A Green Thought in a Green Shade
Alan Jacobs critique of The Green Bible (Blessed Are the Green of Heart, May 2009) was not only insightful but written with cleverness and wit. Far be it from me to respond to the article. His critique is worthy of consideration even if one does not agree with what he had to say.
Give Alan my regards and congratulate him. We need articulate thinkers who can analyze and write with brilliance. I think that what he had to say could itself be critiqued, but I believe that his thoughts were so well expressed that they deserve to be read and reflected on without comment.
St. Davids, Pennsylvania
Alan Jacobs put into words much of the discomfort I myself felt when I first came across The Green Bible in the local bookstore. Yet there is one issue Jacobs did not touch on: the editors too narrow definition of creation. Given that the Scriptures are unified by the grand narrative of Gods dealings with his creation, especially with his image-bearing creatures, I should think that any edition of the Bible claiming to focus on this subject would properly have to print everything in green.
David T. Koyzis
Redeemer University College
Regarding the Pain of Others
It is remarkable with what Christian fortitude and resignation we can bear the suffering of other folks, said Jonathan Swift. Like other anti-euthanasia writers, Sally Thomas holds no truck with use of the words unacceptable suffering , release , merciful , or love . But my experience has convinced me that these are indeed the appropriate words to use when faced with the imperative to end pointless human pain.
I was once given a tour of a large state hospital for children in California. We were shown ward upon ward of micro- and micra-cephalic infants who would never know a parent or a home. To say that these people were created in the image of God begs the question. At the existential moment between life and death, is it not sufficient for us, the living, to commend these lives to God? What else can we do? Thomas offers few specifics.
The old argument still runs that only God has the right to decide the terminus of any life. But God is no longer the only one determining how long men and women live. Man himself is determining that, having extended his average lifespan from the thirties in colonial days to nearly seventy now. Medical advances often prolong the hopeless suffering of those whom Nature, left to herself, would release. Man must shoulder the responsibility thus thrust upon him and must devise some way of mercifully liberating the helplessly ill from needless existence.
Duane A. Walker
It took me some time to break the spell cast by Sally Thomas wonderful article (Shadows in Amsterdam, May 2009). When I finally recovered the use of reason, the first thing that came to my mind was: Why is Thomas surprised?
Euthanasia is the logical course of action for anyone who is not living a life of faith, hope, and love”that is, for the vast majority of the population on this planet. The only way to endure suffering when earthly life can give us nothing more is the redemptive love of Our Lord. Unplug that and everything comes tumbling down.
Thomas is probably too young to know this, but the spiritual struggle for most people in the last phase of life resembles that of Gethsemane. Satan takes over and shows us, facts in hand, that our life has been a failure, that our prospects are not any better, and that what awaits us is horrible. Its the hour of darkness: God withdraws in the background and we are left alone with Satan.
Satans arguments are compelling, and Our Lord had to muster all his strength to keep faith, hope, and love. His battle continues in history in each and every individual who consciously confronts death (Christian or not). Today the word agony associated with Gethsemane means intense pain. For the evangelists and their audience that same word meant the personal fight in battle or in the arena.
We need to move beyond surprise and scandal toward love and empathy for the human ocean that surrounds us. They will have to confront Satan without the armor that Paul urges us to put on, and their only hope is a lethal dose of a drug. The Lord is merciful and will come to their help, but they dont even know that.
Los Angeles, California
Sally Thomas replies:
I thank Steve Clemente and Duane A. Walker for their responses. I appreciate Clementes assumption that I am too young ever to have witnessed firsthand anyones end-of-life sufferings, physical, mental, or spiritual, and that my youthfulness has rendered me naive.
Why am I surprised, he wonders, that anyone would take the road of euthanasia? I suppose my response, first, is that Im not so young never to have encountered, in successive waves, the various ways in which ill and aging people wait for death. I have seen the shadow of despair that haunts many of them in the absence of a sustaining faith.
A friend of my mothers, for example, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and caused herself untold grief in settling her living situation and her affairs so that her adult children never have to come to see her, or even think about her, if they dont want to. As she told my mother, This is my gift to my children.
Pardon my naivete, but this is an outrage. I dont care how many times or in how many forms the scenario plays itself out: It is an outrage, a shame and a scandal and a sin, that the old and ill should feel that they are alone with their demons, that those demons render their lives worthless, and that the only sensible, charitable thing to do is to take themselves and the demons as far out of everyone elses way as possible. It is wrong, plainly and simply wrong, that a culture should arrange itself around such an assumption about the worth of human life. If I fail to be scandalized by this state of affairs, then I run the risk of moral numbness. I have an aging, widowed mother; if for no other reason, I need to be scandalized, frankly, in order to stay awake at the wheel.
Walker, meanwhile, takes me to task for my Christian willingness to bear the sufferings of other folks, as Dean Swift put it. He wonders what I think people ought to do, other than having their loved”or unloved”ones put down when their usefulness on this earth has been outlived.
I would offer as one example the experience of a family we know, a family of many children and limited means and cramped living space. When the wifes father, in his nineties, became unable to live alone, the family took him in. They converted their living room into a room for him. The two sons, then fifteen and thirteen, took care of his bodily needs, bathing and dressing him, carrying him to and from the car when the family went out. The daughters kept him company. The priest visited often.
The father died a year ago in May, in his bed, surrounded by family who loved him enough to have gone on caring for him indefinitely, who had not tired of him and his needs, who bore his sufferings with him, who found him even in his infirmity to be good company worth having for as long as he stayed. They still speak of the year he lived and died with them as the best year in their life together, and of the burden of his care as a blessing.
Gary Anderson (Faith & Finance, June/July 2009) argues that smooth functioning of the finance system depends on trust and belief. Anderson insists that the economy can recover only if we restore trust and belief in our financial institutions. But where is this belief going to come from? Virtues can come only from God, and faith, belief, is his gift. He has also ordained that faith and reason belong together, however, and therein lies the problem.
Since creation is a continuum, a dilution of religious belief has led to a lowering of moral standards, which has in turn necessarily resulted in lower standards in business ethics. George Washington identified these necessary connections in his Farewell Address. Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, he said religion and morality are indispensable supports . . . . Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice. And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.
According to Anderson, charity provides the wealth for our heavenly treasure. With Christs sacrifice on the cross, he has purchased our redemption. Even so, Christ wants us, like the poor widow in the gospel, to contribute our tokens as a sacrificial offering for the redemption of our souls. Charity strengthens our faith. But, Anderson goes on to say, in our modern state, social justice substitutes for personal charity. The personal sacrificial offering conducive to grace is replaced by the use of someone elses property. Instead of charity, we substitute class warfare and the invidiousness of some other mortals blessings (their property). In the Christian view of things, that is not charity but its opposite. It does not result in any increase of our heavenly treasure (as in faith) but rather depletes the previous savings or credit we might have accumulated.
In the Jewish midrash discussed in the article, the rabbis conclude that if God is ones surety there is credit” credo , I believe. This is the consequence of personal charity. If instead the devil is your surety (and he is no doubt the promoter of conflict, strife, invidiousness, and class warfare), there will be no credit. This is where we stand today.
In response to Andersons insistence that belief in the financial institutions be restored, we must demand that this trust be reasonable. People should not ignore the reality of widespread immorality in the world of finance, or its source in weakened religious belief. As Washington put it in his Farewell Address: Can it be that providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? It has indeed. There is no shortcut around the life of grace. Our eternal welfare and temporal welfare stand together. Let us pray to God that we recover the faith that alone can be the source of our fortunes in this life and in the next.
Luis F. Caso
One would not guess from reading Faith & Finance that the Christian concept of Redemption had anything to do with the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. The author thus succeeds in avoiding the scandal of particularity but leaves one wondering how he would relate his thesis to such Bible passages as Mark 10:45, Romans 3:21“26, Ephesians 1:7, 1 Peter 1:18“19, Revelation 5:9, and so on.
Gary A. Anderson replies:
Luis Caso provides a good summary of several important points in my article. In particular, I had stressed how belief in God and belief in the credit markets have considerable overlap in Jewish and Christian thought. Nowhere is this more evident than in the idea of establishing a treasury in heaven, a concept quite dear to Jewish and Christian writers of the Second Temple period. I quite agree with Caso that a big problem currently has been the eroding of faith on the part of creditors due to poor business practices. The restoration of trust will not come about with a snap of the fingers or congressional mandate but only when an appropriate level of confidence (faith) returns to the markets.
As for Massons worry, my article dealt with the issue of heavenly treasuries, not the sum total of the Christian concept of redemption. If he wants to see how I work the Cross and Resurrection into this particular framework of debt and credit, I would refer him to my recent book Sin: A History .
Blessed are the married with children for they will stabilize housing prices. David P. Goldmans theory of economics and fecundity (Demographics & Depression, May 2009) is fascinating, but he attributes much more importance to fecundity and the prevalence of two-parent families than the facts warrant. He writes, Perhaps the world is poorer now because the present generation did not bother to rear a new generation . . . . We are grayer, and less fecund, and as a result we are poorer, and will get poorer still”no matter what economic policies we put in place. Poorer than when exactly? The U.S. poverty rate is far lower now than it was in the 1950s and early 1960s, and the GDP per capita is far higher. By any standard, the world is much richer than it has ever been in the past. Increasing the population never by itself increases GDP per capita; only productivity gains do that.
Goldman also writes, Too few [children] are seated around Americas common table, and it is their absence that makes us poor. The U.S. fertility rate in 2006 and 2007 was 2.10, which is precisely at replacement level and the highest since 1971. Largely due to immigration, our population is expected to continue to grow. We also have a lower dependency rate (that is, more workers per dependent) than we had during the baby boom.
The heart of Goldmans argument is that the U.S. housing market, and in large part the world economy, is driven by one variable”two-parent families with children”and since that variable has not been growing, neither can housing demand. Because the market somehow overlooked this well-known demographic fact, people vastly over-invested in housing. Housing demand, however, depends on many other variables. One is GDP per capita. When Americans have more money, they tend to buy more and bigger houses, and GDP per capita is far higher than it was during the baby boom and has been increasing steadily (until the current recession) and will doubtless do so in the future. Moreover, non-two-parent families also buy houses. According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, 55.2 percent of all single-person households owned homes in 2007, up from 49 percent in 1990. The figures for other kinds of non-two-parent households are comparable.
In other words, in recent decades a greater percentage of all kinds of households have been buying houses than comparable households did in the past. In fact, there may even be a correlation between socially disruptive behavior and demand for housing. In a divorce, often one parent will keep the old house and the other will buy a new one (increasingly possible as GDP grows).
Large families are good for many reasons. But something may be a moral and cultural good without being the single key to the worlds economic growth. Conversely, a social evil, such as the decline of the two-parent American family, need not be the cause of all the worlds ills, such as the bubble in the housing market. There is much responsible work being done by economists on the causes of that bubble, but none of it treats the number of two-parent families as significant. Goldman has written some fine things about demographics, but here he has allowed his favorite themes to expand into all-compassing explanations of everything.
Notre Dame, Indiana
David P. Goldmans article is a good start on an important subject. The first thing God said to Adam and Eve was not Thou shalt not eat of it but Be fruitful and multiply. That seems to imply an ever-growing economy. A large portion of mankind, however, has decided it prefers a growing GDP without the needed multiplication.
Goldman describes the result of this preference in the housing sector. It is not important whether this description is accurate in all its various aspects”the prophetic message is loud and clear: We need to rear a next generation. All else is bookkeeping and ultimately trivial.
As much as I love David P. Goldmans article, and as much as I agree with his analysis, I find it slightly amusing that he neglects to mention the most serious hindrance to demographic growth: sex. Sex is now considered a private recreational activity, with no moral or social significance. The default setting in this society is that sex is sterile. Childbearing is available as an optional lifestyle extra, if you happen to like that sort of thing.
We have built our entire social structure around these presumptions. Women are permitted to participate in the economic and educational systems as long as they agree to chemically neuter themselves until finishing graduate school and establishing careers. The housing market, which Goldman addresses so eloquently, has been built on the assumption of two-income households. Add, to high mortgage costs, the crushing college debt that many young people face, and it is small wonder that so many young couples feel themselves unable to start families. By the time they are financially prepared, a womans peak fertility is past her. Even if she wants a large family, it may well be out of her reach.
So, I would add the following to Goldmans recommendations: The government should stop subsidizing contraception and comprehensive sex education. The contraceptive ideology is the linchpin of the whole sexual system. If people want contraception, they can pay for it themselves.
But for the government to promote the idea that sex in any circumstance is an entitlement, that all possible problems associated with sex can be contracepted away”this is not government neutrality. This is the government actively promoting a deeply flawed ideology, with many problems beyond the demographic winter Goldman so eloquently discusses.
The truth is that none of this was necessary. These attitudes toward sex were foisted upon us in the name of womens freedom and gender equality. A more humane feminism, along the lines sketched by John Paul II, could have spared us, and may yet spare us, much grief.
Jennifer Roback Morse
San Marcos, California
David P. Goldman replies:
It is true, as Gregory Barr observes, that most economists models look at other variables than demographics. But that is precisely why none of these models predicted the housing-price crash. Why did Standard and Poors now infamous rating model for subprime bonds fail catastrophically? Because it relied on variables like GDP per capita, which kept growing until the housing market blew up. The economists were in the position of turkeys, whose correlation models worked perfectly well until Thanksgiving. By contrast, demographically attuned economists such as Arthur C. Nelson at Virginia Tech (whom I cited) had been warning for years of a coming price drop in large-lot, single-family homes.
It is true that single-person households bought large homes, but the fact that people who could not afford large homes bought them regardless helped cause the crash. The idea that we should stick to the same models that guided us over the cliff in the first place recalls J.M. Keynes definition of a responsible banker, namely one who is ruined in a conventional and orthodox way along with his fellows.
Defending Noras Honor
I enjoy reading your unique publication, even if I do not always agree, but sometimes you do require correction of facts. Zbigniew Janowskis review of The Art Instinct (Darwin in the Louvre, May 2009) describes Nora Helmer, the heroine of Ibsens A Dolls House , as not wanting to procreate and insinuates that she was guilty of adultery!
Both claims are incorrect. Nora was a good, loving mother. Consider the first scene of the play which shows her carrying an armful of gifts for her children. And the misdeed that drives the plot is not adultery but Noras forging of her fathers signature”for her husbands sake.
San Francisco, California
Zbigniew Janowski replies:
I am puzzled by Roberta Bauccis claim that because a woman is a loving mother she cannot be adulterous. Does the love of ones children necessarily entail the love of ones husband? Or, does the love of ones children preclude adultery? Is adultery the act of sex with someone other than ones spouse or is it anything resembling an emotional affair where one shares intimate knowledge of oneself, not necessarily physical contact?
It is instructive to invoke Graham Greenes Doctor Fischer of Geneva in this context. Fischers wife betrayed her husband not by having sex with another man, but by sharing her passion for music with someone”something she could not do with her husband. Was she an adulteress? Certainly not by traditional standards. What one finds in Greene is perhaps a more subtle insight into marriage than what one finds in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century novels: the lack of fulfillment in marriage and the need to seek this in the company of someone else. If true, one can suspect that many spouses would be guilty of this sin.
The Real Crusades
Thomas F. Madden (Inventing the Crusades, June/July 2009) complains about nonspecialists getting the Crusades wrong and then proceeds to make a questionable generalization about a period outside of his own area of academic specialty. For Christians [of the first millennium], therefore, Madden writes, violence was ethically neutral, since it could be employed either for evil or against it.
Not quite. One need only consider the perspectives on violence in Tertullians Apologia and De Corona Militis , Origens Contra Celsum , the Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs , the Martyrdom of St. Marinus , St. Paulinus of Nolas Letter 25, and Book XIX of the City of God , to see that significant Christians of the first millennium either rejected violence outright or were profoundly uneasy with it.
This is not to say that most Christians were strictly nonviolent or to deny that some Christians thought violence was ethically neutral (though ethical neutrality is a concept whose applicability to the world of ancient Christianity is itself debatable).
It is merely to insist that Christianity in the first millennium, like Christianity in the second, encompassed a wide range of views on matters of significance.
The result was that violence meant a lot of things to a lot of different Christians. By skirting the complexity of historical Christianity, and by doing so to strengthen his own arguments, Madden risks placing his scholarship on the level of those pacifist revisions of history whose slanted narratives he correctly dismisses.
Iowa City, Iowa
In his review of The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam by Jonathan Riley-Smith, Thomas F. Madden writes that we are left with the gaping chasm between myth and reality . . . . If that chasm is ever to be bridged, it will be with well-written and powerful books such as this.
Madden also mentions that within a month of September 11, 2001, former president Bill Clinton lectured the students at the Jesuit institution Georgetown University that descriptions of the [Crusades] describe soldiers walking on the Temple Mount, a holy place to Christians, with blood running up to their knees.
Up to their knees? Does anyone really believe that?
This sort of thing is personal to me, because I entered college as an agnostic, and part of the reason that I returned to being a Catholic is learning the true history behind many of the anti-Catholic myths I was told.
I hope that Thomas F. Madden will forgive me for not joining in his gleeful reassessment of the Crusades. As a Jew, I would find it exceedingly hard to do so.
For all the unabashed piety that the Crusaders brought to their tasks, the Crusades were an absolute disaster for the Jews. Contemporaneous accounts make it clear that the Crusaders destroyed countless Jewish communities on their way to Jerusalem. Those destructions left deep wounds and prompted the adoption of many customs of public mourning, such as memorial prayers on the major festivals ( yizkor ) and the commemoration of the anniversary of a death ( yahrzeit ), that are observed to this day.
Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin
Thomas F. Madden replies:
Mike Schorsch is certainly correct to point out that not all Christians who lived before A.D. 1000 agreed on an issue as complex as violence. Yet, as his bracketed insertion into the offending sentence suggests, I made no such claim. Instead, the sentence in question was part of a discussion of Augustines view of just war and its subsequent implications during the medieval crusading movement. Reading additional sentences would also have revealed that the article was a book review and, as book reviewers are wont to do, I tried to lay out the main arguments of the book in question. In this case, on page 13 of Jonathan Riley-Smiths The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam , in a discussion of Augustine, just war, and medieval thought, we read: The second was the conviction that violence was ethically neutral. Neither Riley-Smith nor I meant to suggest what Schorsch thinks we suggested.
Don Schenk is correct to disbelieve stories”told by presidents or others”of Jerusalems streets running with blood to knee level after the Crusader conquest of 1099. Although several Western sources use this description (or even more exaggerated ones), it was the employment of a widely recognized figure of speech. It was never meant to be taken literally. The best analysis of the conquest, by Benjamin Z. Kedar of Hebrew University, puts the death toll at around three to four thousand. By medieval Middle Eastern standards, that was more than usual but not dramatically so.
I am sorry that Rabbi Salkin believes that I am gleeful in my reassessment of the Crusades and that, as a Jew, he finds it is exceedingly hard to engage in a reassessment of them. Plenty of historians”many of them Jews”have been able to reassess the Crusades by looking dispassionately (rather than gleefully) at the evidence in an attempt to better understand this important period in history. I would direct Rabbi Salkin to any of the excellent books by Robert Chazan or Jeremy Cohen. We now know much about the anti-Jewish pogroms that occurred alongside some Crusades.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput (St. Paul in the Public Square, June/July 2009) says there are 65 million Catholics in the United States, but it seems to me that many of these so-called Catholics are members in name only. Furthermore, many eventually quit the Church. (The second largest religious group in the United States is supposedly ex-Catholics.)
Why is this? The answer is the Churchs current policy of baptizing any infant whose parents promise to rear him in the Catholic faith. But how believable are such promises when they come from nonpracticing Catholics? The Church stipulates that one godparent has to be a practicing Catholic”how about further stipulating that one parent must be a practicing Catholic? And how about a declaration that, in the event of death or divorce, the Catholic party does not waive the right to pass on the Catholic faith to their children? These modest changes might help a great deal to hold people accountable to the community for the faith they promise to pass on to their children.
A second issue is the bishops credibility. Why do so many laymen simply not believe the bishops? Let me suggest that there is not enough fraternal correction. For example: The pope is the successor of St. Peter. He is therefore due the kind of respect that St. Peter received, but not greater. St. Paul did not hesitate to hold his brother Peter publicly accountable when he erred. But the present successors of the apostles never hold their brother bishops accountable.
The bishops enjoy a superficial unity, but the people rightly distrust this appearance and so do not follow them. Differences are real; burying them is deleterious to the credibility of the teaching office. Our bishops must learn from the Church Fathers, who had great disagreements but produced great theology and were excellent pastors.
Both these issues are about accountability. Each of us has received gifts from the Lord; we are all accountable for their exercise”including the exercise of faith. The teaching office is also accountable to the Church, since the gifts of the Spirit are mediated by the Church. At present the bishops are contemplating changes in the Mass without any consultation with the priests or faithful who will be affected: another example of a lack of accountability. Insanity consists of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Is that what we in the Church are doing?
The Rev. Paul A. Hottinger
For forty years, the American bishops have been constrained by the NCCB/USCCB ethos to speak as a committee. But Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not appointed as a committee to write a gospel . Each wrote the gospel in his own voice. Would we be better off today with a single gospel ratified by majority vote?
Archbishop Chaput has exercised his rightful apostolic independence. He writes not as the weak bishops of recent American times past but as the Father Bishop of ancient times past.
His tone is nearer that of Augustine, Anselm, Chrysostom, Basil, Paul, and Peter than that of the USCCB.
William G. White
Franklin Park, Illinois
Archbishop Chaput has delivered a strong, objective message deserving wide attention. An equally strong word of caution, however, is needed for his somewhat abstract practical lesson on how to engage the culture of today. Being creative is one thing, but the language of popular culture can be a Trojan Horse. Werent the Pharisees versed all too well in the language of popular culture? Didnt Paul fail to sway the crowd at the Areopagus?
One should also clarify the meaning of information technologies. If this means the Internet and blogging, it will prove a slippery slope indeed. Depth of thought is not exactly a characteristic of the Web, where much is gossip”occasionally helpful gossip but still not conducive to the reflective attitude needed to receive what Benedict XVI calls Jesus great word and . . . sublime message. It is worth noting that Benedict has expressed skepticism about the benefits of modern information technology precisely because (as Chaput notes, drawing on the work of Neil Postman) it alters the structure of our interests . . . the character of our symbols . . . [and] the nature of community, perhaps in unavoidably vicious ways.
In the end, Chaputs basic message retains its force”the truth in Christ”which shows us the way, often regardless of, or even contrary to, popular culture. The archbishop undoubtedly sees this, but it wont hurt to remind readers to take care. Christian resistance to rap culture, tattoos, atonal shrieking as music, gross obscenities for humor, and the like, can certainly make imaginative use of new technologies but should not itself stray from reverence and decorum. John Paul IIs generosity toward modernism and the media needs great restraint to avoid the new golden calves that often go by the name modern culture.
W. Edward Chynoweth
I thank Archbishop Chaput for his incisive analysis in his essay on St. Paul in the Public Square, regarding the Churchs role in the American public square given the election of a stridently pro-abortion administration. His admonition to examine what we have become is salient and wrenching.
He cites poor formation over the past forty years as a root of Catholic disengagement from truth. I know regularly attending septuagenarians who believe that their Catholicism is consistent with their vote for President Obama, thus demonstrating the need for continuous catechesis and conversion among all the faithful.
To his list of practical advice, I would add one point. The Church must rise up in sustained prayer. Every offertory should include one or more petitions to end abortion and to beg God for forgiveness and healing. The Churchs prayer concerning abortion is largely nonliturgical and laymen led. I laud all these efforts.
But it is past time for the Church as a whole to bring that prayer into the very heart of her worship. Only the bishops can lead that movement. In twenty-first-century America, what petitionary prayer is more important than the prayer to end abortion? Can we imagine the Church having any real impact on abortion without such prayer?
Is there any better way to teach our own hearts to desire an end to this travesty and thus pray our way toward a better answer to the question of what have we become?
Lynn C. Murray