Godless: The Church of Liberalism. By Ann Coulter. Crown Forum. 320 pages. $27.95.
Since his wooden-faced days in the Clinton Administration, Al Gore has transformed himself into a latter-day fire-and-brimstone preacher, pontificating against global warming to unschooled disciples who receive his infallible dogmas with zeal. Given the former Vice President's media canonization, Ann Coulter could not have asked for a more perfect illustration of the premise that drives her latest book -- that liberalism has evolved into a formal religion, having its "own cosmology, its own miracles, its own beliefs in the supernatural, its own churches, its own high priests, its own saints, its own total worldview, and its own explanation of the existence of the universe."
Yes, there's irony here. The segment of America that is intent on removing every vestige of traditional religion in government, education, and science, and that passionately campaigns against "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, has effectively created its own cult of demigods and prophets. In Godless: The Church of Liberalism, the controversial Washington attorney known for her intellectual bar brawls, dissects each tenet of the liberal creed as she sees it -- abortion, sex education, sanctification of criminals, and more -- and methodically shows the faulty footing on which each is based.
One of the most basic tenets of the liberal religion is Charles Darwin's politically en vogue theory of evolution -- you know, we all evolved from monkeys, who evolved from monkey-faced fish, who evolved from long-tailed parameciums. Surprisingly, almost half of Godless is dedicated to debunking Darwinism (liberalism's "creation story") and its blind followers. Coulter first takes aim at the "science" of evolution, exposing its more blatant deceptions. She points out, for example, that the argument for Darwin-style evolution begins with an assumption (not a valid premise) and continues with assumption after assumption until its proponents arrive at the conclusion they set out to reach: that the universe was created without the help of a Supreme Being. Though they have expended a great deal of time and countless resources, the "Darwiniacs" have not even come close to proving their point. They rely, instead, on a little help from their friends.
Coulter demonstrates this in her discussion of the absurd assumptions of "random mutation" and "survival of the fittest." Liberals not only support these theories, they glorify them in movies such as the 1960 Spencer Tracy blockbuster Inherit the Wind, which perpetuates the myth of the Scopes "monkey trial." In what Coulter calls the "Book of Hollywood," John Scopes is portrayed as a brave high school biology teacher who was nearly lynched by fundamentalist Christians who stormed his classroom and arrested him on the spot for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. In reality, Scopes was solicited by civic leaders in Dayton, Tenn., to take part in a publicity stunt to put their little town smack dab in the middle of the evolution controversy. Scopes agreed to be prosecuted even though he had never taught evolution and was not even a science teacher! He spent no time in jail and was offered renewal of his teacher's contract when the trial was over. The Hollywood version has Scopes hauled off to jail and terrorized there. Despite the fact that this "trial of the century" was a fraud, Inherit the Wind is still shown in history classrooms throughout the nation and treated as historical fact.
Coulter also addresses the ramifications of a blind acceptance of Darwinism, not the least of which was the rise of the eugenics movement, which manifested itself in Nazi concentration camps.
"To be sure," Coulter asserts, "other books were published on the eve of the bloody twentieth century. But Hitler and Marx were not citing Louisa May Alcott's Little Women for support. They were citing Darwin."
After all the careful attention Coulter devotes to the subject of evolution, arguably the religious tenet dearest to the hearts of the liberal flock, mainstream criticism leveled against Godless failed to broach the issue with even a passing nod. Instead, reviewer after reviewer, talking head after talking head, focused primarily on a single line deemed to be a "mean-spirited" attack (it wasn't) on helpless victims known as the "Jersey Girls," four widows who lost their husbands in the attack on the World Trade Center.
Godless is so much more than its detractors have addressed. If these same critics had actually read the book -- some even brag that they will never read it! -- they could have been outraged by so much more. It's a pity that they did not take the opportunity to attempt a well-reasoned criticism of the book. But, as Thomas Edison said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
- Mary Jo Rose
Letters to a Doubter. By Paul Claudel. Roman Catholic Books. 256 pages. $22.95.
In 1907 Paul Claudel received a pleading letter from 20-year-old Jacques Rivière, a philosophy student who had lost his faith and discovered his mentors had nothing to replace it. In answering, Claudel began a friendship which was to last the rest of the younger man's life. Roman Catholic Books has published this translation, which could have been written to any doubting youth of today if the language were less flowery. Claudel sent a reply to Rivière welcoming him as a child of God and promising friendship -- man to man.
Rivière saw in Claudel a man who knew what he believed in, and who could guide him. Claudel was already a distinguished writer, as well as a member of the French Diplomatic Department, but he'd been a doubter too, and now was celebrated as both brilliant and orthodox. Claudel had published and had performed two versions of two plays, in addition to numerous poems and essays, as well as diplomatic papers and reports. When he received Rivière's fan mail, he saw that Rivière had made an effort to know his writing and that the young man was sincere. The correspondence continued.
Claudel gently told his young friend the proofs of the existence of God from the viewpoint of a believer at first, then from that of a logical genius and a celebrated poet and playwright. Most of the letters were saved by Isabelle Rivière, whose short biography of her husband's life and death is the Prologue.
Claudel assured Rivière of his real concern, and then systematically taught him the five proofs for the existence of God. He incorporated a lot of good advice, such as, "You have to earn a living because you have loved ones who depend on you." In France during that period, conversion would not be easy, as atheistic secularism made for an easy life.
Among other things, Claudel told Rivière to begin to say his prayers, even if he were distracted. Go to daily Mass, if possible, so as to follow the cycle of the Church year. Wear the scapular, and pray the Rosary and the Way of the Cross. He also said to practice the works of active charity, perhaps join the St. Vincent de Paul Society. He told him that the Christianity of the 17th century was dry and austere: to read Dante, Chesterton, and as much as you can find (in 1907) of Newman. And, of course, the Bible, "an orthodox version." Try to read St. Thomas -- but not all at once: "He is an affair of years." And St. Teresa and the lives of the saints, "however badly they may be written." He told Rivière, "Youth is formed not for pleasure but for heroism -- which is what it takes for conversion."
Claudel discussed perfection as a proof of the existence of God, and all the other Thomistic arguments, but Rivière still could not agree. Claudel suggested pride as the obstacle, and Rivière agreed. Claudel suggested books, and Rivière read them. Claudel said he'd pray the Rosary every day for his young friend, and Rivière said he would too. He wrote that his prayers, which had at first been murmured formulae, now were vehement, and Claudel rejoiced.
In January 1914 Rivière told him that he had received Communion, which meant that he had finally gone to Confession, and Claudel rejoiced further. The letters end there, but in the Foreword, Marie Rivière describes Jacques's death at 39 in 1925.
Though Claudel had been recognized as a genius by the French literary community, he was not read much outside of France, partly because translations were either not available, or not true to the nuances of "beautiful French." Also, he published much of his work himself, so there would be no publicity to interfere with his diplomatic work, which took him to many countries and gave him an opportunity to write on myriad subjects. Only after his retirement did he belong to the French Academy. He continued writing, his theme always Catholicism, until his death at 87. Many of his works have never been translated, so the editors at Roman Catholic Books have done us all a favor.
- Rosemary Kaenel