The Really Poor
There is a very big and very important argument underway about what is to be done, if anything can be done, about the really poor of the world. An admirably lucid and informed contribution to the argument is Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (Oxford). There are approximately six billion people on earth; the top billion are enjoying historically unprecedented prosperity; the next four billion are on their way to similar affluence; the bottom billion, writes Collier, “coexist with the twenty-first century but their reality is the fourteenth century: civil war, plague, ignorance.”
Why should we care? Collier answers, “A future world with a billion people living in impoverished and stagnant countries is just not a scenario we can countenance.” At another point he writes: “I have a little boy who is six. I do not want him to grow up in a world with a vast running sore—a billion people stuck in desperate conditions alongside unprecedented prosperity.”
In short, the argument is moral. But make no mistake about it, The Bottom Billion is not a moralistic tract. It is a practical, even a disturbingly practical, guide to what can be done. Collier is professor of economics at Oxford University and the former director of development research at the World Bank, with a lifelong special interest in Africa. Seventy percent of the “bottom billion” are in Africa. If nothing is done, the bottom billion “will gradually diverge from the rest of the world economy over the next couple of decades, forming a ghetto of misery and discontent.”
It is a mistake, Collier contends, to talk about world poverty in general. The four billion in the middle are, albeit at an uneven pace, on their way to prosperity. As a generality, the poor are not getting poorer; they are getting much, much richer. Except for the bottom billion, who are disconnected from the dynamics of productivity and exchange and, as a consequence, are getting poorer and will likely get poorer still.
The aforementioned debate about world poverty is largely framed by books offering dramatically different analyses and remedies. I have earlier discussed William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden (November 2006). Easterly, too, has a long history of working in development programs, and his book is a withering critique of the waste, corruption, and wrongheadedness that make such programs not just frequently but typically counterproductive. It is certainly not Easterly’s intention, but it is understandable, that many invoke The White Man’s Burden in their argument against development aid as such. Better, they say, to leave the world’s poor to their own resources or, as the case may be, to their fate.
Easterly’s book is in sharpest contrast to Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty, a passionate call to action by multiplying the amount of development aid from the rich nations to the poor of the world. Sachs is an economist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University who would convince us that the end of poverty is a matter of the generosity of the rich in doing their moral duty. Niall Ferguson reviewed The Bottom Billion for the New York Times and, quite rightly, underscored its differences with Jeffrey Sachs’ argument. In a subsequent letter to the Times, Sachs complained that Ferguson was trying to “pick a fight” between him and Paul Collier. Sachs had words of high praise for Collier and said that they are in agreement on their analysis of “the poverty trap.” One has to wonder whether Sachs read Collier’s book.
It is precisely Collier’s argument that poverty itself is not a trap. If poverty were a trap, the whole world would be as poor as it once was. Collier writes: “Nor do I believe that poverty itself is a trap. These development failures occurred against a backdrop of global development success—poverty is something that most people are managing to escape. Since 1980 world poverty has been falling for the first time in history. Nor was it just a matter of Africa. Elsewhere there were also development failures: countries such as Haiti, Laos, Burma, and the Central Asian countries, of which Afghanistan has been the most spectacular. A one-size-fits-all explanation for development failure doesn’t ring true against such diversity.” In sum, and contra Jeffrey Sachs, the great challenge is not world poverty but the plight of the bottom billion.
Instead of the “poverty trap,” Collier contends that the bottom billion are caught in four other traps: the conflict trap, involving civil wars and genocides; the natural resource trap, in which oil or other riches deflect attention from economic development; the trap of being landlocked with bad neighbors, which results in the stifling of trade and communications; and the trap of bad governance in a small state, creating pervasive governmental corruption and the undermining of legal economic order.
These four traps, individually and working in combination, result in the marginalization of the bottom billion from the dynamics of global development. In this respect and others, Paul Collier’s argument complements and reinforces the analysis offered in John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. Marx was wrong, the pope explained, in claiming that the poor are poor because they are exploited by the rich. The great problem is not exploitation but marginalization. With some exceptions, the pope wrote, the poor are poor and getting poorer because they are excluded, or exclude themselves, from the circle of productivity and exchange. This is the reality that I address in detail in Doing Well and Doing Good (Doubleday), my book-length commentary on the 1991 encyclical.
Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion is one of the most important books on poverty in a global context to have appeared in years. Based on solid research and free of sentimentality, it offers neither easy solutions nor support for indifference or despair. Next month I will discuss some of his more provocative ideas about what can and should be done. (This is the first of three reflections on world poverty.)
Jesus of Nazareth: The Book
The unknowing reader might at first think that Jesus of Nazareth is coauthored. At the top of the dust jacket is “Joseph Ratzinger.” Then, directly below it, in much larger type, “Pope Benedict XVI.” Perhaps it was, in the manner of many books, written by the pope “with the assistance” of Joseph Ratzinger. But of course that is not the case. The book, we are told, has undergone a “long gestation.” Most of it was written by Joseph Ratzinger when he was Joseph Ratzinger, and he says that, since becoming Benedict XVI, “I have used every free moment to make progress on the book.” As it is, Jesus of Nazareth is Part I of a larger project. It is the story of Jesus from his baptism in the Jordan to Peter’s confession of faith and the Transfiguration. Part II, including the infancy narratives, may or may not come later, “As I do not know how much more time or strength I am still to be given.”We are very pleased to have published in the last issue the review of Jesus of Nazareth by Richard Hays, the distinguished professor of New Testament at Duke University. It is, I believe, the very model of what a book review should be. It tells what the book is about, respectfully engages its arguments, and sets forth in an accessible way both its strengths and weaknesses. I expect the pope was pleased with Mr. Hays’ sympathetically critical treatment of the book. But, of course, and as always, there is more to be said.
Initial reports that the pope was going to publish the book emphasized the novelty of the idea. One British paper excitedly reported that the pope was declaring that he is not infallible. And indeed he writes: “It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but it is solely an expression of my personal search ‘for the face of Jesus.’ Everyone is free, then, to contradict me. I would only ask my readers for that initial goodwill without which there can be no understanding.” It also goes without saying—although the pope has just said it—that this book has nothing to do with infallibility, which is a very precise and narrowly defined exercise of teaching authority that ensures that the Church will never require anyone to believe what is false.
Nor is it unprecedented for a pope to publish a book that claims no magisterial authority. One thinks, for instance, of John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope and Memory and Identity, the former, like the present book, being an international bestseller. Some popes are undeniably prolific. Leo XIII, pope from 1878 to 1903, issued eighty-five encyclicals, plus hundreds of pastoral letters, bulls, and other documents. But it is true that in the past two centuries popes tended to be seen as rather remote figures who spoke in public seldom and then in the mode of magisterial authority. That changed dramatically with John Paul II, and Benedict is obviously following in his steps, and indeed going further. He has, for example, engaged in extended Q & A sessions in public gatherings.
The complaint is heard that John Paul, and now Benedict, are expanding papal authority and hogging the public spotlight, making the pope the teacher of the Church. Who listens to their bishop when they can listen to the pope? The same voices once complained that the papacy needed to be “humanized” and “personalized” rather than presenting itself as an oracle issuing occasional pronunciamentos from on high. There is no pleasing some people.
A Living Relationship
As to why he published Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict says, “It struck me as the most urgent priority to present the figure and the message of Jesus in his public ministry, and so to help foster the growth of a living relationship with him.” The entire book is marked by this sense of urgency. It is not so much another book about Jesus as it is an invitation to follow him in the adventure of discipleship. Of course it is also about Jesus and is supported by the scholarship pertinent to historical facts and the development of the Church’s understanding of his person, message, and mission. Although, as Richard Hays respectfully noted, some of the scholarship is rather dated.
Of the writing of books about Jesus there is no end. I don’t know whether Benedict had in mind and seeks to counter fabrications such as The Da Vinci Code and its predecessors and imitators, but it seems more than likely. I see Garry Wills has a new book out, What Jesus Meant. It purports to explain what Jesus meant to say and no doubt would have said had he the advantage of being Garry Wills. While Wills and likeminded authors depict a Jesus in radical discontinuity with the Church’s teaching, Benedict—convincingly, if not surprisingly—makes the case that, from the beginning and on all the really big questions, the Church got it right.
Benedict is taken with Jacob Neusner’s little book, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus. In many ways, Benedict acknowledges, Jesus disappointed some messianic expectations. “What did Jesus actually bring,” Benedict asks, “if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world?” “The answer is very simple: He brought God.” He continues:
He brought the God who formerly unveiled his countenance, gradually, first to Abraham, then to Moses and the Prophets, and then in the Wisdom Literature—the God who revealed his face only in Israel, even though he was also honored among the pagans in various shadowy guises. It is this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the true God, whom he has brought to the nations of the earth. . . . Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origins and destiny: faith, hope, and love. It is only because of the hardness of hearts that we think this is too little.
He is the “Christ,” meaning the Messiah. Since the title “made little sense outside of Semitic culture,” it was “joined with the name of Jesus: Jesus Christ. What began as an interpretation ended up as a name, and therein lies a deeper message: He is completely one with his office; his task and his person are totally inseparable from each other.” “In the end,” writes Benedict, “man needs just one thing, in which everything else is included; but he must first delve beyond his superficial wishes and longings in order to recognize what it is that he truly needs and truly wants. He needs God. And so we now realize what ultimately lies behind all the Johannine images: Jesus gives us ‘life’ because he gives us God.”
It is frequently claimed, Benedict writes, that the teachings of Jesus, especially in the Beatitudes, represent “the Christian ethics that is supposedly superior to the commands of the Old Testament.” This, he says, is wrong, since “Jesus always presupposed the validity of the Ten Commandments” and explicitly said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Running throughout Jesus of Nazareth is a powerful anti-Marcionite insistence upon the inseparability of the Old and New Testaments. The German biblical scholar H. Gese is favorably quoted: “Jesus himself has become the divine word of revelation. The gospels could not illustrate it any more clearly or powerfully: Jesus himself is the Torah.”
In his “talk” with Jesus, Rabbi Neusner poses the question: What of the law and the prophets did Jesus leave out? The answer is “Nothing.” So what then did he add? The answer is “Himself.” To which Benedict adds, “Perfection, the state of being holy as God is holy as demanded by the Torah, now consists in following Jesus.” Agreeing with Neusner, Benedict underscores that the crucial decision is in response to the question, Who is Jesus? Echoing Lumen Gentium (Light to the Nations), the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Church, Benedict writes: “Jesus has brought the God of Israel to the nations, so that all the nations now pray to him and recognize Israel’s Scriptures as his word, the word of the living God. He has brought the gift of universality, which was the one great definitive promise to Israel and the world. This universality, this faith in the one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . . is what proves him to be the Messiah.”
As an aside, Benedict takes exception to the now common use of the Tetragrammaton (“I am who I am”), the name of God given to Moses. This, he says, is who God is without qualification. “The Israelites therefore were perfectly right in refusing to utter this self-designation of God, expressed in the word YHWH, so as to avoid degrading it to the level of the names of pagan deities. By the same token, recent Bible translations were wrong to write out this name . . . as if it were just any old name. By doing so, they have dragged the mystery of God, which cannot be captured in images or in names that lips can utter, down to the level of some familiar item within a common history of religions.”
Benedict returns to the Jewish-Christian connection in his treatment of the parable of the prodigal son, which he prefers to call the parable of the two sons. A conventional interpretation is that the elder brother represents the Jews. In the parable, the father says to the elder brother, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” In this way, writes Benedict, “the father not only does not dispute the older brother’s fidelity but explicitly confirms his sonship.” Thus “it would be a false interpretation to read this as a condemnation of the Jews,” writes Benedict.
At the same time, there are those, both Jews and non-Jews, for whom “more than anything else, God is Law; they see themselves in a juridical relationship with God and in that relationship they are at rights with him. But God is greater: They need to convert from the Law-God to the greater God, the God of love. . . . In this parable, then, the Father through Christ is addressing us, the ones who never left home, encouraging us, too, to convert truly and to find joy in our faith.” This is a delicate treatment of a delicate subject. Christians who affirm the universality of the mission of Christ cannot help but hope that all people, including Jews, will accept him as the promised Messiah. At the same time, one is somewhat surprised to find in the foregoing passage traces of the idea that Judaism is a religion of law while Christianity is a religion of love. That is an idea that is apparently rejected elsewhere in the book.
Jesus of Nazareth is indisputably a scholarly work, although a scholarly work that is readily accessible to the general reader. Benedict at several points addresses the problems associated with contemporary biblical scholarship. A purely historical approach to individual texts cannot recognize the Bible as the Bible, the book of the Church. Such a method “can intuit something of the ‘deeper value’ the words contain. It can in some sense catch the sounds of a higher dimension through the human word, and so open up the method to self-transcendence. But its specific object is the human word as human.” “We have to keep in mind the limits of all efforts to know the past: We can never go beyond the domain of the hypothesis, because we simply cannot bring the past into the present.” Therefore, we must go beyond the historical-critical method to recognize that these texts constitute the one Scripture that speaks with a living voice and is to be understood by “taking account of the living tradition of the whole Church and of the analogy of faith (the intrinsic correspondence with the faith).”
An “Anonymous Community”
While recognizing the limits of much biblical scholarship, Benedict regularly invokes its practitioners, either to agree or disagree with them. In one paragraph, for instance, we encounter Peter Stuhlmacher, Martin Hengel, E. Ruckstuhl, and P. Dschulnigg. (German is, after all, the pope’s first language.) Many scholars claim that the high Christology to be found in, for instance, John’s gospel is the construction of the early community trying to make sense of their experience of Jesus. Benedict is skeptical. “The anonymous community,” he writes, “is credited with an astonishing level of theological genius—who were the great figures responsible for inventing all this? No, the greatness, the dramatic newness, comes directly from Jesus; within the faith and life of the community it is further developed, but is not created. In fact, the ‘community’ would not even have emerged and survived at all unless some extraordinary reality had preceded it.” On question after question, critical biblical scholarship turns out to offer little more than “a graveyard of mutually contradictory hypotheses.” But as I said, while he recognizes the severe limits of such scholarship, Benedict nonetheless employs its findings and suppositions in advancing his argument.
Benedict does not mention by name Hans Urs von Balthasar, whose work he has elsewhere praised very highly, but one suspects Balthasar’s presence, if only to disagree with him, in the treatment of Christ’s descent into hell. There is this, for example, on the baptism of Jesus: “Jesus’ baptism, then, is understood as a repetition of the whole of history, which recapitulates the past and anticipates the future. His entering into the sin of others is a descent into the ‘inferno.’ . . . He goes down in the role of one whose suffering-with-others is a transforming suffering that turns the underworld around, knocking down and flinging open the gates of the abyss.”
And there is this: “The Apostles’ Creed speaks of Jesus’ descent ‘into hell.’ This descent not only took place in and after his death but accompanies him along his entire journey. He must recapitulate the whole of history from its beginnings—from Adam on; he must go through, suffer through, the whole of it, in order to transform it.” And again: “Thus it is not only after his death, but already by his death and during his whole life, that Jesus ‘descends into hell,’ as it were, into the domain of our temptations and defeats, in order to take us by the hand and carry us upward.” While employing aspects of its rhetorical force, Benedict distances himself from Balthasar’s contention that, in his descent, Jesus experienced the hell of the damned.
A striking feature of the book is the author’s delight in tackling biblical passages that strike many as strange, if not contradictory. He notes, for instance, that the “Good Shepherd” text of John 10 does not begin with “I am the good shepherd” but with another image, that of the door. “He who does not enter the sheep-fold by the door but climbs in by another way is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” Then Jesus says, “I am the door of the sheep.” How to understand this? Benedict answers: “This can only really mean that Jesus is establishing the criterion for those who will shepherd his flock after his ascension to the Father. The proof of a true shepherd is that he enters through Jesus as the door. For in this way it is ultimately Jesus who is the shepherd—the flock ‘belongs’ to him alone.”
Or consider Luke 9:18, where we read, “As he was praying alone, the disciples were with him.” That is, says Benedict, a “deliberate paradox.” “The disciples are drawn into his solitude, his communion with the Father that is reserved to him alone. They are privileged to see him as the one who . . . speaks face-to-face with the Father, person to person. They are privileged to see him in his utterly unique filial being—at the point from which all his words, his deeds, and his powers issue.” In his treatment of these and other passages, Benedict follows the pattern of the early Church Fathers. Nothing in the biblical text is accidental or out of place; every passage, every word, has its purpose. While his book does not address in detail the question of scriptural inspiration, the presupposition of divine direction is evident in every page.
As I said, the review by Richard Hays in the last issue is, in my judgment, altogether admirable and quite the best that I have seen anywhere. The foregoing reflection is simply intended to lift up additional aspects of the book, in the hope that it will encourage others to read it with the care that it deserves. Jesus of Nazareth is not, as the author himself takes pains to underscore, the last word on the subject. But it is a greatly needed word in a time when mass audiences are titillated by fanciful fabrications about the discovery of “the real Jesus.” The last word on the Word will be spoken when there is a final answer to the last words of the Bible, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Christianity and Democracy in America: Anticipating the Rupture
Let me say it straight out: Hugh Heclo’s Christianity and American Democracy is one of the most suggestive books on religion and the public square to have appeared in some years. Based on his Alexis de Tocqueville Lecture at Harvard University, Heclo, a political scientist at George Mason University, says that we are witnessing an “estrangement” between serious Christians and secular democracy that is possibly on its way to becoming a “rupture,” much to the detriment of our common life.
Referring to earlier warnings about a “naked public square,” Heclo correctly observes: “The aim of Richard John Neuhaus and others who were ecumenically minded was not simply to promote more religious voices in politics. It was to produce a public moral discourse, whose reasoning would draw on transcendent meanings of natural law accessible to all.” That aim, he says, has run up against an “insuperable barrier.”
[E]ven if there were more shared premises at an intellectual level, it is now clear that engagement in the ‘public square’ must invariably take place on the terms set by America’s modern political arena for a so-called democratic discourse. This arena and its rules are not designed to search for truth or to compare rational ‘deliberative justifications.’ It is a sophisticated, cynical game designed to manipulate imagery and opinion. In other words, it is a public arena fully invested in the consumption arts. This reality is something far different and more cynical than academics’ ideal image of a civic forum or a free marketplace of ideas where, in the competition with error, truth has nothing to fear. It is an arena for the professional marketing of feelings rather than the exercising of reason, and truth has everything to fear.
Is that excessively grim? I would not want to be charged with making the counterargument. Heclo goes on to write:
It is no exaggeration to say that today’s America exhibits something approaching a mirror image of what Tocqueville perceived in the 1830s. In the democracy he saw, the political world was a place where ‘everything is in turmoil, contested, and uncertain,’ but it was strictly limited in scope and undergirded by a ‘moral world where everything is classified, coordinated, foreseen and decided in advance.’ Today one could arguably reverse his descriptors for those two worlds. What Tocqueville said about the moral world (‘obedience is passive, though voluntary’) is actually truer of our professionally managed political system, where the political class does politics and the mass of ordinary citizens have politics done to them. What he said about the political world (‘there is independence, contempt of experience, and jealousy of all authority’) is truer of our moral world, where to judge with fixed standards or decide anything in advance is considered undemocratic bigotry. The result is that it seems harder than ever to get our bearings in such a political society, and more important than ever that we should try to do so.
Heclo tries to do so by, among other things, noting the ways in which our democracy is a religious, and specifically Christian, achievement. On the nature of that achievement, he writes:
It was a general respect, affirmed in law, for each individual’s right to religious liberty. Centuries in the making and never fully completed, this Great Denouement of religious-political claims arose more from the advantages of a particular time and place than from some innate American genius for tolerance. Amid deeply felt religious differences, a Protestant political society gradually convinced itself of the truly Christian reasons for, as well as the enlightened political advantages of, liberty of religious conscience. With this achievement, a new space in public life was opened up—a space for freedom of action in the two distinct, though never wholly separate, spheres of religious belief and civil authority. All we have of this religious freedom, so carelessly enjoyed today, was won for us long ago.
These spheres have interacted in what Heclo describes as a “tensioned relationship of consensus and conflict.” He pictures the relationship as a double-stranded helix, “an image of reciprocal, equivocal contestations of Christianity and democratic politics twisting together through time.” Now the relationship has become more conflicted, “to the point of being a helix whose two strands are coming apart in the last half of the twentieth century.” He notes that historians such as Sydney Ahlstrom and William McLoughlin suspected something like this was happening. What they suspected is now confirmed. Referring to America’s tradition of great religious revivals and awakenings, Heclo describes the 1960s as a “secular awakening.” He notes the trends in the schools, courts, popular culture, and especially in the political class that led to an increasingly overt hostility to Christianity in public life and concludes that, by the end of the period, “Christianity had lost much and perhaps most of its cultural authority.”
In the face of such hostility, he believes serious Christians are increasingly withdrawing from active democratic participation. “In any ongoing rupture with America’s democratic regime, these Christians will essentially find themselves in a position similar to that of their earlier compatriots in the days of the Roman Empire. They will be one faith among many in a large, sophisticated world empire that is secular but nominally religious, spiritually seeking in general but well distanced from the truth claims of Christian revelation in particular. . . . They will form little enclaves trying to hold at bay the influences of public schools, the media, and general culture. . . . What they will face is more likely to be pervasive indifference and dismissal as anti-modernists rather than any outright persecution.”
What Christianity Is
Christianity and American Democracy includes several responses by critics and Heclo’s concluding rejoinder. One of his critics is Alan Wolfe of the Boisi Center of Boston College. In a typically Wolfian manner, he “complexifies” matters by pointing out that there are many different expressions of Christianity. “Christianity can mean almost anything,” Alan Wolfe triumphantly concludes. Heclo has great fun with this: “[Wolfe’s] observation has its critical force against any claim that Christianity is only a single, unified entity. I am saying something different, however—namely that along with all the variations amply demonstrated in the historical record, Christianity is something. If it were not some thing, we would not be able to identify variations in the thing that it is.”
Heclo calls to witness Jaroslav Pelikan’s monumental The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine in support of his claim that, variations notwithstanding, Christianity is some thing. But you don’t have to be as erudite as Pelikan to know that. Heclo writes: “When the stereotypical backwoods fundamentalist puts up a hand-painted sign on his fencepost saying that ‘JESUS SAVES,’ behind that little sign is a world of doctrine. Saved from what? Why does anyone need saving? Why can’t they save themselves? How does this Jesus save? And who is this guy to be saving anyone? Like the Molière character who did not know he was speaking prose, our non-doctrinaire believer does not know he is speaking soteriology from the fencepost. But he is.”
“On the whole,” writes Heclo, “[Wolfe’s] is a rather contented view. There is nothing to be said about the terrible policy choices Americans will have to make affecting the very meaning of humanity. As a democracy, we ‘can count on our materialism, our individualism, our populism, and our emotionalism to keep us together.’ I suppose the question would be, keep us together as what—a collection of materialistic individuals driven by popular appeals to our emotions? Is that a formula for the long term survival of democratic self-government?”
Heclo is concerned about the overheated language about “theocracy” and the dangers of the “religious right.” He writes: “To automatically jam traditionalist, Bible-believing Christians into the category of arrogant, self-righteous, God-is-on-our-side religious prigs in politics is—what shall we say? Arrogant, self-righteous, willfully ignorant secular priggery?” It is the secular priggery that is leading to the “rupture” between Christianity and democracy that he fears.
If that rupture comes, it will deprive democracy of four factors necessary to its survival and flourishing, Heclo believes. In summary form: “First, as Tocqueville pointed out, traditional Christianity comes with an elemental moral code that helps stabilize and order an otherwise chaotic democratic society.” “Second, the packet of moral imperatives that comes with traditional Christianity includes obligations that regularly lead such citizens to do good works for others.” The third factor is the reforming or “prophetic” impulse of Christianity in society. Fourth, “once we disabuse ourselves of the heresy of fideism—that is, confining religion to the realm of irrational blind faith—it is clear that Christianity can help preserve the role of reason in democratic discourse about humankind’s most fundamental issues. . . . Everyone engaged in the great conversation of democracy is arguing for courses of action that are elaborated conclusions built on faith in something or other. If that faith is purely in human reason itself, Christianity asks: is it reasonable to make such a ‘leap of faith’?”
As I said, Christianity and American Democracy is a very suggestive book. But of course there are questions. One wonders, for instance, if Mr. Heclo is not too eager to distance himself from the “religious right.” Of course the lecture that is the basis of the book was given at Harvard, an ambiance in which there are advantages to not being associated with “them.” But it will not do to say, as Heclo does, that politically organized Christian conservatives are a political and not a religious phenomenon, that these Christians are simply being “used” by politicians. Of course they are being used by politicians, as they are also using politicians to advance their goals. As Heclo elsewhere acknowledges, the dynamics of the religious and of the political are frequently hard to distinguish, never mind separate.
His depiction of today’s politics of manipulation, in which politics is not something people do but something that is done to them, raises the question, When was it different? Or when was it so very different from the way it is now? In Tocqueville’s time, maybe. But, for most people, politics has always been mainly entertainment, as in supporting the Yankees or the Red Sox. The nineteenth-century torchlight parades organized by political parties, the yellow journalism, the picnic rallies—they were great entertainment.
The Lincoln-Douglas debates, like so many things associated with Lincoln, were the exception and not the rule. American democracy has always been raucous, manipulative, and a professional blood sport for the few. Then and now, there is a small political class that decides on the ideas that will be propagated (as in “propaganda”). And a much smaller class that forges and intelligently debates those ideas. For the great majority of Americans, politics is much like those television reality shows where you get to cheer and jeer and, finally, vote people up or down. Is this an excessively jaundiced view of democratic politics? I, too, would like to think so. But, except for times of extraordinary crisis with unambiguous choices, most people have better things to do with their time than politics.
And one wonders whether the dominant sector of the political class is today more hostile to Christianity than was the case, at least among the intellectuals of that class, in, for instance, 1933, when “The Humanist Manifesto” was issued. That document heralded the death of revealed religion and was supported by a wide and impressive array of the intellectual and cultural leadership of the society, led by the formidable John Dewey. The recent rash of books promoting atheism notwithstanding, a similar manifesto with similarly distinguished support seems very unlikely today. Antireligious bigotry perdures, to be sure, although sometimes in new configurations. Anti-Catholicism, for instance, was thought to come, along with other bigotries, from the right during much of American history, and it is now overwhelmingly from the left. The beginning of that change, now virulently manifest, can be conveniently dated January 22, 1973—the Roe v. Wade imposition of the unlimited abortion license.
In the Absence of a Church
Then there is the problem that Heclo tends to depict Christianity in terms of scattered Christians, including “serious” Christians, without any semblance of ecclesial solidarity. In other words, the Church is largely absent from his analysis. Not just the Catholic Church but any institutionalized community that can serve as a place to stand and as a countervailing force to the forces of anti-Christianity. Of course this is a big subject, and, were one to expand upon it, one might pick up on those intriguing and much neglected observations in Tocque-ville’s Democracy about why Catholicism is peculiarly well-fitted for American democracy. Here I only register the observation that ecclesiology has more to do with the sociology of religion in America than Mr. Heclo’s book suggests.
Hugh Heclo is right in thinking that serious Christians are in for a hard time. Nor should one dismissively, or defiantly, respond: “So what? That has always been the case.” There was a time when relatively few thought that there was a tension, never mind conflict, between being seriously Christian and a full participant in American culture. While the “rupture” that Heclo envisions may lead some, even many, Christians to withdraw from our public life, I am also impressed by the number of people, especially young people, who evidence a sense of Christian solidarity in taking the more overt hostility as an invitation to engage the more intensely and persuasively in the politics of deliberating how we ought to order our common life. If that is what is happening, it is, all in all, good news for both Christianity and for democracy in America. Needless to say, I may be wrong.
The Pope’s Liturgical Liberalism
One of the more deft moves in Benedict’s apostolic letter motu proprio, titled Summorum Pontificum, is in referring to the 1962 form of the Roman Rite as the Missal of Blessed John XXIII. It is not the Tridentine Mass nor the Mass of Pius V but the Mass of John XXIII. It is the form of the Mass that was celebrated daily at the Second Vatican Council.
Benedict notes that, over the many centuries of the Roman Rite, popes have from time to time made modest changes. Pius V did so in 1570, John XXIII did so in 1962, and Paul VI made some not-so-modest changes in 1970, the last producing what is called the Novus Ordo. Benedict notes that John Paul II also made small but important emendations regarding references to the Jews in the Good Friday Liturgy. (More on that below.)
By associating the Latin Mass that is now universally approved with John XXIII, Benedict steals a card from the deck of liberals and progressives, for whom John XXIII is always “good Pope John,” in contrast to his successors. But this is much more than a deft rhetorical move. Summorum Pontificum is a thoroughly liberal document in substance and spirit, remembering that liberal means, as once was more commonly understood, generosity of spirit.
In his letter to the bishops, Benedict is directing them to be generous in embracing the fullness of the Catholic tradition and responding to the desires of the Catholic faithful. This is proposed in contrast to the rigidity, bordering sometimes on tyranny, of a liturgical guild that mistakenly thought that the Second Vatican Council gave them a mandate to impose their ideas of liturgical reform on the entire Church.
Benedict writes of the Mass of 1962 and that of 1970: “It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were ‘two Rites.’ Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite.” This is of a piece with Benedict’s longstanding campaign against the idea that there is a “pre-Vatican II Church” and a “post-Vatican II Church.” There is one Catholic Church, Benedict insists, and its liturgy is the Roman Rite. (I discuss Benedict’s understanding of continuity in the December 2006 issue of FIRST THINGS in connection with Klaus Gamber’s The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, for which then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote an introduction.)
There were many things done in the name of liturgical reform for which the claim was made that such changes were mandated by the council. Excluding the Mass in Latin was one of them. Benedict writes: “As for the use of the 1962 Missal as a forma extraordinaria of the liturgy of the Mass, I would like to draw attention to the fact that this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted.” In other words, were it not for the presumption of some liturgical reformers, there would have been no need for this apostolic letter.
For decades following the council, experimentation was in, tradition was out, and the Catholic faithful were subjected to a long period of what is politely called liturgical destabilization—and not only liturgical destabilization—which alienated many. The pope is, with great care, trying to remedy that destabilization without causing additional destabilization. As he notes in his letter, there is a close connection between lex credendi and lex orandi—between the way of faith and the way of worship.
Of the problem to be remedied, he writes: “This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.”
The letter underscores that the desire for the Missal of John XXIII is not only on the part of nostalgic old folks. There is, he says, a notable desire on the part of young people to experience the richness of the Church’s ways of worship, a richness of which they were deprived but are now encountering with a sense of fresh discovery. The bishops, he says, should respond positively to this discovery in a spirit of pastoral generosity.
The purpose of the pope in issuing this pastoral letter will come as no surprise to those familiar with Cardinal Ratzinger’s writing on liturgy over the years. He says again: “There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.”
Part of the purpose of the letter, as Benedict says, is to ease the way toward reconciliation with the Lefebvrists, who broke communion with the Church. He recognizes that their schism involves deeper theological questions, including the recognition of the authority of the Second Vatican Council, but this is one step toward healing the wound of schism.
One consequence of Summorum Pontificum will almost certainly be the more widespread use of the Missal of 1962. And perhaps of the Missal of 1970 in Latin rather than the vernacular, which has always been permitted. I do not expect that there will be a great or immediate increase in the number of parishes celebrating Mass in the 1962 form. Most bishops and priests say there is no great demand for it, although that could now change. Moreover, most priests and bishops do not have the language skills for it, although some may start digging around for those Latin textbooks from college and seminary days.
What it seems to me that Benedict has most importantly done with this apostolic letter is to strengthen the continuity of the Catholic tradition in matters pertaining to lex orandi, as John Paul II’s hermeneutic of the Second Vatican Council strengthened that continuity in matters pertaining to lex credendi. As a result, the weary language about a pre-Vatican II Church and a post-Vatican II Church is increasingly antiquated, although there are still those of an older generation who believe the council was a call for revolution and who will continue to use that language. But these twenty-eight years of pontifical leadership have made it obvious to all but the willfully obtuse that there is, in lex credendi and lex orandi, one Catholic Church.
In keeping with the spirit of pastoral generosity and sensitivity that marks this document, Benedict recognizes that in the one Church there will always be problems. Three years after the implementation of Summorum Pontificum this September, he says, there will be a study of the successes and difficulties encountered in putting it into effect. There is no suggestion that these provisions might be rescinded at that time. Any modifications required will have as their purpose the effective implementation of the apostolic letter.
With the possible exception of those who are incorrigibly nostalgic for the good old days of the revolution that was not to be, I believe that the pope’s initiative will be recognized for what it is—a generous and hopeful proposal for a future in which Catholics are freed to celebrate the rich variety of the tradition that is theirs. Benedict expresses the hope that even those who decline to use the Missal of John XXIII will be encouraged to celebrate the Novus Ordo of 1970 with the reverence and solemnity that befits the ineffable mystery of the Mass. We can only pray that his hope will be vindicated.
One notes in passing a particularly unpleasant reaction to the pope’s initiative. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) immediately issued a blistering statement claiming that it is “a theological setback in the religious life of Catholics and a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations, after 40 years of progress between the Church and the Jewish people.” Abraham Foxman, national director of ADL, said: “We are extremely disappointed and deeply offended that nearly 40 years after the Vatican rightly removed insulting anti-Jewish language from the Good Friday Mass, that it would now permit Catholics to utter such hurtful and insulting words by praying for Jews to be converted. This is a theological setback in the religious life of Catholics and a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations. It is the wrong decision at the wrong time. It appears the Vatican has chosen to satisfy a right-wing faction in the Church that rejects change and reconciliation.”
An Unpleasant Reaction
That statement is a mix of ignorance and bellicosity, a combination that is, unfortunately, not infrequent in ADL alarums. In the 1570 form of the Roman Rite for Good Friday, there was this: “Oremus et pro perfidis Judaeis” (Let us pray for the perfidious Jews). On the first Good Friday after his election to the papacy in 1959, Pope John XXIII eliminated the adjective perfidious from the prayer. That same year, he also eliminated from the rite of baptism the phrase used for Jewish catechumens: “Horresce Judaicam perfidiam, respue Hebraicam superstitionem” (Disavow Jewish unbelieving, deny Hebrew superstition). Also eliminated were similar formulas for those converting from idolatry, Islam, or a heretical sect.
The Roman Missal modified by Pope Paul VI in 1969, and put into effect in 1970, has this formulation: “Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant.” The following prayer is this: “Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity. Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption.”
Of course some Jews may be offended at the suggestion that the fullness of redemption is found in Jesus Christ, but their problem is with Christianity as such. They certainly are not interested in respectful dialogue between Jews who adhere to Judaism and Christians who adhere to Christianity.
As I say, the ADL reaction is a mix of bellicosity and ignorance. The 1962 Missal does not say what Mr. Foxman says it says. And, if he had read Benedict’s apostolic letter before attacking it, he would know that it explicitly says that, with the exception of religious communities that have used the 1962 Missal all along, the Missal of 1970 will be used exclusively in the Triduum of Holy Week, which of course includes Good Friday. An apology is in order, but I fear it is not to be expected from an organization that is prone to making reckless and publicity-grabbing statements. It is a sadness.
While We’re At It
• A recently received manuscript laid out in tediously precise detail the six social dynamics undermining respect for the family. Not five, mind you, and not seven, but six. The author was insistent about that. There is a type of mind that seems to think nothing is said precisely unless it is numbered. Peter Altenberg, a major figure in Vienna’s café society at the beginning of the last century, wrote: “There are only two things that can destroy a healthy man: love trouble, ambition, and financial catastrophe. And that’s already three things, and there are a lot more.” Precisely.
• Our friends over at the New Criterion have put out a big anthology including the editors’ choice of essays and reviews published in its first twenty-five years. The book is Counterpoints and is edited by, as you might expect, the editors of the New Criterion, Roger Kimball and Hilton Kramer. In their introduction, they quote this by Evelyn Waugh:
Barbarism is never finally defeated; given propitious circumstances, men and women who seem quite orderly will commit every conceivable atrocity. The danger does not come merely from habitual hooligans; we are all potential recruits for anarchy. Unremitting effort is needed to keep men living together at peace; there is only a margin of error left over for experiment however beneficent. Once the prisons of the mind have been opened, the orgy is on. . . . The work of preserving society is sometimes onerous, sometimes almost effortless. The more elaborate the society, the more vulnerable it is to attack, and the more complete its collapse in case of defeat. At a time like the present it is notably precarious. If it falls, we shall see not merely the dissolution of a few joint-stock corporations, but of the spiritual and material achievements of our history.
In the realm of arts, letters, and ideas, the New Criterion has labored valiantly to defeat barbarism, or at least to hold it at bay, or at the very least to alert us to its assault. Often caustic and polemical, it is almost always wittily so. The New Criterion debunks the fashionable fatuities produced by neophiliac passions. Which brings me to one of my favorite stories, told by the magazine’s founding editor, Hilton Kramer. He was for years the culture editor for the New York Times, and each week there was a meeting of editors. Each week, invariably, the top editor, whom I will call Max, would begin by asking, “Hilton, what’s new?” After years of this, one week Hilton answered, “Max, nothing is new.” Without skipping a beat, the editor responded, “Hilton, is that a trend?” Please join me in raising a toast to the next twenty-five years of the New Criterion.
• Linda Bridges has spent her entire adult life working with William F. Buckley Jr. She has now teamed up with John R. Coyne, who also worked at National Review, to write Strictly Right (Wiley). Unlike other books about Bill Buckley, this one is tightly focused on telling his life through the prism of “the conservative movement.” Early on, the authors discuss the Eisenhower era and ask, “What was the state of the conservative movement?” Their answer: “Put bluntly, there wasn’t one.” Some might challenge that, but all can agree that there was not the conservative movement so influentially defined for more than half a century by Bill Buckley. Strictly Right is not all politics, however. There is, for instance, this, possibly the longest sentence Buckley ever wrote, on the liturgical changes that destabilized the Church in the 1970s: “Really, the new liturgists should have offered training in yoga, or whatever else Mother Church in her resourcefulness might baptize as a distinctively Catholic means by which we might tune off the fascistic static of the contemporary Mass, during which one is either attempting to sing, totally neglecting the prayers at the foot of the altar, which suddenly we are told are irrelevant; or attempting to read the missal at one’s own syncopated pace, which we must now do athwart the obtrusive rhythm of the priest or the commentator; or attempting to meditate on this or the other prayer or sentiment or analysis in the Ordinary or in the Proper of the Mass, only to find that such meditation is sheer outlawry which stands in the way of the liturgical calisthenics devised by the Central Coach, who apparently judges it an act of neglect if the churchgoer is permitted more than two minutes and 46 seconds without being made to stand if he was kneeling, or kneel if he was standing, or sit—or sing—or chant—or anything if perchance he was praying, from which anarchism he must at all costs be rescued: “LET US NOW RECITE THE COMMUNION ANTIPHON,” says the commentator: to which exhortation I find myself aching to reply in that ‘loud and clear and reverential voice’ the manual for lectors prescribes: ‘LET US NOT!’”
• I’m no expert on Turkish politics, but one cannot help watch with great interest as Turkey tries to negotiate between the militantly secularist legacy of Atatürk, fiercely defended by the army, and a Muslim people who believe that their being Muslim should have some bearing on public life. There are commentators who routinely cite Turkey as an example of a more or less successful democracy in a country with a Muslim majority. But as Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish writer, has pointed out in these pages (“Render Unto Atatürk,” March), the appearance of democracy is at the price of enforcing a “naked public square.” The circumstance is put nicely by Onur Oymen, the main opposition leader to the government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “In a country with a Muslim population, you can’t have democracy without secularism.” Which means, it would seem, in a country with a Muslim population, you can’t have democracy. One is again reminded of the comment by Berthold Brecht after a popular uprising in the old East Germany. The secretary of the writers union issued a statement that “the people had forfeited the confidence of the government and could only win it back by redoubled efforts.” In response to which, Brecht observed, “Would it not be easier in that case for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?”
• “His personal style, praised often even by his critics, remains pastoral and gentle. But the more contentious views, less publicly visible when he first began as leader of the world’s billion Roman Catholics, seems to be coming more to the fore.” That’s the New York Times on a recent speech by Pope Benedict. “Contentious views” are, of course, those with which reporters disagree. Reading on: “In the speech, for example, he railed against abortion and contraception. . . . He also raged with equal fire against Marxism and capitalism.” Benedict? Raged? Railed? Who would have thought it? But there it is in this rant, er, report by the New York Times, and I need not remind you that the Times is our newspaper of record. The story does include some of what the quietly erudite pope actually did say in his characteristically measured manner. Cautioning against liberation theology’s politicizing of the faith, he said: “This political task is not the immediate competence of the Church. Respect for a healthy secularity—including
the pluralism of political opinions—is essential in the authentic Christian tradition. If the Church were to start transforming herself into a directly political agent, she would do less, not more, for the poor and for justice.” Between the ranting and the raging, there were apparently moments of marvelous lucidity.
• In response to several readers: No, I do not plan a comment on the Episcopal priest in Seattle who says she is also a Muslim. In part because commenting on Episcopalian foibles and follies is like shooting fish in a barrel. It seems unfair. What else is to be said about a church in which John Spong, who is celebrated for denying almost every article in the creed, is a bishop in good standing? In any case, the lady in Seattle said it all. Of her simultaneous adherence to Christianity and Islam she commented: “It wasn’t about intellect. All I know is the calling of my heart to Islam was very much something about my identity and who I am supposed to be.” It wasn’t about intellect. This is a journal of ideas and it is beyond our competence to comment on a person who says she has no idea what she is doing. We have no personal or pastoral connection with her and therefore could not possibly comment on her problems with her identity or who she thinks she is supposed to be. It is of interest that she will, beginning this fall, be teaching the New Testament at Seattle University. But then that is a school “in the Jesuit tradition” and apparently is not about intellect either. And so, as aforesaid, we have no comment.
• Avoiding contact with those with whom you disagree is a “sophomoric strategy.” So said Prof. Daniel Finn of St. John’s University in Collegeville in his valedictory address as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA). The CTSA has been somewhat marginalized in recent years. Ten years ago, Bernard Cardinal Law called it a “wasteland,” and Avery Cardinal Dulles, a former president of CTSA, said it “constitutes a kind of alternative magisterium for dissatisfied Catholics.” Finn said that CTSA’s frequent statements criticizing the Magisterium of the Church were counterproductive, alienating church leadership and reducing support for changes desired by CTSA members. His theme was power as “part of the software of daily life,” and the ways in which academics have distanced themselves from that reality. Closely related to the question of power, he noted that the organization was losing members because “conservative” theologians wanted nothing to do with it. On his mind may also have been the awareness that a substantial number of distinguished theologians have been making plans to establish a new theological society for scholars more attuned to the Magisterium. Finn’s address received a standing ovation, but what difference it will make for the future of CTSA is very much in question. Finn was careful in not repudiating former statements but suggested that in the future such criticisms of Rome might better come from individual theologians rather than from the CTSA as an organization.
• The number of priests is in decline but “lay ecclesial ministers” (LEMs) are popping up all over. The late Msgr. Philip Murnion, a sociologist who founded the National Pastoral Life Center, called the phenomenon “a virtual revolution in parish ministry.” Many see the revolution as a very good thing, a remedy for a “priest-ridden” Church, to use a favored locution of classic anti-Catholicism. There are today 31,000 certified lay ecclesial ministers working in American parishes and 18,000 more are in training. The total number of priests is 43,304. In many cases, LEMs run parishes and are the ministry of the Church for everything except sacramental acts requiring a priest. In such cases, the LEM hires, so to speak, a priest for piecework. (With the permission of the bishop, to be sure.) If it is not a revolution, this is certainly a radical change in the understanding and practice of ministry in the Catholic Church. John Allen, writing for the National Catholic Reporter, highlights an additional dimension of the phenomenon that is worrying many. Eighty percent of LEMs are women. David DeLambo of the aforementioned pastoral center says this, too, is a very good thing. Women ministers, he says, “bring sensitivity to lay concerns and to families, as well as to issues related to gender and inclusion.” Critics disagree, pointing to the increasing “feminization” of the Church. In 1999, Leon Podles published The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity. Our reviewer (October 1999) thought he got much of his history wrong, but even casual observers know what scholars have documented, namely, that religion is disproportionately a “woman thing.” As Podles puts it with a charming bluntness, “Women go to church, men go to football games.” Christianity’s alienation of males is the theme of a more recent book by David Murrow, Why Men Hate Going to Church. Murrow, a specialist in media and advertising, says: “It’s not too hard to discern the target audience of the modern church. It’s middle-aged to elderly women.” They have what churches need, time and money. In addition, says Murrow, “If our definition of a ‘good Christian’ is someone who is nurturing, tender, gentle, receptive, and guilt-driven, it’s going to be a lot easier to find women who will sign up.” Which leads Allen to ask the question, “If the tone in most parishes is being set by female ministers, what will that do to the comfort level of men, given that women are already over-represented?” Some think that women LEMs are a step toward the priestly ordination of women. Others, recognizing that that is not going to happen in this millennium or the next, see LEMs as virtual priests without ordination. So why don’t bishops recruit more men to be LEMs? In large part, Allen plausibly suggests, because they want to recruit men to the priesthood. Or, in the case of married men, to become permanent deacons, another fast-growing group that is also compensating for the shortage of priests. (Permanent deacons are men ordained into the sacramental ministry of the Church and are to be distinguished from “transitional” deacons, who are seminarians on their way to priesthood.) Some dioceses in this country are rich in priestly vocations. More generally, the precipitous decline in vocations has bottomed out, with signs of a reversal underway. Embracing the intended slur, a friend says: “Of course, Catholicism is priest-ridden. Always has been, always will be.” He’s probably right about that, although, if the reversal doesn’t accelerate dramatically, the takeover by the LEMs may be hard to undo.
• Enough, you might say, about Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and their atheist pamphleteering against religion. But perhaps I can persuade you to sit still for one more critique, this time by the ever provocative Stanley Fish, the distinguished John Milton scholar and author of Postmodern Sophistry and numerous other exercises in intellectual unconventionality. “Writings against God and religion have been around as long as God and religion have been around,” writes Fish. (Ignore the fact that God has been around a good deal longer than religion or antireligion.) The objections that the current band of atheists “make against religious thinking are themselves part of religious thinking.” Their objections are “the very motor of that [religious] discourse, impelling the conflicted questioning of theologians and poets (not to mention Jesus, who cried, ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ and every verse of the Book of Job).” In other words, Hitchens et al. are posing the age-old questions of theodicy, except that, unlike poets, theologians, and other more reflective thinkers, they believe that posing the questions excuses them from wrestling with possible answers. Indeed, they believe that posing the questions is the answer: There is no God and anyone who thinks there is is dangerously deluded. These atheists launch an all-out assault on faith, pitting faith against reason and evidence. Yet, as Fish notes, in their claim that “science” will eventually explain reality by their reductionist mode of reason, they typically employ the same vocabulary as believers—“hope,” “belief,” “undoubtedly,” “there will come a time.” In fact, they are believers who, says Fish, “exemplify the definition of faith found in Hebrews 11, ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’” (The best examination of how science necessarily entails faith is, for my money, Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge.) But then Fish goes off the rails. Is it possible that the claims of the Christians or of the atheists could be falsified? Fish answers: “As usually posed, the question imagines disconfirming evidence coming from outside the faith, be it science or religion. But a system of assumptions and protocols (and that is what a faith is) will recognize only evidence internal to its basic presuppositions. Asking that religious faith consider itself falsified by empirical evidence is as foolish as asking that natural selection tremble before the assertion of deity and design. Falsification, if it occurs, always occurs from the inside.” The difference between Dawkins and Saint Paul is that they are each enmeshed in different “structures” of reason and faith that “speak to different needs and different purposes.” Not quite. In fact, not at all. The reasons that Christians give for their faith are not an inside job, so to speak. See, for instance, 1 Corinthians 15: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” That is a “structure of reason” shared with Dawkins et al., and indeed with all reasonable people. Christians can entertain the hypothetical possibility that the body of Jesus of Nazareth will be found buried in the Holy Land and scientifically identified beyond reasonable doubt. That is because Christian faith is informed by and vulnerable to a universal reason that Fish refuses to acknowledge. Stanley Fish and I have been around the track on these questions before (see our exchange in First Things, February 1996). His demolition of the constricted form of reason employed by Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens is both delightful and convincing. His attempted demolition of reason itself is another matter.
• Pope Benedict’s letter this past July to the Catholics of China is a development of potentially historic importance. From reading the letter and talking with people who know the situation in China, I?would say the most striking thing is Benedict’s insistence that there is one Catholic Church in China, not an Underground Church and a Patriotic Church. The pope’s letter develops the theological reasons why there is only one Church, and underscores the importance of the fact that most “patriotic” bishops—most sources say more than 90 percent of them—are in communion with Rome. He urges these bishops to be more public about that fact so that the faithful will know there is only one Church in China. Although it is not clear how this could happen, he is also urging underground bishops to find a way to become certified by the government; in short, a way of no longer being underground. The great obstacle to a united and flourishing Catholicism in China is the regime’s Religious Affairs Bureau. Those who run the bureau have a vested interest in maintaining their control over religion and, not incidentally, what is estimated to be claims of billions of dollars in church property seized after the communist revolution. It is noteworthy that the government directed the removal of Benedict’s letter from the Internet shortly after its release, although it is assumed that the letter had already been widely disseminated. Striking, too, is Benedict’s insistence on the importance of forming a united episcopal conference for China. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was frequently critical of episcopal conferences, but he obviously sees it as something essential to achieving ecclesial self-government (libertas ecclesiae) in the Chinese context. As he has done on many occasions, Benedict emphasizes that the Church has no political ambitions and can live under various kinds of regimes. She seeks cooperative relations with the government and asks only for the freedom to govern herself. The letter is, perhaps most important, a fervent plea for reconciliation between those Catholics who have suffered persecution, including in many instances the shedding of martyr blood, and those Catholics who took the course of collaboration with the regime. The letter can also be seen as a possible step toward official relations between Beijing and Rome, although that is probably a long way off.
• You usually know that somebody is losing the argument when he loses his cool and resorts to bluster, abuse, caricature, and the invocation of authorities who agree with him. The New York Times Book Review, for reasons that surpass charitable explanation, gave Michael Behe’s most recent book, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, to Richard Dawkins for review. Behe is a biochemist, author of Darwin’s Black Box, and a proponent of Intelligent Design. Dawkins is an atheist polemicist against religion, holds the ill-named Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, and is author of The God Delusion. Dawkins begins by saying he feels “sorry” for Behe, whom he describes as the “poster boy of creationists everywhere.” Never mind that Behe is not a “creationist.” No less than three times in the review, Dawkins alludes to the fact that Behe’s colleagues in his university’s biology department have publicly distanced themselves from his position. The other biologists at Lehigh University disagree with Behe. It follows that he must be a nut. Further, “Behe is taking on Ronald Fisher, Sewall Wright, J.B.S. Haldane, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Richard Lewontin, John Maynard Smith, and hundreds of their talented coworkers and intellectual descendents.” This is what is known as argument from authority. Just who does this Behe guy, “the disowned biochemist of Lehigh University,” think he is to disagree with the scientific establishment? Doesn’t he know that science progresses by conformity to conventional opinion, as Nicolaus Copernicus, Isaac Newton, and Charles Darwin (!) have taught us. Dawkins’ clinching argument against Behe’s claims about the limits of natural mutation is that different kinds of dogs have descended from the wolf. Dawkins writes, “As I incredulously close this book, I seem to hear mocking barks and deep baying howls of derision from 500 breeds of dogs.” What the reader hears is the mocking barks and baying howls of Richard Dawkins. He says that Behe thinks that God is somehow involved in the evolutionary process, and the author of The God Delusion knows that that is madness. All this raises interesting questions about the Book Review, which publicly claims to take care that a reviewer has no conflict of interest that would get in the way of a fair treatment of a book. For instance, is the author your brother-in-law? Apparently it doesn’t matter if a prospective reviewer has publicly and repeatedly heaped contempt on an author and his arguments. This magazine has a different review policy. We will on occasion choose a reviewer who is known to disagree, and disagree strongly, with an author. The purpose is to engage the argument and explain why it is wrong, with the author having a chance to respond. As the editors of the Book Review must know, Dawkins cannot engage Behe’s argument. It is not simply that he is not a biochemist. He is in principle disqualified because he is a militant atheist committed to a position of scientific materialism in which any reference to transcendent purpose or design is deemed to be delusional, meaning it is the product of a mental disorder. It is hard to know what purpose is served by the Book Review in having Dawkins review Behe, except, possibly, to ostracize anyone who presumes to raise questions about prevailing Darwinist orthodoxies and, perhaps, to pander to the smug prejudices of the presumed readership of the Times. That does not instill confidence in the Darwinist materialism that they are so desperately defending.
• Whatever happened to mainline Protestantism? There are many answers to that question. Once, and not so long ago, the religio-cultural establishment, it seems they simply folded their tents and went off to wherever dying tribes go. Not all of them, of course. There is Martin E. Marty, a card-carrying champion of mainline Protestantism, which he refers to as MP. What happened, Marty says, has everything to do with Catholicism. For instance, come the end of October, there used to be the big “Reformation Rallies.” As Marty writes: “MP leaders would fill downtown metropolitan arenas with tens of thousands who sang ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’ while they assailed the pope and his minions, who, we thought, wanted to take away our liberties. Then came Vatican II—and the main enemy that gave life to MP angers, and direction to its arrows, was gone.” So how do MP’s explain their decline? Just as you might expect, by blaming the Catholics.
• This is one strange book. Strange and frequently wonderful. Weighing in at 852 pages, Clive James’ Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts is not going to be read by anyone at one sitting. James is an Australian-born British literary critic and television personality now edging up to age seventy, and Cultural Amnesia is a summing up of what he has learned, or at least what he has been prompted to think, from a lifetime of prodigious reading and critical attention to the arts, both high and low. He goes about his summing up in a distinctive, if not unique, manner. He groups his subjects—mainly writers, but with a smattering of entertainers, politicians, and others—according to the alphabet, from A to Z. There are a little over a hundred subjects, beginning with the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova and ending with the Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig. Those two are fairly well known. I expect most readers will be unfamiliar with others, such as Robert Brasillach, Ricarda Huch, Golo Mann, Alfred Polgar, Virginio Rognoni, and Aleksandr Zinoviev. But there are also many about whom most readers will already have a definite view: Raymond Aron, Jorge Luis Borges, Albert Camus, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Charles de Gaulle, Thomas Mann, Adolf Hitler, and William Hazlitt, to name but a few. Each figure is an occasion for a mini-essay, which may or may not have much to do with the person in question. The book is more than a little like a literary Rorschach test: Name a name and Clive James will tell you what comes to his mind. It is a game you might play with anyone, but it is a great deal more rewarding and more fun if you play it with someone who has a mind as well-stocked as that of Clive James.
• Mr. James has, at least most of the time, a rather dour view of our cultural circumstance. Ours are, he says at one point, “the worst of times.” That is not at all believably offset by his “coda,” in which, I am sorry to say, he panders to the young. “I was their age then, but they are my age now: old heads on young shoulders.” That’s a pleasant thought, but one that finds slight support in the 850 pages that went before. James describes himself as a “displaced person” in the world as it is and uses the same phrase in praise of some of his subjects. He agrees with the observation of the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz, “I find that any self-respecting artist must be, and in more than one sense of the term, an émigré.” He writes that the example of the poet Paul Celan is daunting to other poets. “For one thing, it included suicide, which critics understandably tend to regard as a mark of seriousness.” It would seem to be particularly understandable to Mr. James. His subjects are disproportionately, some might say inordinately, drawn from the displaced, imperiled, and mainly Jewish writers of the Viennese coffeehouse prior to World War II. They lived as James, despite the false notes of his optimistic coda, seems to live, in an awareness of impending catastrophe. His cause, what keeps him going, is humanism. He describes his cause in the past tense. “Humanism was a particularized but unconfirmed concern with all the high-quality products of the creative impulse, which could be distinguished from the destructive one by
its propensity to increase the variety of the created world rather than reduce it.” James’ world is emphatically post-Christian. He quotes the statement of Viennese polymath Egon Friedell: “Mankind in the Christian era possesses one huge advantage over the ancients: a bad conscience.” James continues: “By the time of his wisely chosen suicide, the evidence had already been coming in from Germany for the previous five years that Christianity was in for a comprehensive rewrite, the main thing being to jettison its moral encumbrances, of which bad conscience was the most burdensome.” The Nazis, in this very dubious view, were rewriting Christianity. In any event, Christianity will not be missed; the Christian conscience has been succeeded by the liberal conscience. “The liberal conscience, the conscience we really value, would never have arrived in the world unless the Christian conscience had preceded it; so Christianity can be conceded the primacy.” The chronological primacy, that is. Contra Nietzsche, James seems to believe that Christian morality, in the form of the liberal conscience, can survive the death of Christianity. Or he seems at times to be able to sustain that belief. But then there is this, again in connection with Paul Celan and his poem Todesfuge: “[Celan] wrote the poem by which most of us define him: the man who came out of the flames with a love song that redeems mankind in the only way possible, by admitting that there is no redemption.” And then Celan committed suicide. And then there is this: “Stefan Zweig [who was persecuted by the Nazis] was the incarnation of humanism, so when he finally took his own life it was a persuasive indication that the thing we value so highly can stay alive only in a liberal context.” Cultural Amnesia is a cosmopolitan and informative commentary on the cultural circumstance that emerged from the bloodiest century in human history. The tone is typically wry and the judgments frequently wise. But it is finally a dark book, the product of a decent man desperately trying to unfurl the banner of a cause that he knows is lost. Nietzsche was right, and my hunch is that Clive James knows it.
• “In any literary editor’s stable of regular contributors,” writes Clive James, “the man who can be counted on for a thousand words by Friday about absolutely anything is always the most pitiable figure.” But he may nonetheless be useful to editors. Christopher Hitchens wrote a while back that he has an agreement with his editor at Vanity Fair that he will write to space and deadline on any subject except mathematics and science. When a book publisher who was impressed by the sales figures for several titles promoting atheism approached Hitchens, he promptly produced God Is Not Great, which has sold very well. Mr. Hitchens recognizes that ignorance disqualifies him from writing on math and science. Ignorance of philosophy and theology pose no problem. Reviewers have roundly excoriated Mr. Hitchens for his numerous gaffes and logical contradictions. While he is a pitiable figure, for which the usual word is hack, he is no more pitiable than the writers beyond numbering who, in equal ignorance, keep the “religion & spirituality” section of the chain stores supplied with new titles. They are the ones who give the likes of Mr. Hitchens the idea that you don’t need to know much about religion to sell books about it. Which, of course, does not excuse Christopher Hitchens.
• Raymond Aron, who died in 1983, was a wise and courageous French intellectual who during the Cold War championed the cause of freedom, which is to say the cause of the West. He was a liberal in the European sense of that term, meaning he was a conservative, although not necessarily in the American sense of that term. I came across this by Aron the other day: “The liberal believes in the permanence of humanity’s imperfection, he resigns himself to a regime in which the good will be the result of numberless actions, and never the object of a conscious choice. Finally, he subscribes to the pessimism that sees in politics the art of creating the conditions in which the vices of men will contribute to the good of society.” It is far from the whole of it, of course, but it is part of what is meant by an Augustinian sensibility.
• Fr. Paul Mankowski is a friend who teaches Hebrew and Ugaritic dialects at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. In the Adoremus Bulletin he reflects on the perils of Bible translations. He notes along the way that the New American Bible (NAB), an unfortunate translation that survives by virtue of being mandated in this country for reading at Mass, renders Matthew 19:12 without reference to “eunuchs.” Instead, we read that some people are “incapable of marriage.” Fr. Mankowski wryly observes that “marriage is not the activity of which eunuchs are incapable.” On a perhaps more serious level, he points out the problems with employing “inclusive language,” which is an ideological imposition on the text. The problem does not go away with the “compromise” of using only “horizontal” inclusive language. In that case, “he” and “him” are used only with reference to God (“vertical”), thus highlighting the maleness of the masculine forms that offend P.C. sensibilities. But I think he may be wrong about Romans 5. An otherwise inclusive-language translation is compelled, for understandable reasons, to make it “sin came into the world through one man.” Mankowski writes: “Precisely to the extent that our expectations are based on the [inclusive] grammar without generic ‘man,’ we will understand St. Paul to be speaking about one male. In introducing exactly the kind of misunderstanding for which they are invoked as the cure, the inclusive devices cut their own throat.” I’m not so sure. If I read some of these ideologists correctly, they want to say that sin came into the world through man, as in male. But I could be wrong about that.
• Douglas Laycock, distinguished professor of law at the University of Michigan and expert on the Religion Clause of the First Amendment, examines God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law by Marci A. Hamilton (Cambridge). Writing in the Michigan Law Review, he concludes after seventeen pages: “Occasional errors are inevitable, but here the extraordinary number of errors, often with reference to famous cases and basic doctrines, implies a reckless disregard for truth. I document these errors for a reason. No one should cite this book. No one should rely on it for any purpose. You might use its footnotes as leads to other sources, but take nothing from this book without independent verification.” Prof. Laycock really did not like the book at all.
• Strict church-state separationists of a fanatical bent routinely claim that exempting religion from government regulation constitutes a violation of the no-establishment provision of the Religion Clause of the First Amendment. Douglas Laycock concludes a fifty-five-page examination of “Regulatory Exemptions of Religious Behavior and the Original Understanding of the Establishment Clause” with a maxim that might well be engraved on the wall of every courtroom in the country: “Government does not establish a religion by leaving it alone.”
• It was the perennial question of whether you effect needed change by working “within the system” or by taking a stand apart from it. This gifted young man was determined to take the former course, achieving a position of influence and affluence that he could then use to advance his cherished ideals. I offered the caution, by no means original, that, when one grows accustomed to compromise, he might, upon achieving the desired position, forget what it was that he intended to do with it. I wish I had remembered at the time this gem by Jean Cocteau: “Too many milieux injure an adaptable sensibility. There was once a chameleon whose owner, to keep it warm, put it on a gaudy Scottish plaid. The chameleon died of fatigue.”
• Among the best antidotes to a lethally adaptable sensibility is the regular reading of First Things. If you have already reached your quota of gift subscriptions, we will happily send a sample issue to people who you think might subscribe on their own. Just send us their names and addresses. We will, of course, mention that the issue is sent at your thoughtful suggestion.
Sources: Turkey and democracy, New York Times, April 28; Benedict and the Times, New York Times, May 14; Muslim Episcopalian, Seattle Times, June 17; John Allen on LEMs, National Catholic Reporter, June 29; Stanley Fish on atheism, June 10, NYT Think Again blog; Dawkins on Behe, New York Times, July 1; Marty on MP, Christian Century, June 12; Mankowski on inclusive language, Adoremus Bulletin, June 29; Laycock on Hamilton, Michigan Law Review, April 2007; Laycock on Religion Clause, Notre Dame Law Review, 81, no. 5.
Turkey and democracy, New York Times, April 28; Benedict and the Times, New York Times, May 14; Muslim Episcopalian, Seattle Times, June 17; John Allen on LEMs, National Catholic Reporter, June 29; Stanley Fish on atheism, June 10, NYT Think Again blog; Dawkins on Behe, New York Times, July 1; Marty on MP, Christian Century, June 12; Mankowski on inclusive language, Adoremus Bulletin, June 29; Laycock on Hamilton, Michigan Law Review, April 2007; Laycock on Religion Clause, Notre Dame Law Review, 81, no. 5.