Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion, has been in alcohol rehab since February 1. There is this in his letter to his diocese:
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I am writing to you from an alcohol treatment center where on February 1, with the encouragement and support of my partner, daughters and colleagues, I checked myself in to deal with my increasing dependence on alcohol.
Over the 28 days I will be here, I will be dealing with the disease of alcoholism—which, for years, I have thought of as a failure of will or discipline on my part, rather than a disease over which my particular body simply has no control, except to stop drinking altogether.
One has the greatest empathy for people afflicted with alcoholism, but the logic is intriguing. It is not a matter of will or discipline but a disease of his particular body over which he has no control.
One might imagine a person severely afflicted with same-sex desires writing something like this: “I thought of it as a failure of will or discipline on my part, rather than a disease over which my particular body simply has no control, except to stop having sex altogether and live a chaste life.”
The self-exculpating dismissal of will and discipline as irrelevant to disordered desires is always a morally dubious step. Bishop Robinson will now be a recovering alcoholic. Good. If only he were also a recovering gay.
Diane Ravitch, who has written very important books on education, is ordinarily a most sensible woman. I was therefore more than a little surprised by her column “What I Saw at Davos” in the New York Sun . She writes: “What I discovered, when I arrived at the beautiful ski resort in Switzerland, was the world’s greatest display of economic, political, and intellectual fireworks in one place at one time.”
Maybe it was different this year. I accepted an invitation to speak at Davos a few years ago and have been invited back several times, but have declined. There is no doubt that it is an impressive gathering of the world’s movers and shakers: CEOs of the biggest transnational corporations, presidents, prime ministers, treasury secretaries, stars of movies, music, and media, and on and on.
The entire spectacle is a tribute to the energy and entrepreneurial skills of Klaus Schwab, a Swiss economist, who founded the Davos gathering and gives it a touch of gravity by inviting a few intellectuals to hold forth with big ideas. Even theologians. The year I was there, Father Hans Küng also showed up with an entourage to promote his “global ethic,” a mishmash of multiculturalism laced with vaguely religious gestures.
My friend Rabbi Marc Gellman went this year. He said he had never felt so useless or irrelevant. The reigning ideology of Davos is that economic globalization is both inevitable and the remedy for humanity’s ills.
The biggest star this year, as in years past, was former president Bill Clinton. Ravitch writes: “Speaking to a packed house of more than 1,000 people, he conversed easily with Klaus Schwab about the state of the world and the importance of talking, listening, and engaging with other people, which reflects the ethos of Davos. Judging by his warm welcome at Davos, if there were a world election, Mr. Clinton would win in a walk.” If the election were held at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
If you want to spend a few days in a magnificent setting, being handsomely wined and dined while rubbing shoulders with the world’s very important people and figuring out which of the more than 200 panels and presentations to attend, wrangle an invitation to Davos. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for “intellectual fireworks,” get hold of a great book.
Which is not to say that the appropriately named World Economic Forum is not a very useful occasion for the making of deals among those who Tom Wolfe called “the masters of the universe.” And, who knows, given their typically limited intellectual exposure, some of them may leave with the impression that they have engaged really big ideas.
In addition to which :
It appears the confusion has been cleared up. Father Neuhaus’ new book, Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth , will be in the bookstores on February 27. That at least is the assurance from the publisher, Basic Books. It seems the earlier publication date that had been announced was for “review publicity purposes.” Despite all, people persist in referring to book publishing as a business. Of course you can advance order Catholic Matters from Amazon.
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