Well, thank God for that! This adaptability and self-growth is the one constant trait in all great men. If only Mr. Nuechterlein was an editor "still in the making." But no, he's out there gallivanting with all the media pundits and politicians using their fixed myopic views of the world to search for little slots to stick people into.
All the opinions we get from Mr. Nuechterlein are sneaky innuendo like, "It is difficult to tell with Clinton. The sincerity is apparent, but sometimes one suspects a kind of serial sincerity." Or he writes, "[Clinton's] governing ideology is all over the place. . . ." This is "opinion" in the worst form. If you have an idea then write it, if you don't then get a life!
Henry J. Schultz Santa Clarita, CA
The collectivist liberal campaigns on the proposition that the voters are too imprudent or incompetent to provide for old age, periods of unemployment, sickness, or unwanted requests for sexual liaison. However, these same voters are smart enough to vote for him to provide for these matters.
It follows that he should show some proficiency in handling the basic commitments of his own life. As Ross Perot might ask, if your wife can't trust you why should we? Or if you can't succeed in a real estate deal with the power of political influence on your side, how do you propose to manage industrial policy for the world's largest and most diverse economy?
The conservative politician, on the other hand, propounds that all politicians are flawed and that all power corrupts.
The latter is the more believable-the more so if his personal behavior illustrates the point.
Robert C. Lea, Jr. Queen Anne, MD
I commend you for your fine symposium on Veritatis Splendor. I
wish, however, that you had heeded the encyclical when you chose to
publish Robert M. Price's reprehensible satire "The Bible, Corrected" in
the same issue (January).
A key theme in Veritatis Splendor is that some acts are intrinsically wrong, regardless of motive or justification. One such class of actions is blasphemy: speaking irreverently of God. To publish a satire depicting Jesus Christ as saying ludicrous words or as performing impious actions (particularly at the Last Supper!) is grievously wrong, regardless of motive.
I share your writer's exasperation with tendentious revisions of Scripture, radical feminism, and shameless manipulations of the Gospel to serve political agendas. But no such considerations can justify a piece like "The Bible, Corrected." The person of Christ is absolutely out of bounds as a subject for satire.
A primary purpose of First Things, as I understand it, is to combat the desacralization of our culture. It is grim to reflect that our sense of the sacred is so far attenuated that First Things itself could slip into this profanation. Watch yourselves! Your magazine's mission is too important to be compromised by scandals of this nature.
John D. Hagen, Jr. Minneapolis, MN
Like Mr. Hagen, I am acutely uncomfortable with humor at the expense of Jesus Christ. I see myself, however, as having depicted and lampooned "another Jesus" (2 Corinthians 11:4), the one made over in the image of those whose PC propaganda he is made to spout. It is unfair to say I have made the person of Christ a subject for satire. Just the reverse. I seek to counteract those who have already made a mockery of him. I fear Mr. Hagen comes eerily close to demanding just the sort of "sensitivity" censorship advocated by the PC crowd he and I both oppose. It is an irony I am sure he does not intend.
Exploring Veritatis Splendor
In one respect (only), I found the symposium on Veritatis
Splendor (January) somewhat unsatisfying. Where precisely does the
line now fall between proportionalism and legitimate Christian action?
Hadley Arkes addresses this issue, but in a way which I wonder whether
Richard John Neuhaus or Robert P. George would accept. I had always
thought that if the wartime Gestapo ordered me to kill ten Jews or face
death myself, the proper (and under these specific circumstances,
Christian) response was to kill the person who gave me the order (with a
distant second place to simply awaiting death). I understand that it is
wrong to kill the innocent even if I believe that doing so would hasten
the end of the war. But how is my proposed response- which at least
arguably falls within Arkes' "will that forms the act, or the maxim that
guides the understanding of the actor"-different from Professor George's
definition of proportionalism? Surely if Professor Arkes is right about
the "shading and calibration" of Catholic teaching, then stating that my
actions are motivated in part by the immediate circumstances should not
automatically place me within a proportionalist framework.
If I am wrong, then I hope my error is honest and covered by grace. But I also hope that one result of Veritatis Splendor will be a more precise definition of proportionalism, not for the sake of the academy only but more urgently for those Christians who live lives in circumstances giving rise to hard questions of moral action.
John S. Gardner Cambridge, MA
I think Mr. Gardner can be confirmed in his judgment: the action he describes would not place him "within a proportionalist framework." Among the people who have studied Veritatis Splendor, there does not seem to be even a flicker of doubt on that question of the Dutch householders speaking falsely to the Gestapo at the door, looking for Jews. No one thinks for a moment that this act would be condemned by the Pope as an instance of "lying." The Dutch householders would not be pleading here for an "exception" from an "exceptionless norm" about lying. Nor would they be seeking to justify a "lie" by calculating the different consequences of their act and predicting that there will be a benign balance of the good results over the bad. What they would understand rather is that their act does not contain the properties that mark the character of a lie-which is to say, an act of speaking falsely for the sake of deceiving another, and inflicting a harm without justification. The children who mislead their father about the surprise party they have planned have not committed the moral wrong of lying. If the Dutch householders had spoken the truth to the Nazis at the door, they would have made themselves accomplices in the evil of killing the innocent. No one thinks the Pope would have enjoined them to speak the truth to the wicked, or that he would have condemned them in turn for the wickedness of lying.
In Veritatis Splendor, the Pope defends the traditional teaching that some acts, such as the direct killing of innocent human beings, are intrinsically evil and may therefore never licitly be performed. Having (or performing) an abortion, for example, or terror bombing a civilian population, cannot be justified by the good consequences to be achieved, or bad consequences to be avoided, by carrying out these choices. They are wrong under any circumstances.
Proportionalists deny this teaching. Although they typically hold that abortion and terror bombing are "usually," or even "virtually always," wrong, they maintain that these actions could be right in circumstances in which performing them would conduce to the net best proportion of good to bad in the world overall and in the long run.
In affirming the traditional teaching, and rejecting the proportionalist methodology of moral judgment, Professor Arkes and I stand with the Pope. Although I'm not quite sure what Mr. Gardner means by actions being "motivated in part by the immediate circumstances," I can assure him that so long as he holds that there are acts, such as direct abortion and terror bombing, that are wrong in any circumstances, he stands with us against proportionalism.
I was somewhat befuddled by "But What About the Other Side?" (Public
Square, February). Responding to a subscriber who asks why your
symposium on Veritatis Splendor did not include anything
written by dissenting theologians, Father Neuhaus writes, "We didn't
include 'the other side' because, quite frankly, it has nothing to say
at this point that is very interesting. . . . 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." This, no doubt, is a fair point.
It would, however, be more convincing if any of your commentators had
sought to demonstrate what it is in the encyclical that refutes those
arguments raised by the "dissenters."
For example, the encyclical rejects proportionalism, and this rejection is supposedly grounded in a proper understanding of the object of the act. It's simply not clear, however, that this argument addresses the questions raised by proportionalists. Proportionalism criticizes the moral relevance of the distinction between directly and indirectly intending evil that undergirds the double effect. The critique, as I understand it, is as follows.
One can distinguish three different ways in which intention can be understood. (1) Something is intended when it is the foreseeable consequence of my action. (2) Something is intended when it is desired for its own sake. Intention here refers to the purpose of my action, that good for the sake of which I perform the action. (3) Something can be intended as a means. Here the thing is intended for the sake of something else; it is not desired for its own sake.
Now, in certain circumstances the double effect allows that evil be intended in the sense of (1), but never in the sense of (2) and (3). If an evil is the foreseeable consequence of my action, but indirectly intended, it is morally licit to cause the evil. The question is why? After all, if evil is the foreseeable consequence of my action it is intended in the broad sense of (1). Yet the double effect claims that this kind of intention is not morally relevant. Why? What makes indirectly intending morally different from directly intending?
The only moral difference I can think of is the following. An evil directly intended is desired for its own sake; it is the purpose or reason for performing the action. An evil indirectly intended is not desired for its own sake, although it is a causal result of my action. In other words, the difference between directly and indirectly intending an evil appears to be purely psychological; when evil is directly intended it is desired, when evil is indirectly intended it is not desired.
But then the question emerges, If the moral difference between directly and indirectly intending is simply the relation of desire to the evil, what is the moral significance of intending something as a means? Couldn't one argue that in conflict situations the evil intended as a means is not desired for its own sake? And if the evil intended as a means is not desired for its own sake, then what is the moral difference between (3) and (1), between intending evil as a means and intending evil as the foreseeable consequence of my action? In both cases the evil results causally from my action, and in both cases the evil is not desired for its own sake.
It is the force of this reasoning that leads proportionalists to reject the double effect, and thus to argue that it can be morally licit to directly intend certain nonmoral evils. And it is this conclusion that leads proportionalists to dissent in good conscience from certain official Catholic teachings, such as, for example, the absolute moral prohibition against contraceptive intercourse.
So, then, my question (which I hope you don't find uninteresting) is, What does Veritatis Splendor say in response to the argument above? How does it debunk proportionalism's debunking of double effect? In asking this question I do not mean to be smug or glib. I simply want to know. I have read the encyclical countless times and have not yet found an answer. But since Fr. Neuhaus has sympathetically engaged the document perhaps he can enlighten me. At any rate, until either he or the other commentators have explained how it is that Veritatis Splendor refutes contemporary critiques of the double effect, the charge that the dissenters have nothing interesting to say can only sound hollow and, well, dull-witted.
H. David Baer Graduate Student Department of Theology University of Notre DameRichard John Neuhaus replies:
We cannot convene the symposiasts to respond to Mr. Baer's questions, but we suspect that some of them would note that it is confusing to call knowledge of foreseeable consequences "intention," and they might ask for clarification of, inter alia, what defines "nonmoral evils." But Mr. Baer is undoubtedly right in observing that the symposium did not address all the questions that might be raised regarding Veritatis Splendor, which is why the conversation will be continued.
Liberalism and the Church
Apropos Father Maciej Zieba's "The Liberalism that We Need" (February):
Liberalism and the Industrial Revolution gave the common people the
franchise, which enabled them to gain the freedom that we possess in
praxis today-political, economic, and ideological. The Church and
religion had little to do with it. The Church supported the status quo,
which is understandable, but the status quo in Europe in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries (and before that) gave us a class society, top
to bottom . . . with the upper stratum as masters. What the common man
had mostly was poverty, servitude, insecurity, and want, which resulted
in periodic insurrection and peasant revolt. The upper clergy were part
of the privileged, and although the Church often provided for the poor,
the poor were poor in lack of freedom and equality.
Although there was more personal freedom in the Low Countries than in the rest of Europe, the establishment of the United States of America was new for the rights of man, sui generis, an exemplar of freedom. The American regime and the French Revolution which followed (and which went awry) were harbingers of freedom in overthrowing the privileged classes and were an inspiration to free the common man from exploitation by the few.
What the Pope is saying in Veritatis Splendor about freedom and truth and liberalism is that without truth, freedom does not exist, and liberalism degenerates into individualism and relativism in which everything becomes relative. In that situation political freedom and human rights are subject, not to principle, but to numbers, to the majority, who may or may not allow human rights to exist.
Liberalism in extremis is the current American dogma par excellence, epitomized in the gimme-gimme, get-get, do-do your own thing syndrome advocated and propagated every minute in advertising in the media. . . .
John Branigan Staten Island, NY
Science and Free will
Jeffrey Burke Satinover argues in "Psychology and the Abolition of
Meaning" (February) that within the Western scientific framework, there
is "never any room whatever for freely acting agents. . . . It is in the
very nature of science and the scientific method that it cannot at all
address or understand free agency." Against this, Satinover argues for
an irreducible freedom of agency, and hence the possibility of human
It is indeed the case that the predominant view within the neurosciences (with psychology following) is that the mind will ultimately be understood in terms of the mechanical working of neurons, synapses, and neurotransmitters, with consciousness somehow an "emergent" property of this mechanical system, and free will merely an illusion. Satinover apparently accepts this view from neuroscience as an account of the most comprehensive scientific worldview. He offers no basis on scientific grounds to dissent from this view of human nature. His plea for a core of human freedom, meaning, and moral agency must seem, from a purely scientific standpoint, like little more than wishful thinking. As a scientist who is very sympathetic to the concerns raised by Satinover and to the view of human nature he would like to maintain, I would argue that crucial aspects of current physical theory suggest a much less pessimistic response to scientific thinking.
In positing a mechanical view of the mind and of human agency, psychology and neuroscience are following in the path of the understanding of nature brought forth in the seventeenth century by Newtonian mechanics and vastly expanded since then. This scientific program was phenomenally successful in what it set out to do. It is understandable that science would try to carry this over to the study of living systems and of human beings, indeed already with a certain degree of success. The full devastation of this on man's view of himself is becoming apparent, as Satinover is clearly aware.
However, I do not believe that the view represented by the neurosciences has absorbed the implications of the revolutionary developments of the twentieth century in physics, in particular the physical theory of quantum mechanics, developed originally to account for atomic phenomena, where the Newtonian theory breaks down. Quantum mechanics has by now been tested with astonishing precision. It encompasses earlier, classical theories (which are generally very accurate for the domains to which they apply). However, it has radically different ontological foundations than the earlier theories.
In particular, quantum mechanics posits a role for the observer in physical reality that has fundamental implications for the Newtonian view of physical reality as existing and developing independently of any freely acting agent. To oversimplify a bit, and ignoring some possibly relevant contemporary developments, in quantum mechanics it is necessary to posit the intervention of an "observer" at a certain crucial point of the measurement process. At such a point, the ordinary causal development is suspended (within confines strictly defined by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle). Furthermore, it is pretty well established that objective properties of physical systems do not always even exist independent of an observer-in a sense, they come into being through the action of the observer.
I therefore believe that the theory of quantum mechanics, by virtue of its fundamental principles, is compatible with a role for mind as agent in determining some actions of purely material portions of biological systems. (Of course, this activity is entirely subject to the constraints imposed by the quantum mechanical laws governing the physical workings of those material systems.) Furthermore, the fundamental postulates of the theory are suggestive not only of this compatibility, but even of mechanisms by which this agency could be exercised.
If this view is correct, there is no necessary contradiction between the agency of mind exercising will and the strict obedience of known physical law by the material brain. Rather, the possibility as well as the hypothesized means for this agency of mind emerge from the most basic postulates of the physical theory. It is possible to begin to think of a reconciliation between the worldview of science and the older ideas of human freedom and dignity.
Michael E. Kellman Professor of Chemistry University of Oregon Eugene, OR
The scientific onslaught that reduces the area where free will can remain free of analytic reduction is a phony one. True science recognizes its limits. Pseudo-science, based on transformation of the scientific method into a new religion, knows no limits. The scientific method is not content with postulating a model and looking for correlations among the factors. Correlation does not imply causality. Correlation may be due to a common, but separate, cause. Causality must be proved for each parameter, not by a reduction of the residuals and variance only, but by making a prediction and verifying that a true manipulation of the factor(s) produces the expected results. If a mechanistic manipulation of the factor is impossible, the factor is not a controlling one and no causality can be inferred. The multiplication of factors to reduce variability or lack of fit is also unscientific: overparametrization is not a scientific proof. The simplest model with the fewest parameters is the most acceptable one. . . .
Dr. Satinover accurately remarks that "we know of no factors whatever that account for the variability of action from one person, or group of people, to another." For a real scientist that is the signal that conclusions cannot be drawn about causality concerning human behavior. One could keep looking for such a factor, but until one is found, the conclusions of pseudo-science about free will can be safely classified as the product of fertile but unscientific minds.
Bruno J. Jambor Littleton, CO
An Illegitimate Regime?
The Public Square ("Bloody-Minded Compassion," February) considers the
demise of abortionist David Gunn a year ago and, in the course of
examining the pros and cons, touches on the question of whether we live
under a "morally illegitimate regime." The conclusion is that the regime
I find this view to be quite astonishing in view of the blood guilt the present American government carries for the deaths of between 30 and 40 million of its most innocent citizens, the unborn children. This immense slaughter is the direct responsibility of a government that has not only permitted it but, in many cases, has paid for and even performed the killings in its own hospitals by its own abortionist employees.
The answer would be, I suppose, that this American government attained power through approved legal, democratic processes and is therefore legitimate.
If this is the litmus test of a government's moral legitimacy, need I remind you that the Third Reich, which carried out the First Holocaust, would pass with flying colors? It too was elected in a free and fair election. The Reichs Chancellor-one Adolf Hitler-assumed supreme power legally, in complete accordance with the processes of the German constitution. Everything he did thereafter, even the Holocaust, was legal. But . . . would anyone argue that this regime was legitimate, and that Germans were required, morally, to give it their allegiance and obedience?
In the next few years, as our society descends deeper into the abyss, we shall find this question of legitimacy to be increasingly urgent. I would suggest that First Things address this issue, with full and fair discussion, in the near future.
Time is growing short!
Joseph P. Wall Philadelphia, PA
How, er, interesting that The Public Square (February) should
feature a criticism of the WCC for calling for relaxation of sanctions
against Serbia without mentioning the current Western trade relations
with Croatia. How did the Communist-era borders of Serbia come to be
sacrosanct? Should it have been left to Germany to draw Poland's borders
at the end of World War II?
When the half-Slovene, half-Croat, Communist Tito "ethnically cleansed" Kosovo of Serbs, where was the West? When Croatia takes steps to celebrate fascist Croatia's World War II-era genocide of Serbs (500,000 murdered), where is the West?
It isn't only in Russia that Orthodox Christians see an element of the traditional Roman Catholic hostility to Serbia and Orthodoxy in the current Western rhetoric about events in the Balkans. Given a choice between Croat rule on the one hand and an avowed intention to form a "Muslim state" on the other, Greeks, Serbs, and other Orthodox know this has historically been a choice between the frying pan and the fire. First Things might try climbing down off the bandwagon and analyzing the Yugoslav problem from the Eastern perspective once in a while. . . .
Kevin R. Gutzman Charlottesville, VA
Who's the Liar?
Matthew Berke's "The Big Lie Continued" (February) is so completely
uncritical about review subjects Deborah Lipstadt and Pierre Vidal-
Naquet that his efforts should more properly be classified as panegyrics
rather than review.
Had Berke stopped for a moment to reflect, he might have asked if his subjects accurately characterize what Holocaust revisionists say (they don't). He might have investigated their so-called response to the revisionist challenge to see if it measures up (it doesn't). He might have paused to wonder why Lipstadt and Vidal-Naquet spend so much time meta-communicating and waging personal attacks, and so little time presenting evidence to support their positions (they have no other option). He might even have delved into the dichotomy between Lipstadt's and Vidal-Naquet's pathetic pleas to be allowed to pontificate about the Holocaust (and Holocaust revisionism) without fear of being gainsaid (their positions are bankrupt).
Instead, Berke regurgitated the worst that Lipstadt and Vidal-Naquet have to offer, and then added his own mischaracterizations and inaccuracies.
It is not possible to correct the countless errors in Berke's review of these two books in a letter, but one thing must be said: Holocaust revisionism would not have grown as it has over the last decade if not for the fact that our position can withstand the scrutiny of any fair- minded person.
Greg Raven Associate Editor Institute for Historical Review Newport Beach, CA
Although one example does not constitute a proof, the following quotation from Dr. Lipstadt's book amply conveys the tone in which she engages in what I have called "anti-denial." On page 18 of her book can be found the following assertion: "In academic circles some scholars spoke of relative truths, rejecting the notion that there was one version of the world that was necessarily right while another was wrong." Throughout the Lipstadt work runs the theme that the description and interpretation of the events collectively called the Holocaust are easily known and eternally fixed. However much "deniers" of the Holocaust may be scoundrels and engage in vile distortions of one of history's most egregious examples of inhumanity, it in no way serves the cause of accurate remembrance to attempt to monopolize intellectual discourse with heavy-handed rationalism and realism. History, like all social reality, is composed of a multiplicity of versions formulated by a host of individuals all with their separate and sometimes conflicting agendas. When we come together in good faith (as the deniers apparently are not willing to do), evidence assists us in judging between competing versions.
What we are witnessing, I would suggest, is that the Holocaust is taking on some of the characteristics of a cult, with adherents promoting a dogmatic approach to a series of sacred events. The unfortunate examples of this development are becoming quite numerous. Witness the ceremony at the dedication of the Holocaust Museum in Washington when soil was mixed from the sites of thirty-nine Nazi concentration camps and placed within the base of the eternal flame burning in that building. What has this to do with the accurate portrayal of the Holocaust and the moral lessons that need to be taken from its retelling? An "anti-denial" that is blind to the various aspects of its own subjectivity will have an even more difficult time drowning out the siren call of deniers.
Marvin Prosono Department of Sociology and Anthropology Southwest Missouri State University Springfield, MO
The Nazis murdered six million Jews and millions of others as well, not in war but as a matter of deliberate policy-this is a public fact beyond reasonable doubt, especially since much of the mass murder was done in plain view for the world to see and is attested to, among other places, in voluminous German records. One can deny it only by an act of sheer will. Mr. Raven argues that Holocaust denial could not survive and grow if it were unable to "withstand the scrutiny of . . . fair-minded" people. Yet, against all reason and evidence, there are those who insist that the world is flat or that they have seen Elvis Presley or been captured by space aliens. The phenomenon of Holocaust denial testifies not to its actual plausibility but to the persistence, in our still unredeemed world, of irrationality, hysteria, and, in this case, an unspeakably malignant intention.
As for Professor Prosono, his accusation against Deborah Lipstadt is completely wrong. Her attack on relativist and deconstructionist readings of history does not, as I indicated, preclude new or dramatically different interpretations of the Holocaust (or any other event) in the light of new evidence and argumentation. What she opposes and denounces is the idea that there are no public facts or arguments that have universal validity. Lipstadt's polemic against relativism and deconstruction is on an entirely different level-not about the specific truth of this or that situation but about whether there are ascertainable facts or truths at all. If there are no such truths and standards, how can Prof. Prosono possibly say that the deniers "may be scoundrels and engage in vile distortions"?
There is, as he implies, a certain amount of morbid fascination with and manipulating of the event of the Holocaust, a fact alluded to briefly in my review. However, I'm not sure what his point is in this regard. Whatever Prof. Prosono's intentions, his coinage of the phrase "anti-denial" is pernicious, for it establishes a parity, or something resembling parity, between the deniers (who may, he allows, be "scoundrels") and historians who denounce them.
For Buddhist Libertarianism
In your promotional mailing you wrote that you were "interreligious" and
that you "transcend(ed) the stale and sterile categories of 'liberal'
and 'conservative,' [and] 'left and right.' " As a Buddhist and
libertarian, these two claims particularly aroused my interest and
influenced my decision to subscribe. But having received my fourth
issue, your perspective seems to be predominantly Roman Catholic and
very much inclined toward conservatism. The very few times you even
mention other religions, it is with snide dismissal. Certainly it's
refreshing to read analyses of non-Judeo-Christian religious viewpoints
that aren't as blindly uncritical as most on the left, but your articles
contain little more than occasional oblique insults. . . .
I don't know if you're trying to avoid the term, but I know there must be a fair number of "libertarian" Christians in this country and abroad. I suspect one could also find at least a few religious Jews with classical liberal political leanings. And although the chances of finding any are probably minute, perhaps with some searching one or two libertarian Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, or adherents of "the so-called new religions," of academic caliber and with good writing skills, could be found. If you were to more actively solicit their opinions, I think you would find a dialogue with them more challenging than your usual foils. Perhaps your readers might enjoy a more broadened perspective also.
James N. Dawson Redwood Valley, CA
While not neglecting things Catholic, the editors are thoroughly catholic and welcome submissions from, inter alia, Buddhist libertarians.
The cover and contents page of our April issue mistakenly referred to a Christine Whitbeck as one contributor to "The Sanctity of Life Seduced: A Symposium on Medical Ethics." Her name is in fact Caroline Whitbeck. Though the name is correctly stated in the article itself, we apologize for the error on the cover and table of contents.