The Public Square
During those younger years as the pastor of a poor, black, inner-city parish in Brooklyn, including the years of working with Martin Luther King, Jr., I was an unapologetic romantic about the critical, even redemptive, part that blacks were to play in the unfolding of the American drama. Many of us were. The subsequent years have been hard on Dr. King’s dream. True, most black Americans are better off in most ways of calculating better off. But my version of the dream was attuned to the poor, and especially those concentrated in the hard core of the inner city.
After Hurricane Katrina, there was much chatter about the “rediscovery of the poor.” It was almost all nonsense, and I fiercely wish that were not so. By the 1980s it had become widely recognized that there were the poor, and then there were the poor. The first had low incomes, but they also had jobs at which they worked regularly; they reared their children; the children went to school and learned; and their families were on their way to becoming non-poor. Then there were the poor who were called the underclass, especially the urban underclass. The underclass is not solely black but it is mainly black, and by a very wide margin.
We haven’t heard much talk about the underclass in recent years. That is not because they have gone away. Far from it, although many of them have been put away in prison. The reason we do not hear about the underclass is that they have become forgettable: confined and contained.
We who live on the right side of the tracks, so to speak, have successfully shielded ourselves from them. It is a domestic version of the Cold War’s “containment” policy. Some years ago there was worried discussion about the privileged who live in “gated communities.” Ours is now a gated society. The gates are open to those who play by the rules, but tightly shut against the threatening underclass.
It is almost inconceivable today that we would have the kind of urban riots that were a major feature of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Black radicals threatened to burn down the cities and succeeded in wrecking the neighborhoods where they lived.
White flight accelerated, leaving city centers abandoned and rotting. “Black Power” succeeded to the extent that blacks were left in charge of the ruins. Detroit, while it is the premier example, is far from alone. New York bought off or otherwise co-opted black leaders, who were recruited to keep the underclass in its place. Al Sharpton and a few other court jesters who dance a mean radical shuffle are kept around to remind taxpayers why the pay-offs are a good investment.
The underclass is a minority of a minority. It is defined by a pattern of not playing by the most elementary of the rules. For instance, holding a job, or at least wanting to get a job. For instance, staying in school, at least through eighth grade, or maybe even getting a high school diploma they can read. For another instance, by men not having babies by multiple women whom they decline to support. For a very big for instance, by not engaging in criminal activity.
Social scientist Charles Murray has recently pulled together some of the latest data on the underclass. It makes for grim reading. In the last few years, there has been good news about declining crime rates. One reason is that so much of the underclass is in prison or under correctional supervision. Since Ronald Reagan took office, the number of Americans in various forms of supervision by the criminal justice system has increased by 300 percent. As Murray puts it, “Crime has dropped, but criminality has continued to rise.”
The general sense is that these are better times, at least for those who live in enclaves secured against the underclass. The criminals are left to prey on their hapless neighbors, if they are not locked up. Consider the ratio of prisoners to the number of crimes committed. If the ratio was the same as it was when Ronald Reagan took office, we would today have a prison population of 490,000. In fact, the current prison population is over two million. Imagine what the crime rate would be if tomorrow we released 1.6 million prisoners. That is what is meant by declining crime but increasing criminality.
The underclass is unsocialized. They have dropped out of society and its expectations. Criminal activity is actively anti-social; not working is declining to participate. In 1954, when such figures were first gathered, nine percent of young black men, ages twenty to twenty-four, were not working and not looking for work. In 1999, when businesses were desperately seeking workers for every job level, the figure was 30 percent. And, of course, that does not include all the young men in jail.
Almost everybody who has been paying attention agrees that the big change is in the number of young males who grow up without fathers. This is now an intergenerational phenomenon. It was the harsh reality I witnessed years ago in Brooklyn. Not only boys who did not know what it means to have a father but boys who did not know what it means to be a father. They did not know any men who accepted open-ended responsibility for their children. These boys did not expect to be, and almost nobody expected them to be, fathers to their children.
Today, 35 percent of all children born in America are born to women who are not married. The black illegitimacy rate, as of 2003, is 68 percent. There are large black churches in our cities that have not had a wedding in years. Consider that, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan caused a great ruckus by announcing the breakdown of the black family forty years ago, the black illegitimacy rate was 24 percent. It is not true that illegitimacy has risen precipitously throughout the population. It is heavily concentrated in low-income groups, and especially among blacks. We hear good news about falling teenage births. That is balanced by the fact that blacks have many more abortions. The critical factor with respect to the underclass is the proportion of children born and raised without fathers. “That proportion,” Murray writes, “is the indicator that predicts the size of the underclass in the next generation.”
With the “rediscovery of poverty” after Katrina, all kinds of government programs are being proposed and massively funded. They have all been tried before. They have failed before, in largest part because they are premised upon the assumption that the problem is poverty and not the underclass. As Murray writes, “Poor people who are not part of the underclass seldom need help to get out of poverty . . . . The statistical reality is that people who get into the American job market and stay there seldom remain poor unless they do something self-destructive. And behaving self-destructively is the hallmark of the underclass.”
Some may think Murray’s conclusion is excessively stark, or even cynical. He writes: “Hurricane Katrina temporarily blew away the screens that we have erected to keep the underclass out of sight and out of mind. We are now to be treated to a flurry of government efforts from politicians who are shocked, shocked, by what they saw. What comes next is depressingly predictable. Five years from now, the official evaluation will report that there were no statistically significant differences between the subsequent lives of people who got the government help and the lives of people in a control group. Newspapers will not carry that story, because no one will be interested any longer. No one will be interested because we will have long since replaced the screens, and long since forgotten.”
Refusing to Give Up
It is not true that no one will be interested. It probably is true that most Americans, including many working-class and middle-class blacks, will not be interested. As long as they don’t pose a threat to the rest of us, the underclass illegitimacy rate could climb to 95 percent and there could be three million or more in prison without prompting any sense of national crisis. The great majority of Americans, I expect, are weary of hearing about the plight of blacks and probably welcome the fact that the largest minority is now Hispanic, which dramatically changes the discussion of “minority rights” and is devoid of lingering feelings of guilt about slavery and all that. Among Hispanics there is not an underclass comparable in scale or intergenerational obstinacy.
Yet there are many who have not given up on the underclass. There are churches and church-related social programs that do the hard, slogging, day-by-day work of helping young people put their lives together and keep them together. There are occasionally black leaders from the religious, entertainment, and sports worlds who risk being called Uncle Toms by trying to persuade young people that it is not cool to cultivate a dress and demeanor that makes you unemployable, to sexually exploit women, or to accuse those who want to learn of “acting white.” And there are mothers beyond numbering who, with no help from a man, strive valiantly to set their children on the way out from the underclass.
As for public policy, a strong case can be made that the greatest single injustice perpetrated upon the urban poor is the captivity of their children in thoroughly rotten government-run school systems. There are heartening signs that the movement for parental choice in education is picking up steam. We have addressed this question again and again. John Coons’ essay “School Choice as Simple Justice,” in the April 1992 issue of First Things, remains one of the most trenchant briefs for something that can be done and would make a real difference, also for the underclass. Across the country, there are today promising experiments with educational vouchers and charter schools. In many places, experiments have turned into demonstrations of effectiveness, hastening the day when educational freedom will be a reality for all Americans.
Affluent Americans generally choose their schools by choosing where to live. That is not an option for the poor. Obviously, educational choice will not resolve all the problems of the underclass. But it is something that government could do, and that it is reasonable to believe would effect major change over time. It is something that merits the support of people who know that it is not morally tolerable to ignore the millions of fellow-citizens who we so successfully keep on the other side of the gates.
A while back, Bob Herbert of the New York Times surprised his readers with a column devoted to the state of black America. “We can pretend that these terrible things are not happening, but they are. There’s a crisis in the black community, and it won’t do to place all of the blame on society and government.” I say the column was a surprise because over the years Mr. Herbert has, with sometimes tedious repetition, tended to place all, or almost all, the blame on society and government. I don’t know what changed his mind. Perhaps he read the above data pulled together by Charles Murray. In any event, the change is most welcome.
He writes, “The problems facing black people today are comparable in magnitude to those of the Jim Crow era of the twentieth century. There were leaders in those days who were equal to the challenge. I believe that nothing short of a new movement, comparable in scope and dedication to that of the civil rights era, is required to bring about the changes in values and behavior needed to halt the self-destruction that is consuming so many black lives. The crucial question is whether the leadership exists to mount such an effort . . . . Despite the sometimes valiant efforts of individuals and organizations across the country, we are not meeting that obligation now. And that’s because there’s a vacuum where our leadership should be.”
Bob Herbert’s bold indictment and call for leadership took considerable courage. We must hope that he does not retreat under the withering criticism that is sure to come. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Glenn Loury of Boston University was in the forefront of calling for a very different black leadership. In October 1992 he wrote “Two Paths to Black Power” for First Things, recommending the model of W.E.B. DuBois over that of Booker T. Washington:
It is time to recognize that further progress toward the attainment of equality for black Americans, broadly and correctly understood, depends most crucially at this juncture on the acknowledgment and rectification of the dysfunctional behaviors which plague black communities, and which so offend and threaten others. Recognize this, and much else will follow. It is more important to address this matter effectively than it is to agitate for additional rights. Indeed, success in such agitation has become contingent upon effective reform efforts mounted from within the black community . . . .
The key point is that progress such as this must be earned, it cannot be demanded. When the effect of past oppression is to leave a people in a diminished state, the attainment of true equality with the former oppressor cannot depend on his generosity, but must ultimately derive from an elevation of their selves above the state of diminishment. It is of no moment that historic wrongs may have caused current deprivation, for justice is not the issue here. The issues are dignity, respect, and self-respect—all of which are preconditions for true equality between any peoples. The classic interplay between the aggrieved black and the guilty white, in which the former demands and the latter conveys recognition of historic injustice, is not an exchange among equals. Neither, one suspects, is it a stable exchange. Eventually it may shade into something else, something less noble—into patronage, into a situation where the guilty one comes to have contempt for the claimant, and the claimant comes to feel shame, and its natural accompaniment, rage, at his impotence.
Ten years later, Loury published The Anatomy of Racial Inequality in which he seemed to have reverted to blaming society for the plight of blacks in America. In our May 2002 issue he was taken to task by J.L.A. Garcia and John McWhorter for having retreated to the conventional wisdom of the black establishment. Loury responded to the criticism by saying his new book was addressed to a different audience, one that is mainly white. I confess that I, along with Garcia, McWhorter, and others, did not find the explanation entirely convincing.
There are a few black thinkers (Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams come most prominently to mind) who have, year in and year out, insisted that the healing of the black community—and, most particularly, of the black underclass—is primarily the responsibility of blacks. Those who still claim the antiquated title of “civil rights leaders” have excoriated them without mercy. They are “Uncle Toms,” “Oreos,” and, most devastatingly, “conservatives.” From time to time a prominent black such as comedian Bill Cosby will say what Loury once said and Herbert is now saying. But such courageous eruptions of honesty have in the past been episodic, being quickly smothered by the now weary and wearying rhetoric about the evils of our racist society. Perhaps now, at long last, and after the wasting of lives beyond numbering, there will emerge the leadership for which Bob Herbert, along with too few others, is calling.
An issue that is fast heating up and requires discerning moral judgment, although it will more likely elicit clashing moralisms, is that of immigration policy. A while back, I discussed in some detail Samuel Huntington’s important book, Who Are We? (August/September 2004). On the pro-immigration side of the argument, Huntington is depicted as a nativist, which is unfair. He is alarmed about the huge and growing wave of immigrants from Latin America, chiefly Mexico, that is, he persuasively argues, unprecedented in both size and character. The title question of his book is a question that any people has to ask if they are to sustain their identity as a people. The alternative is to abandon any idea of what it means to be an American. As I wrote earlier, I am not convinced by Huntington’s argument, but it is an argument that needs to be engaged if we are to be prepared for the storm of controversy about to burst upon us.
President Bush has repeatedly said that political capital is there to be spent. With the deep disagreements over his policy in the Middle East, and with apparent failure in other initiatives, such as Social Security reform, some may think he has little capital left. But what he has he is now apparently prepared to spend in tackling immigration reform. While the details will have to be worked out by Congress, the president’s proposal has three parts: securing the borders, ensuring sufficient immigration to sustain the economy, and making it easier for immigrants to become citizens.
The proposal throws into confusion the usual liberal/conservative alignments. For the playing out of this reform, new scorecards will be required to identify the players. The first part of the game, securing the borders, is widely popular. It does not seem to be a top priority issue with most Americans, but there is a commonsensical assumption that a nation worthy of the name should be able to control who is and who is not admitted. That assumption does not go undisputed. While it does not come right out and say so, the Wall Street Journal would seem to favor the abolition of national borders altogether. Many Catholic bishops share that view, although it is not the public position of the bishops conference.
There are politicians who believe that tough talk about securing the borders (not meaning the border with Canada, you may be sure) will pay off on election day. That is perhaps why President Bush kicked off his reform campaign last December with the stern assurance, “We are going to protect the border.” He announced that during his time in office there had been a 60 percent increase in spending on securing the border and an addition of thousands of new border guards, with 4.5 million illegal immigrants caught and returned home.
“Send Them Back”
But, of course, there are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. Not long ago I was speaking at a convention in the Southwest. The person sitting next to me at dinner was trying to persuade me that we should “send them back.” I asked him to look around the ballroom where about a thousand people were being served by hundreds of waiters and busboys, all of them, so far as I could see, Latino, and probably a large percentage of them here illegally. The same immigrant preponderance would likely obtain among the kitchen workers, the truck drivers who delivered the food, and those who had gathered and prepared it for shipping. My tablemate was unmoved.
Here in New York, in my daily walk to Immaculate Conception and to this magazine’s office, I pass dozens of businesses, along with construction sites, hospitals, and nannies caring for children, all reflecting the city’s dependence upon Hispanic immigration. They are here because immigrants are, as the president says, doing the work that Americans don’t want to do. To which some, including much of organized labor, say that, if so many immigrants weren’t here, Americans would do the same work, at higher wages and with benefits. I rather doubt it. In times of prosperity, such as the present, unemployment among American citizens is practically non-existent. (The official and very low unemployment figure includes a majority of people who are voluntarily between jobs or simply taking time off from work.) Very few Americans are lining up to wash dishes, mop floors, or deliver pizza. The economy and everyday life of New York and other cities would grind to a near halt in the absence of Hispanic immigrants. Not to mention what would happen to the vast agricultural enterprises of California and other states.
It is hard to argue with Andrew Ferguson, who writes: “Restricting that flow of willing workers would cause an economic calamity that no federal official will seriously contemplate. Nor would anyone in a position of responsibility pretend it is plausible to round up the 11 million illegal immigrants who are already in the U.S., ship them back to their homelands and then seal the border against their otherwise inevitable return.”
The three parts of the Bush proposal are to secure the border, establish something like a “guest worker” program, and then give those who participate in the program an easier way to become U.S. citizens, once they have completed the terms of the program and returned to their native country. Whatever the details worked out by Congress, opponents are likely to attack the proposal as a gussied-up “amnesty” for illegals. When the great majority of immigrants speak the same language, Spanish, we are inevitably on the way to becoming a bilingual society, critics say. They note, with considerable justice, that the history of societies divided by language and culture is not a happy one. They point out, in addition, that many immigrants, Mexicans in particular, do not want to be citizens. They are here only to take advantage of opportunities for work, along with social and educational benefits. They are, in effect, cross-border commuters. Other Mexicans make no secret of their aim to reconquer the vast territories stolen by the Yanqui imperialists.
True Faith and Allegiance
To prepare for the debate that is heating up, a helpful primer is True Faith and Allegiance: Immigration and American Civic Nationalism. The title of the book is, of course, from the oath of allegiance taken by new citizens, and the author is Noah Pickus, who teaches ethics and public policy at Duke University. The value of the book is not so much in the specific policies proposed—Pickus is careful, sometimes almost annoyingly careful, not to seem partisan—as in its providing a history of American immigration policies and a taxonomy of current positions on what should be done. With respect to the latter, it is something like the aforementioned scorecard.
“Civic nationalism” is the idea around which Pickus thinks most of us can rally. “It offers,” he says, “our best chance to incorporate immigrants, sustain a robust American nationalism, and foster a meaningful democratic form of citizenship.” Pickus does not blithely assume national myths, such as the notion that we are and always have been a “nation of immigrants.” He refers to Huntington only in passing, but Huntington’s presence is close at hand throughout the book. Huntington is withering in debunking the “nation of immigrants” myth, and Pickus knows that Huntington is right in contending that there is another way of thinking about what it means to be an American, and that that other way still has considerable salience.
John Jay, for instance, wrote in the second of the Federalist Papers: “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in manners and customs.” The venerable Benjamin Franklin was not at all happy with so many Germans and Dutch in Pennsylvania: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of [our] Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?”
That sounds today like raw nativism and chauvinism. A hero in the Pickus account is Theodore Roosevelt who, while welcoming immigrants, was adamant that they conform to the given American type. There was no room for “hyphenated Americans”—German-Americans, Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, et al. There is room only for those who are prepared to be Americans, period. After World War I, following decades of massive immigration, the nation was in a mood for a pause, just as today some urge that, after decades of even more massive immigration, we need a pause to assimilate people already here.
In the 1920s, the Americanization movement often turned virulently anti-immigration, and leading liberals joined in deploring a social experiment that had ended up with too many who were too different. In 1921, John Dewey said, “The simple fact of the case is that at present the world is not sufficiently civilized to permit close contact of people of widely different cultures without deplorable consequences.”
Today, says Pickus, the debate about immigration is largely about different ideas of what it means to be a citizen. There are, he says, four ideas of citizenship in contention: immigrant rights, minority representation, cultural nationalism, and universal nationalism. The first need not involve citizenship at all. It champions the rights of immigrants simply because they are here. The second involves citizenship only to the degree that it is necessary to participate in political and other activities aimed at building coalitions and advancing multicultural policies in order to achieve equal rights and representation for minorities. The third understands citizenship to be a matter of being deeply embedded in a culture that is identifiably American. The fourth—sometimes invoking the idea that America is the first “universal nation”—views citizenship as a matter more of consent than culture. One becomes a citizen by agreeing to abide by the American political “creed” as embodied in the ideals and institutions of the founding.
In contradiction to the first two ideas of citizenship, and in contrast to the second two, Pickus calls for “a new civic nationalism.” His approach is more irenic than polemical, and his proposed alternative therefore takes on the appearance at times of being a melange of conflicting ideas in play. “Today,” writes Pickus, “Americans face the difficult task of sustaining a civic nation in the absence of a dominant culture, ethnic identity, or consensus on the meaning of constitutional values. These absences make the challenge of forging unity out of diversity even more difficult than at the Founding or in the Progressive Era. Yet Americans possess something that was missing from those periods—a real history [quoting David Hollinger] ‘a record of specific tragedies, successes, failures, contradictions, and provincial conceits.’“
In sum, we are bound together by a history of muddling through and may reasonably hope that we can continue to muddle through. After all the discussion of history, principles, and diverse schools of thought, Pickus is inclined to expect more of the same. “It remains unclear, however, whether any fundamental changes will occur in U.S. policy regarding the numbers and origins of immigrants seeking entry to the country, their rights and benefits once admitted, and the requirements governing access to citizenship.”
This may seem like a limp response to the alarums raised by Huntington’s Who Are We? or Victor Davis Hanson’s Mexifornia. But there are obviously those who think it is about the best that can be expected. It would appear that President Bush is not among them. His three-part reform may shake up conventional alliances in Congress and the political class. By virtue of the proposed reform, the border may be somewhat more secure, and the millions of illegals now in the country may see benefits in becoming legal under the guest worker program. Whether that means they will become citizens is another matter. President Vincente Fox of Mexico has said that most Mexicans in the United States are “not going to become American citizens, nor do they want U.S. citizenship. What they are interested in is having their rights respected.”
One reason citizenship is not the prize it once was is the growth in the number of official and de facto dual citizens, and even multiple citizens. Also among the elite leaders of globalization, it is increasingly common for people to carry the passports of two or more nations. At the bottom and at the top of the economic hierarchy, more and more people are Americans when it is convenient. It is far from clear how the White House or Congress will address that problem, if indeed it is seen as a problem.
Noah Pickus’ case for civic nationalism is brimming over with intelligence and good will, but one is left with the distinct impression that “true faith and allegiance” is not likely to mean in the future what it meant in the past according to the mythology of this “nation of immigrants.” As long as there is a steady flow of workers and parishioners, the editors of the Wall Street Journal and the bishops of the Catholic Church will probably not be losing any sleep over that prospect. Many others, however, will regret the passing of the day when they thought they more or less knew what it meant to be an American.
While We’re At It
• On the First Things website and elsewhere, there has been a lively discussion about Wheaton College dismissing a faculty member who became Catholic because, said the college president, he could not, as a Catholic, honestly subscribe to the school’s doctrinal statement on the authority of Scripture. The faculty member said he could. The incident came to public attention through a story in the Wall Street Journal and our Joseph Bottum took a somewhat benign view of the matter, underscoring the importance of a Christian school being serious about what it believes. There is a great deal to be said for that, but, as others, including some Wheaton faculty, have pointed out, the dismissal may also be seen as an evangelical Protestant insecurity that prevents intellectual engagement with the diversity within the Christian tradition. Even the most seriously Catholic of Catholic colleges, for instance, would not exclude evangelical Protestants from the faculty. You can’t get much more seriously Catholic than, say, Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, which boasts of the presence of Rabbi David Dalin. As I had occasion to write in connection with the bold (albeit imperiled) experiment at Baylor University, a Jew who believes in the mission of a determinedly Christian institution makes a much more important contribution than the most devout Christian who doesn’t believe in that mission. And there is another set of questions raised by the Wheaton incident. Who is an evangelical? Should Wheaton be Reformed, including the Westminster Confession in its doctrinal statement? And how about Arminians, Dispensationalists, or those who hold to the teaching of total depravity? Then there are evangelicals who believe in the effective grace of infant baptism, and others who don’t. Apparently, Wheaton wants to be broad enough to include all Protestants who call themselves evangelical, no matter the conflicts and contradictions among those who hold to what is called the Reformation tradition, but narrow enough to exclude Roman Catholics—who make up more than half of all the Christians in the world. Or isn’t the difference between Arminian free-will and Calvinist predestination all that important, after all? The president of Wheaton, Duane Litfin, says that Catholic and Protestant claims “reflect alternate answers to the question of authority in the church. These answers in turn dictate most of the other Catholic/Protestant differences.” It is, he says, a matter of sola scriptura (Protestant) or Scripture and tradition (Catholic). This, I am afraid, doesn’t quite work and never has. Notable heresies of Christian history—Arianism, Docetism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, Tritheism—appealed earnestly to the supreme authority of Scripture without reference to what Catholics understand as tradition and magisterial teaching authority. Apparently an Arian, who denies that Jesus is true God and true man, would pose no problem for Wheaton, as long as he appealed to “Scripture alone” as the authority for his beliefs. In fact, there are evangelical theologians who promote “open theism,” which denies the omniscience of God, and are adamant in their devotion to sola scriptura. “The Roman Catholic Church stands in this great magisterial tradition, a tradition from which Protestantism has from the outset dissented,” writes Dr. Litfin. The college, he writes, “intends this reference to Scripture’s ‘supreme and final authority’ to be read as an historic dissent” from Catholic claims. Dr. Litfin thus lends credibility to the claim that the identity of evangelicalism rests on a double negative: Evangelicals are Christians who are not Catholic and not liberal Protestants. If you are not Catholic and not a liberal, presumably anything goes. And, if anything goes, it is not clear why the theologically liberal should be excluded—as long as they appeal to Scripture as the “supreme and final authority” for their liberalism. Dr. Litfin appeals to “Reformation distinctives” as being somehow normative. Another term for Reformation distinctives or “the Reformation heritage” is the Reformation tradition. Thus does it become evident that the dispute is not over sola scriptura, on the one hand, and Scripture and tradition, on the other. The dispute is over which tradition is normative; one that interprets Scripture in continuity with a tradition that extends from the apostolic era to the present, or one that interprets Scripture according to a tradition, riddled with internal contradictions, that began in the sixteenth century. The one thing that everybody in the second tradition had in common then was anti-Catholicism. Wheaton’s decision to dismiss a highly respected faculty member because he became Catholic may understandably lead some to think that not much has changed.
• Among those taken in was the prestigious magazine Science, with the media leading the chorus of global acclaim. It went on for months and months. Then it turned out that Hwang Woo Suk, the South Korean scientist, was forced to admit that he had faked the evidence for his cloning experiments and related discoveries. In an interview, Dr. Leon Kass of the University of Chicago, who has recently stepped down as chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics and is famous for choosing his words with care, put it this way: “Scientific fraud is always revolting, but it is fortunately rare, and, in the end, truth will out. But in this case, American scientists and the American media have been complicit in the fraud, because of their zeal in the politics of stem-cell and cloning research and their hostility to the Bush funding policy. Concerted efforts have been made these past five years to hype therapeutic cloning, including irresponsible promises of cures around the corner and ‘personalized repair kits’ for every degenerative disease.” The media and the large part of the scientific establishment were “complicit in the fraud.” So eager were they to puff the high promise of, among other things, embryonic stem cell research, so determined were they to ignore the proven rewards of employing adult stem cells, and so exultant were they in scoring points off the Bush administration, that the usual cautions were thrown to the winds in announcing a great scientific breakthrough and cruelly raising the hopes of those who suffer from sundry diseases that a cure was at hand. Kass said, “The need to support these wild claims and the desire to embarrass cloning opponents led to the accelerated publication of Dr. Hwang’s ‘findings.’ . . . We even made him Exhibit A for the false claim that our moral scruples are causing American science to fall behind.” The technological imperative—that if something can be done, it must be done—operates by the motto Full steam ahead, and morality be damned. Of course, it is not usually put that bluntly. The denigration of moral “scruples”—the word sounds so old-maidish—is thinly veiled by the hiring of the best bioethicists that money can buy. They can be counted on to issue permission slips for whatever ambitious scientists want to do. To be sure, not all scientists are unscrupulous, but the imperative to push the envelope is built into the system. Before he went down in ignominy, Dr. Hwang was an international celebrity and the darling son of South Korea. It is reported that a postage stamp was issued in his honor. Whatever their interest in philately, every researcher involved in fields related to Hwang’s fraud should keep an enlarged copy framed in the laboratory. Others might be sent to top editors and executives of the world’s media. Especially sordid in this case was the eagerness with which Hwang’s “findings” were embraced for crassly political purposes. Such incidents should not be forgotten as yesterday’s news. “Hwanging” deserves a permanent place in our vocabulary, referring to the many instances in which dubious or fictional scientific advances are invoked in order to create a simulacrum of inevitably about the abandonment of moral reason. This instance of Hwanging was not the work of one man. It was the result of an ideologically driven scientific-media complex that, if unchecked, will continue to pit science against morality, with the likely and unhappy result of bringing science into popular disrepute. Complicity is the right word.
• In my reflection on “The Truce of 2005” in the February issue, at least a few readers thought I gave excessive attention to the role of Jesuits in the widespread resistance to, or rejection of, the November instruction from Rome on gays and the priesthood. I am sensitive to the criticism, but really must plead innocent. The Society of Jesus has been conspicuous in throwing down the gauntlet in defiance of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. It will be recalled that the November instruction declared that the Church “cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture.” I cited a number of Jesuits who could hardly have been more explicit in their disagreement. At the time I wrote, America, the official Jesuit weekly, had not spoken editorially on the instruction. A measure of caution and delay is understandable. America had just been through a rough patch in its relations with Rome, resulting in the dismissal of its former editor, Father Thomas Reese. The Jesuit response to the November instruction would have to be carefully considered, and there is reason to believe that this involved consultation within the leadership circles of the society. It is possible that some leaders counseled caution, or even support for the directive from Rome. Other influential Jesuits, however, very publicly dissent from the Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are morally wrong and that homosexual desires are therefore morally disordered. Some of the dissenters have very openly declared themselves to be gay. In any event, the America editorial finally appeared, and it is obvious that the counsel of caution, never mind obedience, was rejected. The editorial praises the “excellent priests” who are gay, cautions against animosity toward gays, and urges that priests be “prudent” in their involvement with the gay culture. The key passage is this: “There is a valid concern that the priesthood should not become exclusively or even predominantly the domain of gay men. In the same way that one would not want to see all or most priests coming from a particular ethnic group, or from a particular region of a country, one hopes that the priesthood reflects the great diversity of Catholics.” So the official position of the Society of Jesus in the United States, insofar as it is represented by the society’s magazine, is that homosexuality is no more morally problematic than ethnic or geographical origins. The November instruction makes careful distinctions with respect to homosexual acts and tendencies. America conflates these distinctions in the word “gay,” using the term as it is ordinarily used to refer to a person who engages in homosexual acts, has predominantly or exclusively same-sex desires, elects to identify himself as gay, and supports the gay culture. Rome says that men with deep-seated homosexual tendencies must not be admitted to the priesthood. America counters by saying that those who have such tendencies, act upon such tendencies—and embrace such tendencies and actions as constituting their identity—make excellent priests. Rome says that homosexual acts are intrinsically immoral and the desire to commit them is objectively disordered. America says such acts and desires are comparable to being Irish or Latino, or to being born in Texas or Wisconsin. Rome says gay men must not be admitted to the priesthood. America says there is a valid concern that the priesthood not be composed predominantly or exclusively of gay men. I confess that I do not how to construe the editorial position of America, the official weekly magazine of the Society of Jesus, as anything other than an in-your-face rejection of the instruction from Rome, issued by the explicit authority of the pope, and of the magisterial teaching on which the instruction is based. In the absence of a vigorous and visible response from Rome, it would seem that we are confronted by a “Truce of 2005” comparable to the “Truce of 1968” with respect to orchestrated dissent from the encyclical Humanae Vitae. If that is the case, and we must pray it is not, it is difficult to overestimate the grave consequences for the effective leadership of the still-young pontificate of Benedict XVI.
• We had hoped by now to have a review of Raymond Arroyo’s bestselling book Mother Angelica (Doubleday, 400 pages, $23
.95), but that didn’t pan out. I won’t bore you with the details. The book should not go unremarked here. It is a great read, and I recommend it to your attention. Born Rita Rizzo in Canton, Ohio, in 1923, the woman who became Mother Angelica is the product of a family that redefines dysfunctional. She was restlessly energetic in a dozen directions, not least in her sense of a world riddled through and through with the reality of miracles. Had current practices prevailed then, she might have been put on Prozac, and there would be no Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), no Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, and fewer of the stirrings of vibrant (and sometimes wacky) orthodoxy embraced by her millions of fans. The entire book is a lively read, but I found most particularly fascinating Arroyo’s account of the Catholic piety and practices of her formative years. This was a world of Catholicism that deserves to be remembered with honor. It cannot be reconstituted in most of its historical particulars, but there is much there that can be revived and revised for our time. (Rita Rizzo was on my mind when I was writing parts of my new book, Catholic Matters.) Moreover, Mother Angelica is a deft introduction to aspects of the politics of the Church in this country, as bishops variously tried to control, co-opt, silence, or displace this remarkable woman. All to no avail, as to no avail was their multi-million-dollar effort to establish a competing Catholic network. Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles earned himself a major role in Arroyo’s account of episcopal ineptitude and pettiness. It is to Arroyo’s credit that he seeks, even strains, to be kind. Working at EWTN, he had years of one-on-one interviews with Mother Angelica, in which she insisted that he tell her life and work with no embellishments. For such a life and work, embellishment is superfluous. Mother Angelica is an important part of the history of religion—and not only of Catholicism—in the last half century, and in Mother Angelica she receives a critical appreciation worthy of her person and achievements.
• A noted professor of English recently wrote an essay on the true meaning of conservatism in which he opined that the unlimited abortion license imposed by Roe should be accepted as a permanent fact of life. In the course of his argument he said, “Such use of language as ‘unborn child’ does not advance analysis.” Stephen Barr, a frequent contributor to these pages, dropped me this note: “I’d like to hear from this professor of English what is wrong with English. Surely Prof. Hart must know the etymology and meaning of the word ‘child.’ I find in my old Webster’s that it comes from Old English ‘cild’ and the Gothic words ‘kilthei’ (womb) and ‘inkiltko’ (pregnant), and the first definition of ‘child’ given is ‘unborn or recently born person.’ Pregnant women are traditionally said to be ‘with child.’ It is touching to see how humanists stand in such awe of the way scientists talk. When we speak of electrons, and entropy, and momentum, and equations, let’s use Greek and Latin. (What was the Anglo-Saxon word for electron anyway?) But, please, Professor, when it comes to mothers, fathers, and children, let’s speak English.”
• As mentioned before in these pages, Loyola Press is doing a very good thing by bringing out in handsome paperback format a number of staples in the Catholic literary tradition, appropriately titled “The Loyola Classics Series,” under the general editorship of Amy Welborn. Among them are The Devil’s Advocate by Morris West, The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor, Helena by Evelyn Waugh, The Last Catholic in America by John R. Powers, and Saint Francis by Nikos Kazantzakis. Each volume carries a new introduction by a contemporary writer, and that’s where I noticed an odd thing. I recently had the excellent company of The Edge of Sadness on a long flight. Edwin O’Connor is best known for The Last Hurrah, an agreeably sentimental account of the last years of the Irish Catholic political establishment in Boston. His latter novel, The Edge of Sadness, published in 1961, won a Pulitzer Prize. The story is told by Father Hugh Kennedy, a recovering alcoholic, and turns around the character of Charlie Carmody, a humorously mean-spirited octogenarian who made his pile as a slumlord. His zest for life is in tyrannizing all around him, beginning with his family. But here’s the odd thing: In his introduction, Ron Hansen notes the “intensely honest and unsentimental perspective that gives resonance to Edwin O’Connor’s novel even today.” The key words are “even today.” In this and other introductions in the series, the sharp contrast is drawn between the Catholicism prior to the Second Vatican Council and the Catholicism of what came after. An elegiac note is struck about what once was and will never be again. The books are frequently recommended as interesting period pieces that should not be ignored “even today.” There is a defensive tone that one would not expect in the recommending of literature that is confidently thought to be of lasting consequence. Edith Wharton writes of a New York society that is long gone, as Melville writes of a vanished life at sea, but nobody would think of saying that they are worth reading “even today.” I doubt if that would be said of Willa Cather’s Death Comes to the Archbishop. But there is the feel in the Loyola Classics that these books have been retrieved from the dustbin of an insular and parochial world, and that world has to be explained to readers if they are to understand why these books were once thought to be worth reading. That is, I believe, quite unfair to most of the books in question. They stand on their own as quality literature. Their neglect is due to changing literary fashions, influenced in part by Catholics who are eager to forget—or to remember only to pillory—the “pre-Vatican II Church.” A wag recently remarked that the greatest Catholic contribution to literature in recent decades is the production of so many ex-Catholic writers. There is something to that. It was not always so. Today there are hints of a possible revival in Catholic literature. One thinks, for instance, of Matthew Lickona’s Swimming with Scapulars: True Confessions of a Young Catholic. But the hints are few and far between. Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and a host of others write unabashedly Jewish novels, and there are about thirteen times more Catholics than Jews in America. Perhaps the eclipse of Catholic literature can be attributed to a sensed loss of “apartness” that is still the inspiration, and burden, of Jews. Lickona’s fetching story is very much that of a traditionalist who stands apart from a Catholicism that has made its peace with the American Way. I expect the truth is that most non-Catholic Americans, unlike Catholics who assume their unqualified cultural assimilation, still view Catholicism as something strange, even exotic. That is evident in the continuing flow of novels and plays of a distinctly anti-Catholic bent, usually written by ex-Catholics. But now there are no Catholics of the stature of J.F. Powers or Edwin O’Connor writing from within the Catholic experience. First Things’ own junior fellow Mary Ruiz has joined with others to help that happen. They have launched Dappled Things, an online literary magazine for young Catholics that is trolling for talent. Years from now an Edwin O’Connor may look back and recall how he got his start with Dappled Things. Meanwhile, we are indebted to Loyola Press for making available again books such as The Edge of Sadness which are splendid reading anytime, and not “even today.”
• Greenwood Press is publishing an interesting series for classroom use on various religions under the generic title “The American Religious Experience.” There are, for instance, the Buddhist, African-American, Protestant, and Muslim experiences in America. And now there is The Catholic Experience in America by sociologist Joseph A. Varacalli. The book provides an informed overview of Catholic history in this country, with particular attention to controversies and conflicts since the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. The final chapter, “What Lies Ahead?,” charts possible scenarios for the future of Catholicism in this country: 1) dissolution; 2) an “American” Church; 3) sect-like retreat; 4) neo-orthodoxy; 5) formal schism; and 6) “pluralism.” Although he doesn’t come right out and say so, Varacalli clearly favors number 4, which he identifies with the vision of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Protecting his reputation as a social scientist, he doesn’t lay odds on which is most likely to prevail. Since I am free from that professional inhibition, I venture that the serious contest is between numbers 2, 4, and 6. In this case, “pluralism” (note the quotation marks) means an increasingly dispirited status quo in which Catholicism is a loosely associated amalgam of accommodations to spiritual consumerism. In my book Catholic Matters, published this February by Basic Books, I discuss these possibilities in terms of whether the accent is placed on being “American Catholics” or “Catholic Americans,” pointing out how the adjective tends to control the noun. Varacalli’s typology is suggestive, however, and The Catholic Experience in America warrants a close look by high school and college teachers, and by others curious about the past, present, and future of Catholicism in this country.
• I don’t know if a rant is on the far side of a tirade, or vice versa. But, whatever term one prefers, the New Republic gave Alan Wolfe of Boston College seven pages to attack Rodney Stark’s recent volume, The Victory of Reason : How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. “The Victory of Reason,“ writes Wolfe, “is the worst book by a social scientist that I have ever read.” “Rodney Stark writes in an age of reason to advance the cause of prejudice.” Faiths other than Christianity “made their contributions to reason as well. Wise people know this: blowhards and bigots do not.” “Stark owes more to Lenin than to [Max] Weber; agitprop, disdain, perfect certainty—all the Marxist arsenal is here, deployed not on behalf of class struggle but in the name of religious sectarianism.” You can see that Wolfe does not like the book at all. Oh, yes, if I understand Wolfe correctly, Stark is also guilty of anti-Semitism. Along the way of Wolfe’s assault there are stunning gaffes. He has the Spanish Inquisition condemning Galileo, and invokes Charles Freeman as his authority for the claim that St. Paul was a fanatical enemy of reason. “It was only later,” writes Wolfe, “most strikingly in the writings of Augustine and Aquinas that Christian theologians began to make their peace with reason.” So much for Origen, the Gregories, Basil, Irenaeus, and a host of others whom the Church calls “Fathers.” Driving Alan Wolfe’s rage against Rodney Stark’s book, I expect, is his animus against the particularity of religion as it is believed and lived. As has been noted before in this space, Wolfe is a student of “religion in general” and is impatient with the commitment of others to religions in particular. Believers are right in thinking that religion is neglected in the academy but, says Wolfe, “the real problem is that most believers do not believe in religion. They believe in Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism—in a specific faith.” Alan Wolfe believes in religion, or at least he believes that religion is interesting. He nicely sums up the controlling claim that informs all his work: “Advocating religion over secularism runs the risk of dismissing secularists; advocating one religion over all the others degrades every believer who does not believe what you do.” Of course, that can be neatly turned around: Advocating secularism over religion runs the risk of dismissing believers; advocating that all religions are more or less equal degrades what the believer in any religion believes. Alan Wolfe to the extreme contrary, Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason is an important book, and I am glad to see it has been receiving respectful reviews in places of influence. I have a blurb on the book’s dust jacket saying that it not only provides fresh answers but also frames old questions in a new way. Stark is bold, even swashbuckling at times, and there are generalizations that cry out for qualification. But The Victory of Reason is, all in all, a bracing intellectual and historical exercise, and it will be receiving further attention in these pages.
• “Think low.” That is the advice that Midge Decter has had occasion to give me many times over the years. She’s right. My problem (well, among my many problems) is that, when somebody does or says something really dumb, I assume it is a failure of understanding and they just need to have the matter explained to them. I am averse to looking for ulterior motives, especially pecuniary motives. Part of that is charity and part of it is, I suppose, naiveté. “Think low” is closely related to “Follow the dollar.” All this was brought to mind by readers who said they greatly appreciated my critique of the New American Bible (NAB), but then added that I had overlooked the money factor. “The Catholic Biblical Association is surely at fault for so much that is wrong with the NAB,” writes a reader who is in a position to know, “but the reason that abominable translation is foisted on the faithful at Mass has more to do with the budget of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops” (NCCB). There is undoubtedly more than a little to that. A number of companies supply the Mass guides (called, ugh, “missalettes”) that are used in every Catholic parish, and that is a multi-million-dollar business. Unlike those who hold the copyright to the Revised Standard Version and allow it to be used at little or no charge, the NCCB charges an arm and a leg for the use of NAB. Mandating that the suppliers of Mass guides use the NAB is a major source of income for the bishops. Interestingly enough, in its own publications the NCCB tends not to use the NAB. Presumably because they don’t want a third-rate translation, and also because there is little point in paying exorbitant fees to themselves by using the NAB. So it is, for example, that the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the more recent Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church use the Revised Standard Version. The NAB, on the other hand, is good enough for the people at Mass. Plus, there is all that money from the publishers of Mass guides. I really do not like to think low, but sometimes explanations are less than edifying.
• Kevin Seamus Hasson is the feisty founder of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, an organization that is to be found in the forefront of battles over religion in the public square. He has now written an irenically assertive book, The Right to be Wrong: Ending the Culture War Over Religion in America (Encounter, 159 pages, $25.95), which includes this: “Writ large, that is the solution to the culture war. Respect for others’ consciences, even when we’re sure they are wrong, is contagious. Not because it’s nice. (In fact, the postmodern consensus seems to be that it’s not nice to call anybody wrong.) Rather, it’s contagious because it conveys an important idea: Whether it’s a tradition as old and venerable as Buddhism or as new and flaky as parking-barrier worship doesn’t matter. Because of how we’re made, we are each free—within broad limits—to follow what we believe to be true in the manner that our consciences say we must. That is, we are free to celebrate our beliefs in public and try respectfully to persuade others of them. We are free, ultimately, to organize our entire lives around them.” I doubt the book will end the culture war over religion, but it does—by way of clear argument, whimsy, and revealing anecdotes—make a powerful case countering the conventional pitting of truth against tolerance. It is respect for the dignity of the person, who is inseparable from what he holds to be true, that is the surest foundation of an authentically pluralistic society. My friend Seamus is sometimes pugnacious, but he is never nasty. He is undisguisedly impatient with bigots who claim to be offended by the existence of beliefs other than their own.
• Of major newspapers, none has an editorial page as generally sensible as that of the Wall Street Journal. But then there is this: “Churchill might wonder at today’s attitudes toward fighting terrorists, about American ‘torture’ of prisoners, and about the U.S. President who’s often derided in London as a ‘cowboy.’ The British Prime Minister’s clarity about the Nazi threat in World War II got his nation and the world successfully through that conflict.” No one should doubt that Churchill was a great historical figure and that his cause was our cause and that cause was just. But the man was also possessed of a deeply shadowed side. In addition to condoning the reprisal killings of civilians, Churchill is also supposed to have said of the obliteration bombing of cities such as Hamburg and Dresden, “Bomb and bomb until you’re bouncing the rubble.” This is barbarism of a low order, and the fact that it was waged against barbarism of a lower order does not mitigate the abandonment of the moral order upon which civilization depends. Just as casually, many people, including many Christians, have accepted the intrinsically evil bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima as justified by the assumed shortening of the war. In the current discussions of the Iraq war, torture, and concern about surveillance and civil liberties, much of the protest is wimpish or motivated by rank political partisanship. As the generally sensible editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal should know, however, the choice is not between being a wimp or being a thug.
• Christina Page works for NARAL, one of the more strident pro-abortion lobbies, and she has published a book titled How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America. The book, according to Publishers Weekly, is directed against fundamentalists and their “procreationist ideology and animus toward sexual pleasure itself.” Catholics get their whacks for “attacking feminism and premarital sex.” Publishers Weekly quotes Page, who writes, “regular sex brings people as much happiness as a $50,000-a-year raise.” Really? A raise is defined as an increment of a salary received. If one is getting paid, say, $100,000 and gets a $50,000 raise, that is a very big increment. The thing that struck me is that I know evangelical Christian and young Catholic couples who are living the “theology of the body” and I expect they would say that their sexual relationship is worth much more than that. I inquired, and one such young woman looked incredulous. “I couldn’t dream of putting a price tag on it,” she said. Despite the evil of the cause she promotes, one must feel very sorry for Christina Page.
• A few months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, on New York and Washington, sixty American intellectuals, including some closely associated with First Things, issued a detailed document, “What We’re Fighting For: A Letter from America.” (Although I was supportive of the initiative, I finally decided not to sign.) The document received slight attention in this country, but in the following months sparked strong responses and responses to responses in the Middle East and Europe. Now all these exchanges have been put together in an extremely interesting book, The Islam/West Debate: Documents from a Global Debate on Terrorism, U.S. Policy, and the Middle East, edited by David Blankenhorn and others (Rowman & Littlefield, 299 pages, $27.95
). Gathered here in one place is a remarkably comprehensive display of the clashes—some strident, some more thoughtful—over “the clash of civilizations.” There is no substitute for listening to both friends and enemies having their say in their own words. Following September 11, the question was frequently asked, “Why do they hate us so?” The Islam/West Debate is a good place to find out. But be warned that finding out will not necessarily, will not probably, result in greater hopefulness about alleviating disagreements.
• The Islam/West Debate includes a “Letter to the American People” that is attributed to Osama bin Ladin. Those who question whether he wrote it personally agree that it accurately represents the views of al-Quaeda. In the editorial introduction to the book, it is said that this and other Islamist statements “may be understood as objecting not to U.S. policy per se, but U.S. policy insofar as it is an impediment to the goals of Islamism. Indeed, in the letters, complaints about U.S. policy are woven into a larger argument for the global hegemony of Islam; the eventual ‘rapprochement’ between the West and Islam is contingent upon the adoption of the latter by the former.” The “Letter to the American People” begins with an account of U.S. offenses against Islam and a defense of September 11 and other attacks. Then the question is asked, “What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?” The answer begins with this:
The first thing we are calling you to is Islam. The religion of the Unification of God; of the freedom from associating partners with Him, and rejection of this; of complete love of Him, the Exalted; of complete submission to His Laws; and of the discarding of all the opinions, orders, theories and religions which contradict the religion He sent down to His Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Islam is the religion of all the Prophets, and makes no distinction between them—peace be upon them all. It is to this religion that we call you; the seal of all the previous religions. It is the religion of Unification of God, sincerity, the best of manners, righteousness, mercy, honor, purity, and piety. It is the religion of showing kindness to others, establishing justice between them, granting them rights, and defending the oppressed and the persecuted. It is the religion of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil with the hand, tongue and heart. It is the religion of jihad in the way of Allah so that Allah’s Word and religion reign Supreme. And it is the religion of unity and agreement on the obedience to Allah, and total equality between all people, without regarding their colour, sex, or language. It is the religion whose book—Qur’an—will remain preserved and un changed, after the other Divine books and messages have been changed. The Qur’an is the miracle until the Day of Judgment. Allah has challenged anyone to bring a book like the Qur’an or even ten verses like it.
The question, of course, is how pervasive in the Muslim world is the radical Islamism of al-Quaeda and others. The book includes more moderate Muslim voices contending that common ground with the West can be found. It also includes Muslim attacks on such moderates, one of which is colorfully titled, “Please Prostrate Yourselves Privately.” For a sense of having a front-row seat in listening to the contentions over the clash of civilizations, there is nothing quite like The Islam/West Debate.
• It seemed like an improbable observance for advancing Christian-Muslim dialogue. The occasion was the fifth centenary of the birth of Saint Pius V, and the conference was sponsored by the Pontifical Lateran University, with secretary of state Angelo Cardinal Sodano presiding. There was a presentation by Bishop Walter Brandmüller, president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, who noted that “the celebration of the fifth centenary of the birth of Pius V was a bit muted, especially in academic circles.” He is surely right about that. It was nowhere to be found, for example, on the program of this year’s meeting of the American Academy of Religion. Said Brandmüller, “The victor of Lepanto in 1571, this pope who had the courage and the energy to construct an alliance of almost all the Christian kingdoms against the Ottoman empire—which was advancing to threaten Europe and had already established dominion over the Balkans—today, precisely because of the unhappy restoration of hostility between the two worlds—one formerly Christian, and to a certain extent still Christian, and the other Muslim—seems to many to be an obstructing presence best left in the shadows.” It is undoubtedly true that few Muslims celebrate Lepanto or recognize its promise as a symbol for the future of Muslim-Christian relations. Bradmüller recounted the long history of the oppression of non-Muslims, especially Christians and Jews, in Muslim lands and observed, “If this characterization of Islam is destined to remain unchanged in the future, as it has been until now, the only possible outcome is a difficult coexistence with those who do not belong to the Muslim community.” As for the current situation in Europe, he concluded, “We must also recognize the natural right of every society to defend its own cultural, religious, and political identity. It seems to me that this is precisely what Pius V did.” Some observers say they note a new candor in the pontificate of Benedict XVI regarding the challenges posed by Islam. It is unlikely, however, that there will anytime soon be a Pius V chair at Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
• In liturgical worship, you either surrender yourself to the exploration of the unknown or are critically alert to whatever may happen next. That’s what rules and rituals are for, and that’s why it is so disedifying when priests take liberties with them. A reader says he recently attended the Red Mass at Villanova University and left less than edified. The Red Mass is the occasion for a big annual bash, and is of special importance to the university’s law school. Villanova is run by the Augustinians and, of the more than sixty priests there, only one showed up for the occasion. Our friend was most particularly put off by the notice in the glossy program that “Roman Catholic assemblies celebrate the real presence of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist and the communal body.” Well yes, Christ, being Lord of all, is truly present in the people present, as he is truly present everywhere. But that is not what the Catholic Church means by the Real Presence (upper case). And then there is the statement of the liturgy committee of Villanova, “Postures During Eucharistic Liturgy.” The statement notes, “In general [the General Instruction of the Roman Missal] asks the faithful to kneel during the consecration—but then adds ‘unless prevented by lack of space, large numbers, or other reasonable cause.’“ The statement then gives Villanova’s reasonable causes for preventing anyone from kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer. For instance, one of the prayers thanks God for counting us worthy to “stand” before Him. (Those Augustinians are such literalists.) Moreover, kneeling induces a “sense of passivity, inferiority, and exaggerated unworthiness.” Some might prefer the word “receptivity” to “passivity,” but it is true that we sinful human beings are averse to acknowledging our inferiority to God and do not take kindly to any exaggeration of our unworthiness. The statement ends on this note: “In all these decisions the Villanova community favors the spirit of community and mutual affirmation; any competitive and legalistic preference in the matter of liturgical practice tends to be divisive and is not considered helpful to communal celebration.” In the spirit of mutual affirmation, unity, and our communal abhorrence of legalism: You vill not kneel.
• Some hard questions were asked by Father Bryan Massingale, professor of theology at Marquette University, at a meeting of Catholic politicians convened by Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Milwaukee. Fr. Massingale’s presentation on “Catholic Participation in Political Life” is in many ways an exemplary overview of the connections between moral judgment, political decisions, and the virtue of prudence. The last, as he rightly notes, has to do not with taking the safe and easy course but with wisdom and courage. At the same time, some of the hard questions are not asked or fudged, and his presentation—published in origins, which is read by many bishops—could give false comfort to those inclined to the safe, easy, and even pusillanimous course. Fr. Massingale refers to “the decisions by a minority of bishops to deny communion to Catholic politicians who, they say, ‘defy’ church teaching in their votes on abortion legislation. These actions raised the stakes—and the strains—in the relationship between bishops and Catholic public officials considerably.” The “they say” and the quotes around “defy” are curious. And who is responsible for causing the strains between bishops and politicians? The politicians who do indeed defy the Church’s teaching or the bishops who attempt to hold such politicians accountable for their positions? In the past, says Massingale, “these disputes have occurred ‘in house,’ as it were. They were seen as matters of internal church discipline and for the most part were unnoticed by the media and the wider society.” But the fact that the media raises a storm over, as Massingale puts it, the prospect “that the votes of Catholic politicians increasingly would be dictated by ecclesiastical authorities” does not change the fact that these are “matters of internal church discipline” and, yes “in house,” in the sense of the right ordering of the household of God. Although his message was not accurately transmitted to the bishops at the time, in the summer of 2004, then Cardinal Ratzinger was quite explicit in supporting the position taken by the bishops whom Massingale says are responsible for the strains. The Church is responsible for her internal discipline, especially her sacramental disciple, and for correcting misrepresentations of Catholic teaching in public. In the same issue of origins that reports Massingale’s remarks, Archbishop Dolan writes about the valuable dialogue that occurred at the meeting, and of course dialogue cannot be too highly praised. Provided it is dialogue that does not fudge the truth. Archbishop Dolan, be it noted, is not known for fudging the truth.
• Joe Louis, the “Brown Bomber,” was a boyhood hero, but I am not a boxing fan. I wonder, however, if La Civiltà Cattolica is over-reaching when it says that the moral judgment of boxing must be “gravely and absolutely negative.” The Jesuit magazine is vetted by the Secretariat of State and is often understood to reflect opinion in the Vatican. Boxing, the article says, violates the commandment, “Do not kill.” Boxing is “a form of legalized attempted murder” that has left more than five hundred boxers dead over the last hundred years. How many skiers, mountain climbers, race car drivers, and hockey players have died over the last hundred years? More than five hundred, I suppose, and the rest will be dead in due course. Allowing that boxing may pose more risk to participants than most sports, is it really a form of attempted murder? Another aggravating factor, the magazine says, is that boxing matches often incite sentiments of violence among spectators. That is probably true. One has to ask, however, whether the editorial writer has gauged the sentiments at a Yankees-Red Sox game, not to mention a British football match. Yet another objection is that boxing is controlled by interests “which are often pitiless and cruel, in which the boxer is simply a moneymaking machine.” Baseball players have said much the same of George Steinbrenner. Again, I’m not a boxing fan and every human activity has its seamier side, but somehow the activity described by La Civiltà Cattolica doesn’t quite match the memory of the young Cassius Clay dancing his dance at center ring and taunting all comers with “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” I don’t know who wrote the editorial, but I expect he’s one of those people who are simply too sensitive for polite company. It is a comfort to know that editorials in La Civiltà Cattolica do not count as magisterial teaching.
• Oh, dear. My friend Kenneth Woodward is being very mean to my friend Peggy Noonan. Peggy has published a book, John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father (Viking, 256 pages, $24.95), which Ken trashes in a New York Times book review. “In short,” writes Woodward, “John Paul the Great is as much about Peggy Noonan as it is about the pope.” But of course. That, as I have written elsewhere, is the charm of the book. As her subtitle indicates, it is about discovering and remembering a spiritual father. Woodward notes that Noonan quotes me as saying that “the pope believes what the Catholic Church believes, and the Catholic Church believes what the pope believes.” I don’t remember saying that, but I probably did, and it likely had to do with some specific teaching, in which case it is almost certainly true. Woodward grumbles: “That may be a fair description of how John Paul II sometimes saw himself, but it is not at all how Vatican II understood the Church and the role of the papacy within it.” Right you are, Ken. Peggy is not writing a systematic theology, nor does she suggest I was offering a definitive account of Vatican II on the papacy and the Church. Endearing old liberal that he is at heart, Woodward deplores the “glaring omission” of any mention of the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae in Peggy’s discussion of the “theology of the body.” For old liberals, endearing and otherwise, everything goes back to 1968 and Humanae Vitae. The omission is glaring “especially for a woman,” Woodward writes. Why especially for a woman? Is there a hint of sexism here? I imagine that Peggy assumes that most people, both men and women, know by now that the Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception violates the unitive and procreative nature of human sexuality. Woodward seems to think that Noonan is hiding a shameful secret. He goes on to say that, “A writer needn’t be a cradle Catholic to take the measure of a pope.” That comes after he has made rather a point of Noonan not being a cradle Catholic. It was, he says, only in middle age that “she adopted the pope as her ‘spiritual father.’“ Why, one wonders, does a Catholic put sneer quotes around the idea of spiritual paternity? Ken Woodward is something of an expert on the process by which the Church officially designates people as saints, having written a book on the subject many years ago. He concludes his review by suggesting that Noonan’s book is a “pious biography” aimed at advancing the canonization of John Paul II. “I can think of no other rationale for this book,” he says. That really makes no sense at all. If, as Woodward says, the book is as much or more about Peggy Noonan as it is about John Paul, it is not likely to be of much interest to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. As for other rationales for the book, how about a writer wanting to share the joy of her spiritual discoveries? I’m afraid Ken Woodward wrote his review when he was having a really bad day. I might say that I can think of no other rationale for his review other than that, as a cradle Catholic and expert on saints, he resents Peggy Noonan trespassing on his turf. But I won’t say that. Put the review down, rather, to his having a really bad day, and to the fact that he does not think so very highly of John Paul. The former often cannot be helped, and culpability for the latter is mitigated by his having come of Catholic age in the debased excitements of the sixties. Peggy Noonan, on the other hand, had the good fortune to come of Catholic age during the glorious years of John Paul the Great. It really does make a big difference, as a whole generation of younger Catholics (and even some middle-aged Catholics) can testify. And, as in the case of Peggy Noonan, they do testify.
• Few leaders in the Catholic Church today have a more unenviable position than Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston. No large diocese in the country was as devastated by the sex-abuse scandal. Boston, legendary in American Catholic history, is in the grips of deep demoralization and confusion, with huge abuse-related financial settlements, the inevitable controversies attending the closing of parishes, and a relentlessly hostile media dominated by the Boston Globe. In this highly charged climate, it required a measure of courage for Archbishop O’Malley to issue a letter on homosexuality that is both pastoral and to the point. In the view of some, and not without reason, the word “pastoral” has come to be equated with wimpish. But of course it connotes a faithful shepherd’s concern for those in his care. O’Malley writes: “If we tell people that sex outside of marriage is not a sin, we are deceiving people. If they believe this untruth, a life of virtue becomes all but impossible. Jesus teaches that discipleship implies taking up the cross each day and following Him with love and courage.” God created us to be happy, and those who set themselves against the will of God are guaranteed to be unhappy, both here and hereafter. O’Malley continues: “We know that friends and relatives of homosexual Catholics sometimes feel torn between their allegiance to Christ and their concern for their loved ones. I assure them that these goals are not incompatible. As Catholics we profess a firm belief in the dignity of each person and in the eternal destiny to which God calls us. Calling people to embrace the cross of discipleship, to live the commandments and at the same time assuring them that we love them as brothers and sisters can be difficult. Sometimes we are told: ‘If you do not accept my behavior, you do not love me.’ In reality we must communicate the exact opposite: ‘Because we love you, we cannot accept your behavior.’ God made us to be happy forever. That true and lasting happiness is accessible only by a path of conversion. Each of us has our own struggles in responding to the call to discipleship and holiness. We are not alone. Christ promised to be with us and has given us His Church and Sacraments to help us on the road.” Unlike many who claim to be “reaching out” to those who have chosen a way of life in defiance of God’s design and enabling grace, Archbishop O’Malley knows that true love does not hide the truth.
• Joseph Bottum picked up on an ad in America, the Jesuit magazine, for a nine-inch statue of Mary titled “Extra Virgin” and encased in a condom. He remarked on it in a posting on the First Things website. It soon became a cause célèbre. The British “artist” who placed the ad said it was a splendid lark and made no secret of his intention to mock Catholic teaching and piety. In response to numerous protests, the editors of America were terribly embarrassed and said it was all a mistake. They explained that it happened because editors only saw the ad in black and white before it was published, and it did not look so very much like a condom. Or it may be that priests don’t know what a condom looks like. “We’re Jesuits,” explained the magazine’s associate editor, Fr. James Martin. “I don’t think you could have found anyone in the editors’ room who has seen a condom.” The ad’s mention of Mary being covered in a “veil of latex” failed to register, he said. Right. The editors of America live in the cloistered environs of West 56th Street in Manhattan, and, I suppose, are not allowed access to magazines, television, or the Internet. “A condom? What’s a condom?” That is one charitable explanation, of sorts, for the “Extra Virgin Mary” ad. Another is that—despite the in-your-face picture and text of the ad—the editors simply were not paying attention. Yes, I suppose it is theoretically possible that somebody thought it would be fun to spice up the usual fare of doctrinal dissent and obfuscation with a little outright blasphemy. But surely we are required to entertain the other explanations offered, such as they are, before thinking any such thing.
• The very model of a pastoral letter has been issued by Bishop Alvaro Corrada del Rio of Tyler, Texas. It begins with this: “As your bishop and successor of the apostles amongst you, I desire to hand down the traditio received from the Lord Jesus and his apostles.” He then applies that tradition to the confused question of when children should receive the sacrament of Confirmation. It is confused because, under current rules, bishops are allowed considerable leeway. In some dioceses, Confirmation has become a teenage “rite of passage,” or a kind of reward for completing a course of study. Tyler, Texas, is Baptist country. The bishop says of Confirmation: “It is not a human act similar to that of non-Catholic Christians who, perhaps in their early teens, choose to publicly profess that they have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Sacraments are primarily about God choosing and embracing us, not the other way around.” He underscores that truth at several points, noting that “sacraments are gifts which we receive and which perfect us, not in any way rights which we have earned or expressions of changes that we ourselves have initiated.” Our participation in the sacraments “does not depend on human gifts, talents or age; it depends on truth and love. We can only love because God has first loved us. God conveys his love through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and chief among the instruments he uses are the sacraments of initiation.” Note that “sacraments of initiation” is in the plural. Holy Baptism is the chief sacrament of initiation and, intimately linked with it in the tradition of both Western and Eastern Christianity, is the sacrament of Confirmation. (In the Orthodox Church, one is baptized and confirmed at the same time.) Thus the bishop directs that the older practice be restored. Confirmation and the first reception of the Eucharist will be at about age eight, preceded by the sacrament of Reconciliation (confession and absolution) at age seven. In addition to my agreeing with Bishop Corrada’s directive, what struck me about his pastoral letter is its thoroughly theological approach, informed by attentiveness to the history of teaching and practice, and combined with a keen awareness of pastoral realities. I hope other bishops are reading his letter with care.
• USA Today has its C.S. Lewis experts focused on the Narnia phenomenon: “Lewis, who was an Anglican, is an unlikely hero for evangelicals in some respects. He smoked and drank and lived for thirty years with an older woman who was not his wife.” That’s one way to describe his keeping his promise to a friend who was killed in World War I that he would care for his mother.
• Catholic Charities of Boston, headed by Father Bryan Hehir, chose Boston’s mayor, Tom Menino, as the honoree for its big annual fundraising dinner. Mr. Menino is pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage. Archbishop O’Malley did not attend the dinner, presumably in protest against the Catholic honor to his honor the mayor. The mayor said, “The Church should teach to the faithful but should not interfere in issues that involve the civil rights of the entire population.” He also said, “When the pope speaks on doctrine. that is absolute. I don’t think choice and gay marriage are doctrine.” The pope says that abortion and gay marriage are doctrine, but that is not absolute because he is speaking about abortion and gay marriage. Or something like that.
• Egregious displays of arrogance are setting what is aptly called the science establishment upon a self-destructive course. This is again made evident in a national survey conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). There is, of course, the continuing conflict over the teaching of evolution in the schools. Even some adamant opponents of Intelligent Design and other proposals recognize that the derision heaped upon them by Judge John E. Jones III in the Dover, Pennsylvania, trial was a pyrrhic victory. The controversy is composed of a complex mix of science, culture, religion, and politics and is not likely to be resolved by blunderbuss verdicts from the bench on what is and what is not rational. The VCU survey indicates that only 15 percent of the public thinks that only evolution should be taught in public schools, while 73 percent favor teaching also the controversy about evolution. One may be encouraged or depressed by that finding, but in a society in which every establishment must pay its respects to democracy, it is manifest that the scientific elite is failing to persuade. Or consider the fact that for years that establishment, backed almost unanimously by the mainstream media, have insisted on the necessity of embryonic stem cell research, meaning the creation and destruction of human embryos for research purposes. The survey indicates that only 14 percent of Americans think that embryonic stem cell research “holds the greatest promise” for new treatments of diseases. More generally, while 85 percent say developments in science have helped make society better, 56 percent say that “scientific research doesn’t pay enough attention to the moral values of society,” and 52 percent agree with the statement that “scientific research has created as many problems for society as solutions.” We are told that scientists are the gods and goddesses of our culture. Newspapers run stories every day announcing that “Scientific Study Shows _____,” “Experts say that _____.” It seems an increasing number of the declining number of Americans who still read papers smile a skeptical smile. Since the dawn of the Enlightenment, the solution proposed is that an ignorant populace must be educated. But it has become increasingly evident that much that is called education in science is, in fact, indoctrination in philosophical, moral, and ontological assumptions that most people do not share, and with good reason. Huge enterprises such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, along with science programs in the universities, depend upon public support. It is not good news that so many Americans are suspicious of the scientific enterprise itself. In the Christian perspective, science is a gift of God and the discovery of truth is welcomed and not threatening, since we are confident that all truth is one. All too often, however, what is called science is an admixture of science and alien agendas that reinforces skepticism. Those who command the heights of the scientific establishment must learn to engage the public with a greater measure of humility and candor, recognizing that their credibility depends upon acknowledging that they do not know much more than they do know. People are ready to be taught by teachers they trust. The apparently growing climate of distrust serves neither science nor the public good.
• In recent years, theologian Robert Jenson and his wife Blanche have been sending not Christmas but Epiphany cards. With the card comes a poem. For Epiphany 2006, they wrote:
Seekers after truth they were.
Often misguided, to be sure—
I mean—astrology! But then,
One great thing was on their side:
They thought that there was truth to find.
To such faith, light is often given.
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On the Other Side of the Gates: Statistics from “Rediscovering the Underclass” by Charles Murray, American Enterprise Institute, October 7, 2005. Bob Herbert on black leaders, New York Times, December 26, 2005. Alan Wolfe on Rodney Stark, The New Republic, January 16. Churchill’s thuggishness, Wall Street Journal, January 4. Saint Pius V, Lepanto, and Islam, www.chiesa, December 19, 2005. Fr. Massingale asks hard questions, origins, December 22, 2005. La Civiltà Cattolica on boxing, Catholic News Service, Oct 14, 2005. Kenneth Woodward on Peggy Noonan, New York Times Book Review, December 18, 2005. Archbishop O’Malley on homosexuality, Archdiocese of Boston, November 23, 2005. Bishop Corrada del Rio on Confirmation of children, origins, Nov 10, 2005. C.S. Lewis, unlikely hero?, USA Today, December 2, 2005. Mayor Tom Menino on Catholic doctrine, Catholic News Service, Dec 5, 2005. Public distrust of science, Virginia Commonwealth University Life Sciences Survey, October 2005.