even editors otherwise sympathetic to Cornwell’s viewpoint found somewhat distasteful the mix of bile and ignorance in beating up on an old man, and then giving him a few extra kicks for good measure. And now I am possibly guilty of paying more attention than the book deserves.
• Seventeen theological heavyweights in ELCA Lutheranism have issued a statement calling for the rejection of a task force’s recommendation of what is, in effect, a local option with respect to ordaining those living in a same-sex relationship and the blessing of same-sex unions. “The proposed shift of matters of such enormous import from the national to the local levels will have two adverse consequences,” the statement says. First, “the structural dissolution of the ELCA as it currently exists,” and, second, “creation of intense division and disunity at the local level, thus effectively undermining [in the words of the task-force report] ‘ways to live together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements.’” In preparation for the August churchwide assembly in Orlando, Florida, the sixty-five synods of the ELCA are being asked to join in rejecting the task force report. The signers of the statement include figures of significant theological influence in Lutheranism and far beyond, such as George W. Forell, Robert Jenson, Carl Braaten, Roy A. Harrisville, Gerhard Forde, Hans Hillerbrand, James Crumley, Jr., and William Lazareth. While they were the theological fathers of generations of Lutheran leaders, their influence with younger clergy and laity is not clear. Opponents of the task force proposals are planning a large meeting in September. Depending on the action of the Orlando assembly, plans for a nongeographical dissenting synod or even the launching of a new church body will be on the agenda.
• Forty years ago it was the Netherlands and Quebec that went with astonishing rapidity from what seemed to be deeply Christian cultures to a pervasive secularism. Now many fear that is happening in Ireland. In a national radio address, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin addressed the problem in a lecture on “The Christian Presence in the Pluralist Public Square.” He quotes President Vaclav Havel speaking to a 2000 meeting of the World Bank in Prague: “Why did someone in long bygone times engage in the construction of such costly edifices which appear to be of so little use by today’s standards? One possible explanation is that there were periods in history when material gain was not the highest value in human life and when humankind knew that there were mysteries they would never understand and before which they could only stand in humble amazement and perhaps project that amazement into structures whose spires point upward. Upward in order that they might be seen from far and wide. Upward to that which is beyond our sight, that which by its mere silent existence appears to preclude for humanity any right to treat the world as an endless source of short-term profit and which calls for solidarity with all those who dwell under its mysterious vault.” The Christian voice in the public square cannot be limited to that of the Church hierarchy. “If the Catholic voice is merely the voice of the hierarchy—as eloquent and holy as they might be—the game is up. If the hierarchy is neither eloquent nor holy, the game will not even get started.” Martin emphasizes that the public engagement of the Church must be clearly grounded in devotion to Jesus Christ and his continuing work of salvation, and he concludes with this: “Jesus teaches with authority. But that is not a license for his disciples to be authoritarian. The Church’s authority is in the authority of its teaching. Tomorrow’s Church will be a more humble, listening Church which realizes that the fundamental obedience is obedience of the Church itself to the word of God, which alone has the strength to change the world according to God’s plan. The Church will be more a pilgrim Church, which journeys with all those of good will who work for goodness and honesty and who genuinely seek the truth. An inquiring, caring public square will be enriched by the presence of inquiring, caring Christians who bring that same message that brought enrichment to the public squares and dust tracks of Palestine over 2,000 years ago by Jesus the Nazarene who revealed the strength of God by humbling himself.”
• Lee Edwards has done many books on conservatism in the United States, and the other day there crossed my desk his A Brief History of the Modern American Conservative Movement. I am not a gatekeeper of the conservative movement—not even an assistant deputy to the deputy assistant gatekeeper. Who is and who is not a conservative is a question that has never much interested me. I suppose I got my fill of disputes over ideological definitions an eon ago when I was generally viewed as being on the Left. It would seem that any movement of consequence, or with ambitions to be of consequence, has to draw lines indicating who is in and who is out, who belongs and who doesn’t belong, who is “us” and who is “them.” It is more or less inevitable, not only in politics but between philosophical and theological schools of thought, and, no doubt, in the corporate strategies of the world of business. For the conservative movement, William F. Buckley, Jr., has been the chief gatekeeper and rule-maker since the days when, in the view of its detractors, conservatism was not a movement but only an irritable gesture. Buckley succeeded in excommunicating, so to speak, sundry screwballs and anti-Semites from the movement. I have tried to keep my distance from ideological infighting among conservatives, although oldtimers may remember that nasty brouhaha in which I was embroiled with the paleoconservatives of the Rockford Institute and Chronicles magazine back in 1989. In truth, there seems to be comparatively little infighting among conservatives these days. The “modern conservative movement,” if movement is still the right word, is a many-splendored thing of ingredients moral, social, religious, patriotic, entrepreneurial, and populist. Nobody seems much interested in excluding anyone. That is odd in a way, since it is often assumed that movements are cohesive in opposition but splinter in their success. And over the past half century, the conservative movement is, all in all, a success story. Of course one immediately adds that there is so much more to be done, but that is always the case. The reality is, however, that people under thirty today cannot remember when “conservative” was equated with “Neanderthal” (although the equation may still be in fashion on more stridently liberal campuses). Once called “the stupid party,” conservatism has produced almost every fresh and promising idea in culture and politics over the last twenty years. I saw the other day where Frank Rich of the New York Times was bemoaning this year’s Super Bowl entertainment and remembering the daring times when Janet Jackson’s nipple was exposed, which apparently he found quite exciting. The alternative to conservatism is reduced to this. As it is said, everything changes except the avant garde. I’m told the Democratic response to the State of the Union address included a call for a Marshall Plan for America. What next? Women’s suffrage? Such were random thoughts prompted by Lee Edwards’ Brief History. Offering the pleasures of nostalgia for older readers and the benefits of instruction for younger, it is worth a look.
• In the annals of historical progress one should enter a quite new phenomenon: child soldiers. According to a new book by P.W. Singer, Children at War, about 10 percent of soldiers currently involved in combat are children—children, as in twelve-year-olds or even five-year-olds. It used to be that soldiers had to be strong, capable of mastering lances, swords, and bayonets. Now with an AK-47 that costs less than the equivalent of ten U.S. dollars and can be mastered in a few minutes, a ten-year-old kid can blow away dozens of people. Apart from changed technology, former rules of war prohibiting child soldiers have been abandoned in conflicts in Africa and Southeast Asia involving the rival gangs sometimes called governments. Of course children lose limbs in battle and, since children’s limbs grow faster than their surrounding tissue, the kids need frequent additional amputations and the fitting of new prosthetic devices, although the devices are almost never available. Singer says children often have a hard time readjusting to civilian life when peace breaks out, having spent their childhood butchering their neighbors. You may wonder what five-year-olds can do for an army. It turns out that they’re great for minesweeping and are promised candy if they get back. There is an organization called the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. It spends much of its energy protesting the U.S. policy of permitting seventeen-year-olds to enlist with the consent of their parents.
• “Paper, procedures, people, and prayer—that’s how I spend my time, and every day I wish I knew how to reverse the order.” So says a bishop who is overwhelmed by the demands of paperwork and committee meetings that prevent him from getting out among the faithful and turning inward to attend to the state of his soul. He and other bishops will likely have their frustration compounded if the “National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management” has its way. That is a new organization launched by Geoffrey Boisi, a top executive at JP Morgan Chase with deep pockets and a deep commitment to getting the Church to shape up, management-wise. He brought together 170 influential Catholics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, mostly from the corporate and financial worlds but with a smattering of left-of-center editors, academics, and activists. (“Left-of-center” here means people who think that America or Commonweal are the solid center.) The eighty-page report issuing from the meeting is filled with recommendations for running the Church on the model of the great success of corporate, financial, and academic leadership in America. It is emphasized that the Church in the United States employs more than a million people and has an operating budget of nearly $100 billion, and it is about time it started acting like the big business it is. Proposed are a multitude of new committees, commissions, task forces, and accountability review mechanisms, all calling for regular reports by bishops and new staffing to ensure efficiency in meeting strategic plans and corporate goals. The Wharton document is titled “Report of the Church in America.” The “of” is a nice touch. The bishops’ conference is treating the initiative politely, appointing a liaison committee to discuss the proposals with Mr. Boisi and his friends, who are, after all, people of great substance. It seems unlikely that much will come of the proposals but, if I’m wrong about that, my aforementioned bishop friend had better be braced to cut back drastically on the corporate inefficiencies of time spent on people and prayer.
• If you can measure the institutional seriousness of an undertaking by the number of acronyms it accumulates, this is a very serious undertaking indeed. The lead article in Ecumenical Trends is titled “A Sharing in the Ecumenical Task: USCCB/ BCEIA and CELAM/ SECUM.” As it happens, it is a fairly hopeful report on discussions between Catholics, evangelicals, Pentecostals, and others in Latin America. Such developments have been aided in no small part by “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” That’s ECT to the initiated.
• Kindly overlook the cheap shot at George W. Bush in considering Lucy Beckett’s review in the Times Literary Supplement of the new Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs von Balthasar (co-edited by regular First Things contributor Edward T. Oakes, S.J.). One of the authors in the volume writes that Balthasar maintains that “in the ideal of the organic unity and mutual permeation of State and Church in the Middle Ages there is a failure to ensure the necessary distinction between God and the world.” Beckett observes: “To identify and condemn this permeation, or confusion, was the most important motive for Augustine’s writing of The City of God in the Christian Empire of late Rome. In the world of George W. Bush, Balthasar’s moment may have arrived. It is certainly a time to pay attention to ‘always greater’ Christian truth spoken from a rich, complex, Catholic, deeply and widely informed mind, and to understand the no more than relative and transient value of any and every human arrangement of power, or words. Among theologians, Hans Urs von Balthasar may seem like a fox among chickens, but in the last year of his life he ended the final section of his book, My Work: In Retrospect: ‘Christ sent his believers into the whole world as sheep among wolves. Before making a pact with the world, it is necessary to meditate on that comparison.’” The meditation is necessary even when, especially when, some of the sheep are engaged in the inevitably wolfish offices of temporal power.
• The mood at the annual meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association (RNA) was grim. Despite all the media chatter about religion in the public square, especially since the 2004 election, newspapers are cutting back on religion reporting. A big study put out by the school of journalism at Northwestern University, “The Power to Grow Readership,” has apparently convinced editors and publishers that people aren’t very interested in reading about religion. The folks in RNA believe they have all kinds of evidence to the contrary and are counterattacking. Says one, “We’ve got to find a better way to understand the impact of faith on such public issues as education, health care, the war in Iraq, and same-sex marriage.” That strikes me as precisely wrong. If people want to read about all those other things, the “religion factor” inevitably appears as no more than an add-on. Jeff Sharlet, editor of The Revealer, an online review of religion and the press hosted by New York University, has, if I understand him, a more persuasive proposal: “Religion in the broad sense underlies, controls, permeates at least half the stories in the news, probably a lot more . . . . I want to know what the subjects of the story believed they were doing. That’s what religion writing has to offer to every other aspect of journalism: the focus on belief.” News reports about religion should be more about religion and less about religion’s influence on something that is considered newsworthy. Of course, most reporters feel incompetent when it comes to addressing what people actually believe and do religiously, and most probably are. In addition to convincing their editors that religion matters, the members of the RNA have to demonstrate that it does. (Incidentally, when NYU was setting up its online operation, they asked whether I would mind if they called it The Public Square. I said I did mind. So they went with The Revealer, which seems a bit presumptuous, implying as it does an odd notion of revelation, but that’s their problem.)
• Moments of Monumental Obviousness are sometimes perpetrated by certifiably serious people, but they are nonetheless to be noted and paid the tribute of a silent pause. Edward Rothstein of the New York Times reviewed Robert Alter’s translation with commentary of The Five Books of Moses. So much attention has been paid the biblical text, writes Rothstein, that “even the English language has been influenced by the glories (and errors) of the seventeenth-century King James translation.”
• The British sociologist David Martin is among my favorite thinkers, and here he is reviewing a book by two other favorites, Bonds of Imperfection: Christian Politics, Past and Present by Oliver O’Donovan and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan. The problem with the O’Donovans’ understanding of Christian politics, writes Martin, is that there’s nothing specifically Christian about it. The O’Donovans contrast Karl Barth’s understanding of the politics of the Cross, which they think necessarily issues in pacifism, and Paul Ramsey’s commitment to a “realism” recognizing that human society always entails an element of force. Martin sides with Ramsey and writes: “Once accept that and it really does not matter what Christian lens you employ as the focus of argument, because you are going to end up in the same boat as everybody else: the assessment of likely scenarios within a tiny range of real options. Christian positions arrived at in this way simply cover the same spectrum as non-Christian positions, with perhaps a certain reluctance nowadays about being openly too realistic and, of course, a rejection of war for glory or the sheer hell of it. The just-war theory may have theological origins, but the arguments are entirely available to secular reason with no benefit of theology whatever.” The O’Donovans, says Martin, discuss in great detail the problems of democracy, the role of countervailing powers, and related themes. “No doubt these are urgent problems for our democracy,” writes Martin, “but theologically, so what?” Experiments in trying to combine realism and a specifically Christian theology of love grounded in the Cross have been mixed. “Even the Roman Church, precisely because it has historically come closest to devising a Christian polity, has had to institutionalize different levels of attainment as between God’s athletes organized in self-selected communities, and the worlds of politics and of l’homme moyen sensuel. Setting aside the corruption that so easily besets the ‘perfect society’ of the athletes, the very existence of institutionalized levels of attainment witnesses to the pressure of social and political reality on Christian aspiration.” Acknowledging the great contribution of Christianity to our civilization, Martin writes: “This shared moral wisdom might be rounded out by reverence for life and persons, the rejection of any idolatry of state, party or nation, the autonomy of voluntary associations, and the importance of sustained commitments (for example, in the family)—as well as justice and peace and the principle of hope. While the repertoire of Christianity, as imprinted historically in our civilization, may have shaped that civilization in the direction of these principles, none of them is logically dependent on a Christian foundation.” To which I am inclined to say, so what? Since when has history been logical? More seriously, it is highly doubtful that practices based upon beliefs about, for instance, the reverence for life, the dignity of the person, and the evil of idolatry can be sustained apart from those beliefs. Apart from “the story of the world” proposed by Christianity, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to make a convincing, as in logical, case for such beliefs. Witness, inter alia, the heroic labors of John Rawls. Kindness prevents the mention of Peter Singer. There is, I am persuaded, a great deal more Christianity in the O’Donovans’ Christian politics than David Martin allows, and I am puzzled by his failure to see that.
• Out in the Bay Area, it says here, “a new form of church is happening at Ebenezer.” That would be Ebenezer Lutheran, which is “a diverse community.” Forum Letter, from which I lift this item, wonders how diverse a community of thirty people could be. In any event, Ebenezer, led by Pastor Stacy Boorn, is “standing firmly within the Christian tradition in order to reconstruct the divine by reclaiming her feminine persona in theology, liturgy, church structure, art, language, practices, leadership, and acts of justice.” Which, one might think, is an awful lot for thirty people to be doing. Ebenezer is also active ecumenically, in a manner of speaking. It is appropriating the rosary, or, to be more precise, the Goddess Rosary:
Hail Goddess full of grace.
Blessed are you and blessed are all the
fruits of your womb.
For you are the MOTHER of us all.
Hear us now and in all our needs.
Well, I said “in a manner of speaking.” Ebenezer has also adopted The Nazarene’s Prayer as rewritten by former Catholic nun, Miriam Therese Winter: “Our Mother who is within us, we celebrate your many names. Your wisdom come, your will be done, unfolding from the depths within us” and so forth. Is it blasphemy and idolatry? But of course. Is it a good thing that over the years we have become inured to it, hardly able to muster a twitch of outrage? Probably not. Attention should be paid from time to time, if for no other reason than to be reminded of the multivalent thing that is religion in America, and to be alerted again to the perdurance of the temptation to worship ourselves by people who at this late date are excited about the novelty of the idea.
• Almost everybody agreed that the 1999 book by Jesuit Father Roger Haight, Jesus, Symbol of God, was over the top, and apparently he intended it to be just that. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) was not amused and entered into conversation with Fr. Haight. After five years of discussion, CDF issued a “notification” that the book is heretical and Fr. Haight is not to teach Catholic theology. It is not as though Fr. Haight’s book is a scholarly inquiry pressing at the edges of theological reflection. As CDF notes and the doctrine committee of the U.S. bishops conference confirms, the book frontally challenges such core teachings as the divinity of Jesus, the reality of the Trinity, the salvific nature of Jesus’ death and bodily resurrection, and the universality of his redemptive mission. The U.S. doctrine committee asserts: “Authentic doctrine, contained in the Scriptures and in the Apostolic Tradition and defined by the Councils of the Church, must be the explicit and unambiguous foundation not only for catechetical instruction, but also for theological teaching and inquiry . . . . While the theological community is not only competent but indeed obliged to address creatively and to debate strenuously theological issues that are open to authentic development, theologians are not permitted to espouse theological positions that are contrary to the teaching of Scripture and the Ecumenical Councils of the Church.” The theological community, to the extent it is represented by the Catholic Theological Society of America, issued a statement deploring the CDF “notification” and worrying about its chilling effect on theological scholarship. While the statement by his academic colleagues defended Fr. Haight’s competence and integrity, it conspicuously did not defend the positions espoused in Jesus, Symbol of God. Fr. Haight has the distinction of being one of only a handful of theologians publicly disciplined during the more than twenty-six years of John Paul II’s pontificate. He is currently teaching at Union Theological Seminary, the famously liberal Protestant institution in New York City.
• The trouble with Justice Antonin Scalia is that he thinks what he believes is true. Or so says Richard Cohen of the Washington Post. He cites an article in these pages in which Scalia speaks of political authority being derived from God. Writes Cohen, “It would have been one thing for Scalia to have said that the Founding Fathers probably saw things his way but it is quite another thing for him to assert a belief and call it truth.” One has to wonder how many things Mr. Cohen believes that he thinks are not true. With respect to religion and the American order, Mr. Cohen has a decided view. “Government neutrality—rigorous secularism—is the way to go.” Rigorous secularism is neutrality? I prefer to think that Richard Cohen does not believe that, but then, what I prefer to think may not be true.
• It’s been a while since I’ve referred to the Industrial Areas Foundation. The reason is that there doesn’t seem to be much new on that front. IAF was founded a half century ago by Saul Alinsky, who died in 1967. He was an old leftie who spotted the potential of churches, and especially the Catholic Church, for promoting radical causes. Today IAF is the force behind fifty-five affiliates, such as South Bronx Churches and Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development, with a major agitational effort among Hispanics in the Southwest. IAF says its “primary purpose is power” and its “chief product is social change.” Keeping the faith with Saul Alinsky, organizers unabashedly exploit anger and resentment to generate confrontation and division in the service of radical change. Training courses aim at immunizing activists against the seductive language of temperance and reconciliation that is endemic to Christianity. Predictably, IAF generates a great deal of anger and resentment among people who resist having their churches recruited to the cause of generating anger and resentment. A common complaint is that monies from an annual collection of the bishops conference, the Campaign for Human Development, frequently find their way to IAF activities. As I have mentioned before, I have had first-hand experience with IAF projects over the years and know of cases in which they have been a part of achieving change for the better—in improving housing for the poor, for instance. But even good causes are used to serve other ends. As IAF says, its primary purpose is power, and it boasts of being none too scrupulous about how that purpose is served. Alinsky exulted in the ruthlessness of the amoral maxims—since radicalism is its own morality—summarized in his book Rules for Radicals. An epigraph to the book, written by Alinsky, reflects at least part of the operative philosophy: “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins—or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom—Lucifer.” Christians, one should like to think, are less admiring of Lucifer’s achievement.
• Correction: In the April issue, Sayyid Qutb, who was executed in Egypt under Nasser, was identified as the founding father of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hassan al-Banna founded the Brotherhood in 1928. Qutb authored Milestones in which he propounded an extreme version of Islamic jihad.
• I am accused of insufferable elitism and manipulation for having written in a promotional letter that First Things is published for a self-selecting audience of possibly no more than 75,000 subscribers. “Yes, I know,” writes this outraged gentleman, “that this is a marketer’s ploy, meant to appeal to my vanity. But shame on you!” He thinks it an insult to the country to suggest that “barely one tenth of one percent” of Americans are likely First Things readers. I do not take lightly aspersions upon my patriotism, but 75,000 subscribers would be very high for any publication requiring the level of intellectual attentiveness assumed by First Things. For the record, however, I hereby declare that we would welcome two million subscribers—or even ten million subscribers. Toward that end, we would be glad to send a free sample copy in your name to parties who you think may be likely subscribers.
: The Tyranny of the Minority, New Republic, March 21. The Polite Gentiles, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, Toward Tradition, January 20. Our Culture, Counterculturally Speaking, New Republic, March 21. Father Paris on Schiavo, Salon, March 23. Baptist identity at Baylor, comments taken from ChristianityToday.com, February 16. Milgram and evil, Times Literary Supplement, December 10, 2004. Cardinal McCarrick on Catholics in public life, Origins, March 24. Muslims and apostasy laws, Religion Watch, February 2005. Mahoney on Gregg, Journal of Markets and Morality, Fall 2004. Levenick on starvation, personal correspondence. Cardinal Mahony on confidentiality and confession, personal correspondence. Hertzberg on Schiavo, New Yorker, April 4. Martin and Havel on the Church’s public role, Origins, February 10. Child soldiers, thanks to New York Sun, January 6. Churches in Latin America, Ecumenical Trends, February 2005. Beckett on Balthasar, Times Literary Supplement, March 25. Religion reporters in crisis, Religion in the News, Winter 2005. Rothstein on the English language, New York Times, December 29, 2004. David Martin on the O’Donovans, Times Literary Supplement, December 24, 2004. Ebenezer’s goddess, Forum Letter, March. Cohen on Scalia, Washington Post, March 8.
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