The Public Square
Richard John Neuhaus
(c) 1996 First Things 62 (April 1996): 65-80.
A Friendly But Dangerous Embrace
Ticking Crime Bomb" is a troubling article in the Weekly Standard
by hard-nosed Princeton criminologist John J. DiIulio. While crime statistics
have dipped recently, demographic and other forces are building for a big
explosion in the near future. What to do? The best single answer, says
DiIulio, is religion. "Why religion? Two reasons. First a growing
body of scientific evidence from a variety of academic disciplines indicates
that churches can help cure or curtail many severe socioeconomic ills.
For example, a 1986 study by Harvard economist Richard Freeman found that
among black urban youth, church attendance was a better predictor of who
would escape drugs, crime, and poverty than any other single variable (e.g.,
income, family structure) and that churchgoing youth were more likely than
otherwise comparable youth to behave in socially constructive ways. Likewise,
a study by a panel of leading specialists just published by the journal
Criminology concluded that, while much work remains to be done,
there is substantial empirical evidence that religion serves 'as an insulator
against crime and delinquency.' And we have long known that many of the
most effective substance abuse prevention and treatment programs, both
in society and behind bars, are either explicitly religious or quasi-religious
in their orientation. Second, religion is the one answer offered time and
again by the justice-system veterans, prisoners, and others I've consulted.
With particular reference to black youth crime, for example, it is an answer
proffered in recent books by everyone from liberal Cornel West to neoconservative
Glenn Loury, Democrat Jesse Jackson to Republican Alan Keyes."
DiIulio is a strong proponent of incarceration. He notes that from 1985
to 1991 the number of juveniles in custody increased from 49,000 to nearly
58,000, and he believes that 150,000 will have to be incarcerated in the
years just ahead. He is all for getting tough against those whom he calls
the "super-predators," but getting tough is not enough. "Some
of these children are now still in diapers, and they can be saved. So let
our guiding principle be, 'Build churches, not jails'-or we will reap the
whirlwind of our own moral bankruptcy."
Affirming religion because of its social utility is, to say the least,
theologically problematic. It is, in fact, a kind of blasphemy. Ignoring
the social utility of religion, on the other hand, is myopic. The months
and years ahead will see increasing public policy interest in enlisting
religion in tasks of social reconstruction. There will be the usual altercations
about the separation of church and state, but the extreme separationists
are now playing defense and have to count on the courts to preserve a part
of all they have lost in the political forum. This trend toward a more
flexible and generous understanding of the free exercise of religion in
public is to be warmly welcomed.
At the same time, it is not too early to caution those who care most
of all for the integrity of religion that there are real dangers in becoming
entangled with public policy. While government's affectionate embrace may
have its pleasures, we do well to keep in mind the maxim that the Queen's
shilling is followed by the Queen's command. Or, as one pundit put it,
"the shekels come with shackles." One way to avoid the government
regulation and control that can stifle the very dynamics that enable religious
institutions to do so many things so well is to make sure that the shekels
go not to the institution but to the people who choose the services of
the institution. For example, education vouchers to parents who can then
redeem them at the school of their choice.
"Build churches, not jails" is a fine idea. Government can
help that to happen. Not by getting into the church-building business,
but by: 1) getting out of the way and letting churches do what they do
best, and 2) providing vouchers, tax credits, and other measures that enable
people to meet their needs in the way they think best. In education, health
care, housing, and other needs, almost everybody almost all the time knows
what is best for them and their hildren. And those who don't, except in
the case of criminal behavior, have the right to be wrong. We do not need
the government to build churches. We do need a government that makes it
easier for people to build their lives with the help of the institutions
that command their trust. When that happens, both religion and the public
good will be better served than either is at present.
The Coming Age of the Spirit
Few people have written so imaginatively about the relationship between
law and religion as Harold J. Berman, for many years at Harvard and now
at Emory. His little book The Interaction of Law and Religion (1973)
had a strong bearing on my own thinking about these questions, and since
then he has produced important tomes on law, revolution, reason, and morality
in various cultures. When Harold Berman speaks, it pays to listen.
DePaul Law Review has published the annual lecture of the Center
for Church/State Studies in which Berman addresses "Law and Logos."
This is an ambitious effort-some would say too ambitious-to set forth a
"Christian jurisprudence" that encompasses a trinitarian understanding
of human nature and law, offering a legal basis for the emerging global
community. This is heady stuff. Talk about global community triggers in
some hearts fibrillations of utopian excitement, and from others it evokes
dismissive grumblings about globaloney. Berman goes so far as to identify
with the twelfth-century enthusiast Abbot Joachim of Fiore in anticipating
a coming "age of the Holy Spirit," and takes more seriously than
some of us are able to the "Declaration of a Global Ethic" that
was drafted by Hans Kung for the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions.
As utopian fevers rise with the approaching Third Millennium, anyone
thinking about providentially guided historical dispensations should be
inoculated by the reading of Norman Cohn's splendid The Pursuit of the
Millennium (1970). Immunity to millennial fanaticism, however, does
not require that one deny the ways in which something quite new is happening
to bring the entire world into more intense and complicated interaction.
In communications, economics, and interreligious relations, there are hints
of an emerging something that might be called a global society, perhaps-stretching
the point somewhat-a global community. The undisciplined excitements of
a Hans Kung and the ludicrous pretensions of the Parliament of the World's
Religions should not blind us to the fact that world-historical change
does happen, and that such change may be part of God's unfolding purposes
In this context, Berman's "Law and Logos" is a suggestive
contribution. The three main schools of jurisprudence (positivist, natural
law, and historical) must, he says, be reintegrated in the world that is
emerging, and that requires a shared set of assumptions and aspirations
that can only be described as religious. A similar intuition, it might
be noted, informs John Paul II's cautious but persistent efforts to create
a new conversation among world religions. Both caution and persistence
are required if reflection on these questions is to be prevented from launching
itself into the stratosphere of never-never- land futurism. In thinking
about the common human future, Berman seems to suggest that we must make
a decision between the particular and the universal, whereas I would argue
that it is through the particular-more specifically, through Christian
truth claims-that we more surely understand the universal.
Berman writes: "Blood and soil still command far greater loyalty
than our shared transnational economic, political, and cultural interests
as well as our shared transnational religious convictions. We must make
a decision in our minds and hearts concerning these historical alternatives.
It is not simply a matter of what we prefer. It is a matter, first, of
what is historically destined, what corresponds to the purposes for which
human life was, and continues to be, created on this planet." We would
do well to brace ourselves for much more talk along these lines in the
years ahead, and we can be sure that most of it will not be so temperate
as Harold Berman's argument. There undoubtedly is a decision to be made.
But the decision we are called to make, I expect, is not between the particular
and the universal but whether these are in fact the "historical alternatives."
Huge questions, these. Those interested in their further exploration might
find it worth a trip to the library for Harold J. Berman's "Law and
Obeying in Order to Understand
In a wide-ranging interview in Ireland's Sunday Business Post,
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith (CDF), is pressed on the question of women's ordination. After
all is said and done, doesn't it make women second-class citizens in the
Church? asks reporter David Quinn. It is a great error, responds Ratzinger,
"to think priests are first among Christians and everyone else is
second class." If we must speak of status, it is determined by holiness,
and the great majority of the saints are lay people. Moreover, in the New
Testament "you can see that for the Lord priestly service entails
being in the last place, not the first. This is the opposite of power and
Ratzinger allows that the reasons why the Church is not authorized to
ordain are not self-evident, but it is finally a matter of obedience. "It
must be pointed out first of all that we are not building Christianity
out of our own ideas. The Church is given out of the will of God, and the
will of God is in turn a gift to the Church and it determines our will.
We must be in communion with the will of the Lord. Decisions of the Lord
can at first seem inexplicable to us. We must follow his way before we
can begin to understand. The Pope is obliged to obey the Lord's will. The
Lord's will is visible in the New Testament and in the tradition of the
Christian life and he has shown that men and women have different gifts
which are shown in different ways but are equal in dignity. We have to
reflect more on why the Lord decided so, but we cannot simply treat the
Church as a sociological construct and change it according to our will."
Quinn asks if it is possible that someday this decision could be reversed,
to which Ratzinger responds, "It is impossible because it is part
of the deposit of faith." But maybe a different pope will view the
matter differently? Ratzinger says, "There are certain things the
pope cannot do if he is to be obedient to the will of God, and this includes
allowing the ordination of women. The Church's magisterium [teaching office]
is not like a government which can overturn the decisions of its predecessors."
But in the making of such decisions shouldn't the Church be more open and
democratic? "I think," says Ratzinger "we must reflect more
on what democracy in the exercise of authority would mean. Is truth determined
by a majority vote, only for a new 'truth' to be 'discovered' by a new
majority tomorrow? In the fields of science or medicine such a method of
arriving at the truth would not be taken seriously. A democratic magisterium
in that sense would be a false magisterium."
Quinn wonders whether Ratzinger and this pope are not trying to impose
uniformity on the Church. Not uniformity but unity, says Ratzinger. "It
is very important to distinguish between the two." Unity is not just
a vague ideal but must be based in the truth, "and that truth cannot
be relativized. It has an objective content and it is one of the tasks
of the Church to teach what that content is." Then, with an eye toward
some Catholic ecumenists, "It is odd that sometimes those who search
most ardently for unity with other churches overlook the need for unity
within their own church."
Against Ecclesial Omnipotence
While some depict him as the hard-nosed Panzerkardinal, Ratzinger
is a very gentle man, almost infinitely patient in engaging opposing arguments.
Key to his thinking is the connection between understanding and faith as
obedience. "We must follow his way before we can begin to understand."
Overlooked in many discussions of women's ordination is the fact that the
Catholic position is one of self- limiting modesty. There may be good reasons
for ordaining women, we may earnestly want to ordain women, but the position
is that the Church is not authorized by her Lord to do so. A close associate
of the Cardinal's put it to me this way: "Even if one takes the position
that we don't know whether or not the Church is authorized, it means there
is uncertainty. Does anyone really believe that the Church can or should
ordain in doubt?"
Addressing the question in the London Tablet, Fr. Avery Dulles
takes a similar tack: "As a final consideration favoring the Pope
and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, one might consider
where the burden of proof must lie. To me it seems clear that the presumption
must be on the side of tradition. Even if it were shown to be probable
that the whole tradition had erred, that probability would not clear the
way to ordaining women, for the sacrament of holy orders could not be properly
conferred unless its validity were certain. In view of the arguments given,
I do not see how one could obtain certitude that women could be validly
ordained to the priesthood."
Dulles notes that John Paul II has many times, and most recently on
September 3, 1995, emphasized that the Church's inability to ordain women
is entirely separate from the Church's strong affirmation of the equal
dignity of women. Dulles comments: "He called for the full involvement
of women in the various areas of the Church's life, including theological
teaching, liturgical ministry, and pastoral care 'except in those tasks
that belong properly to the priest.' To accomplish this integration while
reserving the priestly and episcopal office to men is one of the major
tasks confronting the Catholic Church in the coming generations."
The Sins of Dr. King
The Martin Luther King, Jr., Plagiarism Story, edited by Theodore
Pappas, has been published by the Rockford Institute (Rockford, IL, $10),
and has renewed, here and there, the discussion of the gap between Dr.
King's public and personal lives. In these pages, I have frequently referred
to Dr. King in admiring tones, and just as frequently we get letters asking
whether I don't know this or that about his personal life. Yes, I know.
I was not an intimate of Dr. King's but I knew him fairly well, and I still
admire him, with an admiration marked by deep ambivalence.
There is now no dispute about the fact that Dr. King plagiarized much
of his doctoral dissertation at Boston University. And, for all the overheated
language of his little book, Pappas establishes that much of the prestige
media tried to hide or belittle King's wrongdoing, while some academics
tried to disguise plagiarism by reference to "creative borrowing"
and similar euphemisms. In addition to his plagiarism, which was not limited
to the doctorate, it has been public knowledge for a long time that Dr.
King was something of a philanderer. Does this mean he was not a great
man? In his splendid book, The Southern Front, Eugene Genovese speaks
of King as a "constructive historical figure" and adds, "Great
men, more often than not, commit great sins." There is a measure of
truth in that, but historical greatness does not excuse grave sin, as I
expect Genovese would agree.
I have read all the major books on Dr. King and the movement that he
led, and the best, in my judgment, is the late Ralph Abernathy's When
the Walls Came Tumbling Down. The book was savaged by reviewers and
soon went out of print, because it sometimes showed King in a unflattering
light and, perhaps more important, because it made clear the utterly bourgeois
intentions of the original civil rights movement. But Abernathy knew Dr.
King better than anyone, and his account rings true.
The greatness of Dr. King was in his articulating with unparalleled
public effectiveness the truth that the only American future that is socially
sustainable and morally acceptable is a future of "black and white
together." And the truth that people should be judged "not by
the color of their skin but by the content of their character." That
his own character was deeply flawed is a judgment that cannot be denied.
But he was a friend, a leader of genius, and one of the most impressive
human beings I have known. He has now faced a judgment infinitely more
important than ours, and I pray it is a judgment of mercy. Meanwhile, his
name is rightly held in public honor, not as a model of Christian sanctity
but as a representative of the belief that "the American dilemma"
of black-white relations is not beyond hope. In the face of mounting separatisms
and counsels of despair, both black and white, that is a belief to be carefully
Harvesting the Killing Fields
In June of 1994, the American Medical Association's Council on Ethical
and Judicial Affairs issued an opinion that permitted the "harvesting"
of organs for transplant from living infants with anencephaly (see Gilbert
Meilaender, "Second Thoughts About Body Parts," page 32 in this
issue). The idea, and the practice, is that doctors and hospitals would
target anencephalic babies; not waiting for the infants to die, but killing
them by a timetable that permits snatching the functioning organs from
their still live bodies. (Or does "body snatching" apply only
to the dead?) Worse, if there is a worse, the Council's opinion seemed
to endorse a "higher brain function" criterion for determining
candidates for organ harvest, thereby opening the door to the medically
sanctioned, time-tabled killing of whole classes of patients: coma victims,
those with severe mental disabilities, and a good many of the dying whose
organs may be in demand.
After three requests from the AMA's House of Delegates for reconsideration,
the Council at last reversed its opinion in December of 1995. The driving
motive may have been fear of something like an insurrection in the AMA.
Although they were defeated, two proposals to limit the Council's power-one
from the Young Physicians Section and another from the Utah delegation-reached
the floor of the House of Delegates. The Council, however, gave scientific
reasons for its reversal: imperfect diagnostic tools for the determination
of anencephaly and lack of proof that anencephalic babies lack consciousness.
Any defeat of the forces bent on turning doctors into active killers
is to be applauded, as is any affirmation of care for patients put at risk
by the flaccidity of current medical ethics. The cited reasons for the
Council's reversal, however, leave untouched, and may reinforce, the disturbing
notion that medically determined "higher brain function" is the
right definition of human death. The pressures and temptations to "harvest"
the organs of still-living patients are powerful, and it is widely agreed
that effective regulation is almost impossible under that definition of
Chicago's Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, addressing the AMA House of Delegates
at the same December session in which the Council reversed its stand on
anencephalic infants, reminded the AMA members that medicine is a vocation.
Some doctors "have succumbed to the siren songs of scientific triumph,
financial success, and political power," and have thus allowed medicine
to grow "increasingly mechanistic, commercial, and soulless."
To "renew their covenants" doctors need to remember that they
have "moral obligations" far beyond their legal or contractual
The AMA's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs knows that one point
of medical ethics is the protection of patients from the activities of
unethical doctors. What apparently is not fully understood is that the
protection of patients requires the protection of doctors against those
who would make them agents of death. Every doctor faces hard cases and,
in consultation with families and others concerned, knows that there is
a time when dying must be allowed to take its course. There is a very big
difference between such cases and the killing of a living patient, even
though some ethicists seem eager to fudge the difference. The Ramsey Colloquium
(FT, February 1992) got it right in setting out the imperative "always
to care, never to kill." That is no less true when caring means simply
alleviating pain and being with, waiting with, the dying. When there are
organs that are in demand the thought arises, almost inevitably, that the
dying might yet do some good by dying a little sooner. The AMA reversed
the decision that doctors should act on that thought in one limited case,
but it is by no means evident that the AMA has recognized the evil of the
thought itself. Medical ethics is about protecting patients by controlling
unethical practices, but the understanding of what is ethical is dangerously
pliable unless it is understood that the constituting mandate of medicine
is always to care, never to kill.
The Fact of the Matter About Catholic Politics
"How and Why the Catholic Church Engages the Body Politic."
That's the title of a detailed address delivered at Colorado College last
fall by Mark Chopko, general counsel to the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC).
Published in the December 7, 1995 issue of Origins, the address
invites a careful reading, and not only by Catholics. Mr. Chopko is a gifted
lawyer, but he is a lawyer, and it is therefore not surprising that his
reflection is marked by an intense concern-one might almost say obsession-with
protecting the Church's tax exemption. This requires, in his view, the
repeated assertion that the political positions of the USCC can in no way
be called partisan. "The fact of the matter is," he says, "because
of the diversity of the Church's agenda, it becomes increasingly difficult
for people to categorize Catholics. What the bishops offer is a set of
values and principles as well as broad experience in dealing with those
in need. In brief summary, what the Church affirms and promotes is human
rights, and it denounces and condemns violations of those rights."
"The fact of the matter" is by no means so evident. So many
commentators have pointed out that the "diversity" of USCC positions
is overwhelmingly on the side of the Democratic Party that one risks being
tedious in mentioning it again. And it should be noted that this "fact
of the matter" is highlighted chiefly not by conservative critics
but by liberals who consistently praise the bishops for their opposition
to the Republican insurgency. Note also in Mr. Chopko's statement the swift
move from the positions embraced by "Catholics" to the positions
defined by what "the bishops offer." On a great host of disputed
questions in the political arena, it is suggested that Catholics take their
cue from the bishops. Survey research and voting analyses show that this
is contrary to "the fact of the matter." But the question is
whether the Catholic laity should march in political lockstep with the
bishops. It requires a high order of old-fashioned clericalism to answer
in the affirmative.
Mr. Chopko's exposition is enlightening on several scores, but there
is a deep incoherence at the heart of it. On the one hand, we are told
that the bishops have a distinctive vision of the just and humane society,
while on the other we are told that it is a good thing that "it becomes
increasingly difficult for people to categorize Catholics." If the
bishops are effectively communicating their distinctive vision should it
not result in Catholics being distinctive? Now "the fact of the matter"
is that the bishops are not effectively communicating their vision, and
the further "fact of the matter" is that that vision is hardly
distinctive, being, with a few very important exceptions, the conventional
wisdom on the Democratic left. Mr. Chopko suggests that "the diversity
of the Church's agenda" has the happy result of Catholics being pretty
much like everybody else. That, one might protest, is a very high price
to pay for protecting the Church's tax exemption. Happily or otherwise,
relatively few Catholics, and relatively few Americans, embrace the USCC
position of being liberal Democrats on everything except abortion, euthanasia,
and school choice. One might conclude that tax exemption is effectively
protected by the ineffectiveness of the bishops in promoting "the
diversity of the Church's agenda."
No Order of Importance
On the distinctiveness of the bishops' agenda, there is another illuminating
passage in Mr. Chopko's address. He says that the agenda "highlights"
sixteen issues. "I list them, as the statement does, alphabetically:
abortion; arms control, arms trade, and disarmament; capital punishment;
communications; discrimination and racism; economy; education; environmental
justice; euthanasia; families and children; food and agriculture; health,
AIDS, and substance abuse; housing; human rights; immigration; international
affairs and the United Nations; refugees; regional concerns: Eastern Europe,
the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia; violence; welfare reform."
That's a long list, and under each of the sixteen "highlighted"
issues (actually, we count twenty on his list) are numerous policy specifics.
A careful reading of the bishops' 1996 statement on "Political Responsibility"
comes up with a count of more than fifty policy specifics on which the
bishops take a position. The bishops have repeatedly said that abortion
is their number one priority, and it does appear first on the list-but
only, as Mr. Chopko notes, because it comes first alphabetically. If abortion
were designated as "unborn children" or "protecting the
unborn" or "respect life," it would presumably be way down
on the list. Of course, what Mr. Chopko calls the bishops' "values
and principles as well as broad experience" can be extended to taking
a position on almost everything under the political sun. But does anyone
believe-do the bishops believe-that they have competence or a distinctively
Catholic contribution to make on these many disputed questions? On farm
support? On the UN budget? On organizing cyberspace? On government housing
programs? On the effectiveness of welfare experiments? And on and on and
The vaunted "diversity of the Church's agenda" lends a measure
of moral support for a beleaguered liberalism in the political arena, and
the inclusion of a few issues that offend liberal sensibilities may effectively
confound IRS definitions of partisanship. The end result, however, is not
a vision of leadership but a catalogue of liberal Democratic prejudices
joined to what other liberals view as a few Catholic moral hang-ups. In
addition to the tragedy of undermining the credibility of the bishops,
this political agenda is profoundly discouraging to those Catholics who
believe that some questions, such as abortion, deserve more than a merely
alphabetical priority. "How and Why the Catholic Church Engages the
Body Politic" is a very important subject. Now that their lawyer has
addressed it from the angle of preserving liberal respectability and protecting
tax exemption, one hopes that bishops will take up the task of addressing
that subject in the light of Catholic doctrine. If or when they do so,
they will find ample sources to draw upon in the social teaching of John
Paul II, which, in starkest contrast to the statements of the USCC, is
more interested in the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith than in
the next election.
Robertson Davies, R.I.P.
"The intellect of man is forced to choose," claimed William
Butler Yeats, "perfection of the life, or of the work." The Canadian
novelist Robertson Davies (who died on December 2, 1995, at the age of
eighty- two) did a great deal of very fine work. But if he had ever been
forced to choose between Yeats' stern alternatives, he would have decided
without hesitation for life: a rollicking life, a boisterous life, a life,
one might say, that strove always to be larger than life.
Davies was in fact an eccentric of the kind we don't see much anymore-
primarily, I think, because it takes so much real effort to create a genuine
character with which to face the world. Most of us seem unwilling nowadays
to pay either ourselves or the world the courtesy of that much exertion.
Of his undergraduate strolls around Oxford adorned with a walking stick,
broad-brimmed hat, and monocle, a 1937 student magazine declared, "Unless
someone pretty desperate comes along, Robertson Davies looks like being
the last of the real undergraduate 'figures.'" From the beginning
to the end of his long, enjoyable life, he never ceased to be a figure.
Without the work to back it up, however, there is something a little
false, a little prissy, about eccentric character. Davies was certainly
a character. But he could afford to be, for he was a worker as well. In
1990, he delivered for the Institute on Religion and Public Life our annual
Erasmus Lecture (published as "Literature and Moral Purpose"
in FT, November 1990). It was a typical Davies performance: a literary
stroll so charming that the listeners hardly noticed the extent to which
they had been brought around to share the lecturer's sensibility. Davies
had real learning-his first work was a significant study of boy actors
in Shakespeare-and he had the charm and skill to wear his learning well.
It is on his novels that Davies' reputation ultimately rests, though
novel writing was for him almost an afterthought following his earlier
careers in journalism and the theater. After a successful undergraduate
career in Oxford's dramatic society, Davies worked as a stage manager at
London's Old Vic theater before returning to Canada. Working for a newspaper
in Ontario, he created and popularized the social commentator "Samuel
Marchbanks," a distinctly Canadian curmudgeon. (Davies was also an
inveterate practical joker: he once wrote a hilarious piece for a Canadian
magazine accusing himself of plagiarizing from Marchbanks.) Though successful
in journalism, he never found quite the success he sought in the theater,
and in 1951 he turned an idea for an unproduced play about an amateur production
of Shakespeare's Tempest into Tempest-Tost, his first novel.
The rest, as they say, is history. Eleven novels followed, at least three
of which made him a perpetual candidate for the Nobel Prize: the Dickensian
Leaven of Malice, the Jungian Fifth Business, and the Rabelaisian
The Rebel Angels.
Whether or not he actually deserved the Nobel Prize is a question I
leave for other heads to ponder. In his later years, as the head of Massey
College, a graduate school at the University of Toronto, Davies found the
ideal reward for his lifetime of work in Canadian letters and the ideal
setting for his large character. The thought that there will be for us
no more of his novels-with their high Anglican squabbles (Davies was received
into the Church of England in the late 1930s), their deep knowledge of
human foibles, and their real love for humankind-is a sad one. So, too,
is the thought that there will be for us no more of his jokes, his charm,
and his style. Our loss is the angels' gain.
While We're At It
- A lot of you-and I mean a lot-have still not sent us names of family
members, friends, and associates who should be FT subscribers. We will
check the names against our subscriber list, just in case some are closet
subscribers who have not let on to you that they go in for such high-class
reading. To the rest we will send a letter saying that you suggested we
get in touch and offering them a free sample issue. Think of how grateful
they will be to you.
- So how come, a seminarian wants to know, there is no mention of poetry
in my discussion of preaching in Freedom for Ministry, especially
since I frequently employ poetry to homiletical ends. A good question to
which I have no good answer. But I've tried to make amends; for instance,
in these pages by warmly recommending Chapters Into Verse, the two
volumes, one on the Old Testament and one on the New, edited by Robert
Atwan and Laurance Wieder, and published by Oxford. It is a collection
demonstrating that the dearth of good religious poetry is a recent and,
one may hope, temporary thing. The presence of poetry in the sermon points
to the excitement of language that is compact, concise, and crafted to
say just this and not that. Of course, the words of the homily surrounding
it may suffer by comparison, but I think they more often benefit from a
borrowed excellence. This is brought to mind by a seminarian's question,
and by the coming Pasch that celebrates Israel's salvation that issued
in resurrection light to the gentiles, and by brousing in the works of
the eccentric, maybe mad, Ezra Pound who in the "Ballad of the Goodly
Fere" has Simon the Zealot reflecting on his mate who was and ever
is. I ha' seen him cow a thousand men On the hills o' Galilee, They whined
as he walked out calm between, Wi' his eyes like the grey o' the sea, Like
the sea that brooks no voyaging With the winds unleashed and free, Like
the sea that he cowed at Genseret Wi' twey words spoke' suddently. A master
of men was the Goodly Fere, A mate of the wind and sea, If they think they
ha' slain our Goodly Fere They are fools eternally. I ha' seen him eat
o' the honey-comb Sin' they nailed him to the tree.
- In Kenosha County, Wisconsin, they are clearly defining obscenity down.
District Attorney Robert Jambois has been trying to hard to get a conviction
against stores selling really dirty videos, but in case after case he is
foiled by jurors who apparently take pornography in stride. On one jury,
Nancy Rains and another woman were the only ones who had not visited an
adult (read adolescent) video store. An elderly woman, Ms. Rains said:
"I did think the video was too long and I can't believe they had us
watch it for so long. But they had to prove the video met all the criteria
of obscenity and I don't think they did. At the beginning of the video
I was very embarrassed. There were some scenes that were pretty sad . .
. like two men on one girl. But we all thought that for the video to be
abnormal and obscene it had to involve kids or animals." Thus spake
Middle America. The notoriously correct Milwaukee Journal Sentinal
is not happy with the acquittals but certainly does not want to be perceived
as supporting censorship. Feminism is something else. The editors write,
"Among the Academy Award- winning scenes was one showing men urinating
on a woman. It was a 'stupid' movie, said one juror, adding that some of
his fellow jurors could hardly keep themselves from laughing. Perhaps those
individuals would like to change places with the woman." But what
if the woman enjoys that sort of thing, and is paid the minimum wage to
boot? DA Jambois is determined to go ahead with further prosecutions, despite
the apparent unavailability of jurors who do not patronize porn shops.
"I was quite astonished," said Jambois, "because certainly
two-thirds or three-fourths of the people I know haven't gone out and watched
these videos. Not that I know of anyway." Now that Times Square is
being cleaned up, might Kenosha be next?
- At the Washington Dulles Airport Hilton Hotel, the National Fatherhood
Initiative will hold a summit on religious communities and the advancement
of pro-family change on Friday, May 17. For information call Jeffrey Trimbath
at (717) 581-8860.
- I used to go to a lot of movies. I don't anymore. We even thought of
running movie criticism in FT, but that didn't work out, not least because
the long production time of a monthly makes it difficult to stay even within
hailing distance of au courant. But for some reason, I don't know why,
I went to see Ian McKellen's Richard III. I should have stood in
bed, as we used to say in Brooklyn. The movie sets the play among British
royals and nobility in the Hitler-haunted 1930s. Let Terrence Rafferty
of the New Yorker take it from here: "The Fascist regalia seems
oddly beside the point. The notion that Richard is a vicious thug certainly
isn't a fresh insight, and the swanky costumes and decor ultimately create
more distractions than revelations: for most of the movie, you can't help
wondering whether this Richard, in his battlefield death scene, will have
to cry out, 'My kingdom for a jeep!' (He doesn't, but the scene is plenty
silly nonetheless.) The obtrusive ingenuity of the theatrical concept gives
the whole spectacle a preening, self-infatuated quality-an inexpressive
veneer of chic." Rafferty goes on in this vein, concluding with this:
"The new Richard III is as unnaturally proportioned as its
hunchbacked central character, who, by his own description, is: 'Deformed,
unfinished, sent before my time / Into this breathing world, scarce half
made up, / And that so lamely and unfashionable / That dogs bark at me
as I halt by them.' This movie is so misshapen it could make basenjis howl."
I didn't howl, but what I found so very disagreeable was the way, from
the opening monologue to his violent death accompanied by Al Jolson's "I'm
Sitting on Top of the World," Ian McKellen wants the audience to know
that he despises this silly little melodrama by that Shakespeare fellow.
Without the slightest evidence of any warrant, Mr. McKellen presents himself
as so very superior to this vehicle in which he has deigned to exhibit
his theatrical talents. But enough on that. I am going to try to see Sense
and Sensibility. The most sensible people are raving about it. Who
would have thought it, suddenly Jane Austen is popping up everywhere. Yes,
I know, Miss Austen would never dream of popping up anywhere. But the revival
of her work is a heartening thing. Manners, character, virtue, who knows
what's next? Michael Medved, call your office.
- During the latter years of the Cold War, an invaluable institution
was Keston Institute, founded and still directed by Anglican priest Michael
Bourdeaux. Keston assiduously kept track of religious persecution, and
religious collaboration, under the evil empire, and was stalwart in the
defense of religious and political prisoners. In a recent issue of the
Tablet, Canon Bourdeaux writes, "It is time, I believe, for
the churches themselves to conduct a major self- examination of their role
in relation to the churches of the former Soviet bloc. The World Council
of Churches promised to do this, but did not follow through with it. Among
those involved should be the former British Council of Churches, the Baptist
Union, the Collegium Russicum in Rome, and dozens of others. These are
pages of twentieth-century church history which must one day be written."
Exactly. And when that self-examination gets underway, we have handy a
little list of institutions in the U.S. that warrant most particular scrutiny.
The purpose is not recrimination but the honesty, and maybe repentance,
that is prelude to renewal. It is admittedly a hard truth, but no matter
how delicately put, it is the truth that on the two monumental moral challenges
of our time the church-and-society curia of the mainline/oldline churches
were on the wrong side. The case of abortion is obvious. As for the evil
empire, these churches did not cheer on the Soviet Union but they did belittle
its evil, they did consistently oppose almost every political and military
measure to resist it, and they did cheer on its extension in Cuba, Nicaragua,
Angola, and elsewhere. A generation or two from now, God willing, there
will be as much moral clarity about abortion as there is today about slavery,
and the mass terror and killing that was at the heart of communism will
no longer be in dispute. Then, one hopes, the painful history of the moral
default of the oldline churches will have been internalized, serving as
a cautionary tale for ages to come.
- Ronald Reagan appointed Jack Matlock ambassador to the Soviet Union,
and he served until 1991. Reviewers are heaping praise on his book Autopsy
on an Empire (Random House), an account of the collapse of the USSR.
The Right Venerable George F. Kennan of the Princeton Institute for Higher
Obfuscation joins in the praise in a very long commentary in the New
York Review of Books. Two things are very odd about his review. There
is not a hint of the fact that Kennan opposed as reckless and counterproductive
every Reagan measure that Matlock says contributed to the triumph over
communism. Second, in all of Kennan's rambling about the factors that brought
about that happy consummation, there is not one mention of John Paul II
and the Polish struggle that almost every scholar recognizes as the beginning
of the end. Fifty years ago Kennan wrote the famous "X" article
in Foreign Affairs, setting forth the doctrine of containment. Prof.
Kennan undoubtedly knows a lot, but to judge by his reflections on the
end of communism, he has learned little.
- Abingdon Press (Methodist) puts out a "Leadership Insight Series"
that includes this book on starting a new pastorate. I haven't read the
book, but printed across the cover is this piece of wisdom, "A moment
of insight is worth a lifetime of experience." I'm not sure what that
means, but it sounds like a candidate for the top ten dumbest sayings that
ever got said. Also from Abingdon, Christian Weddings: Resources to
Make Your Ceremony Unique. Why on earth would you want to do that?
Thanks to Abingdon, insights are coming fast and furious this afternoon.
- Acrimonious is the word used to describe some of the exchanges at a
forum where film critic Michael Medved urged Jews to take a stand against
Hollywood's degradation of our common life. The forum was held at the Jewish
Community Center in West Orange, NJ, and this account is from the MetroWest
Jewish News. "If Jews don't speak out against this, it lets others
believe those films somehow reflect Jewish values, Medved said, noting
that, for the first time in movie history, the production chiefs of all
ten Hollywood studios are Jews." Jeffrey Lyons, Medved's cohost on
Sneak Previews, and the other panelists strongly disagreed. Lyons said
that "Jews don't speak in one voice and are, therefore, stronger than
groups that do." Victor Gold, who is on the board of the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting, said that movie makers are in it for the buck,
and there's nothing wrong with that. "Al Capone did not become Al
Capone because he saw Scarface as a boy," said Gold. "I
believe in the free market of ideas." Once again, there crops up this
curious argument that, while good films and good books elevate people,
bad films and bad books do not debase them. Medved, in our judgment, has
the better part of the argument. Of course Jews do not speak with "one
voice" on this or much of anything else. But the reality is that many
Americans perceive a disproportionately prominent, even dominant, Jewish
role in the production and defense of cultural pollution. Disagreeing with
Medved, Rabbi Azriel Fellner of Livingston, NJ, said that the idea that
Jews contaminate culture is anti-Semitic and, were Jews to speak out as
Medved urges, "all [we would be] doing is ratifying the very thing
we shouldn't be ratifying." But Medved is not saying that Jews should
make a public issue of Jewish culpability in Hollywood's cultural crimes.
He is saying that it is not a good thing for Jews and it is not a good
thing for America that Jewish voices are, with few exceptions, conspicuously
absent in current expressions of concern about Hollywood's part in the
degradation of our common life.
- Thanks to Regnery for reissuing Marvin Olasky's Abortion Rites:
A Social History of Abortion in America ($14.95 paper). Anyone involved
on any side of the abortion controversy needs to know this book. Today,
some who are "moderately pro-choice" are beginning to acknowledge
that a question of great moral moment is at stake in abortion, and to suggest
a Lincoln-like approach to its gradual reduction, or even extinction. Olasky
was there long before them. Except that he, like the anti-abortion reformers
of the last century, recognizes abortion as a great evil to be passionately
resisted. Among the merits of this history is its underscoring of the fact
that "the good old days" of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth
century were not that good for unborn children or for women pressured to
"get rid of" unwanted pregnancies. Step by step, those who understood
the evil of abortion achieved what seemed to be a secure consensus on protecting
children and helping women in trouble. That was among the securities shattered
by the 1960s. Olasky's argument will not be welcomed by those who reject
what they disdainfully dismiss as an "incrementalist" approach
to saving human lives, but the story told in Abortion Rites provides
ample reason to give careful thought to his conclusion: "What, then,
are the uses of history for the pro-life movement? The adage 'those who
forget the past are condemned to repeat it' states the problem backwards
as far as today's movement is concerned. The goal of today's pro-lifers
should be to repeat a nineteenth-century past in which abortion was successfully
fought by moderate means under conditions that were spiritually far from
ideal. Mature opponents of abortion a century ago did not say 'all or nothing'
and thus save lives. Most did not demand that abortion be legislatively
designated as murder, but worked for penalties that were sustainable in
public opinion and in the jury box. Most appreciated the educational impact
of anti-abortion laws but did not expect much in the way of enforcement,
and instead concentrated on ways to provide women with alternatives to
abortion. Many had great stamina because they were not laid low by a sense
of failure when, despite their efforts, many unborn children died. They
rejoiced that, in a fallen world, many were saved. So should their successors."
One might add that, unlike today, in the nineteenth century the elite institutions
of society did not militantly champion unlimited access to abortion as
a "right," or suggest that such access is essential to the fulfillment
of women. Which is by no means to say that Olasky is wrong, but only that
the task is more difficult today.
- The problem with gangsta rap and black "leaders" like Al
Sharpton, writes Glenn Loury, is that they teach young blacks to despise,
frighten, and extort white people. The result is "to ensure that bad
people of both races will find each other, the better to keep conflict
alive." Loury proposes an alternative: "The truth is that whites
do not need to be shown how to fear black youths in the cities; instead
they must be taught how to respect them. This means that effective, persuasive
black leadership must show whites a disciplined, respectable black demeanor.
That such comportment is consistent with protest for redress of grievance
is a great legacy of the civil rights movement. But more than disciplined
protest is necessary. Discipline, orderliness, and virtue in every aspect
of life will contribute to the goal of creating an aura of respectability
and worth. Such an aura is a valuable political asset and the natural by-product
of living one's life in a dignified, civilized manner." Overcoming
the accumulated disadvantages, says Loury, is not just "a black thing,
which you wouldn't understand." Other groups in America have been
victimized and disadvantaged and have overcome. This is not ancient history;
it is happening today. Loury concludes: "A prominent civil rights
leader teaches young blacks the exhortation: 'I am somebody.' True enough,
but the crucial question then becomes: 'Just who are you?' The black youngster
should be prepared to respond: 'Because I am somebody, I will not accept
unequal rights. Because I am somebody, I will waste no opportunity to better
myself. Because I am somebody, I will respect my body by not polluting
it with drugs or promiscuous sex. Because I am somebody-in my home, in
my community, in my nation-I will comport myself responsibly, I will be
accountable, I will be available to serve others as well as myself.' It
is the doing of these fine things, not the saying of any fine words, that
proves that here is somebody to be reckoned with. A youngster is somebody
not because of the color of his skin but because of the content of his
- Home delivery of the Times here means that you get on Saturday
the extra ten pounds that the rest of the country gets on Sunday. So one
adds an hour to the usual fifteen minutes allotted to the village voice
that bravely bears the ominous responsibility of telling the world what
to think about, and how to think about it. It is not necessary to read
it, of course, but bad habits are hard to break. The Times is pathetically
eager to be ten minutes ahead of history. Our friend Hilton Kramer, editor
of the New Criterion, was for years the top culture writer for the
Times. He tells how at the weekly editorial meeting the boss editor
would inevitably ask with a sense of urgency, "So what's new?"
After years of this, one week Hilton decided to answer, "There's absolutely
nothing new this week." Without missing a beat, the editor came back
with the excited response, "Is that a trend?" Jokes aside, I
was going to say something about the paper this Saturday morning. The op-ed
page is loaded with heavy-duty ponderings about history. Regular columnist
(in the sense that he appears there regularly) Frank Rich writes about
Bill Gates and the computer revolution and deplores people who are indifferent
to the high-tech transformation of reality. If such people were properly
informed "they would discover that digital ignorance offers no protection
from a future that will arrive whether we want it to or not." This
is the future as threat to be warded off by information. Lewis Lapham,
editor of Harper's, has a piece that offers a different take on
the future. Reflecting on a new government study, he deplores the ignorance
of history exhibited by high school seniors. No wonder, he says, that millions
of Americans believe in the inspiration of the Bible and sightings of intergalactic
aliens. Ours is a parlous state in which "the adherents of one or
another of the ancient superstitions wage their furious assaults on what
for the last two hundred years has been known as the spirit of the Enlightenment."
(Apparently UFOs now qualify as an ancient superstition.) "Against
the vivid cries and promises of transcendence," Lapham writes, "we
have little else with which to preserve and extend the work of civilization
except the voices of experience." So we have to do a better job of
teaching history. "Defined as means rather than an end, history defends
the future against the past." Past is bad. Future is good. Except
for the past two hundred years of Enlightenment that taught us how to defend
the future against the past. How charming in its witlessness is the simple
faith of a liberalism untouched by the voices of experience. Finally, essayist
Cynthia Ozick has a piece offering some sensible thoughts on the extremisms
that are pulling Israel apart. On the religious right there is millenarianism
that embraces the doctrine of "Forcing the End," of radical action
intended to hasten the Messianic Age. On the secular left is the equally
dangerous conceit that an apotheosized "peace process" will tame
human nastiness and bring the Middle East a thousand years of tranquillity.
"Utopianism," says Ozick, "is false politics and intoxicated
history." The future is neither a threat (contra Frank Rich) nor an
innocent promise that needs to be protected from the past (contra Lewis
Lapham) but a tomorrow mysteriously shaped, for better and worse, by what
we do today. Ozick's message is: Be very careful. That is sensible advice
for the op-ed page of the Times. Is this a trend? On the basis of
experience, one may be inclined to doubt it.
- The Dutch Lutheran Church, which has about twenty thousand members,
resolved in solemn assembly to allow the church blessing of gay relationships.
The same assembly called for a theological study of notions such as wedding
vows, fidelity, and blessing. Act first, think later. The Humanistisch
Verbond (Humanist Society) decided three years ago to bless gay bondings.
It has about sixteen thousand members. Some in Holland may be inclined
to think, Why bother with the Lutherans when you can get the real thing?
- We were wrong. The Interfaith Alliance does so have a telephone. That
new organization of what some have called the Radical Religious Left is
even sending out fund solicitations to combat the "Radical Religious
Right." Dr. Herbert Valentine, whom the letterhead describes as a
chair and who is former moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA, declares,
"I am a minister of the Gospel-a person of faith who gets angry when
the language of religion is used to cloak an agenda rested in hatred and
intolerance." We might point out that a well-rested agenda is better
than the weary reaction of the Interfaith Alliance, but we try not to give
offense. Fully seven of the nineteen worthies on the letterhead are listed
as "former" or "emeritus." There is one Unitarian,
two rabbis, and a Catholic bishop (an auxiliary of Baltimore whom we will
not embarrass by naming). They claim to be convinced that Pat Robertson
and his minions are engaged in a campaign of hatred and intolerance to
do nothing less than overthrow our democratic form of government. Apparently
the rascal has admitted as much, for they quote Robertson as saying, "Democracy
is the next-best government." Mr. Robertson probably said that, meaning
that the best government is the direct rule of God, but for that we must
await the Kingdom of God. By the same trickery one could depict Winston
Churchill as the enemy of democracy. After all, he did say, "Democracy
is the worst form of government known to man." Of course he added,
"Except for all the others that have been tried." But then, what's
a little mendacity and hysteria if it will serve to rouse liberalism from
its coma? "Will you join us," the letter asks, "in saying
'enough is enough' to Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and their fellow extremists?"
It's nice of you to ask, but no thank you. (Especially considering that
they probably count us among the fellow extremists.) Listed on the letterhead
are Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning of the Episcopal Church and the Rev.
Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches
(NCC). Bishop Browning is on record as a champion of the quest for unity
among Christians, and the NCC, established to advance ecumenism, has in
recent years talked about the importance of reaching out to evangelicals.
Obviously, that does not include uppity evangelicals who actually want
a voice in how the country is run. The letter underscores, "As deeply
committed men and women of faith, we cannot be silent when political extremists
try to seize for their own narrow purposes the language and symbols of
religious faith." It's a touching thing to see the political moderates
bestir themselves to come out of retirement and, eschewing any appeal to
the language and symbols of religious faith, break their silence in calling
us to return to their broad purposes that have served the country so well.
Remember that these are people who have had to endure one disappointment
after another, not the least being George McGovern's declining to run again.
It no doubt takes a deeply committed faith to keep going.
- The name Harvey Cox is indelibly associated with his book of thirty
years ago, The Secular City. In a recent issue of the Nation,
the flagscow publication of the left, Cox, a popular professor at Harvard
Divinity School, has an article titled "The Transcendent Dimension"
with the accompanying slug, "To Purge the Public Square of Religion
is to Cut the Roots of the Values that Nourish Us." In 1975, when
Peter Berger and I launched the "Hartford Appeal for Theological Renewal"
that called for a restoration of the transcendent, Harvey Cox was on the
opposing side in a debate we held at the National Council of Churches.
In 1984, however, he did review my The Naked Public Square very
favorably in the New York Times Book Review and I owe him for that.
In the Nation article, Cox rages against "the religious right"
and all its works, accusing it of, inter alia, reinstituting "child
sacrifice" by cutting welfare payments. But he also uses arguments
associated with those awful "neoconservatives" to both caution
and bolster the left. For instance, this: "Given that most of their
arguments are flimsy and theologically ill-grounded, religious right-wingers
could be easily refuted if secular liberals would stop attacking them simply
because they are (allegedly) religious. That gets us nowhere. That is why,
unlike some other progressives, I am dead against trying to keep religious
conservatives out of the political debate. The tactic of exclusion is self-defeating.
It has already pushed other dissenters into dark musings about chemical
fertilizers, panel trucks, and public buildings. Rather, let us welcome
religious conservatives into the sphere of political discourse. After all,
it should hardly be surprising that in a country where 90 percent of the
people say they believe in God, some religious language will be heard in
the public square. Progressives have begun to realize that to purge the
public square of religion is to cut the roots of the values that nourish
our fondest causes. To stifle religious dissent would muffle one of the
few remaining institutions that mediate between individuals and the towering,
impersonal structures that envelop them. To rule out religious imagery
is to ignore a discourse that at its best can speak out powerfully against
greed, ennui, and coldness of heart." FT is grateful for all its readers,
even when they do turn arguments to opposing purposes (thereby, not so
incidentally, refuting the frequent charge that those arguments are but
a thin disguise for partisan designs).
- July 4, 1995 was "liberation day" for fifty-two-year-old
Myrna Lebov. That's how her husband, George Delury, described the day on
which he helped his wife commit suicide. Delury and his wife lived on the
Upper West Side, and when the story hit the papers he was immediately declared
a hero by the Hemlock Society and other celebrants of the culture of death.
Now Delury has been charged with assisting a suicide after evidence came
to light that he had for months been pressing his wife to kill herself
because she was a burden to him. The Manhattan District Attorney released
a diary in which Delury, an editor, detailed his daily frustration at having
to attend to his wife's toilet needs and counter her belief that she still
had a life worth living. The diary, which he entitled "Countdown,"
is eerie reading. "Sheer hell," the entry for May 1 reads, "Myrna
is more or less euphoric. She spoke of writing a book today. She's interested
in everything, wants everything explained, and believes that every bit
of bad news has some way out." But finally Delury convinced her that
the only way out is death. On July 4 she drank a mixture of antidepressants,
water, and honey that he had prepared for her. Shortly before her death,
Delury looked ahead to what he envisioned as her inevitable deterioration
and wrote, "Just taking care of the physical shell of a loved one
for years is not a life I want to live." It is not the life he wanted
for himself. She had to die. The Delury story is a window into the grim
dynamics disguised by the chatter surrounding "death with dignity."
Undaunted by these revelations, the Hemlock Society declared that the story
only proves that doctors should be allowed to help people die in a professional
manner. The New York Times editorially seconded the Hemlock Society,
writing that "a sensible and caring doctor, familiar with all the
circumstances . . . would provide objective counseling and professional
support that would reduce the risk that a patient-or an overburdened care-giver-could
make an irrevocable mistake." Someone like Dr. Jack Kevorkian perhaps.
The Times' program for doctor-assisted suicide in order "to
assist desperately ill patients with no hope of recovery to die with dignity"
is identical to the practice in the Netherlands where many thousands of
patients are "euthanized" each year, with more than half of them,
according to some studies, not having been consulted about the desirability
of their being put to death. A New York State task force that studied doctor-assisted
suicide for years recently came out strongly opposed. Among the many reasons
cited is that the great majority of people, and especially the poor, do
not have access to the "sensible and caring doctor familiar with all
the circumstances" that the upper-class editorial writers of the Times
take for granted. If the news reports and his "Countdown"
diary are to be trusted, George Delury did not "make an irrevocable
mistake." He did precisely what he deliberately and over a long period
of time planned to do, namely, pressure his wife into cooperating with
his killing her. "Countdown" well describes the line embraced
by the editorial writers of the Times, the Hemlock Society, and
others who are so very eager to make it easier to get rid of the unborn,
the aged, the handicapped, and others who are designated as excessive burdens.
They much prefer, of course, that the designation and the deed itself be
done by professionals.
- Euthanasia: False Light is a very effective fifteen- minute
video produced by the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, just the
thing to spark a lively meeting of your local discussion group on questions
related to "death with dignity." ($24.95 plus $4.25 postage and
handling from IAETF, Box 760, Steubenville, OH 43952. Visa and Mastercard,
- According to Graham Walker of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton,
the pro-choice folk have taken the bait, so to speak, in the controversy
over partial-birth abortions. He writes: "Faced with the need to defend
the legality of an abortion procedure that nearly everyone recoils from,
pro-choice advocates have resorted to an argument with disastrous consequences
for their own cause. When she said that partial-birth abortions are no
more 'gross' or 'revolting' than hip replacement surgery, Rep. Patricia
Schroeder (D-Colo.) made a mere tactical faux pas that a good media consultant
could have prevented. But her principal argument against the bill constituted
a major strategic error. She insisted that doctors only use the procedure
when a woman's life is threatened or when the fetus is fatally deformed.
And with television cameras rolling on the House floor, Rep. Schroeder
asked repeatedly whether women ever agree to such a procedure for 'frivolous
reasons.' Answering her own question, she proclaimed passionately, 'No,
they do not!'" Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has also spoken on
the talk shows about this "horrible procedure" that is "terribly,
terribly tragic" but necessary when "a mom and dad find out that
this baby that they are so wanting to have in their family has gotten into
a terrible circumstance." But, says Walker, once pro-choicers allow
that there are "good" reasons and "bad" reasons for
abortion, their whole argument begins to unravel. "Pro-choice advocates
must keep their logic pure. They must continue to insist that the fetus
is an integral part of a woman's own body, fundamentally no different from
any other internal organ. They must insist that a woman is entitled to
do whatever she wants with her body, for whatever reason she considers
valid; and that no one else, not even Schroeder or Boxer or Clinton, is
entitled to evaluate those reasons. Until birth-or as we must now say,
until the birth process has reached its conclusion-this logic must be sovereign
or else the pro-choice paradigm shatters under the weight of ordinary human
sensibility. The logic is the real reason for pro-choice opposition to
the partial-birth abortion bill, and it is why the same people would be
opposing it even if it offered generous exception for maternal health and
fetal deformity concerns. Of course, as the House sponsors of the legislation
said, this reduces to about three inches the distance between our privacy
rights and our homicide laws. And, whatever their squeamishness about pro-life
extremism, the vast majority of the public will never be persuaded that
the fetus changes fundamentally between the moment when the first foot
appears and the moment when the last bit of head pops through (as in the
case of the footling breech presentation typically used in partial-birth
abortion). When some pro-choice purist without a media consultant gets
around to proposing that legal personhood be delayed until the umbilical
cord is severed, the game will really be up. Then even the mass public
will have a hard time averting its gaze from the entire human developmental
continuum. It would not necessarily follow to criminalize abortion from
the moment of conception. But the new terms of the debate make it harder
than ever to fudge the starkness of pro-choice doctrine: abortion by any
means, for any reason, at any time, unhindered by legal, social, or moral
disapproval. Extremism, anyone?"
- My friend Neal Freeman reflects on the days when, about thirty years
ago, Walter Cronkite opened his New York Times in the morning and
over a cup of coffee decided what CBS evening news would announce as the
state of the world for that day. That was a long, long time ago. Freeman
describes how fiber optics, cable, Internet, Direct Broadcasting Satellites,
talk radio, and a host of other developments have undermined the ability
of the prestige newspapers and the networks to determine what people accept
as "the news." Whether this explosion of alternative media (turning
the establishment media into just one more alternative) is good or bad
is a much debated question to which I have no sure answer, but I was struck
by Freeman's aside on newsletters. We have all heard people say how hard
it is to keep up with all the things they would like to read, and have
probably said it ourselves. Freeman writes: "Our old friend Bill Rickenbacker,
the Prince of Wry, used to say that his best business idea, one that he
had been polishing for years, was to publish The Billionaire's Newsletter,
which he would sell for a subscription fee of one million dollars a year.
He hoped to attract one subscriber. Rick had captured the essence of the
new media: while we're drowning in information, we're thirsty for understanding.
Anybody who can sort out our files, anybody who can screen out the junk-mail
conversations of life, anybody who can edit our experience, will win our
gratitude and wind up with a piece of our business."
- Even liberals, writes Charles Krauthammer, now recognize that something
is radically out of whack with the culture, but they still can't bring
themselves to address the crisis in frankly moral terms. "Accordingly,
they have had to resort to a substitute language: medicine. Medicalized
morality has the twin advantages of appearing authoritative and value-free.
Liberalism can now address the problem of cultural decay thus: We cannot
say what's right or wrong, good or bad, but we can say what is harmful.
Hence, sexual promiscuity is to be eschewed not because it is wrong but
because it is 'risky,' a risk to limb and life, as is drug abuse and the
like. The right sex is safe sex. Teen violence is a 'public health emergency.'
And the man to lead the fight against teen pregnancy is a doctor, the Surgeon
General. He did such a good job with smoking. Why not with sex?" He
notes that former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders wanted children to be
taught what to do in the back seat of the car but was a fierce opponent
of smoking. Having sex was okay "so long as they did not light up
afterwards." Sex is healthy, smoking is unhealthy, so what does morality
have to do with it? Krauthammer, writing in the Public Interest,
says the medicalizing of immorality is not going to get us very far. "Yes,
the victims of teen violence, promiscuity, drug abuse, and suicide end
up in the emergency room. But so do the victims of hurricanes and war.
Hurricanes and war are many things, but they are not medical problems.
Neither are teen violence, promiscuity, drug abuse, suicide, and the other
indices of social decay. Moreover, when you appeal to the vulnerable young
to avoid these behaviors on the purely self-regarding health grounds that
they are risking damage to themselves, you are preaching to a constituency
that is not apt to buy your cost-benefit calculations." A remedy for
our problems might be a religious reawakening, but Krauthammer has limited
hopes for that. "I hope I am wrong. If I am, the conservative revolution
will unfold in and of itself, with near-Marxist historic inevitability.
It is the task of the political strategist, however, to prepare for the
possibility that the Great Awakening is not at hand. In which case the
arrest of social decay, the revitalization of civil society, is a far more
difficult and chancy proposition. It must then depend upon the more coercive
and less reliable agency of politics-a politics crucially capable of articulating
cultural with structural reform. Neither alone will suffice." In the
future we may have to "depend upon the more coercive and less reliable
agency of politics-a politics crucially capable of articulating cultural
with structural reform." Hmm. Like a politics of meaning? Historically,
those who have used politics to effect cultural change have not been friendly
to the virtues Krauthammer and other sensible people care about. Without
a religious and moral awakening, any cultural reform articulated by the
coercive agency of politics will, it seems almost certain, only deepen
the present calamity.
- More than ten years ago, I wrote that the religious insurgency in American
politics was an aggressive defense. That is to say, millions of Americans
believed that their world, the world they wanted to bequeath to their children,
was under assault, and the only way to defend it was to become politically
assertive. This is an analysis shared by Irving Kristol, "the godfather
of neoconservatism," who has repeatedly advanced the proposition that
the America, and perhaps the world, of the next century will be defined,
above all, by religion. Kristol has frequently been accused of embracing
a utilitarian view of religion, along the lines of those who have said
it is a "noble lie" essential to society's flourishing. The evidence
routinely cited by his critics is that he describes himself as a "neo-orthodox"
Jew who is not observant. Whatever may be the eccentricity of Kristol's
personal belief and practice, his intense interest in religion-and not
simply in the social and political uses of religion-goes back more than
forty years and is amply documented in his writings. Religion is a wild
factor that cannot be securely captured by any end less than the end to
which the religious "impulse" is directed. In the thirtieth anniversary
issue of the Public Interest, a journal he cofounded, Irving Kristol
writes: "I think it is probably an error to focus so narrowly on the
role of Christian conservatism in American politics. The born-again Christian
impulse is, above all, a religious impulse that looks well beyond any political
horizon. It is my sense that this impulse will grow in the years ahead,
whatever the political fortunes or misfortunes of Christian political conservatism.
We have lived through a century of ever more extreme hedonism, antinomianism,
personal and sexual individualism, licentiousness (as it used to be called),
and no one who has bothered to read a bit of history ought to be surprised
if it culminates in some kind of aggressive religious awakening. So the
rise of Christian political conservatism may turn out to be a prelude to
something far more important, involving the place of religion in American
life, including American public life. Just what form this renewed religious
impulse will take no one can foresee. We-all of us-could be in for some
- The Washington Post devotes seventy-two inches of precious column
space to a story about Philip Cohen, president of Chelsea House publishers.
Cohen had the brilliant idea of launching a series of books that carry
on their covers, "Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians." Included
in the series are James Baldwin, Marlene Dietrich, Liberace, J. Edgar Hoover,
and other "role models." Despite a rave review in our local newspaper
of record, the books have been a complete bust. School libraries won't
buy. Says one politically improper librarian, "I certainly consider
this series inappropriate for our students. After all, you wouldn't publish
'Great Alcoholics' or 'Famous Fat People,' would you?" Mr. Cohen just
might. Looking back on this unhappy episode, he says, "We're ahead
of our time, that's all." George McGovern couldn't have said it better.
- There was this survey that reported that married people had four times
the median financial assets of divorced people, and I said it was not clear
why that should be the case. It is very clear to Henry H. Thayer of Boston,
Massachusetts, who writes to point out that divorced people typically have
the additional costs of supporting two households and paying substantial
legal fees. That makes sense.
- "Apartheid" in Australia seems a bit out of place, but that
is what some critics say is developing there. The National Council of Churches
in Australia (NCCA) is proposing to set up a separate, self- governing
national church organization for Aboriginals. Rejecting the apartheid charge,
an executive of the NCCA explained, "There's a world of difference
between apartheid that's used to enforce a power position and free space
that is requested so that the powerless may discover themselves and by
themselves make their own decisions. [It is] not a separation for all time
but as a provision of space at this point in the history of our nation."
Maybe so, but the language of that explanation pretty well mirrors the
old South Africa's stated rationale for setting up separate "homelands."
Whether or not apartheid is the right analogy, the NCCA proposal would
certainly seem to be advancing racial separatism, a disease afflicting
race relations in this country as well.
- The awarding of the Peace Prize at the Frankfurt book fair is usually
a snooze, and nothing controversial was expected when it was given to noted
Islamicist Annemarie Schimmel. She took the occasion, however, to criticize
Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses as a very deliberate assault
on Islam. While condemning the fatwa (death sentence) that some
Muslims have issued against Rushdie, Schimmel said, "I believe that
an author who consciously insults the prophet-and Rushdie understands how
highly Muhammad is revered in the Islamic world- is committing sacrilege."
Hosts of authors, including Gunter Grass and Taslima Nasrin, anathematized
Miss Schimmel, and petitions were signed calling on German president Roman
Herzog to boycott the award ceremonies (he showed up). Miss Schimmel said
that mutual tolerance is a feature of Islamic culture, unlike the culture
of Western intellectuals.
- Homer nodded, we are told, so we ought not to be scandalized when the
formidable Hilton Kramer, editor of the New Criterion, suffers a
moment's inattention. Nonetheless, one is taken aback by a statement in
that estimable journal in the course of a discussion of the poet Seamus
Heaney by a Richard Tillinghast. "Under the Catholic nationalist pro-gaelic
Eamon De Valera, the Republic of Ireland, once liberated from British rule,
pointedly distanced itself from the British side of its complex cultural
history. The result has been a cultural narrowness, where the Church has
banned books, kept divorce illegal, banned abortion." Once again we
have the curse of oppressive Catholicism standing in the way of progress.
But in the New Criterion?
- Here is another book telling us how truly beastly white folk are, and
not just white folk in general but American white folk in particular.
The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native
American Communities (Cambridge) by Colin G. Calloway argues that under
British rule the Indians and the whites hit it off something wonderful.
Then came the American Revolution and the wholesale slaughter of Indians
in order to seize their ancestral lands. The distinguished Harvard historian
Bernard Bailyn isn't buying. Reviewing Calloway in the New York Review
of Books, Bailyn points out, first, that the whites before and after
the Revolution were pretty much the same people, and, second, that the
genocidal propensities of the British in other parts of their empire more
than matched anything done by the Americans. But his main point is that
Calloway and others who self-righteously accuse Jefferson, Washington,
and others of being "hypocrites" with respect to Indians and
black slavery are simply wrong. The right of the strong to pillage, plunder,
and kill, as well as the right to own slaves, had been assumed through
almost all of human history. The new thing that appeared in the eighteenth
century is what Bailyn calls the American version of the Enlightenment,
with its fresh understanding of human dignity and laws appropriate to that
dignity. Bailyn writes: "What is surprising, in the context of the
time, is not that Jefferson as a war governor sent troops to drive out
enemy warriors, and for safety's sake recommended the expulsion of all
of the borderland Indians, and not that he continued to own slaves. What
is surprising is that he dreamed of a different, more just world, in which
humanity would be freed of its burdens, and did what he could to bring
it into being; not that he retained his inherited racism but that he struggled
with it, tried to think it through and to understand the contingencies
that lay behind apparent racial differences. We know that in much of this
he failed, but in much he succeeded. Lincoln had a better sense of historical
context than the historians who now condemn Jefferson for his racism. He
recognized that Jefferson remained a slaveholder, but he noted again and
again, in speech after speech, that Jefferson truly loathed slavery, spoke
out against it, condemned it as an abomination and a curse on mankind,
and insisted that since God is just and since His justice will not sleep
forever, someday, somehow, that curse would be wiped off the face of the
earth. America's Enlightenment project was not realized at the time, nor
has it been fully realized now. The miracle, in view of the everyday realities
of the eighteenth century, is that it existed at all, that it had any kind
of practical expression, however limited, in a world as brutal and exploitative
as the ancien regime, and that it established ideals to which, in our better
moments, we still aspire."
- "Commentary Gets Religion" is an article by A. J.
Bacevich in the Weekly Standard in which he reflects on the fiftieth
anniversary issue of Commentary where seventy-two writers (including
two editors of FT) address the capacious topic of "The National Prospect."
The remarkable thing, says Bacevich, is the evident consensus among these
intellectuals that the most pressing questions about the American present
and future are not economic, legal, or political in any ordinary sense
of those terms; the great questions are cultural, spiritual, moral, and
religious. "In short," writes Bacevich, "religion permeates
the Commentary symposium. This is a development of signal importance.
That even ten years ago a leading American intellectual journal would provide
a forum for such sentiments was all but inconceivable. That at the close
of this flamboyantly secular century an influential segment of the American
intelligentsia- arguably the most vigorous faction of the present-day intellectual
elite-should welcome, indeed demand, the return of religion to the public
square is nothing short of remarkable. The embrace of religion by conservative
intellectuals shatters the image of American religiosity as the province
of dim-witted rubes-an image relentlessly propagated by many in the mainstream
media. It also suggests that in the days to come the culture wars are likely
to get hotter, not cooler, with the so- called Religious Right increasingly
well-armed to engage in high-level combat. Finally, it means that the precarious
unity that the conservative movement has thus far preserved will be sorely
tested. For the impact of a genuine Great Awakening is unlikely to confine
itself exclusively to the realm of culture. The return of God to politics
will necessarily affect matters ranging from social justice to foreign
policy, most likely in ways that few conservatives today can anticipate."
- Matt Berke, our Managing Editor, wants to know to whom we're supposed
to send these sample issues.
Sources: John J. DiIulio, Jr., on the coming crime explosion,
Weekly Standard, November 27, 1995. Harold J. Berman lecture on "Law
and Logos," DePaul Law Review, Vol. 44, No. 1. David Quinn
on Cardinal Ratzinger, and Ratzinger quoted, Sunday Business Post
(Ireland), December 17, 1995; Avery Dulles on women's ordination, Tablet,
December 9, 1995. On "harvesting" organs for transplant from
living infants with anencephaly, American Medical News, December
While We're At It: "Ballad of the Goodly Fere" by Ezra Pound,
from Personae; Copyright 1926 by Ezra Pound; reprinted by permission
of New Directions Publishing Corp. On pornography in Kenosha, Wisc., Milwaukee
Journal Sentinel, November 7, 12, and 13, 1995. Review of Ian McKellan's
Richard III by Terrence Rafferty in New Yorker, January 22,
1996. Michael Bourdeaux on role of Western churches in dealing with Soviet
bloc, Tablet, November 11, 1995. George Kennan on Autopsy on
an Empire by Jack Matlock, New York Review of Books, November
16, 1995. On Michael Medved, New Jersey MetroWest Jewish News, November
23, 1995. Glenn Loury on black youth, Public Interest, Fall 1995.
New York Times op-ed musings, December 2, 1995. On Dutch Lutheran
Church blessing of gay relationships, ENI Bulletin, November 21,
1995. Harvey Cox on "The Transcendent Dimension," Nation,
January 1, 1996. On George Delury, New York Times, December 15,
1995. Graham Walker on pro-choice logic, Human Life Review, Winter
1996. Neal Freeman on Bill Rickenbacker, National Review, December
11, 1995. Charles Krauthammer on medicalizing morality, Public Interest,
Fall 1995. Irving Kristol on religion, Public Interest, Fall 1995.
On Chelsea House gay books series, Washington Post, October 27,
1995. On National Council of Churches in Australia and racial separatism,
ENI Bulletin, December 18, 1995. On controversy over awarding of Peace
Prize at Frankfurt book fair, Economist, October 21, 1995. On Catholic
Church in Ireland, New Criterion, December 1995. Bernard Bailyn
on The American Revolution in Indian Country by Colin G. Calloway,
New York Review of Books, October 5, 1995. A. J. Bacevich on Commentary
and the return of religion, Weekly Standard, December 4, 1995.