Friday, June 26, 2009

Alan Keyes (July/August 1995)

From 1991 to 2005, I had the pleasure of interviewing a fascinating array of writers, theologians, politicians, artists, and musicians for the Wittenburg Door, the original--only?--magazine of religious satire. From the preparation required to conduct them to the editing required to make them both clear and funny (the Door's two requirements, although not necessarily in that order), these interviews changed my life (mostly for the better). Although I conducted most of the interviews by phone, I was on several occasions able to hop a plane and question my subjects in person thanks to the generosity of Bob Darden and the late Mike Yaconelli, the editors who underwrote my adventures. It was a generosity made all the more special by the fact that the Door was usually deep in the red. For such acts of genuinely Christian charity (or fiscal insanity, I'm not sure which), I remain intensely grateful. Several of my interviews--R.C. Sproul, Chris Yambar--are still online in their entirety. What's posted below is one of the ones that's been MIA for awhile.

Ten years ago, most people would've considered the phrase "black conservative" an oxymoron if they considered it at all. Today, four years after the successful but controversial appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, articulate black conservatives are emerging almost exponentially. Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Ken Hamblin, Roy Innis--these and many others are challenging the negative stereotypes of the late-twentieth-century African-American as nothing more than a welfare sponge populating the inner city with illegitimate kids who'll wind up in gangs, jail, or, if they're lucky, on a basketball court with a budding career as a rapper on the side.

But so far the only black conservative to go so far as to seek the U.S. presidency--as a Republican, naturally--is Alan Keyes, the subject of this interview and the author of Masters of the Dream: The Strength and Betrayal of Black America (Morrow). In it, he dispenses such bon mots as "[Because] the secularism encouraged by the welfare-state mentality lured the black poor away from their practical dependence upon churches and the network of internal institutions they represent ... [b]lack churches, as well as other organizing and moralizing institutions within the community, were relegated to the role of theaters of emotional catharsis--much the same role the enslavers wanted them to play during slavery."

Dr. Keyes, a lifelong Catholic, has earned degrees from Harvard and served as a university president and a U.S. ambassador to the U.N. He has appeared on all the political TV opinion forums that matter and some that don’t. He also hosts a daily, three-hour talk show on the Baltimore-D.C.-area AM station, WCBM. The only thing he hasn't done is win election to high office, although he's run twice for one of Maryland's U.S. Senate seats.

When he met with the Door's Arsenio Orteza at the BWI airport for lunch last January, he had yet to declare for the presidency. Since then, however, he's caught the attention of many who think the time for an outspoken, Christian advocate of limited government with a sensitivity to the needs of minorities has definitely come.

DOOR: Throughout Masters of the Dream, you place Christianity at the heart of every significant advance made by blacks since their arrival here as slaves.
KEYES: What I argue in my book is that, from the point of view of black Americans, Christianity was the most important resource for maintaining a sense of dignity
and worth against the degradation of the slave system and of subsequent discrimination. That, of course, is an argument that explicitly contradicts the view that has long been popular among black intellectuals.

DOOR: What view is that?
KEYES: That Christianity was this pie-in-the-sky, do-what-your-master-tells-you religion that was exploited by the enslaving class to make slaves more docile.

DOOR: Christianity wasn't used that way at all?
KEYES: The attempt was made, but it didn't succeed. In fact, what sprang up in the black community was clearly a kind of Christianity that sustained a sense of dignity rather than abetting a surrender to injustice.

DOOR: Did Christianity ultimately expedite or retard the eradication of slavery?
KEYES: From Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, who risked themselves to free slaves, to Frederick Douglas and other great spokesmen who became the focal point in the black community for the fight to abolish slavery, the people who fought that fight most strenuously were Christian people, people who today would be characterized as far-right-wing, fanatical, crazy, evangelical Christians.

DOOR: Why?
KEYES: Because they spoke to God every day, God told them what to do, and they did it. Nothing, for instance, that Sojourner Truth did was done without a sense of acting on God's orders.

DOOR: What was it about Christianity that would engender such heroism?
KEYES: Christianity is a revolutionary concept of one's relationship with the world.

DOOR: Revolutionary in what sense?
KEYES: In the sense that it's based on the notion that one's salvation--one's relationship with God--is the result of individual self-determination. That's true even in the Catholic Church, which is identified with hierarchy and so forth, but which, when you get inside it, is still based on the doctrine that your salvation depends on your relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You have to decide whether to accept the grace or not.

DOOR: But how did a predominantly illiterate slave population make sense of all that?
KEYES: Well, from the point of view of the enslaved, the system said, "You worth is determined entirely by external measures: how much money you fetch, what your master says about you, what work you do." But Christianity turns that on its head.

DOOR: How?
KEYES: By establishing a basis for moral autonomy. Your relationship with God doesn't depend on external circumstances, not on how rich or educated you are, not on how much power you have in the world. None of that stuff can affect what's most important--your ultimate salvation. Or, to put it another way, while dealing with a world that says, "Your worth what you fetch in the marketplace," you have an internal sense that says, "Excuse me, but my worth was determined by God before you got here and revalidated by Jesus Christ on the cross. So forget you."

DOOR: Amen!
KEYES: -----

DOOR: Uh, where were we? Oh yeah--so how does this "moral autonomy" translate from resistance into action?
KEYES: It becomes a source of liberating courage. You can stand up for what is right in the conviction that, through faith in Jesus Christ, you are working for God's purposes. You can brave death and everything else because it doesn't mean anything to you. This came through in the Civil Rights movement. I think that heritage was what gave real power and appeal to the message of Martin Luther King, Jr.

DOOR: Nowadays, people tend to conceive of that movement as "left wing" and of Christianity as "right wing."
KEYES: Well, we shouldn't impose those categories on history. The important thing about the Civil Rights movement, in terms of the black community, was that it was entirely formed by, and articulated in the context of, Christian concepts. That and the fact that it appealed to the Christianized conscience of America are what made it successful.

DOOR: Doesn't talk of our country's "Christianized conscience" threaten the separation of church and state?
KEYES: What the founders did, essentially, was to take Christian principles and state them in a secular form that became the foundation for our idea of justice. Martin Luther King imbued that language with a Christian fervor, and by using Christian concepts of love and justice, he was able to motivate the black community.

DOOR: For a conservative Republican, you sure have a lot of admiration for Martin Luther King, Jr.
KEYES: Everything that he articulated--non-violence, the whole business--was so perfect and necessary for the time. He saved America from a lot of bloodshed. In that sense, I think he deserves the reputation he has. But if you look at some of his writings, you find that he was no more immune to socialist temptations than his colleagues, and it's not entirely clear to me that he would've resisted. There were signs that maybe he wouldn't have.

DOOR: Such as?
KEYES: In his works, he tends to adopt the same negative view of black history as others in the black elite.

DOOR: What view is that?
KEYES: That black history is just a series of negative experiences--victimization, depression, oppression. I can hardly think of anything that takes a different look at that history and tries to understand the strength and character that came out of that history. That's why I wrote my book, because I wasn't finding it anywhere. And it's not in King either.

DOOR: For someone who admires Martin Luther King, you sure don't think very highly of him.
KEYES: I don't want to give the wrong impression. He knew the moral strength of the black community. He appealed to it, and his leadership was only possible because of it. But, at a conscious level, he didn't see it when he looked at black history, at least not in those terms. So I think it's quite possible that he would've marched along with his colleagues right off the cliff of liberal socialism.

DOOR: Why have his colleagues, along with close to one hundred percent of the black vote in this country, marched in that direction?
KEYES: During the '60s, the Civil Rights movement got yanked off its real basis. The so-called "black leadership" in this country, including a lot of people who call themselves ministers and reverends, signed on to an entirely materialistic political agenda.

DOOR: Doesn't true spirituality involve the meeting of material needs?
KEYES: Traditionally, black Americans have resisted the acceptance of a material basis for judging their worth. You were not worth what you had but what you were worth in a moral sense. So they resisted anything that sought to measure their worth in economic terms.

DOOR: What changed that?
KEYES: Tragically and ironically, the Civil Rights movement ended up signing on to a political approach that represented the acceptance of this materialistic way of looking at the world. They harped on how much black people did not have in material terms--money, jobs--

DOOR: But black people didn't have money or jobs, did they?
KEYES: But the solutions they found said, "O.K. we need access to jobs, so let's have a government program. Let's spend money." So the whole thing was moved into an economic realm. They accepted ideologies that were essentially materialistic and political, and that was an abandonment of the black American tradition.

DOOR: One tendency among Afro-centrist ideologues is to cite slavery as the basis for demanding even "more essentially materialistic and political" assistance.
KEYES: Part of me believes that this nation has not only paid for a lot of its injustices but actually paid for them several times over. And I don't mean this on some economic level. We'll get to that in a minute. I mean in terms of sacrifice, of real repentance on the part of many people.

DOOR: What are you referring to?
KEYES: I don't think the Civil War, for instance, could've been successfully prosecuted if there hadn't been a real sense of moral turnaround in America among the people at large. These pseudo-sophisticated analyses that say it was all about economics--that's garbage. Lincoln understood this. That's why in his second inaugural address he gave a sermon in which he essentially said, "Slavery's evil. We're fighting against it. If we have to fight against it until every part of this country is destroyed, that's God's judgment, and we'll just have to see it through to the end because this is a moral cause."

DOOR: You mentioned economic recompense.
KEYES: You know what the government should've done, what they could still do today, to revolutionize the situation of black Americans?

KEYES: The ancient Athenians and Romans used to do this occasionally to reward a city or those who had been faithful. They simply said, "You've been great to us, so we're going to remit your taxes for the next umpteen years."

DOOR: So you're saying the U.S. government should--
KEYES: They should look at black folks and say, "O.K., a hundred years of discrimination? We'll remit taxation on all black Americans for the next one hundred years." Do you realize what that would've done overnight?

DOOR: Uh, made all blacks Republicans?
KEYES: Not only that, but all of a sudden black folks would've become very attractive parts of the labor force because you could've actually gotten away with paying black people less, yet they would still have been at the same take-home-pay level as people who would've been paid more but getting taxed on it. Black businesses would've opened up, and they would've been able to have greater profit because they wouldn't have been taxed. It would've revolutionized the prospects of black people at a stroke.

DOOR: But a hundred years?
KEYES: If they'd done it for twenty-five years, it would've had the same effect.

DOOR: Do you think it's too late for that kind of solution?
KEYES: I don't know. I don't see any resolution at this stage. Right or wrong, this country has spent a lot of money in the last thirty years on what was sold to the public as efforts to address the legacies of slavery and discrimination. I think most of that turned out to be a lot of ill-constructed, misguided garbage, but we still paid for it, didn't we? Everybody did. The best way to handle the problems we face now might be to move in the opposite direction and establish a colorblind system, one in which you help people not on the basis of skin color but on the basis of actual need. Obviously, that would still reach a lot of the black Americans who are still in situations of need and disadvantage, and it would also put everybody in society on a level playing field.

DOOR: Your book is subtitled The Strength and Betrayal of Black America. What was its
KEYES: It was the betrayal by the black leadership, starting in the '60s, of that moral identity that had allowed blacks to resist the notion that if you didn't have material stuff you weren't worth anything. It was an abandonment of of the moral perspective that had allowed black Americans to sustain their basic, moral infrastructure--the family--in spite of material disadvantage.

DOOR: From what we hear, the black family isn't doing too well these days.
KEYES: A lot of people like to ascribe the family's falling apart to poverty and joblessness, but that's all a lie. Through the entire post-Civil War period, black folks were poor, had no access to jobs, and endured a rigid system of discrimination that limited their opportunities. Yet, during this same period, black folks put families back together and sustained them at high rates.

DOOR: Afro-centrists would say that Christianity may have been useful, but since it was imposed by whites, it served to erase the pre-slavery African identity. Are there, in fact, defining characteristics of pre-Christian black spirituality?
KEYES: I wouldn't say "defining characteristics."

DOOR: What would you say?
KEYES: I think it's pretty clear that there were residual African influences. Particularly in the early years of slavery, there was a kind of--how can I put it?--intermingling that affected the ways in which black Americans accepted and then expressed Christianity. Everyone knows there's a distinctive difference that you can feel the minute you walk into a black worship service, no matter what the denomination--the importance of music, for instance. Christianity is a very individualistic religion, yet black folks take a very communalistic approach to it. That, I think, reflects a heritage that comes from African roots, keeping in mind, of course, that those African roots are very complex, because there is no such thing as "Africa."

DOOR: No such thing as Africa?
KEYES: Not in a cultural sense. The religions, tribes, groups, and kingdoms in Africa were comprised of people from different parts of Africa. Some had common cultural roots, and a lot of the slaves came from West Africa. But there were also southern Africans. In any case, my point, which I think the so-called Afro-centrists miss, is that black Americans are not Africans. Not only are we not Africans in any purely cultural sense, we're not even Africans in any racial sense anymore.

DOOR: What are you?
KEYES: If you scratch my surface, you'll find French, Cherokee Indian, and African. All three are hidden beneath this surface. That's true of many Americans. Of course, when I go to West Africa, people look at me and think I come from there. My outward characteristics wouldn't tell you there'd been much of a change.

DOOR: What does this have to do with Afro-centrism?
KEYES: There is a unique black-American experience, and while it has elements that reflect the pathology of slavery--and while the way in which black Americans accept, embrace, and express their Christian faith is going to be an integral expression of all that--I think it's absolutely absurd to look at a people who have now developed their own unique character and identity and say that's somehow not an authentic expression of who they are. It's just nonsense! What does that mean?

DOOR: What does that mean?
KEYES: If this is what you've developed in order to sustain your moral self over several hundred years, then it's ignorant and stupid to suggest there's something inauthentic or imposed about that. Whatever the intention of others was, black people made it into something that served the purposes of their survival. And that's where a lot of these Afro-centrists, who pretend to be so concerned with expressing and sustaining a black identity, betray that identity. This phony notion that slavery or anything else had the ability to dehumanize and destroy black America--

DOOR: But didn't slavery dehumanize and, to a large extent anyway, destroy black America?
KEYES: That's precisely what did not happen. Black Americans developed a unique, distinctive character in the course of their successful effort to resist dehumanization, destruction, and even repression. That's why the Civil Rights movement, in its early form, was so successful.

DOOR: You mentioned the difference between black Christian worship and white Christian worship. Isn't the almost complete non-existence of integrated congregations a sign of a lingering problem?
KEYES: Not in and of itself?

DOOR: Is it something we should seek to overcome?
KEYES: Not necessarily, no.

DOOR: Is it a sign of Christianity's inability to bridge race-based rifts?
KEYES: Not necessarily.

DOOR: So you see nothing inherently wrong with the racial line that's drawn down the middle of public Christian worship?
KEYES: I don't think it is drawn. That suggests that it's being externally imposed. If it were being externally imposed, there would be something wrong with it.

DOOR: Why do you think we have congregations that are, for the most part, racially segregated?
KEYES: One of the reasons is that in America there was discrimination against black folks who belonged to predominantly white churches. The A.M.E. [African Methodist Episcopal] Church was founded by Richard Allen because he and a bunch of black folks got fed up with being told to sit in the back of the church and do other stuff that was discriminatory. So they went off and started their own church.

DOOR: That's what we mean. Isn't that a sign of unresolved corporate sin?
KEYES: If it's imposed that way, by prejudice and racism, then it's a bad thing because prejudice and racism are bad, un-Christian things. On the other hand, if it comes about as a natural expression of one's cultural background and heritage, that's not a bad thing any more than it's a bad thing for there to be Italian-type churches in Italy. Human beings come in different varieties, and I don't think Christianity implies that all those varieties disappear.

DOOR: What does Christianity imply along these lines?
KEYES: It simply implies that in the context of that diversity one comes to the consciousness of the unifying potential that exists because of your relationship to God through Jesus Christ, which then forms a community out of mankind, always keeping in mind that it is not a community in the way of the flesh but in the way of the spirit.

DOOR: In practical terms, what does that mean?
KEYES: That you don't have to wipe out fleshly differences, but through those fleshly differences you do have to express your common allegiance to God and to Jesus Christ. So, in a way, we're different but all the same. I think that cultural expressions can be quite healthy.

DOOR: Elsewhere in this issue, we interview David Duke. You recently gave a speech at the Louisiana State Republican Convention. Was he there?
KEYES: David Duke? Yeah.

DOOR: Some would consider your belonging to the same party as he does to be a PR problem for you.
KEYES: Well, afterward, I was talking to somebody, and at one point
I turned around and found myself confronted with Mr. Duke, who was passing by behind me.

DOOR: What happened?
KEYES: As I turned around, he stuck out his hand. It took a minute for this to compute. All in the space of a flash of a second, I debated with myself whether I would shake his hand.

DOOR: What made you hesitate?
KEYES: Because he's somebody whose background and views I thoroughly disagree with and disapprove of. But I decided in the end to shake his hand. Afterward, a lady who was there came up to me and said, "You know, that picture of the two of you shaking hands will do him a lot more harm with his constituency than it will with yours."

DOOR: Do you agree?
KEYES: Absolutely, because my constituency consists of a whole bunch of different kinds of people.

DOOR: Who are your constituents, in your opinion?
KEYES: Many of them are motivated Christians, and they know that, in the end, David Duke's fate is in the hands of God. They don't expect Alan Keyes to act like a beast just because other people do. As for his followers (laughs)--

DOOR: Yes?
KEYES: I wouldn't want to speak to the same sense of charity in them if they subscribe to his views on race. He does, of course, have followers who are taken in by his advocacy of conservative issues that have nothing to do with race. And part of the reason that folks like me have to be active and vocal in politics is so people who are motivated to support conservative causes for the right reasons will have champions and not have to follow people like David Duke, who will then make them part of movements that will be very harmful.

DOOR: We spoke earlier about Martin Luther King, Jr. What's your opinion of the man many consider to be his philosophical complement--Malcolm X?
KEYES: (Sighs)

DOOR: There's a great disparity, after all, between the legendary Malcolm X and the actual one, isn't there?
KEYES: I don't know. Malcolm X is one of those historical figures who loom much larger in the minds of people today than he ever did when he was alive.

DOOR: He didn't loom large in the '60s?
KEYES: Let us be frank: I think that at the time most people would've considered it incongruous to put Martin Luther King and Malcolm X on the same plane, especially in terms of their influence on the black community. Malcolm X was, all the way up to his death, a marginal figure in the life of black America.

DOOR: Because of his identification with Elijah Muhammad and Black Islam?
KEYES: I think so. They're a marginal movement. It's not a Christian movement. The center and heart of the black identity and the black experience is Christianity. People may not like to hear this, but it's true, and it's still true today. Martin Luther King stood squarely at the heart of that identity; Malcolm X was on a fringe somewhere. He's built up a lot today, but that doesn't mean he necessarily deserves to be, does it? Just because people today would like to make movies and pretend that their icon--I'm speaking especially of black intellectuals--somehow represented what was doesn't mean he did. He did not.

DOOR: How do you explain his popularity today?
KEYES: I think the admiration that some black-American intellectuals have developed for Malcolm X is one of the indications that they've strayed from, and have contempt for, the grass-roots reality of the black identity, which is not Malcolm X or Islam. It's Christianity, pure and simple. Nevertheless, there's been this tradition among black intellectuals of despising Christianity.

DOOR: Why do you think they despise it?
KEYES: Partly out of jealousy. The intellectuals think they should have the power the ministers have.

DOOR: And they don't?
KEYES: No, because the inward revolution that Christianity creates--especially in the context of slavery or any system that represses people on the basis of material forces--is unique. First, it helps you retain a sense of your own dignity and worth. But, second, it invalidates death.

DOOR: In what sense?
KEYES: In that the usual mechanism of controlling people by force is to manipulate their fear of death. Christianity frees you of this fear. It asks, "Death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory?" The significance usually ascribed to death is removed. And it then becomes, as I said, a source of liberating courage.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

D. Keith Mano (September/October 1994)

From 1991 to 2005, I had the pleasure of interviewing a fascinating array of writers, theologians, politicians, artists, and musicians for the Wittenburg Door, the original--only?--magazine of religious satire. From the preparation required to conduct them to the editing required to make them both clear and funny (the Door's two requirements, although not necessarily in that order), these interviews changed my life (mostly for the better). Although I conducted most of the interviews by phone, I was on several occasions able to hop a plane and question my subjects in person thanks to the generosity of Bob Darden and the late Mike Yaconelli, the editors who underwrote my adventures. It was a generosity made all the more special by the fact that the Door was usually deep in the red. For such acts of genuinely Christian charity (or fiscal insanity, I'm not sure which), I remain intensely grateful. Several of my interviews--R.C. Sproul, Chris Yambar--are still online in their entirety. What's posted below is one of the ones that's been MIA for awhile.

It's been a long time since we've interviewed a Russian Orthodox Christian. It's not that we have anything against them. It's just that they're so darned uncontroversial it's easy to forget they exist. It's also been awhile since we've interviewed a really serious novelist. We definitely have nothing against them. It's just hard to get them to return our e-mail. And we also haven't interviewed a contributing editor to Playboy since, well, ever. And though we might have something against them, it's nothing a complimentary subscription to their fine magazine and a free Playboy's Playmate Bloopers video wouldn't resolve.

Enter D. Keith Mano, the only man who's ever lived--or likely ever will live--who is all of the above. He's also a regular in William F. Buckley's National Review and, on a sad note, a recently diagnosed victim of Parkinson's Disease, the ravages of which he's just begun to experience.

As you might expect, the insights into Christianity of anyone this, uh, stimulated can't help proving interesting. Or, as Mano himself told the Door's Arsenio Orteza before the two met in Mano's Big Apple apartment: "I'm working on a serious think piece for Playboy on amateur pornography. I have fourteen cartons of it in my room with fourteen more on the way. So I should be in a good position to discuss our risen Lord."

We're a little rusty on our Russian Orthodoxy and amateur porn, but good novels we know, and Mano's Horn, The Death and Life of Harry Goth, War Is Heaven, The Bridge, and Take Five--each of which features a Christian, usually Episcopalian, trapped in bizarre circumstances--are as good as novels get. Take Five in particular, in which a brilliant and self-destructive independent filmmaker loses each of his five senses one at a time on his road to salvation, ranks as a truly heroic achievement. And his latest, Topless (Random House '91), about an Episcopal priest who runs a topless bar, is a definite page-turner. Or as Joe Bob Briggs might say, "One-hundred-and-seven breasts, three rotting corpses, one hook through the eye, and several dozen Kahluas with breast milk."

The Door says check it out

DOOR: Why are the main characters in all of your novels Christians?
MANO: I guess it's that I'm interested in men as heroes, physical and moral. And it just makes sense, if you're creating anything in the arts, to use the most extreme ingredients that you possibly can.

DOOR: An Episcopal priest in a topless bar is extreme all right.
MANO: The most intense way to deal with this moral heroism was to put serious Christians, whether they were priests or not, under tremendous moral pressure. It's most obvious in Topless, of course, because the lightning rods of the opposite poles are so close together. It is not a great literary triumph to come up with interesting metaphors when you have naked breasts and crosses so close together.

DOOR: Well, we were impressed.
MANO: The work is kind of done for you.

DOOR: All of your novels have wild settings.
MANO: Most art deals in extremes. And the great virtue of the Episcopal Church, which I was very much involved in, is that anything can happen in it. An Episcopal priest can do anything in your novel, and you're probably telling the truth because there's one out there somewhere really doing it. I don't doubt that there are priests running topless bars right now. And they're Episcopal.

DOOR: Were you a cradle Episcopalian?
MANO: No. Though I had been baptized as an Episcopalian as a mere velleity when I was a child, I really came to the faith through the most cynical possible motives. I went to Trinity School on scholarship, and the English prize was only given to confirmed Episcopalians. So my mother said, "You're about to become a confirmed Episcopalian." So I became a confirmed Episcopalian and won the English prize.

DOOR: Something tells us Billy Graham isn't begging you to give that testimony as a stadium-warmer-upper.
MANO: Still, the egg was laid in the larva that I am, and by the time I reached Columbia University, I had something of a revelation, namely a class called Contemporary Civilization II, which covered literature and thought from the end of the nineteenth century through the present. The instructor told us that if we believed in anything before taking this course, we would believe in nothing after we had taken this course.

DOOR: How encouraging.
MANO: It was a lot of Nietzsche, etc. And I saw after two weeks that he was right. So one day I left class and walked over to St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia, an Episcopal chapel, and became a worshiping Christian just to save myself from the bleakness of the prospect that was presented to me by Columbia's liberal-arts education.

DOOR: So that's why half your novels concern Episcopal priests. As for all the sex --
MANO: The Episcopal Church is a wonderfully rich source for a novelist. It's about as useful a milieu to write about as you could conceive of. My own particular take on it, forcing powerful material and sensual imagery up against powerful sacramental and spiritual imagery, is what I have been given by the Lord--I hope--as my particular equipment to create.

DOOR: We wish he'd given us that particular equipment!
MANO: This is what interests me. This is what I know. I know a lot about the spirit and the way it functions and the way grace functions. I know a great deal about the way the human body functions, sexually and in relationships. I have the honor of being the one person that Ruth Westheimer says is too dirty for her to talk to.

DOOR: What made her say that?

MANO: My take on human sexuality is so intense that, although she kids about it, she's scared of it. If you were to ask me whom I feel a particular affinity to as a writer--

DOOR: Whom do you feel a particular affinity to as a writer?
MANO: --it would be John Donne. I think he understood that we're given very little equipment to understand what the meaning of Jesus's sacrifice on the cross is. We're surrounded by physical and sensual things that distract us. So we have to deal with what we have--carefully--and always aware of the risks involved. And the one place where the human being can imagine, in some vague form, what grace is like and what a true vision of God is like is during orgasm.

DOOR: Excuse us. For a minute we thought you said "orgasm."
MANO: It's the one moment in which the human mind is freed from anything but an absolute concentration on a single thing, which you presume the desert fathers achieved when they were meditating on Christ's sacrifice.

DOOR: Uh, we think we know why Dr. Ruth won't talk to you.
MANO: I have covered every form of human sexuality in depth, at times participating, during thirty years of writing. I have been a contributing editor to Playboy for twenty years. I've lived as a transvestite--

DOOR: Excuse us again. We thought you said you'd lived as a transvestite.
MANO: It was a very painful experience for me. I had to shave all the hair off my body, and I didn't achieve enlightenment through it. But it was very interesting, and I'm quite aware of the feminine aspects in me and the masculine aspects in women. They're there. There's no avoiding them.

DOOR: -----
MANO: Transvestism is a complex act, and how you carry it off it depends very much on where you are with your sexuality. Ultimately it made me very angry, but it was very interesting. I can give you the article.

DOOR: Oh, you did it for an article!
MANO: Oh yeah. For Playboy.

DOOR: Well, that explains it, uh, sort of--
MANO: I've studied incest and dealt with people who were into incest. I've done deep and complex research on S&M. Yet it's only recently that I have come to terms, in some small way, with the question of why I am so obsessed with the battle between the body and the spirit, and why I'm writing constant oxymorons, so to speak, which do not help my book sales at all.

DOOR: Books about horny priests would seem to have a built-in audience.
MANO: Yeah, but sexier books are written than mine, and if people read religious books, they read the kind of thing that Fleming Revell or Word Books publishes. They wouldn't touch anything that had as raunchy premises as my books do. Yet up until recently it has perplexed me why I have been fascinated by this subject matter.

DOOR: We're almost afraid to ask, but what happened recently to explain your fascination?

MANO: About two months ago, I came across the passage in Corinthians where St. Paul said that it is a shame for a man to wear his hair long. And I wondered, "If St. Paul says it's a shame for a man to have long hair, why have we always depicted Jesus as having just about as long hair as you possibly could for a man?" There's a character in Topless who admits after a session in a topless bar that when he goes to church, there is no way to avoid the fact that this is a highly sensual image: an almost naked man on a cross in a situation of sacrifice, which is painful, vulnerable, submissive--all the terms that might easily be termed sexual. His head is usually bowed. And the hair, which the ancient Hebrews considered to be one of the most sensual parts of a woman--

DOOR: Um, what exactly are you getting at?
MANO: Here we have Jesus with the outer affects of a female, dying on the cross. So I said to myself, "Well, Jesus was incarnated and took on our humanity." Is that not correct? Correct me if I'm wrong.

DOOR: Sorry. We were just calculating how many subscriptions you might cost us. But, yes, Jesus
took on our humanity.
MANO: That's one of those basics of theology. We must assume that he took on our whole humanity. Otherwise he could not have experienced our suffering, our pain, our temptation, our lowliness, our sordidness, and all the other things that go along with being human. "The Word was made flesh," but it doesn't say the Word was made man. The Word was made flesh. Well, in that case, we would have to assume, since God is omniscient, that in his incarnation he was assuming all humanness, which included the female.

DOOR: Oh boy--er, girl, er--
MANO: This is a controversial thing to think, and you're dealing here with a very conservative Christian, one who left the Episcopal Church in part because he could not take communion from a female. So you're not dealing with a politically correct, radic-lib, feminist fellow traveler here.

DOOR: Whew! For a minute there you had us going.
MANO: But I said, "If Jesus knows what it is to be female, what does he know at the moment of his death on the cross? Well, he hasn't had a child, but then every female doesn't have a child, and that does not deny her femaleness. Jesus has not had intercourse as a female might, but that's not essential either. There are women who still must be considered women even though they are virgins through life. So what was necessary for Jesus to know the female, having known the male?

DOOR: Something tells us you have an answer.
MANO: I supposed that it had to be something along the lines of menstrual blood or pain, whatever it is that women--not men, thank God--go through on a monthly basis. How and when did Jesus experience this? How was he equipped to experience it if he did? And then the image struck me of the last moments on the cross, when a very well-intentioned, good-natured, sympathetic soul--very masculine--namely the centurion, pierces Jesus's side with his spear to carry out, in part, the Old Testament prophecy that his legs should not be broken, etc., but also out of concern for the relatives and out of concern, I think, to spare Jesus any further suffering. So although it was an act of invasion, it was done out of love. But what happens in that act of invasion? We read that Jesus was pierced in the side. That's a vague term.

DOOR: How so?
MANO: It could be any part of the lower body--the abdomen, possibly even the groin. And what happens when Jesus is pierced?

DOOR: Blood and water--
MANO: Yes, blood and water. I feel very strongly that there is a moment here in the passion that has been overlooked. Jesus's side is pierced by a male figure. And very often in Medieval paintings, when Jesus returns and Thomas is feeling his wounds, that wound is very clearly shaped in the form of the female privates. Well, we were talking about where the menstrual blood would come from. It is as if, to my mind, Jesus is recapitulating, in that moment, the entire life of a female.

DOOR: Let's see if we've got this straight--
MANO: Blood of menstruation--that might even be the blood of his hands and feet--blood of the piercing, which is the piercing of the hymen, so that it flows out of the "side," and water, which, if I remember correctly from my two children's births, pours liberally out of a woman in announcing what is to come. And what is to come, of course, is the birth in three days of a new dispensation, a new church, a new relationship between God and man. And it is the moment of death for Jesus at the same time.

DOOR: So what you're saying is--
MANO: In the moment of death, he becomes a viable female, is penetrated as a viable female, gives birth, and dies. And in those days, even up 'til recently, many women died in childbirth.

DOOR: You seem to have it all worked out.
MANO: It has a nice shape to it.

DOOR: Of course, you know what happened to Martin Scorsese for filming The Last Temptation of Christ.
MANO: The question of whether Jesus knew what orgasm was and whether he was fully male has always been a very touchy one in theology. The logic is there that if he's a true man, he must know lust. But then he's perfect, so he can't. He has so trained his mind, through goodness and grace, that he overcomes the temptation and never allows himself to experience lust, which distances him somewhat from being fully male.

DOOR: Isn't that distance inevitable in a perfect being?
MANO: It is, as I say, a touchy question. You could not conceive of Jesus Christ having intercourse with a woman. All that is implied in that is an act of aggression, even in the most loving circumstances, if penetration takes place. It is often painful for a woman even if her instincts are full of love. So obviously Jesus could not have ever had intercourse as a man.

DOOR: Obviously.
MANO: But as a woman? Yes. He could have.

DOOR: Um, we kind of wish you'd quit bringing that up.
MANO: Not orgasm. But he could experience the pain a female feels, what it means to be invaded. He could be entirely passive and be subjected to that, I think, when the spear enters his side, even though, as I say, the centurion is a loving figure. God could not otherwise have given Jesus the experience of sexual intercourse but as a female.

DOOR: Most people probably wonder why God would've had to give him that experience at all.
MANO: Remember when Jesus said, "If you even lust after a woman in your mind, you have done the same as if you had intercourse with her"?

DOOR: Sure, that's--
MANO: A character in one of my screenplays says, "Yeah, don't you wish." But I've always thought that what Jesus was saying there has been misinterpreted over and over by every church and non-church and by atheists as well. What Jesus is saying is not "Don't think about women sexually." What he's saying is "You will inevitably think about women sexually. Don't imagine that if you don't engage in the act you're any better off than someone who does. Don't be a Pharisee about it. You are a man. You will lust. You need absolution, something to propitiate God and to overcome the sinfulness that you feel." Now men particularly are driven by their sexual needs. I don't have to tell you that.

DOOR: Not us, no sir.
MANO: Men rape women; women seldom rape men. And I think, putting it charitably and drawing on my long experience in the study of people who are sexually healthy and those who are not, that the drive a man has to dominate a woman is instinctive, endless, and overpowering.

DOOR: How does your understanding of Christ's transformation into a female at the moment of his death help make sense of this dilemma?
MANO: It's my assumption that Jesus was born, lived, died, and was resurrected in both genders at the same time. If we assume that, then in part, I think, the male in us is looking to attain Jesus's state of grace, which was to harbor both genders safely within himself in a state of harmony. When I pass a beautiful woman--any woman--on the street, I want her. I don't want her because I know her or like her. I just want her. The wanting is a given of the male situation, and it has to be overcome because society would crack if it weren't.

DOOR: You're beginning to sound like a politically correct, radic-lib, feminist fellow traveler.
MANO: There's no question in my mind that we've always felt, in the heart of our Western, Christian culture, that Jesus was very much female. That is why the representations of Jesus with long hair have always been predominant in art. The Virgin Mary was later presented as a harmless sort of woman to whom we can address our need for a maternal outlet in prayer, as a safer way of dealing with the fact that Jesus was as much a woman as a man, particularly when he died.

DOOR: You said that if men don't overcome their wanting of women, society will crack.
MANO: We are coming to a point where the genders are clumsily engaging in civil war with each other. There's a lot of unpleasantness in the land. Men feel terribly threatened. Women have been crucified for many years, so they understand it and have their axes to grind as well. The truth of the matter is, Jesus on the cross is the female being exploited in every which way. I mentioned intercourse being, at its best, an act of penetration, but there are many other ways in which women have been sacrificed, whether from childbirth or being sold as wives or whatever, through history. So when the male S&M devotee binds a woman to a cross, he has to realize, if he's a Christian--

DOOR: Uh, just how many Christian S&M devotees are there?
MANO: Even if he's not a Christian, he ought to realize that he is essentially binding Jesus again, because Jesus contains in him the female--very, very strongly--but almost mystically hidden, I think, because the truth is too painful to deal with. I don't know. I've never heard anyone else say what I'm saying now.

DOOR: Believe us, we haven't either.
MANO: But I can't believe it hasn't been said. I can't believe that someone else has not seen the analogy between the centurion's spear and the male organ before. It can't be original with me after two-thousand years. I think it has been suppressed because it's a very dangerous area. Cultures survive because of differentiation of labor, and making Jesus into an equal man and equal woman is, A, a very perplexing proposition and, B, a socially disruptive one certainly.

DOOR: How does this proposition shed light on the problem of lust?
MANO: It is as if we were constantly acting out those drives that Aristophanes mentions in The Symposium when he speaks of our original state, which was an animal that contained both sexes in it at the same time, and that we were seeking to hammer ourselves back together again and let lust stop. We are trying to achieve Jesus's perfection, which was a mingling, in love, of the two genders that are necessary to procreate.

DOOR: That's consistent with calling Christ "the new Adam" in that the first Adam apparently harbored both genders before Eve was fashioned from his removed rib.
MANO: You're quite right. That is an image for what we understand vaguely about what is in us. One of the problems that our churches have--and I can understand it, and I have to excuse it, but I feel sorry about it--is that they try to achieve salvation by going around the body instead of going through the body, where true illumination lies. You can be saved by believing in Jesus and living a life of absolute abstention from sexuality, but to achieve a true understanding and illumination about what God's gift to us is, you must encounter the body, which is part of the equipment we have here and part of the covenant that Jesus made when he was incarnated. The body must be encountered and understood and accepted for what it is, and, as John Donne would have it, let us then be raped by God and achieve salvation with understanding as well. This is not to say that finding illumination through the body is without its risks. I never underestimate the body and have come close, because of my preoccupations, with those risks.

DOOR: What are you risking?
MANO: My soul. Look, the body is seductive and all-consuming. Give it a chance, it'll take you over. But then again that's what I'm writing about in my books. In a sense my novel Take Five is written as a plea to God to let me escape and let me also make the effort that I've gone through and the risks I've taken worthwhile by somehow transmitting the knowledge that I've gotten by being a very strange Christian, to make it useful and grace-filled to people who can understand what I'm saying.

DOOR: Most Christians probably don't think that the kinds of risks you're talking about are worth the trouble. They would assume that it's playing with fire.
MANO: It is.

So how have you avoided getting burned? Or have you?
MANO: The question is "Are you burned or are you refined?"

DOOR: Are you burned or are you refined?
MANO: What I have been saying about going through the body is essential to my thinking. I could not do it any other way because my body is an insistent animal. But at some point you have to let the body go. And it's not just a matter of giving up sensuality, it's a matter of giving up inspiration. When you don't want to write any more and you don't want to get laid any more, what are you? You have to deal essentially with a new kind of emptiness. The emptiness of the creative spirit as an artist has to be replaced with the creative spirit of the spirit. That's what's happening to Simon Lynxx in Take Five. Gradually his body is being taken away as I hope mine will be--and seems to be and as the Lord ironically seems to be leading me with Parkinson's.

DOOR: But have you been burned or refined by the risks you've taken?
MANO: Here's the best I can do: You take that risk, and the chance of achieving understanding of the Holy Spirit and the will of God is much closer than it would be for someone who's simply accepted Jesus's mediation and avoided dealing with body. When the devil died, you know, around the time of the Salem witch trials, God took a tremendous beating because he'd lost his main adversary. The devil is real, and you have to confront him in order to appreciate what salvation is.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus (March/April 1996)

From 1991 to 2005, I had the pleasure of interviewing a fascinating array of writers, theologians, politicians, artists, and musicians for the Wittenburg Door, the original--only?--magazine of religious satire. From the preparation required to conduct them to the editing required to make them both clear and funny (the Door's two requirements, although not necessarily in that order), these interviews changed my life (mostly for the better). Although I conducted most of the interviews by phone, I was on several occasions able to hop a plane and question my subjects in person thanks to the generosity of Bob Darden and the late Mike Yaconelli, the editors who underwrote my adventures. It was a generosity made all the more special by the fact that the Door was usually deep in the red. For such acts of genuinely Christian charity (or fiscal insanity, I'm not sure which), I remain intensely grateful. Several of my interviews--R.C. Sproul, Chris Yambar--are still online in their entirety. What's posted below is one of the ones that's been MIA for awhile.

When we interviewed Richard John Neuhaus in 1984, he had just published The Naked Public Square, a book about religion and public life that many have come to regard as the definitive work on the subject. Sensing its importance at the time, we cracked as many "naked" jokes as we could. Then we made fun of him for having three names. Ah, the '80s! Anyway, since then Neuhaus has busied himself by heading up the Center for Religion and Public Life, publishing the scholarly interfaith journal First Things, and trading in his Lutheran collar for the much more stylish Catholic kind. In other words, as if three names weren't enough, we now have to call him Father, too.

In 1994, Fr. Neuhaus, his fellow Catholic George Weigel, the not-quite-Catholic Charles Colson, and the Nazarene Kent Hill drafted another landmark document, the official charter of the unofficial ecumenical movement known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together, or ECT. In the document--which was signed by forty supporters, including Bill Bright, Pat Robertson, and J.I. Packer--the drafters outlined a plan for interdenominational cooperation that would both strengthen global evangelization and tear down divisions within the Body of Christ.

Not everyone has greeted ECT warmly. R.C. Sproul has accused the movement of "trivializ[ing] the reformation," and Dave Hunt has accused it of "overturning the Reformation." The Door sent its Catholic mole Arsenio Orteza to Fr. Neuhaus's offices in Manhattan to get the whole story. That Neuhaus gave us an hour-long interview even though Orteza showed up forty-five minutes late after getting lost in Chinatown should merit the good father, in our opinion, some serious time off in Purgatory, especially since what he had to say in that hour constitutes one of the most lucid and optimistic visions of the Church's future we've ever encountered.

DOOR: Some have accused Evangelicals and Catholics Together of trying to "overturn the Reformation." As a Catholic who used to be a Lutheran, you must have overturned the Reformation in your own mind at some point.
NEUHAUS: Oh, I don't know about "overturning the Reformation." I'm a Catholic because I was, and am, a Lutheran.

DOOR: Isn't that like saying, "I'm a vegetarian because I did, and do, eat meat?"
NEUHAUS: No. I became a Catholic in fulfillment of my commitment and theological and spiritual motivation as a Lutheran.

DOOR: Emulating Luther led you to join the Church that he spent so much time escaping? What are we missing?
NEUHAUS: Well, most people have become accustomed to Lutheranism's having become a separated ecclesial community, which was never the intention of the Lutheran Reformation.

DOOR: Never?
NEUHAUS: If one reads, for example, the central, constituting document of Lutheranism--the Augsburg Confession of 1530--it's clear beyond doubt that the Reformers understood themselves to be leading a movement of reform within the Church of Christ. It is one of the great tragedies of history--and the blame can be amply shared by Catholics and Lutherans alike--that this movement of reform became a separated ecclesial community. This would certainly scandalize, disappoint,
and drive to tears Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon.

DOOR: Who was Philipp Melanchthon?
NEUHAUS: He was the chief aide of Luther and was the chief author of the Augsburg Confession and the Apology for the Augsburg Confession. There's no question but that the Reformers died in the belief that they were good, Catholic Christians.

DOOR: But didn't many of them behave in distinctly non-Catholic ways?
NEUHAUS: They made emergency provisions, especially in Germany, for continuing the ministry of the Church. The Catholic bishops in Germany, unlike the Catholic bishops in most of Scandinavia, had not come over to the Reformation. But, as many Lutheran scholars have pointed out, these provisions were viewed simply as temporary, emergency provisions.

DOOR: What did these provisions include?
NEUHAUS: Ordaining people to the ministry without the involvement of bishops in Catholic succession. But the point is that Lutheranism as a separate ecclesial communion was meant to be a temporal phenomenon. Unfortunately, over the last 460-plus years, Lutherans have become
accustomed to the emergency and mistaken it for a permanent state of affairs.

DOOR: You're implying that the work of the Reformers was legitimate.
NEUHAUS: Much of it, certainly. Pope John Paul II has, on a number of occasions, referred to Luther as a religious genius. The personal, spiritual, and theological insights of Luther, which are very similar to those of Bernard of Clairvaux before Luther with regard to what came to be called sola gratia and sola fide--this is a very deep and profound interpretation of the gospel, by which the entire Church has been enriched. And Catholics at the highest levels, including the Pope, have
said this.

DOOR: So, again, you're saying that, as far as Rome is concerned, the Reformation had a place.
NEUHAUS: Yes, but it should have been contained in continuity with the Catholic Church. There was no necessity for the schism. And the step that I took in entering into full communion with the Catholic Church--as I did in 1990--is intended to bear witness to the fulfillment of what is best and truest in the Lutheran Reformation, within contemporary Catholicism.

DOOR: What have your former fellow Lutherans made of your conversion?
NEUHAUS: Some of my Lutheran friends think that I acted prematurely. That is, they think that the story is not yet told, that Lutheranism has not, in fact, decided simply to be a Protestant denomination among Protestant denominations. But by the end of the 1980s, it seemed clear
to me that Lutherans, both in this country and worldwide, had willy nilly made the decision to remain a permanent and separated Protestant denomination.

DOOR: "Willy nilly"?
NEUHAUS: Did I just say "Willy nilly"?

DOOR: Yes.
NEUHAUS: -----

DOOR: Um, where were we? Oh yeah. So far you've been using the terms "Catholic," "Lutheran," and "Protestant." Are you familiar with plain ol' "evangelical" Christians?
NEUHAUS: Oh, yes. For years I've been in close and cordial conversation with many evangelical Protestants and their major national and international leaders. And in my writing, in The Naked Public Square, for example, I have consistently lifted up the importance of evangelicalism, not only for religious and cultural change in this country, but also its importance on the whole world stage of the Christian movement. I've celebrated it critically, to be sure, but I'm convinced it's one of the most important phenomena within the world-historical Christian reality at the edge of the third millennium.

DOOR: Then you must know that evangelicals consider anything besides Jesus and the Bible--like the Church or the sacraments--mere aides at best and hindrances at worst. What bridge can be built between evangelicals and Catholics in such a situation?
NEUHAUS: Well, it's difficult. We see this in the response to Evangelicals and Catholics Together and in the controversies it has engendered among evangelicals. But if one asks, "What bridge can be built?"--well, surely, in Jesus Christ, the bridge of reconciliation is already in place.

DOOR: At the risk of sounding cynical, what practical difference does that make?
NEUHAUS: I agree with you that the conceptualization and the experience of Christian existence is dramatically different for most evangelical Protestants from what it is for most Catholics. Nnetheless, it is the same Christ to whom we surrender ourselves, whom we follow, and whom we
declare to be Lord. That's the beginning. The beginning always has to be Christocentric. And I think it's very important, for evangelicals and for Catholics, to lift up Christ in such a way that we are, at least to a degree, freed from our primary Christian identity, in terms of whether we are evangelical or whether we are Catholic. Which is not to say that such a difference isn't important.

DOOR: How important is it?
NEUHAUS: It's very important. One of the things in the ECT declaration that we say again and again is that there are these major differences. It's been somewhat frustrating, but not untouched by amusement, to see how many critics of ECT say that we try to brush differences under the
carpet. What we do want to say--and the most important thing that the declaration says--is that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, however imperfect our communion with one another and however different our understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

DOOR: Historically, though, we Christians have been pretty good at keeping the family feud going.
NEUHAUS: Yes, but the fact is that all of us see ourselves in continuity with the historical event of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, and the Christian community, as testified to in the Scriptures that we
share. One of the critics of ECT said to one of the evangelical signers, "What you're doing is agreeing with the Catholics that the whole tradition of the Church is normative for us, whereas we Baptists began in the sixteenth century." What a peculiar thing for a Baptist to say! To be a Christian is to have begun in the first century! That's where God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, and that's where the community of faith was started and the whole Christian movement was launched.

DOOR: Why do you think such Christians take pride in cutting themselves off from the first 1600 years of the Holy Spirit's work?
NEUHAUS: Well, we live in a culture of presentism, which says, "The only thing that's real is what's immediate, what's now." Certainly, there are strong streams of that in evangelical piety. You know, it's Jesus and me and my experience of Jesus now. And then somehow the Bible gets in there. But everything else is deemed utterly irrelevant by comparison. It's also a question of identities, and when identities get threatened, you get all kinds of peculiar behavior. Besides, an
evangelical Protestant is sometimes difficult to define. What's evangelical? What isn't?

DOOR: What's evangelical? What isn't?
NEUHAUS: The identity is in large part, and maybe at its critical center, based upon a negation.

DOOR: How so?
NEUHAUS: Well, you can debate what it means to be a Protestant until the cows come home, but at the end of the day it means you're durn sure not a Catholic. So it's a negation: "I am a Protestant, I am not a Catholic." Then to be an evangelical Protestant is a double negation because you're saying, "I am not a mainline Protestant or a liberal Protestant or an ecumenical Protestant." So if I say I'm an evangelical Protestant, I'm essentially saying two negative things: "I'm not a Catholic, and I'm not a mainline Protestant." Mark Noll, perhaps the premiere church historian of American evangelicalism, thinks that's one of the reasons for why ECT has caused as much commotion as it has.

DOOR: Why?
NEUHAUS: ECT clearly threatens that identity, leading to this sometimes hysterical polemic about selling out the Reformation. xNoll has pointed out that it's been 140 years or so since evangelical Protestants have seriously been provoked or invited to think about their relationship to the Catholic Church. For most evangelical Protestants, even to suggest that there might be some Christianly serious way in which you had to engage Catholics and Catholicism was considered off the wall.

DOOR: So because ECT does engage Catholics--
NEUHAUS: Well, when you add such major movers as have associated themselves with ECT--Bill Bright, Charles Colson, Jim Packer--this comes as an enormous theological shock to some.

DOOR: Do you know J.I. Packer well enough to call him "Jim"?
NEUHAUS: Did I just call him "Jim"?

DOOR: Yes.
NEUHAUS: -----

DOOR: Um, you were saying something about an enormous theological shock.
NEUHAUS: Actually, it could be more accurately described as a culture shock because there is a culture of evangelicalism in which the Catholic question had no place. Therefore, it's profoundly disturbing when it is inserted into that culture.

DOOR: Two places in which evangelicals and Catholics seem to be increasingly chummy are the pro-life movement and the Republican Party.
NEUHAUS: And in the charismatic renewal.

DOOR: Oh yeah. We forgot about them. Anyway, could it be that the Body of Christ has been allowed by God to endure abortion and other side effects of liberalism in order to expedite reunification?
NEUHAUS: Well, I certainly wouldn't want to attribute the abortion culture or liberal apostasy to the workings of God.

DOOR: That's not exactly what we meant.
NEUHAUS: Has God used this circumstance of crisis in order to bring Christians of very different religious cultures to a common recognition of one another as fellow believers and as co-belligerents in the great cultural tasks of our time?

DOOR: Uh, that's what we meant.
NEUHAUS: Oh, yes. I think that's happened. And in that sense ECT was really catching up with what was already happening in what Chuck Colson has called the ecumenism of the trenches, especially in the pro-life movement and in the increasing awareness that cultural conservatives--
who are religiously, Christianly grounded--have a life-or-death struggle on our hands.

DOOR: Do you know Charles Colson well enough to call him "Chuck"?
NEUHAUS: Did I just call him "Chuck"?

DOOR: Um, you were referring to ecumenical trenchmouth or--
NEUHAUS: I think evangelicals and Catholics--in the trenches, so to speak--have been discovering one another as brothers and sisters in Christ for a long time now. ECT simply gave a kind of formal framework and articulation for that which the Holy Spirit was already doing.

DOOR: You mentioned "Christianly grounded" cultural conservatives. Do you see a place for religious Jews in these trenches?
NEUHAUS: Yes. I think the involvement of Jews is something to be very grateful for and to nurture and develop carefully.

DOOR: Why?
NEUHAUS: I think it's important for Christians to be reflecting ever more carefully--in a theological, spiritual, and biblical manner--on the place of Jews and of living Judaism in God's covenantal purposes in history.

DOOR: Do you think most Christians can reflect on all that?
NEUHAUS: I think all of us need to be alert to what God may be up to in history. I mean, God has not withdrawn from history. He's working out His purposes in ways that transcend our sure discernment, but we are always to be alert. In terms of Christians and Jews, especially here in the United States, it would be a good and urgent thing for us to revisit, in a fresh way, Romans 9-11, St. Paul's reflections on the mystery of living Judaism in God's providential purposes.

DOOR: Does a wise response to the increasingly conservative profile of religious Americans include the alarm voiced by politically moderate or left-wing believers?
NEUHAUS: The minority of Americans commonly described as "secular humanists," the "cultural elite," and the "Pagan Left" are understandably in a state of utter shock and disarray at what's
happening in America now. If one can enter into their construal of reality, he'll see that they have every reason to use terms like the "Christian Right" and the "Religious Right" in order to paint with a broad brush the cultural conservative resurgency in America as an instance of religious fanaticism, unbridled fascism, anti-Semitism, etc. One can understand why they're in a state of panic.

DOOR: Why are they in a state of panic?
NEUHAUS: They've lost touch with the American experience. This is new for them because they'd persuaded themselves, over a forty or fifty-year period, that they were running America, that, in fact, they were setting the pace and determining the agenda for the development of national life. Now, all of a sudden, they find themselves sidelined, and it's a terrifying experience, not unlike what has happened in the last thirty years to the liberal mainline churches in America.

DOOR: Make the connection for us.
NEUHAUS: Not long ago they really believed they were the voice of responsible religious opinion and conviction in American public life. It's hard to imagine, but in 1981, when some of us launched the Institute of Religion and Democracy and took on what we believed to be some of the very wrongheaded directions of the National Council of Churches, the NCC was a central pillar of the American establishment. Like the American Medical Association or the American Bar Association, the National Council of Churches mattered.

DOOR: It doesn't matter now?
NEUHAUS: It's collapsed! It's just holding on by its fingertips, maintaining a little office in what used to be called the "great God box" at 475 Riverside Drive, which is now all rented out to
non-church-related business and government organizations. The NCC is desperately trying to maintain a skeletal corporate existence.

DOOR: Have they acknowledged defeat?
NEUHAUS: Oh, no. They blame their radically diminished status on conservatives, and in their world, "conservative" is a dirty word.

DOOR: Excuse us, but you almost sound as if you're gloating.
NEUHAUS: No. In fact, one has to try to understand. It's very important to enter into other people's worldviews. And at 475 Riverside Drive, in a poignant and touching way, there's still the feeling that this is an aberrant moment, a glitch on the cultural and religious screen that has somehow put these conservative, religious evangelicals and Catholics into a position of unwarranted influence. "This will pass. We just have to wait it out." I think that's their mindset. It's very sad.

DOOR: Aren't you painting mainline churches with the same broad brush that you accuse them of using against religious conservatives?
NEUHAUS: Well, one has to, in all fairness and accuracy, add that within many of the mainline churches, there is a vibrant Christian life and mission going on.

DOOR: Whew! For a minute there, we--
NEUHAUS: In the local churches.

NEUHAUS: You can take the Episcopal Church or the United Methodist Church or the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. in almost any city in this country and find vibrant communities of Christian faith and witness. But almost every study and report we have underscores that those
churches have almost totally disengaged themselves from their regional and national bureaucracies. And from institutions such as the NCC.

DOOR: What practical help can Catholics give evangelicals who, having accepted the legitimacy of Catholic worship, nevertheless remain wary of doctrinal unity with a tradition so different from their own?
NEUHAUS: We have to invite our evangelical friends to think seriously about the Church--the concept of the Church and the doctrine of the Church. We have to invite them to take the New Testament seriously and, in turn, to take the Old Testament seriously, to take seriously the
whole understanding of God's story of salvation as the election, calling, and sustaining of a people. The corporate nature of Christian salvation is, I think, largely missing from Protestantism generally and evangelical Protestantism in particular.

DOOR: But can't the individual's relationship to God get lost amid all this talk of "a people"?
NEUHAUS: Well, evangelical Protestantism tends to be highly individualistic in a way that simply cannot be squared, it seems to me, with the biblical understanding of the story of salvation as the calling of a people "out of darkness, into the wonderful light of Christ."

DOOR: Wow! That was beautiful.
NEUHAUS: It's 1 Peter.

DOOR: Uh, we knew that.
NEUHAUS: The "Body of Christ," the "Bride of Christ," the Church as the bride, Christ as the bridegroom, the corporate sacramental images of salvation--Cardinal Ratzinger has said, I think very insightfully, that the difference between the Protestant and the Catholic understanding of Christian existence is that, for the Protestant, faith in Christ and faith in the Church are two different questions, and most Protestants never even get to the second question.

DOOR: And for Catholics?
NEUHAUS: For Catholics it is one question, one act of faith. I think that is clearly truer to the biblical witness and certainly to the apostolic tradition within which, after all, the New Testament was formed.

DOOR: You're implying that if the Church is the Body of Christ, then incidental corruption--like a bad Pope or an overemphasis on indulgences--is merely an example of the tares among the wheat.
NEUHAUS: Exactly. The Church is a community of sinners, of forgiven sinners, and finally the only qualification for membership is the acknowledgment that one is a sinner in need of the Saviour and in need of the community of salvation.

DOOR: For a minute there, you sounded almost evangelical.
NEUHAUS: I think many of our evangelical friends have distorted, inadvertently, precisely what the Reformation wanted to assert, namely, the radical gratuity--or gift quality--of salvation.

DOOR: How?
NEUHAUS: By concentrating so much upon the individual conversion experience--the "born-again experience"--that they end up resting their confidence of being saved upon their own experience.

DOOR: But they attribute that experience to the Holy Spirit.
NEUHAUS: It doesn't matter. The fact is that you find evangelical Christians saying, "How do I know I'm saved? Because this and that happened to me." And that's exactly what the Reformers railed against! Works righteousness, but also experience righteousness. One of the ironies in the reception of ECT is that its critics say, "Well, ECT betrays the gospel. Why? Because it says we
are justified by faith, but it doesn't say we've been justified by faith alone. And the article by which the Church stands or falls, according to the Reformers, is justification by faith alone."

DOOR: Well?
NEUHAUS: Here is delicious irony. The phrase "the article by which the Church stands or falls" comes from a Lutheran writer in 1718--two hundred years after the beginning of the Reformation--whose point was to condemn what Lutherans called the "enthusiasts," or those who placed their confidence of salvation upon a conversion experience. So the very phrase that some evangelicals are using to condemn ECT is, in fact, a phrase that historically was used to condemn a key component of what today is called evangelicalism. Very strange.

DOOR: Upon what do Christians base their confidence of salvation?
NEUHAUS: Our confidence is in the Word of God revealed in Jesus Christ and enacted in the proclamation of the Church and the sacramental enactment of grace in holy baptism. This is evangelical Christianity, and this is Luther who, when he was tempted by Satan and made to endure his great struggles of doubt, said to Satan, "Get away!" And what was his trump card?

DOOR: We give up.
NEUHAUS: He said, "I am baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! You can't touch me!" That's Reformation Christianity, and it's also good Catholic Christianity.

DOOR: With more and more people coming to see as common to both Catholics and Protestants these fundamental convictions, could your Lutheran friends have been right?
NEUHAUS: About what?

DOOR: About your having jumped ship too early? That, in fact, a formal reunification is inevitable?
NEUHAUS: I would thank God if it turned out that my judgment in the late 1980s was wrong. If a hundred years from now, say, there really is an ecclesial, corporate reconciliation between Lutheranism and the Catholic Church--and if I am around the throne of grace, as I hope I will be--I will join the angels and saints in rejoicing at that, hoping that the decision I made in 1990 contributed to it. But that's all in God's hands, which is exactly where it should be.

Fr. Neuhaus passed away in 2008 at the age of seventy-two.


This interview is also contained in The Door Magazine Interviews--Take Two (Bob Darden, ed.).