Ratzinger and the Terrorists
Oxford—A few years ago Cardinal Ratzinger made a brief foray to England. He came mainly to give the annual Fisher Lecture in Cambridge, although his presence did give a boost to sales of The Theology of Joseph Ratzinger by the Cambridge Dominican Father Aidan Nichols (the Cardinal was to be seen after the lecture chatting with students in the foyer, and inscribing copies of the book). The Times called the visit “an unprecedented gesture” and a “compliment” to the predominantly non-Catholic community of the University. Even the Tablet admitted that the Cardinal had “won hearts” by revealing his “human face.” What struck many people was his sense of humor (which in England counts for more than most of the other virtues put together). Nevertheless, compared to other public lectures by Ratzinger, this one, on “Consumer Materialism and Christian Hope,” received almost no international attention, despite the fact that its subject was of enormous importance and has remained so ever since. [Indeed, its importance was central to the apocalyptic expectation of David Koresh and his fellow Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas, and central, too, to the utter absence of an imaginative understanding of the apocalyptic element in modernity among the federal agents who precipitated the conflagration there.—Ed.]
Drugs and terrorism, Ratzinger argued in this lecture, were two of the characteristic plagues of our century. Both point towards an objective moral order. The Church’s teaching on the natural law is widely ridiculed as irrelevant in an age of science and interreligious dialogue, but the natural law is not something invented by the philosophers of Medieval Europe. They merely gave fullest expression to a perennial wisdom held in common by both Eastern and Western cultures. “The moral vision of the Christian faith is not something particularly Christian, it is rather the synthesis of the great moral intuitions of humanity from a new Center which holds them all together,” Ratzinger said. Without losing any of their own validity, these other moral traditions become “tributaries, which flow towards the grand river of Christianity and its explanation of reality.”
Throughout his lecture, Cardinal Ratzinger drew both liberally and admiringly from C.S. Lewis’s little book, The Abolition of Man, as he explored the relationship of Christianity to the Eastern religions and modern science. The “problem of modernity,” he said, consists in the fact that our world has tried to separate itself from this worldwide “primeval testimony” of an objective moral order. We tend to accept as objective only facts that are quantifiable. Values, along with feelings, are regarded as subjective and “unscientific.”
In head-on contradiction to this “scientistic” or pseudo-scientific attitude, the Cardinal affirmed that “the great moral insights of mankind are just as reasonable and true, indeed, truer, than experimental findings in the realm of science.” They are “truer” because they reach deeper into the nature of reality. Values are not something we make up or invent; we discover them in nature itself. Nature is not “a kind of montage put together by chance and the laws of probability”; it is an expression of the Creator Spirit. Thus to the objective physical laws of nature discovered by science must be added the moral laws of nature discerned by intuition and defended by the Church.
What, then, of drugs and terrorism? The abuse of drugs springs from the perverted mysticism of a world which no longer believes, but still yearns for Paradise. Rejecting the “patient and humble adventure of asceticism,” the drug addict turns to the magic power of technology to escape the prison of an evil world. The same yearning may also lead towards the many esoteric cults and new religions that offer themselves to the unwary.
As for terrorism, essentially it is a “misdirected moralism.” Moral outrage against an existing society leads to a demand that man should create a better one, and to the justification of any and all means to achieve it. The morally good act is redefined as the one performed in the service of an ideal future society. Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out that generally only extreme acts of terrorism are condemned by our Western governments. The causes of terrorism remain untouched by the rhetoric, and may erupt again at any time. It is, for example, the terrorist mentality that lies behind the decision to sacrifice a fetus for the sake of a scientific or medical experiment. And ultimately, it is the same mentality that leads a woman to grant herself the “right” to destroy a child in her womb who stands in the way of her self-fulfillment.
If all uses of violence contradicting the natural moral law were to be rejected, the terrorist’s ideals of freedom, justice, and peace would shine forth as genuine goods worthy of human aspiration. The same is true of the drug abuser’s desire for the sacred, that is, for a momentary experience of perfect peace. It is not the desires that are wrong, but the means chosen to satisfy them. Of course, it is hard for a modern mentality to accept the disciplining (or institutional channeling) of its aspirations; but the heart has its laws. Feelings are not enough, and pleasurable escape is not enough, to satisfy the human heart for long. The will must be integrated in the achievement of the experience of bliss, and this takes place through humility and patient submission to the moral law.
The tradition of the Church, the Cardinal argued, affirms a necessary harmony between human existence and the message of nature. To defend that tradition with firmness and clarity is to be neither repressive nor inhumane. Morality is “not the enslavement but the liberation of man”; it is the very basis of human freedom. Thus, “the moral law which the Church teaches is not a special burden for Christians, but man’s defense against the attempt to reduce him to nothing.”
Brave New World
On April 28, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin announced that women would no longer be excluded from flying combat missions in the Air Force and Navy and that he was ordering all the services to justify why women should be excluded from other combat units as well, including ground combat units. In contrast to the public outcry when the Administration announced its decision to lift the ban against homosexuals in the military, barely a peep of public protest greeted Secretary Aspin’s announcement with regard to women. Yet this decision portends considerably more potential harm than the homosexual issue, not only to the combat effectiveness of the U.S. military but, more importantly, to the principles that define our civilization. Nonetheless, making the case against women in combat has become increasingly difficult.
Those who favor allowing women in combat suggest that the issue is fundamentally one of equity. If women are capable of flying combat aircraft and choose to do so, why should we prevent them, especially when combat exclusion limits the career advancement of some of the most talented women in the military? When phrased this way, the argument has its own compelling logic. And opponents of women in combat often lose their way by focusing solely on the first premise: whether women indeed are physically as capable combatants as men. For surely, even if women on average don’t measure up, somewhere there is one woman (or dozens, or hundreds) who can outperform the least qualified if not the average male soldier. (In muscular strength tests administered by the Navy, seven percent of the women scored better than the lowest scoring males, though none scored as well as the average male.) If fitness is our only criterion, it is difficult to argue that the individual woman who can meet the physical, mental, and emotional standards required to fly combat aircraft or even to drive tanks should be kept from doing so. Of course, there are other arguments against introducing women into combat situations that have to do with their effect on morale and unit cohesion, but proponents argue that, given the military’s success at molding minds and hearts as well as bodies, the weight of these objections, too, can be overcome.
So long as the argument is framed in terms of equal opportunity, those who favor lifting the restrictions win the debate. But what happens to the equity argument when we focus on its second premise, that women who choose to serve in combat should be allowed to do so? Most of those who propose to eliminate combat exclusion demure when it comes to discussing mandatory combat assignments for women, as if the only issue were opportunity rather than obligation. Yet it is difficult to imagine on what legal basis combat assignments could remain voluntary for women while mandatory for men, or draft registration could be required of one sex and not the other once the laws and rules that exclude women from combat have been eliminated. In 1981, the Supreme Court ruled in Rostker v. Goldberg that a male-only draft registration was constitutional because its primary purpose was to acquire a “pool of combat troops,” and women were not eligible for combat assignment. Ironically, this case came to the court after Congress resoundingly defeated President Carter’s proposal that women be registered for the draft. The Court found that Congress’s objections were “not the accidental by-product of a traditional way of thinking about women” but based on empirical evidence that their exclusion served important military purposes. The courts have usually given the military great leeway even when service rules conflict with individual rights (such as restricting the right of military personnel to wear religious garb), but the basis of judicial deference has always been military necessity. If Secretary Aspin succeeds in opening up to women not only combat flight assignments but assignments on combat vessels and in ground units as well, it will be exceedingly difficult to argue, as the Defense Department did in Rostker, that military necessity precludes a gender-neutral draft or draft registration.
The issue of women in combat, then, becomes not whether some women want to serve but whether all women will be required to do so. Five countries now allow women to serve in some combat positions: Canada, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Great Britain, but none of these subjects women to involuntary combat assignment. Only one woman in the world was actually assigned to a combat infantry unit (in Denmark) last year; only six women worldwide have qualified to fly combat aircraft, and only two of these are currently on active flight status. Over thousands of years of civilization, women have fought in wars on only a handful of occasions (Soviet women at the end of World War II, and Israeli women in 1948, for example). In all instances, women fought only when their countries faced an imminent threat to national survival and there were not enough able-bodied men to do the job. But the United States faces no such threats today, nor is there dearth of men to defend this country, should it become necessary. There are those proponents of women in combat who argue that full citizenship demands that women be subject to the identical responsibilities as men—including the draft—but these voices are in the minority, certainly among politicians who only want to talk about opening up to women the military’s most glamorous jobs as fighter pilots. No one wants to talk about what full parity on the battlefield would mean. In Vietnam, it would have meant something like 24,000 young women dead, and many more thousands maimed or injured.
As the mother of three sons, I do not relish the prospects that they might someday be called into battle. But I have raised my sons to know their duty and to accept it. In these days of gender equality, we shrink from the notion that men and women play different roles in the scheme of things. If men are bigger and stronger, it is only some vestigial advantage they retain from our more primitive past, which in any event women can overcome if, like Cher or the amazons in the Reebok ad, they spend enough hours pumping iron. Women are still the only ones who can bear children, but this, too, may become less significant as medical technology advances from artificial insemination to artificial gestation. Science had better figure out a way of compensating for the unique child-bearing ability of young women if we plan on sacrificing them on the battlefield. As one critic of women in combat noted recently, had England sustained the same casualties among young women in World War I as it did young men, the British population could not have replenished itself to fight World War II. The loss of young men in war is tragic, but it does not threaten the survival of the population in the same way that the loss of fertile young women would.
The advocates of women in combat are taking us into some Brave New World whose perils we cannot fully anticipate. We should not enter blindly, however, expecting only that it will provide new opportunities for some women to advance their careers. If we are to go there, let us at least know that our entry will not be simply a voluntary step toward gender equality, but will soon enough become a compulsory march into the unknown. I find it hard to imagine that what we will find there will be a better place for women—or men, for that matter.
Where Religion and Freedom Meet
“Is religion compatible with liberty?”—this intricate and elusive question was the focus of a June conference held in Washington, D.C., and provocatively entitled “Liberty and Religion: In Harmony or Conflict?” Sponsored by the libertarian-oriented Cato Institute, the conference presented a wide spectrum of speakers and topics: from Walter Block of the College of the Holy Cross delineating the libertarian argument for drug legalization to Arthur McGovern of the University of Detroit cautioning against the dangers of the free market. Other participants included Robert H. Knight of the Family Research Council, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, Father Richard John Neuhaus, and Cato scholar Doug Bandow. This diversity allowed for a captivating exchange of ideas, but precluded a truly in-depth examination of the fundamental questions proposed.
The discussion centered on the complex relationship between religion and personal freedom. Most participants concurred that the two are compatible and, indeed, indispensable to each other. Religion’s dependence on liberty is quite evident, Cato President Edward H. Crane observed, for religious practice can exist only as an act of free will; where the state dictates human conduct, no true religion is possible.
Similarly, liberty cannot exist in the absence of religion, for as Danny Collum of the left-leaning Sojourners pointed out, only the Judeo-Christian belief that all men bear the image of God compels the regard for one’s fellowman from which political freedom grows. Several other speakers observed that only in light of this understanding does the truth “all men are created equal” become self-evident.
James D. Gwartney of Florida State University broadened this theme by explaining that religion not only provides the philosophical grounding for liberty, but plays a vital role in perpetuating personal freedom. While the market economy provides enormous economic liberties, he argued, it relies on religion to maintain the moral ecology within which market forces can function effectively. Danny Collum added that political and economic liberties alone are inadequate to satisfy human longing. Religion is necessary to foster a sense of community and a respect for the common good which make life meaningful.
Father Neuhaus addressed an important caveat to this line of thought by cautioning against “The Political Temptation.” While emphasizing the need for Christians and Jews to involve themselves in political matters, he argued that we must remain wary of human attempts to rival the sovereignty of God, that we must say “no” to government when it intrudes on areas proper to the Church and to God. “A politics of meaning,” he warned, “if taken seriously, is the idolatry of politics.”
In sum, the conference’s answer to the question, “Is religion compatible with liberty?” was a qualified yes—yes, but not entirely, at least not in this world. As a fallen race, we will always need government to moderate and assist our human commerce, but we shall never draw perfectly the line where government’s authority should end and religion’s begin. In this world, we can only struggle to draw and maintain that line with the best of our fallible human precision. Or, as Father Neuhaus concluded, “for us there is only the trying. We are not God; thank God that God is God.”
Governor Casey’s Condition
As we went to press, Pennsylvania Governor Robert P. Casey, whose brave defense of the rights of the unborn mark him as one of our country’s premiere public officials, was recuperating after emergency surgery. Governor Casey, 61, entered the hospital barely a day before the surgery, in which his dangerously deteriorated heart and liver were removed and replaced by organs from a 34year-old man who had died a week earlier after being beaten. The surgery was on June 14. The very rare procedure was performed at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
A Man Whose Life Embodied the Faith
A Catholic convert from Judaism and a pioneer in Catholic-Jewish relations worldwide, Monsignor John Oesterreicher, died of a heart attack on April 18, 1993, at the age of 89, at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, Livingston, New Jersey. Monsignor Oesterreicher was one of the principal contributors to the section on Judaism in “Nostra Aetate,” the declaration on other religions by Vatican II which inaugurated a new era of understanding and discourse among Catholics and Jews. He founded in 1953 the Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. The Institute was the first of its kind.
A Recurring Image
There appeared in May the third (sumptuously-produced) issue of Image: A Journal of the Arts & Religion launched four years ago by editors Harold Fickett of the Milton Center at Kansas Newman College, Wichita, and Gregory Wolfe of Front Royal, Virginia, founding editor of the former Hillsdale Review, former publications director of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and a prolific Catholic journalist. Wolfe and his wife, Suzanne, who is the journal’s associate editor, and their three children, will be joining the Milton Center this summer. An interview with Andre Dubus, a fairy tale by Owen Barfield, poetry by Dana Gioia, and a profile of Christian artist Edward Knippers grace the new issue’s pages. Subscriptions at $30 annually include a subscription and premiums, and a sample edition at $10 (a steal) may be had from Image at 3100 McCormick Avenue, Wichita, Kansas 67213. In its concern for religious art in the modern era, Image will hold its second annual conference in November at New Harmony, Indiana. Speakers will include several leading novelists, poets, painters, and academics.