Copyright (c) 1998 First Things 83 (May 1998): 2-5.
I was unsurprised by Richard John Neuhaus’ negative reaction to my book Please Don’t Wish Me a Merry Christmas: A Critical History of the Separation of Church and State ("On Not Permitting the Other to be Other," Public Square, January). Nonetheless, I was sorely disappointed by his failure to confront my arguments in a serious fashion. Most important, Father Neuhaus asserts: "Please Don’t Wish Me a Merry Christmas, despite its hundred pages of notes, is innocent of any engagement with biblical and historical scholarship that offers more credible accounts of the complicated relationship between Christianity and Judaism, and is dogmatically indifferent to the vast literature on the Jewish-Christian dialogue of recent decades."
I have two responses to this claim. First, I extensively document my arguments with primary and secondary sources. In detailing a connection between Christianity and anti-Semitism, I rely upon the text of the New Testament as well as numerous books by Christian and Jewish historians and theologians to show that the New Testament authors condemned Jews for refusing to accept Jesus as the messiah and that New Testament doctrine has been intimately associated with anti-Semitism for close to two millennia. . . . I quote numerous anti-Semitic passages from Christian writers, such as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, who contributed significantly to the development of political theory, and I link these passages to the development of church-state relations. I understand that Fr. Neuhaus and others may not like what I am saying, but that sentiment does not invalidate it.
Second, I do not discuss sources that focus on current Jewish-Christian dialogues because, quite simply, that is not my subject. . . . Fr. Neuhaus barely mentions the main themes of my book, so it is worth clarifying what my book is really about. In the Introduction, I clearly present my theses. I begin by stating what I call the dominant story of the separation of church and state: "Nearly all discussions of the religion clauses build upon one dominant or standard story of the separation of church and state. This oft-repeated and almost universally accepted story focuses on two themes. First, the separation of church and state stands as a constitutional principle that promotes democracy and equally protects the religious freedom of all Americans, especially religious outgroups, including Jews. Second, this principle emerges as a unique American contribution to political theory."
Next I state my purpose: "My purpose in this book is to challenge the two themes of this dominant story of church and state." And in the final paragraph of the Introduction, I summarize my conclusion: "The dominant story of the separation of church and state is woefully simplistic and seriously misleading. The separation of church and state did not magically and suddenly appear in the United States, and, more important, the separation of church and state does not equally protect the religious freedom of all, including religious outgroups. . . . Moreover, the separation of church and state imposes particular costs or disadvantages on outgroups that are not similarly borne by the Christian majority. Ultimately, the dominant story of church and state is revealed to be dominant not only because it is so commonly accepted, but also because it is told from the distinct perspective of the dominant Christian majority. And telling the story of religious freedom and equality from the perspective of the dominant religion has produced a tale that is both self-congratulatory and lacking in nuance. My critical narrative, told from the viewpoint of an American Jew, reveals the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state to be a highly complex social phenomenon that primarily flows from and helps reproduce the Christian domination of American society and culture.". . .
Fr. Neuhaus suggests that I oppose "representative democracy," but of course I never say anything of the sort. Instead, I explore somewhat the emergence of the democratic state, and I examine some of the difficulties of democracy. To recognize and discuss weaknesses in a social institution is not equivalent to opposing it. . . .
Finally, to be fair, I do agree with Fr. Neuhaus on one important point. He writes: "Christians should read Please Don’t Wish Me a Merry Christmas. It provides a window into a way of viewing the world and the American circumstance that needs to be understood." Absolutely true!—which is why, in part, I wrote the book.
Stephen M. Feldman
College of Law
University of Tulsa
I commend Richard John Neuhaus for his review of Professor Stephen M. Feldman’s book, Please Don’t Wish Me A Merry Christmas: A Critical History of the Separation of Church and State.
What I find offensive about Prof. Feldman’s arguments, besides the fact that he is guilty of the same kind of bigotry he accuses Christians of practicing, is his ignorance of history. How can Prof. Feldman claim that anti-Semitism is a Christian invention? Long before Christianity came into existence, the Jews were brutally persecuted by the Egyptians, Amorites, Babylonians, Persians, Philistines, Greeks, Assyrians, and Romans.
Prof. Feldman is sadly mistaken if he believes that his safety as a Jew lies in the radical separation of religion from society. Modern anti-Semitism is actually secular, not religious. The word "anti-Semitism" was first invented by Wilhelm Maar, a German anti-Christian anarchist, in 1879. According to Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer, Maar wanted to give anti-Semitism a scientific basis and separate it from religion, which he rejected. . . .
On a comic level, Prof. Feldman’s ideas are no different than those articulated by Seinfeld’s "Uncle Leo." If a waitress serves him a cold cup of coffee, Uncle Leo concludes that she is an "anti-Semite" who has Auschwitz on her mind. Jerry Seinfeld must be proud. His Uncle Leo got tenure, and wrote a book.
As I indicated in my comment, Professor Feldman has read extensively but also very tendentiously. The relationship between Christianity and Judaism is very much the subject of his book, and it is a grave failure not to have paid attention to the dialogues in which that relationship is constructively examined. It is true that the author does not say he opposes representative democracy, but the entire import of his argument is to oppose a polity (including church-state relations) representative of a people who happen to be mainly Christian. I thank Mr. Cavalli for his comments.
Your editorial about Roe v. Wade ( "Roe: Twenty-five Years Later," January) is in some respects incomplete. You correctly note that Roe is absurd when it implies that the fetus is unlike the neonate because it is unable to live on its own. You do not develop the further point that the same objection can be raised with regard to any human life, even the life of a middle-aged law professor. Could he survive on his own? Take away every other human being, and he would have to live on slowly rotting canned food. His only hope would be to learn or remember hunting.
Even that stored food is a human artifact, left by others. More significantly, so are the tools of hunting, and the means by which those tools can be used. Erase all other humans and those artifacts (cans, guns, traps, arrows) are also gone. What I have is mostly what others have given to me or exchanged with me. Without them I am dead, dead as one aborted. I am by any rational measure utterly dependent on others. If that dependency makes life subject to termination at will, then none of our lives has value.
Michael J. Herbert
University of Richmond
James Nuechterlein ( "The Fifties As I Never Knew Them," February) was correctly appalled by the treatment of the 1950s portrayed on the History Channel. He would be even more greatly shocked to learn that the same interpretation of the decade—dumb, repressive, vicious—appears in virtually all of the college textbooks. Betraying the leftist bias typical of American historians, these accounts invariably proceed to glorify the 1960s.
Mr. Nuechterlein contends that "scholars" are agreed that Senator Joe McCarthy was sincere in his anti-Communist efforts. Not so. Read the textbooks. I first took that position in my 1982 book, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy. My conclusion was based in part on more than two hundred interviews with people who knew the Senator. But the interpretation most often used by historians comes from Richard Rovere’s 1959 journalistic polemic, Senator Joe McCarthy. Rovere told the left what it wanted to hear, and it has stuck. This McCarthy is merely a cynical, ruthless monster. . . .
In short, one should be skeptical when reading that "historians say," because all too often what they say is what the journalists say. And that is because they are of the same ideological bent.
Thomas C. Reeves
Professor of History
University of Wisconsin-Parkside
Thomas C. Reeves may be pleased to know that when I wrote that "scholars have long since demonstrated that McCarthy came firmly to believe in the internal Communist threat," I had his excellent book particularly in mind. I did not say that "scholars are agreed" on the point. Scholars seldom agree on anything beyond the most obvious. But I do think that Prof. Reeves’ book effectively demonstrates that his analysis is correct. I am, alas, fully aware of the dreary textbook consensus on the general awfulness of the fifties. The relationship between textbooks and disinterested scholarship is often tenuous at best.
Two articles in the February issue raise serious questions concerning the cultural and political program endorsed by First Things. R. R. Reno ( "Good Restaurants in Gomorrah") shows how the deliberations of American Episcopalians about homosexuality are dominated by their class attitudes, and (rightly) suggests that these attitudes have narrowed the constituency to which the Episcopal Church can appeal. He retains, however, a stunning complacency about the market-based ecclesiology that pervades American discussions of religion. That Eastern Orthodoxy, Southern Baptist fundamentalism, and Orthodox Judaism do well on the religion market is, when one thinks about it, little comfort even to religious conservatives.
George Weigel ( "John Paul II and the Priority of Culture") praises the Pope for discovering that culture is independent of, and prior to, economics and politics. Since some conservatives maintain that the ideas of the epoch ought to be those of the ruling class (and condemn intellectuals who think otherwise as smart-alecks or worse), this point is welcome. But this is no reason for sidelining "bread and butter" issues: as the Pope knows, and Aristotle, Plato, and the Hebrew prophets knew as well, a large and widening gap between rich and poor has large social, and therefore also cultural, effects.
Philip E. Devine
Professor of Philosophy
As with Russell E. Saltzman ( "A Fear of Abandonment," February), abortion is a personal matter to me.
In October of 1984 my wife was some four months pregnant with our second child. We were living in Connecticut, but scheduled shortly to move to the Norfolk, Va., area. A Coast Guard officer, I am reassigned every few years. While I was on a patrol in the Caribbean, a routine pregnancy check-up for Susan and the company in her womb revealed a serious problem in our unborn child. The kidneys were blocked and enlarged, and Susan was referred to Yale Medical Center. After a variety of tests in New Haven, my wife was advised that the child would live only a matter of months after birth. Matter of factly, the attending physician recommended "termination of the pregnancy." Susan responded intensely, "I won’t do it." The doctor then advised that she ought to consult with her husband—though Susan knew that my reaction would have been similar to hers, if no doubt a good deal less genteel.
I found out about these events during a conversation in a phone shack on the fuel pier at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In that talk my wife and I decided that, at least for the time being, we would call our unborn child Samuel. Though we did not yet know the sex, we did echo the promise of Hannah: "Lord, if you give me this child, I will give him back to you." Many people prayed. Checks and tests continued. There were other complications that necessitated complete bed rest for Susan and my taking forty-four days leave to be Mr. Mom.
Amid the many circumstances of these emotionally charged days, a strange phenomenon occurred. The kidneys in Samuel began to shrink. Yale had the most advanced perinatal outfit in the country, but they could not explain the change. As the time of birth drew near, Sam’s kidney size was determined to be "a variant of normal." Immediately after he was born—and I do mean immediately—Sam made like Old Faithful and wiped out an attending physician and two nurses. I recall one exclaiming, "Get your father, not me!" It has always struck me that Sam was giving his verdict on those whose knowledge of his young life and his kidneys was a good deal less than perfect. . . .
Raymond J. Brown
To persons considering philanthropy, Richard John Neuhaus recommends a report, "Giving Better, Giving Smarter," published by the National Commission on Philanthropy and Civic Renewal (While We’re At It, February).
I have better advice for those people: Don’t wait until you die to put your money to work. Young people need training now. People overseas are dying from starvation and disease now. Prisons are filled with convicts who need spiritual guidance now. Terrified women are patronizing abortionists now. Everywhere, including the U.S., people who never heard of Jesus Christ are dying now.
By contributing now to current, pressing needs, not only can you control the use of your money but you will have the joy of seeing in your lifetime the fruit of your love for God and your fellow humans. Why wait for death? . . .
Leon O. Billig
Ecumenism would have been better served if the joint Evangelical-Catholic declaration "The Gift of Salvation" (January) had not declared a winner in the ancient controversy by stating, "We understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (sola fide)." But since it has, I must protest; the rendered decision is wrong!
I quote from the declaration: "Faith is not merely intellectual assent but an act of the whole person, involving the mind, the will, and the affections, issuing in a changed life" (emphasis added).
The authors of The Church’s Confession of Faith: A Catholic Catechism for Adults (Ignatius, 1987), after pointing out that the Catholic Church affirms that we are justified by faith, which is a gift of God and an unmerited grace, go on to say:
The [Reformation] controversy especially concerns whether grace enables man to consent to his justification and to cooperate with it. The Reformers speak explicitly of unfree will; for them, man’s full passivity in the process of justification is fundamental. In opposition to this, the Council of Trent speaks repeatedly of a human cooperation. . . . It does not mean, of course, an auto-nomous freedom in relation to God, but only a bestowed freedom. This way of speaking is scripturally legitimate. The apostle Paul designates himself explicitly as God’s coworker (1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1); he speaks of grace working with him (1 Corinthians 15:10). . . . This question of creaturely cooperation in the process of the mediation of salvation still represents a fundamental problem in relation to the Reformation.
The fact that the will is included in the declaration apparently removed the last objection of the Catholic signers, particularly Father Avery Dulles, author of a recent, exhaustive, and greatly appreciated study of faith (Assurance of Things Hoped For, Oxford University Press, 1994).
Faith can be defined in such a way that makes love and good works necessary consequences as implied in the phrase "a changed life," but that leads us to wonder what definition Paul had in mind when he wrote (1 Corinthians 13:13), "So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love," and (1 Corinthians 13:2) "If I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing."
James P. Zietlow
James P. Zietlow’s thoughtful letter reflects a concern that has also been raised by others. Speaking only for myself and not for all the signers of the statement, I would note that our Protestant theological interlocutors declare their confidence that "what we here affirm" is consistent with sola fide. There are no doubt some in "the Reformation traditions" who meant and mean something else by sola fide. The Catholic signers are responsible only for what is affirmed in "The Gift of Salvation." It should also be noted that the German catechism that Mr. Zeitlow cites has been succeeded by official dialogues that have concluded that differences over justification are no longer "fundamental" in the sense of being church-dividing.
I would like to respond to Richard John Neuhaus’ comment in the Public Square (While We’re At It, February) concerning an article I wrote in 1994 that was published in RN Magazine two years ago. His comment does not recognize the chain of decision making that I recorded in this medical situation.
The Patient Self-Determination Act of 1990 is a federal law that makes provision for patients to make written or verbal statements directing the course of their care before they become too ill to do so. This patient had clearly stated that he did not wish to be kept alive by mechanical means when there was no hope of recovery. After he had been in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) for several months, his family made the request to the doctors that treatment and feeding through a gastrostomy tube be stopped in accordance with the patient’s wishes. The doctors carefully reviewed the case with legal and ethical experts. In addition, second medical opinions were sought and at all times the family was included in the discussions. It was decided that the patient’s condition was irreversible and his stated wish for termination of life support would be honored.
After his death I spoke to the nurses who had cared for him. In accordance with the "conscience clause" in New York State law, staff had been told they could request reassignment if they had a moral objection to the procedure. All decided to remain and care for the patient. . . . I recorded the experience of the nurses because I believed it was a critically important event for them and for others. I strongly believe there is a need to ensure that nurses are aware of the decision making process, the implications of such situations, and their rights and responsibilities to themselves and the patient.
Elisabeth Ohlenberg, RN
I have no doubt appropriate experts were consulted and gave their permission. The question is not procedural but substantive. From the article and from the above letter, it seems obvious this man was not in a PVS (a profoundly dehumanizing term). He was apparently conscious and interacting with the nurses. In any event, the wrong is in withdrawing food and fluid with the purpose of effecting the patient’s death, and the wrong is not mitigated by the patient’s complicity in it. The painful ordeal of twenty days described by Nurse Ohlenberg can only lead people who do not recognize the wrong to employ more efficient means for dispatching patients in similar circumstances.