Notes from Across the Atlantic
Notes from Across the Atlantic

Notes from Across the Atlantic

Richard John Neuhaus FAITH Magazine January-February 2008


Who is intimidating whom? The New England Journal of Medicinei s alarmed by the Supreme Court decision Gonzales vs. Carhart.“The Partial Death of Abortion Rights”, “The Intimidation of American Physicians”, are among the alarms raised. A reader writes: “I was surprised at the notion that physicians who support abortion are intimidated. As a young physician who is pro-life, I know about intimidation. We carry our convictions quietly within the established medical community. Biding our time, we wait to act or speak out when necessary to protect unborn life.” Ask Dr. Maureen Condic about intimidation. Deviating from the establishment position, she wrote about embryonic stem cell research in First Things(“What We Know About Embryonic Stem Cells,” January 2007) andfor her effrontery was attacked by the scientific establishment. No doubt some abortionists are intimidated. More generally they are despised. It is the specialty that dare not speak its name. A doctor once introduced himself to me saying, “I work in the field of reproductive health.” I’m sure I did not intimidate him. Contempt for what a person does is not intimidation.


There is an office called the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Social Development and World Peace. As you can tell from the name, the office has weighty responsibilities. John Carr is the head of the office, and he recently testified before another institution with weighty responsibilities, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Centre of Reform Judaism, also testified, as did the National Council of Churches, the Episcopal Church and a group of evangelical Protestants who signed a statement warning against global warming. Speaking for the bishops, John Carr said, “The U.S. Catholic bishops seek to offer a constructive, distinctive and authentic contribution based on our religious and moral teachingand our pastoral service.” He went on to say, “Our Creator has given us the gift of creation: the air we breathe, the water that sustains life, the climate and environment we share.” Further, he said, “Global climate change is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family.” In addition, he said, “This is an essential time to build up the common ground for common action to pursue the common good.” The representatives of the other groups also made these “constructive, distinctive and authentic” contributions presumably based upon Catholic teaching and pastoral experience. Mr. Carr said, “Pope John Paul II insisted that climate is a good that must be protected.” I don’t know what statement of the pope Mr. Carr has in mind, but it is true that we would be in a fine fix withoutclimate. He refers to meetings his office has held with global warming groups and says “such gatherings can create an environment of dialogue and common ground for common action on climate change,” and he urged that such gatherings be expanded. So at least one environment is being not only protected but expanded. In one meeting, he learned that parts of Alaska are “already being destroyed by erosion, flooding and other forces”. Much of Mr. Carr’s statement is devoted to the poor and to “sustainable development”. Sustainable development is an idea developed in World Council of Churches circles in the 1970s and 1980s, and focuses attention on how much poor countries should be allowed to develop before they jeopardise the environment on which we all depend, although Mr. Carr does not put itquite that way. In any event, we can all agree that there is climate, and there is, as always, climate change. The U.S. bishops, according to John Carr, believe that these constitute “problems” that “require taking bold action weighing available policy alternatives and moral goods and taking considered and decisive steps before the problems grow worse”. Such is the “constructive, distinctive and authentic contribution” of Catholic social doctrine. Where would the senators or, for that matter, all of us be without it? The national bishops’ conference recently underwent across-the-board cutbacks due to financial difficulties. One may be permitted to wonder whether cutbacks, or even eliminations, might not be more carefully targeted, with an eye toward, for instance, the Department of SocialDevelopment and World Peace. (For a crisp, informed, and cliché-free reflection on climate change, see Thomas Derr’s “The Politics of Global Warming” in the August/September issue of First Things. )


The Fremont district of Seattle proclaims itself to be the “Centre of the Universe”. One should not begrudge the folks who live there whatever consolations they can contrive. Fremont is also the sharpest edge of edgy, as in avant-garde. After the people of Poprad, Slovakia, pulled down a seven-ton statue of Vladimir Ilych Lenin in 1989 and threw it into the town dump, it was discovered by an American who had it transported to Seattle and it was placed in the town centre of Fremont. This report says, “The statue was controversial and remains so – especially to Russian immigrants.” Those touchy Russians. The report continues: “Lenin the Man was a violent sociopath, catalyst for wholesale slaughter across half the world. But Lenin the Public Artwork is a beautifully crafted sculpture, and acatalyst for healthy discourse.” Now if only they could find an artistically worthy statue for Hitler the Public Artwork, one can imagine the catalytic effect on public discourse in Fremont..

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