There is something to what the Economist says about the educational factor, no doubt. On the world scene there are today more well-educated and articulate Muslims than was the case, say, forty years ago. Well-educated and articulate, that is, in Western terms, which enables them to more confidently challenge the hegemony of secular liberal ideas generated by the West. Here in the U.S., the Economist's generalization would apply to Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics, both of whom were more marginal-some say ghettoized-forty years ago. On the other hand, there were hosts of well-educated, well-off, and articulate religious activists of oldline Protestantism in the past. If religion did not seem to be politically influential (i.e., politically intrusive) then, it is likely because oldline activism was basically in sync with what secular liberalism defined as progress. The civil rights movement that segued into the anti-Vietnam War movement and then into sundry movements of what used to be called the counterculture is the outstanding case in point.
In the current culture wars over everything from abortion to homosexual rights and parental choice in education, however, religious activism is typically contrary to the elite liberal idea of progress. Therefore it is perceived that "the political influence of religion is greater." Religion in this context means culturally conservative religion. Liberal religious activism is by no means dead, although its institutional base has been weakened by the continuing decline of the oldline churches. But such activism is not very visible; it is not likely to occasion comments about the growing influence of religion in public life. In oldline Protestantism, the demise of Christianity and Crisis last year was a significant sign. The Christian Century picked up its shrunken subscription list, but seems disinclined to pick up its banner of more or less uncritical leftism. Among Catholics, the National Catholic Reporter appears to do well, being packed with advertisements for courses and institutes pressing sixtiesh agendas that otherwise show up nowhere on the American political screen. The audience may be ageing, but the NCR academic and catechetical networks are constant. Others may want to debate whether that is a case of keeping the faith or being stuck in a time warp.
It might be argued that one reason the religious left seems inconsequential, even nonexistent, is that the secular left no longer needs it. What in the 1960s was called "the long march through the institutions" has now been accomplished, and yesterday's revolutionaries have become, without changing their minds about much of importance, today's establishment. This new "correlation of forces" (as the Marxists used to say) should not be exaggerated. The long march has largely triumphed in the media, the universities, the big foundations, the liberal churches, and much of the business elite. Those are impressive conquests, to be sure, but even in those worlds the conquest is not total. And those worlds do not control our political culture, as is evident in the continuing ascendancy of conservatism in our public life. To speak of such an ascendancy assumes, of course, that the presidential election of 1992 was a fluke in which the winning candidate, although presenting himself as a conservative Democrat, received fewer votes than Michael Dukakis in 1988, and now appears to be anything but ascendant.
But back to religious activism and why we hear incessantly about the religious right but almost never about the religious left. In most political and cultural analyses, the religious left does not figure because it is no longer important to the establishmentarian left; it is superfluous. There is no felt need for its moral legitimation, if indeed it is capable of providing such. Thirty years ago, the editorial pages of the prestige media referred respectfully to pronouncements by, for example, the National Council of Churches. That simply does not happen today. Many editorialists are probably not aware that there is something called the National Council of Churches. As Stanley Rothman and others have suggested, that may be because of a growing indifference to religion among media elites. But one notes that the same elites are keenly aware of, hysterically aware of, the religious right. The religious left is still very much there, but it does not threaten and it does not offer anything that the culture elites view as substantively or strategically valuable. There are one or two exceptions. The homosexual movement, which is now securely ensconced in large sectors of the elite, does seek moral legitimation from the religious left in the form of ordaining active gays and blessing same-sex unions. And some liberal churches stil provide moral cover for the unlimited abortion license. Other exceptions do not come readily to mind.
In his insightful study Representing God, sociologist Allen Hertzke analyzes the ways in which churches of all varieties can be effective "mediating institutions" by giving their members a voice in the American polity, and also by interpreting public debates to their own constituencies. But on the most critical issue in our culture wars, namely abortion, there is an important disparity between left and right. Hertzke notes that conservative religious lobbies generally take a stronger pro-life position than their constituencies, while liberal lobbies are more strongly pro-choice than their supporters. The important disparity is this: conservative denominations represent their most active and most committed members in taking a strong pro-life position; liberal denominations, taking a strong pro-choice position, are representing the view of their least active and least committed members. American Baptists are pro-choice and Southern Baptists are pro- life, but an active American Baptist is more likely to be pro-life than a less active Southern Baptist. The same pattern holds for Catholics, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, Lutherans, and apparently everybody else. The crucial factor is participation; the more a church member is active and committed, the more likely that person will be pro-life. And the divide over abortion is far and away the most important defining line with respect to other agitated questions in our public life.
What is perceived as the growing influence of religion in our public life is probably real enough. But the perception is heightened by the fact that the religion getting attention is the religion that challenges the status quo, namely, the "religious right." Conservatives will continue to complain, and understandably so, that it is unfair for the media to keep on talking about the religious right while almost never mentioning the religious left. But the unfairness, if unfairness it be, will likely continue. For the reasons discussed above, in the view of those who shape the media story lines the religious left does not matter. It makes little or no substantive contribution in terms of ideas or moral legitimacy; and it has long since been evident that its constituency is typically the least committed of the churches most in decline. To paraphrase Stalin: How many divisions does the religious left have? Unlike Stalin's colossal misjudgment of the pope, that seems a reasonable question.
One might ask whether we have not reached a sorry state when religion is discussed in terms of divisions for fighting political and cultural wars. That is an excellent question, and the answer is that we have reached the sorry state when such discussion is inescapable. Robert Wuthnow of Princeton has carefully examined the ways in which the major church bodies are riddled through and through with the polarized politics of our society. The politicizing of religion and the religionizing of politics go hand in hand. One can understand the complaint that it was the liberals who started it: back in the 1960s, back in the modernist-fundamentalist controversies of the 1920s, back in the social gospel movement of the late nineteenth century. Now, the conservatives say, the religious left is discovering that two can play at the game of politics. And there does seem to be a kind of rough justice in that way of looking at matters. Rough justice and great danger.
We have little doubt that the political influence of religion will come in for increasing attention in the years ahead. Alternative plausibility structures (as Peter Berger calls them) have collapsed or are collapsing. The comatose state of secular liberal theory will not likely be reversed by the desperate efforts of John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, and their like. Secularists such as Richard Rorty and his friends have long been doing their ironic jig on liberalism's grave. And outside academic covens of impenetrable nostalgia, the quasi-religious worldview of Marxist socialism, once so uncritically embraced, is being forgotten with embarrassed haste. New ideologies will emerge, no doubt. As Orwell observed, there seems to be almost no limit to what intellectuals can invent to believe. But for the foreseeable future it seems to be the case, as it has not been the case for more than two hundred years, that the only plausibility structures left standing are religious. More precisely, religion-notably the Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-offer the only comprehensive belief systems that command the allegiance of hundreds of millions of people and propose, however confusedly, a direction toward the right ordering of the world.
This is not an unqualifiedly good thing, nor is it to say that religion is unchallenged. The challenges are legion and have many names: unfaith, bad faith, hedonism, hubris, and nihilism. In addition, a credible case can be made that technology and science have become quasi-religious belief systems that will, as Jacques Ellul and others have warned, undo the human project-and that sooner rather than later. And of course the ascendancy of religion is not an unqualifiedly good thing because religion, as a human enterprise, is as riddled with corruption and potential for evil as any other enterprise of sinful humanity. In some ways the dangers are greater with religion. Religion's invocation of absolute authority can excite fanaticism, and can exclude critical challenges just as rigorously as religion itself has frequently been excluded from public discourse in the modern era.
Although there is no way of avoiding that danger altogether, three observations are in order. First, the capacity for ideological craziness seems to be a permanent feature of the human condition. Second, the primary instances in the modern world of such craziness turning murderously mad have been fanatically antireligious in character, from the Great Terror of the French Revolution to Marxism-Leninism and Nazism in this century. Third, when religion degenerates into ideology-becoming a set of ideas in the service of political power-the resources for correction are found within religion itself. This is notably true of the prophetically self-critical tradition of the Bible and, in the Christian rendering of reality, of the cross as the definitive judgment upon earthly pretensions to power.
Elsewhere, the public resurgence of religion marks a new chapter in a very long Christian story of trying to figure out the right relationship between Church and culture, Christ and Caesar, the city of God and the city of man. There is no reason to assume that this or the next generation is going to get that relationship any more nearly correct than did the Christians at the time of Theodosius, Charlemagne, or Jonathan Edwards. When Jesus said His followers were to be in but not of the world He was proposing a conundrum that awaits eschatological resolution. Meanwhile, we have no choice but to work at getting it right, or at least at getting it less wrong than we often have in the past. Among Christians, it seems that the larger part of that work will have to be done by Catholics and evangelical Protestants. This is a reality boldly faced by the declaration "Evangelicals and Catholics Together," published in the May issue.
In this country, the pattern of "convergence and cooperation" affirmed in that declaration will continue to be referred to by some, with fear and loathing, as "the religious right." One hopes that more will come to recognize that the political reengagement of religiously inspired citizens and their call to greater moral reflectiveness about how we ought to live together is a sign of the rejuvenation of a democratic experiment returned to its founding presuppositions. "We hold these truths" was the beginning of the conversation that launched this experiment, and it should now be obvious to all that the experiment cannot be sustained by a secular liberalism that divorced the cause of freedom from the claims of truth. Those who now fear publicly resurgent religion will in time, one hopes, come to recognize that freedom grounded in moral truth provides a greater security for virtues cherished by old-fashioned liberals-openness, rationality, tolerance, and mutual respect. But that may take a long time.
Meanwhile, the culture war will be prosecuted, whether we like it or not. And the question of abortion-the question of who belongs to the community that is protected in law and life-will continue to be at the center of the many battles of the culture war. The more strident defenders of the status quo will continue to rail against the "religious right," and invoke the "separation of church and state," by which they mean the separation of religion and religiously based moral judgment from public life. One can predict with absolute certainty that there will continue to be excesses by religious activists that will warrant the most robust railing. But all things considered, the continuing resurgence of publicly potent religion seems all but inevitable. As aforesaid, that is not unqualifiedly good news; and we are well reminded that history is notorious for playing surprises both cruel and benign. If the culture war and the political influence of religion work out along the lines here suggested, however, one hopes that those who welcome and those who fear this development will come to recognize it not as the revenge but as the mercy of God.
We Superior Few
"Radicals are the ones who first protest, liberals are the ones who join
them when their protest has begun to be heard, and conservatives accept
or at least live with what the liberals finally win." So far Joseph
Fletcher, he of "situation ethics" fame, in a autobiographical sketch
written shortly before his death in 1991. When he was young, he was "an
ideologue and doctrinaire, which took shape in two guises, Socialist and
Christian. The first to die out was the socialism, then the
Christianity." What never died out was the smugness, although he does
not put it quite that way.
Looking back on his contributions to biomedical ethics, he writes: "I have seen legal and medical triumphs for such 'radical' innovative practices as artificial insemination and inovulation, in vitro fertilization (test tube babies), genetic engineering, brain-death statutes, germ and embryo freezing, the patient's right to know, transsexualization, and DNA splitting and recombination. We have won the wars for voluntary abortion and sterilization and will soon have completed the roster of states with right-to-die laws. All these things and more, in both categories, were radical by definition and by general sentiment, and yet all of them have been won. Let it not be said that radicals are ineffective-only that they tend to pay a lot personally for what they gain, as liberals do not-at least comparatively."
Not, in fact, that Mr. Fletcher, a comfortably ensconced Episcopalian clergyman (which he remained to the end of his life, long after his Christianity "died out") and tenured professor at the University of Virginia, ever had to pay that much for his radicalism. Of his life he writes: "It was good, all of it. I knew many people, of all kinds and stations, in many parts of the world; had an exciting intellectual life, a superb family; lived in pleasant homes almost always, some of them beautiful; and our children had the great advantage of top-grade schooling and friends."
The above is from Joseph Fletcher: Memoir of an Ex-Radical, a new book of essays in appreciation of Fletcher edited by Kenneth Vaux and issued by Westminster/John Knox Press. Fletcher's putative achievements in biomedical ethics are by no means so secure as he assumed. And, far from having the courage to be radical, his life's work was one of going with the flow of technological ambition and moral permissiveness. His autobiographical reflection confirms the impression of an affably arrogant man who was born to a life of privilege and security and never had the wit to recognize that he had cast his lot with the barbarians who were willing to make him a minor celebrity in exchange for lending his prestige to their project of destroying the world from which he so richly benefited. May God have mercy on his soul.
Protestantism Then and Now
"Traditional Protestantism lived off of the Catholic elements in its own
reality; its bishops stood in historical connection with the bishops of
the Catholic age; its liturgical worship kept close to the Roman mass;
its confessions reaffirmed the dogmatic truths of the ecumenical
councils, and claimed to be teaching nothing new; it emphatically
rejected heresies old and new." That was then and this is now, says Carl
Braaten, director of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology in
Northfield, Minnesota. Writing in Lutheran Forum, Braaten says
that Dietrich Bonhoeffer got it right in the 1930s when he observed that
Protestantism in America had never experienced the Reformation. "It has
been given to Americans less than any other people in the world to
achieve the visible unity of the church of God on earth," Bonhoeffer
wrote. "It has been given to Americans more than any other people in the
world to manifest a pluralism of Christian beliefs and denominations."
"Anything (or almost anything) goes" has long been the motto of American Protestantism, according to Bonhoeffer and Braaten. Harold Bloom got a large part of it right, says Braaten, when he wrote in The American Religion (1992) that the religion of Americans has been historically and is today gnosticism. Against tradition, canon, communal structure, or anything that looks like external authority, the gnostic follows his real or imagined star, believing that "at the apex of every human soul there exists a spark of the light of God." In the past, says Braaten, the ravages of gnosticism were held in check by denominational institutions and habits that were recognized as being more or less authoritative, plus an engrained sense of accountability to Scripture and historical orthodoxy. Not now. What is to be done? Some, Braaten says, will take the road to Rome or Orthodoxy. Some might try to reconstitute a traditional Protestantism by defining themselves, in the mode of the sixteenth century, in opposition to Catholicism. But after Vatican II, he suggests, that makes no theological sense. Braaten does have a proposal:
"We may look for paths of renewal that move through and across the denominations, working for a common future in which Christians and churches will visibly confess the one apostolic faith in one eucharistic fellowship. We will be wise to look for allies wherever we can find them, and not go fishing only in Lutheran fjords. This is an ecumenical road, and as such not a new one, but one whose plausibility and relevance are seriously being questioned by those taking other roads. Whether one is Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or Methodist or something else does not matter much in terms of the current struggle for the basic biblical contents of faith, the authority of dogma and confession, and fidelity to the Gospel in eucharistic fellowship. While the ecclesial substance of the Protestant denominations is dissolving into the poisoned gruel of the American Religion, whether on the fundamentalist right or the progressivist left, there are struggle groups within each dedicated to the renewal of the Evangelical and Catholic elements inherent in the originating impulses of the various Protestant traditions. There may have been some wild reformers who intended to start a Bible church without catholic substance, but Luther, Calvin, and Wesley were not among them. Nevertheless, in all the churches that bear their stamp, there has been a diminution of catholic substance and orthodox doctrine coupled with a syncretistic amalgamation of neo-pagan elements."
In their article, "Mainline Churches: The Real Reason for Decline" (FT, March 1993), Benton Johnson and colleagues made a compelling case that the heart of the crisis is the failure to transmit the faith in a way that elicits the allegiance of the successor generation. Braaten agrees with the sociological analysis of Johnson et al., but focuses attention on the fact that there is no shared understanding of what is the faith that is to be transmitted. The crisis of Protestantism is a perennial topic, and it is always in order to caution against crisis-mongering. But from the modernist controversies of the early part of this century, through the analyses of such as H. Richard Niebuhr and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the 1930s, up to the likes of Bloom and Braaten today, there is a continuum of reflection on a Protestantism that has apparently lost its reason for being. This has been going on for almost a century now. There was a brief break, a resurgence of theological confidence and excitement, represented by Reinhold Niebuhr and, most notably, by Karl Barth. But that was decades ago and now looks like no more than a momentary deviance from the theme of decline and dissolution.
Of course in all the oldline liberal denominations one can find congregations that are enclaves of vibrant faith and life in earnest conversation with orthodox Christianity. Then too, the sundry liberationisms from authority that Braaten and others deplore undoubtedly do provide spiritual excitements for many people. But such a diverse religious marketplace merely confirms Harold Bloom's observations about gnosticism and Bonhoeffer's doleful reflections about degenerate pluralism. To be sure, there are evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants who believe that they are not embroiled in the crisis because the old-time religion is secured by a nineteenth- century Protestant dogma of biblical inerrancy. That way is not available to the communities that chiefly concern Braaten. There is a problem with scriptural authority but, agreeing with New Testament scholar Martin Kahler, Braaten insists that it cannot be resolved without addressing the question of the Church. He writes:
"Another matter of high priority must be the recovery of the authority of Scripture. The teaching of the Bible in theological schools is in the grip of gnosticism, the belief that it is necessary to appeal away from the plain sense of Scripture to a higher knowledge that lies above or behind the text. The aim of biblical studies is to put students 'in the know' so that they will be privy to an esoteric knowledge that even most intelligent and educated folks cannot get from their reading of the Scriptures in Hebrew, Greek, or English. The effect is paralysis on those not privy to this higher knowledge. The newly initiated are in bondage to their masters and cite their authority. Often their opinions stand in stark opposition to the biblical foundations of the classical dogmatics of the church, whether in their witness to the triune God, the Divine-Human Person of Jesus Christ, and so forth.
"The result is an 'ugly broad ditch' (Lessing) between dogmatics that teaches what the church believes (lex orandi lex credendi) and exegesis that is obedient to the 'papacy of sophisticated scholarship' (Martin Kahler). A deep hiatus runs through every seminary curriculum, as every somewhat alert student will discover in short order. The authority of the Bible is not autonomous. When people cease to believe in the church, they will soon cease to believe in the church's Book. We can hardly imagine that the huge hiatus between exegesis and dogmatics will give way to a greater unity of theology until the divided churches resolve their differences into a greater unity of the church. For the Bible by itself, as Ernst Kasemann said, can be invoked to support a multiplicity of confessions. If the Bible as a whole and in all its parts is not also read backwards in light of the Holy Spirit at work in the early catholic church and subsequently, the Bible will have no more authority than any other primitive document from antiquity."
Pluralism and Wrong Answers
Because the U.S. Census does not ask about religion, we must rely upon
other sources to know how Americans identify themselves religiously.
Especially valuable in this connection was a nationwide survey conducted
by the City University of New York, the results of which are now brought
together in One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American
Society by Barry A. Kosman and Seymour P. Lachman (Harmony). One
reason commonly given for the exclusion or muting of religion in our
public life is that we are now a "pluralistic" society in which it
cannot be assumed that, for instance, the Judeo-Christian ethic is
broadly shared. The Kosman-Lachman findings make complete hash of that
contention, and it is worth noting that their findings are confirmed by
Gallup and other studies.
Statistically at least, America is as much a Christian nation as it ever was, and perhaps more so. Of all Americans, 86.2 percent identify themselves as Christian, with all but 14 percent of those claiming to belong to a specific denomination. Jews are 1.8 percent, which is moved up to 2.2 percent if one counts those who say they are cultural or ethnic, but not religious, Jews. All the other religions put together (Muslim, Unitarian, Buddhist, Hindu, Native American, Sikh, etc.) account for 1.5 percent of the population, while 8.2 percent of Americans say they have no religion. According to these studies, there are 1.5 million Muslims, with 40 percent of them being native black Americans.
The allegedly "exploding" Muslim population is frequently cited by those who contend for the religio-cultural balkanization of America. Muslim organizations claim figures as high as seven million, and these claims are often cited in news stories. For perfectly understandable reasons, minority groups tend to inflate their figures, a relatively innocent vice except when it plays into the hands of those with a more dubious agenda. In this case the dubious agenda is to relegate Christian views to a marginal status in public discourse. Of course many Christians are no more than nominal, and of course there is no one view held by Christians on a host of disputed questions, and of course a hundred other important qualifications. But one of the most elementary facts about America is that its people are overwhelmingly Christian in their own understanding, and that they and many who are not Christian assume that the moral baseline of the society is the Judeo-Christian ethic. Acknowledging that does not answer the many questions that vex our public life, but to ignore it is a guaranteed formula for getting the wrong answers.
Questions Hard and Soft
It seems a long time ago that political theorists and policy wonks
confidently declared that the hard realities of social behavior were
economic and power relationships, while things such as culture, values,
beliefs, and communal ties were soft and squishy. That simply reflects
the fact that the harder questions, the questions we find it hard to
deal with, we dismiss as soft, while those matters that we can more
easily count and control we call hard. Actually, it wasn't that long ago
that public policy types were still playing that trick. Some readers
will no doubt remember the slogan of the Clinton campaign in 1992, "It's
the economy, stupid." Few things now sound more stupid when the economy
s more or less in order while the Clinton Administration is awash in
questions of character, values, and cultural conflict. All those soft
questions that are really hard.
The Brookings Institute has brought out Values and Public Policy (edited by Henry J. Aaron et al.), and a fine book it is. But it is a little cloying to have Brookings congratulating itself on the discovery that, outside the public policy and academic elites, there is a real America where values matter. It is good that Brookings has caught up, but they are playing catch-up to Heritage and other think tanks that long since discovered the facts of life that most Americans had taken for granted all along. But this is no time to be churlish. Values and Public Policy has a number of excellent essays, notably those by James Q. Wilson on the underclass, David Popenoe on the family, and Nathan Glazer on multiculturalism. (Although between Glazer and Arthur Schlesinger on multiculturalism in the schools, Schlesinger does seem to see the dangers more acutely.)
Wilson emerges from his stunningly detailed study of the evidence with some definite conclusions about what ought to be done. "Our object ought to be to increase the number of urban young men who marry and remain married. Of all the institutions through which people may pass-schools, employers, the military-marriage has the largest effect. For every race and at every age, married men live longer than unmarried men and have lower rates of homicide, suicide, accidents, and mental illness. Crime rates are lower for married than unmarried men and incomes are higher. It is less likely for drug dealers to be married than for young men who are not dealers. Infant mortality rates are higher for unmarried than for married women, whether black or white, and these differences cannot be explained by differences in income or availability of medical care. So substantial is this difference that an unmarried woman with a college education is more likely to have her infant die than is a married woman with less than a high school education."
"Something must be done about this," responds the concerned citizen, echoing the New York Times editorial page, both having in mind some new government program backed by substantial funding to demonstrate that we're serious. Not so fast, says Wilson: "The federal government is a powerful but clumsy giant, not very adept at identifying, evaluating, and encouraging individuals who need help. It is good at passing laws, transferring funds, and multiplying regulations. These are necessary functions, but out of place in the realm of personal redemption. A government program to foster personal redemption will come equipped with standardized budgets, buy-America rules, minority set-asides, quarterly reporting requirements, and environmental impact statements and, in all likelihood, a thinly disguised bias against any kind of involvement with churches. There may be a better way: public funds sent to private foundations that in turn do the identifying, evaluating, and encouraging, all on the basis of carefully negotiated charters that free these intermediaries from most governmental constraints. I have no example to cite, but people who wish to think seriously about changing the culture of poverty had better start inventing one."
In fact, we think there are examples to cite, but that's for another day. Today it is sufficient to welcome the Brookings Institute to the culture wars, and to warmly recommend Values and Public Policy.
Getting Real About Welfare
Sometimes it is called the cold turkey approach to welfare reform, and
most commentators dismissed it as entirely too draconian. In recent
months, however, Charles Murray has made remarkable headway in
persuading people to look again at what he calls the single most
important problem facing the country-out of wedlock births. One reason
the climate has changed is that Murray has effectively emphasized that
the problem is by no means limited to the urban, mostly black,
underclass. In that sector of the population, the incidence of babies
being born without the father accepting responsibility for the child is
now above 80 percent of all births (for the black population as a whole,
including middle class blacks, it is above 60 percent). Murray has
caught attention by pointing out that there has also been a dramatic
increase in white illegitimacy. The incidence of white women, mainly
very young women, giving birth to children out of wedlock is now about
what it was for black women thirty years ago. At the rate things are
going, according to the Murray argument, the social and moral disaster
of the urban underclass will in the foreseeable future become the social
and moral disaster of American society as such.
The Murray analysis-if not the Murray prescription for dealing with the problem-is now widely accepted. Even the Clinton Administration is speaking in tones of urgency about the need to reduce teenage pregnancy and out of wedlock births. Of course some who talk that way have nothing more in mind than expanding sex education, handing out condoms, and encouraging girls to have abortions. The Murray prescription follows from the Murray analysis. The reason so many girls have been having babies on their own over the last decades is that it seems so easy, even attractive, to have a baby on your own. The welfare system is so designed as to encourage the practice. Young girls are understandably attracted to the idea of being independent, being given an apartment and income of their own, and having a baby to love and be loved by. All of this is made possible by AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), food stamps, medicaid, and related welfare benefits.
Only a little while ago, talk about out of wedlock births as a problem was condemned as "blaming the victim." The chattering classes actually seemed enamored of the phenomenon, viewing it as another instance of the welcome emergence of "alternative forms of family." That has changed in the last couple of years in the light of studies-confirming commonsensical expectations-that the consequences of fatherlessness are catastrophic for children. Not for all children without fathers, of course, but the chances are greatly multiplied that fatherless children will end up with lives marred by educational failure, unemployment and unemployability, drug addiction, and criminal behavior. Those with lives so marred have a strong tendency to mar the lives of others. At an early age the boys also become fathers of other fatherless children who repeat the same dismal cycle. There is now broad agreement on this general picture. As First Things author Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote last year in the Atlantic, "Dan Quayle Was Right," and those who had vilified Quayle for his comments on Murphy Brown and her baby nodded their heads in assent (without, for the most part, acknowledging that, if Dan Quayle was right, they were dead wrong).
The Murray prescription is to take away the incentives for irresponsibly bringing children into the world, and to replace them with powerful disincentives. More precisely, he proposes the elimination of welfare support for single mothers with children. The proposal has the charm of simplicity. On a given day it would be announced that nine months and a day from now there will be no AFDC for single women having a baby. There would be a grandmother clause, so to speak, for women and children already dependent on welfare, and provisions for extraordinary circumstances at the edges. But the basic proposition is unmistakably clear: If you have a baby that you can't support, the government is not going support it for you; no free apartment, no income. In such a new dispensation, it is suggested, parents, families, churches, and others would have every reason to discourage children from having children. It might even bring back the legendary shotgun as an inducement for young men to marry the girls whom they "get in a family way." Put differently, the government would withdraw the welfare incentive and leave it to families and communities to supply the informal disincentives that, in combination, would dramatically reduce the incidence of young women having babies that they cannot support.
A very major obstacle to this proposal is that some of its proponents seem all too relaxed about the prospect that it would increase the number of abortions. There is no reason, however, to assume that an increase in abortions is either necessary or probable. The proposal imaginatively designed and presented could change attitudes not only toward having babies but also toward sexual behavior (the two are, to all but some intellectuals, inseparably related). The desired change is from sex understood in terms of recreation and kicks to sex understood in terms of responsibility and consequences.
No reform is likely to affect the desire of young men to copulate with young women. Women, however, can be given support in saying no. Under the present welfare system, she asks, "What if I get pregnant?" He says, "Maybe I'll marry you and support the baby. If not, you can have the baby, go on welfare, and get your own apartment. Or you can have an abortion." Under the proposed reform, the answer is very different. It's either marrying her or getting an abortion. Or maybe her family will be willing to help raise the baby, but maybe not. Or she can have the baby and place it for adoption, but nobody gets pregnant with that in mind. And maybe she doesn't want to marry the fellow, or doesn't trust his promise to marry her. In this significantly more difficult circumstance, the alternative that is positively attractive to many girls-having a baby, an apartment, and a guaranteed income from the state-is simply not available. The effect of the Murray proposal is to create strong reasons against irresponsibly bringing babies into the world, and strong reasons against getting pregnant outside of marriage.
In considering whether the Murray proposal would increase or decrease the number of abortions, one takes into account that most people think that having an abortion is a very wrong thing to do-women somewhat more than men, and black women somewhat more than white women. (See the relevant data in James D. Hunter's Before the Shooting Begins.) Such women may have an abortion in circumstances that they define as a crisis, but they still think that it is awfully wrong, that it is tantamount to murder. "What happens if I get pregnant?" she asks. If the only believable answer is that she can get an abortion, she is given a very strong reason for saying no to the importunate young man. In sum, the possible result of the Murray proposal is less casual sexual intercourse, fewer out of wedlock pregnancies, fewer abortions, and, just maybe, more marriages. As aforesaid, the desired move is from the sex of recreation and kicks to the sex of responsibility and consequences.
Three things we know. First, public policy proposals are notoriously vulnerable to the law of unintended consequences. We know that we do not know what would happen were it announced that AFDC assistance would be ended at a date definite. Second, the Murray proposal is not going to get very far if it is tied to the acceptance of more abortions. The attitude of liberals to Murray's ideas ranges from suspicion to rage, while conservative support is by no means as strong as conservative opposition to abortion. Third, the analysis and proposals advanced by Charles Murray are deserving of the most careful attention. The present welfare situation, with all the tragedy of blighted lives for young women and their children, is not inevitable. It was not always this way and it need not continue this way. It was not this way thirty years ago. Something happened, and it happened in part because of well-intended but dumb welfare policies. The present reality of more than 80 percent of the children of the urban underclass being born to single mothers is morally intolerable. A future with 50 percent or more of all American children born to single mothers would be socially and economically unsustainable. These are the grim facts to be faced by those who are ready to get real about welfare reform.
Shul, State, and the Price of Being Different
Only in New York. When the Grand Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson was
around the corner from us at Beth Israel Hospital and on a respirator,
the Daily News had a story headlined, "State to provide
counseling if rebbe dies." The "if" is not unimportant, for the ninety-
two-year-old rebbe did not discourage hopes that he was the Messiah or
Moshiach. Cruising the neighborhood those days were "Moshiach Tanks,"
mobile homes bearing the sign, "Your Center for Information on Immediate
Arrival of Moshiach," and broadcasting tapes of the rebbe's teaching.
The Lubavitcher Hasidim led by the rebbe are based across the river in
the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, but on the night of his ninety-
second birthday thousands gathered in a park next to the hospital here.
The men and boys in fur hats, broad-brimmed felt hats, long black coats,
flowing beards, and other eighteenth-century fashions favored by the
Hasidim made an impressive spectacle.
That the state had a program of grief therapy to deal with the rebbe's death is not surprising. It may seem like the ultimate pretension of the nanny state for it to think it is required to console a community of religious believers, but that is to miss the point. The Lubavitcher community is a very big political player in the state and the city, as well as in Israel. The Grand Rebbe commanded a voting bloc to which Mayor Giuliani owed his election, and it is not incidental that Governor Cuomo is running again this year. The state's grief program, called "Operation Survival," was run by psychiatrists and other therapists, including rabbis, approved by the Lubavitchers. In effect the community was consoling itself, but the consolation was funded by the state. It has long been understood in New York that the Lubavitchers have a plenary dispensation from church-state law in their relationship to government. What the Grand Rebbe wanted the Grand Rebbe got, more or less, but mainly more. Forgetting that fact of political life in New York made David Dinkins a candidate for grief therapy. All in all, it is a pretty sensible arrangement, although not one that can be recommended for general application. Certainly it is much more sensible than the extremism of church-state separationists who think it the duty of government to ride roughshod over what is viewed as the inconvenience of religion.
Not that the state is always so accommodating. Consider the Kiryas Joel school district and its case now before the Supreme Court. The Hasidim of the village of Kiryas Joel have the misfortune, at least in this instance, of being Satmar rather than Lubavitcher, and of being upstate where they established their village in 1977. Their mode is one of withdrawal from the world, and they pay a price in diminished political clout. Some years ago they did get the state to let them have their own school district for purposes of receiving state aid for their disabled children. Nobody claims that they are using state funds for religious education, but the complaint is made that everything, absolutely everything, those Satmars do is influenced by their religion. That complaint is no doubt justified. Wouldn't it be nice if the same complaint could be made about, for instance, Catholics or Methodists? In any event, the usual suspects have brought suit alleging that the Kiryas Joel school arrangement violates the separation of church and state (in this case, shul and state).
Nathan Lewin, the Washington attorney leading the case for Kiryas Joel, offers some cogent observations on the argument of his opponents. "The respondents and their amici have not, however, suggested that a geographic area populated overwhelmingly by Methodists, Baptists, Mormons, Episcopalians, or Catholics is constitutionally disabled from providing local municipal services. Indeed, it appears that even if a town's residents were overwhelmingly or entirely Jewish in their religious affiliation, few of the amici would raise an eyebrow over their right to elect a sheriff or vote for a school board. It is crystal-clear from the briefs of our adversaries, however, that this case is different only because the population of Kiryas Joel takes its religion seriously. Kiryas Joel's residents are not just Jews. They are Jews who believe that, in various respects, they are required by divine command to live as their Jewish ancestors did centuries ago. A citizenry that is as totally committed to its faith and religious observances as are the Satmar Hasidim cannot, our adversaries contend, be trusted to exercise the secular power of self-governance that may be enjoyed by other American citizens."
Once again, it seems, the free exercise of religion, originally privileged in constitutional law, is now penalized. Are the Satmars of Kiryas Joel hurting anyone? It seems not. By all reports, they are industrious and law-abiding citizens. They are taking care of their own, and receiving from the state only the aid given to other communities. The problem is that their community is different, and that their difference is religious in nature. The National Education Association, which has submitted one of the most strident amicus briefs against Kiryas Joel, cannot abide an exception to its secular monopoly on public funds for education. Difference cannot be tolerated and, if the difference is religious in nature, it can be legally squelched; all this, of course, under the auspices of the liberal doctrine of pluralism. In this twisted doctrine of pluralism, it is required that everybody be alike. The Satmar Jews sin against pluralism by being exclusively Satmar Jews. If they were to be "inclusive" and dilute their identity as Satmars, then we would presumably have a more pluralistic society. No, dear reader, there is nothing wrong with your head; it really does make no sense.
We note with satisfaction that Catholic and Protestant groups have submitted amicus briefs in strong support of Kiryas Joel. The Lubavitchers and Satmars do not loom large on the national scene, but church-state law has typically been decided, for better and for worse, at the societal margins. And eternal vigilance, as the venerable founder might have said, is the price to be paid for keeping the separationist extremists at bay. We need to keep working at it, knowing full well that the tensions between the disputed sovereignties of church and state will not be satisfactorily resolved until Moshiach comes-or, as some of us are persuaded, comes again.
Virtue Rewarded, Occasionally
Michael Novak has won the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
Being a bit ahead of the curve (although we knew nothing about this
award), we offered an extensive tribute to Novak's achievements some
months ago ("The Novak Achievement," Public Square, October 1993). The
Templeton Prize, which is accompanied by about one million dollars, is
an additional sign of vindication for a thinker who has for the last two
decades courageously worked against the grain in advancing the argument
for democratic capitalism. The Prize, now in its twenty-third year, has
previously been awarded to, among others, Mother Teresa, Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn, Billy Graham, and Charles Colson. While this sign of
vindication is no doubt important to Novak, more important was the
embrace of some of his key arguments in the 1991 encyclical
Although Novak's critics have tried hard to obscure the fact, the burden of his argument, beginning with The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism in 1982, is that the poor need to be more fully included within the circle of productivity and exchange that is the free market. Also in this respect, he is reinforcing the insistence of John Paul II in Centesimus Annus that capitalism as actually practiced must be made morally accountable to all whom it affects. After the ignominious failure of all the socialisms that have been tried, perhaps the air will soon clear, making possible some fresh thinking about the connections between culture, politics, and economics. The optimal way of making those connections Novak calls democratic capitalism. When our academic and media mandarins do finally come out of the hangover induced by their socialist indulgence, they could do a lot worse than start to get their bearings by examining Novak's proposal.
The Silent Streets of Boston
Boston did not have one; New York did. The Massachusetts high court
ruled that gays and lesbians had a right to march as a group in the St.
Patrick's Day Parade. Rather than conform to the ruling, the sponsors
decided there would be no parade for the first time in more than ninety
years. Last year in New York, gay organizations, supported by former
mayor David Dinkins, tried to get a similar ruling but the court went
the other way, deciding that the parade was not a public (i.e.,
government) activity and the sponsors had First Amendment rights to
determine the message of their own parade. The New York parade this year
was a rousing, raucous success. Reportedly, a substantial number of
people came down from Boston for the festivities they had been denied at
The brouhaha over St. Patrick's will strike many as a small thing, but there are larger concerns engaged-about the meaning of "public" and about the strategies of minority representation. In both Boston and New York, homosexual activists claimed that homosexuals have traditionally been excluded from the parades. But of course that cannot be right. Almost as certain as anything can be, given the incidence of homosexuality in society, many homosexuals have marched on St. Patrick's Day over the years. But they marched as part of groups that were celebrating what the parade is intended to celebrate. The interesting claim now is that the sponsors of the parade must include their corporate celebration of the homosexual lifestyle, which they, along with the sponsors and participants, acknowledge is alien to the stated purpose of the St. Patrick's Day Parade. The logic is that, if I disagree with the purpose of your parade, you are obliged to parade my disagreement. Since a parade is obviously an expression of what people want to express, this is pretty close to contending that, if I disagree with what you are saying, you are obliged to articulate my disagreement, or else shut up.
Those who disagree with the message that the parade intends to communicate can stand on the sidewalk and hold up signs declaring, for instance, "I think your parade stinks!" That point was made by a Hibernian parade sponsor on a television news show, to which the response was: "Yes, but such protestors would face hostility from the crowds. Gays need the protection of being in the parade itself." So, if you parade for a particular purpose, and the parade attracts crowds who are enthusiastic about that purpose, your parade must include those who oppose that purpose. By this way of thinking, if it is truly inclusive, your parade will have no purpose; or at least it will have no purpose with which any group of political consequence might disagree-which is another way of saying that it will have no purpose.
The purpose of a St. Patrick's parade does not include saying anything about homosexuality except in the indirect sense that it aims to support a Catholic heritage that is critical of homosexual acts, along with adultery, theft, racism, gluttony, and a host of other behaviors to which human beings are prone. The parade, its sponsors insist, is not about sexuality. Just as adamantly, the gay activists insist that "the personal is the political" and therefore everything is about sexuality, and to pretend that something is not about sexuality is in fact to support the repressive heterosexual hegemony. This all gets terribly convoluted. Christians are accused of being obsessed with sexuality, and with homosexuality in particular. That hardly seems to be the case. Most would just as soon drop the subject, or not pick it up in the first place. Nobody thought the St. Patrick's Day Parade had anything to do with sexuality, never mind homosexuality, until homosexual activists asserted that it has everything to do with sexuality because it had nothing to do with sexuality. That a Massachusetts court succumbed to this line of illogic is not entirely surprising. Otherwise healthy minds in the academy, the media, and the several churches have not survived the test any better.
The editorial writers of the New York Times think they have a way out of all this. Of course they believe the Massachusetts court was right and the New York court was wrong. The New York parade is morally "stained," they say, because the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) is not allowed to demonstrate in the parade. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani decided to march in the parade and thereby, according to the Times, sent "a divisive, needlessly cruel message." He should not march in a parade that "denigrates part of the city," but, if he does, the editorialists have a suggestion: "Mr. Giuliani needs to distance himself from this benighted display of bigotry. If he cannot do that, then since he attends all parades, let him also visit the gay group's counter-parade." In other words, a measure of evenhandedness is achieved if the mayor also marches in a parade that is organized to protest the parade in which he is going to march. Civility is presumably to be found midway between conflicting moral condemnations. Maybe the way to be mayor of all the people is to go to the gay parade and shout "Bigot!" at the St. Pat's Parade, and then move over to the St. Pat's Parade and shout "Queer!" at the gays. But of course the symmetry does not hold, for in this case nobody is shouting except the homosexual activists and the Times.
Boston and New York, like most major cities, also have gay pride parades. The suggestion is made that those who are unhappy with the disruption of St. Patrick's festivities should get back by insisting that they be allowed to march in those parades carrying signs such as "Straight is Great!" That is a perfectly dumb idea that can only exacerbate the politicizing and polarizing of everything. Gay pride parades are probably with us for the foreseeable future. Most Americans avert their eyes in embarrassment, or view them as occasion for jokes, usually on the smutty side. The general attitude is one of letting these people do their thing so long as, to paraphrase the Victorian lady, they do not frighten the horses excessively. That is quite possibly the attitude also of most homosexuals, who want only to be left alone and are mortified by the adolescent antics of the self-designated "queers" of gay activism.
What frightens fair-minded people who care about our common life is the way in which the courts are used to "privilege" the expression of one difference (e.g., homosexuality) in order to undermine the expression of others (e.g., Irish Catholic heritage). Rights are pitted against rights, the one cancelling the other. And of course all this is done to advance a distorted doctrine of diversity and pluralism that destroys diversity and pluralism-a doctrine to which the silent streets of Boston bore doleful witness this St. Patrick's Day.
While We're At It