Copyright (c) 2001 First Things 109 (January 2001): 2-6.
In “The Supreme Court 2000: A Symposium” (October 2000), your six contributors recount the damage recently done by the Court to innocent life, to the Court itself, and to the nation. Each writer in turn describes another peak in the mountain range of error by which we now are almost surrounded.
Yet one of the Supreme Court’s June 2000 decisions goes unmentioned, and its potential for wreaking havoc should not escape our watch. Viewed as a criminal law decision, Dickerson v. United States is unremarkable. Given the chance to curtail or overrule Miranda v. Arizona, the Court opted for no change. Before Dickerson, we had Miranda warnings, and we have them still. So what? But Dickerson is also a decision regarding constitutional law—a decision of colossal importance to, say, a member of Congress who imagines that partial–birth abortion can be made illegal by a statute of the sort seemingly invited by the Court in Stenberg v. Carhart. Sorry, Charlie.
We learn in Dickerson that the powers of Congress are limited in a way not previously imagined. We discover that a rule invented by the Supreme Court for the putative purpose of enforcing constitutional rights is immune to congressional limitation or modification. It is a “constitutional decision,” a category now indistinguishable from the Constitution itself. Justice Antonin Scalia offered in dissent the view that Dickerson “converts Miranda from a milestone of judicial overreaching into the very Cheops Pyramid (or perhaps the Sphinx would be a better analogue) of judicial arrogance.” With all respect to our era’s Great Dissenter, it is Dickerson, not Miranda, that now must be feared. We should expect that the next time Congress attempts to honor the will of the people by legislating some minor restriction on abortion, Dickerson will be invoked to strike it down. Roe v. Wade or Casey v. Planned Parenthood will be awarded the title “constitutional decision” as protection against congressional oversight of the Court’s favorite right.
In Ronald Herzman’s account of the Manhattan College of his time and the Boston College of his son’s time (“Catholic Educations,” October 2000), he says relatively little about religion at Manhattan, or about how the American Catholic academy got from the Manhattan of the sixties to the BC of the nineties. I was a year behind him in the Liberal Arts Program, and perhaps my recollections will help fill out the picture.
When I got to Manhattan College in 1962, practically everybody went to Mass, but practically nobody cared much about it. The secularization that everyone started talking about a few years later was already dominant among both the students and the faculty, although very few yet thought in those terms. Most of the Christian Brothers shied away from much personal contact with the students, because they sensed—and not infrequently shared—the students’ half–conscious contempt for the mission epitomized in their official name, the Brothers of the Christian Schools. I believe that only one classmate of Professor Herzman’s became a priest; none of mine did. One or two left Manhattan to enter the Brothers, but none of them stuck. I don’t recall anyone saying a dozen words about Vatican II during my college years, even though it convened in the first semester of my freshman year and concluded in the first semester of my senior year. Nobody touted the excellent devotional and ascetic works that had been written or translated in the previous twenty or thirty years. Devotional life meant old ladies saying the rosary or attending novenas. The yearly retreat was a joke. We knew little and cared less. Some of the faculty presumably knew more; but either they didn’t care any more than we did, or were too afraid of our scorn to talk about it.
In the theology department, most of the new lay teachers hired in the push for professionalization were seminary washouts whose professionalism consisted of a Master’s degree, more or less informed enthusiasm for the current fads, and ignorance of and contempt for everything else—that is, for the Church’s intellectual and devotional patrimony. As the fads got more heterodox, so did they.
I majored in philosophy, and it was much the same story. The department consisted mostly of lay products of Fordham’s graduate philosophy department, the most popular of whom shared their teachers’ (and their students’) hunger for secular intellectual respectability. Ironically enough, the only figure in Fordham philosophy with any claim to big–league status, Dietrich von Hildebrand, was far too Catholic for serious consideration; he was only good enough for women and nuns. We all knew better than Augustine and Anselm and Aquinas, not to mention the twentieth–century figures like Maritain and Gilson and Marcel who’d had so little sophistication as to take on philosophy from a Catholic perspective.
The Liberal Arts Program was everything that Prof. Herzman says of it and more. It’s still a matter of wonderment to me how much I got to learn by comparison with friends, grad school and law school classmates, and colleagues who were condemned to pass their undergraduate years in places like Harvard and Yale. But a necessary condition of the Program’s existence was a certain reverence and docility rooted in traditional Catholic sensibility and ultimately in the Catholic faith. That reverence and docility still existed in the early and middle sixties despite the atmosphere described above; but it was mostly vestigial and inertial. The secular spirit just kept expanding its influence, and ultimately those administrators, faculty, and students who couldn’t comprehend liberal education as meaning anything but taking the courses you damn well felt like taking (outside your major, of course) killed off the Program.
So there wasn’t much left of the Catholic spirit at Manhattan College when the explosion sparked by publication of Humanae Vitae finished off the old regime. Emboldened by the laity’s anger at Paul VI’s attack on the sacred right to kid–free copulation, the Catholic academy and ecclesiastical bureaucracy rose up, bullied the terror–stricken episcopate into complicity or silence, and took over. By the time Prof. Herzman’s son started at Boston College, the new regime had been in full operation for better than twenty years. Manhattan, which was run by an order without much intellectual prestige and had an almost entirely lay faculty, did not bother with the self–congratulation with which the Jesuit colleges or Notre Dame celebrated their defection. It simply followed its betters.
John A. McFarland
Ellicott City, Maryland
I was delighted to see Father Richard John Neuhaus (“Singing the Lord’s Songs,” October 2000) going for the jugular of a beast that I think all Christian churches are going to have to face down before it does us grave damage—contemporary church music.
Born and raised a Southern Baptist in northern Missouri, I was recruited into the church choir in 1936, almost at the very moment when my voice had gone from soprano to youthful bass. My mother, rest her fun–loving, devoutly Christian soul, was organist and choir director, and she provided us with anthems published by the Lorenz Company. In those quarterlies Ellen Jane Lorenz took anthems by the great old masters and simplified them so that your run–of–the–mill volunteer choir could handle them. But in fact her simplified versions were much more difficult to sing than the originals, because although the harmonies and melodies in anthems by the great composers might often take surprising turns, they never took turns that were puzzling or illogical or impossible to sing, even for relatively untrained volunteer choirs. After many years mother discovered this fact, moved out of the Lorenz milieu, and the choir blessed her for it and sang good music, sometimes not very well, but always with joy.
My career in government has taken me and my family to a variety of locations, and I have listened to choirs in a number of churches both in the U.S. and abroad. As the years passed all these choirs have concentrated more and more on contemporary composers, who, with a few notable exceptions such as John Rutter, have yet to produce music that can compare with that of Haydn, or Bach, or Palestrina, or any of the other greats of the distant past. Moreover, I think one could select, say, twelve of the great anthems of all time and sing them one by one, over and over again, without ever tiring or boring a congregation. As it is, choirs these days sing a brand new and immensely forgettable anthem every Sunday morning.
I have on occasion made a pest of myself by railing at choir directors who refuse to bring out the great old anthems that are in our libraries, and instead of “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming” prepare things like “What’s Your Question, Lord?” sung to a sort of calypso beat. The response to my complaints is almost invariably that “we have to give the congregation the type of music it wants to hear.” (Woe to the pastor who approaches his duties with that kind of attitude.) Well, whereas one might drive home with the strains of “The Heav’ns Are Telling” still resonating in the heart, it is difficult to imagine singing “What’s Your Question, Lord?” while waiting for a traffic light to change.
What happens, in fact, is that when the choir has sung the last note of “What’s Your Question, Lord?” the congregation doesn’t sit in reverent silence, moved by music and text, but instead bursts into applause for a rollicking performance. I think applause in a church service is an abomination, and am deeply dismayed to see that the practice is spreading throughout many denominations, including the Catholic Church. It says something disturbing about what the people seem to be seeking. God is in His Heaven and I’m enjoying the heck out of Him.
John R. Cassidy
As we search for a church after a recent move it is impossible not to resonate with elements of Richard John Neuhaus’ most recent harangue against the simultaneous excesses and shortcomings of much contemporary church music. If historian Nathan Hatch is to be believed, however, the “worship wars” in American Christianity are at least two hundred years old, and suggest a rather direct link between the political democracy that Father Neuhaus so eloquently champions and various manifestations of an accompanying “cultural democracy” for which he seems to have little patience. The ideal that church should serve as an occasion for literary and aesthetic uplift for people of “lower” tastes did not long survive the revolution, and continues to fight an uphill battle against those who prefer to worship in the vernacular. Why should it be surprising that, in our democratic society, people would develop a church music that is simple, visceral, often defiant, and geared toward self–expression? Can the leveling instincts behind such cultural expressions really be separated from the ethos that created and sustains political democracy?
I fear that Richard John Neuhaus, in his thunderings against the state of contemporary church music, has yet to learn the basic lesson of “the perfect shoe.” In vain have I long searched for the perfect shoe: good for town and country, durable at sporting events and well–turned out at the country club soirée. It is only with reluctance and the dawn of middle age that I have come to accept this lesson: it does not exist. As with shoes, so with worship styles: it takes all kinds.
I too like classical music, but I will never surrender my shrieks of “Jeeesus” set to the thunderings of a rock anthem. Let Nietzsche explain: he made a useful distinction in pointing out that the Greeks made room for both the Apollonian element—classical, measured, balanced, reasoned—and the Dionysian—abandoned, instinctual, romantic. A church given over only to the Apollonian, as Father Neuhaus urges, would be measured, balanced, beautiful . . . and a dull thing indeed.
Taking another angle, we could say that Fr. Neuhaus is altogether too Jamesian and insufficiently Chestertonian or Bellocian. I think here of Henry James’ visit to G. K. Chesterton with Belloc attendant, disheveled from having just come in from a long trip. Chesterton observed: “Henry James had a name for being subtle; but I think that situation was too subtle for him. I doubt to this day whether he, of all men, did not miss the irony of the best comedy in which he ever played a part. He left America because he loved Europe, and all that was meant by England or France; the gentry, the gallantry, the traditions of lineage and locality, the life that had been lived beneath the old portraits in oak–panelled rooms. And there, on the other side of the tea–table, was Europe, was the old thing that made France and England, the posterity of the English squires and the French soldiers; ragged, unshaven, shouting for beer, shameless above all shades of poverty and wealth; sprawling, indifferent, secure. And what looked across at it was still the Puritan refinement of Boston; and the space it looked across was wider than the Atlantic.”
If the Greeks don’t convince, and if Nietzsche in tandem with Chesterton fails to persuade, perhaps it would not go amiss to recall that when David’s wife Michal “saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart” (2 Samuel 6:16), and she did so in the name of refinement, good taste, and “behavior appropriate to one’s station.” She was Apollonian all the way, but she was wrong.
I write all this only because I am convinced that Fr. Neuhaus has much to offer us evangelicals and charismatics, but to despise us for our worship styles is to build walls where bridges are necessary; moreover, it is to build walls over microscopic issues of personal taste. Why magnify an issue of personal taste into a theological issue of cosmic proportions as he does when he tags the rock style of worship as “personal poison”?
I am sure he must feel better, bolstered by the notion that his tastes are anchored in deep theological undercurrents unlike these shallow other fellows, but to give way to this feeling is to give way to the very self–indulgence he condemns in the music of others.
Paul M. Miller
I stand reproached by Mr. Miller but not, I think, corrected. Neither Apollo nor Dionysus is a model for Christian worship, and Belloc did not sprawl in church. Distinctions are difficult in practice, but the difference I was addressing is between the worship of God and emotional exhibitionism, between the musical offering of beauty honed by disciplined talent and the self–indulgent display of enthusiasm. While on Belloc, there is this lovely story which I’m told is true. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York he stood, as was the French custom, where the Americans knelt. An usher tugged his sleeve and whispered, “We kneel at this point, sir.” Belloc to usher, “Go to hell.” Usher to Belloc, “I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t know you were a Catholic.”
To Mr. Jensen: If by democratic one means attuned to and loved by the people, neither in Catholic nor evangelical worship is third–rate rock or Broadway music democratic. Recently I spoke to a gathering of several hundred evangelicals. The talk was preceded by a “song fest” in which piano, guitar, and exuberant song leader tried to get people to belt out something called, “Do You Know Jesus?” Unsuccessfully. The words were even projected on a big screen. All to no avail. Now, if they had tried “The King of Love, My Shepherd Is” or “A Mighty Fortress” or “O Worship the King,” I expect there would have been some heartfelt singing. That’s democratic.
I thank Mr. Cassidy for his corroborating comments.
I wish to offer a modest traditionalist response to the observations of Richard John Neuhaus regarding Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr and the presidential impeachment of recent years (While We’re At It, October 2000). One thing that most of us agree upon in situations like this is the usefulness of the centuries–old adage, “Stick with your principles and let the chips fall where they may.” Some of us old fogies were, and remain, utterly appalled at the scandalous eighteen–month media riot that ended finally with the President’s acquittal by the U.S. Senate. We do not find anything inspirational about this entire string of events. Available evidence will not sustain Mr. Starr’s contention that the mandate of his office compelled him to act as he did. The truth is that he freely chose to migrate from his legitimate Whitewater assignment to the unseemly Paula Jones case.
True, his statutory jurisdiction was very broad, but much of it was discretionary. Subsequent developments would seem to confirm that Starr opted to move away from the Whitewater matter because the Jones affair offered the virtual certainty of media–plausible “pay dirt” as compared with the oblivion toward which he seemed to be headed in his initial investigation.
At the outset of this switch to the morals scandal, Starr had to know that Linda Tripp had committed a felony under Maryland law in surreptitiously taping Monica Lewinsky’s phone conversations about her White House liaison with the President. The crass assault against the younger woman’s character that accompanied this criminal conduct has to reflect as much upon Starr as it does upon Tripp. Surely one can ask in fairness, Would Archibald Cox have involved himself and his office in this tawdry kind of lawlessness?
Between the two of them Starr and Tripp were able to intimidate the hapless Monica and her family and attorneys into a slavish cooperation with the prosecution. And from there it took only minimal partisanship for Starr to appeal to the Republican congressional leadership for their cooperation. Once the impeachment process commenced, partisan Republicans and the media, not Starr, were in charge of events. We cannot lay on him the dishonest subterfuge of baiting the presidential perjury in order to have a formal basis for impeachment. For months impeachment managers and media pundits would episodically provide the viewing public earnest explanations that the President was on trial for lying under oath, not for his abominable conduct—and then recommence the extensive airing of the abominable conduct.
Mercifully for Mr. Starr, history will more likely forget him than judge him.
Robert E. Newton