Notes from Across the Atlantic
Notes from Across the Atlantic

Notes from Across the Atlantic

Richard Neuhaus FAITH Magazine July-August 2006

Silence on Israel

Discussion of the Israel lobby is largely verboten, critics of Israel complain, because anybody who raises serious questions is in danger of being dismissed as an anti-Semite. Entering right on cue to confirm what he intends to deny is Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League: “Mr. Judt’s contention that ‘fear’ has caused a ‘continued silence’ on the subject in the Jewish community is just wrong. The Anti-Defamation League, for one, has called the Walt-Mearsheimer essay exactly what it is—shabby scholarship and a classical conspiratorial anti-Semitic analysis invoking the canards of Jewish power and Jewish control.” Critics are intimidated by the fear of being called anti-Semites. QED. To be fair, ADL’s routinised charge of anti-Semitism against anyone with whom it disagrees has bynow lost much of its power to intimidate.

Today's Fidelity a Bitter Pill

Patty Crowley has died at age ninety-two. She and her husband Pat were once very major figures in American Catholicism. The Christian Family Movement, which they led, was a powerful force of renewal for Catholic family life and lay leadership in the Church. Then came 1968, the concerted attack on the encyclical Humanae Vitae, and the shattering of, among many other things, the Christian Family Movement. Peter Steinfels reflects in the New York Times on the death of Patty Crowley: “She was, in other words, representative of a large segment of American Catholics who have come to enjoy material security, good educations and confidence in their own initiatives. If, like her, they reached maturity before the crisis over Church authority that began with the birth controlcontroversy, they often have a kind of bred-in-the-bones Catholicism... Patty Crowley and her peers never doubted that the Church had something to say, but after 1968 they began to wonder whether it was interested in listening.” That puts the matter very nicely, I think. The Chicago funeral of Patty Crowley was, writes Steinfels, “a kind of last hurrah” for a certain kind of Catholic. A half-century ago, they were often called “Commonweal Catholics”, referring to a magazine of which Peter Steinfels was once the editor, being succeeded by his wife Peggy Steinfels. They were “American Catholics” rather than “Catholic Americans”, a distinction that I develop in Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth, published in March by Basic Books. Theythought they were pioneering an American way of being Catholic, rather than being called to model a Catholic way of being American. They were bred-in-the-bone Catholics who felt betrayed by a Church that did not accommodate itself to their having “arrived” in America. But of course, the Church is universal, not just American, and is obliged by truths that are eternal and not limited to the Camelot moment of Commonweal Catholics. With the dramatic expansion of the Church on other continents, it became evident that American Catholicism, while not exactly a sideshow, is certainly not front stage centre. This is a bitter pill for nostalgists who gathered for the last hurrah in Chicago. Steinfels’ recent book, A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church inAmerica, looks back longingly to what he views as the inspiring leadership of such figures as Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago and Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, and laments the era of John Paul II and Ratzinger, now become Benedict
XVI. What he laments as the derailing of the American Catholic “coming of age” a younger generation of Catholics is discovering as the high adventure of fidelity. Peter Steinfels is right. We are witnessing the long last hurrah of an older generation who believed that liberation from Catholic teaching, epitomised by the insurrection of 1968, was the future. There will be many more funerals at which mourners of like mind will reminisce about the revolution that was not to be. Meanwhile, a new era of vibrant orthodoxy is, please God, aborning.

Latest Personality Fashion

Marian Salzman is connected with an advertising agency called JWT Worldwide and got considerable attention by inventing the term metrosexual. In her new book, The Future of Men, she’s going for her full fifteen minutes by announcing that this year’s man is the ubersexual. Ubersexuals are “men who embrace the positive aspects of their masculinity, such as confidence, leadership, passion and compassion”. But they do so “without giving in to negative Neanderthal stereotypes”. “The ubersexual has a passion for principles. The metrosexual has a passion for fashion”, and so forth. The ubersexual does not “turn up his nose at any cultural pursuit that doesn’t involve sports, beer or burgers”. Who knows, he might even subscribe to First Things. Before signing up for this season’spersonality remake, however, you might check out whether the woman in your life is comfortable with the über implied in being an ubersexual.

Affirming the Meaning of Life

On 17th January, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand Oregon’s law permitting doctor-assisted suicide. The issues were, as is often the case, tangled, with the relation between federal and state jurisdiction very much in play. A deeply troubling aspect is that the court majority accepted assisted suicide as a form of medical care, while those in the minority vigorously protested that caring can never mean killing. Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, wrote a moving reflection on the Court’s decision, which included this: “For the victims of Oregon’s assisted-suicide law the world has become a place that they feel is not worth living in. In the past, we would have seen this as a desperate cry for help, a sign of depression, a sign that the person needs help not to die but to live better. TheOregon Solution, however, removes any glimmer of hope and assures the person that their feelings of hopelessness, perhaps uselessness, feelings of being a burden are all exactly right. So when the depressed person says, ‘I don’t feel like I have any reason to continue living,’ Oregon says, ‘You know, you’re right! There really is no reason for you to continue living.’ What a horrible thing to do to depressed, distressed, suffering and even terminally ill persons. The human spirit seeks meaning, grasps at hope, and Oregon takes these away. Clearly, sick and suffering people feel that their lives are meaningless. We can either affirm or deny meaning for them. One leads to life the other to suicide. Life is meaningful and valuable. Suicide affirms hopelessness. In the past when someonecomplained of the intolerable burdens of life, someone might propose calling the doctor. Now if someone complains of the intolerable burdens of life, someone might propose that if they truly feel that way then maybe they should call the ‘Doctor’. Instead of affirming the person’s worth and value as a person, as a family member and as a member of the human family, the feelings of despair are ratified as valid and acceptable. Then there is no genuine attempt to treat and terminate ‘the patient’s attitude toward his unchangeable fate’ but rather a termination of the patient. I often tell people in distress, ‘Trust what you know, not what you feel.’ The terminally ill patients need assurances of what they know from experience. They need to know that their lives are valuable and worth living.They need to know that they are loved and esteemed and even needed. Every suicide, and especially an assisted suicide, represents a failure of the human community to affirm the meaning of a person’s life. Ask not for whom the bells toll.”

A Slip of the Pen

A sloppy censor at the New York Times is possibly out looking for a job. Here is a story by Carl Zimmer about medical research on pregnancy. It is noted that the heart and the kidney work fine for years and years, but pregnancy is associated with all sorts of medical problems. Then this: “The difference is that the heart and kidney belong to a single individual, while pregnancy is a two-person operation. And this operation does not run in perfect harmony. … A mother and her unborn child engage in an unconscious struggle over the nutrients she will provide it.” Two persons? Unborn child? So far the slips have not been noted in the “Corrections” section of the paper.

Lest we Forget

The first anniversary is not long past, and I expect it’s one story that, after hundreds of news cycles, has not disappeared down the memory hole. Say “Terri Schiavo” and everybody knows what you’re talking about. We must not forget what happened then. Paul Greenberg, one of the most thoughtful of public voices, has not forgotten. “When Terri Schiavo was denied food and water by order of the court, it took her thirteen long, slow, agonizing days to die of dehydration. Thirteen days. It would have been kinder to shoot her. But that would have been against the law, and we know the law is just.” There was a seemingly little thing that Paul Greenberg says keeps coming back. “Funny how, long after you’ve forgotten everything else about some big story, one detail will stick in your mind. Haveyou ever sat by the bedside of a dying patient—a father or mother, perhaps, or someone else you loved—and given the patient a little chipped ice? And seen the relief and inaudible thank you in the drug-dimmed eyes? After all the futile treatments and the succession of helpless doctors, when grief has come even before the death, you sit there with a little cracked ice for the patient’s parched mouth and throat, and think… At last I can do this one little thing right. I’m not totally useless. However much a little ice might help your patient, it does wonders for the caregiver. You suddenly realize why people go into nursing. Can there be any greater satisfaction than this? But when the law decreed that Terri Schiavo was to be given no food or water, it meant no food or water.That’s what the court, the sheriff’s deputies, the whole clanking machinery of the law was there for—to see that the severe decree was carried out. That’s what the new art and science of bioethics at the dawn of the 21st century had come down to in the end: No cracked ice for Terri Schiavo.” We must never let Terri Schiavo, and all the other Terri Schiavos, be forgotten. The truth that is written on our hearts— the truth that the culture of death is determined to erase—is really quite simple: always to care, never to kill.


Faith Magazine

July - August 2006