The Public Square
Body Worlds is an “educational” exhibition that has been touring major U.S. cities the past couple of years. I was surprised to read that a bishop whom I admire had given it his imprimatur, so to speak, in his diocesan newspaper. I asked him about it and he said he had consulted his moral theologians and they saw no problems with the show. He and they had not even heard about the claim, which is disputed by the organizers, that some of the corpses on display had bullet holes in the base of their skulls. Body Worlds gets most of its bodies from China, where a bullet in the back of the head is the favored way of execution. Body Worlds started in Germany in 1995, but the exhibit has been closed down there. For some reason having to do with fairly recent history, the Germans are very sensitive about the exploitation of dead bodies.
One must get beyond a manual of moral theology to understand what is going on here. There are aesthetic and cultural considerations that inform moral judgment. The person for the job is Michael J. Lewis, who teaches art history at Williams College, as is evident by his essay “Body and Soul” in the January issue of Commentary. He notes that the exhibit includes some two hundred dead human bodies that have been “plastinated” and are displayed in a wide variety of postures, some aspiring to be humorous. The whole enterprise is the brainchild of Günther von Hagens, a German doctor, who began by plastinating cadavers for medical schools and then realized there was a big market for macabre entertainment.
People who may be nervous about a sideshow of corpses are put at ease by the bright and cheerful tone of the thing. Lewis writes: “These are bodies that appear to be having fun: a skinless rollerblader executes a neat handstand; a basketball player dribbles a ball, dodging a blocker, their muscles visible in palpable tension. . . . By these means and others, von Hagens helps us overcome any initial squeamishness. For these are bodies and yet they are not bodies. There is about them not the slightest hint of putrefaction or liquefaction, qualities inextricably bound up with our instinctive dread of corpses. Instead, there is only the dry glossiness of plastic. The figures do not even appear to have passed through the extremis of death, seeming rather to have been arrested in stop-motion, like photographic creations. To remember that they were once alive requires a constant act of will.”
The presentation of the body in art, writes Lewis, has changed over the centuries. While Egyptians depicted the body as an inventory of parts in repose, the Greeks embraced the beauty of the body as an expression of a moral ideal. Christianity produced a “radically different art” of the body. The body mattered deeply. After all, God became incarnate, embodied. But the body is ordered to the soul, excluding the sensual nude of pagan antiquity. “The artistic challenge now was to make the body corporeal but not carnal.” This was variously achieved through the centuries. “The peculiar writhing and squirming of medieval statuary functioned as a kind of seismograph, recording the spiritual tremors below the surface. In this way Christianity had added a crucial element to the rhetoric of the body—namely, the trope of beatific suffering, typified in the image of the crucified Christ, the scourged and tormented Man of Sorrows. Although the ancient world had also found pathos in the defeated body—see the poignant images of dying Gauls—these were not ideal nudes. Christian belief in the bodily resurrection now ensured that a corpse-even one in such an ostentatious state of rigor mortis as Hans Holbein’s entombed Christ (1521)—could at the same time represent an ideal.”
This was deposed, as was so much else, by what we describe as modernity. “With the progress of modernity, the confident, exhilarating idealism of the Renaissance nude came to be displaced by a dispirited and vulnerable nakedness, a standard type in 19th-century art. The result was the body as depicted by an artist like Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), an unsparing inventory of minute sags, slouches, and fidgets. Eakins’s knowledge of the body, like Leonardo’s, was based on considerable experience with the dissection of cadavers; unlike Leonardo’s, though, his bodies were not abstract articulations of cosmological order but mechanical contrivances subject to mechanical forces, and above all to the nervousness of modern life.”
Enlightened opinion today, says Lewis, subscribes to the belief reflected by the title of the popular feminist handbook Our Bodies, Ourselves. Thus the many body-related cultural battles over contraception, abortion, euthanasia, organ donation, and elective amputation. “This development in itself,” writes Lewis, “suggests a vast cultural change in our understanding of the body, its autonomy, and its moral relationship to society.” The idea of body as personal identity is evident in sometimes bizarre exhibits. “In the past two decades, artists have presented the body covered with simulated sores (Hannah Wilke), smeared with chocolate as a surrogate for excrement (Karen Finley), outfitted with grotesque and misshapen sexual prosthetics (Cindy Sherman), and in a state of rigor mortis and incipient putrefaction (Andrés Serrano).” The presentation of the body as the repository of degradation and humiliation is, I expect, closely related to the culture of victimhood.
Body Worlds is presented as a pleasurable program of health education, but something else is afoot. “In the end, what is so off-putting about von Hagen’s grinning, open-eyed, ineffably sad cadavers is not the gruesomeness of their flayed limbs, or their vulnerability. Long ago, the Capuchin monks of Palermo created catacombs in which bodies—mummified in the dry Sicilian air—were arranged in comic scenes: grotesque families at dinner, group portraits of naval officers. Here too was high ghoulishness, of a sort requiring strong stomachs. But the ghoulishness had a distinct moral agenda, intended both to demonstrate the monks’ indifference to death and to steel them to it. With von Hagens, his protestations about health education notwithstanding, ghoulishness serves no higher purpose and indeed no other purpose at all.”
Finley, Serrano, and the other “abject artists” of the 1990s intended to be transgressive; they assumed and played upon the capacity to be disgusted, which, as Lewis says, “placed them in an intelligible moral universe.” Lewis concludes: “No such presupposition, and no such capacity, are apparent in the Day-Glo candy-colored universe of Günther von Hagens, whose work is forever antiseptic and clean, and whose sensibility seems as efficient as a bullet at the base of a grinning skull.”
Remember from college those anthropology textbooks that said a common denominator in all cultures, even the most primitive, is ritual and attitudes expressing respect, even reverence, for the body of the dead. Body Worlds is big box office in the major cities of what is said to be the most advanced society in the world.
Europe to the North of Us
“Whatever happened to Christian Canada?” I expect many readers have never given a thought to the question. In part, because many, if not most, readers seldom give a thought to Canada. It is said that the difference between Canadians and Americans is that Americans do not think about the difference between Canadians and Americans. Many other such snide observations to which I take umbrage are made about the land of my birth. Truth to tell, I am not greatly offended. But, even if we did not have so many Canadian subscribers, attention must be paid. Not least because Canada is a fascinating study in the dynamics of religion and public life in which all of us, however variously, are involved.
“Whatever Happened to Christian Canada?” is Mark Noll’s presidential address to the American Society of Church History and is published in the society’s journal, which is, unsurprisingly, named Church History. Noll observes that the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the gift of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, states in the preamble: “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” Many Canadians now date the history of Canada from 1982. So much for Champlain, Wolfe, Montcalm, the Plains of Abraham, and the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the Great War. And Canada was by 1982 a different country and rapidly becoming more different still. Despite the words in the charter’s preamble, says Noll, “Canadian legislation and jurisprudence have increasingly privileged principles of privacy, multiculturalism, enforced toleration, and public religious neutrality, even when such moves de-christianize public space in which religious language was once commonplace.” It is true to say that, in most aspects of public life, Christianity has been not only disestablished but also banished.
Some startling statistics are to the point. In 1961, one half of one percent of Canadians were religiously unaffiliated; in 2001, 16.2 percent so described themselves. In the same four decades, those identifying with the Catholic Church declined from 46 to 43 percent, while identification with the four largest Protestant denominations (Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, United Church of Canada) fell from 41 to 20 percent. “In 1950, Canadian church attendance as a proportion of the total population exceeded church attendance in the U.S. by one-third to one-half, and church attendance in Quebec may have been the highest in the world. Today church attendance in the U.S. is probably one-half to two-thirds greater than in Canada, and attendance in Quebec is the lowest of any state or province in North America.”
Noll writes: “The parallel histories of Quebec and the rest of Canada—though never without hypocrisy, patriarchialism, power mongering, partisan conflict, pettimindedness, heavy-handed coercion, interdenominational strife, and the masquerading of self-interest as piety—nonetheless left Canada at the mid-twentieth century with a much stronger claim as a ‘Christian nation’ than its large neighbor to the south. At least, that is, until the generation after the Second World War, when things began to change, and to change in a hurry.”
In his 1990 comparison of the U.S. and Canada, Continental Divide, the late Seymour Martin Lipset observed that Canada “has been and is a more class-aware, elitist, law-abiding, statist, collectivity-oriented, group-oriented society than the United States.” (Upon Lipset’s recent death, an obituary said that he wrote so well he could even interest his American readers in Canada.) Canadians tend to do things and to change together. In part, no doubt, because Canada is a relatively small society keenly aware of the behemoth to the South. Until fairly recently, it was in fact two societies, each with its cultural and religious establishment: Protestantism in English Canada and Catholicism in French Quebec. Taken all in all, Canada was more conservative. After all, they rejected the American Revolution, despite forceful American efforts to include them in the enterprise. In 1867, when Canada became a dominion within the British Empire, the motto was “peace, order, and good government.” Distinctly different, one might note, from America’s more adventurous “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
A Web of Contingencies
When I was a boy, Maurice Duplessis was the master of Quebec. As premier, he was le Chef who brokered the interests of the English-speaking business class and the Catholic hierarchy in maintaining the all-encompassing dominance of his party, Union Nationale. “In retrospect,” says Noll, “the Duplessis regime must be considered a bottle stop under which great pressure built up to modernize Quebec’s economic, political, religious, and cultural strife. The regime achieved stasis, but only by avoiding the province’s intensifying push for systematic modernization.”
I’m somewhat skeptical about that. There was not all that much “strife” in Quebec at the time. And I’m strongly skeptical about the idea of a systematic connection between modernization and secularization. Noll is on firmer ground, and is marvelously instructive, when he attends to the “web of contingency” that effected such great changes in Canada. One can readily imagine other contingencies with other outcomes. It might have been different.
One can imagine, for instance, Trudeau never having become prime minister. In 1969, his Liberal government engineered a declaration making all of Canada officially bilingual. Ethnic, religious, and other social particularities were being set aside in favor of a universalistic vision of multicultural toleration and of toleration as a mandated celebration of diversity. Canadian historian Reginald Bibby sees 1969 as a key turn from the traditional Christian identities of both French and English Canada toward an ideology of pluralism. “Since the 1960s,” Bibby writes, “Canada has been encouraging the freedom of groups and individuals without simultaneously laying down cultural expectations. Colorful collages of mosaics have been forming throughout Canadian life. Our expectation has been that fragments of the mosaic will somehow add up to a healthy and cohesive society. It is not at all clear why we should expect such an outcome.”
That is delicately put. In its determined effort to distinguish itself from the U.S., Canada has in some ways become more like the U.S. For instance, the 1982 charter has pushed Canadian jurisprudence into the American pattern of activist judges becoming the agents of social change. On the usual hot-button issues (e.g., abortion, same-sex marriage), the national and provincial parliaments have become junior partners as the judicial usurpation of politics proceeds apace.
It is a long and intriguing story that Mark Noll tells. In Quebec, for instance, it is understandable that reformers in the Church bristled under the stifling regime of Duplessis, in which the bishops “had traded their religious birthright for a pottage of corrupt political patronage.” Well before the Second Vatican Council, reformers in Catholic Action and other groups pressed for a radical break—not only in church teaching and practice but also in family and social life—from what had been monolithically “Catholic Quebec.” They were successful, says Noll, “in convincing Quebec of the need for a rupture with older forms of Catholicism, but they were not successful in getting the citizens of Quebec to embrace their version of a reformed, modern Catholicism. Rather, most Quebec citizens, when they gave up the older form of Catholicism, turned to the a- or anti-Catholic forms of nationalism, state rule, and linguistic sovereignty promoted by more secular or even radical forces.”
Historian Preston Jones puts it this way: “French Canadian nationalism as a cultural disposition rooted in Quebec’s Catholic history was transformed into Quebecois separatism as a secular faith founded upon an aspiration for political salvation from the influences of the English.” In the words of Noll, the new and reformed Catholicism “captured, but could not feed, the soul of Quebec.” In the rural and northern parishes of Quebec where I serve a few weeks of the summer, Catholic commitment is relatively strong, but it is not, as the old-timers routinely volunteer, anything like what it used to be. In Montreal it is not unusual that Sunday Mass in churches built for thousands is attended by two dozen of the faithful who seem lost in an ecclesiastical cosmos that, according to some observers, is on a trajectory toward oblivion.
As for the United Church of Canada, which resulted from a 1920s merger of Methodists and most Presbyterians, it still thought of itself as key to the religio-cultural establishment of English-speaking Canada. Its leadership is decidedly on the modernist side of the usual theological divides and was once confident that the UCC had an important part to play in helping the government create a new and more just society. Noll writes: “The irony of the situation was that while a modernistic social gospel succeeded in winning the mind of the United Church, that victory left the United Church with little to offer by way of specific Christian content in the radically transformed conditions of the 1960s, when Canadian governments acted far more effectively than the churches in guaranteeing personal welfare.” The Anglicans, who were once the Canadian elite, or much of the elite, at prayer have also fallen on hard times: “Efforts by Anglicans to preserve a measure of social influence have been set back by extensive court battles arising from earlier abuses of First Nation’s children in residential schools and by corrosive internal debates on matters of sexuality and doctrine. The struggle to define a meaningful Anglican presence for a denomination now marked by wide doctrinal pluralism leaves little energy for the magisterial guidance the denomination once provided for at least some ranks of Canadian society.”
There is an Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, but as Noll observes: “The relatively small size and modest means of the sectarian cohort in Canada, compared to the much larger and much wealthier cohort in the United States, constitute a major difference. But so does the fact that voluntaristic sectarians flourish in the United States at least in part because their loose, traditionless, entrepreneurial style fits well with the United States’ historically looser, less traditional, more republican, and more entrepreneurial culture, whereas north of the border no form of sectarianism or voluntarism has ever exerted a major public influence in Canada’s more corporate, conformist, cooperative, and monarchical culture.”
Secularism Alongside and Within
Toward the end of his survey, Noll says that Lipset’s point about Canada being a more communal and traditional society than the U.S. still holds. It is simply that the specifically Christian substance of that tradition has been largely evacuated. “In the United States, secularization has proceeded alongside of the fragmented, populist structures of American churches. In Canada, by contrast, it has worked through the communal, top-down structures of traditional Canadian society.” That is, I believe, an incisive observation, and helps explain, as Noll writes, “how Canada, which for so long looked much more Christian than Western Europe, and considerably more Christian than its southern neighbor, now appears in its religious character to resemble Europe much more closely than it does the United States.”
More recently, the Conservative party under the leadership of Stephen Harper has been able to form a minority government and is enjoying widespread support. Harper gives indications, however subtle, of greater sympathy for Canada’s earlier Christian tradition and its importance in addressing social issues of moral moment. It’s an apparently small thing, but much note is taken of his ending public speeches with “God bless Canada.” Also more recently, there are signs that some evangelicals and Catholics are overcoming their typically Canadian reticence—and their fear of seeming to be like those Americans—and are asserting a stronger public voice. It is possible that these are political and religious portents of major change. Many things are possible. But, for a lucid and persuasive explanation of recent decades, I recommend Mark Noll’s “What Happened to Christian Canada?”
Oh yes, another hopeful note on the Canadian scene. Archbishop Thomas Collins of Edmonton has just been installed as the new archbishop of Toronto. A Toronto paper ran an interview in which he was asked about his favorite movie, television show, food, football team, etc., etc. He said he didn’t pay enough attention to such things to have favorites. Then he was asked what is his favorite magazine, to which he responded: “I don’t really get magazines and if I do, they relate to my religious life. The one I subscribe to is First Things.” Sounds like a good man.
While We’re At It
• Terry Eagleton, the leftist British literary critic and philosopher, reviews Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster. Dawkins speaks scoffingly of a personal God, as though it were entirely obvious exactly what this might mean. He seems to imagine God, if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap, however supersized. He asks how this chap can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms. For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.” Eagleton’s concluding observation: “He might also have avoided being the second most frequently mentioned individual in his book—if you count God as an individual.” And now we’ll give Dawkins a rest for a while.
• “These authors know themselves to be righteous; their opponents, therefore, must be unrighteous. These books evince little charity, less contrition, and no sense whatsoever that their authors, too, stand in need of divine forgiveness.” That’s Christopher Levenick reviewing in the Claremont Review a rash of books—by Jimmy Carter, Michael Lerner, Robin Meyers, Dan Wakefield, and Jim Wallis—attacking conservative Christians in public life. Levenick deplores their partisan indifference to moral ambiguities. “Perhaps such reflection will remind them that we are pilgrims more than prophets, that we pass through this City of Man as strangers in a strange land, longing for and ultimately arriving, we pray, in the City of God. And until we achieve that distant Kingdom, we will do best to recognize each other’s good intentions, offer one another patient correction, and pray for our mutual betterment, and withal follow the counsel of Micah, to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” And it may be that you cannot always do all three at once. There is, I would suggest, an ordering of imperatives in Micah’s counsel. When you do not know what justice requires, or cannot do what you believe justice requires, then at least love mercy; and when you discover, as you inevitably will, how difficult is such love, then, at the very least, walk humbly with God.
• All of us who are of a certain age and were involved in what was simply called The Movement of the 1960s and 1970s learned at one point or another that The Movement was composed of very different and sometimes contradictory movements. For me, The Movement was defined by the civil rights cause under the leadership of Dr. King, before the emergence around 1965 of Black Power and the trashing of King’s dream of “the beloved community.” But one’s youthful friendships, alliances, and networks, while strained, continued to be on the side of what was variously defined as the Left. The greatest strain came for me with the Left’s embrace of the pro-abortion cause, then, long before Roe v. Wade, running under the banner of “liberalized abortion.” Already in 1967 I was writing that the Left was making a fatal mistake by planting the liberal flag on the wrong side of the abortion question. Authentic liberalism, I contended, is on the side of ever expanding the community for which we accept common responsibility, with an emphasis on including the most vulnerable in that community. It is the argument I have been making all these years, but of course it did not carry the day, with the consequence that an older liberalism is now called conservatism. The other strain of The Movement that slowly and relentlessly pushed many of us out was the celebrated “counterculture” of drugs, anarchism, and the excitements of what Freud termed childhood’s polymorphous perversity. This, too, is nicely described in Philip Jenkins’ book on the 1970s, A Decade of Nightmares. Now novelist Robert Stone has a new book reflecting on those years, Prime Green. He spent those years hanging out with the likes of Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, and an assortment of absolutely stoned would-be Maoists. He writes: “In our time we were clamorous and vain. I speak not only for myself here, but for all those with whom I shared the era and what I think of as its attitudes. We wanted it all: Sometimes we confused self-destructiveness with virtue and talent, obliteration with ecstasy, heedlessness with courage. Worshiping the doctrines of Hemingway as we did, we wanted constant grace under constant pressure, and stoicism before a disillusionment that somehow never went stale. We wanted to die well every single day, to be a cool guy and good-looking corpse. How absurd, because nothing is free, and we had to learn that at last.” Those are important lessons to learn, even if wiser people knew them without teetering on the edge of self-destruction. So it is gratifying that Robert Stone has, at long last, come to a modicum of understanding. But then he adds this: “We were the chief victims of our own mistakes. . . . Measuring ourselves against the masters of the present, we regret nothing except our failure to prevail.” He would do little or nothing differently. Without denying that he, too, is a victim of his own mistakes, decades of moral and cultural demolition left innumerable other victims of the delusion that decadence, drug-induced ecstasy, and the flirtation with death is cool. Stone and his friends did prevail more than he apparently thinks. Although that is not what Robert Stone intends, Prime Green explains much of what destroyed The Movement that once captured the allegiance of young people who aspired to build the beloved community and, for many, turned idealism into a term of derision to this day.
• Thanks to a working group called Vox Clara, headed by George Cardinal Pell of Australia, and to the hard work of a reformed ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy), it seems that Catholics will soon have a new sacramentary with an actual translation of the Latin texts of the Mass rather than the loose and clunky paraphrases that were hastily contrived in the 1960s. The old guard of the liturgical establishment that was responsible for the dumbed-down paraphrases is not happy. Bishop Donald Trautman, who will be chairman of the U.S. bishops conference’s committee on liturgy for a little while longer, gave the keynote address at the January meeting in Toronto of the North American Academy of Liturgy. Criticizing the work of Vox Clara and ICEL, he said liturgists must be “prophetic” in defending a liturgy that is “accessible and pastorally aware.” I don’t know how liturgy can be aware, but Catholics who are aware may be somewhat amused by the warnings of Trautman and others that changes in the rite might alienate some of the faithful. After forty years of eat-your-spinach diktats from the liturgical guild, it seems a little late to be worrying about alienating the faithful. By now everybody is familiar with the quip about the difference between liturgists and terrorists: You can sometimes negotiate with terrorists. Thanks to Vox Clara and ICEL, it seems that at least one war on terrorism is being won.
• There is a new plaque in Rome with this inscription:
SEMPER MEMORIA SERVETUR
FAUSTI DIEI XII ANTE KAL NOVEMBRIS MMVI QUO
BENEDICTUS XVI PONTIFEX MAXIMUS
DECESSORUM SUORUM VESTIGIA
ACADEMICA COMMUNITATE SUMMA LAETITIA RECEPTUS
LATERANENSEM INVISIT NOVAM
UTI STUDIORUM ET INVESTIGATIONIS SEDEM
AD SACRAM TRADITIONEM ALENDAM BENEDIXIT
AULAM MAGNAM SIBI DICATAM
CAMILLO S.R.E. CARDINALE RUINI MAGNO CANCELLARIO
ET RINO FISICHELLA
EPISCOPO TIT VICOHABENTINO
QUI OPUS SUSCIPIENDUM AC
That translates as: “May the memory always be preserved of the auspicious day of 21 October 2006 on which Benedict XVI, Pontifex Maximus, following the footsteps of his predecessors, and having been received with greatest joy by the academic community, visited the Pontifical Lateran University, blessed the new library as a seat of studies and research to foster sacred tradition, and inaugurated the Great Hall dedicated to himself. Accompanying him were Camillo Ruini, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, the Grand Chancellor, and Rino Fisichella, titular bishop of Voghenza, the Magnificent Rector, who saw to it that the work was begun and completed.” But Fr. George Rutler sends along this translation, from Fr. Tim Finigan’s blog, as it might have been rendered by the old unreformed ICEL: “One day last year, the Pope came to our school. He made us all very happy when he said a prayer for the new bookcases and a big room with his name on it. Cardinal Ruini (who is very important) was there and so was Bishop Rino who got it all done.”
• Call him a curmudgeon if you wish, but Dr. Stephen Bower nicely puts some common complaints in his open letter to the Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina. Apparently the church has been “updating” its “worship style” in order to appeal to a broader “market.” Dr. Bower writes: “We could easily integrate some of the so-called contemporary into our worship service as we know it. This is more a question of whether we should be striving to build up the Body of Christ or multiple bodies, each with its own brand of theology, liturgy, and church culture—i.e. old light people are irrelevant, new light people are relevant; old light people live in the past, new light people live in the present; old light people meet in the sanctuary, new light people meet in fellowship hall; old light people remain stiff, unemotional, and impersonal, new light people are relaxed, emotional, and personal; old light people are uncaring, new light people really care; old light people sit in hard wooden pews while new light people sit in soft chairs and gather informally around a table; old light people like to hear the word of God from the pulpit, new light people like to see the word of God on a screen; old light people are conceptual, new light people are visual; old light people want to be educated, new light people want to be counseled; old light people like to think, new light people like to feel; old light people seek communion with God, new light people seek communion with themselves; old light people believe in open invitational communion, new light people believe that is not enough; old light people believe they are sinners, new light people believe they are emotionally unsatisfied; old light people believe the church ought to serve others, new light people believe it ought to serve them.” If some folks don’t like the Presbyterian tradition, Dr. Bower concludes, “we, they, and the Lord would be better served” if they were directed to churches more attuned to their tastes. Of course, he is painting with broad strokes, and the idea of attending “the church of your choice” reflects a very Protestant ecclesiology, although in recent decades, and despite rules about parish boundaries, many Catholics also “church shop” within the capacious ambience of Catholic worship. Apart from Dr. Bower’s letter, I know nothing about Spring Valley Presbyterian, but the concerns he addresses are probably a permanent feature of church life in America: the tension, if not war, between unbridled voluntarism and marketing on the one hand and, on the other, the struggle to maintain an ecclesial community that at least approximates a biblical understanding of the one Church of Jesus Christ.
• Catholics, or at least some Catholics, have a way of speaking about the pope as “Peter among us.” The ministers change but the office is that of the Petrine Ministry. This sense of Peter among us is nicely reflected in a letter sent by Pope Pelagius II (d. 590) to Western bishops but was probably written by his secretary, who would succeed him as Pope Gregory the Great. Rome had at first opposed measures taken by the Second Council of Constantinople but then changed its mind, to the chagrin of some Western bishops. Pelagius/Gregory wrote: “Dear Brethren, do you think that to Peter, who was reversing his position, one should have replied: We refuse to hear what you are saying since you previously taught the opposite? If in [this] matter one position was held while truth was being sought and a different position was adopted after truth had been found, why should a change of position be imputed a crime to this See which is humbly venerated by all in the person of its founder?” The personal dimension of the papacy is not separable from the person of Peter, who, then and now, participates in the Church’s deliberation of the truth, which will not be possessed fully until “we know even as we are known” (1 Cor. 13).
• Popping up from time to time in these pages is this question of kneeling vs. standing in the Mass. A reader sends this from Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy. The narrator attends a Protestant service in Glasgow and reports: “I found a numerous congregation engaged in the act of prayer. The Scotch perform this duty in a standing, instead of a kneeling posture, more perhaps, to take as broad a distinction as possible from the ritual of Rome than for any better reason, since I have observed that in their family worship, as doubtless in their private devotions, they adopt, in their immediate address to the Deity, that posture which other Christians use as the humblest and most reverential.” Of course, Catholics today should not want to take as broad a distinction as possible from the practices of Protestants, but there is no reason to imitate those who want to take as broad a distinction as possible from Catholics.
• The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. So what else is new? Except, as a global generalization, it is not true. There is no doubt that many of the rich get richer. It strikes most people as unseemly, at least, when American CEOs make $30
0 million or more per year in salaries, bonuses, and various other bookkeeping gimmicks; but unseemly does not necessarily translate into unjust. Stockholders and directors are responsible for determining what is required to make a corporation work effectively. Not that they always, or even typically, do their job very well. I suppose the principle that people rise to the level of their incompetence holds in business as much as in any other field. Although, unlike the academy, government, and some other institutions, there is in business an approximate measure of competence, i.e., producing a return on investment. In any event, the pertinent global generalization would seem to be that the whole world is getting richer, and this is notably true in countries that have free or relatively free economies. That is the conclusion drawn from data in the 2007 Index of Economic Freedom. Of the 157 nations ranked according to economic freedom, Hong Kong is number one and North Korea is number 157. (The U.S. is number four.) The gap between the per-capita income of have-not populations and that of the developed world is narrowing. The higher GDP rates that come with economic freedom, says the report, “seem to create a virtuous cycle, triggering further improvements in economic freedom. Our 13 years of Index data strongly suggest that the countries that increase their levels of freedom experience faster growth rates.” A big loser is Africa, where economic freedom is rare and corrupt government control flourishes. On the ratings, little Botswana is 38 and the next in line is Uganda at 59, with Zimbabwe, under the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, near the bottom at 154. The Index reinforces the teaching of the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus that economic freedom—John Paul II preferred the term “the business economy”—is essential to expanding the circle of productivity and exchange. The report should be kept in mind when we hear, as we almost certainly will hear, condemnations of “neoliberalism” (i.e., economic freedom) coming from the May meeting of CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ conferences, in Brazil. Of course, there are those who will object that the Index is published by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation, both of which are well known to be conservative. Facts are not liberal or conservative. Interpretations of facts may be ideological, but the indisputable fact is that there is a powerful correlation, a correlation that looks very much like a causal relationship, between freedom, on the one hand, and, on the other, both rich and poor getting richer. Not that this will stop putatively prophetic voices from cheering countries such as Venezuela that are racing toward the future of the socialist past in solidarity with progressive regimes such as that of Cuba (number 156 on the list of 157).
• The last meeting of the dialogue between Catholics and the Baptist World Alliance was in 1988. The dialogue was resumed in December at Beeson Divinity School in Alabama, and Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, New Jersey, addressed the subject of “Revelation and Koinonia.” Bishop Serratelli, who also heads the doctrine committee of the U.S. bishops conference, very effectively set forth why the Word of God and the communion (koinonia or communio) of believers are inseparable and did so with a strong Trinitarian accent. In this understanding, Christian unity is not our project but the work of the Holy Spirit: “As communion or koinonia, the Church both images the Trinity as a communio personarum and participates in that very communion. Communio expresses a reality deeper than relationship. It expresses the idea of participation in one another’s lives. We are not merely related to each other as to the members of our own family. Their lives dwell somehow in us and ours in them. We shape their lives and they ours. However, in the communion that is the Church, the persons of the Trinity, who dwell completely in the other and are not divided from each other, dwell in us. We are called to manifest that unity. God’s Word alive and active in our midst draws us into the divine life and into the Church, the mystery of communion. By God’s self-gift to us in the Word, the Spirit is at work until we all are one.” Thus, whether we weary of it or not, the ecumenical project continues.
• In 1850, there were 51,389 Mormons, mainly in Utah. In 2000, there were 11,068,861, with a little over half of them outside the U.S. That figure is now more than 12 million. In 1984 sociologist Rodney Stark wrote an essay titled “The Rise of a New World Faith,” which gained considerable attention, especially among Mormons. He projected then, and he stands by the projection now, that in 2080 there will be, at a minimum, 64 million Mormons and perhaps as many as 267 million. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he observes, is the first major new world religion in 1,400 years, since the rise of Islam. While he is on friendly terms with Mormonism and is sympathetic to Mormon scholars who claim the LDS is a variant of Christianity, Stark insists that it is a new religion. Stark’s research and reflections on this phenomenon are available in a recent book, The Rise of Mormonism, edited by Reid Neilson and published by Columbia University Press.
• Here is yet another slashing attack on the putative theocrats, this time by John Patrick Diggins, professor of history at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, writing in The American Prospect. It did not appear in time to be included in Ross Douthat’s fine survey of such overheated literature, “Theocracy! Theocracy! Theocracy!” (First Things, August/September 2006). Such alarums about the impending theocracy are drearily repetitive by this point, but Diggins does have one new angle. He quotes Charles Péguy’s observation that “what begins in mystery ends in politics,” and applies it to First Things. This magazine, he says, “is almost all politics.” I’m afraid he got us there. As I keep telling my editorial colleagues, we really must run at least an occasional article on religion, theology, philosophy, literature, the arts, or whatever in order to break the pattern of all politics all the time.
• Some writers include the LDS in the category “Protestant.” Stark writes: “But there is no such group. ‘Protestant’ is a purely arbitrary and highly misleading statistical category embracing hundreds of very different and competing faiths.” Well, yes and no. In common usage, Protestant means Christians who are not Catholic or Orthodox, and keep in mind that most Mormons do claim to be Christians. Yet I agree with Stark that the common usage is misleading, and that the LDS is not simply another form of Christianity. (See my March 2000 essay “Is Mormonism Christian?”) Stark writes: “If we disassemble Protestants into their constituent groups, a most remarkable fact comes to light. The Latter-day Saints, with 5.5 million American members in 2003, are the fifth largest church in the United States. They are exceeded in size only by the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, and the Church of God in Christ. That the Latter-day Saints have overtaken such prominent and ‘traditional’ faiths as the Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and even the Lutherans must be one of the most unremarked cultural watersheds in U.S. history.”
• Stark is keenly aware of the perils in making historical projections, but he offers a persuasive argument in support of his expectations regarding Mormon growth. Of course, he wrote prior to the emergence of the real possibility of a Mormon being elected president of the U.S. We are almost certainly in for an intensified public discussion of Mormonism as a consequence of Mitt Romney’s candidacy. Already, salvos have been launched from both religious and secular quarters against the prospect of a president who subscribes to such a “fraudulent,” “bizarre,” and “cultish” religion. Other pundits have weighed in on the side that Romney’s religion is a purely “private” matter, that the question of exclusion by virtue of religious affiliation was “settled” by the election of John F. Kennedy, that the only things that matter are competence, character, and policies, etc., etc. The bid of Mitt Romney, an undeniably attractive candidate on many scores, adds an interesting religious and cultural dimension to the 2008 race. Many voters will likely reflect on what it might mean for the growth and perceived legitimacy of the LDS, both here and around the world, to have a Mormon as president of the United States. For those concerned about the role of Christianity in America, and about the Christian mission in the world, this is a legitimate, if not decisive, question. It can in no way be dismissed as religious bigotry. Unless, of course, one wants to argue that interest in that role and that mission is itself a form of bigotry, which to argue is itself a form of bigotry. It is possible that in the months ahead there will be, sparked by the Romney candidacy, numerous articles and at least a few new books on the LDS. To get a feel for the larger picture of possible futures, you might want to get hold of Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Mormonism.
• Some might describe it as fast-paced, while others will decry it as a hurried race through time, but I expect few will deny that it is a good read. Civilization: A New History of the Western World by British writer Roger Osborne (Pegasus) is an ambitious book about just about everything. Except, surprisingly enough, the challenge of radical Islam that has in recent years concentrated minds on the meaning of Western civilization, if there still is such a thing. Osborne writes: “The two dominant ideas of civilization, the nineteenth-century ‘great tradition,’ and the Freudian calming of the beast within, with its echoes of Christian theology, have remained with us at the beginning of a new century. The image of a golden thread of civilization, carrying the shining light through the barbarian darkness that surrounds it, has proved a powerful and enduring symbol for historians. In 1999 Christian Meier wrote that the narrow channel in which the Athenians defeated the Persian fleet at Salamis was ‘the eye of the needle through which history had to pass,’ while Kenneth Clark referred to the period when Christianity ‘survived by clinging on to places like Skellig Michael, a pinnacle of rock eighteen miles from the Irish coast’ as civilization getting through by ‘the skin of our teeth.’ At times like these the golden thread stretched alarmingly but it did not break. Our link with the great tradition was thereby both preserved and exemplified.” But now, or so it seems, the link is broken. “There remains a belief, particularly among liberal westerners, that this is simply a short-term crisis brought on by the hypocritical piety of certain leaders. There is even an idea that the current situation has been brought about by irrational, religious-based ideas, and that a healthy dose of rationalism will put us back on course. The history of the last 2,500 years, and the last 150 years in particular, shows that this is an illusion. The fundamental western belief that there are rational ways of organizing the world which will bring benefit to all has been at the root of every human-made catastrophe that has overtaken us.” Osborne concludes that we face three choices: the relentless search for universal meaning, the continuing reduction of lives and minds by the rational machinery of standardization, or amusing ourselves to death with the toys of consumption. I take it that he favors the search for universal meaning, grounded in Augustinian realism (which he calls pessimism) and a Thomistic affirmation of created order. But that is my inference; he does not come right out and say so.
• It has been more than sixteen years since Pope John Paul II issued Ex Corde Ecclesiae, underscoring that the Catholic university is born from “the heart of the Church” and should faithfully serve the Church’s faith and mission, meaning the faith and mission of those who are the Church. It is not true that nothing has changed in the two-hundred-plus colleges and universities in this country. Many institutions have engaged in an intensive self-examination seeking to strengthen their “Catholic identity.” For most schools, however, it seems that the drift into secular blandness continues, maintaining “Catholic identity” mainly for recruitment and fund-raising purposes. This is strikingly true of Jesuit universities that vaguely, and somewhat nostalgically, describe themselves as being “in the Jesuit tradition” but flee the scandal of particularity that is being Catholic. A man-bites-dog story that gained attention recently has to do with a lawsuit titled Saint Louis University v. The Masonic Temple Association. The Masons claimed SLU is a Catholic institution and SLU denied it. The dispute was over an $8 million tax abatement, with the Masons contending that the state constitution forbids such aid to an institution controlled by a religious body. SLU argued that it is “independent of the Catholic Church.” As it happens, the court ruled on very narrow grounds of governance, noting that, while SLU “maintains a Jesuit heritage,” it is actually “controlled and operated by an independent, lay board of trustees.” (Of the 1,275 faculty and staff of SLU, fewer than 35 are Jesuits.) I expect one would with some difficulty try to explain to Ignatius Loyola how it came about all these years later that the Masons accused one of his universities of being Catholic and the university prevailed in denying it.
• The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is a very establishmentarian pro-business organization, and it has recently issued a study celebrating the economic benefits of abortion on demand. “Taken together with earlier research results, the authors’ findings suggest that the improved living circumstances experienced by children born after the legalization of abortion had a lasting impact on their lifelong prospects. Children who were ‘born unwanted’ prior to the legalization of abortion not only grew up in more disadvantaged households, but also grew up to be more disadvantaged as adults.” The report adds, “This conclusion is in line with a broad literature documenting the intergenerational correlation in income and showing that adverse living circumstances as a child are associated with poor outcomes as an adult.” Thanks to the high-powered research of NBER, it now seems to be established that, in terms of economic outcomes, it is better to be born rich than to be born poor. Who would have thought it? A disproportionate number of the thirty-five million children killed by abortion since 1973 would have been born poor, and it is therefore a net economic gain that they were not born. Of abortion, the report says, “This phenomenon is referred to as ‘selection.’“ To which one might add that the claim to know what those dead children might have done with their lives is referred to as soothsaying. And the argument implicitly advanced by NBER is referred to as eugenics.
• This month is a bit unusual. Various notices from publishers announce five new books promising to reveal “the real Jesus of Nazareth.” Usually there are only two or three per month. With apologies to the ladies, one is inclined to paraphrase the old saying: “There are only three things not worth running for-a bus, a woman, and a reported disclosure of the real Jesus; if you wait a little while, another one will come along.” On the other hand, there is Pope Benedict’s forthcoming Jesus of Nazareth, which I am sure will not propose a new Jesus but deepen our understanding of the Word who was from the beginning, and will be worth running for.
• The title is unfortunate: “Expelling God from the University.” If by God we mean God, he cannot be expelled from any part of his creation. But the article, by David French of the Alliance Defense Fund, is a useful summary of curious things happening on campus. Appearing in that valuable journal, Academic Questions, published by the National Association of Scholars, the article recounts case after case of students being punished or silenced for expressing religious views that violate academic orthodoxies; and of Christian campus groups, some of which have been around for decades, being put out of business. Not surprisingly, the most common instrument of repression are speech codes forbidding “homophobic discrimination.” Most of what French recounts is drearily familiar by now, but a new twist is the way in which state universities are in their official statements getting into the business of defining true (gay friendly) and false (gay critical) Christianity. So much for the separation of church and state when state institutions set themselves up as arbiters in theological and moral disputes. In multiple cases, courts have ruled that such discrimination against orthodox persons and organizations is illegal but, as French notes, that doesn’t stop the academic thought patrol from trying again and again.
• “I’d like to see Fideles recognized as a sort of First Things North, because TWU and RPC have an ecumenical partnership that is totally unique.” So says Prof. C.S. Morrissey of Redeemer Pacific College, a Catholic school that is cooperating closely with the evangelical Trinity Western University, both in British Columbia. Fideles is described as “a Catholic and Evangelical journal of metaphysics and theology,” and the first issue, handsomely produced, includes articles on the mysticism of C.S. Lewis, the meta-science of metaphysics, and the theological uses of the analogy of being. For more information check out their website: www.morec.com/rpc/fideles.html.
• Newsweek and the Washington Post have launched this online discussion center called “On Faith,” moderated by Jon Meacham of Newsweek and Sally Quinn of the Post. A recent installment asked this question: “Is America a ‘Christian nation’? Should it be?” The editors invited comment from twenty-eight writers and public figures, including the polemicist for atheism Daniel Dennett, a score of ideological secularists, and a smattering of Jews and Muslims. Identifiable liberals outnumber identifiable conservatives by at least five to one. Of the twenty-eight invited, only one, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, is somewhat sympathetic to the “Christian nation” idea but with the sharp qualification that America is certainly not that if it means that “the vast majority of people are ‘converted’ individuals who profess Christ as their personal Savior.” As has often been pointed out, not least in these pages, America obviously is, historically and sociologically, a Christian nation at least in a sense similar to its being an English-speaking nation. Not everybody speaks English, and relatively few speak it very well, but the language the vast majority speaks is English more than it is anything else. The “On Faith” symposium is introduced with the observation that “Some politically conservative Christians say that America is a ‘Christian nation.’“ Then Meacham and Quinn invite twenty-eight people who, with few exceptions, are most emphatically not conservative Christians, and most of whom have a track record of hostility to anything associated with conservative Christianity, to react to what some conservative Christians say. What do you suppose is the purpose of such an exercise, apart from the pleasure of mutual reassurance among the like-minded? And, of course, to raise the alarm, one more time, about the dangers posed by “politically conservative Christians.” Whether, and in what ways, America is and is not a Christian nation is a very interesting question. Mr. Meacham and Ms. Quinn employ a very uninteresting way of not addressing it.
• Ranking the states according to their commitment to defend human life at all points of development and decline, Michigan and Missouri are one and two while New Jersey and Vermont are forty-nine and fifty. These are among the findings in Defending Life 2006, a 520-page publication of Americans United for Life (AUL). AUL was present at the creation of the pro-life movement, and for a number of years I was privileged to serve on its board. Defending Life is a treasure of information and wise counsel that will be welcomed by those who know that the movement is for the duration, which means until Our Lord returns in glory. Of particular interest is the essay “The Day After Roe,” which includes model legislation for states and guidelines for protecting the conscience rights of health-care professionals. (For more information, go to the AUL website-www.unitedforlife.org-or write 310 S. Peoria St., Chicago, Illinois 60607.)
• I see the Anti-Defamation League has done its annual roundup and announces, “For Jews around the world, 2006 has been unlike any year in recent memory.” One wonders if, in important respects, every year isn’t both like and unlike every other year. But never mind. The point of the message is the absolute indispensability of the ADL. “If the Anti-Defamation League didn’t exist, who would respond to these challenges and address these threats?” A good question. The ADL then lists the challenges and threats of the year. “Former President Jimmy Carter’s book blaming Israel for the Palestinian conflict.” Who would have challenged the book if the ADL didn’t? On the other hand, one is reluctant to think that the ADL orchestrated the barrage of negative reviews of Carter’s book. That would surely feed the fevers of the Jewish-control-of-the-media kooks. Next on the list is “The Holocaust Denial Conference, hosted by Iran.” One has to admire ADL’s lonely dissent from the overwhelmingly positive coverage of President Ahmadinejad’s gathering of loonies in Tehran. Next is “The growing threat of Islamic extremism.” It seems ADL is to be credited with, among other things, pressuring Pope Benedict to speak out at long last. Then there is “The fatal attack on the Jewish Federation in Seattle.” You will remember that, last July, an anti-Israel nut went on a shooting spree, killing a woman at the Jewish Federation. It is well known that shooting Jews in Seattle is not a criminal offense. But, thanks to the diligence of the ADL, the man was promptly arrested, jailed, and is awaiting trial. The final threat listed is “The increasing challenge to the separation of church and state.” While admiring the effectiveness of the ADL, one is uneasy about their being so public in taking credit for all those books and articles warning against the imminent imposition of theocracy. (See above on Jewish control of the media.) Nonetheless, the case for the absolute indispensability of the ADL is impressive. “If the Anti-Defamation League didn’t exist . . .” It is simply too frightening to contemplate.
• In the October issue, I cited a powerful article by Elizabeth Schiltz on the pressures brought by the medical profession to have women abort less-than-perfect babies. I said she is the author of Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics. I stand corrected. She has an essay in that invaluable book, but Melinda Tankard Reist is the editor. (Although published in Australia, the book is available on Amazon.) The book will be of very particular interest to mothers and fathers who are expecting. “Fewer and fewer pregnancies,” writes Reist, “are allowed to proceed without screening and related interventions. Rarely are women allowed to move through pregnancy without being subjected to some form of genetic surveillance. Some of the drive to ‘over-screen’ is driven by medical negligence claims; doctors, and no less insurers, push for routine screening as a means of ensuring that their risk of liability is minimized.” Reist writes: “Defiant Birth is a book about women who have resisted the present day practice of medical eugenics. It is about women who were told they should not have babies because of perceived disabilities-either in the child or themselves. They have confronted a society deeply fearful of disability and all its stigmas. Facing silent disapproval and even open hostility, they have had their babies anyway, believing their children are just as worthy to partake of life as are others. This is a book about women who have resisted the ideology of quality control and the paradigm of perfection. They have dared to challenge the prevailing medical and social mindset. This book’s contributors have refused to take part in a system of ‘disability deselection’ which classifies certain people as ‘biologically incapacitated.’ These women may be among the last who decide to have babies without the genetic stamp of approval. They are, in a sense, genetic outlaws.” The nineteen women who write about their defiance of what is aptly called medical eugenics are also heroines who gave life a chance and who write movingly of their joy in having resisted the “choice” that others tried to impose upon them and their children. Defiant Birth. Somebody you know should read this book.
• Political and social engagement by evangelical Christians goes way back to the American beginnings, writes J. Budziszewski, professor of government at the University of Texas, in Evangelicals in the Public Square (Baker). But he’s worried about the current chapter of that engagement, beginning in the late 1970s. In addition to being excessively experiential and “intuitionist,” evangelicals frequently substitute a naive biblicism for political philosophy. They need, Budziszewski says, to draw more on “general revelation” about the way the world is ordered as distinct from the “special revelation” that shows the way of salvation. And this means they need to rediscover the rich resources of natural law. He writes: “Of course, we should not beat nonbelievers over the head with general revelation any more than we should do so with special revelation. The line ‘Natural law says!’ is no more persuasive, by itself, than the line ‘The Bible says!’ But we need not invoke the natural law tradition by name just to make use of it. What the Christian natural law tradition teaches us is what nonbelievers, in fragmentary fashion, already know—whether or not they know that they know it, whether or not they think that they know it, and even if they would rather not know it. Viewed this way, the art of cultural apologetic is less a matter of laying foundations than of digging up and repairing them, less a matter of talking people into truths they do not yet know than of dredging up what they do know but have not acknowledged. In the words of the apostle Paul, a law is written on the heart. In fallen humans, it is easier to suppress than we might wish, but it is altogether impossible to erase.”
• With remarkable regularity, that 1996 symposium on the judicial usurpation of politics is referred to as “radical,” “revolutionary,” and “reckless.” With dutiful regularity, I point out that raising the question of legitimate government is as American as American can be. It is in fact the question that precipitated the founding of our constitutional order. Recently I came across this reflection by Thomas Jefferson in an 1821 letter to Charles Hammond. Truth to tell, Jefferson is not my favorite among the founders. Further truth to tell, Jefferson was in some of his statements radical, revolutionary, and reckless—for instance, in preferring the destruction of the world if it would only yield a new Adam and Eve living in liberty, or in opining that the tree of liberty must regularly be refreshed by the blood of patriots. But for those who take Jefferson to be authoritative, herewith his sober and sobering letter to Hammond: “It has long been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from its expression . . . that the germ of dissolution of our Federal Government is in the constitution of the Federal Judiciary-an irresponsible body (for impeachment is scarcely a scarecrow), working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief over the field of jurisdiction until all shall be usurped from the States and the government be consolidated into one. To this I am opposed.” It need only be added that decisions such as Roe are less like gravity than like thunderbolts from Mount Olympus, gravity having long since concentrated government authority and placed the legislative function under the control of the federal judiciary.
• I agree with those who complain that it is not fair to draw attention to the fact that Senator Barack Obama’s middle name is Hussein, but I cannot do so without drawing attention to it. Perhaps more pertinent to our politics is the name Barack (sometimes spelled Barak), which presumably refers to the warrior who served under the direction of a strong-willed woman executive named Deborah (see Judges 4). This has led practitioners of a peculiar style of biblical prognostication to conclude that the senator will accept the vice-presidential nomination on a ticket headed by a strong-willed woman of our time. I know nothing about that. But, free-associating as I sometimes do, this was brought to mind by a review of The Judge in Democracy by Aharon Barak, until recently head of the Supreme Court of Israel. The review, in Azure magazine, is by Judge Robert Bork, who is not taken with Barak’s distinction between “formal democracy” and “substantive democracy.” Formal democracy is the rule of the people through elected representatives, while substantive democracy, according to Barak, is the rule of “the enlightened members of society,” mainly through the judiciary. “The question is not what the judge wants,” writes Barak, “but what society needs.” To which Bork responds: “It is incorrect to suppose that a society’s ‘needs’ is a fact that can be determined by an objective balancing of interests. In truth, the most important interests are likely to be conflicting value judgments. How, for instance, does a judge know whether a society ‘needs’ freedom of abortion, some degree of regulation, or a prohibition of abortion altogether? How can a judge determine whether his or her society ‘needs’ a constitutional right to homosexual marriage? How does he decide ‘objectively’ whether religious education in state-supported schools should be required, made optional, or prohibited? The answer, of course, is that the judge does not, and cannot, ‘know’ any of these things, though he may have strong feelings about them. Because the judge is, by definition, operating without guidance from positive law, it is almost certain that his personal opinions will turn out to be what society ‘needs.’“ It seems that Barak believes the judicial authoritarianism is necessary because judges are intellectually and morally superior to other political actors. Bork writes: “As he explains, ‘a branch of government should not judge itself. It is therefore appropriate that the final decision about the legality of the activities of the legislative and executive branches should be taken by a mechanism external to those branches, that is, the judiciary.’ Yet the judicial branch is properly subject to no such external mechanism, ‘because of their [the judges’] education, profession, and role,’ and because they are ‘trained and accustomed to dealing with conflicts of interest.’ Judges may be trusted, moreover, since they are ‘not fighting for their own power.’ Surely anyone familiar with Barak’s record will see the irony in that statement.” By advancing and acting upon his understanding of the power of courts, says Bork, “Barak surely establishes a world record for judicial hubris.” Robert Bork is an acknowledged expert on the stiff competition for that accolade, not least by courts in this country.
• Few authors have the curious publishing history of Philip Rieff, who died last July at age 84. The books with which he made his mark—Freud: The Mind of the Moralist and The Triumph of the Therapeutic—were published decades ago. Then followed a long silence, broken with the appearance, almost exactly coincident with his death, of Sacred Order, Social Order: My Life Among the Deathworks (see First Things, October 2006). That was announced as the first of a trilogy. Rieff was obviously writing at a brisk pace during those silent decades. And now here is yet another book, Charisma: The Gift of Grace and How It Has Been Taken Away from Us (Pantheon). (Oddly enough, the editors, who prepared the unfinished manuscript, do not mention the Deathworks trilogy.) Charisma is a vigorous, convoluted, and typically eccentric critique of Max Weber’s influential discussion of the title subject. As always, Rieff, a Jew, has Jews at the heart of the matter. He writes: “The modern world is full of disbelieving Jews. Yet, in Western history, the Jews have been the credal people. In the past 150 years, they have sought new creeds, and finally to escape from all creeds. The tragedy of this effort to escape their credal character is a red thread running through modern history. By our time, Karl Marx, yet another Jew committing identity suicide in the name of yet another new covenant, the Revolution, confronts the Jew of eternal law. And beyond the socialist movement is the therapeutic with its largely Jewish leadership. This latest leadership in moral revolution is not surprising. So many among our revolutionaries against morality are Jewish because so much of what was basic to our moral discipline is Jewish. The recalcitrance of the Jews to their credal vocation is nothing new; they were chosen; they did not choose. In this sense, they are the model of all credal vanguards, feeling their saving interdicts as a burden and yet superior precisely in their sense of also being a burden. It is against the background of the suffering and condescending God of the gentiles, a successful Kenosis in the sense that Jesus’ grace cannot be achieved, that we have to understand the Jews as a people burdened by a long memory of their own suffering under the doctrine of a grace they must achieve.”
• The place of “saving interdicts” is central to Rieff’s understanding of the sacred/social connection, and the rebellion against the interdicts is central to the creation of the “deathworks” of modernity. Rieff’s arguments are deliberately provocative, sometimes outrageous, and there are thoughtful people who dismiss him as little more than an intellectual poseur. I confess to finding him irritating but suggestive. In the foregoing quote and throughout his writings, an irritating factor is his refusal to deal with Jewish thinkers—Abraham Joshua Heschel, Michael Wyschogrod, and David Novak come to mind—who understand the giving of the law to Israel as a grace received and, at least in eschatological promise, achieved. In any event, Charisma and the announced two volumes of the trilogy should continue to fuel the debate over whether Philip Rieff is poseur or prophet. I’m inclined to opt for brilliant provocateur.
• There was, writes political scientist Daniel Mahoney, the “first neoconservatism,” and then there was the “second neoconservatism.” The first neoconservatism played a critical part in the defeat of communism, while the second thinks that was the prelude to a global democratic revolution. Mahoney writes, “In my view, the West’s victory over Communism is best understood not as a victory for democracy per se—especially not for democracy in its current, post-national and post-religious manifestation—but rather, as a defeat for the utopian illusion that human beings could somehow live free and dignified lives without property, religion, nations, or politics.” In a famous 1982 address to the British Parliament, Ronald Reagan said that Marxism was running against the tide of history. It is true that Marxism was a fundamental assault on the natural order of things, says Mahoney, “but it was another matter to turn the tables on the Marxists by claiming that ‘History’ favored the universal triumph of the democratic ideal. With the systematic breakdown of classical and Christian education in the Western world, few were still capable of articulating an older wisdom that refused to identify the Good with the alleged movement of History.”
• Although Francis Fukuyama has since been doing some fancy turns away from his “end of history” thesis, that thesis was powerfully influential. Mahoney writes: “Fukuyama’s thesis gave powerful impetus to what can be called the ‘second neoconservatism,’ an intellectual current that wished to follow up the defeat of Communism with vigorous support for a ‘global democratic revolution’ aided and sustained by the military and political power of the United States. The first neoconservatism, in contrast to the second, had been more anti-totalitarian than ‘democratic’ in orientation, and was perfectly willing to acknowledge the sheer intractability of cultures and civilizations.” The notion that democracy is the answer to everything, or that freedom is the driving motivation in every culture, is, says Mahoney, an instance of what Edmund Burke, criticizing the French Revolution, called “metaphysical madness.” The war on terror is real enough, but the threat should not be exaggerated, says Mahoney. “The West must prepare itself for a protracted struggle with a fanatical international movement that aspires to force the whole of humanity to live within ‘the house of Islam.’ With such a movement there can be no compromise or negotiated settlement. Still, it is difficult to argue that in this struggle the West’s very existence—or the moral legitimacy of liberal democracy—is genuinely at stake.” Mahoney is sharply critical of President Bush’s rhetoric that poses a “starkly Manichean choice between democracy and tyranny.” U.S. policy is in fact more sober than that. “We are confronted, then, with a foreign policy that in many respects operates within sober parameters of principle and prudence—but which is expressed in a self-defeating rhetoric that both encourages overreach and leaves the administration vulnerable to tendentious criticism. When the administration works with moderate pro-American autocrats such as General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan it is inevitably accused of hypocrisy. Putting inordinate stress on the necessity of building democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan—rather than speaking more modestly about strengthening lawful and representative institutions in both countries—creates unreasonable expectations that are bound to be disappointed.”
• I’m not sure that “democratic monomania,” as Mahoney calls it, characterizes the “second neoconservatives,” but it is true that we should have no delusions about the U.S. capacity to create functioning liberal democracies in Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere else. We can hope to bring about more approximately decent societies marked by the rule of law and posing only tolerable threats to regional and world peace. That would be, as Daniel Mahoney reminds us, no little achievement.
• The Frick Collection is, in my judgment, the most exquisite art exhibit and space for exhibiting art in New York. Of course there is no denying that the Metropolitan, ten blocks north on Fifth Avenue, is the world’s foremost encyclopedic museum, but the Frick has the perfect building for the framing of its treasures. The art historian E.H. Gombrich said of the framing of pictures that splendid frames are “a form of praise.” Which brings us to the new and much lauded Renzo Piano entrance to the J.P. Morgan Library at 36th and Madison. Writing in the American Arts Quarterly, Francis Morrone calls Piano one of the world’s leading “starchitects,” and there is no doubt that he has on his résumé; and in the works some of the most remarked museums and museum remakes in the world. The new entrance of the Morgan joins, physically but not visually, the library itself with an elegant eighteenth-century house purchased by Morgan, which later served as the national headquarters of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), until that body merged into the ELCA and moved to Chicago. From the outside, the Piano entrance has all the charm of an upscale branch of the Chase bank. As for the inside, Morrone writes, “The essence of Piano’s handiwork is a light-filled atrium that has received excessive praise for being an atrium and for being light-filled.” The mission of the Morgan, he writes, “used to be the preservation and exhibition of delicate works on paper and objets d’art. The new mission is to be a ‘museum experience’ for the attention-deficit-disordered masses who like to wander around in chic surroundings with no intention of getting the sort of education museums once existed to provide.” The Morgan is still a great museum; it is simply that the Piano addition adds nothing to and is a distraction from its architectural charms. I note that Mr. Morrone is more knowledgeable about New York architecture than about other matters. He writes, “The Lutherans eventually relocated to Texas and sold the house in 1988 to the Morgan Library.” Texas, Chicago, whatever.
• The press release from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles says it will be available from “a nationally-renowned publisher” in 2011 when the cardinal reaches seventy-five and submits his letter of resignation. But you might want to get on the list for the first edition of the biography of Roger Cardinal Mahony. It will be written by Dr. Michael Downey. It says here that the cardinal chose Downey to be his biographer after “wide consultation and careful consideration.” You cannot be too careful about choosing your biographer. The cardinal has been very careful indeed. Dr. Downey is a friend and the cardinal’s official theological adviser. Says the cardinal, “He knows my pastoral mind and my ecclesial outlook.” Says Dr. Downey: “Cardinal Mahony is the most significant and influential moderate voice in the American Catholic hierarchy. So many people all across the country, and in different parts of the world, look to him as a paragon of the middle way and of moderation.” It is true, says Downey, that he is “a prince of the Church Universal,” but he is also “a simple and humble man, a very uncomplicated and mature person.” Downey adds, “Like most people of deep and abiding prayer, Cardinal Mahony does not speak or write about his own experience of prayer or his own spiritual life.” Simple and humble man that he is, he has assigned Dr. Downey the delicate task of writing about such intimate aspects of his uncomplicated and mature personality. Though they will have to wait five years, it seems that the many admirers of Cardinal Mahony will, at long last, get the unvarnished story of the true and underappreciated greatness of Roger Cardinal Mahony. You might want to get your name on the list early.
• As of this writing, people are still waiting for the motu proprio (on his own initiative) directive from Pope Benedict on the wider use of the pre-1969 Roman Rite of the Mass—commonly, but misleadingly, called the Tridentine or Paul V Mass. The document is reportedly on the pope’s desk. The pope is said to desire that the old rite, in Latin of course, should be a normal but not normative part of Catholic worship. He could grant a general permission for any priest to celebrate the old rite, but that runs up against the idea that the bishop of the local church (meaning the diocese) is responsible for liturgical practices. Or he could simply urge bishops to be more generous in granting permission. But John Paul II urged such generosity in his 1988 apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei, where he wrote: “Respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962.” There are still bishops, however, who refuse to grant such permission or do so only grudgingly and with severe restrictions, almost as a sop thrown to so-called traditionalists. Nor is it clear how or whether the expected motu proprio will deal with the question of celebrating ad orientem (toward the East), with priest and people facing the same direction when addressing the Lord. In any event, informed sources say the document will be issued in the next month or two. But then, they’ve been saying that since early last fall.
• I see that Lionel, the maker of model trains, which had been operating out of a Detroit suburb for the past four decades, has moved its headquarters back to Manhattan. A while back I had a meeting in midtown and, having mistaken the time, arrived an hour early. I decided to spend some of the extra time in a visit to FAO Schwarz, the legendary toy store, and headed immediately to the model trains. They were all Lionel and, quite frankly, no comparison with the trains that enchanted endless hours of my boyhood. An uncle had brought those trains from Germany after World War II. He said he found them in the ballroom of a castle owned by Field Marshal Hermann Goering. I’m not sure that’s true—my uncle was sometimes a teller of tall tales—but the trains were magnificent. Six engines with well over a hundred cars, and the passenger cars with real leather seats and working lights in their ceilings. I wrote about those trains in my little book As I Lay Dying, the story of my ordeal with cancer fourteen years ago as of January. Which makes this an occasion to clear up a misunderstanding. I have several times been accused of stealing that title from William Faulkner. Stealing may not be the right word, since titles are not copyrighted. But in fact I took the phrase from John Donne, the seventeenth-century English divine, whose Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions was a great comfort during those trying months. Maybe Faulkner, too, got it from Donne. I don’t know. As for Lionel, I’m glad they’re back in New York, and it is good to learn that there is a growing market for model trains. But I can’t help feeling a little sorry for boys who will never know those German model trains that were an exquisite model of craftsmanship. Did I mention that some of the engines emitted real steam, and that cranes lifted the cars on and off the tracks? I don’t know where those trains are today, but in my mind’s eye I can see them now and am enchanted all over again.
• I mentioned last month that the episcopal conference of the Antilles had adopted for liturgical use the Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible, and I opined that one should not have to move to Bermuda to hear the lessons at Mass read in a quality translation. It would be most welcome if the bishops in this country permitted the liturgical use of the RSV, at least as an alternative. No doubt, and for whatever reason, some would continue to choose the embarrassment that is the New American Bible (NAB), but it should not be imposed, as it presently is, upon everybody. The present commitment to the NAB has two parts. First, it is the product of the Catholic Biblical Association. Bishops are worried lest they seem to be spurning the work of the academic guild of biblical scholars. That is understandable, but it is essentially a tribal concern. The reasoning is: “It may be a bad translation, but at least it’s ours.” The truth is that the NAB is not used by anybody except those who are required by episcopal fiat to use it. The second consideration is financial. The publishers of Mass guides pay stiff fees for the use of the NAB to the episcopal conference, which holds the copyright, and that is a considerable source of income for the conference.
• There are, however, other movements afoot. When the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) came out in 1989, Canadians jumped the gun and started using it in the Mass. Rome jumped on the Canadians, noting that there were doctrinal problems with the NRSV, which was in some instances more an interpretation than a translation. What is called “inclusive language,” for example, substituted the third person plural for “he” and “him” in Old Testament passages that the Church has always understood to refer to Christ. The Canadians got to work on revising the NRSV to meet Rome’s objections and report that they have now received official approval for their rendering of the lessons used in Sunday Mass. (A further advantage of the Catholic edition of the RSV is that, unlike the Canadian Revised New Revised Standard Version, it is a complete Bible, meaning the same text can be used for study and for liturgical purposes.) But now there may be a question about whether the National Council of Churches (NCC), which holds the copyright for the RSV and NRSV, will go along with Canada’s RNRSV.
• Meanwhile—are you still with me?—other English-speaking conferences, led by the UK and Australia, decided to undertake their own revision of the NRSV. The project was going along swimmingly until, quite abruptly, the NCC let it be known that it would not give permission for the NRSV to be used in the form proposed. So the Brits and Aussies are now thinking about using the Jerusalem Bible (JB) as the basis of their new lectionary. The Jerusalem Bible has its origins in a French project and made its first appearance in English in 1966. In 1985 a thoroughly “updated” revision was issued in English, the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB). The JB has an imprimatur for study purposes but not for liturgical use. (One notes that, after some hassle, it was decided that the scripture references in the Catechism of the Catholic Church would be “adapted” texts from the RSV and NRSV.) So this would seem to leave us with the prospect of a Canadian RNRSV, a Brit-Aussie RNJP, and of course the American NAB—the last being in a constant state of revision, which makes it now, give or take an R or two, the RRRNAB. (It may be hard to believe, but in 1985, I think it was, Forbes magazine declared the Catholic Church to be the most efficiently managed international institution in the world.) The Second Vatican Council called for a common biblical text for each language group, preferably one produced in ecumenical cooperation. The Catholic edition of the RSV fits that description perfectly, but the bishops of the Antilles are alone in recognizing that. The upshot of all this is that, for the foreseeable future, American Catholics at Mass will be compelled to endure the clumsy novelties and embarrassing gaucheries of the ever-evolving NAB. It really does seem that there ought to be an alternative other than moving to Bermuda.
• Here’s another book on the decline of “public intellectuals.” That’s an odd term. I noted a while back that a university in Florida offers a degree certifying one to be a public intellectual. Yale’s Peter Brooks says op-ed pages, television shows, and talk radio are keeping public intellectuals in business. “It depends of course on what you understand by the terms: there may be good reason to think that ‘public’ has somewhat trumped ‘intellectual,’ that what we have now are intellectuels médiatiques, as the French would have it; those who can perform on a given topic, fluently, quotably, and superficially.” Brooks is nostalgic for the days of Irving Howe and Lionel Trilling, generalists who wrote leisurely essays about anything and everything. But the leisurely essay “doesn’t quite translate into the needs of the present.” Brooks: “What largely goes unanalysed is the decline of the medium that made a Howe or a Trilling intelligible: the little magazine, the quarterly devoted to politics and culture, and their interrelations—most memorably, Partisan Review in its heyday. PR is dead, and those quarterlies that survive go largely unread, probably unheard of by anyone under thirty (the ‘demographic’ that advertisers want to reach, of course). The mediating organs of our culture are in disrepair—and that surely is linked to refuge in the university on the one hand, and surrender to the mass media on the other.” I don’t know that we like being thought of as a “mediating organ,” and we’re not a quarterly, but First Things is, I’m glad to say, doing just fine. Thanks to the generous support of our readers. (There is still time to respond to the annual fund appeal.) And thanks to the growing number of under-thirty subscribers who have discovered in First Things the kind of serious thinking and writing about which Peter Brooks waxes nostalgic. Once again, we are glad to send a sample issue to anyone whom you think might become a subscriber. The issue will be sent with your compliments. We’ll definitely be sending an issue to Mr. Brooks.
Body Worlds, Commentary January. Eagleton on Dawkins, London Review of Books, October 19. Levenick on Micah, Claremont Review, Winter 2006/2007. Bower on church life, personal correspondence. Economic freedom index, Wall Street Journal, January 16. Serratelli on Catholic-Baptist dialogue origins, January18. Diggins on theocracy, American Prospect, January/February. NBER on abortion, NBER Digest, December. French on religion in universities, Academic Questions, Summer 2006. Fideles magazine, B.C. Catholic, November 6. Christian America, “On Faith” weblog, December 13. ADL 2006 roundup, ADL release, December 26. Bork on Barak, Azure, Winter 2007. Mahoney on neoconservatism, The Intercollegiate Review, Fall 2006. Morrone on the Morgan Library, American Arts Quarterly, Fall 2006. Downey on Cardinal Mahony, Tidings, September 22. Brooks on public intellectuals, Times Literary Supplement, November 10.