The Public Square
Richard John Neuhaus
Copyright (c) 1997 First
Things 75 (August/September 1997): 74-91.
In the Beauty of Holiness
When asked what he most misses since becoming a Roman Catholic, Father
George Rutler, a former Anglican, routinely responds, "The liturgy
in English." I feel his pain. Most Catholics apparently don’t, having
never known the King James Bible or liturgy in the tradition of the Book
of Common Prayer. Or, if they do, they exercise heroic patience with a
Mass that is linguistically pockmarked with banalities and barbarities.
In deciding on the lectionary, the book that contains the biblical lessons,
what a shame that after the Second Vatican Council the English-speaking
bishops were not ecumenical enough to choose the first Revised Standard
Version. The New International Version, now most widely used by Protestants,
is also immeasurably superior to the New American Bible now used in the
Mass. The Catholic story of Bible translation, it sometimes seems, is from
the Vulgate to the vulgar. When challenged by the literate, the biblical
and liturgical establishment defends the accuracy of the current translation.
Accuracy is very important, but it need not be the enemy of felicity, memorability,
Now a committee of American bishops has returned from Rome with permission
to introduce what may or may not be new mischief, "moderately inclusive
horizontal language." We are assured there will be no meddling with
"vertical" language that refers to God, which is heretical, but
references to human beings will be gender-nonspecific, which is only philistine.
Apart from the liturgical establishment and a relative handful of neophyliacs
who persist in confusing progress with change, there is no popular demand
for "inclusive" language. On the contrary, the evidence is that
a great majority of Catholics—and an even greater majority of Catholics
who attend Mass at least once a week—do not favor this innovation. Never
mind. As the bishop who until recently headed the U.S. committee on liturgy
declared in his valedictory, the People of God will just have to get used
to perpetual change.
A very different perspective is offered by the new Archbishop of Vienna,
Christoph Schönborn, who is one of the most respected theologians
in the Catholic world and was chosen by John Paul II to be chief editor
of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In a recent interview with
Our Sunday Visitor, Schönborn said: "To put it in a very
blunt way—and I hope I do not sin against charity—I think the whole debate
on inclusive language is a short period in a certain phase of modern history
which will pass very rapidly. In a few years we will ask ourselves, ‘What
was the problem?’ Equal dignity and the difference between male and female—both
are revealed truth and both are essential. Of course, man and woman have
the same dignity as creatures, as persons. Nevertheless, to banish gender
from language means to banish it from revelation. This is simply nonsense."
Schönborn adds that "language is not an arbitrary vestment that
you can take or leave. It’s not as if the fashion has changed, so we do
not wear a certain type of blue jeans any longer. Language, in the biblical
understanding, reveals reality."
The adoption of moderate horizontal inclusive fashions in the lectionary
is not the end of the world. The bishops who worked this out with Rome
feel they have successfully rebuffed zealots here who pressed for more
radical changes, and perhaps they have.
But one wonders why the zealots should be setting the agenda in the
first place. The bigger question is whether the Catholic Church can regain
a sense of worshipping God in the beauty of holiness. This requires a careful
reexamination of almost everything done in the last three decades in putting
the liturgy into English. There was a time when converts to Catholicism
were suspected of succumbing to aestheticism, which is worshipping the
holiness of beauty. No more. While there is a dramatic upsurge in the number
of adult converts—estimates are 200,000 per year in the U.S. alone—it seems
likely that many take the step despite the general liturgical and linguistic
slovenliness. Apostolic continuity, doctrinal confidence, and sacramental
substance cover a multitude of aesthetic sins.
Archbishop Schönborn again: "In a world full of so much ugliness,
liturgy should be a rest for the soul, a repose where the soul can breathe.
Beauty is not aestheticism. It is not an aim in itself. It is a glimpse
of God’s glory. We shouldn’t stay with the glimpse. I come from Austria
where, you know, we have some not-so-bad musicians. On the great feast
days, we have a Mass of Mozart or Schubert or Bruckner, and the liturgy
is celebrated in our great gothic cathedral, a marvelous space, shining
radiantly in morning light. This is really a glimpse of heaven’s glory.
This Easter Sunday the cathedral was full as I have never seen it. Thousands
of people standing, packed, crowded. Why? Because people are thirsting
for beauty and for what they rightly feel is behind beauty: the glory of
God revealed to us. Heaven opens in liturgy. Beauty in liturgy costs time,
love, care, commitment. We must take time for preparing the liturgy, looking
for the beauty of the flowers, the songs, the space, incense, candles.
All this has nothing to do with pure aestheticism, but is an expression
of love. The faithful feel whether in a church there is a love of God.
My experience is that, wherever you have a beautiful liturgy, people come.
People are attracted, and rightly. We should not say that this is only
a superficial attraction. Beauty is one way to God. It should never be
separated from goodness and truth. Beauty without goodness is not beauty;
so love for the poor has to be cultivated together with love for beauty—and,
of course, with love for truth."
The Two Religions of American Jews
"Most American Jews have two religions, Judaism and Americanism,
and you can’t have two religions any more than you can have two hearts
or two heads." So writes Adam Garfinkle, executive editor of the National
Interest, in the Winter 1996 issue of Conservative Judaism.
The American civic religion, says Garfinkle, is based upon contract and
has equality as its central dogma, while Judaism is based on revelation
and necessary inequalities, not least the difference between Jews and others.
"Moreover—and this is the key—contrary to common comfortable assumptions,
the demands that both Judaism and Americanism place upon our loyalties
are nearly all-encompassing to the extent that their spirits are taken
seriously. Both ways of thinking about society are religious in that they
depend on belief in certain values, and both generate universalist social
visions from those values. Judaism is less concerned with abstract theology
than with deeds, and the power of American values is not limited to the
public realm but inhabits the heart as well. Name any consequential public
policy issue, and both Judaism and Americanism speak to it with passion
Those Jews fool themselves who think that America is innocently secular.
Secularity is not neutral but creates a vacuum that is filled with the
belief system of civic religion. "Most American Jews have two religions
the way some men have one wife and one mistress, or some women one husband
and one lover. It is a condition that can be managed, learned from, even
enjoyed, sometimes for long periods. But it can never be brought to true
conciliation." Those who observe Jewish law, or halakhah, have a view
of authority that might be described as distinctly un-American. "In
traditional Jewish thought, social and political authority lies in the
hierarchical organization of society, which forms an interpretive funnel
backwards through time to make God’s will knowable and applicable on earth.
Individuals are born into a people, and into God’s covenant with that people.
They are not free political agents, free to interpret the Torah on ill-defined
or ambiguous issues. It is within such a paradigm that the Sanhedrin found
its basic meaning centuries ago and that the authority of Talmud and post-talmudic
responsa finds its binding force today." In addition, being "the
chosen people" makes a real difference. "The Jews do not merge
with the nations or convert them. They are, said Balaam in Numbers 23:9,
a people destined to live alone. Although Jewish ideas are universalist,
traditional Jews see themselves in exclusivist terms, a self-perception
that has caused endless confusion and resentment among non-Jews. Jewish
apologists like to emphasize the special burdens of this role and point
to the costs it has exacted on the Jewish people in history—no doubt all
true. But that does not change the basic fact, as even a casual reading
of central Jewish texts shows, that Jews have believed themselves special,
closer to the Divine than other peoples."
Pluralism Is No Answer
While some Jews think pluralism has solved the problem of being both
fully Jewish and fully American, the contrary is indicated in ways both
large and small. "They are correct in the sense that the enthronement
of cultural pluralism in America gives everyone the right to be different,
and the right to feel proud of it. Moreover, we have extended the right
to be different from individuals to groups; hence affirmative action and
class-action suits. As a result, thanks to various court decisions, it
is now much easier for Jews to be Sabbath-observant in a secular environment
than it was twenty-five years ago. Nevertheless, any group of Americans
that does not eat hot dogs at baseball games, whose athletically precocious
children do not play Little League on Saturday mornings, whose kids cannot
sleep over at most neighbors’ houses because of concern with kashrut,
and who feel strange when sent a Christmas card by oblivious coworkers,
is not fully American in the cultural sense that most Americans understand
Jewish difference should make a difference, says Garfinkle. "Does
the fact that halakhic Jews—as well as the Amish, Mennonites, and others—choose
not to partake in the potential universalism of America make them less
culturally American? Yes, it does. Does the primacy of group identity among
halakhic Jews clash with the individualist ethos of the American ideal?
Yes. And no placing of Holocaust Museums in Washington—at base an attempt
to turn a Jewish experience into an American one so that American Jews
can pretend that the Jewish parochialism they love and cling to and the
American universalism they admire and need do not conflict—can change that."
Among non-halakhic Jews, there are arguments between conservatives,
neoconservatives, and liberals, but at bottom they are agreed about their
ultimate allegiance to Americanism. "Not all non-halakhic Jews hear
the same things from the oracles of American democracy, of course; some
are conservative or neoconservative and they argue incessantly. When they
do, they sometimes raise the question of who is politically correct in
Jewish terms. The real ground of these arguments, however, has little to
do with Judaism; at best, it has to do with Jews and Jewish parochial interests
(like Israel). Thus, ‘Judaism’ is frequently impressed into the service
of the contending sides, but in fact it is the passion of American politics,
ideology, and foreign policy that really animates debate. Those both pro
and con are engaged with religious energies in a discourse over religious
principles, except that the god for whose sake all this is done is not
the Holy One, blessed be He, but rather the Republic for which it, the
American flag, stands."
Three Ways of Being Jewish
To make aliyah, or return to Israel, is important also to secular
Jews who are Zionists. Garfinkle writes, "The Jewish people today
is divided into three groups, a phenomenon unique to post-Emancipation
times. First are those who define their Jewish peoplehood in halakhic terms,
the traditional formula. Second are those Israeli Jews who define their
Jewishness in modern and avowedly secular national terms, in secular Zionism.
The second group will last at least as long as Israel survives and maybe
beyond, and the first group as long as halakhah survives. Third are non-halakhic
Jews in the Diaspora, including America. What of those who reject both
halakhah and aliyah? On what basis can their Jewishness endure?
If one asks them, they will say that one need not make aliyah to
be a Zionist and one need not follow halakhah to be a Jew. Despite its
popularity among American Jews, this answer makes no sense."
Garfinkle risks treading on some very sensitive toes: "One hates
to admit that people like Gore Vidal or Patrick Buchanan are ever right,
but those (admittedly few) American Jews who emphasize secular Zionism
to define their Jewishness do raise the problem of dual loyalty. It is
impossible for people who define their Jewishness solely in modern national
terms to explain not emigrating to Israel. As for being a Jew by religion
without halakhah, this has been attempted before and the eventual result,
with precious few exceptions, has always been the same: failure and assimilation.
Taken together, they form a veritable travesty of bad faith." Acknowledging
the "optimists" who come up with occasionally hopeful indicators
of Judaism’s flourishing in the future, Garfinkle is skeptical. "Jews
have the lowest birthrate of any American group, and assimilation through
intermarriage now exceeds 45 percent. As a result, Jews now constitute
2.7 percent of the American population whereas thirty years ago they constituted
3.7 percent. According to the June 1991 survey done by the Council of Jewish
Federations, 87.5 percent of Jews surveyed said that they would accept
the marriage of their child to a non-Jew."
A Grim Prognosis
The only promising and believable future for Judaism is for Jews to
be Jews. "Withal, ask any serious historian of Jewish life if Jews
would have survived as Jews throughout the centuries of exile without halakhah,
and you will be told, ‘probably not.’ Thus, only by assuming that America
is not exile (galut) for Jews, but more neutrally ‘Diaspora,’ can
we say that dispensing with halakhah carries no danger of cultural extinction.
But this assumption, common as it is, is almost certainly mistaken. The
American civil religion and the surrounding social ethos have virtually
destroyed the power of the Jewish worldview for most American Jews."
The prognosis is grim: "It has been nearly two centuries since the
Emancipation. In another two, there will probably be no significant non-halakhic
Diaspora Jewry in America. Only one thing is delaying this process, and
only two things might reverse it. The delaying factor is the State of Israel,
which constitutes a focus of Jewish identification outside the normal American
cultural context. But the positive association with Israel in the hearts
and minds of American Jewry is eroding over time."
The gravamen of Adam Garfinkle’s article is that Jews, especially religious
leaders, should stop fooling themselves about what they are doing. "We
must speak truthfully about what we find before us. When Reform rabbis
choose late-twentieth-century American or Western cultural standards over
halakhic ones to render judgment about ordaining homosexuals or women as
clergy, or when they officiate at mixed marriages, they are choosing
to affirm contemporary American concepts of equality and authority
and to reject Jewish ones. They are not reformulating Jewish tradition
within a Jewish framework; they are trying to change Jewish tradition and
law by substituting an Americanism whose basic principles are antithetical
to Jewish ones."
What Garfinkle says about Jews and Judaism can, mutatis mutandis, be
applied to the Christian circumstance in America. From a Christian perspective,
however, I would make the argument that Christianity is not "antithetical"
to the basic principles of Americanism. See, for instance, my recent article
"The Liberalism of John Paul II" (May), in which I contend that
we can and should reappropriate and revitalize the American liberal tradition.
My strong intuition is that such a reappropriation and revitalization is
also possible from an authentically Jewish standpoint. As with the arguments
of Christians such as Methodist Stanley Hauerwas and Catholic David Schindler,
I think Garfinkle’s stark antithesis between Americanism and authentic
religion is strategically dead-ended and, in the final analysis, wrong.
But of course it is for Jewish thinkers to explain why Garfinkle is wrong.
The great contribution of his argument is to underscore that there is a
very big problem, which, if not addressed effectively, may well result
in the death of Judaism in America.
China: Not By Bread Alone
From time to time, I find myself caught betwixt friends who are strongly
disagreeing in public. In this case it is Mr. Gary Bauer of the Family
Research Council and Father Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute, and the
subject is U.S. policy toward China. Bauer has been leading the forces
to deny China most favored nation (MFN) status, and Sirico is the champion
of free trade. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Fr. Sirico accuses
Bauer of ignoring "the difference between urging certain moral ends
and using government coercion to bring them about." That is not quite
right. Both of them are exercising their prudential judgment regarding
which U.S. policy will more likely move China toward democracy and respect
for human rights, especially for religious freedom.
Fr. Sirico protests that Bauer is in bed with labor unions and "protectionists,"
but surely it is in the nature of coalitions that you join with people
who might be doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Fr. Sirico asserts,
"Economic prosperity through free trade is the most effective distributor
of wealth and power, and trade with China is the surest way to break the
grip of centralized political power." Well, maybe. The day before
the Sirico piece appeared, the WSJ carried an article by its editor,
Robert Bartley, that more modestly asserted that we should accept the gamble
that free trade would lead to an alleviation of China’s atrocious record
on religious and other freedoms. I confess to more than a little skepticism
about the dogmatic assurance of "economic conservatives" that
free trade = democracy = peace.
Many years ago I worked at the Council on Religion and International Affairs
and kept on my wall a letter from its founder, Andrew Carnegie, confidently
declaring that "the bonds of sacred commerce" between the U.S.,
Great Britain, and Germany precluded the possibility of war. The letter
was written in the summer of 1914.
In any event, when fellow Christians are being persecuted we have an
obligation to speak out as effectively as possible, and it is obvious that
one effective way of getting China’s attention is to challenge its trade
privileges. So I think I’ll stay with Gary Bauer and the Catholic bishops
of the U.S. in opposing MFN. Against that position, Fr. Sirico says that
the Holy See is moving toward "an official recognition of the Catholic
Church on the mainland," presumably meaning the regime-approved patriotic
church. Perhaps. Rome has its own fish to fry in international diplomacy.
I am not privy to the details of that. I am persuaded that Christians in
America have the obligation to make as clear as they can their concern
for those who are persecuted, and especially those who are persecuted for
During the late unlamented cold war, we were told to mute our protest
because the question of religious persecution in the Soviet Union and elsewhere
was being addressed through "quiet diplomacy." Some of us rejected
that argument then, and should reject now the not entirely dissimilar argument
that the only effective response to political tyranny is the promotion
of economic prosperity. As I am sure Fr. Sirico agrees, fat tyrants are
no great improvement, especially when they can persuade or force their
subjects to live by bread alone.
Stemming the Epidemic Is Not Enough
The New Republic goes after us again in an editorial called "Obstruction
of Justice." "The current wave of judicial bashing," the
editors complain, "began in November, when First Things . . . published
‘The End of Democracy?,’ a symposium decrying judicial activism."
And now the editors think it has gone far enough; in fact it has gone much
too far. Congress is holding up confirmation of appointees to federal judgeships
and thus "obstructing justice." "It is disgraceful,"
we are told, "that the usual voices of responsible conservatism have
not found the courage to say publicly what they must know privately: there
is no epidemic of liberal judicial activism." In truth, the editors
claim, judges have been pulling in their horns, and they cite the upholding
of Proposition 209 in California and the (then expected) Supreme Court
refusal to find a constitutional right to assisted suicide.
Regrettably, TNR continues to miss the point. The argument is
not simply about "judicial activism" but about "the judicial
usurpation of politics." It is about government that is not derived
from the consent of the governed. Because they are, as presently constituted,
political institutions, the courts take fright when challenged and, here
and there, temporarily restrain their propensity for making laws. At the
moment, the challenge has concentrated the minds of some judges and there
may be no "epidemic" of judicial usurpation, but the disease
is widespread and entrenched. The search for remedies has hardly begun.
The editors of TNR say, "Robert Bork, having recently abandoned
his proposal for legislative override of judicial decisions as insufficiently
radical, now says he wants to end judicial review entirely." As I
understand it, that is not an entirely accurate representation of Bork’s
position, but the questions he is pressing are precisely what is needed
if we are to hope for anything better than periodic declines in the epidemic
of judicial usurpation.
Coming from a different angle, Ernest van den Haag attacks us in National
Review. "Where does First Things find the ‘higher law’ it wishes
to be adhered to by the Supreme Court? There is only one answer. We need
a theocracy as in Iran or Afghanistan. With all its imperfections, I prefer
our current system, a secular republic." The editors of National
Review, who have been supportive of the First Things initiative, respond
by citing the position of constitutional scholar Harry Jaffa "that
the Constitution tacitly incorporates the postulates of the Declaration
of Independence." "It was not deemed necessary, when the Bill
of Rights was argued, to make a case for the fetus or for heterosexual
marriage. Dr. van den Haag’s position, though seductive, must be approached
with caution. It is, after all, mutatis mutandis, a Nuremberg defense."
I would put it somewhat differently. Van den Haag charged that "First
Things advocates a moral reading that finds moral principles in the Constitution
which are not in the document. I, too, have moral principles. The first
one is: Don’t read into the Constitution things that aren’t there."
Although it is certainly not the first of my moral principles, and I hope
it is not that for van den Haag, I wholeheartedly agree. The job of judges
is to interpret the Constitution accurately, which means to do so in an
"originalist" reading that respects what those who wrote and
ratified it actually meant. A judge has no business invoking higher law
or his own political preferences to make the Constitution say what he thinks
it should have said. That is making law, and making law is the legislative
prerogative of those who represent the people, who also have the right
to amend the Constitution when they deem it necessary. It is not a Nuremberg
defense for a judge to limit himself to what the Constitution says. A faithful
reading of what the Constitution says, however, must of necessity attend
to the moral principles embraced by its authors, including the Declaration’s
"We hold these truths . . ."
These debates go on and on, as I was reminded in writing the extended
essay, "The Anatomy of a Controversy," for The End of Democracy?,
the book. (See the advertisement on page 92.) At first I thought to write
a relatively brief piece of about twenty-five pages, until it became obvious
that everybody (or so it seems) was getting in on the act. It turns out
that the question of judicial usurpation has produced in many quarters
a reconsideration of the basics of democratic government, which is all
to the good. Even better would be evidence that those in public office
are determined to find ways to check an out-of-control judiciary, such
evidence being at present in short supply.
The Academic Guild and the Church’s Faith
Meeting in Minneapolis-St Paul, the Catholic Theological Society of
America (CTSA) overwhelmingly approved—by a vote of 216 to 22—a report
on "Tradition and the Ordination of Women." The week before the
vote, Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote: "For members of the CTSA to
revisit this teaching at such a late date, when so many other urgent issues
face the Church, is more than just disappointing. It will not solve the
vocations problem. It creates unnecessary and belated confusion. And it
raises questions about the CTSA’s continuing usefulness for the life of
the Church. As a bishop, it is certainly my counsel and hope that the CTSA
will retire this document as briskly as possible." But of course his
counsel and the urgent counsel of others was not heeded.
The CTSA report was couched in terms both academic and deferential to
the Church’s teaching authority. Tonalities aside, however, the substantive
reality is a rejection of the authority of the Church’s magisterium. Pope
John Paul II solemnly declared that the Church is not authorized to ordain
women to the presbyterate. In response to an inquiry, the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the express approval of the Pope, said
that teaching is infallible. The CTSA disagrees. Rhetorical cautions notwithstanding,
it has invited a wide-open debate of the question, and it is no secret
that many, perhaps most, of its members strongly favor the ordination of
There are many pieces to this development, and it will receive more
thorough attention in a forthcoming issue. Suffice it for the moment that
the CTSA action will exacerbate confusions, but it does not create a crisis,
except for the future of CTSA and the academic guild that it represents.
In the words of Archbishop Chaput, "It raises questions about the
CTSA’s continuing usefulness for the life of the Church." And it raises
questions for the Catholic colleges and universities in which the several
hundred members of CTSA teach.
There is considerable disagreement about the criteria to be met for
a papal declaration to be infallible. The only undisputed exercise of infallible
teaching authority as specified by the First Vatican Council was the definition
of the Assumption of Mary in 1950. There can be no disagreement, however,
that in deciding what teachings of the Church are infallible, the members
of CTSA have substituted their own judgment for the judgment of the Pope
and those authorized to speak in his name. In making that substitution,
it would seem that CTSA has abdicated any claim to being an ecclesial body
with some role, however ill-defined, in the Church’s teaching ministry.
The upshot of the CTSA action is that it is now on record that two hundred-plus
Catholic teachers of theology in colleges and universities do not agree
with what the Pope, the bishops, and unbroken tradition say the Church
teaches. At this late date, that will hardly come as news to anybody. The
news is that the CTSA as an organization has—its claims to the contrary
notwithstanding—withdrawn from the community of ecclesial reflection devoted
to ever more clearly expressing and transmitting the Catholic faith, which
is perhaps just as well.
President Clinton and the White Race
"E Pluribus Unum." "Out of the one, many," as Vice
President Gore translated it. That received some derisive comment, but
nothing as compared with Dan Quayle’s adding an "e" to the spelling
of potato. Maybe that is because Gore’s blooper was not a blooper. It accurately
reflects the policy of this Administration. The term for that policy is
multiculturalism—as in David Dinkins’ "gorgeous mosaic," as in
the comment of the White House aide who cheerfully announced that by the
year 2050 there would be "fifty million Muslims in the United States."
As, most notably, in President Clinton’s San Diego commencement speech
on race relations.
"Can we become one America in the twenty-first century?" Clinton
asked. In answer, he lifted up the state of Hawaii, which "has no
majority racial or ethnic group. It is a wonderful place of exuberance
and friendship and patriotism." Lest anyone miss the point, he declared
more flatly, "A half century from now, when your own grandchildren
are in college, there will be no majority race in America." There
are several assumptions here. First, that immigration will continue at
well over a million per year, and involving mainly nonwhite populations.
Second, that the birth rate of immigrants will far exceed that of the native
born. Third, that this is inevitable, the American people having no say
about it or else having agreed that this would be a good thing. Fourth
and most troubling, that the current majority consists of a race called
The polite term for this is racialism. The more common term is racism.
Apart from Aryan militia circles, few nonblack, non-Asian, non-Hispanic
Americans think of themselves as belonging to the white race. Clinton was
criticized by many for not backing up his words in San Diego with an announcement
of new policy initiatives. The alarming thing about the speech, however,
was the resurrection of the idea of a white race, an idea from the era
of Bull Connor that most of us hoped was definitively past. Pitting the
"majority race" against nonwhite claimants to justice is a sure
formula for exacerbating the tensions that Clinton says he wants to heal.
It necessarily involves, among other things, the discredited and profoundly
unjust policies of affirmative action and quotas that, not surprisingly,
Clinton strongly defended in San Diego.
We have agreed in these pages with those who say we must regain control
over immigration policies that are manifestly out of control. We have strongly
disagreed when they say that race should be a factor in shaping immigration
policies. No good can come from asking the American people, as some say
they should be asked, whether they think it is a good idea that fifty years
from now a majority of the population should be nonwhite. That is a racialist,
if not racist, way of posing the question. Regrettably, albeit from the
other side of the immigration debate, that is the way President Clinton
has posed the question.
Multiculturalists and the champions of a white majority have in common
the aim of raising race-consciousness, and in this they powerfully reinforce
one another. To tell the majority of Americans, as Clinton did, that they
should "celebrate" the prospect that in fifty years most Americans
will not be like them is politically stupid and morally wrong. It is politically
stupid because most people think that being like them is a pretty good
thing. It is morally wrong because it invites the majority of people to
identify themselves by race. The most long-standing and divisive struggle
in American history—from abolition through the civil war to the civil rights
movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr.—has been to overcome the racial
mindset endorsed, however inadvertently, by Bill Clinton. Good arguments
can be made for continuing to welcome a large number of immigrants to this
country. But does the President really want to frame the public debate
in terms of the proposal that a half century from now there will be no
majority race in America? One earnestly hopes not.
While We’re At It
- Do we have a subscription agent? We would like to think we have about
thirty thousand of them. They are subscribers like you who give gift subscriptions
to others---and who send us lists of family members, friends, and associates
to whom we can send a sample issue of FT. Think of how grateful they’ll
be. You win, we win, they win. If that sounds like a very good deal, it
- It has been observed that when you come across an article titled "Whither
Incest?" you somehow know it’s not going to be a vigorous defense
of the prohibition against incest. Something similar obtains with the title
of a San Diego conference sponsored by the Association of Adventist Forums,
"What is a Person? How to Decide Which Human Lives are Precious."
The forums are sponsored by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, a generally
conservative body with about eight million members worldwide. The featured
speaker at the San Diego meeting is Dr. Jim Walters of Loma Linda University,
an Adventist institution. By way of contrast to what are called the "physicalist"
and "personalist" positions, Dr. Walters proposes his own answer
to the question, "What is a Person?": "I advance a middle,
common-sense approach, Proximate Personhood, arguing that the greater
the proximity or nearness of the individual to that of undisputed personhood---such
as the reader of this [article]---the greater the individual’s moral status.
I see this approach reflecting E. G. White’s view that human nature is
distinct in that it resembles a divine ability to think and to do."
Proximate personhood. Very interesting. One hopes that the recommended
bibliography for the conference will include some excellent works in that
vein written by German scholars in the 1920s and ’30s.
- You can’t please everybody. Professor Richard Stith of Valparaiso University
Law School tells me there are folk who think this journal does not take
a strong enough stand against abortion. They are starting a new publication—First
People, Then Things. He’s kidding of course. I think.
- Shortly before his death, the French writer André Malraux said,
"The twenty-first century will be religious or it will not be at all."
Many might take that as unqualifiedly good news, but I think that is a
mistake. Religion is as riddled through and through with the capacity for
evil as any other dimension of human life. For many reasons, Christianity
is more favorably situated at the edge of the third millennium than its
chief culture-forming rival, Islam. Recently, Vatican officials, among
others, have noted an increasingly violent encounter between Islam and
Christianity. Last year a Catholic bishop was slain in the Philippines,
and so far this year there have been new Muslim attacks against Christians
in Uganda, Pakistan, Egypt, and Indonesia. Jesuit Father Thomas Michel,
a student of Islam, observes, "Previously, I think we had this unexamined
idea of [Muslim-Christian] dialogue that ties in with a historical optimism
that things were going to continue to get better. Now I think we understand
that dialogue has got to be carried on in the worst of situations, at all
times." Bat Ye’or, a French scholar born in Egypt, has published a
sobering account of Christian-Muslim relations through the centuries, The
Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude (Fairleigh
Dickinson University Press). (See notice in Briefly Noted.) In the foreword,
noted French Protestant scholar Jacques Ellul writes, "The world,
as Bat Ye’or brilliantly shows, is divided into two regions: the dar
al-Islam and the dar al-harb; in other words, the ‘domain of
Islam’ and the ‘domain of war.’" Jihad and dhimmitude (the subjection
of non-Muslims) is, he writes, a permanent institution of Islam, and the
West is all too slow in awakening to the fact that the current phase of
Muslim aggression has been going on for some years. The dialogue that Fr.
Michel rightly sees as an undeniable imperative for Christians must be
conducted within the context of conflict depicted with such stark realism
by Bat Ye’or and other scholars.
- Postmodernism is a bad thing. That is the received wisdom among almost
all stripes of conservatives. There is another view, however, that has
been popping up from time to time over the last ten years or so in which
postmodernism has been a hot topic. It is represented by, among many others,
Thomas A. Howard of the University of Virginia, who is writing in the National
Interest on the Swiss-German historian Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897):
"Finally, Burckhardt’s anti-modernism is relevant to our ‘postmodern
condition.’ While one does well to eschew the extreme relativism and irony
of postmodernism, we must also recognize that the current moment, for all
its shortcomings, has fostered a healthy recognition of the limits and
indeterminacy of human thought, action, and language. It is no accident
that Burckhardt’s Augustinian sensibilities are mistaken as proto-postmodern
ones by theologically unsophisticated contemporary critics. This case of
mistaken identity suggests that certain aspects of postmodernism may hold
much in common with a more traditional, religion-based anthropology and
epistemology. While orthodox religiosity and postmodernism are certainly
far from soulmates, the current tendency toward wholesale dismissal of
postmodernism among both pious and nonpious conservatives may not, in the
final analysis, reflect judicious insight. Rather, perhaps it only represents
a conditioned negative response to novelty. Yet as St. Augustine reminds
us in his famous reply to Tertullian, one often must take from the spoils
of Egypt, yet put them to better use." Many religious thinkers are
attracted by postmodernism’s accent on the limitations of reason, against
the hubris of Enlightenment rationalism. But the Christian tradition cannot
survive unmutilated postmodernism’s abolition of reason. Howard is right
to caution against "a conditioned negative response to novelty."
I continue to think that postmodernism in its several forms is much more
enemy than ally. On the other hand, there is indeed venerable precedent
for turning the spoils of Egypt to the service of truth and this may happen
in the years ahead with postmodernism, although by then it will likely
be called something else.
- Our Midge Decter, reviewing Barbara Dafoe Whitehead’s The Divorce
Culture in the Public Interest: "The truth is, the divorce
culture has come upon us not as the result of our selfishness---people
have always been selfish---and not as the result of the tension between
the sexes---that tension has been a permanent fixture of human existence---and
not out of any unconcern for our children---children have seldom in history
been so much attended to and so kindly treated as ours. The disarray, so
well described in The Divorce Culture, is brought about by the fact
that the lives we lead are in respect of ease and comfort and confidence
and good health simply unprecedented. Never have so many, even the poor
among us, had so much. We are disoriented. We do not know whether to laugh
or to cry; we do not know whom or what to thank; and we cannot think of
what there might be to want next. And so we giggle and preen and complain
and forget our debts and keep on seeking for things (and sometimes finding
them). In short, there is no merely social cure for what ails us. But Barbara
Dafoe Whitehead has at least helped us to stop kidding ourselves about
one aspect of our lives, and that is a help. The rest---who knows?---may
require the power of God himself."
- The former treasurer of the Episcopal Church is currently serving five
years for embezzling $2.2 million, and in the wake of that disaster questions
are being raised about the use of $220 million in trust funds for which
the treasurer was responsible. The Washington Times reports, for
instance, that one $2.3 million trust has been used to advocate support
for the abortion license even though it was established "for support
of parishes and churches to directly or indirectly, through educational
enterprise or otherwise, contribute toward the preservation of the republican
form of government in the United States." Alas, that is no doubt the
mandate that Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning and the Religious Coalition
for Reproductive Choice would claim they are fulfilling in promoting abortion
on demand. The story of philanthropy in America is that it makes very little
difference what the original donors had in mind.
- Barry Lynn is one of those fellows I’ve been bumping into for years
on the lecture circuit. Having served briefly as a United Church of Christ
minister, Lynn went to work for the ACLU, and since 1992 has headed up
Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Under his leadership,
AU has grown to fifty thousand members, with assets of $6.5 million, twenty-two
employees in a handsome Washington townhouse, and an annual budget of $2
million. In the words of the Wall Street Journal, "Mr. Lynn
and his followers are pioneers in the growing field of self-appointed IRS
snitches---tax-code vigilantes attempting to help the government police
the porous border between tax-exempt organizations and the election campaign
activity from which they are legally barred." The Journal has
been tracking the sharp increase in IRS audits of mainly conservative tax-exempt
organizations, including the Institute on Religion and Public Life. Lynn
and his colleagues have focused their attention chiefly on local churches
associated with conservative politics. Americans United lost its exempt
status in the 1960s and then regained it in 1980, after which, according
to Lynn, it has had no problems with IRS. A larger question that Congress
should address is the way in which IRS criteria of "nonpartisanship"
can impinge seriously on the constitutionally guaranteed free exercise
of religion. Viewed from its partisan perspective, the vigilantism of AU
is not surprising. What is a little surprising is that the agitation over
tax-exemption is prompting some people, also on the conservative side of
the line, to urge that churches should, for the sake of moral purity and
freedom of action, give up their tax-exempt status. The most persuasive
argument against that position is still Dean Kelley’s book of some years
ago with the straightforward title, Why Churches Should Not Pay Taxes.
- So proud were we of our avoidance of any mention of the O. J. Simpson
case when everybody else seemed to be going berserk over it. But now we
are provoked by Dennis Prager’s newsletter, the Prager Perspective.
He quotes Henry Louis Gates, Jr., head of African American studies at Harvard:
"People are saying it’s a black verdict and a white verdict. But I
prefer to think of it as a wrong verdict and a right verdict." The
editors of the New York Times went so far as to say, "The facts
justified two trials and two verdicts." We’ve been cautioned against
using the word "intriguing," but that’s intriguing. Justice required
that he be found both innocent and guilty of murdering his ex-wife and
her boyfriend. Prager: "The New York Times editorial not only
defended the first verdict, it also took a swipe at whites while omitting
any criticism of blacks. The Simpson case, the Times editorialized,
led ‘to stereotyping by bigoted whites and distrust of the legal system
among many blacks.’ Yet the truth was quite the opposite. The O. J. Simpson
case gave impetus to bigoted blacks and led to a distrust of the legal
system among many whites." Prager suggests that most blacks saw Simpson
as a black man accused of murder, while most whites saw Simpson as a man
accused of murder who happened to be black. He writes: "Many members
of minorities, especially those that have been persecuted, walk around
thinking that when people see them, all they see is their minority identity.
Thus, to most blacks, a black man, again, was on trial for a terrible crime.
But what made this black man different was that his crime was the most
publicized crime of this generation. To most blacks, it is almost inconceivable
that most whites saw O. J. Simpson, not a black man." Blacks and whites,
contra the general media line, do not have two different views of the criminal
justice system that led blacks to think O. J. innocent and whites to think
him guilty. Blacks, too, thought he was guilty, but also enjoyed seeing
a black man "beat the system." Prager again: "Most whites
were furious at Simpson’s acquittal. They saw Simpson as a murderer, not
as a black, just as they saw the Menendez brothers as murderers, not as
Hispanics. Most whites simply saw a murderer get away with murder. So,
ironically, thanks to Johnny Cochran, to the race obsession of many blacks,
and to the media which fed on the race aspect of a case that never began
as one, white anger at a murderer acquitted was imagined by most blacks
as white anger over a black man acquitted."
- What kind of bias is it when Human Rights Watch 1997 lists fully
staffed projects aimed at protecting the human rights of alleged victims
of multinational corporations, journalists, academics, drug users, gays
and lesbians, and prisoners, but nothing on religious believers who are
subjected to worldwide persecution? The publication is put out by Human
Rights Watch, based in New York and chaired by Roland L. Bernstein. Antireligious
bias, perhaps. Class bias, certainly, in the case of journalists, academics,
or gays and lesbians, who are, in the view of the human rights establishment,
"our kind of people." Anticorporate bias, possibly. Prisoners,
on the other hand, are in the certified victims category. Of course everybody
should have their human rights protected, but it is manifestly very difficult
for the knowledge class in this country to gin up sympathy for religious
believers who do not belong to exotic groups, and especially for Christians
who, everybody knows, are not victims but victimizers. Never mind that,
as evidenced in China, Vietnam, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, Christians
are far and away the largest group targeted for brutal persecution in the
- Mr. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, gets in
deeper and deeper. He has been critical of Nina Shea of Freedom House and
others for raising the alarm about religious persecution in China. This
is an instance of "special pleading," says Mr. Roth in an interview
with New York magazine. Anyway, he says, victims of religious persecution
have been a "core concern" of Human Rights Watch. Unlike drug
users, children, women, prisoners, journalists, academics, gays and lesbians,
and alleged victims of multinational corporations, victims of religious
persecution "never suffered much neglect." Then Mr. Roth did
an interview with the Toronto Star in which he challenged claims
by Shea and others that there has been a dramatic increase in anti-Christian
persecution. "How does she know?" he asks. "I have a hard
time understanding that when no one has been keeping track until now."
So it seems that religious persecution is a long-standing core concern
of Human Rights Watch but nobody, including Human Rights Watch, has been
paying attention to it until now.
- The Interfaith Alliance styles itself as a "mainline" alternative
to "extremist" groups such as the Christian Coalition, and it
recently enlisted Walter Cronkite to sign a promotional letter on its behalf.
The Alliance is funded in significant part by the Democratic Party, but
the letter declares that its national board includes "some of America’s
most distinguished religious leaders," who are "as diverse as
America." Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy comments:
"The Interfaith Alliance’s board is about as diverse as a Soviet politburo
during the empire’s final, geriatric years. Yes, some were bald, others
had bushy eyebrows. Some came from Leningrad, others from Minsk. Some were
septuagenarians, others were octogenarians. Soviet leadership diversity
ended there. So too for the Interfaith Alliance, whose board is comprised
almost entirely of the tired voices of 1960s church activism, the last
era of glory for the Religious Left. There are the usual suspects from
the reliably anachronistic National Council of Churches. There are two
Catholic bishops from the church’s left-fringe. Three liberal rabbis. And
several black denominational leaders who shun the social conservatism typical
of most black churches." Tooley then offers a person-by-person profile
of the "most distinguished religious leaders" on the Alliance
board. It is a trip down memory lane for those who were there during the
radicalisms of the sixties, but it may be instructive for young people
who have not reached the half-century mark. For the complete text, write
Mr. Tooley at IRD, 1521 16th Street, NW, Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20036.
- "By their fruits ye shall know them" is subject to sundry
interpretations. An interpretation of more than usual interest is offered
by Episcopal bishop Walter C. Righter, who ordained actively gay Barry
Stopfel and was subsequently tried for heresy and acquitted. According
to the Sunday News Journal of Wilmington, Delaware, "Righter
said Stopfel’s ministry proves he merited ordination. ‘He had a Christmas
offering this year of $26,000. That’s the highest offering of any church
on the East Coast. What’s that to be afraid of?’" Cash box and case
- Elizabeth Kastor of the Washington Post extolling a priest who
died of AIDS: "A man who had taken a vow of celibacy he privately
repudiated, a man who loved being a priest so much he was willing to accommodate
himself to a life of irreconcilable contradiction." This in a culture
where the word "hypocrisy" is otherwise so readily employed.
- I have been glad to play a little part in brokering some meetings between
members of the Bruderhof and Catholic prelates. For Catholics, such meetings
may seem like no big deal, since Catholics are ready to talk with everybody.
But those in the Anabaptist tradition of the Bruderhof have a better memory
of the bloody history of religious warfare in which Catholics and other
Christians did terrible things to their forebears. For them, these encounters
are historic events without precedent in the past four hundred years. My
own bishop, John Cardinal O’Connor, has in this, as is in so many other
instances, extended himself very generously. This is also an occasion to
give some notice to the work of the Plough Publishing House, run by the
Spring Valley Bruderhof (RD 2, Box 446, Farmington, PA 15437). They have
brought out some disarmingly simple and engaging books by Johann Christoph
Arnold, including Hopeful Parenting in a Confused World and, a particular
useful work, A Plea for Purity: Sex, Marriage, and God. The latter
carries a foreword by Mother Teresa. For more information, write to Plough
at the above address. (In April, Dan Rather and CBS did a scurrilous profile
of the Bruderhof, depicting it as an authoritarian, sexist cult, among
the usual hokum. More on that, space willing, next month.)
- I reviewed Father Thomas Reese’s Inside the Vatican (Harvard
University Press) for the New York Times Book Review (March 2, 1997)
and will not repeat what I said there. Suffice it that the book is a generally
reliable guide to the inner workings of the Holy See, although seriously
marred by Fr. Reese’s exaggeration of theological dissent and his view
that the papacy should be a kind of clearing house for the Church restructured
as a confederation of national churches. There is another point that should
be on the record, however. We pray it will be a long time off, but at some
time there will be an election of a new pope. Fr. Reese believes that the
new rules for electing a pope issued by John Paul II (Universi Dominici
Gregis, succeeding Romano Pontifici Eligendo) make it easier
for the conclave of cardinals, most of whom have been appointed by the
present pope, to elect a "conservative" in his image. Leaving
aside the peculiar use of conservative/liberal categories with regard to
a pope, the change in the rules is that if, after thirty inconclusive ballots
and many pauses for reconsideration, the conclave is still deadlocked,
it can be decided by two-thirds of the cardinals that a pope can be elected
by an absolute majority rather than by two-thirds plus one of the ballots
cast. Before, such a change in the event of a deadlock required unanimous
agreement by all the electors. Such a deadlock after thirty ballots is
exceedingly unlikely, and the new rules simply intend to avoid the remote
possibility of a conclave dragging on interminably without being able to
reach a decision. When, we pray many years from now, the conclave is held,
it will be worth keeping this note in mind, for you can be sure that there
will be mischievous commentators who will exploit Fr. Reese’s concern in
order to suggest that the new pope was not elected fair and square. Of
course conspiracy buffs have had a heyday with papal elections for centuries,
and no set of rules is likely to change that.
- Among the more reflective comments on the disaster in Rancho Santa
Fe is offered by David Gelernter of Yale. The lethal course chosen by the
followers of Heaven’s Gate reflects, he says, a naked public square in
which authentic religion has been marginalized. "Evidently, the cult’s
goal in recent years was to ‘overcome’ any attachment to money, sex, and
family life, and to live in a strictly authoritarian community—a re-creation
of the poverty, chastity, and obedience of Christian holy orders. Its members
seemed to reach repeatedly for traditional Christian ideas and come up
bare—their souls needed religion but their minds were stocked only with
Hollywood junk." We should, writes Gelernter, recognize the desperation
behind these suicides. "The idea that suppressing religion in the
public square could actually mean anything or have consequences
is, for the average sophisticate, a proposition to snort at. Yet here we
are as a nation starved for religion, and the hunger is fiercest at upper
social levels, where people set up shop as Web-page designers. The fundamentalist
churches are doing fine, but they don’t do much business among the technological
elite. When the old religions are reeling, people cobble together new ones.
In spiritually ignorant times like ours the new ones won’t be much good,
generally speaking, but people need something. Environmentalism
is a favorite religion nowadays; its leaders are explicit about its spiritual
side. You can’t display the Ten Commandments in public schools these days,
but teachers are encouraged to peddle recycling dogma. Environmentalism
is not for everyone, though, and it seems likely that the tragedy of Heaven’s
Gate is the story of spiritually famished people whipping up a religion
like island castaways piecing together, in their dire need, a semblance
of civilization out of driftwood and spit." As air pollution is worse
in some places than others but finally touches all of us, so it is also
with the cultural pollution produced by the banishment of religion. "Today’s
crusade against religion has done the same sort of thing. Most of us shrug
it off. The crusaders keep hitting us, but we can take it. The stronger
among us remain Christians and Jews in the old sense, or find satisfaction
in America’s new secular religions. The weaker join cults. The weakest
- David Foster of the Associated Press is partly right. He notes that
there is a connection between Christianity and the suicides in Rancho Santa
Fe. The connection is that Heaven’s Gate is a current and especially bizarre
version of an ancient Christian heresy called gnosticism. The lesson to
be drawn is that it is very important to get Christian teaching right.
The lesson drawn by Mr. Foster is that there is something dangerously crazy
about Christianity. "But thoughts of death and resurrection are hardly
confined to California cults, especially around Easter. The story of Jesus’
dying on the cross and rising from his tomb lies at the core of Christianity.
. . . A few would blame Christianity itself for the route [Marshall] Applewhite
and his followers followed. The Bible is filled with absurdities, said
Ann Gaylor, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist
group based in Madison, Wisconsin. Although commentators warned of ‘cybercults’
recruiting followers on their Web sites, most failed to note that the Vatican
has a Web site, too." How could they have missed such an obvious connection
with the thirty-nine suicides in California?
- Among the more acute commentators on the collective suicides at Rancho
Santa Fe is Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic. "The ascetic
hackers in Rancho Santa Fe busied themselves with speculation about the
fate of the soul, about the relation of the soul to the body, about the
consequences for the inner world of traffic with the outer world. These
are old and good and hard subjects, and I cannot say that pondering them
is in any way less important that pondering, say, ‘the iron law of stardom,’
or what makes Miramax tick. Those who dwell on the religious themes always
run the risk of seeming unsophisticated; and if they are really lucky,
they will not only seem unsophisticated, they will also be unsophisticated.
A great writer said to me many years ago that ‘the truth, whatever it is,
is strange.’ I felt castigated by his remark. We were sitting on a summer
lawn in Vermont and speaking about the gullibility of intellectuals, and
he counted gullibility among the sins of his own life; and what struck
me was the humility of his tone. Think strictly, he was saying, and expect
an unexpected result. The important thing, in the analysis of existence,
is never to care about embarrassment." Wieseltier is certainly not
approving of what the Santa Fe group did, but he is rightly contemptuous
of the "cult experts" and others who treat them as weirdos beyond
the pale of sanity. "So they got out, spaceship or no spaceship. I
hope it was good, though I can’t see how. I can see that the wrong answers
to the right questions are preferable to the right answers to the wrong
- So the Department of Defense issued this directive forbidding chaplains
to urge folk to write Congress on the partial-birth abortion ban. This
did not sit at all well with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, headed
by the formidable attorney Seamus Hasson. They took it to the United States
District Court for the District of Columbia, which forcefully reminded
the Pentagon that we still have the "free exercise" provision
of the First Amendment, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to boot.
One imagines some desk general asking, "Who will free us from this
turbulent Becket Fund?"
- "Just one year ago," says a publication of Focus on the Family,
"it appeared that the Christian church in America was on the way out—out
of people’s hearts, out of their schedules, and out of their lives."
But now the Barna Research Group has done another annual survey, and things
are looking up. To premise one’s view of the state of Christianity in America
on an annual poll is worthy of Dick Morris and his former employer in the
White House. Nonetheless, the rest of the story is not without interest.
"Barna’s research for 1995 and 1996 showed that 39 percent of Americans
adults were ‘born again.’ This year’s study, released last Friday, shows
the portion of born-again adults has increased to 43 percent. In Barna
Research surveys, ‘born-again Christians’ are those who have ‘made a personal
commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their lives today’
and who believe they will ‘go to heaven because they have confessed their
sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.’ People who call themselves
‘Christian,’ but do not fit the ‘born-again’ criteria are classified as
‘not Christian.’ So, where are these new Christians, when so many churches
in America are showing membership declines or zero growth? According to
Barna, the increase is ‘largely due to the rapid expansion of born-again
Christians within the Catholic Church.’ In 1995, only one-fifth of all
Catholic adults (22 percent) were born again. Today, almost one-third (31
percent) fit the classification---a 41 percent increase in two years! Catholics
now constitute 16 percent of the adult born-again population---one of every
six born-again Christians---trailing only those associated with Baptist
churches (31 percent)." The increase in the number of Catholics who
fit Barna’s definition of "born again" is striking, and a number
of possible explanations suggest themselves, but it is a truncated and
non-Catholic view of Christian faith that counts as "not Christian"
those who decline to jump through the formulaic hoops of an opinion poll.
- In Etowah County, Alabama, Judge Roy S. Moore has refused to obey a
higher court order to remove the Ten Commandments from his courtroom wall.
In April, thousands of citizens, organized by groups such as the Christian
Coalition and the American Family Association, rallied in Montgomery, the
state capital, to support the judge. And the governor supports them, declaring
his readiness to use state troopers to resist any interference with Judge
Moore’s courtroom. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church
and State, a Washington lobby, contends: "The organizers of this rally
are courting anarchy and promoting theocracy. Many Christians have been
fooled into thinking this really is about support for the Ten Commandments.
In fact, it’s about opposition to the rule of law and church-state separation.
When public officials threaten to defy lawful court orders and vow to enforce
their personal religious agenda, the American form of government is placed
in jeopardy." The concerned citizens of Alabama, on the other hand,
contend that they are acting on their democratic right and obligation to
restore the rule of law by supporting a public symbol of judicial accountability
to "the law of nature and of nature’s God," as the Founders put
it. Now how do you suppose this disagreement might be resolved? It seems
it cannot be decided by the higher court, since its role is the very matter
in dispute. Mr. Lynn might be asked to adjudicate the matter, but one gets
the impression that he has already made up his mind. So perhaps it will
have to be decided by the people of Alabama petitioning for the redress
of grievance and acting through the representative means of government
established by their constitution. Why do so many Americans today think
that is a dangerously radical idea?
- "You exaggerate the decline in the number of Jesuits," a
reader complains. Well, maybe, but all I said is that there had been a
sharp decline in recent decades. Another reader sends the pertinent data
from "Demographia in Societate Iesu." In 1960, counting scholastics,
novices, brothers, and priests, there were 34,687 Jesuits, with a pattern
of as many four hundred additions each year. In 1966, the numbers started
to go down, with over a thousand leaving or dying in some years. In 1996,
there was a decline of 353, leaving 22,227 Jesuits in the world. I think
that meets any reasonable definition of "sharp decline."
- Nobody has ever suggested that modesty is Norman Mailer’s strong suit.
He has now written an "autobiography" of Jesus, The Gospel
According to the Son (see J. Bottum’s review in this issue, page 53).
Random House sends out an interview with Mailer in which he says he felt
up to the challenge of speaking for Jesus because his own status as a celebrity
has endowed him with "a slight understanding of what it’s like
to be half a man and half something else, something larger." Mailer
goes on: "‘Obviously, a celebrity is a long, long, long, long way
from the celestial,’ he said, ‘but nonetheless it does mean that you have
two personalities you live with all the time. One is your simple self,
so to speak, which is to some degree still like other people, and then
there’s the opposite one, the media entity, which gives you power that
you usually don’t know how to use well. So the parallel was stronger than
I realized.’" According to Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times,
in Mailer’s account God the Father and Son "are fond of self-dramatization,
and both tend to feel put upon by their public responsibilities. . . .
In trying to describe Jesus and God as accessible novelistic characters,
Mr. Mailer has turned them into familiar contemporary types: he has knocked
them off their celestial thrones and turned them into what he knows best,
celebrities." One gathers that the book conveys a slight understanding
of what it’s like to be half repulsed and half something else, like bored.
- I keep explaining that this is not a newspaper, not even a newsletter
about all and sundry. But readers keep asking why I didn’t comment on this
or that. So let me preempt the letters by saying that the appointment of
Archbishop Francis George to Chicago is an altogether splendid development.
Archbishop George, formerly of Portland, Oregon, is a dear friend and has
worked with our institute, making most particular contributions in the
theological conversations connected with "Evangelicals and Catholics
Together." He is a man of deep faith, vibrant orthodoxy, immense learning,
and great personal charm. With those who disagree with him, he has an unflappable
and disarming capacity for dialogue that is always in service to the truth.
Had the Pope asked me who should be appointed to Chicago, which he certainly
did not, I could not have come up with a better answer than Francis George.
Need I say that he will need our prayers?
- George Gallup stays with it, polling the religion pulse of the nation.
The 1997 report is that 96 percent of the people say they believe in God
(95 percent in 1996) and, as has been the case through the 1990s, nearly
60 percent say religion is "very important" in their lives. From
which one may infer that at least 35 percent do not know what it means
to believe in God. An alternative explanation is that they are theologically
sophisticated and know that the sovereignty of God is in no way limited
to the dimension of life called "religion." If you believe that,
I have a bridge in which you might be interested. Those who say religion
is very important: 65 percent of women, 47 percent of men; 81 percent of
blacks, 64 percent of Hispanics, 54 percent of whites; 48 percent with
post-graduate education, 61 percent with no college; 79 percent who call
themselves very conservative, 43 percent of the very liberal; 64 percent
of Protestants, 53 percent of Catholics, 23 percent of Jews; 71 percent
of church members, 30 percent of those who are not members. In addition,
30 percent of adults believe "The Bible is the actual word of God
and is to be taken literally, word for word." Fifty percent believe
"The Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should
be taken literally, word for word." Seventeen percent agree with the
statement, "The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history,
and moral precepts recorded by men." (The poll did not ask how many—among
the really liberal—thought the Bible was made up also by women.)
These are not necessarily first things, but they are things I thought you
might like to know.
- On Tuesday, September 9, in Muskegon, Michigan, I will be in a day-long
public dialogue with Rabbi David Hartman of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The theme is "The Word of God and the Interpretive Communities: Possibilities
for Self-Correction." The conversation will be moderated by Krister
Stendahl, former bishop of Stockholm and former dean of Harvard Divinity
School. For further information, contact Ms. Sylvia Kaufman at P.O. Box
6, Muskegon, MI 49443 (telephone 616-722-6681; fax 616-725-8585).
- The turmoil continues at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia,
a Presbyterian school where biblical scholar Jack Kingsbury is the object
of the very illiberal liberalism of students and faculty who suspect him
of something very much like Christian orthodoxy. The day before the May
meeting of the seminary’s board of trustees, students posted all over campus
a letter from Charles A. Hammond, executive presbyter of the Presbytery
of Philadelphia. Hammond wrote that, so long as the administration did
nothing about the harassment of Kingsbury, "I cannot in good conscience
recommend Union graduates for pastorates in our Presbytery." Notices
such as that have the salutary consequence of concentrating the minds of
- Among the many responsibilities to which I do not do justice is serving
on the board of trustees of the University of Dallas. It is a splendidly
Catholic school that is open to all, and is distinguished by a concentration
on liberal arts that is unapologetically centered in the classical tradition.
One of its luminaries for many years was the philosopher Frederick D. Wilhelmsen,
who died in May of last year. He was a thinker and writer in the lineage
of Etienne Gilson, Chesterton, and Christopher Dawson. In the taxonomy
of contemporary conservatisms, Wilhelmsen would be called a "paleoconservative,"
but that hardly does justice to the range and verve of his philosophical
engagement with what he called "the Catholic thing." Father James
Lehrberger, a Cistercian, offers this tribute in the Intercollegiate
Review: "As Professor Wilhelmsen’s faith supported his reason,
so did his reason buttress his faith. He found the idea of an ‘irrational
faith’ a contradiction in terms. Not for him was Kant’s destruction of
reason to make way for faith; not for him was the ‘I believe because it
is absurd’ theology of Tertullian or Kierkegaard; and certainly not for
him was any faith that defined itself as a ‘leap in the dark’ rather than
as a walk in the Light. Likewise, he could not abide any view of faith
and reason which sealed off in airtight compartments each from the other,
as though they had nothing to do with each other. Intellectual schizophrenia
marked anyone who would leave his deepest convictions at the door of his
study when thinking, or drop off his mind outside the church door when
praying. Still less did he countenance any rationalizing of faith. The
mysteries of faith remained divine mysteries, far surpassing the mind’s
capacity to comprehend and prove them. Neither could they be reduced through
a dialectical logic to mere moments of self-realization. On the contrary,
from his master, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dr. Wilhelmsen had learned well that
faith and reason, while remaining distinct from each other, do not contradict
one another, as well as that each becomes most fully itself when in harmony
with the other. In working out the implications of this insight, Frederick
D. Wilhelmsen made a crucial discovery: that in the concrete order, the
Christian faith so enlightens reason that reason can discover purely natural
truths about God, man, and the world. The very career of philosophy itself
appeared to him to sustain this thesis. Although born in Greece some six
centuries before Christ, philosophy would have disappeared with the decline
of Athens had it not been for Christianity. The early Church Fathers, especially
the Eastern Fathers, and then later the Western medieval Schoolmen, kept
alive the heritage of Plato and Aristotle. For the past two millennia philosophy
has been a self-sustaining inquiry and enterprise in Christendom alone.
Everywhere else in the world it either failed to be implanted, or if implanted
it failed to take root, or if it did take root it eventually withered and
died. Professor Wilhelmsen was not amazed at philosophy’s failure to thrive
outside the Christian world. The Christian confession of God’s supreme
wisdom, the intelligible order of his creation, and the capacity of the
human mind to recognize this intelligible order and its Maker, was most
fertile soil for the growth of philosophic inquiry. Nor was Dr. Wilhelmsen
in the least surprised by the decline of philosophy from being the prince
of the arts to its status as an insignificant department in most universities
today. The progressive de-Christianization of the West has eroded those
very beliefs that are the soil in which philosophy blooms. ‘Christian philosophy,’
so far from being a contradiction in terms, denominated both a historical
fact and a program for further thought." Fr. Lehrberger concludes:
"In sum, Frederick D. Wilhelmsen’s intellectual diversity was the
result of an unfolding from within of an intensely unified understanding
of reality: that man becomes fully human only when he is enlightened by
the Light of the world. The eclipse of that Light is the impoverishment
of the human race not only supernaturally but even naturally. Dr. Wilhelmsen
splendidly reflected that Light. May he bask in its rays forever."
I regret that I met Prof. Wilhelmsen only once, shortly before he died,
but am grateful that we did meet. He thought me naive about even the moderate
compatibility of Christianity and modernity. I told him I admired his martial
dictum, "Catholicism is swords," if only we could agree that
it is also more than that. He allowed as how we might come to agreement
if we had time enough to understand one another. I am confident there will
be time enough.
- He was a dear friend and indomitable champion of religious freedom.
Dean Kelley died peacefully in his sleep, at age seventy, the night of
Sunday, May 11, at his home in New Hampshire. A United Methodist minister,
he had for many years headed the religious liberty office of the National
Council of Churches. His 1972 book, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing,
was one of the earliest and remains one of the best analyses of realignments
within American Protestantism. Why Churches Should Not Pay Taxes (1977)
is the standard reference on that subject and has wielded enormous influence
for the good. When he died, he was nearing completion of his magnum opus,
The Law of Church and State in America, and, knowing death was near
(he had been stricken by cancer fifteen months earlier), he arranged for
the final editing to be done by colleagues. We will be giving that work
major attention in these pages. Many readers will remember Dean’s landmark
article, "Waco: A Massacre and Its Aftermath," in the May 1995
issue of FT, which remains the most accurate and accessible account of
the killing of almost eighty Adventists by the U.S. government for no reason
other than, after all is said and done, the unpopularity of their religious
beliefs. Dean was a gentle man, an indefatigable worker, and an incorrigible
friend of the underdog---especially of those who were scorned and abused
for their convictions of conscience. The week before he died, he said he
was hoping to contribute to our symposium on the current term of the Supreme
Court. We will not have that, but we have from him so much else that will
last and, I trust, be rewarded in glory. Requiescat in pace.
- Shortly after the settlement in San Francisco, Archbishop William Levada
and I happened to be in Rome, on unrelated missions, and we discussed the
controversy over a delightful dinner. Despite his having a terrible cold,
possibly brought on by having to spend several weeks discussing "inclusive
language" in the lectionary. At that time, I invited him to write
the article that appears in this issue. It is no secret that the Archbishop
has been sharply criticized for "caving" in what some hoped would
be a morally clarifying confrontation with the city government. Problematic
in this connection is the continued use of the term "spousal benefits"
in the agreement with the city even though the person receiving the benefits
is in no sense a spouse. Writing in Crisis, Michael Uhlmann said:
"The saddest part of all is that Archbishop Levada missed a golden
opportunity to instruct his flock on why the Church believes what it does
about homosexuality and why the institution of marriage is undermined when
spousal benefits are extended to unmarried persons of either sex. Perhaps
not every bishop can be as courageous or as impervious to intimidation
as John Paul II. But we’d all be better off if they tried." Christianity
Today carried similar criticism from evangelical Protestants. Referring
to the agreement joined by the San Francisco 49ers and the Bank of America,
the president of the Harvey Milk Lesbian/Gay Bisexual Democratic Club said
at a press conference, "When we brought this legislation to the board
a year ago, we had no idea that the organizations that would lead the way
would be the Catholic Church, the premier sports franchise in the United
States, and the largest bank in California." So there is no doubt
that many think Archbishop Levada capitulated. I do not share that view.
The Archbishop is a man of impeccable orthodoxy. He did use this occasion
to articulate clearly the Church’s teaching regarding sexual morality.
Remember, too, that San Francisco is a place unto itself. Not even in New
York does the homosexualist ideology wield such political clout. In addition,
the Archbishop’s very raising of the Church’s objections was in sharp contrast
to the recent history of episcopal leadership in the archdiocese. The agreement
with the city was a matter of prudential judgment, and I have no doubt
it was made with integrity. Whether or not it was the best resolution of
the conflict remains an open question. One cannot help but be troubled,
as Archbishop Levada obviously is troubled, that some perceive it as a
capitulation by the Church. It remains to be seen whether that perception
can be effectively countered.
- There is a new book of essays, Billions and Billions, by the
late Carl Sagan, he who in his Cosmos television series informed
us that what you see is all there is. According to Publishers Weekly,
"Sagan compels his readers to look at life." Been there, done
- One may think them quite wrongheaded, but there is an admirable stubbornness
about the Berrigan brothers, Father Daniel and Philip. In thirty-five years
of peace protests, Philip, a former priest, figures he’s spent seven and
a half years in jail. He is in jail again in Portland, Maine, where, on
Ash Wednesday, he and several confederates vandalized and splashed their
blood (squirted from plastic baby bottles) on a navy destroyer at the Bath
Iron Works shipyard, causing $80,000 worth of damage to the unfinished
ship. The intent, said Phil, was to "hammer the instrument of death
into a peaceful plowshare." At the trial, Fr. Dan was prevented from
citing canon law in their support, and after the conviction, the U.S. attorney
said, "The issue of throwing blood around is irresponsible in 1997.
It poses a health risk that it may not have back in the 1960s when this
was a popular thing to do." Presumably she had reference to AIDS.
In any event, this is a most cruel cut, to turn an act of prophetic witness
into a question of medical hygiene.
- "The legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex
couples." These twelve words of a proposed amendment to Hawaii’s constitution
are a great victory for marriage and democracy, in Hawaii and the rest
of the nation. The amendment will be up for a vote in November 1998, and
the prospects for success are encouraging. This is the result of a remarkable
coalition effort by Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Mormons, and others
who turned back what looked a year ago like an unstoppable juggernaut of
gay-lesbian agitation backed by judicial activists in the state courts.
A statement by the Hawaii Catholic Conference says, "With the Hawaii
Supreme Court staring over our shoulders, our room to maneuver has been
limited. The legislature concluded that a ‘reciprocal beneficiaries’ bill
was necessary in order to get support for a constitutional amendment. Although
we opposed the bill, it was the price that had to be paid to pass the amendment."
The statement notes that over twenty other states, prompted by the Hawaii
threat, have passed laws limiting marriage to male-female couples, and
it urges the remaining states to do likewise. "This will prepare them
to face likely challenges in the future." We are pleased that David
Coolidge, who has been directing a project for our institute, has been
able to give a large part of his time to helping Father Marc Alexander
of the Hawaii Catholic Conference in repelling the madness of same-sex
marriage. At least in Hawaii, and at least for the time being. But then,
"for the time being" applies to everything in the realm of politics.
- During the Cold War, "national security" was the magic phrase
that commanded unlimited billions in government funding. Now it is "the
child" that successfully bids for whatever billions are there for
the taking. C.H.I.L.D. stands for the Child Health Insurance and Lower
Deficit Act being promoted by Senators Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy. It
looks for all the world like an effort to reinstate, at least in part,
Mrs. Clinton’s ill-fated "health-care reform" of several years
ago. But Insight, the usually insightful newsletter of the National
Association of Evangelicals, likes it because it is to be largely funded
by sharply raising taxes on cigarettes. Not hesitant to sound self-serving,
Insight says "it is an increase that would save many lives
by discouraging young lungs from smoking cigarettes, and it is a tax you
don’t have to pay." We’re all for persuading young lungs to better
behavior, but where do you suppose the C.H.I.L.D. money will come from
when people are successfully discouraged from smoking? As with anti-tobacco
trial lawyers getting a kickback from the profits of tobacco companies,
the proposed scheme for financing this huge expansion of government health
care would seem to give more and more people a stake in the tobacco business.
"Spend it, don’t end it," as the President might say.
- There were and are many reasons for supporting the State of Israel.
During the Cold War, it was argued that Israel was a "strategic asset"
in the battle against totalitarianism. That was then, this is now. It is
argued that Israel is a democracy in a part of the world where democracy
is almost unknown, and the U.S. has an interest in promoting democracy.
That is still true. Or that Israel is partial compensation for the horror
of the Holocaust. That is a more problematic argument, raising difficult
questions about who owes whom for what and at whose expense. The practical
force of the argument is increasingly weakened by the fact that what happened
fifty years ago is, alas, ancient history to most people living today.
In recent months, the perception of Israel has been damaged by much-discussed
reports on the systematic torture of Palestinian prisoners. The Israeli
courts permit the use of "moderate physical pressure," and some
Israelis say it is to the credit of Israel that it tries to bring torture
within the limits of law. But torture is torture, and reports suggest that
it is widespread, vicious, and almost routinely applied in interrogations.
Yes, Israel is surrounded by enemies, and, yes, many other countries torture
prisoners, but if these reasons are allowed we might as well take torture
off the list of things that civilized nations do not do. Does raising questions
about Israeli actions distract attention from atrocities perpetrated against
Israel by the Palestinian Authority and others? In some minds, that is
no doubt the case. But to decide whose side you are on and then question
only the actions of the other side is a formula for the sure termination
of reasonable moral judgment. Plus there is the inescapable, if sometimes
uncomfortable, fact that more is expected of Israel. After all, the raison
d’être of the U.S.-Israel connection is that Israel is on our side.
That cannot be said of the Palestinian Authority or most of the other nations
of the Middle East. It is said of Saudi Arabia, which is another reason
for Americans to protest the brutal denial of religious freedom in that
country. Which, regrettably, brings us back to developments in Israel.
Yet another embarrassment for Israel is that, as of this writing, the Knesset
is being asked to approve a law prohibiting any literature or advertising
containing "an inducement to religious conversion." Violations
are punishable by one year in prison. The bill, amending the existing anti-bribery
law, would specifically prohibit the possession, production, reproduction,
importation, or distribution of information that might persuade Jews to
convert. Christians, Muslims, and secular liberals join in protesting this
violation of elementary democratic freedoms. Those closer to Israeli politics
say the proposed law stands little chance of passage, and we must hope
that is the case. The current government of Israel has on a number of occasions
declared its intention to go its own way, without regard to what the Jewish
diaspora or anyone else might think. That is an understandable desire for
a sovereign state. But going your own way may come with the price of being
left on your own. The long-term implications of that for U.S.-Israel relations
are deserving of very careful, and prayerful, deliberation.
- In a generally intelligent piece on "the ennui of outrage,"
William Grimes of the New York Times notes that it is getting increasingly
difficult to frighten the horses, also known as shocking the bourgeoisie.
His leading instance is Dennis Rodman, who I gather is a Midwestern basketball
player who has made a pile by publicizing his sundry sexual and other outlandishnesses,
most recently in a book, Walk on the Wild Side. Mr. Grimes thinks
Rodman is becoming something of a bore. "As a public-relations move,
does outrage have a future? The ever-acute Madonna may have her finger
on the pulse. After several dozen image transformations, she has opted
for motherhood. Behold, Madonna and Child, the most traditional image available
to the human imagination. The way forward for Mr. Rodman is clear: marriage,
children, and a dental practice in Levittown. Take a walk on the wild side."
If Grimes is right, it may be good news. Senator Pat Moynihan gave us the
fine phrase "defining deviancy down," to which it might be added
that even the most debased public can reach the point of being sated. Just
as my dog Sammy II stole the big roast carelessly left on the edge of the
kitchen counter and left half of it uneaten, going out in the back yard
to upchuck. I was struck, however, by Mr. Grimes’ other illustrations in
demonstrating that ours was but no longer is a "golden age" for
public scandal. "The golden age had its forerunners, of course. An
honors list of calculated outrage would have to include Diogenes, the Greek
philosopher who dramatized the virtues of the simple life by living in
a tub. It was truly a master stroke when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five
theses to Wittenberg’s cathedral door. Even in the dissipated atmosphere
of eighteenth-century France, the Marquis de Sade managed to make a vivid
enough impression to land him in the Bastille." Dennis Rodman, the
Marquis de Sade, and Martin Luther. One fears that all those shocks have
left William Grimes not so much sated as quite incapable of making distinctions.
- How do you manage to live with people criticizing you all the time?
a friendly inquirer wants to know. First, the affirmations received are
many times more than the criticisms. That helps. Second, I tend to forget
criticisms. So much so that I frequently find myself praising a book or
argument and colleagues have to remind me that the author is a declared
enemy. This is no virtue on my part. Simply a bad memory. But people who
deal in ideas do have a desire, and perhaps an obligation, to keep the
record straight. A problem is that exchanges take place between different
audiences, and people in one audience do not know what is being said to
others. For instance, a writer in Commonweal attacks my judgment
of Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners, (FT, August/September
1996). He thought my criticism excessive ("apoplectic" was his
term) and I responded in Commonweal that there was no substantive
difference between his judgment and mine, to which he responded with the
quibble that I had attributed to him one phrase which he intended as describing
the judgment of other critics. This kind of back and forth can go on forever.
More seriously, he says I am "blaming the victim" in what I wrote
about Jewish influence in the Weimar Republic and how Hitler exploited
the reaction to that influence. Neuhaus, he says, has "appropriated
the works of outstanding historians such as Paul Johnson and Walter Laqueur
to support his offensive argument." In fact, I quoted Paul Johnson
making exactly the point I was making, which is not blaming the victim
but putting the rise of Nazism into historical context, which Goldhagen
egregiously fails to do. I note this simply for the record. Not that it
will be seen by most of the readers of Commonweal, but I think of
myself as writing in the presence of the angels, in the expectation that
at least some of them are assigned the duty of reading absolutely everything.
How that can be squared with the idea that the angels dwell in perfect
felicity I leave for others to work out.
- Since not all our readers also read the Wall Street Journal,
herewith the conclusion of a particularly lucid editorial on doctor-assisted
suicide: "To the extent that there is an answer here it lies in reaffirming
to the sick and healthy alike the value of every moment we are on earth.
To oppose state-sanctioned suicide is not necessarily to deny anyone’s
right to die. People can and do make that private decision every day. But
do not ask the rest of us to say that it is a good thing, to use the abstractions
of law to announce that some lives are simply not worth living. In this
instance the rights of the living must prevail. All that we hold dearest
as human beings is based on the sanctity of life as the ultimate value.
Our horror at Hitler’s gas chambers, Stalin’s purges, Mao’s famines, and
Pol Pot’s killing fields stems not only from the enormity of the suffering
involved. The truth is that when you extinguish life on that scale, a light
goes out in all human souls. One could argue that the difference between
those cases and assisted suicide is that the latter is entirely voluntary.
However, once the right to die ascends to the same pedestal as the right
to live, the pace of sanctioned killings, we suspect, will be no less horrifying."
- This Weigel fellow is really far out. Father John T. Pawlikowski reviews
George Weigel’s book Soul of the World (Eerdmans) in Catholic
Library World. Pawlikowski writes: "His continued claims about
Centesimus Annus’ embrace of Catholicism, as promoted by Richard
John Neuhaus, simply ignore Pope John Paul’s own rejection of this simplistic
thesis." The Pope rejects the Catholicism that I promote? Centesimus
Annus does not embrace Catholicism? Fr. Pawlikowski was having a bad
- Writing in the American Scholar, Brian Doyle offers a deeply
affecting remembrance of what it was to be an altar boy in days long past,
and then this reflection on the continuing reverberations of those early
mornings in the half-darkened church serving Father Whelan’s mass: "I
have come, in my middle years, to a passionate belief in a Coherence—a
pervasive divineness that I only dimly comprehend and cannot at all articulate.
It is a feeling, a sense. I feel it most near my elfin daughter, my newborn
sons. Last night I stood over the huddled body of my daughter, asleep in
her bed, her hair flowing around her like dark water. She had fallen asleep
only minutes before, sobbing herself to sleep after soiling herself and
her bedding and her bear. She is very sick and cannot control her bowels,
and she is humiliated and frightened by this; she fell asleep in my wife’s
arms, her sobs muffled in the folds of my wife’s deep soft flannel shirt.
I stand above her now in the dark. She is curled like a question in the
corner of her bed. My body curls itself into an ancient gesture of prayer
and humility, and I place my hands together and begin to weep—for love
of this child, in fear of illness, in despair at my helplessness. I make
a prayer in the dark. I believe so strongly, so viscerally, in a wisdom
and vast joy under the tangled weave of the world, under the tattered blanket
of our evil and tragedy and illness and brokenness and sadness and loss,
that I cannot speak it, cannot articulate it, but can only hold on to ritual
and religion like a drowning man to a sturdy ship."
- As though we did not have enough to worry about. Pastor Russell Saltzman,
editor of the Lutheran Forum Letter, takes us to task for contributing
to environmental degradation, reducing our subscribers’ quality of life,
and endangering the world in general. He continues: "I took my two
most recent copies of First Things to the local postmaster and had him
weigh them on the USPS scale. Together, they weigh a pound. On average,
then, a year of First Things means I must find room for 5.5 pounds of journals.
Given 30,000 or so subscribers, that means your readers must find storage
space for 165,000 pounds of First Things, or 82.5 short tons every year.
You of course know we must do this because none of us, as my wife can testify,
can bear to toss past issues away. Keeping some six and a half years of
First Things on hand requires that readers find space for 536.25 short
tons. The problem becomes even more acute for those of us who have had
articles appear in First Things or who have been quoted therein—we grab
up all the extra copies we can, so our storage requirements comparatively
are more severe. Now, I’ve checked over some engineering stress loads with
a friend, and he tells me we shall soon reach a point of no return if you
continue publishing. The increasing weight requirements for storing First
Things, combined with the limited weight-carrying capacities of most homes,
means that soon attics and basements all over America will collapse to
the earth’s center. Were these projected implosions to occur randomly,
there would be no danger, the planet being able to absorb isolated jarrings.
However, I fear the likely course is they shall happen all at once, thereby
setting off a catastrophic reaction that—if my figures are right—will set
the earth on a collision course with Venus late February 2011." The
editors were at first alarmed by Pastor Saltzman’s chastisement, until
we did our own weighing of the two most recent issues and discovered they
came to only 15.3 oz. That gives us until the year 2023. So please do not
panic. It is safe to renew your subscription.
- The very day Randy Tate was appointed the new head of the Christian
Coalition, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State was
out of the gate with a press release. Executive Director Barry Lynn, a
noted advocate of civility in public discourse, declared, "Randy Tate
is a Ralph Reed clone." Under his leadership, said Lynn, "We
can expect more of the same from the Christian Coalition. More extremism,
more gutter politics, and more partisanship from a tax-exempt supposedly
nonpartisan group." It is not as though Mr. Tate was not granted a
honeymoon period. As best I can calculate, there was a one hour wait between
the announcement of his appointment and Mr. Lynn’s assault. Of course you
have to deduct from that whatever time it took to write the press release,
if there were not several releases prepared in advance in anticipation
of whomever might be appointed. Mr. Lynn obviously subscribes to the maxim
that extremism in the battle against extremism is no vice. Not for nothing
is he known as the fastest gun in the gutter.
- At age ninety or thereabouts, my friend Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn is
about to launch another American lecture tour. He is a brilliantly crotchety
polymath who engages audiences of all ages on subjects as various as European
history, modern art, and why, from a Catholic viewpoint, Luther was mostly
right and crucially wrong. For bookings, write him at A-6072, Lans, Tyrol,
- Remember that little list of potential subscribers? Or big list, if
Sources: Interview with Archbishop Christoph Schönborn,
Our Sunday Visitor, May 18, 1997. Adam Garfinkle, "The Two Religions
of American Jews: A Provocation for the Sake of Heaven," Conservative
Judaism, Winter 1996. Attacks on First Things for its claims of judicial
usurpation, The New Republic, May 19, 1997 and National Review, May 19,
1997. Father Sirico on China, Wall Street Jounal, June 11, 1997. Quotations
from President Clinton’s San Diego commencement speech on race relations,
New York Times, June 15, 1997.While We’re At It: On Seventh-Day Adventist
forum, "What Is a Person? How to Decide Which Lives Are Precious,"
conference announcement. Fr. Thomas Michel on Muslim-Christian dialogue,
National Catholic Register, March 9, 1997. Thomas A. Howard on Jacob Burckhardt,
National Interest, Spring 1997. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead’s The Divorce Culture
reviewed by Midge Decter, Public Interest, Spring 1997. On misuse of $2.3
million Episcopalian trust to support pro-abortion legislation, Washington
Times, March 12, 1997. On Americans United, Wall Street Journal, March
20, 1997. Dennis Prager on O. J. Simpson verdicts, Prager Perspective,
February 15, 1997. Kenneth Roth on "special pleading" of Freedom
House, New York, March 31, 1997; Roth interview in Toronto Star, March
18, 1997. Episcopal bishop Walter C. Righter on ordination of openly gay
priest, Sunday News Journal, March 16, 1997. Elizabeth Kastor on priest
who died of AIDS, Washington Post, February 23, 1997. David Gelernter op-ed
essay on the disaster in Rancho Santa Fe, New York Times, March 30, 1997.
David Foster on Christian connection to suicides in Rancho Santa Fe, Rocky
Mountain News, March 30, 1997. Leon Wieseltier on Rancho Santa Fe, The
New Republic, April 21, 1997. Results of Barna Research Group on "born-again"
Christians reported in Focus on the Family’s Pastor’s Weekly Briefing,
March 28, 1997. Barry Lynn on rally to keep the Ten Commandments in a Montgomery,
Alabama courtroom, press release of Americans United for Separation of
Church and State, April 10, 1997. Michiko Kakutani on Norman Mailer, New
York Times, April 14, 1997. Gallup poll on religious belief, Emerging Trends,
Princeton Religion Research Center, April 1997. Charles A. Hammond on Union
Theological Seminary of Richmond, Virginia, letter to the Board of Trustees
and personal correspondence. James Lehrberger on Frederick Wilhelmsen,
Intercollegiate Review, Spring 1996. Michael Uhlmann on Archbishop Levada,
Crisis, March 1997; on press conference about pro-gay legislation in San
Francisco, Wanderer, April 17, 1997. On Carl Sagan, Publishers Weekly,
May 12, 1997. On the Berrigan brothers, New York Times, May 10, 1997. On
amendment to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples, statement by Hawaii
Catholic Conference, April 30, 1997. On the Child Health Insurance and
Lower Deficit Act (C.H.I.L.D.), Insight, May 1997. On Israeli Knesset law
forbidding religious conversion, Insight, May 1997. William Grimes on Dennis
Rodman, New York Times, May 4, 1997. Daniel Goldhagen book Hitler’s Willing
Executioners and Richard John Neuhaus review of it criticized in Commonweal,
June 6, 1997. Barry Lynn on Randy Tate, press release from Americans United
for Separation of Church and State, June 11, 1997.