- Boys aren’t doing well in school these days. They’re less likely than girls to graduate from high school and college. The gender gap is especially wide for poor kids. Researchers are putting on their thinking caps to try to figure out why. One observed, “Boys particularly seem to benefit more from being in a married household or committed household—with the time, attention and income that brings.” Let’s unpack that. “Married household” or “committed household” really means a household with a father. So what he’s really saying is that fathers help boys thrive. For that wisdom we need social science?
- Another researcher speculated that well-off parents spend more time with their kids and that it has a big payoff, especially for boys. The reporter glosses with exemplary political correctness, “For single parents, supporting their families on one income, that might be easier said than done.” The problem isn’t a lack of fathers. It’s that single parents don’t have sufficient time and money.
- This is one of the many times I want to stand in the lobby of the New York Times building and yell, “It’s the culture, stupid!”
- The same news story that reported the research results asked a counselor at a school in a poor neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. He opined, “Boys get a message from a very young age to be a man, and to be a man means you’re strong and you don’t cry and you don’t show your emotions. I see boys suffering because of that, and a lot of that comes out in aggressive behaviors.” Translated: Patriarchy causes boys, compared with girls from the same social background, to fall behind in school.
- One definition of ideology: It’s always true, no matter what the facts are. Girls get ahead but can’t break the glass ceiling. Cause: patriarchy. Boys fall behind and don’t do as well in school. Cause: patriarchy.
- After I wrote about freedom in the October issue, a reader got in touch, asking for a reading list. Good idea. One of the most important books for me has been Augustine’s Confessions. He was a very successful man who rose to a very high level in the Roman Empire. Yet his feet were fixed in the cement boots of sin. To become free he had to turn toward Christ. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The First Circle tells of two men captured in the web of communist ideology. Both struggle to free themselves. The key? Moral truth. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is another book that helps us see that if we follow the One who has triumphed over sin and death, no worldly power can hold us in bondage.
- In a political key, I recommend The Federalist Papers and Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Both argue that a culture of freedom requires thick forms of life. Society needs a counterweight to state power. The same is required for us to escape the tyranny of dominant opinion. We need a place to stand if we’re going to stand strong.
- Writing in the Princeton Tory, Solveig Gold, class of ’17, told of visiting Sparta during a study trip to Greece. She and her classmates visited the Apothetai, the cliff off of which Spartans would cast their unwanted newborns. The students laughed and posed for photos. Less than a week later, Gold saw the Center for Medical Progress’s videos of Planned Parenthood executives talking about organ harvesting from aborted children. It put that visit to the ancient site into perspective, or, more accurately, that ancient site put our society into perspective.
I shouldn’t have laughed at the Spartans’ barbarism that day at the Apothetai. We may have hospitals and obstetricians, but we have not advanced from the cliff or the well; if anything, we have taken a step backwards by becoming so desensitized that we do not even realize or acknowledge that what we do is wrong. Barbarism isn’t throwing unwanted babies off cliffs. Barbarism is throwing unwanted babies off metaphorical cliffs, and then laughing about it over lunch and a glass of red wine. This is blasphemy. This is madness. But this is not Sparta—this is 21st century America.
- On October 23, in a Web Exclusive on firstthings.com, John Haldane drew attention to a recent communication from the Church of Scotland, the Protestant established church there. The missive calls for Scots to help the Kirk to imagine a Scotland twenty years from now that’s “a fairer, more equal, and more just nation in a fairer, more equal, and more just world.” The church leaders are confident that Christianity can contribute to that future. After all, “the Church of Scotland has played a huge part in Scotland’s past. We helped to deliver education for all. We have provided the foundations for healthcare. Through local churches—and church-based organisations—we still provide emergency food, shelter, counselling and care in thousands of ways every day.” Is there a purer instance of religion without God?
- The Synod on the Family ended as we were wrapping things up for this issue. I’ve yet to read the final report, but my impression is that the end result was a standoff. As Xavier Rynne II put it in his commentary on the synod, featured on firstthings.com, the question of whether the divorced and remarried should receive Communion is a stalking horse for larger questions that have to do with the sexual revolution. On one side, we have the party of détente. The German bishops and others would like to relax the Church’s firm spirit of resistance. On the other side, we have cold warriors who want no compromises. (I’m on that side.) The party of détente seems to have Pope Francis’s backing. But that significant political advantage was not enough to overcome the consensus that playing footsie with the sexual revolution is a very bad idea.
- There are other things to say about the synod. Wojtyla was a battle-hardened leader with a huge personality. Ratzinger’s intellect could be intimidating. Bergoglio has a genuine charisma born of his authentic embrace of a kind of ecclesiastical poverty, but the synod shows him to be a less commanding leader. This may not be a bad thing. It allows other voices to emerge. By all accounts, this fall’s synod was uniquely substantive and collegial. I have the impression that after three weekends of debating and politicking, the bishops attained a somewhat clearer view of where they stand and what we’re up against.
- As I wrote recently, Catholic complicity with the sexual revolution, in practice, makes the cold-warrior response hard to sustain. In that sense, we’re more like the Russian commissars whose children bought jeans on the black market than the American cold warriors who could count on deep and wide commitment to their cause. The problems this creates for the Church aren’t going away any time soon. The party of détente will remain the party of “realism,” the party of “being pastoral,” because they will be in accord with what most people in the West believe and do. Resisting the appeal of détente is imperative. The sexual revolution is not going to end well. A strategy of détente can too easily lead to cooperation and capitulation, which will in turn implicate the Catholic Church in the worse excesses of the sexual revolution.
- It’s tempting to describe as “progressive” the German bishops who wish to revise the Church’s teaching. But in fact they’re playing an old-fashioned, conservative role, at least when seen in the context of modern Catholic history. The single most important achievement of the modern Church was to disentangle herself from her complicated role in the European power structure, and then to reconstitute herself as a distinct political-institutional reality. Most people don’t remember that at the papal conclave the Austrian monarch Franz Joseph exercised the Holy Roman Emperor’s “right of exclusion.” That allowed him to veto the front runner (a cardinal exercised the veto on his behalf), and Pius X was elected instead. Pius promptly eliminated the right of exclusion, and never again would secular governments interfere directly in a papal election. A series of concordats put the Church on its modern legal footing as the only “spiritual city” accorded diplomatic recognition.
Russell Hittinger calls this quest for independence the Leonine project, because Leo XIII was the one who first directed the Church down this path. He was thought to be a “liberal” in his day. That’s because he turned the Church away from the old Catholic claim to a role in the power elite. Leo saw that modernity required the Church to be its own institution, and thus in control of her own destiny.
At the synod, the bishops who pushed for détente with the sexual revolution pursued the old, pre-Leonine mode of Catholic engagement with the public square. They were counseling revisions that would allow the Church to align herself with dominant secular powers, both governmental and cultural. They’re not progressive at all, at least not in the Leonine sense. They’re reactionaries who want to go back to the Old World when Catholicism was the chaplain to the establishment.
- Speaking of Russ Hittinger, he recently wrote me a helpful note about aspects of Catholic social doctrine we need to bring to the fore: “(1) The most important principle of social relations is true bonum commune, about which we can say ‘ours’ without any prejudice to an individual good. In such relations, the individual good is not ‘other’ or alien to the common good. A common good is loved as ours, for itself as shared. (2) Markets do not directly or properly govern solidarity. Social loves are not just one leg of a ‘stool’ but are superior and normative. (3) Political society is a great blessing. Like any other authentic bonum commune it is difficult to achieve and to maintain at its proper level and ends. Deterioration of matrimonial solidarity and political solidarity go together, even if each is distinguishable. To strike at one order of social love inevitably harms the others. (4) Justice is deeply intertwined with love, beginning with quite natural loves. (5) Love of oneself is quite different from self interest. (6) Protection of the vulnerable in any given society is not a mere fundamental ‘option,’ but rather counts at the very least as distributive justice, something distinct from justice of exchange. The poor are helped not merely by helping them to be rich, but by including them.”
- Gay activist Evan Wolfson has been on tour in Europe. He visited Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, hosted by the American embassies there and meeting with business and political leaders. His goal: to promote gay marriage (those countries have civil unions but not same-sex marriage). We’re still a country of missionaries, now zealously post-religious.
- A friend directed my attention to a criticism of Pope Francis’s criticisms of capitalism. It’s written by Ricardo Hausmann, a former Venezuelan government minister and now Harvard professor of economics. His conclusion: “Francis is right to focus attention on the plight of the world’s poorest. Their misery, however, is not the consequence of unbridled capitalism, but of a capitalism that has been bridled in just the wrong way.” My conclusion: When Harvard professors step forward to defend the moral honor of capitalism, you know it’s not imperiled.
- Hausmann’s column includes a wonderful quote from the poet Paul Valéry that refers to the failed prophecies of Marxism: “The future, like everything else, is no longer what it used to be.”
- Italian newspapers love to run gossipy, insider coverage of Vatican affairs. One of them, La Repubblica, featured a full-page graphic showing the major players and their affiliations: the rigorists, the progressives, the papal mafia. Among the “progressives” were Cardinal Walter Kasper of Rottenburg–Stuttgart, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, and Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Mechelen–Brussels, a plausible grouping. Included as well was Archbishop Charles Chaput, however. La Repubblica’s sources aren’t all that well informed.
- As part of our continuing series of evening lectures and discussions, on October 1, Sacred Heart Major Seminary professor of philosophy and theology Eduardo Echeverria gave a talk about his new book, Pope Francis: The Legacy of Vatican II, illuminating the ways in which the Francis pontificate draws on the great mid-century council.
On October 20, David Novak, professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, spoke about his new book, Zionism and Judaism: A New Theory. It was a special treat to have David at the lectern. Present at the Day of Creation more than twenty-five years ago, he’s been a pillar of the First Things community and serves on the board of the Institute on Religion and Public Life.
- Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen stopped by our offices in October. Mark Bauerlein interviewed Rabbi Sacks about his new book, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence. He talked to Professor Deneen about his essay “The Power Elite” (June 2015) and the role of corporate America in today’s progressive cultural politics. Check out the videos on firstthings.com.
- ’Tis the season for nonprofits like First Things to send out year-end letters asking for your financial support. I hope you’ll consider our request and give generously. We depend on your support to remain a strong and vital voice for faith in the public square.
While We’re At It Sources: Boys vs. girls: nytimes.com, October 22, 2015. Planned Parenthood and Sparta: theprincetontory.com, September 24, 2015. Church in Scotland: firstthings.com, October 23, 2015. Pope on capitalism: globalpolicyjournal.com, September 15, 2015. Synod: repubblica.it, October 14, 2015.