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God will Judge

After reading Daniel Philpott’s “Peace After Genocide” (June/July), I want to offer a few personal comments on The Hague Tribunal. As a Bosnian Muslim who survived the war and lost family and friends in the war, I find the whole system of justice (that is, The Hague) a farce. (A while ago, I wrote a poem on it called “Bubble-Gum Justice.”)

True justice will not be achieved in this way. Part of the reason is that the attempt at objectivity (the reason the court is not in Bosnia or any other nation that has experienced genocide) relativizes not only the meaning of justice but also the action of it. It should not be a surprise that The Hague Tribunal is full of bureaucratic nonsense.

So, then, forgiveness and reconciliation is our option. But the question, of course, is how can you forgive and still have justice? Perhaps my only disagreement with the article is the author’s suggestion that the reconciliation process ought to happen on some higher, organizational, collective level, as exemplified by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.

I don’t think that one can pursue justice collectively. The minute one forms such committees and organizations, human beings internally protest such awkward and perhaps even forceful attempts at reconciliation. I certainly would.

I have been wondering: What is it really to see through the eyes of the perpetrator? What happens when the perpetrator has a face, and one is indeed in a face-to-face relation with him? This is the whole question of evil. Forgiveness is incredibly difficult, and it involves more anger than joy. I want justice. At the same time, I don’t think that I could see Ratko Mladžić or Radovan Karadić, for example, be killed. It would bring me no pleasure, no closure. In fact, their deaths would be hollow.

In many ways, forgiveness is a continuous human process, which perhaps never ceases for an individual. It relates, more than anything, to the significance of memory, which must continue, despite the pain”something we might call the “ethics of memory.” It is a responsibility of the survivor to remember. The question is not whether I should remember. The question is how should I remember.

Unity that is inherent among humanity is very important. But just as the “liberal” form of justice is a milquetoast attempt, so is the unity of human beings according to the liberal doctrine, which presumes and expects forgiveness. Just because there is earthly suffering, it does not follow that there will be an earthly story of redemption or that earthly justice will be found. What keeps me going, even through my pain (which continues after the war) and loss, even through the natural anger, is the fact that in the end God will judge, and not according to my perception of justice.

One thing I do not have in my heart is hatred. In Death and the Dervish , a novel by the Bosnian writer Meša Selimović, the protagonist learns that his brother was unjustly imprisoned and then killed. He responds: “Maybe I should hate them but I can’t. I don’t have two hearts, one for love, the other for hate . . . . My prayer and my submission, my life and my death now belong to God the Creator of the universe.”

Emina Melonic
Buffalo, New York

Reformation Debates

In his review of Brad S. Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (“The Reformation Wrongly Blamed,” June/July), Ephraim Radner traces the genealogy of Gregory’s argument to the 1844 publication of Jaime Balmes’ Protestantism and Catholicism Compared, With Respect to European Civilization . He singles out this text, as he says, because it “introduced a new note of historical objectivity” into its discussion, ostensibly to hide its pro-Catholic/anti-Protestant religiopolitical agenda, a quality he also finds in Gregory’s book.

He chooses this tome when a significant body of literature has for over a century pointed to the Reformation as the Rubicon of secularization, beginning with Max Weber’s seminal The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in 1905. Recent work includes historian C. John Sommerville’s The Secularization of Early Modern England , sociologist Marcel Gauchet’s The Disenchantment of the World , philosopher Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age , and literary critic Regina Schwartz’s Sacramental Poetics at the Dawn of Secularism . These scholars hardly represent the “Balmesian tradition.”

This greater scholarly conversation, which Gregory undertakes, is far too important to omit, but Radner omits it and offers his own “soft-progressivist/positivist” interpretation of the religious history Gregory examines. For instance, he argues that “social reconstructions of Europe . . . did indeed work to limit Christian violence after the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries,” as if the Thirty Years’ War were only a mild spat resolved by consensus and not a prolonged series of wars that devastated Europe, brought famine and disease, and decimated populations. After this conflict, Europe was too exhausted to fight over religion, and, as Gregory argues in his book, this “fundamentally shaped the subsequent course of Western history.”

Michael Martin
Marygrove College
Detroit, Michigan

If my colleague Brad Gregory’s historical assessment is true, and if Ephraim Radner’s “Protestant version” of the Reformation’s purported beneficial effects”that it “gave us back our consciences, granted us freedom, unleashed reason,” etc., and has given rise to modern secular institutions that have exercised caritas even better than have Christian institutions”are arguable if not actually overstated, what then are modern Christians (Protestant and Catholic) to do in the face of contemporary culture’s relentless hostility to sacred things?

Catholic smugness and the failure of Catholic leaders to be good stewards of the Church are common tropes because, alas, they describe something common; and all Catholics one day will have to give an account of ourselves to God, and Catholic leaders an account of their stewardship. But this does not negate the truth that historically Protestantism has undermined the unity of Christ’s Church, with cultural consequences powerfully and accurately described by Gregory.

That, of course, is not what the Reformers, acting in good faith, understood themselves to be doing. But five centuries later, given where we are and given Catholic acknowledgment of historic Catholic institutional failings, can Protestants continue to deny that this is in fact what has happened? The late Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, a former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, once remarked that “the word ‘return’ is not in our ecumenical vocabulary””and just so.

But I think it’s not too much for separated Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ, once we have acknowledged our mutual failures of charity, to consider the hard institutional and communal and ecclesiological work to be done before Christians can be the most effective presence of Christ in the world that God wants us to be, and that this work is going to require of us virtues and disciplines subservient but in addition to charity. In a postmodern world that seems to know and acknowledge no motivations other than money, the will to power, and “choice,” perhaps among those disciplined ecclesiological and communal virtues might be voluntary poverty, obedience, and stability of life.

These, of course, in addition to prayer and work, are historic Benedictine disciplines. They are equally germane to the challenges of modern Christian evangelization and missionary activity and, in retrospect, equally pertinent to the dilemma of modern colonialization.

Philip Bess
University of Notre Dame
South Bend, Indiana

Ephraim Radner’s review of Brad Gregory’s Unintended Reformation wrongly accuses him of resuscitating a tired nineteenth-century Catholic antimodern narrative and offers as criticism the resuscitation of a tired nineteenth-century liberal-progressive narrative thinly disguised as an appeal to Christian charity. I write as a historian who finds Gregory’s arguments persuasive, but I think Radner’s review provides us with a teaching moment.

He scolds both Protestantism and Catholicism for their failure to live up to the ideals of Christian charity, but the saving angel in his historical narrative is not Christian charity but liberal modernity. According to Radner, modern liberal notions of human rights enabled the more authentic realization of Christian charity in history, most dramatically in the abolition of slavery.

Such a read of the history of slavery obscures its long, slow death in medieval Western Christendom and the dramatic revival of the institution in the service of the signature economic achievement of liberal modernity, the capitalist world market. The promoters of New World slavery were those on the modernizing, progressive side of history in the early modern Atlantic world. As Christopher Blum has recently reminded us, liberal icons from Locke to Mill to Tocqueville consistently held up slave societies as among the most “progressive” in the modern West.

It is one thing for Christians to apologize for the crimes of Christendom; it is another for Christians to feel compelled to apologize for the crimes of modernity. As Gregory is willing to concede, Christians were no doubt complicit in imperial colonial violence”yet no one can deny that secular, liberal, modern progressives were clearly in the driver’s seat, imagining and implementing the exploitation. At stake in Gregory’s work is not the relationship between Protestant theology and univocity but what Hans Blumenberg called “the legitimacy of the modern age.”

Gregory has said in response to the review that an “open-minded atheist could have written the book.” An open mind must still engage in some process of choice and selection, and it would take a very rare kind of atheist to select Gregory’s narrative, however persuasive it might be on its objective merits.

To some degree, Gregory’s book does participate in an older Catholic antimodern tradition, even as he takes this tradition to new levels of sophistication. His book is antimodern in the sense that it challenges the primacy of modern social and intellectual forms in dealing with the social and intellectual challenges of the past five hundred years. As modernity at its most liberal has allowed for Catholicism within the limits of liberalism alone, so Gregory seems to be suggesting an alternative narrative of engagement that allows for liberal modernity within the limits of Catholicism.

In its postmodern manifestations, liberal modernity has discovered a perverted sense of mystery in Richard Rorty’s unholy trinity of contingency, irony, and solidarity. The battle is no longer between Catholic faith and liberal reason but between two rival formulations of faith and reason linked to two distinct ways of life. Liberal modernity retains its appeal less on the strength of its arguments or its role in the abolition of slavery than on the continuing appeal of what Gregory calls the “goods life.” Sadly, modern Catholics have been all too willing to confuse the goods life with the good life. In this, and not in the so-called Wars of Religion, lies the most pressing failure of Christian love.

Christopher Shannon?
Christendom College
Front Royal, Virginia

Ephraim Radner, in his thoughtful review of Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation , makes a number of important observations. Ideas, Radner rightly notes, do not function in a vacuum, and it’s impossible to understand the Reformation without recognizing the failure of caritas as an important factor in the division between Catholics and Protestants. He is also right in suggesting that the story of modernity is not just a narrative of failure but also contains elements of “the divine project of love.”

All of these points can be made, however, without in any way gainsaying the main point that Gregory makes in his book, namely, that “the Western world today is an extraordinarily complex, tangled product of rejections, retentions, and transformations of medieval Western Christianity, in which the Reformation era constitutes the critical watershed.” The entire book is a lamentation on the loss of caritas at the time of the Reformation.

Particularly problematic is Radner’s downplaying of the significance of doctrinal truth claims. Repeatedly, he places “ideas” against charity. The history of modernity, he argues, “should be understood in terms of the practical loss of love rather than doctrinal confusion.” Accordingly, “the responses of modernity should first be looked at, not in terms of competing truth values . . . but in terms of divine love’s force at work.” Therefore, the Reformation divisions “are properly met by a transformation in love among Christians, not by better arguments.” The remedy of modernity’s wounds is thus a “renewed ecumenism, where the credibility of the Church’s life of love and will is primary, not her reasoning” (all emphases mine).

Radner’s hierarchical ordering of love and truth is, frankly, misplaced. Truth and love go together, as truth and love are ultimately one in God himself. Greater love and better arguments necessarily go hand in hand in dealing with the Reformation divisions.

I agree with Radner that we need a renewed ecumenism. But it is one thing just to claim that theological disagreements (such as sola scriptura ) are not the only problem; it’s another to refute with arguments Gregory’s meticulously argued claim that this did, in fact, constitute a serious problem.

As a Protestant, I feel forced to acknowledge, with some embarrassment, that the truth of Gregory’s claim that the divisiveness of the Reformation became unmistakably evident following the gradual disestablishment of Protestantism. It is only when weaknesses and shortcomings on both sides are roundly acknowledged that we will be in a position to learn from one another and so to grow in charity and unity.

Hans Boersma
Regent College
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

In “The Reformation Wrongly Blamed,” Ephraim Radner writes that historian Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation revives the “distinctively modern and distinctively Catholic genealogy of modernity” in the fashion of Jaime Balmes and Jacques Maritain. But this reading of history is not distinctively Catholic.

Two influential, non-Catholic figures immediately come to mind: sociologist Max Weber described a “Protestant work ethic” that explained the rise of capitalism and modernity on the basis of a disembodied understanding of salvation inherited from the Reformers; and systematic philosopher Georg Hegel hailed the Reformation, “the all-enlightening Sun ,” as ushering in modern times by freeing “the specific and definite embodiment of Deity” from any “outward form” so that one may be reconciled to God “in faith and spiritual enjoyment.” These non-Catholics saw in the Reformation the seed of a Cartesian dualism of which Catholic thinkers are so critical. Of course Catholic historians, such as Gregory, may lament such developments, while others, like Hegel, celebrate them, which is, perhaps, the real distinction that Radner needs to keep in mind.

But what Radner seeks is not so much to debunk this historical perspective as to show a more excellent way: “By my reading, the history of modernity should be understood in terms of the practical loss of love rather than doctrinal confusion. Modernity’s descent is far less the effect of conceptual mistakes than of ‘love waxing cold.’” He believes that the distinctively modern and Catholic historical perspective derives “from that decisive modern reorientation” by separating ideas from love.

He does not remedy the situation by committing the opposite error of seeking a proper view of history in a “love” without reason, but nevertheless there is something attractive in his attempt to view history as it embodies Christian love. Such lack of visible love is the constant justification for the division of the Church at the Protestant Reformation and beyond. But is there any escaping an “unholy” Church? Pope Benedict XVI ?describes the Catholic Church, not only in the sixteenth century but since its very beginning, as a “paradoxical combination of holiness and unholiness.” The holiness of the Church is not to be found in human expressions of love in any age.

Furthermore, if the problem with our understanding of the Reformation is that we have shifted “Christian attention away from caritas rather than seeking its restoration,” as Radner claims, the solution to the Reformation itself is love. This love, however, is a love expressed in a unity that begins with forbearance and leads to bearing up.

From this perspective, Martin Luther’s “Here I stand” is not a position of love. I am not saying that Luther did not have his reasons for his position; I am only pointing out that once we move beyond Christian love, pure and simple, we face the rational arguments that justify our expressions of a “love” that divides. Which brings us back to Brad Gregory.

Charles Slater
Rochester, Minnesota

I am grateful to Ephraim Radner for introducing me to Jaime Balmes’ nineteenth-century work on Protestantism and Catholicism. Although he thinks that The Unintended Reformation belongs to a “Balmesian tradition” that comprises a “distinctively modern and distinctively Catholic genealogy of modernity,” its historical analysis presupposes no substantive religious views whatsoever, Catholic or otherwise. I did not make up the empirical results of the commitment to sola scriptura that began in the early 1520s and have persisted to the present. Nor did I invent the endemic problems of late medieval Christendom or fabricate the failures of modern philosophical foundationalism.

According to Radner, the book’s argument is flawed because it adopts the modern notion that “one’s ideas form the basis of religious identity and integrity” and touts the rectification of bad ideas as the key to alleviating contemporary problems. But The Unintended Reformation intentionally emphasizes not only the era’s ubiquitous doctrinal disagreements but also the coercion and violence of early modern confessional regimes, whose “conflicts amounted to an unintended disaster that has fundamentally shaped the subsequent course of Western history” and that “unwittingly provided a firm launching pad for ideological and institutional secularization.”

As the book points out, for example, the “obviously inadequate instantiation” of caritas in medieval Christianity helped to precipitate the Reformation and its leaders’ emphasis on doctrine; Reformation-era “authorities’ breaches of caritas via confessional coercion created a reservoir of resentment sufficient to spring and sustain the secularizing, antireligious, liberationist ideology pervasive in the modern era down to the present”; and awareness of churches’ collusion with European imperial colonial violence is linked to the steep decline in European churchgoing since World War II.

Traditional Christianity understood not primarily as a system of ideas but as a shared way of life with caritas at its center, and the historical effects of the manifold failures to enact caritas from the Middle Ages to the present, is one of the book’s major themes.

Brad S. Gregory
University of Notre Dame
South Bend, Indiana

Ephraim Radner replies:

I am glad that my review of Brad Gregory’s book drew so many thoughtful responses, even if most question my remarks. I am honored too that Gregory has himself written. His book is a brilliant work that deserves the praise it has already widely received, and my one regret in my review is that I did not say this clearly. Instead, I took a critical tack on a larger question that his book forcefully raises, that is, “What is the cause of where we are?”

Gregory himself seems to say that, in many fundamental respects, we agree on the answer, and I think he is right. Nonetheless, the weight, proportion, and direction of his arguments seem to press in a direction with which I am uneasy.

I entirely agree with Gregory (and Michael Martin) that the Reformation was a watershed, and even a necessary condition, in a complex way, for the secularized social situation in which we find ourselves. But I do not think it was a sufficient condition by any means. Just as important, and perhaps even more so, was the European encounter with non-Europeans, in Africa, the Americas, India, and Asia.

Indeed, many of the peculiar political, economic, and finally religious shifts that have contributed to the secularized cultures of today have been shaped by elements of these encounters, and (though we shall never know) may have taken place in their own way without what we call the Reformation ever having happened. It could be argued, after all, that the violent secularizing dynamics of the nineteenth century, which then fed into some of the most horrendous aspects of the twentieth century (I am thinking of coercive socialism especially), were products of the “transatlantic” revolutionary cultures that grew out of the most egregiously distressing aspects of the globalized European engagement.

But what the sixteenth and early seventeenth century gave the late eighteenth century was not so much a set of culture-fragmenting ideas as a bequest of violence. And in fact the sixteenth century into the seventeenth (I by no means dismiss the Thirty Years’ War, but see it as fundamentally a war among Christians) was perhaps as bad as the twentieth in terms of depopulating energies, i.e., deaths as a result of hostile action, especially as we include the Americas and Africa.

And if we do link secularizing dynamics with this reality, I think that discussions of “unintended Reformation” may obscure what, at least from a Christian point of view, needs to be exposed. For violence, whether in Europe or the Americas, Africa or Asia, is always “intentional.” And the self-adopted identities of “Protestant” or “Reformed” or “Catholic” do little to elucidate these intentions, whose origins lie in deeper human recesses of the soul, and whose Christian ideological justifications were in any case inherited at least from the Middle Ages. We are talking less about the problems associated with “the Reformation” here than about the stark fact of Christian division, conflict, and malice tout court.

In this case, furthermore, the intended violence of Christians against other Christians and against non-Christians is something whose “results” include the calling down of God’s wrath upon the Church, part of which may well include the secularized crucible of what was once a “Christian culture.” Obviously, an “atheistic” historical perspective will not speak in such terms, but I have no problem doing so.

I am not convinced by Christopher Shannon’s own reading here: Christians qua professing believers in the gospel arrested, exiled, despoiled, enslaved, and killed people on a vast scale, heretofore unknown among them, and, yes, became in many ways consumed with acquisitiveness, but is this really extraneous to the historical effect of their religious witness? Furthermore, he and Philip Bess misunderstand me if they read me as arguing for liberalism as the savior in this story. I view the rise of liberal societies more as usefully compensatory, but also as a kind of divine rod, a Joab bringing with him a (misplaced) order for a failed David. But Israel endures him”he is himself an Israelite”with ambivalent unease, realizing perhaps that there is still a long part of the story to be borne.

I suppose it is fair to assume that certain “ideas” are themselves vessels of divine wrath. But it is hard for me to imagine that justification by faith or vernacular reading of the Bible (an idea marked by a practice) are properly linked to social-religious fragmentation in any but an epiphenomenal way. Hans Boersma’s gentle and measured warning about separating “truth” from “love” is seriously taken.

But in many”not all, to be sure”cases of “dividing doctrines,” we now have a level of stated agreement among many whose contemporary (and still contested) achievement makes one wonder about the essential character of doctrinal conflict in the first place. Here, the chasm between a secularized evaluation of Christian debate and Christian self-explanation in these areas has become hard to span: Are these the questions that fed the flames of murder? Were they really worth it? It is not just that truth and love are inseparable; the moment that they are pried apart, each dies a thousand deaths. Yet if asked, “How shall we restore their unity?”, love will take the first step, and quite intentionally.

It is not as if questions of historical causality are beside the point. There are great stakes in this debate. It is proper to question the self-justifying myths of the secular academy, as Gregory urges, just as a Benedictine discipline of Christian common life and prayer must inevitably sow good seed, as Bess suggests. Charles Slater speaks of “a love expressed in a unity that begins with forbearance and leads to bearing up,” which I think is very aptly put, although to see this as a specifically Protestant calling is an intimation I am loath to encourage.

My own grandparents, from both sides, lived in a corner of what is now Belarus. It was not all conflict. But the Jews of my lineage found nothing in the mutual relations of Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox of the area to commend Christianity to them, let alone in their treatment of their Jewish neighbors. In America, however, they intermarried freely and raised their children without opprobrium or violence.

They also lost much of their respective faiths. The trade-off is not a good one, we all agree. But we cannot claim that its attractiveness is not either our fundamental responsibility or our business.

Seeing Clearly

Pace Jonathan Haidt as represented by R. R. Reno (“Our One-Eyed Friends,” June/July), liberals do not lack the senses of loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Rather, they direct these senses to different objects from those that the traditional civilization they have inherited does.

Within the inherited civilization, liberals hold as sacred, authoritative, and worthy of loyalty only the promises of freedom and equality that in their view it professes but, as a historical actuality, always betrays. Thus, their loyalty is to any group with a claim to be opposed, marginalized, or repressed by the inherited civilization. Liberals invest their sense of authority and sanctity in these Others and their claims of injustice. Even prospective claims can trigger this response, as when liberal voices on 9/11 instinctively rallied to the defense of Muslims against expected reprisals.

A complex web of precedence resolves competing claims of Otherness. For example, though African Americans and women are classically Other, Herman Cain and Sarah Palin are not and are fair game for even the old stereotypes about these groups. Gays are in general the Others du jour (witness, as I write this, the crusade against Chick-fil-A for its president’s impiety in this area), but Muslims’ condemnation of homosexual behavior gets a pass.

Haidt’s experiments might be varied to flush out these redirected liberal senses. For example, reactions to the story about the woman using an American flag as a cleaning rag might be compared with reactions to a variant in which she uses a rainbow flag she found in the street after a gay pride parade.

Jerome S. Colburn
Champaign, Illinois

As I read R. R. Reno’s piece on moral vision, I am waiting for cataract surgery on my left eye. My right eye is fine and has apparently carried the argument inside my brain, because looking with both eyes I see clearly. All is not well, however. Although I see clearly, I am disoriented, at times nauseous, like I’m wearing somebody else’s glasses. The bad eye has found a way to make its presence known.

But if you asked me, I would tell you that I see quite clearly, thank you very much, and be puzzled at the talk of depth and field that only a good second eye gives.

Bruce Jespersen
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

R. R. Reno replies:

Liberals are committed to their moral matrix, which Haidt sees as revolving around care for victims of oppression. He also points out that, as Jerome Colburn observes, contradicting or challenging liberal commitments can evoke from liberals a tribal response, as anyone who has spoken out against political correctness in academia knows.

So, yes, liberals are loyal to their liberalism, and they link arms with other liberals, because it’s human to be groupish. But that’s not the same as a moral commitment to loyalty. Point out the tribal character of liberalism to liberals and they’ll either deny it or wince in painful self-recognition. Do the same to a patriot, and he’ll say, “Quite right, that’s the point of patriotism.” Therein lies a distinction that, as Haidt recognizes, makes a difference.

Which I’m not sure Bruce Jespersen sees. Perhaps I should just say that the second eye is best understood in New Testament terms. To paraphrase John 12:44-46: Believing is seeing.

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