Russell Shaw: Lukewarm, Unreliable & Uninspired
Russell Shaw's article "Responding to the Crisis of the Church (March) was disappointing. Obviously, Shaw takes a "political" approach to the crisis of the Church, and is uneasy discussing truth. Shaw's middle-of-the-road stance is like that of the lukewarm Laodiceans, whom our Lord said He would vomit out of His mouth (Rev. 3:16). It was out of character for the NOR to print his article.
Northport, New York
Regarding Russell Shaw's plea for "restraint" and the avoidance of incendiary language by those engaged in the civil war in the Church: I'm surprised the NOR would put any stock in Shaw's opinions, considering some key aspects of his track record:
- As the national spokesman for the Knights of Columbus, Shaw justified the Knights' policy of refusing to expel those of its members, notably politicians, who are known advocates of legal abortion.
- In the same capacity, Shaw justified the Knights' investment of 7.8 million dollars in pharmaceutical companies that produce contraceptives and abortifacients, saying that this amount of money is only a "minute sum."
- Shaw has been a big promoter of a gross and highly questionable sex education program called TeenStar. Most interesting in this regard is a letter from James Likoudis, a member of the Board of Directors of the orthodox organization Catholics United for the Faith (CUF), in the March 1998 issue of CUF's magazine Lay Witness. The letter was intended as a defense of the orthodoxy of Shaw, a member of the Advisory Council of CUF, and of Shaw's affiliation with CUF. Nonetheless, Likoudis said this: "Though Mr. Shaw has been associated with the TeenStar program, CUF has not endorsed it, and we have communicated as much to him . It is, of course, unfortunate that Shaw should not have grasped the depth and breadth of the classroom sex education problem being fostered by liberal, clerical elitists who are often dissenters and rebels against the Church's official teachings on sexual ethics. It is painful to witness one's fellow Catholics failing to understand the negative consequences of an ideological movement challenging Catholic doctrine . This is clearly seen in the sex education battles wherein so many Catholics find themselves collaborators with such groups as Planned Parenthood, SIECUS, AASECT, and the NEA."
To those who would say, "Oh, but Shaw is a member of Opus Dei," I say: Don't be fooled. Opus Dei is not a conservative organization, it is a chameleon organization. Opus Dei people are conservative when they are among conservatives, but liberal when among liberals whatever serves Opus Dei's purpose of garnering influence, favorable publicity, money, and power.
G.E. "Corky" Corcoran
Shaw opens his article by asking, "How should Catholics respond to the crisis gripping the Church?" But he quickly shifts ground by saying that the issues dividing the Church are related to a "larger" issue, namely, "What stance should the Catholic Church adopt toward modernity or, now, postmodernity?" He then offers "a few suggestions for carrying on the conversation" about this larger issue.
One of his suggestions is to have "structures and processes for hearing complaints, mediating disputes, and resolving conflicts." He suggests that "diocesan tribunals" or "new administrative tribunals'" might satisfy the "need" for dispute resolution in the Church.
Perhaps Shaw's background offers some clues here. He has significant connections to the American Catholic establishment: He worked for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference for 18 years and for the Knights of Columbus for 10 years, and he writes frequently for Our Sunday Visitor. His career is that of a prominent Church bureaucrat. This perhaps helps explain his proposal for more Church bureaucracy. Shaw's background may also explain why he tries to change the question from how orthodox Catholics should respond to the crisis in the Church to defining the Church's stance toward postmodernity. Shaw cannot discuss how to resolve the first question. To do so would jeopardize his connections to the American Catholic establishment.
In my view, the crisis in the Church today is a crisis of faith among Catholics. This crisis of faith and the great loss of faith attending it has been brought on by our sins, to be sure, but in even larger part by the lack of leadership among those principally responsible for teaching and safeguarding the faith: the bishops. On the whole, the American bishops (and their bureaucrats) have failed to teach and safeguard the Catholic Faith; they have tolerated heretical catechetics and teachers; they have permitted dissenters to control their diocesan newspapers, chanceries, and seminaries, as well as "Catholic" colleges and universities; they have foisted "sex education" on innocent Catholic grade-school students; they have ignored sacrilegious liturgical abuses; they have failed to teach the immorality of contraception and have soft-pedaled the immorality of abortion and now sodomy.
The result: The polls tell us that upwards of 80 percent of American Catholic couples of childbearing age practice contraception, which is prohibited by the Magisterium; that 65 percent of American Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist; that only about 25 percent of American Catholics now attend Mass each week (down from 70 percent before Vatican II); that after graduation 90 percent of Catholic high-school graduates quit practicing their faith. The Church in the U.S., plagued with scandals that were last seen before the Protestant "Reformation," now pays out millions of dollars each year to compensate victims of sexual abuse by clergy. As a body, America's bishops have failed to teach their flocks the Catholic faith and failed to exercise their authority as shepherds to safeguard their flocks. "By their fruits you shall know them."
How should we orthodox Catholics respond to the crisis in the Church? We should practice and publicly promote our Catholic faith and morality. We should learn how to cope with the secular culture we live in. We should join with like-minded Catholics to form support communities for ourselves and our families. We should not just ignore dissenters and bad Catholics but should stop supporting them financially and stop permitting them to influence our children. If need be, we should home-school our children; in any event, we should make sure our children learn the Catholic faith at home and not depend on Church structures for religious education. We should obey our bishops and priests in all things legitimate, but make our concerns known to them truthfully and in a respectful way. We should pray for our fellow Catholics, our priests and bishops, the Pope, and the Church. We should season all our activities with Christian charity. We should not follow Shaw in worrying about the Church's stance toward postmodernity or in seeking a definition of that stance before starting out to evangelize American culture. We should direct our efforts toward Christianizing Catholicizing America from top to bottom, right now.
So, tell me, why did you publish Shaw's uninspired article?
Albert C. Walsh
David City, Nebraska
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
In our "Editor's Note" introducing Shaw's article, we tried to explain why we published it. Perhaps we weren't clear enough. So, in light of all the negative letters we've received about the article, as is evident from this month's and last month's letters section, we'll try again. Our November 1998 editorial discussed the banning of our trademark ads by the National Catholic Register and by Our Sunday Visitor and all its sister periodicals not only the reasons why our satirical and hard-hitting ads on behalf of orthodoxy were banned but also the broader significance of the banning, namely, the apparent split among orthodox Catholics about how to respond to the increasingly brazen forces of dissent and heresy in the Church. While Shaw was not responsible for the banning, he is indeed closely associated with Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) as well as the Register. Shaw is a high-profile Catholic layman, and is indeed well connected to the national Catholic establishment. In our view, Shaw has in effect functioned as the chief theoretician for the rather lax approach taken by OSV and the Register to the doctrinal and disciplinary meltdown in the Church in the U.S., and so, in that November editorial, we took Shaw to task for certain of his views.
In that November editorial we also proposed to OSV and the Register a way of resolving the problems they have with our ads. We were deeply saddened when both publications bluntly and categorically rejected our proposal for reconciliation. In sharp contrast, however, we received a gracious and creative response to the editorial from Mr. Shaw, offering to write an article for the NOR on the broader issue of how orthodox Catholics should deal with the troubles in the Church. We were heartened by his response heartened also because his response was in distinct contrast to his letter in the Jul.-Aug. 1998 NOR wherein he called the NOR's Editor a "leering fundamentalist." Incendiary language? Well, we did not expect Mr. Shaw to respond to our November editorial in the gentlemanly manner in which he did it was certainly above and beyond the call of duty or courtesy. To reciprocate his nobility of spirit, we printed the article he sent without editorial reply or comment.
Obviously, his article was not well received, judging by the responses we've had to date, all of which have been strongly critical. It goes without saying that what Shaw said about "the crisis of the Church" is not the same thing the NOR would have said, or has said. It also goes without saying that we are disturbed by those aspects of his track record cited by Mr. Corcoran, of which we were unaware when we published his article.
So, what does all this mean? Given Mr. Shaw's stance as an orthodox Catholic, and given the searching and pithy critiques of his article from orthodox Catholic readers of ours, it is clear that the split among orthodox Catholics about how to contend with the expanding crisis in the Church is deep and wide.
Suburban Catholic Schlock
I converted to Catholicism in 1974, when the Church was beginning her slide toward secularism, and I would like to respond to the letter (April) from Rexford Davis, an Anglican, who is looking for a non-Bozo Catholic parish in his locale in Rhode Island.
I live in suburban Seattle, and my experience proved to me that the newer, more affluent suburban areas contain the modernistic parishes, with no statuary, kneelers, sanctuary, or stained glass. One parish I happened upon resembled a sports arena, and did not even have a crucifix or the Stations of the Cross.
But it's possible to find more traditional parishes, if one is willing to explore. Last year I found a venerable parish 19 miles from my home in a mature area of Everett, Washington. The people here still honor and practice the traditional worship that drew me to the Church in the first place.
It took me 24 years to find a parish steeped in tradition, and I will not leave it. I suggest to Mr. Davis that he direct his attention to parishes in older, more stable neighborhoods, of which I'm sure there are many in the fine old state of Rhode Island.
Randy De Klyen
Clowns on Good Friday!
Regarding the ad of yours spoofing the fictional "St. Bozo's Parish," which you run in other publications: Truth is stranger than fiction. I read an announcement in the newspaper about a "Clown Compassion" service to be held at a Catholic parish in the Cleveland area on Good Friday (1999), put on by a group called The Spirit of Laughter Clown/Mime Ministry. Unbelievable!
James F. McCann
Can't Stand It Any Longer
That does it! I refer to your ad in The Catholic World Report entitled "We Make Liberal Catholics Angry, and Not Even a Warm Hug Will Make Them Feel Better." For too long I've put off subscribing to the NEW OXFORD REVIEW, but I can't stand not subscribing any longer.
We Catholic laity have suffered the "reformers" too long. Sometimes it hurts too much even to cry. A good laugh is what I need and your ad supplied it so enter my two-year subscription.
Roundabout Endorsement Rounds 'em Up
Enclosed are U.S. dollars for a sample copy of the NEW OXFORD REVIEW. My order is prompted by your great ads in First Things and by Richard John Neuhaus saying in First Things (Dec. 1998) that the NOR is "immeasurably better than its ads."
Philip De Rose
East Bentleigh, Australia
"Joke? What Joke?"
Only someone completely lacking in literary sensibility would fail to appreciate the astute use of satire in your ads. Those insightful ads of yours are expressions of an organization that is on top of things and has a "sixth sense" about what's askew.
Still, as Chesterton said, it's possible for some things to be "too big to be seen," and there's something so huge in the controversy over the banning of your ads that it's being overlooked, namely this: Younger Catholics, who have been miseducated in the Faith and easily fall for fads, have grown so accustomed to "Father Flapdoodle" that they accept the abnormalities and bungled reforms in the Church as normal, and so they don't can't appreciate the humor in your ads. Your ads poke fun at Fr. Flapdoodle, but because most young Catholics regard him as a standard-brand priest, they will never get the joke.
We have not noticed any lack of response to our ads from younger Catholics. While most young Catholics have been miseducated in the Faith, we doubt that, on the whole, they are as obtuse as you suggest. For example, it's been widely noted that today's seminarians and young priests are distinctly unfaddish and traditional, and that it is younger Catholics who are fleeing mod liturgies for more traditional ones. Indeed, as the liberal Archbishop Rembert Weakland has acknowledged (in America, Feb. 20, 1999), "the strongest advocates of the Tridentine usage" inside the Church today are not "the older people who knew the liturgy before the council" (Vatican II), but "a newer, younger crowd." Not surprisingly, no periodical that has banned our ads has cited the ads' inability to communicate with young Catholics as a reason.
Father Flapdoodle: Humorous, but Not Funny
In certain of your ads in other periodicals, you present Fr. Flapdoodle, a humorous caricature of a typical liberal priest. But in fact, as I'm sure you realize, he is no mere stage comic cleric. He exerts a truly deleterious and unfunny influence on souls and on the Church.
Here's a common scene that haunts me: At a Requiem Mass, Fr. Flapdoodle is describing the deceased (let's call him "X") as a model hard-working, caring man, etc. To make the mourners feel good, he confidently asserts several times that "X" is "now in Heaven." However, the soul of "X" is despairing upon hearing these words. Although "X" did some good work for the parish and died free of mortal sin, his actual spiritual life was lukewarm, and now, far from being in Heaven, he is in a dark and unpleasant corner of Purgatory. He desperately needs prayers and sacrifices to be offered up for his speedy deliverance from Purgatory. But since the congregation is assured that he is "now in Heaven," they leave without considering his (probable) situation.
And just as Purgatory is being forgotten, so is Hell. One reason why young men are not coming forward to become priests these days is that Fr. Flapdoodle never, never mentions the devil and Hell. This rather takes the main point out of the priest's job, does it not? To be on the front lines in the great cosmic battle of our Lord against the adversary of the human race, the devil, is inspiring in the highest degree. But not many men will dedicate their lives to a cause reduced to telling people to be kind to one another and to animals. To put it another way: If it is assumed that there is no enemy outside the city walls, how will we raise up a sizable army from among the citizens?
Devon, United Kingdom
Look What Can Happen!
I have read in your pages the "war stories" of frustrated and outraged readers about Masses with clowns and balloons. I have read about mother earth goddesses and "Fr. Flapdoodle." I have read editorials about the schism on the horizon. All this I have read with great interest. Living in conservative, rural northern California as I do, I guess I've been lucky to have been bypassed by the New Age fads and such so sadly described in your pages.
For decades we here have mostly had to deal not with "Fr. Flapdoodle" but with "Fr. Mechanical," who is mostly concerned with the bottom line of the Building Fund and with making sure that the homilies don't exceed five minutes, and who distributes Communion like a grocery checker sliding cans across the bar code reader. While I'm sure the execution of the Masses and other sacraments has been liturgically proper, I have for years left Mass feeling like part of some parish production quota that has been filled for the week. I don't mean to be unkind, for I can certainly understand the disillusionment of many priests ordained in the last days before Vatican II, and I thank God for the dedication of those men who have persevered through the bewilderment of the past 30-plus years.
In the spring of 1995 our parish was blessed by God (and the Bishop of Sacramento) with a new pastor. In his first homily he proclaimed that he would be faithful to the Holy Father, the Bishop, and the Magisterium of the Church. He proclaimed that our parish would not be a parish in some "American Catholic Church" but a parish of the Roman Catholic Church in America. He proclaimed that he would preach the sanctity of human life and the evil of abortion, and the sanctity of marriage and the family. He proclaimed that he would preach the Real Presence of Jesus Christ body and blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist, and the necessity to be in the correct spiritual condition to be in communion with Christ and His Church.
He got a standing ovation.
Since he began his ministry, our parish has come alive. Devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament have blossomed. Each Friday evening we celebrate Mass with Benediction and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. The sacrament of Confession on Saturday afternoon is crowded (get there early!). Our RCIA programs have had 15 to 20 new catechumens each year a number unheard of in prior years. Our youth ministry has reached new heights. In the summer of 1998, the teenage leadership, after a year of fundraising, sent 16 youths (with adult chaperones) on a pilgrimage to Rome. And two men from the parish have entered seminary studies in the past three years.
Our parish isn't perfect. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the spiritual growth of our parish in the past four years is directly tied to a pastor who isn't afraid to preach the Gospel in accord with the Church's Magisterium and the Pope.
We are St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Marysville, California.
Joseph C. Caputo II
Fellow Catholics in Iraq
Kudos to the NOR for having the courage to publish Nicholas Lund-Molfese's article on the ongoing American embargo of Iraq and the horrible consequences of that embargo for innocent civilians in Iraq (April).
American Catholics perhaps do not realize that they have many brethren in the Faith in Iraq. Half a million Catholics (primarily of the Eastern Rite) live in Iraq, and they are suffering under the sanctions just as much as their Muslim neighbors. Pope John Paul II is planning a visit to Iraq in the year 2000 to support the Catholics in Iraq.
Only in Self-Defense? Phooey!
I dare you to print this letter.
In his article (April) on the American bombing campaigns and embargo against Iraq, Nicholas Lund-Molfese approvingly quotes some chap by the name of Germain Grisez as saying, "war is only justifiable as a communal form of self-defense."
Lund-Molfese would, I'm sure, ignore the military maxim that a strong offense is the best possible defense. By ignoring this, he would avoid winning a war.
If we used his "communal form of self-defense" as our standard operating procedure, it would mean that in World War II we had no need to attack Nazi Germany as she had not attacked us. By avoiding exposure of our ships at sea to attack by German submarines, we could have avoided getting involved in the war in Europe until after Germany had won it and then turned her attention to us, that is! The European conflict, by the way, came about because England had decided to honor its mutual defense pact with Poland after that country had been taken over and divided between Germany and Russia. That was after other small countries with defense pacts with England and France had been tossed to Hitler in an effort to pacify him. When they honored the defense pact with Poland, neither Great Britain nor France were threatened by Germany. Therefore, by Lund-Molfese's standard, Great Britain and France were the aggressors and Germany was justified in taking defensive action against them. That war took a five-year chunk out of my life, changing it forever, so I look on that subject with a different perspective than he.
I assume he would have advised, after the Japanese had made a successful attack on Pearl Harbor, that we should merely repel any further attacks, ignoring the military maxim that a strong offense is the best defense.
The approach that Lund-Molfese advocates is, apparently, that we should not have any troops anywhere in the world, except in territories that are under our control. We should assume our former isolationist stance, avoiding alliances with other nations for fear that we might be required to go further than self-defense of our own and participate in a friend's self-defense.
We should not have become involved in Korea, as we were not threatened by North Korean forces landing in our country. We should not be involved in Bosnia or Kosovo, and should not have gone to the aid of Kuwait, as we were not threatened in any of those areas. We should have looked upon them, it seems, as the British initially did when Germany sent troops back into the provinces taken from her at the close of World War I. As one British statesman is reputed to have said, "After all, Hitler's merely gone into his back garden!" Saddam Hussein merely went into his "back garden" when he invaded Kuwait, as he maintains that it is a part of Iraq.
In regard to capital punishment, which Lund-Molfese, via Grisez, opposes and which the Pope speaks against: St. Paul might take issue with them: "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid: for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (Rom. 13:33-4). The ruler does not carry the aforementioned sword just to slice cheese or sharpen pencils! I have never known an executed criminal to commit more crimes, but many criminals who received a slap on the wrist have repeated their criminal behavior over and over.
In Luke 22:35-36, the Beloved Physician quotes Jesus: "And he said unto them, When I sent ye without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything? And they said, Nothing. Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one." What was the reason for buying a sword? To slice cheese for the rulers? I think not.
Are the Pope's opinions on matters such as capital punishment binding on all Catholics? I am an Anglican, and was born and raised in New England and am well acquainted with the mind-set of the old-time New Englanders. They feared the Catholics because "they took orders from Rome." I can recall my mother, during the presidential campaign of 1928, in fear that Al Smith would get elected. She was really scared! "If he gets elected," she said, "he will take orders from Rome. The Pope will be running this country and they will be burning Protestants on the street corners!"
I have no fear of John Paul ordering Protestants burned on the street corners or anywhere else. But it does worry me if one man has the power to tell people what to think on every topic. Recall Lord Acton's famous saying: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Recall the Inquisition. The Church tried individuals and found them guilty of heresy. The individuals were handed over to the secular powers.
"No bloodshed, please," the Church said to the State.
"Gotcha!" said the State. "We'll burn them!"
Lund-Molfese quotes Archbishop O'Brien's recent comment that "members of the military are not exempt from making conscientious decisions when confronted with possibly immoral orders." What a can of worms that opens up! If Catholic soldiers are to consult the Catechism before taking orders, what about all the other denominations? Will the Armed Forces have to hold some sort of poll to determine if an order to bomb or take other offensive action is sufficiently moral to satisfy the requirements of theological leaders safe and snug in the rear? Way in the rear! Even further back than the big brass!
Dropping atomic bombs on Japan saved countless lives of American soldiers who would have been killed if we had made a traditional invasion. I made three invasions (North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy) and I know whereof I speak! There were noncombatant lives lost when atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. Hey, the Japanese started the war. Were we to spare their lives and throw away servicemen's lives because some catechism says that killing them is immoral? Get real!
What about all the Crusades in the Middle Ages, when Christian (?) knights were blessed by the popes and sent off to wrest the Holy Land from the infidel Arabs? In the "wresting," towns were conquered, men, women, and children slaughtered, and the wealth of the towns looted. Those Arabs who were butchered by the knights were earlier versions of the Iraqis whose lives are now supposedly sacred.
I have found that war is screwed up enough by our leaders, who nevertheless have had some form of training in the art of war, but when it is complicated by religious leaders telling the military how to conduct war, that is a recipe for disaster. The days when war was waged by small armies that could meet in someone's pasture and settle the difference of opinion by force of arms in that pasture are merely history now. The airplane brought total war, when whole populaces were involved, and were slaughtered or enslaved or transported elsewhere. We cannot go back!
Rexford W. Davis
North Scituate, Rhode Island
In his letter to the editor (April), Louis Mihalyi claims that Pope John Paul II is "increasingly senile" and "clings" to "power" for "selfish" reasons, and that this is causing "intellectuals" to leave the Church.
Good grief! Actually, John Paul is proclaiming the Gospel very effectively, thank you, despite his physical difficulties and advancing years.
Mihalyi also claims that the Catholic Church is "regressive." I don't know what trendy, un-regressive messages Mihalyi wishes to hear from the Church, but as for those "intellectuals," among whom Mihalyi presumably counts himself, let me just note that it is not the job of the Church to tickle men's ears (see 2 Tim. 4:3).
Louis Mihalyi claims that the ads the NOR places in other periodicals are "malicious," and that the Pope is preoccupied with "power" and is "puffed up." To the contrary! The ads aren't malicious, but the types of people lampooned in the ads are people who bring much trouble to the Church by seeking power to change the Church according to their whims. Because they set themselves above God's laws (laws upheld by the God-given authority of the Pope), these people are the ones who are puffed up.
Guttenberg, New Jersey
Charles Moore has carefully addressed several provocative issues regarding dating and preparation for marriage in his article, "Preparing Young People for Marital Fidelity" (March). The myth of romance in Western society is indeed ubiquitous and corrosive, pervading our thought and art, including even children's videos (e.g., Disney's Hercules). Mankind's raison d'être is too often portrayed as the search for romance and self-validation. This is obviously inimical to the Judeo-Christian idea that our true, great, and lifelong goals are love and obedience toward God and charity toward one another in short, holiness (Mt. 22:36-40). Our society's concept of love is self-centered and "defective," as Moore correctly states.
However, his call to abandon the practice of dating is both reactionary (pointing back toward an era with little in common with ours) and unnecessary. Young people can be taught to act with respect, responsibility, and forgiveness as they meet others and experiment with forging committed, Christ-centered relationships. They can be properly informed about the mundane and self-sacrificing nature of marriage and child-rearing, the reality of suffering in the context of Jesus' example, and the primacy of duty to Christ and the Church. They can be taught to enjoy the gift of sexuality in marriage alone. There are many young people in Christian colleges (and elsewhere) who have understood the Christian vision for holiness in relationships and who are acting in concert with the highest ideals embodied in the New Testament. They are not members of today's vacuous youth culture. They are not self-centered. But they do date.
The spirituality and success of the Spring Valley Bruderhof Community, to which Moore belongs, are not in question. Nevertheless, its value as the model for 21st-century America is definitely open to further discussion. Closed communities are not essential to God's gift of salvation, although they may be nice places to live. It is an exaggerated egalitarianism to suppose that any man and any woman in close proximity would be able to create a holy marriage. Jesus certainly left Nazareth to choose His apostles. Furthermore, stripped of the false objectives of romantic self-validation and sexual adventure, dating need not lead to sin or selfishness. The process of learning to communicate with, sacrifice for, and seek holiness with another person, and in fidelity to God and Church, is not immediate or easy. Dating can, with proper Christian educational formation and community support, be that process and can lead to healthy, holy, and permanent marriages.
Robert and Megan Fante
Don't Dis God!
Thank you for extending a free subscription to me and for sending some back issues by means of the Scholarship Fund provided by your charitable readers.
I want to thank Fr. David Watt for his article on Hell (Feb.). Since my conversion to Christ I've discovered that many Christians don't believe in Satan or Hell. But the world works through rewards and punishments, and this is God's world. I am on death row. I now find Hell a prime motivator. It certainly commands respect for God!
Edwin Hart Turner, #67290
Thank you for the article "Why Is It O.K. to Insult a Pregnant Lady?" by Kathleen Whitney Barr (April). She echoed my experience of being insulted, and in the process lifted a burden from my shoulders that I had been carrying for a year and a half. In December 1997, when I was eight months pregnant with my fourth child, I sat down and began writing a similar piece. My article is still only half-finished. I can now breathe a sigh of relief and give myself another year or two to complete my work by then it will be time for people to hear the message again.
One observation I'd like to add from my own experience: When women discover that I am happily a mother of four and that my husband and I are open to more children, many in hushed tones confide their secret desire to have another baby. I always encourage them (if they haven't already sterilized themselves), hoping that their hearts might be softened and new souls created.
I want to respond to Kathleen Whitney Barr's article on the insults suffered by pregnant mothers. I am privileged to be the oldest of eight children and I can vividly remember the rude and crude comments directed at my mother, particularly during her final pregnancy when I was in sixth grade. I am overcome with revulsion whenever I contemplate the insulting behavior my mother endured. Apparently such disgusting behavior still continues.
I can testify that with eight children there were indeed plenty of leftovers and hand-me-downs. But the work involved in such a large family could be fun. Dad would take the oldest kids (Mom was at home with the little ones) to the supermarket, get us each a shopping cart, and assign us each an aisle. We would fill up on supplies and meet at the checkstand, where the checkers, who knew us well, would check through our convoy of carts. (Dad had us help with bagging too.)
I am very uncomfortable with women with only one or two children who speak openly of their plan to have no more and proceed to discuss their methods for accomplishing that, and I abhor women who complain about the difficulties of child-rearing if the child was an "accident." I contrast all this to my mother. I don't know that my mother and father "planned" how many children they had. I do know that they never spoke of any of us as "accidents" and never complained about the sacrifices they made for us. So far they have eight grandchildren from their four married children.
As an unmarried woman in her late 30s, I still hope for marriage and motherhood. If God has these in store for me, I hope that I am blessed with at least five children and that I can pass on to them my faith and what I learned about family life from my parents.
Agnes Marie Black
Lakewood, New Jersey
Kenneth Craycraft's article "Tolerating' Christianity Into Irrelevance" (April) packed a wallop. Thank you to Craycraft, and congratulations to the NOR for having the integrity to let him say the "unmentionable"!
When I receive my next issue of the NOR I'll remount my seismograph and hang on tight.
Madison Heights, Virginia
Religious Freedom, but Without Compromise
Regarding Kenneth Craycraft's April article on what he calls "the liberal myth of religious freedom": Rather than say, as Craycraft does, that "there is no such thing as religious freedom," it would be more accurate to say that freedom of any kind can never be perfect, and that having a particular freedom puts a burden on free citizens to use it properly.
Religious freedom poses a danger to the spiritual health of the citizen. The very human temptation to compromise makes it easy to succumb to the wiles of the secular state, to the detriment of one's religious beliefs. It is not up to the government to make Catholics toe the doctrinal line; the onus is on the bishops.
Thomas F. Brands
Los Angeles, California
Kenneth Craycraft is to be commended for stating a perception of the Founding Fathers that may help to explain the secular course of modern American political thought. But the words he quotes from George Washington express Washington's belief that if the populace were ever to lose its strong moral principles (which were based on the Christian religion), society would not endure. This does not translate into Washington's believing that the state must control religion and that the state is supreme.
Another troubling thing about the article is that it seems to leave aside the fact that under Christianity, Caesar does have a role. In traditional Catholic thought, Caesar's power comes from God (in a democratic society that power might pass through the people before coming to rest upon Caesar's shoulders). "God, family, country, self" is a Christian motto with which I see nothing wrong keeping in mind the distinctions between "country" and "state" or "government." There will be, and ought to be, constant tension between the State (as government) and the Church: First, because the Kingdom of God will never be fully built on earth, and, second, because the Church's constant duty is to call all persons, all families, and the country itself to live at the highest moral level in accordance with authentic biblical principles, whereas government's constant tendency is to become too worldly and self-absorbed.
This means dilemmas for the Christian citizen in America. For example, if society's common shared values have dissolved to the point that we cannot agree that a "fetus" is human, then a Catholic who really believes the tenets of his faith will find his vocation as citizen immensely difficult, whether as public office-seeker or as private taxpayer. We can stay the course, and pray, hoping that those adamantly opposed to Catholic beliefs will make of themselves such a poor example in government that reasonable people, even if not committed to the Catholic faith, will reject them.
Stephen M. Weglian
That Old Notion of "Repressive Tolerance": Crazy Then, Crazy Now
Kenneth Craycraft's article "Tolerating' Christianity Into Irrelevance" (April) is disturbing on several counts. I will resist the temptation to take apart the piece's bizarre historical argument. But if anyone really thinks that the views on religious tolerance held by Constantine the Great, George Washington, and Justice Hugo Black (who was responsible for a lot of contemporary First Amendment law) were all a species of "liberalism," there is not much I can do for him. Far more worrisome is the article's attempt to deploy some profoundly corrupting philosophical devices in what is ostensibly a defense of the Catholic Church.
Look, religious tolerance is not part of a subtle strategy to destroy religion. The proposition that tolerance is fundamentally repressive is the sort of creepy notion that Marxists of the Frankfurt School used to put out. Their argument was that societies with multi-party elections and independent newspapers were less free than societies governed by party oligarchies and political purges, because the elections and newspapers served to legitimize the regime indirectly, rather than through open force. This was crazy in 1968, and it is crazy now.
Even worse is the assertion that the tension between the Church and "liberalism" in this matter is simply a choice between competing dogmas. Craycraft's statement that the Church "does not claim to have a neutral principle" about religious liberty strikes at the heart of the Catholic philosophical tradition of natural law. This tradition claims precisely to know things that are neutral, to express those truths that no honest person cannot know. The "dogma" of postmodernism that there are no truths merely conflicting rationalities in different communities of discourse is incompatible with Catholic theology. In fact, John Paul II wrote his philosophical encyclical Fides et Ratio to make this very point. To try to use a postmodern evasion in an attempt to defend the Church is truly to call on Satan to drive out Beelzebub.
Finally, one may note that the article threatens to import into Catholicism the anarchic lack of political theory that characterizes American evangelicalism. There are Christian traditions in which government is seen as wholly the kingdom of the devil: This was the sort of thinking that led the Republican congressional class of 1994 to try to close down Washington. The Catholic Church, in contrast, has an essentially sunny idea of the role of the state. In the Thomistic view, government is supposed to have interests other than those of the Church, though these interests cannot be final. The Church does not simply "stand in judgment" over the state. It is also necessary to offer coherent advice, which is not ever likely to come from the sort of thinking evident in this article.
John J. Reilly
Jersey City, New Jersey
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
The Marxists put the concept of "class struggle" into modern parlance. But just because they did doesn't mean there has never been a class struggle in human history. Yes, the Frankfurt Marxists were creepy, but their concept of "repressive tolerance" is not patently crazy or entirely false. Just look at how speech codes on campuses and diversity training in the workplace both concocted in the name of "tolerance" have repressed free speech. For example, the statement, "Homosexual acts are sinful" is now widely considered a form of "hate speech" and is repressed in many venues. Or just look at how nonviolent prolifers are being repressed by the government's enforced "tolerance" of abortion mills these days. Or heck a mere in-house pet peeve just look at why America, the "tolerant" Jesuit magazine, repressed the NEW OXFORD REVIEW's trademark ads: because they're considered "offensive." No, none of this means that dictatorships are equally or less repressive than democracies. By the way, Craycraft's book was put out by a conservative, anti-Marxist publisher.
As for natural law: If, as you say, the Church's position on religious liberty rests on it, and if, as you say, natural law expresses truths that "no honest person" can deny, you have situated your defense of "the heart" of the natural law tradition on one of its weakest links. For what is that "neutral principle" that the Church has posited about religious liberty? Is it the principle that "error has no rights," which prevailed in the Church for over 1,600 years until 1965, or the quite different principle that "the truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth" (Dignitatis Humanae, 1965, #1)? One need not be a postmodernist to see that these two principles, while not absolutely contradictory, pretty much constitute "conflicting rationalities," and they do so within the Catholic tradition itself. There were Catholics who supported the latter principle before 1965 and there are Catholics who to this day quietly support the former principle (and hope and expect to be vindicated one day). Whatever one may say about these people, do we really want to say they are not or were not "honest" people? And would we want to assert that, say, Pope Pius IX, who taught that error has no rights, was not an "honest" man because he refused to assent to what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council would later decree in 1965? You may invoke the development of doctrine if you wish, but surely you would acknowledge that the natural law has not been transparently obvious in the case of the issue of religious liberty.
No Government Pressure
It was with great interest that I read Joseph Collison's article "Grandpa! Grandpa!" (April). Collison seems to have done his homework regarding the disturbing trend toward euthanasia. However, I did notice a slight but significant error toward the end.
He says that Calvary Hospital in New York is run by the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne when in fact it is run by the Archdiocese of New York. It was formerly run by a Dominican community of Sisters, but not the Hawthorne Dominicans, whose two homes for terminally ill cancer patients in New York are St. Rose's Home in Manhattan and Rosary Hill Home in Westchester County.
This is significant because while (as Collison notes) Calvary Hospital has been notified by the federal government that insurance payments may be discontinued because its patients are not dying fast enough, this would never be a problem for the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, who accept no payment from residents, their families, insurance, or government. All support comes from donations by people in the community. Their foundresses insisted that all care be given free of charge and the Sisters continue this policy to this day. Ultimately, the Sisters rely on Divine Providence for their support.
I worked with these Sisters for seven years and can attest both to the fine work they do and to the fact that their only affiliation with Calvary Hospital is in serving the dying in a Catholic environment.
"Gay" Now Means Lame
I greatly appreciate your policy of seeking new subscribers through advertising in other periodicals. This reduces the subscription price of those periodicals, and is much better than junk mail, or phone calls during dinner hour.
A while back you had an editorial about terms for homosexuals, including the word "gay." At one time "gay" meant happy, more recently it meant homosexual, and now it has a new meaning. Teens use it to mean lame. Instead of saying, "That's so lame," they say, "That's so gay."
Ed. Note: Puzzled, I consulted two of our children who are in the teenage or near-teenage years, and they confirmed that you are right that gay means lame. Yes, even in Berkeley! Its curious that young people even nowadays realize instinctively that theres something wrong with homosexuality. The struggle of our age is in part a struggle over language, as euphemism seeks to supplant fact. (See William Brennan in the May NOR on anti-fetal rhetoric, for example.) An abortion is a choice, civilians killed by sloppy air raids are merely collateral damage, a fornicator is a partner, and absurd sex is gay. Thus destruction and perversion try to sound okay. Phony language is reprehensible, but language has a way of exacting its own revenge. Those who subvert the language by inventing cuddly euphemisms for nasty facts shouldnt be surprised to hear their approved euphemisms being subverted in turn in this case, it seems, by teenagers engaging in a little linguistic outlawry. Borrowing some triumphalist terms from homosexual discourse, we might say that these teens are queering propagandistic rhetoric that they have outed a mendacious euphemism.