Notes from Across the Atlantic
Richard John Neuhaus FAITH Magazine November-December 2006
On the Back of Civil Rights
The last great liberal cause that now meets with almost universal approbation was the civil-rights movement under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. That began in 1956, now half a century ago.
Since then numerous causes have claimed the mantle of civil rights. Jesse Jackson extorts corporate pay-offs in the name of Dr. King. Sundry feminists and gay activists claim to be the continuation of the movement, as do, with greater justice, pro-lifers. Now African-American Muslims, many of whom were converted to Islam in the American prison system, are joining with Muslims from South Asia and the Middle East to lay claim to the legacy of Selma, Bull Connor, and the great drama that was the civil-rights movement. According to Religion Watch, African-American Muslims who once felt marginalized by other Muslims are now more prominent in the mosques because it is thought that they have experience with the discrimination now felt by Muslims in this country. The civil-rights movement of the1950s and early 1960s was a singular moment in American history that successfully addressed the singular American wrong of the legal segregation of American blacks. In subsequent years, it became the catchall symbol seized on by everybody who wanted the benefits of being recognized as a victim. One can imagine few more wrong headed, implausible and self-defeating strategies than for the several million Muslims in America to join with alienated blacks in blaming their problems on the consequences of slavery and segregation. Presumably, Muslims did not come to this country in order to be permanently marginalised.
In an interview with Zenit, Bishop Gerald Barnes, who heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Refugees and Migrants, observes that Catholic social teaching affirms the principle that “sovereign nations have the right, in fact the responsibility, to control their borders”. Also affirmed is the principle “that persons have a right to migrate to provide for themselves and their families”. “Where these two seemingly conflicting principles get reconciled is in the development and application of immigration laws that take into consideration a nation’s capacity to absorb newcomers, on the one hand, and the needs of migrants on the other. In other words, richer nations have a greater responsibility than do poorer nations in being open to immigrants.” Which very helpfully explains why Mexico is nothaving a big debate over admitting immigrants from the United States.
Sandcastles & Revolutions
Just how tired is the tired old Left of Catholic revolutionism? One answer is found in Robert Blair Kaiser’s new book, A Church in Search of Itself. According to a promotional email Kaiser recently sent, the book “is selling beyond the expectations of my editor at Knopf”. Which, meaning no unkindness, perhaps says a lot about his editor’s expectations. But Kaiser says the book is doing very well. “Not exactly sure why,” he writes. “Maybe it’s the writing.”
Then he adds, “Maybe it’s the candid reporting. I choose to think many value the book most because it shows how the people of God can take back their Church.” By taking back the Church, he means that the American Church ('AmChurch') should be autochthonous, which is to say, independent of external control. He has been speaking to friendly groups around the country, including Voice of the Faithful, and reports that the response is enthusiastic. “I can say they were all impressed with the notion that we can all be most thoroughly accountable to one another in an autochthonous American Church, one that could be launched at some future national synod where elected delegates could create a constitution for the Church modelled on the U.S. Constitution. Craggy-faced Bill Callahan SJ, now 80, hiseyes twinkling, said ‘This seems like something we should try. It will be fun.’ ” If he has dear old Father Callahan on board, you know the revolution is well underway. "Studies show", writes Kaiser, “that the many are smarter than an elite few”. On the other hand, he’s counting on the elite few, noting that “some five percent” of the people of the Philippines overthrew dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and “only a half dozen English lords” forced the signing of the Magna Carta. Nobody knows, he says, “what critical mass it would take to force our own Magna Carta on the American bishops”. He allows that “we have to get a huge assist from the media and the Internet”. In that connection, he was disappointed with a Washington Post reporter whom he tried to recruit. The reporter “blanched, perhapsunwilling to think of himself as an adjutant in the cause of revolution”. Kaiser, who has written from Rome for Time and Newsweek, has a different view of the journalist’s task. “Objectivity? That’s the curse of a newspaperman’s job. Fortunately, as a correspondent for Time, with only mild objections from my chief of correspondents, my reporting at Vatican II gave aid and comfort to the forces of change.” He concludes: “For those who are interested in the whole plan, please go to our new website www.takebackourchurch. org. If you understand what we are trying to do, please sign up for the revolution.” I do understand what you’re trying to do, Bob, I really do. Yes, I know it was great fun back in the 1960s, but it really is timefor a rest. Just close your eyes and keep repeating to yourself, autochthonous, autochthonous, autochthonous... zzzzz.
Forty years of revolution do take it out of a man.
Jimmy Carter on American Values
Former president Jimmy Carter has written another book on American values. He is deeply saddened by the way the “religious right” uses religion for partisan political purposes. In an interview with an Atlanta magazine, “Carter fittingly used a parable to illustrate how he’d like to see the political/religious debate unfold. ‘I was teaching a Sunday-school class two weeks ago,’ he recalls. ‘A girl, she was about 16 years old from Panama City, asked me about the differences between Democrats and Republicans. I asked her, Are you for peace, or do you want more war? Then I asked her, Do you favour government helping the rich, or should it seek to help the poorest members of society? Do you want to preserve the environment, or do you want to destroy it? Do you believe this nation should engagein torture, or should we condemn it? Do you think each child today should start life responsible for $28,000 in [federal government] debt, or do you think we should be fiscally responsible? I told her that if she answered all of those questions, that she believed in peace, aiding the poor and weak, saving the environment, opposing torture ... then, I told her, 'You should be a Democrat’”. Jimmy Carter is deeply saddened by the way religion is used for partisan political purposes.
A Look at a Legacy
Hugh Hefner of Playboy shame was eighty recently, and he is turning philosophical about his luminous legacy as a public benefactor. He is “the luckiest cat on the planet”
for having so richly (and justly) benefited from having bestowed on humanity the gift of liberation from sexual repression. Michael Scully, writing in The Wall Street Journal, is not persuaded: “Enough to say that police investigators, in the sex-crimes units that have expanded roughly in proportion to mass-market ‘adult material’, rarely conclude that the rapist or child predator lacked for pornographic inspiration before committing the crime. As to those ‘major beneficiaries’ of porn, you won’t find too many women these days who think that the world is better because of Playboy or the smug, selfish ethic it has always purveyed. For good reason has the Playboy Foundation long been a benefactor to NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood. The Playboy Philosophy has always been forthe ladies, too—just as long as they remember what they’re good for, don’t get too sentimental and feel grateful when the playboy in their own life offers to pay for the abortion. One hesitates to speak harshly of an old man, who somewhere along the way must have done a few worthwhile things, but as to the public legacy of Hugh Hefner, he should have no illusions. All of us have our share of faults and sins to account for, but the lowest of vices and ‘strangest secret of hell’, as G.K. Chesterton called it, is the desire to pervert others, to coax and corrupt them and drag them down with you. And any man who at the age of 80 has that to answer for is by no stretch 'the luckiest cat on the planet'". There are several fine lines there, but I’ve filed this for future use: "The PlayboyPhilosophy is good for the ladies, too, just so long as they remember what they’re good for”.
This is, I suppose, a Louisiana turn on Hilaire Belloc’s little rhyme: “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, / There’s laughter and dancing and good red wine. / At least I’ve always found it so. / Benedicamus Domino!’ It happened some months ago, but the clipping has just come to my attention. Kraemer is a very small and very poor little town down in the bayou in which people make what living they can from selling alligator skins and skulls. The local paper, the Beauregard Daily, carried the following obituary: “Willie ‘One Eye’ Kraemer, 91, a native and resident of Kraemer, died Saturday, Dec. 24, 2005. Visitation will be from 5 to 10 p.m. today and from 8 a.m. to funeral time Thursday at St. Lawrence Church in Kraemer. Mass will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at the church, with burial in thechurch cemetery.” After listing numerous survivors and those who went before, the obituary concludes with this: “He was a commercial fisherman, trapper and hunter. He hunted alligators and enjoyed drinking. He was Catholic.” Requiescat in pace, One Eye.