October 1998

Salt of the Earth: Christianity and the Catholic Church at the End of the Millennium.  By Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Ignatius. 283 pages. $12.95.

Who is Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger? A Grand Inquisitor, a Teutonic Cardinal Richelieu, a former Hitler Youth who has transferred his totalitarian zeal to the Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? Far from being a ferocious Witch Hunter General, Ratzinger is a self-deprecating man who holds a position he never sought or desired — a man who saw his dream of composing his own theological opus dashed because of his appointment.

The son of a minor Bavarian functionary who detested Hitlerism from its inception, Ratzinger came from a devout family. As a seminarian, and against his will, he was enrolled in the Hitler Youth. He attended one meeting, for the sole purpose of having his seminary tuition reduced, and then never returned. If there’s a scandal here, it’s not that a German adolescent, under duress, attended one meeting of an organization he despised, but that the German churches were in thrall to governmental subsidies — a policy Hitler inherited and perverted rather than initiated. Perhaps another way of looking at it is to say that the boy Ratzinger ripped off the Nazis in order to serve the people of God.

In seminary Ratzinger was moved anew by the beauty and mystery of the Church. He was particularly engrossed by the works of Augustine, whom he saw as a vivid — and engagingly human — contrast to the often ponderous works of Scholasticism. He served in a parish and then became an immensely popular professor of theology. The quest for truth was his modus operandi. He earned a reputation for a piercing intellect and deep integrity.

Heralded as a leading progressive theologian, Ratzinger decried what he regarded as the Vatican’s neo-Scholastic rigidity, and with many colleagues (Karol Wojtyla among them) he welcomed the reforms of Vatican II. But he thinks their hopes were grievously disappointed. Ratzinger, while remaining committed to the work of Vatican II, is haunted by its unintended consequences. Remaining a theological progressive would have required him to give up his integrity. It was a bargain he would not make, and he still grieves over colleagues who did.

Ratzinger loves the Church unconditionally but not uncritically. He acknowledges that at present “Christianity is suffering an enormous loss of meaning,” and that our “public culture” is one “in which Christianity is not seen as a force….” Still he is exhilarated by the Church’s “power to provoke, that she is a thorn in the side and a contradiction…that we stand in opposition to the decline into the banal and the bourgeois and into false promises.”

- David Hartman



Huxley: From Devil’s Disciple to Evolution’s High Priest.  By Adrian Desmond. Addison-Wesley. 643 pages. $37.50.

Alfred C. Kinsey.  By James H. Jones. Norton. 773 pages. $39.95.

These biographies are bookends. One treats the beginning of our scientific worldview, the other its culmination. At the beginning was the Victorian naturalist Thomas H. Huxley (called “Darwin’s bulldog” for his fierce advocacy of the theory of evolution). Closer to our end is Alfred C. Kinsey, the American biologist whose training was in the study of gall wasps but whose fame comes from his “reports” on human sexual behavior.

Huxley became the “pope” of modern naturalism — the belief that only that which science can verify is true. In championing Darwin, he ruthlessly attacked any worldview that suggested the supernatural played any part in the world. In a more subtle way, Kinsey, too, was an advocate for that view. Though he projected a public image as a dispassionate scientist, Kinsey was in fact what some of his critics charged him with being: an enemy of traditional sexual morality. “Reducing and abolishing rigid controls on human sexual behavior was…the great cause of Kinsey’s life,” Jones writes.

What makes both books so valuable is that neither author intends to be a debunker — indeed, Jones makes clear his sympathy for Kinsey. But both books puncture myths put forward by the modern scientific establishment.

That establishment has put forth a public image of itself as objective and disinterested. These two books destroy that image. Almost every page of Desmond’s book on Huxley shows that Huxley was a committed missionary for the naturalistic worldview and agnosticism, seeking to destroy the worldview of the Church of England. That he was so successful says something about that Protestant church. “In some ways,” Desmond writes, “Agnosticism was the apotheosis of Dissent. It was the last act of the Protestant Reformation. To…John Henry Newman it was as ‘clear as day’ in 1840 ‘that Protestantism leads to infidelity.’” The worldview of Reformation England was easy prey for aggressive scientism.

Jones’s biography of Kinsey has warnings about science with a hidden agenda. It makes clear that Kinsey was a bisexual, a voyeur, an exhibitionist, and a masochist. He seduced male assistants, using his power over them to manipulate them in ways that would bring lawsuits for sexual harassment today and would have destroyed his image in his heyday if his behavior had been known.

Jones’s book should remind the faithful that hyperbole and outright lies can issue from the scientific establishment. Kinsey’s landmark survey, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” relied on shaky methods, Jones’s book shows. Kinsey seems not to have understood that a nonrandom sample is worthless. A study of 10,000 people interviewed in taverns will not give an accurate picture of the national patterns of drinking alcohol, yet in a sense that is what Kinsey did with sexuality. It has taken decades for many of his conclusions to be refuted.

Worst of all, Kinsey seems to have condoned pedophilia. Much of his information came from a source Kinsey called “Mr. X,” a well-heeled and extremely active child molester. For decades no one seemed to have noticed that much of Kinsey’s data on the sexuality of children was from the observations of a child molester’s attacks on children, some mere infants. (This Jones explicitly condemns.)

The lessons we may take from this? If scientists of the Huxley type are agnostics about religion, the religious must learn to be skeptical of the claims of science. When the Kinseys of the world, under the guise of science, attack religion, the religious should be equally determined to expose fraud masquerading as science.

There is a lesson about morality too. Huxley, the skeptic, was a doting husband and father, confounding preachers who said his unbelief implied immorality. But a generation later, Kinsey — a skeptical scientist who admired Huxley — was a man of tormenting sexual obsessions who abused people who fell into his control. Moral decay does not happen all at once, but gradually over time. It took a century for Huxley’s skepticism to eat away at the morality and metaphysics of Western civilization, a process that is still going on in our increasingly hollow society. The virus of Kinsey’s beliefs has been infecting our world for four decades, and may thus be expected to continue doing so for decades to come.

I don’t know that readers of the NOR need to rush out to spend nearly 40 bucks on either of these books. But understanding Huxley and Kinsey is vital for the work of those who must defend the faith and the flock against wolfish ideologies in scientific clothing.

- James E. Tynen



Real Politics.  By Jean Bethke Elshtain. Johns Hopkins University Press. 375 pages. $29.95.

Elshtain is one of our nation’s foremost political philosophers, and Real Politics is a collection of essays written over the course of the past twenty years, in which she engages in masterly counterpunching against some of the more aggressive social and political ideologies that have been plaguing American life. Radical feminism (her main opponent in these essays), scientism, Rortyian ironism, and deconstructionism are among the ideologies Elshtain criticizes effectively. Their common fault, Elshtain argues (in terms reminiscent of Reinhold Niebuhr), is the failure to recognize that “we are creatures as well as creators.” The failure to recognize our creatureliness leads to hubristic efforts to remold human nature, and to “a politics of coercion” wherein “the majority of human beings do not know their own minds,” a condition from which they need urgent release.

Elshtain ably points out that the epistemological and moral foundations upon which liberalism is based lead inexorably to a promotion of the “grandiose self.” Like Tocqueville, Elshtain recognizes that the liberal project, and its reifying of the sovereign self, leads not to a defense of limited constitutional government but to a form of monist statism. The state, under the liberal dispensation, sees itself as the instrument that will force men (and all the associations they choose to join) to respect the liberal conception of freedom and equality. Many radical feminists buy into the very same hubristic notion of selfhood. In short, liberals and feminists endorse an abstracted individualism that disconnects persons from the familial, social, and cultural contexts in which true personal development is possible. The natural human associations that make for a truly good life and can serve to limit the overweening pretensions of both the individual and the state are lost in the process.

Real Politics is a breath of fresh air in an environment besmogged by spiritual, epistemological, and moral confusion. It should be read by those who seek a strong criticism of the false doctrines that assail us.

- Robert P. Hunt





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