Spring 2000, Vol. 3, No. 1

Contents Page,
Vol. 3, No. 1


Quick Links
to other articles
in this issue:
From the Editor: Wars of Religion

Charitable Choice and the New Religious Center

Religious Ironies in East Timor

Jesus, Political Philosopher

Faithless in Seattle? The WTO Protests

What's in a Name? The EgyptAir 990 Crash

Waiting for the Shoe to Drop

The NCC's Near-Death Experience

On the Beat: Condoms and Constitutions in Kenya


Letters to the Editor

To the editor:
Andrew Walsh’s piece ["Vouchers Move to Center Stage" (Fall, 1999)] falls short of balance. Only in one place does it surface any of the problems with vouchers—"draining and undermining public education and a backdoor to upholding racial segregation." Much of the "school problem" is due to schools being financed primarily by local real estate taxes. The lack of national standards is another issue he does not face. Without something done about these deeper issues, vouchers are another gimmick-for which we have an addiction.

Wayne Schwab
Essex, New York

To the editor:
After reading Dennis Hoover’s account of ["Spiritual Victimology" (Fall 1999)], it occurred to me that it would be helpful to point out that the roots of the Christian Identity Movement go back a lot further than one might think. Christian Identity finds philosophical justification in Anglo-Israelism, which, according to the Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America, identifies "the present Anglo-Saxon people as the direct biological descendants of the ancient Israelites and, as such, God’s chosen people, the heirs of all God’s promises to Abraham and this progeny." As descendants of the 10 lost tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel, the Anglo-Israelites are to be completely differentiated from the Jews, who trace their lineage to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin of the southern kingdom of Israel.

The Anglo-Israel hypothesis was the brain-child of the Canadian Richard Brothers (1757-1824), who, as the self-styled "Nephew of the Almighty" claimed the throne of England as a descendant of King David and for his claims was committed to an asylum. But not long after Brothers’s death, with the publication of John Wilson’s Our Isrealitish Origin (1840), an intense interest in Anglo-Israelism developed in Britain. One important point to keep in mind, however, is that although Anglo-Israelism is a racial theory, its British proponents in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were not anti-Semitic. It was an American innovation to add anti-Semitism and brand Jews as offspring of the devil, thus providing a core teaching of today’s Christian Identity Movement. For those who would wish to pursue the topic of Anglo-Israelism in greater depth, the Watkinson Library at Trinity College has a number of monographs and periodicals, including the book by Wilson.

Jeffrey H. Kaimowitz
Curator, The Watkinson Library &
The Enders Ornithology Collection
Trinity College, Hartford

To the editor:
In his discussion of the Brooklyn Museum of Art exhibition "Sensations" ["The BVM at the BMA" (Fall 1999)] Mark Silk correctly notes that some Catholics are offended by the depiction of Mary with elephant dung and pornographic pictures. He suggests one solution might be to "treat Christianity as if it were just another minority faith," thereby according it the same protections afforded Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism by America’s cultural gatekeepers, who, presumably, respect those religions by forswearing their profanation.

Now, Mr. Silk apparently doesn’t believe that the exhibit profanes the woman whom Catholics venerate as the Mother of God. Dung, he explains, is the "signature medium" of the artist and was also used in the exhibit to portray African American cultural icons. But the exhibit did not portray Diana Ross (one of those icons) with the dung attached to her breast. Nor did it affix her image with pornographic pictures. And the argument that the exhibit does not degrade Catholic beliefs is hardly advanced by relying on David Bowie as an authority. Mr. Bowie’s defense: Portraying the Mother of God with vaginas and anuses contrasts her with a world full of lascivious images, and causes us to ask whether she is "absorbing our weaknesses, our human failings." This is intellectual parody.

It sometimes seems that the very purpose of art, for those Mr. Silk aptly describes as our "cultural gatekeepers," is to shock and offend. Raising the human spirit, celebrating life, capturing beauty-such goals are rejected as unworthy and unreachable. Art is what you will. Beauty (like truth) cannot exist independent of our perceptions of it. Who among us is entitled to judge that sacrilege is not itself an act of beauty?

The problem here is the flight of common sense—the capacity to acknowledge self-evident truths. Those who hold Catholic beliefs in contempt—like the creator of "Sensations"—are free to express themselves, just as Catholics have the right to defend their faith. What perplexes is that people of good will consider such offerings "art" rather than what they really are—the angry productions of a self-appointed and self-important elite. Other recent examples of the genre: paintings or sculptures of Mary coming out of a vagina, or in panties with breasts exposed, or in a condom, or receiving a coat hanger from the Archangel Gabriel to use for an abortion. As an aside, I do not think it unreasonable for the Mayor of any city to deny taxpayer funds for such bitter and bigoted fare. The First Amendment protects expression but does not mandate its public subsidy.

Mr. Silk and I can agree to disagree over whether the Sensations exhibit amounts to debasement of Catholicism. As a Catholic, I think it does, and I admit to wondering how he would react to a painting of the prophet Muhammad, or of a revered Jewish rabbi, surrounded by pornography. Would he not adjudge Islam and Judaism profaned? As for his suggestion that Christianity might be less vulnerable by adopting the status of a minority religion, surely that is unnecessary. Christianity is itself based on a scandal, which is the cross, on which suffered the son of Mary and (we believe) redeemer of the world. The fact that so many embrace these beliefs does not render them less deserving of respect than those of other religions—something that should be self-evident to anyone, of whatever aesthetic persuasion. Decency, if you will forgive a pun, draws lines.

Thomas F. Farr
Falls Church, VA

The articles discussed above may be consulted on-line—along with all of the pieces published by the magazine—on this web site.