Copyright (c) 1999 First Things 96 (October 1999): 2-10.
I hope I am not alone in my disappointment regarding Richard John Neuhaus’ analysis of the imbroglio in Yugoslavia ("The Clinton Era, At Home and Abroad," Public Square, May).
The justifications offered by NATO and President Clinton for the Kosovo bombings certainly merit "robust skepticism"—but completely to ignore those justifications (as Father Neuhaus does) seems rather too robust. Fr. Neuhaus writes throughout as if we bombed Serbia on behalf of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army. Indeed, thanks to NATO’s bungling, an independent Kosovo may now be inevitable. This has never been policy, however; Western governments have adamantly insisted that the most the Kosovars could expect was a return to their autonomous status within Yugoslavia. The Rambouillet negotiations guaranteed Serbia’s continued sovereignty over its "symbolic heartland"—an ascription that merits equally robust skepticism, by the way.
In the meantime, Slobodan Milosevic used Albanian separatism as an excuse to continue his campaign for an ethnically pure Serbia through murders and mass expulsions. This is the official principle behind NATO intervention—not that "Albanian rebels have a moral right to Kosovo," but that the countless Kosovar Albanians who are not violent rebels have a moral right to their lives, bodies, and homes. Of this, there is barely a whisper in Fr. Neuhaus’ piece.
San Diego, CA
Richard John Neuhaus’ commentaries are normally so insightful and wide ranging that it was a shock to see his confused and misleading comments on the Kosovo crisis.
My ethnic background is Irish–American. I have no Albanian blood. I was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune for twenty–eight years, and in that time was called upon to write about the plight of American citizens imprisoned in Yugoslavia.
Father Neuhaus questions why the U.S. is taking the side of Albanian Muslims against Serbian Christians and adds, "Kosovo is the symbolic heartland of Serbia, and Serbs are not willing to surrender lands that have been their ancestral homes for many centuries." Why Albanians are in Kosovo is ignored as if insignificant.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Slavs began their incursions into the Balkan Peninsula in the sixth century a.d., some 1,600 years after the Albanians got there. This is standard world history. The Serbs are descendants of these Slavs. By the end of the seventh century, the Encyclopedia states, "the lands of the Albanian–speaking people were reduced to present–day Albania, Kosovo in Yugoslavia, parts of western Macedonia, and northern Greece."
Fr. Neuhaus says that "the U.S. is on the side of the Kosovars who want to break away from Serbia and establish an independent state." The modern facts are these: Tito recognized that Kosovo was primarily Albanian. In his reorganization of Yugoslavia after World War II, Tito designated Kosovo "an autonomous region" with mostly Albanian officials within the Republic of Serbia. Yugoslavia under Tito was a federation of republics, including Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. During the 1970s and 1980s, Kosovar activists campaigned to have Kosovo designated a republic within the Yugoslav federation like the other republics.
In the mid–’80s, Slobodan Milosevic saw a chance to become dictator of Yugoslavia, following Tito’s death, in effect by playing the race card, i.e., inciting the Serbs to hate the Albanians in Kosovo.
As the Albanians in Kosovo became more and more oppressed, the inevitable took place and some young Kosovars rose up. They formed the Kosovo Liberation Army and began to fight against Serbian authorities. The KLA was very small. They reminded one of the violent Black Panthers in the U.S. in the 1960s. The Kosovo independence movement was also relatively weak, comparable, in a way, to persistent but weak calls for an independent black nation in the U.S. But Milosevic seemed determined to make the movement grow through persecution. Imagine the U.S. Army being called out to expel all blacks from the U.S. In smaller terms to fit a smaller nation, that is what Milosevic did.
Fr. Neuhaus asks, "Why not take up the cause of the Kurds? Their claims are more persuasive than those of the Kosovars."
Well, some day, perhaps, the nations of the earth will be capable of riding to the aid of vulnerable people anywhere on the globe when gross injustice breaks out. This is well in the future. For the present, the movement to expand recognition of human rights depends primarily upon Europe and the United States. Europe and the United States cannot redraw the boundaries for the Kurds or militarily protect the Christians in Indonesia and India and the Sudan or prevent genocide in Rwanda. The world has not progressed that far.
But if the human rights movement is to gradually expand rather than fall backwards, Europe and the United States must defend human rights in the core, namely, in Europe and the United States. This is where the human rights movement began. This is where it must be maintained if the movement is to go on.
Richard John Neuhaus sympathetically cites a statement that "U.S. force is once again on the side of the Muslims against the Christians." It is difficult to believe that he does not once in his piece mention the words "ethnic cleansing." Ethnic cleansing is the campaign of murder, forced evacuation, and destruction pursued by the Serbs to remove the ethnic Albanians. To attempt to put a stop to this atrocious campaign is not an unworthy objective. The fact that this campaign and all of its reported horrors are executed by the forces of a purportedly Christian nation is cause for grief in Christendom, and certainly no reason to question why we do not support the perpetrators. Nor is it the first time the Serbs have viciously moved against their non–Christian neighbors. Nor are they the first reputedly Christian nation to forcibly remove, with abundant atrocities, non–Christians from their midst. We have been there too often and our Savior’s name has thus been too often defamed.
I was quite surprised by Father Neuhaus’ remarks concerning the United States taking the Muslim side in the war against Serbia. Is he unaware that a fair number of Albanians are, in fact, Roman Catholic, and that Serbian militia destroyed a Franciscan monastery and held the Catholic bishop of Pristina against his will? I am deeply disappointed that in his opposition to current policy Fr. Neuhaus is willing to serve as a Serbian apologist (the "Muslim side" is the staple of Serbian propaganda). Too bad violent antipathy led him to ignore the fate of Albanian Catholics.
California University of Pennsylvania
The response to the comment on the U.S.–NATO war in Serbia has been strongly positive, but these letters raise questions that should be taken seriously. We can stipulate, as Mr. Hafvenstein indicates, that Milosevic has done very wicked things and that the intervention had, among other aims, a humanitarian goal. The intervention did not achieve that goal (protecting the Kosovars from ethnic cleansing) and may have contributed to its defeat. My comment dealt with the classical criteria of "justified war," and punishing the Serb people for what their leader had already done does not qualify as "just cause." Of course Kosovo is ancestral homeland to both Serbs and Kosovars.
Mr. Crimmins’ useful recounting of the past underscores that we were dropping bombs into more than a thousand years of passionately tangled history. The analogy between the KLA and the murderous Black Panthers may also be apt in that, as of this writing, the KLA is engaged in the "reverse ethnic cleansing" of Serbs. I do not look forward to a time in which, in the name of human rights, an imperial U.S. with a European sidekick presumes to redraw national boundaries and otherwise rule the world. That is, in my judgment, an exceedingly dangerous vision that would overturn international relations as "politics among nations" (Hans Morgenthau), and it is my distinct impression that those who advocate it have not thought through its implications.
Mr. Berghaus is undoubtedly right that many shameful things have been done in the name of Christianity.
To Mr. Heim: There are a substantial number of Albanian Catholics also in New York, and I am well aware of the plight of those caught up in the conflicts in Yugoslavia. It is not only Serbian propaganda, however, that speaks of the "Muslim side." To cite but one example, Fawaz A. Gerges, professor of Middle East studies at Sarah Lawrence, celebrates the U.S.–NATO attack in the International Herald Tribune: "For the first time, the United States and its European allies, whose cultures are primarily based on Christianity, are going to war against a sister Christian country, Yugoslavia, to defend a persecuted Muslim community."
A more notable example is the address of National Security Advisor Samuel (Sandy) Berger to the American Muslim Council in Washington, D.C., on May 7. "American Muslims," he said, "have a critically important role to play as a bridge between the United States and the Muslim world. From the time President Clinton took the oath of office, this Administration has reached out to the Muslim community worldwide." International terrorism, said Berger, "is a problem many Americans mistakenly link to Islam." "Perhaps most clearly, Bosnia and Kosovo have refuted the claim that Islam and the West are locked in a clash of civilizations." The clash of civilizations refers, of course, to Samuel Huntington’s important book by that title. Berger asserted that, if the U.S. works "hand in hand with our Muslim partners, . . . we can crush the clash of civilizations theory once and for all." He concluded his speech with this: "Nothing mankind has conceived of is more profound than our soaring capacity to imagine a divine being—and nothing has done more to divide us than religion. Millennium or no millennium, the time has come to face up to our oldest problem." In sum, the suggestion that the U.S.–NATO attack on Serbia was also related to larger questions of Christianity and Islam in the world is not the invention of Serbian propagandists.
Timothy George offers a fascinating and insightful article on "Southern Baptist Ghosts" (May). His historical analysis is enlightening and profitable. However, his summary dismissal of "confessionless Christianity" seems to me to be superficial and prejudicial. ("But confessionless Christianity poses an even greater danger. Forsaking the distilled wisdom of the past makes every man’s hat his own church.")
First, relying on creeds or confessions to alleviate the "every man’s hat his own church" issue has its own complications. There is still the problem of who is going to distill the wisdom of the past. I suspect many would disagree with Mr. George as to which particular confessions are orthodox and which are heretical. "Confessionalism" still requires, as does confessionless Christianity, individual assent. In the end "every man’s hat his own church" doesn’t go away. Rather than debating over New Testament doctrine, we simply pick and choose which creed or confession suits us (not unlike the postmodern process of determining morality). After all, who determines which "confession" is universally true? With well over 1,500 denominations in the United States and more emerging every day, it appears that confessionalism has not alleviated the problem supposedly inherent in a confessionless Christianity.
Second, confessionalism, by its very nature, raises several problems in relation to the New Testament. When Scripture and the "distilled wisdom of the past" contradict each other, which side do we choose? Which do we modify, the Bible or later creeds? What are we then saying of the one that is modified? And what do creeds and confessions imply about God’s desire and/or power to communicate his Truth to mankind once and for all (Jude 3)?
Earlier in his article, Mr. George employs the Kentucky Baptists’ argument that "If there be any divine warrant for a church there is a divine warrant for a creed." With this argument and with his statement above, the implication appears to be that those who are anti–confessional open the door to religious subjectivism. However, many who reject confessionalism do not reject the need for a "creed." Even Alexander Campbell did not. They simply ask, "Which creed should dictate to the Church?" Their answer is one: the Bible. That may appear naive, simpleminded, or ahistorical to Mr. George. In my own honest wrestling with the issue, it has not been so easy to dismiss.
Jeffrey S. Young
Timothy George’s article "Southern Baptist Ghosts" continues a popular straw–man argument against the soteriological teachings of Alexander Campbell and the Churches of Christ. Concerning Alexander Campbell he writes, "He taught a doctrine that sounded very much like baptismal regeneration." Then later he concludes that "no Southern Baptist . . . would accept Campbell’s regenerative view of baptism." The reader is left with the obvious impression that not only Alexander Campbell but also "his newly formed Churches of Christ" teach the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
I would suggest that the reason why many have understood the Churches of Christ to teach baptismal regeneration is because our view of faith, in contrast to Protestant understandings, is actually quite similar to the Catholic view as stated by Joseph Fitzmyer in Pauline Theology: A Brief Sketch. As long as sincere and well–educated individuals continue to employ different definitions of faith, ships will continue to pass in the night.
To summarize the understanding of those within the Churches of Christ, the gospel is the good news that everyone who believes in Jesus has the right to become a child of God by being born of God (John 1:12–13). The ground of salvation is therefore Jesus. Jesus died so that his blood could establish a new covenant relationship with God and bring the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 10:16–17).
The issue of salvation and the identity of the Church revolves around whether God recognizes one in covenant with Him through Jesus. The obedience of faith which causes one to enter into Jesus’ covenant and receive the promise of the new covenant (the forgiveness of sins) comes through responding in faith to the gospel by having one’s body washed with water (Hebrews 10:22; Acts 22:16; 2:38). Thus salvation is by faith and those who do not respond with this obedience of faith in the gospel will not be saved (2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17; Hebrews 5:9). Salvation, therefore, comes to those who trust in Jesus and in his blood (Galatians 3:26–27; Romans 3:25).
The Churches of Christ do not teach baptismal regeneration, which is the doctrine that the mere application of water saves. Instead, we understand baptism to be a confession of faith in Jesus, which is demanded by the gospel.
(The Rev.) Barry Newton
Central Church of Christ
San Jose, CA
Timothy George’s essay "Southern Baptist Ghosts" contains a number of errors with regard to Alexander Campbell and the Restoration movement.
1. Mr. George states that Campbell led many Baptists to join his "newly formed Churches of Christ." In fact, Campbell’s churches went by the name Disciples of Christ. The Churches of Christ were one of several frontier movements that later became part of the larger Restoration movement, but they were not Campbell’s churches.
2. Mr. George states that Campbell opposed the use of church organs as a matter of doctrine. While opposing organs, and other formal church practices, Campbell did not consider his opinion to be a matter of doctrine. Mr. George has taken a later controversy, in which some of the southern churches made banning church organs a matter of doctrine, and attributed the controversy to Campbell.
3. Mr. George states that Campbell was a "biblical literalist" with "a precise blueprint for church order and belief." In fact, the problem contemporary Baptists had with Campbell was his liberalism on such matters.
4. Mr. George states at one point that Campbell "sounds" like he believes in baptismal regeneration, then later says that Campbell did believe the doctrine. Campbell did not.
5. Mr. George states that "it is not uncommon to find Baptist and ‘Christian’ churches still facing one another across town squares" in Kentucky and Tennessee today. One must ask why he puts quotation marks around the word Christian. Baptist churches, of course, call themselves Baptist churches, while Christian churches call themselves—surprise—Christian churches. Just so your readers understand what is going on, imagine Mr. George referring to "Baptist and ‘Catholic’ churches." Also, his reiterated use of the word Campbellite is the social equivalent of referring to Catholics as Papists.
Although I appreciate the insightful analysis that Timothy George gives in his article on the underlying movements shaping the current debate between "fundamentalists" and "moderates" in the Southern Baptist Convention, he nonetheless fails to mention the fundamental cause of schism in the SBC and Protestantism in general: sola scriptura.
Cardinal Newman rightly pointed out in the nineteenth century that sola scriptura as the foundational principle of Protestantism is in essence the affirmation of private judgment in regard to divine truth. Scripture interpreted outside of holy tradition becomes mere opinion. The moderates of the SBC justly accuse the fundamentalists of imposing their opinions on their fellow brethren while the moderates feel free to define their own religion.
It is hard to see a way out of the current SBC muddle except to appeal to the living authority of the holy tradition of the Church. This Southern Baptists will be unwilling to do. The Southern Baptists are undoubtedly traveling the same path as their Protestant brethren, where there are as many schisms as there are religious opinions.
For the Protestant reformers, whose theology is reflected in historic Baptist confessions, sola scriptura did not mean nuda scriptura. They believed in the coinherence of Scripture and Tradition. What they objected to was the positing of Tradition as a second source of authority alongside, or even above, Holy Scripture. During the past fifty years, this same point has been made vigorously by many Catholic scholars. Significantly, Scripture and Tradition has emerged as a major theme in our ongoing ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) discussions.
Words like Tradition and magisterium do not sit lightly on Baptist ears. But we too have an authoritative teaching office, located not in an infallible papacy, but in the congregation. I am a great admirer of Cardinal Newman, as I am of Cardinal Ratzinger, but I do not see that the existence of a hierarchical magisterium has prevented many Catholics from "defining their own religion." Indeed, if I read the current scene correctly, some Roman Catholics, including certain theologians and teachers, regularly ignore the magisterium, staking out positions that would make even most (if not all) liberal Baptists blush.
Jeffrey S. Young poses the important question of how one distinguishes a true confession from a false one. His answer to this dilemma is simple: let’s just say the Bible is our creed and be done with it. But this does not get us very far, for Marcion, Arius, and Pelagius, to name only three notable heretics, all appealed to the Bible to support their ideas. In the face of such challenges, the church of historic orthodox Christianity, the church of the Great Tradition, if you like, found it necessary to articulate the faith in the language of the creeds. In doing so, they were not adding something alien or different to the apostolic deposit of truth. The new language of the creeds was born out of the stubborn intention of the church to be faithful precisely to the biblical kerygma.
It is the task of the theologian to look for, and expect to find, the apostolic witness in the documents of the church. But we are not slavishly bound to these doctrinal formulae. We hold them accountable to Holy Scripture and revisable in the light thereof. The "catholic substance" of the faith once for all delivered to the saints is balanced by the "protestant principle" of the church reformed and ever reforming on the basis of the Word of God.
Karl Barth once compared the creeds and confessions of the church to the guardrails that border the narrow roads of the Swiss Alps. Only a fool with suicidal tendencies would want to drive across the Alps without the guardrails. But it would be equally foolish to mistake the guardrails for the road; when we start driving on the rails, disaster is imminent. To push the analogy further, Jesus Christ is the Road (cf. John 14:6 and St. Augustine’s depiction of Christ as "Patria et via ad patriam"), and the Bible, as interpreted by a covenanted congregation of baptized believers in continuity with the apostolic witness, is the light (cf. Psalm 119:105) by which we are able to see clearly both the road on which we travel and the guardrails that protect us from dangerous deviations.
I am pleased to be informed by Barry Newton and Jefferson White that Alexander Campbell believed that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, not by Jesus Christ and water, or Jesus Christ and good works. I am aware of a growing number of Campbell’s latter–day disciples who do hold to this more evangelical view, though they are frequently criticized by other members of their fellowship for having departed from Campbell’s teaching. The point of my essay was that Baptists who historically rejected (what they took to be) Campbell’s cognitive ritualism are today in danger of falling into the same trap by practicing a decisionistic evangelism which mitigates the decisive role of the Holy Spirit in conversion.
I acknowledged that the word "Campbellite" was a nickname coined in 1832. As it is my custom to call others what they themselves wish to be called, I have no interest in foisting this anachronistic term on anyone who does not wish to bear it. However, long before "Churches of Christ" became a denominational tag, it was used as a term of self–designation by various biblicist and restorational groups, including the Baptists, as can be seen from a letter of 1650 issued in the name of the "Churches of Christ in London, Baptized." "Churches of Christ," after all, is a good biblical term for the new covenant people of God (cf. Romans 16:16).
Toward the end of his thought–provoking article "A Christian University: Defining the Difference" (May), Mark R. Schwehn expresses his opposition to certain of Cardinal Newman’s views developed in his classic work, The Idea of a University. It seems to me, however, that his disagreement with Newman is based on Professor Schwehn’s failure to distinguish the supernatural character of the kind of charity and humility Cardinal Newman had in mind from what Prof. Schwehn refers to as the charity and humility practiced by many outside Christianity. It is precisely the fact that the supernatural virtues are based on specifically Christian belief and motivation that spells the difference between what Cardinal Newman refers to as the virtues of charity and humility and the virtues of the same name that Prof. Schwehn finds prevalent and admirable in non–Christian contexts.
Following St. Augustine, Cardinal Newman would claim, for example, that charity in its authentic meaning is based on Christian revelation and implies a partaking in Christ’s love for others, a love which burns for their eternal salvation, a love which is willing to suffer and die for it, a love which also sees Christ in each individual and responds to his needs accordingly.
To participate in Christ’s love for others clearly implies that one believes in Christ and is convinced that it is through him and with him that true charity can be lived and practiced. A naturally kind, loving, and helpful attitude toward others is not the same thing, even though Christ’s charity will also include these traits.
In the same way, humility in the Christian sense implies a personal confrontation between God and creature, a creature who recognizes he is "but dust and ashes," an awareness that is in no way depressing because he knows that the One who is Love "has first loved us." Such humility is not simply a form of modesty, a non–arrogant attitude toward others and a willingness to admit one’s own limitations.
Prof. Schwehn’s statement that he doubts Christianity has a singular claim upon the virtues of charity and humility blurs the distinction between natural and supernatural virtues. The supernatural character of Christian charity and humility is the character to be emphasized as most relevant to the intellectual, moral, and spiritual dimension of a distinctly Christian university.
Prof. Schwehn also disagrees with Cardinal Newman’s insistence that "the knowledge that is the proper object of study of a university is ‘good for its own sake.’" He considers that it is necessary for the university to prepare students for their life’s work. I think we should be cautious about advocating studies at a university that are directly oriented toward work.
Like Pascal, who wrote that he was not a pragmatist because he went further without it, Cardinal Newman thought that if an object had an intrinsic value independently of its usefulness, it would inevitably—in a superabundant manner—fructify beyond itself. Many of my own students have told me over the years that even though they never intended to make a career of philosophy, their philosophical studies have been invaluable in whatever domain they turned to. It is precisely because truth and the study of truth is desirable for its own sake that it is so enriching in every domain of life. If nothing is worth doing for its own sake, then nothing is worth doing.
Alice Von Hildebrand
New York, NY
Mark R. Schwehn has done a fine job laying out some defining differences of a Christian university. He will have to forgive me, therefore, for taking issue not with the major points of his thesis but rather with a parenthetical remark regarding the evangelizing role of a Christian university. Professor Schwehn states that since Valparaiso is a university, and not a church, "we are not about the business of the salvation of souls." I find such a statement unfortunate. In my understanding, Christians are always and everywhere occupied with the salvation of souls, at very least as the implicit horizon of their activities. How much more so a university that sets itself up as specifically Christian?
When applied to an enterprise such as a university, the title "Christian" suggests that the institution sees itself as somehow continuing or participating in Christ’s own mission. Whatever other elements may have been present in Christ’s work on earth, "the business of the salvation of souls" was smack–dab at its core. All truly Christian endeavor, it would seem, bears this transcendent character. A Christian university pursues, certainly, the intellectual formation of its students, but if such formation is seen outside the context of eternal salvation—to which it presumably contributes—it fails roundly in its ultimate purpose.
These reflections may be construed as nitpicking. Perhaps Prof. Schwehn would reply that he was referring to the university’s material objective, imparting knowledge, as distinct from a church explicitly engaged in preaching the gospel. But it would seem that the deterioration of many Christian universities has derived from a loss of their specific identity as works of evangelization. When a Christian university forgets that it is first and foremost in "the business of the salvation of souls," it might as well strike the name "Christian" from its charter. This transcendent objective can never be subordinated to any lesser good.
Perhaps the fundamental problem lies in positing such a stark dichotomy between church and university. Aren’t Christian schools and universities, Christian hospitals and orphanages, natural offshoots of the Christian church? Isn’t education itself particularly suited to the mission of the church in a way that other activities can never be? Isn’t that why we have hundreds of Christian schools and no Christian grocery stores, pharmacies, or restaurants? If we limit the life of the church to Sunday services and whatever transpires within church precincts, we have accepted a very shabby notion of church.
(The Rev.) Thomas D. Williams
I enjoyed Daniel P. Moloney’s "‘Saving’ the Poor" (May). As one who helped to organize and moderate the two conferences about which he wrote, I found his descriptions of what many of our speakers said to be accurate. He is right that a "growing number of church leaders, social scientists, policy analysts, and government officials" are exploring the extent, efficacy, and replicability of faith–based approaches to crime, poverty, and other social ills. Anyone who thinks that this interest is confined to more conservative individuals and institutions like the Manhattan Institute (sponsor of one of the conferences discussed by Mr. Moloney) should read the Spring 1999 issue of the Brookings Review, coedited by E. J. Dionne and myself, with a cover and lead essay asking "What’s God Got to Do with the American Experiment?"
Mr. Moloney is wise to warn against "a dangerous tendency of sociologists to talk about religion in purely instrumental terms." (By "sociologists," I gather, he means not just card–carrying members of that academic discipline but social scientists and policy analysts generally.) He is also right to tweak my tribe for sometimes speaking "in a combination of euphemism and political jargon" that "tends to make loving your neighbor sound like a military briefing, and can sometimes lead to sloppy generalizations."
Mr. Moloney might have noted, however, that I opened one of the conferences with a prayer. Anyone who heard and heeded Eugene Rivers, Tom Lewis, Amy Sherman, or several of our other non–policy–wonk speakers would be in little danger of reducing "the supernatural to the natural," or of encouraging "policy elites to believe that religion is only for the down–and–out." Ditto for anyone who heard and heeded most of our featured wonks, including Dr. David Larson, a pioneer in (forgive me!) faith–factor research on (mercy!) public health outcomes.
Finally, I admire "the theologian" and "the philosopher" in Mr. Moloney, who expresses "some doubts about the emphasis on generic religion," believes that "the successes of FBOs are probably due in large part to something on the human side," and bets "that those who practice traditional religions have on average a better understanding of human nature than the nonreligious." So, let’s document what we mean by "the successes," specify what we mean by such phrases as "something on the human side," and test our bets about what probably works, and under what conditions.
As Aristotle observed, it is the mark of the educated mind "to seek precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits." As Pope John Paul II has recently reminded the world, any apparent conflicts between faith and reason, science and spirituality must be based on false understandings of God’s indivisible truth. So, with Mr. Moloney, let us all be patient, because even the "sociologists" are starting to get it—and get Him.
John J. DiIulio, Jr.
University of Pennsylvania
John J. DiIulio, Jr. is one of our national treasures, and I am pleased that he appreciated the article and finds my criticisms constructive, or at least worthy of response. As E. J. Dionne noted in his column in the Washington Post, with George W. Bush and Al Gore pushing private and religious charities as our best hope for helping the underclass, the presidential elections promise to be painfully jargon–ridden unless we invent a more poetic way of describing these programs that is also sensitive to the nuances of this particular intersection of religion and public life.
I do want to clarify something that Dr. DiIulio seems to have misunderstood about my article. I made two observations about the conferences: 1) most speakers crafted their research to persuade academics, government officials, and other skeptics that, according to most measures of success, religiously motivated charities work better than other forms of public and private assistance; and 2) most speakers seemed to believe, at least privately, that religiously motivated charities are successful because of God’s direct intervention. It seems to me that in the interest of building a coalition, activists from several religious traditions blurred the differences between them in order to promote "faith" in general. By doing so, they hope to create the public conditions favorable to all religiously motivated initiatives. That’s good politics, if bad theology. Dr. DiIulio quotes from the end of the article, where I worried about the consequences of taking this generic "faith" too seriously. I did not suggest that any of the speakers were less than committed to their specific religious traditions. Because "faith in general" is too attenuated and theologically incoherent to be the actual reason for the results of "faith–based" charities, I am heartened by Dr. DiIulio’s "Aristotelian" leanings. I encourage him and his colleagues in their efforts to discover causes more immediate than divine intervention for the success of programs that are helping America save God’s poor.
Lawrence A. Uzzell seems to be very unhappy with Moscow Patriarch Alexis II’s unwillingness to make any "concessions" to the Roman Pope, whom he keeps "at arms length" ("Letter from Moscow," May). He very naively thinks that the Orthodox people’s objection to Roman Catholicism is mostly connected with memories of the Polish army, which centuries ago occupied Moscow, and that there are very few theological reasons for this animosity.
The more tolerant attitude of the Russian people toward Protestants is easy to understand. Protestants are perceived to have a very diverse and alien theology as compared to Russian Orthodoxy, and are therefore less of a threat. Roman Catholicism, by contrast, has a theology and tradition that is not so dissimilar to Orthodoxy.
Mr. Uzzell is quite right when he states that "it might be better for a meeting between Pope and Patriarch not to take place," because a true union could be achieved only through the Roman Pope’s renouncement of the heresies that have accumulated during one thousand years of separation. He would have to repent of these and return to Orthodoxy.
This might sound very harsh, but Christ’s Church, which is the only unique Body of Christ, cannot accept erroneous teachings and compromises in order to achieve a false union.
I enjoyed Edward T. Oakes’ fine review essay, "Nature as Law and Gift" (May). In trying to unravel "Judaism’s Euthyphro problem," however, he puts Abraham’s interrogation of God’s justice toward Sodom after his unquestioning submission to God’s command to sacrifice his son. In Genesis, it actually comes more than three chapters before (18:22–33, 22:1–19). We must assume that during the interim Abraham has learned something, whether or not the lesson is also clear to us.
Departments of Government and Philosophy
University of Texas
Edward T. Oakes’ pen slipped when he wrote that Saul, in belated obedience to Samuel, killed Agag king of the Amalekites. Samuel himself killed Agag (1 Samuel 15:33).
White Plains, NY
J. Budziszewski is, of course, right in pointing out that Abraham interrogates God’s justice toward Sodom before God makes the issue all the more agonizing for Abraham by calling upon father to slay son. But the "disputation" over the fate of Sodom takes place after God establishes his covenant with Abram, indeed after Abram receives his new name, Abraham. (I had meant "later" to refer to Abraham’s new covenantal status, but neglected to notice that I was in fact referring to a time subsequent to the sacrifice of Isaac.) I, too, presume that Abraham learned something new—even disturbing—about God, even with the memory of the fate of the Cities of the Plain fresh in his mind, but I now suspect that it was not a Kierkegaardian lesson that the father of monotheism drew from the episode atop Mount Moriah. From the Habermas scholar, William Rehg, I have begun to think that the real lesson of the story is not that Abraham is being called to renounce ethical categories, but rather that God is testing Abraham’s trust in God’s fidelity to Isaac: that is, can Abraham trust God’s promise that He will be faithful in perpetuity to the boy whom God commands be named Isaac (Genesis 17:19)? In other words, God is not calling Abraham to renounce ethical categories but to trust in the covenantal promise to Isaac even through the command to sacrifice the very recipient of that selfsame Promise. "However provocative and instructive Kierkegaard’s interpretation is for us," says Rehg, "for Abraham the problem isn’t the injunction against murder but the apparent fact that God’s command to sacrifice Isaac seems to break the promise [of Genesis 17:19], and make God untrustworthy."
To Milton Himmelfarb: The pen not only slipped, the brain fell. I recently taught this same passage to my Introduction to Religious Studies class, when we went through the passage line by line, and my eye still read "Saul" for "Samuel," a lesson in perceptual psychology if not in my powers of Old Testament exegesis. In any event, I have read, taught, and cited with profit enough books and articles from the Himmelfarb/Kristol clan that at least I can say that the sting of correction is assuaged by knowledge of its source; and, given the fine work J. Budziszewski does in First Things, I can say the same of him as well.
James Nuechterlein’s theme in "The Myth of Declension" (May) seems to be, "Don’t get exercised by the rantings and ravings of those Christian conservatives about moral decline in the society. They have been doing that in every generation since the 1640s." So we have, and as it turns out the evil consequences forecast of our society’s conduct in the 1640s have come about in the 1990s. We enter the next century richer in goods and services than prior generations, but poorer in skills of learning and thinking and analyzing, poorer in understanding and living virtuous lives, poorer in spirit, poorer in all the matters for which God made us. The "myth" of declension? Not so mythical after all.
Mallory L. Miller
San Antonio, TX
I wish to object to an item in the Public Square (May) concerning "a survey of 2,200 Lutherans" that purportedly reveals the painful dichotomy between "Lutheranism’s constituting doctrine—justification by faith alone—and the reality that is Lutheranism." Reflecting on the Lutheran Brotherhood’s study showing parishioners’ general misunderstanding of Lutheranism, Richard John Neuhaus suggests that insistence upon this doctrine "by which the church stands or falls" continues chiefly for the maintenance of a probable minority of today’s Lutheran theologians.
Analogously, would Father Neuhaus suggest that the results of the polls in the recent impeachment hearings should delegitimize the authority of the U.S. Constitution? Also, should actual practice of professing Catholics in violation of Church teaching supersede and invalidate that teaching on matters such as contraception, abortion, divorce, adherence and loyalty to all seven sacraments, etc.? Which is "the reality"—the misperception, misapplication, and malpractice, or the principles found in the Constitution and in Church precepts?
To carry the argument even further: Do the reprobate mind and practice of sinners obliterate and replace God’s truth? And do those who insist God’s Word is eternal and inviolable do so only to maintain their privileged positions in service to that Word? Of course not.
Thus, it follows that "the reality that is Lutheranism" is Lutheran doctrine, not Lutheran practice. Fr. Neuhaus’ doubtfully reluctant accusation based on the Lutheran Brotherhood survey is illogical and untenable.
Barbara W. Elliott
Columbia City, IN
The recent Lutheran Brotherhood survey demonstrating a high degree of confusion among Lutherans on the doctrine of justification raises many issues for Lutheran clergymen. Chief among them is that we must resist current trends in the church by unapologetically preaching doctrine in place of the emotional, nonthreatening, nothingness offered by many contemporary congregations in their quest to be popular in a baby–boomers’ world. But I also enjoyed Father Neuhaus’ take on it—that Lutherans who are wrong on the doctrine of justification might as well be Catholics.
(The Rev.) Peter A. Speckhard
Community of Faith Lutheran Church
Spring Grove, IL
To Barbara W. Elliott: A passing comment in While We’re At It is not intended as a definitive statement of systematic theology. But while we’re at it, some distinctions are in order. One might suggest that America is the American people who live under a political system defined by the Constitution. The Catholic Church is the Catholic people who are in (not always untroubled) communion with the bishops and the Petrine ministry. Lutheranism is the people called Lutheran or affiliated with institutions called Lutheran. If, on the other hand, belief in the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the precondition for the existence of the Church itself—an improbable claim that would un–Church all but a small part of what historically has been and is today the Church—the survey in question does raise interesting theological questions. To Peter A. Speckhard: Thank you for catching what was intended as a wry conclusion.
Richard John Neuhaus reports in While We’re At It (May) World magazine’s purportedly "sneering" statement about abortionists doing business as usual during the Pope’s visit to St. Louis. In the paragraph cited, we were contrasting the Missouri governor’s no–execution gesture of respect to the absence of any similar stoppage by the child–killing industry.
It appears there was a slip between editorial intention and the account—accurately described in the Public Square—that got published in World.