Copyright (c) 1994 First Things 40 (February 1994): 6-13.

A President in Process

James Nuechterlein

It turns out, in retrospect, to have been a most ironically timed meeting. The White House Communications Office had arranged for nine representatives of the religious press-nicely balanced as to denomination and theological inclination-to meet with the President on December 17. That happened to be the Friday of the weekend on which there emerged, courtesy of David Brock and The American Spectator, lurid reports from Arkansas state troopers concerning President Clinton's alleged extracurricular sexual adventures during his time as Governor and President-elect, as well as tales of attempts, through threats or bribery, to ensure the troopers' silence. Those reports, combined with renewed concerns over the Clintons' connections with the Whitewater Development Corporation and with the disappearance of Whitewater and other files from the White House office of Vincent Foster, Jr. after his suicide, created a Yuletide crisis the seriousness of which, at this writing, is still unclear. At the very least, it will make this Christmas past one that will not likely make its way into the President's White House scrapbook.

The members of the press at the meeting, of course, knew nothing of the imminent crisis. But Bill Clinton obviously did, and reflections on the fifty-minute session are inevitably colored by curiosity as to what difference, if any, the President's knowledge made as to his comments and general demeanor. And the scandal itself, to the extent one credits it-and it takes a heroic denial of the plausible to dismiss it altogether-necessarily intrudes on one's judgment of the President.

The subject of the meeting was crime and violence in America, an issue which the White House clearly thought it could turn to its advantage-it was the presidential theme of the week-and which allowed Clinton to highlight his "new Democrat" credentials. He hit all the right neoliberal notes. Government could do something about crime-the Brady bill, police build-ups, boot camps as alternative punishment-but these actions "from the outside in" could only reinforce the more important actions "from the inside out": renewal, especially in inner-city minority neighborhoods, of structures of family and work, structures without which crime and the inextricably connected drug culture flourish. This project of community rebuilding, Clinton emphasized, will require a broad range of initiatives and programs, including presidential leadership, legislative innovation, moral uplift (the President particularly noted Jesse Jackson's anti-crime drive among blacks), and, most important, reconstitution of the "intermediate institutions" of the community-the black church chief among them-whose decay is both symptom and cause of urban pathology.

The format of the meeting was something of a muddle. The President indicated at the outset that he looked forward to an exchange of views, and there was some of that for the first twenty minutes or so, but as the session wore on, the focus shifted increasingly to Clinton. It became clear that most of those present preferred drawing out the President to listening to each other's views on the causes and cures of crime. What began as a discussion wound up as a presidential interview.

The subject matter shifted as well. Crime faded into the background, and religion, especially the significance of religion in the President's life and thought, came to the fore. Some months earlier, Clinton had made a stir by drawing attention to Stephen Carter's The Culture of Disbelief and indicating his support for the author's argument that, at least among the nation's secularized elites, adherence to the classic American doctrine of separation of church and state had degenerated into an implausible and ahistorical insistence on separation of religion from public life. The President repeated the point here and underlined his argument that the First Amendment focuses on freedom of (not from) religion by praising Congress for passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The conversation turned personal when someone asked Clinton, a Southern Baptist, how he had been influenced by his education at Catholic (Jesuit) Georgetown University. The influence, Clinton replied, had been "profound." He noted three particulars: the Catholic sense of the social mission of the Church, the distinctively Jesuit emphasis on intellectual rigor, and the centrality to Catholic piety of confession. The last point was the most intriguing-the more so in retrospect-and it was one to which Clinton returned repeatedly. His one reticence about speaking of religion in public, he said, was that he might be perceived as sanctimonious or holier-than-thou. But, he said on at least three occasions during the meeting, at the heart of Christian piety is the knowledge that we are all sinners, all in need of forgiveness, all presented with the possibility of starting over again. To speak as a Christian, he reiterated, is to speak as a self-confessed sinner.

Asked to discuss the effect of his Baptist faith on his life, Clinton spoke first of his youth. He referred to a painful childhood (while he did not specify, the reference to difficulties with his alcoholic stepfather was obvious), in which his faith gave him an essential sense of reassurance and value as a child of God. He recounted that in his twenties and beyond he had drifted away from the church, but had come back to serious religious observance in 1980, an observance, he made clear, that continues to this day. Without making any explicit personal Christian witness, the President indicated the importance of religious belief to his life. How, he wondered toward the end of the meeting, given life's inescapable difficulties and our own frailties, can people get through life without faith?

What does one make of all this, particularly in light of the revelations-if true-that followed the meeting?

One notes, first of all, the feebleness of the White House's later dismissals of the charges brought against the President, and their incompatibility with some of Clinton's expressed views. Both Mrs. Clinton and the President himself said, in effect, that the truth or otherwise of the sexual charges brought against Clinton make no difference in the judgment of his stewardship. All that matters, they suggested, is his public record of achievement; his personal behavior is simply irrelevant to his presidency.

But the President knows better, and he indicated as much in the meeting. He spoke repeatedly of the importance of presidential leadership, including in the realm of values. Adults, he said, teach values to children whether they speak of them or not. The President knows well the power of the bully pulpit, and he can hardly ignore the example his own behavior provides to those in urban neighborhoods whose attachment to family values of commitment and fidelity he recognizes as necessary to his community restoration program.

Beyond that, there is the continuing enigma of the President's personality and character. Visitors to the White House are reminded of his considerable gifts. Fred Barnes of The New Republic has said that he has never met anyone whose "getting-along" skills exceed Clinton's, and, upon meeting the President, one is not inclined to disagree. The charm is undeniable. Clinton has a knack for putting people at their ease, and he impresses by not overtly attempting to impress. He speaks modestly, listens carefully when others speak, and engages visitors in genuine conversation. And not even Clinton's worst enemy would deny his intelligence or powers of articulation.

Yet there are disturbing elements in the Clinton persona. His entire adult life, except for a very brief teaching stint, has been politics, and the cultivation of the qualities of self that go with politics. Indeed, his whole life since adolescence has been, as it were, a perpetual race for student body president. Virtually all who recall him, at any stage, remark his drive for popularity. One recalls such types: ever eager, ever ambitious, with a compulsive need to be not just liked but well-liked, friendly to all and intimate with almost none. The appearance of sincerity is all, and the best of them, like Clinton, manage to disarm the suspicion of those around them who are less popular that they lack a genuine center.

It is difficult to tell with Clinton. The sincerity is apparent, but sometimes one suspects a kind of serial sincerity. At any given moment and in whatever company, the President conveys the impression of the authentically sincere, however incompatible with each other particular moments and company might be. The one constant is the desire to ingratiate.

Such an appraisal may seem unfair, but it is difficult otherwise to make sense of much of the President's behavior. His governing ideology is all over the place-now populist, now new Democrat, now standard collectivist liberal. He waxes as enthusiastic about homosexual rights as family values. So also, if in different measure, with his personal life. My guess is that no one sitting in the Cabinet Room on the morning of December 17 doubted the sincerity of the President's expressions of piety, but by the following Monday at least some of us were left wondering how to reconcile such expressions with reports-so far not formally denied-of continuing and wildly irresponsible philandering. After confession, after all, comes repentance, with its accompanying call for amendment of life.

It seems oddly to be the case that in Bill Clinton, now approaching fifty, we have a President still in the making. One comes away from the White House wondering when, if at all, that work in progress might be brought to completion. And to what end.

James Nuechterlein is Editor of First Things.

Woodstock Comes to Washington

Gary L. Bauer

If any further proof were needed that the Woodstock generation has taken over the federal government, President Clinton's "AIDS Czar," Kristine Gebbie, gave a speech a few months ago at a conference on teen pregnancy that should put the matter to rest. (Her office attempted to rewrite the speech retroactively, but unfortunately for her, an AP reporter got it on tape.)

Now, as we all know, over the past thirty years this nation, and the entire West, have been through something aptly named the "sexual revolution." Centuries-old codes of morals and manners have been overturned. We have become a society drenched in sex and sexual themes. Things are being taught to children today that couldn't have been mentioned in polite society just thirty years ago. That what we have here is the new mainstream is confirmed by the fact that those who are opposed to this development are regularly labeled "extremists" in the media.

In the wake of this revolution, what is Miss Gebbie's reform agenda? That we should stop being such a "repressed, Victorian society."

No joke.

One would like to know what planet she lives on-and whether it is possible to buy a house there. Because on the planet where we all presently live, it is impossible to get through a single hour without encountering some sexual topic in a news story, an ad, a piece of entertainment, or even just a conversation. We have open copulation on prime time television, we have erotic fantasies on a cable channel that millions of children watch, and sexual hydraulics is being taught in school in ways intended precisely at breaking down modesty.

We also have epidemics of abortion, divorce, adultery, desertion, and sexually transmitted diseases. A skyrocketing percentage of our children lack any chance of having a stable, two-parent family, and as a result, are increasingly at risk of abuse and of following a life of crime.

But to Miss Gebbie, the main problem is that our common ethic "misrepresents information, denies sexuality early, denies homosexual sexuality-particularly in teens-and leaves people abandoned with no place to go."

The Gebbies of this world are part of a long, tired story. Since at least the 1920s, the cognoscenti and the beautiful people have been lecturing the common folk about how we are messed up with respect to sex, and how the way out of our troubles is to overcome our "hang-ups" and "prejudices," and join the elites in their newfound liberation.

A New Yorker cartoon from the 1920s showed a gawky young man and girl standing awkwardly about, while off to one side, one upper- crust old lady says to another: "They're discussing sex. Isn't that sweet?"

In Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, written in the 1940s and describing the social scene of the twenties, a troubled young student named Sebastian is warned by Oxford University authorities that he must "mend his ways" if he wants to remain in the university. "How does one mend one's ways?" he laments. "I suppose one joins the League of Nations Union, and reads the Isis every week, and drinks coffee every morning at the Cadena cafe, and smokes a great pipe and plays hockey and goes out to tea on Boar's Hill and to lectures at Keble, and rides a bicycle with a little tray full of note-books and drinks cocoa in the evening and discusses sex seriously."

Writing in the early forties, C. S. Lewis noted: "[Y]ou and I, for the last twenty years, have been fed all day long on solid lies about sex. We have been told, till one is sick of hearing it, that sexual desire is in the same state as any of our other natural desires and that if only we abandon the silly Victorian idea of hushing it up, everything in the garden will be lovely. . . . They tell you sex has become messed up because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet is still in a mess."

The record is clear: aggressive anti-puritanism on sexual matters has long been integrated into the socially dominant notions of respectability. This is old stuff by now.

It is also ignorant and arrogant. From Margaret Mead to Kristine Gebbie, the ideologues of sexual liberation have talked as if they had personally invented sex.

Miss Gebbie breathlessly informs us-stop the presses!-that sex is "an essential thing to human life" and "a positive thing." Does she think that she and the cultural class she represents are the first to discover this? It has been known and experienced in the lives of countless happily married couples across the millennia, and perhaps nowhere more than in marriages lived under the banner of Christianity, whose Founder pronounced the intimacy of man and wife to be a blessed thing.

The same is true today. Several surveys show that married couples who attend church at least once a week make up the most sexually contented segment of society. And then there are the hundreds of thousands of Christian teenagers who are making personal promises to remain abstinent until marriage. Repressed? Victorian? They're frank about sex, positive about it, and looking forward to it. They just don't want to debase it by using it as a cheaper alternative to seeing a movie, or (for boys) as a way of asserting machismo in the absence of positive male role models, or (for girls) as a desperate ploy to hold on to a boyfriend-or any of the other sad, dead-end abuses of sex that become common whenever a society sheds its "repressed Victorianism."

Finally, Miss Gebbie's agenda is not only ignorant and coarse; it's also totalitarian. "The next generation of young people," she said, "should be prepared to enter an adult sexual life with a better base of attitudes and information than we have provided so far." Note the word "attitudes." Miss Gebbie and her ilk are out to mess with your kids' minds. You folks who still think saving sex for faithful and monogamous marriage is a good idea-Miss Gebbie may leave you alone, but she's determined that your children will have "a better base of attitudes."

The saddest part of Miss Gebbie's performance is the part about how our "repressed" attitudes "leave people abandoned with no place to go."

If there is one indictment above all others that could be brought against the sexual revolution of which Miss Gebbie is such a fervent commissar, it is that it is destroying the home, which is the ultimate place for people "to go." What sort of old age are people looking forward to when they contemptuously reject all the opportunities that life affords to form lasting, mutually attentive relationships? Will they find the singles scene as satisfying in their sixties as it was in their twenties? Who is going to share our lonely "places" with us, if we've spent our youth and adulthood overcoming "hang-ups" about monogamy and fidelity? And what will take the place of homecomings and family gatherings in the lives of children whose parents decide that "Victorianism" isn't for them?

It's a cruel, cold, and dictatorial world that stands behind the seemingly liberating views of Kristine Gebbie and her patrons in the White House.

Gary L. Bauer, now President of the Family Research Council, was domestic policy advisor to President Reagan and Undersecretary of Education under William Bennett.

A Peculiar Little Test

Philip Zaleski

Every two or three years, at a small, elite New England university, I offer a graduate-level course on "Nature Writing." The students, as you might guess, exhibit a keen interest in birds, blossoms, bugs, and bears. Despite shared tastes, the composition of the class is impressively diverse, a patchwork of amateur entomologists, high school science instructors, budding Thoreaus, Lake Poets manque. Participants show little mercy towards environmental degradation (strip mining, whale-hunting, and the felling of the rain forest are anathema), but, thankfully, no more than one or two Earth-Firsters-fanatics who applaud Edward Abbey's bitter saying that "I'm a humanist, I'd rather kill a man than a snake"-sign up each year. As our classroom discussions make clear, the students also have in common a keen religious sense, directed, it is true, more towards the awe induced by a streaking meteor or a rutting moose than, say, that of the Resurrection of Christ or the Parinirvana of Buddha. In sum, my students are, by and large, a representative sampling of post-1960s educated America.

In many ways, the highlight of the course is a peculiar little test that I administer about mid-semester, when students' heads are abuzz with the conflicting claims of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Darwin, and Gould: Is the natural order a theophany or the battleground of rabid genes? What is man, that he is mindful of nature? As we all agree afterwards, the quiz tells us something-but we're not sure just what-about how we apprehend the world, ourselves, and (for those students so inclined) the Creator.

The quiz is simple enough. I offer a list of fifteen items (it varies from year to year): mouse, boy, sun, angel, ant, crab, Norwegian pine, corn, amoeba, hamburger, potato, Moby Dick, Taj Mahal, Rolls Royce, the idea of the good-and I ask students to rank them, using whatever scale they deem most important. Without fail, one or two refuse to take the test, rejecting the legitimacy of any and all gradations. The rest plunge in. Predictably, there is always one-a tease, perhaps, although suspicion lingers that he means it-who gives the edge to the crab or the Rolls. There's frequently a Platonist who opts for the idea of the good. As a rule, only one person puts the human being at the peak, as crown of creation and imago Dei: the teacher (for I participate in the listing, and share my results with the students). Invariably, the great majority put the sun on top.

When I ask why, something remarkable happens. The students understand what I am after with this test, for they never rank by height or mass or population or any other gross physical aspect. No, they do so according to a scale of values. But what values? When pressed, the students allow that they order according to what we must call being. And here the strangest part of the test emerges: although I believe that there are right and wrong answers, I cannot imagine giving a grade, for my most fundamental premises are not shared by my students-or, more exactly, are shared in such a strange way that our common ground turns to quicksand, and teaching threatens to become (as it often does when teachers do not respect their students) trench warfare.

We all rank according to the scale of being. This elusive quality I might define as degree of closeness to, or participation in, the Godhead. To my students, however, being is something else: that with the most being is that which absorbs lesser beings-to put it bluntly, the dominant muncher in the food chain. The sun, shedding the energy that powers all life (that "gives life" to the earth, my students might put it), necessarily dominates the list. But what powers the sun? Here the students stare blankly ahead.

In this little test, I believe, can be discerned the hidden reason for the modern dilemma. On the one hand, it assures us that young people retain an awareness, albeit skewed, of morality and ontology. They respect that which "gives life." In fact, as anyone who spends much time in close proximity to children knows, they make absolute moral judgments all the time based on a lively, if naive, sense of good and evil, but lack the articulated moral structure on which to hang their felt opinions.

On the other hand, something is seriously amiss. Crab over humans? Sun over angels? When parents see packs of kids running the streets like wolves, when unchecked greed threatens a delicate ecosystem, when suicide rates soar, a number of reasons are invoked: loss of family values, lack of respect for the natural order, lack of love. All these are true, yet all can be subsumed under one overwhelming loss that is pinpointed by the quiz. Its exact nature was conveyed to me by an automobile mechanic (he works on Volvos, which says something about his trust in traditional values) who was asked by an elderly friend, "What's wrong with the world today?" His instant answer was, "We've lost the idea of hierarchy."

There it is, clear as cabbages and kings: hierarchy, loss of hierarchy, loss of the idea of hierarchy. Nota bene: not sense, but idea. For the sense remains. Most students feel on a gut level that ranking is legitimate; that cabbages and kings are not interchangeable. What they lack is the knowledge of hierarchy that comes from a careful study of tradition. But before pondering how that knowledge might be reawakened, let us see whether ignorance of hierarchy is in truth the black hole at the bottom of the world's woes.

The idea (from the Greek hieros, "sacred," and arche, "rule" or "origin") achieved full maturity in the sixth-century writings of Dionysius the Areopagite, wherein are expounded the divine principles of order and their manifestation in the celestial and terrestrial spheres. Fourteen centuries later, the modern looking-glass has flip- flopped the meaning of the word: no longer is hierarchy a joyous acclamation that there exist creatures above me and creatures below me, a safety net of being woven by the Creator, preserving me, victim of the first Fall into death of the flesh, from a further fall into the absurdity and consequent death of the spirit. (For where can I rise, where can I fall, into what heaven or hell, in a universe stripped of levels?) Hierarchy is now an intolerable suppression of my freedom and that of my neighbors. Order of the day: paradigms must be toppled, mountains razed.

Thus forty centuries of human enterprise are hammered flat. (Not only the work of the great civilizers but of the great rebels as well. Nietzsche had a keen sense of hierarchy; thus the ubermensch and Nietzsche's claim, both literal and figurative, to think better in the mountains. The irony is piquant, for Nietzsche's imprimatur is often attached to hierarchy's downfall, this metaphysical coup that ends all coups by abolishing all authority.) One sees the leveling instinct everywhere: in religion, where a proposal was recently floated by disaffected Catholics to elect the Pope through popular vote of all bishops after a vigorous round of whistle-stop campaigns; in the plastic arts, which have expunged iconography and perspective, the two guardians of visual order; in the narrative arts, whenever story is replaced by self-reflective surface gyrations (known politely as "pure style"); in architecture, where massive slabs and boxes crowd the sky, each an expression of height without levels. Above all, one sees it in science. Thus microbiologists foster the "selfish gene," in which human beings are puppets tugged willy-nilly by strands of DNA, while neo-Darwinians reject the image of evolution as a tree with human beings ascending in the topmost branches, substituting instead that of evolution as a bramble void of design. The most prominent modern Darwinist states the case succinctly:

A crab is not lower or less complex than a human being in any meaningful way. - Stephen Jay Gould
The line of battle couldn't be more clearly drawn. The principle of hierarchy is fundamental to the apprehension that ontological distinctions do exist; that only God is self-sufficient Being; that humans, as creatures, are contingent but made in the "likeness" of God; that noncorporeal intelligences occupy intermediate links in the Great Chain of Being (How curious that angels are now in vogue. Could this be another aspect of our disguised hunger for hierarchy: if you squelch it in one place, it springs up in another?); that animals sing a less meaningful song in the universal chorus, for meaning is inextricably bound up with free will and moral choice. (Some research indicates that animals display a spectrum of acts that ape, so to speak, those of human beings, such as making tools and war. But this observation, if confirmed, would simply refine our understanding of the Great Chain of Being, not redefine it or, as extreme animal rightists would have it, melt it down into post-industrial slag.)

Hierarchy, in fact, defines all traditional religions, including those of Native Americans, popularly lauded for their resistance to caste; witness my students' consternation when, in the process of schematizing a Navajo emergence tale, they uncover that old discarded evolutionary tree, for the Navajo sing of human creation as an ascension through the realm of insects (black world), birds (blue world), mammals (yellow world), into that of men (rainbow world) and gods. Hierarchy is part and parcel of perception; we discern, therefore we order, therefore we establish above and below.

What social consequences result from the abolition of levels? First, the collapse of the family: The nuclear unit of father, mother, and child (epitomized for Christians by the Holy Family) is traditionally understood as the earthly reflection of a divine order, a web of relationships cohering through love. One doesn't need St. Paul's dicta in 1 Corinthians 11:3 to know that hierarchy binds the family. One merely needs to discern that by virtue of their different natures, mother and father hold different offices (nurturer and protector, to paint it broadly) in the commonweal. In their respective territories, each is a ruling monarch, with the child as loving subject. These days, by contrast, we practice family democracy-which means, in effect, rule of the child, the tail wagging the dog. When this is not the case, too often we find the single-parent family, a result of abdication by one of the monarchs (usually the king) or refusal by the queen to marry in the first place. In either case, this domestic tragedy often leads, as abdications and revolutions are wont to do, to a tilt toward anarchy.

Next, abortion. At first, "choice" may seem to affirm hierarchy by granting the mother ontological superiority over the fetus. The unborn child is part of the mother's body (it "belongs" to the mother) and thus subordinate. Sometimes the fetus is degraded further, usually on the counsel of well-meaning medical professionals eager to protect the moral sensibilities of their patients, into a lump, albeit a complex and strangely fascinating lump, of unwelcome tissue. Such viewpoints, however, are the fruit of false hierarchies, in which the world, by dint of its fallen nature, necessarily abounds. Here the great religions answer with one voice: all human life is infinitely precious. It should be noted that many pro-choice advocates will reject my terminology, describing the world as a "web" rather than a hierarchy, in which mother and fetus coexist in delicate balance. But in this case, it is difficult to see abortion as other than a tragic exercise of power, in which one party can act and the other cannot. To grasp the wrenching realities that surround abortion, we must attempt to understand-literally, stand under, in a receptive posture-the teachings of tradition. Hierarchical truths, like so much else in the spiritual realm, are available only to those who seek them hierarchically. Faith is the mother of knowledge.

Then, unrestricted sexual indulgence. Why not? Without a hierarchy, who's to judge?

And let's not omit violence, murder, torture. If a human is no more meaningful than a crab and we boil crabs for dinner, why not do the same with humans? A modern riddle: How is a torture room different from a dining room? After all, the knives glitter just as brightly, and the victims are, as naturalist Harry Beston put it, just "separate nations." But lest I appear too Swiftian, let me point out that the animal-human equation is dangerously infectious. Thus, in New York City, whirlpooling teenagers justify their sexual assaults by likening themselves to dogs in heat.

Finally, the decline of the university. The advent of deconstruction (the hermeneutics of suspicion), in which the ordering principle is reduced to the pull and tug of conflicting powers, is the death-knell of culture. Many students today cannot experience, say, Yeats' "Leda and the Swan" as a glory of English poetry; they perceive it only as a vehicle for sexist, Eurocentric imperialism. The real subversion of hierarchy here is the assumption that certain human activities, e.g., the aesthetic, moral, or spiritual, cannot override or subsume other activities, e.g., the political. Thus the proliferation of "Bible as literature" courses, in which the Bible as revelation receives nary a nod.

The lessons are obvious. The cure, alas, is not. Perhaps we need to open a Hierarchy Academy, to which all able-minded young Americans must devote two years of service. Tasks would include listening to elders, reverencing human life, kneeling or bowing before God in all His manifestations. Funding, of course, will not be forthcoming. Well, then, perhaps a national thought experiment might do the trick. Imagine what the world would be like if some of the hierarchies so widely attacked were instantly dismantled: if the visible Church ceased to exist, with its pomp and pageantry, its metaphysical and moral instruction, its international network of charities. Or if the federal government ceased to function. No taxes-but also no Social Security, no military. Even if we grant for a moment that these examples-ecclesia, government-are arthritic exoskeletons, consider the heart of the matter, the interpenetrating triad of faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these, says St. Paul in the greatest of all hierarchical proclamations, is love. What if these three-and above all, love-should vanish?

My thought experiment is rhetorical, but it tells us that our very world is at stake, or at the least-is this so different?-our sacred relationship to the world. What is demanded is nothing less than a volte-face on the part of all who guide and all who follow. We must learn once again, in all humility, how to discern true from false, good from bad, high from low. Pastors must teach their flocks that humans are neither dogs nor gods, but something in between, and that therein lies our promise. Teachers must explain that learning is a ladder, its feet planted in basic skills, its rungs levels of understanding, its top aslant the mount of Wisdom. Parents must make it clear that the egg does not instruct the chicken. This project of moral, aesthetic, social, political, and scientific dimensions is, in utter truth, the Final Battle.

Here, then, is another little quiz for my students (one that, while based on New Testament and Hebrew Bible sources, can be taken, if approached in the right spirit, by anyone of any faith):

What do the following three images tell us about human beings, about God, about hierarchy?
(1) A holy temple in a holy city in a holy land.
(2) The faithful gathered around the elders in that temple.
(3) Those temple elders gathered around a twelve-year-old boy.
What does a Volvo mechanic know that the world has forgotten?

Philip Zaleski, a new contributor to First Things, teaches Religion at Smith College and English at Wesleyan University.

On The Other Hand

Sorting Us Out

Peter L. Berger

All persons of good will have reason to rejoice over the progress made in recent years in building a society of racial justice in America. More progress may confidently be expected under the present Administration, which has put diversity on the national agenda all the way to the highest levels of government. (In this Administration, there are white public interest lawyers, black public interest lawyers, gay public interest lawyers . . . ) Still, as was to be expected, there are problems. Under the leadership of the President, these problems will be faced squarely and tackled in the spirit of principled pragmatism for which he has been justly praised.

Inside reports indicate that, since there had been some confusion in this matter, the Department of Justice, under instructions of the Attorney General-who, if this were England, could look forward to retirement as Lady Janet of Waco-has recently put together an official list of Federally Scheduled Ethnic Entities. (According to Washington gossip, this term was coined by a political appointee who had been a Peace Corps volunteer in India. He had been greatly impressed there by the progress made in combatting the injustices of caste by the Schedule of Castes, Tribes, and Other Backward Classes, who are given preferences in education and government employment. Added up, they now include some 70 percent of the population.)

Those involved in the drafting process insist on two important points. First, they emphasize that in preparing this list the Department is well aware of the fact that it pertains to only one category of victims of injustice. In seeking to facilitate redress for those who have suffered as a result of ethnic or racial discrimination, the Department will not relax its vigilance against all the other forms of oppression-those based on gender, sexual orientation, age, appearance, physical or mental handicap, veteran status, and-oh yes-religion. (Speaking on deep background, a spokesperson clarified the last point by supporting the rights of groups using hallucinogenic substances in worship, though she admitted to some doubts about animal sacrifice.) Second, drafters insist that the proposed list of FSEEs is simply intended to help employers and others to define more clearly the categories of people to be scheduled for inclusion in a properly diversified labor force. These schedules are to be understood as goals, not quotas.

A leaked copy of the draft indicates that the list is indeed clear and simple. It consists of African Americans, Latinos/Latinas (a.k.a. Hispanics), Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and People of the Northern Sun (a.k.a. Eskimos). No hyphens, please. All other people are to be designated as whites (lower case).

So far, so good. Still, there may be problems. What if individuals, unhappy with being in lower case, try to sneak in? How is one to catch cheaters? And even with the best intentions of joining the struggle for racial justice, some individuals may have difficulty categorizing themselves. Given the history of past injustices, it may be supposed that any degree of descent from an FSEE would allow a white to move up from lower case. (There is an element of poetic justice here. Remember how octoroons were treated in the Old South?) But what if a Person of the Northern Sun marries an African American? How is the offspring of this union to be properly classified and scheduled?

The matter of possible cheaters is not at all academic. Quite recently, a municipal employee in a New England community was brought up on charges for allegedly having misrepresented his racial status. The man looked very white indeed, but he had declared himself to be black. By way of evidence he produced a faded photograph, allegedly depicting his black grandmother. One can see the problems faced by the disciplinary board. Even if, by the use of whatever methods of forensic technology, the photograph could be definitely determined as depicting an African American woman, and even if the latter's grandmotherly identity could be verified, would this be enough to validate the employee's claim to legally acceptable blackness?

However, deliberate cheating is not the main problem. By and large, Americans are honest people. They are also amorous in thoughtless disregard of the requirements of legal orderliness and social reform. This is nothing new. (Think again of those ante-bellum octoroons.) It becomes a serious problem in the present phase of the long march toward a society free of racism. If unemployed whites will try to sneak into the quota-pardon, the scheduled goal-for African American municipal employees-and, worse, if Eskimos will insist on marrying and reproducing with, say, Asian Americans (or even, horribile dictu, with individuals in lower case), well, something will have to be done.

If there's a will, there's a way. A few years ago South Africa abolished its Population Registration Act, under which every individual had his or her racial status officially determined and recorded. A large body of experts was employed in the administration of this law. Many of these people are now unemployed or, if lucky, employed in positions where their special skills are unused. They would no doubt welcome an invitation to come to the United States and assume jobs in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Those people can spot a black a mile away. They are also pretty good at spotting Asians. (Some of them, especially those with German surnames coming from what used to be Southwest Africa, also have expertise in detecting Jews. Since Jews will not be considered FSEEs in this country, this particular skill will presumably have to remain unused.) Some training may be necessary for the determination of Hispanic and Pacific Islander identity. This should not be difficult. After all, it's the attitude that counts. As they say in Afrikaans, "What's bred into the bones will come out in the teeth."

Of course, these experts had something else going for them-the Immorality Act, which prohibited sexual relations (in marriage or outside) across the officially defined racial groups. This may be a more difficult idea to put across in the United States. Even though the combined effects of radical feminism and the fear of AIDS have greatly reduced the frequency of sexual intercourse in this country, large numbers of Americans continue to copulate with some enthusiasm and with little regard for the imperatives of social justice. The Administration will have to apply its best brains to the search for further pragmatic solutions. Anyway, who said that apartheid would be easy?

Peter L. Berger, a member of the Editorial Board of First Things, is Director of the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture at Boston University. This is the first in a series of reflections