The Public Square
Richard John Neuhaus
Copyright (c) 2000 First Things 100 (February 2000): 77-92.
Forget the Bilderbergers
Who will guard the guardians? That question, variously expressed, is among the oldest in political theory and practice. Jeremy Rabkin, professor of government at Cornell, has written an important book, Why Sovereignty Matters (1998), that addresses that old question in a way both thoughtful and provocative. It’s not that national sovereignty is sacred. It’s not. The sacralized nation–state is one of the great idols of modern history. At the same time, our ideas of political and legal legitimacy in "politics among nations" (Hans Morgenthau) assumes the sovereignty of the nation–state. And some nation–states, the United States among them, are founded on the premise of the political sovereignty of the people, as in government by "the consent of the governed." The guardians are guarded by their accountability to the sovereign people of the nation. These ideas of democratic legitimacy are gaining ascendancy in the world, but they do not go unchallenged.
Such challenges come from conventional despotisms and dictatorships and, increasingly, from Islamist versions of a divine right to rule. But the challenge also comes from the United Nations, or, more precisely, from the forces surrounding the UN known as Non–Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Forget the Bilderbergers, Masonic conspiracies, the Trilateral Commission, and black helicopters. Fevered fantasies about sinister plots to enslave the world only get in the way of trying to understand what is happening and what might be done about it. There are numerous organizations, including certain NGOs at the UN, that explicitly contend that the nation–state is the enemy, or at least is obsolete and an obstacle to global progress. Proposals for transcending the nation–state with a world government have been around for centuries, and gained many adherents following the catastrophic breakup of the world system in World War I.
World government proponents were deeply ambivalent about the formation of the UN after World War II, recognizing that in important respects it entrenched the nation–state by creating a General Assembly based on national representation and a Security Council reflecting the conventional notion of Great Powers. Advocates of world government were at the time divided about the UN, some saying it was a step in the right direction, others pointing out that you don’t leap a great chasm by taking one step at a time. As things are turning out, the former view may have been more prescient.
I confess that I, too, have been ambivalent about the UN. The more gossamer stuff about a worldwide transcendence of differences and the establishment of universal and perpetual peace always struck me as what it is fairly called—globaloney. Perpetual peace and justice await the coming of the Kingdom, which I fully expect in God’s good time, which is not yet. That being said, truth and human nature are, ultimately, universal, and there do need to be institutions for the accommodation of differences and containment of conflicts. One cannot help but be impressed also by the strong support the Holy See has given the UN from the start. Although very different, the UN and the Catholic Church share the distinction of being global institutions of moral–political influence. For reasons strategic as well as moral–theological, Rome has an interest in checking the absolutist claims of national sovereignty. As a participant in the UN, however, the Holy See today frequently finds itself allied—notably on population, development, and family issues—with that organization’s sharpest critics.
The UN’s Moral Right
In the early nineties I was a presidential appointee to a commission charged with reexamining U.S. policy toward the UN. I embarked upon that with an open mind, eager to learn and ready to have my prejudices corrected. The experience, I must admit, left me depressed about that institution. For one thing, I had not appreciated the pervasiveness and scale of the waste and corruption. Bureaucratic duplication, endless international conferencing, and quota systems in employment that are tantamount to graft and nepotism are pervasive and powerfully resistant to remedy. Much is made in some circles about the fact that the U.S. was for a long time in arrears in paying its dues. The bookkeeping behind that complaint is highly dubious and, in my judgment, the U.S. is right to insist upon fiscal and other reforms rather than pouring billions more dollars into a bottomless hole.
More important, I was struck by the prevailing assumption in UN leadership that it had, by moral right, replaced nation–states as the legitimate governor of the world. I recall a long meeting with then Secretary General Boutros Boutros–Ghali in which he complained that member states, and especially the U.S., were morally culpable in not providing the UN with the means to fulfill its role as global policeman, global doctor, global tutor, and global everything else. He seemed to be sincerely puzzled when I and others suggested, ever so respectfully, that his expansive view of the UN mandate was warranted neither by the charter nor by the consent of its members.
As one has too frequent occasion to remark, history has many ironies in the fire, and they surely are not lacking here. One irony is that some member nations actually sense that their status is enhanced by supporting the inflation of the UN’s claims to govern. Of the 188 member nations, some are so very small that membership in the UN plays a key part in their claim to nationhood. Middling countries that tend to feel marginalized by the dominant players in international affairs can also feel that they are playing in the major leagues by inflating the importance of the UN and their role in it. Canada and the Scandinavian countries are notable in this respect; they are in the forefront of encouraging NGOs to assume the lead in pressing the UN organization to override national sovereignty. Thus we have the curious circumstance in which sovereign nations seek to enhance their importance by curtailing national sovereignty.
"Civil Society" from the Top Down
A further curiosity is that the NGOs now present themselves as the champions of "civil society." Current enthusiasm for civil society is usually traced to the arguments of Vaclav Havel, the Czech president, and others who posited the claims of civil society against the totalitarian claims of communism, and, earlier than that, to the To Empower People manifesto authored by Peter Berger and myself in order to lift up the crucial role of non–governmental "mediating institutions" in public policy. The whole idea of civil society was to distinguish sharply what is public and what is governmental, and thus to make government more accountable to the "people–sized" institutions of society. The irony is that, in the name of civil society, the NGOs at the UN are determined to expand the scope of government—under the auspices of the UN, its auxiliary organizations, and international law—in a manner that would make government accountable to the NGOs, which, in turn, are accountable to nobody but the philanthropies that fund them and their own, typically very small, memberships. The combination of small and middling nations curtailing national sovereignty to enhance their own sense of importance and of NGOs using the idea of civil society to undermine political accountability makes for a fine muddle in trying to understand what is going on.
The listings in the World Government Address Book give some idea of the hundreds and hundreds of NGOs that make no bones about their dedication to, well, world government. Some are very handsomely funded indeed; for instance, the Open Society Institute, which is bankrolled by billionaire George Soros. The Commission on Global Governance (CGG) is a major player, and its cochairman Shridath Ramphal, former Secretary General of the British Commonwealth, puts its goal this way: "When we talk about ‘governance’ and ‘democracy,’ we have to look beyond governance within countries and democracy within states. We have to look to Global Governance and Democracy within the Global State." The CGG, it has been observed, has a board of directors that looks like it could be the first cabinet of the United States of Earth, including Jacques Delors, former president of the European Commission, and Canada’s Maurice Strong, long a ubiquitous power in the networks of one–worldism.
In the setting of organizational priorities, the drafting of documents, and public advocacy for "internationally approved" policies, the NGOs have dramatically increased their role in recent years. "Global Governance and Democracy within the Global State" means that small groups are able to make rules affecting the domestic affairs of countries that it would have been difficult or impossible to achieve democratically in those countries. Global Democracy is, in fact, an end run around democracy. In this respect, the UN–NGO nexus is becoming an instrument as useful to some activists in advancing their causes as are the courts in their own countries. Whether through the UN or through judicial lawmaking, the result is the usurpation of democratic politics.
A "People’s Assembly"
Nobody should doubt the sincerity and determination of those who back these developments that others find troubling. Hillary Clinton has called this version of civil society "the vanguard" of a new international order in which NGOs will be more nearly equal with nation–states. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan says that NGOs are "not only disseminators of public information or providers of services, but shapers of policy, too." They are, he says, "the new superpower" which "information technology has empowered to be the true guardians of democracy and good governance everywhere." Of course there is a measure of ideological hype in such statements, but one cannot help but be impressed with, for instance, the proposal that there should be a second chamber of the UN’s General Assembly—a People’s Assembly. This proposal is backed by, inter alia, the World Federation of United Nations Associations and former UN Secretary General Jávier Pérez de Cuellar.
UN observer Lorne Gunter comments: "Rather than the People’s Assembly being comprised of members or deputies from around the world, elected by and accountable to the people they represent [as is at least theoretically the case with the General Assembly], it would likely be made up of the heads of civil society NGOs, and, under most scenarios, only those NGOs accredited by the UN. In other words, the government would elect the voters." Along with the People’s Assembly, there is also a drive to place taxes on international financial transactions, airline flights, and properties deemed global in ownership in order to give the UN a source of funding independent from its member nations—especially from the U.S.
These are not simply ideas being tossed around by a few enthusiasts. At the fiftieth annual meeting of NGOs, Kofi Annan called for a People’s Assembly by the year 2000. A Millennium People’s Assembly Network (MPAN) is at work drafting a "People’s Agenda and Vision for the 21st Century" and planning regional People’s Assemblies around the world. A first–ever World Civil Society Conference (WOCSOC) was held in Montreal in December 1999. When the NGOs are challenged as to who are "the people" whom they represent, a conventional response is that their goals are the goals the people would choose for themselves if conservative governments and transnational corporations did not hide from them what is good for them, and good for the world. The intention is thoroughly democratic: the UN–NGO combine has such a high estimate of the wisdom of "the people" that it anticipates the consent of the governed to being governed by those who know best. This is government by anticipatory consent. Admittedly, the people as presently constituted are slow to understand their own interests.
A Formula for Despotism
The aforementioned Jeremy Rabkin notes that the ambitions of the NGOs and the proliferation of dubious international agreements, agencies, and regulations aimed at overriding national sovereignty are "mostly just straws in the wind right now. But people in the movement have big plans and have gained a fair amount of momentum. Mostly this has gone on unchallenged, but the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to put an end to it later." And again, one must underscore that national sovereignty should not be defended uncritically. International agreements and modest institutions to enforce them are necessary, but they should be established and controlled in a manner that is, as much as possible, accountable to the people through their representative political institutions. Of course great inequities and injustices will persist, but they are a lesser evil than "Global Governance and Democracy within the Global State," which is a formula for the despotism of a self–appointed elite. Nobody should deny that most in that elite believe in their own good intentions. Historically and at present, despots typically believe in their own good intentions.
A curious twist in this story is the World Trade Organization (WTO). At its riotous meeting in Seattle last December, President Clinton nearly torpedoed the proceedings by saying the U.S. intended to impose upon other nations American–style labor, environmental, and other regulations. The poor countries understandably revolted against a proposal that would effectively exclude them from the global market. There were reportedly more than five hundred organizations protesting the WTO at Seattle, many of them the same NGOs that gravitate around the UN. Suddenly the WTO rather than the UN was where the action was. This, it was said, is where real power, meaning economic power, is located. Some of the protesting world government groups said they were against the WTO undemocratically making the rules for the world. The reality in most cases is that they want the WTO to impose their rules. Quite predictably, out of Seattle came proposals for various instrumentalities that would give NGOs a permanent decision–making role in the WTO. Advocates of world government are not particular about whatever institutions will advance their dream.
In the New York Times Magazine, David Rieff takes up related concerns in "The Precarious Triumph of Human Rights." He says that the human rights movement is in trouble because, by its manipulation of the UN and other international organizations, it has lost touch with any constituency that gives it democratic legitimacy. Rieff writes: "Human rights workers sometimes talk of their movement as an emblem of grassroots democracy. Yet it is possible to view it as an undemocratic pressure group, accountable to no one but its own members and donors, that wields enormous power and influence. For example, would there have been a war in Kosovo without the human rights movement? As a supporter of the war in Kosovo, I applaud the result. As a democrat, I worry. It was a moral decision, but it was arrived at undemocratically." He asks a good question. As an opponent of that "humanitarian intervention," I worry not only about the undemocratic factor but, even more, about the way in which human rights are now being exploited as a justification for war. In many parts of the world, and in this country as well, such a development reinforces the cynical view that human rights is little more than a slogan invoked by the U.S. to justify whatever we and whomever we can get to go along with us want to do. And, of course, such cynicism flourishes when the U.S. declines to impose even the most modest penalties on egregious violators of human rights such as China and Sudan.
Rieff draws an interesting parallel. If the human rights movement does not attend to political accountability, he says, "there is a great chance that the human rights paradigm will backfire the way affirmative action did. Affirmative action was also well meant. It drew popular opposition not, for the most part, because it was wrong, but because it was sneaked in, with no serious effort made to win people over. Convinced that their cause was right, its advocates saw no reason to campaign for it among the public at large. Instead, they relied on the courts, the law, and legislation. And eventually, the whole project came undone." Leaving aside whether affirmative action (a.k.a. quotas) is right or wrong, Rieff seems to assume that the people could have been won over, as they can be won over to the globalist push for international courts of justice and other instruments designed to override national sovereignty. That is, it seems to me, a very doubtful assumption in both instances.
In any event, big ambitions are afoot. Forget about the Bilderbergers, the Masons, the Trilateral Commission, and the black helicopters. While keeping our eyes on the NGOs and the human rights movement of international "civil society," we can be grateful that there are also countervailing forces. For instance, the Holy See, some more sensible NGOs, and some third world countries that resist being ruled by George Soros, the Ford Foundation, and allied New York–based globalists. They, soon reinforced, we may hope, by a more clear–eyed U.S. policy, may succeed in recalling the United Nations to its former and more modest self—a necessary, if frequently irritating, instrument of sovereign states in search of cooperation without abdication.
Incorrigibly Christian America
One hears today frequent reference to "post–Christian America." Actually, the idea is not so very new. To cite but one obvious instance, when in 1934 John Dewey wrote A Common Faith, he assumed that the hegemony (to use a term in academic fashion today) of Christianity was over. Dewey, who died in 1952 after reigning for more than fifty years as America’s most influential public philosopher and educator, appreciated that the churches had not gone out of business, and that they could even be useful in promoting peace, fighting economic injustice, and, more generally, in "stimulating action" for what he called "a divine kingdom on earth." "But," he wrote,
as long as social values are related to a supernatural for which the churches stand in some peculiar way, there is an inherent inconsistency between the demand and efforts to execute it. On the one hand, it is urged that the churches are going outside their special province when they involve themselves in economic and political issues. On the other hand, the very fact that they claim if not a monopoly of supreme values and motivating forces, yet a unique relation to them, makes it impossible for the churches to participate in promotion of social ends on a natural and equal human basis.
Dewey’s thoroughly secular "common faith"—which he did not hesitate to call a secular religion—could accommodate Christianity, on the condition that the latter drop the claims to truth and authority that identify it with the historical phenomenon known as Christianity. Neither was this attitude new with Dewey. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Social Gospel Movement led by Walter Rauschenbusch was warmly welcomed by secularists as a junior partner in the great cause of Progress. It was, to paraphrase Immanuel Kant, a matter of religion within the limits of liberalism. At mid–century, Reinhold Niebuhr provided a religious rationale that was supportive of political causes in a way that made it possible for many people to join the club that historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. dubbed "Atheists for Niebuhr." In fairness to Niebuhr, he was a good deal more of an orthodox Christian than one might gather from the way some thinkers and activists selectively employed his elegantly framed "spiritual insights" for their own purposes.
In these and other instances the operative premise, if not always phrased in exactly that way, was "post–Christian America." A while back I was asked to speak at a major Protestant seminary on the theme of post–Christian America. I explained that I had some doubts about the premise underlying the theme, so the seminary rephrased the theme as "Post–Christian America?" My doubts, however, require somewhat more than simply adding a question mark. As awkward as it undoubtedly is for Christians and everyone else, America is, in ways both important and undeniable, a Christian nation. Of course it is frequently pointed out that "nation" has a peculiar meaning in America. It is a nation that includes what might be called sub–nations; it is a culture of subcultures; or, as editorialists like to put it, a community of communities. A Jewish friend who grew up in New York City and lives here still tells me that until she was a teenager she just assumed that Jews constituted a majority of Americans. Even now, she says, when she knows the demographic facts perfectly well, somewhere in the back of her head is the working assumption that at least one–third of the country is Jewish. The rest are Catholics, with a few Episcopalians and black Baptists at the margins, and somewhere far away—in places with names like Mobile, Murfreesboro, and Louisville—lurk threatening tribes of fundamentalists, also known as evangelicals, who resent the Real America that is New York City. She laughs at the fantasy she has of America, but innumerable others have grown up in cultural enclaves that define for them an America that is similarly at odds with the reality.
There is, for all that, a country and nation called America. One way to find out who the Americans are is to ask them. When asked, almost 90 percent of them answer, with no apparent uncertainty, that they are Christians. Survey research of the sort that we call scientific has been asking Americans about their religion since the 1920s. Social scientific interest in the "religion factor" has increased greatly in the last quarter century, and we have assiduous monitoring by such as George Gallup and his Princeton Religion Research Center. A striking aspect of all this research over the decades is how very little things seem to change. Continuity rather than discontinuity is the dominant finding about what Americans say they believe and do religiously.
Of the nearly 90 percent who say they are Christian, the great majority specify that they are some particular kind of Christian. They specify a local church or denomination, or in some cases simply that they are "Protestant," meaning, it would seem, that they are sure they are not Catholic. Findings on questions such as the number of people who go to church regularly vary over the years, but the remarkable thing is that the variation is very slight, usually within a matter of a few percentage points. The general picture is that somewhat more than 40 percent go to church weekly and somewhat over 60 percent do so monthly. The late George Cornell, religion reporter for Associated Press, used to do his annual calculation and then his annual newspaper column announcing that, once again, on any given Sunday of the past year more Americans had attended church than had attended all games of all professional sports in the entire year. He thought this was an important thing to know about America, something that one might not learn from the evening news, and he was undoubtedly right about that.
A Moderate Skepticism
It is appropriate to be just a bit skeptical about such survey research data. How people answer questions cannot tell us, for instance, what they really believe. But then, the most experienced spiritual director often cannot tell what the people he counsels really believe, and many of us are sometimes uncertain about what we ourselves really believe. The state of our faith is something that only God knows for sure. But we know what people say they believe and what they say they do, and research methodology can build in some checks against conscious or unconscious deception. In any event, it is no little thing to know what people say about themselves, even if they are, at least in part, describing who they want to be rather than who they actually are. We should not be inordinately skeptical of research data on religion in America. Even if people do not go to church as regularly as they say they do, it is of considerable significance that they say they do, and apparently want to believe that they do, or at least want others to believe that they do.
Determinedly secular commentators, those who want to believe that we are living in post–Christian America, apply a skepticism, even a cynicism, to findings about religion that they do not apply to research data on other subjects. Similarly, theologians and theologically trained believers are often dismissive of what survey research tells us about religion in America. All those statistics do not reflect authentic religion, they say. There is no doubt something to that. Many of us have an idea of what constitutes authentic religion or authentic Christianity, and by that standard most people fall far short, perhaps including ourselves.
I confess that I used to be more dismissive of survey research on religion than I am now. Years ago, when I was pastor of a black parish in Brooklyn, I frequently compared such research to the number of people who claimed to be members of our parish, St. John the Evangelist. If you went around that part of Brooklyn and asked people what church they belonged to, you might conclude that St. John’s had five thousand or more members. All that meant, I said, is that when they didn’t go to church on Sunday they were not just not going to any old church; they were very specifically not going to St. John the Evangelist. So also we might say that "Christian America" means no more than that Christianity is the religion that most Americans would have, if they had a religion. But that, I have come to believe, is altogether too dismissive.
Maybe it is a compliment to religion that we subject it to purity tests from which we exempt other research findings. In a political poll, those who say they are going to vote for candidate x are not cross–examined to determine the authenticity of their stated intent. It is taken to be a fact of considerable political interest that so many say they are going to vote for candidate x and so many say they are going to vote for candidate y. When it comes to Christian America, however, we tend to be much more skeptical. Ask, for instance, what is the source of personal and public morality, and somewhere around 90 percent of Americans give an answer that is religious in character. They say the source of morality is the Ten Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount, or the teachings of Jesus, or, more generically, "religion." It is really not very much to the point that two–thirds of those who answer that the Ten Commandments are the source of morality cannot name four of the ten. It would be nice if they could, of course, but the pertinent social and cultural fact—the fact pointed to by the phrase "Christian America"—is that this is what they think is the case regarding morality. Most people have not thought about it very hard, but then neither have most people thought very hard about the answers they give to political pollsters or surveys on almost anything else under the sun. The Christianity of America is as confused as it is incorrigible. (To be continued next month.)
While We’re At It
- Who in America really cares about the Holocaust? That is a question addressed by Peter Novick in The Holocaust in American Life (Houghton Mifflin). Almost all Americans deplore the Holocaust, of course, but Novick suggests that that is mainly a polite gesture toward Jews who ask them to do so. In his review of the book, Elliott Abrams observes: "Novick rightly notes that the Holocaust has been institutionalized—in the museum on the Mall, similar museums in New York and Los Angeles, memorials in many cities, legislative mandates to teach it, and endowed chairs and programs. As Novick says, ‘there are by now thousands of full–time Holocaust professionals dedicated to keeping its memory alive.’ If, as he reports, all this has had little apparent impact on non–Jewish Americans, it may prove dangerous for Jews by making this horrendous period of Jewish suffering more familiar to them than their own religion. In fact, the prospect is disquieting: professionals churning out Holocaust materials for a diminishing Jewish population that learns more and more about the period from 1933 to 1945 and knows less and less about the 4,000 years of Judaism that preceded it." Abrams raises, as he has done frequently and forcefully, important questions for Jews, but I expect both he and Novick underestimate the impact of the Holocaust on the 90 percent of Americans who say they are Christians. To be sure, those Americans are not thinking about it all the time, which is just as well. Neither do they spend much time thinking about, say, slavery. But both those horrors are indelibly imprinted upon the public consciousness. If there is a certain skittishness when it comes to talking about them much, I suspect it is in large part because both have been exploited for ideological purposes: slavery to underscore black victimhood and to mandate compensatory attitudes and policies; the Holocaust as a convenient stick with which the ACLU and its like beat their "Fascist," i.e., conservative, critics. But Abrams does cause one to wonder what people a hundred years from now will make of all those museums, memorials, and endowed chairs.
- The headline writer of Edinburgh’s Scotsman clearly succumbed to nostalgia in coming up with "Bishop Stirs Up a Storm Over Sex." I, too, fondly remember the olden days when an Anglican bishop could stir up a storm over sex. The bishop in question this time is Richard Holloway of Edinburgh, the primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, who gave an interview averring that there’s nothing wrong with sodomy and sadomasochism so long as it is consensual. He observed that there are no "moral absolutes" about sex except that it be consensual, which excludes pedophilia and rape. "Mutually consenting sadomasochism, however, stops short of the heavier kind of wounding of people, and so I believe it is up to the people involved," said the bishop. Allowance should presumably be made for those who want to be more heavily wounded. A spokesman for the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, commented, "In general, if the church did have a view about sodomy and sadomasochism, it would be more negative than positive." In general. If it had a view. None of that Anglican wishywashyness among the doughty heirs of John Knox. The report includes this: "The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland refused to comment on Bishop Holloway’s comments because he is from a different church." Decidedly.
- J. Bottum suggests that the killings at Columbine High School may mark a cultural and spiritual turning point (see his "Awakening at Littleton," August/September 1999). Then there was the book She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall, which was written by her mother and quickly climbed up the New York Times’ best–seller list. No witness to the truth goes unattacked. Stories in the national press claimed Misty Bernall was exploiting her daughter’s death for money. In fact, she accepted no advance and proceeds from the book go to a nonprofit foundation and scholarship fund. Other reports have nitpicked details of the story, most of which are addressed in the book and none of which detract from her mother’s telling of the life and death of Cassie Bernall. The publisher, Plough Press of Farmington, Pennsylvania, says in a release: "A grieving mother [Misty Bernall] has dared to mourn a murdered child publicly. Now she is losing her daughter a second time—in the pages of the national press." That may be saying too much. But the determination of some, who are part of what St. Paul called the principalities and powers of the present time, to discredit the human capacity to love truth more than life should not go unremarked.
- The subject of Pius XII and what he should or should not have done will be with us for a while. British church historian Owen Chadwick reviews the John Cornwell book, Hitler’s Pope, in the Tablet and, like most reviewers, finds Cornwell tendentious and unconvincing in his claim that he has unearthed anything new (see William D. Rubinstein’s review in FT, January). Anglican Chadwick is widely considered to be the authority on the Vatican and World War II. Chadwick offers this fairly common consideration regarding the Pope’s prudential judgment: "If a defending attorney were desirable in a historical subject, the main line of the plea would need to be something like this. Take the two contiguous German dioceses of Bishops Galen and Berning. We revere Galen for his courage and have no use for Berning because of his silence. But many more priests in Galen’s diocese ended in concentration camps than those from Berning’s. The brutes did not take it out on the person of the bishop but knew just where it would hurt most. If a higher than Galen behaved like him, how many thousands more would end in concentration camps?" Then there is another factor that I have not seen mentioned elsewhere: "What about those silences? Let me now try for what is probably the best we can do for this Pope. Remember that the Imitation of Thomas à Kempis lay at the heart of his spirituality. He would therefore recall, because he knew it all from memory, the passage vellem me pluries tacuisse, et inter homines non fuissequare tam libenter loquimus? . . . raro sine laesione conscientiae ad silentium redimus: ‘How often I have wished I had kept my mouth shut, and not been one among a group of people—why do we open our mouths so freely? Seldom do we come back to silence without our conscience being troubled by what we have said.’ It is more the spirituality of the Carthusian than of the pawn pushed around among armies."
- Jimmy Carter called him the conscience of Africa, and some thought him the conscience of the world. When Julius Nyerere, president of Tanzania from 1964 to 1985, died last October, obituaries spoke of his gentleness and sense of humor, to which I can testify. I spent time with him in 1971 when I was writing a book on Africa, and I was charmed by his articulate exposition of the case for a "distinctively African sense of community" that made political parties unnecessary. He derided "Westminster parliamentarianism" (i.e., democracy). "If someone wants to disagree with me, he can do so without forming a political party ‘in opposition.’ Here we are all one family." As I say, I was charmed. I can only plead that I was very young. Although undoubtedly motivated by deep Christian commitment, Nyerere’s form of "African socialism," called Ujamaa, ruthlessly uprooted hundreds of thousands of people and, despite massive foreign aid, drove Tanzania into a beggary from which it has never recovered. "His one–party system was not undemocratic," says the obituary in the Tablet, "functioning quite differently from Banda’s one–party state in Malawi." Banda may have been a more oppressive dictator—although the point is arguable—but Julius Nyerere, who styled himself the Mwalimu or great teacher, was undoubtedly a dictator. There are no democratic dictatorships, as everyone should know by now. Requiescat in pace.
- What happens in the diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, is not usually thought to be of national importance, except that is where Mother Angelica’s immensely popular television programming is generated. The Bishop of Birmingham, invoking the full authority of canon law, has issued a decree about how the Mass will be celebrated in that diocese, on television or off. It seems some priests have been celebrating ad orientem, meaning that they face the East with their backs to the people. Says the bishop, "As bishop of this diocese, I have, as the successor of the apostles in union with the Holy Father, the absolute duty to protect [the Mass] from innovation or sacrilege." That is heavy duty language. Facing East is certainly not an innovation, since, until the Second Vatican Council, it was the universal Catholic practice for at least fifteen hundred years, with some scholars contending that it goes back to the very beginnings of the Church. And sacrilege? Surely His Excellency misspoke himself. In the decree itself, the bishop says that "the priest facing away from the people causes wonderment and dissension." One might have thought that wonderment is exactly what the Mass should cause. The question of whether the bishop is within his canonical rights and rites has reportedly been appealed to Rome. I hold no brief for celebrating ad orientem, but threatening priests with suspension and the removal of their faculties (authority to celebrate the sacraments) does seem a bit over the top. One would like to think that the bishop is equally assiduous in correcting lamentably common liturgical abuses, such as, to name a few, priestly improvising in the rite of the Mass, homilies by non–ordained persons, and playing architectural hide–and–seek with the tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament. It is good to see a bishop so very serious about liturgical rectitude, even if the focus of his wrath seems somewhat selective and his remedies somewhat draconian.
- Before the bishops adopted a program for implementing Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the document aimed at renewing the Catholic identity of colleges and universities, Tim Unsworth of the National Catholic Reporter anticipated the move and outlined the liberal fallback position. "If the bishops decide to face Rome rather than their people, it may not be all that bad. Trustees, administrators, faculty, and students can find some wiggle room until the document moves slowly to a back shelf and a new Pope writes something that rescinds it. A few wacky bishops will try to implement the specifics. Most will hope that it just sits on the shelf in the president’s office, gathering dust." This is in line with the Ultramundanes’ uncompromising obedience over the last thirty years to "a new Pope."
- In the Talmud, Rabbi Eliezer the Great predicts that "as the footsteps of the messiah approach, shamelessness will spread," and he quotes Micah chapter seven: "son spurning father, daughter rising up against mother, daughter–in–law against mother–in–law—a man’s own household his enemies." The distinguished historian Gertrude Himmelfarb takes the last phrase as the title of her reflection on the current rash of "confessional" memoirs that confess not the sins and weaknesses of the authors but of relatives who burdened their lives. She cites John Bayley’s Elegy for Iris, a memoir of his wife, the philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, which, while finely written, has the chief effect of admiring John Bayley’s caring for her during her descent into Alzheimer’s. (Mr. Bayley has since published another book recounting his wife’s final days and death.) Then there is James Trilling’s now notorious memoir of his father Lionel, "My Father and the Weak–Eyed Devils," in the American Scholar. Lionel Trilling was one of the most respected literary and social critics of his time, but in the view of his undistinguished son he was a tangle of neuroses attributable to attention deficit disorder (ADD), from which the son says he also suffers. James follows in the footsteps of his mother, Diana, who tried to take her husband down a few notches in her own memoirs. Himmelfarb writes: "Later in discussing his tendency to depression, she observes that ‘he was at pains not to disclose it even to his closest friends’—whereupon she proceeds to disclose it to the world." Himmelfarb’s final example is the biographer Phyllis Rose, who, against her brother–in–law’s strongly expressed wishes, published an intimate account of his abandoning a successful career as a concert pianist in order to become a contemplative monk. Iris Murdoch, Lionel Trilling, and the monk are, says Himmelfarb, all "victims of this new form of spousal or parental or filial abuse." She adds: "We have not yet had a parallel case of child abuse—a parent exposing the faults of a child. But perhaps that too will come."
- My frequently stated view, which for some reason has not yet gained unanimous assent, is that the Revised Standard Version of the Bible (not the New RSV!) is, all in all, the best in English. The New International Version (NIV) also has much to recommend it, and is the best–seller in the Bible market. Now World magazine says a bunch of new translations are coming on line. Paige Patterson, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, declares, "We have over–translated and we have ruined Bible memorization and congregational reading. We have translation pandemonium out there." It is true that the proliferation of translations has pretty much destroyed what was once a shared biblical vocabulary, and it seems almost impossible that that could be restored. In any event, according to World, a group of evangelical Protestants have been negotiating with the National Council of Churches, which owns rights to the RSV. "An agreement was reached in September 1998 allowing translators freedom to modify the original text of the RSV as necessary to rid it of de–Christianing translation choices." I suppose the re–Christianing of the RSV can only make a good thing better. I suppose.
- Dr. Mark Evans is famous, as it were, for his proficiency in "fetal reductions," which means getting rid of the "extras" in multiple pregnancies. He is featured in ACM News, a publication of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, in an article titled "New Technologies Raise New Questions." The article notes that "there are those who have raised concerns about the ethical issues [in genetic research]." Dr. Evans says, "These are not really new issues. Genetics as a clinical speciality has really been around for thousands of years. In ancient Sparta, for example, a child born with genetic abnormalities would undergo a sacred ritual and then be thrown over a cliff. This was actually the first HMO model." And so one might be tempted to think that, in the long twilight struggle between Athens and Sparta, between civilization and barbarism, Sparta is winning after all.
- Dr. Denise Chen of the Monell Chemical Science Center in Philadelphia persuaded volunteers to strap gauze pads to their armpits for ten hours. She then gave the pads to university students and assessed their mood before and after sniffing them. The students did not know where the odors had come from. The armpits belonged to three age groups—over seventy, early twenties, and three to eight. Dr. Chen discovered that those who had inhaled from old women’s armpits ended up in a better mood. Young men’s armpits had a depressing effect. While female armpit odors were generally favored over male, the very best effects were produced by sniffing the grannies. So you think every item in these pages should have a point?
- Catholic lovers, it seems, are not immune from the fashionable indifference toward marriage. In 1995, nearly half the couples in Catholic marriage–prep classes already shared an address. Most parishes, of course, are happy to help cohabiting couples enter into marriage. Some are so encouraging they ignore the cohabitation completely. But a recent report from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops shows that many late marriages are doomed to fail without a little tough love before the wedding day. The bishops admonish priests and lay ministers to discuss cohabitation with couples they know or suspect are living together. They warn that the distorted values of a cohabiting relationship, if left unexamined, may persist and poison the marriage. Cohabiting partners usually report that independence and economic equality come first in their relationships. After marriage, they find it hard to discard the old expectations and start giving generously of themselves and their resources. Ironically, fear of divorce is another common explanation partners give for living together. They suppose they can avoid divorce by a "trial" period of living together. Most often, the opposite is true. Although cohabiting couples who eventually marry have more stable relationships than those who never marry, they still divorce at a rate 50 percent higher than couples who do not live together before the wedding. Nonetheless, the bishops maintain that lovers who want to be married as Catholics are a sign of hope in a culture where marriage seems superfluous. The bishops trust that, armed with a sober appreciation of the obstacles cohabiting partners face, the Church can help couples transform tentative relationships into Christian marriages based on a faithful, exclusive, and permanent gift of the self.
- The Sunday Times of London has joined a large number of hackers in proposing that the seventh–century St. Isidore of Seville should be named the patron saint of the Internet. Isidore, who wrote numerous books on everything from agriculture to medicine to theology, is credited with being the first author who developed a database. It’s not official yet, but I thought you might want to know in anticipation of the next time the lines are down. According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church: "His works became a storehouse of knowledge freely utilized by innumerable medieval authors." His major work, Origines, is an encyclopedia "organized on the principle that etymologies usually give information on the things to which the words refer. Derivative and often fanciful, it is impressive overall, and a valuable source for the learning and thought of the time." It sounds like the Internet to me. So it wasn’t Al Gore after all. It was St. Isidore.
- The jeremiad is a venerable genre to which this department has made modest contributions. The following instance is from an address by Stephen H. Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars, at that organization’s eighth annual conference, held in Chicago. After noting the remarkable success of NAS in opening academic doors that had previously been shut, Balch declaims: "More than anything else, what much of the university has been teaching us is hubristics, the world’s first academic indiscipline. To give it full credit, it is in fact inter–indisciplinary, since it pervades the curriculum, misinforming teaching and scholarship in a large multitude of domains. Wherever it is found its guiding insight is the same: we lead a charmed life. A student’s encounter with hubristics often begins in his first composition course, Hubristics 101 if you will, where he or she may be taught that clear communication has less importance than authentic self–expression and ideologically approved thought. It is next usually displayed in the anarchy of general education requirements, which encourages students to believe that a knowledge of civilization’s architecture is something that can be readily self–assembled. Upper division offerings include cud–chewing courses which regurgitate the contents of pop culture, cheerleading courses which extol the glories of pet groups, and consciousness–raising courses that unmask the past as a conspiracy against the present. What all have in common is the assumption of self–sufficiency, the belief that each of us, and the brave new world we inhabit, can go merrily along forever, beholden to nothing more than our own inherent wisdom and virtue. Hubris is not a vice that has been typically associated with institutions of higher learning, either in the Western world at large, or in America specifically. Of pride, even of arrogance, there has always been an abundance. But recklessness has been rare, at least at the level of whole institutions and entire fields of learning. Quite the contrary, academic pride has usually gone hand in hand with smugness and complacency, with the belief that the academy was the guardian of a rich inherited wisdom into which the young had to be repeatedly initiated and of which their elders had to be continually reminded. When they occurred, battles for intellectual freedom were generally fought against intellectually conservative forces, frequently embodied in, if not confined to, the senior authorities of the universities themselves. The recent picture has been radically different. Rather than deploying inherited wisdom as a means of associating itself with traditional elites, the university has been disparaging tradition, in order to become one with popular taste. Consequently, its posture toward the past has tended to be that of airy superiority, or, sometimes, open mockery. And rarely is the past genuinely engaged. More often it is demeaned by being conspicuously ignored or visibly flouted. The replacement of the study of serious literature by the study of popular culture is not meant to enhance the appreciation of pop culture, a wholly unnecessary endeavor, but to abase literature. Likewise, academic conferences featuring panels of Elvis impersonators, or the owners of sex boutiques, are not meant to add to our knowledge of rock or country music, or to make us more erotically proficient—equally unnecessary exercises. They are meant to ridicule the normal proprieties of scholarship. Throughout, the point is not to learn something new, but to taunt learning and the learned." One cause of the sorry state of the academy, Balch opines, is that people in the humanities envy the hard sciences. In a misguided effort to close the gap between the "the two cultures," humanists join the sciences in denying privileged status to inherited belief. But you’ll have to get the entire address to see how he develops that insight. Balch concludes with this: "Perhaps many of our undergraduates go to college primarily to party. Perhaps many have always done so. But the faculty should not join them in their revels. They should demonstrate instead that there are higher callings, and that the party itself cannot continue unless someone pays the bills and guards the door. Seriousness of purpose; the need for measure, endurance, foresight, and self–control; life’s irreducible complexity and the hard choices that entails are all things our universities, and those within them who call themselves humanists, should be trying to convey. And not only by word, but through the spirit in which they practice their professions as well. Sadly, not enough are now trying. With some help from a growing cohort of friends, it will be this organization’s task to get them once more to do so." For more information on the National Association of Scholars, write 221 Witherspoon Street, 2nd Floor, Princeton, New Jersey 08542–3215.
- Canada’s Defense Department has issued a paper condemning the use of human clones for military purposes and calling for an international treaty to ban any attempts toward that end. The paper says it is "an affront to human dignity and worth" to produce a class of individuals to serve as disposable soldiers. That declaration of moral sense is joined, however, to a proposal that the government encourage research on the "invaluable" technology of cloning to produce replacement parts for injured soldiers. Such technology includes producing, using, and destroying human embryos, which, says columnist Susan Martinuk in the National Post, may also raise some questions about "human dignity and worth." The idea of disposable human beings is as odious in the laboratory as on the battlefield.
- "Globalization" has become a synonym for capitalism in some circles, including Christians not yet fully weaned from the excitements of Marxist class struggle. Speaking to the Centesimus Annus Foundation (named for his 1991 encyclical on the free and just society), John Paul II insisted that the dynamics of globalization "do not in themselves have a negative connotation." "Globalization," he said, "will have very positive effects if it is grounded in a strong sense of the absolute character and dignity of all human persons and the principle that the earth’s goods are for all." He went on to discuss the difficulties of institutionalizing such moral imperatives in international economics, truly a daunting task. As the Pope said in the encyclical, he prefers "market economy" or "free economy" to "capitalism." Capitalism, even "democratic capitalism," is not a "system" that can define an entire society. Nor is a market economy the same thing as a market society. A market society implies that everything in society is up for grabs, to be determined by economic exchange. In Centesimus Annus and elsewhere, it is clear that the Catholic Church does not propose an alternative form of political economy, and the idea of a "third way" somehow located between capitalism and socialism is explicitly rejected. What the Church does is bear witness both to the creative capacities of man in producing wealth and to the imperative that creativity be exercised in a way that respects the absolute dignity of persons and is aimed at including everyone "in the circle of productivity and exchange." Those who dismiss such witness as mere moralizing are in fact declaring their inability or unwillingness to respond to moral truth.
- A mover and shaker in the National Institutes of Health promotion of creating and killing human embryos in stem cell research is Brigid Hogan, a British researcher at Vanderbilt University. Her real passion, though, is for mouse embryos. New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade, in a flattering profile of Dr. Hogan, waxes enthusiastic about "the magical moment when the mouse embryo changes from a blob to a being." It’s no surprise that he is into magic; that’s what happens when you abandon logic. As for Dr. Hogan, she says mouse embryos are things of beauty. "I carry a picture of a mouse embryo in my wallet to look at if I’m feeling low, like people carry pictures of their family." One is put in mind of P. D. James’ wonderfully chilling novel, The Children of Men, depicting a time when human beings can no longer have babies and resort to all kinds of baby substitutes for consolation in their cold and sterile world.
- The Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth has completed a massive study of Jewish young people, with some encouraging conclusions about the pattern of return to religious observance. The moving spirit of the conference and of the study (to which I was a not very helpful advisor) is Rabbi Pinchas Stolper. His message to Jewish youth: "Either the Torah is true or it is a lie—there is no possible or acceptable middle ground. Either we’re right or wrong. And the most serious and important challenge of life is to determine in your own mind what the truth really is." For more information about the study, write Rabbi Stolper at the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, 333 Seventh Avenue, New York, New York 10001. (This is written at a time when there is renewed, and unwarranted, controversy about the Southern Baptist Convention "targeting" Jews in their evangelization efforts. There will likely be Jews and Christians disagreeing about the fullness of the truth until Our Lord returns in glory, but, in a culture largely bent toward the denial of the very idea of truth, telling the truth about the importance of "what the truth really is" is a message to be warmly welcomed.)
- Social welfare that works aims not at delivering services but at changing lives. That is a maxim reflected in The Welfare of My Neighbor: Living Out Christ’s Love for the Poor by Deanna Carlson. The 134–page book comes with a workbook and guide to help local churches get more effectively involved in welfare that works. Available from the Family Research Council, 801 G Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001 for a suggested donation of $15 (discounts for multiple copies).
- When the Pope visited Georgia last November, observers noted that President Edward Shevardnadze welcomed him by speaking of Christian unity while the head of the Orthodox Church limited himself to comments about better relations between countries. Shortly after that visit, the Russian Patriarch once again made clear that the Pope is not welcome in Russia. He has been repeatedly invited by the Russian government, but he has made clear that he will not go unless and until a visit would advance Christian unity between East and West. Helpful light is cast on this nettlesome question by Father Enzo Bianchi, prior of the Bose Ecumenical Community in Italy, and an expert on the Church in the East: "EB: We must realize that conditions do not yet exist for dialogue—the fruit of conviction—with the Orthodox Churches. Q: Exactly what is missing? EB: They suffer from the past. From the East, the Orthodox have been threatened by the Ottomans, Islam, and the Mongols, and from the West, by Catholicism and Protestantism. This memory is still very alive. And there is the question of the Uniates. Although this problem does not exist in Georgia, the same lesson is there. The Orthodox world is circumscribed in a defensive psychology that does not proselytize. Given this reality, our certitude of universality at times runs the risk of not being properly understood. Q: So then, this isn’t just a matter of different cultures, but of unassimilated history? EB: For them, evangelization is a word that rhymes with conquest. Q: How can they be made to understand that this isn’t the case? EB: The Orthodox do not distinguish clearly what comes from the West. For them, ecumenism is something the regime favored. The Soviets acted in the name of ideology. They are mistrustful. And they see the evils of Western Civilization. Q: But last May, John Paul II had a very different experience in Romania. EB: Yes, but Romania is Latin in language and culture. The Slavic Church has always felt the need for freedom. The [Orthodox] Church in Georgia is the only one that left the World Council of Churches—slamming the door. It fears invading ecumenism. The [Orthodox] Synod . . . was negative about the papal visit. Q: To what degree is Moscow responsible for Georgians’ attitude? EB: Before the trip, the Patriarchy made a harsh statement: ‘You are dismantling the united Orthodox front that desires an end to Roman proselytism.’ This was more a human reaction than evangelical. But they are not our contemporaries: they must recover decades. And for them, universality does not have the value that it has for us. Q: What should our attitude be? EB: The trip . . . has taken place. The Pope has his foot on the accelerator. His desire for reconciliation is very strong. Sooner or later it will have an effect. Someone will have the courage to ask: ‘Why haven’t we responded?’"
- Here is a development deserving more attention than it has received to date. Last November the National Bible Association and the First Amendment Center issued a thoughtful document titled, "The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide." The premise is that an adequate education requires teaching about the Bible—as distinct from ignoring it, which is the almost universal practice today in public schools, and from teaching the Bible doctrinally and devotionally, which is, according to the courts, unconstitutional. The remarkable thing about the new guide is that it is endorsed by a very broad array of organizations, ranging from the National Association of Evangelicals to the National Education Association. A very good argument can be made that the attempt to teach the Bible in a "neutral" manner is, in fact, to teach against the Bible, which is hardly neutral. And a convincing argument can be made that, for serious Christians and Jews, a truly adequate education is education in the fullness of truth presented as the truth. That being said, however, for at least the short–term future most American children will be attending public schools dominated by the myths of neutrality toward the differences that make the deepest difference. "The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide" can, all in all, make their education less inadequate. But for that to happen, the guide must be implemented, and for that to happen, people must know about it. For a copy of the guide, write National Bible Association, 1865 Broadway, New York, New York 10023.
- Lest you thought it was all sweetness and light surrounding the Joint Declaration on Justification signed by the Holy See and the Lutheran World Federation on October 31 of last year, 251 teachers of theology in Germany have issued a blistering protest claiming that the whole enterprise "has been one–sidedly influenced by the ecumenism program of the Roman Catholic Church." In other words, the Lutherans have been taken. The theological imperialism of the protesters—demanding that the statement say exactly what Lutherans have traditionally said about "faith alone," law and gospel, simul iustus et peccator (at the same time justified and sinner), etc.—might give the impression that they represent hard–core orthodoxy. That apparently is the view of some in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod who are circulating the protest as support for Missouri’s refusal to be part of the Joint Declaration. But note one of the chief reasons for the German protest: "The signing of the Joint Declaration would result in no improvements whatsoever in the practicalities of Protestants and Catholics living together in families and in congregations. At this point it becomes clear that the meaning of the doctrine of justification as the center of the teaching and life of the Church has been ineffectual in these texts." In this line of reasoning, which has the most liberal, even antinomian, consequences, "justification by faith alone" is the only article of faith that matters. If one really believes in justification by faith alone, differences over other matters—the real presence in the Eucharist, apostolic ministry, the indissolubility of marriage, the ordination of women, and on and on—make no difference. That is hardly the position of conservative Lutherans such as those of the Missouri Synod. Even more questionable is the Missouri Synod’s placement of an ad in USA Today and fifteen other newspapers around the country explaining why it rejects the Joint Declaration. (It does not mention that the LCMS declined to be part of the years of intense theological conversations that led to the Declaration.) After setting forth what Missouri understands to be the Lutheran teaching of justification by "faith alone," the ad depicts Catholic teaching in this way: "The Roman Catholic Church teaches that something more than trust in Christ is necessary for us to be saved. It teaches that we are able to merit, through our works, eternal life for ourselves and others. We believe this teaching obscures the work of Jesus Christ and clouds the central message of the Bible." That statement, sad to say, obscures the teaching of the Catholic Church. The rich biblical understanding of faith, including the living faith that transforms the life of the believer, is reduced simply to trust. It is emphatically not the case that the Catholic Church teaches that our works, apart from the work of Christ and faith in that work, merit eternal life for ourselves or others. The Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. . . . Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ" (Nos. 1991 and 1992, emphasis in original). From the Joint Declaration: "Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works" (3.15). The caricature of Catholic teaching in the LCMS ad is not true. Those responsible for it would do well to consult Luther’s Small Catechism on bearing false witness. (One is pleased to note that Dr. Ralph Bohlmann, former president of the LCMS, has publicly repudiated the advertisement, pointing out that it was unauthorized, paid for by a private contribution, and represents no more than "the personal opinion of the current president." The ad has also been protested publicly by a large number of LCMS clergy and local parishes.) In my judgment, Father Avery Dulles got it just right in his article in our December issue, "Two Languages of Salvation." There are still unresolved differences between Lutherans and Catholics on justification, but they should not be church–dividing. Had it not been for the unpleasantness of the sixteenth century, Lutheranism might have become a distinct tradition of spirituality—somewhat like the Franciscans or Dominicans—in full communion with the one Church that Luther wanted to reform. But that, of course, is one of history’s great might–have–beens. As it is, the Joint Declaration is a historic achievement moving Lutherans and Catholics, please God, toward the ecclesial reconciliation that is yet to be.
- The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have officially protested what they view as a misrepresentation of their position on pedophilia. Their protesting statements affirm laws against sexual relationships between adults and children. Fair enough, but that is somewhat beside the point. While avoiding obvious legal landmines, the associations have been moving since the 1970s toward legitimating homosexuality, along with pedophilia and other "paraphiliac" behavior (e.g., sadomasochism), in that they are no longer listed as mental disorders unless they cause distress or impair the social functioning of those who indulge in such behavior. The question is not whether the associations favor decriminalizing pedophilia. They do not. But their area of presumed competence is mental disorders, not changing the law. A change has been made in the definition of mental disorders, and their protest would be made credible only by rescinding the change. One might surmise that practitioners of "man–boy love" do not feel distress about what they do, nor, within that subculture, is their social functioning impaired. It is accurate to say that the associations appear to be on a course toward "normalizing" behavior that previously was judged to be perverse and disordered, and is still illegal. Whatever their intentions, it is foreseeable that such a course might at some point have a bearing on changes in the law. Although the associations deplore it, the reality is that mental disorder bears a social stigma. Officially removing that stigma is a step toward normalizing certain actions, or at least delegitimating objections to them, which is much the same thing. The disingenuity of, for instance, the American Psychological Association in claiming that it does not advocate the acceptance or legitimation of homosexuality is all too clear from its membership in the "Just the Facts Coalition," along with the National Education Association and other groups. The coalition recently sent out a booklet to all 14,700 public school districts in the country attacking those who contend that teenagers can and should resist or redirect, rather than act upon, their homoerotic desires. "I think this is a history–changing moment," says Kevin Jennings of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, a New York organization. "The entire mainstream education and mental health establishment has said that it isn’t lesbian, gay, and bisexual students who need to change, it is the conditions in our schools that need to change." Mr. Jennings and his allies have good reason to be pleased.
- Here’s a nice juxtaposing of stories in the Chronicle of Higher Education. At the top of the page is a story with the headline "Bishops Approve Controversial Rules for Catholic Higher Education." It is, of course, about the overwhelming vote of the bishops for implementing Ex Corde Ecclesiae, a measure aimed at advancing the controversial view that schools claiming to teach Catholic theology teach Catholic theology. Directly below it is another story, "NLRB Official Says Professors at Manhattan College, a Private Institution, Can Unionize." In an eighty–one–page decision the National Labor Relations Board explains why the New York college run by the Christian Brothers "wasn’t Catholic enough to be excluded from the board’s jurisdiction over labor relations." Walker Percy said it’s either Rome or California. In Catholic higher education, it may be that it’s either the bishops or the labor unions.
- Blaming the victim? Definitely not. But that is how more than one reader interpreted my response to Arthur Simon of Bread for the World in the December 1999 issue. So let me try again. There are undoubtedly many thousands of children in the U.S. who go to bed hungry at night. It is impossible to know how many, but any hungry child has to be cause for concern. On the basis of my working with poor people over many years and of my study of the relevant literature, I believe that "consumption" is a better indicator of poverty than "income," much of which is unreported, and undetectable except as evidenced in consumption. Most hungry children are not hungry only, or even chiefly, for economic reasons, i.e., the lack of money to buy food. Broken and violent homes, sundry forms of child neglect and abuse, typically associated with alcoholism, drugs, and other adult disorders—these are the circumstances usually associated with children going hungry. The children are the victims and are certainly not to be blamed. It is true that the adults who should be caring for these children need help, and an essential part of help is helping them to recognize that they are failing in their duty. This is the kind of help provided by innumerable nongovernmental efforts aimed not at "delivering services" to "clients" but at transforming lives through personal involvement with those in need. Such efforts, typically "faith–based" (in the current jargon), need to be multiplied many times over. My criticism of Bread for the World is that its advocacy is captive to discredited welfare policies that have exacerbated the problem of "welfare dependency" and have had the unfortunate effect of discrediting concern for the poor in the minds of many Americans. This raises the prospect of America becoming what Charles Murray calls a "custodial democracy," in which the underclass is subsidized but walled off. We increase the number of homeless shelters and food pantries, restore the welfare entitlement, build more prison cells, and write off a substantial part of the population as permanently incapable of citizenship. Meanwhile, the great majority of Americans go on with business as usual. "Custodial democracy" is a grim prospect, and we must not resign ourselves to it. (For a fuller statement of what can and should be done, see, among other items in these pages, the editorial "What Should We Do About the Poor?" [April 1992] and Glenn C. Loury’s "Two Paths to Black Power" [October 1992].)
- Much has been written about "the scandal of the evangelical mind," or lack thereof. Pertinent to that discussion may be a thoughtful list offered by World magazine of the forty most important books of the last hundred years, meaning books "that proclaimed or applied a Christian worldview in a hostile century." Not all the authors who make the list have a clear religious identity, but, of those who do, there are six Roman Catholics, five Anglicans, one Orthodox, and five mainline Protestants. There are also four Jews, none of them religiously observant. Of the seven evangelical Protestant authors (e.g., Francis Schaeffer, Cornelius Van Til, Harold Lindsell, A. W. Tozier), it is fair to say that none of them would be named, and most of them would not be known, outside the world of evangelicalism. I’m not sure what this says about the alleged scandal, if anything, but one notes that evangelicalism in its present configuration was around for half of the century surveyed. Of Francis Schaeffer the editors correctly say that he "taught evangelicals to become engaged with culture, art, and the world of ideas." One may reasonably hope that at the end of this new century—"if the Lord tarries," as evangelicals are given to saying—a comparable list would demonstrate that evangelicals moved from a still nervous engagement to making substantive contributions that put the whole world in their debt.
- They’re baaack! Or maybe it’s more accurate to say they’re still around. "Humanist Manifesto 2000" does not have a list of signatories anywhere near the status of those who signed the first manifesto in 1933, but Paul Kurtz and his International Academy of Humanism did manage to recruit nine Nobel laureates and comedian Steve Allen. The new manifesto urges humanity to "leave behind the magical thinking and myth–making that are substitutes for tested knowledge of nature," notes that religions "have their origins in pre–urban nomadic and agricultural societies of the past" and are irrelevant to the "postindustrial global information culture that is emerging," and calls for a World Parliament. In a world of such rapid change, it is something of a comfort that Professor Kurtz and his friends keep alive an old, if eccentric, tradition.
- We have framed in the office this photo of six–month–old Andrew Zaleski, son of Philip and Carol Zaleski of Smith College, lying on the living room carpet. He is holding a copy of First Things, and for all the world seems to be reading it with pleasure. Underneath is the legend, "And some people say this is over their heads?" It’s never too early to get your younger friends into a good habit. We will be happy to send a sample issue of this journal to people you think are likely subscribers. Please send names and addresses to First Things, 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, New York, New York 10010 (or e–mail to subscriberservices@pma–inc.net). On the other hand, if they’re ready to subscribe, call toll–free 1–800–783–4903.
- The fallacy of misplaced expertise seems to work overtime when distinguished scientists deliver themselves of their ponderings philosophical and theological. Steven Weinberg has both the Nobel Prize and the National Medal of Science for his work on the theory of particles and fields and—under the title "A Designer Universe?"—offered to a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science the usual college dormitory bull session reasons for answering the question in the negative. There is evil in the world, and it cannot be explained by free will because then God is responsible for giving us free will, and so forth and so on. This drearily flat–footed account of the theodicy question is deemed worthy of publication in the New York Review of Books. The aim of the meeting was to have a constructive dialogue between science and religion, to which Weinberg says: "I am all in favor of a dialogue between science and religion, but not a constructive dialogue. One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from this accomplishment." Along the way, Weinberg repeats what has become a maxim in some circles: "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion." His case in point is slavery, which he says, falsely, is "endorsed in the New Testament," although, to be sure, slavery was both supported and opposed by Christians. It is the maxim that warrants a moment’s thought, however. The proposition would seem to be that, if good people who are not religious do evil, they are not good people. They are bad people. If good people who are religious do evil, they are good people misled by religion. To stay just with the last century, it follows that there were no good people involved in the murder of more than a hundred million people in the name of National Socialism, Marxist–Leninism, and Maoism. They were, if we are to believe Professor Weinberg, all bad people. It is a wondrously simple view of the world, sustained perhaps by devoting one’s life to the study of particles and fields rather than people, beginning with oneself.
Sources: Quotes on UN from "Whose World Is It, Anyway?" by Lorne Gunter, National Post, August 28, 1999 and "The Precarious Triumph of Human Rights" by David Rieff, New York Times Magazine, August 8, 1999.
While We’re At It: Peter Novick’s The Holocaust in American Life reviewed by Elliott Abrams, National Review, June 28, 1999. "Bishop Stirs Up a Storm Over Sex," Scotsman, July 10, 1999. Misty Bernall quoted, Plough, October 11, 1999. John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope reviewed by Owen Chadwick, Tablet, September 25, 1999. Tim Unsworth on the liberal fall–back position regarding Ex Corde Ecclesiae in National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 1999. Gertrude Himmelfarb on contemporary confessionals, Commentary, July/August 1999. Paige Patterson on the RSV, World, June 5, 1999. "New Technologies Raise New Questions" by Dr. Mark Evans, ACM News, May 17, 1999. On armpit "research," National Post, July 1, 1999. "Marriage Preparation and Cohabiting Couples: Information Report," National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family, Origins, September 16, 1999. On St. Isidore of Seville, ZENIT news agency, June 24, 1999. Stephen H. Balch on "hubristics," NAS Update (vol. 10, no. 1, 1999). Susan Martinuk on cloning soldiers, National Post, August 26, 1999. John Paul II on "globalization," ZENIT, September 13, 1999. On mouse embryos, New York Times, September 28, 1999. Father Enzo Bianchi on the Eastern Church, ZENIT, November 12, 1999. On pedophilia and the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, personal correspondence; Kevin Jennings of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, quoted in New York Times, November 23, 1999. Juxtaposing of stories on Catholic colleges’ curriculum and labor relations, Chronicle of Higher Education, November 26, 1999. List of forty most important books of the twentieth century, World, July 3/10, 1999. On the "Humanist Manifesto 2000," Newark Star Ledger, October 10, 1999. Steven Weinberg on science and religion, New York Review of Books, October 21, 1999.