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  • Some aren’t cheering my governor’s brand of liberalism. Some even oppose his efforts to increase access to abortion. Shocking. His diagnosis: “Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is ­themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro–assault weapon, ­anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.” Strange that I wasn’t asked if I agree with Cuomo when I registered to vote. Must have been a clerical oversight.

  • A couple of issues back, I wrote about the paradox of liberalism. What starts out as a campaign for freedom circles around to become a philosophy encouraging state control. That happened in economics. I predicted it would happen in culture. Today’s proponents of liberated personal life will be tomorrow’s advocates of state-sponsored paternalism.

  • James Rogers wrote me, agreeing in the main, but pointing out an important difference. “The analogy between the injury of nineteenth-­century economic laissez-faire and twentieth/twenty-first-century social laissez-faire breaks down at this point: Those trapped by market forces in the nineteenth century knew they were indeed trapped and not free. They recognized, however ­inchoately, that their lives were ­dominated by external forces beyond their control.

    “I dare say, except under the rarest of circumstances, the victims of social laissez-faire do not recognize themselves as victims. The porn addict, the drug addict, the promis­cuous girl, may lament the consequences of their choices, but nonetheless recognize them as their choices.”

    And because they feel free, “building the case against social laissez-faire is more difficult than building the case against economic laissez-faire. Quite often, the victims will simply reject the claim that they are indeed victims.”

    Yes and no. It is true that social laissez-faire feels like freedom to many, perhaps most. But I’m willing to bet that ordinary people will begin to recognize that they’re trapped. Case in point: marriage. There’s a growing awareness, even among the privileged, that it’s hard to get and stay married. Nobody’s stopping them, just as nobody was preventing textile workers in Manchester from starting their own companies. But it’s an increasingly empty freedom.

  • There are times when theology achieves an almost transcendent ­importance and relevance in human affairs. The syllabus of coffee errors formulated by the Rev. Fr. ­Andrew ­Stephen Damick is such a moment. From his blog, Orthodoxy and ­Heterodoxy:
  • Decaf is Docetic because it only appears to be coffee.
  • Instant is Apollinarian because it’s had its soul removed and ­replaced.
  • Frappuccinos are essentially a form of Monophysitism, having their coffee nature swallowed up in a milkshake.
  • Chicory is Arian, not truly coffee at all but a separate creation.
  • Irish coffee is Nestorian, being two natures conjoined solely by good will.
  • Nitro coffee (coffee + Red Bull) is Montanist, having a form of godliness but denying its power.
  • Affogato is Adoptionist, being merely topped with espresso.
  • The Café Bombón is Sabellian, appearing at some points to be foam, at others coffee, and at ­others sweetened condensed milk.
  • The Caffè Americano is a form of Unitarian Universalism, being so watered down so as not even to qualify as coffee.
  • The Cafe Mocha (espresso + steamed milk + chocolate) is syncretic and polytheist, for it ­presumes to adulterate coffee with another nation’s gods.
  • The Doppio (espresso + espresso) is Monothelite, permitting only one will to dominate.
  • Half-Caf is another form of Adoptionism, being a hybrid of disparate natures.
  • The Pharisäer (drip coffee + 2 shots rum + whipped cream) is nothing but sheer ­Antinomianism.
  • The Red Eye (drip coffee + 1 shot espresso) is Ebionite, for it would swallow up pure faith in the Law.
  • A rigorist exclusivism for Fair Trade Coffee is a form of Donatism, insisting that only sinless hands may produce a true ­beverage.
  • “Coffee is bad for you”: The watchwords of the Iconoclast.
  • One wonders what Fr. Damick makes of tea. Sin against the Holy Spirit?

  • On January 31, Florida State University College of Law held a symposium: “After Marriage.” Among the questions addressed we find the following: “Many activists and movement members have framed marriage for same-sex couples as an end point. What if we reconceive marriage equality as the beginning rather than the end? What might it be the beginning of?” My answer: It’s the ­beginning of the reduction of everything to human will. If we can redefine marriage, we can redefine children. We can redefine life. We can redefine ­reality.

  • You won’t be surprised to hear that the professoriate is working on other fronts as well. This from Columbia University’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law’s announcement of its Spring Colloquium, a series of afternoon presentations and discussions: “With greater and greater ­frequency, ‘conscience’ or ‘religion’ is being ­invoked to indemnify private actors from complying with constitutional rights to sexual liberty, statutory rights to equality, or policies to assure equal opportunity. The Spring Colloquium will bring together theorists, religious leaders, and activists who are working to contest and reframe the utilization of religious exemptions to civil rights laws.” The engines for redefining religious liberty are being put into gear, sponsored and financed by establishment institutions.

  • A reader recently wrote. His subscription has expired. He’s hesitating. He likes the magazine, but, a committed Presbyterian, he’s frustrated. After he took out a subscription five years ago, in came a steady flow of solicitations asking for donations to Catholic causes. He’s sure the monasteries, convents, orphanages, and colleges are worthy, but it troubles him. What’s going on? Why the Catholic bombardment through the mail?

  • The answer is simple. We sell our subscription list to organizations—and other magazines too. (We also buy lists to send solicitations to people we hope will be enticed to subscribe.) By and large, legacy Catholic publications like Commonweal and America have a liberal Catholic readership. Now that Crisis no longer publishes a print edition and other publications have fallen by the wayside, we’re pretty much the only reliable way to reach a conservative Catholic audience. The Protestant world is different. Chris­tianity Today, Books & Culture: There are other ways to get to our Protestant readers. Thus the preponderance of Catholic solicitations.

    My correspondent isn’t the only one who has complained. I’m sympathetic. I can imagine some of our subscribers exclaiming upon receiving the umpteenth solicitation, “But I’m not Catholic!” But we’re a non-profit operation, very non-profit. Our readers are extremely generous during our regular fundraising campaigns. I want your generosity to be matched by my good stewardship of this magazine. Which means selling our subscription list. Which means solicitations.

  • An “undue source of stress” and “inappropriate and potentially harmful.” So says Wellesley college student Lauren Walsh. The object of her concern? A lifelike statue of a man in his underwear. Called The Sleepwalker (an accurate description), he, er, it, is part of an exhibition of the Davis Museum on campus. The museum’s director, Lisa Fischman, is happy that the statue is stimulating “discussion.” Student Zoe Magid isn’t happy. She points out that there’s no discussion. What’s being expressed are objections: “We really feel that if a piece of art makes students feel unsafe, that steps over a line.”

  • Harmful? Unsafe? That’s rather precious. There’s no need to limber up the heavy artillery. The simple fact is that an extremely realistic statue of a middle-aged man in his Fruit-of-the-Loom briefs is boorish.

  • Facilitating Forever. It’s a report put out by the National Marriage Project. Authors Alan J. Hawkins and Betsy VanDenBerghe call for the expansion and re-engineering of healthy marriage and relationship initiatives. The goal: to help “the weak,” which is to say, the sort of people being ground down by both economic changes and our new culture. They’re having trouble finding their way in the new global economy—and the new cultural ecology.

  • The report makes a (genuinely) modest proposal: Provide “relationship literacy education.” For school-age children, “youth relationship literacy education”; for cohabitating couples, “relationship development education”; for those ready to marry, “marriage preparation education”; and for those already married, “marriage maintenance education.”

    The moralist in me recoils from the therapeutic tenor of these initiatives. The authors follow the social-scientific protocol of substituting “healthy” for old-fashioned moral terms like right and wrong.

    Be that as it may, the thrust of this report is good, very good. We’ve got to do something as a society to reverse our moral abandonment of the weak. We can’t redistribute our way out of the mess we’ve made of marriage. We’ve got to reverse the trend that wants to celebrate “difference” and start talking about the tried-and-true paths to marriage (or, to use the nonjudgmental term our age demands, “family stability”), something now painfully elusive for many poor and working-class (and increasingly ­middle-class) people. Just ­saying that out loud—which is what these initiatives do, however gently and at a remove from vigorous moral language—is the necessary first step.

  • The enemy of piety is not unbelief. It’s sovereign desire. I argued as much in a recent column on our website, pointing out that for most people, it’s the fact that faith gets in the way of what we want (or imagine ourselves wanting) that rankles, not the supposed irrationality of belief.

  • CUA professor Christopher ­Ruddy pointed out that Pope Benedict agrees with me (generously put, that). He drew my attention to a passage from Without Roots, a book of letters exchanged by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Marcello Pera. There Ratzinger observes that one reason for unbelief in the West today “was articulated by Nietzsche when he wrote, ‘Christianity has thus far always been attacked in the wrong way. As long as one does not perceive Christian morality as a capital crime against life, its defenders will always have an easy game. The question of the truth of Christianity . . . is something entirely secondary as long as the question of the value of Christian morality is not addressed.’”

    Ratzinger thinks Nietzsche brings to the fore “the decisive reason for the abandonment of Christianity: its model of life is apparently unconvincing. It seems to place too many restraints on humankind that stifle its joie de vivre, that limit its precious freedom, and that do not lead it to open pastures—in the language of the Psalms—but rather into want, into deprivation. Something similar happened in antiquity, when the representatives of the powerful ­Roman state appealed to Christians by saying: Return to our religion, our religion is joyous, we have feasts, drunken revels, and entertainments, while you believe in the One who was crucified.”

  • The Minnesota State Legislature is punishing the Catholic Church. In 2012, voters faced a Marriage Amendment defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman. (They rejected it, with 52 percent voting against.) Not surprisingly, the Church came out in favor of the amendment. Not surprisingly, gay activists didn’t like that. They promised retribution and in 2013 delivered, spearheading legislation that changed the statute of limitations on child-sexual-abuse cases, granting an additional three years to cases already underway and stipulating that there is to be no statute of limitation for new cases. Which means unlimited liability. Which means perpetual lawsuits.

  • Minnesota is also home to Jeff ­Anderson, one of America’s most prominent anti-Catholic jihadists, who has described the Church as a “public nuisance.” He’s now pressing forward a case of alleged abuse in 1976 and 1977 that would have been tossed out under the old statute of limitations. He’s convinced Judge John Van de North to require the current Archbishop of Minneapolis and St. Paul, John Nienstedt, to testify under oath about how the archdiocese has responded to allegations of child sex abuse in recent years. In effect, on the basis of a nearly forty-year-old allegation, Anderson has been authorized to conduct a fishing expedition into archdiocesan files.

  • And it’s not just about sex. Last month, the treasurer of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, announced that the state’s pension fund would no longer use the services of Third Point LLC. It wasn’t a financial decision. Third Point yielded 24.7 percent last year, making it the top-performing hedge fund for the state’s pension fund.

  • You see, Third Point is run by Daniel Loeb, and he contributes money to the charter-school movement and other educational-reform efforts bitterly opposed by Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers. Weingarten is not only America’s number-one enemy of poor children, she’s also a macher in the ­Democratic Party, which depends on public-­employee union money and support. Raimondo aspires to higher office. A spokeswoman for Raimondo says politics had nothing to do with pulling the funds from Third Point, but any political schoolchild knows that two plus two is four.
  • We are living in a political culture in which so-called progressives tout tolerance and diversity, shed crocodile tears about divisive politics, and bemoan the fact that they’re the only fair-minded people left in America. Meanwhile, they prosecute a ruthless war against any who dissent.

  • Fr. Christian Rutishauser, S.J., was in our office recently to give an evening lecture: “Halakhah for Christians.” In Hebrew, halakhah means “the path one walks.” In rabbinic thought, it refers to the comprehensive set of laws that govern Jewish life. Rutishauser acknowledged that Christians don’t adopt halakhah. Nevertheless, we are also committed to a comprehensive, governing law, the law of Christ. Drawing on the thought of Rabbi Joseph ­Soloveitchik, he outlined the way in which this law comes from outside—from God to us—but demands from us an interior, creative obedience.

  • It was a fine lecture, and it clarified for me the fact that Jewish–Christian dialogue is moving into a second stage. The first, spurred by Christian shame over the long history of ­anti-Judaism culminating in the Holocaust, was largely diplomatic. It focused on overcoming past misunderstanding and mistrust. At its best, friendships formed and something of substance was exchanged. At its worst, “dialogue” was little more than ritualized affirmations and denials that became only too ­predictable. The second stage worries less about the past. It presumes a common stance over and against an ­increasingly hostile secular world in the West. In the second stage, Christians and Jews don’t pretend to be saying the same things, but in an important sense we theologize together. That’s what Michael ­Wyschogrod did in his engagement with Karl Barth. That’s what Rutishauser does with ­Joseph Soloveitchik.
  • First Things offers monthly lectures here in New York. Most of them take place in a meeting space in our office. If you’d like to know more, visit our website. Or better yet, sign up for our regular email newsletter.

  • Until the revision of the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar in the 1962 Roman Missal, January 1 was designated the Feast of the Circumcision. The revision dropped it, ­replacing it with the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, to which was later added the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Fr. Rutishauser and others have petitioned Pope Francis to restore the Feast of the Circumcision to its ­traditional spot in the Christmas Octave.

  • There are a number of compelling reasons to do so. The most obvious concerns the relation between Old and New Testaments. Salvation history begins with Abraham, whose divine call is sealed with circumcision, a ritual shedding of blood that echoes through ­Scripture.

    It’s precisely this ritual sign of divine election that becomes so controversial in St. Paul’s ministry. He argues that circumcision is not necessary. But that’s because it’s fulfilled in baptism—a circumcision of the heart—not because it’s irrelevant or misguided. A restored Feast of the Circumcision encourages us to see in a very vivid, literal way how the fulfillment in Christ involves an ­intensified continuation of the salvation history of the Old Testament. Jesus is marked as God’s own in his flesh, an important reminder that baptism isn’t only “spiritual” but instead incorporates us into the visible body of Christ, the Church.

  • Shame on the editors of the National Catholic Reporter. Not only did they publish a rebarbative review of Michael Novak’s memoir, Writing from Left to Right, they gave it a nasty, mean-spirited title: “Novak memoir written from crass superficial thinking.” The reviewer, Michael Sean Winters, aspires to be the next Garry Wills. Novak’s writing is “not only thin, but sometimes obscene.” “An enthusiast, not a thinker,” he suffers from a “lack of ­inquisitiveness.”

  • One passage in particular exemplifies the slanderous spirit of the review: “Novak perfectly epitomizes the blindness of Catholic neocons when it comes to their slavish idolatry of markets, writing, ‘Lower tax rates awaken “animal spirits.”’ Of course, in the neocon worldview, such spirits are fine in the boardroom but not in the bedroom—an idea that has helped them hold on to the ­evangelical vote.” Translation: ­Novak, Weigel, and others who actually think tax rates ­matter for economic growth (imagine that!) are hopeless lackeys of Wall Street. Oh, and we cynically defend the sixth commandment in order to keep Republicans in power. I’m no fan of Garry Wills, but his knives aren’t nearly so dull.

  • And good for Ken Woodward, the former religion editor at Newsweek. He’s no neocon, and although he has published in First Things, he’s had critical things to say about our politics. But he knows a great deal about the actual history of C­atholicism over the last half-century, and in that ­history Michael Novak might be many things, depending on your theology and politics, but superficial ain’t one of them. Woodward said as much in a sharply worded letter to the editors of the National Catholic Reporter. Why is it, he wonders, that “Novak’s ­intellectual efforts to reconcile capitalism with Catholic social thought should be judged less noble and risky than earlier efforts by theologians in Europe and Latin America to reconcile Catholicism with Marxism?” Why indeed?

  • Our January 2014 issue features a review of Novak’s memoir by ­Geoffrey Kabaservice (“Wise Helmsman”). It’s by no means adulatory, and in places it’s critical. Kabaservice thinks Novak tends to be an “all-in” thinker who went from an insufficiently critical progressivism to a similarly flawed conservatism. But Kabaservice, who recently published a very fine history of mid-century Republican party politics (Rule and Ruin), knows enough to know that, agree or disagree with his politics, Michael Novak has been the very opposite of superficial.

  • In his column for National Review Online, “St. Socrates, Pray for Us,” Michael Aeschliman has fun with the politically correct locutions ­currently being encouraged by ­François ­Hollande’s socialist government in France—la novlangue socialiste (socialist newspeak), as a recent editorial in Le Figaro put it. Preschools are not to be called “mother schools” (écoles maternelles) but “first schools” (premières écoles). The reason given by a government official: “To neutralize the affective motherly charge of the word ‘maternal.’” Small children? Mothers? Let’s not contribute to the gender bias that joins them together.

  • And then there are homosexual couples. The latest dictat from Paris tells us that we’re to refer to them as “couples confronted by social infertility” (l’infertilité sociale). It’s not that there’s a natural, biological impediment. No, infertility is a social construction, as they say, something used to stigmatize. Therefore, the state must do as any progressive state must, which is to confer on ­homosexual couples “social fertility,” known in ordinary language as the right to adopt.

  • Some of the socialist newspeak is more goofy than Orwellian. One in particular amuses. When referring to the goal of promoting solidarity and building up the common good, the French government speaks of creating “the inclusive and communal Us” (Le Nous inclusif et solidaire). That seems to be the French version of our president’s navel-gazing rallying cry, “We are the change we’ve been ­waiting for.”

  • On their website, senior associate editor of the Atlantic, Jordan ­Weissmann, weighs in on the marriage gap, the growing divide between ­college graduates in America who get and stay married and the rest. He’s rightly concerned. “It’s hard to talk about any important aspect of the economy today without talking about weddings.” That’s because “depending on who you ask, declining marriage rates are either a driver of poverty or an extremely worrisome symptom of it.” And not just poverty, but lack of social engagement, bad health outcomes, and a general failure to flourish. But concern isn’t enough. He and his friends need to take responsibility. That begins with facing up to the fact that they’ve inherited a progressive agenda that deconstructs the moral universe for ordinary ­people.

  • The good news: New York City’s abortion rate declined in 2012 to its lowest level since abortion was legalized in the state in 1970. The bad news: At 37 percent of pregnancies, it’s still twice the national average. City officials ascribe the decline to increased use of contraception. Greg Pfundstein, president of the Chiaros­curo Foundation, which works to reduce the number of abortions in New York, is perplexed: “While the CDC through its comprehensive National Survey of Family Growth has found steadily declining rates of teenage sexual activity, they have not found substantial increases in contraceptive use. And the City has been pushing Plan B for several years, which studies show does not decrease the pregnancy rate. If the City has data proving their claim, they should make it available to the public.” Odds are strong that there’s no data. But there are assumptions. One very powerful one is that sexual discipline is impossible. The ratchet of the sexual revolution turns only one way.

  • Now out is our poetry editor Paul Lake’s latest collection of poetry, The Republic of Virtue, which won the Richard Wilbur Award. Congratulations, Paul, and many, many thanks for your stewardship of the tradition of fine poetry in the pages of First Things.

  • We’re delighted to report that John Murdock’s account on our website of Francis Schaeffer’s commitment to the stewardship of nature was named one of the best pieces of environmental journalism for 2013 by the editors of OnEarth, a quarterly magazine and online journal that addresses ­environmental issues.

  • This spring we plan to launch the Richard John Neuhaus Society. To join you need only to do what he did, which is to designate First Things as a beneficiary in your will. His ­generous bequest provides ongoing support that has been very ­important for our financial well-being. Your ­support is needed as well. We’re only as strong in the public square as we are on our balance sheet. Please let me know if you’d like more ­information.

  • We are now accepting applications for our Junior Fellows program. Junior Fellows are fully involved in our editorial work, reading submissions, editing, and writing. They also participate in First Things seminars and colloquia. The fellowship runs from August 1 through August 1, and we provide a modest stipend, along with housing nearby. The application deadline is March 31. Look for more details on our website.

  • while we’re at it sources: Cuomo’s anti-conservatism:, January 17, 2014. Coffeedoxy: orthodoxyand­, January 31, 2014. After marriage:, January 31, 2014. Redefine religious liberty:, n. d. Boorish briefs:, February 5, 2014. Marriage project:, February 2014. Minnesotan abuse:, February 16, 2014. Rogues Island:, February 4, 2014. Novak memoir:, January 29, 2014. St. Socrates:, February 15, 2014. Marriage gap:, February 7, 2014. Abortion rate:, February 20, 2014.