A Continuing Survey of Religion and Public Life

Richard John Neuhaus

Copyright (c) 1995 First Things 57 (November 1995): 71-87.

This Month:

Alien Nation

A truly odd thing has happened this past year. Well, of course many odd things have happened, but nothing else quite like this readily comes to mind. We are witnessing a very major policy shift, with partisans on all sides making high-octane moral noises, and yet with few people fessing up to what is really happening. A couple of years ago, National Review embarked on a campaign to persuade Americans that the current level of immigration to this country, legal and illegal, is dangerously out of control. Almost everybody who has commented on this debate has noted the oddity that the campaign was led by two Brits, Peter Brimelow of Forbes, who is now a U.S. citizen, and John O'Sullivan, editor of National Review, who is not. Most commentators have complained that this is clearly an instance of people who, having been allowed on board, now want to pull up the ladder and deny others the same opportunity.

Conservatives are by no means united on the immigration question, and for a while it was thought that this could occasion a split that would jeopardize what appears to be the conservative political ascendancy. The Wall Street Journal, for example, could not be more bullish on immigration, making the argument that massive immigration is an almost unqualified blessing for the economy. The Journal has editorially proposed (it is not clear that the proposal is meant to be taken at face value) a constitutional amendment declaring that the U.S. has open borders. The more immigrants the better. It seems now that the Journal is losing, if it has not already definitively lost, this debate. Of course, in politics nothing is definitive as in forever.

The Brimelow-O'Sullivan case is that America is a nation much as other nations are nations. This is posited against the idea of American exceptionalism which proposes that America is, in the phrase of Ben Wattenberg, "the first universal nation." Writers such as Wattenberg contend that America is basically constituted by a set of ideas of universal validity, and whoever subscribes to these ideas is, in effect, an American, whether or not they actually live here. So they might as well live here, if they want to. National Review counters that a universal nation is a contradiction in terms. Any nation is a nation among nations, each being defined by not being the other, and by the culture and experience of a particular people. I have engaged in an extensive exchange with O'Sullivan on these questions in the pages of National Review (February 6, 1995) and will not repeat what I wrote there.

Suffice it that, as the debate has been structured, I come down on the pro-immigration side, with qualifications. Yes, immigration policy is out of control; illegal immigration needs to be sharply stemmed, even if it cannot be entirely stopped; and the effective assimilation of immigrants requires major changes in welfare and education policies in order to avoid the welfare dependency syndrome and the cultural balkanization of "multiculturalism." In addition, affirmative action programs should not apply to immigrants; indeed they should be junked for everybody. At the same time, I have contended, the idea that America is an "immigrant nation" is a critically important part of our national story; there would be a steep cultural and moral price to be paid for denying others the opportunity of immigration; and, contra Brimelow- O'Sullivan, it is neither plausible nor desirable to reconceptualize America as the continuation of the British cultural imperium. In these pages I argued that the real problem of "aliens" among us is represented not by immigrants but by the urban underclass and the intellectual overclass, both of whom are profoundly alienated from the rights and responsibilities of the American experience (see "The Aliens Among Us," The Public Square, August/September 1993).

Race and Culture

The centerpiece in this debate is Peter Brimelow's Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster (Random House). Brimelow has an impressive command of the relevant facts, and writes in the accessible and aggressive manner of a debater out to score points. And score he does. This is a very important book; anybody who wants to get in on the immigration debate has to read it. It has been widely reviewed, more negatively than positively, but the curious thing is that even the hostile reviews generally end up conceding much of Brimelow's argument. For instance, Michael Lind reviewed it in the New Yorker of April 24, 1995, and, after making all the appropriate liberal sounds, concludes (as though he were disagreeing with Brimelow) that we should institute an extended moratorium on immigration in order to give the country a chance to assimilate the many millions who have arrived here in the last two decades. (Immigration, legal and illegal, is now at the level of almost two million persons per year, nearly twice as many as the last high point in 1907.) In his New Yorker review, Lind also attacks my comments in these pages, underscoring, as is his wont, that his own unique thought patterns cannot be accommodated by existing views on this or any other matter.

The most frequent criticism of Alien Nation is that Brimelow includes also a racialist (many say racist) argument that, without major changes in immigration policy, whites will in the not-so-distant future be a minority in America. In response to the passionate objections to such painfully incorrect considerations, Brimelow persistently asks the question, "Shouldn't the American people be consulted about what kind of nation they want?" It is an eminently fair question. Do Americans think it would be a good idea if, in say the year 2050, the country's population is 350 million, with whites in the minority and the great bulk of the increase being non-European in origin? Some critics of Brimelow clearly think such questions should not be asked, apparently because they assume that Americans are racists who will come up with the wrong answer. The picture is complicated by the fact that native-born black Americans feel more strongly than whites that there are too many immigrants.

The Bearers of the Cultural Plague

It was, I believe, wrongheaded for Brimelow to feature the race factor as he does. The American inhibition about addressing the race factor is not, as Brimelow seems to think, simply a matter of self-delusion or hypocrisy. Policies based on race-consciousness have bedeviled the American story, whether in their malign (slavery and segregation) or benign (quotas and affirmative action) forms. One need not deny the importance of race in everyday life in order to insist that public policy decisions should, as much as possible, be color blind. In fact, the reason for so insisting is precisely that race is so important. Brimelow's raising of the race question, however, may be one reason that the book has received so much attention. It may also be the reason why, if Brimelow's argument wins in the political arena (which seems more than possible), few people will give him or his book much credit in helping to transform U.S. immigration policy.

Of course Brimelow is right in claiming that there is a great deal of conscious and unconscious dishonesty in American discussions about race. (Yes, dishonesty can be so thoroughly internalized as to be unconscious.) Although the question regularly gets reconfigured, race is still the "American dilemma" that Gunnar Myrdal wrote about in 1944. Brimelow is simply tone-deaf to the American ways of calculated and constructive circumlocution on matters racial, dismissing such practice as nothing more than hypocrisy. Which is a shame, since his argument does not require the appeal to race. Many have become persuaded of the argument despite its appeal to race. Of course, Brimelow can respond that they are persuaded, at least in part, because of the racial factor but are not honest enough to admit it. Obviously, there is no way of proving the point one way or another.

Brimelow makes the telling point that, whatever may be the protocols for discussing race in America, there are a good many Americans on the pro- immigration side who violate them with apparent impunity. The proponents of sundry versions of multiculturalism do not hesitate to be very explicit about race, and to be stridently polemical against one racial group, namely, whites. Numerous textbooks, television shows, and movies are uninhibited in celebrating their version of a "pluralistic" America in which whites are, or will soon be, a minority. In this picture of the future, the real enemy is, of course, Western culture, with whites portrayed as the bearers of that plague.

If one side gets a free ride in pushing that racial-cultural line, is it fair to charge those who disagree with racism? Brimelow's point is that the multiculturalist proponents of open immigration first raised and continue to press the question of race, and therefore their claim that he has injected race into the debate is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, as we were once allowed to say. Again and again, he returns to his bottom-line question, Shouldn't the American people- citizens of every race and cultural background-be asked what kind of America they want for their grandchildren? It is disturbingly clear that many of Brimelow's critics have made up their minds that that question should be answered in the negative.

Race aside, Brimelow makes a convincing case that existing immigration policy is a shambles, if not the "disaster" claimed in his subtitle. The question of immigration should be submitted to public debate and political decision. Most Americans likely think it self-evident that a country should have some standards for deciding who is admitted and who can become a citizen. Useful skills, law-abidingness, literacy, and a reasonable assurance that those admitted will not go on the public dole are among obvious criteria. Those who take seriously the Judeo-Christian character of our cultural story might want to propose policies that tilt in favor of people who share that story, although any attempt to do that directly would no doubt run into a legal buzzsaw. In this discussion, I am not overlooking the fact that an interesting moral argument can be made that America has an obligation to let in as many of the world's people as want to come. It is an interesting argument that does not, I believe, stand up under close examination in an ethics seminar, and in the political arena it is a nonstarter.

The immigration reform of 1965 has not turned out the way its promoters promised it would. Nothing new in that. Whatever is done now will also have unintended consequences that a Peter Brimelow (or maybe Peter Brimelow himself) will thirty years down the road declare to be a "disaster." But in a democracy the people are supposed to have a say in the policy disasters that are visited upon them. That this is currently happening on immigration is in large part due to the enterprise of Brimelow-O'Sullivan, although all the people who are now saying that "of course" something must be done about immigration are not going to give them much thanks. After all, America is not an extension of the British imperium!

The provisional resolution (and in politics everything is provisional) may be that immigration is brought under somewhat more rational control in a manner that sustains the conviction that we are and ought to be a nation of immigrants. Sustaining the conviction requires sustaining a generous level of immigration. The meaning of generous-and the difference between generosity and carelessness-is now being submitted to public debate. The outcome will almost certainly be fewer immigrants, legal and illegal, and greater attention to their successful assimilation. This can happen without rousing the furies of nativism, and without subverting the perception and reality of America as a bearer of universal aspiration. At least we may hope that it can happen.

The Church and the Press

Protestants, Catholics, Jews-they all complain about the press. Of course, everybody complains about the press (including the press), so why should religion be different? Fr. Avery Dulles has some helpful reflections on this perennial topic. He is speaking about the Catholic Church and the press, but what he has to say applies, mutatis mutandis, across the religious board.

"The secular press, because it belongs to the world and is directed toward a worldly audience, will never be the ideal organ for transmitting the Christian message," writes Fr. Dulles, in typically understated manner, in the Jesuit journal America. But the secular press ought not therefore to be ignored. "Without prejudice to the religious press, it must be recognized that many Catholics learn what is happening in their church primarily, or in great part, from the secular media. It is also true that the Church has a responsibility to communicate not only with its own members but with the general public. The popular media of communication have a legitimate interest in religious news. It would be neither desirable nor possible to keep the Catholic Church out of the secular press."

The Church, however, has not been "conspicuously succesful in its relations with the press"-the blame for which is commonly placed either (by Catholics) on the anti-Catholic bias of journalists or (by journalists) on Church leaders incapable of presenting the Church's story in a proper light. "Neither of these contributing factors can be denied," Fr. Dulles observes, "but the real sources of the difficulty lie deeper." The nature of the Church's message and the power of the media to communicate are necessarily in tension, for at least seven reasons, which are worth enumerating:

(1) The mystery of faith calls for an approach by reverence, by worship, while the investigative mode of the press makes for irreverence. (2) The Church, convinced of the permanent validity of revelation, seeks continuity with the past, while the press thrives on novelty-and consequently presents a picture of the Church in constant turmoil. (3) The Church seeks to promote unity, while the press specializes in disagreement-and gives the impression that every point of dogma is hotly disputed. (4) The Church is interested in spiritual realities, while the press seeks more tangible material-and thus tends to report Church events mainly when they have to do with sex, politics, or power. (5) The Church is hierarchical, while the press is ideologically egalitarian, and thus lionizes even marginal dissidents. (6) The teachings of the Church are usually complex and phrased in subtle theological vocabularies hundreds of years in developing, while the press wants brevity and simplicity-a.k.a. soundbites. (7) The Church seeks to persuade its hearers of the truth of revelation, while the press addresses a general and skeptical audience-and is typically hostile to claims of truth in matters spiritual and moral.

All the above does not mean that there are not anti-Catholic, and anti- Christian, journalists out there. There are, lots of them. And it does not mean that Church officials are not dumb in dealing with the press. They are, often. But Fr. Dulles' point is that there are built-in tensions between the Church and the press, and, while we should work at better understanding all around, the tensions will not, and should not, go away.

Holy Minimalism

Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart-with those names one has named most of the great classical music in existence, and for our money the same is true if you name only Bach and Mozart. Why should this be? It has been a puzzlement to me ever since I was a teenager. Whatever else might be said about the failures and barbarities of this century, surely one of the most telling judgments is that, with slight exceptions here or there, it has produced no great classical music. On any given day there are dozens of concerts in New York, and directors are always trying to slip in something "contemporary." One suspects that for them, as for the audience, it is a matter of duty, of insisting that it simply can't be true that mankind has lost its capacity to produce music of consequence. So people patiently put up with the boredom of the contemporary until, having done our duty, the concert gets back to the good stuff-meaning Bach, Brahms, etc.

It seems just possible that this doleful circumstance may be changing. Writing in Commentary, critic Terry Teachout sees something like a revival of the musical wisdom that several generations of the avant garde tried so hard to stifle. "Musical styles do not die out of their own accord: they must be replaced. The decline of interest in American-style minimalism is due in part to the emergence of a new style of classical composition that has found a comparably large popular audience. There is no commonly accepted term for this style, though it is sometimes referred to as 'European mysticism' or 'holy minimalism.' Its chief proponents are Henryk G"recki (b. 1933), the Estonian Arvo Part (b. 1935), and the British John Tavener (b. 1944). All three men are intensely religious, are associated with orthodox faiths, and write both secular scores and music intended for liturgical usage; all three use repetition in a manner broadly reminiscent of the American minimalists."

It is not without significance that these three have sensibilities refined by the experience with the totalitarianism of our time. Part is Estonian, G"recki is Polish (and a friend of John Paul II), and Tavener, while British, is a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. The superficiality of Western musical sophistication-or what has for several decades been taken for sophistication-holds little appeal for them. Not, of course, that all composers of this century have been caught up in the swirling superficiality. As Teachout notes, composers such as Stravinsky, Bart"k, Hindemith, and Shostakovich embraced their places in the great tradition of Western art "and sought to expand the frontiers of tonality, rather than arrogantly seeking to create 'new' musical languages out of whole cloth."

Yet it is possible that with the "holy minimalists" something really progressive is happening, a rediscovery of what was so long forgotten or denied. Teachout writes: "It is also of no small interest that the composers who have done the most in recent years to revive the language of tonality should all be religious (not excluding Glass, a convert to Tibetan Buddhism). Regardless of one's own beliefs, there is something undeniably satisfying about the fact that the world of classical music at the end of the twentieth century is dominated by three men who can say of tonality what G. K. Chesterton said of his rediscovery of religious faith: 'I freely confess all the idiotic ambitions of the end of the nineteenth century. I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them, I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it.

. . . I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before.'"

When Silence Is Criminal

"Why are you so obsessed with these questions? Give it a rest." A good many of our readers have probably received such counsel-whether the question be abortion, euthanasia, the genocidal murder of Christians in the Sudan, human rights violations in China, or some other matter worthy of obsession. Arthur Koestler was one of the great defenders of public decency in this century, and in January 1944 he published an article in the New York Times Magazine that was titled "On Disbelieving Atrocities." It offers ever-pertinent insight into the experience of those who are "obsessed" with great horror. A refugee from Hitler's continental New Order who was then living in England, Koestler tried to tell the world about the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime. Koestler described himself as belonging to a group of "escaped victims or eyewitnesses . . . who, haunted by our memories, go on screaming on the wireless, yelling at you in newspapers and in public meetings, theaters and cinemas. Now and then we succeed in reaching your ear for a moment." Koestler noted: "I know it each time it happens by a certain dumb wonder on your faces. . . . But it only lasts a minute. You shake yourselves like puppies who got their fur wet; then the transparent screen descends again, protected by the dream barrier which stifles all sound."

"Give it a rest. Your relentlessness is disruptive of civil discourse." Then and now, the "obsessed" cannot accept such counsel. It is very much worthwhile to quote Koestler at length: "We, the screamers, have been at it now for about ten years. We started on the night when the epileptic van der Lubbe set fire to the German Parliament; we said that if you don't quench those flames at once, they will spread all over the world; you thought we were maniacs. At present we have the mania of trying to tell you about the killing-by hot steam, mass-electrocution, and live burial-of the total Jewish population of Europe. So far three million have died. It is the greatest mass killing in recorded history; and it goes on daily, hourly, as regularly as the ticking of your watch. I have photographs before me on the desk while I am writing this, and that accounts for my emotion and bitterness. People died to smuggle them out of Poland; they thought it was worthwhile. The facts have been published in pamphlets, books, newspapers, magazines, and what not. But the other day I met one of the best-known American journalists over here. He told me that in the course of some recent public-opinion survey nine out of ten average American citizens, when asked whether they believed that the Nazis commit atrocities, answered that it was all propaganda lies, and that they don't believe a word of it. As to this country, I have been lecturing now for three years to the troops, and their attitude is the same. They don't believe in concentration camps; they don't believe in the starved children of Greece, in the shot hostages in France, in the mass graves in Poland; they have never heard of Lidice, Treblinka, or Belzec; you can convince them for an hour, then they shake themselves, their mental self-defense begins to work, and in a week the shrug of incredulity has returned like a reflex temporarily weakened by a shock. Clearly all this is becoming a mania with me and my like. Clearly we must suffer from some morbid obsession, whereas the others are healthy and normal. But the characteristic symptom of maniacs is that they lose contact with reality and live in a fantasy world. So, perhaps, it is the other way round; perhaps it is we, the screamers, who react in a sound and healthy way to the reality which surrounds us, whereas you are the neurotics who totter about in a screened fantasy world because you lack the faculty to face the facts. Were it not so, this war would have been avoided, and those murdered within sight of your day-dreaming eyes would still be alive."

Heroes and Heroines

She is a very good woman, there's no doubt about that. But she is spiritually straitened by the intensity of her concern. A heroine of the pro-life cause, she is on the picket lines in front of the abortuaries, running the phone lines to get out the vote, and doing many other good things. Yet there is this drivenness. "How can we just go on," she asks, "as if we did not know that four thousand innocent children are being killed every day in this country alone?" It is a question more often asked than many might think. It is all too much.

For more than twenty-five years now, I've been speaking to pro-life groups all over the place, and I frequently end up with a line from T. S. Eliot. (I have a higher estimate of Eliot's faith than does my friend J. Bottum.) The line is from "East Coker": "For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business." I've noticed in audiences that there are often people who, as penance for whatever sins, have come out to listen to me before, and you can tell that they see the line coming. It's a fine line, I think, reflecting not resignation but an acknowledgment that ultimately we cannot set the world right. Only God can do that, and He will.

Christian devotion should not be driven; discipleship should not desiccate. The call to follow him is an invitation to splendor, to live in truth, in veritatis splendor. Chesterton understood that. Even in the face of the horror of it all, it is a great sin, he said, to call a green leaf gray. There is no place for whining or self-pity. Precisely in the face of the encroaching darkness, one defiantly lifts a tankard in tribute to the Crucified King. Robust is the word that comes to mind at the mention of Chesterton. Some dismiss his as a "manly" or even "muscular" Christianity, but that seems not such a bad thing in this wimpish world. The better term is adventuresome. He knew that there is a wildness to God's mercy, and a wildness to being Christian in the world. It infected his view of the Church careening through history, coping with one thing after another. Recall the fine passage from Orthodoxy:

"She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. . . . To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom-that would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect."

Bracing stuff, that. And Chesterton was by no means alone. The other day I came across this Chestertonian flurry in Charles Peguy, the great French poet. Peguy (d. 1914) was at times a revolutionary socialist; he wandered away from Christianity, and was then drawn back to a wild vision of the Christian as embodied in nature and history, no longer afraid of the dark because that is where the Incarnate God has hidden himself. Christians can afford to be heroes and heroines. Of heroism Peguy wrote: "Heroism is essentially a skill, a condition and an act of sound health, good spirits, joy, even merriment, almost of frivolous playfulness-in any case, an act of pleasure, well-being, an act of the unconstrained, relaxed, productive person, of security, self-mastery, self-possession, almost (so to speak) of custom and routine, of good manners. It is without any posturing or ulterior motive, and, above all, without any self-pity; without sighs and lamentations, without the wish to win a reward. The person who only wants to win is a bad player. What makes a great player is the will to play. He would far rather play without winning than win without playing."

But it seems to do no good to tell my friend about Peguy's vision of life as a noble game played in the presence of God. Or to ask her to join in lifting a defiant tankard in the face of all that would drain away life's joy. Her devotion is earnest and driven, as though she carries the weight of the world's wrong. There is no doubt that she believes and she loves-more than Chesterton or Peguy perhaps, certainly more than I. Heroism has many faces. There are many ways to be a saint.

The Work of God

The Ku Klux Klan, the Michigan Militia, and Scientology. To hear some folk tell it, Opus Dei (The Work of God) belongs to that company, except it is bigger and more dangerous. Opus Dei is, they say, a secretive, cult-like organization that is running a vast international conspiracy with unlimited funding and tentacles reaching into the most unlikely centers of power. In short, Opus Dei is "controversial."

So how does one go about making up his mind about a movement such as this? I have no connections with Opus Dei, but over the last ten years I have developed friendships with a number of people, priests and laity, who are involved in The Work. For example, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the communications director for the Vatican. He is an extraordinarily personable gentleman, and we have had long conversations about, inter alia, the importance of Opus Dei in his life. He does not push the movement, but speaks in a matter-of-fact and utterly persuasive manner about how Opus Dei has helped him to understand and sustain his vocation as a Christian layman. And there are others in Opus Dei who speak in a similar vein. But in making up one's mind there is no denying that a privileged witness is Pope John Paul II. He has been publicly and consistently supportive of Opus Dei, granting it in 1982 the singular status of a "personal prelature," which means the jurisdiction of its bishop is not limited to a region but includes everyone in Opus Dei. In 1992 he beatified the founder of Opus Dei, Msgr. Josemaria Escriva, who died in 1975. The Pope has spoken of Opus Dei as an instrument of energetic orthodoxy that is a great gift for the renewal of the Church and its mission in the world. Of course that does not mean that Catholics must agree. Orthodox Catholics who otherwise have the greatest respect for the Pope have had bad experiences with Opus Dei and think that maybe he does not always know what the organization is actually doing. Be that as it may, in forming one's approach to Opus Dei, the strong and consistent affirmation of John Paul II cannot help but carry very considerable weight.

Since it was established in Spain in 1928, there have been a slew of books attacking Opus Dei, and we are told that more are in the works. For those of a leftist disposition, it is sufficient damnation that Opus Dei members were prominent in the government of General Franco. It is seldom mentioned that those same Opus Dei members were key players in Spain's successful transition to democracy. Today Opus Dei has about seventy-seven thousand members in eighty-three countries, including fifteen hundred priests and fifteen bishops.

One cannot emphasize too strongly that Opus Dei understands its mission to be the revival of the lay apostolate. While priests do the things that priests do in their capacity as spiritual directors, Opus Dei members frequently describe themselves as anticlerical. Not in the sense that they are opposed to clergy, but in that they oppose the old clericalist notion that lay people are second-class (at best) members of the Church. Opus Dei members sometimes suggest that the movement is responsible for Vatican II's lifting up of the dignity of the lay vocation, which is undoubtedly going one claim too far. But it is ironic that some of the harshest critics, who think of themselves as great champions of the laity, have not recognized the similar inspiration in Opus Dei.

The Work became active in North America about twenty years ago, and now has approximately three thousand members and runs sixty-four centers (often residences near major universities), five high schools, and several retreats. The Opus Dei presence has not always been welcomed by Catholic ministries on campuses, and this has occasioned some notable controversies. The cause, it seems, is sometimes personality conflict, sometimes a too aggressive approach by Opus Dei, and, in a number of cases, resentment by super-progressive priests of a movement that proposes a different, and deeply conservative, way of being Catholic. The charge heard again and again is that Opus Dei is secretive and cult- like in recruiting new members.

The Disillusioned

These and other charges were again aired in a major article this past year in America, the Jesuit magazine (February 25, 1995). The issue had a lurid red cover with nothing but the words "Opus Dei" in sharp relief, and I approached it with the expectation of reading another slash-and-burn attack on the movement. It turned out, however, to be a reasonably temperate and balanced treatment-in comparison, that is, with the usual stuff on Opus Dei. A great deal of attention was given to the testimony of people who had had unhappy experiences with Opus Dei, and to the views of Kenneth Woodward, religion reporter for Newsweek, often a fair-minded fellow, who has a long-standing hostility to Opus Dei.

Every movement has people who left for one reason or another, and, as is the case with jilted lovers, it is hard to know how to evaluate their testimony. They complain that they were recruited under the guise of friendship, that they were not told at first what they would be getting into, that women are separated from and subordinate to men, and so forth. What it apparently amounts to is that some people discovered that Opus Dei was not for them and were disappointed and embittered about that. Certainly Opus Dei is demanding. A full-fledged "numerary," for instance, makes a commitment to celibacy, lives in an Opus Dei center, and follows a rigorous daily schedule of prayer and spiritual discipline. Clearly, it is not for everyone. But the critics say it is more than that, that Opus Dei is a cult. A few parents unhappy with their children's association with Opus Dei have even formed an Opus Dei Awareness Network, and make the usual claims about "brainwashing" and the like.

I know some of these parents and cannot help but feel considerable sympathy. One wonders, however, if in some cases they are not experiencing, in intensified form, the pain of recognizing that their children are growing up and therefore, in a certain necessary sense, away from them. The mother of a young man I will here call Billy relates in tears how he went away to university, came into contact with Opus Dei in his third year, and now has decided to commit himself as a numerary. "He's completely alienated from us." "His father and I had such plans for him." "He's not my Billy that I knew four years ago." Sympathy yes, but tempered sympathy. He strikes one as a sensible young man, mature for his years, and enormously grateful for the life he has found with Opus Dei. He insists he is not alienated from his parents, but every contact with them, especially with his mother, is an ongoing and ugly hassle over Opus Dei. "She can't accept that I must do with my life what I believe God wants me to do."

It is an intergenerational conflict that has been around from the beginning of time. Innumerable young people, including recognized saints, have caught a vision of radical discipleship and pursued a course vehemently opposed by parents and family. This should come as no surprise to people who follow the One who said, "He who loves father or mother more than me . . ." It is especially odd that this conflict should figure so large in a Jesuit magazine, for it is within living memory that a more demanding Society of Jesus was frequently accused of recruiting young men to a pattern of discipleship that pitted them against parents who had other plans for their children's lives.

The America article also highlights the fact that the formal "constitutions" of Opus Dei are available in Latin and Spanish but not in English. This is taken as evidence that the organization is concealing something from outsiders, and even from its own members. Opus Dei responds that the Holy See, for some unknown reason, does not want the constitutions translated into English, although some members have told me that they are being translated. They add that the constitutions are merely legal stipulations, and that they contain nothing that members and prospective members are not told. In any event, the constitutions are readily available in Latin, and we know that there are still Jesuits who can read Latin. If there is anything they find objectionable in the constitutions, the critics of Opus Dei have ample opportunities to publicize their objections.

So why the intense, sometimes venomous, attacks on Opus Dei? In my experience, the members of Opus Dei are not secretive, but they are sometimes very defensive. That is perhaps understandable, given the nature and persistence of the attacks, but it is still a problem, and Opus Dei members with whom I have spoken generally recognize it as a problem. Then too, Opus Dei sometimes presents itself as the saving remnant of orthodoxy in a Church that is largely apostate. This is unattractive and, if not entirely untrue, greatly exaggerated. But such exaggeration is not surprising among people who feel that they are part of a rare, comprehensive, and commanding vision of what it means to serve Christ and his Church with the entirety of their being. Of course there is the danger of fanaticism, but it seems to me that Opus Dei is keenly aware of that, and its program of spiritual direction assiduously guards against it. People who think that the way to avoid fanaticism is never to surrender oneself to a commanding truth live desiccated lives and end up breeding their own, and usually less interesting, fanaticisms.

The opposition to Opus Dei cannot be explained without at least some reference to jealousy. Competition and jealousy among religious movements in the Catholic Church is nothing new, and some Opus Dei members are not hesitant to suggest that theirs is now the role in the Church once played by the Jesuits. The Jesuits, who were once viewed as the elite corps of the papacy, have in recent decades had a sharply attenuated relationship to the hierarchical leadership of the Church. The famous "fourth vow" of allegiance to the pope is now frequently understood by Jesuits as a vow to the papacy in general-meaning the papacy as they think it ought to be. (The articles on Jesuits and Jesuit spirituality in the new Encyclopedia of Catholicism, edited by Richard McBrien, make no mention of obedience to the pope.)

It is not surprising that this pontificate has looked with particular favor on Opus Dei, Focolare, Legionaries of Christ, and similar movements that have sprung up to champion the magisterium's understanding of the renewal called for by Vatican II. As for Opus Dei itself, it is, as the Catholic Church views things, still a very young movement, and in this country its work has hardly gotten underway. From the general media and from liberal Catholics, it is not going to get a fair shake for a very long time, if ever. Opus Dei has, as they say, a big image problem, and it will have to learn to live with that without being intimidated by it. Over time, as more people became acquainted with the people who are Opus Dei, and as Opus Dei members engage in works that are generally respected, the day may come when Opus Dei will no longer be routinely described as "controversial." And maybe not. There are some things eminently worth being controversial for. Meanwhile, one cannot help but be impressed by the people who believe that they have found in Opus Dei a way to make an unqualified gift of their lives to Christ and his Church.

While We're At It