September 2003

Crossing Over: One Woman's Exodus from Amish Life.  By Ruth Garrett with Rick Farrant. Thomas More Publishing. 192 pages. $18.95.

The Amish life is often romanticized by outsiders. Yet the same people often relish any signs of defection from a life that is very demanding. These contradictions perhaps account for the bestseller status of this autobiographical work.

But another factor is involved in such defections. When parents don’t practice what they preach — or even come close — their children can desert the faith because they don’t see it lived truthfully.

This factor — plus leaving for an easier way of life — is evident in this tale of a family torn by rigidity and an inability to forgive. Yet, while the author rejoices at her newfound freedom and exposure to a wider world, I have my doubts about her defection. That her father is mean and vengeful seems beyond question, but her view that a religion that is more permissive is better invites dismay. In her total rejection of her former life, she has embraced a new life that many would find sinful and self-indulgent.

- Elizabeth C. Hanink



The Muse in the Bottle: Great Writers on the Joys of Drinking.  Edited by Charles A. Coulombe. Citadel Press Books (800-221-2647). 224 pages. $15.95.

A California cardiologist, Dr. Arthur Klatsky, recently told The New York Times that drinking “is an issue that needs to be dealt with one on one.” Klatsky, a noted researcher, went on to say that while for some the risks outweigh the benefits, for others abstinence could be hazardous.

Coulombe, a noted California raconteur (and NOR contributor), has put together an engaging volume that — taken as a whole — supports Klatsky’s research.

Following the axiom of medical ethics, primum non nocere (first, do no harm), this reviewer must advert to a sampling of harms described in Coulombe’s collection. We are — sigh — again exposed to the grotesqueries of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, but their place in the literary canon perhaps sanctions their presence in this volume. On the other hand, the loutishness of Nora Lane and Lou Matthews is lethal. We need no apologias for drunk driving, nor could any succeed.

Yet alcohol, especially when it comes to us through the vintner’s art, can be a boon and a blessing. Selections from G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc affirm this, and these masters are but following Scripture’s lead. The marriage feast of Cana, as Coulombe notes, was memorable indeed, involving — if an educated guess might be hazarded — the additional 120 gallons of wine that miraculously figured in the nuptials.

But enough. For when the bar closes (as it so often does for the writers in Coulombe’s collection), this is chiefly a text for casual reading — with a dash of insight added. To this end, no doubt, Coulombe includes the late John P. Marquand’s “Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot?” Set in an upwardly mobile country club, the story raises the question of whether an old and downwardly mobile bartender should be sacked. In the end, the bartender stays on. Why? Because he knows too much and remembers too well. In vino veritas.

- James G. Hanink



The Road to Malpsychia: Humanistic Psychology and Our Discontents.  By Joyce Milton. Encounter Books. 326 pages. $No price given..

“Whether or not we realized it,” in recent decades “we were part of a mass experiment in applied psychology.” Joyce Milton believes that far more of the social change of the 1960s to 1980s was wrought by the millions who adopted the drug culture, espoused the philosophy of “do your own thing,” and enlisted in the “human potential movement” than by the more visible, politically radical protestors.

The grand experiment in “humanistic psychology” attempted to discover and unleash the “innate good self” and thereby fill “the void left by the erosion of traditional religious values….” This new psychology would not necessarily cure mental illness but illumine the normative road to personal fulfillment.

Reading Malpsychia is a flashback to the days of “self-actualization,” “encounter groups,” and “primal therapy.” Remember Rogers, Maslow, Alpert, and the theories of “peak experiences,” “hierarchy of needs,” “true feelings,” “transactional analysis,” “self-esteem,” and “values clarification”? Milton details several forms of humanistic psychology, each of which played some variation on the theme of liberating the “real” self from the repressive constraints of religion and family.

Communities of these now “fully human” persons would inevitably build a better society dubbed “Eupsychia” by Abraham Maslow. The particular methodologies employed varied from the more usual techniques of adjustments of attitude and outlook to challenging established standards, personality reconstruction in encounter groups, and the use of “mind-expanding” drugs. Milton sees in humanistic psychology not the natural progression of science but a “power play” by which psychologists sought to become “the arbiters of social values.”

Milton’s larger point is that the journey on the road to Eupsychia went very wrong. A once-enthusiastic practitioner lamented that humanistic psychology wasn’t solving anything but was in fact “creating new pathologies that hadn’t existed before.” “Explorational” drug use became addictive and destructive. Values clarification became moral relativism. Internal contradictions also emerged ? for example, whether pornography should be classified as the liberation of man’s animal nature or as a degradation of women. Some therapists saw nothing improper in having sexual relations with their patients. And Milton notes the psychology profession’s past ambiguity about the sexual (ab)use of children.

Milton mentions two particular cases stemming from applications of Carl Rogers’s brand of humanistic psychology to institutions in the Catholic Church. The first is about how a 1968 Rogerian encounter group experiment in which the “baring of innermost feelings” triggered the disintegration of the Immaculate Heart Community in Los Angeles. Less well known is the case of St. Anthony’s Seminary in Santa Barbara, Calif., where application of the new psychology brought about a relaxation of “infantilizing” and “repressive” rules against students visiting monks in their chambers. The consequences were disastrous.

Milton’s personal asides reveal that she was actually there for many of these developments. But we don’t hear how she herself came to realize it all went wrong. Nor does she fully grapple with whether humanistic psychology was philosophically well founded or just designed to garner more book royalties, lecture fees, and prestigious appointments for its proponents. As a book, Malpsychia is a fascinating mess, more a collection of tales than a coherent thesis.

The last chapter contains both a summary of the damage done and a note of hope that professionals and the public are awakening to the corrosive forces still at work in society, even if no one is still promoting their underlying theories. In wondering what went wrong in Western society in the decades since the 1960s, Milton has exposed some promising threads worthy of further exploration.

- Jim Taylor



Our Schools & Our Future: Are We Still at Risk? .  Edited by Paul E. Peterson. Hoover Institution Press. 378 pages. $15.

Protestant influence on Progressive education has contributed to the decline of academic standards in public schools, according to an essay in this new book that examines the failing American K-12 system. The book features 11 essays, including “The Curricular Smorgasbord,” by Hoover Fellow Williamson M. Evers and federal statistician Paul Clopton. They argue that a weak “cafeteria-style curriculum” under Progressive influence has contributed to minimal improvement in mathematics and science test scores since 1983.

Their analysis leads them back to theories championed by John Dewey and other Progressives. “The story of American education in the past century,” Evers and Clopton write, “has been the story of Progressive education. Progressive educators have been the most influential figures in American education. Historians have noted their enthusiasm, energy, moral earnestness, and sense of mission. Even when Progressive educators did not succeed in getting everything they wanted, they have set the terms of the debate.” The authors maintain that Protestantism has been a significant influence on Progressivism. Pietist millennialists and their secular successors contributed an animating spirit of confidence and righteousness to Progressivism. From their pietist background many Progressives developed a theory of good intentions. These intentions are more important than high standards. Even when such beliefs were converted into secular form, they retained much of the impetus they had when explicitly religious. Martin Buber spoke of a “secularization of eschatology” and Eric Voegelin of the “immanentization of the eschaton.” The pietist millennialists were not End-of-the-Worlders in the beard and smock looking for a sudden Second Coming of Christ. Rather, they soberly but fervently sought to rid America of perceived social ills as necessary preparation for the Second Coming. Evers and Clopton contend that Progressives under Protestant influence sought to build a New Jerusalem through the public school system in order to usher in Christ’s earthly reign and build an earthly kingdom of righteousness.

Dewey proclaimed in his "Pedagogic Creed" that the teacher is “the prophet of the true God and the sharer in the true kingdom of God.” Progressive leaders were either earnest, committed millennial pietists or else fallen-away pietists whose parents and upbringing were pietist. Public school reformers shunned overt religiosity but maintained their moral fervor and belief that theirs was a providential (if now secular) mission. Intellectual content, Evers and Clopton write, “has always been secondary to a program of remolding the child and the society.” Progressive ideology led to the emphasis on the nonacademic and weak curriculum, as found in Dewey. By contrast, Catholic schools did not abandon their standards. Comparisons of student achievement between public schools (where the Progressive influence has been pervasive) and Catholic schools favor the latter. Data show Catholic students perform one full grade level above public school students with similar family backgrounds.

Evers and Clopton are not the first to argue that Catholic schools have maintained high academic standards. Two decades ago scholars James S. Coleman, Thomas Hoffer, and Sally B. Kilgore made a similar point (High School Achievement: Public, Catholic, and Private Schools Compared, Basic Books, 1982). The thesis of Evers and Clopton will prove unpopular among status quo defenders of American public education, but is likely to be studied by private school educators, including Catholics.

- Greg Kaza



Christianity Incorporated: How Big Business Is Buying the Church.  By Michael L. Budde and Robert W. Brimlow. Brazos Press. 187 pages. $22.99.

Budde and Brimlow provide an incisive and sobering view of how Christianity today has been heavily influenced by capitalism. The authors argue convincingly that multinational corporations have co-opted Christianity as just another resource in their continual worldwide quest to sell products. Budde and Brimlow also show that not only do corporations use Christianity’s symbols and stories in their advertising, but Christian churches have adopted corporate practices themselves in running their organizations. As a result, Christianity is more focused on financial questions than the Gospel. Nevertheless, Budde and Brimlow contend that Christianity can still become more autonomous and establish economic practices that are based on discipleship rather than Mammon.

At the start of the book, the authors discuss how chaplaincy, which has long played an important role in Christianity, has been influenced and even corrupted by capitalist practices. Budde and Brimlow point out that whether chaplaincy is used within the military or by a company, it requires churches to situate themselves within powerful institutions while attempting to preserve their ecclesial independence. They argue that without any autonomy from these institutions, church chaplains are co-opted for uses other than serving God’s Kingdom. “In order for chaplains to understand, serve, and empathize with persons who lead and serve such powerful institutions, chaplains must themselves submit to the formative processes (physical, emotional, affective, and spiritual) of the institutions.” For example, business chaplains are required to undergo corporate training, which instills in them a capitalist worldview, while military chaplains must endure basic training and other processes that lend themselves to the worldview that peace is obtained through military might.

Christianity has been manipulated in a number of ways by corporations to increase their profits. The most individualistic — and peculiar — expression of this effort is by publishing conglomerates that offer an ever-increasing stream of business and managerial self-help books. Budde and Brimlow state that these books attempt to derive business wisdom and management lessons from Christian experience, specifically from the teachings of Jesus Christ. “Perhaps the quintessential example here is Laurie Beth Jones, who has leveraged her 1995 bestseller Jesus CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership…into a wide-ranging management consulting, leadership training, and public seminar business targeting businesses, hospitals, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.” Budde and Brimlow chastise Jones for trivializing the Gospel, noting that she never answers the question why Jesus drove moneychangers from the temple. This Gospel account alone would obviously suggest that being a managerial guru was the last thing He intended, which makes the genre of books discussed by the authors (they refer to it as the “Jesus the Business Hero” genre) that much more disturbing.

An interesting trend discussed in the book is the way in which the Catholic Church has embraced corporate marketing and salesmanship. For example, the authors mention the 1999 licensing deal that the Vatican approved with Miami-based Siesta Telecom to issue a Pope John Paul II pre-paid phone card, which comes with a signed certificate and the Pope’s likeness on the card.

Corporations have also co-opted Christian symbols and images to sell their products. For example, Volvo states in its commercials that its cars will “save your souls,” and a particular detergent claims to be powerful enough to clean the Shroud of Turin. One of the authors received a Visa direct-mail pitch for a credit card “that celebrates the Christian Faith.” The only seemingly Christian benefit that Visa promised with this card was that Capital One, Inc., would devote one-quarter of one percent of the charges to the Christian Children’s Fund. But one would have to spend $40,000 in order to send $100 to the charitable organization.

Fortunately, Budde and Brimlow end their book on a positive note. They state that churches can adopt economic practices that would allow them to better fulfill their mission of spreading Christ’s message. They mention that superficial and temporary church membership are on the rise due to the increased migration, division of families, and job turnover that accompanies the rapid changes in the capitalist system. Churches are therefore often unable to establish intimate bonds with their members necessary to carry out their mission. Budde and Brimlow suggest several economic practices that could help re-emphasize a sense of place and thus help churches hold on to their members longer. For example, they mention the formation of church-based credit unions dedicated to encouraging church members to live close to one another as neighbors. They suggest new experiments in labor-sharing in which people exchange their labor time and skills for those of other members of the church.

To expect these and other examples mentioned by the authors to vastly alter the close relationship that Christianity has with capitalism today is unrealistic. However, Budde and Brimlow have done us an invaluable service by, at the very least, initiating a discussion concerning the economic practices Christianity has undertaken that have detracted from its mission of spreading the Gospel of Jesus. They remind Christian churches that their goal should be to spread His teachings and not to act as a cog in the machine of global capitalism.

- Steven Silva





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