Archive for August, 2008
In today’s New York Times Book Review, the cover review is Walter Kirn’s vivisection of James Wood’s new book, How Fiction Works. Here’s the review’s concluding paragraph:
Having been lashed by twice as many citations as even a formalist-cum-structuralist should require, and having been incrementally diminished by Wood’s tone of genteel condescension (he flashes the Burberry lining of his jacket whenever he rises from his armchair to fetch another Harvard Classic), the common reader is likely to concede virtually anything the master wishes — except, perhaps, his precious time. For someone who professes to understand the fine machinations of characterization, Wood seems oblivious to the eminently resistible prose style of his donnish, finicky persona. “How Fiction Works” is a definitive title, promising much and presuming even more: that anyone, in the age of made-up memoirs and so-called novels whose protagonists share their authors’ biographies and names, still knows what fiction is; that those who do know agree that it resembles a machine or a device, not a mess, a mystery or a miracle; and that once we know how fiction works, we’ll still care about it as an art form rather than merely admire it as an exercise. But there is one question this volume answers conclusively: Why Readers Nap.
Those final words may one day rank with the comment in the NY Times about a play by Clifford Odets: “Odets, where is thy sting?” Or with the headline of a review of a Barbra Streisand film: “A Boor is Starred.”
Apropos of a recent wave of Wauviana (sp?) here, the NYTimes‘ reviewer Michiko Kakutani pans an intriguing new book, “The Same Man: George Orwell & Evelyn Waugh in Love and War,” by David Lebedoff. As Kakutani writes, “Lebedoff takes a completely contrarian view, attempting to argue that these brilliant but very different writers were in fact soul mates: they “both believed that morality is absolute” and that moral relativism was “the gravest of sins”; they both feared the Modern Age as an era when tradition, civility and community would give way to mindless materialism and escapist pleasure.”
In her review, Kakutani makes it clear that she thinks Lebedoff’s novel take is a stretch, and I can’t disagree, though I’ve of course not read the book. It seems to me Lebedoff may have done better to fictionalize his thesis, using as his donnee the real-life episode of Waugh’s visit the latter as he lay dying.
Waugh, who had admired Orwell’s writing, had asked if he and some friends he described as “earnest students” of Orwell’s work might pay a visit; no record exists of their conversation. Waugh’s friend Malcolm Muggeridge found the idea of the two men’s visit highly amusing: “I would have loved to see them together: Complementary figures … [Waugh’s] country gentleman’s outfit and Orwell’s proletarian one and the both out of the pages of ‘Punch.’ ”
If the literal and literary parallels between Waugh and Orwell are too wide to support Lebedoff’s thesis that they are “the same man,” I do wonder if their mindsets reflect a certain commonality–one that we see frequently in the church and the world these days: a concern for moral absolutes, the gulf between precepts and personal behavior, and the future of society; a certain pessimism (or Augustinian realism, as some might frame it) that things will ever get better; and an anger that must be expressed–in their cases, through great art. The two extremes going so far as to find a meeting point on the other side. That’s not so new.
I’m not sure who, exactly, is the intended audience for the new film Henry Poole Is Here, which opens (on a limited basis) this weekend. It’s an independent movie with an aggressively trendy soundtrack; it stars Luke Wilson; it premiered at Sundance. But it’s far too mild for the quirky indie crowd. In fact, the marketers have been reaching out to faith-friendly audiences—that’s how I found out about the screening I saw a few weeks ago. Henry Poole is a lightweight fable about a seriously depressed man—the title character, played by Wilson—who moves into a new house hoping to be left alone, and finds himself at the center of a small religious revival thanks to a mark on the side of his home that resembles the face of Jesus. (By which I mean, of course, that it resembles popular artistic representations of Jesus. It’s a guy with long hair and a beard.) Lives are changed, miracles happen, “faith” is endorsed. But faith in what, exactly? Where do the miracles come from? Henry Poole Is Here doesn’t pursue those questions, so I’m not sure what it has to offer people who ask questions about their faith on a regular basis. It is the film equivalent of this inspirational jewelry from the Signals catalog: “Believe,” it says. The customer can fill in the details. Read the rest of this entry »
John McCain’s campaign ad “The One” has generated a lot of buzz regarding the “Left Behind Series.” Political commentators are comparing McCain’s portrayal of competitor Barack Obama with the blockbuster apocalyptic series’ depiction of the antichrist. But even the series authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins don’t think Obama is the antichrist. What may have been created as a farce has generated a firestorm of controversy on the internet.
LaHaye and Jenkins take a literal interpretation of prophecies found in the Book of Revelation. They believe the antichrist will surface on the world stage at some point, but neither see Obama in that role. “I’ve gotten a lot of questions the last few weeks asking if Obama is the antichrist,” says novelist Jenkins. “I tell everyone that I don’t think the antichrist will come out of politics, especially American politics.”
The New Republic has posted “Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about party platforms–and then some,” also titled, aptly, “The Corncob Pipe of Politics.” It’s very good, comprehensive, on the current platforms and debates, and also the history of platform fights–a history that led to today’s obsession with keeping the peace, and keeping it light. It’s about image. Past platform fights were principled and divisive to the point of schism–slavery, civil rights–but were they better than today’s evolutionism?
In any case, I think this is a handy reference guide for the coming months.
“Stephen asks Jane Mayer why she has to see enhanced interrogation as the glass being half empty, instead of half full with a guy’s face in it.”
Here the novelist and art critic John Berger reads a passage addressed to death by the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who died on August 8 at the age of 67. Not Donne’s “Death, be not proud” but “Death, wait…”
You already know what I thought of the new film Brideshead Revisted, with its many distortions of the novel on which it is based. But I had the privilege of writing for an audience that I can assume is supportive, or at least respectful, of Waugh’s original intent. (That’s you.) So I thought it might be interesting to take a look at what more mainstream critics had to say about the film in general, and its relationship to the book in particular. Read on if you’re curious — but Waugh fans beware: it’s not for the faint of heart. Read the rest of this entry »
The 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus was held in Rome from January to March. One of its key actions was the election of a new Father General. But the Congregation also discussed and discerned a number of pressing issues in the life of the Society and of the Church.
The documents that are the fruit of that discernment are now available in PDF format here.
One recalls that Pope Benedict urged the delegates to express anew the Society’s traditional commitment to the service of the Church and its special relation with the Holy Father. Here are some excerpts from “Decree Four: On Obedience in the Life of the Society of Jesus.”
We will only be able to live our vow of obedience as freedom and true self-realization if the mystical experience of passionate love for Christ, the one who is sent by the Father and who is obedient to the Father’s will, remains alive in us and if we daily renew our unconditional commitment to be his companions [#17].
The fourth vow, which Ignatius himself defined as “our beginning and principal foundation,” expresses what is specific to the Society: total availability to serve the Church wherever the Pope sends us, The fourth vow also makes clear the place of the Society in the Church. It gives the Society structural incorporation in the life of the Church by linking its charism as an apostolic religious order to the hierarchical structure of the Church in the person of the Pope. It is through this vow that the Society participates in the universal mission of the Church and that the universality of its mission, carried out through a wide range of ministries in the service of local churches, is guaranteed [#31].
The availability promised in the fourth vow is distinct from the Ignatian spirituality of “sentire cum ecclesia.” However, both are rooted in the love we have for Christ our Lord, a love that extends itself to love for the Church and for “the one who holds the place of Christ our Lord for us.” That is why we speak of being united with the Pope effectively and affectively. Taken together, the fourth vow and our ecclesial spirituality move us to offer the service asked of us by the Pope [#33].
The Weekly Standard has a story from a campaign plane Q&A with John McCain in which he says he’d be open to choosing an abortion rights advocate like Tom Ridge. Analysts said McCain appeared to be floating a trial balloon, and was also facing political realities, such as the need to win the keystone state of Pennsylvania:
IN A WIDE-RANGING INTERVIEW aboard his campaign plane this morning, John McCain said that he is open to choosing a pro-choice running mate and named former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge as someone who merits serious consideration despite his support for abortion rights. McCain also criticized Barack Obama’s presidential campaign for attempts to “politicize” the debate over Georgia and criticized President Bush for failing to recognize the true nature of Vladimir Putin.
“I think that the pro-life position is one of the important aspects or fundamentals of the Republican Party,” McCain said. “And I also feel that–and I’m not trying to equivocate here–that Americans want us to work together. You know, Tom Ridge is one of the great leaders and he happens to be pro-choice. And I don’t think that that would necessarily rule Tom Ridge out.”
McCain’s comments came in response to a question about comments he made to several reporters during the Republican primary season. During that exchange, McCain was asked whether New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg would make a good running mate. McCain offered strong words of praise for Bloomberg but said that Bloomberg’s position on abortion–he is also pro-choice–would make it difficult to choose him as a vice presidential candidate.
In the interview this morning, McCain suggested that Ridge would be more palatable to social conservatives than Bloomberg.
“I think it’s a fundamental tenet of our party to be pro-life but that does not mean we exclude people from our party that are pro-choice. We just have a–albeit strong–but just it’s a disagreement. [sic] And I think Ridge is a great example of that. Far moreso than Bloomberg, because Bloomberg is pro-gay rights, pro, you know, a number of other issues.”
Of the four individuals most frequently mentioned as potential McCain runningmates–Joe Lieberman, Tom Ridge, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty–Lieberman and Ridge are pro-choice and Romney, by his own account, was pro-choice until at least November 2004. (During the primary, McCain’s campaign challenged this claim by highlighting a May 2005 press conference in which Romney said he was committed to the “status quo” on “abortion and choice.”)
How does this affect the discourse of several recent posts here? Or does it?
Archbishop Charles Chaput has been reviled by some liberal Catholics, here and elsewhere, for suggesting that Catholics who vote for prochoice politicians will have to answer to the unborn victims of abortion.
But [Catholics who support pro-choice candidates] also need a compelling proportionate reason to justify it. What is a “proportionate” reason when it comes to the abortion issue? It’s the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life—which we most certainly will. If we’re confident that these victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed.
Some of the archbishop’s critics seem to be put off by the strangeness of this thought experiment; and it is strange, or at least unusual, to find this kind of eschatological speculation in a debate about politics. That does not make it ridiculous—or useless. In a comment about a very different subject, a reader of our blog, Ann Olivier, ventured a similar speculation about how moral responsibility will play out in the life to come. “I have my own personal belief about Purgatory,” she wrote. “It will be right here on this Earth, and we will literally have to face everyone whom we have injured, and if we try to lie or make unjustified excuses Jesus will set off some sort of siren, adding another level of humiliation.” Absurd? I don’t think so, and maybe not so speculative either. The church has always taught that, whatever else the Last Judgment consists of, it will require us to face the hidden or forgotten consequences of our actions. So, while I understand why unbelievers might find the archbishop’s reference to the next life fanciful or sectarian, I think Catholic voters—to and about whom the archbishop was writing—ought to take it seriously.
But as soon as one does take it seriously, one notices some strange features of the archbishop’s argument. First, there is its imprecision. Maybe the archbishop meant that a Catholic who votes for a prochoice candidate will have to face those who were aborted because the candidate he voted for was elected. But that of course is not what he wrote. He wrote, without qualification, that such a voter would have to explain his actions to “the victims of abortion.” Why? In some cases, if not most, a prolife voter may reasonably believe that the election of a particular prolife politician over his prochoice opponent will probably not have the effect of decreasing the number of abortions, or even of changing the laws that permit or encourage abortion. If the voter is wrong about this, then it may make sense to imagine what he would say to the victims of his error. It makes no sense to imagine that he is therefore answerable for every abortion. This lack of rigor turns what might have been a useful thought experiment into little more than a rhetorical conceit.
If the archbishop’s speculation is in one way inadequately specific, it is in another way too specific. Why would the Catholic voter have to answer only to the victims of abortion, and not also to the victims of every other injustice his vote may have facilitated? The U.S. regime of abortion on demand is an especially grave injustice, but it is hardly the only injustice with eschatological implications. To write about it as if it were falsely simplifies the complicated choices Catholic voters have to make.
So what counts as a “compelling, proportionate reason” to vote for a candidate in spite of the fact he or she is prochoice? It is worth noting that the archbishop acknowledges that there could be such reasons, at least in theory. And here he is in agreement with the U.S. Bishops Conference and with Pope Benedict XVI, who has written:
When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.
Many conservative Catholics brush this off by saying that almost no reason—and certainly no reason available to voters in this election—is proportionate to the evil of abortion. But most of these conservatives happen to agree with the Republican Party about most, if not all, of the big issues that are at stake in this election. It is easier to say that abortion always trumps all other issues when, for you, it never needs to trump anything. This is not the archbishop’s own position: he has spoken often and eloquently about some of the other grave injustices Catholics in this country need to address, including poverty. He simply doesn’t believe that any of these injustices are more serious than abortion. Nor do I. But that doesn’t mean that in a given election other issues may not be as politically important as abortion. It is, after all, possible to believe that the unlimited abortion license is a uniquely grave injustice in our country and to believe, at the same time, that while this presidential election is very unlikely to have much effect on our abortion laws, it is almost certain to have an effect on other important issues. Thoughtful voters may have to make a hard calculation, and they won’t be able to demonstrate conclusively that they’ve made the right calculation until after the fact. Practical judgment almost always involves some uncertainty. But to some prolifers, every disagreement about practical judgments is a disagreement about principles, and one is either a single-issue voter or a squish. The problem with such prolifers is not that they care too much about abortion, but that they care too little about anything else.
In his deposition, George revealed under oath the steps, missteps and lies that led to McCormack’s tenure at St. Agatha years after initial allegations of misconduct surfaced during his seminary days. According to the document, as many as 23 people have alleged abuse by McCormack, who is now serving a 5-year prison sentence.
The allegations against McCormack spurred the archdiocese to commission an independent 2006 audit of what went wrong in the case. In the deposition, the cardinal also detailed church deception and coverup in the Bennett investigation—facts omitted from that audit.
Standing before television cameras Tuesday, the cardinal once again said he was sorry for not acting sooner and promised more transparency.
“In the sense I’m responsible for this archdiocese, I have to accept the blame,” George said.
The eight-hour, 305-page transcript of George and Anderson taken in January displayed a wide range of emotions from remorse to defensiveness. In the sometimes confrontational exchange, the cardinal also blamed other institutions for allowing McCormack to go free, including police, prosecutors and child welfare officials.
He defended the archdiocese’s actions regarding the delayed removal of Bennett from Holy Ghost parish in South Holland in February 2006. Bennett’s removal was prompted by the widening McCormack scandal.
In the investigation of Bennett, the deposition finds the cardinal and church officials received four detailed allegations of sexual abuse dating back to 2002. But they did not act to remove Bennett from his church until 2006, despite two recommendations from the archdiocese review board months earlier, according to the deposition.
Instead, Bennett was placed under the supervision of a monitor, Rev. Leonard Dubi, who apparently was Bennett’s close friend. George disregarded a recommendation by an archdiocese review board to remove Bennett in October 2005 and again in November, attributing the delay to the priest’s lack of representation by a canon lawyer.
By the time he was removed, the deposition reveals, more than a dozen allegations had mounted against the priest—a fact the archdiocese failed to tell parishioners and the public.
Why did Cardinal George bother to convene a review board? He also ignored his board’s recommendation to remove McCormack from ministry. How a bishop could fail to act after receiving credible, detailed accusations against two priests just a few years after Dallas is baffling. The charter is clear. When credible accusations are made against a priest, he is to be removed from ministry. That is not a suggestion. It is particular law for all dioceses and eparchies in the United States.
The audits commissioned by George contain shocking information about how the archdiocese handled monitors. Monitors were not told why they had to keep track of priests in their charge. Some monitors had very little contact with their subjects. McCormack’s monitor was told by the vicar for priests that he didn’t have to notify the archdiocese of his vacation plans unless he would be gone for more than a week. And now we learn that the archdiocese assigned an accused priest’s close friend as a monitor. In 2006?
And there’s more. About that vicar for priests…
George’s testimony and church correspondence on Bennett also indicated that the archdiocese’s vicar for priests, Rev. Edward Grace, himself a lawyer, played a role in coaching clergy to deny allegations.
In 2002, a male victim voluntarily underwent a lie-detector test that showed he was telling the truth. The cardinal says he never received that information. In 2003, a female victim tells archdiocese officials specific details about freckles on Bennett’s scrotum and a round birthmark on his back that led an archdiocese review board to conclude that sexual abuse “did happen.”
Grace advised Bennett on how to handle the victim’s knowledge of his private parts, according to a memo. According to the testimony, Grace told Bennett in November 2005 to get a note from a dermatologist questioning whether the scrotum marks might be “aging marks” and may not have been present at the time of the allegation.
The victims’ attorney, Anderson, asks the cardinal about the freckles matter, saying: “Grace is—looks like he’s trying to explain it away. Do you read it that way?” George responds: “It could be read that way.”
The cardinal said Grace and George Rassas—then vicar general, now auxiliary bishop—also withheld information about allegations before McCormack’s promotion to a supervisory role days after his August 2005 arrest, actions for which a letter of reprimand was placed in their file.
A letter of reprimand is not good enough. None of this is.
If your parish’s musical director has Dan Schutte’s “You Are Near” or “Yahweh, the Faithful One” on heavy rotation, tell him or her to start looking for alternatives. As reported by Rocco at Whispers, Rome says no more calling God “Yahweh” during worship. This won’t require any changes to the rites, but if the Y-word has been slipping in to your hymns and petitions — cut it out. You’re on notice.
It’s been years since I heard any of these songs at mass — but I’ve also never heard anyone object to the use of the Name. So I was surprised to learn that it’s an issue, that it was discouraged officially back in 2001, and that GIA Publications has a “longtime editorial policy against the use of the word ‘Yahweh.’” Has this come up before in your parish or community? Has Catholics’ casual use of the Tetragrammaton been a pet peeve of yours for years?
Also, I wonder, do you agree with our old friend Bishop Serratelli, who frames this as “an opportunity to offer catechesis for the faithful as an encouragement to show reverence for the name of God in daily life, emphasizing the power of language as an act of devotion and worship”? We’ve been talking a lot about “the power of language” in worship lately. Does language get even more powerful if you refrain from using it? In this case, I’ve always felt remembering that God revealed Himself as Yahweh before we called Him Abba is a good way to remind ourselves of our Old Testament roots, and I worry that being discouraged from saying or using the Tetragrammaton will mean forgetting about it entirely. On the other hand, I only recently learned that when English translations of the Bible have “LORD” in all caps, it’s there as a stand-in for “YHWH.” I thought it was just a typesetting affectation. So if this directive does lead to better catechesis, I guess it’s worth losing “And the Father Will Dance” from our liturgical repertoire. What do you think?
Kevin Drum has posted a few interesting thoughts about the impact sustained high gas prices are likely to have on the suburbs.
Here are a few reactions:
(1) While he’s right that jobs are now as likely to be in the suburbs as in center cities, I don’t think this means that high gas prices won’t lead to more centralization. Commutes are only one way in which people use their cars, and most car trips are for other purposes. The problem with suburban development as it exists in this country is not just that it keeps people far from work, but also that it makes them reliant on their cars for virtually everything they want to do — going to the store, getting to the park, taking their kids to school, etc. Relocating to a suburb nearer to work would eliminate some miles traveled, but it would not fix the problem (this is particularly true for two-career families). Higher density and, perhaps more importantly, mixing of uses would increase the ability of both spouses to live near work as well as replace a number of non-commuting car trips with walking and biking trips.
(2) It’s true that, as Robert Bruegmann has argued, the suburbs are not a new phenomenon that suddenly appeared in the 1950s, but mass suburbanization is a new phenomenon. The auto-dependent sprawl that emerged as the dominant land-use pattern in the U.S. in the middle decades of the 20th century was simply not possible before car travel was affordable and convenient to the middle class (e.g., before the arrival of mass produced cars, cheap gas, and highways). People’s desire for space was not something new, but the scale of the spreading out that occurred in this country, particularly after WWII, was unprecedented. Just as this spreading out depended on affordable automobile travel, making car travel dramatically more expensive undermines the viability of that mode of living. Increasing the cost of living in the suburbs by $1000-2000 per family member (as Drum hypothesizes) would put suburban living as it currently exists out of reach for an enormous number of American households, and this would have a dramatic impact on our metropolitan landscapes. (For a household of 4, this would mean $4000-8000 more per year in fuel costs, or — for the median family — more than 10% of already stretched and stagnant household incomes.)
(3) Drum is right that people will resist massively higher densities, but this something of a straw man (Bruegmann sometimes makes the same mistake of treating sprawl as if it were just a matter of density). A great deal of our auto-dependence could be eliminated by mixing uses without huge increases in density. That said, higher density is inevitable and, as Bruegmann himself notes, was already happening even before the recent run-up in gas prices. But this does not mean that everyone has to give up their yards. Transit can be made to work even with densities that permit most people to live in detached single-family dwellings.
Yes, we (I) wade back into the never-ending story. But this time I am forced by events, as the Democratic platform committee has apparently proposed new language for the party’s abortion policy. Some will see it as a victory for Democratic pro-lifers, like those we discussed in the thread below–and I tend to agree–while others will see it as “yada yada yada.” And I wonder if it will really give the party any traction with pro-lifers.
Still, I think it is significant, and perhaps most interesting, a challenge to Republicans to expand on their rather brittle anti-abortion planks, which stress passing a Human Life Amendment and promoting abstinence. Here is Doug Kmiec’s argument that this is a good thing–note that Kmiec was involved in drafting the new plank. Catholics United has also responded positively. And over at “Progressive Revival,” I talk about whether 1) this is an improvement from a moral point of view and 2) whether it will work politically. (Answers: Probably, and probably not, at least now.) I would also recommend Steve Waldman’s six-point critique. The most telling failure he notes, I think (after the absence of “moral language”) is the lack of a “conscience clause.”
And CBN’s David Brody has the draft language–which could be improved, worsened, or deleted–by the time we get to Denver.
Here is the proposed plank:
The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.
Here is the current plank:
Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a woman’s right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right. At the same time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.
Cardinal Francis George announced the $12.675 million settlement himself, which involves ten Chicagoland priests and 16 abuse cases.
These abuse cases date back to the 1960s and extend through 2006. All of the priests have been removed from public ministry.
Its unclear how many have been prosecuted. Newsradio 780 has learned that cases involving Daniel McCormack are included within the settlement.
(H/T Abuse Tracker)
Update: Thanks to Jim in the comboxes for pointing out the Chicago Tribune article on the settlement:
As George was announcing the settlement, two abuse victims and their lawyers held a somber news conference a short distance away to thank the archdiocese.
“This goes a long way to help those survivors in their recovery,” said Jeff Anderson, one of the attorneys in the case, during the news conference at the Loop offices of Kerns, Frost & Pearlman.
Still, it was clear from the two victims that the settlement could not provide closure to an ugly chapter in their lives.
“After all these years burying it deep inside, suicide attempts, I know that is wasn’t my fault,” said Bob Brancato, who was abused by Steel, his priest at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Wheeling, when he was 12 and 13. “I now can have a life without the fear and shame that surrounds the abuse that we victims have gone through.”
But there is no amount of time or money that can change what happened, Brancato said.
“The best way I can express this is you never get over this, you get used to it,” he said.
And here’s a link that leads to to Cardinal George’s 550-page deposition.
Among Catholics, he leads 39 percent to 29 percent. But he has slipped since June.
What’s interesting to me about polling, although I know nothing about it, is the formulation of categories. Here is what the article says about categorizing evangelicals. Anybody know if they have as complicated an approach to categorizing Catholics?
One of the most frequently reported on groups of voters is evangelicals. Most media polls use a simplistic approach to defining evangelicals, asking survey respondents if they consider themselves to be evangelical. Barna Group surveys, on the other hand, ask a series of nine questions about a person’s religious beliefs in order to determine if they are an evangelical. The differences between the two approaches are staggering.
Using the common approach of allowing people to self-identify as evangelicals, 40% of adults classify themselves as such. Among them, 83% are likely to vote in November. Among the self-reported evangelicals who are likely to vote, John McCain holds a narrow 39% to 37% lead over Sen. Obama. Nearly one-quarter of this segment (23%) is still undecided about who they will vote for.
Using the Barna approach of studying people’s core religious beliefs produces a very different outcome. Just 8% of the adult population qualifies as evangelical based on their answers to the nine belief questions. Among that segment, a significantly higher proportion (90%) is likely to vote in November, and Sen. McCain holds a huge lead (61%-17%) over the Democratic nominee. Overall, just 14% of this group remains undecided regarding their candidate of choice.
Is anyone watching this? My rough transcription:
Costas: What are your impressions so far?
Bush: First of all, I think the Chinese are being great hosts. The venues are fantastic. And our team’s fired up, and so am I. I’m excited to be here. It’s such a thrill to watch our men and women compete.
Costas: You met with the ballplayers before the basketball game tonight. What was their response to you?
Bush: Their response was, well, first of all… Obviously these are great stars. Their response was thanks for coming. We are really really honored to represent America. And I was impressed with them. And of course they put on a great performance.
Costas: Winning 101 to 70…. The opening ceremonies were glorious. There’s much to admire about China’s people, China’s culture, and its present accomplishments. But this remains an authoritarian state with an abysmmal human rights record. In the long run, is China’s rise irreconcilable with America’s interests?
Bush: No, in the long run, America better remain engaged with China, and understand that we can have a cooperative, constructive, yet candid relationship. It’s really important for future presidents to understand the relationship between China and the region, and it’s important to make sure that America is engaged with China–even though we may have some disagreements.
Costas: You met with President Hu Jintao, not just at the opening ceremony, but privately since then. Did you press him on the full array of American concerns? Human rights, press freedom, Tibet, China’s support of rogue regimes like Sudan and Myanmar–
Bush: –and North Korea and Iran.
Costas: It was all on the table?
Bush: Oh, absolutely. Every time, every time. You gotta undertsand something, Bob. I don’t need the Olympics to advance America’s agenda. I met with Hu Jintao a lot since I have been the president, and yeah, absol–yeah, had a full range of–and listen, we agree with them on a lot of things. And we disagree with them on things. And that’s the way the relationship is gonna be. It needs to be, as I mentioned, constructive and cooperative.
Costas: This past week, you restated America’s fundamental differences with China. But given China’s growing strength and America’s own problems, realistically, how much leverage and influence does the U.S. have here?
Bush: Well, first of all, I don’t see America having problems. I see America as a nation that is a world leader that has got great values. And leverage is–I don’t think you should look at the relationship as one of leverage, I think you ought to look at the relationship as one of constructive engagement, where you can find common areas, like North Korea and Iran, but also be in a position where they respect you enough to listen to your views on religious freedom and political liberty.
Costas: If these Olympics are as successful as they are shaping up to be, most people believe this only further legitimizes the ruling party in the minds of most Chinese citizens. And even absent true liberty as we understand it, the lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese people are much better than they once were. Therefore, what’s the party’s incentive to reform?
Bush: Well, first of all, if you’re a religious person, you understand that once religion takes hold in a society it can’t be stopped. And secondly I think the Olympics are going to serve as a chance to come and see China the way it is, and let the Chinese see the world, and interface, and have opportunity to converse with people from around the world. This is a very positive development, in my view, for peace. Who knows how China is going to progress. They’ve been through some very difficult political times, the cultural revolution, for one, where the leadership actually created violent anarchy as the society turned on itself. All I can tell you is that it’s important for the United States to be active in this part of the world with all countries, and to stay engaged with China.
(some discussion of the violence in Georgia…)
Costas: China is a nation that warmly received Omar al Bashir of Sudan, who has since been indicted by the international court on charges of genocide. Then this past week they revoke the visa of Joey Cheek, an exemplary Olympian, who had planned to come here not to protest China’s government but to call attention to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. What’s your reaction?
Bush: My reaction is I’m sorry Joey Cheek didn’t come. He’s a good man. Joey Cheek’s just got to know that I took the Sudanese message for him. My attitude is if you’ve got relations with Mr. Bashir, think about helping us solve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. That was my messge to the Chinese government.
Costas: As you attempt to press these points with them, do you find Hu Jintao not just warm toward you personally, but is he receptive? Do you sense any movement?
Bush: It’s hard to tell. I mean, all I can tell you is that it is best to be in a position where a leader will listen to you. I went to church here. I’m sure the cynics say, well, it was just a state-sponsored church. On the other hand, it gave me a chance to say to the Chinese people, religion won’t hurt you. You ought to welcome religious people. And it gave me a chance to say to the government, why don’t you register the underground churches, and give them a chance to flourish? And he listened politely. I can’t read his mind. But I do know that every time I met with him I pressed the point.
Costas: Your father has long-standing connections to China. He was an envoy here even before we established an official ambassador’s position during the 1970s, and he is here with you on this trip, so there’s a connection, a family connection–
Bush: There’s a great connection. I remember riding my bike around Bejing in 1975–
Costas: –only bikes then, just about.
Bush: Unbelievable, how far this has changed. And he feels the same way. And we were honored when Hu Jintao invited my dad, and me, and Laura, and my sister, and my daughter, my brother for dinner, or lunch, it was just a great gesture of kindness. Bob, it’s very important for the American people to know that coming here gave me a chance to obviously root for our team–and you’ve captured that. But it’s also coming here is a sign of respect for the Chinese people. And this is a big, important nation. And we’ll have our differences, we’ll have our agreements, but in order to find common ground and to move the world toward peace, it is important for this country to show respect for the people of this country.
I have been reading with enjoyment and great profit John Burrow’s A History of Histories. In effect he does what the title indicates: discusses and comments upon works of great historians from Herodotus to the twentieth century. Since I shall, alas, not read most of them in the span of life remaining, it is good to be introduced to them by so knowledgeable and articulate a guide.
Here are three quotes from the historians treated that struck me in a special way.
From Gregory of Tours (6th century), lamenting the death of young children from the plague:
And so we lost our little ones, who were so dear to us and sweet, whom we cherished in our bosoms and dandled in our arms, whom we had fed and nurtured with such loving care. As I write, I wipe away my tears.
Burrow comments: “Gregory has the ability, like Herodotus, to annihilate historical time in contemplation of a common humanity.”
From Jocelin of Brakelonde, a 13th century monk, on his youthful indiscretion in the lobbying that preceded the election of a new abbot of Bury Saint Edmonds:
On one occasion I could not contain my spirit, but blurted out what I thought, thinking that I spoke to faithful ears, and I said that a certain brother was unworthy to be abbot, though he had loved me and conferred many benefits upon me; and I said I thought another worthy to be abbot, and named a man whom I loved less.
I spake as my conscience bade me, considering the common good rather than my own advancement, and I spoke the truth, as the sequel proved. And behold! one of the sons of Belial revealed what I had said to my benefactor and friend; for which cause to this day I have never either by prayer or gift been able to recover his favor to the full … and, if I live long enough to see the abbacy vacant once again, I shall take care what I say.
Finally, from the 18th century philosopher David Hume (better known in his lifetime as an historian), on the trial and witness of Charles I:
It is confessed that the King’s behaviour, during this last period of his life, does great honour to his memory; and that in all appearances before his judges, he never forgot his part, either as a prince or as a man. Firm and intrepid, he maintained, in each reply, the utmost perspicuity and justness, both of thought and expression: Mild and equable, he rose into no passion at that unusual authority which was assumed over him. His soul, without effort or affectation, seemed only to remain in the situation familiar to it, and to look down with contempt on all the efforts of human malice and iniquity.
Those interested in several of the threads below on Catholics in public life, social justice, abortion, etc. might be interested in the announcement of a conference to be held in Chicago in October on “Building a Social Theology for the Americas.” Information at: http://hope08conference.depaul.edu:80/
Picking up on the post below, there is a very good piece today on The New Republic site about the Dems platform battle over abortion language, and the efforts of Democrats for Life, a small organization (need it be said?) founded in 1999 with chapters in over 40 states. It is led by Kristen Day. The piece is called “Life Support? Inside the battle over abortion’s place in the Democratic platform.” Here’s a sense of it:
Unlike many other pro-life activists, Democrats for Life deemphasizes Roe v. Wade. A repeal “wouldn’t really do a whole lot” to reduce abortion, Day told me. The group decided to ignore Roe altogether in their platform proposal, assuming the party would support the case no matter what. Instead, they chose to focus on promoting an abortion reduction plank. “Once Roe is in [our proposal],” said Lee, “they just stop listening to us.”
…as it makes gains in more conservative districts, the Democratic Party is increasingly welcoming of pro-life candidates. Two of its most recent electoral successes–special election victories by Travis Childers in Mississippi and Don Cazayoux in Louisiana–were pro-life campaigns. And in the last few years, a flurry of Democratic-sponsored abortion reduction measures have been proposed in Congress, such as the “Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act” and the “Pregnant Women Support Act.”
But when it comes to the platform, pro-life Democrats face strong resistance from other corners of the party. “These kind of efforts are perennial,” says Ramona Oliver, communications director for Emily’s List. “They’re based on the assumption that Democrats’ position isn’t in the mainstream, and that’s just wrong. They’ve not succeeded in curtailing Democrats’ principles, and I don’t think they will in the future.”
But Day and the rest wind up saying they are committed to their goals. Thoughts?
The New York Times has a piece today about Obama and the Dems and their efforts to appeal to Catholic voters who may be turned off by the party’s pro-choice dogmatism. It includes comments from the much-pilloried pro-life, yet pro-Obama, Doug Kmiec. I expect this won’t be the last of these sorts of stories.
On the other side, the Supreme Knight of the K of C (no, not the Colonel), Carl Anderson, gave McCain an all-but-endorsement speech at the Knights’ annual convention this week. According to the CNS story, Anderson–author of a popular book, “A Civilization of Love,” called for a “regime change” of sorts, namely the “regime of Roe v. Wade” by calling on Catholics to withhold their votes from any candidate who supports abortion. (Are there really “pro-abortion” candidates”?)
“It’s time to put away the arguments of political spin masters that only serve to justify abortion killing,” Anderson said.
In apparent reference to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Anderson said change in the country can come only when the practice of aborting unborn children ends.
“We have all heard a great deal this year about the need for change,” he said. “But at the same time we are told one thing cannot change, namely the abortion regime of Roe v. Wade. It is time that we demand real change and real change means the end of Roe v. Wade.
“It’s time to stop accommodating pro-abortion politicians, and it’s time we start demanding that they accommodate us,” Anderson added as the 500 delegates from around the world stood up and loudly applauded.
Anderson said he was not singling out candidates from any political party for criticism.
Later, Anderson told Catholic News Service that he decided to focus on the same terminology that Obama is using in his presidential campaign “to get people’s attention.”
“This is kind of the touchstone for this whole election year; I’d like Catholics to think what real change, fundamental change in a Christian sense would mean,” he said.
(Ironically, the Knights convention included a video tribute from President Bush, who would hardly be considered an exemplar of Catholic social teaching.)
I know this post is poking a stick into a hornet’s nest, but the topic of abortion and Catholic voters (and pols) is going to be a persistent theme (and thread) up to November, and beyond. And that’s probably as it should be. Abortion is a central issue, and addressing it is a political as well as religious enterprise.
That said, I struggle to understand the absolute (Manichean?) divide that says it is impossible for a pro-life Catholic to vote for a Democrat, and cites Roe as the reason. In reality, Roe may well not be overturned, and even if it is it would just move the battle to the states. Abortion is a reality that exists far beyond the borders of Roe, and indeed some of the Catholic majority justices on the Supreme Court say that even if they don’t like the case, they wouldn’t use their Catholic distaste of abortion to inform their decision.
Republican presidents have come and gone, Republican congresses have come and gone, Republican (and Catholic) supreme court justices have come, and much remains as it has always been. In fact, the near-total focus on Roe seems to blind many to all the other ways that abortion can be reduced–or the ways that the purportedly anti-Roe party, the GOP, does not support life, in the seamless garment sense or otherwise.
And yet, this issue continues to be used to polarize and divide Catholics (see many posts below). It is a policy debate, a campaign issue, that is used as the yardstick for whether someone can receive communion. The Dems obviously aren’t perfect by any means. But the old approach seems to sanctify–and immunize–the Republicans on this issue. I have a sense some Catholics, beyond Kmiec, are trying to redress this Republican Captivity. Again, this is a longstanding debate. Is there any new light to shed on why a Catholic should be politically and morally bound to vote for anti-Roe candidates–or at least those who profess such a view with their mouths, if not their hearts?
PS: And saying a pox on both their houses doesn’t qualify as “new light”!
PPS: I now realize this post picks up on Peter Nixon’s very interesting post earlier about the George Wesolek essay. I don’t mean to stomp on that, just to re-focus it perhaps. Then again, it may result in polarization…
If you have seen the John McCain ad featuring cuts between images of Obama and Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, then you have to watch Hilton’s video response.
I first posted on Charles Taylor’s massive A Secular Age some months back. A project I’m working on has led me to re-read Taylor’s book, especially his crucial final chapter, “Conversions,” where he indicates possible paths beyond the “unquiet frontiers of modernity.”
A key figure in the chapter is the French poet who re-converted to his boyhood Catholic faith, Charles Peguy. Taylor writes regarding Peguy:
the point here is to underline the carnal, the notion that the spiritual is always incarnate, and that in chains which cut across time. It reflects how, for Peguy, his Christian faith is animated by his profound rejection of modern excarnation. That is, as it were, the path by which he rejoins the faith of the Incarnation.
And the crucial concept here is communion, the “joining of hands,” in other words, the communion of saints to which we are all connected.
What emerges as central for Peguy (and for his interpreter, Taylor), what counters modernity’s fall into “excarnation,” is the communion of saints, a joining of hands across the centuries: a central feature of “the faith of the Incarnation.”
Where I would push Taylor further is to reflect on the roots of the pathology he terms “excarnation,” among whose symptoms is “the exaltation of disengaged reason,” and (I would add) the exaltation of the imperial disengaged self.
One name that does not appear in Taylor’s encyclopedic index is that of Ernest Becker. Becker’s extraordinary book, The Denial of Death, shows the roots of our perennial fall into excarnation in our denial and flight from death. And the perennial temptation, from the days of Cain and Abel, is to inflict violence on the one perceived to embody the threat of death, whether physical or spiritual, whether man or God: the crucified incarnate one.
Taylor sums up what he perceives to be the challenge facing believers in a secular age as the need “to recover a sense of what the Incarnation can mean.”
Allow me to suggest a further precision to that. The challenge facing us is to recover a sense of what the Transfiguration of Jesus can mean. Here past, present, and future meet, the communion of saints in which we are all connected is embodied. And, importantly, life is affirmed, not by death’s denial, but by its acceptance and transformation. As Luke’s account of the Transfiguration reminds us: bathed in transfigured light, they spoke of his exodus which was to take place in Jerusalem.
I understand it will be quite a while yet before we actually make the switch — they haven’t settled on the collects yet, is that right? But at least this will give us all a chance to practice. I know it’s going to take me a long time to get used to the changes, especially the part about “…that you should enter under my roof.” I can already see myself boring my grandkids with stories about the weird things we used to say at mass when I was a girl. (Although I’m hoping these won’t be the biggest changes we see between now and then.)
Composers (and malcontents) take note: this is also an opportunity to get a jump on Marty Haugen in composing the next popular musical mass. Please note, we’re getting tough this time: No paraphrasing! The memorial acclamation looks like it will be a particular challenge…
Apropos of Cathleen Kaveny’s post below regarding crucial social justice issues and their role in the campaign–versus charges of false messianism and the like–Steve Waldman at Beliefnet recounts a talk by former GOP senator Rick Santorum, who is seen by many as an uber-Catholic because of his fierce claims to orthodoxy and his attacks on those who do not agree with him. At the talk to a gathering of foreign journalists, Santorum rather predictably called Obama’s faith “phony,” but continued:
After he’d accused Obama and other Democrats of religoius fraudulance for a few minutes, journalist Terry Mattingly of GetReligion.org asked whether it’s possible that rather than being fake, perhaps,Obama was sincerely reflecting a form of liberal Christianity in the tradition of Reinhold Neibuhr. Santorum surprised me by answering that yes, “I could buy that.”
However, he questioned whether liberal Christianity was really, well, Christian. “You’re a liberal something, but you’re not a Christian.” He continued, “When you take a salvation story and turn it into a liberation story you’ve abandoned Christendom and I don’t think you have a right to claim it.”
Perhaps Santorum thought he’d score some points by channeling Joseph Ratzinger, but he didn’t do a very good job. Needless to say, this idea that one is a Christian only by belief and not by any works–a quietism that conveniently plays into GOP conservatism–is a longstanding one obviously, but also a theme, I think, behind the noxious anti-Christ propaganda on Obama…That he is promising paradise here on earth.
In the interest of journalistic fairness, I thought it only proper, after offering a couple of posts on Obama, to cast a light on McCain. Rolling Stone‘s resident angry political commentator, Matt Taibbi, has had a couple of incisive articles this summer profiling the GOP’s presidential candidate in his usual, expletive-filled, sardonic style. In Full Metal McCain, Taibbi traces McCain’s tragic transformation from free-thinking, rational human to pre-programmed, robo-conservative:
Only a few months ago, I was constantly running into Republicans at McCain events who had profound concerns about the Arizona senator’s “liberal” record. But these days I’m hard-pressed to find anyone on the trail who even remembers that McCain once supported Roe v. Wade, and opposed the Bush tax cuts, and compared the tortures at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo to the techniques of the Spanish Inquisition, and even heretically claimed that Mexican immigrants were “God’s children too.” When I ask Mary Morvant, a pro-life Christian, why she’s supporting McCain given his record on abortion, she gives a typical answer: “I’m much more concerned about Obama.”
McCain enters the general election in the form of a man who has jettisoned the last traces of his dangerous unorthodoxy just in time to be plausible in the role of the torchbearing leader of the anti-Obama mob, waving the flag and chanting, “One of us! One of us!” all the way through to November. He now favors making the Bush tax cuts permanent, he’s unblinkingly pro-life every time he remembers to mention abortion, and he’s given up bitching about torture. With his newfound opposition to his own attempts to reform immigration policy and campaign finance, McCain is perhaps the first candidate in history to stump against two bills bearing his own name.
The more interesting article, though, explores the one area in which McCain has held onto his humanity—religion. In Without a Prayer, Taibbi suggests that McCain’s inability to swallow whole the prevailing brand of Christianity that has served as the marketing vehicle for neo-conservatism over the past decade may remain both his only salutary quality and his Achilles’ heel come November. McCain’s inability to shed this last vestige of pious individualism, however, has not been for lack of effort. It is true that he attempted to court the Christian Right immediately after Mike Huckabee left the race, but after a few awkward first dates, Taibbi reports, McCain has been unwilling to go all the way:
Originally baptized an Episcopalian, McCain claims that he’s been attending this Southern Baptist church for some 15 years, despite the fact that his 2007 congressional biography lists his faith as Episcopalian. But in a touching display of his apparent unwillingness to do absolutely anything to get elected, McCain still hasn’t been baptized in his new church – he’s not born-again, in other words. Dude is holding out for some reason. Like he’s afraid to lie to God. A politician, afraid to lie!
Taibbi goes on to suggest that McCain’s one remaining conviction (his lack of religious conviction) may prove to be the very thing that causes his arch-conservative costume to unravel. The same-old Republican agenda decoupled from the pseudo-religious rhetoric required to legitimate it means that voters might finally see the wizard behind the machine—a troubling prospect for “the archpriests of supply-side economics.” Taibbi writes:
The real problem here might be that McCain’s stubborn refusal to pull a full-court Huckabee on the God front has coincided with (a) an impending economic catastrophe and (b) statements by one of his closest advisers, Phil Gramm, to the effect that America is in a “mental recession” and is a “nation of whiners.” As a result, McCain now has the daunting task of somehow keeping voters in economically hard-hit evangelical regions mesmerized by Bible-thumping…despite the fact that he only started going to church regularly a month ago…. If he doesn’t, who knows – people might actually start voting according to their economic interests, which would be disastrous for a Republican Party that has duped America’s white underclass for decades, thanks to Christian conservatism.
Thus, McCain’s (almost) honest secularism may be at least one ray of hope remaining for those interested in a campaign about the issues.
Joe Pettit asked an important question on a thread below: Do social and economic inequality matter? If so, which candidate offers the best chance of addressing the problem appropriately?
Here is his question:
“Entrenched and deep inequality, not just economic, but racial as well. We are increasingly become a nation where the gap is widening greatly between the very wealthy and everyone else. Location of birth is more and more influencing one’s outcome in life, no matter how much effort one applies. My problem is not inequality as such, but rather what happens to a society marked by deep and persistent inequality.
Part of the difficulty on this one is that I am not sure we know how to think about it. The standard leftist response is still deeply influenced by Marx, who I have now decided is a nightmare for economic issues. The tell tale marxist sign is a labor theory of economic value, not a market theory of value, and I really think the labor theory is hopeless (who decides how much labor is worth?).
A second part of the difficulty is that we do not realize just how much the demographics are trending toward the situation getting even worse in the U.S. (I actually think it will get better globally). The boomers are starting to retire and they do not have nearly enough money invested on which to retire.
Finally, our debt economy is just going to take a long time to work its way out and the consequences for purchasing power are dismal for years to come.”
An interesting op-ed on New York Times.com today has Maureen Dowd comparing the 2008 presdiential race to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice casting Obama as Darcy, McCain as Wickham, and the American people as Elizabeth Bennet. Check it out:
The odd thing is that Obama bears a distinct resemblance to the most cherished hero in chick-lit history. The senator is a modern incarnation of the clever, haughty, reserved and fastidious Mr. Darcy.
Like the leading man of Jane Austen and Bridget Jones, Obama can, as Austen wrote, draw “the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien. …he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased.”
The master of Pemberley “had yet to learn to be laught at,” and this sometimes caused “a deeper shade of hauteur” to “overspread his features.”
The New Hampshire debate incident in which Obama condescendingly said, “You’re likable enough, Hillary,” was reminiscent of that early scene in “Pride and Prejudice” when Darcy coldly refuses to dance with Elizabeth Bennet, noting, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
Indeed, when Obama left a prayer to the Lord at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a note that was snatched out and published, part of his plea was to “help me guard against pride.”
If Obama is Mr. Darcy, with “his pride, his abominable pride,” then America is Elizabeth Bennet, spirited, playful, democratic, financially strained, and caught up in certain prejudices. (McCain must be cast as Wickham, the rival for Elizabeth’s affections, the engaging military scamp who casts false aspersions on Darcy’s character.)
My wife Katie, resident Austen aficionado, perhaps showing her own political bias, thinks Obama is more a Willoughby from Sense and Sensability. Thoughts?