Vol. 3, No. 1
to other articles
in this issue:
From the Editor: Wars of Religion
Charitable Choice and the New Religious
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
To the editor:
Andrew Walshs 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.
Essex, New York
To the editor:
After reading Dennis Hoovers 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, Gods chosen
people, the heirs of all Gods 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 Brotherss death, with the publication of John Wilsons 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 todays 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 Americas cultural
gatekeepers, who, presumably, respect those religions by forswearing their profanation.
Now, Mr. Silk apparently doesnt 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. Bowies 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 sensethe capacity to acknowledge
self-evident truths. Those who hold Catholic beliefs in contemptlike 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 arethe 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 religionssomething 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-linealong with all of the
pieces published by the magazineon this web site.