314 Luther’s Reformation and Its Consequences

In his Requiem for a Nun William Faulkner famously said, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”  This is especially true when it comes to Church history, so it was predictable that to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (launched by Martin Luther in 1517) a plethora of books were published.  Inevitably—given Luther’s personality and positions—interpretations varied widely and nothing approaching a consensus is possible.  But I read and commend two works, beginning with Lyndal Roper’s Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (New York:  Random House Publishing Group, c. 2016, Kindle Edition).  Roper is an Australian historian who did doctoral research at Tübingen University under Professor Heiko Oberman, the author of a notable study of Luther.  Now the first woman to hold the prestigious Regius Chair at Oxford University, she is less interested in Luther’s theology than his personality, seeking “to explore his inner landscapes so as to better understand his ideas about flesh and spirit, formed in a time before our modern separation of mind and body.  In particular,” she says, “I am interested in Luther’s contradictions” (#400).  Thus she diligently mined a wealth of primary sources newly available in archives opened to scholars in the wake of East Germany’s demise.

Roper believes Luther’s “theology sprang from his character, a connection that Melanchthon, one of the first of his biographers and his closest co-worker, insisted upon:  ‘His character was, almost, so to speak, the greatest proof’ of his doctrine.  Luther’s theology becomes more alive as we connect it to his psychological conflicts, expressed in his letters, sermons, treatises, conversations, and biblical exegesis.  Such a rereading of the original sources,” enhanced by psychoanalytical insights, will provide “a richer understanding not only of Luther the man but also of the revolutionary religious principles to which he dedicated his life, the legacies of which are still so powerful” (#405).  His letters especially “give us a sense of the charisma he must have radiated, and the sheer delight his correspondents must have experienced in being his friends.  It was Luther’s vivid friendships and enmities that convinced me that he had to be understood through his relationships, and not as the lone hero of Reformation myth” (#476).

Luther’s early beginnings took place in Mansfield, where his father was a prosperous miner, followed by scholarly instruction in the nearby cities, including Erfurt, where he attended the university.  Though the university specified strict rules of behavior, “Luther acidly remembered, ‘Erfurt is a whorehouse and beerhouse’ . . . .   Founded in 1392, the university was the oldest German institution to have a charter, and in the early sixteenth century it boasted an outstanding collection of humanists, interested in the revival of ancient learning and in returning to the sources” (#1029).  Luther was only an “average student,” but he absorbed much of Erfurt’s weltgeist—both “the via moderna and nominalism, a direction in philosophy that reached back to William of Ockham in the fourteenth century.  Luther’s teachers included cutting-edge nominalists” who promoted the via moderna rather than the via antiqua evident in Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus.  Luther especially became committed to “critical thinking” and “empirical evidence,” i.e. primary sources. 

Then came his famous awakening in the 1505 thunderstorm!  Fearing he might die, he consecrated himself to the religious life, joined the Augustinian order, and entered its monastery in Erfurt.  Here he followed a normal course of studies but also struggled with what seems to have been an inexplicable “sense of overwhelming guilt.”  Strangely enough:  “Luther seems almost to have luxuriated in feelings of guilt, as if, by driving them to their extreme, he could experience a heightened devotional state of self-hatred that would bring him as close as possible to God” (#1241).  Conversely, his mentor, Johan von Staupitz, “had a relaxed attitude to sin—he once joked that he had given up making vows, for he was simply unable to keep them—but what worried Luther were not the usual sins but the ‘real knots’:  his lack of love of God and his fear of judgment” (#1336).  He would ultimately solve this conundrum by replacing the obligation to love with faith alone as the touchstone of salvation. 

In 1511 Luther was sent to Wittenberg, a town of some 2000 residents, the site of a new university, a castle, and a magnificent cathedral—all thanks to the Elector Friedrich.  Here he became a professor and found the academic life fully suited him, plunging into it with gusto, reading and writing and thinking deeply about the Gospel.  By 1517, when he posted his famous 95 Theses, he had discarded scholasticism and declared that Aristotle (whose works were basic to the medieval university curriculum) “was not only unnecessary for the study of theology, but positively harmful” (#1958).  Indeed, Greek philosophy in toto—given its celebration of reason—had no value since it “was just a distraction from the meaning of Scripture, and one must give up on attempting to find God through ‘the whore’ of reason, for the point of faith is that it exceeds rationality and reveals the distance between God and man” (#338).  So:  “‘No one can become a theologian unless he becomes one without Aristotle’” (#1965).  Claiming instead to follow St. Augustine, Luther said:  “‘The truth therefore is that man, made from a bad tree, can do nothing but want and do evil;’” consequently:  “‘Man is by nature unable to want God to be God.  Indeed, he himself wants to be God, and does not want God to be God’” (#1968).  Thus Sola Scriptura became a Reformation dicta

Yet another dicta was justification by faith alone.  In 1545, the year before he died, Luther recalled how Paul’s Letter to the Romans proved central to the Reformation:  “‘At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’”  There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith.  And this is the meaning:  the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”  Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates’” (#275).

Luther’s paradise included increasing sensual indulgence!  Thus he encouraged monks and nuns to marry and himself wedded Katherina von Bora, a “poor noblewoman” who “was, by all accounts, attractive, feisty, and passionate” (#5455).  In a fascinating chapter entitled “Marriage and the Flesh,” Roper describes and analyzes the importance of Luther’s marriage.  Katherine was a valuable helpmate, effectively running the household and allowing Martin to focus on his studies.  She bought and farmed some land and “was famed for her beer brewing, a necessity in a period when water was not safe to drink” (#5579).  But to his friend Melanchthon this step indicated “that something had changed in Luther by 1525, and he did not like it.  The ascetic was becoming a sensualist” (#5498).  And, indeed, Luther entertained “remarkably uninhibited views about sexuality—and consequently marriage” that accorded well with his “radical Augustinianism.  If we can never do anything good, as all human acts are sinful, then sexual acts are no different or worse in kind than other types of sin.  This gloomy anthropology paradoxically freed Luther to take a relaxed view of sexuality.  Lust was part of human nature—it was how God had created mankind” (#5615).

Though Luther insisted he’d found the absolute truth proclaimed in the Scripture, his reformation quickly splintered.  When the great humanist Erasmus differed from him regarding predestination, Luther excoriated him.  Then Erasmus published A Discussion or Discourse Concerning Free Will, asserting man may cooperate with God in the salvation process and denying total depravity, and Luther responded with De servo arbitrio (On the Enslaved Will), arguing that God arbitrarily determines everything.  We are so congenitally sinful that “only God’s grace can enable us to do anything good.”  Indeed, speaking personally, he did “not wish to be given free will.”  “His newfound relationship with God required there be no free will, because “‘I am certain and safe, because he is trustworthy and will not lie to me, and also because he is so powerful and great that no devils, no adversities could break him or snatch me from him’” (#5666). 

Others joined Erasmus in dissenting from Luther.  His Wittenberg collaborator and supporter, Andreas Karlstadt, began stressing the importance of Gelassenheit—a total surrender of one’s will to God’s Will, “a state of mystical receptivity and openness where the boundaries between oneself and God disappear—as if one were to return to the womb where there is no separation between mother and child” (#4430).  He thus proclaimed the possibility of attaining a kind of Christian perfection Luther could not tolerate.  Then, dressed in lay clothing while celebrating Mass, Karlstadt distributed both bread and wine, allowing anyone present to participate in Communion.  Consequently, of the thousand parishioners present “many of those who took Communion had not kept the obligatory fast but had eaten and drunk beforehand” (#445).   Such behavior outraged many in the community—including the Elector, whose support Luther surely needed! 

Added to Karlstadt’s increasingly aberrant behavior, more radical reformers arrived in Wittenberg!  Known as the Zwickau prophets, three zealous laymen claimed God directly spoke to them.  No need for Bible or trained pastors!  They could read the Bible—as Luther insisted—for themselves.  And they could also—as Luther denied—interpret the Bible as they wished.  “The Zwickau prophets represented a new kind of evangelical movement that owed little or nothing to universities.  God’s spirit, it seemed, was being poured out onto laypeople to preach and prophesy, bypassing traditional authority” (#4534).   Predictably, the radicals appealed to university students, and considerable chaos erupted.  Soon, wherever the reformation took root, evangelicals were “interrupting sermons, destroying altarpieces, tearing up Mass books, urinating in chalices, or mocking the clergy—and they drew on the same repertoire of carnivalesque ritual and comedy that the Wittenberg students had developed” (#4227).  Even more threatening was yet another reformer, Thomas Müntzer, who came to Wittenberg and took an apocalyptic approach to Scripture, saying he felt led to  violently usher in the Kingdom of God.  Consequently, the Peasants’ War erupted in 1524 and proved to be “the biggest social uprising in the German lands before the era of the French Revolution began” (#5113).  Celebrating Reformation themes—“freedom,” “Christ alone,” Scripture alone”—peasants, armed “with pikes and swords had remarkable success” and briefly controlled “vast swathes of south and central Germany” (#5174).

In response, Luther determined to arrest and stabilize the movement he’d launched!  Consistently aligning himself with secular authorities, he insisted only his version of Protestantism be allowed.  So in 1524 he assailed Karlstadt in Against the Heavenly Prophets, and responded to the peasants’ uprisings by publishing Against the Robbing Murdering Thieving Hordes of Peasants.  His attack on the peasants led to their repudiating him as the “Brother Fattened-swine and Brother Soft-life,” “Doctor Liar” and “the spiritless, soft-living flesh at Wittenberg.”  Then he had to deal with deviants in Switzerland!  Huldrych Zwingli had orchestrated a reformation in Zurich and shared many of Luther’s views.  But he differed from him regarding the Eucharist.  In 1529 the two men met at the colloquy of Marburg, where Luther insisted Christ’s words, “This is my body” be taken literally, insisting on the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine.  “As it became clear that the two sides could not agree, Luther washed his hands of them, consigning them to the judgment of God, ‘who will certainly decide who is right,’ at which Zwingli burst into tears.  At the end of the meeting, Oecolampadius and Zwingli, pleased that at least they had all now met in person, wanted to embrace their opponents as brothers and allow all of them to take Communion with one another, but Luther bitterly refused” (#6300).

In the final 15 years of his life, Luther continued to teach in Wittenberg and influence the Reformation he had launched.  But his more eirenic associate, Melanchthon, presided over Lutheran theological developments, and secular rulers established essentially “magisterial” (i.e. state-controlled)  churches.  As Roper illustrates with Luther’s letters, he became increasingly bitter and routinely lashed out in anger against his many foes.  Even Melanchthon experienced his wrath!  And though he died with an assurance regarding his own salvation he seemed distressed by much of what the Reformation accomplished.

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For a thoughtful assessment of Luther and the Reformation I commend Brad S. Gregory’s Rebel in the Ranks:  Martin Luther, the Reformation, and Conflicts that Continue to Our World (New York:  Harper One, c. 2017).  Gregory is a history professor at Notre Dame who writes with clarity and authority.  The subject is important, he thinks, for “anyone who wants to understand how and why we have the Western ideas and institutions we have today must understand the Reformation and all that followed in its wake” (p. 13).  Though fascinated with Luther, Gregory is more interested in the unexpected consequences of his reformation, which “had the long-term impact of gradually and unintentionally transforming Europe from a world permeated by Christianity to one in which religion would be separate from public life, becoming instead a matter of individual preference” (p. 8).  There had in fact been many “reformers” over the centuries—such as the Cluniacs—calling for the restoration of morality, but Luther and his followers were distinguished by “asserting that many of the Church’s teachings were themselves false.  The problem wasn’t just bad behavior; it was also erroneous doctrine” (p. 9).  “Taken together, these new ideas, practices, and institutions became the foundations for the modern world.  They led eventually to the modern secularization of Western life—an unintended outcome of a sixteenth-century religious revolution” (p. 10).

After retelling Luther’s story, emphasizing the familiar themes of his reformation—sola scriptura, sola fides, etc.—Gregory turns to his central concern, the “fractious” nature of Protestantism, revealing the deeply political aspects of the movement.  Within a decade of its inception, Protestants divided into rival camps, including the despised Anabaptists as well as the officially supported Lutheran and Reformed churches.  Especially in Reformed regions political powers asserted themselves and there occurred a “reversal of clerical and lay roles:  local magistrates are asserting religious authority—and not just in matters of jurisdiction, as in the late Middle Ages, but in matters of doctrine” (p. 100).  Thenceforth Protestants divided and subdivided:  “Lutheranism in Denmark, Sweden, and much of Germany; Reformed Protestantism in Scotland, England (in some respects), the Netherlands, and parts of Germany and Switzerland” (p. 145).

Then the Protestant churches themselves fractured.  For example, Lutherans soon differed in their understanding of Luther.  “A rift opens between Philippists, named after their leader, Philip Melanchthon,” and “the self-described Genuine Lutherans” who “think Melanchthon and the Philippists are betraying Luther’s views with mistaken interpretations of scripture on a whole range of doctrines concerning faith, grace, and works, among other issues” (p.151).  Reformed Protestants in the Netherlands split between “orthodox” Calvinists and Arminians.  “At the heart of this conflict are theological disagreements about human nature, will, sin, and grace derived from differing interpretations of scripture.”  “Jacob Arminius (1560–1609), a theology professor at the Dutch Republic’s new University of Leiden, arrives at conclusions about core Protestant doctrines that are at odds with those of Calvin (and Luther).  According to Arminius, original sin does not completely corrupt human nature; human beings do have some free will and so can cooperate with God’s grace in salvation.  To card-carrying Calvinists, this is crypto-Catholic backsliding, like taking Erasmus’s position against Luther in their debate about free will and salvation.”  Tensions escalated and led to the Synod of Dort (1618-19), which approved a strong version of Calvinism while dramatically demonstrating “that the principle on which the Reformation rests—‘scripture alone’—is powerful enough to generate rival assertions about what the Bible actually says and therefore rival views about how it is to be applied” (p. 159).

The reformation in England followed the same trajectory.  Though the Tudor and Stuart monarchs tried to control the Church of England, they failed to restrain internal dissent—as was evident in the growing power of the Puritans and their violent revolution in the 1640s, culminating with the beheading of the king.  “Radical Protestants in the English Revolution really come into their own after the execution of Charles I and the proclamation of the Republic in 1649.  Gerrard Winstanley and his Diggers champion a biblical vision similar to the Hutterites: an agrarian, communitarian Christian commonwealth without private property.  The radically different George Fox and other early Quakers are spiritualists who claim illumination by the same ‘inner light’ that they believe inspired Jesus’s first apostles.  Utterly different again are the Fifth Monarchists:  their Christian duty, as they understand it, is to take up arms against Oliver Cromwell’s regime in their own country, hastening the Second Coming of Christ.  Seventh-Day Baptists depart from the already existing General (Arminian) and Particular (Calvinist) Baptists by insisting, as do some other groups, that the Sabbath be celebrated on Saturday rather than Sunday.  And Ranters, like Ebiezer Copp, allegedly take Christian freedom and rejection of the Old Testament law to mean complete sexual permissiveness—for, as scripture says, “To the pure all things are pure” (Titus 1:15).  If you don’t think something is sinful, it’s not sinful for you.  If this all sounds confusing and complicated, that’s because it was—much more chaotic and complex than any brief account can convey.  Like the early German Reformation, the English Revolution shows that scripture interpreted through the Spirit, as Luther emphasized, could come to mean almost anything” (pp. 165-166).

Such unexpected (and unintended) consequences of the Reformation were thoroughly analyzed in Gregory’s earlier, much more detailed Unintended Reformations, wherein he documented, in successive chapters, first, how God was progressively ignored as a non-material and thus unknowable reality.  Secondly, he shows how Christian doctrines were relativized by contentious theologians; as Erasmus lamented, in 1524:  “What am I to do when many persons allege different interpretations, each one of who swears to have the Spirit?”  Thirdly, Gregory demonstrates how the nation states increasingly controlled the churches, for “no Protestant regime was even possible save through dependence on secular rulers” (p. 152).   By 1555 it had been decided:  “cuius region, emus religio—whose kingdom, his religion.”  Fourthly, as a result of the reformations, rival moral authorities presided over diverse moral communities, and in time everyone became not only his own priest and theologian but ethicist.   Fifthly, Gregory notes how the “good life” became increasingly defined as the acquisition of good things.  “The earliest New England Puritans rail against greed and endeavor to punish it in ways that would have made Calvin proud.  By the late seventeenth century, however,” various Christians viewed “material prosperity, including the highly profitable participation in the Atlantic slave trade, as part of God’s benevolent plan for the chosen people of England, his elect imperial nation.  In a dramatic reversal, the pursuit of profit is being aligned with religion, not regarded as a deadly sin or a grave danger to your soul or the common good”(p. 234).  Finally, knowledge became deeply secularized, reduced to describing material entities as a result of powerful prejudices favoring methodological naturalism and evidentiary empiricism.  Metaphysical or theological views were excluded from making any truth claims about anything more than one’s inner feelings.     

More celebratory treatments of the Reformation are easily available, but Gregory’s arguments deserve careful thought and reflection, for the fragmentation of Christendom and the secularization of society cannot be ignored.  And his yoking the Reformation to these developments has much merit.  Rooted in his longing for a “world we have lost,” his works provide a deeply Catholic critique of the Reformation—but they are sorrowful rather than scathing in tone.  As Lucy Wooding says:  “This book is truly breathtaking in its scope, erudition and sheer nerve . . .  There may yet be tie to fix some of what went wrong in the Reformation.”  Understanding it is a place to start!

312 Contempt, Compromised, Hoax

In the 1980s Kenneth Starr was one of the legal luminaries circulating within the higher echelons of the federal government—appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by Ronald Reagan and then named Solicitor General by George H.W. Bush.  He was a seriously considered for the Supreme Court slot vacated by Warren Burger but was passed over when David Souter appeared to be a less controversial candidate.  “Justice Souter was even heard to say, privately, ‘I have the Ken Starr seat’” (p. 307)  When Robert Fiske (the first special prosecutor appointed to investigate Bill and Hillary Clinton’s activities in Arkansas) resigned, Starr was named his replacement, since he was widely acclaimed as a fair, eminently-qualified lawyer.  Looking back at his prosecutorial efforts in the 90s, Starr has written Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation (New York:  Penguin Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, c. 2018).  

In sum, he tells this “story:  Twenty years ago, after a four-year investigation resulting in fourteen criminal convictions in Arkansas and leading to the resignation of the sitting governor of the state, the Whitewater investigation took a bizarre twist.  It was revealed that in 1995 President Bill Clinton had begun an extended Oval Office affair with a twenty-two-year-old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, then tried to cover it up.  In the fallout from the president’s misdeeds, the nation went through wrenching political turmoil.  Much of the drama was tragically unnecessary, a self-inflicted wound by a talented but deeply flawed president who believed he was above the law.  In the long and painful saga, he showed contempt not only for the law, but for the American people, whom he willfully misled for his political self-preservation.  He also demonstrated a shockingly callous contempt for the women he had used for his pleasure” (p. xi-xii).  Ultimately, Starr thinks:  “By the end of this book, my personal account of the legacy of Bill and Hillary Clinton—a legacy of contempt—I believe most reasonable, open-minded people will agree with me.  Or at least they should agree with my basic proposition:  that President Clinton and the First Lady knowingly embarked on a continuing course of action that was contemptuous of our revered system of justice” (pp. xii-xiv). 

To provide suitable context for his account, Starr shares a bit of his own story.  He was born in Texas and reared in a pastor’s home (his father ministering in the Churches of Christ denomination).  Thenceforth, though moving away from his father’s denomination, he says:  “Faith proved to be a pillar of strength in my daily life” (p. 24).  Ever a sterling student, he earned a B.A. from Brown University and a law degree from Duke.  Entering the legal profession he found his true life’s calling and fully enjoyed both practicing law and serving as a judge.  Then, much to his sorrow, he was persuaded to accept the position of special prosecutor and investigate the Clintons’ Whitewater adventures.  Almost immediately the president’s political operatives (e.g. James Carville, Lanny Davis, and Sidney Blumenthal) swung into action, portraying him as a “right-wing hit man” (p. 40).  Starr thinks they mainly implemented the strategies of Hillary, the more  sinister of the Clintons, for she had been “profoundly influenced by the radical Saul Alinsky, whose ‘rules for radicals’ included tips for budding community activists such as:  ‘Keep the pressure on, never let up,’ ‘Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon,’ ‘Go after people and not institutions,’ and ‘Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.’  She’d written her ninety-two-page senior honors dissertation on Alinsky, whom she quoted as saying that gaining and holding on to power ‘is the very essence of life, the dynamo of life’” (p. 64).  Embracing Alinsky’s tactics, the Clintons left a trail of “wrongdoing” which “could have been avoided if they’d followed the Golden Rule instead of Alinsky’s rules for radicals” (p. 65). 

Presiding over a team of FBI agents and Department of Justice lawyers, Starr collected evidence from witnesses such as Judge David Hale, who repeatedly directed them to various of the Clintons’ shady deals.  “Hale became the epicenter of the Arkansas investigation.  Through his testimony, the mysteries of Whitewater and other financial crimes were illuminated.  If Judge Hale was right, Bill Clinton was a potential felon, assisted by Hillary” (p. 62).  Others in the Clinton entourage—e.g. Webb Hubbell, Jim and Susan McDougal—were interviewed and investigated and convicted of assorted crimes.  But their efforts were impeded by the mysterious disappearance of important documents and at every turn, and investigators were constantly frustrated by the Clintons’ disdain for law.  In fact:  “Engaging with the White House was like walking in molasses” (p. 86).  Or, to shift the metaphor, “Talking to Clinton,” Starr found, “was like nailing spaghetti to the wall” (p. 239).

One of Starr’s best lawyers, after taking a deposition from the president in 1995, said he “knew the president ‘was a lying dog’” who had probably committed perjury (p. 98).   While watching a film of Clinton’s deposition, his old friend and business partner Jim McCougal lamented seeing “‘the president of the United States commit perjury,’” and doing in the White House  Map Room.  “The Map Room, to Jim McDougal, was hallowed ground because of his admiration for FDR.  But that sacred soil, so to speak, had been polluted by the self-interested perjury of his hero’s successor.  Despite his own crimes, Jim was morally outraged by the lies under oath of the Man from Hope” (p. 131).  At her deposition, Hillary’s “responses were so glib, so superficial, they were almost ‘in your face,’ alternating on the theme of profound memory loss. In the space of three hours, she claimed, by our count, over a hundred times that she ‘did not recall’ or ‘did not remember’’” (p. 100).  Starr and his team “were of one accord that Hillary was a liar” (p. 203).

Starr’s team focused its attention on the Clintons’ financial activities in Arkansas and  “never pursued any case of sexual wrongdoing against Clinton” (p. 157).  In due time, however, the accusations of Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky intruded into the investigation because of illegal maneuvers Bill Clinton made trying to deny them.  He refused to accept offered “mediation to resolve the case” brought by Paula Jones and “chose a foolhardy course.  He believed he could lie his way out of it” (p. 185).   “Clinton knew what he had done.  He had lied under oath in his deposition.”  Determined to stay in office, he followed “a multifaceted strategy:  First, take care of or at least neutralize Monica, much in the way the White House had taken care of Hubbell.  Second, stonewall the investigation while purporting to cooperate.  Third, send out surrogates to aggressively attack Starr and his team—and to trash Monica” (p. 195).  That strategy, aided by the media, succeeded magnificently, and the American people rallied to Clinton’s defense. 

So Starr ultimately crafted his “referral” and presented it to the House of Representatives, which duly impeached Clinton.   He and his team clearly identified “counts of impeachable offenses” the president had committed.  He clearly “had committed perjury, tampered with witnesses, and obstructed justice in many ways” (p. 247).  But the Clintonistas effectively massaged the media to make Starr the real “bad guy,” and the president prevailed in the court of public opinion.  To explain and justify his work to the American people, Starr assented to an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer.  “Jettisoning her usual Kentucky charm, Sawyer immediately went on the offensive.  She lambasted me for producing ‘demented pornography, pornography for puritans.’  On and on.  When she asked me about the tone of the referral, I was matter-of-fact:  ‘Diane, don’t fault career prosecutors for telling the truth’” (p. 278).  But neither Sawyer nor the public cared much for the truth.  They were, instead, determined to discredit Starr!  “Literally for years, my personal integrity and professionalism had been subject to a well-organized, relentless campaign of character assassination” (p. 300).

Over the years I’ve distrusted few politicians more than Bill and Hillary Clinton.  My suspicions stand confirmed by Starr’s Contempt.  Though he fully recognizes their political dexterity, he concludes:  “Tragically, their legacy, despite their accomplishments, despite their talents, is, above all, contempt: contempt for the rule of law that binds us together as citizens, and contempt for human beings—especially women—as inherently worthy of dignity and respect” (p. 306).

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Healthy republics require the “rule of law.”  Lex Rex (law is king) must prevail.  To do so, law enforcement must be trustworthy and transparent.  Thus Seamus Bruner’s Compromised: How Money and Politics Drive FBI Corruption (New York:  Bombardier Books, Kindle Edition, c. 2018) should concern us.  The book examines the FBI’s role in a “story of corruption [which] (like so many others) begins with Hillary Clinton” (#164).  It reveals FBI officials involved in “the misdeeds committed during the 2016 election,” including “criminal allegations of lying under oath, obstruction, leaking classified material, coordination with foreign powers, and coordination with the media.”  But it all “began as a complex smokescreen apparently orchestrated by the Clinton team to undermine opponent Trump and obfuscate allegiances.”  Involved in the operation were:   President Barack Obama; his Attorney General Loretta Lynch; and James Comey, the FBI director appointed by Obama.  Working under Lynch in the Department of Justice were Sally Yates, Rod Rosenstein, and Bruce Ohr.  Having failed to block Trump’s election, they worked to undermine his presidency.  To do so they helped orchestrate Robert Mueller’s appointment as a special prosecution to investigate Trump’s Russian ties, and he “picked a team full of criminal prosecutors, many of whom are Clinton loyalists and Democrat donors who seem hostile towards Trump” (#450).  In Bruner’s searing judgment, Richard Nixon’s notorious Watergate scandal was “fairly tame compared with the FBI’s actions in 2016” (#2256).

The bad actors in his story had both financial and political reasons for their behavior.  Mueller and Comey, for example, have shrewdly moved in and out of government, working briefly for high-powered law firms or corporations that pay them millions of dollars.  They have “worked as a tag team for twenty years, drifting between FBI and DOJ leadership positions before cashing in on their valuable intel and experience” (#2163).  Comey was thus paid $6 million in one year by Lockheed—probably for his contacts within government rather than any stellar legal expertise!  In 2003 Comey was worth $206,000, “according to documents filed with Congress.”  Two years later “he left the DOJ to join Lockheed as general counsel and senior vice president and moved to Bridgewater Associates in 2010.  When Obama appointed him FBI director in 2013, Comey had amassed well over $10 million in compensation from just two sources:  Lockheed and Bridgewater Associates” (#2452). 

“The FBI and the DOJ have long been lucrative stops in the revolving door between the public and private sectors in D.C.  This intersection of money and politics at the top of the FBI and the DOJ is concerning” (#2149).  Comey and Mueller both “fancy themselves ‘Boy Scouts.’”  But they and their associates “became rich passing back and forth through the revolving door,” though Bruner could not demonstrably “link their huge compensation to direct official action.”  They did, however, receive  inordinate retainers, which are “upfront and ongoing compensation paid to attorneys so that when their services are needed, they will be on call.  This same model, applied to government employees, might explain the massive sums that individuals such as Clinton, Holder, and Comey received.”  Importantly:  “It is not even illegal” (#3417).  Both legal and lucrative!  How sweet it is!   

To investigate President Trump, Mueller employed a dossier compiled by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm which specializes in digging up dirt on Republican politicians.  The firm received an estimated $12 million for producing the document.  “Some of it went to Christopher Steele, the retired MI5 agent who assembled much of the dossier.  Some of it went to Nellie Ohr, the wife of a top DOJ official.  Some of it went to journalists who promoted the salacious findings.  And some of it allegedly even went to the dossier’s sources, which included Russian officials” (#608).  In short:  Fusion GPS created the Trump dossier and Democrats paid for it.  On the other hand, though considerable evidence exists suggesting a Hillary Clinton-Russia connection, Mueller refused to investigate the Democrat candidate.  “Mueller’s special counsel mandate . . . does not differentiate between Russian interference with the Trump campaign and Russian interference with the Clinton campaign.  The absence of any charges implicating the Clinton-connected Russian agents above should prove once and for all that the Mueller investigation is a political cover-up” (#2065). 

The FBI claimed the famous Steele “dossier” justified spying on Trump’s advisors and got a FISA judge to authorize targeting “a sitting U.S. president, which may be an unprecedented abuse of power by the bureau” (#2107).  Indeed:  Mueller’s team seemingly has one mission—to take down Trump” (#2107).  To read Bruner’s Compromised is to have one’s faith in the federal government seriously compromised!  If law enforcement officials seek personal goods rather than the public welfare the fabric of our society cannot but fray. 

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In 1774, on the eve of the American Revolution, John Adams envisioned a “government of laws, and not of men.”  Consequently, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Brandeis said:  “if the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”  In The Russia Hoax:  The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump (New York:  HarperCollins, c. 2018), Gregg Jarrett says:  “In truth, this book is a defense of the rule of law” (p. 281).  To do so he seeks to show how the contempt for law evident throughout the careers of Bill and Hillary Clinton persists.  He tells “a story of corruption.  It begins, as it must, with Hillary Clinton” (p. 1).  In the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign, evidence came to light revealing that Hillary Clinton had knowingly flaunted important laws as a federal employee.  Indeed, her “egregious breach of rules, regulations, and laws jeopardized national security” (p. 6) 

Assigned to investigate her case, FBI Director James Comey maneuvered to exculpate Hillary Clinton “from the sundry crimes she appeared to have committed by storing copious classified documents on her unauthorized private computer system at the Clinton homestead.  Despite a subpoena insisting to preserve her records, tens of thousands of government documents were deleted, her server wiped clean, and numerous devices destroyed” (#52).  But President Obama defended her and Comey penned an “exoneration statement” for her behavior long before his agents interviewed important witnesses, including Hillary Clinton.  “Danny Coulson, who served as deputy assistant director of the FBI during his three decades at the bureau,” lamented:  “‘Comey controlled it from start to finish and came out with the results he wanted’” (p. 24).  “Former assistant director of the FBI Steve Pomerantz is convinced Clinton knew she was breaking the law, but didn’t care:  ‘It is consistent with everything I know about the Clintons.  They make their own rules, and it’s wrong.  Hillary Clinton engaged in conduct that was dangerous to the national security of the United States.  And, of course, lying about it only compounds the problem.  The Clintons have a history of lying.  That’s what they do.  First they commit the offense, then they lie about it.  That’s what they do’” (p. 12).  

Jarrett suspects Comey protected Hillary Clinton because he felt pressure emanating from the Department of Justice headed by Attorney General Loretta Lynch.  “We are expected to believe it was a coincidence that former President Bill Clinton just happened to be on the tarmac of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, at exactly the same time as Attorney General Loretta Lynch on June 27, 2016, a scant five days before Hillary Clinton was to meet with FBI officials for questioning about her suspected wrongdoing.  Perhaps it was also just a coincidence that eight days after the furtive tarmac meeting the decision was announced that criminal charges against Clinton would not be filed” (p. 38).  Such convenient “coincidences” rather routinely speckle the Clintons’ records! 

Hillary Clinton obviously broke the law because she had things to hide!  Those things are amply evident in a chapter Jarrett titles “Clinton Greed and ‘Uranium One’.”  Upon leaving the White House in 2001, the former president and first lady became enormously wealthy, raking in some $230 million before taxes.   Shrouding the sources of this income doubtlessly explains Hillary’s “determination to keep her State Department emails forever hidden from public view” (p. 66).  Tellingly, much of their wealth came from “Bill’s lucrative speaking engagements, especially those abroad, [which] accelerated during the four years his wife presided over the state department.  Two-thirds of his fees came from foreign sources.  It is no surprise that many of the foreign entities who were shelling out substantial dollars to Bill were the very people and governments who were angling for favorable actions or decisions by Hillary” (p. 67).  Then there was the Clinton Foundation, purportedly established to do charitable work around the world.  Contributors surely envisioned enjoying special access to the Clintons, and the foundation quickly raised more than a billion dollars.  “The charity also became a cash conduit, helping Bill collect millions of dollars as he leveraged the foundation to secure his lucrative personal speaking engagements” (p. 68). 

The Clintons’ modus operandi is nicely illustrated in the “Uranium One” deal.  In 2005 Bill Clinton and his friend Frank Giustra, a Canadian businessman interested in buying Kazakh mines, went to Kazakhstan.  Clinton facilitated a deal with President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, whom he fulsomely praised in a press conference.  “Days later Giustra got his lucrative uranium mines.  Soon thereafter the Clinton Foundation received a $31.3 million donation from Giustra, followed by a pledge to give $100 million more.  The deal also provided Bill with incredibly profitable speechmaking fees.”  In due time, following a merger, “Giustra’s company became a uranium giant called Uranium One.  According to the president of the government agency that runs Kazakhstan’s uranium industry, Hillary Clinton pressured his government to approve the merger.  Clinton herself, who then sat on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, had allegedly threatened to withhold U.S. aid if the deal did not go through.  It should come as no surprise that it did” (p. 70).   In fact, “more than half the people outside the government who met with Clinton while she was secretary of state donated money to her foundation” (p. 80).  Tit for tat!  So it goes with the “Clinton Cash” machine!

Rather than pursue an investigation of Hillary Clinton, the FBI and Department of Justice launched an inquiry into Donald Trump’s “collusion” with Russia!  The document cited to justify the case was a “dossier” the DNC had paid for, seeking to damage Trump’s campaign.  “On its face, the ‘dossier’ was a preposterous collection of rumors, innuendos, supposition, and wild speculation” (p. 120).  Having thoroughly examined the evidence—detailing the maneuvers, identifying the participants—Jarrett concludes:  “There was never any real evidence of wrongdoing by the Republican nominee for president.  There was no reasonable suspicion or evidence sustaining probable cause that those in his campaign were collaborating with Russians to influence the 2016 election.  In its purest form, it was a hoax that was manufactured by unscrupulous high-ranking officials within the FBI and the Department of Justice.  Their motives were impure, animated by antipathy for Trump. They were determined to tip the scales of justice and, in the process, undermine electoral democracy” (pp. 87-88). 

Jarrett has done extensive, meticulous research, evident in his many citations, his careful concern for details, and his competence as a lawyer fully conversant with the legal system.  To understand the tumultuous beginnings of Donald Trump’s presidency, The Russia Hoax is most enlightening. 

311 Who Are We?

During the American Revolution, in his celebrated Letters from an American Farmer, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur asked:  “What, then, is the American, this new man?”  It was an apt question for America’s Founders, as it is for us today, for we, unlike the Greeks or Germans, do not derive our sense of national identity from our ethnic roots.  To Crèvecoeur, Americans were Europeans transformed by their new land—the “great American asylum” provided by abundant, fertile soil—where they could become free, self-employed, successful farmers.  They experienced a “great metamorphosis” which made them truly “new” human beings.  “Everything has tended to regenerate them,” he said:  “new laws, a new mode of living, a new social system.  Here they are become men:  in Europe they were as so many useless plants.”  In short, he asserted:  “it is here, then, that the idle may be employed, the useless become useful, and the poor become rich.”

During the next two centuries, the United States would continue to welcome immigrants from Europe who generally sustained the vision of the nation’s Founders, and Americans generally shared a core commitment to the “land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrims’ pride.”  Within the past half-century, however, that enduring sense of identity has been challenged and is possibly collapsing.  Among the many legislative acts spawned by Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” was the Immigration Act of 1965, primarily crafted by Senator Ted Kennedy.  Discarding the prior preferences given Caucasian immigrants from European nations, the act opened the nation’s borders to Third World peoples who were likely to enroll in the welfare state’s programs and thus support the Democratic Party.  Kennedy and his progressive allies deftly celebrated the virtues of “diversity” and its prospects of strengthening the nation; so decades before Barack Obama promised to “fundamentally change America” one of the main vehicles for such change had been firmly established by his ideological forbears.

To provide a scholarly assessment of this change, the late Samuel P. Huntington wrote Who Are We?  The Challenges to America’s National Identity (New York:  Simon & Schuster, c. 2004).  Huntington was a professor at Harvard for 50 years, and his earlier work on The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order was distinguished for taking seriously the religious nature of the Christian-Muslim conflict long before the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.  He argued that the great conflicts in the 21st century will take place for cultural—rather than economic or ideological—reasons, and we must recognize that we now live in a “multipolar, multicivilizational world.”  Concerned for the survival of the West, he insisted we must recover its moral fiber.  Thus antisocial behavior, family fragmentation, disinterest in local associations, the loss of a strong work ethic, and the distressing decline of intellectual excellence, must be reversed if the West is to survive.  “The future health of the West and its influence on other societies depends in considerable measure on its success in coping with these trends.”  Civilizations, history records, are difficult to construct but easy to destroy. 

Since nations can be quickly destroyed, we Americans must deal wisely with the threat of massive immigration.  In fact we have a unique national culture well-described by John Jay in The Federalist Papers:  “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint chubbiness arms and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established liberty and independence.”  Huntington basically revisits and updates Jay’s list of national characteristics, stressing they are precisely what we need today and urging us to “recommit” ourselves to “the Anglo-Protestant culture, traditions, and values that for three and a half centuries have been embraced by Americans of all races, ethnicities, and religions that have been the source of their liberty, unity, power, prosperity, and moral leadership as a force for good in the world” (p. xvii). 

Huntington believed that, as a result of developments since the 1965 Immigration Act, the United States is “less a nation than it had been for a century” (p. 5).  Revealing this is the contrasting poems Robert Frost wrote for John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 (celebrating the “‘heroic deeds’ of America’s founding with God’s ‘approval’”) with Maya Angelou’s recitation at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration (mentioning 27 racial and ethnic groups without saying the word “America”)!  To Huntington:  “Frost saw America’s history and identity as glories to be celebrated and perpetuated.  Angelou saw the manifestations of American identity as evil threats to the well-being and real identities of people with they subnational groups” (p. 6).  Clinton himself of course sided with Angelou rather than Frost, celebrating multiculturalism and diversity and heralding a “‘great revolution to prove that we literally can live without having a dominant European culture’” (p. 18). 

But Clinton’s “great” multicultural “revolution” seriously threatens to disunite us, for a nation requires an identifying culture—not a collage of many cultures.  Unfortunately, folks like Clinton and Angelou misunderstand what actually makes America a nation.  They probably do so because they accept “two propositions that are true but only partially true and yet often are accepted as the whole truth.  These are the claims, first, that America is a nation of immigrants, and second, that American identity is defined solely by a set of political principles, the American Creed” (p. 37).  To refute the first of these propositions Huntington says the Europeans coming to colonial America were “settlers” who made a society, not “immigrants” who entered into an already-existent society seeking to benefit from it.  Thus in the 17th and 18th centuries European settlers created an homogenous “Anglo-Protestant settler society” that “profoundly and lastingly shaped American culture, institutions, historical development, and identity” (p. 39).   The second proposition—that America is a composed of a “Creed”—is another half-truth.  Before the American Revolution, colonists identified themselves in terms of ethnicity and culture, and especially in terms of religion, and though ideals such as liberty and equality were duly celebrated following the Revolution the people continued to identify themselves in terms of culture and religion continued to identify.  Indeed, the “American Creed” modern liberals celebrate is is basically “Protestantism without God, the secular credo of the ‘nation with the soul of a church’” (p. 69)

To Huntington the “cultural core” of the United States was Anglo-Protestant, for “Americans have been extremely religious and overwhelmingly Christian throughout their history” (p. 83).  English speaking Protestants established both the 17th century colonies and the 18th century nation.  This was especially evident during the First Great Awakening, when “for the first time” people from all the colonies shared a “social, emotional, and religious experience.  It was a truly American movement and promoted a sense of transcolony consciousness, ideas, and themes, which were subsequently transferred from a religious to a political context” (p. 109).  Sustaining the dissenting tradition of the Puritans, a “‘Dissidence of dissent’ describes the history as well as the character of American Protestantism” (p. 65).  So too the vaunted American “individualism” and “work ethic” stem directly from the dissenting Protestant tradition. 

Since the ‘60s, however, the Anglo-Protestant culture in America has been seriously challenged by significant innovations, beginning with the promotion of a “multiculturalism” which is in “essence anti-European,” denigrating Eurocentric values and opposing “‘narrow Eurocentric concepts of American democratic principles, culture, and identity.’  It is basically an anti-Western ideology” (p. 171).  Such was recently promoted by Fr. Arturo Sosa, the Venezuelan now serving as Superior General of the Jesuits, who called the Catholic Church to “show the multicultural face of the God who revealed himself in Nazareth,” promote “universal citizenship” and ultimately “build a multicultural world.”  Multiculturalism now dominates the nation’s schools, so high school students learn more about Harriet Tubman than George Washington.   Stanford University now requires courses on minorities and women, but not on Western Civilization.  And at the beginning of the 21st century “none of the fifty top American colleges and universities required a course in American history” (p. 175). 

Another major challenge we now face is assimilating the 23 millions of immigrants who have come to the country during the past half-century.  Contrary to the half-truth promoted by “open borders” devotees, immigrants to America a century ago were hardly  the “wretched refuse” of the earth.  In fact, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan asserted, most of them were “‘extraordinary, enterprising, and self-sufficient folk who knew exactly what they were doing, and [were] doing it quite on their own’” (p. 189).  Thus the Irish and Italians quickly assimilated and embraced the cultural core of their new country.  They came to America wanting to become Americans.  Recent immigrants, however, frequently seek to preserve their own culture by retaining their own languages and seeking dual-citizenship status.  And if they do become citizens of the U.S. it is “not because they are attracted to America’s culture and Creed, but because they are attracted by government social welfare and affirmative action programs” (p. 219).  Of especial concern to Huntington is the unprecedented Mexican immigration and expansive Hispanization undertaken by folks who frequently think they are reclaiming lands lost in the 19th century. 

A final challenge to American identity is a “denationalization” process characterizing influential academic, business, and political elites—fully evident in Barack Obama’s expansive claim to be a citizen of the world.  So too the elite executives of Apple and Walmart and Amazon have few national loyalties.  This globalization of business, Huntington says, “is proving right Adam Smith’s observation that while ‘the proprietor of land is necessarily a citizen of the particular country in which is estate lies . . . the proprietor of stock is properly a citizen of the world and is not necessarily attached to any particular country’” (p. 267).

Having diagnosed the problems, Huntington devotes his final chapters to prescribing solutions that might restore the American identity, primarily by promoting commonalities such as the English language and the Christian religion.  In truth, one lays down the book persuaded that we American no longer know who we are and have no clue as to how to regain a sturdy sense of national identity!

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Victor Davis Hanson was for many years a professor (teaching classics at California State University, Fresno), but in he wrote Mexifornia:  A State of Becoming (San Francisco:  Encounter Books, c. 2003) as a life-long farmer tending his family property south of Fresno, still living in a house built by his great-great-grandmother 130 years earlier.  As a child he was part of “a very tiny minority of rural whites at predominantly Mexican-American” schools, and he intimately knows the nuances of the blended peoples and cultures surrounding him.  Setting forth a deeply personal analysis of trends transforming the Golden State, he writes “about the nature of a new California and what it means for America—a reflection upon the strange society that is emerging as the result of a demographic and cultural revolution like no other in our times” (p. xii).  And he provides “the perspective of a farmer whose social world has changed so radically, so quickly that it no longer exists,” a change that comes “entirely because of massive and mostly illegal immigration from a single country:  Mexico” (pp. 1-2).

Mexican immigrants, unlike earlier European immigrants, uniquely challenge the United States because of Mexico’s geographic propinquity.  By virtue of crossing an ocean Irish or Armenian or Chinese immigrants severed themselves from the land of their birth.  But “for the campesino from Mexico there is little physical amputation from the mother country” (p. 21).  And while it is the “poorest and brownest, largely Indian” campesinos who cross the border, the wealthy elites controlling Mexico encourage their movement “northward as a means of avoiding domestic reform” (p. 27).  Once here the campesinos find work eminently suited for young, physically fit men—but work utterly impossible for them a few decades later.  As they age they most likely turn from appreciating the country enabling him to prosper to resenting their niche in American society.  And even more deeply their children grow up feeling angry and alienated—despite the fact that they are infinitely more prosperous than their relatives still in Mexico.  “If we wonder why the hardest-working alien in California sires sons who will not do the same kind of labor, who have tattoos, shaved heads and prison records rather than diplomas, we need look no further than the bitterness of the exhausted, poor and discounted father” (p. 54). 

Hanson has personally witnessed the problems plaguing his community and affecting long-term residents such as himself.   Thieves repeatedly steal his equipment and crops while vandals damage his fields.  The culprits, of course, have no documents and cannot be easily prosecuted even if apprehended.  He can no longer put ongoing mail in his mailbox, and parcels left by the mailman are frequently stolen.  Indeed, “keeping illegal aliens and Mexican gang members off the property is a hopeless task:   in the banter that follows my requests, some trespassers seem piqued that anyone in California should dare to insist on the archaic notion of property rights.  One especially smart teenager tole me in broken English, ‘Hey, it’s our land anyway—not yours’” (p. 64).  

Consequently, Hanson looks back to the world of his youth, praising “the old simplicity that worked.”  Then the churches (both Catholic and Protestant) promoted personal morality and respect for authority.  The schools inculcated both traditional academics and patriotic citizenship.  Assimilation was mandated through compulsory English in the schools and legal traditions sustained by the courts.  The assumption was simple:  immigrants, wherever they came from, were “here to stay and become an American . . . .  He was to become one of us, not we one of him” (p. 79).  The superiority of America was eminently evident in the fact that immigrants left their native lands and chose to settle here.  “The unvoiced assumption—a formulation of classic know-nothingism—resonated with us:  If it is really so good over there, why don’t you go back?  Was this an exercise in American exceptionalism?  Absolutely” (p. 84).  However politically incorrect it may seem, it worked rather well before 1970, as was evident in the “well-integrated middle-age and middle-class residents of Selma” (p. 120).

Since 1970, however, the assimilation of immigrants from Mexico has largely failed.   Thus whereas the elementary school Hanson attended 40 years ago “turned out skilled and confident Americans, its graduates who enter high school now have among the lowest literacy levels and the most dismal math skills in the state” (p. 123).  In large part this is due to the “multiculturalism, authoritarian utopianism and cultural relativism” that now dominate public institutions, especially the schools.  If there’s any hope for a better future, all such “isms” must be repudiated.  Conversely the very worst “course lies in preserving the status quo and institutionalizing our past failed policies: open borders, unlimited immigration, dependence on cheap and illegal labor, obsequious deference to Mexico City, erosion of legal statutes, multiculturalism in our schools, and a general breakdown in the old assimilationist model” (p. 144). 

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Providing a current, journalistic assessment of immigration in Melting Pot or Civil War?:  A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders (New York:  Penguin Publishing Group, c. 2018, Kindle Edition), Reihan Salam writes as the son, “brother, neighbor, and friend of immigrants” who believes we need “a more thoughtful and balanced approach to immigration, including a greater emphasis on skills and a lesser one on extended family ties” (p. 8).  His parents came from Bangladesh to New York, where he was born, part of a tiny Bengali-speaking minority.  “Unlike my parents, who have had to deal with a lot of discrimination over the years, I have been untouched by it” (p. 67).  He plunged into the “melting pot” existing 40 years ago and famously succeeded.  During his lifetime, however, “the number of Bangladeshi-born immigrants in the New York area rose from roughly one thousand to more than seventy thousand” (p. 75).  Unlike Salam,  all too many of these newcomers choose to separate from, rather than assimilate to, the American culture. 

Had Salam been born a few years ago he “would not have been the only kid of Bangladeshi origin in my kindergarten.  Rather, my family would’ve been part of an established ethnic community, complete with robust religious and cultural institutions. The presence of tens of thousands of other Bangladeshi immigrants would have changed my parents’ professional lives, too. They might have entered professional niches dominated by their coethnics, and their fellow Bangladeshis would have provided them with a Bengali-speaking customer base.  At the same time, my family would have had fewer interactions with people outside of our ethnic community, and it’s far less likely that I’d have had as many friends from different backgrounds.”  In fact:  “Earlier arrivals have little choice but to make their way in the broader community, as there is no ethnic enclave for them to join.  Later arrivals, in contrast, have the option of joining, and thus replenishing, already-established ethnic enclaves” (pp. 75-76).  So today the vaunted melting pot barely simmers.  But “we need it back, badly”  (p. 14).

Demographic data indicate that within a few years non-Hispanic whites will be a minority.   Immigrants have entered the nation in record numbers and are procreating, whereas “Native-born Americans are forming families later in life, if at all, and they’re having fewer children as a result.  America is thus in the middle of a birth dearth.  One consequence is that recent immigrants, with their comparatively healthy birthrates, are having an outsized impact on America’s younger generations.  One in four U.S. children under the age of eighteen has at least one foreign-born parent.  Unless native-born Americans start having many more babies, a prospect that for now seems rather remote, new immigrants and their descendants will account for almost 90 percent of all population growth between now and 2065” (pp. 32-33).  Unfortunately, most of these immigrants are poorly educated, low-income folks whose children who will likely remain ill-educated and poverty-stricken.  Thus we need “to recognize an uncomfortable truth.  High levels of low-skill immigration will make a middle-class melting pot impossible” (p. 28).  These immigrants will tend to cling to ethnic or racial distinctives and live in segregated enclaves. 

Various countries, ranging from Sweden to Singapore, have devised various ways of dealing with immigrants, who almost everywhere do the menial work disdained by their affluent hosts.  Pro-immigration advocates often urge an “open borders” policy without calculating the cost.  Anti-immigration spokesmen frequently fail to rightly value the contributions immigrants make or the need to help alleviate poverty and injustice around the world.  So how do we devise and implement the best policies for all concerned?   Salam suggests we first grant “amnesty to the long-resident unauthorized population” and then vigorously curtail all illegal immigration.  Second, we should adopt “a skills-based” system, stopping the influx poorly prepared, impoverished newcomers.  Finally, we must begin “fighting the intergenerational transmission of poverty” so evident in the children and grandchildren of immigrants.  These endeavors, Salem thinks, “will, taken together, help make America a middle-class melting pot” (p. 157).

Melting Pot or Civil War? thoughtfully, dispassionately surveys the turbulence surrounding today’s immigration discussion.  As a pro-immigrant journalist, Salam refrains from reciting the litany of pablum regarding compassion and tolerance.  Instead he helps us better understand and think wisely about the issues confronting us.

310 Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians

Throughout the past century a number of discerning thinkers have lamented the immanent demise of Western Civilization.  Thus when Jesse Jackson led Stanford University students in chanting “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civ has got to go,” he merely described a fait accompli long in the making.  One of the clairvoyant critics discerning this cultural trajectory was C.S. Lewis, who in 1954 (after long being denied promotion at Oxford) accepted an appointment to a chair created for him at Cambridge University as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature.  Many of us know Lewis as a Christian apologist, penning such classics as Mere Christianity, or as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia.  But he devoted much of his life to research, writing, and teaching, and one cannot understand his popular works and worldview without appreciating his deep immersion in the Medieval world.  Nor can one understand the Christian Faith he embraced without seeing its Medieval background.  Thus, concluding his inaugural lecture—“De Descriptione Temporum”—he acknowledged he was “becoming, in such halting fashion as I can, the spokesman of Old Western Culture,” and he would treasure his historian’s role, for doing so “does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place.  But I think it liberates us from the past too.  I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians.  The unhistorical are usually, without knowing it, enslaved to a fairly recent past.”

Lewis then pointed out the great gap separating Cambridge undergrads from the Old Western Culture he represented.  “Wide as the chasm is,” however, “those who are native to different sides of it can still meet, are meeting in this room.”  He confessed to belonging “far more to that Old Western Order than to yours.”  Indeed, he rather resembled a dinosaur or a Neanderthaler!  Yet if one were interested in either species—and if one of them would mysteriously appear and could be tested or even talk—then, “should we not almost certainly learn from him some things about him which the best modem anthropologist could never have told us?  He would tell us without knowing he was telling.  One thing I know:  I would give a great deal to hear any ancient Athenian, even a stupid one, talking about Greek tragedy.  He would know in his bones so much that we seek in vain.  At any moment some chance phrase might, unknown to him, show us where modern scholarship had been on the wrong track for years.  Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you somewhat as that Athenian might stand.  I read as a native texts what you must read as foreigners.”  Yet  because he could speak as a native, he might “yet be useful as a specimen.  I would even dare to go further.  Speaking not only for myself but for all other Old Western men whom you may meet, I would say, use your specimens while you can. There are not going to be many more dinosaurs.”   Speaking thusly, C.S. Lewis clearly found much worth heeding in the Medieval World.

That position Lewis made clear in is first scholarly treatise, The Allegory of Love:  A Study in Medieval Tradition (published in 1936)—demonstrating, his biographer George Sayer says, that he “was a great literary critic” who was “without exception, highly praised by reviewers.”  He was subsequently asked to write a volume for The Oxford History of English Literature.  It took him a dozen years to research and write, but he had completed his English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama when he moved to Cambridge.  This is a dense work of scholarship, of interest mainly to literary scholars, revealing Lewis’s amazing mastery of primary sources he discussed.  But his lengthy Introduction, “New Learning and New Ignorance,” detailed some of the reasons he found the Medieval World proffering perspectives worth recovering.  Certainly there was a “New Learning” evident in the 16th Century—preeminently the oft-celebrated turn to natural science.  But it was not a “new” turn to actually studying Nature, which had been widely done in the Middle Ages by men such as Roger Bacon and Albert the Great.  The “New Learning” was a philosophical turn from wondering at the majesty of Nature to controlling her!  Lewis especially stressed the “dreams of power which then haunted the European mind,” markedly evident in the work of Francis Bacon, who referred to her as “a spouse for fruit” rather than a “courtesan for pleasure.”   The “New Learning” was also distinguished by its humanistic, rather than scholastic, approach to learning.  Thus men such as Erasmus did not much concern themselves with propositional logic as with literary style, making “eloquence the sole test of learning” (p. 30).  Indeed, at Oxford in 1550 “the works of the [Medieval] scholastics were ‘cast of of college libraries’” and “publicly burned, along with mathematical books, which were suspected of being ‘Popish or diabolical’” (pp. 30-31). 

In their hatred of the Middle Ages the Humanists found allies in some English Puritans who adhered to the theology of John Calvin.  They also rejected both the Natural Law and the political philosophy espoused by Aristotle and Aquinas, preparing the soil for the Divine Right of Kings position so evident by the end of the century.  For Aquinas, kingly power “is never free and never originates.  Its business is to enforce something that is already there, something given in the divine reason or in the existing custom” (p. 48).  That view was rejected by William Tyndale, who insisted (in 1528) “that ‘The King is in this world without law and may at his own lust do right and wrong and shall give accounts to God only’” (p. 49).  Basic to the English Reformation, of course, was the autocratic exercise of power by Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I.  In the next century Thomas Hobbes rationalized such autocracy in his Leviathan, a book totally at odds with the Ancient and Medieval Natural Law tradition, making “political power something inventive, creative.  Its seat is transferred from the reason which humbly and patiently discerns what is right to the will which decrees what shall be right.  And this means that we are already heading, via Rousseau, Hegel” and others to “the view that each society is totally free to create its own ‘ideology’ and that its members, receiving all their moral standards from it, can of course assert no moral claim against it” (p. 50).  It will be the deranged world powerfully depicted in Lewis’s dystopia, That Hideous Strength. 

Shortly before he died, Lewis collected his lectures on Medieval and Renaissance literature in a (posthumously published) text titled The Discarded Image (Cambridge:  Cambridge university Press, c. 1964).  In his lectures he tried to portray the Medieval Model of the Universe as a “supreme work of art,” rather like the soaring gothic cathedrals at Chartres or Cologne.  He admitted  to making “no serious effort to hide the fact that the old Model delights me as I believe it delighted our ancestors.  Few constructions of the imagination seem to me to have combined splendour, sobriety, and coherence in the same degree” (p. 216).   Obviously it had serious deficiencies, and there is no going back to that world.  But we may, if we rightly study, find in it wisdom for today.

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Recently Chris R. Armstrong, in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis (Grand Rapids:  Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, c. 2016), takes seriously Lewis’s invitation to study the Medieval World.  Still more:  he shares G. K. Chesterton’s conviction that you could not “be a proper medievalist until you cared deeply enough about today to apply medieval insights to your own life and thinking.” We moderns actually live in a “tiny windowless universe,” brilliantly described by “G. K. Chesterton’s definition of insanity:  ‘The clean and well-lit prison of one idea.’  Our modern room is well lit by the bare bulb of science.  But of what lies beyond, we see nothing” (p. 66).  To go beyond modernity’s prison requires recovering pre-modernity! 

Providing some personal information, Armstrong (a church historian with a Ph.D. from Duke who edited Christian History for several years and now teaches at Wheaton College) tells of coming to Christ in a “wonderful” charismatic church in Nova Scotia 30 years ago.  It “was one of those modern suburban megachurches with an auditorium-like sanctuary,” and on “Sunday mornings, I would walk in and feel the palpable presence of the all-powerful and all-loving Lord.”  Yet his faith seemed a bit “precarious,” resting “on a foundation made up of the words of our favorite Bible passages (our ‘canon within the canon’), the sermons of our pastors, and a roster of approved visiting evangelists.  There was no sense at all of the whole mystical, historical massiveness of a church that had been around for two thousand years, no sense that our foundation actually stretched down and back through time, resting on such giants in the faith as John Wesley, Martin Luther, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Ignatius of Antioch . . . .   I now see that my early sense of the insecurity of the church stemmed from what J. I. Packer identifies as evangelicalism’s ‘stunted ecclesiology,’ rooted in our alienation from our own past.  Without a healthy engagement with our past, including historical definitions of ‘church,’ we are being true neither to Scripture nor to our theological identity as church!” (p. 46). 

In truth, Armstrong was discovering how the Protestant Reformation had effectively discarded much of “Medieval Wisdom.”  This was, in part, due to the “super-spiritualizing tendency” early evident in “the thought of Ulrich Zwingli,” who tended to denigrate “the ‘outer,’ physical life.  Only the inner and spiritual was to be trusted, not only in worship and devotion but also in the ethic of daily life:  ‘The outer, whether it meant Church-as-institution, the sacrament or ascetic practices was automatically reduced to the role of being no more than an expression (always suspect and dangerous at that) of the inner, or else was condemned outright as materialistic and idolatrous.’”  To refute Zwingli et al. Armstrong wrote this treatise!  For he wants to lead us to “what I have found to be the wisest piece of medieval wisdom:  creation and incarnation are not rote doctrines to be learned, committed to memory, and ignored in our daily practice, but rather are practical linchpins of what it means to lead a good human life in the light of the gospel” (p. 28).   He further believes, in accord with Lewis, that “the scientific revolution and its sequels—such as the Enlightenment—began to sap the material world of its spiritual and moral significance, and that this diminishment has only continued and intensified through today” p. 22).  

This diminishment was evident when 19th century American Evangelicals embraced the “immediatism” popularized by Phoebe Palmer’s The Way of Holiness.  “In it, she said about the traditional Methodist teaching of sanctification:  ‘Yes, brother, THERE IS A SHORTER WAY!’” (p. 7).  Subsequently, various preachers embraced her “optimistic creed,” declaring:  “No more would Christians have to pursue a fraught and painstaking path to holiness.”  Rather:  “By simply gathering their resolve, making a single act of consecration, and ‘standing on the promises’—certain Scripture texts that seem to hold out entire sanctification as an attainable reality—they can enjoy total freedom from sin.  This message galvanized a generation and set a tone for evangelicalism that continues to ring out today.  It may be fair to say that the teaching of a ‘shorter way to holiness,’ whether in Palmer’s more Wesleyan formulation or in the Reformed-influenced ‘higher life’ variations introduced later in the century, fueled the single most prominent and widespread movement among postbellum and Gilded Age evangelicals.  It swept across the nation’s West and South like a sanctified brushfire, birthed new denominations such as the Nazarenes and Christian & Missionary Alliance, fed the all-consuming fervor of temperance activism, and laid the groundwork for the Pentecostal movement of the following century” (p. 7).  

The roots of this message extended back to the emphasis on “heart religion” promoted by Puritan writers and illustrated in John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience, wherein he felt his “heart strangely warmed.”   It was celebrated in 19th century camp meetings.  Indeed, Palmer’s prescription of immediatism ties into the “syndrome of pressurized pragmatism, which Alasdair MacIntyre has identified as the chief cause of many American ills, militating as it does against careful reflection on accumulated wisdom.”  To Armstrong, Palmer’s formulation truncated the fullness of the Christian faith and fell short of the more demanding and authentic spirituality evident in the Medieval World.  Though a Methodist, Palmer unfortunately neglected some of Wesley’s repeated emphases, for he insisted “that those powerful moments of repentance and coming to faith are just the ‘porch’ or the ‘door’ into the Christian life.  The substance of the Christian life, which lasts as long as we live, is holiness.  Wesley has a favorite phrase to explain holiness.  He says it is ‘having the mind of Christ and walking as he walked.’  Achieving that steady character in ourselves requires, in the motto Eugene Peterson borrows from Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), ‘a long obedience in the same direction’” (p. 222). 

To correct serious deficits in this tradition, Armstrong urges us to return to “the Middle Ages with Lewis’s guidance” and recover the fullness of the Christian Faith.  To do so we must challenge “‘immediatism’ in two ways.  First, we must return the authoritative interpretation of Scripture to the Church, removing it from purely individual reason and experience.  To desire to learn from the cloud of witnesses or ‘church triumphant’—those on whose shoulders we stand—is to shift authority back to the older style, weighting Scripture-read-through-tradition more heavily than the dictates of our own freely exercised reason and experience” (p. 11).  Second, we must return to liturgical worship services conducted by a priestly clergy.   As Lewis aged, he increasingly “turned to the early and medieval catholic traditions revived and preserved in high-church Anglicanism.”  He began going to confession and found “the experience was like a tonic to his soul.”  He came to love the “liturgy, the 1662 Prayer Book, the Daily Office, and praying through the Psalter each month.”  He came to believe the Eucharist is more than a mere memorial and “‘found himself able to ‘experience Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament’” (p. 39).

Lewis was, obviously, immersed in and enamored by Tradition!  He loved the “old books” and urged people to read and re-read them.  He “wanted to stand in the gap of cataclysmic cultural loss, to bring “the tradition” back to the people” (p. 56).   He particularly treasured the Medieval emphasis on the Natural Law, as is evident to any reading Mere Christianity or The Abolition of Man, saying:  “‘Aristotle had assumed it, and Plato.  Cicero had spoken of it when he called it the law that is not written down.  When St. Paul wrote that even the Gentiles knew that certain kinds of behavior were wrong, he was appealing to natural law.  This same idea informed the thought of St. Augustine in the fourth century and St. Thomas in the thirteenth, and influenced Anglicanism at its origin through Richard Hooker’s [scholastically framed] Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity’” (p. 51).   Indeed, in the last essay he wrote for publication (“We Have No ‘Right to Happiness’”) Lewis declared the Natural Law “to be basic to civilization.” 

One of the things Lewis loved about Medieval Christian Culture was its celebration of Reason and the life of the mind and “‘could not [said his friend Owen Barfield] help trying to live by what he thought’” (p. 73).   As Lewis noted in his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, his “conversion” was almost “purely philosophical” in nature.  Deeply read in Medieval theology, he understood its grandeur and drank deeply from masters such as Thomas Aquinas.  Armstrong argues “that in everything he wrote, whether nonfiction or fiction, Lewis wrote first of all as a Christian moral philosopher.  And I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to add that he was a medieval Christian moral philosopher” (p. 98).  As he began his Christian journey, Armstrong learned that Luther and many Reformers had severed moral behavior and spiritual discipline from justification by faith alone.  “Luther taught ‘imputed righteousness’:  being covered by the blood of Christ, making up for our complete inability to be good.”  Subsequently “critics said this teaching led to ‘antinomianism,’ a fifty-dollar word for moral lawlessness.”  Four hundred years later Dietrich Bonhoeffer “identified in his Lutheran church this same suspicion of any Christian effort toward righteousness—he called it ‘cheap grace’” (p. 95)   Consequently a “conundrum” persists:  “how to train believers in moral good while also teaching a radical message of grace still plagues evangelical Protestantism.  Protestants have fallen so in love with the message of grace and have so spiritualized their faith that questions of morality—at least the morality of public, communal life—have receded from view.  As the late Dallas Willard described many modern believers, we are ‘not only saved by grace [but] paralyzed by it’” (p. 96).  Or, as Richard Lovelace says, there is a “sanctification gap” in evangelical ranks.  

Armstrong argues we need to recover the “sacramental spirituality” evident in 13th luminaries such as Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas and Dante, who all saw the world as theomorphic, or God-shaped.  “Sacramentalism is the concept that the outward and visible can convey the inward and spiritual.  Physical matters and actions can become transparent vehicles of divine activity and presence.  In short, material things can be God’s love made visible” (p. 143).  Sacramentalists think “all creation is in some sense a reflection of the Creator,” for He is everywhere, always present in His world.  Still more, in beholding the beauty of creation, Lewis said:  “‘We do not want merely to see beauty . . . .  We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it’” (p. 145).  

On the basis of his examination of Medieval Wisdom in C.S. Lewis, Armstrong concludes there is a tall wall separating “modern Protestants” from Medieval sacramentalism.  We have, he thinks lost much of our rightful heritage—the “incarnational faith” intrinsic to it.  “I’ve suggested,” he says, “one quite formidable aspect of that wall for evangelicals—our immediatism.  But the barrier stretches back much farther in history.  In a crucial (quite literally) sixteenth-century moment, a central symbol of the incarnation was removed forcibly from the church.  This was the point at which some zealous Reformers went beyond tearing down paintings and smashing statues to take the very body of Christ off of the crucifix—thus (they thought) defending the church against idolatrous images and defending the resurrection.  Left behind was (arguably) only an abstract symbol of a judicial transaction.  The difference between worshiping in a space where there is no body of Christ on the cross and worshiping in a space where there is a body of Christ on the cross is that in the latter space worshipers cannot ignore the humanity of Christ—nor, thus, of themselves.  In that space, our humanity—bodiliness, affectivity, rationality, community, society, culture—always stands (no, hangs) before us in the person of, the body of, the humanity of Jesus Christ the Lord. In a sense, this entire book tells the story of what happens when we lose our hold on the incarnation” (pp. 208-209). 

Could we regain our hold in the incarnation and put “the ‘body’ back into our understanding of Christ and his church,” we could “recapture the wisdom and truth” in both Tradition and Scripture.  “Tradition is nothing less than wisdom and truth passed down from generation to generation throughout history.  How apt is this?  Christianity is at its core not a list of timeless principles or abstract teachings.  It is uniquely a historical religion, based on a historical person and the words of two “testaments” that are full of historical accounts. Nineteenth-century liberal theologians liked to talk about the ‘essence of Christianity’—usually little more than a set of ethical teachings summarized under the rubric ‘the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man’—that needed to be extricated from the centuries of errant doctrines and practices of a church that never seemed to get it right.  . . . .  But there is no ‘essence’ that is not clothed in history, lived out bodily by God incarnate, and then lived out by ‘his body,’ the human beings whom he has constituted ever since as his church.  Christianity is all about the incarnation of God’s Second Person as a first-century Jew from Nazareth, and then the incarnation of his truth in his living, embodied disciples in all ages and places” (pp. 210-211). 

Armstrong’s treatise bears the stamp of a zealous convert, overemphasizing truths he finds crucial.  But in stating his case he helps us become more mindful of great treasures too often neglected by our tradition-less contemporary church culture.  And as always, works focused on Lewis are quite worthwhile! 

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In 1978, conference instigator Robert Webber began his groundbreaking Common Roots: A Call to Evangelical Maturity by throwing down the gauntlet: “My argument is that the era of the early church (AD 100–500), and particularly the second century, contains insights which evangelicals need to recover.”

Armstrong, Chris R.. Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis (p. 44). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He cited Aquinas repeatedly in The Allegory of Love and The Discarded Image and concludes his Letters to Malcolm by saying observes that the “most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking,” in accord with Aquinas, who said of all his own theology, ‘It reminds me of straw.’” (p. 40).  Yet we who read Aquinas—or Lewis—remain forever indebted to the rigor and clarity of their thought.

Lewis repeatedly critiqued distinctive Reformed positions regarding holiness and the freedom of the will, “a crucial part of Lewis’s anthropology and his case for hewing to the morality of the Western (Christian) tradition. . . .  The choices we make on earth have transcendent, cosmic, and divine (or infernal) consequences” (p. 195), a message wondrously illustrated in The Great Divorce.  “In his early spiritual autobiography, The Pilgrims Regress (1933), Lewis shows a ‘Landlord’ (God) who makes rules not just for a particular religious tribe but for all people.  Christianity innovated morally only by teaching that the redemption purchased for us by Christ brings the Writer of the rules into our hearts, thus helping us to keep them”—  important “assumptions [that] thoroughly suffused ancient and medieval culture:  ‘Aristotle had assumed it, and Plato.  Cicero had spoken of it when he called it the law that is not written down. When St. Paul wrote that even the Gentiles knew that certain kinds of behavior were wrong, he was appealing to natural law.  This same idea informed the thought of St. Augustine in the fourth century and St. Thomas in the thirteenth’” (pp. 99-100).   His friend, Dorothy Sayers, translating Dante, endorsed the Medieval Wisdom Lewis promoted, “saying:  ‘We must also be prepared, while we are reading Dante, to abandon any idea that we are the slaves of chance, or environment, or our subconscious; any vague notion that good and evil are merely relative terms, or that conduct and opinion do not really matter; any comfortable persuasion that, however shiftlessly we muddle through life, it will somehow or other all come right.’  We must, in other words, truly believe in God’s gift to us of free will, for ‘The Divine Comedy is precisely the drama of the soul’s choice’” (p. 116). 

 Lewis “clearly recognized that the Christian warrant for traveling the Affirmative Way, encountering the material world as a place rich with sacramental meaning,” and “he very famously taught that our natural desires—our yearning, which is triggered by our experiences of what is good and beautiful in the world—can lead us toward God.  Indeed, he insisted that he came to God in this way, so that he called himself an ‘empirical theist’” (p. 163).  In his sermon “Transposition” he stressed that as physical beings we “finally have no other conduit to the divine besides our bodies and our senses” (p. 203). 

309 Hitler’s Ethics, Philosophers, Doctors

When driven to illustrate utter evil in history, many of us simply point to Adolph Hitler.  Then, trying explain why he was so depraved, we easily employ therapeutic terms, labeling him an irresponsible “madman” or a puppet dancing to sociological or economic machinations.  But in Hitler’s Ethic:  The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress (New York:  Palagrave Macmillan, c. 2009) Richard Weikart, a professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus, endeavors to demonstrate “the surprising conclusion that Hitler’s immorality was not the product of ignoring or rejecting ethics, but rather came from embracing a coherent—albeit pernicious—ethic.  Hitler was inspired by evolutionary ethics to pursue the utopian project of improving the human race.  He really was committed to deeply rooted convictions about ethics and morality that shaped his policies.  Evolutionary ethics underlay or influenced almost every major feature of Nazi policy:  eugenics (i.e., measures to improve human heredity, including compulsory sterilization), euthanasia, racism, population expansion, offensive warfare, and racial extermination.  The drive to foster evolutionary progress—and to avoid biological degeneration—was fundamental to Hitler’s ideology and policies” (p. 2).  Indeed, as Fritz Lenz (an influential geneticist favored by Hitler) explained:  Nazism was simply “applied biology.”  

Though Hitler was hardly a profound thinker, he read extensively and by 1923 began setting forth a coherent political agenda, studding his speeches with references to (and quotations from) significant German philosophers and scientists.  In 1934, at a Nuremburg Party rally he insisted that “National Socialism is a worldview [weltanschauung]” (p. 28).  (The New Cassell’s German Dictionary says the word Hitler used—weltanschauung—means “philosophy of life, world outlook, creed, ideology”).   He further “posed as a moral crusader gallantly battling the forces of iniquity, corruption, and even deceit” (p. 17).  And he never hesitated to extol traditional—and very Christian—virtues such as duty, loyalty, honesty, sexual purity, etc., when they suited his purposes.  As he garnered support in the 1920s he especially touted himself as a “truth-teller” exposing those whom Schopenhauer had called “the great masters in lying,” the Jews.  (In fact, as was evident in his skillful propaganda, Hitler was himself 9a masterful liar!)     To him, lying was justifiable if it helped establish his weltanschauung—especially his devotion  to evolutionary progress and the ultimate triumph of the German Volk.  Indeed, his “highest priority in life was to improve the human species, to advance evolution” (p. 83).  As Mein Kampf (the autobiography he wrote in prison) asserted, all of life is a biological battle, and only the fittest survive.  Therein he frequently cited some of Darwin’s phrases—“struggle for existence,” “struggle for life,” and “natural selection.”  Such phrases had regularly appeared in The Descent of Man, where Darwin asserted:  “‘Man, like every other animal, has no doubt advanced to his present high condition through a struggle for existence . . . and if he is to advance still higher he must remain subject to a severe struggle’” (p. 35).  In his Table Talks and speeches Hitler celebrated evolutionary theory and “presented biological struggle in the evolutionary process as a central tenet of Nazism” (p. 38).  This particularly applied to the “racial struggle” validating the superiority of Aryan or Nordic peoples.  “Helping Aryans win the struggle for existence against other races was crucial to achieving his vision.  Morality itself was measured by whether or not it benefitted the German people in their struggle” (p. 83).  Popular books such as the Comte de Gobineau’s The Inequality of the Human Races, praised by eminent biologists including Ernst Haeckel, undergirded Hitler’s racist agenda.  Though he certainly despised the Jews, Hitler equally scorned Africans, Asians and American Indians.  As he declared in Mein Kampf:  “‘All who are not of good race in this world are chaff’” (p. 69). 

Hitler’s racism shaped the “national socialism” he championed.  As a socialist he disdained the individualism of capitalist countries such as the United States, seeking to turn the “German Volk into a true socialist community’” (p. 104).  Thus, as soon as he took control of the country, he launched annual Winter Relief Drives designed to help poor Germans—but not “asocial” vagrants, prostitutes, criminals et al.  He envisioned and supervised extensive public works, including the celebrated autobahns, designed to help everyone.  The Nazis—the National Socialist German Workers’ Party—also endeavored to provide full employment for all Germans.  To Hitler, socialism meant “‘not the solution of the labor question, but rather the ordering of all German racial comrades into a genuine living community; it means the preservation and further evolution of the Volk on the basis of the species-specific laws of evolution’” (p. 111).  He shared the view of August Weismann, a famous Darwinian biologist, who believed that “‘only the interest of the species comes into consideration, not that of the individual’” (p. 114).  

Racist ideology obviously required the sexual ethic which Hitler carefully articulated.  In 1937 he declared:  “‘we are laying claim to leadership of the Volk, i.e. we alone are authorized to lead the Volk as such—that means every man and every woman.  The lifelong relationships between the sexes is something we will regulate.  We shall form the child!’” (p. 121-22).  Ever-more Aryan children were needed to populate an ever-expansive Reich!  Consequently, he said:  “‘there is only one holiest human right, and this right is at the same time the holiest obligation, to wit:  to see to it that the blood is preserved pure and, by preserving the best humanity, to create the possibility of a nobler evolution of these beings’” (p. 141).  So he opposed birth control and abortion, celebrated large families, and often portrayed himself as a staunch defender of traditional family values and morality.  Yet, paradoxically, he also approved extramarital sexual affairs and even toyed with the idea of polygamy if such activity birthed more (and genetically better) Germans.  When the war broke out in 1939, Himmler issued a Hitler-approved order which said:  “‘Beyond the boundaries of perhaps otherwise still necessary bourgeois laws and customs it will also outside of marriage be an important responsibility for German women and girls of good blood, not lightly, but rather in profound moral seriousness, to become the mothers of children of soldiers who are going to the front and of whom fate alone knows whether they will return or fall in battle for Germany’” (p. 133).  

Along with breeding more healthy Aryan children, the Nazis targeted the incurably sick and disabled for extermination.  They didn’t deserve to live longer—as, indeed, Karl Binding (a lawyer) and Alfred Hoche (a psychiatrist) had argued in their notorious, but widely-circulated 1920 treatise, Permitting the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life.  Learned physicians assured Hitler that infants were not fully human, for “‘when a child is born, it is not really fully matured . . .  But if that is so, then the infant does not actually take its place in human society until several months after its birth’” (p. 185).  Germany’s medical personnel ultimately killed 200,000 disabled “patients” in the nation’s care facilities.  Explaining this, the historian Hans-Walter Schmuhl said:  “‘The racial-hygiene paradigm constituted an ethic of a new type, which was ostensibly grounded scientifically in Darwinian biology.’”  By discarding the Judeo-Christian tradition and “‘giving up the conception of humans as the image of God through the Darwinian theory, human life was construed as a piece of property, that—contrary to the idea of a natural right to life—could be weighed against other pieces of property’” (p. 180). 

Killing Jews, though the best known aspect of Hitler’s racist agenda, actually began two years after the outbreak of WWII, in the final months of 1941.  Prior to that, deportation rather than extermination has been the official Nazi position.  “Hitler’s evolutionary ethic did not require killing.  He could have merely sterilized the disabled and deported the Jews.  This would have accomplished his goals of expanding the Germany population, strengthening the Aryan race by eliminating ‘inferior’ individuals and races, and expanding German living space.  However, even though killing may not have been required by Hitler’s evolutionary ethic, Darwinism contributed nonetheless to the death of the disabled and Jews.”  As Christopher Hutton, concluding his book on Nazi racism, said:   “‘All the key elements of this [Nazi] world-view had been constructed and repeatedly reaffirmed by linguists, racial anthropologists, evolutionary scientists and geneticists.  Ludwig Plate [a Darwinian biologist at the University of Jena] observed that “progress in evolution goes forward over millions of dead bodies” . . .  For Nazism, survival in evolution required the genocide of the Jews’” (pp. 194-195).    

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In Hitler’s Philosophers (New Haven:  Yale University Press, c. 2013), Yvonne Sherratt endeavors to unveil “the sinister past of many German philosophers” which has been effectively buried by their protégés.  Though the book “is a work of non-fiction, carefully researched, based upon archival material, [and] letters . . . which have all been meticulously referenced,” it “is written in a narrative style, which aims to transport the reader to a vivid and dangerous world of 1930s Germany” (p. xx).  

Philosophy occupies a prominent place in German culture, granting professional philosophers a celebrity status.  Thus Hitler liked to invoke legendary thinkers such as Goethe, Schiller, Kant, Fichte, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.  He even sought to portray himself, in Mein Kampf, as the “philosopher Fuhrer.”  For example, a well-known quotation from Schiller’s William Tell—“the strong man is mightiest alone”—served as a chapter title in Mein Kampf  and became his motto during his later years as the Fuhrer” (p. 21).    He especially claimed to embrace to the “critical philosophy” of Immanuel Kant, saying:  “‘Kant’s complete refutation of the teachings which were the heritage of the middle ages, and of the dogmatic philosophy of the church, is the greatest of the services which Kant has rendered to us’” (p. 20).  Though Kant certainly seems to be an implausible figure to indwell the Nazi pantheon, he represented for

Hitler a repudiation of the past, with its irrational superstitions and religious prejudices.  And, importantly,  Kant disparaged Judaism, “labeling Jews as a body superstitious, primitive and irrational.”  Indeed he declared Judaism was not even a bona fide religion “but merely a community of a mass of men of one tribe’” (p. 39).  Jews were innately dishonest and had “no right to an independent existence” (p. 40).   Following Kant, three 19th century thinkers—Fichte, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche—became “the ‘philosophical triumvirate of national Socialism’” (p. 23).  Schopenhauer effectively extended Kant’s insights and, importantly, “glorified Will over Reason,” as would Nietzsche, the philosopher most frequently cited in Hitler’s speeches.  Hitler claimed he read Nietzsche’s works while in prison, and he “‘often visited the Nietzsche museum in Weimar . . . posing for photographs of himself staring in rapture at the bust of the great man’” (p. 236).  In 1934 he met Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth, who gave him “one of Nietzsche’s most personal possessions’—his last walking stick (p. 26).  “From that day on the Nietzsche catchphrases were everywhere, Wille zur Macht, Herrenvolk, Sklavenmoral—the fight for the heroic life, against formal deadweight education, against Christian ethics of compassion.” (p. 26).  

There’s no mystery as to why Hitler would be drawn to Nietzsche, for his most noted work was “Zarathustra, in which he had coined the idea of the ‘Superman.’”  During the First World War 150,000 copies of the book were “handed out to German soldiers at the front.  A London broadcaster even went so far as to dub the war the ‘Euro-Nietzschean War,’ and the best selling English novelist of the time, Thomas Hardy, claimed in a letter to the Daily Mail that there was ‘no instance since history began of a country being so demoralized by one single writer’” (p. 50).  Nietzsche’s sister selected and published passages from his works, including his “discussion on the possibilities of selective breeding and of educating a ruling caste, ‘the masters of the earth’, ‘tyrants who can work as artists on “man” himself” (p. 50).  When she met Hitler in 1934, she would likely have shown him such passages, and her portrayal of “Nietzsche seemed to supply just of the needs of the Third Reich—there was a zeal for war, a dash of anti-Semitism, the ‘Superman’ and nationalism” (p. 51).  

Hitler He claimed to have read “everything he could get hold of,” including Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, though it’s clear he mainly devoured and absorbed racialist and nationalist tomes composed by writers such as Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Heinrich von Treitschke, and Oswald Spengler.  Above all, he found in Charles Darwin one of his “most crucial influences” (p. 53).  Darwin’s evolutionary thought swept through Germany under the guidance of the “enormously influential zoologist and social philosopher

Ernst Haeckel,” whose books “vastly outsold Darwin’s” (p. 54).  “Nature is God” Haeckel declared, and Nature, through natural selection, had elevated the Aryan race.  Following Haeckel, scores of German scholars propounded his version of Social Darwinism, many of them serving as “collaborators” helping the Nazis gain control of universities and various cultural institutions in the ‘30s.  

The most prestigious philosopher actively lending his support to Hitler was Martin Heidegger, a Freiburg University professor.  That he was deeply influenced by Nietzsche must be noted, for the two of them have profoundly shaped 20th century philosophical and literary thought.  To Sherratt, Heidegger was “Hitler’s Superman.”  He had studied with Edmund Husserl, the noted phenomenologist, and enjoyed his patronage as he established his reputation as a world-class philosopher.  Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and was named rector of the University of Freiberg soon thereafter.  Though he resigned as rector within a year, he maintained his Party membership until 1945, and his commitment to National Socialism seems inseparable from with his philosophy.  He “heralded the Third Reich as ‘the construction of a new intellectual and spiritual world for the German nation,’” adding that the “‘construction of National Socialism has now become the single most important task for the German universities’” (p. 106).  He thought no Christian should be appointed to a university lectureship, for traditional morality needed to be consigned to the trash bin of history.  Students were drawn to him and subsequently spread his version of atheistic existentialism, including a disdain for Christian and humanist ideas.

Though some Jewish (e.g. Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and Hannah Arendt) and Christian (e.g. Dietrich von Hildebrand) philosophers fled Germany in the 1930s and opposed Hitler, very few who remained in the country did so.  The notable exception highlighted by Sherratt was Kurt Huber, a devout Roman Catholic and popular professor at Munich University, who taught musicology as well as philosophy. 

He had been appointed to a prestigious Chair for the Institute of Folk Music at the University of Berlin in 1938, but he refused to toe the Party line and was soon dismissed, though he regained his position in Munich.  He used his lectures on Kant, Spinoza, and Leibniz to subtly criticize der Fuhrer, and he ultimately joined a secret student group (the White Rose resistance society) dedicated to distributing subversive pamphlets.  In time he would be arrested and executed—a “martyr” in Sherratt’s view.  

 Almost as soon as the Allies conquered Germany they conducted the Nuremberg Trials and sought to bring leading Nazis to justice.  One of the “criminals” sentenced to death was Alfred Rosenberg, who had played a leading role in Hitler’s administration, largely because he had written the Myth of the Twentieth Century, which had been, “along with Mein Kampf, the ultimate Nazi bible” (p. 232).  But almost none of the scores of philosophers who had supported Hitler suffered anything more than transient disciplinary measures in their universities.  Though Martin Heidegger was investigated, he successfully “reconstructed his life and career from 1933 to 1945 as one of minimal involvement with the Third Reich” (p. 244).  He managed to reestablish himself as a leader in the European academic world and gained assistance from a most unlikely source—Hannah Arendt, his former student and lover.  Though she was Jewish and had fled to America during the war and had denounced him as a “murderous monster” for his Nazi views, she revisited him in 1950 and abruptly decided to champion his rehabilitation.  Similarly, Jean-Paul Sartre, deeply reliant upon Heidegger’s philosophical work, ignored his Nazi activities and “firmly helped to reestablish Heidegger on the post-war stage” (p. 248).  Subsequently Heidegger traveled widely, giving lectures, and greatly influenced many currents of contemporary thought, especially “post-modernism.”  In light of all this, Sherratt seriously questions the academy’s adulation of Nietzsche, Heidegger et al.  So too we should seriously doubt the value of much that passes as “Postmodernism.”   

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Robert Jay Lifton, in The Nazi Doctors:  Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (New York:  BasicBooks, c. 1986), probed, by conducting interviews with both doctors and survivors as well as researching thousands of documents, one of the true mysteries of iniquity—how highly trained and skilled medical doctors (allegedly committed to saving lives) cooperated with the Nazi’s genocidal policies.  Surprisingly, a number of “prisoner doctors” played an important role in running Auschwitz.  These were (generally Jewish and frequently female) medical doctors sent to the camps who assisted the SS doctors.  They often worked as orderlies or nurses, and many of them heroically sought to help other inmates as much as possible, appearing to collaborate while “actually using their position to save as many people as possible” (p. 218).  Still more:  they differentiated between the truly evil and somewhat “better” Nazis who tried to help inmates and were markedly sorrowful as they carried out their orders.  

As one expects from a psychiatrist, Lifton cites many “case studies” and crafts telling illustrations.  He is deeply concerned with medial ethics and confesses that “nothing is darker or more menacing, or harder to accept, that the participation of physicians in mass murder” (p. 3).  Amazingly enough, the doctors he interviewed tried to “present themselves to me as decent people who tried to make the best of a bad situation” and failed (or refused) to make any “clear ethical evaluation of what he had done” (p. 8).  To the extent they did so, it was to rationalize their activities, employing therapeutic language.  They immersed themselves in “medical science” as a “means of avoiding awareness of, and guilt over, their participation in a murderous project” (p. 61).  Thus Dr. Fritz Klein said:  “‘Of course I am a doctor and I want to preserve life.  And out of respect for human life, I would remove a gangrenous appendix from a diseased body.  The Jew is the gangrenous appendix in the body of mankind’” (p. 16).  

The program the Nazis designed to remove gangrenous people was called “euthanasia,” eliminating those deemed “unworthy” to live.  They first implemented the coercive sterilization of “defectives,” for “only the healthy” should procreate.  Then they began killing “impaired” children, for it initially seemed easier to eliminate newborns or young children than larger humans.  Next “impaired” adults, whether mentally or physically disabled, were “put to sleep.”  They also culled out undesirable or “morally inferior” inmates in concentration camps.  Finally came the mass killings in camps such as Auschwitz, whose “primary function” was to kill Jews.  Here the doctors were essential.  They decided, as prisoners were unloaded from the trains, which ones would be immediately sent to the killing centers.  They determined when inmates were not longer useful as laborers and ready to be gassed.  They selected, as did Dr Josef Mengele (doing “scientific” studies on twins), some who would be momentarily spared and used for medical experiments.  As one Auschwitz prisoner doctor remembered:  “‘They [the SS doctors] did their work just as someone who goes to an office goes about his work.  They were gentlemen who came and went, who supervised and were relaxed, sometimes smiling, sometimes joking, but never unhappy.  They were witty if they felt like it.  Personally I did not get the impression that they were much affected by what was going on—nor shocked.  It went on for years.  It was not just one day’” (p. 193).   

They were not monsters, nor even “sadists” as we understand the term.  They were, in fact, rather “normal” human beings.  But they did enormous evil, and what obviously guided and sustained them was their commitment to Nazi ideology—Hitler’s Ethic—with its racist components rooted in a naturalistic, evolutionary, Darwinian ethos.

307 Leon Kass: Living a Worthy Life

“Our society,” said Leon Kass two decades ago, “is dangerously close to losing its grip on the meaning of some fundamental aspects of human existence.” Seventy years ago (when he and I were young), he says, Americans enjoyed a stable culture affording youngsters “authoritative guidance for how to live. Religious traditions and inherited customs and mores pointed the way to a good life. Adults, quite comfortable with their moral authority, were not stingy with their praise and blame, reward and punishment, nor did they neglect the effort to model decent conduct for the young to follow. In the post–World War II years of my boyhood,” he recalls in Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times (New York: Encounter Books, Kindle Edition, c. 2018), “the prevailing culture took pains to turn children into grown-ups. It offered guidance for finding work and vocation, customs of courtship for finding a suitable spouse, and a plethora of vibrant local institutions and associations – religious, fraternal, social, political, charitable, cultural – for finding meaningful participation in civic and communal life. The institutions of higher learning proudly believed in light and truth, and were pleased to initiate the next generation into the intellectual and artistic treasures of the West” (#50-58).

That world has vanished! “Young people are now at sea – regarding work, family, and civic identity. Authority is out to lunch. Courtship has disappeared. No one talks about work as vocation. The true, the good, and the beautiful have few defenders. Irony is in the saddle, and the higher cynicism mocks any innocent love of wisdom or love of country. The things we used to take for granted have become, at best, open questions. The persons and institutions to which we once looked for guidance have ceased to offer it successfully” (#65). Socrates’ probing questions regarding how we should live are rarely addressed, much less answered. We’ve mastered complex computer technologies but failed to find good reasons to live, and this deficit “is perhaps the deepest curse of living in our interesting time” (#67).

Kass has been teaching for half-a-century, mainly dealing with ethics. Reared in a secular Jewish home, primarily distinguished by it socialistic ideology, he has, as an adult, slowly returned to some of Judaism’s the ancient wisdom, without becoming a devout practitioner. Following his undergraduate schooling at the University of Chicago Kass earned an M.D., then completed a Ph.D. in biochemistry and briefly spent time doing research. But his heart was in liberal education, so he returned to his alma mater and was for decades a professor in the Committee on Social Thought, flourishing within that institutions’s humanities program. “Although formally trained in medicine and biochemistry – fields in which I no longer teach or practice – I have been engaged with liberal education for forty-five years, teaching philosophical and literary texts as an untrained amateur, practicing the humanities without a license” (#4869). In 2001 President George W. Bush appointed him to chair the President’s Council on Bioethics, and he is widely respected for his expertise and wisdom (quite evident in his commentary on Genesis, titled The Beginning of Wisdom). “In my own case,” he recalls, “it was first the prospect of human genetic manipulation that led me to question my onetime conviction that the progress of science and technology would necessarily go hand in hand with an improvement in morals and society, and second, reflection on my activities as a scientist that led me to doubt the claims of some of my colleagues that the activities of living organisms, including man, could be fully understood in terms of nonliving matter and the laws of physics and chemistry, or even in terms of behaviorist psychology and neuroscience” (#4679).

Such convictions were evident when, in the midst of his tenure as chairman of the President’s Council, he published a collection of essays: Life Liberty and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics (San Francisco: Encounter Books, c. 2002). He was then deeply concerned that “our society has overcome longstanding taboos and aversions to accept test-tube fertilization, commercial sperm banking, surrogate motherhood, abortion on demand, exploitation of fetal tissue, creation of human embryos solely for experimentation, patenting of living human tissue, gender-change surgery, liposuction and body shops, the widespread shuttling of human parts, assisted suicide practiced by doctors and the deliberate generation of human beings to serve as transplant donors—not to speak about massive changes in the culture regarding shame, privacy and exposure.” But beyond his burden for bioethics, Kass stressed: “Perhaps more worrisome than the changes themselves is the coarsening of sensibilities and attitudes, and the irreversible effects on our imaginations and the way we come to conceive of ourselves” (p. 197).

We have unfortunately embraced a “technological way” that finds fuel in “the utopian promises of modern thought” which will ultimately “doom” us to destruction (p. 49). The great issue we face is this: “Everything depends on whether the technological disposition is allowed to proceed to its self-augmenting limits, or whether it can be resisted, spiritually, morally, politically” (p. 49). We must recover our moral compass! We face a grave moral crisis with apparently no notion of what’s at stake. “We are in turbulent seas without a landmark precisely because we adhere more and more to a view of human life that both gives us enormous powers, and, at the same time, denies every possibility of non-arbitrary standards for guiding its use. Though well equipped, we know not who we are or where we re going. We triumph over nature’s unpredictability only to subject ourselves, tragically, to the still greater unpredictability of our capricious wills and fickle opinions” (p. 138).

Still concerned with such issues, in his most recent publication (Leading a Worthy Life,) Kass has collected some papers he’s written during the past two decades, hoping they will “shine fresh light on several fundamental and irreplaceable aspects of the good life, as well as on the specific threats they face today and tomorrow: love, family, and friendship; human achievement, human excellence, and human dignity; learning and teaching in search of understanding and wisdom; and fulfilling the enduring human aspirations for the true, the good, and the beautiful, for the righteous and the holy, and for freedom, equality, and self-government.” He begins by citing an essay by Irving Kristol 25 years ago that illustrated how “succeeding waves of elitist opposition to our inherited moral, aesthetic, and spiritual norms and sensibilities had issued in a nihilistic anticulture, hostile not only to religion, family, patriotism, and traditional morality, but even to the promise of Enlightenment reason itself” (#393). He examines selected “secular realms,” including “work; love and family; community and country;” and the pursuit of truth,” realms connected to “our deepest aspirations: to live a life that makes sense, a life that is worthy of the unmerited gift of our own existence” (#342).

Take first our engagement in work. “That work should be central to life’s fulfillment is a very old idea, and it persists because it is rooted in human nature. Aristotle argued that human flourishing is a life of virtuous or excellent activity, where “activity” translates a word of Aristotle’s own coinage, built from a root meaning “work”: energeia, literally, ‘being-at-work’” (#366). “We need to consider work, as Dorothy Sayers put it, ‘not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do.’ Work enables us to utilize and to most fully express our God-given talents, gaining meaning for our lives from fulfilling our nature, from seeing our work well done, and from delighting in the gifts our work provides to a world that needs and appreciates them” (#352).

Then consider conjugal love and family, issues to which he devotes several chapters, thereby indicating their importance. Admittedly, Kass says, “eros can be notoriously fickle in its choice of objects,” but “when disciplined – especially by the vows and practice of a solid marriage – it can provide for a private life whose satisfactions are among the most enduring blessings life has to offer. Living life under a promise, husband and wife enjoy the practice of mutually giving and receiving love, one to the other. Through devotion and care, informed by the pledge and practice of fidelity, everyday life takes on the character of a sacrament” (#387). Such a life seems quite foreign to 21st century youngsters. “Sexually active – indeed, hyperactive – they flop about from one relationship to another.” Too many “young men, nervous predators, act as if any woman were equally good; they are given not to falling in love with one, but to scoring in bed with many. And in this sporting attitude they are now matched by some female trophy hunters. But most young women strike me as sad, lonely, and confused” (#588).

They’re sad and lonely, Kass thinks, because they have lost something essential for women: modesty. “The supreme virtue of the virtuous woman was modesty, a form of sexual self-control, manifested not only in chastity but in decorous dress and manner, speech and deed, and in reticence in the display of her well-banked affections. A virtue, as it were, made for courtship, it served simultaneously (for a man) as a source of attraction and a spur to manly ardor, and (for a woman) as a guard against a woman’s own desires and as a defense against unworthy suitors. A fine woman understood that giving her body (in earlier times, even her kiss) meant giving her heart, which was too precious to be bestowed on anyone who would not prove himself worthy, at the very least by pledging himself in marriage to be her defender and lover forever. Once female modesty became a first casualty of the sexual revolution, even women eager for marriage lost their greatest power to hold and to discipline their prospective mates” (#640).

Years ago Kass and his late wife Amy, distressed by the myriads of failing marriages, began offering a seminar at the University of Chicago to focus on courting and marrying. It occurred to them that universities encouraged many kinds of studies, but rarely focused on the truly central “activities of everyday life” which deeply concerned earlier thinkers such as Aristotle (p. x). “Absent especially is the devoted search for moral wisdom regarding the conduct of life—philosophy’s original meaning and goal, and a central focus of all religious thought and practice—a search that takes help from wherever it may be found and that gives direction to a life seriously lived” (p. ix). Students warmly responded to the course, and the assigned readings have been collected into a sourcebook edited by the Kasses, Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, c. 2000). They sought to reverse their students’ apparent disinterest in getting married and having children, for relatively few had thought seriously about the importance of sharing a lifetime with someone. Since the Kasses had found their marriage right at the heart of what makes life meaningful, they unapologetically took a “pro-marriage” stance and wondered why youngsters failed to crave to discover such a good life! In part, they concluded, the demise of “courtship” helped explain it. As they define it, “courting” means “to pay amorous attention to, to woo, with a view of marriage” (p. 5).

Unfortunately, such “courting and marrying” have nearly disappeared in modern America. In part, they believed, the proliferation of “gender studies” and the influence of militant feminism have deliberately sought to “redefine and recreate the meaning of being man or woman,” alleging that “gender” is little more than a “cultural construction” subject to continuous change. An egalitarian ideology has subverted “the authority of religion, tradition, and custom within families, of husbands over wives and fathers over sons” (p. 13). Against such, the professors Kass urge us to simply study our navels! They unequivocally show we were born of a woman! “Moreover, absent a miracle, each of us owes our living existence to exactly one man and one woman—no more, no less, no other—and thus to one act of heterosexual union. This is no social construction, it is natural fact” (p. 7). So let’s be honest and talk about two sexes, not multiplied genders! Doing so leads us to wonder at the beauty of courtship and marriage.

Since publishing Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar, Kass thinks the “beauty of courtship and marriage” has further decayed. In Leading a Worthy Life he underscores his earlier concerns, setting forth “a partial list of the recent changes in our society and culture that hamper courtship and marriage: the sexual revolution, made possible especially by effective female contraception; the ideology of feminism and the changing educational and occupational status of women; the destigmatization of bastardy, divorce, infidelity, and abortion; the general erosion of shame and awe regarding sexual matters, exemplified most vividly in the ubiquitous and voyeuristic presentation of sexual activity in movies and on television; widespread morally neutral sex education in schools; the explosive increase in the numbers of young people whose parents have been divorced (and in those born out of wedlock who have never known their father); great increases in geographic mobility, with a resulting loosening of ties to place and extended family of origin; and, harder to describe precisely, a popular culture that celebrates youth and independence not as a transient stage en route to adulthood but as ‘the time of our lives,’ imitable at all ages, and an ethos that lacks transcendent aspirations and asks of us no devotion to family, God, or country, encouraging us simply to soak up the pleasures of the present. The change most immediately devastating to wooing is probably the sexual revolution” (#628).

Preeminent among the many harmful aspects of the sexual revolution is divorce, American style. “Countless students” have told Kass “that the divorce of their parents has been the most devastating and life-shaping event of their lives” (#685). Fearing long-term commitments, youngsters now choose to “live together,” getting to “know” each other without going through the process of dating, courtship and marraige. “But such arrangements,” Kass says, “even when they eventuate in matrimony, are, precisely because they are a trial, not a trial of marriage. Marriage is not something one tries on for size, and then decides whether to keep; it is rather something one decides with a promise, and then bends every effort to keep. Lacking the formalized and public ritual, and especially the vows or promises of permanence (or “commitment”) that subtly but surely shape all aspects of genuine marital life, cohabitation is an arrangement of convenience, with each partner taken on approval and returnable at will” (#698). Though often angry at their parents for divorcing, cohabiting couples that marry will likely follow their example! “Given that they have more or less drifted into marriage, it should come as no great surprise that couples who have lived together before marriage have a higher rate of divorce than those who have not” (#704).

Whether or not it is possible, Kass calls for a return to earlier models for courtship and marriage as the only practice suitable for our species. “Real reform in the direction of sanity would require a restoration of cultural gravity about sex, marriage, and the life cycle. The restigmatization of illegitimacy and promiscuity would help. A reversal of recent antinatalist prejudices, implicit in the practice of abortion, and a correction of current antigenerative sex education would also help, as would the revalorization of marriage as both a personal and a cultural ideal” (#917).

His commitment to revitalizing marriage is part of Kass’s broader concern for human dignity, something he has extensively dealt with in his bioethical writings, early evident in Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity. Medical researchers, once committed to enabling patients to recover from diseases, now envision genetic manipulation and computer-chip implants which will improve human nature. “Human nature itself lies on the operating table, ready for alteration, for eugenic and neuropsychic ‘enhancement,’ for wholesale redesign. Inn leading laboratories, academic and industrial, new creators are confidently amassing their powers anthill on the street their evangelists are zealously prophesying a posthuman future. For anyone who cares about preserving our humanity, the time has come to pay attention” (p. 4). Reminding us of C.S. Lewis’s warnings in The Abolition of Man and Aldous Huxley’s prophetic Brave New World (two books fundamental to his intellectual development) he worries that we “are not yet aware of the gravity” of powerful anti-human movements seeking to “transform” the natural world we’ve been given. Around the globe we see folks infatuated with utopian aspirations, enamored of technologies, all singing “loudly the Baconian anthem, ‘Conquer nature, relieve man’s estate’” (p. 4).

From his current vantage point, Kass says: “As I look back over the decades since I left the world of science to reflect on its human meaning, three distinct but related pursuits stand out: First, addressing the conceptual danger (stressed by Lewis) of a soulless science of life, I sought a more natural science, one that is truer to life as lived. Second, addressing the practical danger (stressed by Huxley) of dehumanization resulting from the relief of man’s estate and the sacrifice of the high to the urgent, I sought a richer picture of human dignity and human flourishing. And third, addressing the social and political dangers (stressed by Rousseau) of cultural decay and enfeeblement, I sought cultural teachings that could keep us strong in heart and soul, no less than in body and bank account” (Leading a Worthy Life, #5027).

We simply must think more deeply about such things, and such thinking must be philosophical rather than scientific, discerning and seeking to preserve human dignity. “Both historically and linguistically, ‘dignity’ has always implied something elevated, something deserving of respect. The central notion etymologically, in English as in the Latin root dignitas, is worthiness, elevation, honor, nobility – in brief, excellence or virtue. In all its meanings it has been a term of distinction; dignity is not something to be expected or found in every human being, like a nose or a navel” (#2914). Today, he warns, there is a “new field of ‘transhumanist’ science is rallying thought and research for the wholesale redesign of human nature, employing genetic and neurological engineering and man-machine hybrids, en route to what has been blithely called a ‘posthuman’ future” (#2825). What should most concern us is the fact that the real threat we face is not merely technologies such as cloning but “the underlying scientific thought” that sustains them. During the past several centuries, biologists have “reconceived the nature of the organic body, representing it not as something animated, purposive and striving, but as dead matter-in-motion. This reductive science has given us enormous power, but it offers us no standards to guide its use. Worse, it challenges our self-understanding as creatures of dignity, rendering us incapable of recognizing dangers to our humanity that arise from the very triumphs biology has made. What is urgently needed is a richer, more natural biology and anthropology, one that does full justice to the meaning of our peculiarly human union of soul and body in which low neediness and divine-seeking aspiration are concretely joined” (p. 20).

To rediscover Aristotle and the Bible would significantly help us in this endeavor. The wisdom contained in such classic sources far surpasses the reductionistic and frequently irrational pronouncements being uttered by today’s scientists and politicians. So Genesis can tell us “what it means that the earth’s most godlike creature is a concretion combining ruddy earth and rousing breath” (p. 20). Should we be dissatisfied with the reigning mechanistic dogma we could turn to Goethe, “a connoisseur of morphology who . . . explored the immanent creative powers of life and who understood, perhaps better than anyone else, how the purposive yet innovative mind of man might both mirror and emory the purposiveness and creativity of nature itself. And hiding off-stage, but still accessible to us, is that first biologist of nature-in-its-ordinary-course, Aristotle, who emphasized questions of being over becoming, form over matter, purposiveness over moving causes, and wholes over parts; for whom the soul was not an ethereal spirit or a goest-in-the-machine but an immanent and embodies principle of all vital activity; and for whom science was a refined and ever deepening reflection on the natures and the causes of the beings manifest to us in ordinary experience” (p. 294).

Only thereby will we recover our true sense of human dignity.

173 The Souls of Our Young

In Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, c. 2005), Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton provide an amply documented and academically persuasive portrait of America’s youth. Smith is a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina and the principal investigator of the National Study of Youth and Religion—a well funded, methodologically clear endeavor that relies upon both extensive surveys and personal interviews. Denton is the study’s project manager. “To our knowledge,” they say, “this project has been the largest, most comprehensive and detailed study of American teenage religion and spirituality conducted to date” (p. 7).

America’s teenagers are remarkably religious; 40 percent attend “religious services once a week or more, and 19 percent report attending one to three times per month” (p. 37). Only 18 percent have no religious involvement. Amazingly enough, “teens as a group profess to want to attend religious services not less, but actually more than they currently do” (p. 38). They praise their congregations as “warm and welcoming” (p. 61) and find adults therein reliable and trustworthy. Their parents, more than anyone else, influence them, and they reveal little hostility toward them. Such youngsters have little interest in fringe or “alternative” religions and seem to be quite conventional in almost every way. “The vast majority of U.S. teenagers identify themselves as Christians” and “regularly practice religious faith” (p. 68). The mantra of avant garde folks like Michael Lerner—”spiritual but not religious”—hardly registers with typical teenagers.

One interviewee, incidentally, was attending a Nazarene church and spoke highly of it. He liked Wednesday and Sunday night services, the youth group and Sunday school. What he found attractive in the church was this: “It’s good people, you know. And not only that, I also actually learn,” something important to him because he wanted to know how to “be a God-fearing person and go to heaven or whatever, you know?” (p. 100).

The more devout among them are thereby advantaged in “a host of ways,” making a positive difference in: “risk behaviors, quality of family and adult relationships, moral reasoning and behavior, community participation, media consumption, sexual activity, and emotional well-being” (p. 219). Whether one considers drugs and alcohol or school attendance or getting along with parents, the religious teenagers do much better. They watch less TV, fewer R rated movies, less pornography, and play fewer video games. In some categories—such as pornographic movies, where the “devoted” teens watched 0.5 a year while the “disengaged” saw 2.5—the statistics reveal dramatic differences. “Nearly all Devoted teens believe in waiting for marriage to have sex, compared to less than one-quarter of the Disengaged who believe the same” (p. 223). Devoted teens are far happier than the Disengaged and feel more closely connected with others. They craft positive plans for the future and seriously ponder “the meaning of life” (p. 226). The statistical tables delineating these differences, found on pp. 220-227, are most impressive in demonstrating the authors’ conviction that religion helps teens.

The positive news regarding the role of religion in teenagers’ lives must be balanced, however, by information regarding its doctrinally deficient nature. Our youngsters have little knowledge of any content to the Christian faith! They take a thoroughly individualistic approach to questions regarding God, man, and salvation—though they are generally quite inarticulate when asked to explain much of anything about their views. Indeed, the authors conclude: “In our in-depth interviews with U.S. teenagers, we also found the vast majority of them to be incredibly inarticulate about their faith, their religious beliefs and practices, and its meaning or place in their lives” (p. 131).

Their religion is best defined as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” They believe in a rather distant (unless needed to solve one’s problems) God, who “wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions” (p. 162). “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself,” and “Good people go to heaven when they die” (p. 163). They believe God “designed the universe and establishes moral law and order. But this God is not Trinitarian, he did not speak through the Torah or the prophets of Israel, was never resurrected from the dead, and does not fill and transform people thorough his Spirit. This God is not demanding. He actually can’t be, because his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good. In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process” (p. 165).

Today’s teenagers also entertain a view of human nature quite at odds with the Christian tradition. Teens “tend to assume an instrumental view of religion. Most instinctively suppose that religion exists to help individuals be and do what they want, and not as an external tradition or authority or divinity that makes compelling claims and demeans on their lives, especially to change or grow in ways that may not immediately want to” (p. 148). While they freely acknowledge their sins, they apparently feel no condemnation as sinners! They share the broader culture’s presumption that we are autonomous individuals, free to shape our future in accord with our own desires. Religion is viewed as an enjoyable activity, but it ought not particularly influence one’s decisions. Autonomous individuals can hardly judge the behavior of others, and today’s teens are radically non-judgmental. “The typical bywords, rather, are ‘Who am I to judge?’ ‘If that’s what they choose, whatever,’ ‘Each Person decides for himself,’ and ‘If it works for them, fine'” (p. 144).

“What we heard from most teens,” Smith and Denton say, “is essentially that religion makes them feel good, that it helps them make good choices, that it helps resolve problems and troubles, that it serves their felt needs. What we hardly ever heard from teens was that religion is about significantly transforming people into, not what they feel like being, but what they are supposed to be, what God, or their ethical tradition wants them to be” (pp. 148-149). The youngsters interviewed rarely expressed interest in a religion that “summons people to embrace an obedience to truth regardless of the personal consequences or rewards. Hardly any teens spoke directly about more difficult religious subjects like repentance, love of neighbor, social justice, unmerited grace, self-discipline, humility, the costs of discipleship, dying to self, the sovereignty of God, personal holiness, the struggles of sanctification” (p. 149), or any of the classical themes of Christian discipleship.

For those of us working with young people, this book is both encouraging and chastening. Kids are hungry for God and the churches are bringing them into religious fellowships. Unfortunately, they learn little about the great doctrines of the Church and rarely are challenged to live out the sterner stuff of the scriptures.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Barbara Curtis, in Dirty Dancing at the Prom: And Other Challenges Christian Teens Face (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, c. 2005), provides a deeply personal insight into the lives of today’s adolescents. Prodded by one of her son’s remarks regarding the school prom—where “freak dancing” rather resembled sexual foreplay—she launched an investigation, primarily through interviews, into teen culture, hoping to help parents struggling with the issues she faces. What she found is (to her) alarming. Neither today’s dances, nor today’s teenagers, are quite the same as they were 40 years ago. Indeed, perhaps “it’s time proms carried warning labels” (p. 8). And not only proms but many aspects of teen culture merit them as well!

Curtis has twelve children (three of them, Down Syndrome children, adopted) and became a Christian only after she was well into the parenting process. In fact, her oldest daughter went to her high school prom and spent the night with her boyfriend. Having almost no religious roots, living in northern California, they took a laissez-faire approach to most everything, lacking any “moral compass to guide us, just following the crowd” (p. 10). She and her first husband were “hippies” who named their first two daughters Samantha Sunshine and Jasmine Moonbeam! Her second husband, a “spiritual seeker” was similarly rooted in the ’60s ethos. “Drugs, promiscuity, and radical politics” were part of the air they breathed in MarinCounty!

They became Christians, however, as a result of attending a conference where they were presented with Campus Crusade for Christ’s “Four Spiritual Laws.” Everything changed! They suddenly saw the world differently, bathed in the Light of Christ. “Though Tripp [her husband] and I had known about Jesus, we had thought of Him simply as a great spiritual teacher. . . . . This was the first time we had heard the truth about who He was. We did receive Jesus, then and there, on March 21, 1987. Tears were streaming down our faces, and we knew something profound had happened” (p. 108). And they wanted to rear their children differently. So, after home-schooling some of their children in California, they moved to Virginia, hoping to find a more solid, family-friendly society. But teen culture respects no state boundaries, and she found herself facing the great challenge of helping her kids deal with its harmful currents.

In the process she discovered the importance of seven items that constitute the chapters of this book: 1) Being Grounded in God’s Love: Self-esteem; 2) Setting Limits: Self-Assurance; 3) Avoiding Temptation: Self-control; 4) Developing Compassion: Self-sacrifice; 5) Standing Up For What’s right: Self-Respect; 6) Making the Most of Mistakes: Self-help; 7) Living with Integrity: Self-satisfaction.

Curtis discovered, firstly, how important it is to anchor teens in the reality of God’s love. When battling with self-esteem issues, so frequently savaged by their peers in the desensitized atmosphere of the schools, kids need to know they are precious in God’s sight. Those who grow up in homes where they know that both God and their parents love them are far more likely to be self-confident and resolute in resisting temptation. “Self-esteem is tied to knowing God’s love for us,” Curtis says (p. 21). Loving children requires parents to stick together. “So perhaps the most loving thing parents can do for their children is to honor their own wedding vows—for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, until death” (p. 25). Statistical studies demonstrate the significant suffering kids endure when their parents divorce. Curtis herself grew up “fatherless” and feels “the hole in the souls of fatherless girls” (p. 25). Girls also need godly dads who protect them! “There’s a part of every woman that still longs to be Daddy’s little girl, to feel completely safe and protected” (p. 26).

Protecting kids means setting limits. Curtis confesses she “was once a permissive parent. Having grown up with no spiritual foundation or moral guidelines myself, I didn’t have anything really to pass on. And since my background wasn’t undergirded with love, I had no understanding of what parental love looked like” (p. 31). She had no rules for bedtimes or much of anything else. She thought loving meant letting others do whatever they felt like. Then her oldest daughter, as a high school junior, began coming home at two in the morning. Mom awakened to the fact that youngsters lack wisdom and need guidance—and even clear rules. She also discovered that “kids don’t just need limits—they secretly want them” (p. 32). Love issues reasonable rules. Youngsters will always test them, but parents must uphold them for the good of their kids. This means that a mom or dad can’t be a child’s “best friend”— something 43 percent of the nation’s parents aspire to! Best friend parents, of course, never make rules or require homework or do anything to displease their “friend.” Truth to tell, however, kids both need and want parents! As one of the girls Curtis interviewed said: “‘I want my mom to be my mom'” (p. 46).

Many of the rules, in our world, necessarily focus on protecting kids from illicit sexual activities—evident in the fact “that more than one third of babies born in the United States were born to unwed mothers” (p. 48). Youngsters obviously need to develop the invaluable trait of self-control, though they find little encouragement to do so in the movies, songs, and TV programs that powerfully shape them. “The switch from romance to eroticism in entertainment has put enormous pressure on today’s teens” (p. 50). Thus parents have a great task: to both require obedience and encourage self-discipline. Curtis lists helpful ways to do so: encourage group dates; open your home to your kids’ friends; give them cell phones and keep them accountable; “eliminate latchkey hours;” and supervise entertainment.

Kids also need to learn compassion. By nature, they’re not so, necessarily! They learn to recognize, as Rick Warren says, “It’s not about you.” Others matter. And they should matter to teens. Being part of a big family certainly helps cultivate this, as Curtis makes clear. But kids still need to be taught to care for others—often by serving siblings at home. They need to know the difference between loving sinners and hating sins. They need to become aware of a world full of needs and hurts—something easily acquired through an acquaintance with world missions. Parents praying for missionaries and supporting World Vision or Compassion International clearly teach children elementary compassion lessons.

Standing up for what’s right, even when it’s unpopular, elicits a profound sense of self-respect. So parents need to both illustrate and encourage it, because our kids are on the “frontlines” of the culture war. Persecution—albeit it often subtle—is a fact of life for Christians in the public schools. The kids she interviewed all testified to the challenges they face at school. Getting involved in athletics or drama frequently forces a teen to make choices regarding his values and convictions. In the Curtis family, the author’s husband has consistently insisted: “It’s not who’s right but what’s right.” Films, such as High Noon, to Kill a Mockingbird, and Bonhoeffer, afford opportunities to emphasize the need for courage in living righteously. Kids thus nurtured generally find the courage to stand up for what’s right and discover, in the process, a great sense of personal dignity.

Growing up is marked by successes and failures. Learning from one’s mistakes, growing through disappointments, prepares one for adulthood. Curtis, of all people, knows the truth that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The doctrine of original sin was validated by both her own transgressions and with every baby she reared! Confessing her own failures to her kids, as well as to God, showed them the value of openness and honesty. Failures aren’t fatal. With God’s help, the slips and sins of youth can be both confess and transformed into wisdom and strength. And that’s what’s needed for the integrity that makes one satisfied with life.

For parents seeking to understand and rightly rear their teenagers, Dirty Dancing at the Prom provides welcome assistance.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Two Canadian philosophers, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, give us an analysis of the impact of an earlier generation’s youth culture in Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture (New York: HarperBusiness, c. 2004). The rebels of the ’60s, the baby boomers, talked much about changing the world and making it a non-materialistic utopia of peace and beauty, but as adults they have tacitly repudiated their early idealism. The authors lament this loss, rather like socialists forever insisting on the purity of a system that never quite works as it should, but they insist we understand what happened through an analysis of the false ideas that have flourished since the ’60s.

Failing to think deeply enough and implement their convictions, counter-cultural radicals simply celebrated the wrong things—hippie attire, mindless music (today’s rap most the latest manifestation), mind-altering drugs. They generally imagined that reality could be shaped in accord with one’s nostalgia or hopes in anarchical utopias. Radicals imagined they would save the world by “subverting” the dominant culture through “alternative” art, clothing, “appropriate technology,” organic food, “free range chicken,” fair trade coffee, voluntary simplicity, and protest songs. In fact, as the baby boomers moved into positions of power in various institutions, they brought “their hippie value system with them” (p. 197).

“When the Beatles sang ‘All you need is love,’ many people took it quite literally” (p. 71). Rather than deal with the nitty-gritty problems of poverty and illiteracy and injustice, rather than understand the importance of productivity and personal discipline, counter-cultural rebels followed the lead of folks like Theodore Roszak and fixated on what he called “the psychic liberation of the oppressed.” They swallowed aphorisms coined by the likes of Herbert Marcuse, with his curious admixture of Marx and Freud, who lamented “repressive tolerance,” a phrase, Heath and Potter say, “makes about as much sense now as it did then” (p. 35). Which is to say it’s nonsense.

In short: critiquing mass society has failed to change it. The counterculture has majored in critiques for 40 years, but little resulted from their efforts. Sanctimoniously denouncing various kinds of “commodification,” radicals have settled into comfortable echelons of privilege (working at “cool jobs,” especially in universities, in “cool cities” such as Seattle and San Francisco) appropriate for themselves as the new “creative” class, earning twice as much as the working class. Indeed, “Cool is one of the major factors driving the modern economy. Cool has become the central ideology of consumer capitalism” (p. 188). Consequently, “the modern no-collar workplace, with its casual dress codes and flexible work hours” looks for all the world “like a hippie commune under professional management” (p. 202).

Nation of Rebels takes seriously the counter-culture of the ’60s, and it merits thoughtful reading. There seems to be much truth in the book’s thesis that the impact of the boomers was secondary rather than primary, and the changes they wrought were harmful rather than helpful.

172 American Autobiographies: Buckley; Hillerman; Medved

In 1951, when William F. Buckley published God and Man at Yale, there were millions of ordinary “conservatives” who lacked an intellectually vigorous forum for their ideas. When Buckley soon thereafter launched The National Review, they found both a forum and a spokesman who greatly shaped what is now arguably the dominant political position in the country. To understand the man who, for 50 years, has written and inspired an amazing array of writers and politicians, young and old, Buckley’s Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc., c. 2004) proves indispensable. Like the man himself, the autobiography is a bit unconventional, for Buckley simply strings together various previously written items to tell his story. “The design of this book,” he says, “is to bring together material I have written over fifty years, with an autobiography in mind” (p. xiii). Thus it is episodic rather than linear, refulgent with remembrances rather than chronological specifics. But the book is strangely effective, for one sees, through the passages presented, the world as Buckley saw it at very specific times. And one learns, while reading, who he is and how his ideas have shaped his life.

Buckley was blessed with virtuous parents. His father, he says, “was the most admirable man I ever knew” (p. 12). He prospered greatly, sired a large family, and presided over both business and family affairs with dignity and discernment. Importantly, his son remembers, he “was wonderful with children (up until they were adolescents; at which point . . . he took to addressing us primarily by mail, until we were safe again at eighteen)” (p. 35). He demonstrated “a constant, inexplicit tenderness to his wife and children, of which the many who witnessed it have not, they say, often seen the like” (p. 49). High praise for an archetypical “patriarchal” father! His mother, a vivacious and attentive woman, “never lost a southern innocence” (p. 51) and was ever determined to do “the will of God” (p. 52). “There were rules she lived by, chief among them those she understood God to have specified. And although Father was the unchallenged source of authority at home, Mother was unchallengeably in charge of arrangements in a house crowded with ten children and as many tutors, servants, and assistants” (p. 52). Amidst all the stresses and strains of caring for such a brood, she remained resolutely cheerful. Indeed, she refused to ever “complain; because, she explained, she could never repay God the favors He had done her, no matter what tribulations she might be made to suffer” (p. 54). His remarkable parents revered education, culture, and the Catholic faith, and they effectively reared their children accordingly.

Buckley’s collegiate education took place at Yale University, an experience recorded in God and Man at Yale, the book that brought him national attention (which I reviewed in issue #158 of my “Reedings.”) Twenty-five years later he was asked to write an introduction for an “anniversary edition” of the book, and now (looking back 50 years) “To young inquisitive friends, I say: Don’t bother to read the book, but do read the introduction” (p. 58), which is reprinted here. Trends evident at Yale, shortly after WWII, soon swept the country. Caving in to the fashionable notion that “all sides” of every issue deserve a hearing, insisting that “tolerance” and “diversity” are crucial components for academic respectability, most universities had lost their “mission.” A commitment to “academic freedom” had replaced their original raison d’etre. But to Buckley, only a focused “mission” justifies the existence of any university!

A surprising amount of Miles Gone By is devoted to sailing and skiing. While I cannot share Buckley’s fascination with the former I fully identify with the latter! The first day he skied (aged 29) he “thought seriously of abandoning journalism, my vendetta with the Soviet Union, my music, and my sailing, and settling down in Vermont, working five years to qualify as a ski instructor, and spending the balance of my life on the slopes” (p. 192). Fortunately he thought better of the idea. But thereafter he routinely took vacations in Switzerland and Utah, finding delight in both the beauty of the scenery and the challenge of the sport, skiing into his eight decade. “I know of no sport, no hobby, no avocation, as indulgent as skiing in giving you exactly the combination you wish of challenge, relaxation, thrill, exhilaration” (p. 195). Amen!

In a fascinating section, entitled “People,” Buckley celebrates “Ten Friends”–David Niven, the superb actor; Ronald Reagan, the president; Henry Kissinger, the diplomat; Claire Boothe Luce, the congressman; Tom Wolfe, the novelist; Vladimir Horowitz, the pianist; Roger Moore, the movie producer; Alistair Cooke, the historian; Princess Grace, the movie star turned Princess of Monaco; and John Kenneth Galbraith, the liberal Harvard economist. What’s amazing about this list is their prominence and diversity. Like Will Rogers, Buckley seems to genuinely “like” people and successfully established lasting friendships with various sorts of them.

Ever readable, ever enlightening, this “literary autobiography” is a fitting testament to its author.


In Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, c. 1997), William F. Buckley gives readers insight into his soul. Almost blissfully, he reports: “I was baptized a Catholic and reared as one by devoted parents whose emotional and intellectual energies never cloyed” (p. xx). His “mother was a daily communicant. Father’s faith was not extrovert, but if you happened on him just before he left his bedroom in the morning, you would find him on his knees, praying” (p. 4). Consequently, he declares: “My faith has not wavered, though I permit myself to wonder whether, if it had, I’d advertise it . . . . “I wish I could here give to my readers a sense of my own personal struggle, but there is no sufficient story to there to tell” (p. xx). Righteous examples, particularly parental, surely matter–eternally!

As a Catholic attending Yale, he found little to trouble his faith but much to dissipate his hope for higher education! Colleges such as Yale had, before WWII, abandoned any commitment to Christian doctrine, assuming that a decent percentage of pious professors would maintain a suitable “religious atmosphere” of some nebulous sort! “When I left Yale in 1950,” says Buckley, “I had become convinced that it, and presumably, other colleges like it were engaged in discouraging intellectual and spiritual ties to Christianity” (p. 36). Half a century later, this trend is distressingly evident even in the formerly Christian prep schools of New England, where “there is today another God, and it is multiculturalism” (p. 37). More broadly, and ominously, he thinks: “What has happened, in two generations, is the substantial alienation of the secular culture from the biblical culture” (p. 233). That process now gains speed and threatens the very foundations of our society.

Buckley’s own theological convictions are rooted in thinkers such as John Henry Newman and were invigorated by challenging, far-ranging conversations with the likes of Sir Arnold Lunn (a skiing companion), Whittiker Chambers, Russell Kirk, Richard John Neuhaus, Jeffrey Hart, Malcolm Muggeridge, Chuck Colson, and Eugene Genovese. Ever eclectic in his friendships, he seems able to draw and distill insights from some of the world’s finest thinkers. And it’s clear that “faith” to Buckley is primarily an intellectual conviction regarding the truth of Christian doctrine. Nearer, My God contains none of the “personal experiences” so central to evangelical memoirs, little of the “strangely warmed” heart moments pietists prize. But it does make clear the author’s conviction that “anyone who is looking for God, Pascal said, will find him” (p. 85). That Buckley has found God is most evident in this treatise.


A writer of a different sort, Tony Hillerman, tells his life story in Seldom Disappointed: A Memoir (New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, c. 2001). Hillerman’s mysteries–The Blessing Way; Listening Woman; Skinwalkers; Coyote Waits, to name a few–are set in Navajo country and provide an effortless way to understand something of Navajo culture.

Born to an impoverished farm family in Oklahoma, Hillerman profited from the example of hard-working, devout parents. His father, he believes, literally worked himself to death and died young. His mother gave him an enduring example of courage and resolve. In the midst of depression and poverty, she refused to be daunted. To her, children “had nothing to worry about except maintaining our purity, being kind to others, saving our souls, and making good grades. With Papa’s help, she persuaded us that we were something special. We weren’t just white trash. Great things awaited us. Much was expected of us. . . . whining and self-pity were not allowed” (p. 46). Whatever happened, Mama would say: “Offer it up.” Give it to God and keep on keeping on! “We were born, we’d live a little while, and we’d die. Then would come joy, the great reward, the Great Adventure, eternal life” (p. 46).

Hillerman managed to graduate from high school and gain entrance to Oklahoma A&M, just as WWII was erupting. He soon joined the Army, went to Europe, and fought with his buddies through France and into Germany. Seriously wounded, losing an eye and walking with a limp thereafter, he received multiple decorations. All of this he describes with a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor, making light of his “heroism” and military life in general. He tested and confirmed the fact that there’s much “truth behind the axiom: ‘There are two ways of doing things. The right way and the Army way'” (p. 151). After months in various hospitals, he finally returned to Oklahoma, entered the University of Oklahoma, and studied journalism. Happy to maintain a “Gentlemanly C” grade point, his academic career was notably undistinguished, though he profited from at least one of his journalism professor’s instruction regarding “tight” writing. Use the right words! Eliminate adverbs and adjectives!

More important than professors, however, was a woman he met at OU in his senior year! Marie Unzner instantly enchanted him, and he persuaded her to become his wife. She proved a great blessing, for she “had more confidence in my writing than I did” (p. 260). Ever cheerful and optimistic, she continually encouraged him to pursue his dreams. Whereas his parents had nurtured him early in life, setting him on the right track, heading toward “that Last Great Adventure, and understanding that the Gospels Jesus used to teach us were the road map to make getting there a happy trip,” the final half-century of his life was “filled with love, joy, and laughter by a wonderful wife, partner, and helpmate named Marie” (p. 320).

Degree in hand and a wife to care for, Hillerman sought work. The position he found was in Borger, Texas, located “sixty miles north of Amarillo on rolling, almost treeless tundra of the high end of the Texas Panhandle” (p. 179). A more inauspicious beginning for a fledgling writer could not be imagined. But he started working, covering local stories and (importantly) observing people in all sorts of situations. Decades later some of the characters in his novels are based upon some remarkably admirable people he knew in Borger. Soon he found a better job in Lawton, Oklahoma, then moved to Oklahoma City to work for the United Press. That led, in 1952, to an assignment as UP Bureau Manager in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he would work for more than a decade.

While recording the news, Hillerman sensed a deeper longing to write more creatively, to be a novelist. Despite a growing family of six children (all but one adopted), with his wife’s encouragement he decided to change careers and moved to Albuquerque to pursue a degree in English at the University of New Mexico. Once there, the opportunity to teach in the journalism department opened up, and he settled into the academic life for 15 years. Ever discerning, he discovered that the faculty was divided into two groups. Pragmatic “Organization” folks, with whom Hillerman sided, taught hard sciences and history; they mainly wanted to help the university survive and secure their salaries. Their antagonists, the “Crazy Bus” crowd–mainly representing such departments as Education, Sociology, and Anthropology–”was a mix of 1930 Marxism, Nihilism, Hedonism, and disgruntlement” who greatly troubled the state’s tax payers (p. 243). Infused with the vapors of the ’60s, they were out to change the world.

Hillerman found satisfaction teaching in the ’70s. “Students were interested, grade mania and the resulting grade inflation had barely emerged, the curse of political correctness had not yet paralyzed deans and department chairmen and corrupted the faculty” (pp. 262-263). He actually had “fun.” But the ’80s changed things. “The numbing dogma of PC hung over the campus, tolerating no opinions except the anointed ones. With free speech and free thought ruled out by inquisitors running Women’s Studies and the various minorities studies, the joy of learning had seeped out of students. With it went the joy of teaching. Time to quit” (p. 263). So he did! “One day after delivering a lecture so bad even I knew it was boring, I decided to quit academia and return to the real world” (p. 250). That meant writing and publishing novels!

Fortuitously, he found his métier–the mystery novel set in Navajo country. He also found agents and editors who enabled him to sell books. In time he flourished as his fans spread the news and his peers awarded his craftsmanship.


Michael Medved, known to many through his popular talk show, looks back on his life as a series of Right Turns: Unconventional Lessons from a Controversial Life (New York: Crown Forum, c. 2004). He structures the book with a series of 35 “lessons,” generally chronological but essentially thematic, to show how he has developed as a pundit, a very public intellectual, from a thoroughly radical leftist–opposing the Vietnam War and working for the ’72 McGovern campaign at its “Jewish desk”–to a deeply conservative Orthodox Jew, father and media figure. Importantly, he says: “This book isn’t about ‘my truth’; it’s about The Truth, to the extent I can apprehend and explain it” (p. 5). This puts him “counter to all trendy notions of moral relativism, which suggest that someone with different life experiences will inevitably read different conclusions, and that these conclusions deserve no less respect than mine” (p. 5).

Medved was born in Philadelphia, the grandson of industrious Jewish immigrants. One his grandmothers “grasped, and passed along, one of the greatest truths of life: it doesn’t matter how much you earn, so long as you spend less than you bring in” (p. 35). His parents soon moved to the Point Loma area of San Diego, where he went through the city’s public schools and imbibed liberal Democratic values from his parents. Such values were, however, early challenged by one of his uncles, Moish, an unusually erudite, self-educated and successful electrician, who was born in Ukraine in 1905. Taking him aside for a “man-to-man” talk, Uncle Moish warned young Michael against Communism, the “Scarlet Plague” that was ruining millions of people around the world, and “‘the people who are most likely to get sick, and who are going to suffer the most, are the brightest minds, the biggest idealists, the natural leaders of this world. They are people just like you'” (p. 47).

But young Michael hardly heeded (though he remembered) his uncle’s admonition for many years. While attending Yale, awash with radical students in the ’60s, he observed youngsters in the Students for a Democratic Society who vividly illustrated the “Scarlet Plague.” He also witnessed, as a sophomore, the impact of the drug-addled counterculture that swept through the university in 1966. Medved seemed temperamentally hostile to the “dopester dementia” and listened to a different melody, finding a healthy alternative by hitchhiking, almost every weekend, through sections of the “flyover world” disdained by the academic elitists. He also began, at Yale, a slow return to the faith of his fathers, Judaism, discovering, as he titles one chapter, “You Can Go Home Again.”

Following his graduation from Yale, he entered Yale Law School (getting acquainted with Hillary Clinton) but quickly decided he was not really interested in being a lawyer. So he returned to California, married, and enrolled in a writing program at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1972. Here he confirmed the truth that “Liberal Heroes Aren’t All Heroes” in the person of Ron Dellums, a “Castroite” congressman representing Berkeley and Oakland. Medved accepted a staff position in the Dellums’ campaign and grew quickly disillusioned with his candidate, who “reminded me of another tall, lanky, hugely ambitious, humorless pol I had known (and disliked) years before: John Kerry” (p. 170).

Barely arrived in Berkeley, Medved experienced another wake-up call–his home was burgled. The police caught the thief, who was a career criminal routinely released to practice his craft at public expense. The typical Berkeley intellectual’s sympathy for criminals, evaluated from the perspective of a victim, was simply “mad.” The cops, Medved decided, not the UC professors, see things as they really are. Consequently, Medved abandoned, in the ’70s, the vacuous ideologies and “utopian promises of the youth counterculture, while embracing traditional Judaism, entrepreneurial adventure, cops, and even Christians” (p. 204). He also read “Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s harrowing masterpiece, The Gulag Archipelago” (p. 209), a timely gift from his uncle Moish. Realizing that the “Scarlet Plague” explained both the USSR’s gulag and the counterculture’s fanaticism, he felt “guilty and heartsick for my country and for the so-called peace movement in which I had played such an active part” (p. 213).

Relocating to Los Angeles, where his folks now lived, he wrote, with a friend, a successful book, What Really Happened to the Class of ’65? and gained entrée to the media world. He wrote more books and became a noted film critic, interacting on a regular basis with the Hollywood elite. He also moved steadily toward Orthodox Judaism, getting involved in synagogue activities and taking seriously the precepts of his faith. His childless first marriage had collapsed, and he now shared, with his second wife, Diane, the conviction that “children represented an explicit focus of our relationship, giving us a sense of purpose, of destination” (p. 297). They came to strongly oppose divorce and abortion, enlisting as partisans in the “culture war” that divides America.

Addressing this “war,” he said, in an off-the-cuff 1990 speech: “This is the very nature of the cultural battle before us. It is, at its very core, a war against standards. It is a war against judgment. It’s proponents insist that the worst insult you can offer someone today is to suggest that he or she is judgmental” (p. 344). This is dramatically evident in the realm of art, where “ugliness has been enshrined as a new standard,” where “the ability to shock” is as admired as “the old ability to inspire” (p. 345).

Given the opportunity to do talk radio, Medved moved to Seattle determined to “inspire” listeners to embrace the “right” way he has found. This book certainly clarifies the message he wants to impart and enables one to understand the messenger.

171 Captialism & Christians

Returning recently from a conference featuring some influential contemporary thinkers, I noticed a book in my library with essays by a number of them–The Capitalist Spirit: Toward a Religious Ethic of Wealth Creation (San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies, c. 1990), edited by Peter Berger. One of the 20th century’s most influential sociologists, Berger was driven by the data to shift from an anti-capitalist to a pro-capitalist stance, and in the book’s foreward he explains that the most important thing about wealth is that it must be created. This has proven to be a difficult concept for many religious thinkers to either understand or embrace, for most pre-modern religious thinkers, living in relatively static societies, could only envision justice through distributing existing wealth. Like the 18th century mercantilists, today’s “zero sum” economists envision a world with finite resources that need to be properly shared.

We all know that many pre-modern 16th century thinkers like Martin Luther resisted any re-casting of Medieval cosmology. But in time most everyone recognized that Copernicus and Kepler had rightly read the skies and set forth an accurate account of the ways the world functions. Equally important economic insights came to light in the 18th century as the Industrial Revolution opened up new avenues for productivity and the creation of wealth. But many ethicists, rooted in a pre-modern philosophy, failed to craft their moral convictions to fit the new economy. “It is no wonder, then,” says Berger, “that so many religious thinkers have been anticapitalist and prosocialist in their instinctive inclinations” (p. 2). Having shared such inclinations for years, Berger sympathizes with them. But he finally realized how they misled him. They simply are not true.

Nor have they ever been! Nostalgic visions of the Early Church as a precursor of socialism–sharing “all things in common”–are unfounded. Socialistic assertions regarding the Early Church resemble Rousseau’s portrayal of the “noble savage” in North America. The distinguished ancient historian Robert M. Grant, in “Early Christianity and Capital,” concludes that, contrary to the assertions of Christian socialists: “The church both ancient and medieval respected private property. The 38th Article of Religion of the Church of England . . . simply follows the central tradition when it insists that ‘the Riches and Goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title and possession of the same; as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast.’ In an equally traditional manner, the article balanced this statement with the exhortation that ‘nothwithstanding, every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his ability” (p. 28).

Contrary to those who winnow the Old Testament for their socialistic economics–often taking things such as the Jubilee Year out of context, David Novak (an eminent Jewish scholar) insists that “equality” in the Old Testament has meaning only “in the sphere of rectification, that is, the restoration of private property misappropriated in one way or another” (p. 32). Even “charity” was not emphasized, for it too often renders recipients passive and dependent. In fact, economic justice, “in accordance with the principles of the Covenant, is thus best accomplished by loans” (p. 38). And commercial loans, Jewish teachers decided, must be understood differently from agricultural loans. Thus loaning money for investment justified collecting interest, whereas agricultural loans (generally of a brief duration) did not. “In other words, the loan is not given because the borrower has nothing but the shirt on his back, so to speak. Rather, the loan is now more probably for the sake of investment, a risk taken by both lender and borrower in the hope that the future will yield a better income than the present. In this case, the need for the sabbatical year release from indebtedness, which in the agricultural context would make a loan into a charitable gift, would no longer be required” (p. 47).

Michael Novak’s essay, “Wealth and Virtue: The Development of Christian Economic Teaching,” shows how a select circle of 18th century Scottish “moralists” (David Hume and Adam Smith) understood the essence and importance of free enterprise capitalism, defending the proper pursuit of wealth as admirable and socially beneficial. They “sought to construct a new ethos for Western civilization and, indeed, the world” (p. 70). Both sought to alleviate the plight of the poor, and envisioned “the surge of spiritual independence and the extension of humane sympathies that would flow from the sway of a more free and beneficent regime” (p.74). They particularly sought to replace the elitist, anti-capitalist position generally championed by intellectuals and artists with one favoring the bourgeoise, which empowered ordinary people. Indeed, though often portrayed as advocating a ruthless “dog eat dog” economy, Adam “Smith’s discussion reminds one of Saint Thomas’s definition of love: to will the good of another” (p. 68).

George Weigel, reknowned for his definitive biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope, recounts the uneasy history of “American Catholicism and the Capitalist Ethic.” Whereas many Protestants have supported free enterprize capitalism, Catholics tended to critique it. Like Southern slave owners, enamored with the novels of Sir Walter Scott, they idealized the agrarian socioeconomic structures of the Middle Ages. Uneasy with the individualism evident in Protestant America, 19th century Catholics like Orestes Brtownson condemned capitalism and proposed an ideal “Christian society.” Eminent Catholic clerics early sided with the Knights of Labor in the 1880s, embracing its socialist prescriptions and strongly supported FDR’s New Deal 50 years later. Half-a-century later, in the 1980s, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Catholic bishops and academics generally denounced “Reaganomics” and free enterprise capitalism. However, in the aftermath of Vatican II, and a fresh Catholic openness to the modern world, came the “creation-centered social thought of John Paul II” (p. 96). From the highest authority came the endorsement creative entrepreneurship. “Wealth creation,” to John Paul II, “is a specifically economic form of human participation in God’s abiding creativity, God’s sustaining care for his creation” (p. 96). It’s time, Weigel argues, for Catholics to embrace the free enterprise economy that has so uplifted the world and join John Paul II in making it Christian.

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In The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy (New York: Lexington Books, c, 2005), a Catholic historian, Thomas E. Woods, endeavors to counteract the anti-capitalist views of Christians who fail to see its worth. The Industrial Revolution, often deplored by socialists because of its reliance on child labor and exploitative practices, was in fact a great boon for the working classes. Bad as it was, it was an improvement on what went before! “To say that the free market led to the destruction of some previously existing, harmonious community life is simmply to defy historical testimony” (p. 165). Child labor, for example, was no new thing in 1800! Farm kids worked long and hard from time immemorial. To work hard in factories was not a major change. What changed, as economic conditions improved during the 19th century, was the ultimate abolition of “child labor” and the radical improvement of their living conditions–life expectancy, nutrition, education, etc.

Woods especially urges readers to seriously study economics and to discover truths discerned by 15th and 16th century Spanish Scholastics such as Juan de Mariana, as well as 20th century Austrians such as Ludwig von Mises. Whereas modern socialists, enthralled with Karl Marx, have embraced an illusion, the truth-seeking economicsts have carefully studied mans’s nature and prescribed the best ways for his flourishing. The Scholastics and Austrians, Woods says, both “sought to ground economic principles on the basis of absolute truth, apprehensible by means of reflection on the nature of reality” (p. 216). Prices, for example, rightly reflect market demand. Consumers–not the labor expended producing–should determine the value of various goods. Whenever the state intervenes, artificially setting “just prices,” dire if unintended consequences follow. Just wages are also best set by the marketplace. To Domingo de Soto, writing in the 16th century, workers who agree to a given salary are fairly paid when their employer pays as promised. Wages rise when wealth is created, and the prerennial socialist impulse to dictate “fair wages” generally militates against the very creative process that justifies higher salaries.

Money and banking, of course, are major economic concerns. We Americans live under the rule of the Federal Reserve, which, by issuing “fiat currency” basically “creates money out of thin air” (p. 93). Since it was founded in 1913, “the dollar has lost about 95 percent of its value” (p. 93). While claiming to control inflation, the “Fed” has, in fact, caused it! There are major moral problems with fiat currency, Woods argues, for it is, in fundamental ways, “not conceptually distinct from simple counterfeiting” (p. 97). The Spanish Scholastics knew this centuries ago. They also knew that some of the traditional teaching regarding usury could not address the dynamic, commercial economy of the world emergent in the 16th century. Indeed, “Catholic theologians had overturned virtually all of the older arguments against usury–at the very time that Martin Luther was busily attempting to rehabilitate them” (p. 114).

Regarding the welfare state, Woods invokes a recent warning by Pope John Paul II: “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous incrfease in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbors to those in need” (p. 147). But the welfare state directly harms neighborhoods and families. And it undermines private property rights–rights that Pope Leo XIII branded “sacred and inviolable” (p. 195).

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Woods anchors his position regarding “the church and the market” in the scholarly work of Alejandro A. Chafuen, Faith and Liberty: The Economic Thought of the Late Scholastics (New York: Lexington Books, c. 2003). The popularity of Max Weber’s thesis, yoking capitalism and Calvinism, has obscured the numbers of Catholic philosophers who carefully situated free enterprise capitalism within the natural law teachings of the Church. “Our analysis of the Schoolmen’s writings,” says Chafuen in his conclusion, indicates “that modern free-market author owe the Scholazstics more than they realize. The same can be said for Western civilization” (p. 159).

This meant they stressed the sanctity of private property. Noting that many of Jesus’s associates “were quite wealthy for their times” (p. 32), they “declared it was heresy to say that those who have property cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (p. 33). “According to [Juan de] Molina, private property may have existed even before original sin, since in that state, men could agree by common consent to divide the goods of the earth. The commandment ‘Thou shalt not steal’ implies that the division of goods does not pervert natural law” (p. 36). One scholar says that for these Scholastics “‘the right to property was an absolute right that no circumstances could ever invalidate'” (p. 42). This, Chafuen says is because: “Private property is rooted in human freedom, which is founded in human nature, which, like any other nature, is created by God. Private property is the essential prerequisite for economic freedom” (p. 160).

When they considered “public finance,” the Scholastics cautioned against government involvement in economics. “To believe in private property means to believe in limited government” (p. 132). Taxes should be minimal. The budget should be balanced. The currency should never be debased as a means of redistributing wealth. Administrative officials should not be allowed to grow rich at public expense. More than anything else, high taxes produce poverty. “‘Taxes are commonly a calamity for the people and a nightmare for the government'” said Juan de Mariana. “‘For the former, they are always excessive; for the latter, they are never enough, never too much'” (p. 57).

Contrary to socialists, for whom the “labor theory of value” of commodities is an article of faith, Scholastics trusted the marketplace to establish fair prices. Commerce and trade are necessary for a healthy society. Surviving through subsistence farming and barter economics condemns folks to perpetual indigence. To Molina, one should not scoff at different prices for the same goods in different areas, for “‘the just price of goods depends principally on the common estimation of the men of each region. When a good is sold in a certain region or place at a certain price (without fraud or monopoly or any foul play), that price should be held as a rule and measure to judge the just price of said good'” (p. 75). We value goods insofar as they are useful to us. It’s their usefulness–not the effort invested into making them–that determines what we’re willing to pay. Efforts to fix prices, through monopolistic controls established by either entrepreneurs or workers, are harmful and wrong. Wages, the Late Scholastics taught, should be set by the marketplace, where a “just” wage is whatever a worker freely accepts. A doctor’s wages, it follows, will be higher than a garbage collector’s, for we are willing to pay more for medical care than manual labor.

In all their works, the Scholastics sought to clarify the nature of justice for all–and especially for ordinary folks. “The protection of private property, the promotion of trade, the encouragement of commerce, the reduction of superfluous government spending and taxes, and a policy of sound money were all detined to improve the condition of the workers. They recommended private charity as a way to alleviate the sufferings of those who could not work. According to the Late Scholastics, and in agreement with the Holy Scriptures, the rich are under obligation to help the poor. Money could be better used if the rich would reduce their superfluous spending and increase their alms” (p. 110).


Still worth reading, to understand the Evangelical economic thought, is Craig M. Gay’s With Liberty and Justice for Whom? The Recent Evangelical Debate over Capitalism (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, c. 1991), originally written as a Ph.D. dissertation under Peter Berger’s guidance. As one would expect, this work is detailed, carefully documented, and quite helpful for anyone wanting to hear different voices from within Evangelicalism. Gay first noted the growing influence of the “New Class” intellectuals within Evangelicalism who profit from and thus endorse the leftist planks of the welfare state. This “New Class,” says Peter Berger, “‘rhetorically identifies its own class interests with the general welfare of society and especially with the downtrodden. . . . This is especially so because the knowledge class has such an interest in the welfare state, which is ostensibly set up on behalf of the poor and of other disadvantaged groups'” (p. 189). Led by “radicals” such as John Howard Yoder, Jim Wallis and Ron Sider, leftist Evangelicals denounce capitalism and America’s “oppressive” society. “Jim Wallis has stated, for example, that ‘overconsumption is theft,’ and Ronald Sider has insisted that ‘an affluent minority devours most of the earth’s non-renewable resources'” (p. 31). Anabaptist thought undergirds much of their protest, and they clearly long to establish their vision of the “kingdom of God” in this land. This should come through redistribution–taxes on the rich funding programs for the poor, legislation securing entitlements establishing various kinds of economic, racial, and sexual “equality” everywhere.

Clark Pinnock, closely associated with Wallis in the ’70s, later renounced his radical views, stating: “I remember being asked if I realized the Marxist content of what we were saying . . . and being puzzeled by the question. . . . It seemed reasonable to think of the rich as oppressors, and the poor as their victims. The Bible often seemed to do the same thing. It was obvious to me that the welfare state needed to be extended, that wealth ought to be forcibly redistributed through taxation, and that the third world deserved reparations from us, that our defense spending was in order to protect our privilege, and the like'” (p. 36). What’s now clear to Pinnock and other scholars is the Marxist influence on the Evangelical Left.

Rejecting Marxism and defending capitalism is the Evangelical Right, represented by Harold Lindsell, for years the editor of Christianity Today, and Ronald Nash, an influential Reformed philosopher, who taught at Westminister Theological Seminary. “In a sense,” Gay says, “those on the right have become traitors to the New Class” (p. 193). Thus they rarely if ever get invited (as does Jim Wallis) to high profile meetings of the inner circle of opinion shapers in New York and Washington, D.C. They may be intelligent, but they’re not accredited member of the reigning intelligentsia that controls the media and universities.

Those on the Right are, Stephen Brint says, “‘blue-collar workers, small-business people, and farmers'” (p. 191). They tend to be older, less educated, and live in what’s now called “red” states. Free market capitalism, they insisted, provides the best system yet developed to produce and distribute goods. The world is far better off as a result of modern capitalism. Wealth is created and spread abroad through free trade, and “in such an economy, no man becomes rich by oppressing another but rather by helping others” (p. 70). Thinkers on the Right anchor their defense of capitalism in the natural law. Given our nature, it’s the best economic system. To Lindsell, the free enterprise approach is approved by God’s Word and “is binding on all men everywhere.” Divinely ordained, “it is normative, it will work, and it will prove itself to be superior to socialism, which can only be validated by denying what God has revealed and can only function by destroying the foundations on which Western culture has beeen built'” (p. 100).

Neither Left nor Right is the “Evanglical Center” that finds “capitalism as a cause for concern.” Folks like Carl F.H. Henry (in The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism) and Bob Goudzwaard (in Capitalism and Progress) represent, for Gay, the evangelical mainstream. Henry clearly rejected Marxism, but his concern for social justice led him to criticize aspects of modern American capitalism, and “Goudzwaard has argued that the crisis of Western civilization . . . has been precipitated by the idolization of progress in the modern period, a problem linked to the institutionalization of modern capitalism” (p. 136). Such “mainstream” thinkers want to preserve valuable aspects of free enterprise capitalism while encouraging governmental intervention to mitigate its excesses and provide basic welfare needs for all peoples.

Gay concludes his book with two chapters evaluating what he has described, providing the reader a helpful perspective. “This is the best survey of evangelical thought about capitalism that I know of,” says Goudzwaard, and I concur. It still merits attention, nearly 20 years after it was written.

170 Disconsolate Brits

Recent laments from some eminent British writers provide a somber appraisal of their nation’s current conditions.  As ever, one must put such complaints in perspective, but their concerns certainly merit reflection.  Peter Hitchens (not to be confused with his brother Christopher) is a provocative journalist who compiled a collection of essays entitled The Abolition of Britain:  From Winston Churchill to Princess Diana (San Francisco:  Encounter Books, 2000).  As the subtitle indicates, Hitchens repeatedly contrasts Winston Churchill and Princess Diana (and their markedly different funerals) to compare the Britain of 1997 with that of 1965.  “The dead warrior was almost ninety, full of years and ready to die.   He represented the virtues of courage, fortitude and endurance; he was picturesque rather than glamorous,” whereas Diana, dying young in an accident, “was snatched from life in the midst of youth, beauty and glamour.  Her disputed virtues were founded on suffering (real or imagined) and appealed more to the outcasts and the wounded than to the dutiful plain heart of England” (p. 17).   More broadly, in society, the independence and tenacity of Churchill gave way, during the last third of the 20th century, to a celebrity culture curdling in an ethos of sentimentalism and victimization evident in England’s response to Princess Diana.

This cultural change has been aided by the erosion of historical knowledge.  In an essay entitled “Born Yesterday,” Hitchens laments the demise of  historical perspective in a land where “all kinds of rubbish are blown by the wayward winds of modern education and popular ‘culture'” (p. 46).  In the schools, the study of history has shifted from knowledge to “skills.”  What is studied or learned, say the educationists, is less important than asking questions and (especially) empathizing with those mistreated, for various reasons, in either the past or present.  Consequently, many traditional “heroes,” particularly of the military sort, are portrayed as villains, because they fought rather than appeased their enemies.  There is, in fact, a “belittling of the Second World War” in the current curriculum (p. 60).  For example, a 1995 videotape distributed to the schools to commemorate VE-day “mentioned Churchill only for a few seconds, and then to say he lost the 1945 election” (p. 60).

What’s encouraged in the schools is emotivism, especially self-righteous wrath regarding racists, sexists, or capitalists–all pilloried as oppressors of the weak and marginalized.  “The sort of topics recommended” by the educationists “have a weary familiarity for anyone acquainted with the Marxist interpretation of the twentieth century:  ‘the working classes’, ‘women in society’, ‘imperialism’ and so on” (p. 56).  Re-phrased, Marxist thought fuels Britain’s “class war.”  But Marxism is only an updated  version of the radicalism unleashed in 1789 by the French Revolution.  For nearly two centuries the British resisted the radical, totalizing, Jacobist ideology embraced by many Europeans in the 19th and 20th centuries that now “seeks to extinguish Britain, not by revolution, but by stealth” (p. 300).  Today’s leftists, intent on cultural rather than economic revolution, believe “education should be used to eradicate privilege and elitism, to spread the gospel of the new society in which everyone (and everything) is equal, a sort of concrete embodiment of that hideous song ‘Imagine’, which has become the hymn of sixties boomers” (p. 64).

The triumph of this trend was encapsulated by Prime Minister Tony Blair who, in 1997, the year of Princess Diana’s funeral, said:  “I am a modern man.  I am part of the rock and roll generation–the Beatles, colour TV, that’s the generation I come from” (p. 1).  Indeed, much about  Blair and the left-wing leftists who currently control the nation elicits Hitchens’ scorn.  He notes, for example, how prophetically Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World, envisioned “the cynical, puerile, bubblegum election campaigns fought by Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and by Tony Blair in 1997” (p. 139).  That the Beatles and TV–not Shakespeare and Handel–have shaped a “modern man” like Blair cannot but dismay cultural conservatives.

In “Hell Freezes Over” Hitchens lampoons recent developments in the Church of England.  “Hell was abolished,” he writes, “around the same time that abortion was legalized and the death penalty was done away with” (p. 105).  Eminent ecclesiastics, such as Bishop John Robinson (of Honest to God fame) led the way on every front in the war against traditional, orthodox Christianity.  “The Ten Commandments, once blazoned behind every altar in the kingdom, were frequently left out of the Church of England’s Communion service . . . .  The King James version of the Bible, with its majestic but sometimes frightening language, was rejected by modernizers who sought to make it more ‘accessible’, replaced new versions which nonetheless somehow lacked the old scriptures’ force'” (p. 106).  The ancient majestic liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer was subtly subverted by “alternative” services.  Hymns disappeared.  “At the funerals of the young, entirely secular pop songs are often played as substitutes for hymns.  In the last few years, mourners have taken to telling jokes during funeral eulogies, as if they were at a wedding” (p. 126).  And the ancient Gospel of personal redemption from sin through the work of Jesus Christ was replaced by a Social Gospel urging folks to support political activism of a leveling, leftist sort.  Consequently, the Church of England is hardly more than an empty shell–emptied of theology, worship, beauty, and (much to the dismay of the “reformers”) people.

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Theodore Dalrymple shares Hitchens’ evaluation of his native land:  “In the past few decades, a peculiair and distinctive psychology has emerged in England.  Gone are the civility, sturdy independence, and admirable stoicism that carried the English through the war years.  It has been replaced by a constant whine of excuses, complaints, and special pleading.  The collapse of the British character has been as swift and complete as the collapse of British power” (p. 5).  Dalrymple is a medical doctor who has worked for the past two decades in an inner-city hospital and prison in London.  Though without religious faith, he seems to sense a humanitarian “call” to work among what he calls the “underclass.”  Along with his medical work, he has also flourished as an essayist, and he is, Peggy Noonan says, “the best doctor-writer since William Carlos Williams.”  Some of his essays appeared in Life at the Bottom:  The Worldview That Makes the Underclass (Chicago:  Ivan R. Dee, c. 2001).  “A specter is haunting the Western World,” he says “the underclass” (p. vii).  His first sentence, of course, replicates Marx’s opening line in The Communist Manifesto, substituting “underclass” for “communism.”

This “underclass” Dalrymple deals with on a daily basis demonstrates the power of pernicious ideas, for “the social pathology exhibited by the underclass” has been promulgated by an intelligentsia intent on denying free will and personal responsibility, promoting a fashionable moral relativism.  Educators discount correct grammar or spelling.  Artists claim there is no higher or lower culture.  Highly educated folks dress and talk like the less educated “workers” they feign to understand and emulate.  “Differences” between cultures and behaviors there may be, but nothing is qualitatively better that anything else, nothing is absolutely right or wrong.  Consequently, “the aim of untold millions is to be free to do exactly as they choose and for someone else to pay when things go wrong” (p. 5).  Sadly enough, those responsible for such behavior, the elite “intellectuals were about as sincere as Marie Antoinette when she played the shepherdess” (p. xi).  Their play-acting “is a crude and simple one, a hangover from Marxism:  that the upper and middle classes are bad; that what has traditionally been regarded as high culture is but a fig leaf for middle- and upper-class oppression of the working class; and that the working class is the only class whose diction, culture, manners, and tastes are genuine and authentic” (p. 81).

Thus he cites in Shakespeare’s King Lear to clarify the book’s theme:  “This is the

excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeits of our own behavior, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars; as if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and teachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on.  An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star!” (I, ii).  Dalrymple beholds Shakespeare’s truth, on a daily basis.  Prisoners he treats routinely use the passive mood when describing their crimes.  Thus three men who stabbed others “used precisely the same expression when describing to me what happened.  ‘The knife went in,’ they said” (p. 6).  They weren’t responsible!  The knife simply went in, killing a person–acting on its own, one assumes!  Another prisoner, a car thief, claimed he could not stop stealing and blamed the doctor for not stopping him!  These ill-educated criminals are, without knowing their source, voicing ideas spawned by some of the 20th century’s most powerful ideologies–”Freudianism, Marxism, and more recently sociobiology–in denying consciousness any importance in human conduct” (p. 22-23).

And the criminals know how to use criminologists’ rhetoric to legitimate their crimes!  “The great majority of the theories criminologists propound lead to the exculpation of criminals,” Dalrymple says, “and criminals eagerly take up these theories in their desire to present themselves as victims rather than victimizers” (p. 218).  So too they latch on to the ideas of social reformers, leftist philosophers and politicians who call for economic egalitarianism and denounce the wealthy.  The thieves he deals with generally “believe that anyone who possesses something can, ipso facto, afford to lose it, while someone who does not possess it is, ipso facto, justified in taking it.  Crime is but a form of redistributive taxation from below” (p. 219).  He astutely connects the fashionable theories of the professors and journalists with the lawlessness on the streets, noting that “those who propagate the idea that we live in a fundamentally unjust society also propagate crime” (p. 220).

In an essay entitled “What Is Poverty?” Dalrymple insists the real poverty in England is moral rather than economic.  Sadly enough, the Welfare State, designed to eliminate material “poverty,” has incubated a more devastating spiritual poverty.  He notes that young medical doctors (many of them the children of immigrants) who join his hospital staff initially think that their patients are oppressed by society and in need of various kinds of assistance.  “By the end of three months,” he says, “my doctors have, without exception, reversed their original opinion that the welfare state, as exemplified by England, represents the acme of civilization” (p. 142).  After working with London’s tax subsidized underclass, a Filipino doctor said:  “‘life is preferable in the slums of Manila'” (p. 142).  Dalrymple himself, having worked for a time in Tanzania and Nigeria, declares that  “nothing I saw–neither the poverty nor the overt oppression–ever had the same devastating effect on the human personality as the undiscriminating welfare state.  I never saw the loss of dignity, the self-centeredness, the spiritual and emotional vacuity, or the sheer ignorance of how to live that I see daily in England.  In a kind of pincer movement, therefore, I and the doctors from India and the Philippines have come to the same terrible conclusion:  that the worst poverty is in England–and it is not material poverty but poverty of soul” (p. 143).

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Theodore Dalrymple revisits many of the same issues in a more recently collection of essays:  Our Culture, What’s Left of It:  The Mandarins and the Masses (Chicago:  Ivan R. Dee, c. 2005), and his jaded pessimism grows apace.  Civilization, he notes, is a terribly fragile thing, as the horrors of the 20th century demonstrate.  And in London, as the 21st century begins, he’s witnessing its collapse–a collapse caused by nihilistic intellectuals who, to this point, have not yet suffered the dire consequences evident in the inner-city.  “Having spent a considerable portion of my professional career in Third World countries in which the implementation of abstract ideas and ideals has made bad situations incomparably worse, and the rest of my career among the very extensive British underclass, whose disastrous notions about how to live derive ultimately from the unrealistic, self-indulgent, and often fatuous ideas of social critics, I have come to regard the intellectual and artistic life as being of incalculable practical importance and effect” (p. xi).  Sadly enough, economists, novelists, film directors, journalists, and rock stars are waging a relentless war on the very innards of civilization, for barbarism begins, as Ortega y Gassett said, with the collapse of standards.

In a variety of ways, modern intellectuals have dismantled the barriers that restrain evil behaviors.  “In the psychotherapeutic worldview to which all good liberals subscribe, there is no evil, only victimhood” (p. 260).  Justify, as does George Soros, the legalization of drugs, and drug abuse soon shatters the delicate social bonds of family and neighborhood.  Encourage folks to “do your own thing,” and financially subsidize them with the welfare state, and all kinds of destructive things transpire!  Consequently, the nation that in 1921 recorded only one crime for every 370 inhabitants suffered one for every 10 in 2001.  England has become, especially since WWII, a distressingly crime-ridden land.  Fathers, who once accepted the responsibilities of caring for children, now knowingly abandon them “to lives of brutality, poverty, abuse and hopelessness” (p. 13).  Social workers have replaced fathers, freeing men to live as perpetual adolescents, forever seeking adventures and entertainments, “petulant, demanding, querulous, self-centered, and violent” when frustrated (p. 14).  They’ve simply embodied the fashionable theories of the intelligentsia, whose notions have mounted “a long march not only through the institutions but through the minds of the young.  When young people want to praise themselves, they describe themselves as ‘nonjudgmental.’  For them, the highest form of morality is amorality” (p. 14).

Interestingly, Dalrymple recurrently stresses the importance of dress!  How one looks seems mysteriously linked to how one acts and who one is.  With tongue (slightly) in cheek, he even suggests that tattoos cause crime!  He says this because virtually all the prisoners he treats sport a bewildering variety of tattoos.  In his younger days, he resisted any notion that appearances matter.  He “had assumed, along with most of my generation unacquainted with real hardship, that scruffy appearance was a sign of spiritual election, representing a rejection of the superficiality and materialism of bourgeois life.”  Wealthy artists and slovenly professors once seemed avante garde and stylish.  Older and wiser now, he says, “I have not been able to witness the voluntary adoption of torn, worn-out, and tattered clothes–at least in public–by those in a position to dress otherwise without a feeling of deep disgust.  Far from being a sign of solidarity with the poor, it is a perverse mockery of them; it is spitting on the graves of our ancestors, who struggled so hard, so long, and so bitterly that we might be warm, clean, well fed, and leisured enough to enjoy the better things in life” (p. 26).

Those feigning to reject bourgeois values think themselves (in accord with Marx) champions of the proletariat.  Virtually all modern intellectuals claim to identify with and support the poor, the marginalized, the disadvantaged.  Focusing on this, in an essay entitled “How–and How Not–to Love Mankind,” Dalrymple compares Karl Marx with Ivan Turgenev.  Both men were born in 1818 and died in 1883.  “Turgenev saw human beings as individuals always endowed with consciousness, character, feelings, and moral strengths and weaknesses; Marx saw them always as snowflakes in an avalanche, as instances of general forces, as not yet fully human because utterly conditioned by their circumstances.  Where Turgenev saw men, Marx saw classes of men; where Turgenev saw people, Marx saw the People.  These two ways of looking at the world persist into our own time and profoundly affect, for better or worse, the solutions we propose to our social problems” (p. 77).  Consequently, in Marx’s writings “we enter a world of infinite bile–of rancor, hatred, and contempt–rather than of sorrow and compassion” (p. 83).  Latent in his Communist Manifesto is the carnage wrought by his followers in the last century.  Millions died in the gulags.  And millions more today languish, dying spiritually, in the darkening eddies of the Marxist-inspired modern welfare state.

Dalrymple’s essays touch on many themes I’ve not mentioned.  His essays on Shakespeare and Virginia Woolfe, for example, indicate his concern for literary culture.  His observations on the differences between Hindu and Muslim immigrants are well worth pondering.  He is, Roger Kimball says, “the Edmund Burke of our age, eloquently anatomizing the moral depredations of that pseudo-enlightenment which has left large tracts of Western Society the province of thugs, social workers, liberal bureaucrats, and other enemies of civilization and the ordered liberty upon which it depends.”

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Alice Thomas Ellis is one of England’s finest contemporary novelists.  She is also a devout, thoroughly traditional Roman Catholic.  Consequently she wrote, for the periodical Oldie, some short, trenchant, columns packed with her distaste for things happening in her Church that were recently published as:  God Has not Changed:  The Assembled Thoughts of Alice Thomas Ellis (London:  Burnes & Oates, 2004).  The churches that have emptied, during the past 40 years, did so for a reason–the ancient Faith has been jettisoned by a clergy more intent on being well-liked and respected than on teaching the truth.  Many of them “are too nervous to mention their beliefs–if they’ve even got them any more–and subject us instead to anodyne twaddle about their own experience” (p. 65).  Allegedly trying to reach the young, they have failed and in the process alienated loyal, older folks like herself.   No longer real believers, they’re much like butchers “inclined to vegetarianism” (p. 17) who lack the decency to change vocations!

She’s particularly distressed with the allegedly “Christian” feminists agitating for power and preeminence in the Church.  “A group recently carted round a church crucifix with a female on it–happily not a real one–referring to the curious thing as Jesa Crista.” Says Ellis:  “Sheer, pure nuttiness can go no further.  Never mind it is blasphemous, it is silly to suggest that historical figures can change sex” (p. 2).  She’s equally critical of those who reduce to the Gospel to the most fashionable “social justice” movement.  What she calls “the Red Guard of the Church, in the Wake of Vatican II” has effectively “completed the work of destruction begun in the Reformation” (p. 33).  Indeed, she warns, the “humanist protestantism to which the liberals incline is a first dip in the sea of atheism” (p. 50), and the Church is sinking rapidly into its depths.  Ellis is most probably too pessimistic, but her verbal darts deftly call into question certain postures and pronouncements of contemporary churchmen.  And one cannot but smile as she skews some of the more outrageous fads and heresies afflicting the Church.