The Public Square:
A Continuing Survey of Religion and Public Life (January 1998)
Richard John Neuhaus
Copyright (c) 1998 First
Things 79 (January 1998): 62-79.
On Not Permitting the Other to Be Other
In addition to being wrongheaded, the book is simply wrong on so many
scores. That may be a good reason for ignoring it entirely, except that
it represents a viewpoint that is influential far beyond the number of
people who hold it. The book is Please Don’t Wish Me a Merry Christmas:
A Critical History of the Separation of Church and State (New York
University Press). I reviewed it for the Times Literary Supplement,
but there is more that needs saying. Published by a reputable university
press, the book is part of a series titled "Critical America,"
meaning "critical theory" that is sharply critical of America.
Other books in the series examine racism, sexism, homophobia, and other
favored multicult topics.
A wild ride through history with a deconstruction-bent postmodernist
at the wheel has its risks, but it is not without its rewards. Behind an
apparently frivolous title, Stephen Feldman, professor of law and political
science at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has a serious thesis, and
parts of it are true. It is true, for instance, that what has come to be
called "the separation of church and state" is not an American
creation ex nihilo but is a product of the efforts of two millennia to
institutionalize the distinction between temporal and spiritual authority.
Also true, and less of a truism, is the claim that, in American law, the
separation of church and state has been interpreted in very Protestant
terms, reflecting the individualistic view that religion is a matter of
personal decision or preference. Feldman notes that this is not fair to
the Jewish understanding of Judaism, and he is right about that. He fails
to appreciate the extent to which it is also unfair to the Catholic and
Orthodox understanding of Christianity.
Neither is one inclined to question Mr. Feldman’s assertion that the
separation of church and state is not entirely neutral in its consequences
for different religions. The doctrine of separation does not obliterate
the social reality of a country in which more than 90 percent of the people
say they are Christian, 80 percent claim a church affiliation, and close
to 50 percent say they go to church in any given week. It is the contention
of Mr. Feldman’s very angry book that this social reality makes the separation
of church and state no more than a "legal facade" for perpetuating
the "hegemony" and "cultural imperialism" of Christianity
in American public life.
The Christian Disaster
"I am Jewish." That is the very first sentence of the book,
from which the author believes his argument follows. It is necessary to
understand, he says, that the story of Jesus, and especially of his death,
was "intentionally fabricated" by his disciples who were "motivated
chiefly by political interest," their main interest being to condemn
Jews and Judaism. The Jew is the "other" against which Christianity
defined itself, and continues to define itself. St. Paul declared Christianity
"spiritual" and Judaism "carnal," and that doctrine
has formed the entirety of Western history, including the Holocaust and
America’s present and oppressive political order. In this reconstruction
of history, Mr. Feldman is guided also by revisionist Christian writers
such as Rosemary Radford Ruether and John Dominic Crossan.
According to Mr. Feldman, Christianity is, in addition to being a lie,
an exceedingly unattractive affair. It is a wonder that anybody has ever
found it appealing, and inexplicable that it is professed by almost two
billion people living today. Christianity is captive to a "dualism"
that denigrates life, while Judaism affirms "the whole person"
and "celebrates life." The only explanation proposed for Christianity’s
appeal is that people hate Jews. Whether they become Christian because
they hate Jews or hate Jews as a result of becoming Christian is not entirely
clear, although the latter would seem to be the case. If they don’t know
any Jews, they hate "the conceptual Jew," who is a construct
of Christianity and gives birth to "unconscious anti-Semitism,"
which is the very worst kind. "The redefinition of Jews in the New
Testament has generated and appeared to justify many subsequent imperialistic
acts by Christians. . . . For nearly 2,000 years of Western history, Christian
hegemonic power has been remarkably complete."
The bulk of the book is given over to a rambling account of the history
of the West, accompanied by lavish, if eccentrically selective, documentation.
The story of what is risibly called Western civilization is, quite simply,
the story of Christian anti-Semitism. From Theodosius to Augustine, from
Hildebrand to Aquinas, from the Renaissance to the Reformation, from the
Enlightenment to Hitler and today’s Christian Coalition, it is one long
sorry tale of Christian hatred of Jews. True, Christians were frequently
tolerant and protective of Jews, but that was only "to allow them
to endure their subjugated and miserable lives"—in the hope that they
would voluntarily convert to Christianity. True, there were good features
of the Renaissance and Reformation, such as expanded education and the
introduction of the printing press, but this only "facilitated the
rapid spread of anti-Semitic anecdotes and accusations." True, there
were periods when there were no Jews to hate, as in England for four hundred
years after the expulsion of 1290, but that only inflamed hatred of "the
conceptual Jew." And so forth. Mr. Feldman is relentless. Some, less
kindly, might think him fanatical.
From the beginning, says the author, Christianity "declared that
the Jewish covenant always had been defective and that the Jews never had
known God." In Mr. Feldman’s telling one might gain the impression
that Marcion (c. 85-160) was declared a Doctor of the Church rather than
being condemned as a heretic for teaching that the God of the Old Testament
is not the same God revealed in Jesus Christ. Implicit in the author’s
argument is also an ironic reversal and an elevation of Judaism despite,
indeed because of, the ascendancy of Christianity. Judaism was once the
elect people of God and the nations (goyim) were the "other."
Now Christians claim to be the elect people and Jews are the goyim, the
surrogate "other" of everything that is not Christian. In addition,
what is not Christian must be anti-Christian, since Christianity invented
and maintains its identity against the Jew. Thus it turns out that, precisely
by its marginalization, Judaism is the very epicenter of world history
in its resistance to the Christian hegemony. As I say, the wild ride is
not without its reward in interesting, if unpersuasive, ideas.
The author evidences limited respect for such as Thomas Aquinas. Sharply
limited. "Nevertheless," he writes, "if Thomas proved anything
through his consummate efforts at synthesis, he proved that Christianity
and Aristotelianism cannot be harmonized: they are incompatible. And ultimately,
Thomas remained a Christian. Thomas’ resolute commitment to Christianity
manifested itself in (among other ways) his rote expression of standard
Christian anti-Semitic dogma." Luther’s notorious rantings against
the Jews are well known, but for Feldman they are only a more overt expression
of the anti-Semitism that is at the heart of Christianity. Christian figures
who quote the Old Testament prophets and their criticisms of the children
of Israel thereby prove that they, the Christians, are anti-Semites. Feldman
has Christians coming and going. Those who deny that Jews worship the same
God are manifestly anti-Semitic, while those who say we do worship the
same God are engaged in the anti-Semitic ploy of coopting Judaism for Christian
purposes. Similarly, for Christians to say that Judaism is the different
"other" is anti-Semitic, and to deny that Judaism is significantly
different is anti-Semitic. "In America today, the more common (though
not solitary) form of anti-Semitic redefinition is denial of difference."
Coming back to the separation of church and state in America, Feldman
cites Michel Foucault and Hans-Georg Gadamer on the connection between
discourse and power, and complains that the "neutral" constitutional
freedom given religious discourse inevitably results in "Christian
domination." "In short," he writes, "so long as the
country remains pervasively Christian, the Supreme Court’s ability to change
the structures (and eliminate the symbols) of the de facto establishment
of Christianity is highly questionable (assuming that the Court actually
wants to do so, which it does not)." The Court, the author says, is
in a long tradition of the American refusal to eliminate Christian cultural
influence. "As Madison himself revealed, the opponents of official
establishments did not intend to reduce the Christian hold on America.
To the contrary, Madison and others believed that Protestantism would spread
most effectively without official establishment, through the congregations
of the faithful." Americans have typically said that the separation
of church and state in America has been good both for the state and for
religion. That, according to Feldman, is precisely the problem: It has
been good for Christianity.
What others call representative democracy by "we, the people"
Feldman calls the oppressive tyranny of the anti-Semitic "mob"
that is the "Christian masses." While Feldman says he is not
sure the situation would be better without the separation of church and
state, he deplores the fact that there is no serious consideration of interpreting
the Constitution explicitly against the Christian domination. For example,
the Court has ruled that clergy cannot give invocations at public school
graduation ceremonies, but he complains that the Justices did not consider
that it should be permissible for Jewish clergy to do so "because
a rabbi delivers graduation prayers in the face of Christian domination"
(emphasis in original).
Stephen Feldman is in-your-face all the way. Yet the book ends on a
weak, almost whimpering, note about what it means to live within "the
sticky web of Christian cultural and social power." He gives examples
of the oppressions experienced by those "ensnared in the web of Christian
domination." For instance, a Christian friend "said she had never
before met a Jew, although she had seen two television characters who (she
thought) were supposed to be Jewish." Mr. Feldman is deeply offended.
But such a statement is hardly surprising in Oklahoma, since Jews are only
2 percent of the American population and are heavily concentrated in the
urban North and the two coasts. For another instance, "The major intersection
near my home had a temporary Christmas tree store with large signs advertising
‘Merry Christmas, Christmas Trees.’" And yet another instance: "On
September 1, 1995, I received an advertisement in the mail from an exclusive
shopping center in Tulsa: ‘Dear Christmas shopper: Every year you’re faced
with the same question: what to buy your employees for Christmas.’"
The persecution of Mr. Feldman knows no bounds.
After almost three hundred pages of a wild postmodernist ride through
Western history and a radically revisionist deconstruction of American
constitutional theory, what remedy does the author propose? The book concludes
with this: "I ask for one small political act. I request each reader
to consider making a simple and direct statement questioning Christian
imperialism. My idea: next year, when someone wishes you a ‘Merry Christmas,’
just say, ‘Please don’t! Don’t wish me a Merry Christmas.’" In other
words, the answer to the Christian cultural hegemony is for Christians
to stop being Christian. It is an answer that is not likely to be well
received in Oklahoma or anywhere else in the United States, which will,
one fears, only confirm Mr. Feldman in his sense of being oppressed.
Bizarre and Important
Please Don’t Wish Me a Merry Christmas, despite its hundred pages
of notes, is innocent of any engagement with biblical and historical scholarship
that offers more credible accounts of the complicated relationship between
Christianity and Judaism, and is dogmatically indifferent to the vast literature
on the Jewish-Christian dialogue of recent decades. Feldman seems to be
entirely unfamiliar with the tradition of Franz Rosenzweig, the historic
development of Christian thought about Judaism coming out of the Second
Vatican Council, or such contemporary works as David Novak’s Jewish-Christian
Dialogue. For a dramatically different treatment of the contemporary
questions addressed by Feldman, one thinks of—to cite but one instance—Elliott
Abrams’ new book, Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian
America (Free Press). And the recently published Religion and State
in the American Jewish Experience (University of Notre Dame Press)
edited by Jonathan Sarna and David Dalin offers a treatment of the constitutional
and social issues that is both much more believable and much more constructive
than Feldman’s angry tirade (see review by Elliott Abrams in FT, October
1997). These and innumerable other Jewish writers are as emphatic as Feldman
in beginning from the premise, "I am Jewish." Unlike Feldman,
however, they do not believe that premise requires that others stop being,
in the jargon of our postmodernist friends, "other."
As I say, Feldman’s is an atypically explicit expression of a viewpoint
that has great influence in academic and legal discussions about religion
and public life. There are all too many who share with Feldman a belief
that Christianity is inherently anti-Semitic and that religion in public—especially
Christianity in public—is necessarily a threat to others. It is a viewpoint
we should try to understand. Christians who think that religion has been
marginalized and that we live in a post-Christian culture may be surprised
by Feldman’s repeated assertions about "the pervasive power of Christianity
pulsing through the social body." For those who view the world as
he does, every "Jesus Saves" bumper sticker is, as he claims,
a slap at Jews and Judaism. He insists that in public schools every last
vestige of religious influence must be eliminated lest his Jewish daughter
suffer "a loss of self-esteem." This may strike readers as odd,
since her father manifests a prodigiously healthy self-esteem that is directly
related to his defiant "I am Jewish!" in the face of what he
takes to be Christian cultural imperialism.
Feldman knows that Jews have been in the forefront of pressing for a
"strict separationism" between church and state, and he is distressed
about that. He thinks they have been "seduced" into settling
for a separation of church and state when the real imperative is to separate
religion from public life. Religion free from government interference,
he complains, is simply freed for the exercise of social and cultural hegemony.
Because the "Christian masses" are free to set the cultural pace,
they have "effectively forced American Jews to Christianize
to some extent" (emphasis in original). A minority has to define itself
in relation to the majority, and that injustice can only be remedied by
depriving the majority of its influence.
In his telling of history, Feldman acknowledges that Christians have
at times been tolerant of Jews, but he complains that they do this out
of "respect for Christian, not Judaic, tenets." This is the most
galling thing, that Christians should have Christian reasons for
being favorably disposed toward Jews. Thus is the Christian hegemony completed:
Whether they oppress Jews or embrace Jews, it is always they, the
Christians, who are calling the tune. Thus are Jews deprived even of the
ownership of their own oppression. Feldman’s argument is inaccurate, convoluted,
bizarre, and profoundly insulting to Christians, but it is not unimportant.
Christians should read Please Don’t Wish Me a Merry Christmas.
It provides a window into a way of viewing the world and the American circumstance
that needs to be understood. I believe it is a minority viewpoint, also
among American Jews, but it is a viewpoint that needs to be engaged and
countered by Jews and Christians alike if we are to sustain in America
an historically unprecedented relationship of mutual respect and unquestioned
security, despite differences that will not be resolved until they are
indisputably clarified in the Kingdom of God. One says that in full awareness
that Stephen Feldman and those of like mind will protest that way of putting
it as an instance of what might be called preemptive hegemony, since Christians
cannot deny that they think they know how the story will turn out. On the
other hand, believing Jews think they know, too. What we know together
is that God—the Father of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus—knows. That
is enough. It is also the most secure basis of our living and working together
in a world short of the final consummation.
Prime Time Religion
Back in the fifties, bien-pensant Catholics who had been touched
by cultural aspiration were embarrassed that Fulton J. Sheen was, more
than anyone else, the public face of Catholicism in America. Many of his
clerical brethren criticized him for pandering to a general audience and
not using his immense popularity to communicate the meat and potatoes of
the faith. This came to mind in reading Andrew Delbanco’s review of Billy
Graham’s autobiography, Just As I Am. Writing in The New Republic,
Delbanco speaks of Graham’s mastery of television: "Other pioneers
of TV religion—such as Fulton J. Sheen, whose one-man format of religious
instruction was almost professorial, or Oral Roberts, whose hokey revival
meetings featuring miracle cures failed to make it onto prime time in the
big markets—never quite mastered the medium."
Leaving Oral Roberts out of it, the fact is that Bishop Sheen was the
biggest show on network prime time and was the most popular show in America,
putting into second place the putative king of television, Milton Berle.
It does not detract from Billy Graham’s immense achievements to note that
his crusades have over the decades been on bought time, mainly on independent
stations. Between Sheen and Graham there is simply no contest about who
"mastered the medium." It is important to get the history straight
when thinking about the place of religion in the big time media.
Ten years ago I wrote a book called The Catholic Moment. Pat
Buchanan had a book out around the same time, Right From the Beginning,
all about growing up Catholic in Georgetown. He sent me a copy inscribed
with this: "There was a Catholic Moment three decades ago,
for some of us. Thought you might enjoy reading about it." I did.
He meant the era of Bing Crosby priests in movies such as The Bells
of St. Mary’s and, of course, of Bishop Sheen. It’s a long and steep
slide from Bishop Sheen to ABC’s Nothing Sacred.
Today the insurgency of religion in public that catches the media’s
attention is mainly under evangelical Protestant auspices. Promise Keepers
and the many manifestations of "the religious right" are generally
treated as both hokey and threatening, certainly not part of the cultural
mainstream. One may well wonder whether we were better off, in terms of
the public face of Christianity, when the dominant figures were Bishop
Sheen and the Protestant master of positive thinking, Norman Vincent Peale.
(Adlai Stevenson, in one of the many asides that failed to endear him to
the American people: "I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.")
Sheen’s radio program, The Catholic Hour, ran from 1930 to 1952,
and the television show, Life Is Worth Living, with some thirty
million viewers, went from 1951 to 1957.
Peale, Sheen, and the catholic moment remembered by Buchanan were all
part of a wondrous synthesis of religion and The American Way of Life represented
by the Eisenhower era. (Rabbi Joshua Liebman filled out the interreligious
troika.) Ike is often quoted as saying that America is built on religious
faith, and he didn’t care what faith it was. Numerous scholars have tried
in vain to track down the quote but never mind, it reflected the spirit
of the time. A prominent conservative leader once told me that his conservatism
could be very simply defined: "Back to the Eisenhower era!" Peale
was passé in the 1960s, but still presided over a very considerable
publishing empire until his death as a very old man. Sheen had a short
and stormy time (1966-69) as bishop of Rochester, New York, and spent his
last ten years as a somewhat reclusive hero of Catholics who shared his
critical attitude toward so much that went awry in the aftermath of Vatican
Billy Graham endured. From the beginning, hard-core fundamentalists
railed against what they viewed as his doctrinal trimming and ecumenical
compromises, accusing him of presenting an anodyne gospel in order to broaden
his appeal. Although for decades he has ranked as the first or second most
popular figure in America, the prestige media have consistently treated
Graham as the respectable, or at least more respectable, representative
of a distinctly unrespectable religious subculture. He never attained the
cultural acceptability of Bishop Sheen in his prime, but that probably
has less to do with the differences between the two men than with the crash
of America’s prime time in the cultural revolutions launched more than
thirty years ago and continuing to this day.
This Is Not Just Any Old Democracy
"If the people want abortion, the state should permit abortion,
in a democracy." Thus Justice Antonin Scalia in response to a question
following his lecture at the Gregorian University in Rome in May 1996.
He hasn’t heard the end of it. I believe Scalia has been getting a bum
rap in some forums. The unguarded statement was made in a Q & A session,
and it is clear that Scalia had reference to the need for judges to refrain
from pitting their own moral judgments against the judgments of the people
as expressed through their representatives.
Father Robert A. Connor addresses the Scalia brouhaha in a thoughtful
article in the American Journal of Jurisprudence. It is a complex
argument and I will not attempt to summarize it, except to say that Fr.
Connor contends that the truth of natural law in jurisprudence is a "second
tier" derivative from the religious faith of Americans at the time
of the founding, and what Americans actually believed at the time should
be taken seriously by anyone who subscribes to an "originalist"
understanding of the Constitution. Justice Scalia may be right about a
democracy, he says, but not about this democracy.
Along the way of his argument, Fr. Connor tosses in some facts and observations
that you may find handy when across the kitchen table someone says that
the Founders intended a secular constitutional order. "This absoluteness,
appearing as consensus and self-evidence, coincided historically with an
almost total presence of Christian faith as praxis in the colonies. Benjamin
Hart asserts that ‘America at the end of the eighteenth century was overwhelmingly
Protestant, and of the dissident variety. Though precise figures on church
membership are not available, we do have numbers on church bodies. In 1775
there were 668 Congregational churches; 588 Presbyterian; 494 Baptist;
310 Quaker; 159 German Reformed; 150 Lutheran; 65 Methodist; 31 Moravian;
27 Congregational-Separatist; 24 Dunker; and 16 Mennonite churches. The
Anglican Church had 495 congregations, making it a decided minority in
America at the time of the revolution. About 75 percent of all Americans
belonged to churches of Puritan extraction. When dissenting Protestants
and Anglicans are combined, we find a religious composition in America
that was 98.4 percent Protestant, 1.4 percent Roman Catholic, and three-twentieths
of one percent Jewish.’ Besides the numerical presence of believing Christians,
[Walter] Berns reports that ‘[t]o one degree or another, and in one or
another of its Christian varieties, over half the states had an established
religion. . . .’ Concerning the impact of this on the societal ethos, Washington
remarked in his farewell address: ‘Of all the dispositions and habits which
lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.
. . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can
be maintained without religion. . . . [R]eason and experience both forbid
us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious
principle.’ Jefferson himself (enemy of ‘monkish ignorance and superstition’)
questioned whether ‘the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we
have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people
that these liberties are of the gift of God.’ Tocqueville, in summing up
his observations on the country, remarked: ‘I do not know whether all Americans
have a sincere faith in their religion—for who can search the human heart?—but
I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of
republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens
or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of
From the peanut gallery: So what does all that prove? I don’t know that
it "proves" much of anything, but it does strongly suggest that
when the Founders spoke of the truths that make freedom necessary
they didn’t mean—à la the notorious "mystery passage"
in the Casey decision—the truths sundry individuals concocted in
the shower this morning, or wherever people do their concocting. In this
democracy, truths have a determinate history. Someone might respond,
"At least they used to." But that’s not quite right. If these
truths did, they still do. That’s the way it is with truths, and that,
too, is what is meant by an originalist reading of the Constitution.
Sensitivity for the Oppressors
In a defiant defense of the Chinese Communist dictatorship, the Christian
Century features major articles attacking the movement to protest religious
persecution in that country. Based on work in China with Mennonite groups,
one article solidly sides with the National Council of Churches (NCC) and
the World Council of Churches (WCC), both of which are close to the government-sponsored
religious organizations in China. The authors write, "The NCC urges
attentiveness to the voices of Chinese Christians and takes its cues from
the China Christian Council (CCC), China’s only nationally recognized Protestant
organization." Another article, written by a Presbyterian pastor who
teaches conflict resolution in Cape Town, South Africa, seconds the argument
that religious persecution in China is being greatly exaggerated, and the
best way to help Chinese Christians is through "constructive dialogue"
with the regime.
While it is admitted that the CCC is subservient to the government,
we are urged to understand Chinese sensibilities about foreign interference.
For instance, "Mainland Chinese have great pride and sensitivity to
territorial questions, especially those about autonomy for Taiwan and Tibet."
About China’s cruel conquest of Tibet and its threat to take over Taiwan,
if necessary by force, the Chinese are proud and sensitive, and we should
be sensitive to that. The Century criticizes the U.S. State Department
report on religious persecution in China. "The anti-China publicity
that the report generated confirmed the Chinese fear that Americans are
anti-Chinese." In fact, the report was generated by publicity about
religious persecution, a subject on which the State Department had been
shamefully reticent in the past.
Remarkable for a magazine that describes itself as "An Ecumenical
Weekly," there is not one mention of Roman Catholicism in China. On
the eve of a state visit by a head of state who is aptly called "the
butcher of Tianenmen Square," the Century maintained its long
tradition of soft-pedalling criticism of Communist regimes. During the
Cold War, the agencies of liberal Protestantism repeatedly urged understanding
of the difficulties faced by Communist rulers and claimed that questions
of persecution are best addressed through "quiet diplomacy."
This in dramatic contrast to their strident interventionism in South Africa,
and equally strident support for leftist insurgencies in, for example,
Central America. The argument advanced by the Century that American
protest against religious persecution makes life more difficult for Chinese
Christians should be recognized for what it is: an argument against human
rights as an integral part of U.S. foreign policy, and an argument against
Christians speaking out on behalf of persecuted brothers and sisters.
The position advanced by the Century, NCC, WCC, and others has
a respectable place in the tradition of a Realpolitik approach to politics
among nations. It would be more credible, however, were these organizations
not so blatantly selective in their application of "principled protest"
and "constructive dialogue." Added to the ideological propensities
of these organizations is the factor that the protest against religious
persecution in China is being pressed primarily by evangelical Protestants.
If evangelicals are for the protest, oldline liberals must be against it.
In addition to the repugnance of serving as apologists for a brutal dictatorship,
this promotion of divisiveness among Christians in America is hard to square
with the stated mission of "an ecumenical weekly." Did I mention
that the Century’s special China issue had not one word on the millions
of Catholics in China?
Truth Performed and Deformed
The children of the famous have a mixed blessing, especially if they
try to make their mark in the same field as their famous parent. They can
travel so far on the famous name, but then feel the need to do something
dramatically different in order to assert that they are persons in their
own right. Such would seem to be the dynamics driving the career of Susannah
Heschel, daughter of one of the most distinguished Jewish thinkers of this
century, the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. She has undeniably succeeded
in making sure that nobody will confuse her work with that of her father.
In a new book, Judaism Since Gender (Routledge), Heschel, a professor
of Jewish Studies at Case Western University, has an essay titled, "Jesus
as Theological Transvestite." She observes that some Jewish scholars,
in an effort to upgrade Judaism in the eyes of Christians, have claimed
Jesus as an entirely Jewish figure, while many Christian scholars have
resisted that claim.
In what is, sad to say, not intended as a parody of current academic
fashions, she writes: "In considering the inscription of Jesus at
the boundaries, I would suggest turning from a binary view of Judaism and
Christianity to a more usefully complicated picture of religious development
that recognizes the performative nature of religious activity. The interpretive
language that makes this move possible comes from recent work in queer
theory, which offers a corrective to some earlier feminist approaches.
In particular, queer theory addresses the problem of binary thinking, in
which male and female function as static terms of reference in dichotomous
relation to one another. Instead this theory suggests that the binary construct
of male and female is fictive, calling our attention to categories of overlap
and confusion of sexual identity, in which male and female become so intricately
intertwined that no effective separation of their components appears possible.
The emergence of queer theory stems from theoretical innovations that see
gender not as an identifiable essence, as in the modernist tradition, nor
even a social construction, as in the postmodernist tradition, but as a
performance without any fixed referential point. Judith Butler writes that
‘there is no gender identity behind expressions of gender; that identity
is performatively constituted by the very "expressions" that
are said to be its results.’"
The contribution of feminist scholarship, says Prof. Heschel, is to
destabilize everything. In the old scheme of things, "Jews dressed
Jesus as a rabbi" and Christians "insisted upon the opposition
between Jesus and Judaism." "By contrast, Jesus as theological
transvestite unsettles and ‘queers’ our understanding of the ‘boundaries’
between Judaism and Christianity." As indeed it queers the boundaries
between reality and any truth we might choose to perform "without
any fixed referential point." Of course, the post-post-modernist flimflammers
who hold sway over so much of the academy would insist that "reality"
and "truth" be ironically caged in quotation marks. As for the
great Heschel, many of us who knew and loved him expect that he would be
shaking his head in sad disbelief.
The Soul of Liberalism
"Contending for the soul of liberalism." That, I said in "The
Liberalism of John Paul II" (FT, May 1997), is what we must be up
to. There came in response the usual objections from the enemies of liberalism,
both left and right. Don’t I know that the liberal regime is more than
a political system? It is also a moral-cultural order that systematically
destroys the bonds of tradition, community, and virtue. Yes, I know very
well the arguments to that effect, and they are partially persuasive. But
we live within the tradition and constitutional order of liberalism, and
it is here that we must do the best we can. It is both too easy and counterproductive
to blame liberalism for the moral shambles of our social circumstance.
We ought not let the debilitated liberalism of more recent history control
the definition of the liberal tradition itself.
Peter Berkowitz, professor of government at Harvard (though recently
denied tenure) and occasional FT contributor, agrees, and sends along his
excellent essay published in the Fall 1996 issue of Perspectives on
Political Science, "Liberalism’s Virtue." Berkowitz examines
the teachings of the founding fathers of the liberal tradition—Thomas Hobbes,
John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill—and rescues them from their
captivity to both critics and admirers who claim that it is the chief virtue
of liberalism that it has dispensed with the need for virtue.
Berkowitz makes a lucid and convincing argument of many parts, including
some interesting thoughts on why Mill was so opposed to the idea that government
should be in the business of educating the citizenry.
Berkowitz writes: "If one rejects the simple equation of virtue
with human perfection and understands virtue also as those qualities of
mind and character that support the attainment of a range of ends and the
performance of a variety of tasks, then such makers of modern liberalism
as Hobbes, Locke, Kant, and Mill come into view as assigning an essential
place to virtue in moral and political life. Their differences of opinion
about virtue, as well as underlying continuities, can be brought out by
examining in the case of each thinker the specific catalogue of virtues
put forward, the end or ends virtue is asked to serve, and the means proposed
for fostering virtue. . . . I do not wish to deny that the very idea of
virtue in the liberal tradition is marked by basic and destabilizing tensions.
What I do wish to affirm, though, is that the liberal tradition provides
an illuminating and underappreciated source of instruction about the necessity
of virtue where the natural freedom and equality of all is a principle
on which the legitimacy of government is thought to rest."
Berkowitz recognizes that the liberal tradition has built-in tensions
if not contradictions. "For example, in contrast to those who oppose
contemporary liberalism and its concern for individual rights and fair
procedures, a civic republicanism devoted to the goods of democratic participation
and the energetic practice of civic virtue, the liberal tradition teaches
how to affirm the importance of virtue and the associational life to which
it is intimately connected without losing sight of the good reasons for
protecting individuals against the authority of community and protecting
communities as well as individuals, when necessary, against overbearing
state power. In contrast to those who analyze the weaknesses of American
democracy in terms of disappearing stocks of social capital and a declining
civil society, the liberal tradition reminds us that social capital depends
on moral capital—that is, on energetic and self-reliant individuals capable
of forming and maintaining the voluntary associations that sustain the
habits of cooperation and self-restraint that are so useful to liberal
democracies. In short, in contrast to today’s democratic theorists who
typically see only the need to restore some single element of democracy
in the United States, the makers of modern liberalism teach the permanent
necessity—at least for states based on the freedom and equality of all—of
weaving together moral and political principles that must be made to support
one another although they often pull in opposing directions."
Contemporary liberalism, which reduces all to individualistic self-expression
and moral license, must be countered by another liberalism that can draw
on the founding sources of the liberal tradition itself. An intellectually
persuasive and socially effective countering, of course, must draw also
on the religious sources that, however unrecognized, give coherence to
the tradition’s treatment of virtue and human flourishing. Countering the
currently prevalent notions of liberalism is today typically called conservatism.
The better way to understand it is that we are contending for the soul
A Woman’s Choice
My colleague J. Bottum, who recently left us for the Weekly Standard,
mentioned this rather different movie on the subject of choice, so I asked
him to write up the following note. You might want to keep it in mind the
next time you visit the video store.
Jorge Luis Borges has a story—one of his typically mocking, philosophically
pointed tales—about a twentieth-century man who has spent his life painfully
rewriting an exact replica of Don Quixote. How different look the little
passages of Spanish prose the man has managed to produce, the narrator
points out, when we know that they’re written not by Cervantes but by someone
alive now. Borges’ story came to mind recently while thinking about movies,
about how differently viewers would take Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert
in Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night—essentially a film about the lengths
to which two beautiful and highly aroused people will go to avoid having
premarital sex—were it released today instead of 1934, when it took all
the top Oscars.
The occasion for this reflection was watching a relatively new film
from Columbia Pictures called Fools Rush In, now out on videocassette.
Starring the amiably goofy Matthew Perry as a New York troubleshooter sent
out to Nevada and the gorgeous Salma Hayek as the feisty Hispanic photographer
with whom he falls in love, the movie is hardly great art—just a straightforward
and perfectly enjoyable romantic comedy of the kind that Hollywood turned
out at the rate of two a month back in the 1930s and ’40s.
But how different it seems now. Directed by Andy Tennant from a screenplay
by Katherine Reback, Fools Rush In tells the story of Alex Whitman, a stereotypically
ironic Manhattanite posted for a few months in Las Vegas, and Isabelle
Fuentes, a Mexican-American working as a camera girl at Caesar’s Palace.
They "meet cute," as the expression goes, in line to use the
toilet in a restaurant (a scene that probably wouldn’t have made it into
It Happened One Night), and they both get a little drunk. Awakening at
five the next morning in Alex’s bed, Isabelle flees in disgust at her one-night
stand—only to show up three months later to announce to Alex her resulting
From there the movie develops pretty much the way you’d expect, or at
least pretty much the way you’d expect if this were 1934: he proposes,
she refuses; she runs, he follows; they marry that same day and spend the
next six months in shock at their sudden marriage, their expected child,
and the fact that he lives in New York and she in Nevada. Oh, and it all
turns out happy.
A successful screenwriter once described to me how easy he had found
it to set pro-life themes in the movies on which he’s worked—always provided,
of course, that the characters never talk about it. Sympathetic figures
are not allowed to use pro-life rhetoric, and whenever the topic of abortion
comes up, they have to mouth the accepted Hollywood cant of choice. But
otherwise no one seems to notice if you put happy mothers and wanted children
in your stories. It’s not so much a matter of sneaking the truth past the
censors as letting the truth stand out unspoken.
Whether or not the director and the screenwriter intended it, Fools
Rush In is astonishingly anti-abortion for a modern film. Completely absent
are the slogans of the pro-life movement, but present is the truth about
how most people actually think when they’re not talking abstractly about
abortion. Alex falls back in love with his wife when he hears the infant’s
heartbeat, while Isabelle’s obstetrician casually asks if they want an
ultrasound printout as "the first picture of your baby." A lightning-fast
but telling scene occurs when Isabelle first tells Alex she’s pregnant
and knows what she has to do. "Oh, thank God," he cries before
he catches himself and sententiously adds, "I mean, I have always
believed in a woman’s right to choose." "Good," Isabelle
answers, "because I choose to keep this baby."
As I said, if this were 1934, you probably wouldn’t notice, just sit
back and enjoy the light film. But things have changed since then, and
it seems worthwhile to mention a new movie that has the novelty of old-fashionedness.
Bearing the Cross
"The Catholicizing of the Holocaust." That is one rabbi’s
way of putting the Jewish complaint against the canonizing of Edith Stein.
One obvious response is that Edith Stein "Catholized" Edith Stein,
and therefore her part in the Holocaust. One commentator has observed that
she was killed as a Jew but died as a Christian. But that doesn’t seem
quite right. A more compelling response is offered by Dominican Father
J. Augustine DiNoia at a recent Mass commemorating Edith Stein.
In her essay, "The Road to Carmel," Edith Stein wrote: "I
spoke to our Savior and told him that I knew it was His Cross which was
now being laid on the Jewish people. Most of them did not understand it;
but those who did understand must accept it willingly in the name of all."
These words hint at the deeply mysterious way in which Edith Stein vicariously
identified herself with her people. It is a matter that she always understood
to be of great significance for the meaning of her life—a conviction that
her mother had inspired in her—that her birthday was October 21, 1891,
the feast of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, that year. Indeed,
forty-two years later, with her entrance into Carmel, she identified herself
with Queen Esther (see Esther 8:3-6):
"I am confident that the Lord has taken my life for all the Jews.
I always have to think of Queen Esther, who was taken away from her people
for the express purpose of standing before the king for her people. I am
the very poor, weak, and small Esther, but the king who selected me is
very great and merciful."
She could not have known then how prophetic these words would turn out
Fr. DiNoia continues:
The events of the last month of her life show clearly why this great
saint is to be venerated in the Church as a martyr. There is a fact that
is little known and of great significance for understanding the nature
of her martyrdom. On July 26, 1942, the Dutch bishops protested the deportation
of Jews in a pastoral letter read in all the Catholic churches of Holland.
The Nazi officials retaliated by arresting all Catholics, but not other
Christians, of Jewish origins. They came for Edith and her sister Rosa
on August 2. After passing through several other camps, they finally arrived
at Auschwitz on August 9, and they died in the gas chamber there on that
very day. Thus it happened, in God’s mysterious design, that Edith Stein—Blessed
Teresa Benedicta of the Cross—went to her death, as a Jew, embracing solidarity
with her people, and, as a Christian, bearing witness unto death to the
Catholic protest against the evil of anti-Semitism.
Only in the "science of the Cross" could such a death have
the meaning of a victory. We learn this science from Christ himself who,
in a definitive way, conquered the evil of sin and death through the Cross,
and who leads each one of us, one by one, through the same passage—passio—so
that sin will die in us and give way to the newness of life.
In declaring Edith Stein a saint and martyr, the Church expresses her
faith that, in the end, it was God himself who blessed and enabled Edith
Stein’s willing embrace of the Cross and her vicarious representation of
her people and, by this sign, confirmed our faith in Christ’s victory over
evil, even in the organized and seemingly superhuman form it assumed in
Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
While We’re At It
- In a recent lecture in Rome a while back, I defended, among other things,
the proposition that "tolerance is a Christian virtue." In response,
I am sent Dorothy Sayers’ essay, "The Other Six Deadly Sins,"
just republished by Sophia Institute Press in a collection titled Creed
or Chaos? Sayers writes, "The Church names the sixth deadly Sin
Acedia or Sloth. In the world it calls itself Tolerance; but in
Hell it is called Despair." She goes on: "It is the accomplice
of the other sins and their worst punishment. It is the sin which believes
in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing,
enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing,
lives for nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would
die for." It is so nicely said that one hesitates to disagree. There
is tolerance, and then there is tolerance. There is the tolerance of indifference
to truth, and then there is the tolerance (from tolerare—to endure)
that is the fortitude to bear with people, also with people who do their
worst to make themselves unbearable. The latter is indeed a virtue.
- Britain’s New Labor government has a few tried and failed ideas of
its own. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville,
brings to my attention that Her Majesty’s Government promoted a first-ever
Sexual Awareness Week. An official explained, "Young people are less
likely to have early sex if there is good communication about the subject
at home. We are emphasizing that sex is fun and talking is the key to a
healthy sex life." Right. "It’s really fun, kids, so don’t do
it." I can’t help thinking that it’s a sad commentary on the younger
generation when they have to be instructed to take an interest in sex.
What’s really interesting, however, is the assertion that talking is the
key to the thing. "Brits do it verbally." It’s downright kinky.
- Joseph Vining, professor of law at the University of Michigan, is commenting
on Jefferson Powell’s The Moral Tradition of American Constitutionalism,
which has received some attention in these pages. At a symposium at Notre
Dame Law School, Vining said: "If, beyond constitutional theories,
the central texts of constitutional law themselves contain assertions that
there is no capacity in us to read or write authoritative texts, then there
is no capacity in us to read or treat as authoritative the texts that assert
there is no such capacity—they certainly can make no claim to authority:
they have burnt the bridge to themselves as they have burnt the bridge
to authority, and left us as if they were not there. And the question then
becomes, what else is there if they are not there? Only legal method gives
an enshrining of atomistic individualism in Supreme Court opinions any
force. Quite aside from the fact that the enshrining is in one opinion
and not another, in some or many but not all, in those of one era but not
all eras, in majority opinions, concurring opinions, plurality opinions,
it is legal method that leads us to look at them at all, pay attention
to them, pay close enough attention even to begin drawing out their ‘rationalism’
from the tumble of words in them. To the extent that what they say makes
legal method foolish or impossible, they lose their force, inevitably,
regardless, without our doing. And one might think they are not to be feared—no
more feared than the figure of a man in the corner of a busy room who says,
apparently believing it, that he is not there and does not exist. If he
denies as well your own capacity to see, and he himself clearly has no
stick or gun and is physically harmless, he would necessarily lose out
in the competing claims upon your attention." That is a tightly-packed
statement. I take it to mean this: When, as in the notorious "mystery
passage" in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court
denies any normative moral tradition and suggests that liberty means that
truth is whatever an individual chooses to say is true, the Court is declaring
that it is not authorized to tell us that truth is whatever an individual
chooses to say is true. Unlike the man who says he does not exist, however,
the Court is not harmless. Unless, of course, we take it at its word and
deprive it of its gun and stick.
- We don’t do it with the english, the irish, the spanish, or americans,
so why do we print "blacks" in lower case. That is a good question
from Frank Jennings of San Antonio, Texas. It does seem an anomaly. But
we generally follow the style manuals, and they say "blacks."
One reason they do, I suppose, is that one should ordinarily refer to people
in the way they want to be referred to, and it seems most blacks prefer
"blacks." A much earlier "colored people" was not capitalized,
nor is today’s "people of color." Negro is capitalized, as is
African-American, but despite Mr. Jesse Jackson’s pronunciamento of some
years ago that the latter is the correct appellation, it does not seem
to have caught on with most Americans of African descent, at least not
outside the academy. Quite frankly, my life is so driven by principles
that I welcome a problem where no great principle is involved and we are
permitted to go with the flow.
- We refused an ad for the book, so why give it free publicity by mentioning
it? Because it says something not entirely uninteresting about our intellectual
culture. The book is The Life and Death of NSSM 200 by Stephen D.
Mumford, and it traces the fate of a national security memo, reportedly
supported by Presidents Nixon and Ford, that proposed an all-out attack
on the alleged crisis of a domestic and global population explosion. The
book itself is an all-out attack on those who resist such an attack, and
especially on the Vatican for its wicked manipulations in controlling the
policies of the U.S. and the United Nations. Among the chapters are "The
Cross of Papal Infallibility," "Postponing Self-Destruction of
the Church," and "Defection of the Faithful." Such frenzied
anti-Catholic conspiracy-mongering is hardly new, but one is impressed
by the eminences who warmly endorse the book: the former head of the Sierra
Club, Gene La Rocque of the Center for Defense Information, Edward O. Wilson
of Harvard, and Father Hans Küng, German theologian. From the ad:
"A fascinating and disturbing insight into a population policy that
could have changed the world but for the machinations of the Vatican."
That claim is the kind of thing that could give machination a good name.
- Ask Dr. Bernard Nathanson a question and you get an answer. So I asked
about "Ethical Considerations of Assisted Reproductive Technologies,"
recently issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Being
a man of definite views, Dr. Nathanson says of this "odious document"
that it speaks of "abandoned embryos" as though they were property
to be claimed at the lost-and-found department of the New York subway system.
It comments glowingly on the prospects of embryo splitting, "which
to all intents and purposes is human cloning." There is also enthusiasm
for the possibility of impregnating postmenopausal women with no age limit
at all, leading Dr. Nathanson to envision "PTA meetings held in the
nearest nursing home." Nor does the report overlook the benefits of
reproducing yourself after you are dead. "To its credit," Nathanson
observes, "the committee does express concern over the use of fetal
ovaries/oocytes to be used in the laboratory manufacture of human beings.
What, after all, is the child to say about his or her mother, the aborted
fetus?" Some readers may be offended by the gallows humor, but it
is only in order to deny grief a monopoly.
- Crowd two thousand people into a compound smaller than a city block,
where space per person is measured in inches, food is scarce, and life
is uncertain under the guns of enemy forces, and you will discover a lot
about human nature. That is the story of Langdon Gilkey’s Shantung Compound:
The Story of Men and Women Under Pressure, first published in 1966
and now excerpted in a reprint from the Trinity Forum. The reprint carries
a foreword by Os Guinness of the Forum, who was also born in China and
had first-hand experience of what happened when the Japanese invaded and
rounded up the Western businessmen, diplomats, and missionaries with whom
Gilkey was imprisoned. For Gilkey, who went on to a long career teaching
theology at the University of Chicago, the chief lesson of Shantung Compound
was the shattering of his smug, liberal, bourgeois confidence about the
innate goodness and rationality of human beings. Those years turned Gilkey
into a Niebuhrian, meaning a believer in Reinhold Niebuhr’s stark moral
"realism." Like most educated people of his kind, Gilkey had
been taught to think that, if people were rationally persuaded of the moral
rightness of a thing, they would act upon that knowledge. "I now understood
that beneath this surface harmony lay the reality I had just discovered.
But only the ruthless competition in the offices of the business world,
the bitter economic and political clashes of our wider community life—where
the fundamental conflicts of career, race, class, or nation are waged—manifest
to those of us who live in comfort the ugly specters of human hostility,
self-interest, and prejudice. The ordinary social relations fostered in
college or country club seemed continually to validate the modern liberal
estimate of man as rational and moral, able to see what is right and willing
to pursue it for the common good." In circumstances such as the compound
"no one feigns virtue any longer, and few aspire to it, for it hurts
rather than pays to be good. Consequently, here virtue—as the wise men
have always insisted—is rare indeed. . . . It was a rare person indeed
in our camp whose mind could rise beyond that involvement of the self in
crucial issues to view them dispassionately. Rational behavior in communal
action is primarily a moral and not an intellectual achievement, possible
only to a person who is morally capable of self-sacrifice. In a real sense,
I came to believe, moral selflessness is a prerequisite for the
life of reason—not its consequence, as so many philosophers contend."
Shantung Compound is compelling reading, even if one would want
to balance it with, for instance, Samuel and Pearl Oliner’s The Altruistic
Personality, the story of those who rescued Jews from the Nazis under
circumstances of extreme peril. Among Niebuhr’s great achievements was
to devastate the sentimental liberalism that ignores the pervasiveness
of sin and tragedy in the human experience. Among Niebuhr’s weaknesses—or
the weaknesses of many Niebuhrians—is the failure to appreciate the human
capacity for moral grandeur, as exemplified in the lives of saints and
martyrs and so powerfully explicated in, for instance, John Paul II’s encyclical
Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth). For a free copy of the
reprint from Shantung Compound, write Trinity Forum, 5210 Lyngate
Court, Suite B, Burke, Virginia 11015.
- Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School has frequently warned of the
ways in which the international human rights "community" tries
to establish new rights through international law, thus doing an end-run
around domestic politics that might not favor such rights. David M. Smolin
of Cumberland Law School takes up this concern in a major article, "Will
International Human Rights Be Used as a Tool of Cultural Genocide? The
Interaction of Human Rights Norms, Religion, Culture, and Gender"
(Journal of Law and Religion). His conclusion: "The reform
of human rights law, if it were to be attempted, would involve severely
reducing the scope of its aspirations. For example, it would certainly
not be a small thing if international human rights law could be effective
against genocide; international human rights law, it would seem, has dissipated
its moral force and its efforts by offering itself to be used by virtually
every cause that can be placed in the idiom of ‘rights-talk.’ Not every
worthy cause or human good can or should be transformed into an international
‘right.’ Religion has had to learn, sometimes only through painful and
destructive experience, that not all of its most cherished goods can or
should be enforced by political means. The relatively young human rights
movement needs to be taught the same lesson, hopefully before it seriously
mars its reputation by destroying the very rights it was designed to protect.
Until and unless a severe winnowing of the goals and norms of international
human rights law occurs, religious believers, and people of good will who
believe in intermediary institutions, religious freedom, and family rights,
should be warned. For the great contemporary protector of rights, the international
human rights movement, would, if given real power, constitute one of the
gravest threats to those rights yet conceived by humanity."
- Writing in the Journal of Church and State, Timothy A. Byrnes
of Colgate University reviews Catholicism, Liberalism, and Communitarianism:
The Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the Moral Foundations of Democracy.
He likes the book, but thinks the various contributors to this collection
of essays are too hard on the Democrats and too easy on the Republicans.
His conclusion: "This may be, as Richard Neuhaus has claimed, a Catholic
moment in American social and political life. Certainly, Catholicism,
Liberalism, and Communitarianism makes the philosophical point that
Catholicism has a great deal to say to modern day Americans. But no one
should assume that the ideological or partisan implications of Catholic
social teaching are straightforward or run in only one political direction.
They do not. And that may be precisely why the Church’s teachings come
across in this provocative book as so unusually dynamic and vibrant."
He may be right about the Republican tilt of the book, but it should be
added that Catholic social teaching does not run in only two political
directions. In fact, it runs toward a politics that is not likely to be
embodied by any party any time soon. That said, we must choose between
the choices on offer.
- Ronald Dworkin’s Life’s Dominion continues to exercise considerable
influence in legal thinking about abortion. Richard Stith of Valparaiso
University tackles Dworkin’s argument in the Maryland Law Review (Vol.
56, No. 2, 1997). The article is "On Death and Dworkin: A Critique
of His Theory of Inviolability." Stith agrees with Dworkin on the
legal and philosophical problems entailed in contending for the "right"
of the unborn child, but effectively challenges Dworkin’s notion of "inviolability"
and its basis in an economic theory of "valuing." In its place,
Stith proposes the idea of "respect," and argues in considerable
detail that respect requires the protection of the unborn. It is an argument
of many parts that will be of special interest to students of the jurisprudential
twists and turns in the abortion debate.
- In the tradition of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Feminists
for Life agrees with Stanton’s assertion: "When we consider that women
are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat
our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." The organization,
now celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, is making an invaluable contribution
to the pro-life cause. For information write 733 15th Street, NW, Suite
1100, Washington, D.C. 20005.
- Nicotine Theological Journal is not just about smoking, although
the editors do keep returning to the subject in order to tweak religious
liberalism about one of its most adamantly held dogmas, the unmitigated
evil of tobacco. NTJ is published by the Old Life Theological Society
and is "dedicated to recovering the riches of confessional Presbyterianism."
The current issue takes a skeptical view of the Southern Baptist boycott
against Disney. They note a Jerry Falwell publication with the headline,
"Walt Disney Would be Ashamed." So why, the editors wonder, are
Christians obliged to honor the sacred memory of Disney? In addition, they
note, Disney’s involvement in so many enterprises has not overlooked the
Christian market. Just south of the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, for instance,
is a new Disney development called "Celebration." It’s for people
who want the morality of the 1950s combined with "all the neat gear
you have today." "By subtly conflating 1950s-style wholesomeness
with Christian virtue, it is luring white, middle-class, pro-family values
citizens to live in a theme park. No longer is Disney content to
get them for a week a year. It wants to buy their whole souls. (Oh yes,
there will be churches in Celebration. The first to go up will be a Presbyterian
(USA) Church. But when will the first Southern Baptist church be built?
And what happens when from the pulpit its pastor urges a Disney boycott?)"
The issue also includes some comment on the FT question about "the
end of democracy," and seems to come down on the side of David Bovenizer,
whose letter to FT suggested that democracy ended with Lincoln. Although
the editors insist that their publication is not "a Reformed version
of Cigar Aficionado," the issue does conclude by returning
to a subject of more than incidental interest. J. Gresham Machen, that
stalwart opponent of theological modernism, wrote to his mother during
his last semester as an undergraduate at Princeton: "The fellows are
in my room now on the last Sunday night, smoking the cigars and eating
the oranges which it has been the greatest delight I ever had to provide
whenever possible. My idea of delight is a Princeton room full of fellows
smoking. When I think what a wonderful aid tobacco is to friendship and
Christian patience I have sometimes regretted that I never began to smoke."
Nicotine Theological Journal is not for everyone, but those who
feel the craving and want short-term satisfaction at the risk of long-term
edification can get more by writing 622 Orchid Lane, Altamonte Springs,
Florida 32714. I assume Altamonte Springs is not a Disney enterprise.
- A common confusion about the virtue of poverty is evident in the Joseph
B. Brennan Lecture delivered by Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee
at Georgetown University. He is reflecting on the tenth anniversary of
the bishops’ pastoral letter Economic Justice for All, and notes
that since then "There has been a definite weakening of interest in
liberation theology." It is an apparently regretful observation. One
might note that interest in the liberation theology that received so much
attention ten and more years ago has not simply weakened but has virtually
disappeared. "Perhaps the error of the liberation theologians,"
the archbishop continues, "was to propose as a biblical ideal a Church
of the poor when most people want to live at the same basic economic level
as the rest of the developed world." That incisive observation is
immediately followed by this: "Just as Americans vote by their pocketbook
and not their religious convictions, so others seek most of all what they
believe will raise their economic standards." The implication would
seem to be that, if poor people voted their religious convictions, they
would vote to remain economically disadvantaged. Perhaps the error of Archbishop
Weakland, and many others, is to propose as a "biblical ideal"
being economically disadvantaged. Voluntary poverty and simplicity of life
for the sake of the Kingdom is indeed a biblical ideal. But to choose to
be poor one must first have the option of being nonpoor. It is to be feared
that Archbishop Weakland has not fully appreciated the teaching of John
Paul II in Centesimus Annus and elsewhere that the goal of justice
is the inclusion of the poor in "the circle of productivity and exchange."
Freed from the fate of poverty, people are free to resist, by the grace
of God, the temptations of consumerism and greed that undoubtedly accompany
the market economy toward which the archbishop, like the liberation theologians
of yesteryear, exhibits such an enduring animus.
- Of interest in the great G. K. Chesterton there is no end, apparently.
Certainly there is no end of the matters on which he wrote. So that should
keep a handsome new magazine going for a long time. My only misgiving is
about its name, Gilbert!, which sounds like his wife Frances announcing
that the dinner is getting cold. In any event, for $25 you can join the
American Chesterton Society and get ten issues per year. Write 4117 Pebblebrook
Circle, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55437.
- Our notice of Norman Davies’ Europe: A History (FT, November
1997) was critically appreciative. It is in some respects a marvelous overview,
but is carelessly put together, with many egregious errors in things so
elementary as dates and names. (I understand that most are corrected in
the second printing.) Davies has a refreshing, but finally exaggerated
emphasis on the importance of East Central Europe, meaning mainly Poland.
Tony Judt, professor of European studies at New York University, joins
other reviewers, mainly American, who are much harsher in their judgment
of the book. Writing in The New Republic, Judt suggests that Davies’
apologia for Poland and Poles, and his too light treatment of Germany and
Germans, is tinged with anti-Semitism, although he finally says that Davies
is not anti-Semitic but "merely pro-Polish." Judt earlier wrote
in the New York Review of Books a scathing attack on John Paul II,
whom he does not like at all. In the course of discussing Davies and anti-Semitism,
Judt observes, "Here, as elsewhere on such matters, Davies is distinctly
more Catholic than the Pope." Judt’s prejudices do tend to weaken
his criticism of Davies for letting his prejudices lead to a tendentious
writing of history.
- Some years ago I was in this shop that specializes in clerical clothing
and noticed a seedy-looking guy buying dozens of clerical shirts in every
color available. It turns out he was getting ready to open the Limelight,
a hard-porn night club around the corner, located in a church that had
been sold by the Episcopalians. The bare-bottomed waiters were all dressed
as priests. When the papers reported on the Limelight, then Episcopal bishop
Paul Moore said he was shocked, simply shocked, that such a thing could
happen in New York. The Limelight has since been closed for multiple infractions
against drug laws and other crimes and misdemeanors. Take it from there,
Second City. In May, the Convent nightclub opened on Armitage Street in
Chicago, a traditional dance club but "themed" after the Catholic
Church. The non-Catholic owners, sisters Suria and Shar Mansukhani, feature
restrooms labeled Hymns and Hers, house drinks called "Holy Water"
and "Confessionals," waitresses in typical Catholic schoolgirl
outfits (plaid skirt, white blouse, knee-high stockings), and bartenders
in priests’ collars. The VIP rooms are Heaven (upstairs) and Hell (lower
level). Said Surita, "We’re certainly not intending to be sacrilegious
in any way." Of course not. Just having a little fun.
- The outgoing president of the American Bar Association, N. Lee Cooper,
is worried by all this talk about judicial usurpation. In his "President’s
Message" in the ABA Journal he decries "aggressive actions
that threaten the independence of the federal judiciary." In his defense
of activist judges, one gets the impression that independence means independence
from the Constitution and the corresponding branches of government. He
is most particularly outraged by any suggestion that judges should be subject
to reappointment or any other check on their lifelong rule. Some in Congress,
he complains, suggest term limits for judges even while "not placing
term limits on themselves." I’m not sure that term limits for judges
is a good idea, but it apparently escapes Mr. Cooper’s attention that legislators
do come up for reelection from time to time. And it is not unprecedented
that some of them are replaced.
- The registration fee is $1,395 and the setting is oceanfront luxury
in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It’s the "Third International Conference
on Spirituality in Business." Here’s the pitch: "From the Chairman
of the Board on down, more and more managers are practicing and encouraging
compassion, authenticity, integrity, respect, and connection in day-to-day
work. Why? Because those qualities provide a deep personal satisfaction
as well as a distinct competitive advantage." The conference "is
the ideal forum for exploring how our work life can support our religious
life—and vice versa." Repress your anti-Babbittry impulses for a moment.
Maybe such affairs really do help people, in the sense of making them feel
better, behave more nicely toward others, and even increase their profits.
Maybe, just maybe, behind the advertising come-on is a program of serious
religious growth. But forgive me for doubting it. The reference to generic
"spirituality" and generic "religion" is not encouraging.
And the idea that you should grow spiritually for reasons of self-satisfaction
and competitive advantage raises Mr. Eliot’s caution about the greater
treason of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. The reason corrupts
the thing done. (You have now saved $1,395. It would be a big help in supporting
the work of First Things.)
- Were you in charge of a country that is terrorized by drug-related
crime, has a guerrilla movement that threatens to overthrow the government,
and has one of the highest murder rates in the world, it might not occur
to you that what is really needed is the legalization of euthanasia. In
a 6-3 decision the Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled that "no
person can be held criminally responsible for taking the life of a terminally
ill patient who has given clear authorization to do so." "Terminally
ill" is broadly construed as including cancer, AIDS, and kidney failure.
This makes Colombia the first nation to officially sanction euthanasia.
The Netherlands winks at it, and a district court in Japan legalizes it
in narrowly specified circumstances. Thus does Colombia add to the list
of distinctions that makes it a place where euthanasia is more than usually
- R. Albert Mohler is president of the huge Southern Baptist Theological
Seminary in Louisville and is here reflecting on Mother Teresa. He offers
a very moving tribute. And then this: "She was famous for her good
works. This is a challenge to evangelical understanding. Did she trust
in her good works for her salvation? Roman Catholic doctrine holds, not
only that faith without works is dead, but that our good works cooperate
with grace. Evangelicals rightly reject this as the very works righteousness
the Apostle Paul so eloquently—and conclusively—rejected. Salvation is
entirely by grace through faith, and completely apart from works."
The formulation is problematic, also, I believe, from a Reformation perspective,
but let that pass. Mohler is prepared to suspend judgment on whether Mother
Teresa’s theology passed muster by Southern Baptist criteria. His point
is directed to his fellow evangelicals: "The answers to these questions
are, for now, known only to God. The issue before evangelicals is this:
Do we have what it takes to produce a Mother Teresa? Do we have the courage,
the concern, and the love for ‘the least of these’ required for such a
ministry? Have we grown spiritually blind and deaf to the ‘untouchables’
around us? Where are the evangelical orders of committed evangelist/caregivers
who will take up a ministry to those like the destitute and dying of Calcutta?
Our credibility before the watching world is at stake, and in question."
- Pick your hero and round up the usual supporting cast. By now we all
know about Judge Roy Moore of Gadsden, Alabama, who has the Ten Commandments
on his courtroom wall and has visiting clergy open sessions with prayer.
Then there is Judge Charles Price of Montgomery, who ruled that Judge Moore
must cease and desist. As a consequence, Judge Moore has been given the
"Christian statesman of the year" award by an organization led
by televangelist D. James Kennedy. Judge Price has been given the "Profile
in Courage" by the John F. Kennedy Library at Harvard. No surprises
there. Choosing sides in the culture wars depends, in part, on the Kennedys
whose approval one covets. The Tuscaloosa News clearly favors the
Boston Kennedys, accusing Judge Moore of being terribly divisive. The editors
complain, inter alia, that the clergy invited to the judge’s court are
invariably Baptist. It seems highly improbable that being Baptist in Alabama
is divisive. What do you suppose is the denominational connection of that
fellow in the Supreme Court chambers who prays, "God save this honorable
court"? And if that isn’t a prayer, what is it? As to who is making
a divisive issue of all this, the editors might ask why Harvard and the
ACLU in New York are so terribly interested in what is happening in a county
courtroom in Gadsden, Alabama. It is their interest and their interest
alone that generates the interest of D. James Kennedy. And, for that matter,
of the local editors. It’s been a long time since the Tuscaloosa News
was at the center of what is called a national controversy. Of course
I recognize that, by mentioning the affair, I’m complicit in inflating
its importance. Maybe Judge Moore can invite a Methodist preacher the next
time and then we can all move on.
- Father Andrew Greeley, sociologist and writer of novels on Catholic
themes, is a man who does not like to be ignored. Before the 1985 Extraordinary
Synod on Vatican II, he wrote a little book telling the bishops exactly
what they had to do. In his conclusion, he warned the bishops that, if
they did not follow his advice, they would be hearing from him again. That
put the fear of Greeley into them. Now here is an article in America
pointing out that 20 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. who were raised
Catholic are no longer Catholic. Greeley wrote a similar article some years
ago. "There was no reaction to my article nine years ago, no letters
to America, no private comments from those who work in the Hispanic
ministry. Nothing. Not a single word." He concludes that nobody cares
about this "cataclysm" among Hispanic Catholics. "The Vatican
does not seem worried either." It must be frustrating when nobody
pays attention to what you write. But the fact is that what Greeley says
about Hispanics is very old news. The further fact is that there are numerous
priests and lay people doing their heroic best in Hispanic ministries.
The yet further fact is that in November-December Rome held a big Synod
for America focused very intently on the evangelization and reevangelization
of Hispanics in South and North America. By virtue of my comment, Fr. Greeley
will not be able to complain that there was not a word in response to his
current article in America. The most pertinent word, however, is
one that he may not like, namely, many problems are recognized and addressed
by others even before Fr. Greeley discovers them.
- There was all this fuss about the new Holocaust museum here in New
York, and whether it was going to be used as a platform for celebrating
putative martyrs to the homosexual cause. I wrote a letter to the director
that was publicly circulated, and that prompted some public and mostly
friendly exchanges with former Mayor Ed Koch, who worried that I was being
"used by gay bashers." Well, now the museum is open and it turns
out there is a small panel, "Silencing Dissent," which mentions
Jews, leftists, homosexuals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, noting that "anyone
who did not conform was suspect." Fair enough.
- Among the more moving and informative tributes to Mother Teresa is
an article in America by Eileen Egan of Pax Christi. In Mother Teresa’s
home for the dying in Calcutta, she looked at those on the pallets and
said, "They are Jesus. Each one is Jesus in distressing disguise."
In the early years, she went out to plead for food, medicine, and funds
to care for the abandoned children she had taken under her wing. She also
went from office to office and most business people responded, but one
man spat in her outstretched hand, saying, "Take that!" "That
was for me," Mother Teresa responded quietly, extending her other
palm. "Now what about something for my children?" Prodded by
a journalist at the Nobel Prize ceremony, Mother Teresa gave a succinct
statement of her own identity: "By blood and origin, I am Albanian.
My citizenship is Indian. I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong
to the whole world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the heart of Jesus."
- Imagine ten years. I didn’t know him personally, but I’m told that
the Rev. Nathaniel Grady, a Methodist, was doing fine work with the poor
up in the Bronx. Then, in the late eighties, began the great scare about
the sexual abuse of children, and the subsequent prosecutions that can
only be described as a witchhunt. Grady and four others were accused of
rape, sodomy, and other abuses involving five boys and a girl, ages three
to five, and were sentenced to fifteen to forty-five years in prison. Despite
the fact that the FBI had secretly videotaped their activities for 640
hours over the three weeks in question and recorded no abuse. The usual
suspect psychologists were on hand to induce the children to overcome their
"denial" and tell what everyone knew really happened. The convictions
of the other four were dismissed several years ago, and today’s paper reports
that, after he spent ten years in prison, an appellate court has overturned
Mr. Grady’s conviction. He is now fifty-nine. The Bronx District Attorney,
Robert T. Johnson, says they will not try him again, but is admitting to
no regrets. The official statement is, "It is not the District Attorney’s
position that the defendant did not do it." At a news conference,
Mr. Grady said of his time in prison: "More than anything else, I
learned the art of patience. I am grateful that God spared my mother to
see me vindicated." Imagine ten years, and the abuse by the criminal
justice system of six teenagers who live with the knowledge of what they
were induced to do. In Salem the madness lasted ten months, and then the
town leaders repented in sack cloth and ashes. Today the best we can get
is, "It is not the District Attorney’s position that the defendant
did not do it."
- "Media-Molded Catholicism" is a reflection by the very Protestant
Harold O. J. Brown in the Religion and Society Report. He is puzzled
by Kenneth Woodward, religion writer for Newsweek, who seems to
want the Catholic Church "to do something rash." Woodward was
the author of the sensationalistic cover story suggesting that the Pope
was about to make an infallible declaration of Mary as Co-Redemptrix. "In
a sense he seems to be daring the Pope to make it," observes Brown.
He continues: "Given the degree to which Catholic authorities consider
the concept of declaring Mary Co-Redemptrix unthinkable, one wonders why
Newsweek chose to make such an issue of it, giving the impression
that the promulgation of this new doctrine may be imminent. Perhaps as
the secular world and the secular media take note of the fact that there
seems to be a revival of interest in religion under way in several elements
of society, some leading secular interests want to play a role. Some Catholic
sources consider the Co-Redemptrix issue of Newsweek a real affront,
even an attack on the integrity of Catholicism." Since Catholicism
is not going to go away and seems to be growing in influence, Brown thinks
media mandarins have decided they should have a hand in redirecting it
in ways more to their liking. He cites the much-debated ABC television
series Nothing Sacred. "The newsletter catholic eye asks
what the reaction would be if ABC launched a series with a rabbi who doesn’t
shrink from calling Moses a myth and the Torah bunkum, supports intermarriage
with Gentiles, denounces Israel as ‘Nazi,’ and supports the Arab cause
in Israel/Palestine. One hardly needs to ask." The odder thing is
that some Catholics of the liberal persuasion think Nothing Sacred is
nothing to get excited about. One liberal magazine, fearfully insecure
about Catholics being perceived as philistines who cannot take a joke,
attacks the Catholic League’s protest of the program and cites Flannery
O’Connor’s sage observation that, if Catholics show that they do not recognize
art, people may be justified in having doubts about their beliefs. The
difference between Flannery O’Connor and the editors in question is twofold:
1) She understood that Catholic faith and life rubs against the vulgar
grain of bourgeois culture; 2) It would never have occurred to her to view
Nothing Sacred as art.
- "It was a bad day for Father Neuhaus. The neocon vs. theocon controversy
has wounded him seriously. It would be a mistake, however, to count Neuhaus
out of the battle." Well, that’s a consolation, I guess. The comment
is from the "Neuhaus Watch," a regular feature in Christian
News, reporting on our 1997 Erasmus Lecture with Justice Clarence Thomas.
"How did Father Neuhaus get a drink thrown in his face at his own
party? . . . Neuhaus could not have predicted that Thomas would turn on
him, but he did." Lively writing, of a sort, but all nonsense of course.
Justice Thomas did indicate reservations about aspects of what FT and other
"theocons" have said about judicial usurpation, but all within
the context of recognizing that these are important questions to raise,
and in a manner entirely amicable. The same spirit marked the next day’s
conference with Thomas and a number of scholars discussing the role of
the judiciary in our political order. We are expecting to publish his lecture
in a forthcoming issue. I do have bad days, or at least some days less
exhilarating than others, but the day of the Erasmus Lecture emphatically
was not one of them. Readers of the "Neuhaus Watch" should know
that its author has a treasure trove of inside information about all kinds
of things that just ain’t so.
- Poor dear old Yale. It just can’t understand the petty intolerance
of its infatuation with tolerance. Readers are familiar with the law school’s
refusal to let the Christian Legal Society recruit there because it "discriminates"
against non-Christians. (See my exchange with Dean Anthony T. Kronman in
the August/September 1997 issue.) Now there are the "Yale Five,"
Orthodox Jewish students who want to be exempted from Yale’s requirement
that for two years students live in coed dorms. The Yale Five say that
boys and girls in the same bedrooms and bathrooms is a circumstance that
violates their religious and moral convictions. Among the most fatuously
smug and narrow-minded of the defenses of Yale’s refusal to allow an exemption
from its rules is offered by David Denby, writing in the New Yorker:
"Temptations must surround the orthodox of any faith when they leave
family and community and enter the world," writes Mr. Denby. Indeed,
he suggests, it is the solemn duty of the university to provide temptations.
One of the Jewish students said, "We cannot, in good conscience, live
in a place where women are permitted to stay overnight in men’s rooms."
To which Denby offers the presumably knock-down argument, "In that
case, [he] should avoid living in big-city apartment buildings as well."
Boys and girls living and sleeping together is Yale’s elevated aspiration
toward educational excellence. "Living in a coed dorm for two years
is now part of the known Yale experience," writes Denby, "just
as taking certain required courses, like the Literature Humanities and
the Contemporary Civilization courses at Columbia, is part of the life
of other schools." The "just as" is worth noting. Dormitory
rutting, it seems, is right up there with Matthew Arnold’s maxim about
the best that has been thought and said. Mr. Denby is the thorough traditionalist
in defending the coed dorm tradition of, say, the last twenty years. "The
experience of confronting both new ideas and people who think differently
from oneself has traditionally formed the heart of a liberal education."
How else are Orthodox Jews to know that some people are lewd, immodest,
and prone to engage in sexual intercourse outside of marriage if Yale does
not see to it? Nobody ever said that the educational mission of the university
is easy. Denby concludes, "In this society, existence is rarely free
from jostling: we all, every day, find our deepest convictions offended,
even traduced by something. In that respect, the Yale Five, whether
they get their way or not, will have to take their chances along with the
rest of us." Why, of course. It’s part of "entering the world."
Our world, in which they must become like us (or at least like David
Denby). It is the new world of secularism’s oppressive tolerance. And to
think it was only fifty years ago that Bill Buckley could raise such a
ruckus by suggesting in God and Man at Yale that maybe the university
was less serious than it should be about transmitting the Christian heritage.
- How did we manage all this time to get along without a Surgeon General?
As the last one would reproach us, just think of all those children growing
up without knowing what to do in the back seat, and how to do it safely.
Ponder, if you dare, a generation deprived of governmental instruction
in the joys of onanism. But now President Clinton has put forward Dr. David
Satcher, who seems to be an admirable man in many respects. He appears
to have a blind spot, however, when it comes to infanticide. Supporting
partial-birth abortion, he says, "I feel that if there are risks for
severe health consequences for the mother, then that decision should not
be made by the government but by the woman in conjunction with her family
and physician." (He apparently forgot the conventional nod to "her
pastor or spiritual guide.") As everybody should know by now, there
is never an instance in which the partial delivery and abortion of a child
is necessary to protect the health of the mother. Never. The American Medical
Association opposes it; both houses of Congress have voted to ban it. This
time President Clinton vetoed the ban very quietly, not even attempting
to publicly justify an action that can only be explained by his captivity
to the don’t-give-an-inch abortion lobby. It is a shame that Dr. Satcher
would begin his term of office by displaying his captivity to his boss’s
- While at Harvard, President Jiang Zemin fulsomely praised the late
Harvard sinologist John King Fairbank for his steadfast work in burnishing
the image of Chinese Communists. Jiang presented the Fairbank Center for
East Asian Research a set of the newly published Twenty-Four Histories
with Mao Zedong’s Comments, which he called "a rich heritage of
philosophy, in understanding and drawing useful lessons from Chinese history."
The praise of Fairbank is amply deserved and the gift most fitting. Through
purges, rectification programs, and politically contrived droughts that
killed no less than fifty million Chinese, nobody among Western academics
did more than Professor Fairbank to protect Mao and his heirs from the
criticism of those not entirely persuaded of the merits of China’s great
social experiment. John King Fairbank. When another generation is tempted
to play useful idiot to the next great tyranny appearing on the world stage,
his name should be remembered.
- President Clinton’s lawyer, Robert Bennett, on Face the Nation:
"There is absolutely no unique characteristic of any kind . . . in
terms of size, shape, direction. . . . The President is a normal man."
At the risk of indulging in nostalgia, one cannot help but remember fondly
the Nixon years when the American people had only to be reassured that
their President was not a crook.
- Not for nothing does she call herself a misanthrope. Florence King
was less than edified by the big Promise Keepers (PK) rally in Washington.
"Like all people driven by emotion, PK could be swung like a lariat;
the right is in trouble if we think that 700,000 weeping men is good news
in an era that is already close to rule by hysteria. Whatever happened
to our traditional distrust of the mob? I also reject the view put forth
by several gleeful conservative pundits that PK dealt a fatal blow to radical
feminism. After three decades of male bashing, what is there to gloat about
in the spectacle of 700,000 men curdling with guilt and begging for forgiveness?
It sounds like successful brainwashing to me." One need not endorse
the implicit cynicism in order to recognize that she has a point. The Zeitgeist
embraced in the name of Jesus is still the Zeitgeist.
- Viktor Frankl, one of the century’s foremost psychiatrists, died at
age ninety-two in Vienna. I suppose we carried one of the last, maybe the
last, major piece on him to appear in this country, "Viktor Frankl
at Ninety: An Interview" (April 1995) by Matthew Scully. As a young
man, Frankl had worked with Freud, but later he was to criticize him for
neglecting the "upper stories" of human nature. By that he meant,
as Scully recently explained in the Wall Street Journal, that Freud
neglected "man as a creature of conscience and not just a bundle of
appetites, drives, and a lust for power." Frankl spent three years
in Hitler’s death camps, Auschwitz included, and later wrote Man’s Search
for Meaning, a book that sold in the millions and was translated into
almost every known language. Camp inmates, he wrote, were stripped of everything.
"Reduced, literally, to our naked existence, we needed to stop asking
ourselves about the meaning of life, and to think of ourselves as those
who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. . . . Man is that being
who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being
who entered those chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema
Yisrael on his lips." Frankl was critical of the countercultural turn
of the 1960s, both here and in Europe, and fell into disfavor. On his last
visit to the U.S. in 1990, Mr. Scully reports, none of the talk shows were
interested in having him as a guest. One turned him down because it had
already booked another famed Austrian, Dr. Ruth. Viktor Frankl did a great
thing with his long life: He reminded us of human dignity, meaning the
human capacity for moral greatness.
- According to Jewish tradition, azure (Hebrew: tekhelet) is the
blue color of the sky and the sea and other things eternal. It is the color
associated with the Jewish people and, consequently, the Star of David
and the stripes of the Israeli flag. Azure is also the name of a
new quarterly journal published in Jerusalem by the Shalem Center (shalem
meaning completeness, wholeness, well-being). Printed in Hebrew and
English editions, Azure tries to apply traditional Jewish insights
to modern issues of public life. If you think this sounds like a Jewish
version of First Things, you’re on to something. Among the questions of
intense interest to Azure and the Shalem Center: the moral and metaphysical
foundations of self-government and a free economy, the necessity and limits
of tolerance, the search for a religiously informed public discourse, and
so on. Many of the editors and writers of Azure appear to be religiously
traditional, but at the same time liberal in the classic (and our) sense
of the word. They point the way to a serious Judaism that is on the other
side of today’s acrimonious religious disputes (see, inter alia, Clifford
E. Librach, "The Fragmented Faith of American Jews," FT, February
1997). Interested readers may get more information by contacting Azure,
c/o The Shalem Center, 22a Hatzfira Street, Jerusalem, Israel (Fax number:
011-972-2-566-1171). Azure also has a page on the Shalem Center’s
website (www.shalem.org.il), which includes the full text of select essays;
e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Picky, picky. Letters protest my November reference, intended favorably,
to a "fulsome" account of Christian faith. Reaching for Webster’s
Ninth Collegiate, I find this: "Many commentators condemn the modern
use of fulsome without pejorative overtones as misuse or ignorance.
This use is, however, the earliest and etymologically purest sense of the
word." I like to think that I am neither purist nor pedant. As I have
had occasion to say before, I write for the ear, and "fulsome"
sounds very nice to me. In addition, it is a kindness to rescue words that
are so misused that their correct use is deemed a misuse. Note that this
is not a fulsome defense of "fulsome," in either sense of the
- There are two items I had hoped to have ready for this issue. The first
is about the most remarkable campaign of protest orchestrated by Muslim
groups in reaction to my October 1997 review of Bat Ye’or’s book on Islam
and Christianity. Some of it is civil. Much of it is chilling—and clearly
intended to be so. I want also to address substantive questions such as
those aired by Professor Toby E. Huff in the Correspondence section of
this issue. The second item has to do with a controversial statement on
homosexuality recently issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
I was working on both, but then the Pope did me the great honor of appointing
me a member of the Synod on America, so I must be off to Rome for a month.
Please be patient and I’ll try to have them ready for the next issue. I
would not be surprised were there also something of interest to report
about the Synod.
- We will be pleased to send a sample issue of the journal to people
whom you think are likely subscribers. Please send names and addresses
to First Things, 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, New York, NY 10010.