A JUDGE WHICH FEARED NOT GOD, NEITHER REGARDED MAN
During the month of June the United States Supreme Court demonstrated beyond
all doubt that it is composed of at least several judges who neither fear God
nor regard man, like the one Jesus described in a parable (Luke 18:2). As Lord
Acton said, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Our Supreme
Court, having arrogated absolute power to itself, explicitly to even the
slimmest of its majorities, has become absolutely corrupt, having eschewed both
the fear of God and respect for human life. What the Court has done for us in a
handful of decisions–some decent, some good, some evil, all absolute–is to
make its true character as the least democratic and most dangerous of all of our
institutions absolutely undeniable.
According to Scripture, there are two situations in which disobeying the
State is explicitly condoned, in fact, required: the first is when the State
commands one to do something that God forbids. In Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar, the
Babylonian king whose armies conquered and devastated Jerusalem, demanded that
members of every nation and language fall down and worship a giant golden image
which he had set up in the plain of Dura. Three young Jews refused to do what
God’s commandments forbid. They were denounced to the king, and when offered a
second chance refused again. The rest of the story is doubtless familiar to most
readers; there is even a little children’s song that memorializes it,
"Three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace."
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace as the king had
threatened, but they were miraculously preserved. The king, recognizing his
mistake, decreed that anyone who should "speak anything amiss against the
God of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego shall be cut in pieces and their houses
made a dunghill" (3:29).
The second situation in which civil disobedience is approved occurs three
chapters later. By this time the Babylonian empire had been overthrown and the
Persians ruled. To flatter the Persian shah-en-shah, the king of kings, and to
trip up Daniel, whom King Darius had raised to high honor, jealous satraps
persuaded the king to forbid that any petition be made to any God or man other
than the Persian monarch himself during a thirty-day period. Daniel not merely
prayed, but did so three times a day with his windows open towards Jerusalem. We
may assume that he prayed rather loudly and obviously, because he was
immediately spotted by the satraps. The rest of this story, too, is known; he
was thrown into the lions’ den; the lions refused to harm him. Darius,
recognizing in this the sovereignty of God, released him and threw Daniel’s
accusers to the lions, who this time made short work of them. There is even a
little song about this, "Dare to be a Daniel."
In its June 19 decision, the Supreme Court decreed that it is impermissible
for a high school student to pray publicly, on government property, in the
actual case, at a football game. The majority decision, written by Justice John
Paul Stevens, spoke of the way in which prayer could make certain people feel
excluded.1 In the case in point, two families, whose identity was carefully
hidden under a "court seal," objected. It was widely reported that one
is Roman Catholic, the other Mormon, and thus presumably neither family is
opposed to prayer as such. Now the will of two offended people, supported by six
eminent justices, forbids 270 million people to do what God’s law demands,
other than discretely, out of public view, best with windows closed and blinds
1 The logic of this decision would seem to make it unconstitutional to pray
on U.S. warships, or in Congress, or even in the Supreme Court, whose sessions
open with the cry, "God save the United States and this honorable
court!", thus mentioning the unmentionable, the Deity.
Decisions of the Court are often called the law of the land. However, to
decree that something is unconstitutional does not automatically create a law
prohibiting it. What would happen if in Texas, perhaps even in the same little
town of Santa Fe, another young girl should lead in prayer at another football
game? With what could she be charged? In the United States, for the present at
least, the legal maxim still prevails, nulla poena sine lege, no penalty
without a law. No legislative act has for the moment declared it illegal to
pray, so she could not be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
Questioned about this over lunch, an eminent attorney answered, "She
would be suspended, perhaps expelled." But who would do this?
"Obviously the school authorities." But what if the school authorities
themselves decided to respect the principle nulla poena? "They would
be disciplined by the state Board of Education." In other words, the
administrative bodies at various levels would be called upon to apply a poena
sine lege, a penalty without a law.
It is, of course, not clear for what offense the girl and the administrators
would be disciplined, for although the Court has found praying unconstitutional,
there is as yet no law against it in Texas or elsewhere. Indeed, if there were
such a law, it would seem to involve censorship in the form of prior restraint,
and thus ought to be odious to the same "civil libertarians" who found
the prayer odious in the first place. When one disobeys a court order and does
something not forbidden by statute or an actual restraining order, the offender
can be held in contempt of court. Would the young lass be found in contempt of
the Supreme Court? And if so, would it be necessary to send helmeted, armored,
and heavily armed marshals to wrest her from the protective arms of the
recalcitrant school officials?
What the Court is clearly doing, in this case as in so many others, is making
law. Unless we assume that the will of the Court is of itself law, the
rebellious girl cannot be punished. But all immediately do assume this, together
with our distinguished local attorney interlocutor, by assuming that such a girl
will be punished, and promptly, without let or hindrance.
The school authorities are thus expected to become enforcers of the Court’s
will, as though it were law and they were magistrates. If they fail in this,
they themselves will be punished. But what if not only a girl but the various
levels of school authorities and public officials "dared to be a
Daniel"? The biblical precedent would suggest that the Court might order
the establishment of a huge lions’ den into which such recalcitrants could be
cast. Indeed, that would be the logical procedure for justices who fear not God.
Nor Regard Man
A perfect complement to the 6-3 decision was the Court’s decree in Stenberg
v. Carhart: Dr. Leroy Carhart’s special technique of baby butchery,
known as partial birth abortion, must be allowed to continue. Associate Justice
Breyer, who wrote the 5-4 "opinion"–not really an opinion, of
course, but a decree, more absolute than a ukase of the czar–spoke of
balancing the state’s interest (not the baby’s or fetus’s) in life against
the woman’s right to choose what is best for her. Various medical sources,
including the dean of all the nation’s doctors, former Surgeon General Koop,
have repeatedly said that there is no condition for which this type of abortion
is the preferred treatment.
Justice Breyer was troubled by the thought that giving birth might subject a
woman to indignity. Is it more dignified to have an unwanted baby butchered than
to give it life? The logic, if we can call it that, in this decision and the
related opinions is little short of diabolical. Why is partial birth abortion so
sacred that the pro-abortionists protect it so zealously, all the while
contending that it almost never takes places (on the contrary, thousands are
done every year). The real answer is this: the procedure solves a problem that
generally occurs with very late term abortions by the earlier hysterotomy
technique (which is the same as a Caesarean section, with the exception that the
baby is killed or set aside to die).
The hysterotomy abortion confronts the abortionists and his assistants with a
living, squirming baby trying desperately to breathe and to live. In other
words, it makes it impossible to assert, as the attorney for Dr. Carhart
claimed, that abortion is about killing "living fetal tissue." It is
about killing a baby.
This creates emotional strain for the attending personnel. The partial birth
or D & X procedure, as it is more euphemistically called, does not confront
the doctor and the nurses with a living baby, as its brain is sucked out just
before it is completely delivered. Why insist on the right to perform such a
macabre and apparently rare procedure? The answer is simple enough. The reason
for prohibiting the partial birth abortion is that it makes it abundantly
evident what abortion is: a homicidal act, the killing of a living human baby.
And this is the very reason why the procedure must not be banned, in the eyes of
the pro-abortionists, for that is exactly what every abortion is, a
homicidal act, the killing of a baby that would otherwise be born.
It is also true, but highly inconvenient to noise about, that doctors and
legislators in other countries cannot believe it when told the details of this
particular way of disposing of unwanted offspring. Das kann nicht wahr sein! was
the comment of an eminent German lawyer: That can’t be true! But, alas, Es
ist wahr: it is true.
Although the American people in their great majority reject and abhor this
technique, and although thirty states have passed laws against it, the will of
our sovereign pentarchy, of five justices, prevails, and the butchery of babies
is protected. Indeed, if we recognize that it is the swing vote of one, Justice
Sandra Day O’Connor, who has apparently forgotten the pro-life assurances she
is said to have given President Reagan to secure her appointment, that annulled
the state law, we see that the fate of thousands hangs on the will of one. As
the Wall Street Journal observed June 30, the Court has declared itself
as the Supreme Authority, and the will of the Authority depends on the will of
one. We are ruled, in effect, by a matriarchal monarchy.
Pro-lifers, especially religiously oriented ones, are regularly derided as
"extremists." But which of the two positions is actually extreme? Is
it the contention that at least sometimes an abortion should be hindered and an
unwanted baby born in spite of the inconvenience, or is it the determination
that absolutely no abortion may be hindered, no matter how late, how gruesome,
or how frivolously desired.
As though to prove a theory of this editor, that the Supreme Court regularly
makes two evil decisions and then, in a brief flurry of remorse, makes one
relatively good one, the Court did decide with respect to the Boy Scouts of
America that that organization, being private and committed to teaching a
certain kind of moral standards, does have the right to exclude homosexual males
as Scout leaders. This decision was immediately faulted by the usual suspects,
including cartoonist Kevin Siers and the editorial writer of this editor’s
home-town newspaper, the Charlotte Observer. An Observer editorial
breathed ominous predictions that churches and other groups that have
"gay" members may now withdraw support from the Scouts. Apparently it
is wrong of an organization dedicated to building the character of young boys as
they become men to refuse to subject them to leadership by persons whose
orientation frequently, if not uniformly, targets young boys for initiation into
perversion. To reject gays as Scout leaders shows no sensitivity to the feelings
of the rejected aspirants and is intolerant of "alternative
life-styles." To lack sensitivity and tolerance is to commit the two of the
only three things still condemned as vices in our country, the third being
The Boy Scouts’ position conforms to the biblical pattern, although they do
not derive it explicitly from Scripture. If the Court had decided against the
Scouts, it would have also been deciding against biblical morality. Perhaps some
of the four dissenters regard this as an ideal opportunity missed. As noted,
this was a 5-4 decision, with Mrs. O’Connor supplying the necessary fifth
vote, another display of matriarchal monarchy.
Curia delenda est
There is at least one possible good to come from the Court’s most recent
decisions: they make abundantly evident to all who can reason the truth about
one of two things: either about the United States Constitution or about the
United States Supreme Court. Does the Constitution, as the Court has decreed,
prohibit prayer and protect the butchering of babies? We must note, as we and
others have done so often and so ineffectually, that the Constitution surely
does not even hint at such things. However, the Court says that it does. If the
Court is right, then the Constitution is an evil document. If, on the other
hand, the Court is wrong–and we confidently say that it is–then the Court
has become an evil institution. It must be transformed, or even abolished, if
Americans are not to live under the tacitly accepted rule of arbitrary evil. As
the Court ends this judicial session, logic demands that we paraphrase the Roman
statesman Cato and say, curia delenda est: the Court must be destroyed.
This may seem extreme, but the situation is extreme. A situation in which the
fate of more than one-quarter billion people depends on the sole will of five
unelected individuals is an extreme situation. There are several less drastic
measures that might solve some of our problems. On the personal level, if young
girls and boys and school officials could act on the principle, "Dare to be
a Daniel," a beginning would be made. If the other two branches of our
system, the legislative and the executive, dared to do their duty in checking
and balancing the excesses of the judiciary, perhaps that would be enough.
If the Justices were not appointed for life, if their decisions were not
absolute and irreformable save by the seismic upheaval of the amendment process,
perhaps it would be possible to write, mutanda est, "must be
transformed," rather than delenda, "must be destroyed."
THE CRISIS IN DEMOCRATIC THEORY
What’s in a name? The foreign policy of the United States under President
Clinton has largely revolved around creating, restoring, or establishing
democracy in Haiti, in Bosnia, in Kosovo. Yet the United States are not supposed
to be a democracy, at least not a direct one. One frequently hears people plead,
"Our country is a republic, not a democracy." What is the difference?
Is there any? Or what does a name really mean? The recently abolished sovereign
nation in East Germany called itself the German Democratic Republic. Names
sometimes conceal, rather than reveal, reality. Appearances, even constitutions
and formal structures, may be deceiving. Consider the demands for
"democratic elections" in Bosnia, Congo (formerly Zaire), South
Africa, Kosovo, and most recently in Zimbabwe. "One man, one vote" is
not necessarily the will of God, especially not when, as in the case of
Zimbabwe, it seems to mean, "One man, one vote, once."
Weighted voting, in which the vote of particular classes counts more than
that of others, is anathema to us. Miss Lani Guinier, President Clinton’s
unsuccessful nominee to head the Civil Rights Commission, struck out by pleading
for weighted voting favoring marginalized groups. The late Erik v.
Kuehnelt-Leddihn, with a different view of weighting in mind, asked whether the
vote of a sixty-year-old professor of political philosophy and that of a
teen-age prostitute should have equal value. His implied suggestion makes more
sense than her proposal, but both contradict our democratic canon of equality.
In the United States, the votes of both the prostitute and the professor do
have equal value, but alas, today that value approaches zero. Absolute power is
in the hands of a majority of five unelected Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Supreme Court Chief Justices Oscar Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Charles Evans Hughes
told us what the law really means, namely, what a majority of the High Court
wants it to mean. Recent court decisions have borne them out. Critical legal
theory holds that law is simply a tool of the ruling class to control the
others. This is not what it should be, but perhaps this is the way it actually
works. Supreme Court decisions, like those discussed above, seem to bear this
out. The Constitution means what the Justices want it to mean, no more and no
Does natural law, does Scripture, does theology tell us anything about how we
should be governed, or whether indeed we should govern ourselves? Government is
important to all who live in society, and clear thinkers, from the past to the
present, have come up with some general conclusions.
Similar views on the nature of government were put forth by ancient
philosophers, as well as by people as apparently dissimilar as the great
Protestant Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) and the great Roman Catholic social
thinker and Pope, Leo XIII (1878-1903). Both speak of three basic forms of
governmental organization: monarchy, or the rule of one; oligarchy, or the rule
of a few; and democracy, or the rule of the many. Each has its advantages and
each its problems, and often things are not as they seem.
In Praise of Monarchy
There are advantages to monarchy; if one has a philosopher-king or one of the
four good emperors of ancient Rome as ruler, monarchy can be benevolent. But
what if one has a Nero or a Caligula? Although the words "monarchy,"
"king," and the like are doubtless odious to most Americans, we must
distinguish between monarchy and tyranny. One is in principle benevolent, or
ought to be; the other by definition is not. A monarch is not necessarily a
tyrant, and a non-monarchical state, even one calling itself a democracy, may
well be tyrannical.
The typical monarch of Christendom could not rule arbitrarily, demanding by
fiat whatever appealed to him. He was hemmed in by all kinds of traditions and
intermediate structures, by the nobility, the church, the corps of military
officers, the guilds, the towns and communes, etc. He could not make just any
law, for his pronouncements were supposed to reveal the will of God. We even see
the principle that the monarch must do the will of God at work in non-biblical,
pre-Christian law in Daniel 6:9, which speaks of "the law of the Medes and
the Persians, which altereth not." In the case in Daniel, it took evidence
from heaven–Daniel’s protection in the lions’ den–to persuade the king
that he might lawfully revoke something that he had enacted as a law.
As Jacques Ellul, Bertrand de Jouvenel and others have pointed out, the
monarchy of the kings of France, even that of le Roi-Soleil, the Sun King
Louis XIV, was tempered by the king’s duty to respect the rights of many
intermediate structures. The French Revolution wiped out all of them, giving
absolute, unlimited sovereignty to la voilonté générale, the general
will. Before the Revolution broke out, our Founding Fathers had seen the danger
inherent in absolute power in the hands of any one agent or agency, and had
sought to avoid it by the system of checks and balance. Unfortunately, what we
now have in the United States, because it is not acknowledged as a monarchy in
the old sense, but in reality functions as one, is more absolute than the France
of Louis XIV.
Often enough in the past, perhaps less so today, states have been ruled by an
oligarchy, a few. An oligarchy may not be bad, if the oligarchs are really true aristoi,
i.e. the best citizens of the state. Unfortunately, oligarchs, like monarchs,
are fallible human beings, and if no internal compass and no external forms
restrain them, their rule may easily degenerate into looking out for their own
True democracy, often called direct democracy, in which all the citizens make
the decisions by general referenda, is difficult to set up. One such democracy
existed in ancient Athens, although the list of citizens was short. Switzerland
is still largely a direct democracy, in which the people are frequently summoned
to a referendum, but this system will have to be abandoned if Switzerland joins
the European Union. Direct democracy depends on the availability of people to
participate and on a commonwealth small enough for them actually to do so.
Small, democratic bodies can be united federally in a larger system, and this
was the intention of the founders of our republic, but it no longer exists in a
The Least of Evils
Calvin the Reformer and Leo the Pope both came to rather the same conclusion;
both recommended aristocracy tempered by democracy, or democracy tempered by
aristocracy. In other words, neither recommended a totally rational,
mathematically egalitarian system. This was the original American idea, properly
designated as "federal republicanism," with division of powers and two
kinds of representative chambers.
Ideally, those who govern should possess authority in the sense of Hannah
Arendt. Authority must be distinguished from power. Arendt defines it as the
ability to elicit voluntary obedience. Good presidents, good officers,
good coaches, good teachers have it. Those who do not have it must resort to
power, to force, in order to be obeyed. When government leaders forfeit respect,
they lose authority, and when authority is lost, power must use force to
preserve social peace. Power, contrasted with true authority, compels
obedience. Thus when a ruler or a government resorts to force to secure
obedience, this does not "restore authority." Instead, it proves that
authority is gone.
There is a loss of authority in the U.S.A. at virtually every level of social
behavior: parents, teachers, clergy, government officials, etc. As Arendt
predicted, this loss is accompanied by an increasing resort to government
restrictions, which then leads to government violence.
Religion and Freedom
Although religions and religious leaders have at times resorted to force to
secure their goals, ideally they should influence and rule by persuasion and
conviction. When all the people, or at least a very significant number of them,
share common ideals and values, often in terms of a shared religion, to a great
extent they will govern themselves. When they do not, governments must resort to
force. When people are capable of self-discipline, self-motivation, and
self-control, very little force is required to "promote domestic
Within Western Christendom, the fundamental basis of government has been
covenantal, based on the concept of covenants between God, the Creator and
Judge, and humans, his servants. Respect for covenantal arrangements obviates
the need for force. This is true both in the small society of the family, the
larger society of the sports team, and the great society of the State.
Traditionally, these covenants between individuals and smaller segments of
society have been seen as under the covenant between God and the human race.
When even the symbolism of this overarching covenant is derided or discarded, as
has occurred in the United States in various decisions of the Supreme Court, the
need for government regulation–and force–grows exponentially.
The simplest natural human covenant is that of marriage and the family. When
this covenantal arrangement is denigrated and disregarded, it has an impact on
the rest of society. Colleges once drew upon the authority of the family to
supervise their young charges. They claimed that they had a duty to act in
loco parentis, in the place of a parent, obviously assuming that a natural
and recognized authority existed between a child and his parents, an authority
that could be delegated to some extent to the college. As marriage has declined
and maturity has been declared to begin at eighteen rather than twenty-one, the
colleges and other institutions have lost all natural authority. In all too many
cases so-called educational institutions seek to influence the students over
which they no longer have authority not by inspiring virtue or idealism, but by
catering to adolescent fantasies and appetites, including sexual ones.
Big Not Necessarily Beautiful
The American system of government was designed by a small group of
self-sufficient citizens for a nation of some four million. It has been extended
to apply to a giant population of more than a quarter-billion, and it no longer
works well. Governments need to attain a certain size to be efficient, but if
they grow too big, they become inefficient and grasping; they enrich their
officers, who no longer merit the title of public servants, and by a natural
necessity become increasingly hostile to freedom. The way that this has
developed in the United States is seen primarily in the tremendous proliferation
of regulatory agencies and rules, and of course in the autocratic power of the
Supreme Court. Other countries have similar problems. In Britain, for example,
which does not have a written constitution, victory in a parliamentary election
can give almost absolute power to the prime minister, who can rearrange society,
creating new rights and abolishing others, with little or nothing to check his
impulses. Now, as we have noted in earlier issues, unelected structures of
European dimensions–the European Commission, the European Court of Human
Rights–can hand down for Britain and other states binding decisions that
overrule their own elected legislatures.
Governments exist to facilitate what the seventeenth-century political
thinker Johannes Althusius calls communication, i.e. the sharing of goods and
services that all need, but government creates nothing and must be careful not
to consume too much of the national product in the process of that facilitation.
Fairness vs. Equality
One of Althusius’s most significant insights deals with the relationship
between fairness and equality. Fairness is something that cannot be mandated by
law. It will not exist unless a considerable internal disposition to fairness
exists in the general public. Equality has to be mandated by law, because it
does not exist in the state of nature. A widespread commitment to fairness will
permit a great deal of equality without regulation, but when absolute,
mathematical equality is the goal, it can only be sought–never actually
achieved–by immense and expanding government intervention.
Monarchies failed when monarchs ceased to respect the limits of their
station, the importance of those intermediate structures that protect
individuals and families and permit them to develop harmoniously.
"Monarchs," who need not be crowned heads, must keep to the principle,
Salus populi suprema lex (the welfare of the people is the highest law).
Those who fail to do this become tyrants, targets for violent protest and even
We prefer democracy to monarchy, but it too has its problems. Whenever the
populace is numerous, the people as a whole simply cannot rule, because no
possible mechanism exists to permit them to consult and to express themselves on
all relevant topics. Consequently they must delegate authority and, of course,
where true authority is lacking, power. Do people regularly choose wise rulers?
(How can we ask that with a straight face today?) Plato–no democrat,
he–feared that in a democracy a corrupt people would choose corrupt rulers,
who would corrupt the people still further. In other words, a decline in private
morality among the general public will be matched by a decline in public
morality among the rulers. Plato was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet,
but his thoughts have a special relevance for us today.
IN ADDITION TO WHICH
• Where have all the children gone? In early July, a number of
same-sex pairs presented themselves at various town offices in Vermont to engage
in partnership rites. Some town clerks expressed the intention of resigning
before participating in so odious a procedure. Their recalcitrance, although
entirely justified on biblical principles, offends against the all-important
modern imperatives of sensitivity and tolerance. We must be sensitive to the
needs of everyone and tolerant of whatever measures they desire to fulfill them.
And of course, as noted elsewhere in the present issue, the Supreme Court
acting, as the Wall Street Journal put it, as the Supreme Authority has
given the go-ahead for continuing the baby butchery of partial birth abortion.
Schools distribute condoms to high schoolers, and the President himself sets a
standard for an alternative form of sexual activity without risk of pregnancy.
Various sources report that such behavior is being practiced in less exalted
circles, i.e. among teenagers who think that somehow it is less culpable than
having actual intercourse. RU 486, the "morning after" drug, is being
made available, and contraceptives of many kinds are available with and without
prescription at every drugstore. Consequently, the birth rate in Western
societies, including the United States, has dropped below replacement level. The
Social Security system is in serious trouble, and numerous proposals are being
made to keep it healthy. But what kind of a future can there be that does not
involve children? Abortion kills between one-quarter and one-third of every
year’s cohort of babies, homosexuality is by its nature infertile, large
numbers of couples are sterile, either naturally or by surgical intervention.
American society, Western Christendom as a whole, is killing itself off and no
one seems to notice. A future with too few children is a very bleak future; a
future without children is no future at all.
• On the morning of the Supreme Court decision preserving the
practice of partial birth abortion, one of the Scripture Union guides for daily
Bible reading proposed Jeremiah 9, where these verses appear:
O that I had in the desert
A wayfarer’s lodging place;
That I might leave my people,
And go from them!
For all of them are adulterers,
An assembly of treacherous men.
And they bend their tongue like their bow;
Lies and not truth prevail in the land;
For they proceed from evil to evil,
And they do not know Me, declares the LORD (verses 2,3).
One is reminded of the lines in Chesterton’s hymn "O God of earth and
From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation of honor and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation, Deliver us, good Lord.
FROM THE ALLIED FRONT: The Terrible Doctor Laura
Now and then I am able to tune in to the radio program of Dr. Laura
Schlessinger. I find I can put up with these for about twenty minutes, not
because her opinions offend, but because of her likeness to a battleground
surgeon whose theatre fills up so quickly with blood and body parts that the
psycho-spiritual gore lying about soon overwhelms. This is not a criticism–she
has to work quickly to save lives. Stretched tenuously between station breaks
are the human problems, frequently of astounding proportions, presented by her
callers, problems caused by stupidity, bad judgment, bad upbringing, ignorance,
pride, covetousness, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, sloth, and more frequently
than not, by grotesque combinations of these. Dr. Laura probes quickly and does
what she can in the allotted time.
What she can do in a few moments is often a great deal, for so many of those
who call her seem bound as by a spell which takes little more to break than an
authoritative word from a decent and sensible person. One caller needs official
permission to stop being a punching bag, another needs to stop committing
adultery, another wants to be reminded it is evil to kill her unborn baby,
another must be told not to cling to the grownup child, another that local help
for the problem is available. Dr. Schlessinger is aided in her diagnostic and
therapeutic efforts by belief in God (she is a traditional Jew), deep respect
for his law as summarized in the Ten Commandments, high intelligence, and the
piercing acuity that comes from knowledge of human nature and the conviction
that getting the job done is more important than coddling the patient’s
feelings. (She is, ahem, "very" Jewish.)
I have heard two main lines of criticism of Dr. Schlessinger, first that she
is driven by dark motives, hatred chief among them, the second that she is
"too simplistic." The first seems to come mostly from those such as
the organized homosexuals who interpret any identification of their problem as
sin or objective disorder as hatred of their persons. No observant Jew,
Christian, or Muslim will accept that line of reasoning. All these religions
believe homosexuality perverse and sinful because God has said so, a dishonor to
his image in man, and globally, objectively wrong, whatever one’s feelings
toward homosexuals might happen to be. Dr. Schlessinger has never, as far as I
know, given any plausible indication that she hates anyone, nor that she is
driven by hatred–except perhaps hatred of the sins and faults to which those
she addresses are subject.
The "simplistic" criticism would appear to come mostly from people
trained in psychology who say that the problems at which she is shooting from
the hip are very often deep and complex, requiring the attention of skilled
therapists. And with this comes the sotto voce but still distinctly
audible information that Dr. Laura’s Ph.D. is not in psychology but
biology–that is, she is unqualified to give the help she proffers.
We may stipulate that many psychic and spiritual problems are complex and
intractable, and some will respond best to extended therapy. But we may also
insist that many of these begin in simple transgressions and end in simply
stated solutions. ("You shouldn’t have taken up with the guy...dump him
fast!") A journey of a thousand tangled errors begins with a single
misstep, and it is very useful wisdom to identify just where the mistake was
made and what correcting it will involve. Dr. Laura does not pretend to give her
radio patients everything they may need, but performs a useful service for which
only a doctorate in horse-sense is required. One wonders if some of the enmity
she gets from the experts amounts to sour grapes. She deals very frankly in
issues of objective right and wrong as of serious consequence in the lives of
those she helps. As M. Scott Peck reminds us in People of the Lie,
professional psychotherapists frequently have trouble comprehending the concepts
of good and evil. Dr. Laura does not. This is perhaps why I have found active
clergy much more appreciative of her.
Her secret, I think, lies not so much in her academic training as in the
credential she presents with the odd but arresting identification of herself as
her "child’s mother"–in her strong, intuitive understanding that
she is part of an ancient tradition of maternal authority with a life and wisdom
of its own that goes on quite independent of the psychological experts of any
age: "Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and reject not your
mother’s teaching, for they are a fair garland for your head, and pendants for
your neck. My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent...." And that,
perhaps, is Dr. Laura–who has herself learned wisdom the hard way–in a very
simplistic nutshell. – S.M.H.