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BY Jim Cosgrove
Some truly frightening news was announced just after Thanksgiving. A Massachusetts company said Nov. 25 that it had cloned human embryos in order to try to mine them for stem cells, which in turn would be used to treat disease.
It is the first time anyone has reported successfully cloning a human embryo (apart from hybrid man-beast creatures that have been attempted), and Advanced Cell Technology, Inc., based in Worcester, Mass., said it hopes the experiment will lead to treatments for diseases ranging from Parkinson's to juvenile diabetes.
The news was terrible and frightening, going beyond even the serious ethical problems that are always associated with creating human life apart from a human couple.
For one thing, headlines should have read, not “First Human Embryos Cloned,” but “First Human Clones Killed.”
Human embryos may not look like babies, as fetuses do, but they are certainly human lives. Even modernist ethicists like Princeton's Peter Singer admit this. He says that, when he argues for killing embryos, he doesn't argue that they aren't human — he says he can't win that debate. Rather, he finds it necessary to argue that sometimes human beings have no right to life.
And so, a society that the Pope calls a “culture of death” has escalated far beyond the 1.3 million abortions reported every year, to countless deaths of embryos in labs around the world.
But there is another reason, apart from the deaths surrounding it, that this first cloning is particularly horrible. For many people, the only trouble with cloning is that it conjures eerie images of children who look exactly like one of their parents, with exactly the same character traits.
The reality is much more frightening: These clones aren't intended to become adults or even infants. They are created, rather, because some hope their cells can be useful in fighting diseases.
These human lives, in other words, are being harvested for their body parts as part of an experimental treatment for the living. That's as frightening as any science-fiction premise.
As Christians, we know that man does not have the last word in human affairs. The Lord of history is Jesus Christ — who once said, “What you do to one of the least of my brothers, you do unto me.”
Are not tiny embryos the “least of his brothers”?
And yet cloning is not as unusual as we may think. It is, after all, just a variation on the common theme of creating life in labs rather than in love.
Couples considering in vitro fertilization therapies need to consider this: Their act is not all that different from cloning. They also need to consider the serious moral implications involved:
E They are putting their embryos — their offspring — at grave risk.
E They are perpetuating a system that has had disastrous consequences. In one recent case, two divorced parents sued a surrogate mother to make her abort their child. Such cases point to a flaw at the heart of in vitro fertilization — and put dangerous new powers in judge's hands.
E Their child, rather than being conceived in love and growing in the womb of its mother, is created and developed outside the context of the marital union.
The Church, presciently, spoke out against cloning before it existed — and against in vitro fertilization before it was popular. Her prophetic wisdom, is the voice of the one who commands the world in no uncertain terms to love the least ones the most.
BY Jim Cosgrove
Dialogue of Civilizations
Victory changes everything. We hope our progress in Afghanistan will bring new opportunities to build peaceful solutions in the war on terrorism.
The weeks of bombing were starting to wear thin on many Americans. New doubts were arising about the campaign. What good was it doing? No doubt the Taliban was doing much evil—but was it really a legitimate target in retaliation for a Sept. 11?
After the Northern Alliance took over Kabul—and sent the Taliban scrambling—western journalists began to find out in detail just what sort of “haboring of terrorists” Afghanistan's government was doing.
In Taliban strongholds, said The Washington Post Nov. 16, reporters found “grenades [sitting] on a closet shelf, beside sheets of paper bearing fake stamps for travel documents, including one from the U.N. High Commissioner.”
Eerily, there was also a “composition book filled with detailed recipes in English for making bombs with various chemicals and household products. Nearby, a small notebook held Arabic instructions for using Russian mortars and artillery, advice for successful suicide attacks and, in crude English, a note beginning ‘Dear Osamma.’”
Al Qaeda had residences and offices right in the Taliban headquarters. According to the Times of London, partly burned papers in one of their houses including instructions on building an atomic bomb.
In short, the U.S.-led strikes in Afghanistan seem to have scored an important victory.
In a recent interview, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's doctrinal point-man, offered an explanation of the right to national self-defense that seems to apply to the war against the Taliban. “According to the Christian tradition, one cannot exclude that, in a world marked by sin, there might be an evil aggression that threatens to destroy not only values and people, but also man's image as such,” the cardinal said. “In this case, to defend oneself in order to defend the other could be a duty.”
It is important, at the same time, to see the tragedies that have accompanied our victory. Afghan civilians killed in battle will never taste on earth the freedoms their countrymen are now reveling in. Their relatives, including orphans, are mourning, not celebrating.
In addition to the military actions that await, the hard part of our work in Afghanistan is just beginning—rebuilding.
We must begin what Pope John Paul II has called the “dialogue of civilizations.” An attitude that holds Muslims in contempt is not only unchristian, it's unhelpful.
It may not have as nice a ring to it as “Clash of Civilizations” does. And a dialogue's parameters may be even harder to define. But we must answer violence with something more than violence if we want to live without fear.
An Absent God?
An e-mail has been going around purporting to tell the story of Billy Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, being interviewed on the CBS “Early Show” on Sept. 13. Here's the actual transcript: Jane Clayson: “I've heard people say (those who are religious, those who are not) ‘If God is good, how could God let this happen?’ To that, you say?”
Anne Graham Lotz: “Well, I say that God is also angry when he sees something like this. And I would say also that for several years now, Americans, in a sense, have shaken their fists at God and said, ‘God, we want you out of the schools, we want you out of our government, we want you out of our business, we want you out of our marketplace.’ And God, who is a gentleman, has just quietly, I believe, backed out of our national and political life, our public life and removing his hand of blessing and protection. And we need to turn to God, first of all, and say, ‘God, we're sorry that we have treated you this way and we invite you now to come into our national life. We put our trust in you.’”
Good News for Life
BY Jim Cosgrove
Along with frightening news about terrorist attacks and sad news about war, been we've been inundated with bad news from home. Under cover of the war's smoke, politicians from California to Massachusetts have continued to push radical agendas mandating that employers cover contraceptive and abortion services and giving marriage-like benefits to the usually temporary pairings of homosexual partners.
More bad news is sure to come, but for now let's relish a few items of good news on the culture-of-life front.
Assisted suicide. The tragic Oregon law that turned doctors into killers wasn't merely a local matter. It implicated the federal government as well. In order to prescribe deadly doses of controlled medicines, doctors needed the permission of the U.S. Attorney General.
In the last administration, that office was glad to give the green light. Allowing medicines to kill, of course, runs counter to the very purpose the federal government has in regulating medicines to begin with.
Now, Attorney General John Ashcroft has announced that he will return to a policy in line with the civilized world. Hereforth, the feds are against making doctors participants in the false compassion of mercy killings.
In a letter to Drug Enforcement Administration head Asa Hutchinson, the attorney general demanded the suspension or revocation of the drug licenses of doctors who prescribe death. Ashcroft's move effectively invalidates Oregon's assisted-suicide law.
Post-abortion syndrome. Buried deep in the appropriations bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education that recently passed the Senate, Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review found an amendment that recognizes the existence of “post-abortion depression and post-abortion psychosis.”
There's good news and bad news about the amendment. But the bad news isn't as significant as the good.
The good news: The amendment asks the National Institutes of Health to “expand and intensify research and related activities . . . with respect to post-abortion depression and post-abortion psychosis.”
The bad news: It has no teeth. The National Institutes of Health can ignore it without fear (and probably will). But the significant thing is that, if it survives and the president signs the bill, post-abortion syndrome will be recognized for the first time federally.
As Vicky Thorn, the founder of Project Rachel, pointed out in the Register, post-abortion syndrome is becoming too big a problem to ignore. She said abortion's “other victims” will lead the way to the defeat of abortion in America.
That's because these women know something abortion's law-makers — who are, after all, mostly men — choose to ignore. Abortion isn't an empowering “choice” that sets women free. It's a deadly decision, usually made in desperation and at the insistence of a baby's father, that haunts a woman for life.
As more and more of these women rise up against the abusive culture of abortion, the more difficult it will be for pro-abortion activists to ignore all the pain they cause.
Catholics needn't lose heart over the steady drumbeat of bad news. Good things continue to happen for the culture of life. With effort and prayer, even better things could be in store.
BY Jim Cosgrove
Anthrax-laced letters bearing messages that “Allah is great” dominate our headlines. New York continues to dig out the pile of rubble and corpses left there by Mohammed Atta and a gang of killers who left behind copies of the Koran.
These terrorists are clearly outside the mainstream of Islam. But is their something in Islam itself that should worry us?
The Catholic Church, in the Second Vatican Council and since, has proclaimed its deep respect for Islam, and called Catholics to a dialogue with it. To do so, we need to see and celebrate Islam's beauty. But we also need to acknowledge points of vigorous disagreement between the way of Christ and the way of Mohammed.
As Vatican II put it in Nostra Aetate, its Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions: The Church “has a high regard for the Muslims, who worship one God, living and subsistent, merciful and omnipotent, the Creator of heaven and earth” (No. 3).
Pope John Paul II, in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope adds: “As a result of their monotheism believers in Allah are particularly close to us.”
This is the fundamental attitude of Catholics toward Islam: We see profundity in its simple teaching about God and a high moral standard in its call to surrender to his will.
But this isn't the whole story of what we see there.
“Whoever knows the Old and New Testaments, and then reads the Koran, clearly sees the process by which it completely reduces divine Revelation,” writes the Holy Father. “In Islam all the richness of God's self-revelation, which constitutes the heritage of the Old and New Testaments, has definitely been set aside.”
While John Paul notes that some of the “most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran,” he adds that, “He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us.”
In a word: “Islam is not a religion of redemption.”
Islam has “no room” for the Cross, the Resurrection, the Incarnation, he writes. “For this reason not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity. ”
In our dialogue with Islam we should be moved to see and imitate its beauty — but to reject and mitigate its truncated understanding of man.
What is there to imitate? Among others, the Pope mentions the attitude of those who, “without caring about time or place, fall to their knees and immerse themselves in prayer.” The Focolare Movement and the Sant Egidio Community have embraced Vatican II's call to dialogue with Muslims. Their efforts have borne much fruit. They are open to seeking the good in Islam, and have made many Muslims more open to the redeeming message of the Gospel.
At the same time, the Pope doesn't recommend naivete.
Presciently, he notes that “In [Islamic] countries where fundamentalist movements come to power, human rights and the principle of religious freedom are unfortunately interpreted in a very one-sided way — religious freedom comes to mean freedom to impose on all citizens the 'true religion.’ In these countries the situation of Christians is sometimes terribly disturbing. Fundamentalist attitudes of this nature make reciprocal contacts very difficult. All the same, the Church remains always open to dialogue and cooperation.”
So, what should Catholics think of Islam?
We should see its beauty and think it a very good thing indeed. But it should also remind us of the fundamental difference between Christianity and all other religions.
That's in the Christian conviction that God is love, and that to love is man's most important duty. Only by being true to this central tenet of our faith will Catholics advance.
BY Jim Cosgrove
Midsummer Night's Pause
Summers are supposed to be slow in the news business. Not this one.
It is good, from time to time, to take a break from comment on the news to comment about the news. Particularly in the summer. Many readers will have taken vacations in the past month. If you're one of them, think of this column as a guide to help you navigate through the issues you missed.
In our pages during July:
The Pope right-hand man described the Holy Father's meetings with Ali Agca.
Bush's faith-based initiatives came under fire from all sides.
A British politician decried the hunt for Down syndrome babies to abort.
The news we reported included: new anti-religion rules concocted by the psychological establishment, Marian apparitions in Rwanda, an abortion speaker stopped by a Catholic university, a feminist group's awards for liberal pro-lifers, one man's successful effort to ban convenience-store pornography, the New Orleans diocese's new lifestyle policy, an Episcopalian priest who became a Catholic laywoman, Mormon baptisms ruled invalid, the status of President Bush's outreach to Catholics, and how the Pope spent his vacation.
We even featured a number of animals: Michael, the gorilla who “dreamed” of world peace, Aslan the lion a publisher wants to “de-fang”, the goats of the Franciscan Life Center; and a shark whose life-threatening attack on a little boy was thwarted by a prayerful family and bishop.
All of that was in addition to headliner stories such as: John Paul II meeting Bush, the Pope in Ukraine, Milwaukee's cathedral renovations, new U.S. Communion norms, the mandatum, federal judges vs. Catholic teaching on contraception coverage, an archbishop's excommunication, the sainthood cause in Lady Diana Spencer's family, Canadian judges who ruled the Bible to be hate speech, and two high-profile cases in which priests’ secrets have become highly-sought evidence.
And so that our features writers don't feel left out, we should also note that July saw the fine debut of Irish columnist David Quinn, commentary on A.I. in Indepth and Arts & Culture features, books from the useful (Where Can You Find That in the Bible? and The One-Minute Philosopher) to the inspirational (My Life on the Rock), and travel destinations that give pilgrims Vietnam in California, Italy in New York, and Belgium in a Wisconsin wood.
This midsummer night's pause can serve as a reminder to readers (particularly those with renewals due in August) of just how much the Register brings you, week to week.
Scientists Outsmart Themselves
President Bush has yet to decide whether or not he will use executive privilege to fund embryo research.
Whatever the outcome of his decision — and we pray he will follow Pope John Paul II's warning and ban it — one reader has pointed out how the very discussion has scored a few points for pro-lifers.
By arguing for embryo research, scientists have basically ceded whatever remained of the argument that life doesn't begin at conception, but at some point later on. Scientists say they must use human embryos for their research because they need living tissue from a human. Animals won't do. Cadavers won't do.
In other words, scientists have assured us that embryos are both human and alive.
Unfortunately, the irony is that it's only because scientists know that embryos are living humans that scientists are so eager to pretend that their deaths-by-research don't matter.
But we should point out, again and again, the ground that science has conceded: Discussions about embryo research are discussions about ending human lives.
Flirting With the Dragon
BY Jim Cosgrove
China looks like the world's biggest economic opportunity in the first half of the 21st century; for America to distance itself from that goldmine looks utterly foolish to most businessmen.
But we think America would be foolish to stay too close to the Chinese government.
In our Inperson interview last week, China expert Steve Mosher gave us an idea of China's mindset. “In China, you name a human right and the government of China is abusing it — freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience, freedom to practice one's faith — these are all forbidden to the Chinese people,” he said.
“China persecutes not only Christians, but minorities such as the Uigers in the West, Mongols and Manchus in the North, and Tibetans in the South. While some countries violate some human rights, China has the distinction of violating all human rights regularly.”
So why is the United States suddenly so willing have a close relationship with a nation like that?
Perhaps it's because Americans have always had a quiet (and appropriate) reverence for Chinese culture.
From The King and I to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon our popular entertainment has envied primal Eastern civilization. From Pearl S. Buck to Amy Tan, our fiction has explored the country's villages and introduced us to its people. We take-out Chinese when we're dating and we buy China when we get engaged. We are charmed by fortune cookies and entranced by The Last Emperor.
There is certainly great beauty in the Chinese culture and its people. But that shouldn't make us forget the great threat of China's geopolitical ambitions.
China's self-concept is one that can be frighteningly familiar to the post-World War II West. China is very aware of sheer size and the power that its mammoth population gives it. Chinese elite call the country Tian-Xia, which means “All Under Heaven.” The government seems to operate under the assumption that it is a master race.
China isn't a benign player on the world scene; it's a monster. It is a regime controlled by a frightening ideology who are bent on taking over the world.
When we trade with China, we're thinking in economic terms. But what are the Chinese elite thinking? We speak of how our trade with China will open the country to Western ideas of freedom, justice and democracy. But how likely is it that “All Under Heaven” will undergo a political metanoia just because its sweatshops are churning out Happy Meal toys?
And in America's present-day culture-of-death phase, is our command of freedom, justice and democracy great enough to attract converts in the East anyway?
Chances are, the opposite is true. Over the past 20 years of trade with China, we have become much more like them than they have become like us. Our family sizes have shrunk almost to their government-imposed one-child limit. Abortion has become as important a value to many of our politicians as it is for theirs. And while China's abuse of religious rights hasn't abated, our commitment to religious freedom has, from crèches in public places to the dismantling of the conscience rights of doctors.
In classical literature, weak people always deal with dragons the same way: by appeasing them. That plan always works to the benefit of the dragon, not the villagers (or its maidens), and America should reject that strategy.
Rather, President Bush is being called by Providence to do to China what Ronald Reagan did in the Soviet Union.
America should have a zero-tolerance rule toward China's abuses. Our military should be as wary of Beijing as it was of Moscow. No Olympics should be held in China under its current regime. Trade should be curtailed, starting with companies in any way associated with the military (and that's a long list). Finally, the disastrous sharing of technology with the Peoples’ Liberation Army that started under the Clinton administration must certainly stop.
Is it a hopeless situation? Certainly not. Greater things have happened against greater odds. Just look at the empty tomb.
BY Jim Cosgrove
The fallout from the shocking stories of the fetal parts trade continues — and now Wisconsin legislators are getting into the act.
In August, evidence suggesting that companies were harvesting and profiting from the unborn babies removed in late-term abortions was released by a Denton, Texas, pro-life group, Life Dynamics. The Register has been tracking the story since November, when the U.S. House called for hearings to investigate the “trafficking of baby body parts for profit.”
The coverage has already helped spur one group to form to oppose the practice: Women Against the Killing and Exploitation of Unprotected Persons or WAKE-UP (see the Jan. 30-Feb. 5 Register).
Now, on Feb. 17, Wisconsin state Rep. Sheryl Abers, a Republican, and Sen. Robert Breske, a Democrat, introduced legislation to outlaw the practice.
The legislation would outlaw the selling of any organ, tissue, blood or body part of any aborted baby. It was spurred in part by media reports of price sheets listing the costs of body parts.
The organization Pro-Life Wisconsin told of one reputed parts-seller that listed the gory details: $999 for a baby's brain, $150 for a liver and $75 for babies' eyes.
“Pro-lifers have long suspected that the body parts of aborted babies were being sold to research facilities for profit,” said Peggy Hamill, president of Pro-Life Wisconsin. “This new documentation confirmed our fears.”
The two co-sponsors, and their supporters, are to be commended. Whatever the fate of their bill, by putting this issue in the public forum they will only help bring more attention to the matter. And the more the public hears about the gruesome reality of today's culture of death, the better.
Which state will be next?
* * *
Walk the Talk in Sudan
Sudanese Bishop Macram Max Gassis is on a mission to tell the world about the atrocities in his war-torn homeland (see Inperson, Page 1). There, civilians and children are being attacked, sold into slavery and forcibly converted by Sudanese forces in the country's civil war. Particularly egregious was a Feb. 8 bombing attack on a Catholic grade school that killed 15.
The bishop has brought his cry for help to the highest levels of the U.S. government. A partial response came from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Feb. 16:
“Appalled by the bishop's description of the government's bombing campaign against civilian targets,” a spokesman said, “Secretary Albright reaf-firmed the determination of the United States to do everything it can to bring an end to the tragic civil war in Sudan.”
But what does this “everything” entail?
At a Washington summit on Africa the next day, Albright spoke eloquently about the tragedies in the Sudan, some of which she saw firsthand in a recent visit. But she was less specific what action the United States would take.
“We have taken a major role in trying to energize a regional peace process,” she said.
That simply isn't enough. Nor are the United States'recent sanctions against Sudan. Undertaken for commendable motives, they were greeted with a shrug of the shoulders from Sudan's warlords. The sanctions' main effect seems to have been to bring record first-quarter earnings to a Canadian company that still trades with Sudan. There are many diplomatic avenues available to the United States to put pressure on errant nations. When will these be tried?
The destruction of children at an elementary school, if it had happened in Europe or America, would make those responsible the target of a strong, systematic response. No one would be satisfied with the United States “trying to energize a regional peace process” after a promise to do “everything it can” to answer such a tragedy.
It is time for America's leaders to speak as loudly for the people of Sudan with actions as they have with words.
The Narrow Gate
“IF THEN YOU were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3, 1-4). Such was the magnificent reading Easter morning. This year, Easter brought with it an extra burst of life and hope in the wake of the horror of the mass suicide in Southern California, news of which began trickling in on the Wednesday of Holy Week and reached a crescendo of coverage that, at press time, had barely peaked.
The Easter morning words of St. Paul gained added poignancy as they were read against the backdrop of what most profoundly was a perversion of belief in the Easter mystery. Marshall Herff Applewhite promised his followers a kind of resurrection; he, too, counseled Heaven's Gate members “to think of what is above,” to fight this-worldly temptations (in what now turns out to be a bizarre twist in the cult leader's failure to come to terms with his homosexuality, an obsession that led to Applewhite's castration and that of several other men in his group).
Applewhite, on one of several videos, calmly set forth the logic of having to leave all worldly distractions, friends, family and eventually even the body behind. His was the voice of reason. And many clearly intelligent individuals, like the pair that appeared on CBS's 60 Minutes— one of whom thought nothing of basically abandoning his two-year-old daughter—found the man convincing.
Television news soon got access to the macabre footage taken by authorities as they explored the rooms were the bodies were found, purple shrouds and all, lifeless alabaster-white hands visible in some cases. The Sheriff's deputies'grim task contrasted with the experience of Mary of Magdala, who, John recounts, “came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.” Soon after, she was able to tell the disciples: “I have seen the Lord” (Jn 20, 1;18).
David Gelernter, a Yale professor of computer science, argued in The New York Times that society's gradual marginalization of and “crusade against” traditional religion is the main culprit. Americans, he said, “have never been more confused about good and evil, righteousness and wickedness, God and man.” Like so many of us, Applewhite's disciples felt a spiritual longing and, according to Gelernter, “their souls needed religion but their minds were stocked only with Hollywood junk.” Hence, their ready belief in the imminent arrival of an alien spacecraft dispatched to fetch them.
It is no doubt true that traditional religion has in many respects been virtually outlawed in contemporary society by the courts, the media and other social elites, if you will. But some of the blame must certainly be shouldered by Christian, Jewish and other religious leaders for not doing more to broadcast the riches of their traditions. Much if not most of their energy is spent on maintaining a defensive posture vis-a-vis the evils of the world instead of, pardon the expression, a more proactive approach to responding to people's hunger for meaning.
Christianity for one can bank on a storehouse of mysticism that, properly deployed, would leave the average New Age practitioner and crackpot cultist in the dust. Our heaven is for real. The trick is how to get the word out beyond the flatness, facile optimism or mere moralizing that marks so many of the homilies and other Church-sponsored occasions the average person is exposed to.
Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. 140-200 AD), spoke of heaven as a place of “communion with the holy angels, and union with spiritual beings.” For Augustine, heaven means that “we shall have eternal leisure to see that He is God. … There we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise. This is what shall be in the end without end.” Those with a penchant for science would enjoy Cardinal Pierre de Berulle (1575-1629), for whom heaven lay at the heart of a cosmos animated by “the science of salvation.” “Jesus, in his grandness,” the cardinal said, “is the immobile sun which makes all things move.”
This is but a smattering of the enormous riches the Church has to offer. It is a shame to let such great potential go unused. Because in the end there is no doubt that the Christian message in its fullness is a cure for all that ails us and that brought some to follow Applewhite into the abyss. But there is hope for them, and their families, too. “What we proclaim in this Easter season is ‘an empty tomb,’” said Bishop Anthony Pilla of Cleveland, president of the bishops'conference. “We proclaim that Christ Jesus cannot be found among the stench and decay of death. He has crushed that under foot and can only be found gloriously and victoriously alive. Can we see this?”
All You Need Is Love
BY Jim Cosgrove
In a rare treat, the International Herald Tribune caught up recently with Brian Eno, the pioneer of electronic music and avant-garde rock. Mentor and collaborator of such heavyweights as David Bowie, John Cale, Talking Heads and U2, the 48-year-old wizard seems to have turned his back on music-making. These days he is finding meaning in work with a charity called War Child, which sends relief supplies to Bosnia. Its worth quoting him in full: “Music,” he said, “is no longer the center of the cultural conversation. … [Once] everybody's metaphors and reference points were very clear and common and they all went through a relatively small cosmology of musicians and pieces of music. Music mediated culture. Music is still nice and young people like it, but its a kind of ad-on. Not essential. So I wondered— where is the cultural conversation now?” According to Eno, “the counterculture has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the establishment. The counterculture is Calvin Klein. The young, by and large, seem to have been suckered” and are buying into “a surrogate counterculture.”
Whatever the blindspots of the generation of the 60s and 70s and the negative fall-out of the eras social experimentation, Eno is the product of a time of high idealism, of risk-taking and belief in change and progress. Music, indeed, for that generation was the medium that carried the pulse of the day. There was a shared sense of reality. And while many abhorred the excesses of the day, some products of the age had universal appeal—most notably, the Beatles, whose music swept up everyone, old and young.
It is hard to disagree with Eno that commercialism rules the day in the 90s, coopting anybody and anything that can serve its purposes.” No matter what you do today,” he says, “there are all these ponytailed admen at the finish line giving you this huge bear hug. And it occurred to me that a noble aspiration for a young artist today would be to try and make art that is too ugly to be used for advertising.” Or too ugly to appear on “anything goes” music television and cable. Or, maybe too much integrity could be a deterrent.
Again, Eno: “A great deal of peoples behavior is mediated culturally rather than rationally. People make decisions about what they think they ought to do on the basis not of rational argument but on what works for them metaphorically; what has been given dignity in their culture, and how they respond to that.” There is a premium today on the autonomy of the individual (the 60s gone overboard?), self-expression and self-realization, more or less regardless of the effect on the common good. That notion, moreover, has degenerated into something like a communal flight from intimacy and the common right to consume the entertainment of the moment. In this regard, young, old and in-between all have their drugs of choice. The cultural conversation, or what passes for it, is a cacophony of voices, a Tower of Babel. In this supposed global village no one is really listening anyway.
Could any single cultural force again unite all of society, as groundbreaking music was once able to or, on a far grander scale, as Christendom did in once bringing social, political and spiritual cohesion to the peoples of Europe (even as minorities fell victim to prejudices and excessive zeal)? That is precisely what John Paul II has in mind when he speaks of the “New Evangelization.” (And this time, he suggested in his letter previewing the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, the Church will do it right and start with a clean slate after acknowledging and making amends for the mistakes of the past.)
To help renew society, the Judeo-Christian tradition must become a participant in the cultural conversation; it cannot afford to just condemn things from the cultural margins, focus exclusively on the political process, or recruit social elites. To put it in today's lingo, it has got to become hip and cool to be a believer; desirable and dignified to be committed to a spiritual life. This does not mean glossing over the difficult side of faith or compromising any essentials; it does mean gaining entrance into the culture, though, because, as Eno made clear, culture mediates meaning. To be successful, the Church has to be clever— and subtle.
If anything can renew the culture, it is love, authentic love. The remedy for the dearth of life-giving relationships, it is the benchmark, says French Dominican Guy Bedouelle , of authentic art (page 7). As a film critic and theologian, he has high hopes for film-making—its capability of celebrating creation and hinting at eternal life—as a conveyor of meaning in the media age. The work of the best directors, he suggests, is “dictated by love.” May all of us respond to the promptings of that Muse.