April 1989

Unworthy of Intelligent Discussion

One of the reasons I contin­ue to read the NOR is that I often find there intelligent presenta­tions of positions with which I disagree. But several of the pieces in the Jan.-Feb. issue contain statements really unworthy of an intelligent discussion.

Take the case of Christo­pher Derrick’s column on “Hu­manity’s Ancient and Passionate Love Affair with War.” It is lib­erally laced with assertions for which no evidence is (or can be) given.

For example, he gives as his reason why there has always been so much war that “peaceful alternatives were always there, but they were not desired so pas­sionately.” What was the peaceful alternative to the Prussian inva­sion of neutral Belgium in 1914 and the successive German an­nexations that led to World War II? (If he means surrender to any aggressor under any conditions, then let him at least say so.)

Still, the perigee of Derrick’s flights of fancy is perhaps slight­ly attenuated when he may sus­pect too many obvious historical facts which would contradict his thesis. When the events take place in pre-history, he goes completely out of orbit. His view on “various sports, teams sports especially,” is that “they weren’t always so innocent. Their distant roots are military, anthropological­ly speaking, and they still retain the character of ritualized tribal war­fare.” This is mere fancy — which may or may not correspond to fact. There is no way to prove it, which may explain why no proof is attempted. What evidence would Derrick adduce — what evi­dence could he possibly adduce — that would demonstrate that in the hundreds of thousands of years before recorded history people kicked each others’ skulls instead of footballs? Of course, the skulls (often cracked) are still with us and no one has found any pre-historic pigskins. But we haven’t found any paleolithic pants either. Yet that doesn’t mean the “distant roots” of the pants we haven’t found are in the stone hatchets we have.

If Derrick wants to propose that there has been a historically verifiable and inordinate desire for war rooted in the hearts of fallen man, or that team sports are often motivated more by a desire for violence than by the thrill of athletic achievement, then let him say so and give us some evidence. But his unmea­sured assertions only discourage anyone who might be seeking the truth and arouse those who might in fact prefer peaceful alternatives to belligerence.

Joseph Fessio, S.J.
Editor, 30 Days
San Francisco, California

Reading Andrew Greeley’s Statistics

In the Jan.-Feb. symposi­um on dissenters in and around the Catholic Church, Msgr. Rich­ard Malone attempts to use Fr. Andrew Greeley’s sociological studies to contend that “it is tempting to presume that these results [i.e., slow but constant de­cline in Mass attendance, voca­tions, and the use of the sacra­ment of Penance] can be attributed to their [the dissenters’] ac­tivity.” A closer reading of Gree­ley will show, rather, that the “Magisterial” teaching called Humanae Vitae has had the single most deleterious effect on the loyalty of Catholics to their church.

Jim McCrea
Piedmont, California

Uneasy With Avery Dulles

I have always been pleased with NOR precisely because you are one of the very few really or­thodox Catholic publications in the U.S. — that is, not only have you always adhered to those teachings of the Magisterium that are so often controverted by the well-known dissenters, such as Küng, Curran, et al., but you have also always understood that the Church’s social teaching is anti-capitalist, something that so many Catholics in America find difficult to grasp. Therefore I was disturbed to find in the Jan.-Feb. issue some manifestations of the very dissenting mentality that both America and The Wan­derer exhibit in their very differ­ent ways. Why you considered Fr. Avery Dulles as orthodox and why you invited him to contrib­ute to your symposium I do not know, but I hope that the NOR will dissociate itself from his contri­bution.

First, he throws out more than one red herring, such as set­ting up the dichotomy between irreformable and reformable offi­cial teaching, though the First Vatican Council stated that Cath­olics are bound to believe all the Church’s teaching, whether com­ing from her extraordinary or ordinary Magisterium; then he lists a number of “official posi­tions” which he asserts have been “revised or abandoned,” an inter­esting mixture of cautionary prohibitions which indeed have been modified or abandoned and dog­mas which are often today pre­sented with much different em­phasis, but which have not essen­tially changed. In fact, Dulles al­most seems to admit that his list is so much of a smokescreen, since he says that “although one might quarrel with one or anoth­er of these examples, they may be taken in globo to illustrate sufficiently” his point. In other words, though each of his examples can be faulted, together somehow they support his posi­tion. After this, his discussion of dissenters, all moderate and well-meaning men apparently, seems to me to indicate clearly his stand. It is not with the Faith once delivered to the saints.

It is important to remember that the capitalist challengers to the Church’s social teachings sometimes advance the argument that these are part of the official yet somehow reformable teach­ing of the Catholic Church. And it is true, one cannot find definite ex cathedra anathemas toward those who love the free market. Yet I think it is fair to say that everyone who has studied the so­cial encyclicals carefully and with an open mind knows that the logic of a Catholic social or­der and the logic of free-market capitalism are totally opposed. We should beware lest we accept the position of those who attack the Faith on supposedly nones­sential points and find that we have given away the ground to Michael Novak and his kind. For if we accept Curran we must ac­cept Novak.

I hope NOR will continue to gleefully and forcefully bash capitalism, yes, but capitalism along with contraception, the free market along with priestess­es, in short everything that goes contrary to the Church’s Magisterium, ordinary and extraordi­nary.

Thomas Storck
Greenbelt, Maryland

Ed. Note: We will continue to bash away. But you have mis­construed Dulles’s piece.

He allows that “one might quarrel with one or another” of his examples of development in official teaching, but this does not mean he is saying, as you contend, that “each of his exam­ples can be faulted.” Nor does Dulles say that “all” dissenting theologians are “moderate and well meaning.” Hardly. Read his contribution again!

Dulles makes it clear that to be a Catholic is to accept the teachings of both the extraordi­nary and ordinary Magisterium. But because not all teachings are infallible or irreformable, theo­logical experts “firmly committed to the creeds and dogmas” may question certain teachings in the interests of doctrinal develop­ment, if, among other things, the questioning is done in a way that does not give scandal — i.e., does not constitute a partisan public crusade. The challenges of both Curran and Novak do give scan­dal. Moreover, we at the NOR re­pudiate not only the manner in which they have mounted their challenges, but the substance of their challenges as well.

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