The Public Square

Richard John Neuhaus

Copyright (c) 2000 First Things 102 (April 2000): 79-95.

How We Got Here

So David Frum sends me his new book, with the inscription, "Hope you like this one better than the last." I definitely do. The last one was Dead Right, in which Mr. Frum contended that conservatism was making a big mistake by letting itself be distracted by the social and cultural issues when what really matters is economics. (I oversimplify, a little.) The new book is How We Got Here: The Decade That Brought You Modern Life—for Better or Worse (Basic, 418 pp., $25). It does not neglect economics (Frum is particularly effective in describing the cultural and moral impact of inflation), but the bulk of the book is devoted to the fads, ideas, movements, inspirations, and delusions that marked the 1970s as a decisive turning point in the way Americans live. It is a rollicking good read, as well as a catalogue of the people and crazes that shaped what Frum, following Auden’s judgment of the 1930s, calls "a slum of a decade." Those of a certain age will frequently be prompted to think, "Ah yes, how could I have forgotten that?" Younger readers are in for a lively tour of what to them are "the olden days."

I’m not inclined to argue with Frum’s claim that it was the seventies and not the sixties that most influenced the last of the twentieth century. This habit of "decadizing" history is mainly a book publishing gimmick. Books on the sixties have been done to death. In any event, the story of the seventies is in large part the working out of the unbounded liberationisms proclaimed by the avant garde of the sixties, and I’m not sure that David Frum would want to waste much time in disagreeing with that. Almost everything is here: divorce up, marriage down; the marginalizing of the urban underclass; mushrooming pop therapies centered on the great god Me; school busing and related schemes of the elite imposed upon their supposed inferiors; the rise of identity politics and the crash of the academy; feminism’s liberation of men from sexual responsibility; the hucksters of environmental apocalypse; bilingualism and the non–assimilation of a flood of immigrants; "homophobia" and the role of gays as arbiters of high correctness; smoking as heresy against the cult of the healthy self; the collapse of confidence in institutions, and in politics itself. When your friends tell you that your view of the cultural, moral, and social depredations of recent decades is exaggerated, you can pull out How We Got Here and cite chapter and verse.

On religion, Frum tells the story in a manner familiar to readers of this journal: the demoralization and decline of the mainline/oldline, the growth of conservative evangelicalism, and so forth. I do wish he had not cited what he calls President Eisenhower’s "deservedly famous statement": "A system of government like ours makes no sense unless founded on a firm faith in religion, and I don’t care which it is." The statement is indeed famous but not deservedly so, since nobody has been able to document that Eisenhower ever said it. Among other complaints I have, Frum greatly underestimates the vitality of Catholicism in America, and his treatment of evangelicalism inclines to the indulgence of caricatures. He is undoubtedly right in saying that at the end of the seventies many people "hungered for religion’s sweets, but rejected religion’s discipline; wanted its help in trouble, but not the strictures that might have kept them out of trouble; expected its ecstasy, but rejected its ethics; demanded salvation, but rejected the harsh, antique dichotomy of right and wrong." Cotton Mather said much the same in 1725, and preachers will likely be saying it until Our Lord returns in glory. A difference in the seventies is that more of the country’s religious leadership turned toward the marketing techniques of pandering to the "felt needs" of the spiritually debased. But that, too, has a long history. The treatment of religion, while devastatingly accurate on some scores, is not the strongest part of the book.

Despite everything, and contrary to the massive evidences of depredation that he musters, Frum wants to sound an upbeat note. Along the way there is even this: "The 1970s were America’s low tide. Not since the Depression had the country been so wracked with woe. Never—not even during the Depression—had American pride and self–confidence plunged deeper. But the decade was also, paradoxically, in some ways America’s finest hour. . . . For a short time [the American people] behaved foolishly, and on one or two occasions, even disgracefully. Then they recouped. They rethought. They reinvented. They rediscovered in their own past the governing principles of their future. Out of the failure and trauma of the 1970s they emerged stronger, richer, and—if it is not overdramatic to say so—greater than ever." It is not overdramatic and it is not paradoxical; on the basis of the book’s ample documentation, joined to the experience of those who were there then and are here now, it is, as David Frum might say, dead wrong.

In the actual conclusion of the book, Frum is somewhat more tempered. "Early twenty–first century America is a newly cautious society, not a remoralized one, and even that caution extends only so far." But the final sentence holds out the wan prospect that we are moving not backward but onward "away from the follies and triumphs of the 1970s and toward something new: new vices, new virtues, new sins—and new progress." Ah yes, progress. It is a very American book after all. The triggers of what went wrong in the seventies, according to Frum, were Vietnam, race, inflation, and, maybe, technology. Abortion—the single most fevered and volatile issue in our public life—receives but passing notice. That is the issue inseparable from a host of changes related to the redefining and redesigning of human life, and our moral responsibilities to one another. Some of those more grim prospects were explored by writers in the symposia in our January and March issues. David Frum shies away from digging so deep, lest he further undercut the shaky platform from which he issues what I expect he also recognizes is a limp half–cheer for progress.

But do I like the book better than the last one? Most definitely. In fact, I warmly recommend it for its frequently incisive cultural criticism, its spirited jeremiads, and its provision of detail and documentation about where we have been. Dr. Johnson was in large part right when he said that mankind has a greater need of being reminded than of being instructed. How We Got Here is an engaging and instructive reminder.

Judicial Line–Drawings

The editors of the New York Times are worried about the "muddle" over "just where the line is drawn on school–sponsored prayer." Judicial line–drawing in church–state questions is an exceedingly delicate business. A Texas public school district let students lead prayer over the public address system before high school football games. The Times draws a very bright line against that: "The practice plainly breaches the First Amendment’s wall of separation between church and state, and the [Supreme Court] should not hesitate to say so." Earlier, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals drew a zigzag line, declaring prayers at football games unconstitutional while allowing them at commencement exercises because the latter are "singularly serious."

The editors favor a "principled" position that would compel conformity to the exclusion of all public prayer since such prayer creates "pressure for religious conformity." This is especially the case with student–led prayer, they say, "given how susceptible schoolchildren are to peer pressure and how seriously Texans take football." The Supreme Court has agreed to decide an appeal from the Fifth Circuit. It appears that that august body will have to determine whether Texans are more serious about commencement exercises than about football. The Fifth Circuit seems to take the position that, the more serious the occasion, the more allowance should be made for prayer, while the view of the Times is that nonserious prayer is less threatening.

As aforesaid, drawing these lines is a delicate business. It is not clear how the Supreme Court will be able to establish the facts of the case regarding the relative seriousness of Texans about football and commencements; and, if it succeeds in that, how its findings can be applied in a judicially principled way to the rest of the country. My impression, for instance, is that most New Yorkers are distinctly unserious about football. It’s something that happens across the river in Jersey. Baseball is a different matter altogether. The conflicting constitutional doctrine here, if I understand the arguments, is that the Fifth Circuit principle would, because of their seriousness about the sport, allow New Yorkers to pray at baseball games, while the Times, precisely because of that same seriousness, would forbid it. If this sounds crazy, it is because it is crazy.

The editors say that "for mysterious reasons" the Supreme Court has agreed to review only that part of the Fifth Circuit ruling that disallowed prayer at football games, letting stand the allowance of prayer at commencements. My hunch is that there is nothing mysterious about the Court’s reasons at all. The justices want to get out of the crazy business of drawing First Amendment lines that requires them to calibrate gradations of seriousness, sincerity, and hurt feelings about the expression of religion in public. Such factors cannot be rationally determined; the Constitution has not a word to say about them; and they are not remotely pertinent to the danger of the government unconstitutionally establishing a religion. The last fifty years of the Court’s embroilment in the crazy business of drawing arbitrary lines, however, has everything to do with the infringement of the free exercise of religion, and free exercise is the entire purpose of the religion clause of the First Amendment.

If, as may be the case, the Court is finally ready to free itself from its excessive entanglement with the impossible task of monitoring the maddeningly complex dynamics of religion—and we will likely know whether it is by the end of this term—that is a most welcome development. It will leave Texans and everyone else free to be as serious as they want to be about their games, and those who object to an opening prayer will be free to dissent. During the prayer they might, for example, very ostentatiously bury their heads in the pages of the New York Times.

At the Origins of the Culture War

One of the many contributions of Gertrude Himmelfarb’s new book, One Nation, Two Cultures (Knopf), is to remind us that the phenomenon now called the culture wars is not all that new. She begins with this passage from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776:

In every civilized society, in every society where the distinction of ranks has once been completely established, there have been always two different schemes or systems of morality current at the same time; of which the one may be called the strict or austere; the other the liberal, or, if you will, the loose system. The former is generally admired and revered by the common people; the latter is commonly more esteemed and adopted by what are called people of fashion.

I was recently reading Sam Tanenhaus’ splendid biography, Whittaker Chambers (Random House), and was reminiscing over dinner about my own brief brush with a vestige of that tumultuous period. The Hiss–Chambers trials of 1949–1950 happened long before I came of political age, and I had no firm views on the contentions surrounding those events. Years later, however, in the mid–seventies, I was connected with an organization that routinely invited the then elderly Alger Hiss to its receptions and other occasions. He was something of a celebrity and seemed very much the gentleman. I never raised with him awkward questions about the past, but after one such occasion I asked an older colleague whether he thought Hiss was guilty of the crimes for which he had spent more than three years in federal prison. I was taken aback by the insouciance of the answer, "Oh, of course, he was a perjurer and Soviet spy." If that is the case, I naively asked, why on earth did we invite him to our affairs? The response came in the tones of a self–evident truth: "He insists he is innocent and to publicly disagree is to lend aid and comfort to McCarthyism." The reference, of course, was to Senator Joe McCarthy, who contributed so powerfully to the anti–anticommunism that was then regnant among "what are called people of fashion." What is a little perjury and treason, or even a lot of perjury and treason, among friends who agree on the important questions?

Later I would read Whittaker Chambers’ Witness and come to reckon it one of the most important books of the century. There Chambers wrote:

No feature of the Hiss case is more obvious, or more troubling as history, than the jagged fissure, which it did not so much open as reveal, between the plain men and women of the nation, and those who affected to act, think, and speak for them. It was, not invariably, but in general, the "best people" who were for Alger Hiss and who were prepared to go to any length for him. It was the enlightened and the powerful, the clamorous proponents of the open mind and the common man, who snapped their minds shut in a pro–Hiss psychosis, of a kind which, in an individual patient, means the simple failure of the ability to distinguish between reality and unreality, and, in a nation, is a warning of the end.

On the basis of what is now known from the files of Soviet intelligence and other sources—all helpfully summarized by Tanenhaus—nobody but the willfully obtuse believes that Hiss was innocent. Among people of a certain age, however, and until quite recently, whether one sided with Hiss or Chambers divided the liberal bien–pensant from the ignorant peasantry. But the larger divide between the "strict" and the "loose" described by Adam Smith has not always been the case. Perhaps it has always been the case that many among the wealthy and aristocratic, along with the riffraff and criminal elements of society, have deemed themselves largely exempt from general moral norms. (This is what I have described as a culture caught between the overclass and the underclass, a locution subsequently picked up by the prolific Michael Lind and turned to quite different purposes.) In the modern period artists and intellectuals typically certify themselves to be such by their defiance of what they take to be established norms. Lionel Trilling called this the "adversary culture," and a decade and more ago the phenomenon was much discussed in terms of the "new knowledge class."

A Deeper Divide

Whittaker Chambers, among others, thought the phenomenon not so universal as did Smith nor so new as do more recent thinkers. As he wrote in Witness and in earlier days when he was a major voice in Henry Luce’s empire of Time Inc., the phenomenon is to be traced to modernity’s decision against God and the human soul. Chambers frequently wrote in the mode of the prophetic jeremiad, a mode that found a readier audience in the 1950s when figures such as Reinhold Neibuhr, Hannah Arendt, and even the Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. of The Vital Center also spoke in urgent tones about the crisis of the West. Less than twenty years later, the once lionized Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would lose most of his audience in the West when he, like Chambers, traced the problem to the origins of modernity. For instance, in A World Split Apart (1978): "The mistake must be at the root, at the very foundation of thought in modern times. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was born in the Renaissance and has found political expression since the Age of Enlightenment. It became the basis for political and social doctrine and could be called rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy. . . . The West has finally achieved the rights of man, and even to excess, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer."

In the Hiss–Chambers period and up through the fall of the evil empire a decade ago, the divide between the two cultures of the one nation was, at least among intellectuals and the politically engaged, the divide between anticommunism and anti–anticommunism. Behind that and deeper than that, according to thinkers such as Chambers and Solzhenitsyn, is the chasm opened by modernity’s divorce of the human project from its source and end in God. That chasm created the space for the growth of modernity’s children, of which communism was perhaps the most destructive in its deformity. The future of the culture war in this nation will depend in large part upon whether we come to think that the American experiment is another deformed child of modernity—a view increasingly urged by some religious conservatives—or whether we engage its capacities to be corrected and renewed by the prophetic critique of the modernity of which it is undoubtedly, but by no means exclusively, the product. Put differently, the American experiment—as the word "experiment" suggests—is a work in progress. The culture war is about, inter alia, how the experiment is to be defined. It would be a great pity were conservative thinkers to join with "what are called people of fashion" in so defining it that it must be rejected by the morally and religiously serious. That, too, would be a kind of treason.

Cultural Breakthroughs

A while back there was a story in the Times expressing puzzlement as to why there was so little interest this time around in the sale of the Village Voice. In years past, when the Voice changed hands there was much anxiety among the chattering classes about whether it would lose its edge as the liberal–left "conscience" of New York. But that was a long time ago, before the Times remade itself into the voice of the cultural and moral avant garde. It used to be that, on issues such as homosexuality, the role of the Times was to maintain standards or at least set limits (hence "All the news that’s fit to print"), the Voice challenged those standards and limits, and then there were the really "alternative" publications that catered to the subcultural hard core. It was a well understood division of cultural labor. But in recent years the Times has veered to the left, displacing the Voice by making it superfluous. On every issue of consequence in the cultural wars, the Times has become ever more stridently partisan, and on none, except for "abortion rights," more shrilly so than gay liberation. Almost every week there are stories hailing new "firsts" in advancing the homosexual cause, and every week there are stories deploring the way conservatives are obsessed with the homosexual cause.

Here, for instance, is a story by Bernard Weinraub going on and on about the cultural significance of a man who won $500,000 on ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire embracing his partner on camera. The story is spread over the front page of the Arts section. (On the same day, the 100,000 people in the annual march for life in Washington rated a small picture toward the bottom of page sixteen of the first section, and no story at all.) The audience of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire happily applauded, and Weinraub contrasts this with protests against homosexuality on television in decades past. This, we are instructed, is a big cultural and moral breakthrough testifying to the "acceptance" of gays and the decline of "homophobia." Never mind that on the program nobody, including host Regis Philbin, mentions gays or homosexuality. There is no reference to the nature of the relationship between these two guys. Unlike Mr. Weinraub, the people in the audience, except for some gay friends of the two, know nothing about it. The audience goes crazy with excitement when the guy wins $500,000. That’s the point of the program. They applaud the guy who rushes up to hug his lucky friend, they applaud Mr. Philbin, they applaud themselves. That’s the way it is with game shows. There is not the slightest hint of a heavy–duty "statement" being made. But Bernard Weinraub knows a cultural breakthrough when he sees one. (The Times headline reads, "‘Millionaire’ Quietly Breaks TV Barriers.")

The executive producer of the show offers a more sensible explanation of what is going on. "We treat everyone the same way, and there’s never been an issue about people’s personal relationships. . . . Whether somebody brings their college buddy or mother or sister or lover, we don’t care. We don’t care about ethnic things, we don’t care about sexual things. We treat everybody the same. The show broadly reflects society." In other words, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire cares about people winning money. One could hardly want a more perfect statement of the cash nexus as the solvent of social distinctions.

There is one problem, however. It is not quite the case that the show "broadly reflects society." There are relatively few minority and female contestants. "This bothers me," says the producer. "I don’t know what the reason is. There may be something about trivia and the amassing of knowledge of trivia that’s essentially white and male." His speculation is exquisitely correct. Excluded are the possibilities that white males know more or are smarter or more assertive or quicker on their feet. No, they are more inclined to waste their time amassing knowledge of trivia. This, one is invited to infer, is a character flaw characteristic of white males. Of course, the point is not pressed, lest it end up at the conclusion that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is premised upon exploiting and encouraging a weakness of character to which white males are peculiarly prone.

As of this writing, the editors of the Times have not followed up on Mr. Weinraub’s story by proposing another of their favored causes. The unrepresentative nature of the program might be corrected by affirmative action. Women and minorities could be given easier questions, which is the approach the Times strongly supports when it comes to tests for government employment (and as is the practice with police and fire departments in New York and elsewhere). Or maybe a gender–and race–balancing handicap could be provided by wiring white males to a contraption that gives them a painful electrical shock when trying to answer a question. Mr. Weinraub notes the problem but does not address these possible solutions. It is enough that Mr. Philbin asked Mark to come up, that he bounded out of the audience and hugged his friend Rob, and that the people applauded. One big cultural breakthrough at a time.

It is the kind of story about a culture–shaking "first" that some years ago might have run in the Village Voice. No wonder nobody cares about who takes over the Voice, which is now given away free on the streets. The Times, a multibillion dollar enterprise, has taken over its market share, and that’s what really matters. The phenomenon is explained by—to paraphrase Daniel Bell—the cultural depredations of capitalism. Aided, of course, by ideologically driven editors and writers whose larger purposes neatly coincide with serving as capitalist tools. It is what happens when the very good thing that is a market economy becomes the very bad thing that is a market society, when culture is taken captive to whatever can attract a paying crowd.

"Real Existing Christianity" in America

Resistance to the incorrigibility of Christian America takes many forms. Those who are taken with the idea of post–Christian America speak also of our having become a religiously pluralistic society, and lift up the presence of Islam and various Oriental religions in America. Asians are 2 to 3 percent of the American population, a little larger than the number of Jews. But Asians in the U.S.—notably Koreans, but also Chinese and Vietnamese—are very often Christians. Then there is Islam. A City University study concluded that there are about a million and a half Muslims, with about half of them being American–born blacks. The researchers noted that earlier and larger estimates assumed that anyone with a Middle Eastern name that was not Jewish must be Muslim. But they found that a large number of these people were in fact Christians—frequently Palestinian Christians or Chaldean Christians from Iraq. Muslim organizations, as is the pattern with immigrant groups seeking influence and recognition, claim a much larger figure, from six to eight million.

A reporter with a national newspaper tells me that his paper routinely refers to four million Muslims, conveniently splitting the difference and thus warding off angry protests from Muslim organizations. The Census Bureau, regrettably, does not ask about religion, but a generous estimate, based on what we know from other sources, is that 3 percent of the American population is Muslim or non–Christian Asian. Apart from the relatively small number of people who claim no religious identity whatever and the little over 2 percent who say they are Jewish, the rest of the American people are, in however muddled a fashion, Christian. (Allowing, for purposes of this discussion, that the somewhat less than 2 percent of the population that is Mormon is, as Mormons insist, Christian. See "Is Mormonism Christian?", March.) This is not what is usually meant by "a religiously pluralistic society." It is, for better and for worse, something very much like Christian America.

Immediately before the Second World War, T. S. Eliot published The Idea of a Christian Society. It is a problematic book, not least because of his incomprehension of the deep connections between Christianity and Judaism. Yet it is suggestive of the ways in which one may speak of a society being Christian. "A society has not ceased to be Christian," Eliot wrote, "until it has become positively something else. It is my contention that we have today a culture which is mainly negative, but which insofar as it is positive, is still Christian. I do not think that it can remain negative, because a negative culture has ceased to be efficient in a world where economic as well as spiritual forces are proving the efficiency of cultures which, even when pagan, are positive; and I believe the choice before us is between the formation of a new Christian culture and the acceptance of a pagan one. Both involve radical changes; but I believe that the majority of us, if we could be faced immediately with all the changes which will only be accomplished in several generations, would prefer Christianity."

America is Christian at least in this minimal sense that it has not become positively something else. We might prefer that it were otherwise. The idea that ours is a post–Christian society has its attractions. It goes a long way toward letting people who have a steep investment in Christianity off the hook. They can then blame the ills of society upon its having rejected Christianity. But that is too easy. It used to be that Marxists, faced with the sorry failures of socialism, would make a sharp distinction between socialist theory and "real existing socialism," thus rescuing the theory from the failure of its practice. In a similar way, the necessary embarrassment is that "real existing Christianity" is not an entirely edifying sight. But it should not be defined out of existence. There is, I believe, also a theological reason for facing up to the disconcerting facts. Of course, we can try to escape the embarrassment by positing Christianity as a Platonic ideal and the Christian people as an "invisible church," but that is hard to square with the stubbornly historical nature of the biblical story. Real existing Christianity is doctrine, worship, moral teaching, and traditions of holiness, but it is also and inescapably the people who claim to be Christian. Their claim should not be dismissed lightly. St. Paul reminds us that "no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3).

We may wish it were otherwise, but those who say they are Christians are Christians in ways that we cannot easily deny. They may be "I just happen to be" Christians or they may be Christians by the deepest and most reflective conviction. We may dismiss many who say they are Christians as merely "cultural Christians," but there is nothing mere about culture. Christianity is not exhaustively, but it is unavoidably, the Christian people—a people as determinate as the Jewish people with whom they are providentially entangled in different understandings of what it means to be faithful to the one God of Israel—the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. As Judaism is inseparable from Jews, Christianity is inseparable from Christians. The racial and ethnic factors are different; one is not born a Christian in the way one is born a Jew. There are unfaithful Christians as there are nonobservant Jews, but such people are still unfaithful Christians and nonobservant Jews. In either case, formal apostasy is possible, but it is rare. No doubt many are not seriously Jewish enough or seriously Christian enough to bother with apostasy. My limited point is that, no matter how marginally or ambiguously many may be related to it, there is a definite Christian people as there is a definite Jewish people, and the first is in strict biblical analogy with the second.

"Christian America" is all these Christians in America. It is more than that, but it is at least that. It is not sufficient to say that this is only a "sociological" way of speaking about Christianity, for the social is the historical, and history is, quite simply, social reality through time—the very stuff into which, as Christians believe, God became incarnate in Christ. If that is true, history has become a theological category. In this view, one thinks of historical things spiritually and of spiritual things historically. In His elect people, the Jews, the God of Israel has bound Himself to history, and that self–binding is fulfilled in the incarnate Messiah and his Body, the Church. Christian theology, if it really is Christian theology, cannot float above history; it is immersed in, entangled with, accountable to, embarrassingly particular historical realities, such as the Christian people of America.

The term "Christian America" speaks of a cultural reality that cannot be adequately captured by survey research about what people say they believe and do religiously. Polling data provide a snapshot, and many polls over a long period of time provide many snapshots. Just as we do not live with a snapshot or snapshots of a person but with the person himself, so we know a culture by living within it. "Culture"—both the word and the reality—is, of course, derived from "cult," and the American cult is Christian. To be sure, there are other cults, both in the religious sense of the term, and what are called cults surrounding rock stars, the obsession with physical health, or the consumerism of malls unlimited. But none of these alternative cults has produced a society that, in Eliot’s terms, has become positively something else. On the contrary, those alternatives are routinely criticized by cultural standards and ideals that are unmistakably Christian. A culture is defined not so much by what people live up to as by the criteria they invoke in determining that they fail to be who they intend to be—and, they insist, who they "really" are.

"Christian America" is an embarrassment both to those who want to believe that ours is a secular society, and to those who hold to a normative understanding of Christianity that is not matched by the "real existing Christianity" of the American experience. An honest appraisal of our religious and cultural circumstance will not satisfy either party. The twentieth century produced a vast scholarly literature explaining why secularization is more or less inevitable. The basic assumption, which goes back to the eighteenth–century Enlightenment, is that, as people become more educated (read "enlightened"), religion will either wither away or be safely sealed off in the purely private sphere where it cannot intrude upon "the real world." At the beginning of the third millennium, it is obvious that things are not turning out quite the way the theorists had assumed they would. (Next month: What has happened to secularization in theory and fact.)

While We’re At It

Life was his trade and Innocence his care.
He fought in silence in the dreadful strife.
His fingers, like Commandments, straight and bare,
He spread between the infant and the knife.
And the bath–house bravoes; the unfaithful priests;
The milkless Liliths of a Second Fall;
The artificers of decay; the beasts
In the forest of our nerves—he fought them all.
We loved to see him, leaning on his cane
And smiling slowly, coming from the field:
Smiling his answer to his bodily pain,
To loss, to hope deferred, to truth concealed;
Smiling in answer to the shrieking guile,
Ultimate victory in his slow smile.

Sources: On Supreme Court school–prayer case, New York Times, November 26, 1999. On TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and gay man winning $500,000, New York Times, January 25, 2000.

While We’re At It: Quote about conversion experience in Nicotine Theological Journal, October 1999. Michael McManus on birth control, syndicated column of November 18, 1999. Jürgen Moltmann’s The Coming of God reviewed by Randall Zachman, Pro Ecclesia, Fall 1999. Father James Heft on Catholic colleges, Chronicle of Higher Education, November 12, 1999. On high school students denied membership in the National Honor Society, Cincinnati Enquirer, October 25, 1999. The Sacred Depths of Nature by Ursula Goodenough reviewed by Richard Dawkins, Forbes ASAP (online magazine), October 4, 1999. Oscar Wilde quoted on saints and sinners, The Quote/Unquote Newsletter, October 4, 1999. On "full communion" between ELCA Lutherans and Episcopalians, Lutheran Forum Letter, December 1999. On Archbishop Goodhew of Sydney, Australia, Tablet, November 13, 1999. On the flag of the European Union, ZENIT news agency, December 7, 1999. Dennis Prager on smoking, Prager Perspective, October 15, 1999. Jesus Symbol of God reviewed, America, November 6, 1999. David Schiff on Aaron Copland, Atlantic Monthly, January 2000. "Ending the Era of Auschwitz" by Marc Ellis, Christian Century, October 6, 1999. Arianna Huffington on George W. Bush, Jim Wallis, the Bible, and the poor, San Diego Union–Tribune, January 1, 2000. J. F. Powers quoted by John Derbyshire, New Criterion, September 1999. Harold Meyerson on values without God, Nation, October 11, 1999. On the George Roche III case, Religion & Society Report, January 2000. National Catholic Reporter articles on abortion foes and Chinese dissidents, January 21, 2000. On "openness theology," Christianity Today, February 7, 2000. On Catholic priests with AIDS,, and ZENIT, February 3, 2000. George Weigel on Thomas Reese, Catholic Northwest Progress, January 13, 2000. "Church and State: How the Wall Came Tumbling Down" by Jeffrey Rosen, New York Times Magazine, January 30, 2000. Archbishop Rembert Weakland quoted on the Church, St. Anthony’s Messenger, June 1999.