UKRAINE

John P. Burgess’s article “Christian Witness in Ukraine” (October) is flawed in several significant ways. First, he confuses Rus´—a medieval reality—with Russia, a modern one. Imagine François Hollande invading Germany to maintain the “unity of France.” Aix-la-Chapelle (today’s Aachen—in Germany) was indeed the capital of the Frankish realm. But France is hardly the Frankish realm.

Confusing Rus´ and Russia is bound to recast Ukrainians as “reluctant Russians.” Thus, even the promotion—and safeguarding—of legitimate Ukrainian distinctiveness will inevitably be seen as “nationalistic” or “separatist.” Of course, trying to revive a “Rus´ realm” might be a nice—even “Christian”—idea if it weren’t for the fact that millions of Ukrainians have been murdered throughout the centuries by those trying to “preserve” such “unity.”

Then there is Burgess’s inference that the Euromaidan was essentially about nationalism. It was not—unless the attempt to distance oneself from a thoroughly corrupt Moscow is nationalistic. A large number of the protesters were Russian speakers. And when they overthrew President Yanukovych, they replaced him with an interim president of partly Russian ancestry and a duly elected president who belongs to the Moscow patriarchate (as Burgess himself notes). The support of Ukraine’s Jewish leadership for the uprising was also significant. Besides, during the presidential election in May the nationalist parties garnered only 2 percent of the vote.

Burgess writes: “The churches can unite in a shared commitment to overcome historic animosities and to work for national reconciliation.” This is exactly what had been happening in Ukraine until Kremlin-backed snipers murdered protesters and Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea. Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, had twice officially visited the head of the Moscow patriarchate in Ukraine, Metropolitan Volodymyr Sabodan. The visits were highly successful and will hopefully continue.

I have been working in Ukraine off and on for twenty-four years, and lived there for an entire year with my family. I can attest to the fact that Ukraine was essentially bereft of ethnic tension until a chauvinistic Kremlin began reviving the Russian Empire. Unfortunately, now there will be a rise in Ukrainian nationalism. But it has been incited by a foreign invasion during which Putin has broken one international law after another.

Finally, Burgess’s article is riddled with factual errors and stark omissions. Just two examples: In the sixteenth century “the creation of the Ukrainian Catholic Church” did not take “Orthodox believers away from Moscow” and subject them to Rome. At the time the Church in Ukraine was under Constantinople, not Moscow. But the error fits Burgess’s “grand narrative.” The reference to Stalin’s liquidation of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine notes only that “some [Greek Catholics] were martyred when they resisted.” This is damning with faint statistics. According to Amnesty International, the destruction of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and its continued persecution from 1946 to 1989 created the largest banned religious body in the world. Now that is a “witness (martyria) in Ukraine”!

Peter Galadza
st. paul university
ottawa, canada

Both writing on the role of Eastern Christian churches in the Ukrainian crisis, John P. Burgess (“Christian Witness in Ukraine,” October) and Cyril Hovorun (“The Church in the Bloodlands,” October) take curiously opposite perspectives.

Burgess’s piece correctly diagnoses the Ukrainian churches’ differing views of unity that have shaped the churches’ allegiances in the current conflict. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, or UOC–MP, places emphasis on the spiritual unity of Holy Rus´—which encompasses Russians, Ukrainians, and other Slavs who date their Orthodoxy to the baptism of Prince Vladimir in a.d. 988. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan ­Patriarchate, or UOC–KP, represents the Ukrainian nationalistic ambition of separating from Russia politically. Finally, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church seeks unity with the Western spiritual, moral, and political ethos.

But Burgess is too charitable to the Russian view. Slavic spiritual unity need not require that believers whose capital is Kyiv attend a church that reports to Moscow. The notion of Russian Orthodoxy in a place that is not Russia sits as poorly with Orthodox thinking as does the notion of Roman Catholicism in a place that is not Rome. Indeed, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which takes its Orthodox roots seriously, has fought for significant independence from Rome.

A canonical, autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church in communion with its counterparts in Russia and elsewhere would do just as well to honor that unity—unless, that is, one sees the world, as unfortunately many Russian thinkers do, as either “for us” or “against us.”

The UOC–KP, as Burgess points out, is an illegitimate attempt to achieve such autocephaly unilaterally. But its existence raises the question of what it would take for the Russian church to grant its Ukrainian sister autocephaly. If the experience of the Estonian Orthodox Church—­controlled by Russia until granted its independence by Constantinople—is any indication, the answer is “far too much.”

Burgess’s hope for the Ukrainian churches—that they form a political unity, supporting one another against abuses by either the Russian or the Ukrainian regime—is compelling. Yet in the absence of canonical regularization, the two Orthodox branches are beholden to representing different national self-understandings, which in turn are tied to different national governments. In that environment, it is not clear how Burgess’s vision may be realized.

And this is where Hovorun’s article is so important. Can Ukrainian churches see their social roles as something more, and other, than representing and supporting nationhood expressed in government—whether Russian, pro-Russian, or Ukrainian? Hovorun, in calling on all the Ukrainian churches—appropriately, first and foremost his own UOC–MP—to liberate themselves from their intellectual fixation and their practical dependency on the national state, and to focus instead on civil society, is holding out real hope for collaboration among them.

While working at the Ukrainian Catholic University in 2009, I was asked to meet with some students to talk about “volunteering”—a welcome but foreign idea for this group. The notion of tithing, or otherwise contributing to church maintenance, is similarly unfamiliar. It is hard to underestimate how desperately Ukrainian Christians need a stronger civil society—and their churches are in a unique position to show them the way.

Lea Halim
west hartford, connecticut

John P. Burgess replies:

I am thankful to Peter Galadza for his supplements to my brief review of Ukraine’s extraordinarily complex history and identity. But he wants to pick a fight that I am not interested in. My article makes clear that I have no “grand narrative.” Rather, I ask us to listen to the different churches in Ukraine and how they talk about themselves. I take seriously their different ways of interpreting Ukraine’s past and present. I acknowledge that all are heirs of Rus´ and Prince Vladimir’s baptism in 988. And I propose that the true test of a new democratic Ukraine will be its commitment to protecting all of its churches and religious organizations, even though they have deep theological and canonical differences that will long complicate their relationship.

Galadza offers an eloquent and representative Ukrainian Greek Catholic reading of Ukrainian history and the events on the Maidan. I am highly sympathetic to it. Like him, I emphasize that many Ukrainians saw the Maidan as an awakening to a democratic culture characterized by rule of law. But it is too easy to denounce Vladimir Putin as the source of all evil in Ukraine. We need to understand why so many Russians support his contention that Ukraine is part of one Eastern Slavic civilization. And Galadza’s accusation that I make historical errors and omissions obscures the fact that much of this history is deeply contested.

Galadza rightly notes that at the time of the Union of Brest the Orthodox Church in Ukraine was formally under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, not Moscow. But full disclosure would include acknowledgment of the extreme weakness of the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the late sixteenth century, Moscow’s growing political and ecclesiastical claims to Ukraine and other parts of the ­Eastern Slavic world, and the fact that many Orthodox in Russia to this day view the Union of Brest as an act of betrayal.

Galadza is unhappy that I refer to “some” martyrs of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, rather than to “the largest banned religious body in the world.” But prior to the 1939 annexation of Western Ukraine with its many Greek Catholics, Stalin had nearly destroyed the Orthodox Church in Russia, Belorussia, and Soviet Ukraine, liquidating nearly 50,000 parishes and a thousand monasteries. It seems unhelpful to me to try to calculate which religious groups suffered more or less, when the historical experience of intense persecution at the hands of the state should teach all of the churches greater compassion and mercy toward one another.

Lea Halim, like Galadza, enriches our understanding of the contemporary Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. I join Halim in endorsing Cyril Hovorun’s call for the churches to show Ukrainians the way to civil society. In contrast to Halim, I would add that one of the best barometers of a vigorous civil society in Ukraine will be the willingness of its churches to support each other’s legal right to existence. Many Ukrainians (and Americans and Russians) are justifiably outraged at the stoking of ethnic and religious conflict in Crimea, Donetsk, and Lugansk. But anger must not prevent us from carefully attending to historical, ethnic, and religious differences in Ukraine that did not first emerge with Putin’s opposition to the Maidan but rather have long festered and played into political and ecclesiastical tensions. If, as Halim charges, I am too charitable to the Russian view, I can only respond that Christian charity demands giving not only Ukrainians but also Russians a fair and sympathetic hearing.

SUICIDE

Kalman J. Kaplan would do well to consider the Catholic teaching on suffering so that he might better counsel those thinking about suicide (“The Death of Martha Wichorek,” October). To an atheist like Martha, suffering is an unpleasant aspect of biochemistry. Because life itself has no rhyme or reason, suffering is just something that happens, just as our very existence is just something that happened. Humans are just intelligent mosquitoes, animated rocks. Human life has no purpose, so there is no reason to stay alive and suffer.

To a Catholic, suffering can be beneficial. In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that the towers that fell on some apparently innocent people could fall on bad people. Both good and bad suffer. St. Paul wrote that he made up in his own suffering what was lacking in Christ’s—namely, St. Paul’s participation. Just as Christ suffered to atone for sins, so can we, by offering our suffering in union with Christ’s suffering on the cross. We atone not just for our sins but also for the sins of others, just as a mother suffers in childbirth for the sake of her child. The suffering of a child too young to know about Christ can be borne by his parents in this same spirit of atonement. Just as God so mysteriously wants us to pray that good might be done, God has mysteriously permitted us to offer our suffering in union with Christ’s suffering so we can participate in the redemption.

Suicide is the personal rejection of God’s will that we participate in Christ’s suffering—a rejection of his role for us. We should, instead, bear the suffering, offer the suffering to God, and thereby atone for our sins.

Frederick A. Costello
oak hill, virginia

Kalman J. Kaplan replies:

Frederick A. Costello raises interesting issues regarding the Catholic position on beneficial aspects of suffering in the divine plan and on suicide as the personal rejection of this plan. I answer as a Jew grounded in the Hebrew Scriptures and as a suicide-prevention psychotherapist. I certainly agree on the importance of a positive meaning structure to help deal with life’s stress, and that the biblical narrative can supply this meaning. The Hebrew Scriptures mention a number of suicide-prevention stories and only six completed suicides. I have written a number of books on this theme (for example, A Psychology of Hope: A Biblical Response to Tragedy and Suicide).

But I part company with Mr. Costello when he insists on the positive role of suffering per se in this process of overcoming life’s difficulties. Suicide has been conceptualized by suicidologists as “psych-ache.” The Hebrew Scriptures don’t valorize suffering in itself but provide a positive meaning structure to allow a person to reduce this psych-ache and thus go on living. Job never loses hope when he is assaulted by one calamity after another. He does not catastrophize his situation but is able to maintain his faith, not through valorizing his suffering but by proclaiming his innocence before God and never giving up the meaning structure that his faith provides him. When Elijah is despairing and suicidal, he receives food and drink from an angel and recovers his strength to go on.

It seems clear to me that the biblical narratives show that the best way to combat dreadful occurrences of suicide is to make hope available and to provide hands-on care.

EDUCATION

While R. R. Reno is somewhat sympathetic to some of William Deresiewicz’s points, he nevertheless dismisses the latter’s New Republic article as another “jeremiad” from a progressive insider of higher education who touts “the redemptive ideals of social justice” (“The New New Left,” October). But Reno’s criticisms are not very convincing.

Reno first claims that Deresiewicz is guilty of “contradicting himself” because he argues that elite higher education is both soul-destroying and insufficiently egalitarian. This is a contradiction only if higher education can suffer from only one problem at a time.

Deresiewicz insists that the problems of higher education are social problems and offers, according to Reno, “fuzzy” solutions such as “affirmative action based on class, not race” and “no more legacy admissions.” It’s hard to see why these policies are fuzzy and even harder to see that Reno’s own solution—clarifying that the aim of education is truth—is somehow less fuzzy.

While the problems that plague higher education are problems of the soul, as Reno insists, they are also clearly social problems that require a social solution—something Reno seems to admit when he grants that we need a different “educational culture.” To point out a social problem when we see one is not to bow before the throne of progressive orthodoxy.

Reno is guilty here of finding an enemy where he should be building bridges. Deresiewicz worries that college doesn’t make students think; Reno wants education to promote the truth. These are at least highly compatible goals and arguably entail each other. Deresiewicz is concerned that we build a self and so is Reno. Deresiewicz’s principal objection to higher education is its promotion of what Michael Sandel has called in another context “the drive to mastery”: the anxiety-laden American attitude that we need to achieve material and professional success at any cost. Christians need to oppose this. And we should do so in a way that values the redemptive ideals of social justice. But Reno is too worried about exposing “progressives” to notice these things.

Philip A. Reed
canisius college
buffalo, new york

R. R. Reno’s article “The New New Left” omits a key issue—the issue of parental choice in education.

Christians and other religious groups acknowledge the moral responsibility to help the poor, and we do so with food stamps, housing subsidies, welfare checks, and Medicaid. But all these programs place quite a burden on taxpayers. There is only one major area where we can both help the poor and the taxpayer at the same time and enhance the development of moral views as well. This is the issue of school choice with tax-credit-funded scholarships to allow low-income parents to select a better school, usually a private school, for their children. Most private schools are religious schools, often Catholic schools, that educate students at costs well below public-school costs. In New York, the cost per public-school student is around $20,000, or $18,000 excluding special-needs costs. The typical Catholic-school education costs $5,000 per year for K–8 and $12,000 per year for 9–12. Tax-credit-funded scholarships help both parents and taxpayers. This is the best way to help both the urban poor and taxpayers. The opposition to school choice comes from public-school teachers’ unions, which want to keep their educational monopoly and their generous compensation levels and job security. In my school district, our median teacher salary is $118,000 plus $35,000 in benefit costs.

Sadly, in most states dominated by liberal Democrats, school choice is rare. Why? Because older liberal Democrats side with the teachers’ unions and those hostile to religious schools over the urban poor and the struggling taxpayer. It’s conservative Republicans who side with the urban poor and taxpayers. But urban poor minorities vote for liberal Democrats, probably unaware they’re blocking better education for their kids. Many polls have shown that African Americans and Hispanics want school choice more than whites do, and yet they’re unaware it’s the Democrats who oppose school choice.

Finally, there are important moral issues involved. Most public schools give condoms to students and have clubs promoting the acceptance of gay sex and gay marriage. Many low-income parents would prefer to give their children an education with different moral teachings. School choice may be the single issue on which young liberals and conservatives will agree, because it promotes educational equity via individual choice and it saves taxpayers billions each year. And school choice will protect the right of parents to better control the moral training they want for their kids.

Frank J. Russo Jr.
port washington, new york

R. R. Reno’s consideration that “in vitro fertilization (IVF), genetic engineering, and cytoplasm donation are changing the way we mate and build families” in October’s “While We’re At It” nicely juxtaposes itself to my current intellectual bucket-list project: reading City of God from cover to cover.

Reno’s comments and Augustine’s commentary bump into each other on this issue. I point out the contact not by way of argument but rather more by way of consideration of how the more things change, the more they stay the same—how the issues of the human condition remain constant even in the face of “progress,” technological and otherwise. Though I am certainly not on the side of designer children, which shows how any technology can be taken too far, I find it interesting to look at how ­Augustine tackles the issue of surrogate parenting.

He argues in book 16, chapter 25, that “Abraham is in no way to be branded with guilt in the matter of this concubine [Hagar]. For he made use of her for the procreation of offspring, not for the satisfaction of lust: not to insult his wife, but rather to obey her; for she believed it would be a consolation for her own barrenness if she made her maidservant’s fertile womb her own, by her own choice, since she could not do so by nature. Thus as a wife she availed herself of that right referred to by the Apostle when he says, ‘In the same way also the man has no authority over his body, but the woman has, in order to produce a child from another when she could not do so herself.’”

Of course, Augustine is not the final word on anything, but we have to admit his thinking has been pretty influential in the history of Catholic thought and still is relevant to any discussion, even the very contemporary one about surrogate parenting.

William Bache Brown
littleton, colorado

R. R. Reno replies:

William Deresiewicz’s contradiction is existential, not logical. He slams elite education for being soul-destroying and then shifts to arguments about how it should be made more accessible. It’s unfair that talented kids from diverse backgrounds don’t have full access to soul-destroying institutions? In the end, I don’t think Deresiewicz has taken the full measure of the problem of postmodern higher education. The most he can offer is “critical thinking” with a social-justice garnish. I’m willing to bet that Philip Reed sees the need to provide students with more than that. Our false loves and bondage to worldly ambitions can be overcome only by a greater, fuller love.

Good for William Brown. Reading Augustine’s City of God cover to cover is a worthy undertaking indeed. Augustine, like the Church Fathers (and rabbis) more generally, works hard to defend the reputations of the patriarchs in Genesis, none of whom exhibit spotless virtue. He’s also concerned to defend Jacob’s polygamy, for example. Yet this defense is a limited one. Augustine insists that the polygamy God might have allowed in Genesis has been superseded by a more rigorous ethic, which is why he teaches that it is immoral. The same goes for surrogacy.

School choice? I’d love to see Frank Russo’s clear reasoning triumph.

FREE SOCIETY

In “Taking the Long Way” (October), Yuval Levin offers a helpful topography for lost freedom seekers, or at least a convincing argument that liberal and conservative guides will lead along a shortcut to the same dead-end individualism. His diagnosis shares much with the division of liberty offered by the late Servais Pinckaers, O.P., between “freedom for excellence” (what Levin wishes to recover) and “freedom of indifference” (what Levin rightly deplores). Yet Levin does not quite lead us back to Moses on Sinai; he gets us only as far as the seventeenth-century Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius.

When one compares St. Thomas Aquinas and Hugo Grotius on the natural arc of the human will, and what makes for human happiness, what emerges is that Thomas speaks of “knowing the truth about God” as the ultimate good, while Grotius settles for what Thomas makes penultimate: living in society. Grotius, unsettled by religious persecutions, decided on a “live and let live” approach to the fundamental question about human happiness, focusing instead on what kind of a society the modern world can create through law. Liberty is only as good as its object, and if one’s vision of the ultimate end of the human person is not knowing and loving God, one looks for an ultimate end in created things, even an exalted conception such as ordered liberty.

Now, Levin may protest that he really means exactly that freedom is ultimately theocentric, yet his rhetoric indicates that his argument is captive to the same utilitarian liberalism that he eschews. God is invoked only for his wisdom in achieving a kind of technocratic nudge of Israel, in order to bring it to responsible liberty, construed without any mention of worship. Even “faith” and “religious institutions” in Levin’s piece are described as having the utilitarian value of helping people better “handle the burdens and responsibilities of being free”—as though freedom were not a matter of finding and adhering to God. After all, the Lord did not tell Pharaoh through Moses that the exodus was to make the Hebrews better liberals. Instead God said, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness . . . that they may serve me.”

Any liberalism that does not at least make room for this ultimate end of the arc of the human person—an arc that transcends the state—is doomed to look for beatitude in terrestrial things, chosen and pursued according to individual choice and power.

Barrett Turner?
alexandria, virginia

Yuval Levin replies:

?I thank Barrett Turner for his thoughtful and wise response to my essay. He doesn’t reject my approach to the question of what a liberal society requires but he wishes I had asked a different, if much related, question: what a human person requires in order to flourish. This is of course a crucial question, indeed the crucial question. But it is important to disentangle it from the question of the political, so that we do not become confused about what politics can and cannot offer us.

Near the root of modern liberalism is the view that the state ought not be charged with the moral formation of the citizen, because charging the state with that responsibility would require a degree of social consensus that few modern societies could long sustain, or else a degree of moral coercion that no society should want. In order to accommodate a state that is not charged with moral formation, we must insist upon a state that is limited in its power and reach, so that the institutions we do look to for moral education and instruction have the room and freedom to function. If that does not happen, and these institutions are obstructed or oppressed, then people in our society would be denied a path to flourishing—which, just as Turner argues, is a path that reaches well beyond the state to find the truth.

This is why, and how, the modern state can make room for human flourishing. But my essay argued that we would also be wise to see the other end of the relationship between the liberal state and human flourishing—that is, how the institutions of moral formation are essential to the free society. That does not mean that the family or liberal education, let alone religion, are valuable because they sustain the modern state. They are valuable because they answer to the truth about our world and ourselves and allow us to flourish. Among the ways they do that is by making genuine liberty possible, and yet somehow our political debates—which are so often moved by claims about liberty—not only ignore but deny this simple fact. I thought it important to remind our politics of it, precisely so that our liberal society would not forget, as Turner puts it, to “at least make room for this ultimate end of the arc of the human person.” This meant raising a less-than-ultimate question, as he suggests. But answering that question correctly is surely essential if we are to have the freedom to pursue the ultimate truth in our free society.