The Party of Death

With Roe v. Wade day coming up, it is a time for bloggers everywhere to be weighing in with some thoughts about abortion.  Unfortunately, I already did that, purely by coincidence, two days ago, reflecting on some of the occasional unsavory excesses of the pro-life movement (for a chilling reminder, though, of the moral gravity of abortion in America, it’s worth reading Al Mohler’s post today, “Abortion is as American as Apple Pie”).

The greatest problem with evangelical politics today, however, is not that it is too pro-life but that it is not pro-life enough.  This is hardly a novel observation, having become a slogan of sorts for more leftward-leaning evangelicals, who would like to see a Christlike commitment to peace become part of Christian politics in America.  But the extent of the Christian Right’s myopia has become glaringly obvious in this election cycle, which has been summed up for me (no doubt unfairly) in two memorable moments: (1) The cheers of a debate crowd when a moderator asked Rick Perry about the 234 death-row inmates he had executed as governor of Texas (which I blogged about last October), and (2) The crescendoing boos of a debate crowd (made up of my fellow Bible Belt South Carolinians) when Ron Paul said earlier this week, “Maybe we ought to consider a Golden Rule in foreign policy: we shouldn’t do to other countries what we don’t want to have them do to us.”  

Now, in all fairness, the masses were probably not straightforwardly cheering for death and booing for justice in either case; rather more was going on.  As a commenter on this blog pointed out regarding the Rick Perry incident, the audience was cheering for a concept of justice—a deviant one, perhaps, but one with a reasonable pedigree—even if they chose to do so in extremely poor taste.  Likewise, one might say that the crowd was not so much dissing the Golden Rule, as (perhaps) booing at where they knew Ron Paul was headed, because they disagreed with the facts of the case—they did not accept that we bombed other countries without good cause.  If so, I would say that they have had their heads in the sand, and again, acted in very poor taste and with a poor sense of timing, but it is perhaps more understandable.  Yet I’ve seen enough to suggest that this mitigating explanation is unfortunately rather too charitable.  Many on the Right—yea, on the Christian Right—seem outraged at the notion of applying Golden Rule logic to foreign policy, since that would mean giving others (such as Muslims) the same kind of benefit of the doubt we would give ourselves, would mean attempting to see the world through their eyes.  I recall in the last election cycle, it was considered virtual treason for Ron Paul to suggest that we might’ve done anything to provoke the 9/11 attacks—no, of course not!  That would imply that our enemies were rational human beings, rather than crazy demons!  The Right really has no interest in any rule that would seek to measure our actions in a scale of justice vis-a-vis our enemies’ actions; for ours are virtually in no need of justification, whereas theirs are virtually incapable of justification.

What makes this repudiation of the Golden Rule by a voting bloc that largely identifies as Christian (indeed, evangelical Christian) so troubling, is that this is not even a rejection of charity in favor of justice as a rule for political action.  Plenty of Christians will say, “Yes, we should exercise love of enemies in a private and personal context, but it would be disastrous to apply those specifically Christian principles to politics.”  I think there’s some dangerous dichotomies being drawn in that kind of thinking, but I can understand it.  The Golden Rule, however, is not even a statement of distinctively Christian charity—rather, it is usually considered a basic principle of justice confessed by religions, philosophies, and cultures the world over (though I think there is a bit more going on in Jesus’ articulation of it).  It is a cornerstone of the natural law.  And if we can’t base a Christian politics on evangelical law or natural law, then we are in very bad shape indeed.

 

For whatever reason, the issue of abortion seems to have acted not as a telescopic lens, provoking Christians in America to open up their moral imagination, looking far and wide to discern the evils of their culture of death, and sensitizing them to the need for a resolute witness in favor of life; instead, it has acted as a microscopic lens, leading many Christians in America to focus solely on this one issue, using their moral passion against abortion as a self-justifying salve for their eagerness to see malefactors executed and foreigners bombed.  The result of this hypocrisy is a frightful witness to the watching world, which is always looking for Christians to make a misstep that will justify its repudiation of Christ.  Although the comments on Youtube videos are consistently inane and rancorous, it was troubling to see how many took the opportunity of Ron Paul’s booing to say, “This is why I’m not a Christian!  All these Bible Belters don’t even give a hoot about their Bible!”  This election cycle, showcasing candidates feverishly attempting to outdo one another in the belligerence of their foreign policy, suggests that the Republican Party, from which most American Christians still seem unwilling to unhitch their wagon, is becoming (if it was ever anything else) a party of death, not life.  


Abortion and the Politics of Protest

In a recent piece for First Things On the Square, Kathryn Walker reviewed a book called Raised Right: How I Untangled my Faith from Politics by Alisa Harris.  I hadn’t so much as heard the book before, but my interest is certainly piqued now.  Harris, like so many others in my generation, finds herself, despite having been given a full-blown fundamentalist, pro-life, right-wing upbringing, having somehow wandered across the political divide, so that she is now unmistakably left-wing, though still, I take it, evangelically Christian.  In this book, she chronicles her journey and tries to explain why.  For a fuller summary of the book, I certainly recommend Walker’s excellent review; if I ever get around to reading it myself, perhaps I’ll offer my own review, but for now, I simply wanted to pick up on one interesting question that Walker raises.

Walker does not share Harris’s newfound sympathies for the Left, but she does at least give her a fair hearing, and grant that she may have some good points.  But for Walker, the most important issue is still abortion, and she can’t accept Harris’s rationale for minimizing that issue.  Harris remains pro-life, but has lost her sympathy for the pro-life movement, it’s foot-stomping and sign-waving, and wants to invest her effort into caring for women, rather than politicking.  But Walker asks toward the end of her review why Harris happily engages in sign-waving in protest against Bank of America—”she embraces public displays against injustice, and it’s hard to see any difference in the latter over the former ones, except for the causes themselves. And in this case, it’s not clear why corporate greed trumps infanticide in degrees of heinousness.”

Walker’s question set me pondering a bit, because I must confess I find myself feeling a lot like Harris at times.  Of course I still think abortion is a great evil, a heart-breaking crime against the defenceless children, and often against desperate mothers as well, who are pressured into it.  But I have so little sympathy left for the pro-life movement.  There, I said it.  I’ve admitted it.  I cannot make myself care all that much whether a candidate is pro-life, as a litmus test for voting for or against him.  Of course it’s relevant, but then, so are the candidate’s views on gasoline taxes.  I simply cannot get worked up about the issue as a political issue (though I can get worked up about the issue in other respects; I found the portrayal of abortion in Ides of March heart-rending).  But, I do get worked up about corporate greed.  I don’t sympathize with sign-waving abortion protesters, but I can be brought to sympathize with sign-waving Bank of America protesters.  Is there any good reason from this, or is it just some kind of hypocrisy or something worse? 

Well, there may be a few good reasons, or at least partial reasons, and I wanted to explore them.

There are, I suppose, two distinct issues, though I have elided them here.  One is protesting, the other politicking.  Protesting is of course generally political in its orientation, but is essentially indirect, seeking to influence the attitudes and the milieu within which political decisions are made.  By the latter, I mean direct lobbying for legislative, executive, or judicial action, crafting laws, promoting candidates with desirable positions on an issue and attacking candidates with undesirable positions.

Skeptics like myself (and I would take it Harris) doubt whether the politicking is a meaningful or useful way of advancing a pro-life agenda.  Certainly, prima facie it would seem to be misguided: (1) abortions were widespread in the US well before Roe v. Wade; (2) Roe v. Wade was a judicial decision, not a legislative one, and the judiciary is by far the most independent branch of our government, and the most difficult to influence through political action (rightly so); (3) empirically, it is hard to see that 39 years of feverish pro-life politics have yielded any significant gains.  Digging deeper, it seems like abortion is not really by its nature primarily a political issue.  Of course, legal systems have an obligation to protect life and prosecute murder, but legal systems can only function within a framework of broadly shared moral assumptions.  If a culture has reached the point where no one sees the problem with something, then trying to stop it by outlawing it is like spitting in the wind.  (Of course, this is oversimplistic—there are other less drastic ways of trying to legally limit abortion, which may be effective.)  But of course a second point to note here is that few people get abortions because they think it’s a perfectly fine thing to do.  I don’t know statistics, but my guess is that most women who get abortions don’t like the idea at all, but they’re frightened or pressured or desperate enough to do it anyway.  In such a case, making a law against it isn’t necessarily going to change many of their minds.  It might dissuade a lot of abortion doctors, but there will still be plenty willing to supply a black market.  

Contrariwise, it seems clear that political action is a meaningful and effective way of confronting economic injustice, particularly when that takes the form of large corporations engaging in dubious behaviour that prioritizes short-term profits over long-term considerations and the well-being of society.  I would argue that, normatively, regulation of justice in economic exchange and justice in distribution of goods is one of the core functions of a well-ordered government.  But of course, nowadays conservatives have gotten it into their heads that in fact, it is precisely economic decisions that are private and individual, lying outside the proper purview of public justice.  To be sure, such regulation will not be wholly effective, but the fact that the injustices in question are not simply or even primarily the result of individual decisions, but are structural and institutional in nature, suggests that legislative action is a natural, appropriate, and effective way of addressing these problems.  Indeed, I could go further, and point out that the very mechanisms by which investment banking is made possible do not simply spring out of the state of nature, but are the product of political and legal structures.  The corporation itself is a legal creation, as are the securities with which an entity like Bank of America makes its money—they simply would not exist apart from some kind of legal edifice.  Therefore, to call on the law to redress their abuses, one might suggest, is the most natural thing in the world.  Empirically, we could point out that politicking against particular abuses by big business, in favor of the rights of labor (in the first half of the 20th century primarily) and the rights of the consumer (in the second half of the century primarily) yielded enormous, measurable gains.

 

When it comes to protesting, well, it is worth asking exactly what protesting is intended to do?  Protesting is, to be sure, often quite directly political in orientation.  But such phenomena as pro-life marches and the Occupy movement are not best described as a kind of popular political lobbying.  In its most coherent form, protesting is a form of public witness against injustice—it seeks to call attention to, to name, an evil that is being done amongst us, with the intent of influencing the perpetrators to rethink their actions, and, perhaps more plausibly, of influencing our fellow citizens to become attentive to the injustice so that they will share our judgment of it, and join their voices with ours in calling for an end to it (whether that end come from individual, social, or political action).  

When we put things this way, I think it is possible to see why someone might consider this a rather clumsy response to the issue of abortion.  For it makes sense that a protest should be as public as the sin itself is.  Adultery is rampant in our culture, and while there are plenty of Christian voices calling it to account in appropriate ways, there has not been, to my knowledge, a National Anti-Adultery Rally, or a National Right to Fidelity March, or anything of that sort.  Of course, part of this is because we now consider adultery a sin but not a crime; but that’s not all of it.  For neither are there regularly large Anti-Drunk-Driving protests, despite the widespread deploration of drunk driving and its disastrous consequences.  For these problems, widespread as they are, are essentially an aggregate of individual, essentially private (though I do not mean to say that any sin is entirely private) sins or crimes.  They do not rise to the level of a public sin, a structural sin.  They do not have an institutional form that can be witnessed against in public.  

One could argue that similarly, abortion is essentially an individual sin and not a structural sin, that “the abortion issue” is simply an aggregate of individual evil abortions, rather than a unitary public evil that is greater than the sum of its parts.  The problem is not “abortion” as an abstract force of injustice, but particular acts of abortion—individual agents in the midst of individual crises, making individual wicked decisions.  The situations that lead women to seek abortions are unique to each woman, and so the best way to stop abortions is to work with individual women to help them.  Not, of course, that there are not many wonderful Christians out there doing just this; but we are asking now whether the sign-waving, marching, protesting side of things contributes to this work at all, or rather undermines it.

And of course, there is a “structural” element to the problem of abortion too—the poverty and abuse that drive so many women to desperation, to a sense that abortion is the only way out, the treatment of women as useful objects for sex, for which pregnancy is an awful inconvenience (this is not to say that there are not a great many abortions that are simply wicked unconstrained decisions of convenience).   But it is precisely this structural element that the pro-life movement, as a political movement, tends to most ignore.  

On the other hand, the Occupy movement, inasmuch as it has a coherent message, is bearing witness against a public, structural, institutional sin.  The greed, inequality, usury—however you want to label the core problem—that today infects our society is a structural sin.  Yes, of course, there are greedy individuals, and if no individuals were greedy, then perhaps we wouldn’t have all the problems we’ve had in recent years.  But the evil, and the harm that it does, far transcends individual greedy decisions; it would be possible for most of the investment banks’ employees to be good decent people just doing their job, and for all the problems still to persist.  The systemic usury and injustice of the financial system is the result result of warped incentive structures, poor laws, a loss of sense of the true purpose of financial institutions, collusion amongst the powerful to protect one another and veil their dealings from the public, etc.  Therefore, public protest, as a way of calling attention to the systemic problems, as a way of naming this evil and inviting us all to join in decrying it and undermining is foundations, seems highly appropriate.  

(Of course, I acknowledge that the abortion issue has a counterpart to this kind of corporate corruption, in the so-called “abortion industry”—doctors, clinics, pharmaceutical companies, entrenched advocacy groups, etc., that have a vested interest in perpetuating abortion, hiding the truth, and manipulating the powerful.  I think that pro-lifers perhaps overstate their case here sometimes, but inasmuch as this is a real power, a real fortress of evil, it warrants a forceful public witness.)

Having said all this, though, I think it is fair to admit that neither of these is, I think, the real reason why Harris (and myself) find ourselves naturally more sympathetic with sign-waving against crony capitalism than with sign-waving against abortion.  The real reason is that the former is new and the latter is old.  We grew up with the latter, and we frankly find it a bit tiresome and grating now.  It feels like our sub-culture has been harping on the same old problem forever and ever and it’s time to just deal with it and move on.  Whereas, although for our parents protesting the evils of capitalism might’ve been a common enough part of their experience, for us, it’s new, fresh, and a bit exciting.  

Now, I say all this in a tone of somewhat mocking self-criticism, but there’s more that needs to be said here as well.  For one thing, just because something’s appeal lies partly in its newness does not render it invalid.  I think stodgy Baby Boomers are right to point out that the enthusiasm for social justice causes among the rising generation is partly fuelled simply by the novelty (to us) of the cause; but I would also make the case that the cause still happens to be a very just cause, worth getting passionate about (and yes, perhaps protesting about, though that’s really not my cup of tea).  

More importantly, the newness factor makes an objective difference when one is asking about the appropriateness of the rhetoric of protest.  No doubt part of Harris’s antipathy to pro-life protest arises from her sense that, after more than three decades of it, any positive potential has likely worn off, and it is much more likely simply to have the effect of hardening opponents, and alienating potential sympathizers who are simply sick of the conflict and polarization.  A protest movement is always at its most effective when it is brand new; pretty soon, it starts to grow stale and tiresome, and people just sound like they’re whining, or obsessed, or pathologically combative.  Indeed, just look at three months of the Occupy movement.  A couple weeks in, they were cool.  A couple months in, and it’s like, “C’mon guys, enough already.  Pack up your tents and stop digging pit toilets in the park.”  After the initial point has been made, and awareness has been raised, it is usually time to turn to more constructive, concrete, and patient means of bringing about change.  In large part, to be fair, the pro-life movement has certainly done this, and has succeeded thereby in incrementally reducing the rate of abortion and in some cases improving the legal restraints upon it.  But inasmuch as portions of the movement continue to adopt the posture of angry protest, demonizing opponents and refusing to vote for any political candidate who does not share their fervour on this particular issue, it risks not only failing to be an effective voice in American culture and politics, but also continuing to drive away young evangelicals, contributing to a widening political gap between the generations that threatens to further fracture American evangelicalism and harm our witness to a watching world.


A Prayer for Church Unity

Composed for St. Paul’s and St. George’s Church, the Second Sunday of Epiphany; on the passage 1 Corinthians 1:1-17

Blessed God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 

We thank you for this challenging passage before us today, and the challenging message we have just heard.  May the words we have heard today stick in our hearts and strengthen us to be your Body in the world, one in faith, hope, and love.  

We give thanks to you God for the grace that has been given us in Christ Jesus, that in every way we have been enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge, so that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift.  Lord, you have blessed us immensely.  You have blessed us with material gifts, with the gift of great freedom, with gifts of knowledge, as we today have the theological learning of two thousand years literally at our fingertips.  More particularly, you have blessed this congregation with gifts of preaching, of teaching, of counseling, of prayer, of singing, of serving, gifts of administration, gifts of evangelism, of fellowship, of hospitality.  Lord, within these four walls you have brought so many people empowered to serve one another, to serve this city, and to serve the wider world.  Lord, teach us to recognize these gifts, in one another and in ourselves, and to respond with thanksgiving and with zeal.  Send your Spirit to work in and alongside each of us, that these gifts may bear rich fruit—in sermons that build up your people here, in music that inspires our hearts and glorifies you, in Alpha Courses that bring your good news to the lost and questioning, in 24/7 Prayer that brings hope to the doubting and tears down strongholds of oppression, in small groups that study your word and strengthen your people, in projects that serve the homeless and lonely, in sacrificial giving that enriches lives not only here, but around the globe.  

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, make us one in your love.


Lord, we repent that there are divisions amongst us, that some of us are of Paul, and some of Apollos, and some of Cephas.  Lord, we know that even within this congregation, there are divisions and quarrels, there is pride and prejudice, there are petty preferences and dogmatic convictions that can hinder the fullness of our fellowship.  And yet, when we look wider, how much darker the picture becomes?  Here in Edinburgh alone, your church is splintered into dozens of denominations, some of which will have no fellowship with one another, and throughout our country and our world, the same divisions are mirrored.  Truly, the world may ask, and does ask, “Is Christ divided?”  Lord, heal our divisions, put an end to our strifes.  Show us where arrogance, bitterness, and lack of love have held us apart where we could and should be one in Christ.  And yet, Lord, we know that goodwill alone cannot solve these divisions.  You have called us to be “united in the same mind and the same judgment,” to unite around common conviction of the truth, and yet this is precisely what eludes us; it is precisely the “truth” that so often divides us.  Lord, illuminate us by your Word and Spirit, that we may perceive the common truth that hides under warring expressions and doctrinal formulations, that we may drink deeply from the spring of your Word and perceive the truths that you have given us there, truths that we have too often lost sight of, substituting for them our own pet ideas and self-justifications. 

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, make us one in your  love.

 

Lord, you have called us above all to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  Remind us, Lord, that it is not anything we can do, anything the Church can do, that will make us effective servants of your kingdom, that will make us united in a world of division.  It is only the power of your Word, the power of your cross.  Lord, make that gospel powerful in this church, in our world, and in each of our lives.  By the power of your gospel, fill this Church the love that comes only with you, love that can overcome all our divisions, and with power and conviction to show that love to the lost around us.  We pray that your gospel would breathe new life into dying and divided churches around the United Kingdom, that pulpits would again be filled with the Spirit and with power, and that your churches would again be a powerful witness to the watching world.  By the power of your gospel, break down the walls of hate that divide not merely the churches, but the nations of the world, nations in the Third World torn by ethnic or religious war, nations in the First torn by political division.  Shatter the rod of the oppressor, especially, we pray, in Syria and North Korea.  By the power of your gospel, we pray that each of us would know in our own lives the glorious freedom from bondage that comes with the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of new hearts.  For those of your saints here who are struggling with sin, with despair, with doubt, we pray that your word would again illumine their hearts and minds, that they would feel again the power of the cross of Christ.   

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, make us one in your love.

 

O Gracious Father, we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Catholic Church, that thou wouldest be pleased to fill it with all truth, in all peace.  where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it.  Where it is right, establish it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of him who died and rose again, and ever liveth to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.  Amen. 


Why We Really Need a New Biography of Richard Hooker

The only modern biography of Hooker, Philip Secor’s Richard Hooker: Prophet of Anglicanism, offers a complex, detailed narrative of Hooker’s life, replete with intimate anecdotes illuminating his personality, etc.  The only problem is that half of it is fabricated out of whole cloth, spun out of the whimsical fantasies of Secor’s overactive imagination.  If this criticism merely applied to the trivial anecdotes and episodes, it might be one thing, but unfortunately, Secor’s whole understanding of the theology and thought-world of Hooker and his period derives from a similarly slipshod pastiche of fact and fiction.  I offer here for your un-edification his fanciful synopsis of the distinctive characteristics of “Puritans” and “Anglicans” in the Elizabethan period on page 51: 

The former, he says, were 

(1) theologically Calvinist—fired by the Pauline Epistles with their assurance of predestined election and emphasis on redemption, salvation, justification, and ‘living in the Spirit’; (2) believers in the primacy of Scripture as the sole authority for faith and practice; (3) generally advocates of the presbyterian as opposed to the episcopal form of church polity.

This is true enough, but the first two points are hardly distinctive, being shared by pretty much all of their English Protestant friends and foes.  But this is simply par for the course.  Secor goes on to portray their opponents, naming as representatives John Jewel, Edwin Sandys, Edward Grindal, John Whitgitft, and Richard Bancroft, in these terms:

(1) an insistence on an established Church ruled by bishops and headed by the crown; (2) use of the Book of Common Prayer and the Bishops’ Bible as opposed to the more popular Geneva Bible: these ‘anglican’ books expressed a middle-ground in biblical interpretations and liturgical expressions, somewhere between Rome and Geneva; (3) a tendency to view Holy Scripture as the primary but not the only source of faith and practice, holding that reason and religious custom were two other important sources of God’s revelation; (4) a preference for the synoptic Gospels rather than Paul’s Epistles; (5) an emphasis on the incarnation, the passion and the resurrection as central theological and liturgical themes, with concomitant stress on the importance in worship of the sacraments and common prayer rather than preaching; (6) a tendency to stress human awe and wonder before the holiness of God, and a concomitant aesthetic inclination, as contrasted with the Puritan emphasis on personal sin and God’s judgment.

Only the first two of these are recognizable as descriptors of the Elizabethan churchmen, and of these, the avowal of an established Church is hardly a distinctive, being a 16th-century Protestant commonplace, and it is hard to know what to make of the remarks about the Bishop’s Bible representing “a middle-ground in biblical interpretations . . . somewhere between Rome and Geneva.”  With the third, it is possible to see what he is trying to get at, but a nugget of truth is obscured by wildly vague and misguided terminology.  The fourth appears to be a clever notion that came to Secor in a dream.  The fifth and sixth might just be in part a fair characterisation of some of the distinctive flavours of Hooker’s thought, following some of Peter Lake’s suggestions, but one would be hard-pressed to find this an aesthetic bone in John Whitgift or Richard Bancroft’s body, and as generalizations about the “Anglicans” of this period, they fail to be much more than pious imaginations.

 

And then, of course, there’s this gem on page 111: 

“Clearly Hooker toyed with the notion that the head of State is the head of a national Church, to which all citizens must belong.  In this he was a medieval thinker, unable to grasp, much less adopt, the emerging modern idea of separation of Church and State.”

 

Dear me, dear me.


Worse than the Asiatic Plague

In Works of Love, Soren Kierkegaard has some harsh words for peddlars of gossip that are very apropos for last summer’s News of the World scandal, and the ongoing investigations into media ethics prompted by it.  

 Is indeed any robber, any thief, any assailant, in short, any criminal, as fundamentally depraved as such a person who has made it his task, his contemptible means of livelihood, to proclaim on the greatest possible scale, as loudly as no word of truth is heard, as far-reaching across the entire country as something beneficial seldom reaches, penetrating into every nook where God’s Word hardly penetrates—to proclaim the neighbor’s faults, the neighbor’s weaknesses, the neighbor’s sins, to force upon everyone, even unstable youth, this defiling knowledge—is any criminal as fundamentally depraved as such a person, even if it were the caese that the evil he told was true! 

. . . 

Ah, there are crimes that the world does not call crimes, that it rewards and almost honors—and yet, yet I would rather, God forbid, arrive in eternity with three repented murders on my conscience than as a retired slanderer with this dreadful, incalculable load of crime that had piled up year after year, that may have spread on an almost inconceivable scale, put people into their graves, embittered the most intimate relationships, violated the most innocent sympathizers, defiled the immature, led astray and corrupted both young and old—in short, spread on a scale of which the most vivid imagination cannot form a conception—this dreadful load of crime of which I had never had the time to begin to repent because the time had to be used for new crimes, and because the innumerability of those crimes had secured for me money, influence, almost esteem, and above all a pleasurable life!  In connection with arson, we make a distinction if someone who sets fire to a house knows that it has many occupants or that it is unoccupied; but by means of slander to set fire, as it were, to a whole society—that is not even regarded as a crime!  We quarantine against the plague—but to the plague that is even worse than the Asiatic plague, slander, which corrupts the soul and mind, to that we all open our houses; we pay money to be infected; we greet as a welcome guest the one who brings the infection!