The Senator's new clothes
Iwas reading Thomas Frank's article ("The Shadow Capitol," October9) while half-watching a telecast from the National ConstitutionCenter of the presentation of the Liberty Medal to PresidentsGeorge H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. My attention was caught by thespeaker: dark suit; blue shirt with white collar and cuffs; shiny,rose-pink tie; small lapel pin. I couldn't see his cufflinks or hisshoes, but there, dressed in the uniform Frank describes as theheight of lobbyist chic, was Senator Rick Santorum, making avaliant effort to read what somebody had written for him. I wasreminded of another article I read, speculating that Santorum wasdeliberately trying to lose this year's Senate race so he couldmove over to the big bucks on K Street. If sartorial clues areaccurate, that article seems to have been on the right track.
sara k. davis
War of Words
For the past quarter-century, Steven Pinker and I have been onopposite sides of a major scientific divide about the nature ofmind and language. Now that such issues have entered politics inthe deepest of ways, those questions need to be aired in public,openly and honestly. Pinker's review of my book, Whose Freedom?,has begun the process, but in an unfortunate way ("Block thatMetaphor," October 9). Pinker uses the following rhetorical strategyat every major point: Claim that I say the opposite of what Ireally say; point out that that is ridiculous; then ridicule me forsaying such a thing. That is not how an open and honest discussionshould proceed. The editors of The New Republic only permitresponses of very short length in the printed version of themagazine, but they have graciously allowed my full response to beprinted online at www.tnr.com.
David Nirenberg's comments on Pope Benedict XVI's infamous lecturewere well- researched and entirely appropriate, but they might havegone further ("What Benedict Really Said," October 9). Paleologuswas not a Catholic but a Greek, and the Roman Catholic Church didnearly as thorough a job of trashing Constantinople as the Turksdid. Ratzinger's attempt to Catholicize him smacks of hispredecessor's pathetic attempt to Christianize the Holocaust todraw attention away from Pius XII's collaboration with Hitler. Asfor Islam's finger- waggers, they simply refuse to recognize thatPaleologus had every right to be peeved. Islam had been making waron the West for centuries, and it continued to do so. No "peacefulreligion" conquers half the known world at the behest of itsfounders. Until both Christians and Muslims get honest about theobvious fact that the more revolting aspects of their historieshappened not in spite of, but because of, their "sacred texts," nodialogue will be possible--just the smirky, disingenuous,politically correct oneupmanship that is currently fashionable.
daniel g. schaeffer
St. Louis, Missouri
Ihave no desire to defend the Pope's tactless, not to say foolish,reference to the opinion of a fourteenth-century Byzantine emperor.But I wonder if I must accept Nirenberg's notion that the Pope'smessage was that "Catholic Christianity is the only successfulblend of `Jewish' obedience to God (faith) with Greek philosophy(reason)." Nirenberg does say that this thesis "will be immediatelyintelligible to connoisseurs of German academic theology and toalmost no one else," and perhaps that disqualifies usnon-connoisseurs from having any grasp of the Pope's message. But Imust say this: I find in the address an insistence that, ifreligious dialogue is to succeed, it must be based on reason.Ratzinger considers historical challenges to the use of reason inreligious discussion: challenges from theology and challenges frommaterialistic science. But nowhere do I find him claiming that theproper use of reason is unique to Catholic Christianity. Nor do Ifind an implied denial of the scientific and rationalaccomplishments of people of religions other than CatholicChristianity. The Pope gives an example of a Muslim thinker whoclaimed that God was not bound by reason, but he also gives anexample of a Christian thinker with the same opinion (Duns Scotus).He explicitly states that Hellenistic Judaism absorbed Greekrationalism and profited from it. To be sure, he offers theCatholic tradition--rightly or wrongly--as a model of the properuse of reason in religious discussion, but nowhere does he claimthat the Catholic church is the exclusive proprietor of that kindof reason. I wonder if Nirenberg's knowledge of German academictheology has led him to read opinions into the Pope's speech thatare not, in fact, there.
John C. Moore
Emeritus Professor of History
Hempstead, New York
david nirenberg responds:
It is quite true, as Daniel G. Schaeffer points out, that relationsbetween Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians were sometimesviolent in the later Middle Ages (witness the Fourth Crusade, whichturned its swords on Christian Constantinople rather than onIslam). But Benedict nowhere attempts to "Catholicize" Paleologusin his Regensburg comments, and neither (so far as I know, I havenot systematically researched the question) has he sought to"Catholicize" the Orthodox Church in any other of his writings asPope. Paleologus is, for him, simply a good example of a Christianwho understood the need to balance "Jewish" faith and obediencewith "Greek" reason--and the failure of Islam to do so. The exampleitself makes clear that John C. Moore is also right to insist thatBenedict never says explicitly that only Catholicism can achieveand maintain this balance. That would be poor rhetoric, indeed, foran invitation to dialogue! No, he merely dedicates his speech toshowing that, throughout history, it has been the special missionof Catholic Europe to develop and defend this proper balance. Yes,the Pope says, Western Europe has had its moments of vertigo: theProtestant Reformation, Kant, modern scientific reason. There haveeven been some theologians within the Church who lost their way, asin the example of Duns Scotus stressed by Moore. But Moore omitsthe line that follows that example: "as opposed to this, the faithof the Church has always insisted." Benedict's words are carefullychosen. They do not preclude the possibility that Islam or anyother religion might achieve the proper balance; indeed, they seemto invite that possibility. But they never grant to any otherreligion a qualifying historical moment or historical figure, eventhough it is just as easy to find examples of rationalist movementsin (for example) Islam as it is to find a Duns Scotus inCatholicism. To this silence, Judaism is the only exception: It isgranted the moment of "Hellenistic" synthesis necessary to produceJesus and St. Paul. (Naturally, nothing is said of the many strandsof Judaism, before and since, that rejected this synthesis.) Thissame strategy is evident in the Pope's invitation to a "dialogue ofcultures." Many of the Pope's defenders claim that, in hiscomments, he was simply asking for a necessary base of common"reason" in the dialogue between religions. But the Pope actuallysaid something significantly different. He invited us all to "thisgreat logos, to this breadth of reason." The logos (God revealed inthe philosophical word), may be a form of reason, as Benedictargues, but it is manifestly not the only one. Nor is itnecessarily the broadest or the most indispensable to dialogue. Itis, rather, a particular kind of reason to which the Pope isinviting us--one that has, as he insists at every juncture of hislecture, a specifically, and heroically, Catholic history.
Department of corrections
In "Ay, Caramba" (November 6), Georgia Republican House candidateMac Collins was mistakenly referred to as the incumbent rather thanthe challenger. We regret the error.