The Public Square
In the many worlds of evangelical Protestantism today there is enormous vitality—including theological vitality. That makes possible substantive conversations, such as the project known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). Nobody has contributed more to that conversation than Dr. Timothy George, a Baptist who is dean of Beeson Divinity School and who will also deliver our annual Erasmus Lecture in October. In the June/July issue we published “The Pattern of Christian Truth,” in which George argues that, despite evangelicalism’s emphasis on the authority of the Bible, evangelicals “too often construe its authority as a kind of divine reference book, a sort of inspired manual, that can be understood quite apart from the Christian heritage of Bible-based theology and wisdom across the centuries.” There is, he says, a propensity for reading the Bible apart from, and sometimes against, the history of Christian orthodoxy, which results in novelties that are, in the precise sense of the word “heretical,” when we remember that the Greek haeresis means “choice.”
In my last years as a Lutheran I published a book titled The Catholic Moment. Turnabout is fair play and Kenneth J. Collins, a professor of theology at Asbury Theological Seminary, has now brought out The Evangelical Moment: The Promise of an American Religion (Baker, 288 pages,). It is in many ways a useful book, especially in its description of the various forms of evangelical Protestantism: historical evangelicalism, reformational evangelicalism, Puritan and pietistic evangelicalism, awakening evangelicalism, revivalistic evangelicalism, charismatic evangelicalism, and fundamentalist/neoevangelicalism.
Members of these many groups and their subgroups may dispute Collins’ depiction of their “distinctives,” but all would likely agree with his claim, shared by almost all who write on this subject, that evangelicals are marked by four characteristics: commitment to the authority of Scripture, the atoning work of Christ, the necessity of personal conversion, and the imperative to evangelize others. A problem, of course, is that a quarter to a third of Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and oldline Protestants in America also answer to those characteristics. The result is that Collins never quite gets beyond the widespread perception that an evangelical is a Christian who is negatively defined as being not Catholic, not Eastern Orthodox, and not a liberal Protestant.
In recent decades, evangelicalism has been further torn by heated disputes over the “inerrancy” of the Bible, meaning that the Scriptures, at least in their original texts, are literally true in all matters they address, including chronology, biology, and geography. Collins suggests that the “battle for the Bible” is now over, with 40 percent of the members of the Evangelical Theological Society having abandoned the doctrine of inerrancy.
One may wonder how this progressive reading would sit with the millions of members of, say, the Southern Baptist Convention. Collins also endorses the view that evangelicalism is moving beyond the foundationalist theology of the past and into what is commonly described as a postmodernist understanding of truth. He quotes the very prolific and influential British evangelical, Alister McGrath: “The time has come for evangelicalism to purge itself of the remaining foundational influences of the Enlightenment, not simply because the Enlightenment is over, but because of the danger of allowing ideas whose origins and legitimation lie outside the Christian gospel to exercise a decisive influence on that gospel. . . . We have been liberated from the rationalist demand to set out ‘logical’ and ‘rational’ grounds for our beliefs. Belief systems possess their own integrities, which may not be evaluated by others as if there were some privileged position from which all may be judged.”
Collins has very decided views also on evangelicalism and feminism, to which he devotes a long chapter. He is unimpressed by the fact that the great majority of Christians in the world belong to bodies that, in continuity with two millennia of history, believe women cannot be ordained to what is traditionally called the presbyterate. Their convictions are dismissively attributed to prejudice and their arguments are casually derided as “specious.” Striking throughout the book, on this score and others, is the indifference toward Christians in the southern hemisphere—in Africa, Latin America, and Asia where Christianity, especially in its evangelical/pentecostal and Catholic forms, is experiencing explosive growth. That indifference is perhaps implicit in his subtitle’s reference to evangelicalism as “an American religion.” This national preoccupation is also in severe tension with his repeated claims that the evangelicalism he is describing is committed to the fullness of the catholic—as in universal—experience of the Church.
At crucial points, his argument reflects a certain defensiveness, perhaps because he is a former Catholic who became an evangelical Protestant. He wants it understood that he is as catholic as anybody else, albeit a lower-case “c” catholic, and he much resents the fact that Catholics do not see it that way. Consider the case of a certain Richard John Neuhaus. “If one is born and raised in a Lutheran home and then follows the leading of conscience by converting to Roman Catholicism, as Neuhaus did, then that decision must be respected by all. The Roman Catholic Church, however, apparently does not return the favor in kind.” He protests that the Catholic Church does not respect “Protestant converts who have humbly and obediently followed the gentle leading of conscience and the Holy Spirit.” Particularly offensive to him is this statement in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or remain in it.”
It is hard to understand why Professor Collins is offended. Surely it is obvious that, if one knows that about the Catholic Church, if one agrees that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be, one could not be led by conscience and the Holy Spirit to leave the communion of the Catholic Church. It is obvious that Collins does not think the Catholic Church is what she says she is and therefore he is not a Catholic. In the Catholic understanding that is lamentable, but it does not mean he is not saved.
At the same time, Collins is rather aggressive with his own excommunications. Except for extremely rare instances of pastoral necessity, the Catholic Church invites to Holy Communion only those who are in communion with a bishop who is in communion with the bishop of Rome. This, if I understand Collins, means that the Catholic Church is not “Church” at all. He favorably quotes the evangelical theologian Miroslav Volf who writes: “Any church excluding Christians at a given place is not merely a bad church, but rather is no church at all, since a Eucharist to which not all the Christians at a given place might gather would not be merely a morally deficient Eucharist, but rather no Eucharist at all.”
So much for Paul, Cyprian, Gregory of Nyssa, Anselm, Augustine, and a host of other worthies, who excluded from communion, for various reasons, people who, in a favored phrase of the author, confessed the lordship of Jesus Christ. The first four ecumenical councils, to which the author is very favorably disposed, decided who would and who would not be admitted to communion. As Timothy George writes in the essay mentioned earlier, “A Church that cannot distinguish heresy from truth, or, even worse, a Church that no longer thinks this is worth doing, is a Church which has lost its right to bear witness to the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ who declared himself to be not only the Way and the Life, but also the Truth.”
About many things Collins is very well read, but then one comes across the most remarkable lacunae. For instance, he repeatedly charges that Rome’s ecclesiological claims un-church Eastern Orthodoxy. It is as though he has not read the pertinent documents of Vatican II or the extended and generous treatment of Orthodoxy in the 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint (“That They May Be One”), which suggest that all that is lacking for full communion between Rome and Orthodoxy is full communion. Nor is there a reference to Dominus Iesus, a document issued in 2000 that clearly spells out why Orthodoxy is composed of “sister churches” that are truly Church in a way that other Christian communities are not. One almost gets the impression that, in order to justify his separation from the Catholic Church, Prof. Collins attempts to recruit everybody—from Orthodoxy on the sins of the West to liberal Protestants on feminism—for his side and against Rome. I say “almost,” for his argument is frequently elusive.
Collins takes issue with fellow evangelical Thomas Oden who has urged that full communion among all Christians can be established on the basis of agreement on the doctrinal consensus of the first millennium. Collins dislikes some of the Marian developments of the second half of the first millennium and therefore plunks for limiting agreement to the first five hundred years. All Christian communities can get together because they are “already orthodox in several key respects in affirming the truth of Scripture, the early creeds, and the four great councils.” But then there is the sixteenth century, which, he says, is “the second great creedal epoch of the church” and must be permitted to reform “the subsequent tradition.” So all that is now required for Christian unity is that Catholics and Orthodox agree they more or less had it right for the first five centuries but went off the rails for a thousand years until put right by the Protestant reformers of the sixteenth century. This is an ecumenical proposal that, one ventures to predict, will not take us very far.
The Evangelical Moment succeeds in explaining some of the varieties, conflicts, and confusions within the worlds of evangelicaldom. Collins is correct in claiming that evangelicalism, broadly defined, is or is fast becoming the dominant form of Protestantism in America. But he is wrong to suggest it is “an American religion.” The religion under discussion is Christianity, of which evangelicalism is a wondrously diverse and vibrant expression. Catholic teaching gratefully recognizes the saving and sanctifying grace evident among evangelicals, viewing them as brothers and sisters in Christ who are, as the Second Vatican Council says, in a “certain but imperfect communion with the Catholic Church.” In the Catholic understanding, the goal of ecumenism is the completion of that existing unity in full communion. As Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, has frequently said, none of us can foresee, never mind control, the ways in which the Holy Spirit might lead us to that fervently desired goal. I think we can be quite sure, however, that it will not happen by individual theologians constructing a church of their choice by liberally picking and choosing, according to their preferred understanding of biblical truth, what they recognize as belonging to the history of the Church of Jesus Christ through time. Collins’ preferences and putative certainties notwithstanding, history is not so compliant as that.
As Timothy George understands, there is “a discernible pattern of Christian truth, a pattern derived from the apostolic witness and maintained across time as the depositum fidei, or what the New Testament calls ‘the faith once delivered to the saints.’ This pattern is embedded, like a genetic code, in the inspired text of Scripture itself.” Of course, Catholics would want to say more than that with respect to how that pattern is discerned and how it informs what is authoritatively taught. But evangelicals who understand that there is such a pattern will, I expect, be less enthusiastic than is Kenneth Collins about his depiction of “the evangelical moment.”
Thinking With The Church
The leadership of the Society of Jesus decided that Fr. Thomas Reese should be replaced as editor of America magazine. Fr. Reese, who was editor for seven years, said he agreed with the decision but, apparently, he later changed his mind. Institutions of all kinds make personnel decisions, and sometimes people are unhappy with such decisions. The present instance has occasioned a brouhaha in which it is claimed that Fr. Reese was removed on the orders of an allegedly oppressive Pope Benedict. Everybody should calm down, take a deep breath, and think again.
America is a Catholic magazine in the service of the Church and her mission. It is no secret that in recent years many people—probably including Pope Benedict when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—criticized the magazine for undercutting that mission, which is to present as effectively as possible the teaching of the Church. That mission requires intellectual integrity in honestly engaging arguments that question or oppose Catholic teaching. Catholicism does not pit faith against reason or faithfulness against intellectual inquiry. St. Ignatius Loyola, the sixteenth-century founder of the Jesuits, gave us the fine phrase sentire cum ecclesia—”to think with the Church.” Thinking with the Church requires thinking.
The troubles at America are not about intellectual integrity or freedom. As a priest and editor, Fr. Reese exercised intellectual integrity and freedom in committing himself to the Church and the mission to which the magazine is dedicated. Unfortunately, under his editorship, America frequently seemed to be unwilling to take the side that, I believe, it is actually on. The problem was a basic mistake in editorial policy. It was thought that being “fair and balanced” required publishing on an equal footing articles that supported and articles that opposed the Church’s teaching, as though the Church’s teaching was but one opinion among others. The problem was compounded by the fact that such articles dealt with publicly controversial questions such as the moral understanding of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and the exploitation of embryonic stem cells. On such questions, the Church has clearly defined positions. The practice of America suggested to some the magazine’s neutrality, at best, or hostility, at worst, to the Church’s teaching. Not surprisingly, they asked of the magazine, “Whose side are you on?”
Again, intellectual integrity requires honestly engaging opposing arguments. It does not require providing a platform for opposing arguments. I dare say that an editor working for Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, or the National Rifle Association who regularly turned an organization’s publication into a platform for those opposed to the mission of the organization would soon be looking for another job. Of course, as Catholics understand it, the Church’s mission is immeasurably more important, having to do with the salvation of souls and the morally right ordering of society. Moreover, it is hardly the case that readers need America in order to be aware of alternative and opposing viewpoints. Presumably, they are reasonably well-informed people with access to innumerable media that are critical of the Church’s teaching.
A Catholic magazine—and it should be obvious that a Jesuit magazine is Catholic—may decide to publish an exchange or debate between conflicting positions, but there should be no doubt that the magazine is on the Church’s side. A magazine of intellectual integrity and excitement is a magazine that knows where it stands. As for being fair and balanced, one should always be fair, but balance understood as neutrality is a formula for banality. Of course, there is a problem if an editor is in fundamental disagreement with the institution for which he works. One thinks, for instance, of someone at the NRA who undergoes a change of mind about the merits of banning guns. But we can confidently assume that was not Fr. Reese’s problem. He not only works for the Church; he is solemnly vowed to surrender himself in her service, and, as a Jesuit, has taken a particular vow of loyalty to the Pope.
As editor, Fr. Reese, whom I count as a friend, seriously misunderstood the meaning of fair and balanced. The Society of Jesus decided it would be better for the magazine and for him if he moved into a different ministry. End of story. Unless, of course, one is interested in generating suspicion and hostility against the pope. Needless to say, no faithful Catholic would want to do that.
The above is my op-ed piece requested and published by the Boston Globe. Perhaps a few more things should be said. It all started with a story in the New York Times. “Vatican Is Said to Force Jesuit Off Magazine.” That is the headline—on the front page yet. The “Is Said” is the key. In the jargon of journalists, the Times “didn’t have the story.” Fr. Thomas Reese, the editor in question, didn’t say he was forced out. Nobody named in the story, including me, said that. The real story is that Laurie Goodstein and her editors were declaring, under the disguise of news, that Pope Benedict is clamping down on any hint of criticism. The last line of the article alludes ominously to a warning that Catholics may be forced back into an intellectual “ghetto.” The ever-excitable Andrew Sullivan seizes upon the Times article to declare that Fr. Reese was “fired” as editor of America by that “petty, prissy tyrant” Benedict XVI. He depicts the alleged incident as “a call to arms for those of us who need to save the Church from this disastrous choice for the papacy.”
I am afraid that the editorial reaction of Commonweal was hardly more temperate. The editors worry that “the Vatican’s shocking dismissal” of Reese will “lend credence to the still-widespread impression that the Catholic Church is a backward-looking, essentially authoritarian, institution run by men who are afraid of open debate and intellectual inquiry.” They note that Reese also published articles supportive of the Church’s teaching and declare, “It is possible to ascribe the incredibly maladroit timing and handling of this decision to Vatican incompetence, arrogance, or obliviousness.” The removal of Reese is “inexcusable,” reflecting “insensitivity and recklessness,” and is an instance of “the arbitrary and self-serving exercise of ecclesiastical authority.” “For those who had hoped that the pastoral challenges of his new office might broaden Benedict’s sympathies, this is a time of indignation, disappointment, and increased apprehension.”
One is put in mind of G.K. Chesterton’s little poem on the occasion of a certain F.E. Smith declaring in Parliament that the bill on Welsh Disestablishment was “a bill which has shocked the conscience of every Christian community in Europe.”
Are they clinging to their crosses,
Where the Breton boat-fleet tosses,
Are they, Smith?
Do they, fasting, trembling, bleeding,
Wait the news from this our city?
Groaning “That’s the Second Reading!”
Hissing “There is still Committee!”
If the voice of Cecil falters,
If McKenna’s point has pith,
Do they tremble for their altars?
Do they, Smith?
The poem concludes with: “Chuck it, Smith.”
What purpose is served by the Commonweal editorial, which is titled “Scandal at America,” other than to “lend credence to the still-widespread impression that the Catholic Church is a backward-looking, essentially authoritarian, institution run by men who are afraid of open debate and intellectual inquiry”? Is Commonweal not fomenting precisely what it says it fears?
The editorial concludes with this: “What [the Vatican] has done to Thomas Reese and America is the scandal. Is it possible that not one bishop has the courage to say so? That too is a scandal.” The assumption is that bishops agree with Commonweal but lack the courage to say so. An alternative view is that bishops, along with others, think that Commonweal, along with the Times, simply got the story wrong. The undisputed fact is that the leadership of the Society of Jesus, in consultation with Fr. Reese (and, at least in his initial statement, in agreement with Fr. Reese) decided it was time for a change. The Society of Jesus is not mentioned even once by Commonweal. Why are the Jesuits not criticized for caving in to, as the editors would have it, illegitimate Vatican pressure? It would appear that Commonweal is out for bigger game. Pope Benedict, for instance.
Once again, intellectual inquiry is not only permitted in the Catholic Church; it is required. Commonweal says, “Evidently, the [Vatican] insists that any church-sponsored publication aimed at the educated faithful confine its activities to catechesis.” Not at all, although solid catechesis has been in dreadfully short supply in recent decades. What is expected of a Catholic publication is that it be Catholic. Minimally, that means that it does not convey the impression that authoritatively defined teaching is but one opinion among others, that it does not leave the reader in doubt as to whose side it is on.
Commonweal is not church-sponsored but is generally thought to be Catholic (although a former editor insisted to me that it did not define itself as Catholic). First Things is ecumenical and interreligious. Whatever our formal relationship with the Catholic Church, or lack thereof, we all have a responsibility not to “lend credence to the still-widespread impression that the Catholic Church is a backward-looking, essentially authoritarian, institution run by men who are afraid of open debate and intellectual inquiry.”
A final note: A source close to America says that Jesuits have been told that there was a mid-March letter from Cardinal Ratzinger, then still prefect of CDF, ordering the removal of Fr. Reese as editor. Nobody we spoke to claims to have seen such a letter. “In the Jesuit tradition, these things are dealt with by word of mouth,” explains our source. An expert on curial procedures says that only the Pope, then John Paul II, would have been authorized to issue such an order to the Father General of the Society. Whether CDF did or did not send such a letter is not pertinent to the above reflections. Final final note: Meeting at the end of May, the Catholic Press Association voted 48-28 against a statement expressing concern about Fr. Reese’s resignation. Members argued that it would be irresponsible to protest when they did not know what had really happened. This could be the beginning of an outbreak of sanity.
Unfurling The Flag Of Faith
John Podesta was President Clinton’s chief of staff during the impeachment procedures, so you know he is a man not averse to taking on tough jobs. Now he is head of the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank, which has launched a program called the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative. With the help of people such as Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine, the aim is to steal the “faith and values” card from those who are depicted as the extremists of the religious right, both evangelical and Catholic. (Podesta is very upfront about his being a Catholic.) A Zogby poll sponsored by his organization shows that 54 percent of the electorate belongs to “the silent majority” composed of religious moderates, progressives, and “nontraditional religious voters” who are cool to, or opposed to, the positions backed by conservative Christians who vote Republican.
The astute Andrew Ferguson is skeptical about Podesta’s proposal to defeat Republicans by aping them. Ferguson writes: “Podesta’s faith initiative shows the delusion at the heart of this mimicry. There’s no doubting that religious conservatives have been one of the great engines of Republican electoral success. Yet this part of the conservative movement has been what a progressive might call ‘organic,’ a spontaneous coming-together of like-minded people in the face of intolerable offenses (so conservatives believed) from the larger secular culture. The religious right, in other words, is a bottom-up movement, bound together by a sense of grievance. Podesta’s initiative, on the other hand, looks like an attempt to gin up an artificial movement that otherwise shows no independent signs of viability. Podesta is aware of the criticism and says he’s not imposing a ‘top-down’ movement from Washington. ‘It’s religious leaders at the congregational level that are going to make this happen,’ he says. ‘We can enable them, we can assist them, we can be a catalyst.’ This assumes, of course, that such a catalyst is necessary. The electorate contains many progressives with religious convictions, as Podesta’s own poll demonstrates. It’s also true, however, that they are politically engaged. And they’re Democrats. Podesta hopes to rescue the Democratic Party by giving it something it already has.”
That strikes me as about right. Grievance is not the most edifying factor in politics but it is critically important. There is nothing on the left that so widely and egregiously offends moral conviction as does Roe v. Wade on the right. Among evangelicals especially the grievance factor is regularly reinforced by the contempt with which they are viewed by those in control of the commanding heights of culture. True, the contempt is reciprocated, but who really cares about what those rubes think? Podesta’s silent majority of moderates and progressives who are more or less religious and don’t like the religious right are, as Ferguson says, already in the Democratic fold or are not part of the politically attentive public. Democracy is about majority rule, but electoral majorities are formed by politically potent minorities, and potent minorities are generated—not only, but very importantly—by grievances.
Apart from faculty lounges and leftist editorial rooms, nobody believes that Christian conservatives are out to overthrow the Constitution and establish a theocracy in this country. Mr. Podesta’s problems are compounded by the fact that there is no way he can steal the abortion card, since the overwhelming majority of Americans believe the abortion license should be sharply limited. If, as seems to be the case, something like 75 percent of voters favor limiting legal abortion to the first three months and then only in narrowly prescribed circumstances, they are, for practical political purposes at present, to be counted as pro-life, whether or not they call themselves pro-life (although a majority of voters now do). Mr. Podesta’s Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative looks like a forlorn effort, although he is not to be criticized for trying. In a country in which eight out of ten voters claim to be religious, any sane political operative will recognize the wisdom of unfurling the flag of faith.
While We’re At It
• Charles Krauthammer has about had it with the new war on certainty, as he calls it. Doubt is in, conviction is out. He notes the recent cover article in the New Republic lauding the “conservatism of doubt,” as well as the big flop of a Hollywood movie that depicted the Christians and Muslims of the Crusades as champions of interfaith understanding. Of course the war on certainty is very specifically aimed at the most dangerous of certainties, those that are suspected of being rooted in religion. Such convictions, he writes, are criticized as “a deep violation of the tradition of American pluralism, ecumenism, modesty, and skeptical restraint.” Krauthammer concludes: “That widespread portrayal is invention masquerading as history. You want certainty? You want religiosity? How about a people who overthrow the political order of the ages, go to war and occasion thousands of deaths in the name of self-evident truths and unalienable rights endowed by the Creator? That was 1776. The universality, the sacredness, and the divine origin of freedom are enshrined in our founding document. The Founders, believers all, signed it. Thomas Jefferson wrote it. And not even Jefferson, the most skeptical of the lot, had the slightest doubt about it.”
• I don’t vouch for the authenticity of this. It was sent me by someone who calls himself “Diogenes.” The editorial note by “JL” does lend a note of credibility to the claim that it is the first draft for a story in the New York Times. In any event, here it is:
Pick Seen as Sign of Contradiction
By Ian Fisher
CAESAREA PHILIPPI (20 Kislev). Yesterday’s surprise announcement that doctrinal hardliner Jesus of Nazareth had been anointed “messiah” provoked mixed reactions in the diverse and sometimes fractious Israelite community, ranging from cautious disappointment to frank despair.
“I see it as a missed opportunity,” said Herodias Schneidkopf, a Galilean incest-rights activist. “Many of us were hoping for someone more open to leadership roles for women and more appreciative of our experience. I don’t feel valued.”
Respected archpriest Caiaphas Bar Nun agreed. “Above all, the messiah should be a good listener. How can we as a faith community keep credibility among the youth of today if we cling to every jot and tittle of an outmoded social code while thousands die of leprosy and hunger? Today’s highly educated Judahite community isn’t satisfied with the old answers. I’m afraid it’s a missed opportunity.”
Even some members of the Messiah’s personal entourage expressed misgivings. The Rev. J.E. “Dimples” Iscariot, S.J., a media consultant, did not hide his regret. “A missed opportunity, I’m afraid. We in the Society of Judas traditionally enjoy a special relationship to the messiah, but we’ll find this choice very hard to explain to gays and lesbians—I mean, of course, to gomorrhaists and sodomitesses—as well as to the divorced and the marginalized. Why just the other day I saw 300 denarii, which might have been used to help find a cure for leprosy, squandered on wholly unnecessary ritual excesses.”
Fighting the spread of leprosy is a vexed issue among contemporary Palestinians. Most polls show Israelites widely ignore official teachings on ethical matters, preferring to follow their own conscience. Some see Jesus’ moral conservatism as a rigidity that leads to disfigurement and death in at-risk populations—and that may ultimately doom his movement to irrelevance.
“Yesterday’s unction was an opportunity missed,” insisted real-estate broker Sapphira Glass. “Today’s young professionals don’t find their own experience reflected in a one-size-fits-all morality that limits options and encodes patriarchal bias. I mean, sacrificing one’s newborns to Moloch is a tragic but often necessary choice, and many of us find the language of apostasy alienating and judgmental.” [NYT copyeditor’s note: Need some quote from supporter—J.L.]
“It all comes down to power,” countered maverick theologian Fr. Richard Maccabeus, retired professor of applied autology, who pointed out that the successful candidate had almost no pastoral experience. “What we’re seeing is a right-wing restorationist fantasy in its death throes. Intelligent Israelites aren’t buying. We want to be heard. We want someone who speaks not with authority but like us academics—I mean, of course, like the scribes and the pharisees. One can only call it a missed opportunity.”
The Procurator of Judea was unavailable for comment.
• The question is posed by Publisher’s Weekly as to why Catholics and other “liturgy-oriented Christians” (meaning Episcopalians and Lutherans) buy fewer religious books than do evangelicals. Among the answers offered: Evangelicals are more focused on the Word and words; reading is an individual activity and evangelicals are more religiously individualistic; and evangelicals, being entrepreneurial, hock their wares, also from the pulpit, more aggressively. Nobody suggests that Catholics read less or buy fewer books, only that their reading and buying is less focused on books specifically Catholic. Catholics buy novels or works of biography, history, and adventure—without, says one expert, considering whether a book is “church-approved or orthodox”—while evangelicals stick within “a more narrow canon of approved Christian books.” Who would have thought forty years ago that the nihil obstat and imprimatur largely dropped by Catholics would be picked up by evangelicals?
• You could hardly avoid running into John Allen during the momentous events of April in Rome, I am glad to say. He was all over the place, giving interviews, schmoozing in restaurants, and offering intelligent sound bites—as intelligent as sound bites can be—on television. He did have a bit of an embarrassment in that he had for months been explaining why Joseph Ratzinger would not be elected pope. With heroic self-discipline, I declined to gloat about my long-standing prediction that he would be elected the second day of the conclave. Truth to tell, my prediction was based, in significant part, on wishful thinking. But wishful thinking, too, is sometimes vindicated. Allen had another and most particular problem. Five years ago he published a hurried “biography” of Ratzinger that was, as I noted at the time, deeply biased. This could seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, his journalistic access during the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Allen is busily working on damage control. In his online “Word from Rome” column, he quotes from a speech he gave in June 2004: “My ‘conversion’ to dialogue originated in a sort of ‘bottoming out.’ It came with the publication of my biography of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued by Continuum in 2000 and subtitled ‘The Vatican’s Enforcer of the Faith.’ The first major review appeared in Commonweal, authored by . . . Fr. Joseph Komonchak. It was not, let me be candid, a positive review. Fr. Komonchak pointed out a number of shortcomings and a few errors, but the line that truly stung came when he accused me of ‘Manichean journalism.’ He meant that I was locked in a dualistic mentality in which Ratzinger was consistently wrong and his critics consistently right. I was initially crushed, then furious. I re-read the book with Fr. Komonchak’s criticism in mind, however, and reached the sobering conclusion that he was correct. The book—which I modestly believe is not without its merits—is nevertheless too often written in a ‘good guys and bad guys’ style that vilifies the cardinal. It took Fr. Komonchak pointing this out, publicly and bluntly, for me to ask myself, ‘Is this the kind of journalist I want to be?’ My answer was no, and I hope that in the years since I have come to appreciate more of those shades of gray that Fr. Komonchak rightly insists are always part of the story.” After the election of Benedict, the publisher, seeing the opportunity for big bucks, ordered a large reprinting of Allen’s anti-Ratzinger polemic, refusing him the opportunity to write a new and exculpatory preface. The publisher, Continuum, was even shameless enough to entitle the reissue Pope Benedict XVI, as though it were a new book. A deeply abashed John Allen promised a genuinely new book on Ratzinger-Benedict, also hurried but, he said, much more “mature and balanced,” which appeared on June 7 as The Rise of Benedict XVI. Warning: Do not buy the book written in 2000. Is John Allen an opportunist trying to salvage his reputation and access as a Vatican reporter? I am convinced that is not the case. (See my favorable review of his subsequent book, All the Pope’s Men, in December 2004.) Over these five years, Allen has, as they say, grown. I fully credit the change of mind—a change not unlike contrition—expressed in his speech. Some readers will not be able to overlook the fact that he is the Vatican reporter for the incorrigibly left-wing National Catholic Reporter, but at this point the paper needs him more than he needs the paper. John Allen is, quite simply, as good a Rome correspondent as we have in the English-speaking world, and I very much look forward to reading his new book on Joseph Ratzinger who, mirabile dictu, has become Benedict XVI.
• People who are poor and black are a drag on society. We would all be better off if there were fewer of them. Since we have, with little success, spent trillions of dollars over the past several decades trying to make poor blacks non-poor, it is time we recognize that there are more efficient means of eliminating the drag. Stated so bluntly, many readers might find that way of putting the matter morally problematic. The extermination of anti-social elements does, after all, have a somewhat controversial history. One thinks, perhaps inevitably, of the Holocaust, but it did not start or stop there. Six years ago, economist Steven Levitt and law professor John Donohue sparked a brouhaha with their claim that abortion is probably the greatest crime-prevention measure ever invented. Now that argument has received renewed currency in the bestselling book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Levitt and his co-author Stephen Dubner. In recent years there has been a 30-to 50-percent drop in crime, and many explanations are offered: new policing methods, more than two million people behind bars, the drop-off in the use of crack, and on and on. But a careful analysis of the data, say Levitt and company, indicates that the biggest factor, far and away, is that the millions of young men most likely to commit crimes were killed early on. A refreshing note of candor in the current discussion is that nobody is denying that all those fetuses killed in the womb were really human beings. So it seems the question of when human life begins has been settled once and for all. The dramatic decline in crime began eighteen years after Roe v. Wade, and a few years earlier in those states that liberalized their abortion law. Of course, most of the commentaries steer away from a too-explicit reference to race, although everybody is aware of the astonishingly inordinate incidence of crimes committed by young male blacks and the equally inordinate incidence of abortions procured by black women. In one interview, Levitt said his findings had little or nothing to do with race; his research on the correlation between crime and unstable family situations was based on Scandinavian research. Well yes, but nobody to my knowledge has suggested that the problem of crime in the United States is significantly related to the problem of Swedish immigration. Levitt, like Donohue, is also careful to say that he is not a supporter of the unlimited abortion license. I notice that many other commentators make a point of saying that this discussion is not about the rightness or wrongness of abortion. It just happens that killing black babies has the happy result of reducing crime. I do not question the research or logic of Levitt’s argument. If a specifiable group is inordinately responsible for a social problem, it follows that eliminating a large number of people belonging to that group will reduce the problem. It is hard to argue with that. What is morally odious is the cool and disinterested way in which the commentariat is discussing what might fairly be described as racial cleansing. It’s too bad about all those dead babies, but it is a kind of solution to the crime problem, if not a final solution. Meanwhile, those who style themselves black leaders, especially political leaders, are overwhelmingly in support of the unlimited abortion license, thus maintaining their distinction of being the only ethnic or racial leadership in history to actively collaborate in dramatically reducing the number of people they claim to lead. If they had been allowed to live, there would be about twenty million more blacks in America. White racists have reason to be grateful for what is sometimes still called the civil rights leadership. In another lifetime, before he succumbed to national ambitions, Jesse Jackson regularly declared that the war on poverty had been replaced by a war on the poor. There is more than a little to that. Having despaired of preparing young blacks to enter into the opportunities and responsibilities of American life, the society apparently decided to eliminate them before they had a chance to become a threat. The story of the Exodus plays a large and understandable part in black history: “Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him.’ But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” Today’s black leaders are more compliant, much to the satisfaction of those who think we would all be better off with fewer black people.
• It deserved more attention than it received, but the launching of Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation (JAACD) in April will, I believe, make a difference. The chief organizer and president is Don Feder, long time Boston Herald columnist and author of A Jewish Conservative Looks at Pagan America. “Pagan America,” he contends, is what some want but not what America is or should be. The premise of JAACD is that America is a Christian society and everybody would be better off if people in general, and Jews in particular, stopped fighting the fact. On the board are influential Jewish thinkers including First Things author Rabbi David Dalin, columnists Mona Charen, Barbara Ledeen, Michael Medved, and Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe, along with Herbert London of the Hudson Institute, comic Jackie Mason, Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Toward Tradition, the prolific scholar Rabbi Jacob Neusner, and activist David Horowitz. The minimal difference JAACD will make is that reporters will have a very different Jewish perspective to report in their search for “balance.” More important, the new organization will reinforce the growing awareness that ours is—albeit confusedly so—a Christian society that cannot be understood or justly governed without reference to a normative moral tradition that is inescapably Judeo-Christian.
• It seems doubtful America has learned much from the Fr. Reese fracas. A May 30 editorial comment notes that, when the magazine was established almost a century ago, Catholic intellectual life was stifled by a fear of what was called “Americanism,” and many were unjustly reported to Rome as heretics or as theologically suspect. In 1914 Pope Benedict XV lifted the cloud with an encyclical, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, which said: “As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline—in the absence of any authoritative intervention by the Apostolic See—there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion. But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity.” In the same issue, Fr. James J. DiGiacomo, writes in “Little Gray Cells” that his brain will not let him give assent to the Church’s teaching on women’s ordination, artificial birth control, and end-of-life care. These are all questions on which there has been “authoritative intervention by the Apostolic See” and on which dissent is clearly held to be harmful to faith and discipline. It is hard to read Fr. DiGiacomo’s essay without concluding that he has declared himself to be his own Magisterium. But it is on the matter of “serious breaches of charity” that the author most egregiously displays his inability to understand what is required in responsible discourse. “And there is a disturbing development going on in the seminaries and among the priests themselves,” he writes. “Many of the younger clergy find their identity in professing unquestioning assent to authority, and they explicitly differentiate themselves from those older priests who have failed to purge themselves of the disease of critical thinking.” In my experience, the younger clergy want to differentiate themselves from thoughtless priests who have gravely undermined Catholic teaching and discipline, with the result that popular catechesis is in shambles and those “little gray cells” have too often rationalized behavior, including sexual abuse, that has brought great shame upon the priesthood. Fr. DiGiacomo is not finished with his calumnies against younger and more orthodox priests and seminaries. “There have always been careerists and climbers among the clergy who were willing to stifle individuality for the sake of advancement, but now there is a rising generation of priests who are moved not just by ambition but by a disturbing collectivism that narrows options for service and styles of leadership.” And more: “At this moment in the life of the Church, those who refuse to close their eyes, turn off their minds, and settle for slack-jawed certainty are in for some bad times. They look more and more like blue staters in a red-state Church, as the true believers move into positions of power and influence and set out to silence the voices of reason.” In the event it escaped a slack-jawed reader’s notice, the author understands himself to be a voice of reason. Benedict XV again: But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity.
•” It appears that there are limits to the liberalization of biblical religion,” Mark Lilla of the University of Chicago writes in a New York Times book review. We are then treated to a sniffingly aristocratic caricature of demotic religion and its violations of religion’s proper place in a liberal order. “The leading thinkers of the British and American Enlightenments hoped that life in a modern democratic order would shift the focus of Christianity from a faith-based reality to a reality-based faith.” That’s a neat phrase, but substantively it is no more than a raw assertion of the magisterial authority of the author’s preferred thinkers, and a claim that what the Christians he has in mind think to be real is not. It carries all the philosophical weight of a registration of Mark Lilla’s opinion, or, perhaps more precisely, prejudices. He goes on to list the bad things such Christians are doing to our culture. “The fascination with the ‘end times,’ the belief in personal (and self-serving) miracles, the ignorance of basic science and history, the demonization of popular culture, the censoring of textbooks, the separatist instincts of the home-schooling movement—all these developments are far more worrying in the long term than the loss of a few Congressional seats.” Nobody should deny that there are a lot of nutty Christians, just as there are a lot of nutty professors at the University of Chicago and elsewhere. It is true that Christians believe the world will end in the coming of the Kingdom, and scientists, many of them Christians, are fascinated by the end of the world. Isn’t Mr. Lilla? I’m not sure what he means by ignorance of basic science and history. Most Americans—liberal, conservative, or whatever—are sadly ignorant on those scores. If he means the dispute over evolution, it is usually the Darwinian dogmatists who oppose free intellectual inquiry in the schools. I expect that Lilla knows that textbooks are censored more by the Left than by the Right, and the latter typically become “controversial” when they challenge the censorship of the former. As for miracles, they usually do benefit individuals and those they care about. Mr. Lilla wants miracles without benefits? More likely, I suppose, he doesn’t believe miracles happen. Or maybe he believes only in miracles that don’t benefit anybody. For what it’s worth, his opinion is noted. What else? Oh yes, “the separatist instincts of the home-schooling movement.” I doubt if Mr. Lilla knows much about that movement and how, as sociologist Christian Smith and others have shown, it provides a more diverse socialization than do public schools. The idea that the government should have a monopoly control over the education of children would have greatly surprised Mr. Lilla’s leading thinkers of the Enlightenment. Mr. Lilla concludes: “No one can know how long this dumbing-down of American religion will persist. But so long as it does, citizens should probably be more vigilant about policing the public square, not less so. . . . [Y]ou cannot sustain liberal democracy without cultivating liberal habits of mind among religious believers. That remains true today, both in Baghdad and in Baton Rouge.” That is a truly chilling passage. Of course, one is opposed to the dumbing-down of religion, as one opposes the dumbing down of our understanding of liberal democracy. As, for example, in the idea that citizens, meaning “we,” should police the views of those with whom we disagree, meaning “them.” Comparing the Christians whom he dislikes with militant Islamists is more worthy of a far-left blogsite such as MoveOn.org. It is worth taking note of Mr. Lilla’s illiberal screed because he is a member of the university’s Committee on Social Thought, which has in the past made many contributions to our national sanity. And because it is announced that he is planning for next year a book on theology and politics called The Stillborn God. One hopes there is still time for him to reexamine his prejudices, since we hardly need another book adding to our dumbed-down public discourse.
• Addressing the things that really matter for a great Catholic university, Fr. Robert A. Wild, S.J., president of Marquette University says, “We must remember that Marquette University is first and foremost an academic institution. We have great momentum resulting from the accomplishments of our students, faculty and alumni over the past several years. Just last week we received the largest single donation in university history with a gift of $28
million that will transform our College of Communication. For the third consecutive year, we celebrate the fact that students are applying to Marquette in record numbers. Marquette has risen in national academic rankings. The campus has undergone a physical transformation, and Marquette has enjoyed the most successful fund-raising period in its history, raising more than $30
0 million during the current comprehensive campaign. These are the true measures of a great university.” Marquette is a university “in the Jesuit tradition.”
• “So what are we to make of this apparent act of intercommunion?” asks Timothy P. Schelling in Commonweal. The question is prompted by the fact that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger communed Roger Schutz, the now elderly and perhaps non-Catholic founder of the Taizé community in France, at the requiem Mass for John Paul II. “Clearly,” Schelling continues, “it was no accident, yet it goes against church teaching. Just last year, the Vatican suspended a German priest, Gotthold Hasenhuttl, for presiding at an ecumenical Eucharistic service. Perhaps the new pope will shed some light on the subject.” I hate to spoil the fun of making mischief but, as it happens, the last pope shed a very clear light on the subject in his last encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (see “Getting Along at the Altar” in the October 2003 issue of First Things). In doing so, he was reaffirming what has been the Church’s teaching for ever so long. There are extraordinary pastoral circumstances in which it is permitted to commune non-Catholics. In addition, Roger Schutz and the Taizé community are very coy on the subject of whether he has been formally received into full communion. My hunch is that he has been. Most important, Schutz has been a close personal friend of two popes, and now of three, and I have no doubt they were in a good position to judge what are and are not extraordinary pastoral circumstances, if indeed this was extraordinary. There is no similarity whatever to the suspended priest who, in deliberate defiance of church teaching and a direct order from his superiors, handed out consecrated hosts as party favors to all comers. And so evaporates yet another of those difficult, complex, profoundly disturbing questions that, as Commonweal delights in complaining, the Church refuses to address.
• Lutheran pastor Richard O. Johnson writes in Forum Letter: “And then one might say also that the events surrounding John Paul’s death offer a vision of the church that is strikingly different from the rather jejune one usually set before us. A colleague rose before dawn to watch the papal funeral. Near the end, as the Eastern Rite bishops were censing the coffin, he found himself weeping. ‘I’m crying,’ he explained to his son, ‘because of what the church isn’t.’ On further reflection, he decided he was weeping because of what the church is, and because he is not, he believes, a part of it. ‘It rattled me to my bones,’ he wrote.” Johnson speaks of the mystery, faith, and obedience so evident during those weeks in Rome. “Those things may seem to be in short supply in our particular side chapel of the holy catholic church. Perhaps seeing them on display so clearly will embolden us to seek them more earnestly in our parishes and our own hearts.”
• It’s true that we have Frank Rich at the New York Times, but for sheer exuberance in unalloyed venom, we are way behind the Brits. Writing on John Paul’s funeral, Polly Toynbee of the Guardian says the pope was responsible for the killing of millions of poor people by his opposition to contraception and abortion. “He was a good, caring man nevertheless, they say, as if it were a minor aberration. But genuflecting before this corpse is scarcely different to parading past Lenin: They both put extreme ideology before human life and happiness, at unimaginable human cost. How dare our prime minister go there in our name to give the Vatican our approval for this?” Ms. Toynbee continues: “Today’s saccharine sanctimony will try to whiten the sepulcher of yet another pope whose obscurantist faith has caused pointless suffering; it is no defense that he was only obeying higher orders.” If there are orders from on high, we are given to understand, all the worse for God. She noted at the funeral the presence of “mullahs, rabbis, and all the other medieval faiths that increasingly conspire together against modernity.” “What is it about religion that unites them all on sex? It always expresses itself as disgust for women’s bodies, leading to a need to suppress women altogether. Why is controlling women’s bodies the shared battle flag of every faith?” But even the splenetically unhinged can stumble across a point worth considering. Ms. Toynbee writes, “The millions pouring into Rome (pray there is no Mecca-style disaster) herald no resurgence of Catholicism. The devout are there, but this is essentially a Diana moment, a Queen Mother’s catafalque. People queue to join great public spectacles, hoping it’s a tell-my-grandchildren event. Communing with public emotion is easy now that travel is cheap. These things are driven by rolling, unctuous television telling people a great event is unfolding, focusing on the few hysterics in tears and not the many who come to feel their pain.” There is no reason to dispute the claim that for some the funeral may have been a “Princess Diana moment.” That was not, however, the perception of those of us who were there or, I expect, the countless millions who watched on television. This was a vibrant moment of faith-filled grief and gratitude, especially the gratitude of the young. And, even if some did come for the spectacle, they were encountered by the gospel at the intersection of death and resurrection hope. Less important than what they came for is what they found. It is said that those weeks in April witnessed the most intense and sustained worldwide proclamation of the gospel in history. I am leery of superlatives but am not inclined to argue with that. If it is true, it can only magnify the anger of Ms. Toynbee and her like until one day, please God, they weary of raging against the light.
• I commented elsewhere on the “tawdry” nature of Prince Charles’ longstanding affair with, and subsequent marriage to, Camilla Parker Bowles, now styled the Duchess of Cornwall. I also had in mind the prospect of his becoming the next head of the Church of England. The comment elicited a number of responses, and I was especially struck by the observation of one well-informed Anglican that I was possibly making a number of unwarranted assumptions. First, he said, it is by no means certain that Charles will ascend to the throne. The possibility of skipping a generation in the succession is, I am assured, not just tabloid speculation. Second, the Anglican communion seems to be in the process of splitting and, if that happens, it is likely that the Church of England will split as well. If that happens, it would accelerate the move toward the formal disestablishment of the Church of England, a move favored by the Labour Party and by evangelicals in the church, as well as by the current archbishop of Canterbury who “favors it in the same passive way he favors same-sex unions,” a major issue in the division now underway. So there may be much more afoot than my original comment suggested. I think I will stay with “tawdry,” however.
• Sorry for the interruption, that was another reporter wanting to know what Pope Benedict really thinks. They of a fervently investigative bent say it is hard to figure out what he believes and therefore what we might expect from him. On the day that this is being written, nine of the top sixty-nine books on the Amazon bestseller list are by Joseph Ratzinger (another is by John Paul II). They include everything from discussions of the Trinity, the reform of the liturgy, and the conflicting interpretations of Vatican II to his early and engaging Introduction to Christianity. To get a sense of the man and his perspective on both himself and the state of the Church, one might begin with Salt of the Earth. Excuse me, there is another reporter on the line. I suppose it would be impolite to suggest that reading what a person has written is a really great way to find out what he thinks.
• Recommended reading is Peter Boyer’s article “A Hard Faith” in the May 16 issue of the New Yorker. It is a thoughtful, well-researched, and finely written report on the “ascendance of orthodoxy” in American Catholicism. Perhaps most importantly, it describes the ways in which the pontificate of John Paul the Great took back the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council for the cause of authentic renewal in the continuity of tradition. Boyer provides bracing vignettes of young people, including monks and seminarians, who are discovering the high adventure of living the faith in its fullness. There is also a poignant depiction of such as Fathers Richard McBrien and Charles Curran, alternatively grumbling and raging in the ruins of their revolution that was not to be. Especially compelling is the account of Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, who is a leader among bishops championing a vibrant orthodoxy in accord with both the letter and spirit of the Council. There is an element of sweet justice in this article’s appearing in the New Yorker where, forty years ago, Father Francis X. Murphy (writing under the pseudonym of “Xavier Rynne”) launched the simplistic misreading of the Council as a victory of liberals (good guys) over bad guys (conservatives). “A Hard Faith” is very much worth reading. Send copies to friends and maybe to your bishop, particularly if he is still trapped in the “progressive” status quo. Boyer is not a Catholic but he understands as relatively few Catholics do the dynamics of what went wrong following the Council, and why the future promises to be very different.
• Poor Robert Blair Kaiser lives in Rome and couldn’t get any sleep. Kaiser, who wrote for Newsweek and other publications, was over many years among the most strident of progressive critics of John Paul the Great. The subject line of his email is, “Why the river of people flowing past my windows in Rome?” He writes, “They didn’t queue up like this for the funeral of John XXIII (I was there), and he was more lovable than JPII. What’s happening here????” Well he might ask.
• In the 1950s, schoolchildren were instructed about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Much as NARAL Pro-Choice America is mass mailing a brochure, “Emergency Instructions for a Supreme Court Retirement.” The idea is not to duck under your desk but to mount any podium to demand that any anti-Roe nominee be “borked,” which is to say, politically nuked. NARAL and its allies have good reason to be alarmed. A new Harris Poll announces: “Only a Small Majority Still Supports Roe v. Wade and Opposition is at its highest in 20 Years.” Good news for the good guys, you might think, and it is. In fact, it is much better news than Harris suggests. The key question asked by Harris says not once but three times that the Supreme Court decision of 1973 makes abortion legal “up to three months of pregnancy.” That, of course, is a lie. Roe declared an unlimited abortion license, including, in the Court’s interpretation, the right to kill a baby as it is almost entirely out of the birth canal (partial-birth abortion). In addition, Harris says it telephoned 1,012 adults, of whom 442 identified themselves as pro-life and 512 as pro-choice. Might not that skew the findings seven percent in the pro-choice direction? Most striking, however, is another question asked: “In general, do you think that abortion should be legal or illegal during the following stages of pregnancy?” The choices are “the first three months,” the “second three months,” and “the third three months.” Seventy-two percent say abortion should be illegal in the second trimester and 86 percent say it should be illegal in the third trimester. Try squaring that with “Only a Small Majority Still Supports Roe v. Wade.” There is also a new Zogby poll that asks if abortion should be legal after the unborn child’s heart has begun to beat. Sixty-one percent say no. (Heartbeat can be detected twenty-two days after conception.) After fetal brainwaves can be detected? Sixty-five percent say no. (Brainwaves are detectable at forty days.) Not without reason is a terrified NARAL mass mailing brochures with “Emergency Instructions for a Supreme Court Retirement.”
• The very positive reviews of The Cube and the Cathedral, George Weigel’s new book, are, I believe, richly deserved (Basic Books, 202 pages,, $23
). The book is a greatly expanded version of Weigel’s essay, “Europe’s Problem—and Ours” (FT February 2004). The “cube” in the title is La Grande Arche de la Défense in Paris, and the “cathedral” is Notre Dame, which, it is said, can fit into the Arche, much as Christianity has disappeared from the sight of most western Europeans. Europe is dying, and the root cause (for those fond of that phrase) is its abandonment of Christian faith. The rise of atheistic humanism in the nineteenth century and, along with it, a militant secularism, explain such things as the European Union’s inability to even acknowledge its Christian heritage in its cumbersomely contrived, and now rejected, constitution. The demographic death of Europe is particularly striking, and we have paid frequent attention to that in these pages. America’s declining birth rate is worrying, and would be much more worrying without Hispanic immigration, but Europe’s decline is catastrophic, and is compounded by the surging Muslim population. A sociologist friend tells me, “Weigel is wrong to say you can’t have a decent society without religion. European societies—Germany, France, Scandinavia—are decent in many ways. They may be flatulent and decadent, but they are not barbarous.” My friend also discounts the religion factor in the demographic crisis. “The big factor here,” he says, “is affluence, not the absence of religion. Children are very expensive, and they are viewed as an accessory rather than as an asset.” Yes but, one may suggest that viewing children as an accessory rather than in terms of gift and duty is precisely a consequence of what Weigel calls “metaphysical boredom.” Couples are consumers of time and opportunity, not participants in a history for which they bear responsibility. People think of themselves as the last generation, and live as they think. One is reminded of P.D. James’ chilling novel The Children of Men, which begins with the line, “Early this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl.” Living without hope has consequences. “In the long run, we’re all dead,” observed John Maynard Keynes in the world-weariness of his sterile sexual proclivities. Having children is an act of hope, which is faith disposed toward the future. Without an anticipated future, there are no children; without children there is no future to anticipate. Affluence is, I expect, less the reason for no children than it is the attempted substitute for children, which is to say the attempted substitute for hope. With respect for my sociological friend, I’m on Weigel’s side on this one.
• He agrees with all the conservative Christians who rallied to the defense of Terri Schiavo, but Ramesh Ponnuru is uneasy about some of the arguments made. Writing in National Review, he says, “During Terri Schiavo’s last days, we heard, perhaps, too much about God, and not enough about justice. I say this not because I think that religious arguments about public policy are somehow inadmissible, or for that matter because I doubt that God wanted us not to kill Mrs. Schiavo. But this conviction of mine derives from my prior conviction that God wants us to do justice to one another. (Kant: ‘Suicide is not abominable because God forbids it; God forbids it because it is abominable.’) To say that God wanted us to save Mrs. Schiavo from starvation, without explaining why justice required us to save her, was conclusory.” By “conclusory,” he apparently means it allowed opponents to exploit false conclusions. Opponents contended that the nation is threatened by theocrats, and that those theocrats are either hypocrites or confused because, if they really believed in heaven, they would have wanted Mrs. Schiavo to get there as expeditiously as possible. But it is Ponnuru’s concluding observation that is worth remembering: “People die every day, and people get killed every day. The Schiavo case was a tragedy not because the government failed to stop it from happening, but because it directed it to happen—with the apparent support of most Americans. The danger is not that the slope is slippery, but that we have already slid too far down it.”
• With the episcopal graciousness to which he has accustomed us, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, writes in his diocesan newspaper: “On the evening of his election as successor to Pope John Paul II, a certain television network was veritably ‘crowing’ about his election and how it will signal the end of lots of things in the Catholic Church which they did not like. That network and like-minded members of the church are probably in for the greatest disappointment in Benedict’s papacy.” Oh dear. I suppose he might mean George Weigel and Fr. Thomas Williams on NBC, but then “that network” does not generally have a point of view that the bishop so dislikes. So I suppose he must mean EWTN and the coverage by Raymond Arroyo and your scribe. I really don’t think we crowed upon the election of Pope Benedict. The formal declaration from the loggia of St. Peter’s was Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus papam—”I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope.” Accordingly, Raymond and I greatly rejoiced. I would like to think that Bishop Lynch was rejoicing as well. And I am rather confident that he will be disappointed in his somewhat unseemly hope that those who have long admired Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, will be disappointed with his leadership.
• There are thousands of young girls—some reports say a million or more—trapped in the slave trade of prostitution. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act aims to do something about that, but Charles Colson says the “unmentionable topic” in military circles is that the United States is deeply complicit in the trade. A T-shirt in Thailand reads, “Good boys go to heaven. Bad boys to Pattaya.” That’s an American rest-and-recreation center infamous for prostitution, and specializing in young girls. Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times has been writing about the sexual slave trade. During the Clinton years, a reason given for not cracking down on this sordid business was that the women were acting “voluntarily,” and it was a means for marrying American men. Kristoff counters that “while many of the bar girls hope that they’ll [marry], that’s certainly not the typical result. A lot of them end up, if not with AIDS, then suffering from TB, drug addictions, and various STDs, with no savings, dying alone.” Colson comments: “That some in our military contribute to this is heartbreaking—and shameful. We must go after the traffickers, but we can also target the demand for prostitutes. In this case, we can insist that the military change its culture. And that change is in the military’s best interest. Prostitution is bad for morale: It destroys the moral authority of chaplains, officers, and senior enlisted men; and it makes deployments for married men all the more dangerous.” It is true that, from time immemorial, armies have always been attended by camp followers. And it is true, as Thomas Aquinas and other worthies have taught, that the common good cannot bear the legal prohibition of every vice. But Colson is speaking of a military culture that encourages and exploits lethal vice. He quotes a former navy officer who says, “There is something incongruous about ambassadors from the world’s greatest democracy capitalizing on the economic desperation of girls in the developing world.” Resourceful readers may come up with a word stronger than incongruous.
• A Washington Post story on the election of Benedict XVI said, “He then received the ‘fisherman’s ring,’ which is also his seal of office and symbol of authority. It bore an image of Saint Peter, a fisherman and founder of the Roman Catholic Church.” A little over a week later a correction appeared: “A Washington Post article about Pope Benedict XVI said that St. Peter was the founder of the Roman Catholic Church. According to the church, Jesus was the founder.” I’m glad they got that one straightened out.
• Christopher Hitchens, that fearless speaker of truth to power, was the first to do a hatchet job on Mother Teresa. The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice was given a big play in Free Inquiry, the magazine of the Council for Secular Humanism. The same publication is now excited about another book making the same point, Mother Teresa, the Final Verdict, by an Indian doctor, Aroup Chatterjee. Like Hitchens, he thinks he has got the goods on Mother Teresa and her Missionary Sisters of Charity, gleefully pointing out that they don’t, as they should, run hospitals and schools. They are really interested in saving souls! And, if you can believe it, Mother Teresa “openly acknowledged” this vile truth. The author quotes her saying, “We are not nurses, we are not doctors, we are not teachers, we are not social workers. We are religious, we are religious, we are religious.” There you have it from her own mouth. She is found guilty of religion, and of Catholicism at that. The reviewer urges that those concerned about the poor send their money to organizations involved in “more worthwhile activities.” What would we do without brave mythbusters like Christopher Hitchens and the Council for Secular Humanism? I’m thinking about it.
• Here it is at last: “Statement on the President’s FY ‘06 budget by the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, USA.” Bishop Griswold, despite the many arduous burdens of his office, presumably took time to work through the tens of thousands of pages of the federal budget and did so with three questions in mind: “Is the budget compassionate?” and “Does the budget strive to serve the human family, both at home and around the world?” and “Does the budget serve the common good?” Bishop Griswold’s conclusion: “While there are some areas in President Bush’s budget that give me hope, I am deeply disheartened by others.” The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, USA, is deeply disheartened. Attention must be paid.
• “God is Neither a Republican nor a Democrat.” For some reason, that slogan, variously phrased and appearing on bumper stickers and graduation caps, is taken to be a protest against the Bush administration. James Nuechterlein, senior fellow at this institute, thinks it cuts in all directions. Reviewing Jim Wallis’ best-selling God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, he says of the author’s policy proposals: “A moment’s perusal of this litany of ‘religious issues,’ each of them framed in a similarly tendentious manner and accompanied by presumably appropriate biblical citations, would persuade any half-aware voter that God is most certainly not a Republican and that, while He might not be a registered Democrat, that is definitely the way He would be voting this time around. In treating the Bible as a textbook in political economy, Wallis is strikingly unaware of how he mirrors his opponents on the religious Right, whose propensities in this regard he equals if he does not exceed. In almost every case, he knows with blessed assurance what God requires. ‘A budget based on a windfall of benefits for the wealthy and harsh cuts for poor families and children is,’ he proclaims, ‘an unbiblical budget.’ With similar confidence he asks, in righteous indignation, when it was that Jesus became ‘pro-war and pro-rich’? Nor is it only Jesus to whom Wallis makes biblical appeal for validation of his politics. We are informed, in extended detail, of what the prophet Amos would make of the Enron scandal, of the prophet Micah’s ‘vision’ of national and global security, and Isaiah’s ‘platform’ for properly biblical federal budgets. At one remarkable point, Wallis contrasts Micah’s plan for world peace with that of Donald Rumsfeld; Rumsfeld does not come off well.” Nuechterlein thinks the Democrats may be unwise in taking Mr. Wallis as their guide in the quest, or declared quest, to get religion: “His modestly revised social gospel may serve some of the party’s purposes, but his habit of wrapping politics in religion is the very inclination that liberal Democrats so fervently denounce in others. And for a party already suspected of fecklessness on issues of foreign policy and national security, it would hardly seem prudent to select as its moral paladin a man who makes George McGovern look like a hard-liner.”
• I see that President Bush gave Calvin College in Grand Rapids some unwonted (and maybe unwanted) public attention. He accepted the college’s invitation to give the commencement address, and a hundred faculty took advantage of the occasion to register their disagreement with him and his policies. They published a letter declaring, “We seek open and honest dialogue about the Christian faith and how it is best expressed in the political sphere. . . . [W]e understand that no single political position should be identified with God’s will, and we are conscious that this applies to our own views as well as those of others.” The smarminess of that statement is reflected in the form of the faculty protest. The letter includes four paragraphs, each beginning with the phrase “As Christians we are called” and continuing with “We believe,” followed by specifications of how the policies of the Bush administration allegedly violate the course to which Christians are called. In each of the four paragraphs (offering the usual left-of-center litany of Democratic complaints against the administration), the signers are saying that Bush is failing to act as a Christian should. What a Christian should do, readers might be excused for thinking, is rightly “identified with God’s will.” The form of the protest amounts to this: “It is God’s will that we not do evil. We believe your administration is doing evil.” The signers say, for example, “We believe your administration has launched an unjust and unjustified war in Iraq.” Since God calls us “to be peacemakers and to initiate war only as a last resort,” it follows that they believe Bush has acted contrary to God’s will. At the end of the letter, they ask the president “to reexamine your policies in light of our God-given duty,” etc. They do not say anything about reexamining their own preferred policies. And then there is the simple bad manners of insulting an invited guest of the college. Said Dale Van Kley, who taught history at Calvin, “I can see that the Bush administration is gaining capital from this appearance, but I don’t see what it does for Calvin.” Presumably the president of the United States couldn’t get a platform elsewhere and so was exploiting the national prominence of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The thought occurred to me that the faculty protest was cooked up by the public-relations department of the college in order to get the school some attention, but then I realized that, “as Christians,” they would never do anything like that.
: Thinking with the Church, Commonweal, May 20, New York Times, May 6, Andrew Sullivan, May 7. Unfurling the Flag of Faith, New York Sun, May 4. Krauthammer’s certainty, Time Magazine, June 6. Evangelical book buying, Publisher’s Weekly, May 30. Bush at Calvin College, news clippings, May 21. Religion and liberalism according to Mark Lilla, New York Times Book Review, May 15. Wild comments from Marquette news office, May 13. Intercommunion, Commonweal, May 6. Lutheran Richard O. Johnson, Forum Letter, May. Polly Toynbee unhinged, The Guardian, April 8. Ramesh Ponnuru on Terri Schiavo, National Review, April 25. Bishop Lynch’s optimism, The Florida Catholic, May 9. NARAL and abortion polls, Life Insight, a publication of the U.S. bishops conference. Colson on GI’s and prostitution, BreakPoint, February 18. Washington Post learns of Jesus, Washington Post, May 4 correction. Against Mother Teresa, Free Inquiry, October/November 2004. James Nuechterlein reviews Jim Wallis, Commentary, June.