Copyright (c) 1997 First Things 73 (May 1997): 59-78.
A reader who has been keeping count claims that we’ve had six items in the past year poking fun at the antismoking crusade. What gives? she wants to know. It’s probably not unrelated to my enjoying a cigar, but it’s the sanctimonious tone of the crusade that provokes. At another level, I’m fascinated by the phenomenal success of an overtly moralistic movement in a time dominated by the dogma that you must not impose your morality on others.
Thomas Laqueur of the University of California at Berkeley reviews a number of books on smoking (meaning, mainly, cigarette smoking) and concludes with this: "They are the result of a new vision of what health means, or more precisely, of what death does not mean. It is telling, for example, that the Centers for Disease Control, in a recent calculation of the health costs of smoking, tallied up the total bill for the sicknesses of smokers and not just the increment that might be attributed to the habit itself. As if nonsmokers will enjoy eternal good health! There is something literally death-defying about the contemporary opposition to cigarettes, a kind of rage that anyone would not choose 2.2 years of ‘healthy’ life over a somewhat shortened and pleasurable existence, a resolute resistance to the intimations of death with which our ancestors knew how to live, and not only when they lit up. The debate about smoking—like the debate about euthanasia, suicide, the withholding of medical treatment, and the quality of life—would be deepened by the admission that life is itself a mortal illness, that the chimes of midnight are never as distant as we hope."
Laqueur is right, I think, about the mendacity stains on the antismoking crusade, and about the link with the denial of death. I can think, however, of no reason to encourage the cigarette habit and of many to discourage it. Among the latter is that, while people find cigarettes "pleasurable," they are not at all happy with their felt need to smoke them. Very large numbers wish they could quit, and one reason they wish that is because of the social pressure that views smoking as a vice—at least in America and, increasingly, in Europe.
Four centuries ago, tobacco ran riot around the world, entrenching itself in the collective psyche in a manner that became seductively associated with pleasure, sex, virility, women’s liberation, and the denial of mortality. The last is as important for the smoking young as it is for the crusading antismokers of all ages. The crusade, some say, is provoking an increase in teenage smoking by providing another adult convention to defy. That seems plausible.
I don’t know if the world would be a better place if nobody smoked. I’m sure it would be a better place if everybody, smokers and nonsmokers alike, were more considerate of the pleasures of others. And I do think there is an element of hope in the crusade’s demonstration that moral appeal and censure can affect a behavior so widespread, although goodness knows there are evils much more in need of our moral attention.
First published in 1948 and running through many reprints, Christianity and Communism Today by the late John C. Bennett laid down the "moderate" liberal line on the subject, a line that dominated mainline Protestant thinking up until the fall of the Soviet Union. John Bennett was a friend and a very gentle man. Long the president of Union Seminary in New York, he was thought to have inherited the mantle of Reinhold Niebuhr. His 1948 book was indeed moderate by comparison with the enthusiastic Marxism of the liberation theologians who were to come. Bennett’s own The Radical Imperative of 1975 would, by comparison, make the earlier book appear to be an anti-Communist polemic.
Moderates typically set "socialism" and "capitalism" side by side, and found the former much superior as an ideal. In this view the idealistic Soviet experiment under Lenin was rudely distorted by Stalin, whose brutal character and methods discredited communism. This standard account has itself been discredited by scholars many times over, but perhaps never so decisively as in Richard Pipes’ new book, The Unknown Lenin (Yale University Press). Lenin viewed utter ruthlessness as a virtue in dealing with his enemies, and especially with the Russian Orthodox Church. "The greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy and reactionary bourgeoisie we succeed in executing the better," he wrote to his assistants, and he wanted to be kept informed on how many clergy had been killed each day. In a 1918 directive demanding more executions, Lenin insisted that they be carried out in a way that would strike terror among the populace. "Do it in such a way that for hundreds of versts around the people will see, tremble, know, shout." (A verst is a little more than half a mile.)
A 1922 letter to the Politburo sets forth Lenin’s view of the campaign against the church: "For us this moment is not only exceptionally favorable but generally the only moment when we can, with ninety-nine out of a hundred chances of total success, smash the enemy and secure for ourselves an indispensable position for many decades to comes. It is precisely now and only now, when in the starving regions people are eating human flesh, and hundreds if not thousands of corpses are littering the roads, that we can (and therefore must) carry out the confiscation of church valuables with the most savage and merciless energy, not stopping [short of] crushing any resistance. . . . We must, come what may, carry out the confiscation of church valuables in the most decisive and rapid manner, so as to secure for ourselves a fund of several hundred million gold rubles. . . . One wise writer on matters of statecraft [Machiavelli, The Prince, chapter eight] rightly said that if it is necessary to resort to certain brutalities for the sake of realizing a certain political goal, they must be carried out in the most energetic fashion and in the briefest time because the masses will not tolerate prolonged application of brutality. . . . Therefore, I come to the categorical conclusion that precisely at this moment we must give battle to the . . . clergy in the most decisive and merciless manner and crush its resistance with such brutality that it will not forget it for decades to come."
Indeed, the "battle" that resulted in the killing of hundreds of thousands of priests and nuns was not forgotten, except by Western apologists for Soviet tyranny. David Remnick recently interviewed Mikhail Gorbachev, who, among many other things, had this to say: "‘I can only say that cruelty was the main problem with Lenin,’ Gorbachev added. ‘Had the Russians continued along the path of the February revolution, had they continued on a path of political pluralism, it would have been a different situation. Russia at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century was developing quite dynamically, and had they gone on that way it would have been much better.’"
Remnick comments: "What a remarkable admission! Here was a man who had struggled for and finally inherited the top position in the Party admitting that, yes, Russia would have been better off had those two signposts of his life and beliefs—the October revolution and Lenin himself—never existed. Instead, Russia might have flourished if the leaders of the decidedly bourgeois February revolution had been strong enough to ward off the Bolsheviks and develop more or less in synch with the democratic, capitalist West."
Coming from Gorbachev, it is a remarkable admission. Yet those who made the effort to understand understood this from the beginning. Lenin, Pipes, the Remnick interview, John C. Bennett—these come together in this reflection prompted by a reader who is writing on Bennett and wants to know whether I think he was a "cold warrior." Yes, the earlier Bennett, more directly under the influence of Niebuhr, was a cold warrior, which I take not to be a term of opprobrium. After World War II, in a period often described as "the end of ideology," anti-Communism was supported by a firm liberal consensus. By the late sixties, however, Bennett, like so many others, became a fervent anti-anti-Communist. Vietnam had everything to do with it. That tragically failed policy was construed not as an aberration but as an exemplification of America’s perfidious role in the world. Thirty years later, that construal is widely established as orthodoxy in the academy and other institutions of the knowledge class.
It is good to have Pipes’ exposé of Lenin and Gorbachev’s acknowledgment of the obvious, but the West is still a very long way from appreciating the full horror of the Evil Empire. Although the death toll of communism is many times greater than that of Nazism, we have nothing comparable to the literature on the Holocaust that has so indelibly imprinted that monstrous evil on our minds. This is a great loss for Christians, who are generally unaware that this century has seen more martyrs for the faith than all the prior centuries combined. Despite the heroic efforts of Solzhenitsyn and a few others, the martyrs under communism are not known in the West. During the long years of the Cold War, those who tried to lift them up were derided as dangerous anti-Communists who threatened peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union, and threatened to make the United States look better by comparison with the unspeakably bad. The Soviet empire is buried, but the habits of anti-anti-communism live on.
At the End of Days, the martyrs who died in the Gulag Archipelago will rise by the millions from beneath the frozen earth of Siberia.
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple."
But they should not have to wait for their recognition until the End of Days. It is we, not they, who need their recognition. It is we, more than they, who need to understand why it is that so many Christians in the West were, and still are, blind—willfully blind, it would seem—to the testimony of the martyrs.
A fundraising letter from the B’nai B’rith Foundation of the U.S. urges people to send in money to help "expose and overturn" last year’s resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to support the evangelization of Jews. "Please, send as much as you can afford without delay. For the sake of our Jewish children. Our Jewish grandchildren," the letter appeals. The SBC resolution, it says, is "both condescending and contemptuous." "AT B’NAI B’RITH WE HAVE A SIMPLE MESSAGE FOR THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: LEAVE OUR CHILDREN ALONE." Evangelization as child abuse? As though the SBC resolution targeted Jewish children. It is another instance of a growing phenomenon in which public advocacy today, whether pro or con almost anything, is pitched in terms of "our children."
It is especially interesting in this case because on almost any other subject most liberal parents—and most Jews are liberal—insist that they want their children to "be exposed to alternative viewpoints," to "make up their own minds," and so forth. B’nai B’rith is right, however: the religious training of children is too important to be left to chance. (Although its vague references to Jewish "heritage" and "values" leave it unclear whether B’nai B’rith is concerned about religion.) I hold no brief for the SBC resolution, and in fact have grave reservations about it. Among other things, it is premised upon an individualistic notion of salvation that neglects what St. Paul describes as the "mystery" of the continuing relationship between Israel and the Church (see Romans 9-11). I did have a brief comment in this space explaining why the SBC resolution is not anti-Semitic, for which Jacob Heilbrunn, in a notorious article in The New Republic, suggested I was an anti-Semite. As Irving Kristol has observed, the problem for Jewish parents is not that Christians hate their children, but that they want to marry them.
Moreover, B’nai B’rith seems not to understand that, in asking the SBC to "repeal" its resolution, it is asking Southern Baptists to abandon what is for them an article of faith, namely, that it is the obligation of Christians to try to bring absolutely everybody, including Jews, to a "saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior." B’nai B’rith says the SBC resolution is "deeply offensive" in its "basic lack of respect for Judaism as a sister religion." Many years ago, sociologist John Murray Cuddihy wrote an insightful book, No Offense, in which he argued that the "etiquette" of liberal Protestantism had established the civic dogma that all religious truths are equal—or at least the truths of enlightened Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.
But there are many Christians, perhaps most, and a significant number of Jews, who do not subscribe to that dogma. They are the people who take pluralism seriously, knowing that pluralism does not mean indifference to the truths that make the deepest difference. In a pluralistic society, communities of robust faith prepare their children to engage within the bond of civility truth claims contrary to their own. Of course, B’nai B’rith is free to try to pressure Southern Baptists into denying what they believe, but that is a campaign with a very low prospect of success. Nor does it seem a very promising way to secure the civic amity and mutual respect between Christians and Jews for which we are all responsible.
Last time I discussed Father Michael Baxter’s Pro Ecclesia article in which he excoriates theologians and historians who suggest a too-neat fit between Catholicism and the American Way of Life. Fr. Baxter is at the epicenter of a furious dispute at the University of Notre Dame. The theology faculty refused him an appointment to the department, the president of the university appointed him anyway, and the faculty senate then censured the president. Amidst all the charges and countercharges, I confess to finding myself in an unusual position.
You may recall that I was critical of Fr. Baxter for his construing of Christianity "within the limits of morality alone." That is the same question around which Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University and I have been conducting a friendly argument for years and years. Hauerwas is Baxter’s mentor and was his dissertation director at Duke. Father Richard McBrien, who was for many years chairman of theology at Notre Dame and is now head of the faculty senate, is the sworn enemy of Hauerwas, whom he accuses, as he accuses Baxter, of being "sectarian." The hostility of McBrien played a significant part in Hauerwas’ leaving Notre Dame after fourteen years and going to Duke. So you see how the plot thickens.
For Hauerwas and Baxter, the Great Satan is "liberalism" and all its works, and all its pomps, and all its ways. In their view, the American political experiment is liberal to its rotten core, and Baxter in particular thinks the very core of the core is the First Amendment that pretends the state is "neutral" to religion when in fact it is an insidious instrument for taking Christianity captive to provide "legitimation" for a capitalist, consumerist, warmongering society. His is a very severe indictment indeed.
I believe Hauerwas and Baxter are wrong about many things, but they are intelligently wrong on things very much worth arguing about. We share the conviction that authentic Christianity must be, in many respects, emphatically countercultural. This is inescapably the case with respect to the conflict between the "culture of life" and the "culture of death" so powerfully described in, for example, the encyclical Evangelium Vitae. (The old guard at Notre Dame has a demonstrated talent for complexifying the "simplistic" formulations of such as Pope John Paul II.) At the same time, Baxter in particular has a social, political, and economic analysis that leads him to unambiguously assault aspects of the American condition that I believe should be supported, albeit critically. Both the assault and the support must be subjected to rigorous interrogation.
As for Fr. McBrien and the ancien régime of theology at Notre Dame, they represent a generation that tends toward, to put it delicately, flabby and uncritical accommodationism. Catholicism is identified with the "Americanist" readiness to trim Catholic distinctives in order not to offend cultural sensibilities. Of course, that’s how I describe their position; they say they are engaged in sympathetic dialogue with the culture. But most everyone agrees that for the establishment the alignments that matter are defined by the old liberal/conservative polarities. Liberalism as an abstraction can be criticized at the edges, but never in a way that might raise a doubt about one’s being a liberal. For McBrien and his liberal colleagues, the chief foe is a Vatican that gets in the way of a thoroughly "Americanized" Church. Baxter and those of like mind think that Americanization is not the solution but the problem.
Baxter is on most questions a theological conservative, but on matters social and political he is pretty much an unexpurgated lefty, as was the case with his heroine, Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement. His politics would be no problem for Notre Dame, were it not driven by a theology so suspiciously orthodox. Father Lawrence Cunningham, current head of the theology department, says that, since Baxter has been imposed on them, he wants to make him feel at home. "I’ve always argued that the Catholic tradition is like a big salad bar," Cunningham says. "There are a lot of things you can put on your plate, and one of those is a religious identity that stands against the predominant culture." It’s hard to have a really good argument with a salad bar. Baxter wants an argument, and he wants it to be a theological argument.
He doesn’t buy it when Cunningham says the Catholic approach is "both/and" rather than "either/or." That, says Baxter, is a logical fallacy. "If one wishes to espouse a both/and approach in theology then one is logically compelled to allow both the both/and approach and the either/or approach." It is more than a nice debater’s point. I know from limited experience that Father Either/Or Baxter can be a difficult man, but the theological difficulties he poses are very much needed by the bland and wilting salad bar Catholicism of the Notre Dame theology department. Perhaps the fact that I was so critical of him last month will prompt some in the department to look upon him more favorably. After all, if Neuhaus disagrees with him so strongly he can’t be all that bad. That was not my intention in writing the piece, but I’m always glad to be of service.
Whatever happened to the communitarian movement? It’s still knocking about, not least of all in the halls of the current Administration in Washington. "Communitarianism" bespeaks a disposition that can take many forms, but its more recent epiphany as a movement is chiefly the work of sociologist Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University, who in the late 1980s orchestrated a Communitarian Manifesto to which a number of figures associated with FT, including this writer, subscribed. It was a Tocquevillian call to check the unbridled assertion of individualistic rights with the claims of community, tradition, and personal responsibility. At least that is how I and others understood it, but soon Prof. Etzioni was taking the initiative in directions where I and others could not go. After some friendly discussions of our differences, I quietly dissociated myself.
The New Communitarians and the Crisis of Modern Liberalism by Bruce Frohnen (University Press of Kansas) is a sharply critical treatment of the movement that highlights the ways in which the communitarian impulse has been hijacked by people such as Mario Cuomo and Hillary Clinton. Reviewing the book in the Times Literary Supplement, Roger Kimball shares Frohnen’s misgivings. "We can get a hint of what communitarianism in action looks like from a speech that President Clinton’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, delivered in 1991 when she was chancellor of the University of Wisconsin. Imagining what a typical little girl named Renata would be thinking and learning in the year 2004, Secretary Shalala reports that ‘Renata doesn’t know any moms who don’t work, but she knows lots of moms who are single. She knows some children who have two dads, or live with their mothers and their grandmothers. In her school books, there are lots of different kinds of friends and families.’ After school, Renata goes to a city-run day care center where ‘sometimes, she and her best friend, Josh, play trucks, sometimes they play mommy and daddy, and Josh always puts the baby to bed and changes the diapers, just like his own dad does at home.’ At Thanksgiving, Renata’s teacher will tell a story about how people from Europe came to the United States, where the Indians lived. She will say, ‘It was just the same as if someone had come into your yard and taken all your toys and told you they weren’t yours anymore.’"
Shalala and others know that the egalitarian utopia they have in mind will not come about by itself. For that they need programs such as the federal "Goals 2000" Act, which sets up national standards in education for "gender-equitable and multicultural" teaching. While presenting themselves as champions of equality, these communitarians take it upon themselves to reeducate the rest of society. This troubles Frohnen: "Reeducation is by nature inegalitarian. In any program of reeducation a self-selected group of intellectuals asserts that it has the authority to decide what kind of character and belief everyone should have." I don’t think we should be bothered by the inegalitarian nature of reeducation or education. That’s inevitable. We should be bothered by the substance of what is taught, and by the exclusion of parents from a determinative say in what their children are taught.
Frohnen, Kimball, and others are also concerned about the communitarians’ instrumental approach to "civil religion." Religion is a very good thing for social cohesion and the cultivation of virtues, but the benefits cannot be separated from commitment to the transcendent. The irony of communitarianism, says Frohnen, is that its adherents place themselves beyond the beliefs they seek to foster, and thus "sap the sources of the communal feelings they crave." This is a more serious criticism than the movement’s offenses against egalitarianism.
That modern liberalism is in crisis no thoughtful person should doubt. I believe the crisis is, at bottom, one of authority. To put it too briefly, liberalism cannot give an account of obliging social and political truths that are in accord with human flourishing. Some years ago, the Urban League encouraged people to wear buttons declaring, "Give a damn"—meaning we should care about justice, the cities, the poor, the young, and so forth. But, put to the wall, modern liberalism cannot convincingly explain why we should give a damn. In 1971 John Rawls attempted such an explanation in A Theory of Justice, and it was all the rage for a long while. We haven’t heard much about Rawls lately. A Theory of Justice turned out to be the last gasp of a liberalism whose crisis turned out to be terminal.
Etzioni and his colleagues were right to see that religion, and traditional communities grounded in religion, could give the convincing reasons that liberalism lacked. Frohnen may judge them too harshly on the basis of others, such as Mrs. Clinton and Secretary Shalala, who tried to use communitarianism to revive liberalism as we knew it. But Etzioni, too, had a blind spot when it came to religion. Religion is divisive, it was thought, while morality brings us together; let us therefore embrace the morality while steering clear of the religion. But, of course, they should not be, and finally cannot be, separated that way. In fact, the communitarian movement also wanted to steer clear of morality at the points where it threatened to be divisive. This was most notably the case with abortion. Etzioni wanted nothing to do with the question. And yet the most inescapable of communitarian questions is the question posed by abortion: Who belongs to the community for which we accept common responsibility?
As a theory and practice of politics, modern liberalism is not in crisis; it is dead. Political identity and political allegiance in this or any other society can be constituted only by the acknowledgment of obliging truths that direct us to care for one another in the service of a transcendent end (telos). As in "one nation under God"—meaning a people under judgment and providential care. Modern liberalism lost its telos a long time ago; it is all means without ends, and in recent years even the means went haywire. People such as Rawls tried to reconstitute the political community by reviving the old notion of the social contract. But the fictional persons behind Rawls’ famously complicated "veil of ignorance" were essentially asking themselves only one question: "What’s in it for me?" That’s hardly the basis for reestablishing community.
To their credit, the communitarians realized that, and reached out to "tradition," "civil society," and other sources that supply meanings that are more than the product of individual willfulness. With the passing of communitarianism, or perhaps with the beginning of a quite new phase of communitarianism, serious political thought is moved slowly, hesitantly, protestingly, to the question of ends. The movement is so painfully reluctant because it is rightly intuited that there is no way of engaging the question of telos without, in one way or another, deliberating the ultimate end by which penultimate ends are made morally compelling. For secular liberals, this is not where modernity was supposed to end up.
I don’t know Secretary of State Madeleine Albright well. When she was Ambassador to the United Nations and President Bush had appointed me to a commission examining U.S. policy toward that organization, she came across in meetings as a very capable and no-nonsense sort of person. I was favorably impressed. Now there is this business about her family being Jewish and some of them having perished in the Holocaust. The daughter of a Czechoslovakian diplomat, she was baptized in the Catholic Church, reared in London and the U.S., and became Episcopalian when she married many years ago. It is not clear how much she knew of her past, but apparently she decided to put it firmly behind her.
There has been much chatter in the press about how the discovery of her Jewish background means she must now struggle with changing her "identity." Some have unkindly speculated about her being an opportunist who climbed the social ladder from Jew to Catholic to Episcopalian. In what world are they living? Today the progression of ascendancy is the reverse, with Jews being the most successful by almost every index of success, and Catholics of European descent not far behind. A movie star was asked why he claimed to be Jewish when he wasn’t. "Simple," he answered, "I’m a social climber." Some have suggested that Albright feared that the "taint" of being Jewish would prevent her from becoming Secretary of State. Maybe they should talk to Henry Kissinger.
Whatever she did or did not know about her background, it contained horrors and ambiguities about which she seemed to be determinedly uncurious. She decided to get on with her life. One can imagine perfectly honorable and intensely personal reasons for such a decision. One writer to the New York Times says, "The only possible interpretation of this secrecy is that she doesn’t like being a Jew." That is malicious nonsense. The one thing that is most striking to me in the discussion to date is that nobody has mentioned the possibility that Secretary Albright is a convinced Christian. Because she was as a child presumably—and there is good reason to doubt this—baptized for reasons of expediency, it is assumed by some that, having discovered her Jewishness, she should drop her accidental Christianity and embrace her identity as a Jew. As the Times editors put it in a heading over a slew of letters on the subject, "Secretary Albright Must Embrace Her Past to Shape the Future."
Secretary Albright’s father did not become a Christian and have his daughter baptized in order to escape from Nazi occupation. That happened after they were already settled in London. Against those who depict her father’s religious decision in opportunistic colors, there is also the fact that he became a Catholic, a distinctly downmarket connection at that time in England. Had he an eye to upward mobility, he would have joined the Church of England. In any event, I don’t know what Secretary Albright knew about her background, or what she decided or why she decided it. Since I’m not her spiritual director, I have no need to know. Nor does anybody else. Maybe she will offer further public explanations. And maybe not. That’s her business. Meanwhile, she is an impressive lady and I wish her well.
A coalition government headed by Prime Minister Necmettin Erbaken is, according to his opponents, leading Turkey in a "dangerously religious" direction. Stephen Kinzer of the New York Times reports from Ankara that self-described secularists are alarmed that "Kemalism," the rigorously secularizing project launched by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk seventy-four years ago, is in the process of being undone. The army and civil service have been the guardians of Ataturk’s legacy, and over the years have routinely excluded from their ranks Muslims who are thought to be too religious. The principle is that religion and public life must be kept absolutely separate.
Says a spokesman for the foreign ministry, "Christians had a period of brutal fanaticism, but you also had your Renaissance. You have had hundreds of years to distance yourself from religious extremism, so now when your President puts his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office you don’t see anything wrong. But in Turkey, our Renaissance began with Ataturk. We need time to let these ideas take hold." An academic specialist on Islam observes: "A veil is lifting in Turkey. As it lifts, we’re seeing that this country is more religious than people think, and a million times more than secularists would like. The idea of a greater role for religion in public life has widespread support in Turkey. So as the country becomes more democratic, you see more Islamic influence."
Actually, Prime Minister Erbaken’s Welfare Party seems to be quite moderate in the steps it is proposing. Speaking of veils lifting, for instance, the government has rescinded rules that prohibited female students and government workers from covering their heads. The changes are hardly radical, says Justice Minister Sevket Kazan, but "the press shouts that Turkey is on the way to becoming Iran or Algeria." "In liberal systems, people are supposed to be free to act as they please. If a woman wants to cover her hair with a scarf, she should be able to do that without being discriminated against. If that isn’t possible, then her human rights are being violated." Nonetheless, the combination of democracy and talk about human rights has some secularists talking about the prospect of "civil war."
The claim that in the West the fanaticism of Christianity was tempered by the Renaissance is piquantly ill-informed. In the Anglo-American experience especially, Christianity was the full partner, indeed committed Christians were the driving force, in the development of the ideas and institutions of democracy. The comparison with Ataturk does not hold at all. However wise on many scores, he was a dictator who by raw force drove a wedge between state and society. His radically secularized state could be maintained only at the expense of democracy by excluding the convictions and habits of the people from everything defined as "public." He decreed, and by military power imposed, a naked public square, and it isn’t working in Turkey any more than it can work anywhere else.
The resurgence of society in Turkey, including its religious dynamics, is part of the worldwide phenomenon described by Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Of course there are worrying aspects in this, not least being the dismal record of Islamic societies when it comes to democracy and religious freedom for non-Muslims. If they can overcome their ideological secularism, elites in Turkey might welcome the prospect of their country becoming a demonstration that Islam and democracy are not incompatible. Rather than embracing that challenge, however, those who have been in charge for most of this century seem prepared to forego democracy. In taking the position that the stark choice is between rigid secularism and religious fanaticism, they take the side of Stephen Kinzer and the paper for which he writes. It is also the position of religious fanatics, of whom there are some here and no doubt many in Turkey. If the choice between fanaticisms, whether secular or religious, is the only thing on offer, the prospects for democracy are dim and talk about civil war may not be alarmist.
The above is the title of a splendid article by Leon Kass in the Winter 1997 issue of the Public Interest. Leon and his wife Amy, both professors at the University of Chicago, are preparing a book on the subject of marriage and courtship for one of our institute projects dealing with what we call "everyday ethics." In this article, Kass declares himself rather pessimistic about the prospects of rebuilding cultural patterns that have been undermined by dynamics so deep and pervasive.
"Here is a (partial) list of the recent changes that hamper courtship and marriage: the sexual revolution, made possible especially by effective female contraception; the ideology of feminism and the changing educational and occupational status of women; the destigmatization of bastardy, divorce, infidelity, and abortion; the general erosion of shame and awe regarding sexual matters, exemplified most vividly in the ubiquitous and voyeuristic presentation of sexual activity in movies and on television; widespread morally neutral sex education in schools; the explosive increase in the numbers of young people whose parents have been divorced (and in those born out of wedlock, who have never known their father); great increases in geographic mobility, with a resulting loosening of ties to place and extended family of origin; and, harder to describe precisely, a popular culture that celebrates youth and independence not as a transient stage en route to adulthood but as ‘the time of our lives,’ imitable at all ages, and an ethos that lacks transcendent aspirations and asks of us no devotion to family, God, or country, encouraging us simply to soak up the pleasures of the present."
Like a growing number of cultural critics who are not Catholic, Kass has come to conclusions regarding contraception that are similar to the prophetic warnings contained in Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae.
"The sexual revolution that liberated (especially) female sexual desire from the confines of marriage, and even from love and intimacy, would almost certainly not have occurred had there not been available cheap and effective female birth control—the pillfor the first time severed female sexual activity from its generative consequences. Thanks to technology, a woman could declare herself free from the teleological meaning of her sexuality—as free as a man appears to be from his. Her menstrual cycle, since puberty a regular reminder of her natural maternal destiny, is now anovulatory and directed instead by her will and her medications, serving goals only of pleasure and convenience, enjoyable without apparent risk to personal health and safety. Woman on the pill is thus not only freed from the practical risk of pregnancy; she has, wittingly or not, begun to redefine the meaning of her own womanliness. Her sexuality unlinked to procreation, its exercise no longer needs to be concerned with the character of her partner and whether he is suitable to be the father and co-rearer of her yet-to-be-born children. Female sexuality becomes, like male, unlinked to the future. The new woman’s anthem: Girls just want to have fun. Ironically, but absolutely predictably, the chemicals devised to assist in family planning keep many a potential family from forming, at least with a proper matrimonial beginning.
"Sex education in our elementary and secondary schools is an independent yet related obstacle to courtship and marriage. Taking for granted, and thereby ratifying, precocious sexual activity among teenagers (and even pre-teens), most programs of sex education in public schools have a twofold aim: the prevention of teenage pregnancy and the prevention of venereal disease, especially AIDS. While some programs also encourage abstinence or noncoital sex, most are concerned with teaching techniques for ‘safe sex’; offspring (and disease) are thus treated as (equally) avoidable side effects of sexuality, whose true purpose is only individual pleasure. (This I myself did not learn until our younger daughter so enlightened me, after she learned it from her seventh-grade biology teacher.) The entire approach of sex education is technocratic and, at best, morally neutral; in many cases, it explicitly opposes traditional morals while moralistically insisting on the equal acceptability of any and all forms of sexual expression provided only that they are not coerced. No effort is made to teach the importance of marriage as the proper home for sexual intimacy."
Leon and Amy Kass have been teaching a course on courtship at the university, and have noted significant changes in student attitudes. This in a footnote: "In years past, students identified with Hamlet because of his desire to make a difference in the world. Today, they identify with him because of his ‘broken home’—the death of his father and the too-hasty remarriage of his mother. Thus, to them it is no wonder that he, like they, has trouble in his ‘relationships.’" It is hard to overestimate the impact of divorce.
"The ubiquitous experience of divorce is also deadly for courtship and marriage. Some people try to argue, wishfully against the empirical evidence, that children of divorce will marry better than their parents because they know how important it is to choose well. But the deck is stacked against them. Not only are many of them frightened of marriage, in whose likely permanence they simply do not believe, but they are often maimed for love and intimacy. They have had no successful models to imitate; worse, their capacity for trust and love has been severely crippled by the betrayal of the primal trust all children naturally repose in their parents, to provide that durable, reliable, and absolutely trustworthy haven of permanent and unconditional love in an otherwise often unloving and undependable world.
"Countless students at the University of Chicago have told me and my wife that the divorce of their parents has been the most devastating and life-shaping event of their lives. They are conscious of the fact that they enter into relationships guardedly and tentatively; for good reason, they believe that they must always be looking out for number one. Accordingly, they feel little sense of devotion to another and, their own needs unmet, they are not generally eager for or partial to children. They are not good bets for promise keeping, and they haven’t enough margin for generous service. And many of the fatherless men are themselves unmanned for fatherhood, except in the purely biological sense. Even where they dream of meeting a true love, these children of divorce have a hard time finding, winning, and committing themselves to the right one."
Our troubles did not begin yesterday, Kass notes. "The separation of sex from procreation achieved in this half century by contraception was worked out intellectually much earlier; and the implications for marriage were drawn in theory well before they were realized in practice. Immanuel Kant, modernity’s most demanding and most austere moralist, nonetheless gave marriage a heady push down the slippery slope: Seeing that some marriages were childless, and seeing that sex had no necessary link to procreation, Kant redefined marriage as ‘a life-long contract for the mutual exercise of the genitalia.’ If this be marriage, the reason for its permanence, exclusivity, and fidelity vanishes."
The article concludes on a dour but not despairing note. "But it would appear to require a revolution to restore the conditions most necessary for successful courtship: a desire in America’s youth for mature adulthood (which means for marriage and parenthood), an appreciation of the unique character of the marital bond, understood as linked to generation, and a restoration of sexual self-restraint generally and of female modesty in particular.
"Frankly, I do not see how this last, most crucial, prerequisite can be recovered, nor do I see how one can do sensibly without it. As Tocqueville rightly noted, it is women who are the teachers of mores; it is largely through the purity of her morals, self-regulated, that woman wields her influence, both before and after marriage. Men, as Rousseau put it, will always do what is pleasing to women, but only if women suitably control and channel their own considerable sexual power. Is there perhaps some nascent young feminist out there who would like to make her name great and who will seize the golden opportunity for advancing the truest interest of women (and men and children) by raising (again) the radical banner, ‘Not until you marry me’? And, while I’m dreaming, why not also, ‘Not without my parents’ blessing’?"
Kenneth Woodward of Newsweek offers a spirited challenge to the feminization of American religion. Writing in Commonweal, he takes on the favored shibboleths of those who contend that Christianity "privileges" the male, and along the way has some important things to say about movements among Christian men such as Promise Keepers. "As I read it, the message of the Christian Men’s Movement is this: Following Jesus is not for women only, nor is it merely a spectator sport, which it tends to become for men in our domesticated, mostly female congregations. Consciously or unconsciously, the movement also validates an insight which sociologists confirm: The best predictor of whether a child will remain religious as an adult is not the religiosity of the mother—for children tend to take that for granted—but of the father, because he is not expected to be religious. That is, if the father demonstrates that religion is not foreign to what a man is and does, the child—especially the male child—is much more likely to be religious upon reaching adulthood."
Woodward is not encouraged by the statistics about the rising number of women in the seminaries. "Many are entering second careers, often after failing to find either success or fulfillment in their first choices. Many of the women, in particular, are divorced, quite a few are middle-aged, and many are single mothers." In addition: "Not only is feminist theology widely taught in seminaries, but the informal curriculum is also frankly and ideologically feminist. Not surprisingly, Protestant seminaries are also home to large numbers of lesbians and gay men. Anyone acquainted with Episcopal seminaries, for example, can tell you which ones cater to lesbians and gays. Some seminaries have housing especially for homosexuals. Catholics who fear the celibate priesthood is attracting too high a proportion of gay men should look at what is happening—what in fact has been institutionalized—at interdenominational and mainline Protestant seminaries. None of this augurs well for the masculine presence in the ministry—if by masculine we also mean heterosexual."
Woodward invokes Walter Ong’s insightful and undeservedly neglected book, Fighting for Life (Cornell University Press, 1981), that contends masculine and feminine are human contraries in a "ritual contest" that shapes maleness from "its biological base to its human heights." Ong notes that the Church is always and overwhelmingly feminine—Holy Mother Church—and in that feminine environment the all-male clergy is a necessary countervailing force.
Woodward concludes: "I have spent time on the Protestant experience because I want to indicate not only what is happening among our Christian brethren but also to suggest that the loosening of this dynamic tension may be one reason why mainline denominations are in such dire straits. The church as a profession is not like the law, medicine, or finance. Women who enter these professions do not change them; they are changed by the professions, and if they do not perform well they are out. But religion is different. Whatever else it is, religion is a symbol system and to change the symbols is to change the meaning that religion expresses. Surely there is need to incorporate, expand, and deepen what is feminine in religion. But there are limits. And as we can see in the exponents of post-Christian feminism, those limits have already been breached. My concern is not with theory or theology but with the atmosphere of ordinary American churches as I find them. And what I find in them is the gradual disappearance of anything that might adequately be described as masculine, no matter who in the hierarchy is calling the shots."
n Not everybody is so fortunate as Sarah H. of Boston. She has this very intelligent nephew in graduate school and included him on her list of family members, friends, and associates to whom we sent a sample issue of FT. Now a regular reader, he’s telling everyone in the family about his smart Aunt Sarah in Boston. They always knew she had money, but thought she was a bit on the slow side. But that’s only because she thinks before speaking. There’s no telling what might happen if you send us your list. Please do so soon. Like today.
n There’s a great to do over a certain Arab-British zillionaire who is rumored to be spreading money about in order to buy favorable media attention. Neil Simon of the Spectator doubts the truth of the rumors and concludes his skeptical rumination with this: "You cannot hope / to bribe or twist / thank God! the / British journalist. / But, seeing what / the man will do / unbribed, there’s no / occasion to." Needless to say, the traits of the journalistic fraternity are thoroughly international. It is another Brit who tells it all best. Preparing to go to the airport and St. Louis recently, I looked about my study for some light flight reading and settled on Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, which I hadn’t returned to for years. Its portrayal of William Boot of the Beast is by far the most hilarious send-up of the scribbler’s craft I’ve ever come across. By an improbable series of errors, the innocent Boot is sent off to cover a nonexistent civil war in Ishmaelia (a.k.a. Ethiopia), and a fellow journalist has to explain to him why it is important to beat the competition in sending back stories: "You know, you’ve got a lot to learn about journalism. Look at it this way. News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead. We’re paid to supply news. If someone else has sent a story before us, our story isn’t news." Through many farcical twists and turns, Boot scoops the competition and returns to England a national hero. There he meets an admiring young man who dreams of being a reporter like his hero Boot. The young man has been to a school of journalism and explains to Boot that he practices by imagining a big news story and then trying to write it up. "Do you think it’s a good way of training oneself—inventing imaginary news?" he asks. "None better," says Boot. It’s a great book, but I suppose I should go easy on journalists. In St. Louis I was introduced as a distinguished theologian, social critic—"and a noted journalist." I pleaded innocent but the damage was done.
n Reviewing Philip Gleason’s excellent history of Catholic higher education, Contending with Modernity, our premier evangelical church historian, Mark Noll of Wheaton, says Gleason’s argument has much wider application. "What this Catholic story offers to believers of other flavors can be put bluntly: While solid, well-defined theological boundaries can be enforced in ways that stifle productive Christian thinking, sustained, meaningful, doxological Christian thought will not flourish unless such boundaries exist in some form." Noll concludes: "In the end, Protestants who are interested in higher education have a special reason to read Gleason’s story with sympathy. Zealous evangelicals who retain the anti-Catholic instincts of former days sometimes think that when their fellow Protestants begin to take an interest in the Catholic Church or to make sympathetic noises about Catholic beliefs, practices, and institutions, the moth has begun to circle the flame. In fact, there is a better metaphor that more accurately reflects both historical reality (Protestantism emerged from Roman Catholicism and has always required the Catholic Church to define itself) and the realities of modern Christian demography (where there are about three times as many Roman Catholics as Protestants on the face of the earth). The more apt metaphor is of a Protestant moon orbiting a Roman Catholic earth. In a heliocentric universe, the dance of orbits and revolutions means that the sun’s light shines more directly now on parts of the moon, now on parts of the earth. But the earth is a lot bigger and, at least for this analogy, was certainly there first. In the terms of such an image, what happens on the earth—for example, what is portrayed with such luminous clarity and such thoughtfulness in Contending with Modernity—could not be more important for the future of the moon."
n The former Rector of St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, David V. Hicks, says that elite boarding schools have fallen on hard times. Enrollments are down, costs are up (typically more than $20,000 per year), and the schools—whether Andover, Choate, Groton, or St. Paul’s—are floundering in their efforts to adapt to changed circumstances. In 1910, Woodrow Wilson addressed the Lawrenceville School: "A great school like this does not stop with what it does in the class room; . . . it organizes life from morning to night; and it does so when at its best by an intimate association of the teacher with the pupil, so that the impact of the mature mind upon the less mature will be constant and influential." Central to the elite schools, says Hicks, was "the Christian faith as its organizing principle [which] provided ritual, ceremony, and a coherent set of norms, although it seldom invited a confession of faith or inspired a conversion." Many things have changed, including suburbanization, competition from quality day schools, and the desire to be "inclusive" of diverse peoples and religious traditions. But perhaps the biggest change, according to Hicks, is the development of a separate youth culture which makes impossible Wilson’s organized life from morning to night. "Boarding schools are struggling to survive in a society that has redefined the adolescent as a consumer—a consumer of fast foods, movies, fashions, videos, CDs, drugs, alcohol, pornography, cigarettes, sports, and pop heroes. Adolescent appetites, not adult concerns, dominate the boarding-school market, and to compete for this new consumer’s attention, the boarding school has tried to appeal to the mercurial tastes and insatiable appetites of the adolescent." Like so much else in our culture, the elite boarding school assumed that the adult knew better than the adolescent and that it is a self-evident good that mature minds should form the less mature. Explaining why this has so dramatically changed has less to do with adolescent rebellion, which is nothing new, than with adult loss of confidence, which has been a dominant feature of our society for the last thirty years. People who were shaped by the youth culture of the sixties remember it as their finest hour, and have never really left it. Although they may now be fifty-five or more, they are "keeping faith" with their past and refuse to "sell out" to adulthood. At Groton, Choate, and St. Paul’s, these are the people mainly in charge. Not to mention the White House.
n Paris holds a week-long Christian film festival, and last year there was a fuss about the choice of Blade Runner, a violent science-fiction film, and The Bridges of Madison County, which has an adulteress as its heroine. The theme of the 1996 festival was Le Mal et la Grace, evil and grace. An organizer of the program explained, "It is doubtful whether we could find enough religious films of quality to justify a week-long festival." Thank God there is no shortage of evil films?
n Of course ours is not the only journal that has to make an annual fund appeal. There is, for instance, Free Inquiry, published by the Council for Secular Humanism. But they are not as much help to our appeal as we are to theirs. Their fundraising letter begins with a quote by yours truly that is critical of John Stuart Mill, and then suggests that I am "the Religious Right’s leading intellectual." I hope my very liberal brother is not on their mailing list. We have troubles enough in the family. The letter continues: "From the urbanity of Rev. Neuhaus to the populist grandstanding of a Pat Robertson, the Religious Right speaks in many voices." Urbanity. That has a nice ring to it. I don’t know which Pat Robertson they have in mind, but "populist grandstanding" is not the way I would describe the one I have met on several occasions. The letter continues by citing a recent Gallup poll showing that, on a host of questions, Americans are "appallingly" conservative. "After decades of activism, the Religious Right has seized the moral imagination of the American center." They’re making my day. More: "‘After the end of Marxism,’ writes Richard John Neuhaus, ‘Christianity provides the only coherent, comprehensive, compelling, and promising vision of the human future.’ Millions of Americans believe that. You know it’s not true. So do we. With your help, we can continue to say so in ways that cannot be ignored." We’re all attention.
n Now stay with me here, as that little rich fellow from Texas who ran for President used to say. Just war is a heavy-duty topic, and in the last several years, partly because the Cold War is over, it is a topic much neglected. All credit, therefore, to the National Interest, which has two fine articles on the subject by James Turner Johnson ("A Broken Tradition") and A. J. Bacevich ("Morality and High-Tech"). In recent moral reflection on war, says Johnson, a wiggly principle of "presumption against war" has been widely accepted. The problem with this principle, he believes, is that it is no principle at all. It is rather a prudential judgment based upon contingent ideas about the nature of modern warfare. The prudential conditions that make for a justified war (jus ad bellum)—that it produce a preponderance of good over evil, have a reasonable chance of success, be a last resort, and that its expected outcome be peace—are matters for competent political authorities, not moralists, to determine. Johnson writes: "In other words, these lesser but still very important concerns pertain to the function of statecraft, not moral analysis. The role of the moralist is to insist on the application of the three essential, noncontingent elements of jus ad bellum—just cause, competent authority, right intention—and to specify that the prudential elements be taken into account. But the moralist is not to usurp the role of statecraft by specifying how they are to be applied in specific instances. The ‘presumption against war’ view, by reversing the weight of essential and contingent considerations, would vitiate statecraft and presume to tell sovereigns how to conduct their affairs—a most worldly and untraditional presumption at that. From the perspective of moral reasoning, too, it gives pride of place to judgments about contingent conditions over obligations inherent in moral duty."
n If we are to believe the review by Thomas C. Berg, professor of law at Samford University, H. Jefferson Powell’s The Moral Tradition of American Constitutionalism: A Theological Interpretation (Duke University Press) is a deeply confused book. And it appears Prof. Berg participates in the confusion. Here is Berg’s presentation of Powell’s argument: "While the Court is a ‘centralizing and homogenizing agent . . . of social change,’ allocating authority to other bodies, from Congress to local school boards, can ‘increase . . . the variety of decisionmakers available to hear and respond to deviant or weak voices.’" So we have two evangelical conservatives blithely assuming that the Supreme Court is to be an agent of social change. Going even further, it is suggested that the Court should "allocate" some of its authority to legislative and other elected bodies. What a very democratic idea, to let the people and their representatives have a say in the judicial rule of the country. Berg also considers the book’s discussion of natural law and the author’s view that natural justice requires "that states must protect the unborn: that is, that courts should strike down the liberalized abortion laws that exist in many states." Certainly justice requires the protection of the unborn, but it is a wonder that, twenty-four years after Roe, law professors are not aware that in that decision the Supreme Court abolished, in one fell swoop, all abortion laws in all fifty states. As Judge John Noonan wrote many years ago, it is the first time in history that any nation simply abolished all law pertaining to a very big category of human beings. If this is not known to professors of law, it is perhaps unsurprising that a large majority of adult Americans think abortion is now available only in the first trimester, and then only in exreme circumstances.
n There are these wistful hopes expressed from time to time that the great Midwest might well save the nation from the cultural rot creeping in from the coasts. It is more a gallop than a creep. Here’s an item from the Minneapolis Star Tribune that declares with deep regional pride: "The Druids are among dozens of Pagan groups in the Twin Cities area, which is believed to have one of the highest concentrations in the country. . . . The emergence of licensed ministers and congregations is evidence of the shift in attitude by a public that once demonized Paganism." Minnesota has licensed Pagan ministers to visit in state prisons, "just as non-Pagan clergy do." There are also several gay, lesbian, and bisexual covens. "For my stepdad, Paganism conjures up images of people running around naked in the woods, having orgies and butchering babies," says Sarah DeMay, twenty-eight, of Minneapolis. "He would rather talk about my being bisexual." Don’t worry, at the rate we’re defining deviancy down, he’ll probably be ready for the normality of paganism by this time next year. "The tensions between traditional and ‘free-form’ followers are part of the movement’s growing pains. Three years ago, the Minneapolis-based Wiccan Church of Minnesota felt the need to define stands for being Wiccan. ‘We’ve lost members because we weren’t exclusionary enough,’ said Robin Reyburn, the church’s minister. ‘We have several different traditions in our church. Sometimes the hardest thing is having that diversity.’" It’s the narrow orthodoxy of those Wiccan Lefebvrists that makes it so hard to get along. Perhaps it’s time for a Common Ground Initiative.
n The people in charge of things, commonly called the elite, have for years been favored by the analytical attentions of sociologist Stanley Rothman, who now (along with coauthors Robert Lerner and Althea K. Nagai) brings his findings together in a new book out from Yale, American Elites. In the course of his review in National Review, David Frum of the Manhattan Institute has this to say: "As Rothman describes them, American elites are strikingly divided on most issues. But not on all: more than 70 percent of the members of every elite except the clergy support the right to an abortion. Among the more liberal elites—lawyers, journalists, moviemakers, and television producers and writers—support for abortion rights exceeds 90 per cent. More tellingly, adultery is the only form of sexual behavior that a large majority of members of American elites thinks wrong. It reveals something about the legalism of the American mind that the only ethical rule America’s leaders still apply to human sexuality is that of promise-keeping." It may well have something to do with legalism, but one wonders if there isn’t a deeper factor here, evident also in the enormous popularity of the Promise Keepers movement. Promise keeping, after all, is at the very heart of biblical religion, as in the covenantal faithfulness of God to his typically faithless people. The liberal elites studied by Rothman are generally much less religious than other Americans. Atheism, whether professed or presumed, leaves many people with nobody but a spouse or lover to whom to be faithful. Also among the religious, the complaisant theology of a God who understands, feels our pain, and is in the business of cheap grace offers no experienced drama of promises made and broken. After the "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar" of Matthew Arnold’s sea of faith, we are left on Dover Beach with nothing but "Ah, love, let us be true to one another!" Romantic reciprocity is the only available nexus for the enactment of covenantal fidelity that was once related not only to the other but to the Other. And even then, among Rothman’s elites, the covenant is conditioned by convenience, defined as emotional needs, and leaving ample room for divorce, which is to say serial monogamy. Nor, since they are not autonomous selves capable of full reciprocity, do the children figure in the covenant. A child, conceived or born, is not partner to a felt promise-keeping relationship, especially for the father, in the absence of the One who intends the child from eternity to eternity. Children are guiltlessly consigned to the abortuary or, if born, to some custodial arrangement, for the child is something that happened, not someone with whom we are bound by mutual promise. Even if they were "wanted" children, one may "want" them no longer. That was then and this is now. On Arnold’s "darkling plain," there is only you and me, and when you provide "neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain," you, too, are replaceable. And yet Mr. Frum should not be so dismissive of promise-keeping as mere "legalism." It is more than that. It is a shard, a hint, of the transcendent fidelity once perceived when the sea of faith was full, and it is the way of tides to turn.
n Democracy, the caustic Hobbes observed, is an aristocracy of orators. By that he meant that the most educated, articulate, and persuasive in fact rule the people by convincing them—typically through demagoguery—that they are ruling themselves. Peter Berkowitz of Harvard suggests that there is more than a hint of Hobbes in the current promotion of Jürgen Habermas’ notion of "deliberative democracy." That notion is promoted in Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson’s Democracy and Disagreement: Why Moral Conflict Cannot Be Avoided in Politics (Harvard University Press), which Berkowitz brilliantly reviews in The New Republic. Of course politics must engage moral conflicts, Berkowitz observes, but those who are certified, or certify themselves, as superior deliberators cannot presume to set the terms of the deliberation. He writes: "One could quarrel with the range of opinions that Gutmann and Thompson find ‘morally respectable’ and therefore worthy of serious engagement. For example, it is unworthy of them to imply, by declaring that ‘a moderate pro-life position on abortion’ is ‘worthy of moral respect,’ that a principled opposition to abortion is disreputable. What kind of guidance for the negotiation of disagreement in democracy, one could wonder, can be derived from a conception that by fiat proclaims unreasonable and places beyond the pale of public discussion the considered and strongly held beliefs of many Catholics, Protestants and Jews, to say nothing of the views of the loyal Democrats who have been made to feel like pariahs in their own party for their principled pro-life positions?" Berkowitz is also skeptical of the authors’ claim that, in the formation of citizens, "the single most important institution outside government is the educational system." He notes that, for most American children, the educational system is in fact part of the government. More important, he cites Locke and others in underscoring the premier role of the family in preparing children for a responsible part in the polis. He might have gone on to lift up the importance of religion—Tocqueville called it the "first political institution" of American democracy—and other mediating institutions such as voluntary associations and neighborhoods. Habermas’ deliberative democracy of completely open discourse has an obvious appeal for intellectuals. Deliberating and discoursing is what they (all right, we) do for a living. Better for democracy and safer for all of us is the wisdom of William F. Buckley’s statement that he would rather be ruled by the first two thousand people listed in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for deliberation and discourse. It keeps the intellectuals busy, so the people can get on with their business.
n In debates surrounding Romer v. Evans, the case in which the Supreme Court overrode the citizens of Colorado who democratically debated and approved a referendum barring special rights for homosexuals, there has been considerable confusion about what is meant by "special rights." Gay activists strongly protest the use of the term, typically claiming they want only the rights enjoyed by everybody else. But of course that is not the case. They want homosexuals, qua homosexuals, to be defined as a constitutionally protected class. Who belongs to the class is, in turn, defined by conduct. A passage in Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Romer cuts through some of the confusion: "The Court’s opinion contains grim, disapproving hints that Coloradans have been guilty of ‘animus’ or ‘animosity’ toward homosexuality, as though that has been established as Unamerican. Of course it is our moral heritage that one should not hate any human being or class of human beings. But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible—murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals—and could exhibit even ‘animus’ toward such conduct. Surely that is the only sort of ‘animus’ at issue here: moral disapproval of homosexual conduct, the same sort of moral disapproval that produced the centuries-old criminal laws that we held constitutional in Bowers. The Colorado amendment does not, to speak entirely precisely, prohibit giving favored status to people who are homosexuals; they can be favored for many reasons—for example, because they are senior citizens or members of racial minorities. But it prohibits giving them favored status because of their homosexual conduct—that is, it prohibits its favored status for homosexuality." (Scalia’s emphasis.)
n Reviewing several new books on Jerusalem, Serge Schmemann of the New York Times describes a city in which national and religious passions are "ingrained in every stone." He writes: "What is remarkable is that these passions are fired by elemental forces of myth, symbol, and belief that in our age are supposed to have surrendered most of their powers to reason and science. Without the Vatican, there would still be a Rome. But Jerusalem is what it is today solely because it is ‘holy.’ From the time it was chosen by David as the new dwelling place for the ark of the Lord, it has had few other functions; it was never a major center of trade, it has little strategic significance, it has too little water, it is accessible only by roads rising treacherously through steep, rocky hills. Without David, Jesus, and Muhammad, it is little more than a relatively picturesque walled town in the Judean desert; stripped of the centuries of accumulated prayer and passion, even its hallowed sites, with the exception of the exquisite Dome of the Rock, are not particularly impressive, and in many cases are of dubious authenticity." Schmemann, who is the son of the late Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann, is right. The difference that has impressed me is that between Jerusalem and Athens. In the latter, the Parthenon and other sites are clearly appendages to the city, maintained as museums in remembrance of what is long departed. Jerusalem pulsates with the living continuity of sacred stories, often in conflict, and is nothing apart from those stories. Some sites may be of dubious authenticity, but the great events of salvation happened here—if not precisely right here, somewhere right around here. The city is the center of the place that Christians have, from the earliest centuries, revered as The Land Called Holy, to cite the title of Robert Wilken’s fine book on the subject. Every Christian who has the opportunity should, I believe, go there at least once as a pilgrim (not as a tourist) and when there should seek out the small and besieged communities of Christians who yearn for a sign of solidarity.
n The formidable Isaiah Berlin has been taken on by many worthies, and less than worthies. John Gray of Jesus College, Oxford, tries again in Isaiah Berlin (Princeton University Press), and Daniel Silver, writing in the New Criterion, thinks Berlin gets the better of it. Gray has over the years tried on and discarded sundry conservatisms, and he is now promoting what he calls "postmodern Green conservatism." Don’t ask. My interest here is in what Silver says about Gray’s contention that Berlin’s famous "negative liberty" is an incoherent public philosophy because it is not able to offer well-grounded reasons for preferring liberalism or, for that matter, liberty. Silver says this: "What sense, we must ultimately ask, does it make to trash our own traditions? Berlin, it seems to me, would rather live with the incoherence of his ideas, if that is the case, than give up his humanism and his liberal faith. If Berlin has not come up with a successful political philosophy, as I believe is the case, his is an honorable failure because it was undertaken in the right spirit—indeed, a liberal spirit in the widest sense of the word. He is, after all, the product of an older academic tradition, whose worst excess was a kind of unworldly donnishness. Gray, on the other hand, inhabits the market-ridden milieu of the contemporary university, where there now resides a malign willingness to sacrifice liberality, humanism, and even truth to the Next Big Idea. If ‘postmodern Green conservatism’ is the next big idea then we can only hope that the complete marginalization of academic political theory that would doubtless ensue could be followed not by new ideas but by respect for what we, barely, still have." I’m very much with Silver on this one. There are all kinds of limitations to Berlin’s "negative liberty," and a much firmer ground for liberal democracy is laid out in, for instance, the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. That is an argument that we must continue to press, and of which the contemporary academy is almost totally ignorant. Meanwhile, however, the currently fashionable trashing of classical liberalism is an indulgence that undermines "what we, barely, still have." Liberal democracy that is nonutopian and may even make its last stand with negative liberty is not the best thing. It is just that, on balance and considering the alternatives, it is the best thing on offer at the moment. Come the Kingdom of God, we will have the best thing. Along the way to the Kingdom, we can do the moral and philosophical work of constructing a liberalism that is more coherent and compelling. Isaiah Berlin’s is hardly the final word, but it is a word that, during times of severe trial, helped preserve the democratic legacy that the next generation must embrace as its task.
n The number of Mexican-born people living in the U.S. is now above 6.3 million, according to the Washington-based Urban Institute, and some experts put the figure considerably higher. Somewhat fewer than half are here legally and are eligible for U.S. citizenship. In recent months the Mexican government has shown a new and sympathetic interest in their compatriots north of the border. Two constitutional amendments have been approved, one that may permit Mexicans in the U.S. to cast absentee ballots in Mexico, and the other permitting Mexicans to become U.S. citizens without forfeiting their rights as Mexicans. Although there is regular talk here about the need for the U.S. to regain control of its borders, we seem to be witnessing the effective erasure of the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Put differently, many Mexicans in Mexico and the U.S. are speaking with increasing candor of Mexico’s reannexation of territory once "stolen" by the U.S., and that is apparently what is happening in Southern California and parts of the Southwest. Business interests represented by the Wall Street Journal, along with the Catholic bishops and now the Mexican government, view these developments with favor. There are few voices making the moral case for the maintenance of the border. It would seem that there is a case to be made. In any event, one might suggest that the American people, including Mexican-born U.S. citizens, deserve a serious public debate before this country willy-nilly abandons the notion of national borders. On the other hand, the fact that even raising the question routinely provokes the charge of nativism perhaps indicates that it is too late for such a debate. But on this question, too, my democratic proclivities get the best of me. I do think the American people should have a say on matters such as borders and immigration policy. Maybe that makes me a populist.
n Supporters of the unlimited abortion license are terrified by medical and legal developments that make it increasingly implausible to treat the moment of birth as a "bright line" distinguishing a baby from an appendage to a woman’s body. On the medical front, there are developments such as the recently reported first-of-its-kind bone marrow transplant given a four-month-old fetus with a life-threatening immune system disease. The baby boy, now eighteen months old, is doing just fine. On the legal front, more states are prosecuting people who willfully or by accident kill or injure unborn babies. The pro-abortionists claim that this is a zero-sum proposition: any rights extended the unborn are rights taken away from the woman. "Until the courts say the two rights can coexist, we don’t know for sure that they can," says Priscilla Smith of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy. This zero-sum approach helps explain why pro-abortionists feel that they have no choice but to assume a don’t-give-an-inch posture, opposing even restrictions on infanticide, as in their fight against the partial-birth abortion ban. Smith helped defend a nineteen-year-old Florida woman who in 1994 shot a bullet into her stomach to end her six-month pregnancy. The Florida court upheld the manslaughter charge against her lawyers’ claim that "when Ms. Ashley shot herself, her fetus was part of her own body." Smith, interestingly, argues that it should not be up to judges and prosecutors to create new laws to fit new definitions of crime. "If you want to prosecute women in this way, you have to go to the legislatures," says Smith. This is a remarkable shift for proponents of "reproductive rights," whose entire campaign has been based upon the judicial usurpation of legislative authority. To Ms. Smith and her colleagues, pro-life advocates might respond as the spider to the fly, "Do come into the parlor of democracy."
n Some while back we noted that Phyllis Fleury, the first woman ordained in the Church of England, had become a Roman Catholic. Father Dick Kim of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Detroit points out that she was the first woman ordained in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland. We stand corrected.
n Forget the Grand Inquisitor. He was a softy compared with the petty inquisitors who jump on anyone who deviates from the smelly little orthodoxies of our elite culture. The Wall Street Journal carried a piece by five psychiatrists who work with people who are distressed by their homosexuality. Based upon their combined decades of experience, the doctors say that therapy can, at a rate roughly comparable to therapy for other distresses, help such people become heterosexual. Their point is that the current dogma that homosexuality is an unchangeable condition prevents many people from obtaining the help they want. Some days later, the entire letters section of the Journal is taken over by people screaming "Heresy!" The substance of their message, delivered in one voice, is: Homosexuality is unchangeable, homosexuality is healthy, and homosexuals must not be allowed to want to change. As one inquisitor puts it, "The only choice for a gay person is whether to accept being gay and live a happy, productive life, or deny it and live in a lonely closet, lying and hiding." How dare anyone seek an alternative! In the politics of choice, we will prescribe your choices.
n The newsletter of the Catholic Women’s Network in the UK published an article reporting on a "circle weekend" for women in Australia. The article contained passages such as: "We began with a foot massage and then, in a circle, we each in turn spoke, saying, ‘I matter. I affirm self. What I am, I have a right to be,’ and then some affirming/growth statement such as ‘The loving and caring in me reaches out to you, and you, and you.’ It was really moving." The trouble is that the article turned out to be a spoof written by Joanna Bogle, a critic of radical feminism. She said the article was clearly heretical and downright silly, and its acceptance by the editor of Network casts doubt on the Catholic credentials of the feminist group. Not so, said editor Alison Gelder. She denied the article was heretical and added: "To take advantage of my gullibility in this way isn’t very nice."
n You’ve heard me say that it’s a very bad thing that our culture has lost a common biblical vocabulary, in part because of the proliferation of Bible translations and paraphrases beyond numbering. I have also expressed the wish, admittedly somewhat whimsical, that the whole English-speaking world could agree on the Revised Standard Version as the standard version. John Stek, chairman of the committee on Bible translation of the International Bible Society, writes to tell me just how whimsical that wish is. The New International Version, which appeared in 1978, now dominates the Bible market. With 36 percent of the market, it outstrips even the King James Version, while my beloved RSV had about 5 percent of the market before it was displaced by the unfortunate New Revised Standard Version. Ah well, as I’ve become accustomed to saying, Lose a few, lose a few. I’m not as persuaded as is Mr. Stek that we need "Bibles" for children and adults who can barely read. In the past, there was no shortage of Bible story books and other Bible-based literature for children, but they were not told that a book written for third-graders was the Bible itself. Shouldn’t children and everybody else know that there is a very real and determinate text, however translated, that is the Holy Bible? I’m just asking.
n "And he is so handsome and so sincere too! I can’t stand those groaning old professors who attack him." So said the woman buying multiple copies of the German edition of Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Goldhagen’s book took some very hard knocks from reviewers, including this writer, when published here last year, and the German academic establishment was equally critical. Then the quickly translated German edition came out and almost immediately shot to the top of the best-seller lists. (The German title was toned down to "Hitler’s Willing Executors.") Goldhagen did a speaking tour of Germany cities, and almost everybody describes it as a "triumphal march," with people scalping tickets to get into packed houses of cheering Goldhagen fans. How to explain this response to an author who claims that the German people are endemically anti-Semitic, that a people historically committed to "eliminationist" anti-Semitism joyfully embraced "exterminationist" anti-Semitism when Hitler gave them the chance? Some commentators attribute the triumphant march to his soft-spoken, sensitive, James Dean-like presentation of self, and that may well be part of it. Also important, however, is that in his German appearances Goldhagen highlighted his praise for the "new generation" of Germans that has overcome the nation’s historic anti-Semitism. In the American edition, the absolution of contemporary Germans was buried among hundreds of footnotes; in Germany it was the centerpiece of Goldhagen’s presentation. People like to be flattered. Young people in particular like to be told that they are ever so morally superior to the generations that went before them. So Goldhagen in Germany was an adroit salesman. There may be more to it, however. German writers on the Third Reich and the Holocaust have tended to lay the blame on Hitler and his band of fanatics or, in more recent years, have explained what happened by reference to elaborate theories of "systemic" and "structural" causalities. By so relentlessly focusing attention on the moral turpitude of "ordinary" Germans, Goldhagen seemed like a fresh wind cutting through the smog of evasion and mendacity. I believe the book is every bit as hateful and dishonest as I said it was. It is possible, however, that a bad book, cleverly pitched as a celebration of democracy and personal responsibility, might have good consequences. That is what seems to have happened with Goldhagen in Germany.
n Of course almost nobody trying to make a public point thinks the media pay enough attention. But the leaders of this year’s January 22 March for Life are rightly outraged. As usual, estimates vary, but there were 125,000 to 225,000 marchers in Washington. In an in-your-face move, on the same day the Clinton Administration had Mrs. Clinton and Vice President and Mrs. Gore appear at a pro-abortion meeting to pledge allegiance to, among other things, partial-birth abortion. The next day, the front page of the New York Times had a big picture and story on the presidential party’s statements, in which it was also mentioned that there was a march for life. Right next to this was another big story on explosions in Atlanta that may or may not have been related to abortion clinics. Cardinal Law of Boston, chairman of the bishops’ pro-life committee, called the Times treatment "particularly egregious." He maintains his reputation for understatement.
n In the Bernstein-Politi book, His Holiness, the authors quote Father Vincent O’Keefe of the Society of Jesus being very critical of Pope John Paul II. I wrote, "Charity invites the thought that Fr. O’Keefe was misquoted." I have subsequently talked with Fr. O’Keefe. He does not say he was misquoted, but that the comment cited was made "on the fly" in a series of long conversations with Carl Bernstein, who gave it a spin that he, O’Keefe, did not intend. He says he certainly would not suggest, as Bernstein-Politi have him suggesting, that John Paul II has failed to make himself available to the universal Church.
n Recall the reprehensible behavior of jailers in Lane County, Oregon, who secretly taped an inmate’s sacramental confession in order to get evidence against him. For a while, it almost brought prison ministries in the state to a halt. Following the determined leadership of Archbishop Francis George of Portland, the religious communities of Oregon rose up in protest. Now a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the taping violated First Amendment "free exercise" rights, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Fourth Amendment. The court ordered an injunction against any future tapings. Father Michael Maslowsky of Portland, who is also the attorney who did yeoman work on the case, says, "For the first time since this sad affair began, we have a court that has said categorically that this tape recording is illegal, unconstitutional, and cannot happen again. This issue has never before been addressed in this manner." Just so you know that the courts can sometimes do the right thing, too. Of course, the state could have legislated the same outcome, and collected a scalp or two from among the prison authorities while it was at it.
n I mentioned my decision not to buy that coffee mug that was made in China. Ms. Rita Anton of Chicago writes about a different experience. She went shopping for Christmas ornaments, only to discover that almost all of them, along with crèches and other seasonal paraphernalia, bore the label "Made in China." Quite possibly, it is reasonable to surmise, by slave laborers imprisoned for their Christian faith.
n Note how a casual literary trope can assume and advance one resolution of a huge argument, in this case the argument over the meaning of feminism. Nora Ephron is reviewing in the New York Times Book Review Katharine Graham’s Personal History, a book generously excerpted and extravagantly puffed by Ms. Graham’s publishing empire. Ephron writes, "Katharine Graham turns out to have had not two lives but four, and the story of her journey from daughter to wife to widow to woman parallels to a surprising degree the history of women in this century." As Ms. Ephron’s way of putting the matter parallels to an unsurprising degree one feminist faction’s doctrine that one becomes a woman when the self is freed from obliging connections to others.
n The London Tablet agrees that theological relativism is a problem and the Church has to draw the line somewhere, but there is no line drawn anywhere by Cardinal Ratzinger and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that does not outrage the editors’ liberal sensibilities. So it is, unsurprisingly, in the case of the excommunicated Sri Lankan theologian, Tissa Balasuriya. The Tablet opines, "But if Christ, known by other names or by no name at all, is the operating principle of salvation in all religions that lead their followers to God, . . . then many difficult questions arise when dialogue is attempted with members of those other religions." As Jesus did not say, "I am the operating principle of salvation." Excerpts from Belasuriya’s writings published in the Tablet itself leave little doubt that he challenges not only the immaculate conception (he was a priest of the Oblates of the Immaculate Conception) and virgin birth, but the divinity of Christ and the very concept of dogma itself. Asked by CDF to sign a profession of faith that includes the cardinal doctrines of Catholic belief, Father Belasuriya refused, choosing instead to sign a profession of faith drawn up by Pope Paul VI. In the view of CDF, that would have been an acceptable substitute, but Balasuriya insisted upon adding the following escape clause: "I, Fr. Tissa Balasuriya OMI, make and sign this Profession of Faith of Pope Paul VI in the context of theological development and church practice since Vatican II and the freedom and responsibility of Christians and theological searchers, under canon law." In other words, he is obliged to the profession of faith except where he holds himself free to dissent from it. As Cardinal Ratzinger explained, the escape clause "puts in question all the content and so renders his signature invalid." A point made by Ratzinger that has been ignored in almost all accounts of the Balasuriya affair is that the problem is not with the theologian’s syncretism in engaging other world religions but with his corrupting interreligious dialogue by importing into it the tradition of Western skepticism and relativism. The Church is fully committed to a dialogue between, say, Buddhism and Catholic faith. A dialogue between Marx and Feuerbach, on the one hand, and Buddhism, on the other, conducted in the guise of Buddhist-Catholic dialogue, is quite another matter.
n So this county judge in Gadsden, Alabama, has on the wall of his courtroom two hand-carved wooden tablets with the Ten Commandments. Judge Roy Moore carved them himself. Not surprisingly, the ACLU is on his case and got a higher court to order the removal of the tablets. The news story continues, "Mr. Joel Sogol of the ACLU said it came down to a simple question: ‘Can the state acknowledge God, and if so, whose God can it acknowledge?’ He wondered what the reaction would be if the religion in question was Islam." Do not be too hard on poor Mr. Sogol, for his obtuseness is deeply entrenched in today’s legal and political prejudices. With great patience and courtesy one must point out to such as Mr. Sogol that no state, and certainly not a democratic state, can fail to be cognizant of the culture of which it is part. Then, ever so gently, you explain to him about Athens, Jerusalem, and the story of what is still commonly called the Western culture that produced a Judeo-Christian moral tradition from which came our law and the ways in which we deliberate the ordering of our common life. Do it slowly, step by step, for much of this is probably new to him. Or you might simply invite him to open his eyes and take a look around Etowah County, Alabama. He will likely recognize almost immediately that it is not an Islamic society, and he might even, perhaps somewhat sheepishly, admit that he does not really wonder what the reaction would be if the religion in question was Islam. But, if he is a very slow learner, you might inform him that Islam, too, has the Ten Commandments. But don’t rush it. Remedial educators advise that it is very important, in the case of those suffering from ACLU Syndrome, not to induce culture shock. (In March, the House of Representatives passed a resolution supporting Judge Moore that has no legal effect but is a nice gesture.)
n Protesting a form of cultural imperialism that otherwise gets little attention here, a large number of Catholic bishops from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Philippines issued the following statement in February when the Congress was debating the refunding of U.S. population programs abroad: "In Latin America and other countries of the Third World we have suffered for many years a campaign against births. There have been massive sterilizations in many countries. There has been the distribution of contraceptives, some of these forbidden in First World countries because they are dangerous to the health of women. Many organizations in the First World finance these campaigns with great amounts of money. Now they have gone a step further, proposing abortion as a means of population control. We know that abortion is a horrible crime. That is why we oppose the proposal of President Clinton to allocate funds from the United States for this. This proposal is unjust, offensive, and criminal. We believe the people of the United States should not contribute to these contraceptive campaigns and must not include abortion as though it were a contraceptive method." It didn’t change Clinton’s mind, but some things need to be said.
n In the third century it seems that there were two Christians named Valentine who were martyred for the faith. In the Church’s memory the two were conflated into the St. Valentine whose day is observed on February 14. In circuitous ways, the martyr’s love was transmogrified into the romantic love celebrated on St. Valentine’s Day. Now the winding ways of history’s cunning have moved on. This year the American Social Health Association declared St. Valentine’s day to be National Condom Day. "Give your valentine a condom, or use one yourself," said association president Peggy Clarke. "We encourge sex partners to talk openly about the sensitive subject of sexual health and to use condoms to protect one another from sexually transmitted diseases." The loss of the day’s significance for the ultimate love of martyrdom happened a long time ago and is probably irretrievable. Now it seems to be in the proceess of being lost for romantic love as well. But another small signpost on the progressive slouch toward Gomorrah.
n Were it not for the honor of the thing, St. Valentine might have preferred to remain unknown. In our world of competing perversities on the way to the same destination, one notes that the National Organization of Women (NOW) has other plans for St. Valentine’s Day. NOW declared it the "National Day of Action in Support of Same-Sex Marriage." The organization provided an "action kit" that includes a list of suggested activities, such as staging mock wedding ceremonies on the steps of the local courthouse and sending Valentine cards favoring same-sex marriage to legislators. The kit also includes "chants and songs." For instance, "We’re here, we’re queer / We’re walking down the aisle." And "I love her, she loves me, homosexuality / People think we’re just friends, but we’re really lesbians!" So put NOW down on the side of romantic love, of a sort.
n The editors of Commonweal note that I recently chastised that publication—plus Christian Century, America, and Christianity Today—for not practicing the dialogue they preach. "Each of them," I wrote, "seems to plod along in its own track, maintaining an enclosed universe of discourse." My point was that these publications would make for more interesting reading if they were in conversation with one another. For some reason which I assume is not intentional, Commonweal understood this as a "plea for attention" by FT. Now I admit there is little purpose in publishing a journal if it doesn’t get attention, and on that score publishing FT is very gratifying indeed. But I return to my original contention that the above-mentioned magazines that have more narrowly defined audiences would be more interesting if they regularly engaged one another in dialogue. It would, among other things, both strengthen and display the liveliness of diverse perspectives within the several religious communities. Not, of course, that Commonweal is not interesting, even when it is not paying attention to FT.
n "Everyone who writes for the public, I should imagine, sometimes receives letters which are not only uncomprehending but stark mad. I myself have made a small Holmesian study of the envelopes in which correspondents enclose their written responses, and have come to recognize, for example, when the writer is angry, even before I have opened the envelope. The enragés of England—who seem to congregate disproportionately in Bournemouth and its environs—use tiny envelopes of the meanest quality, of a dirty off-white color. These they address, using a thirty-year-old manual typewriter whose keys they have struck with such force that the letters are no longer properly aligned. Moreover, the type is faded because the ribbon is exhausted of ink and will never be replaced." So writes Theodore Dalrymple in the Spectator, and he got it quite right. Such letters arriving here tend to come disproportionately from the borough of Queens and the state of Virginia. Dalrymple continues: "One can also tell the mad letter proper by its envelope. It is frequently a shade of mauve, there is a lengthy post scriptum message scrawled on its flap. The letter itself conforms to no orthodox layout, with handwritten sentences meandering round the edges of the paper . . . and contains symbols and drawings in addition to writing. Last week, for example, I received a letter from a witch in Cornwall, complete with femino-wyccan runes, informing me that money was the means by which grasping and greedy men had always prevented nurturing women from ruling the world as it should be ruled, with attention to love rather than finances." Right again. Plus these writers are much given to emphasizing assertions by putting them in the upper case, and are excessively fond of exclamation points. As often as not, their outrage is exacerbated by my not having responded to their last literary assault. I try to make a habit of responding, however noncommittally, unless they are so abusive that they could not conceivably want to hear from the idiot they believe me to be. Respond or don’t respond, nothing seems to discourage them. I suppose it is a life of sorts, writing angry letters.
n A little commentary here, "Inhaling Second-Hand Fanaticism," caught the attention of Pastor Lou Nuechterlein of Cheshire, Connecticut, who agrees that we should not talk about "saving" lives by this health measure or that, but about "prolonging" and "extending" life, and even then within limits. He drew our attention to a 1984 hymn by Brian Wren, titled "God, Let Me Welcome Timely Death." Here are stanzas three, four, and five:
Our pioneers of knowledge seek
new frontiers for death and birth,
and lure us with the ancient dream
of immortality on earth.
Yet who would live, at whose expense,
if in a brave new world sublime,
elites enjoyed extended powers
while millions starved before their time?
And who could tell tomorrow’s child
to go and reap where we have sown,
if elders ruled for endless years
and youth could never claim its own?
God, Let Me Welcome Timely Death by Brian Wren (© 1986 Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188, all rights reserved, used by permission.)
n Church-growth specialist Lyle E. Schaller says, "If you want to reach people born since 1955, this is your instruction manual for church in the twenty-first century." If he’s right, one may be forgiven for fearing that the gates of hell will prevail after all. Entertainment Evangelicalism: Taking the Church Public by Walt Kallestad (Abingdon, 144 pp., $15.95) is a smug, self-serving, fatuous little how-to tract for successfully pandering to popular taste in the name of communicating the gospel. The author heads the Community Church of Joy in Phoenix, Arizona, which is associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and, very loosely, with Lutheranism. The last five pages are devoted to "The Theology of Entertainment Evangelism." It fails the laugh test. The author’s market wizardry does not forget to include just a touch of the presumably prophetic as he hails "Bob Dylan writing songs that challenge our false values" and the "Sojourners Community of Washington challenging the whole war-making madness of our times." The Church of Joy has something for everyone, even slickly packaging Bob Dylan and Jim Wallis for baby boomers and baby busters who enjoy the occasional frisson of feeling radical. Particularly galling is the dismissiveness toward traditions that know something about the depth and the cost of discipleship. For instance, we are told that the Orthodox Church in Russia was "rich and powerful, but callously unconcerned about injustice and poverty. Its leaders debated the color of clerical vestments while Kerensky and Lenin planned the Marxist revolution to ‘liberate the people.’" Yes indeed, Kerensky was all for the Marxist revolution. Aside from the ignorance and spiritual vapidity on exhibit in books such as this, entertainment Christianity is notable for the astonishing claim of its practitioners that they are the first to have discovered that apostasy pays. The operators of these McGospel franchises say that their critics are envious of their success. Maybe some are. Many more, I expect, are moved by pity, with just a touch of nausea.
n I mentioned a proposal by a certain Father Richard McBrien of Notre Dame, who still has a column in some Catholic papers. He proposed a new indictment of priestly celibacy, pointing out that by the year 2000 "more than one million" "above-average" Catholics will not have existed because the forty thousand "on average, above average" priests living in 1900 could not marry and have children. That column also caught the eye of Steve Serra of Camarillo, California, who offers the following reflection: "Using his math and logic, I calculate that if St. Paul had married and fathered three children, and each of his descendants did the same, we would now be witnessing the birth of the 60th generation of his above-average Catholic descendants—and that generation would number over 42 octillion! (That’s 42 followed by 27 zeros!) But no. St. Paul chose to remain celibate ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 19:12), to accept that gift and live a life of ‘undivided devotion’ to ‘the affairs of the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 7:7, 32-35). And what did he have to show for it? Some small Christian communities scattered about the Mediterranean and barely more than a dozen letters that would survive. And above-average Catholic descendants? Not a one."
n The elderly Bishop George Lynch and Michael Moscinski, a young Franciscan monk whose religious name is Brother Fidelius, sat quietly in the driveway of a Dobbs Ferry, New York, abortuary, praying the rosary. Judge John Sprizzo of the U.S. District Court had earlier ordered them not to do that kind of thing. They were arrested and charged with contempt of court. Invoking numerous judicial precedents in connection with acts of conscientious resistance during the Vietnam War era, as well as the history of civil disobedience in Western culture, Judge Sprizzo found them not guilty. Their action, he said, was clearly conscientious, clearly sincere, clearly motivated by religious belief (about the truth of which the government must not judge), and not willful. "Willful conduct, when used in the criminal context, generally means deliberate conduct done with a bad purpose either to disobey or to disregard the law," according to Black’s Law Dictionary. In a footnote to his opinion, Judge Sprizzo posed a striking analogy with the past and an ominous possibility for the future. "The Court is not persuaded by the Government’s argument that there cannot or should not be any defense of justification or necessity merely because the conduct at issue, i.e., abortion, is legal as a matter of positive law. Were a person to have violated a court order directing the return of a runaway slave when Dred Scott was the law, would a genuinely held belief that a slave was a human person and not an article of property be a matter the Court could not consider in deciding whether that person was guilty of a criminal contempt charge? And if so, what moral justification could be offered for trying government officials, including judges, for implementing the positive laws of Nazi Germany? These considerations are made even more relevant because of present United States commitments to international treaties on human rights, which could conceivably, at some time, put United States positive laws relating to abortion and the judges who implement them at variance with and in violation of a future international consensus on that issue." One hopes that Judge Sprizzo’s decision will give other judges, faced with cases involving nonviolent protest against abortion, pause for thought. Long pause.
n "From the Camp of the Incendiaries" is the wry title of a reflection by Hadley Arkes on why some friends reacted so negatively to the FT symposium on the judicial usurpation of politics. Writing in Crisis, he observes that a crisis of conscience is created when the courts not only countenance the killing of the innocent but also decree, as in the Casey decision, that moral objection to such injustice is an offense against the constitutional order. Arkes writes: "In the end, then, we bite our lips and counsel people to accept the restraint of the law. But discreetly covered over here is the fact that we cannot really explain why we should be constrained, in principle, from rescuing the innocent from the arbitrary taking of their lives. Lincoln once wrote to his friend, Joshua Speed, ‘You ought . . . to appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their feelings in order to maintain their loyalty to the Constitution and the Union.’ Our symposium sought to convey our sense of the depth of the problem, even as we preserved our commitment to lawfulness. Our friends do not quarrel with our assessment of how bad, in fact, things are, but they seem to condemn us for a want of prudence in saying so. Of our forbearance they say nothing. What they apparently find disturbing—to the strain of their own tolerance—is that we should be artless enough to say, in public, that the regime is truly in crisis because certain thresholds of principle have already been crossed."
n You’ve seen it quoted times beyond number: "When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes in anything." G. K. Chesterton, right? Not quite. Nigel Rees, editor of an engaging newsletter that tracks down quotations, reports that Chesterton’s fictional Father Brown said things very much like that, but he suspects the source is Emile Cammaerts’ 1937 book on GKC, which paraphrased him as believing that "The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything." "It may be upon this," writes Rees, "that all the subsequent quoters have constructed their versions." I expect GKC will not mind if folk continue to attribute the statement to him, in whatever version.
n You might think about putting your pastor or rabbi on that list of potential subscribers you were going to send.
Sources: Thomas Lacquer on smoking, New Republic, September 18 and 25, 1995. The Unknown Lenin by Mikhail Gorbachev, reviewed by David Remnick, New Yorker, November 18, 1996. On Michael Baxter contretemps at Notre Dame, National Catholic Reporter, January 31, 1997. Roger Kimball on communitarianism, Times Literary Supplement, January 17, 1997. Letters to New York Times about Madeleine Albright, February 13, 1997. On religion and democracy in Turkey, New York Times, February 13, 1997. Kenneth Woodward on feminized religion, Commonweal, November 22, 1996.While We’re At It: Rhyme on the British journalist, Spectator, October 12, 1996. Philip Gleason’s Contending with Modernity reviewed by Mark Noll, Books & Culture, September/October 1996. David V. Hicks on boarding schools, American Scholar, Autumn 1996. On Christian film festival in Paris, Ecumenical News International, November 6, 1996. James Turner Johnson and A. J. Bacevich on war, National Interest, Fall 1996. Thomas C. Berg on The Moral Tradition of American Constitutionalism by H. Jefferson Powell, Books & Culture, November/December 1996. On paganism in Minnesota, Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 31, 1996. American Elites by Lerner, Nagain, and Rothman, reviewed by David Frum in National Review, December 9, 1996. Gutman and Thompson’s Democracy and Disagreement reviewed by Peter Berkowitz, New Republic, November 25, 1996. Serge Schmemann on Jerusalem, New York Times Book Review, December 8, 1996. Daniel Silver on John Gray and Isaiah Berlin, New Criterion, November 1996. On Mexico and Mexicans living in the United States, New York Times, December 10, 1996. Priscilla Smith of Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, USA Today, December 12, 1996. Op-ed article on curing homosexuals and letters in response, Wall Street Journal, January 9 and January 23, 1997. On spoof of "circle weekend" for women in Australia, Tablet, December 7, 1996. John Stek on Bible translations, personal correspondence. On Daniel Goldhagen in Germany, New York Times Magazine, January 26, 1997. Cardinal Law on New York Times’ coverage of pro-life march in Washington, Catholic New York, January 30, 1997. On aftermath of taped confession in Oregon prison, Catholic New York, January 30, 1997. Nora Ephron on Katherine Graham, New York Times Book Review, February 9, 1997. On Father Belasuriya, Tablet, February 1, 1997. On Judge Roy Moore posting Ten Commandments in his courtroom, New York Times, February 13, 1997. On campaign against births, Statement of Bishops from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Philippines, issued February 6, 1997 in Dallas, Texas, at Bishops’ Workshop sponsored by the Pope John XXIII Medical Moral Research and Education Center of Braintree, Mass. On giving your valentine a condom, American Medical News, February 10, 1997. NOW declaration of National Day of Action in Support of Same-Sex Marriage, cited in Focus on the Family press release, February 11, 1997. Theodore Dalrymple on angry letters, Spectator, October 12, 1996. Steve Serra calculations of "above-average Catholic descendants," personal correspondence. Hadley Arkes, "From the Camp of the Incendiaries," Crisis, February 1997. Controversy over G. K. Chesterton quote on believing in God or believing in everything, The "Quote . . . Unquote" Newsletter, October 1996.