The Public Square
(February 1998)

Richard John Neuhaus

Copyright (c) 1998 First Things 80 (February 1998): 62-78.

Islamic Encounters

"Venomous diatribe." "Hateful xenophobia." "Doing the work of Adolf Hitler." "Agitating for a new crusade." "Obviously mentally ill." Such were among the sentiments expressed in response to my review in the October 1997 issue of Bat Ye'or's important new book recently published in this country, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press). In my comment I indicated the difficulties in establishing a respectful dialogue with contemporary Islam, but it really need not be this difficult.

To be fair, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) should not be taken to represent contemporary Islam. The attack initiated by CAIR produced dozens and dozens of letters from as far away as Australia, some of them accompanied by hundreds of signatures of Muslims who claimed to be deeply offended by the review. The campaign stopped short of issuing a fatwa against the editors, although there was a little nervous joking around here about who would get to open the mail. The campaign obviously had the aim of intimidating into silence anyone who dares to say anything less than complimentary about things Muslim. Just as obviously, such an effort is entirely counterproductive.

Many of the protesters made a point of saying that they were converts to Islam, usually from Christianity, and some had most uncomplimentary things to say about the religion they had left. The spokesman for CAIR stressed, in several telephone conversations, that he is an American-born convert and resents my "instructing" him on how we conduct civil conversation in this country. For all I know his family came over on the Mayflower, but the fact remains that issuing press releases and flooding the internet with condemnations of those with whom one disagrees is not the best way to nurture a constructive dialogue.

The first press release called on the Catholic Church to investigate, disown, and otherwise do something about this renegade priest who had written not nice things about Islam. Amazingly enough, the monsignor who is general secretary of the bishops conference responded to CAIR by distancing the conference from the review in FT and offering assurances of the bishops' exquisite sensitivity and eagerness for dialogue. Quite predictably, CAIR seized upon his letter as the occasion for another press release trumpeting that the bishops of the United States had repudiated my review of Bat Ye'or, which no doubt came as a surprise to the bishops. As it happens, several bishops had indicated to me their appreciation of the review, and my own bishop, Cardinal O'Connor, was entirely supportive. Nonetheless, the letter from the conference secretary created a little flap in the Catholic press. It's not every day that the office of the bishops conference issues a review of a book review or, however inadvertently, makes itself party to an attack on a priest who has editorially displeased a bullying interest group. Of course I am assured that that is not what was intended, but it is a curious little episode that should not be entirely forgotten.

As the Bat Ye'or book underscores, there are very important questions to be engaged in the complicated relationship between Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and I will return to them in due course. Meanwhile, one hopes that everyone will learn from this incident a little something about what is not helpful. For instance, Imam Michael G. Kilpatrick, national president of the Islamic Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, announces his group's support for the CAIR initiative: "We call upon people of the Catholic religion and people of conscience worldwide to condemn Mr. Neuhaus for his extremist attitude toward the religion of Islam and Muslims here in the United States." Strong stuff, that. It is manifest that most of the protesters had not read the item in question, having simply reacted to the alert sent out on the internet (more than half the protests were e-mailed), and quite a few are confused about who wrote the offending article. Some demanded that "Mr. Neuhaus" editorially condemn the author and never let any such thing appear in FT again.

"Beware and be Forewarned . . . "

Almost all deplored my woeful ignorance of Islam, on which I readily admit I am no expert, and many charged Bat Ye'or, a distinguished scholar, of not knowing what she was talking about. "The fact that she says she is opposed to Muslim-bashing shows that that is what she is doing," one writer insists. It is hard to get an acquittal under such rules. Various parties contributed to my education by sending stacks of books and pamphlets on Islam, and one suggested that I visit a website devoted to educating Americans on Islam, which I did. There I found a discussion of terrorism in which I learned that those who "set themselves up as enemies of God and the Muslims . . . are themselves at least mild terrorists." "If they do so then Muslims have a duty to oppose this force--with force if necessary and if it will be effective and decisive. In this way only those who are themselves ‘terrorists' have cause to fear the use of force by Muslims." That was not terribly reassuring.

Mark Bober writes, noting that his Muslim name is Umar Hussam Al Deen and describing himself as "a white American Muslim and former member of the ‘Catholic' Church." "I assure you that you are not dealing with the poor folk duped into trinitarianism every other Sunday. Now beware and be forewarned that Islam is on the rise in America as well as around the world." This was typical of many warnings that there is big trouble ahead if we non-Muslims don't watch our step. Ayman Sokkarie of the Islamic Center of South Florida declares, "Let me tell Mr. Neuhaus that Islam will be re-established whether he feared that or not and the world will see how just Islam is and how false all other ideologies are. It is just a matter of time."

Most of the writers expressed particular outrage that I had written that there are probably about two million Muslims in the U.S., half of them being American-born blacks. "Everybody knows," I was instructed, that there are eight million, and one writer asserted that it is "well documented" that there are twelve million. Needless to say, no documentation was supplied. In their 1993 book, One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society, based on the largest survey of religious self-identification ever conducted, Barry Kosmin and Seymour Lachman reported that there were 1.5 million Muslims, half being American-born blacks. (They discovered that many people with "Muslim sounding" names turned out to be Christians who had fled the Middle East.) Taking subsequent Muslim immigration into account, my guesstimate was "about two million." Quite possibly there are considerably more. Nobody knows, and the U.S. census does not ask about religion. A reporter at a national newspaper tells me, "We usually say four to six million, which has the merit of warding off protests from Muslim groups. But nobody really knows." The majority of protests received here claim that Islam is the fastest growing religion both in the U.S. and the world, a claim that is very doubtful on both scores. But I am impressed by how important this "triumphalist" reading of history is to many Muslims.

In the review I alluded in passing to the significance of this discussion for politics in the Middle East. For the protesters, this factor is of much more than passing importance. A petition of protest from the Islamic Center of Long Island includes more than three hundred signatures and declares, "It is obvious that such anti-Muslim writers [Bat Ye'or and Neuhaus] want to poison the relations between Muslims and Christians in America and the world for their racist political agenda in Palestine." The echo of the infamous UN resolution on Zionism as racism is, to put it gently, troubling. The reactions to FT are divided between those who present Islam in America as nothing more problematic than another participant in the gorgeous mosaic of American religion and those who present it as a world-conquering force arrayed against everyone else, especially against Jews and their Christian dupes.

For some, Islam is the historic champion of liberal tolerance. One almost expected those letters to be signed by John Stuart Muhammad Mill. For instance, "Islam completely did away with slavery and treated all human beings as equal, despite their race, color, creed, or origin, and treated everybody the same, with respect and brotherhood, from the very beginning, i.e., the seventh century, whereas the West could not do so till the nineteenth century." The key role of Muslims in the African slave trade over the centuries and slavery today in places such as Sudan are conveniently overlooked, as of course is the entire history of "dhimmitude" so carefully documented by Bat Ye'or and others. One may sympathetically try to understand the reasons for such defensive denials of the undeniable, but it does not help the discussion of these matters.

Against Self-Deception

A few protests acknowledge that some Muslims have at times done some bad things, but then quickly add that that has nothing to do with Islam. This, too, is understandable. Some Christians have done horrible things over the centuries, and we Christians insist that Christianity should not be judged by what they did--or by what some still do. The facial symmetry between Islam and Christianity in this regard does not bear close examination, however. Contra secularist claims, the liberal democratic tradition is in largest part the product of Christianity, especially the Christian imperative of self-criticism and openness to the other. It is no accident, as our Marxist friends used to say, that liberal democracy and constitutional government arose in cultures that understood themselves to be Christian. To date, there have not been similar developments in Islamic societies. This does not mean that Islam is necessarily incompatible with liberal democracy, although some who protested what I wrote do not disguise their contempt for democracy and other alleged diseases of what they view (with some justification) as the decadent West.

These are excruciatingly difficult questions. We cannot allow our consideration of Islam to be dominated by much that is today done in the name of Islam. At the same time, we deceive ourselves and do not help anyone if we join those Muslims who excuse or deny what is done. An editorial in Strategic Review of Fall 1997 notes that, of the almost one billion Muslims in the world, there is a radically politicized faction, and in that faction there are those who are prepared to sacrifice their lives by suicide in waging what they believe to be a war of the children of light against the children of darkness.

"Where the United States is concerned, the cost has already been unacceptably high. The suicide bombing of the Beirut-American headquarters in October of 1993--241 U.S. servicemen killed; Pan American Flight #103 at Lockerbie, Scotland, where 250 were killed; the Khobar Towers residence at Dharan in Saudi Arabia--19 Americans killed and 118 wounded; the World Trade Center in New York, where 19 were killed and 500 injured. And now, by sheer good luck, a frightened Middle Easterner led the New York police to two suicide bombers, complete with five bombs. One was killed while attempting to detonate his bomb. Their aim was to attack the busiest subway junction in New York City. It is plain that the terrorism crescendo is growing. It has reached the United States and we are doing too little to control it."

Of course it is necessary to guard against alarmism, but it would be foolish to deny the legitimate concern about Islamic terrorism (meaning terrorism committed by Muslims and claiming to be inspired by Islam) both here and elsewhere in the world. At this point a discussion that is already dicey gets dicier. The executive director of CAIR, Mr. Nihad Awad, writes me: "In view of Mr. Emerson's past history of false and defamatory attacks on the American Muslim community and on CAIR, we would consider the irresponsible repetition of his unsupported charges as evidence of ‘actual malice' on your part. Similarly unsubstantiated charges from other sources, published with reckless disregard for the truth, would be regarded in the same light."

A Matter of Credibility

I expect the lawyers would tell me that CAIR is threatening to sue if I mention charges by Mr. Emerson and others. Since I may have already crossed the line by quoting Mr. Awad's letter, I might as well go ahead--with utmost responsibility and careful regard for the truth, and certainly without malice. Steven Emerson has written in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere about the entanglement of Muslim groups in this country with terrorist groups, such as Hamas, in the Middle East. I have read with care a packet of materials sent by CAIR, attacking Emerson and others who allege that CAIR is, at least indirectly, supportive of terrorist activities. I have also read with care the charges against CAIR. Satisfactorily sorting out all the details would require that I devote the rest of my life to the study of Middle East politics and the connection with certain Muslim groups in the U.S., and even then I would surely not get to the bottom of things. My best judgment is that the critics of CAIR are credible and that CAIR is less than candid about its connections with the politics of the Middle East. Confidence in CAIR is not enhanced by its hamfisted efforts to intimidate and silence its critics.

Turning from CAIR itself to the criticisms generated by its campaign, one is struck by the importance of the Jewish factor. In some instances, this is chiefly a matter of animus toward Israel. Others, however, give expression to a poignant desire for Muslims in this country to be recognized, along with Christians and Jews, as full partners in America's religious triumvirate. This, too, is perfectly understandable. Some were upset by my reference to the Judeo-Christian tradition, and many were outraged by my speaking of "the delusion that a Muslim-Christian dialogue can be constructed on a basis more or less equivalent to the Jewish-Christian dialogue of recent decades." In fact, it is pointed out, Muslims have in several parts of the country joined local Jewish-Christian dialogues, and everyone gets along very nicely. I do not doubt it.

There are dialogues and then there are dialogues. Some Jewish-Christian dialogues are exercises in niceness, pretending that differences make little or no difference. To such dialogues Muslims, or for that matter almost anyone else, can be invited without difficulty. Then there is dialogue that is in service to the truth, and the truth is that Islam is not to Christianity what Judaism is to Christianity. For starters, Islam is not, as Judaism is, an integral part of the Christian understanding of the story of salvation. In view of the attention given in these pages to Jewish-Christian relations, I assume readers can readily come up with other differences that make a big difference. Does this mean there should not or cannot be Muslim-Christian dialogue? The answer is emphatically in the negative. Such dialogue becomes increasingly imperative, and we must hope it will become increasingly possible with Muslims who recognize the wrongheadedness of reactions such as that orchestrated by CAIR.

An Opening Comment

Among the numerous responses to the internet alert is a letter by AbdulraHman Lomax, an American convert to Islam in Sonoma, California, and addressed to other Muslims. "Scholarly and respectful replies to the article [in FT] would be helpful. Hostile or disrespectful comments would be counterproductive and harmful to the image of the Muslim community." After responding to specific assertions in the article, Mr. Lomax notes my statement that "I am convinced we must do everything we can to nurture constructive relations with Islam" and he writes, "We are obligated to take Neuhaus at his word. Perhaps we can take his article as an opening comment in a dialog which will ultimately clear the air. Before they can develop a deep communication, friends sometimes must air the grievances and fears that have been kept hidden, and, in the light of open conversation, these can be relieved." The people at CAIR forwarded his letter. One wishes they had followed his counsel.

Not long ago, Prof. David F. Forte of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law testified before a congressional committee on Islam and human rights. The subject was what some call Islamic fundamentalism (an unhappy term that imposes an American Protestant experience on Islam), what others call Islamism (a term mainly limited to scholars), and what yet others refer to simply as radical Islam (which, it is objected, is radically un-Islamic). It is the Islam of terror and despotism, and, whatever it is called, Forte says it is a heresy. "It has gained the reins of power in Iran and the Sudan. It threatens Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, even Saudi Arabia. It cows a timid government in Pakistan to accede to its program. It persecutes minorities, particularly Christians. But its real objective is to steal the soul of Islam, to change that great religion's tradition of art, culture, learning, and toleration into its own image of rigid and tyrannical power."

It is for Muslims to protect "the soul of Islam." We can help by not equating Islam with the evil done in the name of Islam, while, at the same time, not letting an "ideal" Islam obscure the Islam of historical and contemporary fact. We can help by recognizing the diversity within Islam and the claims made for its more humane social expression in places such as Indonesia, while not forgetting that country's massacre of Christians in Timor, and not forgetting the politics of Islam in the lands mentioned by Prof. Forte. We can help by reaching out to Muslims here in America, in the hope of engaging within the bonds of civility our commonalities and differences, always, as St. Paul says, speaking the truth in love. And we can help by informing ourselves through the reading of books such as Bat Ye'or's The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude.

Always Our Confusions

To be fair, there is not always confusion about statements issuing from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), but confusion is remarkably frequent. The latest instance is a pastoral letter approved by the administrative committee of the conference, Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministries. It is in many ways a very thoughtful and clearly compassionate effort to help parents in a most difficult circumstance. But it has also generated intense controversy, and not without reason.

Father John Harvey is the heroic founder of "Courage," a national organization of Catholics who are homosexual in orientation but are striving to live a chaste life in accord with the teaching of the Church. He has issued a statement sharply critical of Always Our Children, pointing out, inter alia, that it distorts the teaching of the Church, downplays the importance of therapeutic help for homosexuals, and offers dangerous advice. On the last score, he cites the document's counsel to parents that they adopt a "wait and see" attitude if their child is experimenting with homosexuality. "Isolated acts do not make someone homosexual," says Always Our Children.

Fr. Harvey writes: "This ‘wait and see' attitude is very dangerous. If someone is attracted to drugs or to alcohol, we do not accept that attraction as a given, or indicate that it is beyond their power to reject. The truth is that we are dealing with an objective disorder within the person. The parent should do everything possible to help the youth to move away from this particular attraction, and from the surroundings which encourage him to act out. If pastors are going to advise parents concerning homosexuality, they should remind parents that their first obligation is to protect the child from immoral and dangerous behavior."

Before the full meeting of bishops in November, and in response to the criticism by Fr. Harvey and others, Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien, chairman of the NCCB Committee on Marriage and Family that produced the statement, circulated a letter to the bishops defending Always Our Children. The letter says that the committee "respects Fr. Harvey's work in pastoral ministry to homosexuals and consulted him during the course of writing [the document]." It appears that the committee did speak with Fr. Harvey for about twenty minutes two years ago. Who else the committee consulted is not a matter of public record, but reliable sources report that the process involved a number of parties closely associated with homosexual advocacy and critical of the Church's teaching.

A very serious objection is that AOC twists the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its treatment of sexuality as "a gift of God." The Catechism says, "Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life" (2333). In AOC that passage is quoted with a crucial elision: "Everyone . . . should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity." Bishop O'Brien says this was not intended to urge an acceptance of homosexual orientation. The difficulty is, however, that the crippled quote from the Catechism appears in the context of discussing homosexuality. The quote is immediately followed by this: "Like all gifts from God, the power and freedom of sexuality can be channeled toward good or evil. Everyone--the homosexual and the heterosexual person--is called to personal maturity and responsibility." It is very hard to imagine that an unbiased reader of AOC would not conclude that it is the Church's teaching that the homosexual person "should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity."

The very next lines in AOC propose what some might view as a novel understanding of chastity: "Chastity means integrating one's thoughts, feelings, and actions, in the area of human sexuality, in a way that values and respects one's own dignity and that of others." By that measure, homogenitally active same-sex relationships that are, as it is said, meaningful and loving would appear also to be chaste. To be sure, the document does say that it adheres to Catholic moral doctrine. What some think is a problem is that it does not explain the connection between that claim and statements that would seem to be at variance with Catholic teaching, such as the new way of defining chastity.

As to the controversial "wait and see" passage, Bishop O'Brien writes: "References to early experimentation between a child and another of one's own sex are primarily to psychological and emotional dependencies. They are not references to being sexually active." This is intended to be reassuring, but it may also be exegetically puzzling to those who actually read the "wait and see" passage. It reads this way: "If your son or daughter is an adolescent, it is possible that he or she may be experimenting with some homosexual behaviors as part of the process of coming to terms with sexual identity. Isolated acts do not make someone homosexual." With all respect to Bishop O'Brien, the words would seem to have reference to "being sexually active."

News reports and commentaries on AOC, often approving, suggested that the Church was changing its position on homosexuality. The document is strongly supported by New Ways Ministry, an organization advocating such change. This from a memo widely circulated by its executive director, Francis DeBernardo: "The pastoral letter Always Our Children needs your help! This document is one of the strongest calls by Catholic leaders for inclusion and acceptance of lesbian and gay people in our Church. Yet, critics are voicing their opposition and calling for its revision and retraction." The memo urges letters to the NCCB and individual bishops: "Tell him what the letter means to you: any personal story or reactions you or your loved ones had to the news of the letter. Write as who you are: a gay or lesbian person, a parent, a pastoral minister, a counselor, a youth worker, a chaplain--whatever your role is."

It seems possible that bishops, too, like to be praised, and some, speaking in defense of AOC, have reported with pleasure that their mail has been nine to one in favor of the document. The word "gospel" does mean good news, which can too easily be confused with telling people what they want to hear. Especially people who are well organized, very vocal, and ever so progressive. It is fair to say that, in general, bishops do not receive all that many plaudits from the self-certified specialists in caring, compassion, and progressive thought. In addition, personal stories can be very affecting, and there is today prominent precedent for a nonjudgmental leadership style keyed to feeling the pain of others.

Nonetheless, one may be permitted to wonder whether such factors should have much bearing on the responsibility of bishops to articulate clearly the Church's teaching and the pastoral tasks entailed by that teaching. There is beyond doubt much to approve in AOC. The appeal that parents should always love and never reject their children is movingly stated, even if relatively few parents need to be persuaded of that. It seems all too likely, however, that confusions in the document will mislead many parents and will discourage Catholics who struggle to be faithful to what they were taught, praying for the grace to resist temptation and overcome their homosexual desires. The alternative--an alternative that many call liberation--is to surrender to temptation and affirm one's homosexual "identity." New Ways Ministry is understandably enthusiastic about AOC. Equally understandable is the fervent hope of others that it will be revised or withdrawn.

A Selective Darwinian

Here's an item that almost fell through the cracks, but is very much worth rescuing. Roger Kimball of the New Criterion discovers David Stove, and hopes that many others will as well. Stove, who has taught at the University of Sydney, Australia, most of his life, wrote Popper and After: Four Modern Irrationalists and a book on Darwinian theory that both admires and debunks Darwin. Stove's approach is quite different from that of many who write on these subjects. Let Roger Kimball take it from here:

"Stove's demolition of certain aspects of Darwinian theory, in Darwinian Fairytales and related essays, is equally thorough and convincing. Stove is unusual among anti-Darwinians. He is not a creationist; indeed, as he points out, he is ‘of no religion.' Moreover, he admires Darwin greatly as a thinker, placing him at the top of his personal pantheon, along with Shakespeare, Purcell, Newton, and Hume. Finally, Stove believes that it is ‘overwhelmingly probable' that our species evolved from some other and that ‘natural selection is probably the cause which is principally responsible for the coming into existence of new species from old ones.' At the same time, Stove maintains that ‘Darwinism says many things, especially about our species, which are too obviously false to be believed by an educated person; or at least by an educated person who retains any capacity at all for critical thought.' Some examples: that ‘every single organic being around us may be said to be striving to the utmost to increase its numbers'; that ‘of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born, but a small number can survive'; that it is to a mother's ‘advantage' that her child should be adopted by another woman; that ‘no one is prepared to sacrifice his life for any single person, but . . . everyone will sacrifice it for more than two brothers, or four half-brothers or eight first cousins'; that ‘any variation in the least degree injurious [to a species] would be rigidly destroyed.'

"These quotations are from Darwin and his orthodox disciples. A moment's reflection shows that none is even remotely true, at least of human beings. Take the last named: that anything in the least injurious to a species would be ‘rigidly destroyed' by natural selection. What about abortion, adoption, fondness for alcohol, and altruism, just to start with the A's? As Stove notes, ‘each of these characteristics [tends] to shorten our lives, or to lessen the number of children we have, or both.' Are any on the way to being rigidly destroyed? Again, if Darwin's theory of evolution were true, ‘there would be in every species a constant and ruthless competition to survive: a competition in which only a few in any generation can be winners. But it is perfectly obvious that human life is not like that, however it may be with other species.' Priests, hospitals, governments, old-age homes, charities, police: these are a few of the things whose existence contradicts Darwin's theories.

"Stove shows in unremitting detail that, despite its enormous explanatory power regarding ‘cods, pines, flies,' etc., Darwin's theory of evolution is ‘a ridiculous slander on human beings.' He is particularly good at exposing the ‘amazingly arrogant habit of Darwinians' of ‘blaming the fact, instead of blaming their theory' when they encounter contrary biological facts. Does it regularly happen that increasing prosperity leads to lower birth rates? And does this directly contradict Darwinian theory? No problem, just announce that the birth rates in such cases are somehow ‘inverted.' Indeed, Stove's analysis shows that, when it comes to our species, Darwinism ‘is a mere festering mass of errors.' It can tell you ‘lots of truths about plants, flies, fish, etc., and interesting truths, too. . . . [But] if it is human life that you would most like to know about and to understand, then a good library can be begun by leaving out Darwinism, from 1859 [when On the Origin of Species was published] to the present hour.' It is not a pretty picture that Stove paints; but then the exhibition of gross error widely accepted is never a comely sight."

More Than Mere Coincidence

A Lutheran pastor writes me that he has been wrestling again with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that most worthy theologian who was martyred during the last days of the Nazi horror. Pondering Bonhoeffer's Life Together, he says, "I almost feel I am in the world of the Church fathers. The mix of the perennial and the contextual is striking. Reading through the umpteenth time, I am especially struck with Bonhoeffer's bracing severity about ‘community'--a kind of ascesis of spiritual relationships."

This pastor, like so many others these days, is heavily burdened by the question of where he belongs in the larger Christian community. "I've been thinking sobering thoughts about how the unraveling of Lutheranism may have been quite predictable, given the conceptual habit of relegating morals to a ‘second order' somehow incidental to salvation. . . . Doctrinal agreement turns out to be sheer abstraction apart from a common vision about the concrete shape of the Life we are saved to live. It's revealing that in ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together' you were able to begin with actual issues of Christian obedience."

I had not thought of it quite like that, but of course he is right. To be sure, there is an important sense in which the 1997 statement, "The Gift of Salvation," is more significant than the original ECT statement of 1994. "The Gift of Salvation" does not say everything that Catholics, and many Protestants, would want to say about salvation, but it does put clearly and unmistakably on the record that Catholics can say with full integrity what evangelical Protestants believe must be said about salvation.

At the same time, however, my Lutheran friend is right about the significance of the 1994 statement's underscoring of how Christians are to live, how they understand their duties to one another and to the world of which they are part. In the very early Church, before Christianity was called Christianity it was called, quite simply, the Way. It was the communal way of living for those who followed the one who called himself the way, the truth, and the life. This is not to downplay the importance of doctrine. Doctrine or teaching is necessarily engaged in answering the question why one should follow Jesus the Christ. Who is he that I should acknowledge his claim on my life? The answers to this and other questions are inescapably doctrinal.

But a moment's reflection on these things quickly runs into ironies. The old liberalism that claims it is "deeds not creeds" that matter has again and again demonstrated that it can speak clearly about neither deeds nor creeds. My Lutheran friend is pleased that Catholics and Lutherans can approve a common statement on justification by faith, but "doctrinal agreement turns out to be sheer abstraction apart from a concrete vision of the shape of the Life we are saved to live." I am reminded again of the emphatic way in which the encyclical Veritatis Splendor argues that moral theology is theology. The Christian faith is a way of thinking and speaking together, but it is equally a way of living together, and living is much more than thinking and speaking. Creeds without deeds are abstractions, while the moral imperative of deeds loses all its force without creeds. What we are to do and how we are to be (deeds) cannot be sustained apart from an answer to the question why (creeds).

Perhaps there was, then, more than mere coincidence in ECT's beginning with what my friend calls "actual issues of Christian obedience." There is a sense in which we found ourselves in the Way before we addressed in detail the heart of the why. All of us involved in ECT have repeatedly spoken of our strong sense of the Spirit's guidance in this initiative. The French have a saying: "Coincidence is an event in which God wishes to remain anonymous."

Young, Jewish, and Conservative

"Scratch an American Jew," writes Earl Raab, one of the most respected analysts of American Jewish life, "and you find a democratic voter, but, if you scratch deeper, you will not find a liberal." That is quoted in an article by Murray Friedman of the American Jewish Committee in Moment magazine. Friedman thinks a major change may be under way, citing the large number of younger Jewish intellectuals and writers who identify themselves as conservative. Some of those he cites are closely associated with this journal. "There are indications that younger Jews are voting differently from their parents and especially from their grandparents. It's a ‘generation that knows not FDR or JFK; it is three generations removed from the ferment of the Jewish labor union movement. For this generation, even the civil rights and student anti-Vietnam movements of the 1960s coincide with their birth and infancy but not with their political experience,' writes political scientist Alan Fisher."

There is another generational difference of potentially great consequence: "Unlike their elders, who fought the bitter and wounding battles of the Cold War, this younger generation seems less intense. And religion is often more important in their personal lives. For their elders, Judaism was seen as preventing intermarriage and ‘good' for maintaining order and decent values rather than as a force that shaped their lives. Irving Kristol told an interviewer that he did not join a synagogue until the '80s. In contrast, most of the younger Jewish intellectuals are either traditional or Orthodox Jews. Many are active in their synagogues and attend services regularly." Old worries, however, have by no means been dissipated: "Having said this, I must also acknowledge that the emergence of a full-bodied Jewish conservatism faces serious obstacles. The term itself turns off most Jews. It connotes a body of reactionary and bigoted ideas. Despite greater affluence and broader acceptance, Jews remain anxious. Recent surveys show that while most Americans feel that anti-Semitism has declined, Jews are convinced it is very much alive and rising."

Despite the best efforts of people such as Ralph Reed, Jewish fears of "the religious right" remain powerful. Not so, however, with the Jews who will likely be a larger part of the American Jewish future. "And the proportion of Orthodox Jewish voters will grow because of their high birthrate. Their political activism has already been felt. At the close of the '80s, Agudath Israel opened an office in Washington, D.C., where once Reform's Social Action Center and secular Jewish agencies had this turf to themselves. On issues like tuition vouchers for families to send their children to private and parochial schools, Orthodox Jews have effectively allied themselves with Catholic and Evangelical Christian conservatives and have gained the support of senators like Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who is an Orthodox Jew, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.)." Friedman notes Irving Kristol's observation that "In America all successful politics is the politics of hope," and ends on a guardedly hopeful note that the younger generation of conservative--or at least more conservative--Jews has learned that lesson.

Standing in the Schoolhouse Door

The student rebellion redux, but this time opinion leaders are not applauding. It's happening in Alabama, after all, and this time the students are demanding the right to--would you believe it?--pray. They aren't yet at the point of taking over administration buildings, but hundreds of them are walking out of classrooms and holding rallies in protest against a ruling by federal judge Ira DeMent.

The judge issued a detailed injunction that prohibits the governor, the attorney general, the state board of education, and everyone else from permitting religious activity in classrooms, including vocal prayer, readings of the Bible, devotional discussions, and distribution of religious materials. It also bans publicly broadcast prayers and invocations at commencement exercises, assemblies, and sporting events. In addition, the ruling appoints monitors to patrol the schools in search of violations. Imagine a report to the authorities: "This monitor did see four students in Room 203 in discussion and did hear the word ‘God' spoken four times in a tone suspiciously devotional. Moreover, one student read from what appeared to be a New Testament she was carrying on her person."

It should be obvious to all that Judge DeMent's order is doing precisely what the federal government is constitutionally forbidden to do, namely, interfering with the free exercise of religion. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Nor shall the federal courts, or so it was thought until Everson (1947) and its judicial progeny. In addition, as parents and others in authority should know, there's nothing better to spark youthful enthusiasm for something than to forbid it.

The country has been heading toward a DeMent-like showdown for years. Something has to give. The courts, led by the Supreme Court, may relax their entrenched hostility to religion. Or the open defiance of court orders may become more commonplace. Or, as is already happening, many more parents may decide that the only way they can get an acceptable education for their children is outside the government school system.

There is nice irony in the showdown coming in Alabama. Governor Fob James, Jr. says he will defy the order from the federal court. Pamela L. Summers, the ACLU lawyer defending the prohibition of religion, says, "For the governor of a state to do this is exactly like George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door." Well, not exactly. There is no doubt a formal similarity, but the substantive difference from the Wallace confrontation is that racial segregation had been declared unconstitutional and was deemed an evil by most Americans. That is not the case with religion. Not yet, and not, I think, in any foreseeable future. It may be the fate of Judge DeMent to go down in history as the fellow who pushed a fatal step too far an interpretation of church-state law that is, if you will permit me, truly demented.

While We're At It