It was, if I recall, Evelyn Waugh who wrote about a Catholic gentleman whose idea of a perfect world was one in which he would have a new papal bull to read at breakfast every day. This year had some wags speaking about their membership in the Encyclical of the Month Club. Actually, there were only two, but they came in rapid order: Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) and Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One). This issue includes extended comments on the former. Ut Unum Sint, issued May 30, is on ecumenism and, since Christian unity is an abiding concern of this journal, it will no doubt be coming in for further examination in the months and years ahead.
The initial response to Ut Unum Sint has been almost uniformly favorable. In the general media, it did not receive the major attention accorded Evangelium Vitae, and that is no doubt because editors view ecumenism as an internal Christian question with slight bearing on the public realm. While not surprising, that is a very big mistake. In a world increasingly marked by resurgent religion, notably Christianity and Islam, the ecumenical reconfiguration of 1.8 billion Christians is a matter of enormous world-historical import. Of course Ut Unum Sint does not effect such a reconfiguration, but it does irrevocably commit the Catholic Church, with more than a billion members, to that goal.
The forcefulness with which that commitment is expressed is what strikes many as the most dramatic feature of the encyclical. It does not add anything doctrinally substantive to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the relationship of the Catholic Church to other Christians, but it spells out the ecumenical implications, both theological and strategic, and underscores in an unprecedented manner the urgency with which the Catholic Church views the search for Christian unity.
After the Council, there was much talk about the Catholic Church "joining" the ecumenical movement that dates from the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference and is today represented by the World Council of Churches (WCC). Because of the asymmetry of size and ecclesiological self-understandings, there was never a possibility of the Catholic Church simply joining the WCC as another church among the churches. Ut Unum Sint formally clarifies what most observers-Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic-have recognized to be the case in the last several decades, namely, that since the Council the Catholic Church has reconstituted the ecumenical movement. In some respects, the Catholic Church today is the ecumenical movement; at the very least it is the spiritual and institutional center of the movement toward Christian unity in our time.
The encyclical reflects the urgency, indeed the passion, of this pope for the restoration of full communion between East and West that was broken in 1054. He has repeatedly spoken of the second millennium as the millennium of Christian divisions, and the third millennium as, please God, the millennium of Christian unity. Of course the encyclical also has very much in mind the divisions that issued from the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, but with respect to the Orthodox Church of the East there is a sense of imminent reconciliation. Speaking of East and West, the document says the Church must "again breathe with both lungs." In recent years there have been extraordinary steps toward reconciliation with the Orthodox, but the Pope clearly hopes that full communion might be restored in his pontificate, or at least that he will witness a mutual and irrevocable commitment to the achievement of that goal, sooner rather than later.
Certainly, Ut Unum Sint irrevocably commits the Catholic Church. Bartholomew of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarch, met with John Paul II in Rome last June, and, like his immediate predecessors, declared his devotion to the goal of full communion. He and others, however, are under pressure from some Orthodox leaders to go slow. Indeed some Orthodox, such as the very influential monks of Mount Athos, are clearly alarmed by what they view as a possible sell-out of Orthodoxy to its traditional enemy, Rome. In view of centuries of acrimony and keenly remembered grievances on the part of the East, some believe that any dramatic step toward reconciliation with Rome could lead to further conflicts, and even schism, within Orthodoxy.
If, as is commonly said, Rome thinks in terms of centuries, the consciousness of many Orthodox is virtually timeless. For as long as memory serves, the Orthodox have talked about a forthcoming Pan-Orthodox Council that would bring together all the jurisdictions of the East. The late Alexander Schmemann, one of the most influential Orthodox theologians of this century, wryly observed that a Pan-Orthodox Council is an eschatological concept. Nonetheless, Ut Unum Sint demonstrates that the Catholic Church is undaunted, and will do all it can to effect a reconciliation that it believes is made both possible and imperative by the revealed truth that Orthodox and Catholics hold in common.
This determination is strikingly evident in the way the encyclical puts on the table the question of the exercise of the papal ministry. John Paul forcefully makes the point that the Petrine ministry, instituted by Christ, rightly belongs to all Christians. He acknowledges that this ministry, which was given to serve Christian unity, has at times been a cause of division. He asks all Christians to help him reflect on how the successor of Peter might exercise this ministry in a different way, and he points to the first millennium of the undivided Church as a possible source of models that might be newly relevant today.
With respect to the divisions in the West, the encyclical acknowledges that great progress has been made over the last three decades in theological dialogues with Protestant communions, especially with Lutherans and Anglicans. Yet much work is needed "before a true consensus of faith can be achieved." Five questions are mentioned that require fuller study: 1) The relationship between Scripture and Sacred Tradition; 2) The Eucharist as Real Presence and sacrifice; 3) The sacrament of Ordination and apostolic ministry; 4) The Magisterium or teaching authority in the Church; and 5) Mary as Mother of God and Icon of the Church. (The ordination of women, which has in recent years become a major obstacle to unity, is not specifically mentioned but is obviously included in the third question listed.)
Some may be discouraged by that list, since these are the questions disputed between Protestants and Catholics for nearly five hundred years. It is very much worth noting, however, that what many Protestants have claimed is the question dividing Rome and the Reformation traditions-justification by faith alone-is not on the list. It is confidently expected that in 1997 Rome and the Lutheran World Federation will adopt a common statement on justification, affirming that differences on this question are not church-dividing. Other Protestants for whom faith alone (sola fide) is the critical sticking point may well follow the Lutheran lead. Some Protestants declared justification by faith alone the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae - the article by which the Church stands or falls. With the dispute over that article resolved, common theological work can turn to questions about what it means for the Church to be fully and rightly ordered.
There is no denying that recent years have witnessed diminished expectations of "ecclesial reconciliation" between Rome and the Reformation traditions. Some always thought those expectations were unwarranted, but they were very real nonetheless. Precisely in a time of diminished ecumenical expectations, when it is difficult to see the way toward the restoration of full communion, there is a need for increased ecumenical devotion. That is the message of Ut Unum Sint. Looking to the East, the encyclical evinces a sense of the imminent possibility of full communion; looking to the West, it pledges unremitting determination to sustain and increase ecumenical engagement. As the encyclical emphasizes, ecumenism is the task of bringing to fulfillment the communion that already exists among all Christians. That task, John Paul II repeatedly underscores, is not optional for the Church; it is not an "appendix" to Christian life and mission. It belongs "essentially" and "irrevocably" to faith's response to the One who prayed "that they may all be one." (The full text of Ut Unum Sint is available for $2.95 from the St. Paul Book and Media Center, 150 E. 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022. Telephone: (212) 754-1110.)
Of course Don Wildemon, William Bennett, and Bill Donohue of the Catholic League are doing a gutsy thing in protesting the unremitting stream of sleaze that is popular culture. One can even muster a grudging respect for Senator Robert Dole's protest, while recognizing the political opportunism that motors it. T. S. Eliot notwithstanding, society frequently does depend upon people doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Especially politicians. For people like Bennett and Donohue, who have an intellectual reputation to protect, there is a price to be paid in being depicted as censorious prudes who are the enemies of "artistic creativity." In confrontations with such as the executives of Time Warner, Bennett plays the role of old Joe Welch in the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954: "Sir, have you no shame?" The answer, of course, is that many of them don't, while others think they are doing a morally good thing. One must believe that some of them really do think that. Gangsta' rap may be ugly, they say, but it shows the world as it really is, and, anyway, testing the limits of the First Amendment is always a public service.
A while back the paper reported that the Calvin Klein advertising people got an award for their groundbreaking creativity in splashing advertisements of near-naked men and women on buses and billboards around the country. In some advertising circles, they are referred to as the Calvin Slime ads, but there is little doubt that the folk responsible for them really do take pride in their courage, and would if they could depict explicit sexual acts of polymorphous perversity. Who knows, perhaps soon they will do just that, breaking yet newer ground in the rubble of what are quaintly called civilizational standards. At the risk of sounding conspiratorial, one cannot entirely discount those who boast of being part of a vast conspiracy to liberate society from the stifling mores of the past.
The conspiracy is candidly displayed in Patricia Morrissroe's new biography of Robert Mapplethorpe. The late and much celebrated photographer who died of AIDS routinely referred to his exhibitions as "the sex pictures," and took great delight in insinuating pornography into what is called mainstream art. In the Cincinnati obscenity trial over the exhibition of his photographs (a bullwhip up the anus, a man urinating into another's mouth, and other such pleasantries), internationally recognized authorities declared Mapplethorpe's work to be of great artistic merit, while, according to Morrissroe, they sniggered behind the scenes over how they were outfoxing the local legal rubes who thought they could build a prosecution on, ha ha, community standards. The standards of the philistines don't stand a chance up against the art of the self-certified creative community. Morrissroe reports that Mapplethorpe's most intense pleasure was in watching others eat his excrement. He and his allies in the arts establishment were delighted to implicate the public in his games, and had the added satisfaction of having taxpayers pay for it.
Critics have pointed out that the newspapers that editorially defend porno-art dare not print pictures of what they are defending. An editor at a local paper says this is a cheap shot, since there are many things they might defend others exhibiting that they would not exhibit themselves. There's a measure of truth in that. The New York Times, say, can defend the legal right of pornographers to exhibit their products without taking on any obligation to print the stuff in its pages. But it is a different matter when the Times champions Mapplethorpe and other "controversial" projects as art worthy of respect. Surely the editors should not hesitate to show their readers what they think is art deserving of public support. Any doubt about the media's mendacity is removed by the fact that they do show their readers and viewers uncontroversial and even lovely works of the artists in question. Thus during the Mapplethorpe controversies the Times regularly published his charming photographs of orchids and lilies, inviting its readers to join in its indignation against the Yahoos who would censure such innocent creativity. As Big Daddy says in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, "Mendacity. I'm surrounded by mendacity."
So what got us started on this rant? Blame Hilton Kramer, editor of that excellent journal, the New Criterion, who the other day was carrying on in high style about the Mapplethorpe biography. And blame Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, who regularly alerts us to the latest outrages, sending along videos, "Just in case you think I'm exaggerating." And some evenings we watch them, which is not the best thing to do before going to bed. There are the videos, for instance, of the CBS program Picket Fences. Producer David Kelley sets the series in a town called, fittingly enough, Rome, and the running story line is the absurdity of all things Catholic. Last season Father Barrett (played by Roy Dotrice) was exposed as a foot fetishist. The teenage boys in the parish allowed as how it was no big deal, since everybody needs a masturbation fantasy. In a later episode Father betrays the seal of the confessional, and in the season's finale he was gunned down in the confessional with an Uzi. Then there was the boy who received the stigmata, but the stuffy prelates in Rome declared he was faking it-thus demonstrating simultaneously that Catholics are weird and that their narrow-minded church does its best to take the fun out of the weirdness.
There is something campishly outrageous about Picket Fences, and we have a hard time getting as worked up about it as much as Dr. Donohue thinks we should. Another video he sends along is something different. It is an episode of The Wright Verdicts, also on CBS (since cancelled), in which Tom Conti plays Wright, a lawyer who, assisted by two female assistants, one busty and the other boxy, pins the murder of a malicious bishop on a sanctimonious middle-aged priest who is guilty of, among other things, pedophilia. With clipboard in hand as the program proceeds, one checks off every anti-Catholic cliche in the book. The program is obviously intended to be venomous, and it is, although the effect of the venom is diluted by an obviousness and ineptitude that is hard to believe.
The setting is the "archdiocese" of New York, but the producers apparently got cold feet, so instead of having a cardinal archbishop who might come dangerously close to suggesting John O'Connor, the archdiocese is headed by a corrupt and mean-spirited old bishop who is taking kickbacks from contractors, living high on the hog, breaking the seal of the confessional, bullying a young gay priest (who, we are reassured, is keeping his vows), and doing other things that a bishop certainly should not do. When the bishop gets thrown to his death from a balcony, suspicion falls upon a radical feminist nun who has been harassing the bishop, disrupting his services, and otherwise making herself unpleasant in the name of women's rights. She is, of course, the heroine of the story, and our hero lawyer proves her innocence in the inevitable Perry Mason-like courtroom denouement.
Everything is out of whack in this episode. The clerical dress, the rituals depicted, the nomenclature used-all reflect an ignorance of things Catholic. But never mind. You don't have to know anything about Catholicism to mock Catholics. It is enough to know that it is an oppressive, hypocritical, and pervasively evil system whose only slight possibility of redemption rests with those who, like our feminist nun, are in rebellion against it. At the end, the nun tells the lawyer's tough, boxy assistant, who is bitterly alienated from the church, that she should come back in to help the nun and like-minded rebels take back the church that really belongs to them.
Why, asks Dr. Donohue, don't Catholics and other decent folk rise up in massive outrage? A good question. Actually, Donohue has done a remarkable job in the last couple of years, making the Catholic League a potent instrument of protest along the lines of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith. But not nearly that potent. Flurries of letters are generated, pointing out that the networks would not dare treat Jews, blacks, or gays the way they treat Catholics. True enough, of course. But the unruffled response of the media is that Catholics are not a certified victim group. Certified victims are those whom you treat nicely. The fact that the media defames Catholics with impunity proves that they are not victims. To be sure, it is more complicated than that. Jews have the Holocaust. Blacks have slavery and segregation. Gays have a putatively homophobic society. All Catholics got is claimed mistreatment by a media elite. Since those who are the elite are certain in their own minds that they are anti-elitist and therefore, by definition, cannot victimize anyone, the Catholic claim to victimization is manifestly spurious.
While Catholics and Catholicism are sometimes slandered, traduced, and reviled, Catholics in fact do not constitute a victim class in American society. Nor should they claim to be that. To declare oneself a victim is to hand over one's identity and freedom of initiative to the presumed victimizer. More thoughtful blacks have in recent years come to understand the self-defeating consequences of exploiting victimhood. Unlike the NAACP or ADL, the Catholic League protests not because Catholics are real or potential victims but because all of us are reduced by a popular culture that is dishonest, meretricious, and low.
Of course this is not just a Catholic thing. The sensitivity patrols are on 'round-the-clock duty, scrutinizing every nook, corner, and closet of the culture, but turn a blind eye when it comes to beating up on religion. Not all religion, mind you. It is hard to imagine a television episode based on a United Methodist bishop tossed to her death from her suburban back porch. Mainline Protestantism escapes bashing because it is deemed to be neither interesting nor dangerous. (Although recent goings on in the Episcopal Church suggest its bishops may be trying out for a prime time series.) Evangelical Protestants, especially those of a more fundamentalist hue, catch a producer's eye from time to time. Not because they are thought to be especially interesting; everyone knows that they are, as a Washington Post writer put it, poor, uneducated, and easily led. Elmer Gantry still has a certain cachet, but that's been done so often. The other interesting thing is the snake-handling bit, but it seems few evangelicals go in for that nowadays. If they are not particularly interesting, however, they are dangerous, as witness "the religious right" and all that.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is both interesting and dangerous. They got all those wonderfully spooky things: candles, confessionals, masses, exorcisms, saints, nuns, monks, and a pope who claims to speak infallibly about something called absolute truth. This is a hoot. Or, as it is more delicately put, Catholicism is "colorful." But it is scary, too. It's been around all these centuries, pulling the strings of world conspiracy, toppling governments, stomping out revolutions, and, most recently, overthrowing communism and thus putting an end, at least for the time being, to the name of our dream, which is socialism. Then there is the sex thing, which is life itself. Who appointed the Catholic Church to be chaperone at the party? Celibate, withered old men speak about right and wrong and, by some secret alchemy, one of them (a Pole yet!) attracts devoted crowds larger than have ever been seen in the history of the world. And they are overwhelmingly young people. Could this be the future? The thought is intolerable.
The experts who aver under oath that Mapplethorpe is high art in the tradition of Michelangelo, the confused producers of such as The Wright Verdicts, the writers in the New Republic and the Nation who declare that the Christian Coalition is a proto- fascist threat-all are driven by fear and loathing. Many of them are acting out what might be called the near-escape syndrome. They are, or in some cases pretend to be, people who were once caught in the clutches of fundamentalist religion. They believe their escape was a narrow one, and letting up on their hostility for even a moment might lead to their succumbing again. In fact, of course, many of them never were fundamentalists or Catholics, or even Christians for that matter, but they think they know the face of the enemy. Evangelicals lynch colored folk and Catholics burn heretics at the stake, don't they? Alright, so they haven't done that for a long time, but they're still against abortion, aren't they? Same thing.
Many Catholics and some evangelicals (evangelicals do not feel as culturally secure) wear the hostility of the New York-Hollywood axis as a badge of honor. That's one reason Dr. Donohue has such a hard time marshalling Catholic indignation. They feel more complimented than offended when, for instance, ACT-UP invades St. Patrick's Cathedral and desecrates the Mass. At least the enemy recognizes its enemy. While there is a little to be said for such an attitude, it easily slips into smugness and self-satisfaction. Donohue is right. Anti-Catholic and anti-Christian bigotry must be protested not because it cripples the Christian cause but because it is bigotry. The ignorance, hatred, perversity, and violence cultivated by the people who run the industries that run much of our popular culture are evils that coarsen our common life, encourage moral delinquency, and bring innumerable individuals to ruin. Plus it has to be doing something terrible to the souls of the people who produce and peddle this stuff. Those are all reasons enough to protest.
Care is needed to make sure that protests such as those of the Catholic League, or Don Wildemon's boycotting of advertisers, or Bill Bennett's chiding of media executives are not seen as self-serving. It is a mistake to depict such protests in the model of the Anti-Defamation League. ADL lives off the perception, albeit a mistaken perception, that Jews are an imperiled minority in an essentially hostile culture. That is a not very believable assumption on the part of the ADL, and it is thoroughly implausible in the case of Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and the conservative political movement. The latter three are all part not of an imperiled minority but of an ascendant majority. From that perspective of confidence, we should devote at least as much attention to understanding as to protesting the New York-Hollywood axis and its industry of cultural devastation.
Movie critic Michael Medved has paid careful attention to these questions, and argues persuasively that it is a mistake to think that the entertainment moguls are merely interested in making money. They are driven by ideas and prejudices more than by profits, Medved contends. He cites a long list of egregiously offensive productions that have lost money, and yet the industry keeps churning out more of the same. On the other hand, films that affirm what is culturally worthy, while often making big money at the box office, typically have a hard time getting to production. Again on CBS, Ken Wales, the producer of Christy, which is based on the much-loved book by Catherine Marshall, notes how the network has again and again torpedoed its great popularity by, among other things, constantly moving it around the viewing schedule. It is almost as though in some quarters there is a reflexive hatred of anything that is both successful and (ugh) wholesome.
The alienated artist-and it is entrenched in contemporary culture that artists must be alienated-claims that it is not just religion that must be attacked. The hostility is to all institutions that smack of authority (authority being synonymous with authoritarianism). Thus, for instance, the police, the military, the CIA, corporate leadership, and the political establishment are all candidates for regular exposure. That is partly true, but those institutions (corporate leadership excepted) also receive very favorable treatment in television and movies. Religion is different. The narrow-escape syndrome is not simply an individual phenomenon. The background assumption, often made explicit, is that the modern world itself has narrowly escaped from, i.e., has been liberated from, the tutelage of religion. In this view of things, the persistence of religion puts into jeopardy our ever fragile freedom from . . . From what? From religion, of course. This story line of secularization has been played out in a thousand variations for a long time, and is far from being exhausted.
Then too, it is fun, and probably a healthy thing, to make fun of the morally pretentious and pompous, which is what a great deal of religion is. Of course, in the view of some, any proposal that there is such a thing as moral truth is insufferably pretentious, pompous, and oppressive to boot. Yet serious religion cannot help but propose the truth, and should not be surprised by the brickbats received in turn. The Bennetts, Donohues, and Wildemons, along with the rest of us, will continue to protest, of course. Not just when the message is offensive to Christian faith and morals, but especially when it is so inelegantly and ignorantly offensive. The protest might not have much effect on those who are beyond shame, or who, in the words of St. Paul, glory in their shame, thinking themselves to be the champions of liberation from religion's chains. They are in a perhaps irremediable state of suspended adolescence. But we have to hope that they are not the only ones with influence in the New York-Hollywood axis. In any event, the protest at least registers that, in a degenerate time, some people did not go along. That is no little thing to have on the public record when, as we have to believe is possible, our culture turns toward a more adult understanding of art and creativity.
"I'm sorry, but I find that hard to believe." He was a Harvard-trained lawyer in a large New York firm, and the subject was Jewish and Christian attitudes toward church-state relations. What he found hard to believe, what he obviously did not believe, was my observation that millions of Americans do not personally know any Jews. In a country where no more than 2 percent of the population is Jewish, and that 2 percent is concentrated in a few cities, many Americans have never, to their knowledge, met a Jew, and for a majority it is likely that there are no Jews among their friends, acquaintances, and associates. Jews growing up in, say, New York City and attending Ivy League schools understandably find that hard to believe. A colleague, a successful writer, says it was one of the great shocks of her childhood to learn that Jews are not at least half the American population. "I think somewhere in the back of my mind, contrary to what I know for a fact, I still believe we are at least 30 percent," she says.
Dennis Prager, editor of Ultimate Issues, recalls the isolation that came with attending a yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish day school. Most Jews of course do not attend yeshiva, yet they, too, are frequently isolated. The difference is that Prager has good Jewish reasons for caring about non-Jews, even if his yeshiva teachers did not understand those reasons. These are among the questions engaged in Prager's reflection on what he learned, and did not learn, from attending yeshivas from age five through eighteen. He learned, for instance, about wasting time. "Bitul torah literally means 'annulling the Torah.' In practice it means 'wasting time that you could otherwise be devoting to something related to Torah.' The way it was taught to me, bitul torah covered just about everything not directly related to Torah. Watching television was therefore certainly bitul torah. But to some of my rabbis, so were Shakespeare, sports, and nonreligious music. They overdid it, but the concept of bitul torah has never left me. . . . Thanks to the concept of bitul torah, Judaism taught me that time may be God's most precious gift to us. To squander it is a sin. That is not the general attitude in secular society where 'killing time' is not considered a form of killing. But it is."
He also learned a truth so important that he thinks humanity can be divided between those who do and those who don't know it. "One night when my older son was in third grade, I asked him what he had learned that day in school, an Orthodox Jewish day school. 'That I have a yetzer harah,' he responded. I was delighted for both psychological and moral reasons. . . . The moral reason for my delight at my son's learning that he had a built-in bad inclination was that he would know from then on that life is a constant battle with his yetzer harah, i.e., with himself. This traditional Jewish belief is at total variance with the intellectual mindset of our time, which holds that the most important battle for us to wage is with our environment, with our society. A generation has been raised to believe that its greatest problems emanate from hostile and oppressive outside forces such as racism, sexism, and economic inequality." The awareness that the battle is within oneself, says Prager, "is a defining characteristic of the truly religious person," whether Jewish or not.
As is also a sense of kedusha, or holiness. "The sense that some behaviors, while not immoral, are still wrong because they are unholy is alien to a generation raised thoroughly secular. 'If it isn't illegal, it isn't an issue' can almost serve as a description of the secular mindset. There is a sort of secular equivalent to the religious concept of the unholy-'vulgar.' But vulgarity is not an often used term in our time, as it just doesn't seem to bother many people today." A sense of kedusha, as Prager discusses it, is not unrelated to the aesthetic, a sense of what is appropriate, and he laments what he thinks is the growing use of dirty language even in presumably polite company. But more than dirty language is at stake. "Awareness of kedusha had a powerful impact on me. By my late twenties, my premarital sexual life increasingly struck me as unholy (though not immoral, a distinction that must be strongly maintained). This awareness played a decisive role in moving me to get married."
Then there is the question of how you talk about others. "Perhaps my rudest awakening to the secular world after a lifetime in yeshiva was the amount of lashon hara I encountered. I remember the first time I heard that people could make a living as a 'gossip columnist.' 'A lashon hara columnist!' I thought. I could hardly believe it. . . . Of course, all the public lashon hara is more than matched by all the private lashon hara that people engage in. At yeshiva, I learned the power of the tongue to destroy. Think of how long it takes to form a good opinion of a person after hearing just a few seconds of lashon hara about him."
Another lesson learned in yeshiva is likely of particular interest to authors. "According to the Talmud, 'Whoever cites the source for what he says brings redemption to the world.' This oft-cited quotation is literally true. If people would cite the source of an idea or quote that they express, they really would bring redemption to our unredeemed world. For it means that people would then be more interested in truth than in personal glory. . . . I am still taken aback when someone, with all goodwill, tells me, 'I stole one of your ideas in a speech that I gave.' When the source isn't cited, it is stealing."
And he learned to ask questions. "In the words of the Talmud, 'the shy one doesn't learn.' This is taught to yeshiva children from our earliest years. Ask, ask, and ask again. Not all questions were answered (see below), but asking was always encouraged. Friends who grew up in other religions are often amazed at the amount of questioning that went on in yeshiva." In sum, he learned that there is a code of right and wrong that overrides, or should override, one's own feelings. "The most powerful legacy of yeshiva education was the Halakhic mentality. Halakha is the word for Jewish law, and in the yeshiva, it is the guiding principle of life. Simply put, there is a right and wrong for every action. The emphasis, unfortunately, was more on the laws between man and God than on the laws between man and his fellow man, but there was plenty of teaching of the latter as well. . . . Again, when I attended college, I was struck by the fact that for most of my fellow students everything seemed to be permitted. This aroused in me ambivalent feelings of envy and fear. I envied their ability to do just about anything (like drive on Saturdays!), and feared that the lack of issurim (prohibitions) in their lives might lead to evil." Prager writes, "I suspect that even if a person from yeshiva overthrows the entire religious tradition, he will still go through life with the question, 'Is it permitted?' ringing in his ears."
There were also things he did not learn. "Despite all the encouragement of questioning at yeshiva, one seminal area of Judaism seemed to be off limits to questions-reasons for the laws. Not only were reasons not given, but we were largely taught that looking for reasons bordered on the sacrilegious." Prager says he now believes that every law in the Torah has a rational basis and "the more one understands these laws, the greater one's faith in them."
Most regrettably, the yeshiva turned the world beyond Orthodox Judaism into a non-reality, and "non-Jews became more of an abstraction than real people created in the image of God." "To this day, of course, the yeshiva world regards interfaith dialogue, for example, as ludicrous at best (true bitul Torah!) and prohibited at worst. And whereas it is common for Catholic schools to invite Jews to speak to Catholic students about Judaism, it is inconceivable that a yeshiva would invite a Catholic to speak to its students on Catholicism. Indeed, it is inconceivable that a yeshiva would allow a Conservative or Reform Jew to lecture about his movement. In the yeshiva, non-Jews-the people who comprise 99.8 percent of humanity-were rarely mentioned. Their significance lay only in their ability to hurt or help Jews. 'All I ask of the goyim is that they leave us alone,' is the way one rebbe put it. That was the entirety of his concern with the rest of the world."
Prager regrets also that the yeshiva did not teach him the personal character of the believer's relationship to God. "The first time I heard the words 'God loves you' was probably on a Christian radio or television show. The first time I heard the words 'personal relationship with God' was probably in a Christian context. The first time I heard a personal prayer-as opposed to a communal pre-written prayer-also was among Christians." Nonetheless, what he learned in yeshiva is, he is convinced, much more important than what he did not learn "Despite its flaws and though I am not Orthodox, I am profoundly grateful that I attended Orthodox day schools. As a prominent Reform Rabbi, David Woznica, has noted, he never met a Jew who regretted having attended yeshiva or day school, yet he has met innumerable Jews who deeply regret not having had such a Jewish education. . . . A child in an Orthodox day school studies under teachers who truly believe in God and Judaism. Their beliefs are more fundamentalist than mine, but I can temper those beliefs at home. It is much easier to be the liberalizing and universalizing influence on a religious child than to be the religious influence on a secular child."
And, bringing us back to the opening question of Jewish isolationism, he learned, despite the practice of the yeshiva itself, why Jews must care about the rest of the world. "The purpose of the Jewish people is to influence humanity, specifically, to bring mankind to ethical monotheism, the one God and His one morality. In the yeshiva world, there is no thought of a mission to the non-Jewish world; the only purpose of a Jew is to learn more Torah and observe more mitzvot."
Dennis Prager is among a small but growing number of Jewish writers building bridges to Christians who are similarly concerned about the renewal of our culture. For the most part, the bridges are not theological, but for the shared purpose of reviving moral and social responsibility they are indispensable. For Christians who have no personal engagement with Jews and Judaism, and for Christians who do, Dennis Prager and Ultimate Issues provide wisdom and encouragement in the penultimate effort to envision a more promising common future. (Ultimate Issues, published quarterly, is available for $28 per year. The address is 6020 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232. Telephone: 310-558-3958. Fax: 310-558-4241.)
Confession time. It's always been fun to make fun of Anglicanism. And the fun-making is not unmixed with a seasoning of envy. I recall reading years ago an article in an Episcopalian magazine which contended that Anglicans really need not bother with evangelization since Anglicanism is "the finishing school" for people who had already been evangelized. The sheer pretentiousness of it. And yet, there was a lot to be pretentious about. Now it all seems to be in a shambles. William Oddie, a former C of E priest, is among those who have abandoned ship and found refuge in Rome. He writes regularly in the Spectator and elsewhere on why the jig is at last up with the C of E, and is just as regularly answered by loyalists who say, in effect and sometimes explicitly, that there will always be an England, and therefore there will always be a Church of England. I'm all right, Jack.
Cardinal Newman launched the Anglo-Catholic thing, of course, only to conclude, with great reluctance, that his idea of Anglicanism as a middle way (via media) was little more than a "paper church." Sheridan Gilley takes up that theme in a recent issue of the Tablet. He, too, has been drawn to the capacious bosom of Mother Rome, but he has poignant memories of what used to be home: "The decline of Anglo-Catholicism seems to me to be a serious impoverishment of Christianity. The High Church tradition took all that is best and most beautiful in the Church of England, the King James Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, with its wonderful Cranmerian cadences, the ancient English cathedrals and parish churches, a tradition of literature and of learning, and the kindness, gentleness, and tolerance of English life, and enriched them with judicious borrowings from the doctrine, devotion, and scholarship of the wider Catholic world. It seemed the perfect meeting-place between Catholicity and Englishness, without the harshness or philistinism of English Roman Catholicism. Now that whole Anglican Gothic world has come to grief. Anglo-Catholicism, the most culturally attractive form of Christianity that I have ever encountered, is bound to be no more than a preparatio evangelica to positions more coherent than itself. In its learning, its devotion, its sheer beauty, it is a preparation without equal, but no more. The matter can be put more positively. If I might paraphrase an old Anglo-Catholic, G. W. E. Russell, Sit anima mea cum sanctis: may my lot be with the Anglo-Catholic saints from whose lips I first learned of the doctrine of the Church."
And so, in this view, Anglicanism is not the "finishing school" but a preparatio evangelica, the narthex, so to speak, on the way to the real thing. I read the Gilley article in a cab on the way downtown to have lunch with Monsignor Alfred Gilbey. He is the author of a number of books widely read in England (his We Believe will, he hopes, be coming out here soon), and something of a curmudgeonly legend. He was, as is his custom, nicely turned out in a cassock with purple piping and cummerbund, having just come from doing a television program with Mother Angelica. At age ninety-four, he was making his first visit to these shores, and seemed utterly fascinated by all he had seen in his first week. "I won't wait so long before coming again," he said. A luncheon partner turned the talk to the C of E and whether it was at last finished. "Oh nonsense," said the Monsignor, sipping a very nice chardonnay. "It will last as long as England. It is England. One doesn't join it for any reason, and one doesn't have to have a reason to leave it. It's the official cultural presentation of Christianity. It will go on and on." Pausing, he added, "But of course one must understand that it has absolutely nothing to do with truth."
A few years ago, a senior prelate of the C of E visited our offices. He had written extensively on secularization theory and professed himself to be a fan of my own work. "How," I ventured in the course of conversation, "would you define the mission of the Church of England." He paused for a moment and answered in most agreeable tone, "Well, I suppose it is to keep alive the Christian alternative for people who are interested in that sort of thing. There will always be some, you know." It is only tenuously related to truth, but the charm of it cannot be denied. Sit anima mea cum sanctis. On the assumption, of course, that Anglicans, too, can be saved. (To protesting reader: What? You took that seriously? How very un-Anglican.)
That the self-described postmodernist Cornel West supposes the vocabularies of Marxism, Pragmatism, and Liberalism to be interchangeable is bad enough. But it is when West calls his whole postmodern Marxist-Pragmatist-Liberal muddle "Christianity," and himself a "prophetic Christian freedom fighter," that he makes it hard for thoughtful people to take him seriously. Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic, frequently a thoughtful person, has clearly had enough. A while back he had this to say: "The union of theory and practice, in West's hands, becomes a union of pomposity and enthusiasm. . . . West skips undialectically from the seminar to the street, celebrating his connectedness. This has ridiculous results. . . . It does not escape his notice that 'the agapic praxis of communities' was abandoned in the late work of Marvin Gaye, and that a change in the image of the Temptations 'could not give Motown egemonic status on fast funk.'"
But the most embarrassingly dated feature of West's writing, according to Wieseltier, is his political theory. His "published work is an endless exercise in misplaced Marxism. . . . There is something puerile about West's Marxism. . . . He writes like a man who refuses to accept the fact that he was born too late for a particular excitement. . . . It is hard to read West's descriptions of, say, the Black Panthers as 'the leading black lumpenproletarian revolutionary party of the sixties' without recalling Trotsky's oration to the 'workers and peasants of the South Bronx.'"
It is fine for West to declare that he upholds "the Christocentric perspective which requires that one see the world through the lens of the Cross." But when he adds that we "thereby see our relative victimizing and relative victimization," he has changed Christianity into something different. "West is dead to difference," Wieseltier writes. "He is a hero in a culture of morbidity, in which wounds are jewels. And his appropriation of what he calls 'the Christocentric perspective' for the politics of victimization in America is preposterous. It is banal at best, and it is blasphemous at worst, to describe the crucifixion of Jesus as victimization, in the sense in which we recognize victimization. No road runs from Calvary to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission."
From the Marxist-Pragmatist-Liberal muddle that West calls Christianity, West produces a remarkable notion of his role in the world. "My attempt to put flexible Marxist analysis on the agenda of the black churches is a pioneering endeavor," he declares. Reminding us that his upbringing instilled in him an "ego-deflating humility," he informs us that he is now a prophet, and "the mark of the prophet is to speak the truth in love with courage-come what may." His prophetic criticism, he reports, "is partisan, partial, engaged and crisis-centered, yet always keeps open a skeptical eye to avoid dogmatic traps, premature closures, formulaic formulations, or rigid closures." Wieseltier notes that West complains that nine taxis refused to take him to East Harlem where he was to be photographed among the masses for the dust cover of his latest book. West is indignant at the Manhattan cabbies, although he tells us, "I left my car-a rather elegant one-in a safe parking lot." Wieseltier observes, "So the taxis would not take him where he would not take his car! This is not precisely what Gramsci had in mind."
None of this silliness would be of much importance if major black social critics such as Glenn Loury, Stanley Crouch, and Shelby Steele were not so often denigrated in comparison with the much-celebrated Cornel West. "By overlooking [the social circumstances of American blacks]," West has written, "the new black conservatives fall into the trap of blaming poor black people for their predicament." This is of course grotesquely unfair. "I do not hear them blaming people for being poor," writes Wieseltier. "I hear them blaming people for abandoning families." Without some understanding of social responsibility, there is no solution to the plight of American blacks in the muddle of West's version of Christianity. Is Leon Wieseltier unfair? At the margins, probably. But it does seem that Mr. West should slow down and listen to what he is saying if he wants to avoid the fate of being dismissed as an upmarket Al Sharpton.
Michael Lind has moved from Harper's to the New Republic, and in his first cover story as a senior editor he explains that there has been no conservative revolution, only a Republican coup taking over the South. The new Republicans, unlike the old, are anti-intellectual. As evidence of the high intellectual caliber of the old Republicans, Lind notes that "President James Garfield was fluent in Latin and Greek, Theodore Roosevelt wrote more than a dozen books . . . and Dwight Eisenhower was president of Columbia University." There you have it. As everyone knows, Teddy Roosevelt's adventure stories are the subject of elevated academic seminars to this very day. As for Garfield, Lind has to add the title President lest readers mistake the name for that of a famous movie star, so great has been James Garfield's intellectual legacy. Best of all, though, is Eisenhower as president of Columbia. Lind is probably too young to remember the Columbia faculty's embarrassment about his being given that post as a port of convenience for the months between the Army and the White House.
Lind allows that liberals are to blame for the Republican takeover of the South. "Liberals first nationalized issues like censorship, abortion, and gay rights, inadvertently calling into being national versions of the local religious pressure groups that used to lobby state legislatures." But please understand, Lind insists, that issues like censorship, abortion, and gay rights have nothing to do with conservatism. It's this Southern thing, you see. (It is encouraging, however, that the senior editor of the New Republic apparently believes that issues such as censorship, abortion, and gay rights should be returned to states and localities.) Democrats have to make clear, says Lind, that Republicans do not speak for a new American majority. In fact, the Republican Party "is little more than the mouthpiece for the least 'American' section of the country."
That piece of bigotry triggers in Lind a vestigial liberal bias against bigotry, prompting him to ask, "Does this sound prejudiced?" In response to his own question, he offers the some-of-my-best-friends-are argument, noting that he is descended from men who fought for the Confederacy. "I would never suggest," says Lind, "that Southerners, as such, be attacked or derided." No prejudice there; it is only the South that is to be attacked and derided. Lind concludes: "Resisting the Southernization of America is a political task principled Southerners [a distinct minority, he makes clear] and Northerners [all of us, presumably] should be able to agree upon." It is truly wondrous the lengths to which some people will go to deny that we are in the midst of a national conservative revival, even if it requires refighting the Civil War. The Standard, a weekly edited by Bill Kristol, has appeared just in time to provide us with a national magazine of thoughtful political and cultural opinion.
When the encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) appeared this spring, there was considerable confusion about what it said about capital punishment. The confusion was not caused by the language of the encyclical itself, which seemed to constitute only a prudential judgment that, in some contemporary circumstances, the death penalty is no longer necessary and therefore should not be used. The confusion came, rather, from press reports about Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's remarks when introducing the encyclical in Rome. These reports suggested that Ratzinger had said that the statements on the death penalty reflected a development of doctrine, and that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, issued only last year in English, would have to be revised in light of the encyclical. Many close readers of the encyclical did not discern any development of doctrine, and worried that a catechism that is subject to regular recall could not serve as a reliable guide to the Church's official teaching.
So we asked Cardinal Ratzinger for a clarification, and are pleased to publish, with his permission, his response: "You ask about the correct interpretation of the teaching of the encyclical on the death penalty. Clearly, the Holy Father has not altered the doctrinal principles which pertain to this issue as they are presented in the Catechism, but has simply deepened the application of such principles in the context of present-day historical circumstances. Thus, where other means for the self-defense of society are possible and adequate, the death penalty may be permitted to disappear. Such a development, occurring within society and leading to the foregoing of this type of punishment, is something good and ought to be hoped for.
"In my statements during the presentation of the encyclical to the press, I sought to elucidate these elements, and noted the importance of taking such circumstantial considerations into account. It is in this sense that the Catechism may be rewritten, naturally without any modification of the relevant doctrinal principles.
"Of course it must be remembered that the substance of the text as approved by the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum is to remain unchanged; at the same time, however, the preparation of the editio typica, the official Latin text, affords the Church, as was explained when the vernacular versions were published, the opportunity to introduce small clarifications and minor improvements. While there is certainly no intention of including references to every document issued since the appearance of the Catechism, in the specific case of the Church's teaching on capital punishment many opinions have been expressed in favor of an aggorniamento of the text in the light of the papal teaching in Evangelium Vitae. Such suggestions appear to be well-founded, consonant as they are with the substance of the text as it presently stands in the Catechism."
The above clarification should be welcomed by Catholics who may in good faith disagree over whether the death penalty is necessary for the defense of society, and by the many other people who depend upon the constancy of the Church's teaching. We expect it will not be so very welcome among those who have triumphantly declared that Evangelium Vitae condemns capital punishment, while they have at the same time largely ignored the encyclical's forceful and unambiguous condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and other crimes that characterize "the culture of death."
During the debate over whether the U.S. should recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the editors of the New Republic, supporting the change, weighed in with a curious and potentially ominous argument. "Of course," they wrote, "Jerusalem is sacred to the three monotheistic religions. But it is sacred with a difference. . . . Its meaning is not equal or them. In Christendom and Islam there are many spiritual centers and many symbolic capitals. In Judaism and for the Jewish people, there is only one Jerusalem. This establishes a special bond and a special right."
For Muslims, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque is the third most holy site in the world, following Mecca and Medina. It is a grave injustice to Islam to refer to it dismissively as one of "many spiritual centers and many symbolic capitals." As for Christians, it is both misleading and reckless for the editors to suggest that Christians do not have a special bond and right to Jerusalem. Misleading because, for Christians as for Jews, "there is only one Jerusalem." The other four great patriarchal sees of Christendom (Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople) are in no way comparable to the unique place of Jerusalem. True, Roman Catholics have a very special attachment to Rome, but just down the road from Jerusalem God became man; in Jerusalem the Son of God suffered, died, and rose again; and Jerusalem is the earthly precursor of the Heavenly City of eschatological hope. Christians, too, pray, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!" (Psalm 137)
This is not to suggest that Jerusalem is as important to most Christians as it is to most Jews. But nobody should make exclusive claims. In support of the unique claim of Jews to the city, the New Republic says that "there is also the fact that Jewish sons fought . . . for their nation's reunion with its place of birth, and they won." Well, it is also Christianity's place of birth, and Christian sons also fought for it, and won, and possessed it for centuries. As, for that matter, did Muslim sons for a considerable period of time. Certainly for a longer period of time than Jews have possessed it in the last two millennia. If military victory establishes the right to possession, one notes that the still tenuous hold of Israel dates only from 1967. The suggested fit between moral claim and military success does not work, as Israel would be the first to point out were it ever, God forbid, to be militarily defeated.
As the editorial is misleading, it is also reckless. U.S. support for Israel, including but not limited to many billions of dollars, is largely premised upon the true belief that Israel has been a good steward of the diverse religious legacies of the land and the city. The New Republic's suggestion that Jerusalem is an exclusively Jewish city, with a few others tolerated as guests and non-Jewish sacred places maintained as little more than museums, is not likely to sit well with Christians whose support Israel needs and will need as far into the future as anyone can see. The complex history of Christian attachment to Jerusalem is recounted in Robert L. Wilken's much acclaimed The Land Called Holy (Yale, 1992). Wilken underscores the importance of a living Christian presence in the Holy Land, a presence that has been dangerously reduced in recent years. The New Republic states, "All over the world, there are sacred cities and sites of one religious group living under the sovereignty of another." Yes, like Hindu temples under Muslims, or the great cathedral of Santa Sophia in Istanbul. More encouraging examples do not come readily to mind.
Christians in Jerusalem increasingly complain about what they describe as the "ethnic cleansing" against Christians. Protests were intense when, some while back, the Likud government pressed for expropriation of land and property, including St. John's Hospice in the Christian quarter, close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Vatican recently summoned the Israeli ambassador to protest plans for the expropriation of property belonging to the Cremisan monastery on a hilltop near Jerusalem and Bethlehem. That plan was cancelled, but Christian leaders complain that in a few more years time there will be no more Christians left in Jerusalem. According to some, the Christian Arab community has already been reduced to 120,000 in the entirety of Israel. In the absence of a vibrant Christian community, it is feared, Jerusalem will become for Christians no more than a city of religious museums, albeit museums made accessible by a government not indifferent to the economic importance of tourism. The exodus of Christians, it should be noted, is caused not only by Jewish pressure but also by the politics of Arab Muslims who make life in Israel increasingly difficult also for Arab Christians.
It may be a good idea for the U.S. to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is a very bad idea to argue for such a change by claiming that Jerusalem is an exclusively Jewish city, and that the attachments of Muslims and Christians to the city are, at most, of incidental importance. Jerusalem is the earthly center of the story of the world's salvation, and as such belongs to the world. Spiritual history and political history do not necessarily coincide. The political sovereignty of Israel over Jerusalem is the instrument that, for almost thirty years, has protected the city and allowed it to flourish in a manner that is accessible to the world-or at least to those parts of the world that are not threatening the existence of Israel. It is a political arrangement that, given the tortured history of the place, has worked reasonably well, and there is probably no alternative to it. The security of the arrangement requires, however, that Israel continue to recognize that it is the guardian of a city that belongs to the world. Jerusalem is not simply a national capital in the sense that Washington, Ottawa, or Baghdad are national capitals. Jerusalem is different, and the continued acknowledgment of that difference is crucial to the support of Israel as protector of a piece of the world that Jews, Christians, and Muslims interpret differently but revere in common. Most Jews, fortunately, do not need to be reminded of that.
While We're At It: Publishers Weekly on Barbara Ehrenreich, February 20, 1995. On Dr. Henry W. Foster, Jr., New York Times, June 23, 1995. Philip Blackwell review of William Dean book, Christian Century, March 1, 1995. Hollywood stars returning to Manhattan, New York, February 20, 1995. Dolores O'Riordan quoted in Rolling Stone, March 22, 1995. Editorial in Toronto Globe and Mail, March 18, 1995. On "marriage gap," Women's Quarterly, Spring 1995. On "legal buccaneers," New York Times, March 6, 1995. James D. Davidson on mainline decline, Christian Century, December 21-28, 1994. Bishop William Frey quoted in Christian Challenge, October/November 1994. Euthanasia ruling by Dutch Supreme Court, cited in Lancet, June 25, 1994. On the Hemlock Society, Life at Risk, May 1995. On flag-burning amendment, New York Times, June 8, 1995. Gerry Adams interview reported in Tablet, June 3, 1995. John Cornwell on eugenics, Tablet, May 27, 1995. Senator Moynihan quoted in New York Times, June 18, 1995. William McGurn review of Terry Anderson, Wall Street Journal, June 8, 1995. Andrew Greeley letter to Tablet, December 24, 1994. Andrew Greeley on abortion, Los Angeles Times, July 25, 1994. On book Family Secrets by John Bradshaw, Publishers Weekly, April 10, 1995. On Charles Colson, New Republic, May 29, 1995. Washington Post article on teen who tries to blow up mother, and New York Times on the end of evolution, both March 14, 1995.