March 1992

Breaking Through Conditioned Attitudes

The “Symposium on Transcending Ideological Conformity” in the October issue (which arrived late here) was marvelous. I have great rapport with the outlook promulgated by the participants, many of whom seem to have been nurtured on the same movements and authors (of a certain era) that I was: Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, the original Sheed & Ward, Ed Rice with Jubilee, Merton, Belloc, Chesterton, Knox — there was a huge array. It was a period of breaking through conditioned attitudes.

Over the years people of my acquaintance gave up on creative thought and drowned in the ideological status quo of “Left” and “Right” and such. The technological orientation of our times has a lot to do with the compulsion to package, label, and pigeonhole.

Sarah D. Sands
Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico




Protestants & Natural Law

Glenn N. Schram's article “A Protestant Consideration of Natural Law” (Nov.) provided a useful antidote to Protestant rejections of human reason and natural law, but he failed to mention the most important conjunction of Protestant thought and natural law, the moral sense philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Garry Wills has shown that the major intellectual influence on the authors of the U.S. Constitution was this moral sense philosophy, a kind of Protestant natural law doctrine. The Founding Fathers' optimism, meliorism, and belief that human reason could indeed discern a “common good” were due to this influence.

Modern Protestantism, in rejecting human reason, has been as destructive of a community of reasonable, moral human beings and of the civic virtues on which this nation was founded as have the corrosive rationalism and individualism which have come to us through the French Enlightenment and Locke, Adam Smith, and J.S. Mill.

Mark A. Riddle
Instructor of Japanese, Salt Lake Community College
Salt Lake City, Utah




Television Doesn't Have a Prayer

In his guest column “The Propaganda America Can't Resist” (Dec.), Fr. Rawley Myers argues that television is propaganda seducing the minds of children and childish adults into believing that avoiding boredom and living for today are the only things that matter. “Christianity,” which allegedly can’t compete because it tries to make people think, “is in for some hard times,” Myers concludes.

Myers's is only one voice among many decrying television. His complaint, however, sounds like sour grapes. If, as he says, teenagers will not listen to saints' lives, and adults say they find nothing at Mass and seem unwilling to think about difficult truths, can we really blame it all on television? This conclusion seems unsupported at best, facile and face-saving at worst. Can it be that in the rush to make these Catholics think hard thoughts, no one has ministered to their feelings? Can it be that these Catholics do not listen because they have not been heard?

There is no reason to believe that the American character, steeped in 200 years of religious fervor, has suddenly been vitiated by an electronic device. Witness the vigorous growth of 12-step support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon. These encourage rigorous self-examination, spiritual accountability, and dependence on the will of God, hardly a passive television watcher's program. The experience of 12-step groups teaches us that if people are first accepted as frail, lovable children of God, they will accept hard spiritual truths.

Pastors who bring suspicion, bitterness, and a low opinion of their parishioners’ sincerity tend to find in their flocks exactly what they are looking for: suspicion, coldness, and defensiveness. Pastors who bring acceptance, humility, and love to their parishioners also find who they are looking for: openness, warmth, and a willingness to learn. I offer my own parish as an example: Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage has a waiting list for CCD, standing room only at many Masses, and a vigorous mission to Magadan in the Russian Far East. The feeling of community among parishioners is strong. What do our Dominican priests and sisters offer that is so compelling? Humor. Humility. Affection. Television doesn't have a prayer of competing with their love and leadership.

Blaming television for turned-off Catholics is not honest. It is honest, on the other hand, to acknowledge that some pastors don't know how to listen without judgment or teach without anger and fear.

Is it simplistic to suggest that pastors love their flock and listen to them? That is, however, what Jesus recommended. Sometimes an honest and simple moment of self-examination bears more fruit than a ringing denunciation of ghastly modernity.

Diana Weber
Anchorage, Alaska




The Young, Too

Please inform John Mapes (letter, Dec.) that “middle-aged Catholic Americans…born in the Depression years” are not the only ones who share his concern about the direction this country has taken under Reagan, or his distress over the failure of “Left” and “Right” to provide solutions.

As a 22-year-old, I feel the same outrage, if not an additional sadness, since the country as it is now is all I have ever known. I've never seen that golden age when the country was “urged on by New Deal visions of social justice” which those of Mapes's generation hearken back to.

Peter J. Wolfgang
Manchester, Connecticut



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