Nevertheless, there are a few voices at the edge of the pro-life movement that are now urging a reconsideration of the use of lethal force. The arguments, pro and con, are aired in Life Advocate, a national magazine published in Portland, Oregon. Publisher Andrew Burnett invokes authorities from the Bible to Blackstone in contending that the killing of abortionists is justified homicide. He relates a discussion with a pro-life activist who opposes the use of force. Burnett questions how much this fellow really cares about the thirty million children who have been killed since the Roe decision of 1973. Burnett writes: "At that point in the conversation I had to stop and ask him, 'Do you really believe that abortion is murder?' 'Of course I do,' he said. Then I probed a little deeper. I asked him if he viewed abortion the same way that he would view the murder of one of his own children or for that matter the shooting of an abortionist. He paused for a moment before he acknowledged that he didn't feel the same way about the death of children in abortion and the possible murder of his own child. I responded that I felt the same way. There is a special bond that we have with our kids. But our lack of 'feeling' towards the unborn should not get in the way of acknowledging that they do deserve the same protection that we would give the born."
In the same issue, associate editor Cathy Ramey asks the question, "So where do we go from here?" She answers: "I can't tell anyone what they ought to do, that they are obligated to the kind of action taken against Gunn and Tiller. For me, the issue is that we need to be articulating truth. Even though I may be unable to defend babies in the way that Shannon and Griffin (as accused) did, the truth is that Scripture supports defending your neighbor's life, even with lethal force. To accord these children less protection and to condemn their protectors is to agree with the abortion industry that they aren't really human. Their lives are not even as valuable as the life of a serial killer and, as someone who wrote a letter stated, we 'prefer live abortionists over live babies.'
"Unfortunately, many in the pro-life movement have paid the pinch of incense that the world demanded in order to justify the continual killing of children. You see, if pro-life leaders are saying that these children aren't legitimately entitled to the same level of care and protection as a born person (even a born killer) then it only stands to reason that perhaps pre-natal killings are just a matter of choice and not a grave moral evil."
The statement argues that "anyone who tries to justify the murder of abortionists who are about to kill preborn babies will not be able to stop at that point. . . . More steps will inevitably follow until some activists begin urging the execution of feminists who push for abortion and the politicians who vote for it. . . . Even if only a few misguided individuals stoop to murder, the public will turn against us. Recruiting will become almost impossible. Finally, the pro-abortion movement will gain the martyrs it has always needed for its own validation. The attention of the country will be forever diverted from graphic pictures of aborted preborn babies to even more explicit photographs of abortionists lying in pools of their own blood."
The statement does not deny the right, maybe the duty, to defend the innocent. "Yes, we may very well kill an intruder who threatens our children, but if we knew that such a killing would touch off a chain of events that could very well lead to the deaths of many more children, we would choose instead to restrain or disable the trespasser instead of taking his life." Not only would more children be killed, but there is a deep principle involved. "Nonviolence is a foundation stone of Christian activism. It cannot be removed without damaging everything that rests upon it. If we repudiate nonviolence, we will also betray the thousands of pro-lifers who have laid their very lives and all of their possessions on the line for the babies."
Clowes and the other signers go on to say, "We cannot always understand God's plan. What would have happened if someone had taken the life of the world's biggest abortionist in 1975? Bernard Nathanson would not be fighting for life today. What if someone had killed Carol Everett? Or George Bush? Or Ronald Reagan? They were all pro-abortion at one time. What if Christians had risen up at the beginning of Church history and had killed Saul as he presided over the stoning of Stephen? He was, after all, persecuting Christians. If they had killed their tormentor, Paul would not have proclaimed the Gospel in many nations, and thousands would not have been saved." The conclusion of the statement is emphatic: "God has not abandoned us. We must trust Him instead of relying on our own strength. The killing of human beings, either born or preborn, has absolutely no place in this movement."
Despite the efforts of Life Advocate and a few others, the question of the use of lethal force by the pro-life movement is, we believe, securely closed. Of course it is possible that it will happen again that someone who is mentally deranged or blinded by anguish for the unborn will kill an abortionist. In view of the many thousands of activists on all sides of the abortion dispute, there is no way of assuring that that will not happen again. If it does, we can be sure that it will be fully exploited by pro-choice forces. But the pro-life movement, we are confident, will remain determinedly nonviolent. That is because many, if not most, are committed to nonviolence as a pacifist principle. There is also the prudential judgment, expressed in the Clowes statement, that the use of violence would destroy the movement and result in the death of many more children.
Strange how things come around again. A long time ago your editor wrote with Peter Berger Movement and Revolution (Doubleday, 1970). Then the loose talk about revolutionary violence was coming from the left, and your editor's purpose was to write a cautionary essay, noting the ways in which "justified war doctrine" places severe moral strictures on the use of violence. Arguments now advanced by Life Advocate were then advanced by the proponents of radical change, including the change that was called "liberalized abortion." Cathy Ramey appeals to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor killed by the Nazis in 1945 for his part in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. It is a suggestive comparison. Bonhoeffer had come to the firm conclusion that the Nazi regime was morally illegitimate and corrupt in all its parts, in theory and practice. He decided, in fear and trembling, that tyrannicide was the only available remedy. Do people like Cathy Ramey mean to say that that is our situation? Moreover, in view of alternative political orders and knowing the depravities of sinful humanity, how would one determine that the American regime is illegitimate?
Those are among the questions that need to be put to people who advocate the use of lethal force. In our judgment, to raise such questions is to answer them. This journal is not reluctant to pursue deeply disturbing questions, as is evident, for but one related example, in Russell Hittinger's sobering article, "When the Court Should Not Be Obeyed" (FT, October 1993). Conceivably the day may come when thoughtful citizens will be forced to conclude that this is not a legitimate regime, and to ponder the moral responsibilities that attend that conclusion. We all have a strong interest in hoping that we will never see that day, and an even stronger duty to do what we can to prevent it.
There is impressive moral and legal precedent affirming the duty to defend and the duty to rescue. In our historical circumstance, the same tradition forbids the use of violence in a misguided effort to exercise such duty. Talk about the use of lethal force is, in fact, talk about revolution and civil war. It could conceivably, if the talk were turned into action, lead to a great bloodletting and destruction for both the born and unborn. Much more likely, it would lead to the demise of a pro- life movement that bears the most luminous hope for the righting of a great wrong in this constitutional order that is still, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, the last, best hope of earth. We sincerely hope that Life Advocate and others who are tempted will abandon their flirtation with the culture of death.
The Fairness Doctrine. That sounds eminently fair. But the National
Religious Broadcasters (NRB) is deeply concerned about an effort in
Congress to restore it. The Fairness Doctrine was abandoned by the
Federal Communications Commission in 1987. The doctrine required radio
and television stations to give time for opposing points of view on
controversial issues. But now, says the newsletter of the National
Association of Evangelicals (NAE), restoring the doctrine would have a
chilling effect. "In a nation so secular in its outlook, many formerly
orthodox religious principles have become increasingly 'controversial.'
These include conventional Judeo-Christian teachings such as sexual
morality, marriage, parental responsibility, and the sanctity of human
life. Does a religious broadcaster condemning abortion on a biblical
basis have to give free airtime to allow, say, a spokesperson from the
National Abortion Rights Action League to speak in favor of abortion?"
In addition, say NRB and NAE, restoring the doctrine would require
another layer of federal bureaucracy to monitor all the religious
broadcasting in the country.
Their concern is entirely warranted, but it also reflects an interesting twist. Many years ago, mainline Protestants strongly favored the Fairness Doctrine. It gave them a crack at radio and television time, although usually in what came to be called "the Sunday morning ghetto." Fundamentalists (as Evangelicals were then called) remained aloof from such "worldly" communications, except for a few paid programs. In the last twenty years, however, Evangelical Protestants have built a veritable empire of hundreds of radio stations and cable television programs. Apart from Mother Angelica and the VISN cable program, Catholics and oldline Protestants have not been very adept in this field. Originally, the Fairness Doctrine gave Catholics and oldliners access to the "secular" media. Now Evangelicals oppose it for fear that it will give secularists access to their media.
So what's fair? According to the experts on fiber optics and the like, we're on the edge of a revolution in which the established networks will shrink in importance as average Americans will have access to hundreds of TV channels. As for radio, exaggerated reports of its demise forty years ago have long since given way to the recognition of its indispensability in maintaining free expression on public affairs. This is no time for expanding government control of communications. Let a thousand flowers bloom, and let the FCC keep its hands off them.
The Triumph of Ideology Over the Obvious
PBS's Charlie Rose had the formidable John Leo of U.S. News & World
Report on one night, together with, among others, Katha Pollitt, an
editor at the Nation. It got David R. Carlin, Jr. of
Commonweal to thinking. The subject was the pros and cons of
single-parenthood in America. Like Leo, and unlike Pollitt, Carlin
thinks it is beyond dispute that the fatherless-child epidemic has been
"a gigantic social disaster." What will they be discussing next week on
Charlie Rose, he asks-whether the earth is flat? He expects some flat-
earther (preferably from the Nation) will make the case that the
evidence is not conclusive. Carlin understands why some men don't want
to hear about the calamity of single parenthood. They have a vested
interest in protecting the pattern of male flight from the family, which
is to say male flight from responsibility. And some single mothers don't
want to hear about it because, no matter how much you say you're not
blaming them, they can't help but feel guilty.
But why are people such as Ms. Pollitt and other "Apologists for Murphy Brown" so determined to deny the obvious? Because, says Carlin, they subscribe to an ideology of which the pivotal ethical doctrine is that the summum bonum of human life is virtually unlimited personal freedom. Carlin explains: "From this single axiom are deduced a number of doctrines. Heading the list is this: (1) the good society is the society whose only common good is the agreement not to agree on any common good. But this is followed by others: (2) cultural diversity is to be prized regardless of the content of the culture; (3) the sexual liberation movement is a great step forward in the advance of civilization; (4) the right to abortion is a fundamental human right; (5) the right to suicide is another fundamental human right; and of course (6) regardless of whether or not there are children involved, society has no business pressuring people to get married or remain married.
"These doctrines and others are part of an ideological package. Attack any one of them, and you have attacked the supreme axiom upon which they are all based; but attack the central axiom, and you have attacked all the other doctrines that are derived from it. An attack on any doctrine, then, is an attack on the whole system. It's like the three musketeers: one for all and all for one. Or it's like the traditional notion of the unity of Catholic doctrine: attack one doctrine, and you have attacked the church's teaching authority; hence you have indirectly attacked all church doctrine.
"At all events, subscribers to this ideology cannot afford to yield on a single point of doctrine, no matter how illogical or contrary to fact. This is why John Leo is as likely to persuade Katha Pollitt to change her mind as is the A.S.P.C.A. to persuade adherents of the Santaria faith to renounce the sacrifice of chickens.
"Mention of the Santaria reminds us that religion always involves sacrifice. Some religions sacrifice chickens. Others sacrifice contrite hearts. The secular religion of the cultural Left sacrifices the prosperity and happiness of millions of children."
Blaming the Victims' Defenders
Watching television one night, Paul Greenberg of the Arkansas
Democrat Gazette saw Bill Clinton being asked whether the new
health plan would fund abortion. Clinton leaned over and said he wanted
to issue a challenge to those who oppose abortion. There wouldn't be a
problem, he said, if those opposed to it would each volunteer to adopt
one unwanted, unintended infant. Of course hundreds of thousands of
people do want to adopt babies, but they can't very well be adopted if
they're killed before they're born. Greenberg has some other thoughts on
the President's odd response. "The President was suggesting that
responsibility for the 1.6 million abortions performed every year in
this country . . . should properly belong to those who are trying to
stop this prenatal carnage.
"Note that the President challenged only those who have problems with abortion-not those who find having a child inconvenient just now, and use abortion as a method of birth control. Nor those who don't want to be tied down just yet, or who would really rather not interrupt their school year. Nor those who think a baby would get in the way of a career. Nor those who have repeated abortions because they're trying for a boy. Nor those who . . . well, you name your favorite morally dubious reason for having an abortion.
"Oppose abortion do you? The President's not very well disguised riposte: Then raise somebody else's child.
"The possibilities of this piece of clintonspeak are nigh endless: Oppose bank robberies do you? Then find some other way for the robber to get the money he's after. Oppose envy? Then manage to find some other way for the envious to get their heart's desire. Think drunk drivers should stay off the road? Then spend your nights driving drunks home. And so strangely on."
Nobody drinks "alcohol," G. K. Chesterton pointed out against the
prohibitionists. People drink beer and wine and whisky and brandy and
frozen daquiris. Only chemists force this behavior into the common
category called "alcohol." Similarly, James Bowman argues in The New
Criterion, we should be skeptical about Senator Paul Simon and
others who would lead a crusade against "violence" on television. When
we try to think about violence in the abstract, "the result is
guaranteed muddy thinking-on the order of the self-evidently false New
Age platitude that 'violence never solves anything.' It solves lots of
things, as anyone who descends from Olympus and gets close enough to it
to see what it is for will tell you. What's your problem? Not enough
money to buy drugs tonight? Mugging somebody will solve it. Or maybe
you're the muggee rather than the mugger. Then your problem is to avoid
being mugged. Superior force, successfully threatened or applied, will
solve your problem-and give the mugger back his. Violence is a wonderful
problem solver, perhaps the most efficacious of them all, which is one
reason why it is both forbidden and fascinating."
The problem with "violence" on television, says Bowman, is that violent acts are detached from any context which could give them moral meaning. "Maybe the image of the lone lawman standing up to the bad guys was factitious and hackneyed and artistically clumsy, but it provided such a context-one which has dissipated as much in reality as on TV since the glamour of Matt Dillon was superseded by that of Bob Dylan. We need the glamour of discriminating violence in order to offset the collective moral lassitude induced by too much of the undiscriminating kind. Playing Simon Says with the government is certainly not going to bring it back-even if Simon were less simple than he is. Maybe nothing else is either. But if we all work to get as much violence on television as possible, maybe the effort to make sense of it all will result eventually in something like a plausible moral context." Maybe.
Getting Really Rich
We have been severely taken to task in several quarters for suggesting
in a recent book (Doing Well and Doing Good: The Challenge to the
Christian Capitalist, Doubleday) that there is no clear moral
principle by which one could say that Michael Milken made "too much"
money. Milken, it may be recalled, was the infamous (or famous) dealer
in junk bonds who was reported to have had an annual income in excess of
$500 million. We note the appearance of a new book by a professor of
business history, Robert Sobel (Dangerous Dreamers, Wiley). According to
The Economist, Sobel argues that, had he remained free to operate,
"Milken would have been drawn to financing new industries in Latin
America and Eastern Europe. He might indeed have been judged the
greatest banker of the age."
Like others before him, Milken's "real crime" was to be a corporate raider. He had learned "to identify, buy, and dismember badly-managed companies whose shares did not reflect the value of their underlying assets. Later he began using his acquisitions to assemble conglomerates." Actually, says The Economist, in the 1980s comparatively few junk bonds were used to finance hostile takeovers. But a couple of instances caught the public's imagination and did Milken in. The Economist concludes that Milken and others "were punished at least as much for the unpopularity of their ideas as for breaking the law."
We have enough controversies on our plate, so we're not going to claim that Michael Milken would have been the greatest banker of the age, or even that what he did was good for business. Frankly, we don't know enough to make a judgment one way or the other. But this we do know: There are very reputable and morally responsible authorities who make a strong case that Milken and his junk bonds (junk meaning high risk) were a great boon to the economy. (As it happens, junk bonds seem to be coming back in a big way.) And this we do know: There is no clear moral principle that indicates it is wrong to make $500 million a year. The moral questions are what one does with it, and whether one's soul is captive to it, and whether, as Centesimus Annus teaches, the activity involved in getting it draws others into the circle of freedom in productivity and exchange. Mind you, our sympathy for Mr. Milken is limited. He is still really rich.
CBS Leads the Way
When William Donohue, president of the Catholic League For Religious and
Civil Rights, first brought the program to our attention, we were a mite
skeptical. We had seen an earlier episode of the CBS sitcom "Picket
Fences" that some had protested as anti-Christian, and it turned out to
be the kind of broad, and rather clever, parody that we thought it
unlikely anyone would take as seriously anti-Christian. Moreover, while
the Catholic League has a legitimate concern about the defamation of
Catholicism, it is important to avoid being too thin-skinned. Humorless
anti-defamationists defending the "rights" of every group under the sun
have imposed a terrible pall of political correctness over the sometimes
irritating give and take of free expression. So, as aforesaid, we were a
mite skeptical. Then Mr. Donohue sent us a video of the "Picket Fences"
episode in question, and we watched it.
In this story, a genetic disorder prevents an attractive young couple from having healthy children. She is a devout Catholic and refuses to use artificial contraception. That is the story line that sets the stage for everybody in the sitcom to get in on the discussion of the ludicrousness of Catholic moral teaching. Her priest, a mousy fellow, hesitantly suggests they try "the rhythm method," to which the response is, "You must be joking." The priest mumbles that his hands are tied, since he would be "excommunicated" if he permitted contraception. A local Protestant minister (the collar suggests Lutheran or Episcopalian) gets in on the act, declaring that the Catholic position on contraception "is nuts." "This birth control thing goes to a larger conspiracy," he opines. "The Vatican wants the population explosion to help them achieve world domination." A judge, a sober and sympathetic member of the cast, warns, "If the Church doesn't take action, sooner or later the courts will." The day is coming, he warns, when the entire Catholic Church will be sued for its moral teaching. "And believe me," he says, "the last thing that anybody wants is for judges to start legislating religion. But if the Catholic Church stays rigid on some of these rules, that day is coming."
Let it be said that "Picket Fences" is a kooky program, sometimes amusingly so. In the same episode, a psychiatrist falls in love with his client, a lady cop who sets him up to be arrested for falling in love with her. Also, a stereotypically Jewish shyster lawyer gets an appellate court to agree that clients should not tell the truth to their counsel. The lawyer's client, who happens to be mayor of the town, dies by spontaneous combustion, leaving only a handful of ashes behind. In the context of such a crazy program, is the venom against the Catholic Church really to be taken seriously? The answer is definitely yes. In this episode, only the polemic against Catholicism is not held up to ridicule. The incident with the psychiatrist is not an indictment of psychiatry. It is one misguided man betrayed by an unstable woman. The ludicrous argument of the shyster lawyer is countered by a very sympathetic young black lawyer for the prosecution. And, of course, the death by spontaneous combustion is presented as bizarre and utterly implausible.
Only the attack on the Church is left standing on its own merits, so to speak. Indeed the most sympathetic characters in the program, including the judge, join in the attack. The priest who represents the Church's teaching is portrayed as a pitiable incompetent who obviously does not agree with the Church and is incapable of defending the teaching, which, viewers are left in no doubt, is in fact indefensible. There is a lot of intended monkey business in "Picket Fences." But that cannot disguise what is the serious business of this episode, which is anti-Catholicism on a vituperative scale. The Catholic League is right to protest, and it should not be left to protest alone. We hope the protest will do some good. Whether it does or not, let the record show that CBS is leading the way in the indulgence of religious bigotry in network television. The "creative" people at CBS-meaning writers and directors who confuse courage with obnoxiousness-will likely take that as a compliment.
Sexual harassment (are we the last to insist that the accent falls on
the first syllable?) is a real problem. As with all problems, alarmist
reactions can create new problems equally as real. In the last several
years this has been demonstrated with dreadful consequences in the
reaction to charges of sexual abuse in child care centers. Entire
communities have been thrown into hysteria and innocent people have had
their lives and reputations ruined. After much suffering and injustice,
there are welcome signs of a new sobriety in handling charges of child
abuse. Not so with sexual harassment. Also in some of our churches,
officials have adopted a policy of verdict first and trial later, as the
Queen explained to an amazed Alice. The following from Forum
Letter discusses the situation among Lutherans:
"We are probably stepping way, way beyond the bounds of sexual correctness, but let us point out that the sexual conduct code of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a policy in want of basic fairness. By that we mean the policy and the process both fail to adequately safeguard the rights of the accused. There is no statute of limitations, investigations can begin based on hearsay, confessional privacy is not inviolate (which means it does not even exist), the accused-choosing to follow the process to the end-must testify, and as has happened, a pastor can find his or her synod bishop suddenly on the doorstep demanding the pastor's resignation, quite without benefit of having faced his or her accusers. (That hearing comes later.) It is a policy lacking evidentiary rules. It presumes guilt, not innocence. It inflicts grievous punishment prior to a finding.
"Here is our considered opinion should it happen to you. Do not resign on demand of the bishop without first getting thee to an attorney. Refuse private conversations with anyone connected with the accusation, including the bishop. Share what you must with the church council with your attorney present. The attorney can explain the disciplinary procedure and note the protective shortcomings of it. Refer further inquires to your attorney. If you think our advice drastic, consider the drastic consequences of trusting those charged with enforcing a policy so evidently open to abuse."
Extreme policies on sexual misconduct are largely driven by the demands of radical feminists who make no secret of their belief that all men are rapists or potential rapists. Such policies are generally implemented by timorous men who are terrified of getting on the wrong side of a woman's fury. The hard question for the churches is how much of the necessary trust between bishops, pastors, and parishioners-and how much elementary fairness and decency-they are prepared to sacrifice in order to prevent real, and relatively rare, instances of sexual misconduct.
A Well-Funded Phantasm
A Protestant friend wonders why the bishops allow an organization such
as Catholics for a Free Choice (CFC). The simple and accurate answer is
that the bishops don't allow it. The bishops are in no position to
either allow or disallow it. CFC has no connection with the Catholic
Church. Since it was started in 1970, CFC has been a totally owned and
controlled subsidiary of the abortion industry. Although at times CFC
has claimed to have as many as five thousand members, it now
acknowledges that it is "not a membership organization." CFC is, in the
words of one critic, "a well–funded letterhead."
That does not stop CFC and its director, Frances Kissling, from taking full-page newspaper ads to present "an alternative Catholic view on abortion." Nor does it stop reporters in the prestige media from interviewing Ms. Kissling to get "the other side" on the Church and abortion. Kissling is not simply pro-choice, she is pro-abortion in the fullest sense of being part of the industry. Before directing CFC, she was cofounder of the National Abortion Federation, a trade association of abortion clinic managers. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are poured into CFC from sources such as the Sunnen Foundation, the Brush Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Unitarian Universalist Church- all major backers of pro-abortion and population control programs. CFC's first headquarters were located in the Planned Parenthood building in New York, and the two organizations collaborate in placing ads and other CFC efforts. And, of course, CFC is an affiliate of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights.
In sum, CFC is in no way a voice of dissent from within American Catholicism. It is a deliberately deceptive instrument of anti-Catholic propaganda that is bankrolled and controlled by institutions that make no secret of their belief that the Catholic Church is the single greatest threat to abortion, eugenics, euthanasia, population control, and other policies on the agenda of putative progress. Of course, they are probably right about that. Now that CFC and Ms. Kissling have been so thoroughly discredited, one waits to see what new ploy will be devised to promote the phantasm of "an alternative Catholic view."
To Be Surprised by Joy
George Santayana on living with the knowledge of death: "That the end of
life should be death may be sad: yet what other end can anything have?
The end of an evening party is to go to bed; but its use is to gather
congenial people together, that they may pass the time pleasantly. An
invitation to the dance is not rendered ironical because the dance
cannot last forever. . . . The transitoriness of things is essential to
their physical being, and not at all sad in itself. . . . Folly on the
contrary imagines that any scent is worth following, that we have an
infinite nature, or no nature in particular, that life begins without
obligations and can do business without capital, and that the will is
vacuously free, instead of being a specific burden and a tight
hereditary knot to be unravelled."
The passage is quoted in Daniel Callahan's marvelously thoughtful new book, The Troubled Dream of Life: Living With Mortality (Simon & Schuster), to which we will be returning in these pages. Callahan discusses the claim of the late theologian Paul Ramsey that "death with dignity" is a cruel delusion, that death is the final insult, the final indignity. With Santayana and others, Callahan wants to make the case that we can make sense of death as part of life. One opposing position, he notes, is the conceit that death can be conquered by medical science. Another, as in the case of Ramsey, is the hope of life beyond death that is offered by religion. But Callahan does not have it quite right. Paul Ramsey recognized as fully as Callahan all that is involved in "living with mortality." He did not need religion in order to cope with mortality. The Christian truth of the resurrection is utterly gratuitous. It is entirely a gift, both to those who can and those who cannot cope with mortality. It is not a coping mechanism. In response to Santayana's question, "What other end can anything have?" comes the answer: the fulness of life, namely, God.
Callahan says that he no longer considers himself a Christian. But he ends the book on this note. "Can death, and the life in which it is embedded, be transcended? I do not see this for myself, but I hope to live the remainder of my days in a way that at least puts me in a position to be (as Wordsworth put it) 'surprised by joy.' It is unlikely but perhaps not impossible. I wait and watch." As do we all. Although some of us have been persuaded that we know the One for whom we wait and watch.
But What About the Other Side?
This subscriber is undoubtedly right. She complains that all the
commentators in the last issue's symposium on the new encyclical,
Veritatis Splendor, were very positive about it. What about the
other side? she asks. What about it indeed. There are a couple of dozen
Catholic moral theologians we could have asked to participate. They
undoubtedly would have asserted, as in fact they have been asserting in
other publications, that "there is nobody here but us chickens." The
Pope has caricatured their positions, nobody teaches what the Pope
criticizes them for teaching, and so forth.
Or we could have asked the editors of, say, the National Catholic Reporter to expand on their view that Catholics are once again forced to choose between the Pope's morality of principle and Jesus' morality of love (see item in While We're At It). Or we could have asked Lutheran theologian Hans Philippi to expatiate on his complaint that "the encyclical says nothing useful to my daughter, to my homosexual friends, and to all those who simply wish to live as men and women without fear and without the obligation of applying abstract rules." Or Italian Protestant theologian Sergio Rostagno might have been asked to extend his insight that the Pope is responding to ethical problems "by reaffirming obedience to the norms dictated by his own church." Then there is Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, who says, "This text seems to want to close a debate which should have been opened together ecumenically." Would it be interesting to see what a document like Veritatis Splendor would look like had it been written jointly by the Pope and the World Council of Churches? No, probably not.
And that's the answer to our subscriber's inquiry. We didn't include "the other side" because, quite frankly, it has nothing to say at this point that is very interesting. The purpose of our symposium was to positively set out the teaching of the encyclical and explore some of its implications. Disagreement with the teaching, if disagreement there must be, should follow the sympathetic engagement of the teaching. We're so old-fashioned that we hold to what now sounds like the novel idea that people should, before dissenting, know what they are dissenting from. The conversation continues, and there will be ample time for airing divergent arguments, also in these pages. Meanwhile, we continue to think that Veritatis Splendor is one of the more splendid things that has happened for moral reflection in this generally unreflective century.
The Communities Missing from "Communitarianism"
The communitarian movement has come in for a good deal of attention in
the last few years. It is the baby of sociologist Amitai Etzioni, and
its platform is at least a movement toward the side of the angels in our
political and cultural wars. That is why this writer signed on to its
original manifesto, although not without misgivings. Recently, Etzioni
expanded the manifesto in the form of a book, The Spirit of
Community: Rights, Responsibilities, and the Communitarian Agenda
(Crown). Joshua Abramowitz reviews the book in The Public
Interest and, in our judgment, puts his finger on a serious, and
potentially fatal, weakness in the communitarian vision: "Etzioni is
mindful of two of the institutions that stand between the individual and
the state-the family and the community. But that's it. He goes two for
three. In other words, Etzioni's plans for a 'moral revival' pay almost
no attention to religion. When religion does come up, it is often tied
to intolerant excess-religious faith and authoritarian thuggery go hand
in hand. Presumably, that's because religions threaten the communitarian
agenda: they can be insular and socially inflexible, if not intolerant
of some community norms."
For communitarianism to ignore religion is to ignore the largest associational (i.e., communitarian) pattern in American life. Religious differences can fragment a movement, to be sure, but a communitarianism that does not address how we should live with our deepest differences would be a pretty timorous and feeble thing. In addition, while it is understandable that the movement wants to avoid the fevered disagreements over questions such as abortion-disagreements that are often religiously grounded-a bolder communitarianism would welcome the opportunity to explore the possibilities of civil accommodation on the most controverted issues. In any event, Abramowitz is right: to speak of moral revival in America without reference to religion is like speaking of nutrition without reference to food, or of literacy without reference to books. Communitarianism will become more plausible and effective when it learns what Tocqueville meant when he said that "religion is the first political institution" of American democracy.
While We're At It