January 2001

There’s No Place Like Work: How Business, Government, and Our Obsession With Work Have Driven Parents from Home.  By Brian C. Robertson. Spence. 206 pages. $24.95.

There’s a crisis pertinent to every working parent in the country with which precious few have the time — or the desire — to contend. It is a crisis that, although confronted daily, most would prefer to ignore, namely, how the balance between home and work has shifted so strongly in favor of work. More and more parents, mothers especially, are spending longer and longer hours on the job — to the detriment of their families. How is it that the “sacrifice” made for the economic betterment of the family has taken on greater import — in real-time devotion — than that for which the sacrifice was supposedly made, namely, the family itself? This taboo subject gets a thorough working-over in Brian Robertson’s new book There’s No Place Like Work.

This working-mom quagmire is no accident. Rather, it is the consequence of a specific cultural and political agenda, initiated by radical feminists and sanctioned by their legislative lackeys, designed to “transfer women’s loyalties from family to career.” Beginning with the myopic insertion of the word “sex” into the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which resulted in the death of the widely recognized “family wage”), continuing through the legalization of abortion and no-fault divorce, up to and including the current demand for government-subsidized childcare, the family has suffered severe and deliberate beatings. Robertson amply illustrates the tactics employed in this protracted war against the influence and viability of the family.

The histrionics of a baby-boom generation given over to destructive self-indulgence facilitated the advent of women’s mass exodus from the home and into the workforce, prompting “a large-scale cultural capitulation to the feminist romanticization of marketplace activity, a glamorization based on a caricature of masculine work values.” “The now-prevalent notion that professional work…liberates women from the mundane and oppressive duties of motherhood and homemaking” is the determinant of the crisis, wherein “the interests of children today are being given a much lower priority as compared with the interests of their parents,” which smatterings of “quality time” won’t remedy.

Central to the enduring socio-political war against the family is the current push for tax credits for out-of-the-home childcare. Rather than alleviating a volatile trend, Robertson points out, such credits would perpetuate a system of child-neglect perpetrated by dual-income families (which Robertson, citing reports and percentages, derides as not necessarily economically advantageous). As the home is increasingly abandoned by parents, government (or a reluctantly benevolent corporation) is called upon to assume the responsibilities of the family — through welfare, parent-leave acts, and subsidized childcare, the acceptance of which would in effect be “the ultimate cultural endorsement of the idea that a mother’s place is in the office and that her presence in the home is of little importance — that it is…undesirable”; etc. At the forefront of this push, radical feminists are taking to the extreme the notion that “it takes a village to raise a child” by exiling the parents from said village. As with all deviations from the standard formula, “absentee parenting” will only yield disastrous results — school violence, low test scores, illegitimate pregnancies, and drug abuse, to name only a few.

Robertson makes it clear that this is not a “how-to” book. Indeed, he presents only a handful of remedies to the crisis he outlines, notably home-schooling. But the book is a necessary first step in identifying and articulating a crisis that many wantonly abet in their rush to win pole position in the rat race.

- Pieter Vree



Prophecy and Diplomacy: The Moral Doctrine of John Paul II.  Edited by John J. Conley, S.J., and Joseph W. Koterski, S.J. Fordham University Press. 329 pages. $35.

Every other year a few dozen Jesuits from around the U.S. gather to discuss some aspect of John Paul II’s thought. In recent years these faithful sons of Ignatius gathered to discuss the guiding principles of the Holy Father’s moral theology and examine how the Pope has applied this moral theory. This volume gathers the main talks and responses from two conferences, and is an accessible and intelligent commentary of John Paul’s moral doctrine.

As prophet, John Paul challenges today’s intellectual bias that reduces man to an object to be used for the gain of others. Thus, the six essays collected in the first half revolve mainly around Veritatis Splendor and show that the basis of John Paul’s moral doctrine is the inherent dignity of every human person. Because man is made in the image of the God who is love, love is the proper response to other human beings.

As diplomat, John Paul’s prophetic words aim to effect change in the lives of all. This universal pastor travels the world to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to every person. The second half of this collection therefore shows how John Paul’s moral theory has influenced concrete changes in the practical realm: population questions, economics, marriage, gender, family rights, and basic issues regarding human life.

John Paul II is at once a prophet who proclaims the truth in the face of hostility and a diplomat incessantly looking for ways of engaging those whom he addresses. The essays collected here are simultaneously astute elaborations on John Paul’s moral thought and a small tribute on behalf of certain members of the Society of Jesus to one of Christendom’s brilliant thinkers.

- David Vincent Meconi



Bernadette Speaks: A Life of Saint Bernadette Soubirous in Her Own Words.  By Rene Laurentin. Pauline Books and Media. 665 pages. $24.95.

Thought by some to be the most secretive of saints, Bernadette Soubirous is often taken for granted. Yes, her biography is nice for young girls, but what can she offer adults? Plenty, as it turns out. Bernadette Speaks is a well-documented account of her life, based almost exclusively on her own words.

Raised in grinding poverty and, at the time of her apparitions of the Blessed Virgin at Lourdes, illiterate even with respect to her basic catechism, Bernadette never became introspective or loquacious about her spiritual life. By living most of her post-apparition life in a convent, sheltered by loving fellow sisters, she hoped to escape the demands placed on her by the appearances of Our Blessed Mother. But the clamoring of the curious, the well-intentioned, and even legitimate Church authorities aggravated an existence already marked by profound suffering from an intractable asthmatic condition. The waters at Lourdes cured many, but not St. Bernadette. Instead of a life serving the old and the sick, she endured the humiliation of an endless dependence on others. But she used all these penances in her resolute quest for sanctity, seeking only to please God. This unremitting focus and “active silence” in the face of true suffering is her special gift to us. Writing with meticulous care and an obvious love for his subject, Rene Laurentin presents a saint without hagiographic excess but with a deep appreciation of what her extraordinary life can mean for us today.

- Elizabeth C. Hanink



The Christian Imagination: G.K. Chesterton on the Arts.  By Thomas C. Peters. Ignatius. 157 pages. $12.95.

“I wonder at wondering.” So ends a short poem by G.K. Chesterton. And so begins this short book by Thomas C. Peters. Chesterton’s first point — and Peters’s — is that a sense of wonder lies at the root of what it means to be both human and Christian. So do the related senses of adventure, imagination, and limits. Limits? Stay tuned. Their penultimate point is that there is something wrong with, not to mention less than human about, a world without wonder.

To be human, insists Chesterton, is to be a creator. And when we create, continues Peters, we are doing what God, “the greatest Creator of all,” intended that we do.

Today we engage in something called “artistic creativity” in the service of not just un-Christian, but deeply anti-Christian ends. Which is all the more reason to read this book. As Peters reminds us, Chesterton had a “profound belief in the potential holiness of the arts.” The key word here, of course, is “potential.” Still, Chesterton believed in the arts, in that “wild whisper of something originally wise.” Today, however, much of what passes for art amounts to a wild shout of something derivatively obscene.

Peters’s exploration of the Christian artistic imagination is essentially a series of essays encompassing Chesterton’s varied careers as poet, essayist, novelist, dramatist, and song and short story writer, not to mention his related and equally creative careers as illustrator and cartoonist. If there is a criticism to be made of this otherwise admirable effort, it is that Peters’s book is not sufficiently replete with examples of Chesterton’s doodlings.

Doodlings? Of course they are doodlings, but then they are also much more. The word probably does not do justice to Chesterton’s talents, but it does reinforce Chesterton’s own image of himself as an amateur when it came to whatever creative endeavor he had embarked upon at the moment. No doubt that self-image did not do Chesterton justice at any moment, but it does call to mind his adventuresome, imaginative, even risk-taking spirit, not to mention his own capacity for wonder.

Modern, and especially postmodern, man likes to pretend that adventuresomeness demands an absence of limits. Not so, contend Chesterton and Peters. If anything, they remind us, true creativity requires that the creator operate within limits. Moreover, true creativity is impossible without a sense of limits.

The key chapter in The Christian Imagination is unimaginatively titled “The Christian Imagination.” Peters begins this essay by borrowing not from Chesterton, the Christian artist, but from Chesterton, the Christian apologist. At once a defense of Christianity and an attack on evolutionary theory, Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man makes a solid case for man as a unique being among the animals precisely because man is a creator. As Peters puts it, “an unbiased look at the available facts in the matter” ought to produce the admission that “no animals — except for humans — display even the crudest propensity for artistic expression.” Solid, but not exactly succinct. For that let us turn to Chesterton himself. “Art is the signature of man.”

It was surely the signature of G.K. Chesterton, whether he was doodling cartoon characters or noodling ideas. As a child and as an adult, Chesterton was filled with wonder. “What was wonderful about childhood,” GKC tells us in his autobiography, “is that anything in it was a wonder. It was not merely a world full of miracles; it was a miraculous world….”

Again and again, Peters reminds us, Chesterton explained to us that the child is crucial to our rediscovery of the truly imaginative powers we all possess. Both essayists call upon us to imitate the child, not for any of the modern reasons which are grounded in silly notions of childhood innocence, but because this imitative act is grounded in a “call to humility,” which, in Peters’s view, is “literally the foundation for greatness.” So much for the modern idiotic advocates of instilling something called self-esteem in their charges. In the name of nurturing the child they shattered that vital quality of humility, the absence of which guarantees the absence of true creativity.

Children are seldom anarchic. The same ought to be said of the true artist. After all, every picture requires a frame. But doesn’t a frame by definition limit one’s imaginative powers? No, says Chesterton, because one’s “imagination deals with an image, and an image is in its nature a thing that has an outline, and therefore a limit.”

In his own defense, as well as that of his friends — and enemies — Chesterton contended that the “fiercest dogmatists can make the best artists.” Here he was not thinking primarily of himself (dogmatic though he could be), but of Rudyard Kipling (“The best short stories were written by a man trying to preach Imperialism”) and George Bernard Shaw (“The best plays were written by a man trying to preach Socialism”).

And Chesterton? His goal was at once larger and yet realizable — even in our troubled times. If what passes for the artistic temperament was indifferent to Christianity in his day, it has grown actively hostile in ours. Which is all the more reason to read Peters and Chesterton — to recover a sense of active humility, and with it a sense of artistic wonder. Once that recovery has taken place, people will inevitably “discover the glory they have lost.” And playing a vital role in that discovery (which is really a rediscovery) was what Chesterton presumed Christian artists should do.

If Chesterton thought that such a task was an important one in his day, it takes very little Christian imagination to understand how absolutely essential it has become in ours. That Peters not only understands but also possesses Christian imagination is amply proved in these perfectly framed essays which comprise this perfectly timed book.

- John C. Chalberg



Choosing a World-View and Value System: An Ecumenical Apologetics.  By Benedict M. Ashley, O.P. Alba House. 326 pages. $18.95.

Dominican priest, moral theologian, and philosopher Benedict Ashley argues for the importance of choosing a religion. By exploring “the principal articulations that have been given to common human experience by the great religions and their secular equivalents,” Ashley aims to prod irreligious folk into a tentative embrace of Catholicism. He also seeks to edify those who are already Catholic. The former Marxist and long-time Thomist attains only the second of these goals, but his book is an honorable failure.

Like Aquinas, Ashley is scrupulously fair in describing worldviews that are not his own. Even while observing that modern humanism lives on the remnants of an ethical consensus derived from the Christianity that it explicitly rejects, Ashley applauds mainstream humanism for emphasizing knowledge and freedom of conscience. His discussion of mythology and emanation religions lends admirable clarity.

Where the book turns unexpectedly tedious is on its home turf of creation religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). A long defense of the “Unmoved Mover” argument for God that Aquinas derived from Aristotle suggests that when Ashley needed a briar patch through which Br’er Reader could scamper on to other chapters, he fashioned a tar baby instead.

Readers who pry themselves free from those pages and move on to where italicized terms roam alone rather than in packs will be rewarded. However, by the time Ashley unveils his end-game demonstration of the Catholic Church as God’s self-communication in history, other readers will already be exasperated and exhausted.

This exercise in apologetics offers a heartfelt consideration of cosmic evil and Christian hope. People willing to question the received wisdom about the “many ways to God” may find inspiration in Ashley’s awkward but compelling insistence on the supremacy of the Way of the Cross.

- Patrick O’Hannigan





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