What Is a Popes Proper Political Role?
Comprehending a popes appropriate political role in a fallen world is a difficult matter particularly when the head of the Church ushers in so many apparent changes.
In reading Timothy D. Luschs guest column, Pope Franciss Appeasement Plan: Securing a False Peace with Iran (June), Pope Pius XIIs appearances with the fascist heads of state during World War II came to mind. What a tortuous path! From one perspective, Pius XII did not do enough to forestall or condemn the Holocaust, though he seemed to do as much as he could to rescue individuals who came into his arena. From another viewpoint, he did what he could and he kept the Church intact. With the Old Testament example of Elijah keeping the conversation going with the likes of Ahab (1 Kings) in mind, it seems that it would be a mistake for Pope Francis not to engage the modern Iranian regime.
In any event, Mr. Lusch has asked questions that raise a significant concern: What is the proper political role of a pope in an obviously fallen world? As Christians, we must understand that we cannot expect much from the secular world and we must keep our attention on Gods Kingdom, with the certain knowledge that His Way will triumph. We cannot possibly grasp all the thought and prayer that went into Pope Franciss dealings with Iran.
Beyond that, Mr. Lusch hits the mark in his view of Islam. Just as there is no compromise with a caliphate, there is none with the current American religion of multiculturalism. Recent events in Europe and elsewhere give testament to that profound flaw in our approach. Yet, it would seem, keeping a conversation going is a better option than closing off communication.
Being that I am a Protestant, my good friend Timothy D. Lusch would call me a schismatic in his more charitable moments and a heretic when he gets testy. Having admitted this flaw, let me say that I was almost ready to sign up for his argument. He rightly observes that we inhabit a world without any defining mythology undergirding our Weltanschauung. A generation of cynics and pseudo-philosophers has partnered with deconstructionists to give us the crisis of the soul that T.S. Eliot mourned.
It is indeed troublesome that diplomatic overtures toward peace usually carry with them the trailer at any cost. Mr. Lusch wisely raises the scepter of caution, almost to the brink of alarm, in presenting his case for Irans Islamic eschatology. In such a brief space, he makes the road from eschatology connect to that of diplomacy and beyond it to the realm of political action.
The premise of eschatology, of course, opens the door to theological reflection, and here is where I had my Agrippa moment: I was almost persuaded. Ill concur that Irans motives in signing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are murky, at best, and highly suspicious, to say the least. Our problem is that we cannot match conviction with conviction; and, as such, we are, as Mr. Lusch rightly contends, experiencing a crisis of the soul. However, I am not persuaded that the remedy proposed is in Rome. Mr. Luschs assertion that the lone bulwark against an avalanche of secularism is Rome is up for strenuous debate.
As a supposed schismatic, I would have to ask, Which Rome? Mr. Lusch cites Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as conservators of the Christian West, as if these two European men had the corner on the broad spectrum of the Christian movement. Benedicts reign had more to do with retrenchment and spectacle than with engaging the 21st century. I would remind Mr. Lusch that, when push comes to shove, the Church always retreats into correcting Christs work with miracle, mystery, and authority. This is why Franciss pastoral leadership will be transformative. One of the reasons is that he is not from Europe and knows by experience that the West is not necessarily Christian.
To posit that Rome alone is the gatekeeper and treasure holder of the faith is to miss the spectrum of Christian history, as dubious and troubled as it might be. It is easy for Rome to label other ecclesial assemblies as schismatics or even heretics to justify its position of first among equals. The treasure in earthen vessels that St. Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians is the redemptive work of the Kingdom of God, not democratic capitalism or an extension of the Republican Party.
I encourage Mr. Lusch to broaden his theological perspective by making friends with some Muslims and actually reading the Koran as a way to experience firsthand the many faces of Islam. Recent events in Iraq, Turkey, and Orlando, Florida, all point to the religious vacuum operating in the minds of such evil perpetrators. They remind us, however, that the same vacuum held sway during the Inquisition and other Church-sponsored pogroms designed to kill the infidel. Rome needs to work on changing peoples hearts, not turning the thumbscrews on folks who have a different faith allegiance.
TIMOTHY D. LUSCH REPLIES:
James DeVries makes several excellent points, not least of which is the deference we must give to the Holy Fathers prayerful path in discernment. It is true that we must acknowledge the difficulty of examining the political role, or any role for that matter, of the papacy in a fallen world. It is, after all, a most human of institutions. That said, while I agree with Mr. DeVries that a pope must engage the world and not cut off communication with country or culture, region or religion, I never argued for such a thing. It should be evident that engagement, or communication, is not the same thing as approval. And it is precisely Pope Franciss approval of the JCPOA that I criticize. I do not do so lightly. I do so because the nuclear deal with Iran and Franciss approval of it are heavy with consequences for the Church and the world. Pope Francis is a man of great spiritual vision and pastoral compassion, but on this issue he naïvely ignores the wolf in sheeps clothing.
A Protestant the learned and loyal William Roman is, and a heretic or schismatic in the eyes of the Church he might also be. But I would only call him friend a friend of the greatest quality, to be sure. Protestantism isnt Mr. Romans flaw. His flaw inheres in reasoning, not character and, therefore, is more fallacy than flaw.
Irans motives and intentions are not murky. They are, in fact, quite clear. Iran is a religious state with political trappings. It is governed by Shia clerics of the Islamic faith a faith that teaches submission, voluntary or coerced, to Allah. Shia eschatology teaches the coming of the Mahdi, the last Imam, who will be a man and lead Muslims to unity and non-Muslims to destruction. The Iranian ayatollahs desire for enhanced nuclear capability must be understood in this context.
Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and Islamic-supremacist organizations. Since its 1979 revolution, Iran has made no pretense of its goal to destroy Israel and bring death to America, if not to the entire West. Its political, diplomatic, and militaristic stance toward the world has been aggressive and uncompromising. Acknowledgement of these facts facts Mr. Roman ignores underpinned U.S. foreign policy (via sanctions and military maneuvers) for decades under both Democrats and Republicans, until the coming of President Obama.
The acquisition of nuclear power generally leads to three possibilities: use for energy, use for deterrence and defense, and use for destruction. Most countries with nuclear capabilities have nuclear-energy programs and nuclear weapons for defense (missiles, submarines, ships); all have the potential for destruction. Setting aside nuclear accidents, intentional destructive use of nuclear weapons has historically been avoided since the end of World War II. This is likely to change with Irans enhanced nuclear capability thanks in no small part to the billions of dollars freed up by the JCPOA and a weak Western monitoring regime. Given Irans history, religious beliefs, and aggressive actions, the JCPOA is nothing more than the handing of the sword to anti-Western, anti-Jewish, anti-Christian Iranian clerics to lop off the heads of all non-Shia people.
Mr. Roman argues that the role of Rome as the lone bulwark against an avalanche of secularism is up for strenuous debate. But he strenuously avoids offering any alternative. The fact remains that Rome (meaning the Catholic Church) is the only unified and coherent response to secularism. The fractured churches of Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy are also a response, but they are neither unified nor coherent and a bulwark must be both, or it is not a bulwark. Therefore, only Rome remains. But, Mr. Roman asks, which Rome?
There are many perceptions of Rome, but one reality. All roads lead to it or away from it (any honest historian will recognize this, and any Christian cannot fail to). Regardless of direction, there is only one Rome.
Further, Mr. Roman misstates my argument. I never contended that Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI had the corner on the broad spectrum of the Christian movement. First, they do not have the corner on anything, but their learned and prayerful approach to the demise of Christian Europe and the rise of an increasingly secularized West is to be given great weight. Second, Mr. Romans fuzzy description of Christianity as a movement defies all sense as if Christ died to start a 1960s-era movement. And, contrary to Mr. Romans assertion, when push comes to shove, the Church, craven and foolish though some of her leaders have been, does not retreat into correcting Christs work with miracle, mystery, and authority, but rather fulfills it. For it is Christ who established His Church, a perfect creation imperfectly served.
Pope Franciss papacy will be transformative, but not for the reasons Mr. Roman claims. It will be transformative because of his pastoral care and compassion, imbued by the spirit of, as Pope Francis says, the shepherd walking among his flock and smelling of his sheep. It will not be transformative because Francis is not from Europe and thinks little of a Christian West, but in spite of it. For it is a failing of Francis that he does not see the de-Christianization of Europe as a disturbing development. Concomitant with the rise of Islamic supremacism and terror in the Middle East is the genocide of the few remaining Christians who make their homes there. Francis has not been vocal enough about the plight of the Eastern Church, and he has not openly condemned Islamic terror but instead blames blind violence. These will be dark spots on his papal legacy.
Lastly, Mr. Romans encouragement for me to broaden my theological perspective is unnecessary. My arguments need no defense from my experience. But since he brought it up, allow me to clarify. I worked for a Muslim law firm, structured Sharia compliant transactions, visited an Islamic Center, count Muslims among friends and former colleagues, spent time in a Muslim country in Africa, and have studied the Koran, the hadiths, Reliance of the Traveler, and other Islamic philosophical, legal, and theological texts. I am no expert, but I am no fool either. The issue is one of depth, not breadth. And when one studies Islam in all its beauty and all its terror, one arrives at quite a different conclusion than the lazy and utterly incorrect moral equivalence Mr. Roman offers. For whatever the Churchs sins of the past, and those of her servants, she is not now commanding her followers to thumbscrew anyone. But she ought, especially by way of her Vicar, to be speaking loudly against those who prefer beheadings, rape, genital mutilation, and bombings to thumbscrews. Mr. Roman may have had his Agrippa moment, but he undoubtedly missed the point.
An Absurd Fixation
Stephen J. Kovacss excellent review of Monica Migliorino Millers book The Authority of Women in the Catholic Church (June) shows how well and thoroughly Miller has answered the radical-feminist theologians of our day who vilify the Church for not giving in to their demands. For them, there will never be equality in the Church until women are ordained. They insist that they will not be satisfied until a woman presumes to stand at the altar of sacrifice in the person of Christ who is both God and man and says, This is My Body. Dont they see that this would be a type of theological and liturgical transgenderism?
If only feminists would acknowledge how much women were despised and mistreated before the coming of Christ and how despised and mistreated they are wherever the Catholic faith has been or is being lost. As the great Dominican Fr. Antonin-Gilbert Sertillanges wrote in Feminism and Christianity (1909), a woman in ancient times was treated as an object or an institution, never as a unique person with a conscience, inalienable rights, and an immortal destiny. All antiquity agreed that a man had a destiny, but a woman was only physical matter. In our own day, the new paganism is again treating woman with contempt as mere flesh. Why dont feminist theologians object to this awful regression?
In Islam, the hadiths (collections of the sayings of Mohammed, which are as authoritative as the Koran) consign nearly all Muslim women to the garbage heap of Hell. Mohammed declares, Out of 99 women, one is in paradise and the rest are in hell, and a mortal woman who enters paradise is as rare as a white-footed raven (Kanzal-ummal 22:20, 11). The 72 houris whom jihadists expect to enjoy sexually in paradise have never lived with them on earth as mothers, wives, and daughters. Why dont feminist theologians object to this terrible spiritual inequality?
In the Gospels, Christ speaks to women in a whole new way: with respect, not pity. He treats women as the moral and spiritual equals of men. He appeals to each womans conscience: Go, sin no more, and Much is forgiven her because she has loved much. From the start, the Catholic Church opened the consecrated life as a vocation for women and, in the course of 2,000 years, has canonized a multitude of women, some of whom have become not only saints but Doctors of the Church. Clearly, ordination has nothing to do with this real and fundamental equality.
Instead of attacking the new paganism that reduces women to meat, and the regime of contraception, abortion, and pornography that feeds this sordid paganism, radical-feminist theologians are absurdly fixated on ordination. Its like theyre fighting off a minnow while being attacked by a shark. They could do so much good if only they turned their weapons in the right direction! Why do they want to deconstruct the only Church that has defended their dignity and their moral and spiritual equality throughout the ages?
Anne Barbeau Gardiner
Brewster, New York
Stephen J. Kovacs writes that authority is not a synonym for power. One does not possess genuine authority by having dictatorial control over a group or by wielding some quantifiable force in a public office. One possesses real authority (from the Latin auctores, to be the author or creator of something) by giving life and bringing that life to fulfillment. It is indeed true that authority should not be confused with holding an official position.
Women do play a crucial role in the Church, one that can hardly be overestimated. Though authority is often understood today as having the power to command, meditating on the role of the Blessed Virgin makes clear that womens role is more properly that of having influence. In the Gospels, Mary rarely utters a word, but kept these things in her heart. It is luminous that her role after the Ascension was crucial in the budding Church, not by speaking but by her being. The apostolate of being is more crucial than that of speaking and commanding.
Allow me to quote Dom Prosper Gueranger: Christ, being now in possession of her who has wounded His Heart [the Church], gives her, in return, full power over that Sacred Heart of His, from which she has issued. There lies the secret of all the Churchs power. In the relations existing between husband and wife, which were created by God at the beginning of the world, and in view of this great mystery of Christ and the Church, man is the head, and the woman may not domineer in the government of the family. Has the woman, then, no power? She has power, and a great power; she must address herself to her husbands heart, and gain all by love . The Heart of the Spouse belongs to His bride, and they are now two in one flesh.
Alice von Hildebrand
New Rochelle, New York
An Article That Shouldnt Have Been Written
Bishop Robert Barrons guest column The Curse of Total Sexual Freedom (June) focuses on the psychological and physical destruction that pornography has inflicted on our culture, using a recent article from Time magazine as its primary source. But if the teaching on the spiritual destruction that results from sexual sin had not been choked off by the current belief that few, if any, people go to Hell, that Time article probably would not have been written.
Jesus had only a few words to say about sexual sin: Whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body should be cast into hell (Mt. 5:28-29).
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Bishop Barron writes that Freudianism remains an absolute bedrock of our culture specifically, the conviction that most of our psychological suffering follows as a consequence of the suppression of our sexual desires. Once we have been liberated from old taboos regarding sex, this line of argument runs, we will overcome the neuroses and psychoses that so bedevil us.
I read some of Sigmund Freuds works over 50 years ago and made the mistake of spouting the accolades that various commentators have showered on him. But as I became acquainted with some of the results achieved by the application of his theories, I came to the sorry conclusion that a lot of these commentators had been gulled by Sigmund the Fraud. We have now reached the point at which the so-called post-Christian civilization must pay the price.
Freedom is a beautiful word, a favorite of politicians, orators, and the like. Unhappily, all men are sinners. They make mistakes, including mistakes against the moral order established by God. In a democracy, consensus rules, and when the consensus overrules the moral order, trouble real trouble lies dead ahead. Today, the consensus accepts the worst of Freuds teachings: sexual repression is bad. Thus, any form of sexual activity is seen as harmless; it is merely another aspect of each individuals various activities. One result of this belief stares us straight in the face: Marriage is nothing but an agreement between two persons to indulge in whatever form of sexual activity they feel best suits them. Marriage is the core activity that ensures the continuation of all social activities, the institution that governs all that activity, and it is in a sorry state.
Thanks to Sigmund Freud and all the intelligentsia who swallowed his fraud whole and then passed it on to those they were teaching, we live in a situation that even the ancient Greeks and Romans would have rejected. That is why this 94-year-old looks all around him and regrets that he has lived so long.
Stuart F. Lyons
St. Johns, Arizona
I very much enjoy the NORs ferocious defense of Catholicism, especially the fierce jeremiads about sexual morality, like Bishop Barrons penetrating critique of Times article on pornography as it relates to modern psychology.
Bishop Barron has it right. Pornography is forthrightly condemned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. I think that a good many people do indeed nonchalantly slouch their way toward a destination they will not welcome because of their spiritual lassitude, sloth, and moral indifference to the rigorous demands of Christ. And whats worse, precious few Catholic priests stand in the breach regarding sexual chastity before and after marriage. Very rare, and very brave, is the priest who clearly tells his flock that contraception is a mortal sin (cf. Catechism, no. 2354).
My mother is 98. I asked her if shed even once heard such an honest and blunt warning and admonition. No, never, she told me. I heard it once, at Gonzaga University, when I studied under the Jesuits, but that was over 40 years ago.
Bishop Barron needs to include a vital qualification near the end of his otherwise helpful column. Sex is, he says, on the biblical reading, good indeed, but its goodness is a function of its subordination to the demand of love. Given the current attempts within the Church to validate homosexual unions, Bishop Barron should have added, within the bounds of heterosexual marriage.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Perseverance in Poorly Chosen Vocations
I found Cardinal Kaspers Merciful Incoherencies (June) by Fr. Christopher Roberts refreshing with a plain talk that is hardly heard anymore. Contrary to Fr. Robertss recommendation, in a world in which all options are possible, people could hardly be expected to follow St. Ignatiuss advice when finding themselves in poorly chosen vocations, to persevere even when it is difficult to do so. Remaining in a poorly chosen vocation entails embracing difficulties, seeking help, discovering limitations, facing failure, and ultimately surrendering to Gods will. It may be the narrow path of patience, humility, suffering, and charity. I have always understood this as the Churchs stance. Personally, I dont relish the Church changing to a broad road, as Cardinal Kasper seems to want her to do. Dont we have enough of that in this world?
On the other hand, because so many options are available today, we have many late vocations. This is laudable and fills a need. Evidently, these men and women think they have discerned Gods will in their change of vocation. However, whats to prevent them from changing their vocation again? It may be that when suffering looms on the horizon, another option may arise. Unfortunately, this does happen. What I think St. Ignatius was suggesting with his advice is that faithfulness is meritorious.
Gloria G. Ausubel
Port Ewen, New York
Fr. Christopher Roberts appears to present a morbid and flawed theory of Christian suffering with his favorable quote of Cardinal Kasper that only if God himself suffered and died, could he conquer death in and through death. The subtle blasphemy against the nature of God and Gods creation in the claim that the Cross was the only way God could reconcile sinful humanity to Himself cries out to be answered with the truth.
Jesus died on the cross in what St. Thomas Aquinas described as a contingent act. Contingent acts are those events that either do or might occur as a consequence of choices made by beings whom God endowed with free will. The presence or absence of contingent acts is tolerated by Gods permissive will rather than imposed by His positive will. I cant provide a complete statement of the economy of Christs redemption of humanity in this brief letter, but I can quote those scriptural passages that explicitly refute the false claim that man could only be redeemed by Jesus dying on the Cross.
St. Paul states the essential details of mans fall and reconciliation in one awesome sentence: For just as by one mans disobedience the many were made sinners, so by one mans obedience the many will be made righteous (Rom. 5:19).
Hebrews 10:5-10 confirms that it is obedience that pleases God: When [Christ said], Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings (these were offered according to the law), then he added, Lo, I have come to do thy will. He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by [Gods] will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Note that Hebrews emphatically states that Jesus came into the world to do Gods will. The last sentence, which affirms the truth that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all, is easily misunderstood in two ways. It neither states nor implies that the way we have been historically redeemed is the only possible way God could have redeemed us. Nor does it deny the daily offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the simple fact that the daily offering made visible throughout Christian history via the agency of human priests consecrated by Jesus is an integral and inseparable part of that one offering of our Lord.
Put bluntly, the death of Jesus was not an act foreordained by God or by the nature of Gods creation because God did not make death, and He does not delight in the death of the living. As Scripture affirms:
- I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live (Ezek. 18:32).
- God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devils envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it (Wisd. 2:23-24).
- Do not invite death by the error of your life, or bring on destruction by the works of your hands; because God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal (Wisd. 1:12-15).
- I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings (Hos. 6:6).
- He [the Devil] was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies (Jn. 8:44).
Thus, our redemption and the forgiveness of our sins have their source in Christs obedience, rather than in Christs death. It is true that the ultimate culmination of Christs obedient life was death on the Cross because of some mens sinful misuse of their free will. But dying is not the nature of Christs obedience. Rather, the nature of Christs obedience is described in Philip 2:5-8: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross.
James J. Harris
San Diego, California
FR. CHRISTOPHER ROBERTS REPLIES:
Gloria G. Ausubel puts her finger on a pervasive distortion in the Church today namely, what Pope Francis has called a culture of the provisional and a throwaway culture. Motivated by a desire to make it possible for everyone, at least externally, to obey Church discipline, pastors seek to welcome everyone to the Eucharist. One questions, however, if there is any vocational commitment out of which one cannot be released with the proper paperwork. Pastoral attempts to apply Gods mercy must respect the givenness of the structure of love that God has created. Otherwise, pastors run the risk of offering grace without repentance. True love means more than just obedience to authority. In a fallen world, it means the willingness to embrace sacrifice, even when one feels that the suffering involved seems unbearable.
James J. Harris insinuates that both Cardinal Kasper and I commit the sin of blasphemy while also promoting a twisted misunderstanding of Christian suffering by holding that God could not have redeemed the human race in any way but through the Cross of Jesus Christ. He does not specify the extent to which the morbidity of Cardinal Kaspers and my position on the atonement has negative effects on a vision of suffering in the everyday Christian life.
For my part, I agree with St. Thomas on the doctrine for atonement. From the point of view of His eternal will, God did not will the Cross. Rather, God willed the Cross in His contingent, permissive will. In the contingent order that Gods omnipotence and omniscience created and foresaw, the Cross is really necessary in the order of fittingness to save us from the contingency of sin. Thus, Scripture speaks in numerous places about the necessity of the Cross. In Questions 46-48 of the Tertia Pars of the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas lays out his carefully nuanced position on this point. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 599-601) also provides a less philosophical analysis of the same.
Making the proper distinctions between Christs obedience and His sacrifice on the Cross can enlighten. Creating opposition between them divorces two things inseparably linked in salvation history. While orthodox theologies of the atonement struggle to explain exactly how, Christs obedience and the Cross always go together. It is true that Christ did not seek suffering for its own sake. In the world as it is, however, suffering is bound up in Our Lords mission from the beginning.
A practical voluntarism has reigned supreme in pastoral settings that many pastors and faithful have used as justification for embracing the divorce culture. One hears not infrequently phrases like, God could not possibly will that I suffer like this, so I am going to leave my spouse and look for someone who really can meet my needs. Thus, one can claim that one is obeying Gods will by committing adultery. Given our postmodern allergy to personal sacrifice, it is difficult to believe that pseudo-suffering upstages obedience with anywhere near the frequency that pseudo-obedience does to an authentic call to embrace suffering. For Christians, the two must go together because they went together for Christ.
Doing the Opposite
Your editorial A Soft Iconoclasm (June) makes many important statements: The Internet phenomenon has had an adverse effect on our ability to concentrate on one topic for an extended period of time. People have become less patient with lengthier, more in-depth texts texts that dont offer simplistic analyses in a tidy format, even with texts like the Bible. Readers who can grasp an argument and work through its implications are a dying breed. A majority of the general American population reads five or fewer books each year. And you refer to this as an overwhelming cultural and spiritual malaise.
Experts are finally coming to recognize media addiction as a serious disorder. People now spend more than four hours a day watching television, a couple hours a day surfing the Internet, and many hours a day (college students average nine) on their cell phones. So, most people are spending more than half of their waking hours staring at a video screen. This is not only an addiction; its an epidemic.
Conventional wisdom tells us that technology is neutral, that it can be used for good or for ill, and that we must adapt and keep up with progress. But as your editorial says, When conventional wisdom tells you to do one thing, its usually best to do the opposite. I am happy that you continue to publish a print version of the NOR, which is the only way I would read it. But I am disappointed that you put the NOR on the Internet, thereby kowtowing to conventional wisdom. And I am disappointed that you dont condemn Satans Trojan horse (electronic communication technology) in print.
Cedar Creek, Texas
A growing number of parents, educators, and psychologists have been aware for some time that, along with its manifest benefits, there are dangers that loom from the overwhelming power of cyberspace. As Marshall McLuhan predicted over a half-century ago, the electronic highway, now circling the globe and even beyond it, reaches into the most important aspects of our lives.
The most dire and disturbing of all the reports of a weary nights decline (to quote William Blake) you describe so well in your June editorial is the patent loss of interest in those deathless writings and works of consummate art that so beautify the world. Language, after all, is my trade too, and I blanch to see it being debased in so many ways.
I recall the honored craft of my late father, a skilled pipefitter. I well remember him telling me how vital it is to have on hand the best materials if you intend to put up buildings of sound and enduring construction. If the pipe, the wood, and the wiring are shoddy, the work will not stand the test of time.
How like a bell do those words ring now as I see the standards of academia, the once noble heart and home of the literary and scientific imaginations, and nursery of fertile ideas, slide into banality and triviality. Just the other day I read an impassioned letter to the editors of the PMLA, the still-influential journal of the Modern Language Association of America, from a retired professor of Hispanic language and literature. I wanted to weep as I read his heartfelt complaint about the direction they have taken that long-established venue of scholarship. It has been a long time, he avows, since he was able to open the pages of that publication (and, indeed, so many others in the field) and read an article on Cervantes, Garcia Lorca, Unamuno, the Spanish mystics, or the great poets and playwrights of the Golden Age of Iberian language and literature. No, he bitterly complains, it is obvious that the editors would rather print articles about queer studies, Marxist deconstructionism, gender controversies, or the best way to instruct non-traditional students.
Here we witness, in the very heart of the republic of letters, a headlong rush into willful ignorance. Pity the poor students. As Francis Thompson wrote, The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
William C. Zehringer
Your June editorial compels one to consider the statement that not only Western culture but all cultures are sinking into anti-literacy, a deliberate plunge into a kind of hedonistic solipsism and willful ignorance. We live in an age of ever-increasing darkness in which the person is a robot in a mass robotic civilization.
Anti-literacy is promoted by public schools and colleges. It is a dogma of the new religion in an age in which Nietzschean transvaluation of values has already occurred. The pool of the literate steadily decreases because fewer and fewer persons can resist the immense propaganda put forth by the structures in place. Twenty-two years ago, Jacques Ellul died. He had clearly described the consequence of a technology techne that would become the rubric of all institutions and cultures. Before him, the science-fiction writers presented pictures of a world of mindless robots whose center of being was neither the heart nor the brain but the crotch.
The new Age of Darkness that is upon us is not marked by barbarian invasions or cataclysmic upheavals. It is an age that has come upon us on little cats paws quietly, softly, subtly, and menacingly. Like a mist enveloping the citadel of the mind, it has clouded the vision of countless seemingly literate persons and distorted their reality with its nihilism and anomie.
In thy light we shall see light. But the Adversary has initiated a darkness that will not lift for years to come. It will be only the few who will light a candle rather than curse the darkness.
San Diego, California
Your June editorial well noted that we are inundated with words and have begun, in self-defense, to scan rather than read. This problem started with computerized word-processing (as opposed to typing or handwriting ones thoughts). Words on a screen take on a life of their own and seem permanent, alive even. Moreover, the physical act of automated word-processing is effortless compared to using a pencil or a typewriter. Its easy just to think out loud, on and on and on. So writings are too long. NOR articles are too long. The letters to the NOR are too long. Blogs are too long. Not only is most contemporary writing too long, it has little structure. It seems that one just starts writing. Even journalism schools teach students to start with emotional hooks and details and to save the subject for the middle of the article. Editing, much less ruthless editing? Fuhgedaboudit. I would recommend to every writer that he print out his writing, edit it down to 500 words, and then start over.
Mary Ann Parks
San Antonio, Texas
As a long-time subscriber to the NOR, I congratulate your stance in the knotty fight against Internet dominance. As stated in your June editorial, the Internet is indeed trying to take over our lives. Even further, media expert Nicholas Carr contends that online reading is tinkering with our brains. His book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.
Carr explains that his book began in a disturbing place. As a tech writer and Internet surfer for 10 years, he grew concerned that he couldnt concentrate on printed material, not like in the old days. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if Im always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.
Catholic convert and media theorist Marshall McLuhan warned of this phenomenon back in the 1960s. Televisions, radios, and telephones are not innocuous conduits of information; they shape the way we think. Gone are the days of concentration and contemplation. The Net sweeps us away into the rapids. Carr describes it this way: Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.
A five-year study by University College London analyzed online research habits and discovered a profound change in the way our minds work. It describes modern reading habits as more of a power browse, skimming from source to source, rarely returning to study a topic in depth. We decode material rather than ruminate, interpret, or make rich connections. As we become more connected to the Internet, we become less engaged, more distracted.
Can computers really tinker with our brains? Carr probed more deeply into neuroscience. The results were unsettling. Decades ago, scientists thought brain neurons did not change past early adulthood. New research proves this to be a false conclusion. Au contraire, adult brain cells are pliable. Old connections can be broken and new connections formed. In a sense, our brains are being treated like computers. Choose any word for it reprogrammed, rewired, tinkered.
Sound farfetched? Larry Page, co-founder of Google, stated publicly, The ultimate search engine is something as smart as people or smarter. For us, working on search is a way to work on artificial intelligence. Google becomes an extension of our brains, moving us higher on the evolutionary scale. Or so they think.
Playwright Richard Foreman views the human intellect as a cathedral-like structure composed of inner constructs formed by deep reading and deep thinking. Google has bamboozled us into becoming water striders, skimming the surface. Foreman calls us pancake people spread wide and thin as we connect with the vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.
The NOR correctly describes the Catholic faith as a religion that requires effort. Besides the sacraments and prayer, we need to read and reflect. Carr writes about deep reading in which intellectual vibrations reverberate in our brains. Deep reading needs time and quiet for ideas to transfer from short-term to long-term memory. In this uniquely human space, we make our own creative associations and inferences.
When Carr wrote his book, he had to unplug from social media in order to concentrate. No Twitter. No blogging. No messaging. No e-mails. He described what it felt like: Old disused neural circuits sprang back into life. I felt calmer and more in control of my thoughts.
Will the Internet destroy the rich complexity of Catholic intellectual tradition in a single generation? That is a question you pose in your editorial. I say there is something we all can do to counteract Internet dominance. We can raise readers. It is simple, cheap, and enjoyable. We can read aloud to our children, our grandchildren, nieces or nephews. Jim Trelease pioneered the read-aloud decades ago. In study after study, he discovered that the one most important thing we can do to nurture lifelong readers is to read to children at an early age. Get a copy of his book, The Read-Aloud Handbook. His advice is clear: Start reading aloud early, even to newborns. Let children see you reading for pleasure. Limit screen time. No television in the bedroom. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to limit television viewing to 10 hours per week, with no screen time for children under two. Have a literate household. Keep baskets of books, shelves of books, throughout the house. Get a book lamp for the nightstand and let a young reader stay up an extra hour to get cozy and read a book. Take kids to the library.
This gives me an idea for a cool bumper sticker: Save the human brain. Read books to your kids!
In response to your June editorial: The challenge might not necessarily be in longer articles. Perhaps the test is the creation of shorter multimedia attention-grabbers pointing to more detailed explanations. Do we have examples of instances in which countercultural activities succeeded? Even the evangelical praxis is to meet and greet the culture at a common point and convert from there.
Centereach, New York
Ed. Note: Multimedia attention-grabbers pointing to more detailed explanations: This is precisely what we try to provide on social media. You can see how were doing by following us on Twitter (twitter.com/newoxfordreview) and liking us on Facebook (facebook.com/newoxfordreview).
The Folly of the New Hegemony
In his fine article, Why the Left Rules the Rhetorical Battlefield (June), Edwin Dyga argues convincingly that conservatism in the English-speaking world has fallen into such decrepitude that its spokesmen frequently adopt progressive values. This applies to commonsense values as much as to those derived philosophically. Impulses of group defense, repulsion from deviancy, attraction to ones own kind and traditions all are derided or punished.
At the heart of Dygas argument is the contest between Tony Abbott, a reputed champion of the conservative Right in Australia, and Waleed Aly, a typical product of Western universities, a supposed champion of the progressive, multicultural Left. In reality, Aly is the truer conservative, defending his ancestral traditions, while Abbott strives to prove his universalism. The uneven contest is nicely dissected by Dyga, who lays out and classifies the rhetoric.
The remaining intellectual task is to discern sociological and economic causes. This is important because it will help us decide whether conservatisms downward spiral is destined to be terminal, or whether there is a chance of healthy, lasting reaction. Leftist sociologists believe in indeed, rejoice in the terminal thesis. The inexorable rise of a global economy, the inevitable mixing of peoples and cultures, and, above all, the triumphant march of reason, will, they insist, usher in the millennium. No identities except humanity. No gender or sexual norms. No values except the material. Its only a matter of time.
This is not the place to offer an alternative prediction, except to note that the Lefts social science is as corrupt as its philosophy. The rise of progressive dominance within the Western academy, a precondition for the rule of its rhetoric, has come at the cost of the dumbing-down of the humanities and social sciences. These are the disciplines that should be calling out the folly of the new hegemony. Their incompetence and bias are simultaneously sad and hopeful because they point to fallibility.
Edwin Dyga is to be commended for his outstanding article. He speaks to the experience of so many of us who lived under the brief reign of Tony Abbott: Conservatives around the world envied us our leader, and we only wished there was something to envy. Of course, Mr. Dyga doesnt say that Mr. Abbott is a crypto-leftist nor is there any credible case for saying so. But Dyga is, sadly, correct to say that Abbott was as beholden to the leftist parameters of acceptable discourse as was his successor, Malcolm Turnbull, or indeed any member of the Labor Party. Mr. Dyga gives the outstanding example of Mr. Abbotts refusal to draw any connection between jihadism and Islam, maintaining (as progressives do) that Islam is a religion of peace and referring to the Islamic State exclusively as a death cult or Daesh.
Perhaps worse, though, is the senior role Mr. Abbott played in the push for a new clause in the Australian Constitutions preamble that would recognize Aborigines. What exactly this would accomplish, or even how the clause would be worded, is unclear. Nevertheless, its obvious to all impartial observers that the former prime minister is mired in a grievance-mongering wholly foreign to the traditional Right.
Mr. Abbott described the war on terror as a struggle between Daesh and Team Australia; the nationalist undertones of the latter endlessly thrilled grassroots conservatives. But this Daesh nonsense is yet more impressive than the identity politics that govern his Team Australia. If the nation underlying his nationalism is a victimological confederation of political-identity groups, then we must wonder if even those few rhetorical distinctions from the Left really constitute an alternative to their ideological fundament.
But perhaps its too soon even to discuss substantive distinctions between Left and Right. Mr. Dyga is altogether correct: Until the Rights narrative can break completely from mealy-mouthed obsequiousness and political correctness (this unthinking embrace of the religion of peace and melodramatic euphemisms like death cult), were doomed never to truly halt the rising tide of cultural Marxism. We may, at best, slow it.
Michael Warren Davis
The NOR is to be congratulated for publishing Edwin Dygas article, which deals eloquently and in detail with the neutering of the Right in Dygas native Australia, as well as in Western Europe and the U.S. Dyga notes a remarkable overlap among all these neutered, supposedly right-of-center parties that arent recognizably conservative anymore. For example, Australias Liberal Party, under the unsteady leadership of Tony Abbott, looks eerily similar to our establishment Republicans and faux conservatives and, for that matter, to their multiple stale counterparts in Western Europe. In the face of massive, often unruly Third-World immigration and the war waged by our political, media, and educational elites against cultural particularism, when practiced by Westerners, our conservative parties and politicians appeal to hyper-individualism and, at least in the U.S., to the fiction of propositional nationhood.
Dyga depicts the precarious coexistence in European societies of female narcissistic solipsism and atavistic Afro-Arab male barbarism. He suggests that these tendencies feed off each other, since narcissistic feminists are among those who applaud most loudly the presence of exotic misogynists from the non-Western world. Supposedly, the growing influence of Third-World populations will aid us in overcoming our Western patriarchal and insular propensities.
Wolfgang Schäuble, the German minister of finance and a member of the supposedly conservative Christian Democratic Union, has hailed the imminent arrival of 500,000 new migrants, mostly young Muslim males, into his anti-fascist ex-nation. According to Schäuble, this influx will create the possibility of intermingling and, therefore, protect ethnic Germans against the genetic danger of inbreeding. Schäubles conservative party and its leaders were also quick to blame the women victims who were assaulted by young Muslim men at the Cologne railroad station on New Years Eve. Apparently, these innocent lads were driven to their indiscretions by the alluring way in which the German girls were dressed, perhaps without face coverings. The multicultural project is never to be doubted even when its results are disastrous.
Instead of affirming a traditional Western identity, based on families, communities, and churches, the bogus Right responds to social disintegration and a harsh Muslim occupation of European inner cities with utter drivel. It offers a variation of leftist nostrums, plus favors for transnational capitalists: The only solution either wing of the mainstream political spectrum is able to conceive of, Dyga observes, is a recommitment to commonly held egalitarian-rationalist conceits, applied universally and globally.
Dyga has described our political culture to perfection, and he correctly points out that one of its sources has been the neoconservatives and liberal internationalists fools errand of trying to correct the Third Worlds apparent reluctance to mimic modernist first-world conceits. This has led to the angry assertion of anti-Western identitarian movements outside the West, while at the same time a Western world that has become alienated from its own roots has run to welcome alien, often hostile populations and to celebrate them. This behavior, as Dyga correctly notes, shows no inconsistency. The secular liberal mindset cannot even recognize core and even irreconcilable differences between cultures that introduce diametrically opposed ethical norms into the same multicultural state.
Because neoconservatives and liberal internationalists see their own societies as being successfully reconstructed along rationalist, individualist lines, they believe that those who are coming from elsewhere can be quickly assimilated to their preferred social-behavioral model. When the desired future turns into a nightmare, the fault is never to be attributed to the fruits of diversity.
It may be useful to bring up some of the reasons that we are confronted in this country by an establishment Right that is anything but of the Right. I shall refer those who are interested in the problems that Dyga raises to my books dealing with this strange situation. Dyga cites me as someone who has shown how Anglo-conservatism has undergone its own unfortunate Reformation. Let me amend that to read that Ive examined how the unhappy transformation of American conservatism has had immeasurably corrupting effects beyond our borders.
Ed. Note: See, for example, Dr. Gottfrieds books After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State (2001), Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards a Secular Theocracy (2002), The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium (2005), Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right (2007), and Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America (2012), among others.
Edwin Dygas assertion that Western civilization seems to be in eclipse because contemporary conservatism suffers from materialistic reductionism and, consequently, is dedicated to a state that is, by definition, a repudiation of Western norms is as illuminating as it is sobering. How have we gotten here?
A partial explanation of this depressing conclusion can be found in the NORs editorial A Soft Iconoclasm in the same issue (June). As the editor observes, people have lost interest in reading lengthier, more in-depth texts and, as a result, cannot reason effectively and think through issues. Their minds can no longer grasp an argument and work through its implications.
We are here because the Left managed to take over our educational system. As a result, our schools do not teach critical thinking, logic, or rigor. Instead, teenagers are encouraged to express themselves and present views that have no roots in theory or facts. Facebook and Twitter are not causes of the problem; they are symptoms of what todays undereducated societies demand instant gratification and Andy Warhols 15 minutes of fame.
I observe this every day in the classroom at my university; a course that is highly interactive (i.e., the lecturer allows students to ramble) receives good evaluations. Too many young people get through high school without encountering intellectual challenges and, therefore, too often todays college education amounts to what a good prep school offered half a century ago. How are such people to make sound choices in any field?
The moment classical liberal-arts education went out the window, our civilization started on a downward spiral. So, maybe, the counter-reformation Mr. Dyga believes modern conservatism needs should start at school more Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant, for starters, would probably make a huge difference. We need not push Catholic giants first; sooner or later, well-educated individuals will find their way to the treasures of Christianity. And such people should be able to make distinctions between sense and nonsense in the political arena, as well.
Edwin Dyga is right in observing that establishment conservatism is all but dead. It is ironic that a leftist Muslim intellectual (Waleed Aly) is in a position to offer advice to those who belong to the conservative mainstream in the West in this case, to a conservative Catholic holding a high government position in Australia (Tony Abbott). Insofar as we all partake of this establishment conservatism, it has to be said that we conservatives have fallen really low. As Mr. Dyga points out, we have adopted the language of the Left and think in categories supplied by the neo-Marxist and postmodern Left.
Mr. Dyga offers a correct diagnosis, and on a level several notches above the usual formulaic laments current in conservative circles. Looking for causes and remedies, people usually point at universities that continue to disseminate ideologies alongside knowledge. But universities are a symptom, not a cause. Mr. Dyga brushes shoulders with the real cause when he mentions Western politicians enamored of nominalist theories of citizenship. Since the Enlightenment, nominalism has been the foundation of most social theories and theories of the modern state. To try to dislodge this foundation is a Herculean task, much more difficult than simply changing the rhetoric of public discourse. Perhaps the only thing we can do to remedy the situation is to work toward building an awareness of a fundamental flaw in the design of the post-Enlightenment Western societies. How difficult this task has been is illustrated by the criticism Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI received after the Regensburg lecture he delivered in 2006.
Ewa Thompson, Editor
The Sarmatian Review
EDWIN DYGA REPLIES:
I reflect on my readers correspondence in the period between Donald Trumps acceptance of the Republican nomination for U.S. president and the last day of the Democratic National Convention. Though I have never set foot on American soil, I do not feel particularly foreign when observing this episode in U.S. history, even if from afar: Many of the social pathologies witnessed in Cleveland and Philadelphia, among partisan activists of the fourth estate and especially within the cathode-ray confines of the online commentariate, are not alien to the Australian experience. Traditionalists throughout the English-speaking world find identical themes in their local politics and cultural debates. The mendacity with which popular discontent on the Right is reported by the mainstream press has likewise become so typical, and so universal, that it is now hardly surprising. As my correspondents might agree, this is a product of that long march through the institutions that paved the way for todays reign of hyper-liberalism.
In my article, I use an episode from Australian political discourse to show how ineffectual the leadership of what passes for the political Right has become: Its unfortunate reformation (a term coined by a local commentator hardly sympathetic to my views) has rendered it little more than a pale imitation at least in ideological terms of the progressive Left. Much of the popularity of outsider candidates seems to be driven by this moral implosion of the political mainstream. Naturally, it is fascinating to observe the fluctuating electoral prospects of candidates who do not issue from the establishments dynastic successions and who seem to drive their detractors to fits of pique or apoplexy. However, what José Ortega y Gasset referred to as the revolt of the masses is rarely, if ever, restorationist. Readers of this journal need not be reminded that one should be wary before embracing whatever agent of reaction may seem to have captured the public imagination. This warning comes to mind because despite the failed leadership of our political class the temptation to reach out to what seems to be defying contemporary political religions can be ultimately self-destructive and, in Catholic terms, even heretical.
So, what is to be done? Frank Salter states that we must discern sociological and economic causes for the present turmoil. I cannot profess expertise in these fields, but I make the following casual observation, as what Joseph Sobran might call an unlicensed sociologist: The anxiety that fuels popular discontent is essentially drawn from the loss of a sense of community. Thus, the partisans of Trump and Bernie Sanders superficially share a great deal more in common than they would like to believe even if their communities are walled-off differently (viz., geographically or ideologically). The inertia behind the politics of both camps seems to radiate from a trauma caused when notions of collective identity and communal belonging once instinctively known and universally accepted are questioned, taken for granted, or openly undermined by a globalist managerial class with no loyalty to its local constituents.
Similar concerns about the erosion of community unite the political fringe here in Australia between otherwise violently opposed party blocs, such as One Nation and the Greens. The success of the U.K. Independent Party and the popularity of continental Europes nativist parties could be seen as comparable protests against this decay of social interconnectedness and waning historical continuity. The abject failure of the established party blocs has created the political space for parochial elements to enter the breach a breach the existence of which the establishment largely refuses even to acknowledge.
It is tempting, therefore, to welcome whomever and whatever may appear to destabilize the designs of those who are deemed responsible for this mess tempting but potentially self-deluding and, therefore, dangerous. For whatever thrill or enthusiasm one feels about the impending dethronement of the grinning imbeciles of the status quo, administrative change at the ballot box may be cosmetic at best. Ivanka Trump proudly boasts of her fathers feminist credentials; Trump declares himself a champion of the LGBTQ lobby. Are these merely tactical, opportunistic ploys to secure an electoral majority in a politically divided and culturally balkanized society, or do they telegraph plus ça change, plus cest la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same)?
The existential threat facing the West comes in two forms: One is the rise of assertive Islam; the other is a form of totalitarian nihilism embraced as progress. As I indicated in my article, establishmentarian conservatism is no less at fault for allowing these two threats to do their work. Moreover, a casual observation of history suggests that the former is perhaps the more fatal, as it numbs the collective instinct for survival. The risk here is that sincere conservatives might marry themselves to a reaction that is itself insincere and, therefore, unworthy and counterproductive.
I confess that it is difficult not to admire a personality who does not apologize to, or appease, his progressive ideological opponents; but Catholics and counter-revolutionaries should recall Plinio Corrêa de Oliveiras warnings about the Fourth Revolution. Relativism corrodes all, including those who purport to push back against the machinations of the political Left. The disconcerting image of anti-PC, libertarian free-speech advocates Gavin McInnes and Milo Yiannopoulos in carnal embrace on the site of the Orlando, Florida, massacre is illustrative.
I criticize the failure of the contemporary Right but fear that similar charges could be levelled against those who some of my colleagues feel may be the spearhead of popular reaction but who similarly remain, in Michael Warren Daviss words, beholden to the leftist parameters of acceptable discourse. Why is this problem so endemic? I think Kasimir Dadak is correct in identifying the academy as the root cause and primarily the field of the humanities. Our work will be the most effective on this front line of the necessary counter-reformation before any civilizational renewal can be achieved; only when the inheritors of the Occidental heritage can think critically about post-Enlightenment values will they be able to make distinctions between sense and nonsense in the political arena, as Ewa Thompson concludes.
It certainly does appear that a long counter-march through the institutions is needed before we can expect a return to healthier times and this is no revelation. Students of the paleoconservative school should, therefore, be heartened that Paul Gottfrieds work has not gone unnoticed in dissident quarters across the pond in Europe as well as here in the Anglo Antipodes. His work is nothing if not inspirational. Thus, in these turbulent times, I prefer to put my faith in the Confucian maxim that the only constant is change. This allows me to avoid committing the sin of despair and to happily continue the frequently Sisyphean task of countering the progressive narrative when encountering the genuinely open-minded.