The Public Square
Copyright (c) 1998 First Things 89 (January 1999): 66-82.
Our reviewer had some very positive things to say about Cynthia Gorney’s Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars (Dave Andrusko, "The Pro–Life Movement Then and Now," November 1998). Phyllis Orrick interviews Gorney in the New York Press, and the interview sheds light on the troubled minds and souls of people who know there is something radically wrong with the abortion regime of Roe v. Wade (1973), yet hold on tenaciously to the claim that they are "pro–choice." Orrick, who graduated from high school in 1970, says of that time, "If you even questioned the pro–choice position, it was blasphemy." She asks Gorney, "Did you get unnerved when you began to understand the other side?" Gorney: "You sort of back into it. The first thing you learn is there are enormously intelligent and thoughtful people on both sides of this. I’m a fairly conventional modern American woman of my age group. . . . I should have been old enough to know these stories, but somehow they’re not part of our folklore, they’re not known."
Among the things Gorney learned in the course of her research is that in the late 1960s and early 1970s "all the impetus for the right–to–life movement was coming from Catholics. It’s important to say Catholics and not the Catholic Church. Although the Church, capital C, was opposed to abortion, one of the things that really p–––––off a lot of the people who were involved in early opposition efforts is this notion, which in part comes from old–fashioned anti–Catholic bigotry, that they were only doing what they were doing because they were snapping to attention under the orders of some leader, i.e., the Pope. That’s an old calumny that Catholics have been dealing with for decades." As for the Protestants, evangelical and oldline, at that time they were all on the other side. "When Roe came down, the Southern Baptist position was, ‘We don’t like abortion; but it can be acceptable under certain circumstances.’ Second, ‘We don’t like these Roman Catholics shoving their collective position down our throats.’" Only in the late 1970s did evangelical Protestants finally come aboard the pro–life cause, where today they are frequently in positions of leadership.
Gorney has definite views also about pro–abortion organizations such as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL): "They have a very nice suite of offices in downtown Washington; they have a massive fundraising campaign every year. They have a lot of employees, good people all, and what do they do if the battle’s won? I don’t know the answer." But she has some advice for the pro–abortion movement: "You need to get out of the defensive crouch, and you need to see that to a large extent you have won the battle. It’s not going to be illegal in this country unless five members of the Supreme Court drop dead tomorrow and a Republican is President."
In researching the book, Gorney came to the conclusion that there is no doubt about it being a baby that is killed by abortion. Her explanation of how she deals with that, which is both candid and confused, is not without interest. "If we’re going to make policy on it, we probably should see what it is that we’re making legal. Then we may do what we need to do, which is to say, ‘this is really horrible, and we have to do it anyway.’ See, that’s what I think the tactic ought to have been on some level from the very beginning. . . . Like you have to take responsibility for what you’re doing. Another problem is, if you’re going to take a pro–choice position in this country, you have to be willing to say, ‘I understand this is moral hypocrisy, I wish it weren’t so, but it’s better than the alternative.’ It is moral hypocrisy when we say, ‘In this room, you get to get rid of your twenty–weeker and we’ll call it a fetus, and in that room, we’re going to do everything we can to save your twenty–weeker and call it a baby.’"
Recall Paul Swope’s article, "Abortion: A Failure to Communicate" (FT, April 1998), which describes how women who acknowledge that they are killing their children nonetheless say it is the least of three evils. The two greater evils, in this view, are keeping the child or giving birth to a child who will be adopted, either of which, these women believe, would be a kind of "death" for them. Better the baby should die. In the Gorney interview, the "alternative" to this "really horrible" thing is illegal abortion, or at least that’s the way the editors played it, picturing her against a field of opposing placards, one depicting coathangers and the other unborn children. But, of course, the coathanger is not the alternative. Were abortion entirely outlawed, there would no doubt be some illegal abortions, and they would be as "safe" for the woman as are today’s abortuaries. The technology of abortion is inexpensive and readily available, and abortionists will not need to—and, in fact, never did—resort to coathangers.
One real "alternative" is for Cynthia Gorney and people of like conviction to stop calling themselves pro–choice. That would come with a price, however. She would not then be given a flattering interview in New York Press, or almost anywhere else outside the pro–life movement. And it is very doubtful that Simon & Schuster would be interested in her next book, at least if it dealt with abortion. Saying that you are pro–choice—no matter how reluctantly pro–choice—is the admission ticket to the American establishment. The discussion of the "alternative" raises a yet more interesting question. Several years ago in the New Republic, Naomi Wolf launched the argument among feminists and pro–choicers that abortion should be defended with the candor and moral anguish that befits the killing of a child. The pro–abortion movement has resisted that argument, and understandably so. Its leaders rightly fear that their cause cannot survive the truth of what is done in abortion.
Championing "moral hypocrisy" is not a winning platform. One cannot coherently say that innocent human beings have an inherent right not to be killed and, at the same time, say that people have a private right to kill innocent human beings. Some people, perhaps many people, can live with such a flagrant contradiction, but it is not sustainable over the long run. Its unraveling would not require the sudden death of five Supreme Court justices. NARAL and Planned Parenthood know that. Their defense of the license created by Roe is utterly dependent upon perpetuating the lie, denying what it is that abortion does.
For Cynthia Gorney and those of like conviction, the "alternative" is acting on the truth they know. It is saying something like this: "I have been forced to recognize that abortion is the killing of an innocent child, and that is always wrong. We must do everything we can to work toward a society in which every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. I don’t know exactly how we do that, but I do know there is no more urgent and public question than the question of who belongs to the community for which we accept common responsibility. I am not pro–choice." Unlike the embrace of "moral hypocrisy," that alternative will exact a social price.
The Rev. Diane Walker is a United Church of Canada minister serving four rural parishes outside Hamilton, Ontario, and a great fan of this journal. Which is another reminder that you cannot always judge clerics by their denomination. She also very much likes my book Freedom for Ministry, and uses it in supervising pastoral interns and seminarians. But . . . she thinks my discussion there of money and ministry must have been written by a celibate. She doesn’t quite put it that way, but she would be right if she did. Others have raised similar questions about that part of the book—which, I should add, is not a big part of the book—but nobody has put it so well as she does in her letter, which, with her permission, I herewith propose for your reading:
"Some years ago, when our four children were little I agreed wholeheartedly with what you wrote about the simplicity of the pastoral home operating on a rather limited budget. We lived in a manse, on one pastor’s income, and a little extra that came in from supply preaching by the other preacher in the house. The children had home–made cookies and home–made trousers and we lived very carefully, below the government–defined poverty line and eligible for full subsidy at nursery school and the YMCA. For the past year, we have been living on one and three–quarters pastoral incomes, putting us about the middle of the middle class. We have purchased our own home, with a big mortgage. Our income is bigger but so are our expenses: the mortgage of course, but also high levels of savings for children’s education and our own retirement. It would not do to rely on inheritances from parents or the benefices of our children for our own old age, and while manse living means being free of the headaches of home ownership (the hot–water tank and the roof are someone else’s problem), retiring from a manse means retiring homeless, and few can save from a minister’s salary to take on a mortgage at age sixty–five. Yes, the denomination does provide a ‘retirement village,’ but the thought of spending one’s golden years in a never–ending presbytery meeting is a mighty spur to saving. So here we are with an income bigger than we could ever have imagined, which outgoes as quickly as it incomes.
"But, because you have written in a rather idealistic way about the gracious simplicity and peacefulness of living with great financial constraint, now that I have done that, I want to tell you about the freedom that has come to our household with the injection of a little extra cash. To know that we can order pizza for supper a couple of times a month, and go on a vacation every third year, and tell the orthodontist to go ahead with the treatment plan, these are wonderful luxuries. Yes of course, all of our sports equipment is still second hand, and we buy no–name groceries, and we drive our cars until they lie down and die. We still only eat steak a few times a year and a roast of beef is a big occasion. But oh, the luxury of walking into the grocery store and knowing I can buy pretty well what I want, the delight of being able to hand the eleven–year–old the ten dollars to go to the movies with the other girls on the block.
"You see, even when their parents have made decisions about simplicity and aiming for a nonmaterialistic life, children still need shoes, and while they may not need Nikes or Reeboks, unfortunately ministers and their families tend to live in middle–class neighborhoods and have middle–class friends. So when the class trip lasts four days and costs three hundred dollars, it is important that your thirteen year old be able to afford to go. After all the years of ‘Perhaps next time’ and ‘Well we’ll see,’ I had so much fun that back to school season when, for the first time, each of them got a new back pack and new shoes.
"I do worry about us getting caught up in the mindless, rampant consumerism of our culture, or, more specifically, I worry about it happening to our kids. We undertake all manner of attempts to counteract it, by giving and encouraging them to give, and by making the really conspicuous consumerism in our house focus on books and music, concerts and tuition fees. There is a mighty spiritual danger in having, owning, acquiring, desiring. But my caution is that we not idealize, too much, the notion that doing without is always the very best training for our children. It can teach them envy, discontent, and resentment, even when our goal is to teach them the joys of living simply and in accordance with God’s will."
I first met Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1965, when he was fifty–eight and I a kid of twenty–nine. The occasion had to do with defending protestors against the Vietnam war, which led to the formation of Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam (CALCAV). We hit it off in a big way, and ours became an intense intellectual and spiritual friendship until his death in December 1972. We both loved to argue, and mainly we argued about the connections and conflicts between the Jewish and Christian ways of being children of Abraham. I thought he was too enamored of what I viewed as an excessively easy pluralism. He thought I was too insistent in my Christian particularism. For hours beyond number we went back and forth, often in his book–crammed office high in the tower of Jewish Theological Seminary, he smoking his cannon–sized cigars and I puffing on my pipe until the air was so thick we had to open the window even in the dead of winter. (He quit the cigars after a minor heart attack a few years before he died.) Of course I learned much more than he did from these exchanges. Heschel was a very learned man, and a great soul.
His books are still in print (e.g., The Earth is the Lord’s, The Sabbath, Man is Not Alone, God in Search of Man) and I warmly recommend them. Since his death twenty–six years ago, something of a Heschel cult has sprung up. In fact, it had already sprung during his lifetime. On the twenty–fifth anniversary of his death, the first volume of the biography by Edward Kaplan and Samuel Dresner appeared, Abraham Joshua Heschel: Prophetic Witness (Yale University Press). It has been admirably and admiringly reviewed by Rabbi David Novak, one of Heschel’s star students, in these pages (October 1998). It is also reviewed in Commentary by Jon Levenson of Harvard, a frequent contributor to this journal, under the title "The Contradictions of A. J. Heschel." While Levenson, too, admires Heschel, he has some big problems.
Heschel came from a dynasty of hasidic rabbis in Poland, took his doctorate at the University of Berlin, succeeded Martin Buber as head of the Lehrhaus in Frankfurt, and, after escaping Nazism to America, became the most read and most influential Jewish theologian of his time. He was a devoutly observant Jew who believed there are many ways to the truth. Kaplan and Dresner say it is a wonder that he was able to "reconcile" the different worlds of which he was part. Levenson is not sure that he did. "The question of the authority of halakhah, traditional rabbinic law in all its specificity, is the most obvious point of division between the traditionalist world of Heschel’s origins and Jewish secular modernity. But it is, or should be, a no less troubling point of division between the world he grew up in, and whose basic religious dictates he continued to follow, and the world of religious but non–Orthodox Judaism in which he spent his entire professional life both in Germany and later in the United States." Levenson’s conclusion is that "it was not out of the reconciliation but out of the collision of the several worlds in which he traveled that his most profound reflections on Jewish theology and spirituality were born."
It is for others to figure out the "contradictions" in Heschel’s way of being Jewish. I am interested here in another question about Heschel’s thought that Levenson raises, a question that was at the heart of our friendly but intense disagreement. He notes that at the University of Berlin Heschel immersed himself in the emerging fields of aesthetics, phenomenology, and psychology (a combination in which another Polish thinker of the time was also deeply immersed—Karol Wojtyla, later to be Pope John Paul II). From this he developed his crucial understanding that God is always the Subject and man the object of divine action; the initiative is always with God. In Heschel’s case this was combined with the dominant liberal Protestantism of Berlin that pitted the prophetic against the priestly, and the authentically spiritual against the religiously institutionalized. As Levenson observes, this "very dubious dichotomy . . . was a staple of Protestant biblical studies and was, moreover, often linked to anti–Jewish (and anti–Catholic) polemics."
I think Levenson is on to something here. I want to say this very carefully, but I did at times discern a liberal Protestant streak in Heschel’s thinking. In connection with my insistence on the particularity of Jesus as the Christ, he thought I should be more accommodating, like our mutual friends at Union Theological Seminary (across the street from Jewish Theological). Union was and is a bastion of liberal Protestantism. I will leave it to Levenson and others to worry about whether there was a contradiction between Heschel’s leanings toward liberal universalism and his being an observant Jew. But from a Christian perspective, Heschel’s uneasiness with my particularism reflected a suspicion of the incarnational.
His passionate fear, shared by liberal Protestantism, is that religiosity should somehow try to take God captive. It is a legitimate fear but, when unrestrained, leads to other equally grave distortions. There is a lovely phrase in Christian theology: Finitum capax infinitum—the finite is able to hold the infinite. Heschel said he believed that, but I am not sure how he did. It is precisely on the possibility of the incarnational that another Jewish theologian, Michael Wyschogrod, has made such valuable contributions. (See my discussion of Wyschogrod in FT, January 1997). Among all the reasons that I am sorry Heschel died so early is that we never got a chance to discuss Wyschogrod in this connection. Not to mention related contributions by David Novak and others. Serious theological engagement between Christians and Jews has, thank God, greatly advanced in these twenty–five years.
Make no mistake, however. Heschel had a great appreciation of the embodiment of truth in tradition. He was fond of telling the story of a woman who approached him in the synagogue, complaining that the service did not say what she wanted to say. "Madam," he responded, "you have it precisely backwards. The idea is not for the service to say what you want to say but for you to want to say what the service says." As many long–suffering congregations know, I am fond of using that in homilies.
Heschel was a great soul in a time of spiritual cripples. He looked like a prophet. It was not only little children who said that he looked like what you think God may look like. He was something of a showman, and he knew it. He knew so much, he understood so much, and he wrote like an angel. I count it among the very great gifts of my life that he was my friend.
The editors of Commonweal were taken aback by recent assertions by two sociologists, Father Andrew Greeley and Professor Peter Berger. Greeley, writing in Commonweal, says that the significance of Vatican II is that individual Catholics "decided that it was not wrong to be Catholic on their own terms." In the Church today, says Greeley, people who disagree with official positions and want decisions to go in another direction simply "anticipate such decisions and change on their own authority." In "Liberalism and Its Limits," the editors indicate a deep uneasiness about such freelancing.
They also find surprising Berger’s essay in the Christian Century ("Protestantism and the Quest for Certainty"), in which he suggests that the future of mainline/oldline Protestantism may be to cater to those who see no alternative to "modern skepticism." Sola fide—"faith alone"—means living with uncertainty, says Berger. This assumes a "contradiction" between belief and knowledge: "If we know something, there is no reason to believe; conversely, if we say that we believe something, we are implying that we don’t know." Those who cannot or will not live with uncertainty may seek refuge in biblical fundamentalism or in what some sociologists call "strong churches" such as the Roman Catholic. The oldline Protestant market is among those who are able to "refuse the various offers of certainty." Encouraging oldliners to consider the high promise of premising religious adherence on modern skepticism, Berger points to "the robust growth of Unitarian–Universalist churches in recent years." (Today the Unitarian–Universalist Association counts 214,000 members, up from 176,698 ten years ago.)
The Commonweal editors seem to accept the Greeley–Berger analysis of "the realities of modern religious practices," but indicate that more is required in order to sustain a church that is recognizably the Catholic Church. Priests and people must be accountable to a bishop who is, in turn, "accountable both to his fellow bishops and to a two–thousand–year tradition." And, presumably, to the head of the college of bishops, the Pope. Citing Cardinal Newman, they note that "without a robust principle of authority, doctrinal development is an incoherent idea." From a Catholic viewpoint, "relying ultimately on an individual appropriation of faith is not sufficient—practically or theologically."
While the editors say it is not sufficient "practically or theologically," and while they are undoubtedly right about that, their response to the Greeley–Berger thesis is almost entirely practical, indeed sociological. Touching upon the philosophical or theological, they speak of "the contest between reason and faith" in a manner remarkably similar to Berger’s view of the "contradiction" between knowledge and belief. If in fact there is such a conflict between reason and faith, belief and knowledge, as is here suggested, then it would seem that there is no reasonable alternative to the kind of uncertainty described by Berger, although Protestants might want to challenge his depiction of sola fide as an act of existential fideism. Of course a radically different understanding of these questions is advanced in the Great Tradition from Origen through Augustine and Anselm and Thomas Aquinas and Edith Stein and, most recently, John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason).
The editors are right that the Greeley–Berger argument poses problems both "practically and theologically." The appropriate response, however, is an intellectually rigorous address to the theological, which necessarily includes the philosophical. Finally, I note in passing that Berger’s article, which is written in his typically feisty style and has deservedly attracted considerable attention, is right in noting that there are still vibrant local congregations in all the oldline denominations. They are—without exception in my experience—local churches that vehemently reject their denominational leadership’s adherence to the doctrine of modern skepticism.
In many ways, the best single book on the civil rights movement under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. is still the late Ralph David Abernathy’s 1989 autobiography, When the Walls Came Tumbling Down. Critics savaged the book, in part because it provided details of some of the less savory aspects of the movement, and of Dr. King’s private life, but there is no doubt that the book was intended as an act of homage to Dr. King. Each man was, beyond question, the other’s best friend. I knew them both reasonably well and am confident that was the case. Historians such as Taylor Branch (Parting the Waters and Pillar of Fire) treat Abernathy as something of a clown, an incompetent egotist who was out of his depth. But I suspect that what they have against Abernathy is that, when all is said and done, he was a deeply conservative man.
The most affecting part of his autobiography is the remembrance of his childhood in the deep South. His account radiates his immense pride in being part of the human dignity manifest in his parents and family, the Abernathies of Hopewell, Alabama. In a time when black history is told in monothematic terms of victimization, Abernathy recalled something else that once was and is now almost entirely lost. "The truth is," he wrote in his introduction, "after a few years people tend to forget their past. . . . I find that idea a little frightening, particularly when I see so many blacks who neither remember nor understand their past. If we are to survive and prosper as a people, we cannot forget who we are or where we came from." The autobiography is not polemical, but neither does it disguise his dismay at the still dominant fashion of blacks trashing their own history, turning it into an epiphenomenon of white racism.
Hopewell, Alabama, was a wonderful place to grow up. There were only two things, two interrelated things, terribly wrong with it: legally mandated segregation and the failure of whites to respect black folk as they deserved to be respected. When Ralph Abernathy hooked up with Martin King in the 1950s and the civil rights movement was launched, the goal of the movement was very clear: to right those two wrongs. Abernathy knew what it would mean for the movement to succeed. It would mean his parents did not have to go to the back of the line at local stores, and white folk would address them as Mr. and Mrs. Abernathy. But of course the movement became something else, an all–purpose vehicle on which sundry leftisms hitched a ride. By 1965, with the rise of "black power" and assorted "radicalizations," the hitchhikers had taken the wheel.
Dr. King would live for three more years, but even before his death, Abernathy viewed with bewilderment what the movement had become. Who were these hordes of angry, vindictive, anti–American, countercultural, drug–tripping aliens who had hijacked his and Martin’s movement? Of course they viewed Abernathy as an anachronism, and, although it is conveniently forgotten today, they also dismissed Dr. King as "De Lawd" whose day was past. Both were derided as reformists in a time of revolution. As is so often the case with those who help set great historical forces in motion, Abernathy concludes his account, in effect, on the remorseful note: "That is not what we meant. That is not what we meant at all." To be sure, there was all that movement rhetoric about turning the world upside down, and Abernathy contributed his share to it. But, finally, Ralph Abernathy just wanted to change Hopewell, Alabama, and other places like it—to make good places better by the decencies of freedom and respect.
These reflections are occasioned by John Lewis’ new book, Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement (Simon & Schuster, $26). Lewis, too, was from a small town in Alabama, and, like Abernathy, he remembers it lovingly. He, too, was caught up in a vortex of change he did not understand, ending up as the head of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). In the great 1963 March on Washington he was viewed as a firebrand, and almost denied his place at the podium by the older and "more responsible" leaders of the movement, including Dr. King. Soon Lewis would get his turn to be "it" in the game of more–radical–than–thou, when Stokely Carmichael and others took over SNCC to turn it into a non student violent dictatorship of "participatory democracy." Almost overnight, yesterday’s firebrand was today’s has–been.
The first six sections of Walking With the Wind tell that part of the story, and tell it very well. The seventh and final section is about his surprise defeat of the elegant Julian Bond in a race for a Georgia congressional seat, and his reelection to that seat again and again and again. In Congress he is a conventionally liberal politician. The book does not so much conclude as it trails off into talk about keeping the faith, fighting the good fight, having a dream, and so forth. In the last chapter, titled "Onward," we are told about his triumph in getting the plans for a freeway changed. Or maybe it was a shopping mall. Whatever. But the fragments of the dream come through in his final words: "As a nation, if we care for the Beloved Community, we must move our feet, our hands, our hearts, our resources to build and not to tear down, to reconcile and not to divide, to love and not to hate, to heal and not to kill. In the final analysis, we are one people, one family, one house—the American house, the American family."
I’m sure John Lewis is a good and decent man. But where he has ended up is more Mario Cuomo than Martin King. That may not be an entirely bad thing, but it is yet another indication that the walls came tumbling down a long time ago.
Born in Bavaria on Holy Saturday of 1927, Joseph Ratzinger’s life has been entirely within and for the Church, which, he is convinced, is the way of greatest service to the world. This and much else become evident in his remarkable account just published by Ignatius, Milestones: Memoirs 1927–1977 (300 pp., $14.95 paper), which takes the reader from his childhood to his appointment as Archbishop of Munich. The years in Rome as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will, one hopes, be the subject of another memoir. But there is a great deal in this first installment that casts light on the mind and soul of the man who, next to the Pope himself, has had the greatest intellectual influence in shaping the direction of the Catholic Church over these past twenty years.
Tolstoy was wrong, I believe, about happy families all being happy in the same way. It is unhappy families that exhibit a dreary sameness deserving of today’s dismal term "dysfunctional." There is a freshness and wonder in Ratzinger’s depiction of the happy family in which he was reared, under the shadow of the horror that was the Third Reich. Family and Church were, for him, inseparable, and he clearly saw Hitler as the enemy of both. Nazism was at its heart a religious movement that, by its own evil lights, had to attack a Church that championed a "foreign Jewish and Roman" faith. His father, a village policeman, saw this from the beginning. "With unfailing clairvoyance he saw that the victory of Hitler would not be a victory for Germany but a victory of the Antichrist which would surely usher in apocalyptic times for all believers, and not only for believers." Young Ratzinger had to spend some time in a military work brigade, always hoping for the victory of the allies, and being irritated by the way the Americans seemed to be taking their own sweet time in prosecuting the war. The chief lesson he draws from the war years, however, is a lesson about the Church. "Despite many human failings, the Church was the alternative to the destructive ideology of the Nazis. In the inferno that had swallowed up the powerful, she had stood firm with a force coming to her from eternity. It had been demonstrated: The gates of hell will not prevail against her."
From his childhood to the present, the Church is exemplified, above all, in her liturgy. This, his memoir suggests, is what has gone most seriously wrong since the Second Vatican Council. As a young boy, "It was a riveting adventure to move by degrees into the mysterious world of the liturgy which was being enacted before us and for us there on the altar. It was becoming more and more clear to me that here I was encountering a reality that no one had simply thought up, a reality that no official authority or great individual had created. This mysterious fabric of texts and actions had grown from the faith of the Church over the centuries. It bore the whole weight of history within itself and yet, at the same time, it was much more than the product of human history." As a seminarian and young priest he was a great proponent of the liturgical movement, and was later gratified to see its principles embodied in the Council’s constitution on the liturgy. "I was not able to foresee that the negative sides of the liturgical movement would later reemerge with redoubled strength, almost to the point of pushing the liturgy toward its own self–destruction."
What happened is that the liturgy suddenly became something other than the lived experience of the Church through the centuries. The "new liturgy" of Paul VI was the product of liturgical experts imposed by official authority. Within half a year, the old Missal, which had its roots in "the sacramentaries of the ancient Church and had known continuous growth over the centuries," was almost totally prohibited. This "introduced a breach into the history of the liturgy whose consequences could only be tragic." The liturgy appeared "no longer as a living development but as the product of erudite work and juridical authority"; it became something "made," something within our own power of decision rather than something received as a gift. "I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today largely derives from the disintegration of the liturgy. . . . This is why we need a new liturgical movement which will call to life the real heritage of the Council."
Milestones testifies to a young man’s spiritual and intellectual excitement in engaging theological, philosophical, and scientific movements that opened up new worlds. "Being young, we were questioners above all," he says. There were de Lubac and Danielou recovering the early fathers, Martin Buber and personalism, and in the sciences thinkers such as Planck and Heisenberg moving beyond the Enlightenment’s rationalist scientism and its hostility to religious thought. There was, above all, the encounter with Augustine, whom Ratzinger still calls "my great master." He cannot say the same of Thomas Aquinas, "whose crystal–clear logic seemed to me to be too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready–made." He allows that this is probably because he was presented with "a rigid, neo–scholastic Thomism," but, in any event, he thought Thomas "simply too far afield from my own questions."
He was most deeply engaged by biblical scholarship and writes that "exegesis has always remained the center of my theological work." His academic career was almost derailed when his Habilitation (the degree beyond the doctorate and necessary for teaching) was not accepted the first time around. He wrote on the concept of revelation in the High Middle Ages, and especially in Bonaventure, and offended a teacher who thought himself to be the expert on such questions. Much Catholic theology, he says, had fallen into the habit of referring to Scripture—or to Scripture and tradition—as "the revelation," as though it were a thing. From Bonaventure he learned that revelation is always an act. "The word ‘revelation’ refers to the act in which God shows himself, and not to the objectified result of this act. Part and parcel of the concept of revelation is the receiving subject. Where there is no one to perceive revelation, no re–vel–ation has occurred because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it."
Later, as a peritus (theological expert) at the Council, he would come to see the importance of recognizing the Church as the apprehending subject in revelation. Theologians at the Council began to speak of the "material completeness" of the Bible, and Ratzinger suggests that this "catchword" resulted in a curious and mischievous version of sola scriptura. "This new theory, in fact, meant that exegesis now had to become the highest authority in the Church," he observes. Everything was to be subjected to the judgment of biblical scholarship, and biblical scholarship was understood in "scientific" historical–critical terms. The consequence is that "faith had to recede into the region of the indeterminate and constantly changing that is the very nature of historical or would–be historical hypotheses." Although the idea of the Bible’s "material completeness" was rejected by the Council, the after–life of the phrase has distorted the way in which the Council has often been understood. "The drama of the post–Conciliar era," Ratzinger writes, "has been largely determined by this catchword and its logical consequences."
The crisis in biblical interpretation was the Cardinal’s subject when we invited him to give the Erasmus Lecture here in New York in 1988 (see Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The Ratzinger Conference on the Bible, Eerdmans, 1989). In the present book he puts it this way: "Scripture is the essential witness of revelation, but revelation is something alive, something greater and more: proper to it is the fact that it happens and is perceived—otherwise it would not be revelation. Revelation is not a meteor fallen to earth that now lies around somewhere as a mass of rock from which you can take rock samples and submit them to analysis in a laboratory." The historical–critical method is the "analysis of rocks," while the life of the Church is the tradition that apprehends the truth, and that apprehending subject is essential to what is meant by revelation.
In discussing other theologians with whom he worked in the university, Ratzinger has nothing but generous things to say about Hans Küng, who would later become the most famous of theological dissidents. Early on he worked with Karl Rahner, perhaps the most influential academic theologian in the post–conciliar period, on a number of projects and came to realize that "Rahner and I lived on two different theological planets." Although they agreed on many things, including the above–mentioned question of Scripture and exegesis in the life of the Church, their approach to theology could not have been more different. Despite Rahner’s reading in the patristic literature, "His theology was totally conditioned by the tradition of Suarezian scholasticism and its new reception in the light of German idealism and Heidegger. His was a speculative and philosophical theology in which Scripture and the Fathers in the end played no important role and in which the historical dimension was really of little significance. For my part, my whole intellectual formation had been shaped by Scripture and the Fathers and by profoundly historical thinking." It was only a matter of time before his "parting of the ways" with Rahner became evident to all.
Ratzinger was gratified by the decisions of the Council, but how they were being perceived among theologians was another matter. "The impression grew steadily that nothing was now stable in the Church, that everything was open to revision. More and more the Council [was viewed] as a big church parliament that could change everything and reshape everything according to its own desires. Very clearly resentment was growing against Rome and against the Curia, which appeared to be the real enemy of everything new and progressive." The theologians at the Council were seen, and appeared to see themselves, as the real authorities in the Church, eclipsing the teaching office of the bishops. "In his time, Luther had exchanged his priestly robes for the scholar’s gown in order to show that the Scripture scholars in the Church were the ones who had to make the decisions." Something very similar was happening again.
Later, during the student turmoil of 1968, the entirety of the Christian tradition came under scathing attack from Marxist ideologists in the university. Ratzinger suggests that he was naive in assuming that the theology faculties would be a bastion of sanity: quite the opposite turned out to be the case. While his own lectures continued to be well attended and well received, many of his theological colleagues were all too eager to get on the good side of the putative revolution. At this point he began to discover what would later be called "the ecumenism of the trenches," as he made alliances with Evangelical (Lutheran) colleagues who appreciated what was at stake. "We saw that the confessional controversies we had engaged in up until now were small indeed in the face of the challenge we now confronted, which put us in a position of having to bear common witness to our common faith in the living God and in Christ, the incarnate Word."
In the mid–1970s he was embarked on the ambitious project of writing a dogmatics when his academic life was disrupted by his surprise appointment as Archbishop of Munich (actually, Munich and Freising). His reflection on the way he was received as bishop echoes his earlier description of the response of the people when, as a young man, he had been ordained priest. "So many people were welcoming my unknown person with a heartfelt warmth and joy that could not possibly have to do with me personally, but that once again showed me what a sacrament is: I was being greeted as bishop, as bearer of the Mystery of Christ. . . . The joy of the day was something very different from the acceptance of a particular person, whose capacities had still to be demonstrated. It was joy over the fact that this office, this service, was again present in a person who does not act and live for himself but for Him and therefore for all."
He does not live for himself but for Him and therefore for all. That would seem to pretty well sum up the life of Joseph Ratzinger. Not long after his appointment to Munich, the Pope asked him to come to Rome as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Augustine, his great master, had also chosen the life of a scholar but was called to be a bishop. Augustine wrote, "I am a draft animal for you, and it is in this way that I abide with you." Ratzinger concludes his memoir with this: "I have carried my load to Rome and have now been wandering the streets of the Eternal City for a long time. I do not know when I will be released, but one thing I do know: ‘I have become your donkey, and in just this way am I with you.’"
Milestones makes it poignantly evident that, if he had had his way, Joseph Ratzinger would have fulfilled his life’s work as an academic theologian. The choice was not between being an academic theologian or a church theologian, for his understanding of his work in the academy was always to serve the Church. It was a question of how he would serve the Church, and he believes that was a decision for the Church to make and for him to obey. Some of his critics no doubt wish he had remained in the academy. Many of his admirers think his appointment as prefect of CDF deprived the Church of the enormous contribution he would have made through writing and teaching. Yet others are immeasurably grateful that John Paul II called him to a universal classroom where, in a time of darkened confusion, he has encouraged students beyond number in rekindling the lights of theological inquiry in service to Christ and his Church, and therefore in service to the world.
The question is, says a friend of decidedly libertarian propensities, whether or not you believe in the market. I’ve never been comfortable with this talk about "believing" in the market, or believing in anything other than God and His grace. Such talk smacks of idolatry. I suppose it’s the incorrigible theologian in me that weights "belief" so heavily. As for the market, I do have a devotion to freedom, a rough confidence in the common sense of most people in making decisions that affect their own lives, and a lively horror of the human costs exacted by history’s experiments in replacing the free economy with alternatives ranging from soft socialism to totalitarianism. So yes, given the options on offer, I suppose I do believe in the market.
Such heavy–duty questions were occasioned by our discussion of Charles Frazier’s best–selling novel, Cold Mountain. I had been lecturing in Cambridge at the big C. S. Lewis centennial bash and, passing through Heathrow, looked for some light reading, really bubble gum for the mind, to fill the time on the flight back. From what someone had said, Cold Mountain seemed to be just the thing, and it is, all in all, an entertaining read. It is also irritating, however. The phrase has become such a cliché that I try to avoid it, but in this case it seems exactly right. The novel is the quintessence of what is meant by political correctness. In its effort to be unconventional, it fits most neatly the conventions that are accepted by a large part of the book–buying public and demanded by the book–reviewing and book–promoting elite of the knowledge class.
My friend and former colleague Midge Decter has told me over the years, "The problem with you is that you don’t think low." By that she means that I am inclined to respond to people with dumb ideas as though they really believe them, instead of asking what is their interest in expressing such ideas. There may be something to that. I don’t know Charles Frazier at all, but if one set out to write a best–selling novel with the economically relevant arbiters of taste in mind, the result would be something very like Cold Mountain. For all I know Mr. Frazier wrote the book with nothing but artistic integrity in mind. I should like to think so. He has produced a little romance of considerable artistry. It is also a book that could have been written from the basest motives of pandering to regnant fashions, or at least the fashions regnant among those who are determined to be fashionable.
The setting is toward the end of the Civil War, and a rebel deserter, disillusioned by the slaughter, is making his way toward his home and his sweetheart in Cold Mountain, North Carolina. His name is Inman, and he encounters numerous dangers and monstrosities along the way. Meanwhile, the heroine, Ada Monroe, a woman of beauty and refined sensibilities, is guided by Ruby, a plain–spoken creature of the earth, in making a go of a farm she’s been left by her recently deceased minister father, a kind of Unitarian half–believer who for some reason thought he had a mission to the backwoods of North Carolina. Among the many characters who come and go in the tale, all the white men, except Inman, are swinish, brutal, or phony. All the women are good, except for three sluttish daughters who have been abused by their father.The few people of color are dignified, kind, and helpful. There is the required hint of lesbian love between Ada and Ruby, but chiefly Ada learns from Ruby’s superior ecological consciousness and wondrous sensitivity to folk wisdom and Indian lore, all of which contrasts most favorably with what is called civilization.
Ada and Inman declare they don’t give "two hoots" for conventional morality, and preachers are depicted as fools and frauds. Except, of course, for Ada’s late father, who edified his hill country flock with long citations from the inspired Ralph Waldo Emerson, inviting them to join him in gnostic flight from the conventional. Inman and other rebel deserters, we are given to understand, are bitterly disillusioned with patriotism, having come to understand that the war was being fought not against unjust aggression but to protect the interests of rich slave owners. In this book the attractive Southern figures embrace the view of the war held in the North, where, conveniently, most buyers of books are to be found. Very nicely described is the encounter with an idiot hillbilly banjo player in a scene reminiscent of a memorable moment in the movie version of James Dickey’s Deliverance. In sum, the Southerners in Cold Mountain are as grotesque as enlightened Northerners have been taught to believe, except for the few who are, surprisingly enough, just like us—or at least like the way we like to think we are. And, of course, as is the way with such romances, hero and heroine are united at last and set to live happily ever after. One can almost hear the sighs of the women of Westchester upon turning the last page, languorously dreaming of their Inman who, through great trial and danger, is on his way to rescue them from a world unworthy of their elevated souls.
As I say, it is a story entertainingly told, and the flight back to New York went fast enough. But when I complained to the friend mentioned at the start that Mr. Frazier might have been working off a check–list of politically correct positions and postures, he suggested that I failed to appreciate the wonders of the market. The greatest of artists, he asserted, have always supplied according to market demand. As examples he mentioned Picasso and Stravinsky, but that’s outside the sphere of literature, and those instances beg the question of what is great art. All right, he said, so what about Shakespeare? From what we know the Bard had a keen eye for business and catered, if he did not pander, to what audiences wanted. With this my friend touched a delicate nerve.
As it happens, each summer I try to spend some time at the family cottage in Quebec, and each summer I take along some big chunk of the Western canon to reread, or read for the first time. This summer it was the complete works of Shakespeare. So I felt ready for my friend’s challenge. Admittedly, it is not fair to compare Charles Frazier, or any writer, to the incomparable Shakespeare. Nonetheless, Cold Mountain can serve as representative of a vast genre that stands in stark contrast to Shakespeare’s treatment of what is called conventional morality. Frazier’s novel is far from being the most egregious example, but it is, for precisely that reason, the more representative.
I will not enter upon the much disputed issue of who wrote Shakespeare. (My unequivocal position is that Shakespeare was written by whoever wrote Shakespeare.) The point is that Shakespeare clearly distanced himself from the convention of not giving two hoots about conventional morality. From classical Greece through the Middle Ages and up to his own time, that convention was firmly in place. The appearance of being avant–garde and the reward of vulgar laughs were cheaply achieved by ridiculing or twitting the normative, especially in the realm of marriage and sexuality. Elizabethans such as Beaumont and Fletcher, for instance, were masters of the comic treatment of adultery and other infidelities. Not so with Shakespeare. Of course, like other dramatists of his time, he has jokes about cuckolds, but in his plays there is nothing funny about unfaithfulness or unchastity. They always invite disaster. All the troubles that come down upon the chief characters in Measure for Measure can be traced back to Claudio’s unchastity. Having wronged Mariana, Angelo must offer the only possible restitution, which is marriage. Cressida in Troilus and Cressida is neither amusing or attractive, but comes across as someone who is basically rotten to all decent men. Even in Romeo and Juliet, with its young people overwhelmed by passionate love, the fault is not with the lovers but with their parents, and the young people marry before they mate.
As the eminent G. B. Harrison observes, "His other favorite lovers, Rosalind and Orlando, Benedick and Beatrice, march naturally forward to love in wedlock. And in his later plays—The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest—Florizel and Perdita, Ferdinand and Miranda, pairs of lovers whom Shakespeare abundantly blesses, have the nicest regard for the sanctity of marriage." I do not go so far as Joseph Sobran and some other Shakespeare buffs who find in his work most of the articles of the Catholic catechism, but he is notably respectful of religion, and of Catholicism in particular. Note, for example, the treatment of the friars Laurence (Romeo and Juliet) and Francis (Much Ado About Nothing) and the priest in Twelfth Night. Of course there is Cardinal Wolsey in Henry the Eighth, but it is perhaps impossible to make Wolsey an attractive figure; moreover—and some experts notwithstanding—I find it impossible to credit the claim that Shakespeare wrote a play so flat and prolix as Henry the Eighth.
But I digress. The point is that greatness in art is manifest in exploring and exposing the depths and complexities in the conventional. The perennial wisdom and pieties, joined to the passions of love and ambition, and defied by vices such as greed and jealousy, are the stuff of great art and great literature. Emersonian flights of pretended uniqueness, Whitman’s unbridled indulgence of ego and desire, and off–Broadway’s latest sensation "boldly" flouting conventional morality are all, by comparison, little more than the artistic acne of troubled adolescence. But it is what the masters of the market demand, and what numerous formula writers, such as Charles Frazier (albeit with more elegance than most), are ready to supply. Fortunately—and this I must grant to my friend of libertarian leanings—the market is so maddeningly multifarious that nobody can master it completely. From that happy fact, which is not unrelated to the irrepressibility of talent and intelligence, we can derive the comfort that the conventional trashers of the conventional are not, not finally, in control. Critical readers of bestsellers such as Cold Mountain may think that cold comfort, but it is not nothing.
It is a sad story, and what they did to him was despicable. These guys were drinking in a Laramie bar and University of Wyoming freshman Matthew Shepard reportedly made a pass at one of them, whereupon two young men took him out, brutally beat him, robbed him, and left him tied to a fence. A few days later, he died in hospital. It immediately became a nationwide cause celebre for gay and lesbian groups agitating for hate crime laws that include "sexual orientation." Mr. Shepard’s father expressed the hope that nobody would exploit his son’s death in order to push an agenda, but the agitators knew when they had come across a good thing. The lead editorial in our establishment paper was titled "Murdered for Who He Was."
The editors remind us that African–Americans, Asians, Jews, Italians, Irish, and others have been victims of hatred. "Gradually, crimes motivated by hate have come to be seen as a category of their own." It apparently took the editors some time to recognize that few such crimes are motivated by love. As to "Who He Was," the editors describe young Shepard as being "slight, trusting, and uncertain how well he would be accepted as an openly gay freshman." They add that he had spent time in Europe and "spoke three languages or more." The point being made, it seems, is that this is not just another black or Puerto Rican kid who was brutally beaten and killed. The editors are saying that he is one of us. This is a young man with whom we can, as it is said, identify. This is a murder that matters.
The editors continue, "He died in a coma yesterday, in a state without a hate–crimes law." It is hard to know what to make of that. He might have pulled out of it if Wyoming had a hate–crimes law? "Hatred can kill," the editors portentously announce. Noted for the record. Observing with satisfaction that the killers will be tried for first–degree murder, the Times, which is otherwise adamantly opposed to the death penalty, adds, "But his death makes clear the need for hate–crime laws to protect those who survive and punish those who attack others, whether fatally or not, just because of who they are." Apparently it needs to be made clear that beating people up and killing them is against the law. And, if it is done because of "who they are," maybe the perpetrators should be executed more than once?
The admitted purpose of gay agitation for hate–crime laws is to have homosexual acts (which in the real world define "sexual orientation") put on a par with religion, race, gender, and age as a legally protected category. There are many good reasons for thinking that a bad idea. But the very idea of "hate crimes" is highly dubious. Hate is a sin for which people may go to Hell. It is quite another thing to make it a crime for which people should go to jail. The law rightly takes motivation into account; for instance, whether someone is killed by accident or by deliberate intent. In the latter case, malice of some sort is almost always involved, but it is not the malice that makes the killing a crime. A murderer may have nothing personal against someone whom he kills for his money.
It is generally wrong to disapprove of people because of their religion, race, or gender, but it is not a crime. (An exception may be disapproval of someone whose religion includes committing terrorist acts.) The purpose of the gay movement and its advocates, such as the Times, is to criminalize disapproval of homosexual acts, or at least to establish in law that such disapproval is disapproved. Most Americans, it may safely be assumed, disapprove of homosexual acts. It is not within the competence of the state to declare that they are, for that reason, legally suspect. In a sinful world, sundry hatreds, irrational prejudices, and unjust discriminations abound. The homosexual movement is notable for its venting of hatred against millions of Americans whom it accuses of being "homophobic." In whatever form it takes, hatred toward other people must be deplored and condemned. But it is utterly wrongheaded to try to make hatred illegal.
David Morrison, writing in the New York Post, offers a further reason for thinking more than twice about laws against hate crimes. He notes Newsweek’s report that Mr. Shepard seems to have had a history of approaching "straight" men for sex. There is, says Morrison, who describes himself as a "former gay activist," a substantial subculture of the gay subculture that goes in for "rough trade"—cruising in public places for sex with straight or semi–straight toughs. He writes, "Yet the fact that a significant number of men strongly desire and pursue public sex under occasionally dangerous circumstances should influence the ongoing conversation, spurred by Shepard’s death, about the necessity or wisdom of including sexual orientation in hate–crimes laws. . . . Americans should think long and hard about the making the feeling of repugnance at an unwanted sexual advance subject to additional penalties under the law. There is an old saying that hard cases make bad law. It seems to me that the 1990s have provided a corollary: Tragic cases can make bad laws more quickly. Americans should examine the calls for additional hate–crime legislation with extreme care. There is more at stake than any simple claim of human rights."
Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say, "The law cannot make you love me, but it can prevent you from lynching me. And, if you don’t lynch me, you may eventually come to love me." We should certainly love our gay brothers, even as we disapprove of the acts that define them as gay. Loving them includes our saying, always lovingly, that they are wrong in trying to use the law to stigmatize those who disapprove of what they do, which is not, the Times to the contrary, the only or the most important thing that determines "who they are."
Jon D. Levenson on Abraham Joshua Heschel, Commentary, July 1998. On "the realities of modern religious practices": the editors of Commonweal, September 25, 1998; Andrew Greeley in Commonweal, September 11, 1998; Peter Berger in Christian Century, August 26–September 2, 1998. On hate crimes, New York Times, October 13, 1998; New York Post, November 6, 1998.While We’re At It: Nancy L. Rosenblum’s Membership and Morals reviewed by Alan Wolfe, New Republic, June 1, 1998. Walter Brueggemann on Reinhold Niebuhr, Theology Today, April 1998. Statistics on expectation of Jesus’ return, Denver Post, October 31, 1997. Statistics on teen sex, American Medical News, April 6, 1998. Toronto Globe and Mail quoted and critiqued by one of its Canadian readers, Catholic Insight, May 1998. On Pope John Paul II and worldwide democracy, Religion Watch, June 1998. James Wood on Thomas More, London Review of Books, April 16, 1998. Ron Rosenbaum interview with David Berlinski, New York Observer, June 8, 1998. David Brooks on rich Republicans, Weekly Standard, June 22, 1998; Maggie Gallagher commentary on Brooks, New York Post, June 22, 1998. On the United Religions Initiative (URI), Religion Watch, July–August 1998. On Italian fashion designer using model dressed as the Virgin Mary, New York Times, July 16, 1998. On Muslim students refusing to visit a church, CAIR press release, July 23, 1998. On licensing brand names and logos, New York Times, June 12, 1998. National Catholic Reporter Protest, May 1, 1998. Retired Benedictine abbot on Pope John XXIII, personal correspondence. Washington Times on STOP, Julia Deyn quotes "partial–birth abortion splits pro choice women" September 8, 1998. Walter Reich on religious symbols at Auschwitz, Washington Post, September 8, 1998. Harry Shutt’s The Trouble with Capitalism reviewed in Publishers Weekly , June 29, 1998.